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‘Arrested Development’ needs to end

| Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Cristina Interiano | The Observer

I have a bit of a confession to make: although I will be sharing my thoughts on the four newest episodes of “Arrested Development”, I’ve only watched two. But don’t let that cast a shadow of doubt over what I have to say about the state of the show. Those two 25-minute viewings told me everything I needed to know. “Arrested Development,” despite my (perhaps naive) hopes to the contrary, is not getting better. Either the writers have run out of material, or they have forgotten what good humor looks like. The show has lost its spark, and it needs to end before it destroys its legacy.

This may seem overly harsh. Maybe it is. But it’s hard not to hold a show like “Arrested Development” to a high standard when it once represented the peak of cleverness, ingenuity and satire in comedy, when its extraordinarily wacky yet incredibly watchable characters and plotlines, written with the effective use of visual, auditory and running gags made it a cult classic and a critical darling. But none of these things — not the superb writing, nor the absurdity of the characters and their lives — would have come together without the chemistry of the show’s ensemble cast, composed of individual talent from Will Arnett to Portia de Rossi and David Cross. Indeed, when the Bluth family was together, anything was funny. Remember Tobias’ graft versus host disease? Or the mentally disabled British girl named Rita? It all worked, somehow.

Well, it worked until “Arrested Development” separated its cast for an “experimental” season four, in which individual episodes would focus on a single character, extinguishing the show’s greatest asset — its ensemble of funny people — to no longer share as much screen time. The consequences of this were immediate and enormous. Characters that were zany (and somewhat depraved) when together became pathetic, unfunny and ultimately unbearable when separated. Michael, without his family to manage, lost his identity as straight man and became an object of pity in a way that was not at all humorous. The plots got weirder — not in a good way — and characters were given whole episodes, which they were unable to shoulder on their own. In short, “Arrested Development” lost itself in its fourth season.

And the show never really recovered. That much is clear to me after watching the first two episodes of the fifth season. The show, having brought its characters back together too late, does little more than recall old jokes and characters without adding anything new. Gob, for instance, has another stuttering “episode” while sitting at his desk, but all it does is remind the viewer of the joke’s previous, much funnier iteration (“ok, ok, ok. So should, should, should, should, should, shhhhshsh, should, should…”). Characters like Stan Sitwell return but add little. Old storylines — like Oscar’s identity as Buster’s true father — are reinvented in a way that robs them of their previous humor.

Just as misguided is the show’s treatment of its characters. Michael, once the straight man, has become the incompetent, sad fool of which we only saw glimpses in the first three seasons. George Michael, formerly funny in his good-natured awkwardness, has all but lost his sense of morality and innocence — merely an unlikeable liar. George Sr. is equally depressed and pathetic in a way that is, well, depressing and pathetic. Gob becomes embroiled in a strange gay subplot that is probably supposed to be progressive in some way but ends up looking more like an insensitive misfire.

Worst of all is the show’s new material. When the “Arrested Development” does manage to extricate itself from self-plagiarism, the results lack promise. Interactions between George Sr. and Lucille, characters who previously enjoyed great chemistry, come off as awkward and stale — although my reaction to Jessica Walter’s allegations against Jeffrey Tambor (who plays George Sr.) may very well color my opinion.

Essentially, the characters and their lives, while zany and terrible from the start, have lost their comedic value since the third season. The show has been treading water ever since, looking back to old jokes to keep itself afloat. Maybe it’s time for “Arrested Development” to let itself drown.

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