Most network sitcoms are so simple-minded, you can watch them while playing Words With Friends on your laptop and not miss a beat.
Not “Arrested Development.” The sitcom, which centers around a family so dysfunctional it made the Ewings look like the Cleavers, did win an Emmy and a group of hardcore fans. But during its 2003-06 run, it never attracted a large enough audience willing to invest in a story that was so dense and complex, it nearly required taking notes.
“Development” is returning, but this time through a platform better suited for brainy fare. All 15 new episodes are available to Netflix subscribers. That means you can savor one installment several times or gorge on the entire season in one marathon sitting.
“The revolution has begun,” said Jeffrey Tambor, who plays the unethical patriarch of the Bluth family. “I’m hearing from fans how happy they are that we’re coming out through this engine. The fit seems to be perfect.”
The relationship between Netflix and the series offers other forms of flexibility. Creator Mitchell Hurwitz panicked when he started writing the first episode and found himself on page 50 without even getting halfway through the show. An average sitcom script is 26 pages.
A call to Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos put him at ease. Go ahead and do 15 episodes instead of the originally ordered 10, Sarandos said. You sometimes want to go a few minutes over a half-hour? Be my guest.
“I happen to love the idea of exploiting the technology,” said Hurwitz, who at one point thought about doing a Google chat that would allow fans to provide live input to the writers’ room.
“We spent a lot of time thinking about taking advantage of the opportunity.”
The Netflix rules — or lack of them — allowed Hurwitz to tell a story that takes place roughly at the same time (economically challenged 2009) with a focus on different characters every episode. Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) is once again the center of attention, checking in with various family members as their real-estate business and personal lives go to pot.
The pace is even quicker than it was in the network years, but the jokes are just as clever, as are the unexpected cameos (we’re sworn to secrecy on details, but wait until you see who plays George and Lucille Bluth in their younger years).
Those who have waited seven long years for the reunion may be tempted to go the marathon route. Jessica Walter, who plays Lucille, can sympathize.
When Netflix released the entire season of “House of Cards” earlier this season, she watched one episode the first night and two episodes the next. By night three, she couldn’t stop.
“After I got to the finale, I went through withdrawal,” she said. “It’s an intense experience, especially with no commercials.”
Hurwitz said it might not be wise to try to cram in all the episodes at once. It might not even be healthy.
While he was in the editing room, co-executive producer Dean Lorey stopped by and watched six episodes. It was all he could take.
“They’re hilarious,” he told Hurwitz. “But I’m tired of laughing so much.”
“I think some fatigue could set in,” Hurwitz said. “Maybe it’s better to stop every once in a while and go back over the details. My suggestion: Watch 30 seconds a day for the next three years.”