No TV network has been crueler to cult audiences than FOX.
In the past decade, network executives claimed the lives of fanboy favorites like Firefly and Futurama and replaced them with a seemingly endless string of high-concept reality shows and generic three-camera sitcoms.
Firefly and Futurama, however, refused to stay dead. Firefly was resurrected in 2005 as the feature film Serenity and a series of graphic novels. And despite cancellation, Futurama never really disappeared—continuing first as comic books, then as four made-for-DVD movies, and finally, in a new season on Comedy Central.
The television gods have not been as kind to another lamented sacrifice: the critically acclaimed, ratings-challenged Mitch Hurwitz sitcom Arrested Development. Though an AD film adaptation has been discussed extensively since the series' finale (which ended with narrator Ron Howard opining that a main character's story could work, if not on TV, as "a movie"), four years have passed without any sign of the Bluths in theaters.
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The potential barriers facing an Arrested Development movie are numerous, but there are two major questions worth addressing. First, do we really want one? Against all odds, the show's writers managed to tie up the show's numerous, complex character arcs in the series finale, and as it stands, all major plot points have been resolved.
And second, given Hurwitz's post-AD track record (including his mediocre new comedy Running Wilde), would the movie even be good?
. What's left of the story to tell? Would Michael return to salvage the company he was so eager to leave behind? Would Annyong continue in his lifelong vendetta against the Bluths? Would Buster finally defeat the seal that ate his hand?
The second stumbling block for an Arrested Development movie is accessibility. Faced with low ratings and threatened with cancelation, AD's creative team made the self-destructive decision to make the show more idiosyncratic and more self-referential—rendering most of its slyest, funniest jokes incoherent to the uninitiated.
Though Arrested Development has gained more fans in the years since its cancelation, thanks to the second life now provided by DVDs, it still has a niche audience. And television, with its ever-growing range of niche programming, allows for unprecedented levels of audience fragmentation. If Arrested Development couldn't find its audience there, how will it draw the vast majority of viewers who didn't tune in when it originally aired to movie theaters?
And there's creator Mitch Hurwitz's post-AD resume to consider. His second collaboration with FOX, 2009's short-lived animated sitcom Sit Down Shut Up, generated immediate goodwill amongst AD fans by reteaming Hurwitz with Arrested Development cast members Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Henry Winkler. When it actually premiered—featuring garish animation, tepid jokes, and characters with groan-worthy surnames like "Littlejunk" and "Deutschebog," it was reviled by critics and viewers alike, and quickly canceled.
Hurwitz's latest pilot, Running Wilde, debuted on FOX last month to so-so reviews and middling ratings. Running Wilde hits many of the same beats that Arrested Development did: an omnipresent narrator, a single camera format, and characters played by David Cross and perennial Hurwitz muse Will Arnett. There's one pivotal difference: it isn't funny. As supporting character Gob in Arrested Development, Arnett was a reliable scene-stealer. But his wackiness played best opposite Bateman's straight-laced Arrested Development lead; Arnett's over-the-top Steven Wilde in Running Wilde isn't a character who can anchor a show.
It's certainly premature to sound the death knell for Running Wilde after a three episodes, when the cast and writers are still figuring out what they want the show to be. But if Running Wilde ends up on the chopping block, like Arrested Development and Sit Down Shut Up before it, Hurwitz and Arnett may retreat to the safety of the show that cemented their reputations in the first place. Could they recapture the magic that earned Arrested Development its critical acclaim and cult following on the big screen?
If Hurwitz's recent work is any indication, let's hope it stays in development.