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

By Daniel Carlson | Think Pieces | May 23, 2013 |

By Daniel Carlson | Think Pieces | May 23, 2013 |

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.