‘Arrested Development’: And That’s Why You Shouldn’t Revive A Cult Series
After years of rumours, promises and increasingly erratic fan demand the cult sitcom that died a too early death has been dug out of the ground, dusted off and propped back up in living rooms for our amusement. This is suggestive of a bold new trend wherein streaming giant Netflix has broken away from the networks and given viewers what they wanted, nah, demanded.
But after watching a few episodes, it’s clear that they’ve made a huge mistake.
It’s hard not to feel the anticipation for the show. Online fandoms have reached a fever pitch of excitement. Going back and re-watching the original run of the show has been a treat and only served to further build excitement (even if the spark began to diminish in the third season). Whilst I am fully aware that I will likely be dragged out into the street and publicly flogged for saying this, maybe it should’ve been left alone. Everyone was so caught up asking themselves if they could they never stopped to ask if they should.
Let’s begin with the biggest problem: the cast. Not that the actors or the characters are a problem, they’re the very thing that made the show great to begin with. Characters who were intended to be secondary roles – most notably Tobias and George Sr. – became part of the main ensemble as a result of the fantastic chemistry and rhythm the group of actors had. When the producers of the new revived season found that schedule conflicts between the actors prevented them from shooting many of their scenes together the season was delayed so no compromise on quality would be made…
…at least, that’s what should have happened. Instead they opted to bring some actors in separately and have them deliver their lines against a green screen. Then they’d be added to group scenes in the final cut. For the most part this is not noticeable on a technical level. On the other hand it is very noticeable on a performance level. Our eyes are telling us that the characters are standing in the same room together and they are clearly talking to each other our brains are picking up on something being wrong. They don’t look directly at each other and the rhythm of their banter is slightly off. It makes the scenes feel a bit awkward.
The pacing as a whole is a bit awkward. The decision to separate out the episodes to make them character specific may have risen from a need to accommodate the actors or possible on a creative level but it doesn’t quite work. The biggest problem is that the characters are rarely interacting with each other. I don’t just want to see Michael having trouble getting back on his feet in the first episode – I want to see him having trouble while dealing with Gob and Buster, making a face at Tobias’s innuendos and losing patience with his mother. Instead almost the entire cast put in cameo appearances to an awkward story that bridges the ending of season 3 with an upcoming maritime law trail.
After taking away the bulk of the character interactions we’re left with the humour, already shot in the leg with the chemistry between the actors left in the dust. The trademark snowball humour is noticeably absent. During the original series any one innocuous comment could become the foundation for a joke that would build upon itself until it became pivotal to the season finales. The entire show was written with a sense of foresight that most sitcoms lack. During the new season we have scenes built around single jokes, like Michael trying to come up with a plan to evict George-Michael’s roommate while oblivious to everyone’s real motives, or Lindsay and Tobias being tricked into buying a ridiculous house. These scenes drag out way longer than they should even when the jokes work. Many of them fall completely flat. Some attempts at recurring jokes, such as the appearance of ostriches, are made but they rarely tickle the funny bone in that special spot Arrested Development used to be able to find.
On top of this some scenes are just badly done. The most obvious example is in an early episode when Tobias is driving a car while Lindsay sends text messages next to him. The entire sequence is filmed in very tight close-up and looks downright awful. The pay off is at the end of the scene when we find that Lindsay is actually the one driving while texting and Tobias only thinks that he’s driving. It’s worth a chuckle but it’s certainly not worth enduring an entire scene filmed in very awkward, very poor close-ups. The entire sequence is barely watchable due to bad film-making.
Perhaps the problem is that the opening episodes feature the straight man characters without the comic relief like Gob and Tobias. When we do get to those characters they don’t have anyone to play off. It also feels as though there’s a strong reliance on guest stars. Instead of seeing Michael in a scene with his family he’s with Andy Ritcher, the Warden and Carl Weathers, which is just a random bunch of people without context. Almost every single guest star from the original series, regardless of the impact they had or their suitability to the current plot, get trotted out. Did we really need a still image cameo from Ben Stiller?
Having reached the halfway point of the new fourth season the question that keep cropping up in my mind is this: is this better than the legacy that Arrested Development had left behind? It’s not the horrific drop in quality we saw with The Phantom Menace but it’s certainly not up to par. There are some chuckles to be had – such as Tobias’ poor wording getting him busted as a suspected paedophile – but the few laughs aren’t enough to carry a season. Whether we’d be happier without it is a tough call. For some people this will be enough to carry the torch and if you’re in that camp then that is great. But ultimately, for some people, this is going to be a disappointment.
Need to make yourself feel better? Here are 10 ‘Arrested Development’ Jokes You May Have Missed.