Earlier this year it was announced that Arrested Development would be returning for a season and then a movie. Former Starz show Party Down will also apparently be getting a feature film. And while part of me in definitely excited, another part wonders if these two shows shouldn’t be revived. The fact that they were cancelled too soon, Arrested Development after 3 seasons and Party Down after 2, only adds to their allure. We live in a society where we hold people in higher esteem after death. It’s taboo and not kosher to speak ill of the dead. When people die, their faults are immediately forgotten and their accomplishments are greatly magnified. With television shows, it is no different. While Arrested Development and Party Down were great shows, their reputation was enhanced by an early exit and that led to their immortalization in recent television history.
Artistically, these two shows went out on top and didn’t last long enough to get inevitably stale. While Friends and Seinfeld went out on top in terms of ratings, passionate supporters of both shows would contest that the later episodes paled in comparison to the older episodes. Entourage, which was great for a few seasons deteriorated into an inadvertent commentary on the materialism and other social ills of American culture.
The Office isn’t going to go out on top artistically or ratings wise. Every Thursday night I sit down on my couch, temper my expectations and prepare for the disappointment as I come to the conclusion that The Office of old is not coming back. What started as a smart workplace comedy devolved into a show that relies on ridiculous gimmicks to get a few cheap laughs. I know Steve Carell; Ed Helms, you’re no Steve Carell. I’m still a bit dumbfounded that they didn’t replace him with a strong personality and take the show in a new direction seeing as though the style has stagnated since Season 5. Instead, they chose Helms who has his merits as a supporting actor but doesn’t have a strong enough presence to carry a show. This season is pretty awful and is in a fight with Season 6 for worst season of The Office ever. It experienced a brief resurgence in Season 7 with the novelty of Michael leaving but once he was gone, the show sputtered. How I Met Your Mother is a show whose premise really didn’t lend itself well to longevity. It’s Season 7, and Ted, I no longer give a shit about how you met your wife. Like The Office, the writers are resorting to cheap plot gimmicks in vain attempts to keep people interested and further prolong the show. With an arc that never felt forced, Arrested Development and Party Down avoided similar fates and joined Judd Apatow’s early series Undeclared and Freaks and Geeks as cult classics.
As a society we have a fascination with things that die too soon. Something about the untapped potential is thought-provoking and it creates this aura, much like we saw with James Dean who was a good actor, but his body of work doesn’t quite match the attention that he still receives today. With these shows being cancelled after only a few seasons, it allows us to hold on to those “what if’s” that truly add to the mystique that surrounds them. In Chuck Palahniuk novel Choke, he writes, “The unreal is more powerful than the real. Because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it.” Expectations are going to be ridiculously high and if they fail or don’t quite meet expectations, their cult classic status is compromised and their place in television lore is put at risk.
There is something incredibly admirable about going out on top, perhaps because so few people do it. A number of legends are tarnished by overstaying their welcome. A boxer will generally receive a few unnecessary knockouts before he finally realizes it’s time to hang up the gloves. If Brett Favre retired when he should have, he’d be known as a warrior, an MVP and a Super Bowl Winner. Now he’s known as that creepy dick-pic sending guy who just wouldn’t go away. I know there is plenty of temptation and money for these shows to come back, but why ruin a fabulous legacy. The early cancellations of Arrested Development and Party Down, while disappointing, led to its placement on a pedestal and I’d be saddened if it follows the same path as the aforementioned shows who didn’t quite know when to go away.