“The sitcom is in trouble” story is both true and in nearly as much trouble as the sitcom itself for one reason: it’s been written for the past five years. There are no more fresh angles. The articles are taking on a last gasp quality. Sunday’s New York Times paints Arrested Development as writers’ best hope at reviving the moribund genre. (And the reporter should know, being a sitcom writer himself.)
I think Arrested Development, though it hasn’t “found an audience” yet (except for highly educated people in a very important young demo like myself… but I guess I don’t count, do I?), has a lot going for it. Number one they seem to understand the comedy is pretty much the art of surprise. Take this quote from creator Mitchell Hurwitz, when he talks about the Sopranos as an influence:
“I love how sprawling it is. And how they can totally surprise you by, say, killing off a character. I want that freedom. We felt: `Wouldn’t it be great if we did a show that actually does change? Where people could die?’”
So many sitcoms rely on stories we’ve seen before. We know from the beginning how they’re going to end. You’ve seen this show before and you’ve seen it done better on Nick at Night. If sitcoms are going to survive, you need to have a sense that anything can happen. Anything. The article also touches on how Arrested Development, much like BBC’s The Office, is shot and paced to look like a reality show. All excellent stuff. But the article also mentions one more item that gave me insight into why the show works as well as it does. All of it’s writers came from multi-camera shows originally (the traditional style used from I Love Lucy to Friends). Yes breaking the genre is great, but only if you know how to build it again. If you know how to tell a story well and pace the funny faster. (Though Hurwitz asserts that multicamera shows get more jokes in every episode than single camera shows, I don’t entirely see it. Maybe he says that because some single camera shows tend to waver off into filmic territory, rather than using the multiple set-ups to create a frenetic gag pace). Fox is doing right by a good show for once (rest in peace, Tick, Greg the Bunny and Andy Richter Controls the Universe). Putting it on after the Simpsons (something Futurama never even got). Promoting it heavily. Getting out a Season 1 DVD right before the start of the second. Now people, do us all a favor and just watch the damn thing?