It happens like this: You stumble upon the genius sitcom that is Arrested Development and discover how whip-smart, clever, and gut-bustingly funny the dysfunctional Bluth family is. You’ve come to it after the show ended, because that’s the case with most of the show’s fans. And when you wrap up the initial three-season run, you feel let down that it’s over — and then excited to find that there are two more seasons that came later.
More Arrested Development! It’s a dream come true!
But your friends warn you away from seasons 4 and 5, telling you of inevitable disappointment to come. “Just… let it be after the finale of season 3. That was a perfect ending.” Of course, you do no such thing, and before you know it, your mouth is open in horror as you drink in the two Netflix-produced seasons of the show. All you can ask is, “How did something that was brilliant end up going so, so wrong?”
To answer that, we first need to recap the twisty turns of Arrested Development’s history. The original series debuted on Fox in 2003, giving audiences a bizarre documentary about a real estate family falling upon hard times (and the one son who tried to keep them all together). Despite massive acclaim from critics (and a few awards), Arrested Development had a hard time grabbing onto a large audience. The production order was shortened to 18 episodes in season 2 and just 13 episodes for the third season, before Fox canceled it in 2006. A possible fourth season was shopped around, especially to Showtime, but nothing came of it.
Yet due to discovery on DVD and Netflix, Arrested Development grew a much bigger audience over the years. With the popularity on the rise, Netflix announced that it would be reviving Arrested Development for a fourth season, which happened in 2013. While fans were excited to have more of the Bluths, the season proved to be a letdown.
A few years later, Netflix forged ahead with two projects: One to “remix” the fourth season into a more watchable format, and one to bring a 16-episode fifth season to the platform. From 2018 to 2019, season five tried to right a ship that had obviously gone wrong — and according to reviews and fans, only partially succeeded in doing so.
So what went wrong, especially with the original cast and creators coming back with more freedom? Let’s look at season 4 first. The creators decided to jettison the format of the Fox run with a more ambitious season-long arc with plotlines that didn’t come to conclusions within the episodes that they were introduced. The difficulty in getting all of the actors back together led to a break-up in the ensemble, with few of them ever appearing on screen at the same time. A raft of new characters — mostly unfunny — and bizarre situations — ditto — were introduced, and even Ron Howard (the narrator) shoehorned himself in as a character playing himself.
But if I had to pin season 4’s biggest problems down, it would be a trio of mistakes that even Gob would regret. First, the episodes were simply too long without enough of an editor’s hand keeping them trim and brisk. Second, very little of it was funny (I’d contend that only the Buster episode is consistently so). And third, they took generally likable Michael and turned him into a sleazy jerk just as bad as his family.
It was all terrible, just terrible, and even the “remix” wasn’t enough to make this worth watching.
Season 4 crippled the fandom’s interest in the show as a whole, and in subsequent years, Jeffrey Tambor’s horrible on-set behavior added to reasons to distance oneself from the series.
So when season 5 came along a few years ago… pretty much nobody cared. Sure, there was more of an effort to get the full cast together and make it feel a little more like the first three seasons, but it was not enough. The stories weren’t that interesting, Portia de Rossi (Lindsay) barely appears in it, and critics and fans were tepid at best.
I’ve only seen the first half of the season, losing steam to finish it out. Maybe one day I’ll get around to giving season 5 a full rewatch and review, but honestly? I don’t see the rush.