Friday, November 11, 2005

"Arrested Development," Dead at the Age of 3

By Daniel Gale-Grogen

Fox did a Fed-style "Friday news dump" today and announced it was canceling "Arrested Development," the most original and consistently funny sitcom since the demise of "Seinfeld." It sounds like hyperbole, but consider that in the seven years since Jerry packed it in, not a single U.S. sitcom on commercial television besides "A.D." has successfully stretched or challenged the format.

Without going into the details of the program -- two seasons are available on DVD, and should not be rented but instead acquired and cherished like winning Powerball tickets or gold bullion -- this was a show in which sharp and unusual humor always carried the day. I have never seen a script, but my guess was that the average "A.D." script must have been twice as long as any other 22-minute sitcom script. Any episode works as a case study in the value of a TiVo/DVR: the fun bits came so fast and mercilessly, backtracking was an absolute necessity.

"A.D." did not have a laugh track and it was a single-camera shoot, meaning it was not an easy acclimation for the typical sitcom-damaged viewer. But, Fox could have been a better steward for this show, and its loss only brings up the network's most unfortunate trait: it has a stellar eye for material, but Fox consistently grabs up first-rate material and then doesn't know what the fucking fuck to do with it once it owns the show.

Some of the more tinfoil-hat types have theorized that Fox actively seeks out unusual (read: expensive to produce and groundbreaking) programs and then abuses them and "thrill-kills" them to prove that such programming does not work. Replacement shows tend to look a lot like "Life on a Stick," "The War at Home" or "Stacked," fueling the conspiracy.

Fox' most obvious pre-"A.D." would-be thrill-kills were "Family Guy," which was resurrected after finding a thriving DVD afterlife, and the Judd Apatow shows "Undeclared" and "The Ben Stiller Show." Great programs such as "Wonderfalls" seemed to create cancellation buzz before they even premiered: TV writers would warn readers to watch "Wonderfalls," because it seemed to have "Fox Thrill-Kill" plastered all over it. Sure enough, "Wonderfalls" was canceled after only four airings on Friday night. All 13 produced episodes are available on DVD.

So, say your prayers. A recurring theme in today's cyberspace mourning for "A.D." is that HBO might pick up the series. That is always the hope for desperate fans -- that HBO will ride in like a white knight and save their beloved, fallen favorite. In this case, never has a failed Fox throwaway looked more like a successful HBO 12-ep-per-season hit.


At 10:13 PM, Anonymous Red Dirt said...

Hey man, not to deride your post or anything. But I'm still giving too much greivous rumination to the skin being melted off children to worry too much about the misfortunes of some insulated TV series...

At 10:51 PM, Blogger Janet said...

I hadn't heard the HBO theory but that does give me a glimmer of hope. I too wrote a tribute today. I'm posting mine Monday but I'll say it, I like yours better.

At 11:25 AM, Blogger Daniel Gale-Grogen said...

This isn't Chase's Little Chasm of Tragedy, Red Dirt. We post on all things, ghastly and otherwise.

I'm certain other posters will take you back to the wicked real world shortly. Be patient.


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