That last joke is, of course, a callback to how she accidentally slept with Perfecto (Eli Vargas) in Season 4, but that’s as far back as most of Maeby’s story goes in explicitly referencing the past. Most of her material is as fresh as it is rewarding. Almost the same can be said for Gob (Will Arnett), the second cast highlight of Season 5. Though early on he’s asked to resurrect some old favorites, there’s restraint shown later, particularly in referencing Gob’s tendency for “huge mistakes.” His main storyline — confessing his love for Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller) — hits home.
Gob’s plot being this funny is even more impressive considering it’s a continuation of his arc from Season 4; an arc that worked far better than most, but reconnecting with it could still remind viewers of the wreckage that surrounded the last entry’s few consistent bright spots. From his closet store confessional (“If any of you breathe a word of this, you’re fired.”) to the outrageous illusion he convinces Tony to join (“a double closet sexuality switch two-hander float illusion — no credit, no money”), Gob’s steady acceptance of his feelings is much more rewarding than could be reasonably expected. Arnett does a fine job embodying the flummoxed magician again, even though he struggles to reach the hysterical ends of Gob’s whiplash-inducing mood swings. He just seems a bit tired, which could be a regular result of aging or a been-there-done-that reaction to playing the character yet again.
So what to make of the ending? For one, it barely works as a conclusion; given the series’ tendency to close episodes on cliffhangers, the waning seconds of 5A aren’t that satisfying. There’s clearly more to come and this was just a convenient breaking point forced on Hurwitz by the Emmys’ rules and regulations. Oscar is on the run with Buster (courtesy of a great old-timey silent movie sequence), Lindsay’s future in politics is still undecided (after she lost points for DeBrie’s “equally hated” parade appearance, but then won them back for saving those kids), and Gob is in a similar state of emotional turmoil with Tony either buried under a closet’s worth of concrete or vanished until someone (narrator included) utters the word “Wonder” again. But Michael and his son are finally back on the same page and that’s somewhat reassuring.
That said, the plot of “Arrested Development” was always just fuel for humor. The crazy twists and outlandish coincidences set up delightful wordplay, awkward run-ins, and more elaborate situational comedy that brought out the best from its charming characters. At times, Season 5 does this, and it certainly seems like it’s gearing up for more in the back half. But rather than question what will happen next with the Bluths, it seems more relevant to ask what will happen next for their series. Is there enough new material to sustain more seasons? Is there enough new material to sustain more seasons despite what’s going on offscreen? Will the actors want to return for more episodes if fan backlash continues or if there’s evidently less interest in the new season than five years prior?
In the end, the question seems to be whether or not the new “Arrested Development” is worth all the trouble. The urgency for new episodes has reversed. This used to be a cult favorite, a little-seen but beloved comedy that gained more and more attention as the years passed and TV audiences realized how ahead of its time “Arrested Development” was. Now, it’s a coveted original property at Netflix, television’s most prolific content generator. The attention it’s earning is at best conflicted, and at worst downright irate. Fans used to be fighting for more of a show that was cut down too soon. Now, does anyone want to fight for a show that’s best days are behind it? Season 5 is better than Season 4, but that’s not a good enough reason to keep pushing for Season 6 — not anymore. Even if the back half is brilliant, that doesn’t guarantee “Arrested Development” can escape its own history.
“Arrested Development” Season 5, Part 1, is streaming now on Netflix. Part 2 is expected to premiere later this year.