I watched the first disc of “Arrested Development” last night while failing to adjust to Eastern Daylight Time. Good show, as everybody knows by now, and it already made some of the later episodes funnier because of backwards references. It’s a little easier to see how daunting the continuity of the show was/is for attracting new viewers.
One thing that annoyed me, though: a “behind the scenes” documentary as an extra feature on the first disc. This is going to be seen as blasphemy by my peer group, but: sometimes I wish David Cross would just shut the hell up. The documentary has a bit where the other cast members all talk about how funny he is, and then a little while later they talk to him and he goes on this rant about how commercial television demands the show be 20 minutes so they can get 10 minutes of advertising into each episode.
Well that’s a damn shame, Dave. Just think how many more times you could do the same gay-guy-in-denial joke if you just had those extra 5-10 minutes. You know the one — it’s the one-note gimmick your entire “Arrested Development” character is based on, and the same joke you did about a dozen times in “Mr. Show.”
Yes, the guy is extremely funny. Or if he’s not, he at least knows really well how to get carried by genius-level funny people, because he’s been on two of the most brilliant shows ever. But he also comes across as being like the kid who’s gotten told by one too many adults that he’s “gifted.” The other people on the AD documentary are firm but gracious when they talk about the show and how it was handled; Cross goes on rants. And the only problem I have with that is that he’s in my opinion the least funny member of the ensemble — still funny, especially in the mole suit, but he stands out as too showy for a series where everyone else manages to be simultaneoulsy absurd and subtle.
Granted, it says a lot about the quality of “Arrested Development” that my biggest complaint is a member of the cast who’s extremely funny but too grand-standing. But when everybody else seems to have a healthier take on the situation, and he goes off on these predictable “Blame Fox!” and “Stupid Middle America!” type rants, he just comes across as obnoxious as the characters he did on “Mr. Show.”
Well, you won’t be surprised to hear that I disagree. I think the Tobias character has been consistently funny. It is a one-note joke, but it’s a testament to Cross and the writers that it has continued to be funny.
I think whining about a network show making room for commercials is pretty asinine–that’s how they roll, David–but I agree with him completely when he rants about how the network has failed to market the show (this might be on the season 2 disc, so you might not want to bother watching those extras.) When a show wins numerous awards, builds up a loyal, cult audience, and gets nothing but praise from the press, you’d think Fox might take the time to, I don’t know, mention that in some ads. Or maybe just RUN SOME ADS AT ALL? Sure, being firm but gracious is one way to react to that. But what’s wrong with being plain pissed off?
I already heard about that rant on the second season DVDs, both from your blog and another message board. And for that one, I was thinking “right on, man! Fight the power!” I’m pretty much the target audience for “Arrested Development,” and I never heard anything about it other than word-of-mouth. And you know that I trust Fox’s marketing department more than my friends. They definitely under-marketed it.
But seeing Cross’ rant on the first season DVDs just weakens the valid argument later on, because it just makes him come across as a whiny bitch. Fox didn’t completely screw the show over — they fumbled the marketing, no doubt. But they did give it two and a half years, and they ran marathons, and they supported it for awards shows. And it is a “cult favorite;” it’s not the type of show that’s going to be as universally appealing as all their reality shows and simplistic sitcoms that basically sell themselves.
To blame everything on Fox just seems predictable and simple-minded railing against Corporate Entertainment. As simple as saying, for example, “I don’t own a television. Notice I say television and not TV because TV is a nickname and nicknames are for friends and television, sir, is no friend of mine.” Or a performance artist trying to take a dump on an American flag but being too constipated. The other members of the ensemble, and Ron Howard, all seem to have a more realistic take on what happened with the show, and they’re pissed off but not whiny.
They ran marathons on Fridays–one of the least watched nights of television, and they moved the show from Sunday to Monday–a dumb move–without any publicity. Yadda yadda on and on. I’m not sure what supporting the show for awards shows means, but giving a show two and half years doesn’t mean squat if you don’t court the viewers. If anything, it seems like a token gesture–keeping the acclaimed show on the air just to have a jewel amongst the junk.
It IS Fox’s fault. They ARE a bunch of morons. It has nothing to do with being anti-corporate entertainment. It’s about being anti Fox–a network that has consitently cancelled quality shows.
Supporting the show for awards means that unless the TV awards are a completely different Bizarro-world construct from the movies, series have to get publicized before they’re considered for the awards. They don’t pay as much money on ad campaigns as the movie studios do for the Oscars, but even I’m not naive enough to believe that it’s all based on word of mouth alone.
And I don’t think that giving a show two and a half years doesn’t count for squat; I think it’s about as close to the fantasyland that some people see in TV networks as we’re ever going to get — a way to keep watching your favorite show for free at the network’s expense.
There’s a lot about “Arrested Development” that just make it impenetrable for new audiences: all the continuity, and the tone that’s always on the border between slapstick and subtlety. That’s what I think makes it great, but it also means it could never have the kind of audience that “That 70’s Show” and other instantly accessible shows that sell themselves have. I already said I think that they fucked up with the marketing. But I believe that if they had spent a lot more in advertising the show, then it never would’ve attracted enough viewers to justify the added expense and would’ve been cancelled even sooner. It’s a case of a cult favorite show trying to compete on a network that can’t afford anything other than blockbusters.
What’s wrong with getting pissed off is that it’s short-sighted and lazy and doesn’t accomplish anything. There are quality shows that do find an audience and make money and don’t have to pander or hobble themselves to do it. They figure out what’s broken, and they fix it. Friends tell me “Lost” is good, for example, and I hope nobody’s going to try to claim that ABC is a broadcast television brain trust.
I think that the real answer is coming up with more distribution channels. Like they did with FX, but with less emphasis on action series. Maybe Fox Comedy or something. Or a deal with TiVo. Or even online. “Family Guy” didn’t come back just because of the DVDs; it came back because it ran on a network that was a much better fit for it: Adult Swim == Stoners.
Leaving “Arrested Development” on for as long as they did demonstrated that they were willing to try to nurture a show as much as they could without losing their jobs, and that it hasn’t yet become completely a case of Money Over Quality. So do TV producers try to meet them halfway, and find a way to make quality shows that don’t pander and have a sustainable business model? Or do they pitch a fit and lock themselves in their room, complaining that everyone else is a moron who doesn’t understand their genius?
Again, I don’t think it’s fair to compare the success of “Lost” to “Arrested Development.” “Lost” was hyped up the wazoo, advertised on buses and billboards. Of course advertising doesn’t make people LIKE a show, but it compels more people to check it out in the first place. And I don’t think that advertising it would have been wasted dollars.
But we just have a fundamental difference of opinion here. I don’t think getting vocally angry about how the network has fucked up the marketing of a show is the equivalent of locking oneself in a room and complaining. And I don’t think that the show is so convoluted that it’s completely incomprehensible to new audiences. But in the end, I guess I’d rather see it cancelled then have them revamp it to try and get more viewers by introducing Poochy or something. I just don’t think they have to go softly into that good night, either…
I have a mathematical proof that firmly establishes that Fox has no idea how to handle an excellent show. Since I didn’t watch much of AD, despite numerous people recommending it to me, I can’t use that in the proof. However, here we go:
Look, I think we can all agree on one thing. This is Fox we’re talking about. Even if they appeared to be doing the right thing with this show, it was almost certainly for the wrong reasons. Like, maybe they kept it alive long enough so they could sacrifice it on the Solstice to the mindless, gibbering dark God of the Television Void, he whose blasphemous offspring scuttle through the darkest shadow of the airwaves, corrupting all that they touch with their vile and eldritch appendages.
Otherwise known as Aaron Spelling.
But I think I might be getting off topic.