On May 26, 2013 the Internet will crash. Well, maybe not the whole Internet, but at least Netflix’s servers will. That’s because it’s the day and date release of the much anticipated return of the beloved, TV cult classic comedy Arrested Development. Since the comedy went off the air in 2006, there has been seemingly never ending talk about the Bluth clan potentially getting back together. No matter how many years passed Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, and the others were bombarded with questions about if and when the return would happen. Things came to a head when in October 2011 during a cast reunion set up by the New Yorker, creator and showrunner Michael Hurwtiz announced his ambitious plan to do a ten episode new season and then a full length feature film. Fans everywhere cheered, but considering Hurwtiz didn’t have a studio or any financial backing, the proposal seemed to be yet another one of Gob’ s infamous illusions. That all changed in November 2011 when Netflix announced they would officially be bringing the series back from the grave for one more season.
At the time Netflix was already well into the process of developing it’s own original material, with it’s first series Lilyhammer, a co-production with a Norwegian TV station and a German distributor, premiering only several months later in February 2012. Though Netflix wouldn’t become seen as a series contender in the field of original entertainment until the launch of it’s first entirely in-house production, House of Cards. This was another brainer for Netflix as well with big names like Kevin Spacey starring and David Fincher directing the pilot. House of Cards has already been deemed a massive success for the company, and it no doubt played a key role in getting the company to finally beat out the number of HBO subscribers by nearly half a million (Wallenstein, 2013). Seemingly overnight, Netflix became not only an actual player in the game, but the player to beat.
While Lillyhammer and House of Cards may get the trophy for being Netflix’s first released series, Arrested Development holds a much more important title: it’s the first TV series conceived, written, and produced for streaming and, well, the Internet at large. While Netflix may be releasing all their series online, there’s no one that would confuse what they’re doing with a webseries, even a higher profile one like Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. And while there are plenty of innovative webseries out there that are specifically written for the Internet, Arrested Development is the first TV series being written for the unique distribution model of a day one release schedule. Netflix doesn’t put episodes weekly like Hulu does for their original content, but rather they release full seasons all at once. The company became famous for its binge/watch at your own pace distribution model, seeing the wait a week model that’s been in place for decades as old fashion and obsolete.
When planning out the season, Hurwitz kept this “all at once” philosophy in mind and came up with a structure that would accommodate both that and the unfortunate production issue of having to balance the cast members’ already busy schedules as many had prior commitments to TV shows and films that Arrested couldn’t interfere with. Hurwitz’s solution was to have the episodes intersect and occur at the same time, with each individual episode focusing on a particular character’s point of view. TV critic Alan Sepinwall live blogged an Arrested Development panel Netflix held in January in which Hurwitz attempts to explain how the new episodes will be structured:
“Hurwitz [adds]… ‘It is a very different form that emerged really organically. It really followed the function… the only way we could get everybody for what we will loosely call an anthology… was to dedicate each episode to a character’s point of view.” They started finding out that stories would intersect… [He] says you’ll see the same scene twice from multiple perspectives. ‘It was an evolution of the format that was necessary.’ Bateman adds it’s exclusive to the format Netflix provides, so you can watch a portion of the Michael episode, then click over to Lucille’s episode.” (Sepinwall, 2013)
This is revolutionary in the field of television. While Netflix will list the episodes in a suggested order, Hurwitz said the goal is that one could watch the season in any order they want and get a different experience each time. Arrested Development was always a show that demanded to be viewed over and over again, with hidden jokes and references taking multiple viewings to spot, but this takes it to an preceded new level.
This directly combats the number one argument thrown at Netflix in regards to their day one release schedule. HBO gets subscribers to continually keep their subscriptions by parsing their shows out week after week. If you want to watch Game of Thrones then you’re a guaranteed subscriber for at least three months. But if you want to watch all of House of Cards all you need to do is subscribe for one month and binge on the full season. With Arrested Netflix is banking on people rewatching the season multiple times to try out all the different experiences offered by this unique structural system.
But Hurwitz and company have a lot more than one season in store for the resurrected Arrested Development, as they have said numerous times that this is only start of their new story. The plan is for the episodes to lead up to all of the Bluth family reuniting together after their many years apart, with the intention of a movie being made in the near future. A feature film has been Hurwitz goal since not long after the show was cancelled, and despite having a great set up with Netflix, he still has more ambitious (and traditional) plans. Jason Batman has even go so far as to tell people not to refer to the new batch of episodes as “season 4”, as they’re meant to actually be act one of the movie.
For the rising media mogul company bring back Arrested Development was a no brainer. It was a pre-established property with a massive fan base that has only grown since it’s cancellation, guaranteeing it would become an instant hit. And because of that what better show for Netflix to truly experiment structure with. Lillyhammer was Netflix dipping their toes into the water, with them only co-producing the project, and House of Cards was Netflix announcing that they were the real deal. While the show breaks little new ground content, that wasn’t their intention. Their goal was simply to mimic the type of dramas that can be found over at AMC and FX. But Arrested Development is their guinea pig. No matter what it’s going to be a success, so why not play with the structure to fit the Netflix distribution model. Arrested Development is the simultaneously the least risky and most risky business venture Netflix has attempted yet.
UPDATE: Of course right as I go to post this I discover that Hurowitz has somehow gone back on the so called experiment. On Twitter the other day he tweeted: “You gotta watch them in order. Turns out I was not successful in creating a form where the setup follows the punch line.” This only makes the batch of new episodes more interesting as for months he’s been talking up the “any order you want” approach, and yet he announces his grand scheme failed with only a single tweet. It was written specifically for this unique set up, and for it to be brushed aside publicly right before the episodes release is a pretty big deal. Maybe the plan was too ambitious from the start, but I suppose it’s only a matter of days until we find out why it lead to Hurtowiz claiming he “made a huge mistake”.
Sepinwall, Alan. “‘Arrested Development’ cast reunites for Netflix.” Hitfix. 9 Jan. 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2013. <http://www.hitfix.com/whats-alan-watching/arrested-development-cast-
Wallenstein, Andrew. “Netflix Surpasses HBO in US Subscribes.” Variety. 22 Apr. 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2013. <http://variety.com/2013/digital/news/netflix-surpasses-hbo-in-u-s- subscribers-1200406437/>.