Netflix Chief Rips New York Times Over Negative ‘Arrested Development’ Review

Arrested development netflix
Courtesy of Netflix

Sarandos plays down notion that critics contributed to Tuesday stock drop

Do Netflix a favor, critics: Don’t review an original series like “Arrested Development” immediately after it launches in the wee hours of the night.

That’s the advice Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos offered Thursday at the Nomura Global Media & Telecom Summit, who faulted The New York Times in particular for rushing to judgement quite literally after 15 episodes of the series were released midnight Monday. Some of the bad reviews were cited as a reason for Netflix stock taking a 6% drop in early Tuesday trading.

SEE ALSO: More ‘Arrested Development’ On the Way at Netflix?

“I hope you guys are really not trading on New York Times reviews,” joked Sarandos.

The New York Times reviewer Mike Hale knocked “Arrested Development” as “‘Rashomon on steroids,” going as far in his review’s opening line to write, “Chalk one up for the Internet: It has killed ‘Arrested Development.'”

Sarandos played down the impact of the review. “It got a bad review in The New York Times,” he said. “It’s not a Broadway show, it’s not going to close tomorrow because it got a bad review.”

Sarandos suggested the narrative complexity of the new season was so radically different than what the series achieved in previous season that only by viewing the entire 15 episodes could a critic get a true appreciation. He went so far as to compare the new season to the Zapruder film in the way that repeated viewings would reward the viewer by allowing them to notice things that weren’t apparent in the first viewing.

“If you’re a critic in New York and you set your alarm for  3 o’clock in the morning, and you wake up and watch a half-hour of television and write a review, which is like the equivalent of writing a review of the first 10 minutes of a movie, you’re probably not going to have a great experience,” said Sarandos. “And by the way, no one in the world had that experience. Everyone watched a couple of episodes, went to bed, woke up the next day and watched more.”

Sarandos noted that the reviews got better over time, though Netflix hadn’t sought out to please critics, anyway; the fans were the true target and their rapturous acclaim of the series on Netflix.com and social media were validation enough.

Consistent with Netflix policy, Sarandos didn’t offer much in the way of specifics regarding to the ratings performance of the series, but he did add, “We had extremely high expectations for viewing both in the first couple of days and over the life of the show. It met our expectations and we’re thrilled. Thrilled with both customer engagement and critical response.”

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  1. Tony Cracolice says:

    The exec needs to quit sniffling into his French cuffs. I was eager to see the new episodes, having found the first three
    seasons funny and original. Simple fact is that comedy is meant to be funny; duh. I didn’t get a Harvard MBA yet solved that riddle. So, good comedy should be very funny. Season four ain’t. Only a true loyalist can say the new material remotely approaches the older shows. It’s akin to listening to a pianist who’s forgotten where the notes are on the keyboard.

    • Joe Smart says:

      I agree, mostly. I think about 20% of season 4 was funny. The rest was clever, self-satisfied crap. Focusing episodes on individual characters was a really bad idea. Michael’s character is a straight man who is supposed to play off his wacky relatives. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that when you center episodes around Michael’s character they’re not going to be funny. Ilsa Fisher managed to enliven his episodes briefly when she was on-screen but that was about it. Only the Job and Buster episodes were funny. The rest pretty much sucked.

  2. T J says:

    Critics didn’t like “Arrested Development”? Wow…cause that show made me laugh so hard I pulled a muscle on my left side. Didn’t laugh that hard first season, but laughed nonetheless. There are a lot of shows out there where all you can hear is the “canned laughing in background” instead of your own laughter, especially on the first season. When you can chuckle and laugh on your own while viewing for the first time, then the show has promise. One can confidently say that now during the, “Big Social Media” boom that the professional “Critic” is a big joke if not passé. Roger Ebert was the last true-blue PROFESSIONAL critic. The rest are not in touch with what folks like. People appreciate artistic and poignant films, but too much of that and no plain out-and-out entertaining fun stuff (be it comedy, sci-fi, horror, drama etc.) makes for a boring life and ‘that’s not entertainment”.

    • Joe Smart says:

      Critics loved the first three seasons of Arrested Development. They just didn’t like the new episodes all that much. I’m not a critic and I didn’t like the new episodes all that much either and, yes, I watched them all. The last episode in particular just left a really bad taste in my mouth. It seemed to serve no purpose whatsoever other than set up a bunch of cliffhangers that will likely never be resolved since the Arrested Development movie seems a whole lot less likely after season 4.

  3. park ji-hoon says:

    i think everybody who was eagerly anticipating season 4 as i did got the sense early on that this was going to jump the shark not 3 episodes in. BUT those concerns were, thankfully, put to rest. it gets a lot better and goes back to its roots after the first few eps, but you have to stick with it.. ep1 was awful, 2 and 3 were not much better. then, 4-15 were much, much more familiar and is the type of humor and pacing that we expected. the anne/gob thing was kind of bizarre, thought that ep did have some strong moments, with the occasional reference to some well-known gags involving Gob from seasons 1-3. so how many episodes did he watch? did he only watch a few? it sounds like that’s the situation here. again i absolutely agree the first few were a real stinkfest. that being said, it gets A LOT better, with the pace and type of humor being much much closer to what we expected. i definitely shared the same concerns after the early episodes, i was worried that it was starting to look like a real let down, but it really returns to the kind of jokes that made seasons 1-3 so memorable, and it does this before half way through the season, and i do wish people would resist the temptation to review the 12 episodes they didn’t see based on the 3 that they did. it really does get better… just keep going, it really is worth it

    • Joe Smart says:

      I really don’t agree. The new season had its moments but I missed having the characters interact and the much ballyhooed gags that were set up on one episode and had their payoffs in a later episode weren’t funny. The last episode in particular just left a really bad taste in my mouth. It seemed to serve no purpose whatsoever other than set up a bunch of cliffhangers that will likely never be resolved since the Arrested Development movie seems a whole lot less likely after season 4.

  4. Mike Hale’s review was sloppy. He watched 8 episodes and, more egregiously, demonstrated a limited understanding of what was great about the original three seasons (describing the characters as “one-dimensional”, which he seemed to mean as a compliment but is an amazingly inaccurate observation.)

    There have been other mixed and even negative reviews of Season Four that have been much more thoughtful and considered. Frankly, the rush to get his review out “first!” seemed to be the top priority.

    Netflix didn’t release screeners for critics, so perhaps he was cranky at having to binge-watch half of AD Season Four on a Sunday morning on a holiday weekend, but it would have been more professional if The New York Times had waited a day or two to allow its critic to write a review of the full work, especially given that it was no secret that the series was deliberately constructed to be viewed as a whole piece. There was no urgent need for him to file a half-review on Sunday afternoon. That’s what Twitter is for.

    Hale’s ridiculous hyperbole that “The Internet” “killed” Arrested Development, along with his mock-obituary tone is pretty cocky for a reviewer who couldn’t even be bothered to finish the thing he was reviewing. It reminds me of the (Entertainment Weekly?) review of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest where the critic admitted she just gave up because it was too long. I’m sorry, but if your job is to read or watch something and review it, even if you hate it, you should read or watch or listen to the thing you’re supposed to review. The New York Times is a still the paper of record, and doing half the job– which may have been the fault of whoever gave him a Sunday deadline for a review of something he wouldn’t have time to finish by then– is unacceptable.

    Of course, Arrested Development figured out that the Iraq War was a bad idea long before The New York Times did. Maybe there’s still time for them to catch up again.

  5. The Kingslayer says:

    Perhaps the review was rushed but frankly season 4 for me was an admirable failure.

  6. Although, I am sure opinions, as Mr. Smart’s and Mr. NY Critic’s, have been kindly read, they are, just that, opinions. What genuinely counts is the community Netflix audience. Said audience has once again embraced each and every episode. Whilst “traditional broadcasters” rely upon “traditional ratings”, our new digital-era audience embraces ratings a little differently…one viewer, one IP, one device at a time, with real numbers, and real plays, and real #socialtv and #socialmedia engagement. What this season proves is, this well-crafted, well-produced comedy program/content, has an audience and a broadcaster. Kudos Netflix! You’re a #fabulous #OTT, #IPTV, on any #stb, content programmer! Keep going and you may end up with your own Hollywood studio lot! Roll on!

  7. Joe Smart says:

    I’ve watched 3 episodes so far. The new season is OK but I’m not really all that impressed yet and the gags are a lot more hit and miss than on the original series. I think Netflix brass are being a little too defensive about every negative review and comment. I guess since they don’t release the equivalent of ratings perception is more important to them than to a traditional broadcaster but complaining about bad reviews just makes you look pathetic. I’m hoping the show will get better but I think it’s writer should have been more concerned with making the show funny than with the complicated interwoven narrative he was trying to create. So far devoting each episode to a specific character doesn’t seem to be a good idea–none of the characters is interesting enough to stand on their own and they work better as part of an ensemble. But I’m going to wait to reserve final judgement until I watch all the episodes–hopefully I will make it that far. The Lindsay episode was really a slog.

    • Brooke says:

      Arrested Development is one of my favorite television shows. I was leery about the new season and had mixed feeling about the first 4-5 episodes. My husband and I are a bit farther into the season now and each episode is better than the last. It isn’t as if they could just pick up where they left off. Slow start but last night, I laughed so hard there were tears in my eyes. So glad we stuck with it.

      Cannot wait for season 3 of “The Killing” to hit Netflix. Similar story in that Netflix revived a cancelled television show. It is the best show on television.

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