the new rules

How the Return of Arrested Development Will Rewrite the New Rules of TV Watching

Photo: FOX

The landscape of television is changing, and for proof, you have to look no further than the revival of Arrested Development on Netflix, where creator Mitch Hurwitz has reunited the original cast to produce a passel of new episodes coming next year: Suddenly, a show that was incredibly low-rated on Fox is being touted as a game-changer for an upstart streaming-video company. It’s a move that will surely have a ripple effect on TV development, but the audience at home is going to find their viewing habits tested, too, since Netflix head Ted Sarandos announced yesterday that the ten new episodes of Arrested Development will all premiere on a single day (video now available here). How will recap culture cope? Here are four of the open questions raised by the announcement.

Should you watch all the episodes in one sitting?
Arrested Development
’s most avid superfans have been waiting for this day since the show was canceled in 2006, but now they’ll be consuming an entire new season of Arrested Development the way a johnny-come-lately would: all at once, like a person stumbling upon the DVDs years after the show went off the air. Still, while a newbie might take his time with Arrested Development, many longtime fans of the series will feel pressure to rip through all the episodes in a single day, and is the show best served by watching it that way? And what if the new Arrested episodes bow on a weekday, God forbid? Would an entire demographic leave work for lunch and never return?

How do you talk about it on Twitter?
The rise in DVRs and time-shifting have changed the way people watch TV, but savvy fans know to avoid Twitter if they haven’t yet caught, say, the new episode of Mad Men: The social-networking service explodes every Sunday night with viewers live-tweeting, quoting, and discussing Don Draper or Fat Betty in depth. (Pity viewers on the West Coast and abroad, who are in constant danger of being spoiled until they can catch up.) If the new episodes of Arrested Development were debuting in weekly installments on a network, Twitter users could assume some base level of communal viewing and tweet freely, but with the new episodes bowing at the same time, how can you be sure who’s watched what? Can you already start discussing episode ten when your friends may be on episode seven, or even episode one?

Will this nip buzz in the bud?
We won’t shed many tears over Twitter users unable to spoil their favorite shows in real time, but it’s worth noting that the plugged-in Twitter audience comprises Arrested Development’s main demographic. To be sure, those fans will be hyping the new AD episodes for weeks and months before the premiere (in fact, they already are), but we wonder whether the thwarted tweeting may take a toll when the episodes all debut at once. Which would Netflix prefer: ten weeks of fans obsessively dissecting each episode and speculating about the next, or a jumbled few days when the most ardent viewers speed-watch the whole season, then quickly move on to discussing the week’s shocking new episode of Breaking Bad?

How will it affect the recapping craze?
The Wire creator David Simon recently groused about the explosive trend of online episode recapping, suggesting that critics should evaluate the series as a whole and not in weekly installments. Looks like he got his wish! It’s not going to be easy to provide overnight reviews of each new Arrested Development episode when all ten premiere on the same day, and TV viewers who’ve gotten used to watching an episode and then reading a variety of online reactions to it will have to adjust: They’ll now be able to burn through an entire season without weekly consultations of an online echo chamber. When Fox canceled Arrested Development, they gave it what was considered an ignominious end: burning through the last four episodes on a single night (opposite the Olympics, no less) instead of letting fans savor the last few weeks. Years later, that all-at-once strategy will be the show’s new normal. As GOB might ponder: Are they making a huge mistake?

How Arrested Development Will Rewrite TV’s Rules