Daily Texan Staff
Published: Monday, February 9, 2009
Rumors of an Arrested Development movie have been swirling for months; Everyone from Will Arnett to Jason Bateman has displayed interest in reprising their parts. The show’s creator, Mitchell Hurwitz, dropped hints last week that a movie was on.
Only Michael Cera, George Michael, recently said that he wanted to see the script before committing. Cera, star of movies such as “Juno” and “Superbad,” finds himself in the peculiar position of having to shake off the effects of stereotyping without displeasing the show’s unusually vocal fans.
“Arrested Development” fans feel a strong sense of ownership when it comes to the Bluth family; They have hijacked the show’s comedic style and cult status to assert their own intellectual identity. They want a mainstream movie out of this — perhaps to validate their good taste — while claiming that the show’s low ratings were a sign that it was too classy for most audiences.
This declaration sidesteps the curious fact that the show was willing to indulge in supposedly low-brow slapstick. In truth, “Arrested Development” tried a little bit of everything: goofy lines, risque lines, awkward pauses, non-sequiturs, inside jokes, obvious jokes, jokes that make you laugh out loud, jokes that make you smile inwardly, verbal puns, visual puns — and then each of these styles layered on some of the others.
Take, for instance, Tobias Funke and his obsession with the Blue Man Group, a minor narrative arc that extends mainly over the course of season two. At different points, whether or not Tobias is in the frame, his (blue) palm prints can be spotted all over the house and, a couple of times, even on his brother-in-law Michael’s shirt. On one level, this is funny because of the visual gag. On another level, it is funny in a surreal way to be confronted by a character who for no particular reason is obsessed with men covered in a coat of blue paint. On a third level, the joke is a pun on the fact that the Bluth family is engaged in the business of building model homes. (The link: blueprints.)
The main reason for the show’s failure was not narrative complexity. It was that viewers were overwhelmed by the different kinds of jokes flying toward them, seemingly without pattern. Self-indulgence in a sitcom works effectively until the audience begins to lose the thread.
Although the show created an arc of intimacy between the Bluth family and the viewer, the characters were extraordinarily unsympathetic. “Arrested Development” went about its business without seeming to care if jokes on themes such as incest — controversial under any circumstances — might alienate viewers.
Hurwitz is under pressure from the fan base to deliver a script abound with arbitrary jokes. He will want to persist with this degree of cleverness for artistic reasons. And with any luck, it would pay off with movie audiences, since cinema holds greater pretensions to art than television.
The presence of familiar faces like Cera and Portia de Rossi cannot hurt a complex film’s box-office chances. And given the show’s politics — the plot centered on the situation in Iraq and weapons of mass destruction — the movie script might address the current financial crisis.
An Arrested Development movie will follow in the tradition of TV shows like “Sex and the City,” “The Simpsons” and “Miami Vice,” which all made the transition to big-budget cinema, but unlike those films, “Arrested Development” will probably evoke the feel of an indie production.
Then again, with Ron Howard presumably having a hand, you never know.