The McBournie Minute: The show’s not dead, it’s hiding in the attic

By this time next week, the fourth season of Arrested Development will have been released by Netflix, and no doubt watched and rewatched by the show’s legions of fans. Hopefully, it will also pick up some new fans, ones that weren’t old enough to get it or just didn’t have it on their radar  seven years ago. Anyone who has watched the buzz grow in recent weeks can have no doubt that the crescendo is close.

Netflix has certainly proven it is capable of creating, fostering, producing, pimping and delivering a solid television series–certainly more so than in 2011, when the deal was announced. The company has launched several shows, but the only one worth any serious mention is House of Cards, which demonstrated that a streaming media service can match the storytelling style of HBO, if only for a few fleeting weeks. But Arrested Development is nowhere near as tough of an assignment. All they have to do is let their people work, and it appears they have.

Unfortunately, it’s still going to be disappointing.

I’ve said before that I don’t think the show can ever please its fans the way they are hoping it will. But then, I’m also one to call for my favorite franchises to end before they get further trampled. I wish fanboys agreed with me, but they will always demand more of what they once loved, hoping it will be all like it was before.

It’s the Pet Sematary paradox of the entertainment world. The things we love get killed. Sometimes we don’t realize how much we loved them before they go, and sometimes we don’t even know much about them until news of their passing has reached us. So we go back, remembering their legacies, and our desire to be with them again swells up. We know it’s wrong, but we’re driven by our love to let our favorite things rest in peace. When they are revived, they’re not what we’ve built up in our minds, and sometimes they don’t come back in a form we like very much. Our passions have led us to destroy the things we hold so dear. Fred Gwynne tried to warn us.

But the Arrested Development people seem to be hitting the right notes. The original cast is back, there is a movie plan, and there are nod-and-wink references to the first three seasons in promotional material. The new season is still doomed, though.

Part of why the show has such wide appeal is that there’s no consistency of tone or focus from one season to the next. The first season laid the solid foundation for the show, and was easily the most consistently pleasing from one episode to the next. For the second season, the writers seemed to choose to play up the whackier elements of the show, which is saying something for a show that was already pretty whacky. This took the series a bit farther away from reality and made it more insular. In the third season, the writers at first attempted to continue this theme, then forced themselves to tack back closer to reality when they realized the show was in FOX’s sights. Then, of course, came the scramble in the closing of the third season to tie up plot lines, clearly designed to last into the next year and beyond, as cancellation came down.

Everyone loves Arrested Development, but they don’t love it for all the same reasons. Some people don’t like the crazier parts of the second season. While others see the first season as too tame compared to the follow-up. There are probably also people out there who like the third season because of where it was going. The freedom to imagine where it would have taken us can be intoxicating. There’s no way the show can please all of these fans in a single season, even if their hopes weren’t higher than they should ever be to begin with.

I’m excited about the return of Arrested Development, but cautiously so. I look forward to seeing old friends come back, but I can’t shake knowing that not everything that comes back is the same.