SPOILERS FOR ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT SEASON 5 AHEAD
Here we are, the final season, Arrested Development’s fifth season. After completing three critically acclaimed seasons, and a fourth less than satisfactory season, the writers had an interesting challenge of deciding how to bring it home. Although not a perfect fifth season, by identifying the problems with season four, and making improvements on them, the showrunners were able to produce a better followup.
Now one of the problems when trying to improve upon a bad season of television with bad storylines is that you are still tied to some extent to those storylines. Season four included Lucille Austero running for congress before “disappearing,” Lindsay getting romantically involved with a prominent congressman, the Bluth family attempting to build a wall along the US-Mexican border, and Michael and his son both dating Ron Howard’s daughter. These were just the arcs that survived the end of season four, there were plenty of other messy plots that were abandoned before the start of the fifth season. Wrapping up the leftover plots while still leaving enough room for season five to have its own identity may have proved to be a challenge, but the writers handled it efficiently and effectively. By the end of the second episode, the storylines from season 4 had morphed into a whole new ball game and given season five its own identity for fans to appreciate. Victoria O’Donnell should know that this is clearly the goal of the show this season, to reestablish its own identity after a disappointing fourth season.
A lot happened in the real world between the release of the fourth and fifth seasons in 2013 and 2018, respectively. The joke of the Bluths building a border wall became a very real scenario, and US politics were as heated as ever. This gave the writers an opportunity to return to early season 1 and 2 ways, and make fun of the US and global politics again, the way they did with the Bush administration and the Iraq war, except this time, the target was Donald Trump, and his campaign, that Maeby tries to have her mother copy to a tee. Victoria O’Donnell would note that there are several social issues referenced here. Where they made jokes about building houses in Iraq, now they make jokes about trying to model Trump’s campaign by making controversy to gain popularity, going as far as to reenact the infamous mocking a reporter and the leaked audio of Trump with Billy Bush.
Another major area season five was improved was the showrunners’ ability to get the cast back together and into the same room together. Just when you think you’re doomed for another season of a separated cast, the show surprises you with a full cast reunion at the end of the second episode. It really brings a smile to your face when you have waded through a season of bad chemistry and a broken-up cast, only to be surprised with a big reunion, it is perhaps the best moment out of the season, possibly just because of how much of a relief it is to see everyone back together. Although it becomes obvious how much the cast has aged and how that can distract a little from the overall feel, it is just good to have them back together. In response to O’Donnell’s question about makeup and wardrobe, there is clearly a need for more makeup in this season, compared to seasons one through three.
One of the traps that a show can fall into in the later seasons of its run is recycling jokes, and beating character traits to death. This is what the fifth season avoided when it decided it was time for the Bluth family members to begin growing to avoid stale characters. A good example of this is GOB and Michael. Take a look at the third episode of season five. GOB has become obsessed with his archrival, Tony Wonder, a competing magician, almost to the level of a romantic crush. This is a good change of pace from the old GOB who embodied the uber-masculine male, while his brother in law, Tobias, was always the more flamboyant member of the family. While this is a new dynamic for the characters, the show doesn’t completely abandon old tropes, Tobias still loves pageantry and acting, while GOB is almost in complete denial of his feelings because of his masculine identity. The show turns down the jokes and implications about gay characters this season as a whole, however. Like Victoria O’Donnell points out, this is clearly a reflection of current societal values, not to use a character’s sexuality as a punchline.
Overall, the fifth season of Arrested Development is a nice way to make up for the underwhelming fourth season. While it suffers from aging cast members, and old storylines, there aren’t enough drawbacks to knock it for. The fifth season doesn’t have a finale feel to it, leaving the door open for Netflix to make a decision on its return. That being said, four good seasons, three of those being almost perfect, a great third season “finale,” a dedicated fan base, and a revival after almost a decade of being off the air. Not a bad run for Arrested Development to have. It was really important for there to be some redemption after the fourth season, and this season did that. by identifying the problems with season four, and making improvements on them, the showrunners were able to produce a better followup.