Some notes as we rejoice over the return of the Bluths.
Arrested Development is back and everything in the world is beautiful again! So said Facebook, Twitter, and Scandal Makers, exploding with the news that Netflix had officially agreed to air a fourth season of the beloved show via its online subscription service in early 2013. But it's a little early to break out the sparkling cider (or go down to the liquor store and get ourselves some… liquor). A five-year hiatus and a series of failed projects from Mitch Hurwitz since the show's cancellation should make even the most enthusiastic AD fan a little wary. But, never fear, Arrested Development writers: here are five suggestions for keeping the show great.
1. Avoid flashy guest stars.
When Arrested Development's second season was cut short after terrible ratings, Fox told show runner Mitch Hurwitz to find a star. The result was the introduction of Charlize Theron as the beautiful, kind, mentally retarded Rita Leeds. It did not go well: Theron's broad performance upset the show's comedic rhythms, and, even if her inclusion did draw new viewers, it's unlikely that they stuck around for long. (She was, after all, retarded.) Hurwitz might be tempted to use the show's prestige to cast big guest stars in the new episodes, but here's a tip: if he wants to keep the show great, he shouldn't call anyone more famous than Carl Weathers.
2. Lay off of Tobias.
David Cross is a great actor and a great comedian, and Arrested Development has used his skills extremely well. Unfortunately, as the show's ratings fell, Cross's Tobias was forced to do more and more of the show's comedic heavy lifting. Tobias is most effective when he's studiously deluding himself into thinking he's a heterosexual professional actor. His Season 3 arc — mole suit, hair plugs, graft-versus-host, teabagging references — wasn't delusional: it was insane. Let's hope Season 3 was a brief aberration and the new Tobias returns to his roots: community-theater auditions, fire-sale commercials, and serious self-help books about the men inside him.
3. Move beyond old jokes.
In the years since Arrested Development was canceled, some of its best recurring jokes have become well-worn totems of comedic cool. (Nothing makes friends faster than a well timed "Her?") As much as I like jokes about blowing oneself, loading new Arrested Development episodes with references to old ones will make the new season feel stale. And, as tempting as it might be to revisit old plotlines, the writers should be cautious. Look at Season 3's "Making a Stand": a competent episode, but funny new jokes got lost among the weight of references to Season 1's monumental "Pier Pressure." The "Bob Loblaw" puns in Season 3 prove that satisfying recurring jokes can be built from scratch over the course of just a few episodes. The new season should do just that.
4. Put Maeby back in school.
Maeby Fünke has always been the least funny character in the family, but her role as the lazy schemer has often proved indispensible to the mechanics of the show's plot. She's funniest when the show subverts expectations and makes her plans more complicated and conniving than situation deserves. That's why making Maeby a successful film executive was a misstep. When she gets actual power, Maeby isn't ridiculous. She's just ridiculously lucky. The best environment for Maeby is back in high school, where her Machiavellian impulses are thoroughly out of place and the stakes suitably low. If Arrested Development wants to use Maeby to her full potential, the new season should bring her back to her Surely Fünke-impersonating, Steve Holt-loving, crocodile-spelling roots.
5. Don't let George Michael steal the show.
Arrested Development gave a boost to a lot of struggling careers. (Sorry, Jason Bateman, but The Hogan Family wasn't exactly a classic.) But no one benefited more than Michael Cera, America's most unlikely movie star. Cera has been playing a version of George Michael in movies for the last five years and it's made him famous, but the new Arrested Development shouldn't acknowledge that stardom or make him the center of the show. Like Maeby, George Michael does best when the stakes are low. George Michael should stay out of the family business and stick to the supporting role he perfected during the show's first three seasons. Sometimes, there's nothing wrong with sitting back and letting your father teach you a lesson.