Wednesday, May 29, 2013

For Netflix Eyes Only: Arrested Development Returns

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on May 29, 2013. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

Jason Bateman returns as Michael Bluth in the new season of Arrested Development, now available on Netflix

Francine (to Stan): Are you still moping about Steve? Come on. He's just going through a phase. It's like Steve is America and you're Arrested Development. It doesn't mean you're bad, it just means he's not interested in you.
American Dad Season 2, Episode 15 (aired May 7, 2006, three months after Arrested Development’s cancellation)
What a difference seven years makes. Running for just three, ever-shortening seasons, Arrested Development (Fox, 2003-2006) was an innovative take on the traditional broadcast sitcom, finding a dedicated but too small audience when it first aired. The show was comedically loose and narratively tight: full of visual puns, interwoven storylines, deadpan deliveries and dark consequences, with many of its funniest gags taking weeks if not years to play out completely. The ensemble cast was pitch perfect, from the young Michael Cera as George Michael Bluth, to the veteran Jeffrey Tambor (The Larry Sanders Show) as his “Pop-Pop” George Sr. and Jessica Walter (Archer) as the passive and not so passive aggressive Bluth matriarch, to Tony Hale’s perennial man-child ‘Buster’.

Arrested Development has long been for me the gold standard of our new era of “continuity comedy”, along with the early (and only the early) seasons of CBS’s How I Met Your Mother. Like How I Met Your Mother, Arrested was a series that hit the ground running, absolutely confident of the rules of its narrative universe and the people that populated it. You can witness all of Arrested Development’s potential in its opening minutes, which lay out the tone and even some of the running jokes for years to come. Re-watching the original series is actually a special delight, as increased familiarity with the characters' past and future histories only deepens the enjoyment.

Critical acclaim couldn’t trump its struggling ratings however, and Fox pulled the plug on the show in 2006. But like many cancelled-too-soon shows in this age of DVD box sets and streaming channels, the years have been kind to the series, further expanding its audience and growing its reputation to near legendary proportions. A year after Fox cancelled the show, Time Magazine put it in its “The 100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME" list. And in 2011, IGN named it the funniest television show of all time (edging out Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Seinfeld for the top spot). Rumours of a new season or even a reunion movie floated around for years, until November 2011, when Netflix and Arrested creator Mitch Hurwitz confirmed their intentions to bring the series back, along the entire original cast and crew, for a new, exclusive fourth season. These, to be sure, are very large shoes to fill (even if they are their own).

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Resident Alien: One on One with Defiance’s Trenna Keating

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on May 14, 2013. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

Trenna Keating as Doc Yewll on Defiance, now airing on SyFy and Showcase

Already, 2013 has been a bit of a banner year for science fiction television. Since Fringe aired its final episodes in January, television viewers have been given a number of new and very promising series. Showcase’s time travel drama Continuum began its second season a few weeks ago here in Canada, and BBC America and Space launched its clone thriller Orphan Black at the end of April. (All this, and Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary special in November!) And three weeks ago, Defiance premiered on the SyFy network, in the U.S., and on Showcase, in Canada.

Defiance is an ambitious ensemble drama; part space Western, part post-Apocalyptic intrigue, the series is set on Earth, some years after the arrival of several colony ships,bearing seven different alien races from a nearby Votan star system. Earth has survived a traumatic ‘terraforming’ event and a disastrous inter-species conflict (called the Pale Wars), and now humanity struggles to get back on its feet in partnership (and often conflict) with its new, and suddenly diverse, populations. Our story takes place in the outpost town of Defiance, a makeshift city built on the ruins of St. Louis, Missouri. It’s been a little over three decades since the aliens’ arrival, and Defiance is one of the few places where the human and alien races have voluntarily come together in their struggle to survive.

Trenna Keating plays Doc Yewll on Defiance. Keating is a Canadian actress who has appeared on ABC/Global’s Combat Hospital (as Sgt. Hannah Corday), CTV’s Corner Gas, and CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie. Doc Yewll is a resident of Defiance and an Indogene, a member of one of the seven alien Votan races. Keating describes the character “as a bit of a misfit, scientific and mathematical in her way of thinking, who doesn’t really get humans necessarily.”

Mark Clamen sat down with Trenna Keating for an exclusive interview for Critics atLarge.  

(Note: this interview was conducted on May 9th. On May 10th, SyFy announced that Defiance would be returning for a second season.)