Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Depressing Development

I knew this day was coming, but now I'm just so goddamn sad about it I can barely contain myself.

Arrested Development is no more. Fox: You've made a huge mistake.

It is one of the most brilliantly complete works of art I have ever been privy to. Every element was perfect: the cast of nine regulars (each of which whom would be the breakout star on any other sitcom) were each a perfect archetype of some sort of dysfunction. The writing was both funny and endlessly self-referential, spreading individual jokes over several episodes and even several seasons, and weaving together disparate plot elements in a way that would make Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David jealous. In order to truly comprehend its full brilliance, you had to treat it as a mini-series, watching it in order. Sure the episodes could stand alone, too, but not with the same richness that several episodes would provide. I've seen each episode at least three times and I still get things I didn't get before.

But it turns out that Arrested Development was just too good for us. We didn't deserve it. As much as I tried to pimp the DVDs out to the uninitiated, I'm afraid it was all just too little, too late. (I know, I was pretty sure that I was single-handedly going to rescue the show from cancellation. I'm shocked at my failure to do so.)

I guess why I'm so depressed on a macro-level is that it so sad to see such adept craftsmanship go unrewarded. This show, even the sub-par episodes, could cram more comedy into 22 minutes than any show I've ever seen. The artistic level is one that I had hoped would be successful to the point that it would spawn imitators, that would continue to create smart, vibrant satire that actually rewarded the viewer for paying attention. Sure there were some cheap and/or obvious jokes here and there, but for the most part the show challenged the viewer to keep up.

And maeby that's why the show never caught on. People don't like to be challenged. Don't take this as me assuming a position of artistic superiority, either. I understand it. People don't want to "work" to understand or enjoy a sitcom, and that's kind of what Arrested made us do. But each meta-joke (Bob Loblaw replacing Barry Zuckercorn, for instance), repetition (Tobias's innocently homosexual proclamations) and "callback" (look for all the foreshadowing in the episodes before Buster loses his hand) is so rewarding that I simply don't know that anyone could ever quite replicate it.

There has been talk of a movie (and if you saw the epilogue of the last episode of the show, it might not surprise you), but even that would only serve as a reminder of all the great comedy we had to miss out on due to the Neilsen ratings system. Never has so much work gone so underappreciated. I can't imagine what Mitchell Hurwitz & Co. could have created in the next 53 episodes.

I think many years from now, the show, which is now a cult hit, will be discovered, much in the way I have tried to get people to discover it: by word of mouth. And I think -- or maybe just hope -- that a decade from now, people will discover the show, maybe as an artifact of a comedy experiment that didn't catch on, but hopefully as a kind of "proto-comedy," a show that inspires talented writers and comedians to aspire to it. Maybe there are just enough people out there who watched Arrested and realized that this is what comedy can be, and maybe they will end up making Arrested the Rosetta Stone of humor, a starting point which influenced a comedy renaissance of sorts.

As it stands, I actually feel a sense of loss, which is very odd because TV and I are not that close of friends. Maybe it's a sense of injustice, like a brilliant album that nobody bought or when your favorite sports team came up just short. I was hoping against hope that they could squeeze just one or two more seasons out of it.

My one solace on this dark day is that we can re-live this triumph of art over commerce on the DVD format. (And by the way, whoever decided it would be a good idea to sell TV shows on DVD should be knighted or something.) They are teasing me saying that there is still a chance that Fox could still conceivably pick the show back up (like they did with Family Guy), if it got enough "support," i.e. DVD sales, which is probably just a carrot they are putting in front of us. But still, go buy the DVDs...

So it is to this program that I give a final "Huzzah!" The great experiment began, and sadly had to end well before its time. With any luck it will continue on in reruns on FX or Comedy Central or something, and others can be frustrated by what they had before them and chose to ignore. Like Mr. Show with Bob & David, the British version of The Office, and of course, Sledge Hammer, it was snuffed out long before its time. Until we say "Annyong" again...

The tears aren't comin'.

The tears, they just aren't comin'...


d. dunford said...

I think the British "Office" cut themselves short - on purpose, unlike the other shows on the list.

Willie Moe said...

I thought I was the only one who watched Sledge Hammer! Brilliance thy name is Bill

Toastie said...

Because of this post billy I watched a bunch of the first season on Sunday. True, that was partially due to being extremely hung over but we'll just give you the points for my decision. Chalk it up on the big board. Anywho, I love the interactions between GOB and Michael, classic big brother, little brother stuff. From Michael getting his sandwich stolen by GOB while telling their mother where Michael is hiding, trying to force him to break his fall when trying to get out of prison, and my personl favorite, the slap fight they have after GOB gets stabbed in which Micheal hits him on the back of the head as he's walking away and GOB tries to get the last word in by hitting him back only to possibly tear several stiches reaching behind him. Tee hee. Makes me laugh just thinking about it. Looking back, GOB was most likely my favorite. I love when he is trying to swallow the key with a shot of Jameson and ends up stuffing it in food and unable to get it down, so he then turns to chugging irish whiskey and the scene ends with GOB shirtless, laughing defiantly. Sigh, the show most certainly will be missed.