People often blame the cable’s 24-hour news cycle for the downfall of “journalism,” but the Internet also runs on a 24-hour news cycle, and there are far more online outlets than there are cable news channels. Pop culture and television review sites have to fill our pages full of content each and every day, and we love to please the masses because it means masses of page views. That’s been no more apparent than in this short week’s coverage of season four of “Arrested Development,” in which we all have an opinion, and we all want to deliver that opinion before you’ve had a chance to make your own (we are just as much to blame, and though we waited until Tuesday, we wanted to be at least slightly ahead of the curve, and claim our own piece of ownership over the series).
It’s become more and more clear that the Internet is a better place to discuss what we’ve already seen than to provide pre-viewing analysis. This is why television discussions are so popular now: They provide a place where we can hash over our thoughts after we’ve seen something, and even with movie reviews, most of us find them more valuable after we’ve seen a movie than before (and Dan and I are even having some discussions about tinkering with our film reviews to reflect that). Unfortunately, in the Internet’s race to get ahead, we’ve taken away some of the joys of discovery. It’s not just pop-culture websites, mind you. It’s your Facebook and Twitter friends, all of whom want to be the first to spot the gag and Tweet about it, much to the dismay of those of you who are still on episode two or three because YOU HAVE A LIFE.
That said, the Internet did not ruin “Arrested Development,” as some are decrying. No one ruined “Arrested Development” because “Arrested Development” is not ruined. In the race to provide that quick analysis on season four, the Internet has already basically chewed through three news cycles, transitioning from initial disappointment to grand appreciation of the series, and by yesterday, to the post-mortem on a series that was only three days old.
Here are some of the less flattering headlines and blurbs from around the Internet.
Sure, some spurned fans bashed it, and diehards offered over-generous defenses, but there was no tidal wave of commentary and immediate dissection to match the massive pre-release media swell. There was no show-ruining online criticism heedlessly flying in, as has happened in the past, and has nearly destroyed other cultural products. But I still think the internet ruined Arrested Development. The culprits were not, this time, the tweeting critical masses who populate the internet, but the expectations inherent in the internet’s architecture itself.
People forget that Star Wars creator George Lucas didn’t direct The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, so when the prequel movies were released, fans were surprised to find how sloppy they were. It was all too Lucas-y. The same holds true for Arrested Development. All of the episodes in the new season are co-directed by series creator Hurwitz and Troy Miller. Hurwitz had never directed a single episode of Arrested Development before this season.
Arrested Development has lost a step or two in its long stint on the sidelines. The pacing is notably slower than during its original run and the show lacks the breathtaking density that characterized its glorious past. At its worst, the new/old Arrested Development is reduced to doing an shaky imitation of itself: the characters and themes are there but the beats are slightly off, as is the tone.
It’s an occasionally hilarious, sometimes boring, always bloated boondoggle of a project, and it’s the sort of thing that’s at once staggering in its ambition and hard to approach with anything like real affection.
I could see — in a theoretical world where I lived inside of the Internet’s echo chamber — how these reviews and think pieces might have soured me on “Arrested Development” before I’d even finished the series. But that’s a world occupied mostly by pop culture critics and obsessive Twitterers, which is to say: Far less than one percent of the population. Every one else probably never saw these pieces, ignored them (early coverage on “AD” has not been a huge boon to page views because people want to wait and discover the series on their own before they read these pieces), or filtered them through their own perceptions.
All of which is to say, much to the apocalyptic naysayers’ dismay, the Internet has ruined nothing. Netflix’s strategy to release all episodes at once has ruined nothing. In fact, unless you live your life in lockstep with the AV Club or the WSJ or The Daily Beast or Sepinwall or us, nothing has been ruined. You can still enjoy “Arrested Development” at your own goddamn pace. You can still make those sweet discoveries all by yourself. The Internet has no power of you. It can enlighten. It can inform. It can entertain. It can deepen your appreciation. It can do things to, uh, cat pictures that you have never imagined. But the Internet cannot take joy away from you unless you let it, unless you allow some critic to have that power over you. With something as big and as meaningful as “Arrested Development,” 99 percent of you are going to make up your own minds, and while you may point to the thoughts of other critics as being in line with yours, it seems highly unlikely that a few negative reviews are going to dissuade you from watching a series that you have been anticipating for years. The Internet did not ruin “Arrested Development,” and for anyone to suggest otherwise is insulting.
As to the quality of “Arrested Development,” make up your own mind. While you may agree with Todd VanDerWerff or others, who were probably composing their reviews on three hours of sleep (well, yeah, you’re going to find something lacking when you haven’t slept in two days), I do hope you can appreciate season four for what it is (a brilliantly structured, multi-layered comedic treat) instead of for what it isn’t (“Arrested Development”seasons one through three).