The Arrested Development Documentary Project
Just when you thought it was safe…
So, I watched a movie today, and my reaction to it was strong enough that I actually sat down and started writing some feedback on Amazon (as that’s where I’d rented the stream from). I got a couple paragraphs in, before I realized that I used to do this all the time… and it was only like a month ago that I stopped, so it seemed like this would be a good time to get back on the horse.
I love Arrested Development, so when I first saw the trailer for this documentary pop up years ago, I was excited. Sadly, years went by and the film continued to not be released. At some point I facetiously concluded that the beloved series itself would come back before the damn documentary was released. Fate can be a funny thing, though, and the documentary did finally get a release date a few weeks before the new episodes hit Netflix. Though long production delays are rarely a good sign, I decided to give the long-awaited documentary a watch.
This wasn’t the greatest decision. Though recently released this film’s long gestation period leads to it feeling quite dated. From what I can glean, most of the interviews that make up the bulk of the film had to have been filmed in 2008-09, and it’s amazing how much has changed since then.
However, that’s far from the only complaint I have about the movie. The biggest problem is that the film just doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. It’s an semi-coherent mish-mosh of interview segments with the principals of the series, random fans, and Keith Olberman. The film doesn’t seem to have much of a guiding thesis. In some ways it aims to be something of a behind the scenes account of the making of the series, while in other ways it seems to convert those who haven’t yet seen the series into fans. Without a clear focus, it fails at both.
Another serious problem with the film is a lack of any material from the actual program. It’s clear that this film didn’t enjoy any support from the rights-holders, there’s not a single clip, excerpt, or screen-cap from the series in the film. There are a handful of blurry production stills, (even these are pretty disappointing given that the producers raised over 35 grand on Kickstarter to license them). Instead we’re left drawings and descriptions from interviewees. This leads to awkward moments, like when the film dedicates what felt like five minutes trying to describe the Barry Zuckercorn shark-jumping scene. Now, this lack of access clearly lay outside the producers’ control, but I can’t help but feel that there must have been ways they could have put the film together differently to make the absence less palpable.
It brings me no joy to be writing a negative review for this movie. I absolutely admire the intentions of Neil Lieberman and Jeff Smith. They’re more a pair of superfans wanting to celebrate their love for a program than actual professional filmmakers. To their credit they did succeed in getting sit-down interviews with seven of the nine principal cast members, a bunch of top guest stars, and key behind-the-scenes people including Ron Howard, and series creator Mitch Hurwitz. Unfortunately, these people have all given many more interviews since then, (especially in the last year, since the announcement of the series’ resumption), so there isn’t a whole lot of new insight to be found in these interviews.
I really did want to enjoy the film, but I couldn’t. It’s 75 minutes of knee-deep reminiscence that really amounts to the same experience provided by that annoying guy you know who keeps talking about how brilliant his favorite show was, and how the network is terrible for canceling it, (and also that George Bush was the worst, btw). The filmmakers’ stated aim is to “provide awareness” about the series. Unfortunately, I can’t see this documentary appealing to anybody who isn’t already a huge fan of the series, while for dedicated fans, there just isn’t enough here to make the movie something you’d want to watch. I think that were it an actual companion to the series, with some integrated footage, this documentary would have made a pretty good DVD special feature, but as a stand-alone film, I’m sorry to say that it’s not worth seeing.