What Went Wrong with Arrested Development and What Writers Can Learn From It

Arrested Development, I feel, is the funniest show that has ever been on television. Here are just a few of the gems that show has produced:

Michael: "What have we always said is the most important thing?"

George Michael: "Breakfast"

Michael: "Family."

George Michael: "Oh, right, family. I thought you meant of things you eat."

Lucille: Get me a vodka rocks.

Michael: Mom, it's breakfast.

Lucille: And a piece of toast.


Michael: Can’t a guy call his mother pretty without it seeming strange?
Buster: Amen. And how about that little piece of tail on her? Cute!
Michael: I’ve opened a door here that I regret.

Everyone has their own favorite lines and I think each time we go through them, we find new ones that we missed before. So I ask this question:
Season four, the newest season only found on Netflix, has been torn apart by critics and fans alike. So how could the funniest show in history (I'm not alone in this by the way) fall to what it was in season 4? 
Granted, there were sections of season 4 where the old brilliance shined through. But it was more like a diamond buried in dung that you just catch a glimmer of. Mostly, the show was a long stretch of boredom and crassness. My novels certainly don't spare on the profanity and sex, but Maeby whoring out her own mother for a few bucks? The quaint sweetness the show had for me died right then. 
The plot, for those of you that haven't seen it, is enormously convoluted, guest appearances are all over the place to the point that it feels like some celebrity telethon, and the jokes are  just not funny. 
Every show, just like every series of books, has an engine. It has a method and formula that works and that we crave. If done well, we barely notice the formula. 
Want examples? 
Every episode of Gilligan's Island is Gilligan screwing up somebody else's attempt to get them off the island. 
Every episode of Who's the Boss? is putting Angela and Tony in a situation where we ask will they or won't they? 
Every episode of Three's Company is based around a situation where one or more of the characters misunderstands the context of what's happening. 
See the patterns? For a fun game if bored at work, try and figure out the central engine for all your favorite sitcoms. 
So why do TV writers use engines/formulas? Are they lazy? No, definitely not. They work their tails off. But the fact is they don't have a lot of time to write each episode so they can't start from scratch each time. They must have a framework and a formula. 
What was Arrested Development's? Give up? 
It was Michael and his son George Michael. 
Every episode revolved around Michael and his attempt to save the company and his family or to leave them, and his family's antics in screwing that up. 
His relationship with his son was the central relationship and all the other characters were ancillary. This made them even funnier when they were put against the backdrop of everyday-Joe, Michael Bluth. 
George Sr., Lindsey, Lucille etc. are only funny in relation to Michael. So what happens when you take Michael out of the picture? Season 4 happened. 
There were entire episodes I sat painfully still without cracking a smile. I compared this with my near-peeing-my-pants-with-laughter in the first three seasons. And certain other writers I know share the same feeling. In fact, I haven't personally spoken with someone who enjoyed season 4. I know, I know, it's anecdotal. But the social media feeds were abuzz with disappointed fans for weeks after it came out.
Formulas work. They're there for a reason. If you have something that's working, that readers are responding to, why on earth would you change it? I understand pushing boundaries and trying new things, but if people love what you're doing, don't mess with it. Stick to it until right before they grow bored and then switch to something else. 
This goes back to what type of writer you wish to be of course. I wish to be the writer that entertains my audience and writes what they want to read. If you prefer to be the type of writer who writes what they personally want regardless of what their audience wants, that's fine too. But why publish your books at all? Just do what J.D. Salinger did and write them and stick them in a safety deposit box so the public will never read them. 
I wanted so bad to love the new season of Arrested Development (on a sidenote, huge mistake releasing all 15 episodes at once. Everyone was on different episodes when talking about the show. If one episode a week was released, everyone would have been talking about that episode the next day). But the show just didn't do it for me. Alas, unless the formula goes back to what it was, I probably won't watch more than one episode of season 5. 
So, don't be that writer that disappoints the fans that made you successful. Stick to what they want and always keep the audience in mind when you want to make changes.

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