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:
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?