Arrested Development: This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

After nearly seven years of waiting, of near constant demands from fans, of fervent solidarity from (most of) the producers and the cast, we’ve finally got what we demanded: a new season of Arrested Development, the best comedy series of all time.

Not only did we get Arrested Development back, we got it back with the entire cast AND the bit players, plus all of the behind the scenes folks that made so amazing in the first place. As if to put icing on the cake, we also got an influx of cash, allowing the new episodes to EASILLY outstrip the old ones in terms of production vale.

All of this should equal a heady broth of joy for AD fans: not only are we getting the show back, but we’re getting it back on amazing terms. It isn’t a self-congratulating ego trip or underhanded money-grab, nor is it a desperate attempt to buttress somebody’s flagging career. The cast and crew were excited, the money was there, and there were (relatively) few hitches in the overall plan.

FINALLY, after years of prayer, things lined up to get this critically acclaimed but tragically under-watched show back on the air.

And yet, not one week after the fifteen new, super-sized episodes of Arrested Development premiered, there is already a significant backlash against them.

They’re too different. Everybody looks older. The old rat-a-tat isn’t there. It’s just not the same. Blah blah blah.

Bob Loblaw.

This is why we can’t have nice things, people. 

Fans clamor for more: another season of Buffy or Firefly or Community but when they get it they complain because it wasn’t exactly what they had envisioned it would be.

Obviously over-expectation is the problem here. But also, there are some unspoken demands that we make when these kinds of things happen. The new entries have to be different enough to be worth doing (otherwise we’d complain that they’re just stale retreads of the original episodes), but not so different as to be something else entirely. Fans seem to want the impossible: they want their favorite shows to come back and be exactly the same as before, but also to not be carbon copies of their former glory.

This is a horrible double bind for creators to be in. Grow artistically, so long as your artistic growth results in you doing the same thing you’ve always done which, incidentally, got you cancelled in the first place.

But this insane fan expectation has another side, the deification of the original show. The new shows have no hope of being as good as you remember because not even the original thing was as good as you remember. When people were clamoring for a new season of Arrested Development, they seemed to be describing a show that was impossibly good.

Hard truth time: that’s insane. Every show has clunkers, every franchise has it’s weak entries.  I know it stings, but there are really weak episodes of Arrested Development, Firefly, Buffy, Futurama, Community, and Star Trek just as there are embarrassingly bad moments of Star Wars. We just tend to gloss over those when we’re remembering those series because of how those shows made us feel.

I can see why Joss Whedon is unwilling to do another Firefly series despite how desperately his fans want him to. The more they claim it to be the best show ever, the more fawning, uncritical praise they heap on him, the clearer the underlying message becomes: there is no way that anything you could do would ever please us.

It is as if he is being asked to do the crazy difficult work of reassembling a crew, writing scripts for that cast in the same style, recreating those effects and aesthetic, and doing all of it in such a way that doesn’t live up to the show’s former glory, but rather to a mythic idealization of the show’s former glory. Failure to do all of this, perfectly, will result in immediate fan rage and internet napalm attacks.

Why on earth would anyone actually do this? Why on earth would anyone try when the exact same thing happens every damn time?

Seriously, this is why we can’t have nice things.

Back to Arrested Development. That this show even happened AT ALL was a fucking miracle. The writers, showrunners, cast, and crew are in high demand these days and the fact that that they were able to make this work at all is a testament to how much they loved this show and its fans. Of course it’s different. It’s been seven years. People age. Times change. The cast used to be a pack of scrappy working stiffs who are now busy and desirable working stiffs because Arrested Development was a good show. The writers managed to turn that difference into a strength that, for me, is driving the new season’s plot. It is different enough to merit being made, and similar enough to actually be worthy of being called Arrested Development. Some of the episodes are as bad as, but no worse than, the series’ weaker entries, while some of them are as good as the series’ highest moments. Some of the jokes land, some don’t, just like they always did (or didn’t).

And yet because Netflix aired this—a show as good as it ever was, made with love by a cast and crew of folks that seem to care about the show and its fans—instead of wavelike emanations of transcendental bliss, everyone is disappointed.

This, folks, is why we can’t have nice things.