Comedy is still considered a minor genre in the academic field. It’s a pity that the honor of revolutionizing the way we watch and understand television belongs to the underrated sitcom.
The story of the wealthy family who lost everything and ended up giving us a new set of consumption habits started back in 2003 on FOX. It was Arrested Development, a show created by Mitchell Hurwitz, and produced by film director Ron Howard, and the funniest and smartest sitcom ever created: recurring gags, callbacks, metafiction, fragmentation, rewatchability, “and a whole lot of love” were some of the ingredients that made of this series an instantaneous cult item. And as every cult series ahead of its time, it was wrongfully cancelled due to low audiences after three seasons.
However, in 2013 when the world caught up with the pace and the patience that the show requested from their fans, Arrested Development came back thanks to the online platform Netflix. On this new medium the show could be what it always wanted to be, an experiment that challenged its viewers. Away from the scheduled television flow that forced the audience to watch an episode per week, on Netflix Arrested Development became the first show to adapt itself to the digital era. Each episode of its fourth season happened simultaneously offering a 15 part puzzle in which scenes where dismembered among all the episodes, leaving it in the hands of the audience to put them back together. It functioned as a hypertext, a set of texts, the 15 episodes, that could be watched in any order and only worked as a whole once you watched all of them, preferably several times. Shots/reverse shots separated by ten episodes, jokes that only paid off after watching an episode and rewatching the previous one, endless impressive tricks were displayed on this season, only possible thanks to the cult following it had originated in its first three seasons, and the obsession of the fandom of analyzing every frame in search for hidden clues.
Other shows were born from the digital womb of Netflix (House of Cards, Orange is the New Black) but all of them preserved the linearity and inconsecutivity of television networks’ distribution model. AD showed us a hint of what seriality can be in the online age, an interactive labyrinth. Just remember, “tell your friends about this show” since specialized media is probably still too busy arguing about things happening inside the television set.
Arrested Development has changed television by not being part of it, joke is on you.