The historical context and similarities between Nirvana and Arreseted Development
|Nirvana was ranked as the forty-second greatest band of all time by VH1, ahead of luminaries such as Simon and Garfunkel, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Billy Joel, Aerosmith, Rod Stewart, and Paul McCartney. No other artist who starred predominantly in the 1990s was even on the list. So what explains such the high ranking of Nirvana, a band that produced only four studio albums in a five year period? How can this trio be ranked 36 spots higher than Billy Joel? As strange as it sounds, the incredibly short life span of Nirvana that should probably be a detriment is actually a reason for their critical success. Nirvana started low as all bands do, releasing their first album in 1989 before peaking with their second album Nevermind in 1991. Following their somewhat forgettable album Incesticide, the group released In Utero in 1993 to even more fame and sales.
And then, just like that, it was over. Lead singer Kurt Cobain committed suicide in April 1994 before any more albums could be produced. Various unreleased material and live performances would eventually be released publically, but their legacy had long been cemented by that point. They had both reached and left the pinnacle of their career at the same time, something that almost nobody in any form of entertainment can say. And thus, there is always the lingering question of ‘what if’, the songs that were never made, the ideas that were never sprouted, the tours that were never founded. And while tragic in a human sense, musically it was the best thing to happen to them. Nirvana had no where to go but down, and had they lasted another 10 or say years such as a band like Pearl Jam, their overload of music would diminish the insanely high quality produced at their peak. From a historical standpoint, it is better to not know what Nirvana would produce in the future. We are resigned to what did happen and have generally only optimistic and good thoughts about the music that never was.
This is precisely the same occurrence that happened with Arrested Development. Airing a total of 53 episodes over a total of three (really two and a half seasons), the show was possibly the most celebrated comedy to ever air on television, even winning a Best Comedy Emmy despite its short life. It’s certainly the smartest comedy to be broadcasted thus far, and unfortunately, that is part of its downfall. It became too clever for a casual observer to half-heartedly watch and find funny. People will sit down and intently watch a drama, but a comedy is supposed to be outwardly apparent. You should be able to watch an episode and instinctively know what is funny and what is not. Arrested Development broke this tradition to the delight of those willing to fully invest their time and effort to appreciate the tremendous writing. However, those people were few and far between, and as the ratings continued to cripple, the show ultimately was cancelled. Fair or not, the creators had outsmarted themselves.
Naturally, there is much clamoring of a reunion, most likely in the form of a movie. In the short-term, it is obviously a positive for fans of the show dying to one more chance to see their favorite dysfunctional family appear together. However, one has to wonder if the show had maximized all of its potential in the episodes already created. Arrested Development peaked in its second season (the year they won the Best Comedy emmy), as season 3 was noticeably different and featured a shifting storyline. It is realistic to assume that ensuring seasons would not match the quality of the first couple. This is not a knock on the show, as every comedy tends to peak in its earlier years before unwinding unceremoniously over the course of time. By not having these less than stellar seasons, Arrested Development benefits from a distinct historical advantage over its competition. Without tangible proof that concretely displays the show in decline, most fans assume that greatness would have continued throughout as many seasons as Fox would have allowed it to air. However, like Nirvana, this is a false premise, and viewers should be resigned to the fact that the best episodes were indeed shown. As a personal fan of the show, I would have loved to have seen a few more seasons at a less quality. At the same time, our current viewings of the show will forever be altered in a positive way due to this. When anything ends before its time, due to whatever factor, it is heralded as a tragic occurrence and leaves a variety of questions that will never be definitively answered. And while this certainly has an element of truth, it’s often not the epidemic many plague it to be. As Kurt Cobain mentioned in his suicide note: ‘It’s better to burn out than to fade away’. He may have had a point.