Chitchat: You’re probably too excited about this Arrested Development news

I talk television with a lot of people. Friends, family, other critics on Twitter, vagrants on the street. I just love talking about TV. Because I don’t have the time and resources to do a podcast like I used to in college, I’m going to sort of replicate that experience in textual form in a new recurring feature. Basically, I’ll just exchange a few emails with someone on a particular topic. You’ve seen this kind of thing done tons of other places, but it’s something I enjoy doing so expect more of it here on TVS. Today, friend and former colleague at the Indiana Daily Student/WEEKEND Adam Lukach joins me to talk about the recent Arrested Development “news.” 

Cory: Adam, I don’t know if you heard but OH MY GOD THERE IS GOING TO BE MORE ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT! And not just a movie, but another television season with 9-10 episodes to prepare us for the movie that will soon follow! This is all according to something AD creator Mitch Hurwitz said during a talk in NYC today and of course, the internet is blowing up. Here’s the thing though: All those people are dolts. How many times have we been done this road? I dare you to google “Arrested Development movie confirmed” and see how many direct hits you get. The show ended in 2006 and we’ve been doing this annoying, empty dance ever since. First we were just waiting on a script. Then the schedule. Then Michael Cera thought he was going to be super-famous and realized he didn’t need to do the movie. Then we were back to the script issues. Arrested Development is the Chinese Democracy of television and I’ve grown so tired of hearing about it. There are so many reasons not to be excited about this, but let’s start here: Just because Mitch Hurwitz wants to do another season and a movie of Arrested Development doesn’t mean a damn thing. His “confirmation” did not include a financier, a distributor or a television network — also known as the three things that you need to make another season and a film. Hurwitz or Will Arnett or Jason Bateman saying they want to do more isn’t new and most importantly, he holds no weight. I could go on Twitter and say that I’m getting everyone together to do another season of Smallville and there wouldn’t be much of a difference than what Hurwitz said, apart from a few actors openly agreeing to participate. So Adam, how do you feel about this?

Adam: Well Cory, at first I felt excited about this. Unfortunately, that was when I decided to take you up on your dare and Google “Arrested Development movie confirmed” because I am nothing if not a dare-taker. My optimism promptly shattered. I couldn’t believe that Will Arnett and Mitch Hurwitz have been confirming this for years! The only thing separating this announcement from any of the others is Jason Bateman, who has literally been in nothing good since he was on Arrested Development. I want to hear our Favorite Dork, Michael Cera, vouch for the creation of a series and a movie, or either one really. Oh wait, he won’t – because he’s spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the kind of roles that AD garnered him. So I’m starting to align myself more with you, in that I don’t think there’s even that much to go off here, except that maybe they said it in the presence of a publication that more than hard core pop culture enthusiasts read? Even if it did come back, who’s to say that it will be very good? None of these actors have been able to carry anything post-AD; who’s to say that the collective will fare better? Jaded Internet fanboys can make some noise, but they don’t ensure quality or even ratings. I would argue that S3 was AD‘s worst, even putting aside all the weird meta stuff. A lot of shows have some good two- or three-season runs. It’s the next few that cause some trouble, ask The Office for instance. So I’d say I’m about as excited as when Two and a Half Men comes on TV. Maybe I’ve just lost connection with my inner AD fanboy.

Cory: Right. In the middle of this conversation it was announced that Showtime and Netflix might be options to actually air the additional episodes, so that makes it slightly more likely to happen than it was when we started chatting. It’s not a confirmation, but it’s something, I guess. But you hit on the second point I really wanted to make: Are we sure this is going to be any good? You mentioned the work of Bateman and although I enjoyed some of his performances in films that weren’t necessarily hits (The Kingdom, Smokin’ Aces, The Switch and recently Horrible Bosses), I see your point. He’s mostly been stuck playing a Michael Bluth-like role. Michael Cera has a few high-profile failures since his coming out party in 2007, which is likely why he’s been more open to doing this. And TV networks have been trying to make Will Arnett happen for years. But the most glaring problem is Hurwitz himself. Let’s quickly move through his post-AD credits. The projects that were actually picked up: FOX’s animated Sit Down, Shut Up (which also involved a few AD actors doing voices)? Awful. Last season’s Running Wilde (starring, you guessed it, Will Arnett)? Pretty tepid. The projects that weren’t picked up: Adaptations of the British comedies In The Thick of It and Absolutely Fabulous and two failed pilots for CBS called My World and Welcome to It (again, based on other material) and Happiness Isn’t Everything. So in the five years since Arrested Development aired, Hurwitz has worked on six confirmed projects, all of which have been failures on many levels. I’m not saying that Hurwitz isn’t skilled or that his current failures negate the greatness of Arrested Development, but shouldn’t we be at least somewhat concerned that the magic of those three (really two, because you’re right, the third season is kind of a mess) seasons can’t be replicated a decade later? Maybe it can be, but doesn’t evidence point to the contrary?

Adam: I would definitely say that it does. Especially in the case of a show as tightly written as AD, if any air has fallen out of that script, I’m not sure that’s a show I want to watch. More to the point, AD heavily relied on its character ensemble – the more Bluths in the room, the funnier you could usually count on the incident being. Now they’re talking about splitting them all up and writing “Where are they now?” eps for each character. This sounds terribly tedious. Obviously I’m speculating, but if the whole point of the “miniseries” is to explain the characters while they were apart, then you’re removing the core dynamic of the show. Could I stand an entire episode of Lindsey Bluth and only Lindsey Bluth? Maybe, but I’m not so sure I want to find out. Hurwitz hasn’t exactly set the world on fire since. Really what I’m worried about is the show’s dynamics and its chemistry. It seems like a risky proposition to me to revive an ensemble-based comedy when most of its ensemble has seemed pretty ambivalent about the comeback. Then you have the monumental expectations of a fanbase that has all but canonized the show. It’s easier to consider the possibility that AD might have been some perfectly wonderful lightning-in-a-bottle, but lightning nonetheless.

Cory: You’re absolutely right. Arrested worked so well because the writing, the performances and the direction was all on the exact same page. They were always walking a tight rope with that increasingly, purposefully convoluted narrative (and again, I’d argue it kind of fell apart in season three) and with 10 years gone, I’m not entirely convinced that they can re-discover that sweet-spot — especially with everyone’s post-AD work (though the directors, the Russo Brothers have been doing excellent work all over town). It’s weird, I always thought a movie was a bad idea because what made the series so great was the long-game — piling on jokes, meta moments, intertextuality and narrative weight. Breaking that formula down into a two-hour film sounded kind of scary to me, even without thinking about Hurwitz’s recent failures. But now, the extra season of episodes sounds even worse. The one character, one episode template sounds just as dreadful as the movie idea. Certain series have done three or four minute webisodes with that kind of focus (most notably Lost before season four when Michael returned) and generally, they’ve been fairly inert and boring. Perhaps it was the writing and perhaps Hurwitz and his team have a great way to approach this concept, but taking something that doesn’t necessarily work in four-minute beats and extending it to 22-27 minutes doesn’t instill me with a lot of confidence. And here is perhaps my biggest question, one that I’ve been asking for a while now: Why do we need this at all? Arrested Development had two all-world seasons and one still pretty good season of television. It had more episodes than Party Down, Firefly and a dozen other series that were canceled too soon that I can’t think of right now. It won Emmys. FOX tried all it could to make people watch the show (people like to blame them for everything, but they’re wrong here) and they just didn’t. I’m sorry if you caught up on Netflix a couple years ago, but I watched the show live and I feel like I got what I deserved. Three seasons is a lot. Why can’t we ever let things go?

Adam: Because we want six seasons and a movie for everything! But seriously, maybe I would have a little more faith in this if the platforms were better-suited for AD as a show. We both mentioned the mini-series thing, but how would that narrative translate into 90 Hollywood minutes? The miniseries that would be an explanation leading up to the film seems more like an (unfortunately) crucial narrative crutch more than a reward of additional episodes. We’re (maybe) getting something that’s more like a movie with 10 really long trailers than a legit movie adaptation and another season, at least in my mind. It would seem to me, as I think you were alluding to, that there is a lot more to lose here in terms of reputation and mythology than there is to gain in actual quality television. How much does AD have left in the tank? If it tanks, we’ll remember it as some people who had something really awesome, never made anything out of it and then returned to ruin that something awesome. What’s more, AD KNEW IT WAS GOING TO END, so they were able to write the show in such a way that, even though the quality may have dipped, the ending at least made sense and had some continuity. If the Office had ended after Jim didn’t take the NY job and then asked Pam out, and we had a crystal ball to see the monster it would become, would we still want more episodes, more seasons or an Office movie? This just seems like a fine line that should not be walked, especially since we still lose good TV shows at the hands of their own writers all the time. It’s not like a lot has changed.

Cory: Totally. Listen, if this happens, I will watch every single episode and pay to see the film. But I don’t need them to happen and I don’t particularly want to see it. I’m not wishing ill-will on the production, but I’m just tired of this in the news cycle. There are just too many questions, from funding to the actual possibility of it being good, for me to get as excited about this right now. And the constant reporting that this is “confirmed” makes it all the worse. If this season and this movie happen and are awesome, I’ll be happy. But if neither happens, I’ll be OK too. We don’t need more AD. Sorry.

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2 thoughts on “Chitchat: You’re probably too excited about this Arrested Development news

  1. Terrific work, fellas. You’ve summed up my feelings on the matter exactly. AD is one of my all-time favorite shows. I’ve always felt that the third season was just shaky enough to suggest that the natural end-point had arrived.

    Also, don’t Will Arnett and Jessica Walter, at least, have regular jobs on TV right now?

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