This may come off as damning Arrested Development's fifth season — which just came out on Netflix today (May 29) — with faint praise, but it appears to be much better than its previous season.
Yes, if the first reviews from critics are to be believed, Arrested Development's recaptured some of its magic by fixing the biggest flaw of its predecessor: getting its cast in the same room at the same time.
Still, the show's latest season doesn't spend a lot of time in the territory of its more-novel earlier seasons. The start of the season feels a bit slow, and overly-filled with scenes spent catching viewers up on what came before. But the consensus among these critics should give hope, as it apparently hits its stride after a few episodes.
The New York Times
James Poniewozik's review for The New York Times highlights solid performances from Jessica Walter and Will Arnet, and notes how there's a bit too much of Ron Howard's voice-over narration.
"Things pick up a few episodes in, as the show connects with its heart — that the Bluths can only express love in warped ways — and its engine — that the one thing you can rely on them to do is lie to one another."
"And the cast’s talent is in full flower. You don’t need wild story machinations to enjoy Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter) lobbing 80-proof Molotov cocktails of sarcasm, or Gob (Will Arnett) spiraling into self-loathing, or Buster (Tony Hale) being fitted with yet more artificial hands."
"The fifth season … eventually re-approaches the manic pleasures of the show’s heyday. Unfortunately, it takes its time getting to that point, and it doesn’t stay long."
"Arrested Development was once the story of a wealthy family who lost everything. Now, it’s mostly a story about having watched Arrested Development."
In her review for USA Today (opens in new tab), Kelly Lawler praises the fifth season for its improved pacing, but notes that it can't touch the heights of its original run.
"In essence, it's a lot like what fans thought they were getting when Netflix announced it was reviving the cult sitcom."
"The season is faster-paced and makes better use of the recurring gags from its entire run."
"But though it's a considerable improvement on Season 4, the fifth season still can't reach the heights of the first three."
"Arrested was strange and unique in 2003. But while writers can play with self-referential in-jokes, the classic moments can't be topped. It's just not as funny the second time Tobias 'blue himself.'"
In his review for Entertainment Weekly, Darren Franich points out how Lindsay Bluth's performance feels stilted, due to being done remotely, on green-screen.
"It’s a kick to see the cast members reunited—and a helplessly gossipy thrill to see who’s changed the most between seasons. Deadpan Bateman is still one of TV’s greatest straight men—[Ron Howard Voice] unlike Tobias. Alia Shawkat’s Maeby feels promoted to greater prominence, a onetime precocious child grown into a next-generation Bluth hustler. Arnett’s still giving Gob everything he’s got, even if the character feels pushed way beyond the cliffs of absurdity."
"The cast is 'back together' relatively early, which means the phrase 'Whole Episode About George Senior' need never be uttered ever again. But the cure is worse than the disease. Some subplots take forever. People keep going to Mexico, then coming back from Mexico, then going back to Mexico again."
"Lucille (Jessica Walter) is plotting, which is always fun. But a big part of her plot involves Lindsay (Portia De Rossi) running for political office on a platform of populist stupidity—a practically-necessary Trump riff that would be funnier if De Rossi didn’t feel beamed in from Distant Planet Greenscreen."
The Hollywood Reporter
In his review at The Hollywood Reporter, Tim Goodman highlights pros and cons of the new season, but concludes by saying the series will always fail to satisfy all its fans' expectations.
"Luckily, by the third episode of the new season, the cylinders are firing a lot more effortlessly, and the series benefits from having the cast pretty much all back together for shared scenes. Episodes five, six and seven show Arrested Development at its best, taking a full sprint at ridiculously elaborate scenarios."
"George Michael (Michael Cera) still fighting those weird urges over cousin Maeby (Alia Shawkat), who in turn has upped her scheming to preposterous and hilarious new levels, among many other storylines. And while those storylines stumble a bit in the early, catch-up episodes, patience pays off."
"The first couple of episodes — seven were made available to critics — are saddled with previous plot points that will be the basis for future developments. So temper your expectations; the narrative clutter sometimes obscures the jokes."
"But Arrested Development will always be a series that fails to satisfy the expectations of every fan. Not everybody thought Michael Jordan was good when he came back, either. From the halfway point in its new season, it looks like a solid and welcome return to form, which makes me excited to see the rest."
At Vox, Todd VanDerWerff's review highlights Alia Shawkat's performance as Maeby, and notes that Tobias' poor showing this season isn't owed to David Cross, but to a story that has little for him to do.
"But Arrested’s timeliness goes beyond a simple overlap with the Trump era. The show has always been about how big money in capitalist America corrupts. It’s not a show of the now; it’s a show of the whole post-Reagan era. Michael seems sensible, but only in comparison to the other Bluths. To anybody else, he’s just as venal and corrupt as they are."
"The retired Portia de Rossi (Lindsay) is in far less of the season than you might want her to be, considering much of the season’s plot revolves around electing her to Congress."
"Really, only David Cross’s Tobias ultimately doesn’t work, and that’s more to do with how little reason the character has to stick around at this point in the story, nothing to do with Cross’s performance."
Credit: Saeed Adyani/Netflix