By Christina Schultz
This review contains SPOILER ALERTS! If you haven’t watched the new episodes of Arrested Development on Netflix, be warned, some of the details will be revealed below.
Consuming television shows or films critically helps us as an audience hold mainstream media accountable for producing problematic images. Being aware of what happens behind the scenes of our favorite shows and movies feeds into this critical-viewing process. For example, watching the show Arrested Development (Fox 2003-2006; Netflix 2013-) post-scandals certainly leaves a funny taste in my mouth, and not the good kind of funny. The first incident involves Jeffrey Tambor, who was fired from the show Transparent (Amazon 2014-) when two team members accused him of sexual harassment, which he never really apologized for (because how can you apologize for something you deny having done?). The second incident involves Tambor yet again and his now-notorious verbal abuse of Jessica Walter and Jason Bateman’s mansplanatory brushing over of the whole affair during a New York Times interview. Knowing about this now, I can’t help but blur the lines between actor and character as I view the first half of the new season (Netflix released the first 8 episodes of Season 5 on May 29). But that’s not the only reason why I feel the show falls flat in comparison to previous seasons.
For the record, I have been a loyal fan of the show for years, even wearing cut-off jean shorts and wielding chocolate-dipped bananas and “juice boxes” (what Buster calls Lucille’s boxed wine) to AD viewing parties. The previous seasons of the show have provided me with so many LOL moments and hilarious one-liners that I still quote them as if I just saw the episodes yesterday (which is not far off, I rewatch the show a lot). Yet Season 5 shows everyone’s age and another round of quite literally being stuck in arrested development somehow has lost its charm in this generation of promoting the exact opposite: self-love, acceptance, personal growth and honesty with a firm refusal to put up with the same old bullsh*t.
The family dynamics somehow seem more cruel and painfully awkward in the once laughably comical dysfunctional Bluth family. Ron Howard tries to add some freshness by including more of himself and his family - his children, wife and father have cameos in one episode and Isla Fisher reprises her role as his daughter from Season 4 - in an odd pseudo-nod to the comparatively squeaky clean sitcom Happy Days (ABC 1974-1984; which also starred Barry Zuckerkorn actor Henry Winkler as the Fonz), which doesn’t really help rejuvenate the storyline. Every returning character has clearly hit rock bottom, and one cannot help but see the bitter irony in this now.
While this is an admittedly brief breakdown of Season 5, it demonstrates just how worn out the show appears to the critical viewer aware of the important behind-the-scenes context.
Michael, played by Jason “mansplainer” Bateman, tries to maintain a relationship with his son George Michael but often fails because of poor communication. He lies, avoids the true problem, puts words in his son’s mouth and, worst of all, ignores both their feelings (oh, the irony that Michael Bluth behaves like an ass!). George Michael (Michael Cera) tries to do the right thing but unfortunately goes to his cousin Maeby for advice (it’s always terrible). Maeby (Alia Shawkat), technically not related to the Bluths because her mother Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) is adopted, still schemes her way through life because her parents failed her. Tobias, Maeby’s “actor” “father” (the quotes on both words is intentional), pathetically clings to his wife’s family despite their pending divorce so desperately because where else can he go? He spends more time with his newfound son Murphy Brown this season than with Maeby in the previous four. Lucille (Jessica Walter), meaner than ever, has stooped to (court-ordered) “therapy” sessions with Tobias. The youngest Bluth sibling Buster (Tony Hale), once Lucille’s constant companion and admirer, winds up in jail and she could care less. GOB (Will Arnett), once the ladies’ man, pines away for fellow (real) magician Tony Wonder (played by Ben Stiller) and even lets it slip to Kitty (Judy Greer) in Episode 6 that he’s “got a lot on my mind right now with work / am I gay? / my brother Buster’s in jail” and even wants to undergo “conversion therapy” but literally winds up in a “closet conversion” store (in typical GOB fashion, he didn’t do his research). In perhaps the most ironic twist of all, George Sr., played by Jeffrey Tambor himself, cries a lot, shies away from conflict, has no libido and cannot perform for his wife, Lucille (Jessica Walter). Their relationship is, needless to say, on the rocks.
As you can see, the characters’ not-so-funny nastiness and the many cringe-worthy, awkward moments they create hit so close to home in real life that you can’t help but wonder how, or if, the show can redeem itself in its second half by shedding some of the emotional Bluth baggage and recapturing the family’s wild and wacky wit with which we fell in love. Viewing Arrested Development critically allows us to reassess the show and the messages it is sending. More importantly perhaps, by seeing the show’s weaknesses in relation to the actors’ real-life behavior, we continue the discourse of respect and accountability begun by the Time’s Up and #metoo movements. If we, the consumers of images, voice our opinions, we can unleash the power to shape the images we consume. My far from glowing review should not deter you from watching, but stay informed about what you view on screen and off, share your opinions and you will have an empowering viewing experience.
If you have watched Season 5, you might be thinking what I’m thinking: WHERE THE HELL IS LUCILLE 2? Share your theories in the comments!
Lissy, our resident TV expert will also weigh in on Arrested Development soon!
From left, Buster Bluth (Tony Hale), Maeby Fünke (Alia Shawkat), George Michael Bluth (Michael Cera), Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter), Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), George Bluth (Jeffrey Tambor), Lindsay Bluth (Portia de Rossi), Tobias Fünke (David Cross), GOB Bluth (Will Arnett) (photo: Flickr, Methodshop.com)