Arrested Development Was the Ultimate DVR Show. Too Bad Almost No One Had a DVR When It Aired.

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May 27 2013 5:17 AM

Arrested Development Was the Ultimate DVR Show

Too bad almost no one had a DVR when it aired.

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But if you didn’t watch it on DVD, and if you didn’t have a DVR—that is, if you first found it while flipping channels and had no way to catch up on the show’s larger arc—you wouldn’t have been able to appreciate all that. It would have been like watching Bonanza in black-and-white. You would have gotten the gist. But you wouldn’t have really understood the show’s appeal. No wonder Fox canceled it.

And yet it’s these very same technological demands that explain Arrested Development’s longevity. Once the show was issued on DVD, new audiences could finally see the show as a self-referential, endlessly rewatchable whole. And once they did so, people noticed something amazing—they could watch each episode a second, third, or fourth time and keep seeing new stuff. For example, it turns out the show was subtly foreshadowing Buster’s missing hand long before that tragic seal attack, and it was constantly dropping hints about Annyong’s planned revenge on the Bluths. Also, Tobias was probably an albino black man.

Last summer, Splitsider aimed to publish a comprehensive list of these Easter eggs, “53 Arrested Development Jokes You Probably Missed.” But it didn’t get them all; this year, Splitsider published a list of 53 more. What’s amazing about this is that the creators didn’t expect anyone to find this stuff—Hurwitz has said that he only learned after producing the first season that Arrested Development would get a DVD release.

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Now, some of these Easter eggs are incredibly subtle, and I suspect many belong less in the category of “hidden jokes” than in “coincidences spotted by people with too much time on their hands.” But I can see why fans keep watching to collect more of these. I’ve watched every episode of the first three seasons of Arrested Development multiple times. Ever since the show has been available on Netflix’s streaming service, it’s become my go-to source for a quick dose of surefire comedy. Even though I know the story, I know I’m never going to be bored, because there’s just so much there. And this gets to one more tech-enabled reason the show is hilarious. Because it was recorded with digital cameras, photographers had to spend far less time lighting the set than they would have with film cameras—allowing for lots and lots of takes. “If we get to the set at 8 a.m., we're lit and ready to shoot at 8:10, and then you can run the scene 14 or 15 times—and that's where the comedy comes from,” Hurwitz told Fresh Air.

Hurwitz has spoken grandly, but cryptically, about how being on Netflix affected how he went about writing the new season of Arrested Development. There were a couple of obvious differences he had to take into account—there are no commercial breaks on Netflix, and episodes could be made longer or shorter than a standard 30-minute sitcom. Because the entire season would be going up at the same time, he toyed with making the episodes unordered, letting audiences choose how to watch. But he eventually went back on that plan. Instead, all the events in the season are occurring concurrently, and you’ll sometimes see the same scene in different episodes from different perspectives.

In the conference call, he explained that ideally viewers would be able to jump from one episode to another at the push of a button when that happens. But once again, he’s ahead of his time: “We have things in the show that the technology isn’t quite able to handle, just like we did in the first show,” he said during the press call.

Hurwitz has also thought of more far-reaching ways to use tech to change the show. “Jim Vallely, my longtime producing partner, has been saying that we should just make all the drives available—after this comes out, we should just make all the drives of all the content available online and let people cut their own versions of it. I also thought about doing a Google Chat in the writers’ room: We were stuck about whether GOB should do this or that, and then we thought, ‘Why don’t we ask the people we’re trying to please, anyway?’ ”

He didn’t finish the thought, so I don’t know if we’ll ever see that kind of thing. But I wouldn’t count it out. “I just happen to love the idea of exploiting the technology,” Hurwitz says.  “It’s the kind of thing I really get a kick out of.”

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

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