Well, No One’s Gonna Top That
Ever since the epilogue of “Arrested Development”’s 2006 finale, the deck has been stacked against the acclaimed sitcom. Once Ron Howard teased the idea of an “Arrested” movie, it became somewhat of a foregone conclusion, something fans expected and felt entitled to. When Netflix surprisingly announced plans to air a fourth season of the show in 2011, questions of a potential film still lingered around the mass excitement. This reaction sums up the hard-to-please nature of many “Arrested Development” fans. Promise them 15 half-hour episodes and they’ll still ask for a 2-hour movie.
There is an impending sense of disappointment looming over the release of the longawaited, vehemently-requested fourth season of “Arrested Development.” This is almost sure to be the general sentiment, regardless of the quality of the show.
Consider reasoning behind Fox cancelling the show. It won an Emmy in its first season, was subject to mass critical adoration and had an extremely loyal viewership. The show’s inaccessibility to new viewers during its initial run crippled its ratings. The show’s best jokes, especially in the second and third seasons, require some context to fully appreciate. There are hoards of running gags and references to past episodes. Even on the initial viewing of the show’s first season, the quick-witted rhythm can be a little disorienting. Those who’ve already seen the first three seasons can almost certainly catch new things on another viewing.
In short, the complex and subtle writing that made the show a timeless classic was ultimately the cause of its demise.
That’s kind of a theme with this show, though.
Call it the double-edged sword of destiny.
The first to be held accountable will be creator/writer Mitch Hurwitz, who has spent the past several years painstakingly penning the fourth season. Hurwitz has already secured his place in the comedy annals, but has also burdened himself with the unenviable task of following up a show that ended too soon and has since seen an increase in viewership and adoration. This is an issue when you create a show as ahead of the curve as “Arrested.” In the seven years the show has been off the air, expectations and hype have grown excessively, to a level that will nearly be impossible to reach.
To varying extents, all great shows run the risk of tarnishing their legacies when releasing new episodes. For obvious reasons, serial dramas tend to run the greatest risk. If you defame a long-developed storyline or character, you can retroactively harm the entire arc. In the same vein, the traditional episodic sitcoms allow themselves much more lenience than comedies dependent on plot arcs. “Seinfeld” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” have both experienced a general drop in quality in their latter years, but because there’s not much continuity between the episodes, they can validate lackluster seasons merely with the occasional terrific episode. With a show like “Arrested Development” that features season-long plot arcs, a miscue can potentially derail the remainder of a season.
Distributing such a highly-anticipated set of episodes all at once on a subscription-based service is a bold move and pivotal moment for the television medium. It’s a special event that shouldn’t be ruined by rash judgments and excessive expectations. When you intake the new season, give it the time and thought it deserves and requires, otherwise you may say to yourself, “I’ve made a huge mistake.”