Later this month, Arrested Development returns to television. (Well, Netflix, but close enough.) For some people, this is the biggest cultural event of the season. Others are wondering why everyone is so excited about the comeback of a marginal early ’90s hip-hop group. That’s what makes the show one of the last, true cult phenomena. In the era of the monoculture, Arrested Development has only hardcore fans. Everyone else — that is, the vast majority of the planet — doesn’t even know it exists. And that’s what makes me nervous about this impending resurrection.
This isn’t a feeling born of a concern that the masses are going to have a second chance to “steal” something precious that once belonged to me. On the contrary: When it comes to Arrested Development, I’m one of the outliers. I watched the whole series on DVD in a great retroactive burst a few years ago, and while I enjoyed it quite a bit, I don’t think I ever got to the feverish level of adoration that so many others did. Still, I recognize the danger of bringing back something because a small group of fervent admirers demanded it. The truth is that if you love Arrested Development, you should let it stay dead.
Of course, in today’s entertainment landscape, nothing remains in the memory. Everything is revived and allowed to stalk the TV airwaves or the movie box office or the concert circuit again, pandering for a respect they didn’t receive during their initial lifespans. And no matter how good that renewed lease on life might be on the surface, I can’t help but feel that it’s an abomination. I believe in that famous F. Scott Fitzgerald quote about there being no second acts in American lives. Now, everyone — and I mean everyone — thinks they deserve one.
Certainly, Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz has thought so for quite awhile, even before his show went off the air. That last season bordered on martyrdom, the self-referential jokes about the impending cancelation becoming so prevalent it nearly eclipsed the show itself. There’s a misperception that the plug got pulled early. The neat, three-season arc actually ended right where it should. Picked up six years later, with a truncated run on Netflix leading into a movie, the question posed is, “Is this necessary?”
As with reunions in just about every medium, the answer is, “No.” In the last few years, have we seen successful reformations of, say, rock bands? Yes. The Pixies put on some great shows. Dinosaur Jr. has even released a few awesome albums. But do any of these successes measure up to those of the groups’ first attempts, back before they knew if anyone cared? Not really. For the most part, those bands only got back together because, suddenly, people seemed to care. And the desire to prove what people were missing the first time around, to me, never seems like a good impetus for making art. I have only minor doubts that new episodes of Arrested Development will be funny. But will they be enjoyed and consumed the same way? That’s the bigger question.
I Need Media is a biweekly media column by Matthew Singer. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.