Why You Should Binge-Watch the New Arrested Development
Note: This review is spoiler-free! Not everyone is as weird as I am and wanted to spend two nice days indoors watching and writing about TV show.
As hype flooded the Internet last week for the upcoming return of Arrested Development, the strongest emotion I heard from friends was fear. My Arrested Development superfan friends were excited, with some planning to devour the entire season in one or two sittings. But everyone was kind of worried. What if it wasn’t any good? I heard this question out loud a lot, almost as if saying it would ward off the evil spirits of bad TV. A friend even told me her father was grilling her on the subject. What if it came back and the characters weren’t the same? Or everyone hated it? What if the new episodes ruined Arrested Development?
I thought back to Futurama. I only occasionally checked in on it when it aired from 1999 to 2003, but I fell in love with the episodes in reruns on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. In 2008, the show returned as four movies. I loved the first one; the other three fell flat. I still enjoyed the show when it returned to episodic television after the four movies, but it seemed oddly too serious: Seemingly every episode taught the whole gang an important lesson about friendship or love. The series was less silly when it came back on the air. I don’t think new episodes ruin any old ones, and I still watch old and new Futurama episodes. (They’re also prettier, animation-wise.) But it doesn’t make it any less disappointing if a show you loved comes back and you’re not as into it as you once were.
I would not let fear get the best of me, though. I decided to binge on Arrested Development over the holiday weekend. Yes, it was nice outside on Sunday, but I was excited and wanted to get it all in. (Also, Philly Mag was paying me to binge-watch. There is always money in the banana stand.) I set up a schedule: I’d wake up at 3:01 a.m. when it was released, watch a few episodes, then take the episodes in clumps the rest of the day in between attempts to go outside with friends.
I am glad money encouraged me to watch it all over a day, because it was definitely the best way to watch it. Although creator Mitch Hurwitz said not to watch them all at once, I actually think he’s wrong: The new Arrested Development episodes are a breakthrough in TV-watching, a 7-1/2 hour series that feels meant to be consumed in a relatively short period of time.
Arrested Development has always been a show that’s cultivated fans and encouraged re-watching with its intense layering of in-jokes and references. The NPR Arrested Development guide shows how the show layered in-jokes and foreshadowed future events in the series. Fans of the show are in luck: Season 4 of the show is essentially a 7-1/2 hour long episode.
It reminded me, oddly enough, of the first Futurama movie, Bender’s Big Score. In that film, time travel and extended flashbacks fill in bits of the overlapping stories. (The ancestor of this, of course, is Rashomon.) It was an excellent use of the feature format to give the show an extra push on its return. It’s the same with Arrested Development: The season’s 15 episodes, released at once, take place in the same timeline. Each main character gets at least one episode following his or her storyline. I think it’s smart: Rather than do 15 relatively self-contained episodes, the creators did one storyline and made it as dense as possible. A lot of the fun of the show’s original run was the hunt for in-jokes and references, and this is a whole season built on doing just that.
The show brings back old characters for short appearances—Kitty Sanchez, Bob Loblaw, Carl Weathers, the Richter quintuplets—as well as new characters who fit right into the universe of the show. (Isla Fisher is particularly great.) And Ron Howard, as both himself and the narrator, is even better than he was during the show’s original run. By the time I reached episode 12, I was as interested in seeing how this season would wrap up as I was in seeing how much I’d laugh. When I re-watched some of my favorite episodes from the season Monday afternoon, many jokes came off differently in the first few episodes. There’s replay value here.
You don’t need to watch it in a one-day binge like I did. But I do think it’s a great show to watch over a couple of days, or maybe a week. There was nothing to be worried about: Arrested Development‘s new episodes didn’t ruin the good name of the show. In fact, they might be even better. Season 4 ends with a few cliffhangers, and a tease for a movie. A movie would be nice, but I hope we get more seasons.