Arrested Development, White Whale

For new episodes and a movie to happen, a lot of things would have to go right

Every time rumours of an Arrested Development movie came up, I’ve been predicting that it will never happen. Since predictions tend to be wrong, I think I did us all a service by making that prediction in public: maybe a new Arrested Development production will happen solely to prove me wrong, in which case, you’re welcome. But the people involved with the show have been talking about a possible movie literally since the end of the show (specifically, the final line of the show), and it does not seem to be any closer to happening. Yet they keep talking about it as if it is.

The latest is creator Mitch Hurwitz telling a crowd that he’s planning a movie and a new batch of episodes. As always, this makes for headlines that promise a lot – Arrested Development movie coming! New episodes coming! – based on quotes that promise less. We learn that Hurwitz wants to do more Arrested Development, that some cast members think it would be wonderful if they could do it, and that all they need now is money. We also learned elsewhere that Fox is talking to Showtime or Netflix about the possibility of picking up the new episodes. For that to happen, though, a lot of things would have to go right.

Now, a major difference this time is that they, or rather Jason Bateman, are talking about a specific time frame, shooting next summer for a 2013 release (with tie-in episodes that sound, as described, more like webisodes: segments that focus on specific characters rather than getting the whole cast together). Maybe that means they’re actually close to something happening. Or maybe, as before, it means that they want to build buzz about the project, since the more people talk about the possibility, the more chance of it actually becoming a reality: if they want to shoot a movie next summer, they can use these rumours as a way of getting the money and the schedule together. But there have been so many false starts to this thing that it’s hard not to be cynical about it.

Hurwitz has had a weird time of it in general since Arrested Development went off the air. Remember that ending the series was partly his decision. It was through on Fox, but cable networks were interested; it was Hurwitz who announced that he wouldn’t continue with the series if it went to Showtime, after which Showtime lost interest in the property. It wasn’t that long ago, but it seems like a long time ago, and at that time the budget cuts and salary cuts involved with moving to cable still seemed like a step down for TV producers (even today, there aren’t that many who move to cable if they still have a chance to get a broadcast show on). And of course, the third season of the show was often considered to show signs of burnout, so it could be that Hurwitz simply didn’t feel up to continuing: the style of the show, with every joke interlocking with previous jokes, made it more exhausting to write than virtually any other.

Instead, seeking t create a broadcast hit, Hurwitz  joined forces with two notable “pod” producers, Eric and Kim Tannenbaum, and started developing many pilots as well as producing other people’s. None of these were successful, and the overall work seemed to be more in line, quality-wise, with his unexceptional work before Arrested (including “The Ellen Show” and the weaker seasons of “The John Larroquette Show”). He wouldn’t be the first person who hit a sweet spot with a particular project and didn’t quite recapture the quality of it afterward.

If an Arrested Development movie did happen – with Hurwitz directing – it would be his ticket into feature films after a very rocky post-Arrested slate of shows. Whether it would be up to the quality of the series, I can’t presume to say, though we can certainly wonder. But I suspect it would be more fun than Hurwitz’s other recent work. Some creators can come up with many successful works, and others have one thing that they do best, and Hurwitz seems to be better at Arrested Development than he is at anything else. Of course, being good at Arrested Development is enough. It’s just that all these years of rumour-mongering are enough to make you wish he’d just kept the show going back in 2005.

Also, given the nature of the show – the fact that every episode built on references from the previous one, the whole self-referential style of it – this would seem to be a case where the mini-series format would make the most sense for a reunion. We won’t know until it happens (and I’m still not convinced it will happen), but a movie would have to explain the whole thing to newcomers and throw in references to the series almost as window dressing for fans; it would have to be, in effect, the type of newcomer-friendly comedy that the series never was. Getting the cast together for a six-episode miniseries, or most of the cast, seems like it would be more satisfying than either a movie or the individual-character adventure episodes Hurwitz is talking about. But we’ll see.

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