Or: "Why a Fan Does Not Want an 'Arrested Development' Movie"
A few weeks ago, actor Jason Bateman was promoting the movie “Horrible Bosses” and once again got the attention of the internet-savvy by letting some MTV writer speculate, without provocation, on a Jennifer Aniston cameo in the impossible/inevitable “Arrested Development” movie. Bateman said absolutely nothing about the un-produced movie continuation of the cult TV show cancelled nigh on five years ago. In fact, nobody from the original cast or crew has offered anything but bland optimism for months or years now. Yet rumors are propped up by the unrelenting and vocal support of misplaced ambitions. Indeed, this very website has a link (down and to the left) for a fan-made “Arrested Development” documentary project. No outsider changes the minds of a group and so “true fans” of the former series wave off any discouragement from people unfamiliar with the show or--worse--who have moved on, as if British citizenship was renounced by anybody jumping off the Titanic. No, I’m a fan of the show and won’t even say a film adaptation won’t happen, but rather I want to say that there is room for a fan to not want a movie.
The outrage fans felt regarding the cancellation of “Arrested Development” and the particularly flippant way FOX went about it (dumping the last four episodes as counter-programming to the Winter Olympics) was no doubt due to the unique style of the show. The show rewarded fans for watching every episode, not just with callbacks but with unrivaled amounts of foreshadowing and subliminal visual gags. The show was written as to nearly require re-watching of all the episodes on DVD. The replay value proved alienating to people coming to the watch party late but solidified the fan base as a community that could spout quotes back in forth at one another, almost eradicating normal conversations all together. Ultimately though, just being a part of this, hyper-cutaway, “A.D.” club was fun. It was earned, rewarded and exclusive.
That is until the size of the fan base became too exclusive for FOX producers who kept seeing more traditional 3-camera sitcoms like “Two and a Half Men” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” dominate the ratings charts. Now, “A.D.” still had the support of critics and in its first season got nominated for 7 Emmy’s and won 5—among numerous other awards. However, newer, one-camera comedies came to be (namely, “The Office”) and “A.D” suffered even lower ratings. After a truncated three seasons, the show concluded with literally the last joke having Ron Howard—the show’s narrator—openly speculate that the show about the Bluth family, within the show, could become a movie.
But unlike so many other shows unrightfully cancelled (“Boston Public”) or even rightfully cancelled (“The War at Home”) by FOX around the same time, “A.D.” fans lingered. Lingered like that neighbor who wants you to see the movie he saw last week and tries convincing you by re-telling the entire plot, you know, as if previews don’t exist. The principle cast moved on to movies that ranged between mediocre and cinematic war crimes. And to an interview, each actor would be asked about any hypothetical “Arrested Development” movie in the works. For months. And years. And after each movie starring a former cast member, fans of the show, smitten by the comic delivery of the B-level (maybe?) celebrities, had to wonder why, at the very least, “Arrested Development” didn’t become some sort of Mickey Mouse Club-type treasure chest of break-out stars.
More disconcerting, Mitch Hurwitz struggled as much as anybody with a slew, a barrage, a stinking pile of TV shows, adaptations and pilots never picked up for a second season, if even a second episode. Hurwitz projects such as “Sit Down, Shut Up,” and “Running Wilde” turned “Arrested Development” from a work by a comedic genius into a magnum opus to the only endeavor mentioned in Hurwitz’s obituary should California fall into the Pacific Ocean next week.
Now there is precedent for FOX bringing back a cult comedy TV show in the form of a movie. How such a business strategy is so commonplace as to nearly create a genre is beyond me. “Firefly” was a space-western, the darling of critics and crushed under the weight of its own obscurity. Due to unprecedented fan–demand, FOX sank $40 million bucks into a film continuation of the series. Thrilled that their online petitions funded a dream project, the fans responded with lukewarm reviews and $38 million in ticket sales, worldwide.
Commercially more successful, the cult comedy TV show “Futurama” was cancelled by FOX, then resurrected years later with four-direct to DVD films. The films turned enough of a profit to bring back the show, not on network television, but on Comedy Central. However, like “Firefly,” the post-mortem films were not received as well by fans of the series. Simply, the films (especially “Bender’s Big Score”) suffered from apologetic callbacks and recycled jokes.
Whenever we—as a movie-going, TV-watching, Crunchy-Beefy-burrito-eating, public—want to know more about a fictional universe, we are almost always disappointed. Our imaginations get the better of us and our imaginations remain in a place so lacking in details that perfection can be reached and coddled. We need the mysteries. We need the speculations because they add to the cannon of discussion. Did Michael Bluth have increased jumping abilities after his calf was shortened by Dan “D’oh” Castellaneta? Were characters going to move to their identical house in Iraq? Was Tobias Funke a black man with a pigmentation problem? The questions may be better than the answers. (“Lost” fans know what I’m talking about, right?)
TV is a different format than film and it was what was necessary to tell the “Arrested Development” stories. Embracing a memory is great, but embracing an impossible or, worse, an unnecessary future is pointless and detrimental. Fans who want a movie are trying to relive history, but are actually just corrupting the future. Let the show go, let it exist as a memory, and, for the sake of finding the next great television program, move out of this hindering, dreary, perpetual state of…ah yes…arrested development.