Has Arrested Development Made a Huge Mistake?

With the return of Arrested Development mere days away, I keep thinking about Joe Gibbs.

I didn’t really have sports heroes in the traditional sense growing up, but Gibbs, the legendary Washington Redskins head coach, is probably the exception.

It wasn’t just that he coached my favorite team, or that they were wildly successful during my childhood.  It was also that he projected an image of good character and integrity.

So, when he returned to coaching in 2004, I was ecstatic.

JoeGibbsI actually closed my office door for about an hour the day the Redskins announced Gibbs was coming back, peppering my friends with phone calls at work as we gleefully giggled like schoolgirls as visions of Lombardi Trophies filled our heads.

Except things didn’t go so well.  He went 6-10 his first year.  He quickly followed that up with a very good 10-6 season that included a playoff win, and all seemed well.  But 2006 wound up with a disastrous 5-11 campaign after seeming so full of promise at the outset.  2007 turned out to be one of his best coaching jobs ever, though, as his team rallied from the death of Sean Taylor (and a Gibbs blunder in the Buffalo game right after Taylor’s funeral) to post four straight victories at the end of the season and qualify for the playoffs.

Overall, Gibbs was probably an above-average coach during his second stint.  He took over a team that had been to the playoffs just once since his original departure and led them to the postseason twice in his final three years, including once when the season was marred by tragedy.  He also went 4-2 against the hated Cowboys over that stretch, reversing a trend of futility against the franchise’s biggest rival.

Yet, he was also a victim of his own success.  His second stint can’t compare favorably to his original, lengthier, more successful run in which he won three championships (with three different quarterbacks and three different running backs) for a team that hadn’t won a title since World War II.

As to how his second tenure impacts his overall legacy, I think that depends on whom you ask.  For a Gibbs apologist like me, I acknowledge that he struggled a bit in ways that he never did in the 80s or 90s, but I also highlight the fact that he performed well in the face of constraints he never had to face during the old days (salary cap, the murder of his best player, and Dan Snyder, to name three).  So, I certainly don’t think he “tarnished” his legacy in any way.

Others may disagree, though, and I can’t definitively say they don’t have a point.

ArrestedDevelopmentCastAll of that is in the back of my head as I await the return of Arrested Development.  The under-viewed Fox sitcom aired its last episode in February of 2006.[1]  Or so we thought.  In an unprecedented turn of events, Netflix made a deal to distribute a new season of Arrested Development a whopping seven years after the show went off the air.

While I’m cautiously optimistic, there is some small part of me that would have been fine with this not happening at all.

Don’t get me wrong—on Sunday, May 26, I’ll be burning through all 15 episodes just like every other AD superfan.  Yet, I think about Joe Gibbs, and about the unassailable legendary career he had.  While the second act was fine, it wasn’t as good as the first, and, in hindsight, seemed arguably unnecessary.[2]

Arrested Development had a 53-episode run that was brilliant and nearly-perfect.  It is my favorite sitcom of this century.  Only longevity prevents it from being definitively my favorite sitcom of all time.[3]  Are we tempting fate by bringing it back?

In other words, there’s almost nowhere to go but down.  Even a funny set of shows may feel like Gibbs 2.0: Good by objective standards, but not up to its own standards.

Therein lies the trap.

Arrested Development has had the better part of a decade to be analyzed, deconstructed, and obsessed over by devotees.  With only 53 episodes, even I admit that I’ve seen the entire series run in its entirety at least four times.  Expectations will be high.

So, AD could wind up a victim of its own previous, critically-acclaimed success.   We also tend to forget the stuff that doesn’t work as well and remember the best bits.  Even an “A-minus” might seem off-putting at this point.  With comedy fans only too quick to play the “this great show isn’t as good as it used to be” card, will they be able to resist that temptation here?[4]

I also worry a little about the adjustments that will have to be made for George Michael and Maeby, who were both still teenagers when the show went off the air the first time.  I really like Michael Cera, but an awkward teen character that was endearing and hilarious in 2004 may seem weird and sad when performed by a guy in his mid-20s.  Jumping ahead seven years is uncharted territory.  Adjustments will need to be made.

ArrestedDevelopmentGOBMichaelIn the end, I think all my hand-wringing will seem silly after just the few minutes of the first episode.  For whatever reservations I may have about warming over a show that got canceled seven years ago, those potential negatives are far outweighed by the sheer creative skill of Mitchell Hurwitz and company, and the pitch-perfect performances of this cast—not to mention the fact that they now have total freedom in a way they never did when at Fox.

In other words, this was the fastest car on the track in 2006.  It may be seven years later, but, now, the restrictor plate is off.  Let’s see how fast she can go.

The return of a legend always has a potential downside in the legacy department.  But the risk is normally worth it, given the possible rewards.

After Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, I think more people than not will not only be raving about Season Four of Arrested Development, but will also be clamoring for a fifth season.  Or a movie.  Or both.

I’m looking forward to being one of those people.

____

[1] Or, actually, its last four episodes, as Fox chose to bury the last two hours of the show by broadcasting them opposite the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics, which was a fitting, final “f*** you” by Fox.
[2] Again, I say this as someone who idolizes Gibbs and who doesn’t have the same emotional connection to the team that I did when he was coaching, although I obviously still root hard for them.
[3] I’m not sure there’s any sitcom I like better, but I also think it’s a little unfair to compare a show that did what was essentially two-and-a-half seasons to a show like SeinfeldCheers, or South Park, for example, all of which produced at least 180 episodes.  For instance, Arrested Development may have produced more laughs, pound-for-pound, than Cheers.  But Cheers also had 275(!) half-hour episodes.  What if you cut out the bottom two hundred episodes from that run, and then compared the remaining episodes to Arrested Development?  Or what if you just took the best 53 episodes of Seinfeld?  I think it might be a different story.  Same thing with something like The Simpsons, which I believe has now aired 38,295 episodes.
[4] I worry especially that the fact that AD will be formatted a little differently may cause petulant fans to whine that the show isn’t exactly the same.  The show will use Michael as a common thread connecting episodes that focus on specific characters, rather than having each episode feature the entire ensemble.  The choice to do this arose from the simple fact that the cast members were almost all involved in ongoing projects, and and unorthodox shooting schedule would be necessary to make Season 4 happen in the first place.
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