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Why Binge-Watching the New "Arrested Development" Is a Bad Idea

By Daniel Carlson | Think Pieces | May 23, 2013 | Comments ()


arrested-classic.jpg

Creator Mitchell Hurwitz, discussing the release of the first new episodes of "Arrested Development" since the show's cancellation in 2006, said that binge-watching the new season would make for a bad viewing experience. He told Vulture, "When I was at the last sound mix with our editors and there was one of our bigger sight gags in the background of one of our more absurd conversations, nobody saw the sight gag, including me. And all we were doing is staring at the screen!" He went on to say, "Don't feel obligated to watch it all at once. It's a comedy! It's not like Lord of the Rings. Comedy takes a lot out of you."

He's right, of course, but not just about comedy. Binge-watching anything can be a draining experience defined by diminishing returns and questionable motives. IFC currently airs original episodes of "Arrested Development" in two- to three-hour chunks, but after an hour, the show's pace and agility become things to be born, not enjoyed. When I watched "The Wire" on DVD, it was tempting to gorge on several episodes at a time, and though it felt good to give into that impulse, such marathons inevitably became challenges in holding onto various plot lines. Watching several episodes in a row became about assimilating the plot into my memory, not reveling in its execution. It was all too easy to miss the Dickensian aspect. The same thing happened when I came to "Breaking Bad" between its third and fourth seasons. I blew through the first three seasons (33 episodes) in a couple weeks via iTunes, and it wasn't uncommon to watch four episodes in one sitting. When I wasn't careful, watching the show turned into a contest against myself instead of an aesthetic experience.

Other media don't work like that. A movie runs two to three hours, tops, and books are designed to be started and stopped at your leisure. Television, though, is parceled out in discrete 22- or 44-minute segments. Larger narratives unfold as those small chapters are strung together, but those chapters still have their own beats, breaks, and arcs. Watching three hours of "Breaking Bad" actually means watching three one-hour plays, and what works as an hourlong experience can feel turbulent over three or four. It's not that the show is bad, or that it's not compelling. Rather, it's that bingeing isn't the best way to experience TV. You burn out, even a little. It's inevitable.

What's also worth considering is how binge-watching might affect your feelings about the show. Fans have been clamoring for more installments of "Arrested Development" for years (even when Hurwitz himself wasn't convinced the show should go on), and that level of hype can quickly sour when the rush to attain the new content replaces the experience of watching it. "Arrested Development" is also, famously, a show built on subtle gags and references, and mainlining a few new hours of the series might not be the best way to enjoy a sitcom that takes pleasure in the little grace notes that turn comedy into genius. This might not be the best show to live-tweet.

You are, of course, free to binge. When Netflix drops the new episodes on May 26, you can plow through all 15 right away. There's nothing to stop you. One of the great things about streaming content is its ease of access, so you can watch all the new episodes and then watch them again, in any order. (There will probably be a .gif-based event horizon a few hours after the episodes go live.) But permissible and beneficial aren't necessarily the same thing, which is another way of saying that what works for one viewer doesn't have to work for all of them. It's OK to rush headlong into the arms of the Bluths, but it's also OK -- maybe even necessary -- to take your time. Some things are better savored.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. You can also find him on Twitter.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Joyce

    I binged the new season of AD...and I love it.

  • jon houding

    The title of this article should have been called, "Why Binge-Watching the New 'Arrested Development' is a Huge Mistake."

  • rocboltin rocbolt

    I don't exactly want to watch them all at once at 1am on a sunday, but I won't be able to access the Internet at all until I do as I can only imagine how spoiler filled every nook and cranny of social media will be minutes after the episodes go live (you bastards), so I don't really have a choice in the matter. I wish they'd stagger the release, this is really their fault.

  • I love watching multiple episodes of a show in one sitting. If the show's good I can't help it. I'm so excited after the first episode that I have to watch the next. But there's certainly a limit. If it's an hour long show I'd say 3 episodes in one sitting is the limit. For a half hour show it's probably 5.

  • Kate

    I pretty much have the opposite experience to you. When I binge watch a show I become more immersed in that world, I can keep track of plots and characters far better and I pick up on things that would otherwise go right over my head.

    The only time it backfires is when a guilty pleasure type show just becomes too stupid/silly or when extended exposure to certain actors makes you realize they're awful. For example I might have been able to deal with Scandal better if I'd had time to forget some of the more loony stuff going on in that show, but watched over just a few sittings it just started to become idiotic, and not in a fun way. I also developed a hatred for Kerry Washington's 'facial contortions will do my emoting for me' method of acting, whereas previously I had liked her a lot. So I won't be watching in future, but it could have been a good thing to have in rotation when everything else was too heavy if I'd slowly parceled it out instead of gorging and making myself sick.

  • Rochelle

    I just used Scandal as my exception to my love of binge watching. I need like two weeks between episodes.

    Yeah, I'll be binge watching AD, and then I'll go back and rewatch.

  • Lisa Bee

    I am a serial tv-binger, and it is a serious problem, as I just watched all 8 full seasons of Supernatural (shhhh, I know) in less than 4 months. It was just kind of my go-to to sit down and watch a couple after work or class in the evening and now I don't know what to do with myself! (Force one of my friends to watch it so I can talk to them about it as they work through it/have an excuse to go through it again and pick up the little things for REAL this time, rather than burning through like it's a race? Huh... probably not a good idea).
    And so now I've started watching The Hour... which only has 12 episodes in total... which I'm already half way done... So I am really starting to see the issue here.

  • Michelle

    I will likely not power through all of these at once, simply because my husband hasn't seen the series, so I will have to watch this on my own time!

  • MichaelEhrgott

    I like my TV like I like my alcohol, binged upon.

    Battlestar Galactica has been the worst culprit for me so far. Watched 3 seasons in two weeks.

  • cruzzercruz

    I respect your opinion on the matter, but I don't think there's any way I WON'T devour this whole like a hungry goose without chewing.

    Although, I will most likely watch and rewatch it multiple times.

  • apsutter

    Agreed. I love how they warned us not to watch all at once like we're not going to re-watch it like 50 times.

  • Matt C.

    You've eaten a hungry goose without chewing?

  • cruzzercruz

    It put up a hell of a fight, but I was drunk and determined.

  • Afferbeck

    I'm not sure if I'll be able to watch at all, Netflix not existing in my country. I'm sure I'll find an alternate viewing method in time though. Binge-watching does not have these negative effects on me though, unless I watch literally all day. I have done that before, with Angel for example, watching about a season a day. Now I usually keep things to two or three episodes of a show per day.

  • koko temur

    Some shows benifit from binge viewing. Game of thrones is classic example.

  • Michelle

    This. I will never regret binge-watching all of FNL. I think had I parsed it out over the course of a few months, it wouldn't have had the same impact.

  • Repo

    But if I don't watch them all in a row ASAP I can't be one of the first to post about how the show sucks now and was SO much more fetch back in its initial run. Which along with your gif tsunami is exactly what I expect to happen.

  • Regina George

    Stop trying to make fetch happen. It's never going to happen.

  • koko temur

    You can do it without watching

  • poopnado

    Is there anyone that took a week, or even a few days, between shows once it hopped on Netflix? I binge-watched the whole series in a few days, and it was not a huge mistake.

  • PerpetualIntern

    I binge watched in the Peace Corps, over and over, and it was always glorious.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    My addictive personality says that I don't have a problem and you know that you can't make somebody stop unless they want to so stop trying to change me Carlson!

  • Three_nineteen

    Good thing binge watching is probably going to be next to impossible, then, with a few million people trying to access the series simultaneously and all. I just hope that Netflix Instant itself doesn't crash. At least I'll have the French Open to watch.

  • PerpetualIntern

    My husband and I were talking about the same thing yesterday. Is netflix ready for the barrage of viewers? The marketing on this has been insane...

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