In theory, it's so cool what Netflix is doing with its original shows. By dropping an entire season at once, as it now has with House of Cards, Hemlock Grove, and, of course, Arrested Development on Sunday, the company is up-ending the outdated way series television has been doled out to us, one week at a time. Watch-these-episodes-whenever is Netflix's ethos: all at once; three years from now — they're here for you, subscribers.
The revival of Arrested Development should have been a beautiful manifestation of the Netflix strategy. An admired show that couldn't find a big enough audience to last more than three seasons on Fox returns through the will of its creator, Mitchell Hurwitz, its cast, and this new business model. And through the passion of its fanbase, of course, which includes many television critics, who have kept the flame lit during Arrested Development's seven-year absence. To co-opt the argument my friend Robert Lloyd, the TV critic at the Los Angeles Times, made about crowdfunding and the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign, it appeared to be "a way paved with love."
Instead? So much hate! Faced with 15 new episodes of Hurwitz's baby, with all of the show's stars returning, Netflix's Memorial Day weekend Arrested Development dump brought out the worst in everyone. Fans — the kinds who are more like cult members — sought out viewers expressing dissent on social media and attacked them; many critics on Twitter seemed to compete to see who could finish watching and file first. The race was on, but where did it go? Somewhere awful.
Here's one ugly Twitter exchange between The Hollywood Reporter critic Tim Goodman (a friend of mine) and @maskedscheduler, a Fox executive who tweets anonymously (a Twitter acquaintance of mine).
Unpleasant, right? Binge-watching. It apparently causes retching.
There's anger just under the surface of fandom, social media, and recap culture (which, by its nature, picks at television). When you combine the three, all that love for Arrested Development is nowhere to be seen. It's sort of a backlash — but against what? Arrested Development itself, or the hype around its return, or Netflix, or Twitter, or the general feeling of missing out on something by not consuming it immediately? I genuinely don't know; I genuinely do find it depressing.
Here's the worst manifestation of this new phenomenon to me. Hurwitz, perhaps stung by some negative reviews, took to Twitter himself Tuesday in order to express this nasty little sentiment.
A fascinating and fraught choice of words: "They're resisting change." From the man who wants to use this platform to make an Arrested Development movie (not exactly the revolution) directed at the people who worked on a holiday Sunday to watch eight hours of his show. It sounds defensive. Pandering. And not being able to take criticism from the people who had rallied to keep your show alive isn't a great look on a showrunner. There's also the weird, false distinction he makes between "viewers" and "critics" — I guess "viewers" are people who liked Season 4 of Arrested Development?
It's also understandable. For however long Hurwitz had both dreamed of Arrested Development's second life and then worked to make it happen, it can't be easy to experience the floodgates of opinion opening on the whole season at once. (I asked Hurwitz's representative if he could talk about these questions, and was told he wasn't available.)
The end result of all of this is that I am literally "resisting change," to use those grand words, in that I haven't watched a single second of the new season. I really loved Arrested Development during its Fox run, and felt mixed emotions about its return (because I felt like it had ended perfectly). I was interested in seeing, and possibly writing about, Season 4, but Netflix PR didn't release screeners (and made reporters sign embargoes to attend the junket), and other people in my group were covering the show both before and after its debut. Plus, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend?
Mostly, though, I've recoiled from the whole experience surrounding Arrested Development's return. I like to watch and write about television and movies that I find interesting and relevant, and a lot of the time I like those shows myself. But I don't want to feel like I'm on some team that loves or hates something — I'm too tired!
As I type these words, I just blocked an Arrested Development superfan who sought me out to attack me on Twitter for responding critically to Hurwitz's tweet.
Can the future really be this pathetic? I'm excited to watch the new season in three months, at whatever pace seems fun, when everyone is fighting about something else. And I hope to love it.