Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Opinion - Arrested Development

For me, reading yesterday's AD announcement triggered the memory of hearing about the late Pope's illness in February or March; this was mostly because both announcements signified the beginning of a drawn-out period of waiting for the final, inevitable news.

In my opinion, the choice of show (reruns) to replace Arrested during sweeps is quite telling. Prison Break (which just happens to be the only new show from this fall season that I've been watching) is actually pretty good, in the poor-man's-24 kind of way. So far, they have been using their centerpiece gimmick to good effect, introduced a couple of interesting characters including a semi-plausible love interest (not the real-prison variety of love interest, thankfully), have managed to keep the preposterousness down to a medium level, and even produced one storyline which had me awaiting the next episode with the same feverish excitement that early season 1 of 24 once generated. Each Prison Break episode is perfectly entertaining in a disposable sort of way; you can sit down in front of the telly, switch the ol' ticker off, and enjoy the ride.

Contrast this with AD; for example, right now as I'm writing this, it's late and I'm tired. Were I lucky enough to have a new AD episode recorded or on TV right now, I wouldn't partake. In my current mental and physical state, it's simply too demanding: I mean that in the good way, that is, I'd still very much enjoy it, I just wouldn't be able to give it the full attention it deserves.

But what if I'm James AverageViewer instead. I've come home from a long day at the office, I just wanna sit down on the couch and chill out for a bit. Since my favourite show Friends finished, I've been looking around for something to replace it, but nothing quite fits the bill (except Joey, to a certain extent). *Click* click*. Oh look, it's that show I've heard about... why is that guy wearing a camera and has a hat with Surrogate written on it? And a guy with a fake hand, what's up with that. Oh, ok we're somewhere else now...Who's Mr.F? This show is *weird*. *Click*.

As it stands, I cannot see how AD could possibly attract new viewers. When new episodes are a month apart, constantly shifting timeslots, and complex storylines and character development abound, newbies simply don't stand a chance. Even word of mouth, that most potent weapon of indie shows, is of limited use. If, for example, I wanted to introduce somebody outside my close friendship circle to 24, the Simpsons or Family Guy, I would just invite them over when I next watch the latest episode. Not so with AD; I feel that the learning curve is too steep to really hook anybody (apart from a very narrow band of the populace) with just one episode. To truly introduce somebody to it, you need to hand them the season 1 box set. It seems to me that 24/simpsons/family guy all encapsulate more of a media-induced 'high' in standalone episodes, and hence have a strong evolutionary advantage in the ratings fight.

Yes, but sir, you may ask, what of the awards and critics? For instance, you may site the fact that the AD season 2 box set has a Metacritic rating of 87, with pretty much only Curb having a higher score. Am I claiming that these professionals are "out of the mainstream"?

Well, my hypothesis is that Mitch has created TV's equivalent of a dog whistle; a show emanating a call that only writers, critics, and media geeks hear. For this group, (which we are part of), TV is more than just a way to relax: it's a livelihood and/or a passionate, borderline-obsessive hobby. We tend to approach viewing more analytically than most and the sheer volume of our consumption is immense. It is only natural that what we crave is different to what the mass market craves.

Sadly (for us), we are few and far between. Regular TV, with its geographical and time restrictions, has no way of unifying us and turning us into a viable market. When television executives realise the power of the long tail (DVD is starting to get there, and eventually online distribution should take off), the AD crowd can coalesce into a revenue stream, but by then the show will have long joined the late Pope at the great transmission tower in the sky. RIP Arrested Development (2003 - 2005/6)

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