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How the new ‘Arrested Development’ on Netflix will confront a unique social TV challenge

This week Netflix announced that the cult hit show Arrested Development will return with 14 episodes in May after seven years off the air. For fans like me, that’s unbelievably awesome news. “I could vomit right at this moment,” said creator and showrunner Mitch Hurwitz when asked about the pressure to meet fans’ expectations. After all, the show thrived in surprising viewers with hilarious dialogue and unexpected twists and turns throughout.

But that was before the social TV era — which could’ve saved the show in the first place — and before on-demand services entered the original content business. In May, Netflix will release all 14 episodes at once, instead of one at a time. Some fans will binge through all 14 in a day or two. Others will spread them out over several weeks and savor each episode. If you think times zones were a challenge for social TV spoilers, Arrested Development could be a nightmare.

But Hurwitz is taking a unique, more complicated approach which may be a brilliant anecdote. Each episode will focus on a different character of the Bluth family. Explains TVGuide.com: “Episodes will feature appearances from the other characters and multiple episodes may take place over the same period of time, with each showing the narrative from the perspectives of different characters.”

In other words, episodic storylines will be embedded in different episodes. “Everybody sort of intermingles through each individual person’s episodes,” explains Jason Bateman. Conceivably, viewers could watch the episodes in any order they want, although Hurwitz says there’s a recommended order “to create the maximum number of surprises.” He calls it one giant “700-minute Arrested Development.”

Take that unconventional, non-linear storytelling approach and consider Hurwitz’s writing style — “pleasantly dense,” Bateman explains — and it reduces the danger that seeing a handful of tweets will ruin an episode or more. You won’t know which episode someone is watching, and context will be difficult to jam into 140 characters as “maximum surprises” abound. Good luck spoiling that with a few tweets.

There’s also less of a motivation to tweet while you watch if others are not watching in sync with you. That’s why I think it’s safe to predict that viewing parties — physical and virtual — will abound across the country. In fact, we’ll be the first to announce our own:

Coming in May, join Lost Remote’s virtual Arrested Development viewing parties and tweet along with the action. More details to follow as we learn more about an actual release date: make sure you’re following @lostremote.

This May, we’ll observe one of television’s big innovative moments, and it will be fascinating to see what happens.

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