Friday, June 1, 2018

REVIEW: Netflix's 'Arrested Development' - Season 5

Netflix's Arrested Development returns with the first eight episodes of its fifth season on Tuesday, May 29. This post will feature brief reviews of each episode of the new season.

The comedy stars Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Alia Shawkat, Tony Hale, David Cross, Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter.

Arrested Development had a solid legacy as an Emmy-winning comedy that amassed a cult following. It was because of the fans that the show was brought back for two additional seasons on Netflix. And yet, the viewers have to weigh whether they can tolerate watching the episodes any longer following the revelations of Jeffrey Tambor's behavior on sets. Netflix has done such a poor job actually addressing that controversy in a meaningful way. In fact, their responses have generally been lacking and delayed in the #MeToo era. At first, they said that it wasn't a big deal that Tambor would continue on the series because these problems of his were exclusive to the set of Amazon's Transparent where the results of the independent investigation that led to him being fired weren't shared with Netflix. The executives continued to defend their decision to keep Tambor around because they had never received any similar complaints in working with him. Of course, that seemed unlikely and everyone involved was trying to downplay the behavior because they all love this show so much. That's certainly how things came across in last week's infamous New York Times interview with a majority of the cast. Jessica Walter was literally crying as she was talking about an incident where Tambor yelled at her. The men in the room were quick to say that it was just part of the acting process and they are one big happy but complicated family. Walter had to point out that it was more abusive than anything she has experienced on any other set. And yet, this is still a job that all involved want to keep doing. As such, new episodes were produced. This time there is the promise that the cast will actually spend every episode together unlike the structure of the fourth season. That's enticing. But the audience also has to figure out for themselves whether or not they can see Tambor on the screen and still find his character funny given everything we now know about his behavior behind-the-scenes. It's something that deserves to be talked about and could be a huge hindrance to the reaction of this season. I made my way through the remixed fourth season knowing how I would react to seeing Tambor as George and Oscar Bluth again. It was difficult and I had much less tolerance for him. And yet, I still laugh at the rest of the ensemble and the situations the show puts them in. And so, I am still capable of watching the show despite how tarnished its legacy potentially is now.

501. "Family Leave"
Written by Mitchell Hurwitz & Jim Vallely and directed by Troy Miller

Well, this is a pretty dire start to the new season. It doesn't even seem like the show is starting fresh either. It's still dealing with the fallout of Season 4 which means the characters are still mostly separated. Yes, all of them do appear in this premiere. But it also feels like the show is just repeating a lot of the jokes that weren't all that effective last time around - no one recognizing Steve Holt, the mystery of who's living in the penthouse, Gob's frequency of buying forget me now pills, the red wig, the confusion over what FakeBlock does, sexual predators living in Sudden Valley, Tobias' license plate, everyone but Michael knowing Rebel Alley is Ron Howard's daughter, etc. Of course, it also doesn't seem like the show is actually addressing a lot of what happened at the end of that season. Yes, it deals with the fallout of George-Michael punching his father in the face. That was a well deserved punch as well because Michael acted so horribly in that situation. Here, the premiere tries to downplay that by saying that Michael was only going over to Rebel's apartment in the first place to break up with her. It just creates more confusion and is honestly more trouble than it's worth. It's the show trying to get out from the consequences of the fourth season without really doing so easily. The same also seems to be the case with the police treating Lucille 2 as a missing person instead of a murder victim. That was the implication last year. The Cinco de Cuatro celebration had a lethal ending with all of the Bluths seeming like they had a personal motivation for wanting to kill Lucille 2. Well, not George-Michael because he still doesn't know who she is. That may still be were this story is heading anyway because Buster and Maeby still need to be inevitably arrested for their apparent crimes from last season. That was a huge cliffhanger as well. And now, the show just doesn't mention that because it's flashing back in time to spend more focus on Michael and explaining the actions he took that can help propel the narrative into the new season. Of course, it's just much more enticing to see some of the new stories than linger any more in the past. It's amusing to think of Lucille and Tobias in a beach house together as well as Lindsay running for political office as a conservative candidate. But the joke about George not winning any awards for playing a woman felt bitter and depressing instead of a cheeky nod to Tambor's other performance on TransparentC

502. "Self-Deportation"
Written by Richard Day and directed by Troy Miller

It still feels like the show is primarily in setup mode trying to get the Bluth family back together. It's just taking a long time for that to actually occur. That amount of time could be to highlight a significant character enlightenment for Michael. After so many years of his family just briefly in his life and him continuing to struggle without them, he may actually be content being a part of this family for good even though he still wishes to see himself as the sensible son who has disdain for everyone else. Of course, it still feels very likely that he'll regress into the same impulses as before in being very judgmental of his family and threatening to walk away every other scene. That threat may no longer hold any significance because he did walk away for awhile. And now, he's back. He may not have been expecting to see the family in Lucille 2's apartment. But his trip to the model home and Lucille's apartment are highlighted by him remembering the time spent together there as a family. It's a crazy family but he has proven to miss them as well. As such, he should be committed to them. But right now, it seems like the family was just manipulating Michael into coming back to them by fooling him into believing Lucille 2 is still alive and has forgiven his debt. That way he can focus on whatever new scheme Lucille has come up with for the family. Of course, it's also important to see Lucille's character growth as well because she is learning that she is inflicting pain on others because she has been damaged as well. She's still relying on the family. She won't be able to escape them either. But she may have learned a lesson from her time in prison and rehab. Meanwhile, George Michael and Maeby are just completely absent from this new bonding as a family because they choose to stay in Mexico. It's once again a journey filled with exposition. The show is still constantly reminding the audience of what happened in Season 4. That's probably beneficial to those who haven't seen that season since it debuted. But right now, it seems to be setting those two on their own separate paths with George Michael finding some new college friends and Maeby possibly volunteering as a coyote helping people get across the border. Those just seem like tangential stories right now that don't have an obvious connection to the rest of the family though. C+

503. "Everyone Gets Atrophy"
Written by Mitchell Hurwitz and directed by Troy Miller

Now, this is more like it. This is the episode that starts feeling like the old Arrested Development again. Sure, a lot of it can be played for the nostalgia of simply referencing events and situations that happened during the original run. George Michael walks down memory lane when he returns to the model home. Beyond the cornballers and kissing cousins though, there is actually a sense that the creative team wants these characters to be together and interacting in their day-to-day lives - though no one is too concerned about Buster being arrested. A lot of it is set in Lucille 2's apartment with the family simply just getting Michael all caught up on what has happened and why they are reuniting this time. It's because Lindsay is running for Congress. Of course, the one massive downside of this episode is the fact that it's totally obvious that Portia de Rossi filmed her scenes in the apartment separate from everyone else. The lighting is off. She frequently appears in shots by herself. Plus, the show even seems to be winking at the stitching together of it all with Lindsay looking directly at the camera. That's not great. Nor are the show's political jabs at the most recent presidential election. Because the show is still set in the past, the characters are experiencing the events of the Trump campaign just like we did in 2016. And yet, it feels like the show is just copying what occurred in the real-world with Lindsay's campaign instead of offering up any kind of new and nuanced satire on the subject. I understand that political humor is difficult right now. But what the show does here is just so lazy and De Rossi deserves so much better - especially since she has now retired from acting. But there are some truly genuine laughs in this episode. That begins with the running joke of Tobias falling off the arm of a chair because the person sitting in the chair decides to get up. The episode then ends with the largest laugh so far in Michael and George Michael having a semi-fight with each other while using their new self defense and Star Wars training. That's unexpected and yet so earned by the setup from the season so far. As such, I have hope that the show will be able to keep building the momentum and become just as consistently funny as it once was while still allowing some emotional maturity for the characters too. Both Lucille and Lindsay reach out to their daughters saying they need their help. That's significant and makes it so easy for the family to immediately reunite. B-

504. "Old Start, An"
Written by Jim Vallely and directed by Troy Miller

This feels like a slightly disconnected episode. It doesn't even feature a classic "Next time on Arrested Development" segment to close the episode. Instead, it just cuts itself off going straight to the credits following Michael and George's conversation in the model home. That's weird and awkward. It's different than how the show typically operates with no real reason why. Elsewhere, it should be a big deal that the family kept the cottage where Michael spent the final months with his dying wife, Tracy. And yes, it is a betrayal that makes the family distrustful of each other. But the audience is also completely aware that they are selfishly keeping secrets from one another that are bound to blow up in their faces because no one is actually doing anything for or with Buster at the moment. Elsewhere, there's just the random introduction of Dermot Mulroney as Dusty, a new love interest for Lucille. He's just a guy collecting rocks at the beach because he's made a tradition out of throwing them at people who don't belong there. It just seems like a random detail to include here that doesn't really fit in with everything else. The same is also true about Kyle Mooney as the less talented actor Tobias keeps bringing along on his adventures. Yes, there is bound to be a significant and hilarious payoff to the running joke of Tobias dressing up as the other members of the Bluth family hoping to be incorporated into the big ceremony awarding them "Family of the Year." But right now, it's still mostly in setup mode. The same is also true of Maeby's newfound identity as an older woman. Yes, it's very funny to see her realize that she is essentially becoming her parents. She only sees the resemblance to her father when she is wearing the grey wig because of his time previously pretending to Mrs. Doubtfire her. But so many of the Bluths have put on ridiculous outfits in the hopes of fooling people into seeing them differently. It proves to be very successful for Maeby here because she is able to get into the apartment at a retirement community that Lucille 2 and Stan Sitwell own together. That too is bound to be a story with major implications especially as it pertains to all of the mysterious and cryptic teases about what happened to Lucille 2. There have been no quick answers so far. But that's bound to change once everyone realizes that Buster has been arrested for her murder. C+

505. "Sinking Feelings"
Written by Jim Vallely & Mitchell Hurwitz and directed by Troy Miller

There are some great comedic payoffs here that make this a very effective episode. Sure, I don't know how much more tolerance I'll have for Michael and George-Michael continuing to lie to each about their relationships with Rebel in the hopes that they won't be lectured about it being bad to lie. But it's also just so terrific to watch them have their grand reunion occur while they are at the bottom of the ocean scuba-diving. That also leads to the surprise that George Sr. is trying to kill himself by using the giant anchor that Gob has just given to him at the "Family of the Year" ceremony. Sure, it's a very dark twist that the show doesn't really explore the repercussions of. George Sr. returns to shore and is already scheming with Lucille again. But it's also this honesty and the need to help each other that forces many to come clean with their secrets. Both Michael and George Sr. have to tell each other that they currently don't know where Buster is and that there are no lessons to be learned. That plays so very effectively into the grand reveal that Buster has been arrested. It has taken the family a long time to realize that Buster is in jail. But it occurs in such a memorable and comedic way too with Tobias finally being mistaken for another member of the Bluth family. It just happens to be the one who is suppose to be in prison at the moment. That's a shock to the entire family. But it's also not enough to make any of them willing to see Buster in there. They can go to the precinct but they let their personal grudges keep them out of the room. As such, it's important to see Michael continuing to take care of his family. He was once again ready to say he was walking away for good. And it feels so rewarding to see Lucille punch him in the face. That's funny too and quickly gets him to change his mind. Plus, all of this brings Barry back into the story with some confusion as to whose bail Michael is actually paying for at the moment. He believes he's getting Buster out of jail but it's actually Barry. That's also very amusing because Barry is still offering some unusual and not all that helpful legal advice. Elsewhere, it should be interesting to see what the show does with the reveal that Tobias' new actor friend is actually a son he abandoned many years ago while Lindsay is now the one walking away from the family in order to find the parents who actually made her. Plus, George-Michael and Maeby kissed with cameras capturing it. That should be fun too. B

506. "Emotional Baggage"
Written by Evan Mann & Gareth Reynolds and directed by Troy Miller

It's really funny watching the Bluth family once again realize they are going to be strapped for cash because of unforeseen circumstances. They can't just borrow money from the company in order to post bail for Buster because he was arrested for tampering with evidence and possibly killing Lucille 2 who owns half the company. Meanwhile, Michael just got Barry out of jail with his money while George-Michael doesn't have the money despite continuing to boast about the strength and success of FakeBlock. All of this basically builds to the family realizing that they need to go into crisis mode now with a full media lockdown. That may be difficult because Michael suddenly remembers that he was making a movie of his family's life story. As such, Ron Howard could still be exploring the potential of that project now that he has the rights to the one family member actually getting notoriety at the moment. That sends Michael and Gob off on an adventure to get the rights back. It's so tragic to see Gob continue to avoid his true feelings for Tony Wonder. Sure, he may just admire and love their friendship but was tricked into having sex with him. But it's also clear that he is spiraling this season because he wasn't given the emotional tools in order to unravel all of these complicated feelings. That's tragic and extends straight from the fact that George Sr. is now trying to kill himself at any chance he gets. That's such a dark subject matter for the show to try to mine as a recurring joke this year. As such, it's very awkward and not all that amusing. It further plays into the idea that the emasculation of a man is such a depressing act that makes them appear worthless to the rest of the world. That's an antiquated idea though that the show is propping up because the family is forever stuck in the past. But that also doesn't stop Michael and George-Michael from continuing their relationships with Ron Howard and Rebel Alley. In fact, it's great to see the entire Howard family make an appearance here - especially the late Rance Howard who gives some notable advice to Michael about being a father. They may be doubling down on these stories because they don't know how to escape the lies they've told. But that's also a classic structure for this show as well that is bound to create many complications moving forward. Plus, it seems likely that the Howard hair will be a look that sticks for awhile for George-Michael just like it has done for Tobias. B+

507. "Rom-Traum"
Written by Maggie Rowe and directed by Troy Miller

This season has so far produced only a handful of comedic moments that really worked well. The rest has been either buildup of story or dealing with the fallout of the fourth season. It has yet to really produce a solid comedic episode. Well, "Rom-Traum" is a terrific episode of comedy. It's a story all about misunderstanding and the various deceptions the Bluth family have going with one another. It's such an extreme case of mistaken identity. Michael believes he's the smartest person in the family by tricking everyone into believing the District Attorney has located the stair car that has gone missing with Lucille 2. That sends George Sr. away to seemingly move wherever the family is hiding Lucille 2 so that Lindsay can win the election. But Michael decides to follow him to prove that his parents have once again been conning the family for selfish reasons. Meanwhile, George-Michael follows his father because of an innocuous comment from Maeby that possibly suggested that Michael was still dating Rebel. And then, Barry goes after them after Lucille reveals that she didn't fall for this ruse and needs Barry to actually find the stair car after the DA presents a picture with Lucille 2 and Oscar seemingly driving it. It's a journey that takes everyone back to the Mexico border. It takes them to the same exact spot where Tobias and his new son currently are. And that just leads to these grand reveals that pay so much off for what this season has been about so far. Michael gets confirmation that his family has nothing to do with Lucille 2's disappearance. George Sr. learns that he has foolishly been taking estrogen pills for two years and that's why he has been so depressed as of late. It appears to be a scheme orchestrated by Lucille so that she could move on to someone new. It's also a plan that George-Michael and Maeby would never believe their grandmother capable of doing. And George-Michael learns that Rebel isn't actually filming her reshoots in Mexico. That's just where the movie happens to be set. As such, it's great seeing the tables turn with Michael and George Sr. giving chase to George-Michael believing him to be Lucille 2 because he happens to be driving her car. It's so absolutely ridiculous. And yet, it's completely hilarious too. And it all ends with the punchline of George Sr. needing to sign away his rights to the land. So that means the family won't benefit if or when a wall is ever built. While all of this is going on, it's so fascinating to see Gob continuing to spiral with his realization that he may have genuine feelings for Tony and what that means about his sexuality. Sure, he deflects by buying this closet company so they can't talk about him and focusing on putting on an epic magic show at the Second of July parade. But it's so funny watching him agonize over every decision before finally saying that none of it is good enough yet. A

508. "Premature Independence"
Written by Mitchell Hurwitz & Jim Vallely and directed by Troy Miller

There needed to be big consequence to the recent trip to Mexico. And yes, those do immediately play out as soon as the Bluth family returns home. It's most notable with the new evidence showing that Lucille 2 and Oscar have simply escaped with the stair car. As such, there is no more reason for Buster to be in jail. He wasn't tampering with evidence because the photo proves that no crime was committed in the first place. Of course, that only begins the new set of legal problems for Buster and the rest of the family. Michael is able to get District Attorney Lottie Dottie to agree to release his brother. Then, George-Michael confesses that it was actually him and Maeby in the stair car in the photo. They were just wearing the Ron Howard and Brian Glazer wigs that Michael had bought at Imagine Entertainment. As such, Michael may now be seriously implicated in this conspiracy. Moreover, it's very ominous to note that the stair car was at the model home following the Cinco de Cuatro celebration. That makes Michael a huge suspect because he had the crime scene in that case and simply doesn't remember what he did that night because he was forced to forget. Meanwhile, Oscar makes his grand debut in staging a prison break to get Buster out. That's an amusing sequence largely because the show decides to present it as a silent movie. There are a couple of good jokes in there as well - like Buster not wanting to get the nickname "Buster" for busting out of prison and Tobias needing to still convey that he is a sex offender. But it's also clear that Buster now being a fugitive will only increase the legal trouble he is in at the moment. And yes, his family is concerned about that. But Lucille is also perfectly fine leaving Buster in prison for a few more weeks. She sees it as a just punishment for his past betrayal. If she could survive there for three years, he can manage a little while longer. And yet, it's also time for Lucille and George Sr. to drop their scheme of trying to get a wall built on the border. They no longer own the land nor can they find the candidate speaking in favor of it. It's just a mess that they want to get out of. Fortunately, that happens with Tobias asking Debrie to serve as a Lindsay impersonator but her shy nature forces her to hide underneath a sheet which manages to offend everyone watching. As such, it seems like mission accomplished - at least until Stan passes out and then pushes his daughter to be the candidate advocating for the wall. And finally, it's so meaningful to get this conversation between Gob and Tony Wonder about their relationship and how they would like it to continue. Sure, the illusion goes awry in a number of ways. Most of which don't seem planned at all. It doesn't seem all that surprising or special. But it also presents a way forward for Gob to come out and be accepted in that identity because that's who he truly is. That would be truly special even if he's left unclear as to what has just happened to Tony. B+

At the half way point of the season with all of the episodes Netflix released this week, it seems pretty clear that the season wasn't designed with that specific release strategy. Yes, there is some closure by the end of the eighth episode. And yet, it mostly feels like another episode of Arrested Development where things are continuing to go wrong for the Bluths. It sets up a second half of the season that is probably going to be more interesting and funny. I wonder when those episodes will debut. But mostly, I'm now completely convinced that Netflix only split the season into two halves so that it could be eligible at the Emmy Awards for this upcoming cycle. It wanted this show back in the race believing there to be openings in the comedy field. They aren't wrong to do that. It's the same strategy to ensure that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt stays in the race. But it also leaves me a little cold about these individual episodes and the effectiveness of this season so far. There was only one episode that I truly enjoyed. The rest were defined by these moments that worked while not always building up to something more meaningful and funny. Plus, it's once again annoying that Mitchell Hurwitz has seemingly failed to learn his lesson about making the episodes any length he wants. Did any of these episodes need to be 36 minutes long. It mostly feels like the show is trying to juggle too much story at the moment - even though it's also servicing less characters because Portia de Rossi isn't around full time anymore. Speaking of that, there has been some truly terrible green screen work this season that compromised most of De Rossi's appearances as well as Ron Howard and Ben Stiller in a couple instances. Those are weird and very noticeable. It's still difficult to get this cast all together at the same time again. Moreover, I've been doing pretty okay with seeing Jeffrey Tambor as George Sr. and Oscar again. It helps that he hasn't been the one mainly driving the story forward. But his character arc is certainly weird and dark as well with his turn towards suicide that the show seems to be explaining away because he was taking estrogen. That's probably sending the wrong message that should spark controversy with these episodes. But it's also just a minor thing in the grand scope of the show as well this season.