The Mountain Times

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New developments

I'm sort of watching the new episodes of "Arrested Development" right now, because that's what everyone else on my Facebook is doing. As you probably know, "Arrested Development" was a sitcom that, though pretty much nobody except TV critics watched it during its original run in the mid-2000s, became so beloved following its cancellation - in the people-watching-TV-shows-on-DVD era - that now, a decade after its premiere, it's received a Netflix-produced fourth season for the people-watching-TV-shows-online era.

In addition to shooting on reality-TV-style handheld cameras at a time when stage-bound multi-cam comedies were not yet a distant memory for the hip crowd, "Arrested Development" possessed a relentless wackiness that made other sitcoms seem slow-footed by comparison. With its whirlwind plots, endless character oddities, self-referential winks, bizarre asides, and ultra-extended gags, it simply packed a lot more content into each episode. That this expert comedy-writing performance used as its foundation a somewhat trite "zany family" premise never bothered its (mostly belated) supporters, for whom, I suppose, the craft was the thing. It lasted only three seasons - till now - but I think it left its mark, helping to usher in an era of TV comedy, headed by NBC's "Community," whose implacable, assiduous, pure-entertainment cheekiness seems to approach, in what little I've seen of it, a kind of pop nihilism.

The new season of "Arrested Development" bears an altered structure, owing to the difficulties that creator Mitchell Hurwitz faced in rounding up all the old cast members and trying to get them in the same room together at the same time. His solution was to focus each episode on a single character, showcasing his or her role within the family drama of the past several years. The result is a dizzying, time-shifting narrative of countless interlocking parts, guided by the omniscient narrator Ron Howard, whose explanatory voiceovers are so necessary here that we hardly ever get a break from him. The sheer amount of stuff happening can overwhelm the jokes at times - though they're still there, still plentiful and clever, I'm sure.

This complexity is, to some extent, probably designed to flatter the intellects of those longtime fans who rescued "Arrested Development" from the indifference of the brainless mainstream. I don't count myself among that group, though, and to be honest, I couldn't really make any sense of Season Four and have by now given up. A lot of critics apparently struggled with it too, although I'm sure it'll receive its due as an "underappreciated gem" sometime next decade.

The existence of new "Arrested Development" episodes, however, is kind of interesting in itself, especially as it follows the success of the "Veronica Mars" Kickstarter - which, in a perhaps unprecedented situation, asked the ardent fans of a canceled TV show to pay Warner Bros. to produce a feature-film adaptation that it would then charge those same fans to see. Presumably movie studios are trying to figure out how to employ this business model for all their projects. Both phenomena illustrate the power of "cult fanbases" - whose vociferous e-voices previously demanded the revival of "Family Guy" in 2005 and maybe also that "Strangers with Candy" film from the same year.

Ordinary folks have, it seems, become capable of subverting the cruel whims of Hollywood executives. They're getting the content that they want - which I guess is cool, except that most of this content is actually kind of lame.

It's my impression that, with the Internet as an accessible gathering point, it's easier than ever to assemble a cult fanbase; indeed, joining one - all it takes is a post or two on a particular message board, or even just Liking a particular Facebook page - has become one of the major pleasures of being an entertainment-consumer. I think most of my friends belong to 25 or 30 of these elite pop-culture societies.

What's next? With so many TV and movie artifacts so fiercely beloved, one can imagine, maybe, a live-action "Rocko's Modern Life" movie, a grownup version of "My So-Called Life," a Broadway adaptation of "Road House." When they finally happen, though, fans will probably have to reckon with the disproportionateness of their love for these rather disposable products - which I guess is what's occurring now with "Arrested Development" and its backlash.

Well, even in the absence of deserving recipients, we still have to give our hearts away to someone, don't we? And because entertainment has gotten so good and art has always been so boring, we've formed lifelong bonds with ephemera.