“Arrested Development” and the Joy of Ambition


Arrested Development Star Warsall those balls in the air! 
how hard can it be? 
so hard you’re gettin’ dizzy 
with those balls in the air! 
keep those balls in the air! 

– “Balls In The Air” by David Schwartz


One time, I was online discussing The Master, and a commenter said he found the movie to be “pretty good.” This milquetoast response really irritated me. How could a film that strange inspire such a tepid reaction? I get why someone might love The Master, and I definitely understand why someone would hate it. But to sit through those two hours and come out the other side with your only reaction being “it was pretty good”?  It drove me nuts. How can someone come out of The Master and shrug like they’d just seen Grown Ups 2?

Everyone wants something different out of art, but personally I’m a big admirer of ambition. I’ll take ambitious failure over generic success any day. It’s why I’m thinking of buying Cloud Atlas on Blu-Ray*, and have tried to get through Infinite Jest more than once (I haven’t succeeded yet.) Something like The Master may not be perfect (I’m still trying to grasp much of the second half), but dammit, Paul Thomas Anderson is clearly striving for something more. Doesn’t that deserve more respect than shrugging and saying “Eh, not bad”? I think so. Some people resent difficult entertainment. Those people are art-hating dullards.

Arrested Development returned to Netflix, and critic complaints have been fairly consistent: Too slow-paced, too dark, not as funny, etc. I’ve found this to be a bit surprising. For months, Mitch Hurwitz and the cast have said that this will be a different beast, with David Cross comparing the intricacy of the season to Lost, and they were exactly right: This is risky, epic, completely insane television that would be impossible to do anywhere else but Netflix. At the very least, it’s the first time a show has been developed for the Netflix format, and not just a substandard cable show that premiered there.**

Like many people critical of the season, I did find the first couple of eps to be slow going, and I also agree that the George Sr. episodes are probably the worst. Still, even during those expositionary lulls, I knew that everything being said probably had more than one meaning, and that rewatching this in its entirety would be rewarding. How did I know this? BECAUSE I KNEW I WAS WATCHING ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. This has been the show’s M.O. forever. Anyone that’s enjoyed the show knows that rewatching the show brings so many rewards. Hurwitz knew that this would be consumed over and over, and he built a season of television so intricate that it makes Lost look like one of those Christmas videos of a log burning in a campfire.

People have said it’s not as funny, but I don’t know. This season made me laugh harder than I have in years, over and over and over, and halfway through rewatch, I’m laughing even more as I see connections and allusions to things that I’d missed before. You know, LIKE A SEASON OF ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. I get that I’m using all-caps too much here, but COME ON!  The sheer logistics of the season alone are astonishing, but the fact these logistics also include embedded setups for jokes makes my brain ache. Each character has a story and a sub-plot that’s connected to the overall uber-story and there are guest stars and callbacks and nested callbacks within callbacks. This is the work of genius.

Granted, genius isn’t perfect. There are times where I do miss the full cast being together, where the expositional narration becomes a bit too much, and I especially wish there had been a bit more closure to the story. Instead of a complete season of television, Hurwitz created The Most Complicated Movie Pitch of All Time, and hopes to answer some of the loose threads in an AD movie. I’m not crazy about that. However, I think we have to give Hurwitz credit for taking these characters and creating something new that’s also hilarious. Even the callbacks to earlier seasons are either expanded upon or are setups for new jokes. It’s bonkers, and I’m thrilled that Hurwitz got the chance to do it.  Whether you think the show’s return is great or terrible, you have to respect the ambition, or if you’re like me, you’re delighted by it.

Just don’t call it “pretty good”, or I’ll bitch about you in my next blog, which should be up in mid-2015.

* Speaking of Cloud Atlas, I’m thinking about doing a quick writeup on the films of 2012. Would you read it?

** Remind me to complain about House of Cards sometime, too.