Here’s your interesting Tumblr of the week. I had no idea that Netflix was toying with the original aspect ratio of many of the movies they stream.
Naturally, I watched the new season of Arrested Development immediately, finishing it in a few days and already wondering when I’ll watch it again. What’s most impressive about the new season is simply how it doesn’t collapse under the enormous weight of expectation. It’s an easy choice to hate it for how confusing and different it is, but I found the bold decisions to be refreshing. There’s very little that’s familiar or comforting about season 4 of Arrested Development. Fan service was the easy way out, but I’m happy to report that it’s not a path that creator Mitch Hurwitz chose.
In fact, what’s most surprising about the new season is how much I missed it appearing on network television. There are a lot of advantages to having it on Netflix — it’s neat that it’s simply up all at once, and the episodes didn’t have to adhere to a strict 22-minute time limit. That said, I wonder if the season would’ve been better with some limitations, particularly related to run time. Several episodes earn every second, but too many don’t. I’ve read complaints about several long bits falling flat for viewers, but I didn’t mind them so much, as many were funny and all were simply taking advantage of the new format. What I found more tedious was the copious amount of hand-holding and explanation: the season is complicated and occasionally confusing, but a more traditional sitcom running time would have forced Hurwitz and company to be a bit more ruthless and creative in their cuts.
I hope any additional future seasons — or simply other series that begin to appear on Netflix — push even further past the traditions of network and cable television. Arrested Development certainly blows past length and narrative structure, but has hits and misses with other decisions. Bleeping profanity, for instance, was a great choice: it preserves series continuity, and is frankly funnier than hearing the actual words. But the show also preserves act breaks for commercials, which simply serve as awkward ways to jump out of one story and into another.
The best way to sum up my reaction: Season 4 manages to be both the best and worst season of the entire series. While individual episodes may not compare one-on-one to top episodes from previous seasons, the season as a whole is big and daring. Upon its completion, it begs to be watched again, just to marvel at how it was all put together. And while the show looks different and plays differently, that sensation — the admiration of something well built — remains the same.
The AV Club’s Todd VanDerWerff wonders if Netflix’s new programming strategy — namely, premiering entire seasons of new shows like House of Cards at the same time — will kill the “golden age” of television:
Shortly after the 30 Rock finale aired, I was talking with someone who’s around a decade younger than me. “I’m glad it’s ending!” he said. When I asked why, he said that he likes to watch things all at once, and now that the show was over, he could binge on it over the course of a week or two. Now that the story was “complete,” it was finally time to watch 30 Rock without having to wait. The marathon—of a season or a whole series—had become essentially the only way he watched television, and that was how he preferred it. Sitting and watching one episode per week was, to him at least, for suckers, for people who were tied too closely to the old ways of doing business, and weren’t ready for the wave that was coming to wash away TV as we know it.
Needless to say, as someone who edits and writes for a section that lives and dies by the weekly TV review, I take the opposite point of view, and not just because I’ve written before about the pleasures of “slow TV.”
While VanDerWerff is primarily concerned with how TV shows differ when premiered as weekly episodes, or as entire chunks of story, I’m interested in how this “binge” viewing will happen without a build-up of interest.
I haven’t yet watched House of Cards, and wonder if or when I will. Part of the allure of “binge viewing” is having a number of friends/peers/writers recommend something to you: as the number of recommendations grow, so too does the expectation that this show will be worth watching. But such recommendations typically grow over time: initial reviews, followed by live viewers, followed by people who record episodes, followed by people who take a chance on the first season DVD set.
The potential downside I see to premiering a show like House of Cards all at once is that many of us will look around and wonder who’s jumping in the pool first. Certainly, there are plenty of people who have decided to take a chance on the show, and have likely stuck with it longer than they would have if it aired on a weekly basis. But given that the general reaction has been mixed, where does the show go from here? I doubt the early reviews have built up interest — if anything, interest in the show has taken a hit since it’s been released. Will those initial viewers be around when the second season is released? Will there be a clamor for the show to return, or will it simply be forgotten?