It’s no secret that sometimes comedy is taken a bit too seriously. Comedy obsessives love not just the jokes, but the mechanics and emotions of the comedy world. There are a raft of comedy documentaries exploring comedy and comedians, but do they really have anything significant to add to the discussion? This series looks at comedy documentaries and whether they’re interesting, insightful, and possibly even…funny?
Right now would seem like an ideal time to release The Arrested Development Documentary Project. In the midst of an almost dizzying amount of excitement about the fourth season of Arrested Development, premiering May 26 on Netflix, the show has gotten more press and attention than ever before. What a great opportunity to release a fan-made documentary chronicling the beloved series.
The documentary has clearly been in the works a long time, and it seems like it was intended as a rallying cry to force into existence the long-discussed Arrested Development movie. The film begins with random vox pops with people who had never watched, or often heard of, Arrested Development. It then flips between interviews with almost every major player—creator Mitch Hurwitz, seven of the nine regulars, and the show’s producers—and thoughts from die-hard fans of the show.
Featuring interviews with passionate Arrested Development fans is a great idea. After all, it’s the fans that kept the show alive, making it the cult hit it is today. Unfortunately, this technique doesn’t entirely work. For one thing, the fans never identified—it’s a string of anonymous faces and a brief cameo from Keith Olbermann. And all the enthusiasm in the world doesn’t necessarily make someone an eloquent orator, able to clearly articulate the brilliance of the series. It doesn’t help that the film doesn’t have the right to use any footage from the show. As anyone who’s attempted it knows, it’s hard to explain why AD works without seeing it in action.
There are lots of fun tidbits about the show, like Rupert Murdoch dismissively telling Ron Howard that AD “is a cable show.” He was probably right. Had that show premiered on FX in 2009, instead of Fox in 2003, it would have fit in perfectly. Then again, many of the cable (and network) shows we love now wouldn’t exist without AD—as the documentary points out time and again, this show was groundbreaking.
Given the recent excitement about Arrested Development—excited features popping everywhere from Rolling Stone to The Guardian, and even NPR getting in on the show’s truly impressive collection of running jokes—the documentary no longer quite feels relevant. It’s a shame. Had the show not come back, or the film been released a few years ago, it would have been a great way to reconnect with the show and keep alive its memory in the public consciousness. There’s great access to the stars and producers, a well-deserved nod to Mitch Hurwitz’s great Emmy speeches, and a fairly satisfying explanation for the show’s fate. For the die-hard Arrested Development fan—and given the quality of the show, is there any other kind?—the documentary is worth checking out for the sake of completism. (See the people who bought the Aztec tomb!)
And so, in conclusion…
Is it interesting? Yes, although many Arrested Development fans will have heard some of these stories before. If you don’t have time to re-watch the entire series before the Netflix premiere, this is a good catch-up.
What does it have to say about comedy? Hurwitz ascribes some of the show’s style to his obsessive perfectionism, which meant that scripts were being written until the last minute, and jokes being edited in later to punch it up even more. “When I see it now, it’s clearly the work of a maniac,” he says at one point.
Is it funny? Well, it’s full of funny people, so there are jokes from likes of David Cross and Will Arnett. But if you’re looking for jokes, there’s a great show I could recommend.
Can I stream it on Netflix? Ironically, no. The film is available for purchase here.
Any comedy documentaries you’d like to see discussed? Do let me know.