Recapturing Greatness

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.

3 responses to this post.

  1. […] Recapturing Greatness – This is from the same No Pun Intended blog that’s reviewing the occasional Simpsons classic.  In this post (by a different guy than the one who writes the Simpsons reviews) we learn that Will Arnett (a/k/a Gob Bluth) may star in a pilot for FOX produced by some other Arrested Development alums.  His character is “a right Beverly Hills jackass”.  Sounds good, right?  […]


  2. Posted by Charlie Sweatpants on February 26, 2010 at 6:55 PM

    With my linked Simpsons exception noted let me agree with everything else. You’re absolutely correct about how the rest of the “Arrested Development” crew hasn’t done much to distinguish themselves. Like you, I take that as a testament to how good the show really was because that means it was greater than the sum of its parts.

    When it comes to actors moving on to something else that’s brilliant there’s also typecasting to consider. With the exception of David Cross and, to a lesser extent, Jeffrey Tambor (a hall of fame “hey, it’s that guy!” actor) none of the main cast of “Arrested Development” were really well known before the show. Now they’re all paddling upstream against characters that made them famous but no longer exist.

    Bateman’s becoming a go-to romantic-comedy actor playing nearly flawless (Michael-esque) nice guys, even in “Up in the Air” he was the quiet, competent guy. Cera cashed in big time by playing George-Michael in about seven movies before he finished puberty. Shawkat and de Rossi have both fallen into that not-quite-famous netherworld that few comic actresses ever escape. Walter is basically voicing Lucille on “Archer” (which I highly recommend if you aren’t watching it). None of those things are bad, and I’m sure they all pay, but none of them have the same kind of depth or reach either.

    This is especially true of Arnett, every time he’s in something his best stuff is all Gob-like, where he can smirk, say some horrifying thing, and get away with it. I watched that Will Ferrell ice skating movie with a friend of mine and afterward we both agreed that Arnett’s most Gob-like moments were the funniest part of the whole damn thing. His executive on “30 Rock” also has more than a little Gob in him.

    Basically the same thing happened to the three supporting “Seinfeld” people (Seinfeld got typecast too, but as himself, so I don’t think it matters as much). Ditto Jack Black, who is now locked into his “wild man with a heart” schtick. Typecasting is tough to overcome because for the actors it’s not enough just to find truly funny material, which as you note is “really, really hard” all by itself. They’ve got to find truly funny material that also uses them in a different way. (You need *strong* stuff to go against type.) That’s damn near impossible, and even if it does happen (no guarantee) it might take a decade or more. Look at Ed O’Neill, “Married with Children” hasn’t been on the air for thirteen years but the long arm of Al Bundy still has him wrapped up tight.


  3. […] last week I talked about how hard it is to recapture the greatness of shows like Seinfeld, Arrested Development, and The Simpsons, so I understand that expecting this show to […]


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