But, based on the excellent promotional job Netflix has done re-launching the series (and its long-rumored feature film iteration), you’d never know the show was an abysmally rated failure. Living in Los Angeles, there’s been a pretty ubiquitous number of promos on billboards and bus ads. The character posters have been particularly brilliant. Last week, the Bluth’s stair-truck was seen driving around the city (minus hop-ons I assume), and now the famous Bluth Frozen Banana Stand is going on tour. The Banana Stand is currently in London but will make stops in New York and LA in the coming days. I’m very excited about visiting it and meeting Mr. Manager. If the new episodes are half as good as the promotional materials have been, we’re in for a big treat.
It’s interesting to see Netflix drop so much creativity, time, and money into re-launching Arrested Development. There’s been far more publicity for this than there was for Netflix’s two recent shows, House of Cards and Hemlock Grove. If I had no idea it was a TV show, I would swear they were promoting a big-budget feature film. They even had a recent big Hollywood premiere for the new episodes at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. But, all the fuss is over a critically acclaimed show with a small cult audience. Yes, Arrested Development was brilliant and one of the very best TV comedies of all time. Yes, it was massively influential on shows that came after it; for instance, 30 Rock’s penchant for funny names owes a lot to Bob Loblaw and his law blog. Netflix must be banking on the show having picked up a lot more fans via DVDs and streaming since its cancellation over six years ago. Of course, Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Mae Whitman (her?), Tony Hale, and Alia Shawkat all have much higher profiles now. Portia de Rossi is more famous now for being married to Ellen Degeneres. Jason Bateman is a bona fide movie star. Will the cast draw more viewers now than they did then?
Which leads to the question, how might the show have fared on its initial run if Fox had put this much promotional muscle behind it? Did the pinheads at Fox have any idea they had an all-time classic on their hands? Or did they realize after the fact that they’d made a huge mistake? Arrested Development was always going to be a tough sell. It’s a very smart comedy. It moves quickly. It’s loaded with selfish, unlikeable characters. There wasn’t a live studio audience telling people when to laugh. Like a lot of Joss Whedon’s best TV work, it’s designed for long-form storytelling with punchlines being set up two or three episodes before they were delivered. Like Mad Men, Arrested Development isn’t a show for people who don’t pay close attention to what they’re watching. If Fox had really focused on giving the show the network support it needed, would it have ever become a hit? That may seem unlikely. But, remember that Seinfeld was a smash success that also featured selfish, unlikeable characters and dense, self-referential writing. There’s an entire Seinfeld season about George and Jerry writing an NBC pilot based on the show they’re in. I don’t think Arrested Development got much more meta than that. NBC gave Seinfeld the time it needed to find its audience. Arrested Development won the Emmy for best comedy for its first season. You can’t use that to grow its audience? Come on!
I’m excited to see the Bluths finally return. I’m even more excited to see Netflix give them the promotional support they always deserved.