That the show’s quality has declined significantly following its return, and that it has simultaneously led to the insufferable domination of MacFarlane on television, in theaters and now at the Oscars begs the important question: Was it worth it to bring “Family Guy,” — or any show, for that matter — back from the dead?
Some of the greatest TV shows were canceled before they could finish their story. Whether they were too ambitious or too anti-commercial, they never stood a chance in the wasteland of network TV. What these shows share is a rabid fan base desperately begging for remakes, revivals and reunions — anything to get them back in the same room as the characters they love so deeply. But doing so is often a mixed bag, because after a great deal of time, you might find that you and the characters have changed since you last saw each other.
“Community” has been on hiatus for longer than its new 13-episode season is going to air, only returning three weeks ago without its beloved creator Dan Harmon or half of his writing staff. What’s more problematic is that the only thing consistent in this new season is that it’s extraordinarily disappointing. The characters are hollow now, like a finely crafted marionette puppets that are being operated by children. Even episodes that feature the gem of a good idea are so mangled in their execution that it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that if this new season accomplishes anything, it will be to destroy the good will and critical acclaim the show has spent years nurturing.
Yes, “Family Guy” came back as a zombie, and “Community” returned without its brains, but it would be disingenuous to say that a proper resurrection is impossible. The most notable example is Joss Whedon’s “Firefly,” which, after tons of protests, was able to spawn a feature-length movie that succeeded in pleasing its fans while staying true to the spirit of the show. When a show returns from the dead, its creators usually feel as though they are talking with only the uber-elite fans who clamored for its return. Whedon realized that playing to your fans’ expectations only leads to disappointment. The answer, then, is to either re-craft your series in order to come to a new conclusion or to stay dead and focus your creative energies on other projects that can draw in your fans.
Rather than by restaging a whole new season at William McKinley High School, Judd Apatow’s “Freaks and Geeks” has managed to return from the dead through spiritual successors like Apatow’s collegiate “Undeclared” and Lena Dunham’s post-grad “Girls.” Instead of attempting to bring back the magic of an old series, the spirit of a show can live on in other series’ that are willing to carry on that same independent spirit. This approach is inherently more difficult, because you don’t have the ability to coast on the good will of your original series’ characters; however, that itself is a double-edged sword of expectations. Crafting a new series can be more rewarding because it allows for new explorations of similar topics through new characters.
The problem with supposedly “new” story lines of once-canceled series is that they can often feel like retreats of territory from previous episodes. Ever since “Futurama” re-premiered on Comedy Central, it’s survived by using its characters in situations and settings that are directly lifted and repurposed from the original series. And when they do try to branch off to do something new, it’s in such a bizarre fashion that it feels out of place, especially when compared to the more restrained original episodes.
“Futurama” became famous among nerds because it told the kinds of bizarrely interesting stories of a surprisingly mundane future. Now, it feels like the sort of psychedelic fan fiction written by people who wish they could be in the future themselves.
The king of all revival shows, “Arrested Development,” is returning in May on Netflix, after spending several years as the rallying cry of television revivalists — both fans and the creators themselves. But there’s a specter hanging over the show: exceedingly high expectations and almost inevitable disappointment. If the show manages to succeed, it will start a new wave of television revivals on Netflix. Anything and everything will be up for grabs, whether it’s the little-loved “Terra Nova” or some cartoon from the ’90s you kinda remember watching once. If it fails, what will happen to other dead shows is uncertain. The damage done to the credibility of the series, however, will be much clearer.