Thanks to Netflix, we are mere days away from being able to bite into Arrested Development’s long-awaited, never-thought-it-would-happen fourth season. In the meantime, you might be inclined to consume The Arrested Development Documentary Project as an appetizer, seeing as how the documentary is now available on demand from FilmBuff.
Well, it left this fan with an unpleasant aftertaste.
At first, I was uncertain who the doc was for. While it certainly is accessible enough for the uninitiated, those people aren’t likely to run across it or even be interested if they do. And since I didn’t learn anything from it, the already converted aren’t likely to feel as if their time was well-spent.
Gradually, the answer became evident: It’s for the superfans. I don’t mean people who were onboard with AD since its first episode, like me, or people who own the series on DVD, like me; I mean the people who have memorized it, who quote it endlessly, who lord their knowledge for it over the heads of others, who believe they love the series more than anyone else and just might come to blows if you told them otherwise.
In other words, some of those people interviewed in the thing, who read too much theory into the show’s plots (hearing “microcosm” is always a red flag), who dismiss everything else on TV as “all crap” (despite much evidence to the contrary), who perform the chicken dance during the end credits.
While it doesn’t start out this way, the doc becomes an insiders-only party to which you’re not invited. Superficial and self-serving, it also felt to me like a Kickstarter project (afterward, my research confirmed that), which only contributes to its insular nature. It suddenly becomes not about the show, but about the people who obsess over it, but to the point where exactly which show being mentioned becomes pointless. One could fill in the blank with Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Firefly or Veronica Mars and so on — all low-rated critical darlings.
That’s a shame, because director Jeff Smith deserves major kudos for getting almost all of Arrested Development’s core cast to sit for interviews; only Michael Cera and Jessica Walter did not participate. Jason Bateman and Will Arnett are as hilarious as expected.
So is David Cross, although he appears to have little patience for his interviewers. That doesn’t stop him from cracking wise, however; in the segment where everyone bemoans how America just didn’t get it, he says, deadpan, “America Ferrara? The girl who plays Ugly Betty? I don't know if she watched it. Huh.”
Had The Arrested Development Documentary Project stuck with the cast and crew, it would have been just fine. Why not mine that gold for the entirety? —Rod Lott