With news that Fox is close to greenlighting a pilot that would team Will Arnett up with former Arrested Development co-creator and executive producer Mitch Hurwitz (as well as AD co-executive producer Jim Vallely, who wrote the scripts for some great episodes, including “Pier Pressure,” “Righteous Brothers,” and “S.O.B.s”), the big (and sometimes insularly arrogant) Arrested Development fans here at NPI couldn’t help but get a bit excited. After all, the news that Arnett will be playing “a rich Beverly Hills jackass” sounds more than a little Gob Bluth-esque.
At the same time, we’d probably be better off to cool our expectations. The post-Arrested Development career of Will Arnett has been filled with plenty of flops (The Brothers Solomon, Let’s Go to Prison) and only a few mild successes (his guest appearance on Parks & Recreation, Blades of Glory). Even his previous reunion with Hurwitz, the animated series Sit Down, Shut Up (which included fellow AD alums Jason Bateman and Henry Winkler) was a mild disaster, lasting only 13 episodes.
In fact, of the entire cast of Arrested Development, only Michael Cera has done anything particularly memorable (Superbad). This isn’t to say that any of them have faded into obscurity. The things they’ve done range from pedestrian (Alvin and the Chipmunks, Let’s Go to Prison, Hancock, 90210) to the pretty good (Juno, The Invention of Lying, Jeffery Tambor’s appearance in The Hangover), but few of them had the kind of brilliant comic performances Arrested Development might lead us to expect.
This phenomenon isn’t unique to Arrested Development. People still talk about the “Seinfeld curse,” which haunts the cast members of arguably the greatest sitcom of all-time. The most success any of them have had on TV since has been Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ run on The New Adventures of Old Christine. Even Jerry Seinfeld himself has done such things as Bee Movie and, now, The Marriage Ref.
There are dozens of other examples of people who seemed brilliantly funny in one context coming off as pedestrian or downright bad in another. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, who created two nearly flawless series in The Office and Extras, also wrote “The Convict,” one of the worst episodes of the American version of the show. Speaking of the crappy American version of The Office, Steve Carell, who was so brilliant in The 40-Year-Old Virgin was at least partially to blame for turning Michael Scott into a cartoon. The writers of the early episodes of The Simpsons are often the same as the writers of the later episodes of The Simpsons. Jack Black went from the high of High Fidelity and to the depths of Shallow Hal in the span of 18 months. And so on and so forth.
All of this only serves to illustrate a rather simple point: Making a funny TV show or movie is really, really hard. Shows like Arrested Development and Seinfeld are more than just the product of funny people being funny—they are the result of a successful conjunction of dozens of parts. This conjunction is often as much a result of chance as it is of any one person or thing. It really is like catching lightning in a bottle.
So hopefully Hurwitz and Arnett will be able to do something great with their new show; we Arrested Development fans will likely look forward to it, since we cling to any hope of more of that show’s brilliance. But if the show turns out to be a disaster, it really won’t be that surprising. Hurwitz and Arnett are both funny people, but you cannot count on the magic of their collaboration to last. It may very well be fleeting fun.