The abundance of Netflix content is such that the service releases two series this weekend, the Idris Elba vehicle “Turn Up Charlie” and latest (and hopefully final) season of “Arrested Development,” which each have marketable audiences but, on closer inspection, offer little reason to exist.
Elba is certainly having a moment, with his directing debut, an indie movie titled “Yardie,” also opening March 15. Those projects follow a recent guest hosting stint on “Saturday Night Live” and reports that he’ll replace Will Smith in the “Suicide Squad” sequel. Even for People’s Sexiest Man Alive, 2018, that’s a pretty busy schedule.
Still, “Turn Up Charlie” – which the actor co-created, in addition to starring – is lightweight even by the standard of vanity projects, a slightly classier version of a 1980s sitcom. The concept casts Elba as a deejay and committed bachelor who has hit a rough patch professionally and financially, forcing him to become the reluctant caretaker (please don’t call him a “Manny,” he says) for his wealthy friend’s 11-year-old daughter.
Said friend (JJ Feild) is a well-known actor, who happens to be married to another much-in-demand superstar (Piper Perabo). They seem like perfectly nice folks, all things considered, but the girl (Frankie Hervey) is still surly, smart-alecky and resentful in that way kids on TV often are, at one point telling Elba’s Charlie, “Actually, I’m just precocious. Do you know what that means?”
What “Turn Up Charlie” appears to mean is that Elba could have walked in pitching pretty much anything and Netflix – hungry for his built-in following – would have likely said yes. While the show is breezy and mildly pleasant, in a less profligate streaming-TV environment the logical move would have been to turn down “Charlie.”
As for “Arrested Development,” there was understandable excitement when Netflix saved the series back in 2013, a decade after its debut on Fox. But now, each new flurry – with long intervals in between – feels almost like a separate revival, offering fleeting warmth in seeing the gang back together before simply wishing it would be allowed to meet a natural end.
In some respects, the Trump administration has been both a godsend and a curse to the writers, offering a source of satire while pretty much eclipsing anything that they can muster. So while it’s mildly amusing that a subplot involves the anything-for-a-buck Bluth family borrowing Chinese money to try building a wall, the jokes are chasing a news cycle that frequently feels as if it has already lapped them.
The new season (actually the eight-episode second half of the fifth one, as the show’s describing it) does incorporate an interesting flashback thread that depicts the Bluth kids as children, offering some insights into the horrible parenting they endured and their general dysfunction.
The basic formula, however, remains the same – playfully leaping among the various characters, and even incorporating talk of an Imagine TV series, about which company co-founder/narrator Ron Howard cheekily comments.
The murderers’ row of a cast – including Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, who have had time to go star in separate Netflix shows they’ve produced – generally seems to be having fun each time they slip back into these characters.
Whether viewers will feel the same way will likely depend on how invested they are in this 16-year-old saga, which even in an age of abundant nostalgia, seems to signal that the Bluths – having exhausted most of their capital – are ready for retirement.
“Turn Up Charlie” and “Arrested Development” premiere March 15 on Netflix.