Like all devotees of Arrested Development, I remember quite clearly the series of feelings that passed through me as I encountered that much-loved show for the first time. It went like this: (1) “What the hell is this?” (2) “Huh, okay, weird…but kind of funny.” (3) “No, hold on, this is actually insanely funny!” (4) “More. Now.”
Last night, sitting down for the premiere of Fox’s Sit Down, Shut Up, the new animated series from AD creator Mitchell Hurwitz, I naturally couldn’t help but hope to recapture that first flush of comedy love. But alas, this time I can’t say I got past No. 2. I certainly can’t report (as AD fans would say) that I blue myself.
Some might say it’s unfair to measure Sit Down, Shut Up against AD, but the new sitcom — which centers on the goofy staff of Knob Haven High School — invites the comparison from the get-go. Not only does it share obvious strands of comedic DNA with Arrested Development — fourth-wall-breaking meta-jokes, 78-rpm banter, surreal non sequiturs, punny character names — it reunites some of AD‘s key cast members as well, with Will Arnett voicing a vain English teacher, Jason Bateman as a mopey P.E. teacher, and Henry Winkler as a German teacher named Deutschebog (get it?). Yet, for all of its pedigree, the show comes across as forced and underdeveloped. The punchlines feel telegraphed, the characters (like a ditzy science teacher, a crabby librarian, and a swishy drama teacher) too one-note. The blend of animated characters with live-action backgrounds distracts from the comedy instead of enhancing it. The magic of Arrested Development emerged not just from the snap-crackle-huh? writing but from the subtlety of the performances — those miniature deadpan gestures of Bateman, Arnett, and the brilliant Michael Cera. Much of that is lost when this cast of gifted comic actors is hidden behind crudely drawn cartoon faces.
Reviews for the show have been mixed at best and harsh at worst. Then again, AD was a show that grew better with repeated exposure, and, given the talent involved, it’s possible that SDSU will do the same. I might give it another chance. What about you? Did you tune in? Did you see seeds of greatness or feel a nagging sense of disappointment? Will you come back for more? Share your thoughts below.