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The Return of 'Arrested Development': When Smart Characters Get Stupid

30/05/2013 17:40 BST | Updated 30/07/2013 10:12 BST

This week, Arrested Development returned after more than six years away from our screens. It managed this unlikely resurrection via streaming service Netflix, who confidently plopped all 15 new episodes online at once. This event apparently caused widespread bingeing, as previously deprived fans gorged themselves senseless on sharp, gently quirky comedy before collapsing into a humour-induced stupor and doing little sicky-ups.

Arrested Development isn't the only cancelled show returning after substantial time away, either: The IT Crowd is being resurrected for a final goodbye and former drop-dead cool teen detective show Veronica Mars is returning to the big rather than small screen with its now decidedly non-teen cast all present and correct (thanks to a ridiculously successful Kickstarter campaign).

I like all those shows. I own them all on DVD and admire them all greatly. I'm not entirely sure I want them all back, though, so I approach any new episodes with a degree of caution.

Sometimes a return after an absence feels like unfinished business (as it did with Red Dwarf last year, which returned on Dave for a new run and succeeded in producing a more consistently funny series than it had managed since the very beginning of the nineties), sometimes it feels like a pleasant but unnecessary lap of honour and sometimes it just makes you wince.

Well, did you see Blackadder: Back and Forth? Bloody hell.

I haven't yet settled down and binged my comedy guts out on Arrested Development's new episodes, opting instead for a comparatively restrained viewing of the first two episodes last night. I'm not sure how the rest of the run pans out, but those opening episodes have left me fairly confident of a few things:

One) The laughs are still there.

Two) The show is still well worth watching

Three) There's suddenly a problem with the character of Michael

Michael was always the 'normal' one in Arrested Development, to the point that the blurb on the back on the Season One DVD actually describes him in exactly those terms. He's a sane man surrounded by fools and schemers, a sensible and well-meaning father, a good guy. At least, he used to be.

Settling in to watch the new Netflix season last night, I was left scratching my head as to why this previously grounded character suddenly couldn't understand any of the basics of human communication. He couldn't even seem to update the calendar on his iPhone, something that the bloody thing does automatically.

In this latest incarnation of the show, our everyman is suddenly just as unreliable and disconnected as the crazies around him. Somewhere between 2006 and today, someone shot Michael Bluth with the idiot pistol.

Poor Michael isn't the first victim. Getting shot with the idiot pistol is a fate that often seems to await previously credible, usually male, characters. It can strike at any time, but is most common at some point past season four. High-profile victims in the past have included Tony in Men Behaving Badly, (who went from believably thoughtless bloke-next-door to drooling man-child well before the final run of episodes) and Ross in Friends, (who went from awkward but charming academic to babbling cretin after being tragically shot in the face with the idiot pistol in a heartbreaking deleted scene early in season five).

Interestingly, the only recorded incidence of a character actually becoming more interesting after having been shot with the idiot pistol (or do I prefer "exposed to a thickening agent"? I'm not sure...) is Baldrick from the aforementioned Blackadder. In the first series he was often portrayed as the smart one of the group, which gave the show a lopsided dynamic which didn't really work properly. By the time Blackadder II rolled around, he was suddenly a pig-thick imbecile, and the whole thing slotted into place far better.

Except in Blackadder: Back and Forth?, of course. Have I already mentioned that I really didn't care for that?

I'm still unsure as to why the idiot pistol gets deployed as often as it does. Perhaps writers on long-running shows lose confidence in the appeal of everyman characters after a few dozen episodes, worrying that once the character has served their purpose of gently introducing the audience to the universe of the show they suddenly become surplus to requirements or dull to watch. I don't agree: loud stuff is only loud if you've got quiet stuff to compare it to. Not every character needs to operate at maximum volume.

Either way, I want Smart Michael back. Then I might be tempted to binge after all.