The much-anticipated fourth season of “Arrested Development” was released on Netflix at midnight on May 26th. In an unprecedented move, the entire 15-episode season was released simultaneously, giving diehard fans the ability to watch every episode in one marathon-style sitting. While I’ve only seen the first episode after making the decision to show inhuman restraint and pace myself, the season has received generally mixed reviews. A friend of mine claimed the show couldn’t function properly with the normally levelheaded and successful Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman’s character) playing such a “pathetic” role and I’ve heard other complaints that each episode focuses too much on one character in particular. I personally found the premiere as hilarious as ever, and another Hamptons local proudly declared to her friends that it was a “testament to her friendship” that she was even spending time with them when a goldmine of comedic genius waited for her at home. After a 6-year hiatus and a gradual sense that the show couldn’t possibly live up to the over-hyped expectations, this kind of fallout was arguably inevitable.
Despite the debate surrounding the quality of the program, the main focus seems to be primarily centered on the innovative format. A show that was canceled in its prime amidst critical acclaim but lackluster viewership, executive producer Ron Howard and creator Mitchell Hurwitz had a desire to conclude the story they began, but not many available options to make this goal a reality. So, they turned to Netflix.
In a system devoid of advertisements, Netflix depends entirely on a monthly membership fee to make a profit. The offer from Netflix to release the season en masse was seen by many as an attempt to capitalize on the cult-following fan base the show has accumulated over the years, and hopefully convert these followers into long-term members of the site. The unfortunate, and rather obvious, flaw with this plan stems from Netflix’s own policies, which include a free month-long trial period. Anybody who has ever had a Netflix account knows it’s incredibly easy to watch six full seasons of a gripping program in under a month (I personally blazed through the entirety of Breaking Bad in around 2 weeks), and borderline impossible to make a measly 15 episodes last through the entire free trial period.
In response, Netflix’s shares dropped significantly this week. While this downturn may seem like devastating news for the company and their experimental process, it’s becoming abundantly clear that the future of television lies in online media. More likely than not, Netflix is simply experiencing the growing pains associated with introducing a new product into a well-established market. Once Netflix works out the kinks of this system (perhaps by releasing seasons in smaller chunks so as to satisfy marathon-craving fans while still keeping viewers interested, or even doing away with the free trial altogether), it’s hard to imagine an internet-based television service failing to compete with, and even surpass, more traditional networks.