I’ve been a bit cynical about Mitch Hurwitz, creator of Arrested Development, in the years since the show was canceled. Not when the show was on the air, you understand; while Hurwitz had a reputation as a difficult man at times, there was no doubt of his devotion to the show and to making every moment matter – and he made an epic, exhaustive comedy that was like nothing anybody had ever seen on television. But then the show was canceled, something everybody saw coming (including Hurwitz and his writers, who gave Michael Bluth a speech about how the Bluths had been given “plenty of chances” and just weren’t likable enough to succeed), and the time came to decide whether the show was going to be picked up by a cable network, and Hurwitz decided he’d had enough:
“Arrested Development” creator Mitch Hurwitz says he will not be continuing with the series, throwing a major — likely fatal — monkey wrench into attempts to keep the Emmy-winning laffer alive for a fourth season.
Series producers 20th Century Fox TV and Imagine Television had agreed on a deal to move “Arrested,” previously on Fox, to Showtime — assuming Hurwitz was willing to come back. In the end, however, a mix of creative and financial concerns has prompted Hurwitz to move on.
“The fans have been so ardent in their devotion and in return … I’ve given everything I can to the show in order to try to live up to their expectations,” Hurwitz told Daily Variety on Monday in a telephone interview from Gotham. “I finally reached a point where I felt I couldn’t continue to deliver that on a weekly basis.”
The only other person who could have run the show was Jim Vallely, Hurwitz’s second-in-command (and a fellow graduate of Witt-Thomas-Harris productions), but as noted in that article, Vallely said pre-emptively that he wouldn’t try to do it without Hurwitz, and Bob Greenblatt, who was running Showtime at the time, understandably didn’t want to try and pick up the show without Hurwitz or Vallely around.
You can understand why Hurwitz had had enough. Arrested was, in its original form, one of the most exhausting shows to write in the history of television. Every joke had to relate to every other joke. Setups had to be written for punchlines that would occur many episodes later. The cast was enormous. And the show was never a hit, as we know. My interpretation at the time was that Hurwitz had decided that he needed to try something else.
Hurwitz’s “something else,” though, turned out to be a lot of failed pilots (in several different forms and for several different networks), an unsuccessful attempt to team up with TV producers Eric and Kim Tannenbaum, and finally a show that went to series and failed, Running Wilde. What all this means is not that Hurwitz doesn’t have talent; what it means is that Arrested Development is the best thing he’s ever done, and maybe the best thing he’s ever going to do. And so he turned his attention back to Arrested Development and trying to get a movie made – a possibility he has been teasing literally since the last moment of the original series.
The problem, as I’ve noted many times, is that there’s no clear sign that a movie is going to be made; he’s been talking about it for years and it hasn’t come any closer. And what’s a bit disconcerting about the form of the Netflix Arrested Development episodes, and the way Hurwitz has been talking about them, is that they almost seem like they exist mostly as a way of drumming up publicity for a movie that hasn’t even been greenlit. As has been mentioned before, even though the Netflix run of Arrested Development is being called a fourth season, it’s really more like a series of webisodes: budget and scheduling didn’t make it possible to do full-fledged episodes with every character putting in an appearance, so they decided to do episodes focusing on individual characters and link them together by having plot points cross over from one episode into another, sort of like that Simpsons “Trilogy of Error” episode, except with 14 segments.
Hurwitz explains more of the form of these episodes (still in post-production now, so the final form hasn’t even been fully decided yet) in this USA Today article, and he says that the only scene where they assembled the full cast is supposed to be a teaser for this as-yet-nonexistent movie. In fact, he says the whole collection of episodes is a teaser for the movie he wants to write and direct:
“The bigger story is the family has fallen apart at the start of our show,” Hurwitz says. “They all went their own way, without Michael holding them together, so they’re left to their own devices, and they’re not the most successful devices.” The season is designed as a “first act to what we eventually want to do, which is a big movie,” though there’s no guarantee it will ever get made.
So, what they want to do is get the whole cast together and do a full-fledged Arrested Development episode, albeit a two-hour one. But to do that, they will need the kind of money that allows busy actors to be signed up and brought together for a few weeks. So the hope is that if enough people watch and like and talk about the Netflix episodes, there will be a way to make a movie.
Well, maybe there will be, though I’d still bet against it. And I think it’s completely fair to argue that it was better to make the episodes this way rather than not make them at all: it was impossible to make “real” episodes, but fans will still want to see their old favourites again. Think of it as a series of little spinoff pilots that happen to be linked together: we may not like Aftermash as much as M*A*S*H, but it’s still fun to see Klinger and Potter and Michael and GOB.
Still, this kind of thing can fail as easily as it can succeed. When The Critic came back for webisodes, a lot of people were excited, only to be very disappointed when (due to budgetary reasons) most of the supporting characters were absent, and it was mostly Jay Sherman introducing some movie parodies and hanging around with a bunch of new characters. Doubtless Arrested Development 2013 will look better than animated webisodes from the era of the dot-com bubble. And word from the Netflix panel today was that critics laughed heartily at a deleted scene from the new series, which featured Buster and Lucille in the same room, making it clear that they were able to get some actors together when the schedule allowed (apart from Michael, who will be in every episode).
It just remains to be seen whether people will beat down the door to demand a movie, and if they don’t, then the 14-episode series is the prelude to something that didn’t even happen. The decision not to continue the show in 2006 its original form, when the actors were all under contract – even if the budget had to be cut, even if the scope had to be narrowed – may turn out to be one of the great missed opportunities.