Friday, September 23, 2005

On The Future Of Arrested Development

It’s a shame that Arrested Development is still tanking in the ratings on Monday nights. I don’t know for sure, but I would find it hard to believe that it is much lower than it was on Sundays, so I don’t have a problem with the time slot change.

There must be something about the show that actively turns people off. And that’s aside from the fact that, to be perfectly honest, Arrested Development is possibly the least accessible show in the history of television. It’s fast-paced, complex, the status quo is seemingly always changing, a large percentage of jokes rely on often-obscure callbacks to previous episodes, even from previous seasons, there is a huge cast of characters, and despite the narration, it’s impossible to adequately fill in the gaps.

While these are all obvious impediments to new viewers, they also contribute to the show being as great as it is. Amazingly, the writers have refused to make any concessions, and each season, the show remains as stubbornly confusing and inaccessible as ever. They're too cool to change, even though they're destroying themselves.

All this is obviously very intimidating, and I know I’ve been averse to plenty of shows because their mythology seemed like too much work. I can say now that Arrested Development is worth the learning curve. But if I were on the outside I don’t know that I would believe it. And the fervent hardcore fanbase, at least on the Fox message boards, has an arrogant, offputting, “America’s too stupid to love this show” kind of attitude.

At this point I don’t think the pleading helps. All the magazine articles and stuff that were all about “the best show you’re not watching,” in retrospect, shouldn’t have done that. I think very few shows have been turned around by such coverage. Basically, they’re trying to convince you that the unpopular kid is cool. Who cares?

The strategy that might have worked better would be to ignore the ratings as much as possible and just emphasize how great the show is. Make readers feel like they’re missing out. If you hear everyone’s watching Desperate Housewives, you don’t want to be left behind. You want to see what the fuss is about. But if you know that no one else is watching the show—if indeed, a great deal of emphasis is placed on how few watch the show—you won’t feel like you’re missing out. You won’t fall behind on water-cooler conversation. And if no one else is watching, how good could it be, really?

Another problem are the promos. I know Fox is trying, but I think it would really help if someone could cut together an ad for AD that actually communicated how funny the show is. Family Guy works great in ads because the jokes are short, punchy, and easily self-contained. The AD ads tend to focus on the big slapstick pratfalls, but without context it’s impossible to tell how brilliant the show around those moments really is. So far the best ad I’ve seen for AD is the one where the cast discusses the move to Monday nights, in which everyone reacts to Buster’s suggestion that they try to make “Monday” a dirty word (“Everyone loves a good dirty word.” “You can’t say dirty words on television.” “You’re Monday right you can’t.” “You guys are such Mondays.” “Ha! Little Miss Monday, 8/6 Central!” “Why don’t you stick it up your Monday-hole?” "Okay, let's just leave Monday the way it is." "Monday!"). It maybe sounds lame here, but it's kind of supposed to, especially George Michael's hilarious delivery of his "Monday hole" line. It showcased the whole cast, in character, had amazingly sharp timing, and was so funny I replayed it three times. No other AD ad has ever done that much. They need an ad that takes a chunk of the show and includes Ron Howard’s narration, something that actually gets across the feel of what the show is like.

I hope they get through season three. A season four seems very unlikely, too much to hope for, really. I think the ratings are pretty much hopeless, since the reasons it can't get new viewers is clear, and the show is too stubborn to change. Actually, I did read another blogger who felt the season premiere timing was off somehow, and I think it was too, inasmuch as they were either hitting jokes a little harder or leaving a little more time for them to land--that may be a concession to new viewers, but it's not really enough. Honestly, I can't imagine a version that does solve all those problems--it would probably ruin the show. So AD is pretty much doomed by its own hand--all we can do is be glad that unlike, say, Freaks & Geeks, Undeclared, or even the entertaining but overrated-in-retrospect Andy Richter Controls the Universe, it's gotten enough attention to last to a third season.

On one hand, Fox has been exceedingly generous to the show considering its ratings. On the other, they technically didn’t even finish season two, so it’s not out of the question that Fox would cut them short despite their affection and patience. I think it will at least run until midseason. They wouldn’t keep it around this long unless they were willing to do that much. Beyond that, who knows? I seem to remember this year's upfronts not even leaving a space for AD in the spring schedule, so the second half of the season may be contingent on ratings improving. Maybe if the second season DVD set sells well, they’ll keep it on—as Family Guy proved, that could be the make-or-break factor. Although even if every AD viewer bought the DVD, I don't know if there are enough to make a difference. I would think that might at least convince them to get it to midseason. Whenever it ends, I hope we have enough episodes to make a decent third-season set, and I hope the writers have enough notice to create a final episode with some closure.

1 comment:

Steve said...

And the fervent hardcore fanbase’s attitude, at least on the Fox message boards, has an arrogant, offputting, “America’s too stupid to love this show” kind of attitude.

I feel that way about rabid Joss Whedon fans. They'll whine about how Firefly would have been the most successful show in the history of television if not for an evil conspiracy. Uh, no. Firefly didn't fail because Fox secretly wanted to lose money. It failed because nobody wants to watch a western set in space, so the only people viewing the show were rabid Buffy fans who would have been just as happy watching a 12-part documentary on Joss Whedon's urethra.