two good shows… gone

West Wing and Arrested Developement.  (nods to Globe and Mail)

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT

It’s the show everyone wants to save but nobody will put on television. Is this the final countdown?

Headshot of Andrew Ryan

ANDREW RYAN

It’s
inevitable that most Arrested Development devotees are in denial over
the show’s imminent departure. The beloved comedy closes its third
season this week and in all likelihood it will be the last time we
spend any time with the dysfunctional Bluth family. It will be a sad
day for fans of quality television.

After months of speculation and much dithering by network execs, the
Emmy-winning comedy appears to be coming to the end of the road. As of
this writing, the show’s prognosis wasn’t good: Fox entertainment
president Peter Liquori said it was “highly unlikely” that Arrested
Development would ever reappear on Fox; in network jargon, that means
never. His ABC counterpart, Steve McPherson, expressed passing
interest, but later backed off, saying, “I think it’s a long shot.” No
one really believed ABC would schedule it alongside According to Jim or
Hope and Faith.

For a few days there was hope Arrested Development might resurface
on the U.S. cable channel Showtime which really excited some fans,
since the U.S. cable channel is not bound by network censors and
competitive scheduling. And then that deal fell apart. There was even
one bizarre rumour that posited a secret deal had been struck in which
a cloister of Hollywood big shots had bought the show and would produce
it with the original cast, in an undisclosed location. And then this
supposed dark consortium would sell the show exclusively to video iPod
users. You read all kinds of things on the Internet these days.

It’s not that unreasonable for Arrested fans to hold out hope. Fox
brought back the previously cancelled Family Guy after the show
garnered phenomenal DVD sales. Likewise, the short-lived series Firefly
returned last year as the feature film Serenity. But Arrested
Development is a different sort of TV creature.

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The lingering threat of cancellation has always hung over Arrested
Development, right from the show’s debut in November 2003. The show was
just too weird the furthest extension imaginable from the regular
network sitcom format. There was no canned laughter and none of the
principal characters were very likeable, at least at first, with the
exception of the beleaguered protagonist, Michael Bluth, played by
Jason Bateman. The rest of the Bluths were a wonderfully wretched lot.

Patriarch George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) had been indicted on damning
criminal charges (something about a deal with the Iraq government to
construct low-cost housing), leaving Michael to run the family business
and provide caregiver duties to his odd immediate family, specifically,
his besotted mother Lucille (Jessica Walter), idiot brothers Gob (Will
Arnett) and Buster (Tony Hale) and sister Lindsay (Portia de Rossi). A
widower, Michael’s only hope of sustaining the Bluth family line was
through his son, George Michael (Michael Cera), a nice kid, though he
seemed to have an unusual attraction to his own cousin, Maeby (Alia
Shawkat).

Arrested Development was quirky, if low-rated, and won five Emmys in
its first season. Fox bounced it around for three years, before finally
settling in on Friday night last year. As in previous attempts, the
ratings were good, not great, and the inevitable cancellation rumours
returned.

To the credit of creator and executive producer Mitchell Hurwitz,
the show will go out with a bang, not a whimper. The regular lunacy
seems to have been ramped up for Arrested Development’s final chapters.
For the fans: Scheming George Sr. hires a new attorney who arranges a
mock trial in preparation for the real thing. All the Bluths are
required to testify at the mock trial (except Buster, who is faking a
coma), which is presided by the right honourable Judge Reinhold, as
himself.

In other activities: Michael is stunned to learn he has a sister he
never knew about, named Nellie (played by Bateman’s real sister,
Justine). And Gob obeys a directive from George Sr. to embark on a
clandestine evidence-removal mission, which naturally ends up in a dank
Iraqi jail.

A shroud of secrecy was veiled over the shooting of the very last
episode in the Arrested Development timeline. The only program details
from Fox reveal that the trial is finally over, after which the entire
Bluth family gather together for party, held aboard the Queen Mary, no
less.

There are no encouraging clues to be gleaned from that scant
storyline, but Arrested Development devotees are hopeful. No doubt the
true fan base will hold out for a series reprieve, right up until this
week’s last few episodes and likely long thereafter.

THE ARRESTED TIP SHEET

-Arrested Development was created by Mitch Hurwitz and is executive
produced by movie majordomos Brian Grazer and Ron Howard and David
Nevins. Howard also provides the narration.

– In its first season, Arrested Development collected five Emmys,
including Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Writing. The show
has also earned honours from the Television Critics Association, six
Golden Globes and the TV Land award of “Future TV Classic.”

-Two of the most popular players weren’t intended as part of the
show’s regular mix: The characters of George Sr. (Tambor) and Lindsay’s
husband, the addled Tobias (David Cross), were originally minor
characters who became more pivotal to the story after producers saw
their audition tapes.

– The show has always included an eclectic mix of music particularly
the 1986 single The Final Countdown, by the one-hit group Europe, which
is the musical backdrop for Gob’s magic act. n A myriad of Hollywood
stars have guest-starred on the show, including Charlize Theron, Julia
Louis-Dreyfus, Liza Minnelli, Henry Winkler, Martin Short, Scott Baio
and Carl Weathers.

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