“Moral of the story is I chose a half measure when I should have gone all the way. No more half measures”.
It might seem strange but that Mike Ehrmantraut quote from Breaking Bad was at the forefront of my mind while watching the beginning of the fifth season of Arrested Development. The fourth season of the show was a mixed bag and a definite drop in quality from the previous three. The schedules of the cast members meant the characters rarely interacted and instead went on their own adventures, and the freedom of Netflix meant that episodes no longer had to stick to a tight twenty-two-minute run time, instead stretching endlessly, going from one overlong scene to another. I have a different experience with the season every time I watch it (four times as of writing) and I see it very much as a failed experiment. The show’s creator Mitchell Hurwitz apparently agrees and had the season re-edited to make it more like the original three series. Knowing that the creatives involved were unhappy with Season 4 made watching Season 5 a strange experience, seeing what changes had been put in place but also what the writers didn’t change and decided to keep, and develop, from the fourth season.
This brings me to the Mike Ehrmantraut quote. The fourth season left a lot of storylines hanging (some good, some not-so-good) and so coming into a new season after a 5-year break, and a maligned previous season, would bring with it some challenges when it came to continuing these storylines. Instead of taking a “full measure” by either starting completely afresh and discarding these plot threads or going forward with them wholeheartedly, the fifth season takes a “half measure”. Some of what happened in Season 4 seems to still matter, like the disappearance of Lucille 2, while other plot threads that were seemingly very important went away after the family ran away to Mexico in the season premiere, or some cliff-hangers, like P-Hound suing George Michael, were simply ignored entirely. I think the fifth season would have been better if Hurwitz had taken Mike Ehrmantraut’s advice and chosen a full measure instead of a half measure.
Having said that I did enjoy the first eight episodes of Season 5 quite a lot. Initially I was disappointed. I still think that the first two episodes of the season are by far the worst in the show’s history and are a messy attempt to change the direction of the show. Starting with episode 3, the show gets pretty good and the sixth episode is the highlight with Buster being told to go after a skinhead in prison only to attack Ron Howard in the final scene being the first joke that made me feel like I was watching classic Arrested Development again. I think it was a mistake to split the season in two, especially when we still don’t know when we will get to see the next eight episodes. The season was gaining momentum in the first half only to have it stop dead for this hiatus and the split was apparently done so the show could be nominated for Emmys, but personally I don’t think it’s good enough. Splitting it into two also means that the actors will have to start promoting the show again soon and the last promotional circuit was an absolute disaster with Jeffrey Tambor’s allegations and Jason Bateman’s problematic comments on the issue.
The half measure of continuing season four’s storylines has left the fifth season feeling unnecessarily convoluted. In the back half of the season, likely in the finale, I hope the show returns to some sort of status quo or baseline that further misadventures of the Bluth family can begin from, like the original show. I realise the series has changed dramatically and it will never truly go back to the way it was before but at the moment it is ridiculously complicated. Just take the Rebel Alley storyline for example. Every plot point and character motivation in that storyline is based upon a previous plot point or character motivation in a confusing chain of events. Michael and George Michael are lying to each other, then telling the truth, but then they change their minds, and then they change them back again. Every action is based on an increasingly complex backstory. The whole thing just needs a reset. That’s how great comedy shows like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” operate. A storyline will happen, it will conclude and then the characters, having learnt something or not, revert back to the status quo ready for another misadventure. I want Arrested Development to live up to the name a little bit and just stop progressing these characters too much, establish a baseline and then begin again. The characters will be different to how they were in the first three seasons but I want the plotting to be like the original show with a season-long arc while still being largely episodic.
I want a chicken dance. I know we had the whole “Total Regression” scene is the third episode that poked fun at the complaints of not having certain running jokes and props in the fourth season but, come on, some of these running gags are vital parts of the show’s DNA. We almost saw George Michael’s chicken impression in Season 4 and then we had a very strange ADR chicken squawk by Gob in one of the Season 5 episodes but it’s about time we saw a character, either new or old, do a chicken dance. Also, I want to see Gene Parmesan. Maybe they could kill two birds with one stone and have Gene Parmesan do a chicken dance; he is working for “Chicken Dan’s” after all.
So far, Season 5 has poked fun at a lot of the problems the show had in its fourth season, (George Senior’s line about how rare it is having three generations of Bluth in the same place comes to mind) but the season has had many of the same issues as the previous one. The pacing is off because the majority of scenes are just too long and the use of music to try and keep the audience engaged is annoyingly apparent. Ironically however, there is one scene which is far too short. Lindsay leaving the show because of Portia de Rossi retiring from acting is a shame but, as the brilliantly expanded role for Maeby shows, the series can work without her. I do think she deserves a proper farewell scene however because the one we were given, where Portia was filmed against a green screen and inserted in after the fact, was far too short. I’m fine with Lindsay leaving to find her parents but her goodbye was far too abrupt and I hope that in the second half of the season we get one last scene with Lindsay before she exits the show for good.
So, there were some of my thoughts and feelings on the first half of Arrested Development’s fifth season and some hopes for the upcoming eight episodes. How did you like the first eight episodes of the season? What are your hopes for the (hopefully) soon-to-be-released second part? Let me know in the comments and geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.