I have come here to praise the Bluths, not bury them. But anyone who claims the second half of the 5th season of Arrested Development, which will finally hit Netflix next week, has been worth the wait is lying. The series is going out with a whimper. But — and I can’t stress this enough — that’s okay. The new episodes aren’t as good as the old episodes, but they are still new episodes of Arrested Development. They are a gift we should all humbly (at least on Twitter) accept.
Many will talk about the behind-the-scenes turmoil that is almost certainly the reason why this last batch of Arrested Development episodes has been delayed for so long. In 2018, Jeffrey Tambor, who plays both George and Oscar Bluth on the show, was accused of sexual harassment by his co-stars on the series Transparent. Afterwards, some of his Arrested colleagues, notably, Jessica Walter, described him as “difficult” and others offered some defenses. It was an unsightly muddle. And that was pretty much the extent of the Arrested Development controversy. (Some people won’t want to watch it because Jeffrey Tambor remains extremely in it. That’s a perfectly valid perspective, but not mine.)
But, if you do watch it, guess what you’ll get? At least five laugh-out-loud moments. At it’s best — and it’s only at its best in moments — Arrested Development remains funnier than pretty much everything else. The show just went from batting a thousand to batting 250 with some dingers. It’s not a good thing, but there’s no shame in it.
The show also deserves credit for tackling topics literally no other show would even touch in today’s super-earnest media climate. Arrested Development is still making jokes about Gob (Will Arnett) going to conversion therapy and the Bluth’s are still trying to build a wall to separate the U.S. from Mexico. Maeby (Alia Shawkat) is still making fun of old people and Buster (Tony Hale) is still making light of people with prosthetic limbs. This shit isn’t safe and the show still doesn’t care.
Interestingly, though Arrested Development has almost never punched up with its humor, it doesn’t exactly punch down either. The Bluths are amoral hypocrites and the show has adopted that ethos. Weirdly, it kind of works and the creators seem to fully recognize the dynamic.
In one brief phone conversation between Michael and Buster, a huge and interesting theme is suddenly broached. Buster asks Michael “Why do you always think you’re the hero?” Frustrated Michael responds, “I don’t think I’m the hero, I am the —” And then he stops himself. Michael knows the ugly truth. He’s lived long enough to become the villain. He’s been a self-righteous deceiver for years and the result is both morally untenable and dramatically dynamic.
At its core, Arrested Development is still a show about the next thing that happened. This gets tiresome but remains largely watchable. That’s the in-the-middle place the show now occupies. It’s definitely not bad. It might be a little annoying. And it’s stubbornly, relentlessly worth watching.
The thing is, Michael Bluth’s savior complex is still aggressively relatable, and I’d argue, particularly to men in their 30s and 40s, many of whom want to believe they’re enlightened, progressive guys despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Arrested Development is still making fun of that idea, which is great because every family man has a streak of Michael Bluth in him — with all those delusions of grandeur and squalor. Men have a tendency to think of themselves in terms of the collecting, force ranking their behavior against those around them. I’m the best of the bunch, they think. They ignore that the bunch is horrific.
Arrested Development gets this, but the show isn’t here to help us laugh at our male insecurities. It’s here to make fun of those insecurities. Mercilessly.
The second half of Arrested Development, season 5, hits Netflix on March 15.