Arrested Development returns to Netflix after seven years away with 15 brand new episodes. I should be unhinged with happiness. So why am I so nervous?
Over the past few months, I’ve had lots and lots of people ask me the same question: “How excited are you for the new season of Arrested Development?!?”
I’m an outspoken Arrested Development fan and have been for almost ten years now. I started watching four episodes in, quickly caught up on the ones I missed (which was trickier in 2003), then started evangelizing immediately. I was so audacious and effusive about AD that I ended up turning people off the show more than on. (Eventually everyone acquiesced and watched it. But it took the full decade.)
As rumors ramped up over these past few years about an Arrested Development movie and, then, a brand new season, I always responded to questions the same way. “I’ll believe it the day they start filming and not a second before.” Well, that day came. And it left me surprisingly nonplussed.
I’ve always felt personally invested in Arrested Development. I saw it as comedic perfection — so when people rejected it, they were rejecting me. And now that it’s back, I find myself generally feeling more nervous than excited. I know how absurd that is. A TV show that I’m not connected to in any way is making me nervous. But it is.
Here are the 11 reasons why I’m apprehensive about the new season of Arrested Development.
1 | Second chances have a bad history
Five cases popped into my head of against-all-odds resurrections (with apologies to Jesus for not making the list): Family Guy, Michael Jordan on the Wizards, the Star Wars franchise, The Rock in the WWE and Indiana Jones. It’s always different when a career gets a few years of distance in the middle instead of at the end. Premature nostalgia sets in, and there’s nothing you can do that compares to nostalgia. Especially if, like in all the examples above, you return and you’ve lost a step. I don’t know if Arrested Development will have lost a step. But it might be returning to find it’s impossible to measure up to nostalgia-driven inflation…
2 | The reality may never be able to match the hype
I’m squarely in the camp that believes Arrested Development is the best sitcom ever. (Just a step above Seinfeld For this, I have to count The Simpsons as a cartoon, not a sitcom. I still refuse to pick a winner between the two. But we’ll talk more about The Simpsons later in this list.)
Over the past decade, as hundreds of sitcoms have come and gone, that’s just solidified Arrested Development‘s spot on the throne. I recently rewatched the entire series, and it’s still amazing. But I think it’s possible that, in my head (and many people’s heads), Arrested Development‘s genius is even somewhat inflated. Deified. It’s that nostalgia-hype-distance trifecta. So even if the new Arrested Development comes back just as brilliant as the original run, I’m worried that it’s not going to feel good enough. Even if it’s perfection, its standard is perfection plus one.
3 | Arrested Development thrived as an underdog with a chip on its shoulder
Arrested Development was an underdog from the first day of its run and remained an underdog until FOX finally put it down after three (really, two-and-a-half) seasons. And it thrived off that. The show did everything with an edge.
They got every guest star in the world, and each one gleefully reveled in exposing the vapidity of stunt casting and ratings ploys. They crafted an entire episode around whether HBO or Showtime might save the show after FOX canceled it. Instead of making the comedy broader and pandering to a mass audience, they decided to get narrower and hit their callbacks and inside jokes even harder. It was brilliant, the dozens (dozens!) of hardcore fans adored it… then the show was gone.
Arrested Development is not an underdog anymore. Netflix spent a small fortune reuniting the cast and staff and relaunching the show. It’s gotten more promotion in the past two weeks than it did in three years on FOX. People are legitimately speculating if Netflix — which currently serves one-third of the U.S. Internet data traffic — could crash the day it’s released from so many people streaming it simultaneously. What happens when an underdog becomes a safe, secure favorite? How can it keep its edge?
4 | The over-saturation of Michael Cera
My girlfriend watched Arrested Development for the first time a few years ago. And one of her comments was, “Wow, Michael Cera was playing that same character back then.”
He was. But he did it in Arrested Development first. And when it was happening, it was incredible. In one of the most talented ensembles ever, a 14-year-old kid might have had the best comedic timing — especially for a show structured around uncomfortable pauses. He turned every line into a punchline through a prodigal understanding of his character, but still managed to convey three-dimensional emotion. He was the breakout movie star from the cast because he deserved it.
The only problem was… it turned out George Michael (the character, not the singer-songwriter) *was* Michael Cera. So we got George Michael in Superbad. Then in Juno. Then in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Then in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Then in a bunch of web videos. So by the time someone new discovered Arrested Development in the late 2000s or early 2010s, Michael Cera became less of a revelation and more of the same.
So now, when Michael Cera becomes George Michael again, I’m worried about how it’s going to play. Is he going to be the perfectly awkward moral reality check of the show again? Or is it just going to feel like Michael Cera doing Michael Cera things? (Which are still fantastic, by the way. We’ve just seen a lot more of them now.)
5 | Netflix’s ridiculous bulk release plan
Pardon the hyperbole, but Netflix releasing all 15 new episodes of Arrested Development is the stupidest thing that company has ever done. And I remember Qwikster.
I know that they’re trying to change the nature of TV watching. I know people bulk-watch shows on Netflix. But if the new Arrested Development is anything like the original, it’s not meant to be bulk-watched. Every episode is so complex, so layered, so subtle, with so much going on in the background that it’s not meant to be plowed through.
During the original FOX run it was great to watch the episode once for enjoyment. Then to watch it again for processing. Then to discuss it with your one or two other friends who loved it. Then to watch it again and pick up even more subtle details. It needed that week to breathe. There’s no way you could really appreciate Arrested Development if you watched an entire season in two days.
If you’re a wine person, bulk-watching Arrested Development would be like cracking open a bottle of Chateau Margaux 1787 and immediately chugging it.
So… I’m planning to defy Netflix and watch one episode every week, just like I used to. Unfortunately, because of their idiotic release plan, that means I have to actively avoid spoilers for the entire summer.
6 | The “each episode focusing on a character” plan
And on the subject of “large-scale changes I’m not so sure about,” this season of Arrested Development is apparently structured different than the traditional seasons. According to Mitch Hurwitz, each episode focuses on one character and what’s happened to him or her since the finale.
I don’t know. On one hand, we should trust Hurwitz and assume this storytelling style won’t just work, it will work so well that it will create an elaborate puzzle with allusions to future episodes popping up that you’ll only catch down the road. On the other hand, Arrested Development was often at its best when its A-, B-, C-, D- and E-plots somehow managed to converge in the span of 22 minutes. I’m pulling for this structural move to go well, of course; I just worry it was change for the sake of change.
7 | The finale wrapped it up perfectly
This is a good time to rehash this: I am NOT saying more Arrested Development is a bad thing. But we had closure. FOX gave the show a third season against better business judgment to make sure it got that. (It’s like the opposite of ALF, which got canceled after a series finale cliffhanger of ALF being taken away to be probed by agents. Eventually it needed a TV movie to clear that up.)
The (former) series finale tied up the three-season arc perfectly. For Arrested fans, we didn’t really want closure — we wanted it to keep going — but there was some solace in getting an end to the story. And now, they’ll have to find that closure again. Because…
8 | What if it’s long in the tooth?
The Simpsons is on my Mount Rushmore of comedy and remains there… even though it’s not appointment TV for me anymore. It hasn’t been in a long time. I still watch every episode, but the episodes of season 20-something don’t have the same resonance with me as the ones from season four. The Simpsons did not go out on top. Instead, they’ve opted to stay on the air indefinitely. It’s arguable how much that’s damaged the show’s legacy, but it has to a least a small degree.
Arrested Development went out on top. The show didn’t go out on its own terms, but did go out with a permanent spot in the “is this the greatest of all time?” debate. They only had three seasons, of course — but jammed so much into those seasons it feels like more. With the sword constantly dangling over their head they couldn’t tell stories at a leisurely pace.
So now that they’re back, is there a chance the show will be past its prime? Will it be like the later seasons of Friends where they stopped making any jokes altogether and just started referencing the quirks the characters established in the past? I’m don’t think that’s going to happen… and I’m not sure how I’d react if it does.
9 | If it’s great, is it heartbreak all over again?
And now, for my dumbest worry of all. We get 15 more episodes of Arrested Development. What if they’re every bit as good as the originals? Then what? Even if Netflix wants another season, will everyone be able to coordinate schedules and careers and massive salary demands to do it? Will they try to do a movie? Will it be another seven-year layoff? Is having Arrested Development back briefly and temporarily a worse tease than never having it back at all?
There was another (prematurely canceled) TV show called Pushing Daisies where the main character could bring someone back to life, but only for one minute. After that, they were dead forever. That’s a major dilemma — is it better to get that one minute more, or will that actually bring you less closure, not more? After you watch the 15 episodes of the reborn (I don’t want to say “zombie” because of, like, four unwanted connotations) Arrested Development, it’s time to start adjusting to it, potentially, being gone forever again.
10 | The evolution of TV in the past 10 years
When Arrested Development premiered in 2003, cable channels didn’t have original sitcoms, and smart, comedic, single-camera comedies were virtually nonexistent. (There was Scrubs; Undeclared, which was canceled after one season; Malcolm in the Middle, which had flashes of being smart; and… nothing else?) Since then we’ve had Community, Louie, Flight of the Conchords, Party Down, Parks and Recreation, Better Off Ted, 30 Rock, Children’s Hospital, and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia; plus, on the B-list, New Girl, The League, Cougar Town, Happy Endings, select episodes of Modern Family, the first two-thirds of the run of The Office, and the first season of My Name is Earl. (Yes, anything not listed is intentionally excluded.)
On some level, all of those shows exist because of the path laid by Arrested Development. And I’m worried that all of them have diluted the pool where it used to be the only swimmer.
As South Park said in an episode a few years ago, comedy has changed. It’s not setup-punchline anymore, it’s setup-punchline-awwwwkkkkwward now. The life blood of sitcoms with no laugh track (and the technique AD perfected) is the comedy that comes from uncomfortable silence. We’ve just finished a decade where all of our best sitcoms flooded us with that awkwardness on a weekly basis. You can even see in shows like Louie and Community where they moved away from that and into more experimental territory — the “new” sitcom rhythms are everywhere, so shows are evolving. If AD had been on the air for the past decade instead of being canceled, it certainly wouldn’t feel the same as it did back then. It would’ve grown and changed and pushed the medium. Now I wonder if it’s going to come in a step behind. Still laugh-out-loud funny, yes; pioneering, I don’t know.
11 | What if it’s not perfect?
I fully recognize how negative and doomsaying this list has been, so this statement is going to seem like a total 180… but I’m over-the-moon thrilled Arrested Development is about to reenter my life. That’s why all of my nerves really center around this one main sticking point. What if it’s not perfect? I don’t know how to process comedy if I don’t love everything about Arrested Development. So… perfection or bust. Let’s do it, Arrested Development. No pressure. And no touching.