Mitchell Hurwitz, creator of hit TV comedy Arrested Development made a big move to Netflix back in 2013. It was a move that saved the cult show from cancellation, with the promise of a Netflix-backed fourth season and the other three seasons available to stream through the service alongside it.
There was a problem, though: the cast were getting more famous and he found it difficult to get them all in the same room. Given that the comedy of the show relied on the relationship of the entire Bluth family, this was an issue. To get around this, he gave season four a Rashomon-style narrative focusing on a certain member of the family in each episode. It worked, to a point, but didn’t quite shine as much as the previous series.
This week, Hurwitz made the surprise announcement that season five was imminent – “real soon,” he wrote in a handwritten note posted on Twitter. So soon that we will be saying “why are we all just hearing this now?”
But before the surprise fifth season happens, Hurwitz has done something that’s an even bigger surprise – he’s remixed the fourth season, giving it a re-edit so that it is more in keeping with the multiple narrative threads that fans loved about the show.
On the next… Arrested Development pic.twitter.com/NjP26k9KE7May 1, 2018
“I pursued it as a comedic experiment to see if new jokes and a new perspective would emerge from a remix that features all the Bluths,” writes Hurwitz.
In all there are now 22 interwoven stories, instead of the 15 episodes that originally made up season 4. Hurwitz’s big experiment has actually made the show more traditional.
When Netflix first dipped its toes into original TV content, one of its big things was that because it was an all-you-can eat streaming service, creators could play around a bit with their ideas. They didn’t necessarily have to be the normal episode length, which was dictated by the placement of ad spots.
This also meant that you didn’t actually have to play to these ad spots, so the format of having a false cliffhanger every 15 minutes or so didn’t have to happen.
This creative freedom is fantastic but only a few have made use of it. One example that springs to mind is O/A, the brilliant and barmy sci-fi yarn that features and is produced by Brit Marling. The show has episodes that range from over an hour in length to 30 minutes. It skews the conventions of TV to fit its narrative and not the other way round.
Then you have other experiments such as the Puss In Boots choose your own adventure episodes – interactive storytelling that is possible thanks to Netflix’s on-demand roots.
Season 4 of Arrested Development brings this back full circle. What we have is a TV show creator that used Netflix to try something new – the original Rashomon-style season of Arrested Development – and then rip up his own work and recreate it in the mold of traditional TV.
Whatever the real reason for the experiment, it’s great to see services such as Netflix allow for this creative freedom. Even if the result is actually something more akin to what we would watch on terrestrial television, it’s once again showing that TV’s rules are there to be broken.