Next year, Arrested Development returns after having been mercilessly cancelled by Fox back in 2006. Ten brand spanking new episodes are being produced for distribution exclusively via Netflix, which is very exciting news for fans of great comedy.
My worry, though, is that the new Arrested Development is going to make the same mistake that other similarly revived shows made upon their triumphant returns. Shows brought back from the brink of disaster have a worrying habit of wasting their second chance nodding at their past rather than looking optimistically towards their future.
Two of my favourite shows, Futurama and Red Dwarf, were revived in recent years, and both fell prey to nostalgia. The first of the straight-to-DVD Futurama movies, “Bender’s Big Score”, seemed to hinge almost entirely on winks to the audience, nostalgic self-referential gags, and “Hey, remember this minor character and/or in-joke?” moments. “Into The Wild Green Yonder”, the fourth and final Futurama movie, also ended on a very forced note that tried to wrap up as many elements of the show as possible very quickly while also providing an opening should the show return for a full season (as it did last year, with somewhat disappointing results).
Similarly, the 2009 Red Dwarf miniseries “Back to Earth” intentionally recycled and referenced elements of previous episodes rather than making the effort to stand out and be it’s own thing. While in Red Dwarf‘s case this can be forgiven to an extent – the miniseries was an anniversary event intended to celebrate the series – it does unfortunately mean that, as a story, “Back to Earth” struggles to stand on its own two feet.
Other successful show revivals such as Doctor Who and Family Guy somehow found it within themselves to soldier onward almost as though they’d never been off the air (aside from the opening scene of Family Guy‘s fourth season, which pokes fun at the Fox Network’s predilection for greenlighting and cancelling shows almost in the same breath).
With Doctor Who, then-showrunner Russell T Davies made a very deliberate choice not to refer heavily to the classic series, despite being a continuation. This made the first episode much more accessible and, more importantly, didn’t bog it down in self-reference and continuity. Anyone can watch “Rose” and enjoy it, but I have a hard time imagining non-Futurama fans getting much out of “Bender’s Big Score”.
The new Arrested Development ultimately has to make good on the promise that “new” implies – new stories featuring the same characters. No wasting time paying lip-service to the past, just focusing on what’s to come. If they can check that box, if they can get through the ten episodes without relying too heavily on Remember-Whens and in-jokes, then they can’t go wrong.
Y’know, unless it sucks.