03 June 2018

Arrested Development Season 5, Effort, Context, and Whiffed Punts

I really wanted to get something out there before a Summer Jam article becomes my 900th post. Instead, THIS is post #900. What an age to be alive!

I finished up Season 5 of Arrested Development on Netflix today. It had gotten some decent reviews, with many Internet saying it was a return to the original run or what have you. That's not true because the original three seasons are as perfect of a sitcom as we're ever going to get, but once again I find myself strangely in the minority of opinion.

Hold on, I've got some hard candy
That's mostly because I kind of like Season 4. I wrote this whole thing about it. It did a lot of weird undermining things to the characters that in many ways completely shifted their dynamics. Michael's competency as a straight man was undercut. GOB's...reality as a straight man was undercut. George Sr switching personalities was literally the name of an episode, Lindsay went from materialistic to homeless squatter (and back again). Tobias...was straight (man this show plays with sexuality in a weird cavalier way)? Maeby also seemed to lose competency and confidence, although also seemed to bounce back. Buster didn't rely on mother (well, HIS mother). Lucile acting in Tobias' Fantastic Four knock-off still seems totally out of character for someone who never interacted with him in the original run. George Michael was confident.

But this is also all that Season 4 attempted to do - switch everything around and force these characters to grow or regress (hey - that's the name of the show!), but largely there are still interweaving plots, jokes and set-ups that pay off a few episodes down the line, and honestly a lot of big emotional payoffs. George Michael socking his father in the face is the culmination of an entire relationship based on manipulation, lies, and mistrust. George in many ways is the only really honest, innocent member of the family, and while Michael totally unravels as both a father figure and a person in his own right, it's an extremely cathartic moment. As Ron Howard says over and over again, it's the most interesting relationship to get into.

There are of course plenty of these kinds of moments - the Imagine Entertainment crap feels very much inside baseball and almost all the Tobias stuff lands on its face. Through the window. Still, the GOB episodes, the George Michael, the Maeby stuff, and seeing George Sr briefly in his element as an overbearing business magnate is great and lines up with anything in the original run.

Season 4 also felt very epic, precisely because of the spread-out nature of filming the entire cast separately required adding a ton more characters. It all feels like very grand storytelling, that does occasionally refract and crash back into each other. Another solid theme is that this family that all hates each other tended to do really really bad when out on their own. It's a depressing, failed time. It also ended on a tremendous cliffhanger.

Apparently, though, everyone hated this, mostly because of the splintered format. It is jarring, and the recently released Fateful Consequences re-mash doesn't really help, of course not actually solving any of the filming problems. There was something really unique in the way the original Season 4 developed perspectives and let you in on things more and more as they developed. The re-mix does get a little better once the timelines add up, and seeing The Opie Awards / Schnoodle / Herbert Love Rally and Cinco de Quatro all at once is fairly easier. Easier doesn't guarantee better, though, and there's a little bit lost when the former climax of an episode becomes the first act ("The Flight of the Phoenix" comes to mind). I recognize I'm in the total minority, and that's fine.

So, suddenly it seems like we're really here - getting a Fifth Season! And then it turns out that apparently most of the male cast are total tone-deaf douchebags. It's a rough time for watching shows with problematic casts. We just saw Roseanne implode based on the headliner actress / creator's racist tweets (and frankly, long and storied history of racism and crackpot conspiracy theories). I don't think you can necessarily go back and cringe at Roseanne, because we always knew what we were getting and it's not a sudden jolt to find out "GASP! She was RACIST this whole time?!" I mean... watch her damn show! It's more awkward to learn of sexual assault monsters and revisit their works. Louie C.K. is still so fucking funny, but...can you watch anything he's done, now? Kevin Spacey single-handedly ruined Baby Driver (2017). And with SOLO (2018) coming out I wanted to revisit this and then suddenly...oooh...oooh...no.

Jeffrey Tambor. There's maybe a grey area where there's been accusations but nothing substantial or concrete? That was apparently enough to fire him from Transparent but not from Arrested Development? Either way, the clear thing is that he was a monster on the set, particularly to Jessica Walters, and the real worst damn thing of it all is that every other male in the cast seems to not really care and want to cover it up. Bless Alia Shawkat, who not only turns in the greatest performance of anybody in Season 5, but is apparently the only one brave enough to stand up to Tambor. Anyway, the whole mess leaves a pall over this Season. That's not great going in.

On one of the DVD extras in Seinfeld Season 9 (you better believe I've watched all those), Jerry Seinfeld describes one of his feelings towards ending after Season 9 as it being pathetic to keep chasing the core premise of the show into old age. These four characters, chasing dates around New York in their forties and fifties? It's not really becoming. I couldn't help but feel that here. There was a little weight gained and hair lost in Season 4 of AD, but it really shows here. These characters as the same morose insane individuals up into their late 40s can't help but echo what Seinfeld wanted to avoid. Part of that dynamic was the young, naive George Michael, the Maeby who didn't know any better but probably should have, the clueless parents, the philandering uncles, the man-child thirty-something who becomes creepier with age. This all kind of falls apart.

There's a few larger stumbling blocks in Season 5. Portia de Rossi apparently quit acting, and it shows, because her character, after arguably getting a starrier role in Season 4 that promised a more central role to come is no where to be found. Resembling how Season 4 undercut most of its characters, Season 5 undercuts Season 4, with Rebel Alley becoming a minor figure, and that emotional face-punching catharsis quickly dealt with and forgiven (but perhaps never forgotten). Again, the only character I really liked watching was Maeby as she conned and disguised her way through a nursing home that felt very much like pure unhinged Bluthdom.

And well, maybe we'll get another eight episodes sometime that will sort out this nonsense. For now it feels an awful lot like for the first time the Coogler and the rest of the team here didn't have a plan going in. There's hardly a memorable episode in the batch and I feel like this show should have died along with Haliburton Way and Saddam Hussein jokes.

What did ya'll think?

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