May 28, 2013

489 Minutes of Straight 'Arrested Development': Surviving the Season 4 Bluth Binge

Bang the drums and sound the shofar: Arrested Development is back after 7 long years. All 15 new episodes were released on Netflix and like many of you -- I binged. Oh -- I binged hard. After watching the entire 4th season, all 15 episodes, every one of the 489 minutes in one sitting (as it was created to be experienced), I must admit that it wasn't easy. It wasn't fatigue or a fast depleting attention span that made it difficult either, but a new and very intriguing storytelling method employed by the AD team. So, as a survivor, I came up with a few things to consider if you're planning on taking on the 8+hour Bluth Binge.

This story of a wealthy family who lost everything spent a lot of time being developed as a brand by using unorthodox methods of marketing that catered to both fans and new viewers. Stunts like a touring banana stand were used to bring in new viewers, while insider gags like blue handprints on Netflix's website and teaser posters highlighting popular props (Tobias' never-nude jean cutoffs, a juice box impaled on Buster's hook hand) were aimed at core viewers. A jaunty trailer was also used to reintroduce us to the Bluth family, while also cleverly proposing a challenge to viewers by divulging this: "All the episodes. All streaming. All at once." Check it out below:

It's no secret that Netflix intended for the show to be "binge-viewed." Netflix CEO Reed Hastings employed the same strategy for House of Cards by releasing all 13 episodes at once. Hastings says that this decision worked by, "reinforcing our brand attribute of giving consumers complete control over how and when they enjoy their entertainment."

Many are calling this move a game-changer, and believe that binge-viewing will alter the way we watch TV. Not only that, but it carries heavy implications financially for broadcasters as well. An article in The Wall Street Journal reported:

Arrested Development shorts

Bingeing breaks habits that have long supported the TV business, built on advertising and syndicated reruns. TV executives are torn by the development: gratified that people are gorging on their product, frustrated because it's a TV party that all-important advertisers aren't invited to.

The traditional method of programing for these original series was foregone by Netflix in order to allow viewers to experience the shows as they pleased, which -- let's be honest -- isn't usually done by watching one episode a week. We binge. We gorge. I know I personally am notorious for watching entire seasons in one sitting (ahem -- Bob's Burgers) and season 4 of Arrested Development was no different.

And -- in my humble opinion, I think that might've been the best way to watch AD. I'm not saying you have to stay up until 6AM like I did watching every single episode back to back, but -- maybe Netflix made the choice to make every episode available, because they know that we like to binge, and they want to give us what we want.

What does that mean for TV? To narrow it down a bit, what does that mean for TV writing? If there is no time between the end of one episode and the start of another, does the manner in which the story is told change? Well, I think it does, because the new season of AD uses a whole new storytelling paradigm.

Without giving too much away for all of you non-bingers, I'll lay it out. First of all, one single Bluth family member is highlighted and followed in each episode. That's where the simplicity ends, I'm afraid. Time is not always linear, which makes it difficult to orient yourself in not just the episodes, but the whole season. Furthermore, each episode doesn't really provide you with a nicely packaged resolution at the end -- they all kind of end revealing another piece of the overarching puzzle of the central plot.

Since the season as a whole is constructed in an extremely complex assemblage of disjointed scenes, with small, seemingly inconsequential conversations and actions being slowly revealed through multiple episodes as being more significant than previously thought, it might be best to watch them all at once. Otherwise, you might forget a tiny detail or comment -- and there are a lot of them -- that slowly develops into something huge in the story later.

So, is this really an ideal method of watching your favorite shows? If a show is built to be binge-viewed, not everybody has the time, energy, or focus to sit down and watch something for hours. And how well can you enjoy a show if you watch it so quickly anyway? Are you losing some of the magic and subtle nuances when you experience too much of a good thing by ingesting it all at once?

I don't know all the answers, but I do have a thought: In the end, comparing AD seasons 1-3 to season 4 is like comparing apples to cornballs. They're not really the same thing. The way the episodes coalesce to form the overarching plot of each season is different and therefore may require a little adapting to a new way of experiencing the narrative. Take Memento for example. I know, it's not a TV show, but stay with me. The complexity of that narrative requires a significant amount of finesse to track, so pausing it or coming back to it later is probably going to throw you. Season 4 is just as intricately formed as Memento, and delayed expositions and reveals require great attention to detail.

Surviving your binge-view session is pretty easy as long as you have snacks and some pjs. However, surviving the density and complexity of season 4 of Arrested Development -- all the way through without breaks -- well, I think that deserves a bumper sticker that reads: I Survived the Bluth Binge. 

What do you think about binge-viewing and the purported ramifications of it? Did you survive your Bluth Binge?

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21 Comments

I got late onto the House brigade (yes probably lived under a rock) and saw season 1-7 in 2 weeks.. just in time for Season 8. I miss House.

May 28, 2013

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Archie

I just want to point out that Mitch Hurwit recommended not binge-watching them:
http://www.vulture.com/2013/05/mitch-hurwitz-dont-binge-watch-arrested-d...

May 28, 2013

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Mitchell

I read about that in a different article somewhere. I agree, though -- if you can't focus or get bored with seeing the same thing for a long time, maybe binging isn't the best way to watch AD...because "You'll get tired." But, for those who have incredible stamina and are obsessive, maybe give it a try. (Word of warning: I had the strangest day after this whole Bluth Binge...got very existential. Maybe no more 8 hour watchfests for me for a while...)

May 28, 2013

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V Renée

I'm used to watching Shows in this manor. Or at least partly like it. It is also a Long-time doing of mine, watching Shows as a season Event or sometimes the whole series in one go (by one go I refering to just watching it alot faster than I would be able if I were watching it weekly on tv). A few examples: I've watched season 1-5 of Scrubs in two days. Season 1 of DS9 in one go, season 1 of 24 in one go, whole Babylon 5 (incl. Movies) in 2 and a half weeks, whole Star Trek (everything) in about 3 months.and so on. I have to say that I like it alot, being able to enjoy Shows and their plots without getting distracted by other Shows. Sometimes it takes a while to get into the characters. Ontop of my head one series comes to mind immediatly Farscape. It took me a whole season to start to like the cast, but after that, it was a wunderful experience.

I can only encourage People to try it out.

May 28, 2013

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Raphael

Well most of us are used to watching shows in our plain little houses or apartments. I mean having a manor must be great and all, but this is a heck of a place to go bragging about it.

June 3, 2013

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Jacob Daniels

I think binge viewing is good for viewers, but bad for shows. With weekly shows we generate anticipation: "Did you see last night/week's Game of Thrones/Mad Men etc? With binging it's turning into: "Did you watch the whole season?" I feel binging eliminates the need and desire to talk about/up a show. We'll discuss AD for a week or so, after that, if you're behind, you're not just out of the conversation you're you're way out of relevance. But weekly syndication allows new or behind viewers to catch up, to join the conversation. We build anticipation and excitement. It becomes communal. But by in essence shortening a shows conversation it negatively effects the probability of bringing in new viewers.

House of Cards, for example, is a show I want to see, but haven't yet and I feel less and less need to start it right away because no one is talking about it. And by the time I do see it there won't be anyone who wants to talk about it. I'm sure I'll eventually see it but the lack of excitement and hype diminishes the shows cultural relevance (though House of Cards will be remembered as the first episodic venture from Netflix and that's important and historic).

I like binging as much as the next person, but I'm weary of how it will effect the shows themselves.

May 28, 2013

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You made some good points, however I'm a believer that TV has to respond to its audience and not impose. I'm sure they will figure a way to keep the heat on for longer. Probably different marketing strategies.
What AMC did with Breaking Bad , releasing half of the season in one year and having another year break for the other half was ridiculous, I hope it never happens again.

May 28, 2013

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Marcus

Why does them releasing all the episodes at once mean they 'intend' for them all to be watched at once? That's a bit of a leap. That's like saying because there are 9 seasons of The X-Files that Netflix 'intends' for you to watch them all at once.

They released them all at once because that's what Netflix is. It wouldn't make sense for them to release them weekly. That doesn't mean the creators intended you to sit on your couch for 8 hours. I'm sure the creators would far prefer you to savour the series.

May 28, 2013

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Ant

"Netflix’s brand for TV shows is really about binge viewing. Imagine if books were always released one chapter per week, and were only briefly available to read at 8pm on Thursday. And then someone flipped a switch, suddenly allowing people to enjoy an entire book, all at their own pace. That is the change we are bringing about. That is the future of television.” - Reed Hastings (Netflix CEO)

http://insidetv.ew.com/2013/01/31/netflix-binge-viewing/

May 28, 2013

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V Renée

By that logic it follows that the author of a book wants you to read it all in one sitting. The point of Netflix is on-demand, that is very different to 'binge' viewing which isn't healthy for appreciation of content nor for content creators as it lowers the perceived value of the content.

May 28, 2013

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Ant

I see your point, but creators of art need to understand that their audience is made up of individuals that experience things differently. Not everybody appreciates art or media less if they consume it for extended periods of time. For example, I haven't watched traditional television for probably 5 or 6 years, because I absolutely can't stand waiting so long to watch episodes. Personally, I find being in the story space longer allows me to experience it more fully, rather than being in it for only half an hour (or however long one episode is.) But, everyone's different.

May 28, 2013

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V Renée

But, I see what you're saying -- even if the distributor wants it to be binge-viewed, that doesn't mean the creators want it to be.

May 28, 2013

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V Renée

Binge viewing is fun. It poses some problems for content creators though because the fans are finished with you after a very short time period. There was a post here about JJ Abrams' mystery box and how suspense and the unknown is what brings and audience back over and over again. When a series is finished that urgency to view, discuss and obsess over it is alleviated.

I am torn because I prefer to binge, but feel empty very soon after like a junkie looking for another high. My fan fanaticism immediately goes into hibernation. Story is ADDICTIVE. Users will go find it somewhere else if you have nothing more for them. How the story is dealt to fan/addicts can become as powerful as the story itself. I often will not watch a TV series as it is airing because the suspense and desire to know what happens next will consume my life as I scour the internet for answers and theories. I know if I consume even a little bit of good story I will not be able to control myself seeking more. It is that strong.

Viewers want it all RIGHT NOW. We are story addicts. But if you want money from us, if you want viewers to be loyal, then you have to tease and feed our addiction carefully. Once a fan always an addict. Netflix knows people binge but giving into addicts every whim may not be the magic bullet it looks like on the surface.

As a contrast to binge viewing you will find Japanese comics. I am convinced that the manga revolution in America (go ahead and look at the comic section at Barnes and Noble to see what I mean) is tied very closely with how they create and release their content which nurtures a die hard fan community like nothing else I have ever seen. Many Japanese comics are released once a week or once every two weeks and will stay in syndication for years if not decades. I can catch up on an old series in a few days but then have to wait as it is dealt week by week. That is how you feed an addiction. That is how you make a rabid fan junkie.

May 28, 2013

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Dan

Towards the end it blue'd itself, unfortunately. Or maeby I was just tired.

May 28, 2013

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Natt

I love everything about this comment.

May 28, 2013

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V Renée

I've worked at a local mom and pop video store for about seven years. (I have a feeling I'm not the only frequenter of this site that's spent some time behind the dvd/vhs counter.) This job has offered me a unique glimpse at people's viewing habits. It's interesting to track a show like "The Sopranos", or "Lost", shows that were hot while on but who's finale's reception has dampened people's appetite's for them big time.

Then there's shows like "The Wire" and "BattleStar Galactica" who's popularity post original airing only seems to grow as their cultural presence slowly but steadily grows. Those shows really lend themselves to binge viewing.

May 28, 2013

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Jim

FWIW, the Netflix stock took a major hit today, down ~ 6.5% (~$14.5) all due to the negative reaction to the AD. (of course, if the 2nd Q subscriber totals jump, that trend will reverse itself).

As to the "binge TV", the Prospect Park's online/Hulu revival of "One Life to Live" and "All My Children", canceled by ABC about a year and a half ago, reacted to it by cutting the number of produced episodes from 4 down to 2. They also have a week's highlight/interview show.

And, yes, I will watch OLTL now and again. Any show that can shoot 100-145 pages per day is worth following, at worst, for the technical reasons.

May 28, 2013

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DLD

Binge Viewing? That sounds a lot like reading a book. You've got several hours of entertainment right there in front of you with chapter ends that give you the option to put it down and go to bed or sit up and keep going.

May 29, 2013

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Logan

The Hollywood Reporter is quoting Procera Networks, a broadband monitoring firm, that the the Netflix AD traffic tripled visavis its previous high (House of Cards).

If it's OK to link ( http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/arrested-development-surpasse...)

May 29, 2013

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DLD

The main problem is the show is shite - really bad writing. It used to be so good, but the interim period was obviously NOT spent writing or hiring new writers ... it is a cheap and cheesy money-spinner and Hurwitz should be ashamed of himself.

May 30, 2013

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DamenS

i think of it just like a book with chapters. i don't see a problem coming back to it, but personally i don't like to get into more than one fiction at a time.

May 31, 2013

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paulherrin