Netflix debuted Season 4 of Arrested Development over the Memorial Day weekend, giving it their signature all-episodes-at-once treatment. 15 new episodes of the formerly-Fox show were released simultaneously on Sunday. The launch received an enormous amount of press in advance, heavy bandwidth usage upon release, and a healthy dose of criticism of the artistic merits afterwards.
Releasing the entire season at once is the same approach as Netflix has taken with its other original series, House of Cards and Hemlock Grove. But this release was different since the show had a former life on network TV, giving viewers and critics something to compare it to. Anticipation for the return of the series – coming 7 years after the 3rd season – was high, and the fact that Netflix launched it just as other TV shows were going into hiatus for the summer helped to increase the sense of anticipation.

Because Netflix is not a traditional network, it’s not part of the Nielsen ratings system. And since Netflix isn’t releasing exact viewership numbers, we can only guess at the levels of viewership. But web traffic numbers give us some clue. For several years Netflix has garnered an enormous share of primetime web traffic in the U.S. On average, roughly 1/3 of all U.S. Internet traffic between 9pm and Midnight comes from viewers watching movies or TV shows on Netflix. On Memorial Day weekend, Netflix’s share of internet traffic spiked upwards. One analytics company estimated that between 2% and 7% of all Internet traffic came just from those watching Arrested Development. And it’s estimated that at least 10% of those that did check it out watched the entire season over the weekend.
Equally interesting are the reviews of the content of Season 4. Unchained from the shackles of the network sensors, not to mention the 22-minute format of sitcoms on network TV, producers had almost unlimited freedom for the new incarnation of Arrested Development. They used that freedom to fashion a season that included a number of episodes that follow the same story line, but from the vantage point of a different character in each.
Some high-profile observers felt that the lack of constraints worked against the show. The New York Times bluntly said, “Chalk one up for the Internet: It has killed Arrested Development.” The Washington Post was more nuanced: “a chore to watch and a delight to decrypt.” Time also had a mixed reaction.
Finally, because Arrested Development is based on the excesses of greed, perhaps the most fitting tribute to the resurrection of the show can be found in the unintentionally ironic words of another venerable publication. “Netflix shares,” read the headline in Forbes, “take a hit from disappointing Arrested Development reviews.” 

– Pat Welsh