It needs to be said: Maybe “Arrested Development” returning in May for a fourth season isn’t the best idea. Maybe the show would be better off left the way it was, a near-perfect three seasons and the pinnacle of cult television.
The risk of tainting its flawless reputation runs high - not many television shows can keep up the kind of quality for which “Arrested” was known season after season, especially when the newest comes more than seven years after the last new episode aired. Think about other cult television shows supposedly cut down in their prime. Had they been able to continue on, would they have been able to sustain the quality that keeps them so revered? Probably not.
Left on the air too long and any show will see a decline in quality. “Friends,” by season 10, was just going through the motions. “The Office” has become a shell of what it once was and can’t end soon enough. Even “Seinfeld,” the standard to which all other sitcoms are held, lost a step right around the time Elaine started straightening her hair.
The reason so many of the television shows pulled off the air early only to find reprieve on DVDs and Netflix enjoy cult status is because they were yanked before they suffered their own decline. Does anyone doubt that “Arrested” would have worn out its welcome had it stayed on the air for eight seasons? Its premature series ending is exactly what fuels its cult status. The series needed to be cut short; it needs to be only three seasons.
What makes a cult television show is the anger at the untimely ending and the want for more. The greatness of the show comes from its fans’ ravenous desire for more. If that desire is satiated, if the show is indeed brought back from the television purgatory that is Netflix, then what fuels the rabid fan base? They’re given what they asked for and relegated to docile television viewing - “Arrested” loses its illustrious standing, it becomes simply another thing to watch.
Television shows do not have a long shelf life. Left on the air too long and any show will grow stale and repetitive. The great sitcoms of the past decade - “Freaks and Geeks” and “Party Down” to name two - had the luxury of ending before they suffered the fate of wearing out their welcomes. So perhaps “Arrested” would have been better off left alone, its fans thankful for the three seasons they have, and always wanting more.