Monday, June 3, 2013

Generic 'Arrested Development' Pun

Yes, technically this is called Tony’s Talking: Movies. Based on that title, one could very easily assume that this space is reserved for discussion on movies. Which is correct. However, some folks believe change is good, so I’m going to heed that advice and try something a little different.

As many of you may know, the previously-deceased television program “Arrested Development” was Frankensteined by Netflix, which dropped a brand new season on May 26. Since the, the vast majority of the show’s cult-like fans have binged on all 15 episodes of the long-anticipated show and purged their thoughts all over the internet.

In the days leading up to the release, the anticipation was through the roof. Pictures of banana stands appeared all over Twitter. Facebook on the east coast was a flurry at 3 a.m. with the dedicated folks so excited that Saturday didn’t end and Sunday didn’t begin until the release actually happened.

It would be a lie for me to sit here and pretend like I wasn’t one of those that was incredibly excited for this new batch of episodes. When it was first announced, I expressed “cautious optimism” over the show’s return and once the first trailer was released and Gob pulled a masterful illusion in a bar involving a cherry, I went into full-blown excited mode

Over the course of the day on May 26, people watched and a curious thing happened. The expression of social media went from someone getting excited over playing a hidden immunity idol on “Survivor” to someone getting burned by a hidden immunity idol on “Survivor.”

The consensus seemed to be that the episodes weren’t bad. In fact, the majority were better than most comedies on television. But the new season just did not seem to compare to earlier seasons. Realistically, though, how could it?

Fox cancelled the original run of “Arrested Development” nearly a decade ago after incredibly poor ratings but surprisingly good DVDsales. The general public barely noticed the cancellation but the DVD sales continued to hold strong and the reputation of the show spread like a virus through college dorms. (I mean that somewhat literally. I can talk from personal experience that my first crack at the show was done with an assist from my RA who had the entire series on DVD. I sincerely doubt my experience was unique.)

Incredibly, not unlike Obi-Wan Kenobi, “Arrested Development” became far more powerful in death than it ever was in life. Critics and laypeople alike began referring to the series as the one of the best, if not the best, comedy of all time. Hearing someone yell “Come On!” or “I’m a monster!” was not unheard of at parties, in the cafeteria, or on the internet.

With that kind of praise, the show was placed on a pedestal that stood so high that nothing could touch it, so the relative backlash against the new season was not all that surprising. Prognosticators far smarter than your humble narrator may have even expected it based on previous television resurrections.

Fox cancelled “Family Guy” in 2002 only to resurrect it in 2005 after strong syndication ratings, first with a straight-to-DVD movie and then with brand new seasons starting the same year. In 2010, Comedy Central pulled the same move for the same reasons with “Futurama” after Fox (notice a trend) cancelled the show in 2003.

The trend of resurrecting cancelled-but-beloved programs is not limited to cartoons, although it seems that live-action programming tends to come back as movies rather than new seasons. (See how I tied this all back to movies. Tony’s talking movies indeed.)

“The X-Files,” “Firefly,” and “Twin Peaks” have all had movies made years after cancellation and a “Veronica Mars” movie is also in the works following an incredibly successful and incredibly controversial Kickstarter campaign.

Obviously, the “Veronica Mars” movie can’t be judged since it hasn’t even been written yet. However, the other resurrection projects all seemingly have one thing in common: disappointment. Both the “The X-Files: IWant to Believe” and “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” were critical and commercial failures. “Serenity,” the movie version of “Firefly” was a commercial bust and “Futurama” was recently cancelled. Again. “Family Guy” is still on the air but the consensus is that the product currently airing is a shell of its former self.

There is an episode of “The Simpsons,” one of the earlier Treehouse of Horrors, where Lisa is mourning the death of the original Snowball. In an attempt to ease his sister’s pain, Bart gets a book out of the occult section of the library on how to raise the dead. Unfortunately, he raises the human dead instead of the feline. One interpretation of that episode could easily be that it is best to leave the dead in the ground, even if that would rob humanity of one of the funniest scenes in the show’s long and sometimes illustrious run.

Branch Rickey, the brilliant general manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers who signed Jackie Robinson to the team once said that it is better to trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late and perhaps the same can be said for television shows. For the general public to think that a show got cancelled before its time means that the quality of the show was still excellent. It was likely at or near its creative peak rather than a deep valley of mediocrity, or worse, like the freshly euthanized “The Office.”

When the lifecycle of a show is cut short, perhaps we should just be thankful for the opportunity to experience the show while it was still alive and we should leave the memories alone.


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