08 October 2012

TV Series: Arrested Development

Arrested Development http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0367279/

Arrested Development was a Fox TV series from 2003-2006. Three short seasons, around 53 episodes in all. It won multiple Emmy awards during its short run. It is one of those shows that got great reviews by the critics, has a very devoted fanbase, but just couldn't get enough viewers for the television production machine to justify keeping it on the air. Lots of viewers = lots of advertising $$. Not enough viewers = cancellation.

Over the years I've watched as fans have continued to call for "Arrested Development"s return and asking for a movie. And rarely do I see any discussion about television comedy that doesn't pair the title "Arrested Development" with "best comedy on TV since Seinfeld". Now many folks might argue they didn't think Seinfeld was that great, but Seinfeld was innovative comedy TV regardless of their opinions. There's been many articles written analyzing and defining groundbreaking, trailblazing, genre-defining television shows and their arguments are sound.  "Arrested Development" is generally included in those discussions with laudatory language.

Me? I never did watch the show when it was on Fox. Honestly I don't recall hearing about it until after it was canceled, probably just me filtering out chatter. Well that and my attention was completely elsewhere due to my career at the time and such. After my schedule lightened up (I retired) I suddenly had a lot more time to waste on pointless endeavors like watching films and old television shows. Luckily for me the timing coupled with the ability to actually do that as granted by services and technologies like the internet, DVDs, TiVo and Netflix.

Plus I realized that some "Arrested Development" alumni went on to work "Community". "Community" is a show I discovered late into its second season and immediately sought out the first season to see what I missed. I figured as much as I grew to really like "Community", and considering it is in similar dire straights that "Arrested Development" encountered during its brief run, I thought I should give watching "Arrested Development" a chance sometime.

Recently I read news that Netflix backed the production of another season of "Arrested Development". Six years after the cancellation of that series it is being revived with the same cast and a lot of production crew returning. The next season is due out on Netflix in 2013.  This is unheard of in TV. Very occasionally a TV show might jump from one network to another. We've seen quite a few effective and not-so-effective show reboots over the years (especially recently). But something like this, where six years later the original cast and production is able to assemble and revive a series, that is very rare.

I thought with all these accolades for the show, all these things coming together for the show and a new season on the visible horizon plus its available for streaming on Netflix I should take some time and watch the show, see if any of the buzz is anywhere close to reality.

The show is about the Bluth family. The patriarch of the family, George Bluth, owns and runs a residential development company. He is arrested on multiple charges and sent to prison. His son Michael not only has to try to keep the company afloat but he takes it upon himself to keep the family together during these trying times. The series documents all these familial interactions and explores each member's faults, denials, manipulations, selfishness, serious dysfunction and occasional flashes of true humanity.
The series is very serialized, basically each new episode continues where the previous episode left off and follows storylines that either extend through the seasons, arc over a couple of episodes, or happen during the one episode but gets references and callbacks in later episodes. I can understand if someone tried to start watching the show mid-season they might feel a bit lost when those callbacks occur and find it a bit rougher to pick up on the lengthier story arcs.
It's shot almost in a documentary style, but just short of the cinema verite style seen in "The Office". "Community" is a bit closer to the "Arrested Development" storytelling style, although as serialized as "Community" happens to be it isn't quite as "from season one dependent". Conversely, just as with "Arrested Development," "Community" makes much more sense and its callbacks are much funnier if you have seen previous seasons.

It took me a couple of episodes to warm up to the show, but I liked it well enough to keep watching. I found, though, as the episodes progressed into the show's second and third seasons I would watch more episodes per sitting. Granted, each episode is only 20-some odd minutes in length, however I would find myself sitting for hours watching show after show. And it was over too soon.

So, in the end, I found that yes, all those accolades are well deserved. I can understand why the show is considered a groundbreaking show. I can understand the fan's hunger for more, and I can understand why the next season is highly anticipated. I can also see "Arrested Development's" influence on "Community".  And it's a shame that it is likely "Community" is facing its final season.

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