Commentary

No Guilt Necessary! Bingeing on 'Arrested Development' Was Not So Great

I did not indulge in binge-watching of the new season of “Arrested Development” that started yesterday morning on Netflix.  I was going to write, “I have some practical reasons for not doing that,” when I decided that I was not going to try to defend NOT bingeing.  

But I do have history. I have spent years as a TV critic. I binged on TV before it was fashionable, though maybe it is not bingeing when you are watching something only because you have to watch it, like I did. (It is amazing how unlimited a limited series can seem, and not in a good way.)

So I won’t go on and on.  I’ll explain this much more about my decision to not binge: It was a pretty springtime Sunday and besides, Mitchell Hurwitz, the creator of “Arrested Development” advised against watching all 15 Netflix episodes all at once.  Let’s leave it there.

I did, however, binge-read reviews of the new version, and the consensus (if you read in between the lines, most of the time) is that you did not miss a video moment if, like me, you enjoyed your Sunday without bingeing. 

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Many of the reviews conclude you will be rewarded for watching the whole thing at once. But they don’t’ seem to make the argument with any vigor. I suspect these are critics being nice and/or trying to justify wasting a Sunday.

The best of the day-after reviews was Daniel Fienberg’s “The Fien Print” on Hitfix.com who has the honesty to admit his reaction was disjointed and maybe the result of sleep deprivation.  In one portion he writes:     

Apparently, however, there was something forcing me to watch 15 episodes of ‘Arrested Development’ Season 4 in only 15 hours. I queued up the first episode at seconds after midnight Pacific Time, as East Coasters on Twitter were still ranting about their inability to read clearly written premiere announcements. Poor East Coasters. I ran through eight episodes before passing out at 5 a.m. and then at 10:30 a.m. I was back to watching for the remaining seven.

That was a lot of ‘Arrested Development’ in a very short period of time.

And it was much, much more ‘Arrested Development’ than anybody had any reason to expect. Netflix initially announced a 10 episode season knowing that they were planning on making at least 13 and then those 13 became 15 episodes when all was said and done. But even saying that Season 4 of ‘Arrested Development’ is 15 episodes is a distinct undersell. When it aired on Fox, ‘Arrested Development’ episodes had a network-standard running time of 22-ish minutes. Netflix doesn't care. Without any ad-load, it's the Wild West out there and the shortest of the new episodes is 28 minutes and the longest is 37 minutes. An additional six or seven episodes of material is just squishing out of the sides of what's here, like the melt filling of an ice cream sandwich.”

 Then there was Liz Shannon Miller’s review for paidContent. org.  If I had to guess, she’s really regretting the experience. She doesn’t quite say so, but I think she just endured this experience. She notes, up top, that on average each episode is 35 minutes long, so it takes 12 hours to watch (that’s comp time, boss!) and complained the new season contained  “a lot more Liza Minelli than I expected.” If I had to guess, I’d say she’s sorry she binged.

In Variety, the ever-wise Brian Lowry wrote, in part, “Unlike ‘House of Cards’ — a fine if hardly groundbreaking serialized  drama— the prospect of binge-viewing (Netflix’s main distribution innovation) this new 15-episode batch of ‘Arrested Development’ feels less like a treat than a rather numbing burden. The program’s arched eyebrows, rapid-fire gags and snark actually play better when spread out, and trying to power through multiple episodes felt exactly like that — a bit like cramming for a test the night before.”

Taking a much more positive view is Tim Goodman, an excellent critic now writing for The Hollywood Reporter, who binged, and will now snack on replays.  He says, “The Rashomon-style storytelling takes a bit to get used to, and the sometimes feverish flow of the jokes (which the fans might remember from the hall-of-fame first three seasons) struggle to unleash themselves in the first couple of episodes, but then it snowballs into seven and a half hours of hilarity just waiting for a movie to follow it up.”  At the end, Goodman even does an endorsement, writing, “And if you don’t have a Netflix subscription, well, why do you think they made more of this thing?”   

Two other worthwhile binge reviews are from Pastemagazine.com  and a real rave from the San Francisco Chronicle.  In that one, critic David Wiegand asked, “With expectations as high as they are among ‘AD’ fans, do the new episodes live up to those of the first three seasons which ended in 2006? Yes, and then some: The new season is not only as smart and absurdly funny as ever, but also reflects the rapid changes in how we watch television.”

Yes. That's true. A lot of the television we now watch is not actually on television.

pj@mediapost.com

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