Even if you've never seen the TV sitcom "Arrested Development," your Twitter and Facebook feeds have probably been clogged with friends exchanging quotes and speculation in anticipation of its new season. Seven years after Fox dropped the show, Netflix has given the quirky sitcom a second chance, and has launched a humble frozen banana stand on an international tour to promote it.
The unconventional promotion speaks not only to the passion of the "Arrested Development" fan base, but also to TV viewers' changing habits. Netflix has been both an instigator and beneficiary in this process.
First, a primer: "Arrested Development" centers on the Bluths, a dysfunctional family of wealthy WASPs who lose their fortune, but stick together out of familial love. Bluth's Original Frozen Banana Stand was one of the family's first business ventures, and features prominently in a number of episodes.
Fans lamenting TV shows canceled before their time is nothing new (just Google "Firefly" or "Pushing Daisies"), and fans celebrating fictional shows in real life isn't a new phenomenon, either (as anyone who's been to a "Star Trek" convention can attest).
What's unusual is that " Arrested Development," a show that Fox had to cancel due to an almost total lack of mainstream interest, has garnered not only a new season, but its traveling banana stand has spawned six-hour lines in London, New York and San Francisco with people waiting to sample a frozen treat.
Although Fox canceled the show back in 2006, its passionate fan base never lost hope that the show would return. Netflix, eager to continue its trend of original programming (like "House of Cards" and "Hemlock Grove"), spotted an opportunity to court both goodwill and business from "Arrested Development" fans, and gathered the nine main cast members to film a brand-new fourth season. Fifteen new episodes will appear simultaneously on Netflix on May 26.
Rather than advertising by print media, television, radio or even targeted Internet ads, the "Arrested Development" crew shared the banana stand's location via its Twitter feed as it traveled from city to city. The stand hit Rockefeller Center in New York Monday morning (May 13), and even by its opening time at 11 a.m., the line wrapped around the block.
"That's the response the show elicits," said Karen Barragan, a Netflix representative stationed at the banana stand. Halfway down the line, a man in a banana suit posed for photo ops, while a group of fans performed the Bluths' iconic chicken dances.
"'Arrested Development' was ahead of its time," Barragan explained. "It was meant to be consumed more than one episode at a time." Much of the humor in the show is based on knowledge of its continuous storyline and layered characters rather than one-off jokes [See also: 5 Steps to Cut Cable and Enjoy TV for Half the Price ]
The show gets funnier as it progresses, and rewatching it reveals a wealth of subtle gags. This format, Barragan said, was simply at odds with the traditional once-per-week sitcom broadcast schedule. In fact, the whole concept of watching one episode of a show at a time may be dying out, which makes Netflix and "Arrested Development" a fitting match.
"Netflix has helped change the way we watch TV," said Barragan. "[The rise of] DVR complemented it. We offer full seasons at a time. It's no longer necessary to tune in every Tuesday at 8:00. You tune in when you're ready."
Fans of the show will also be pleased to know that if the new episodes do well and the cast members' stars align again, "Arrested Development" could return for a fifth season. "There's a deal in place," Barragan confirmed, but discouraged too much speculation: Getting nine actors, all of whom have other projects, together to work on a show that's been off the air for seven years is no mean feat.
Now if you hear one of your friends proclaiming that "There's always money in the banana stand," you'll know why.
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