Tag Archives: Arrested Development

That was (writing about) Arrested Development: TV Criticism in a Binge-Viewing Era

Arrested-Development-Season-4-PosterThere have been suggestions floating around in comment sections that the Netflix model—the decision to release every episode all at once—eliminates the function of traditional episodic television criticism. With viewers now able to choose the pace at which they watch episodes, potentially watching an entire season of Arrested Development in one session if they’re so inclined, the need for critics to evaluate individual episodes is no longer present. This is doubly the case, some would argue, with the puzzle-like structure of Arrested Development’s fourth season, which further confounds episodic analysis through its choice to emphasize each episode’s connection to a larger story arc one can’t truly appreciate until you’ve seen all fifteen episodes.

We’ve been talking about the former ever since Netflix released all of House of Cards at once in February, and there has been further conversation in the buildup to Arrested Development’s this weekend (including the ridiculous theory that critics are biased against Netflix for destroying their cultural purpose, a claim I responded to here). However, I have to admit that I’m not sure Netflix’s paradigm shift is actually anything close to a paradigm shift. Putting aside the fact that Netflix’s claim we will in the future move to a completely mass-release system of television distribution—which I talked about in a CBC Web Chat last week—ignores a lot of functional realities of the television industry which have permeated even webseries distribution patterns, I still feel like episodic and other forms of television criticism are useful and productive within the space of binge viewing habits.

Any suggestion to the contrary seems to be operating with a very limited conception of how and why episodic criticism is written, which functions in opposition to the ways in which binge viewing can allow us to expand—rather than contract—forms of television criticism in the wake of the binge viewing moment.

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Why Netflix and DirecTV Probably Don’t Actually Want The Killing

Last week, TV Line’s Michael Ausiello reported that DirecTV and Netflix were in talks to pick up a third season of The Killing, and boy did the Internet take it seriously.

Willa Paskin wrote at Salon that “metaphorically speaking, the news that both DirecTV and Netflix are considering reviving “The Killing” for a third season is like hearing that the Coca Cola Co. is plotting to relaunch New Coke or that a fringe group of Democrats are drafting Michael Dukakis to run in this next election— a confounding plan to resurrect a total failure.”

Andy Greenwald wrote at Grantland that “As insane as it may sound to those of us who have had our fill of the grief-wracked Larsens and the Batman-voiced Richmond, the reports aren’t entirely surprising. An established show like The Killing is attractive to up-and-coming content farms like Netflix and DirecTV for precisely the same Rumsfeldian reasons it was nearly rescued yet again by Collier: It’s a known known.”

While Paskin and Greenwald both mount compelling takes on the implications of a scenario in which either of these outlets were to resurrect The Killing, I can’t help but feel that they suffer from the same flaw: believing that Ausiello’s report actually indicates Netflix or DirecTV have any serious intentions of picking up The Killing.

Earlier today, I published a piece at Antenna indicating that I believe the real story here is less about Netflix, DirecTV and The Killing, and more about the active campaigning on the part of Fox TV Studios to get the show picked up by leaking reports of early negotiations to Ausiello in order to gain leverage:

Save “Their” Show”: Public Appeals of Studio Campaigning [Antenna]

It is possible to view these stories as a reflection of the expanding influence of streaming services and other emerging distribution models, with new options for shows that were already canceled (Arrested Development’s return on Netflix) or compromises that may allow a show to stay on the air longer (like DirecTV’s adoption of Friday Night Lights). However, while the existence of these networks and these precedents provide the conditions necessary for these stories to emerge, the stories instead reflect the increased agency and the increased activity of production studios within this new television economy: as opposed to fans seeking legitimation through news coverage, it is now studios working to gain visibility through their relationship with journalists.

I will admit this is predicated on speculation, but it’s part of a larger trend this season in which vague reports of negotiations are seemingly floated to journalists who then report the news in an effort to draw in the theoretical fan audiences who could flock to the site to show their support for such a move. The fact that none of the show’s suggested for resurrection—Pan Am, Terra Nova, The River—have been picked up doesn’t mean that no negotiations ever existed, but it does indicate that whatever negotiations were reported on were perhaps less serious than reports may have indicated. “The Killing May Be Renewed For Season 3—Netflix and DirecTV in Talks” sounds really exciting until you realize that “talks” could amount to a brief phone conversation, and the show may be no closer to being picked up than it was when Fox was looking for theoretical suitors immediately after AMC canceled the series.

I go into more detail on the larger implications of this trend within the piece, pushing us to consider the role of production studios more carefully, but I also wanted to expand on something I tweeted about last week, which is whether or not Netflix and DirecTV actually wants to be part of these stories, or whether their involvement is a case of wish fulfillment on the part of TV Studios. Hint: it’s the latter.

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Glee – “Sexy”

“Sexy”

March 8th, 2011

Earlier today, TV Squad posted a piece from friend of the blog Ryan McGee about the role that continuity plays within serial narratives, which was actually partially spun out of a conversation that Ryan and I had about Fringe following its most recent episode.

To discuss continuity in Glee would be to open up the largest can of worms imaginable, only to discover that the can of worms has magically transformed into a barrel of monkeys while you were opening it. Continuity, or rather concerns over continuity, are usually one of the main reasons people end up linking to my “3 Glees” page. It becomes a sort of explanation, a way of understanding why the show is quite as schizophrenic as it is – the presence of three different writers’ voices, all with different interests and different ways of telling stories, could perhaps explain why the show tends to dart back and forth as it does.

And yet, I don’t think the goal of the theory (or the page which collects the theory) is to prove that the show is inconsistent, as if the show is on trial for this particular failing. While I will admit that character continuity is a growing problem with the show, I would argue that in terms of plot continuity the show has successfully embraced its hodgepodge existence.

“Sexy” doesn’t make any sense whatsoever if you consider it in relation to that which came before. The show’s treatment of sex has been almost stunningly inconsistent, at times glorified and occasionally moralized to the point of an after school special, which should make an episode designed around the very idea of sex (and the nuance often involved) hypocritical to the point of ridiculousness.

However, while “Sexy” is both hypocritical and ridiculous, it’s also quite resonant. Brad Falchuk, who dealt with some of this territory back in “Preggers,” doesn’t pretend that the show has been consistent in its depiction of teenage sexuality, allowing the series’ lack of continuity to become itself continuous. The episode doesn’t necessarily match up with what has come before, and it returns some characters to particularly one-dimensional states in order to achieve its goals, but the end result is an analysis less of sex in general and more the role that sex plays within this crazy, discontinuous world of Glee.

Which is a pretty impressive achievement, as ridiculous as some parts of the episode are.

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: NBC’s Community

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: NBC’s Community

July 5th, 2010

[This is part of a series of posts analyzing individual show’s chances at the Emmy Awards ahead of the nominations, which will be announced on July 8th. You can find all of my posts regarding the 2010 Emmy Awards here.]

Community is a great television show, and one that I enjoy a great deal, but I don’t necessarily know if this will equate to Emmy success.

Dan Harmon and company are likely hoping that the series ends up the new Arrested Development: the Russos directed both Pilots, both shows found limited ratings success, and both are self-referential to the point of alienating some viewers (hence the limited ratings success). It’s quite possible that Community could get noticed in the Writing (where they submitted the Pilot and the Pilot only) or the Directing categories (where both the Pilot and Justin Lin’s “Modern Warfare” are contenders), where Arrested Development saw some success, but breaking into the other categories may be considerably me challenging.

The problem for Community is that there are too many other narratives going on this year for this one to necessarily stand out from the crowd. Arrested Development was competing against shows which were nearing the end of their runs: Curb Your Enthusiasm was the closest thing to a hip show when FOX’s much beloved series won in 2004, and it was already four years old. There was no other big new series emerging, and no third year series turning into smash successes in the span of the year: in other words, there were no comparative Modern Family, Glee, or the Big Bang Theory. It also doesn’t help that Community is arriving at a time when two of the entrenched comedy nominees are also single-camera comedies on NBC, so it isn’t possible for Community to be that “one show” which Arrested Development became.

This is unfortunate, because the same sort of creative energy and narrative depth which existed on that show are present here: while the show can at times be silly, its cast represents such a deep bench that it can be silly in a different way every week without feeling repetitive. Its most high-concept episodes (“Contemporary American Poultry,” “Modern Warfare”) were grounded in characters, and the show’s improvement throughout the season was the result of better understanding who these characters are and what role they play within the community college environment. And so the show is filled with supporting players who may have seemed archetypal in the Pilot but who have become key parts of the series’ quality: Danny Pudi and Alison Brie’s work with Abed and Annie have created complex characters without abandoning the wonderful simplicity of their world views, which only makes them funnier as the show goes forward.

The challenge is that, for a show that is quite often criticized for being over-the-top with its cultural references, a lot of Community’s strengths are subtle. While Emmy voters could reward Chevy Chase due to his previous pedigree, they’re unlikely to notice unsung Pudi; while Joel McHale is announcing the nominations and has The Soup to increase his profile, chances are that Brie’s time as Trudy Campbell on Mad Men won’t measure up the same way. I have some faith, however, that the show won’t be ignored as a whole: while the low-profile supporting players are likely to be left off the nominations list on Thursday, there’s a better chance that McHale or Chase could sneak into their respective categories, or that the show could break into the Outstanding Comedy Series race. It may not be the new Arrested Development, but it captures many of the qualities that Emmy voters gravitated to with that show, and so it’s impossible to count it out.

Contender in:

  • Outstanding Comedy Series
  • Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Joel McHale)
  • Writing for a Comedy Series (“Pilot”)
  • Direction for a Comedy Series (“Pilot” and “Modern Warfare”)

Dark Horse in:

  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Chevy Chase, Ken Jeong)
  • Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Jack Black)

Should, but Won’t, Contend In:

  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Danny Pudi, Donald Glover)
  • Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Alison Brie)

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Television, the Aughts & I – Part Five – “Late to the Comedies”

“Late to the Comedies”

December 17th, 2009

[This is Part Five in a six-part series chronicling the television shows which most influenced my relationship with television over the past decade – for more information and an index of all currently posted items, click here.]

Flipping through the three channels I got using my rabbit ear antennas in my dorm room late one night (okay, early one morning), I stumbled across a very snowy episode of television. In it, a group of office employees organize an “Office Olympics,” which ends up both funny and quite sweet, and I wanted to know more about this single-camera comedy.

Following internet chatter, I heard of a cult-favourite show that my only memory of was my confusion at its victories at the Emmy awards.  Fan response was overwhelmingly positive to the point where my very credibility as a television viewer was in jeopardy if I didn’t join in for its upcoming third season.

Although no one I knew actually watched the show, I heard word of a multi-camera comedy with some recognizable faces that was slowly building a cult following of its own with what it called a “Robin Sparkles,” and since I was wrapped up in a “Save this Show” campaign for a different show at the time I figured I should see if another bubble show might be worth getting behind.

A decade ago, my only recourse in these situations was to find out when the various shows (which, for the unawares, are The Office (US), Arrested Development and How I Met Your Mother, respectively) aired and just pick up wherever they happen to be, hopeful that some day reruns could fill in the gaps.

However, we live in an age where I was able to catch up with twenty episodes of The Office to be up to date a mere week later, and where I marathoned two seasons of Arrested Development to be able to join the Bluth family in progress, and where I spent the summer before HIMYM’s third season learning what a Slap Bet was and watching Barney Stinson own the Price is Right. As a result, I became a vocal supporter of all of these shows, getting in on all of their jokes, despite having been late to the party with every single one of them.

And I’ll admit right now that I probably broke a law or two doing it.

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Season Finale: Better Off Ted – “Jabberwocky” and “Secrets and Lives”

BetterOffTedTitle

“Jabberwocky” and “Secrets and Lives”

August 11th, 2009

In its first season, Better Off Ted was not so much a revelation as it was a pleasant surprise. Kept for midseason with nary a bit of hype, the show caught on with critics, and despite never connecting with mass viewers developed a cult following that earned it an against the odds second season. Of course, ABC then chose to air the remaining episodes from its first season as part of its summer lineup, a lineup which was dreadfully received and has seen numerous cancellations. In short, Better Off Ted might as well have been better off dead as opposed to airing during the summer, raising some questions about how the show could perform when it returns in November.

But what really captures me when watching Better Off Ted is that I don’t really care about all of these behind the scenes shenanigans – at the end of the day, this a very sharp comedy series with a host of likeable characters and clever storylines, and at no point did I find myself lamenting its strange route to this place when enjoying the two episodes that conclude the show’s first season order. I don’t think either episode was perfect, each having a few issues here or there, but the show is just so much fun that I don’t really think about all of the reasons not to get too attached, or to raise concerns about the show’s trajectory.

Instead, it’s six episodes of comedy I thought I wouldn’t see until DVD, conveniently placed in the summer months when nothing else is on.

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Upfronts Analysis: FOX 2008-2009 Fall Schedule

“A Subtle Improvement”

FOX 2008-2009 Fall Schedule

In the past, I’ve complained a lot about FOX’s scheduling practices – rather than using their biggest shows to produce strong lead-ins for new shows that need attention, they have instead chosen a path wherein they waste it on reality shows or (what I consider to be) derivative comedies. And really, their fall schedule is always a little bit of a crapshoot: considering that American Idol isn’t on it, FOX is kind of hoping for subtle success before its juggernaut wins the season outright in a few months time.

This time around, I admire their scheduling far more – sure, it isn’t perfect by any means, and they’re only debuting two new shows, but there’s a smart decision that signifies that FOX is no longer being idiots about how to handle their top shows, and to create hit new shows in their place.

New Shows

Fringe – Tuesdays at 9

It has a big-budget pilot, Lost producer J.J. Abrams on board, and most importantly has the best slot on the schedule: the newly created spot post-House on Tuesday nights. This is a smart way to create a lead-in, without question – the only concern is that the two-hour pilot will have to air without a lead-in, so I almost wonder if FOX will divide it in two just to make sure the show doesn’t get off on a weak foot. (Final details of the schedule sees Fringe airing its two-hour premiere on August 26th).

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