Please don't bring "Arrested Development" back

Once again, rumors of a movie are swirling. Can't we leave a great show alone?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams
Published October 4, 2011 7:05PM (EDT)

Anyone who's ever watched a zombie movie -- or either of the "Sex and the City" features -- knows that bringing something once-beloved back from the dead rarely works out well. Why then, nearly six years after it left the air, do wekeep getting our hopes up about bringing back "Arrested Development"?

The justly beloved Fox sitcom recalibrated America's "cult classic" meter virtually from the moment it debuted in 2003. Though it was never a ratings success, the farcical tribulations of the once-wealthy Bluth family scooped up Emmys and Golden Globes, launched Will Arnett and Michael Cera, made Jason Bateman a bona fide leading man, and gave that kid from "Happy Days" a nice narrating gig for a while there. Its cancellation in 2006 was both inevitable and a total heartbreaker. And when it happened, viewers, perhaps spoiled by "Buffy" -- a show so violently adored that it survived its final two seasons on a different network --  hoped for a similar fate. Surely some other savvy network would pick up one of the slyest, most original television series ever aired? Showtime? HBO? Anybody? How about a movie, then?

Ever since, rumors and occasional outright promises of a reignited series or an "Arrested Development" feature have surfaced with all the reassuring reliability of Loch Ness monster sightings and Britney Spears comebacks. In 2008, Jason Bateman told E! that "I can speak for the cast when I say our fingers are crossed" for an 'Arrested Development' movie." And in 2010, Will Arnett declared, "We are working on the movie right now, yeah... We don't have a completed script yet, but it's forthcoming and we're going to make the movie this year."

But nothing has fanned the flames of optimism quite so ardently as Sunday's "Bluth Family Reunion" with the show's crackerjack cast and series creator Mitch Hurwitz at this year's New Yorker Festival. When moderator Nancy Franklin asked Hurwitz about an imminent "Arrested Development" project, Hurwitz said, "We’re 80 percent of the way to an answer." Which is good enough for the fans.

Hurwitz did admit that "We don't completely own the property, there are business people involved and studios and that kind of thing" but he added, "We’re trying to do a limited-run series into the movie. We’re basically hoping to do nine or 10 episodes, with almost one character per episode." And the show's bedrock, Jason Bateman, piped up to say, "There’s business left to be done, but creatively we are all on board and have a very specific plan about how it would come out and what we would do and when we would shoot it. I think we’re targeting next summer to shoot it." Producer Ron Howard, meanwhile, offered G4's "Attack of the Show" the restrained response that "Everybody at every studio and company is very supportive of the idea -- but there’s much to be worked out."

Aside from the fact that "Arrested Development" was a true comic gem, there's something heartening about the idea of an ensemble that truly seemed to gel that's still eager to work together. And the cast members -- including Jeffrey Tambor, Portia de Rossi, and David Cross -- aren't exactly down on their heels has-beens trying to wring a little more glory out of something the rest of the world has forgotten. Most of them are more successful now than when the series started. That they'd all still be committed to that piece of TV magic they created only makesit more alluring.

But not enough. Some things only come along once in a while for a reason. "Arrested Development" existed in a particular moment in pop culture, and the exploits of its family remain comfortably frozen in a time when Bush was president and Michael Cera was a gawky teen. And let's just say it, fellow diehards, that last season, with the whole Charlize Theron stuff and the confusion over adoptions and long-lost family members, was pretty scattershot. It's not that Hurwitz and company couldn't still spin gold from their characters. But after an absence of what would be at least seven years, would audiences really want to know what Buster and Tobias were up to?

Maybe if the series had enjoyed a longer run, one that satisfied fans and left them able to bid it farewell, the idea of resurrecting it wouldn't burn so strong. But a jam-packed show like "Arrested Development" is best remembered as it was -- a bright, brief spark. Here in 2011, we're all better off letting Will Arnett be brilliant in a different way on "Up All Night." And tempting as it may be, the chance to turn something that was once so good into something that might not even make sense would likely end being, as the the Bluth family would say, a huge mistake.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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