While watching the Golden Globes on Sunday, an amazing thought occurred to me: this time next year, Arrested Development will once again be eligible for awards! Emmys, Golden Globes…you name it! You see, in case you somehow haven’t heard, there’s a new season of Arrested Development coming–in just four months the Bluths will be returning to the small screen, via Netflix! Details have slowly leaked for months (guest stars, set photos, and now the episode titles) and over the last few weeks Netflix has planted some Easter eggs in anticipation of the show’s May 4 release.
I’m so excited I actually can’t think about it too much because my brain might explode. Most days I forget this is even a thing that is happening, which is probably good because I can’t handle living in that reality 24/7. But beyond that excitement factor, and the idea that a passionate fanbase really can resurrect a great show from the dead, the most interesting thing about the return of Arrested Development is what it could do for the medium of television.
As a Netflix series, all 14 new episodes will become available at once. They are each meant to stand alone, and will not follow a linear narrative. The producers have ordered them to preserve the maximum number of surprises and to best set up and pay off jokes, but they have also said they could be watched in any order, and that each varied in length. And events in each episode will become more clear as others are watched, rewarding multiple viewings.
An article on Think Progress first got me started thinking about how this freedom from the structure and limitations of the network and cable television models might change the way TV entertainment works. “A willingness to treat episodes like a series of interlinked short films that can be watched in multiple orders is something Netflix can do particularly because of its strategy of releasing all of the episodes of its shows at once, and because it doesn’t have to build and retain viewers episode to episode the way a network does to keep a reliable stream of advertising revenue flowing,” she said. She goes on to demonstrate how this might look: “Before yesterday, my dream scenarios for Jennifer Egan’s novel A Visit From The Goon Squad involved the HBO adaptation, and for World War Z involved a series of stand-alone movies or mini-series episodes. Now, I’m excitedly thinking about what they might look like as Netflix series, a thought that has literally never occurred to me about any material before.”
This is exciting. For all that we talk about being in a Golden Age of television–and I truly believe that we are–there hasn’t been much change in how we consume TV content in the 60+ years of the medium. Sure, we use our computers now, but it’s still coming to us in periodic intervals, in episodic form meant to build a narrative arc. Not to be overdramatic, but THIS COULD CHANGE EVERYTHING.
I withhold judgment until I see how well Arrested Development executes the concept. But now it’s out there, this alternative approach to storytelling, and I for one welcome the opportunity to see how this might change the type of story writers are able to tell.
Let the great experiment begin!