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Arrested Development Week: It's a gift so please be patient

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On Sunday, Netflix will unleash the newest set of Arrested Development episodes on the world, an event almost 10 years in the making. Over the next few days, leading up to the new episodes, we'll be revisiting some of our favorite moments from the cult television comedy culminating in a running diary as we binge-watch the new episodes on Sunday.

Today, a call for patience when consuming the new episodes when they hit the Internet on Sunday.

Previously: Top 10 recurring jokes, Top 10 cameos and guest stars, Post-Development careers of the cast

On Sunday, the almost unthinkable happens with the unleashing of 15 new episodes of cult TV comedy Arrested Development, seven years after the last episode aired on Fox. I say "almost" unthinkable because this isn't the first time a show canceled too soon has been resurrected thanks in part to a rabid fan-base (see: Family Guy). But the stature of the show has only grown over these last seven years as rumors and teases about further, well, developments have careened around the Internet.

That the show was saved isn't a miracle; that the survived its original run as long as it did is. In the age of shows getting canceled after a single episode, the fact Fox chose to keep alive a show of such low ratings for so long - 53 episodes over three seasons! - is something to behold. In its first season, the show averaged 6.2 million viewers a week, placing it 120th overall for the 2003-04 TV season, but saw dips in viewers over the next two seasons. (It should be noted 6.2 million viewers would have placed it 36th overall on the Nielsen landscape of May 2013.

And yet it was renewed twice, thanks in part to loud critical acclaim and a collection of Emmy nominations and wins. That first season, it won five Emmys including Outstanding Comedy Series, casting, and writing. That the show survived for so many episodes is thanks to that vocal minority and the reason the show has only grown in popularity, the reason you'll be able to get up on Sunday and, provided the Netflix servers can handle the traffic, watch new episodes.

But the show is also one that rewards multiple viewings and, most of all, time to unfold. From a personal perspective, I've noticed jokes on my most recent viewings I've never noticed before even though I first starting watching the show almost 10 years ago during its first season. The cult around the show has grown, thanks to DVD and streaming options, and with it so have the recurring jokes, such that there are at multiple websites that track recurring jokes and other elements throughout the show's run:

And earlier today, Mother Jones published an excellent look at the show as "the best TV satire of the Bush era."

Despite the fact that the series' focus wasn't actually real-world politics, the original 53 episodes were littered with nods to the Bush years (hunting for Saddam, Iraqi military ineptitude, war protests, botched CIA operations, Buster Bluth in Army uniform, and so on). And though the writers' room (led by creator Mitchell Hurwitz) almost certainly leaned to the left, the political satire was never weighed down by partisan indignation; it grew out of the times, not a determined ideologue's mind. The satirical jabs--much like the series' chronicling of the decadent and depraved Bluths--were motivated by gleeful scorn aimed carefully at power, scandal, and rank incompetence.

Like everything else about the show, this read is a result of the time given the show, with revisits over ten years to put things in perspective. The years have been kind to the show's original run: it remains fresh, edgy, and hilarious even after all this time and the act of uncovering something new with each viewing adds depth to its greatness. Sure, the show has a few moments here and there where it seems to drag, but by typical TV standards, there's not a single bad episode in the bunch.

Which is why the best thing to have when viewing the new episodes this weekend is patience. The hype surrounding the episodes has grown exponentially with each rumor evolving to fact, with each new fan brought in by DVD sales or Netflix viewings. This smart discussion at The A.V. Club tackles the "can this even live up to the hype?" issue in typically smart fashion, complete with a Phantom Menace reference or three. (Full disclosure: I used to work at The A.V. Club.) The Internet has also long since exceeded the saturation point of material about the show in the run-up to Sunday (something of which I am totally guilty of on this blog). And when the hype reaches this sort of fever pitch, it's going to be hard, if not completely impossible, for the show to live up to the expectations we as viewers - and hardcore fans - have. Even creator Mitch Hurwitz is publicly advising against watching all of the new episodes in one consecutive chunk (which, yeah, good luck) for the sake of avoiding burn-out.

So consider this a call: enjoy the episodes or hate them, but slow your roll a bit. Sharing thoughts on your experience is one thing, but let's try to avoid the usual instant reaction "this sucks" nature when the show can't live up to the impossibly high level of greatness we're already expecting of it.

The idea of calling for a halt to the knee-jerk, instant reactions is hardly new, I admit. In the years since the show originally went off the air, the rise of social media - Facebook and, particularly, Twitter - have given rise to that need by consumers of culture to offer opinions within moments of something happening (again, guilty as self-charged). At times, it seems like that's the main reason Twitter was invented. But feeding all of this is also the rise of capsule reviews. While these reviews can be fantastic, meticulous breakdowns of excellent television - Alan Sepinwall at HitFix and The A.V. Club's TV Club are good examples (and, full disclosure, I used to write TV Club entries while employed at The A.V. Club) - it feeds the needs for readers to share their own takes. But these critics are often given screeners which give them the chance to view episodes, sometimes more than once, digest them for a few days, and then write and publish the review. These reviews are not the instant yay or nay we viewers make in our own minds the second the screen goes dark.

Ironically, it's the lack of screeners that already has at least one critic needlessly rushing to judgement. The L.A. Times' Mary McNamara is already blasting Netflix for refusing to send out screeners of the episodes and implying it could mean bad things for the quality of the new episodes even as she later calls for the same need to give shows time and space to accurately digest them as laid out above. So it has already begun, especially when you put this alongside the hand wringing over the use of green screens in the new episodes. Aside from a few short trailers, no one has seen anything from the show and yet there's already all this worry.

It's ridiculous.

When Sunday morning comes, if you're like me and you plan on watching the episodes in bulk (sorry, Mitch) or if you plan to take it one day and one episode at a time, just remember to take a step back and keep things in a bit of context. It's going to take time for all the jokes and themes and call backs to sink in. It's going to get better the next time and the next time and the next time you watch it. A few more years from now, they'll fit in the run of existing episodes much more comfortably.

Sharing your thoughts as you go along? Go for it. I'll be doing so right here on this site. But it'll be more about the experience of revisiting these characters, of getting a chance to spend more time with these characters we've grown to love no matter how despicable we'd find them in real life.

Like the original run lasting as long as it did, these 15 new episodes are a gift, the extension of a show that miraculously continues to grow. Don't hack at the roots before it has a chance to grow a little more. And if the new episodes still don't live up to expectations, relax: we almost never had 68 episodes of this show so just enjoy what we have.

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THANK YOU! This is exactly my feeling. I knew the instant reactions were going to be mixed (and not "meh," mixed, but "I LOVE IT" and "I HATE IT" mixed) before the show was even released. The whole point of AD is density, continuity, reverse continuity, Easter Eggs, etc. Anyone who claims to have a good idea of how they feel about the new episodes so immediately is doing it wrong. I've watched about half of the new season. All I'm willing to say so far is that I've laughed, I've enjoyed rejoining the characters, and that the show is distinctly different in terms of format from the originals. Beyond that, I'm more interested in how it holds up and how fun it is to rewatch and digest and enjoy than I am my immediate reactions.

The one thing I do think we can talk about is the format change. It is a different animal now--to an extent. The core style is still intact, but it's expression is much more manic and insistent. The old ones had this really fascinating quality in that they were obviously subtle. There was an aloofness to them that softened the darkness. I think this is why some people are criticizing the new ones for not being subtle enough, because there's a top layer that wasn't present in the old ones. But that doesn't mean it's not subtle. The beauty of AD's subtly is that it doesn't sink in right away, even when you're looking for it.

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This page contains a single entry by Marcus Gilmer published on May 24, 2013 12:00 PM.

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