What’s the most important thing? Breakfast. Family. The creative team behind Arrested Development seem to have forgotten that particular mantra when they set about writing 2013’s ill-fated fourth season, which saw each member of the Bluth family split off to have their own solo adventures. The result was a disappointing (and often incoherent) mess which lacked the wit and charm the series was brimming with in its heyday.

Fortunately, for season five, it’s family first. Specifically the Bluth family, who have decided to honour themselves with a “family of the year” award. Needless to say, seeing the entire ensemble cast back together in the penthouse apartment of Balboa Towers is an absolute joy, and a sore reminder of exactly what the fourth season was missing. The banter isn’t quite as sharp as it used to be, but there’s still a lot of fun to be had from the familiar blend of bitchiness and narcissism.

The returning cast fall back into their roles so effortlessly that it’s difficult to believe they’ve been gone for five years, although some members are given better material than others. Surprisingly, it’s Tony Hale as the dim-witted Buster Bluth who ends up stealing scenes this season, delivering some of the funniest lines the character has ever had. Alia Shawkat and Michael Cera are endearing as ever as cousins Maeby and George Michael, each of whom have gotten themselves into truly ridiculous predicaments.

The weakest link of the season would have to be David Cross as Tobias Funke, who is saddled with a handful of quite tedious scenes; as the character struggles to find a place for himself in the Bluth family, so too do the writers struggle to find a place for him in this show. Sadly, he isn’t the only problem season five has.

Since making the jump from broadcast television to Netflix series, the runtime of each episode has increased from a lean twenty-two minutes to a slightly bloated thirty. This may seem like a minor change, but the loss of brevity has robbed this series of the frantically fast pace seen in the first three seasons. This becomes particularly noticeable during scenes involving only two members of the family, where everything seems to grind to a halt and much of the dialogue seems expendable.

This extended runtime also allows the plot to meander in a way that becomes hard to follow at times, although thankfully it isn’t quite as convoluted as the previous season. Although there is a feeling that some plot-threads could have been dropped, particularly the meta-narrative involving Ron Howard, who again appears in person. The series wouldn’t be the same without Howard’s excellent narration, but the way he has inserted himself into the story of the show is distracting; particularly in one scene between Howard and Jason Bateman, where it is blindingly obvious that the pair were not available to film together.

The first half of season five is a mixed bag. It stumbles out of the starting blocks as it scrambles to pull together the disparate plot threads of the fourth season, but once the family is back together there are consistent glimmers of classic Arrested Development throughout. While it isn’t quite strong enough to be considered a return to form, it’s definitely a promising step in the right direction.

3 stars

Image from Movie DB

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