As it turns out, you can have too much of a good thing.
Odds are anyone who loved Arrested Development (*** out of four) during its short, critically acclaimed but insufficiently watched three-year Fox run is happy to have this 15-part revival from Netflix, which streamed out the show in its entirety Sunday morning. Fans may be binge-watching their way through as we speak - though in what numbers we may never know, as Netflix refuses to release any figures.
Yet what bingers and non-bingers alike will discover, particularly those drawn by curiosity and hype rather than by devotion, is exactly why the show was beloved by some and ignored by most: Arrested remains a bracingly clever but emotionally cold intellectual exercise of a comedy, one that revels in puns, double entendres, intricately structured set pieces, astonishingly inappropriate jokes, asides, callbacks, flashbacks and, less propitiously, its own inaccessibility.
As if to ensure no casual watcher intrudes, creator Mitchell Hurwitz has structured his revival so that it is less a set of discrete episodes than a nearly eight-hour Arrested Development movie - one that requires you to watch it as a whole and in order, not just to follow the plot and get the jokes, but to enjoy an ensemble that is only rarely on screen as a whole.
Flashes of brilliance abound, but you have to wade through a lot of flab to find them, and accept an ending that is, at best, inconclusive and at worst makes the project feel like a painfully lengthy prospectus for the feature film Hurwitz has been trying to launch since the series went off the air.
Hurwitz has, against considerable odds, reunited his remarkable cast, centered on Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth, the down-on-his-luck center of a crumbling family circle that includes his son George Michael (Michael Cera), his father George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), his mother Lucille (Jessica Walter), his brothers Gob (Will Arnett) and Buster (Tony Hale), his sister Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), Lindsay's husband Tobias (David Cross) and their daughter Maeby (Alia Shawkat).
That core is surrounded by a cadre of impressively well-used guests, including Ron Howard (who also returns as narrator), Henry Winkler, Kristen Wiig, John Slattery, Ed Helms, Ben Stiller, Andy Richter, Isla Fisher, Judy Greer and Liza Minnelli.
Unfortunately, because of scheduling and money constraints, you seldom see more than two or three of the show's stars in the same scene at the same time. So instead of featuring a united ensemble, each outing focuses on one character, with a few others added for support and the rest appearing in scenes repeated from other installments.
To add to the fun - or, sometimes, just the time and the complexity - those repeated scenes have been reedited and expanded to show another character's point of view or fill in some missing bit of information. In one episode, for example, you see Gob try to hide his latest sexual conquest from Michael; in a much later one, you find out who it is.
Each episode builds on the last; each is layered with stories weaving in and out from past and future installments in increasingly dizzying, if not always satisfying, fashion.
In some ways, this puzzle-like design is perfectly matched to its Netflix model: you can hit rewind and fast-forward to your heart's content, studying what you missed and reveling in dropped clues and new details. But it also becomes repetitive, and it sometimes feels like a cheat born out of necessity.
Worse, the structure exposes the thinness of characters who are terrific collectively but suffer in large doses individually. Surely even the fondest fans can name at least one Bluth they'd rather not spend an entire episode with.
There's certainly more than enough time to spend. The episodes are of varying length, up to 38 minutes long, all without commercials, and all far longer than anything Fox could have accommodated. While that freedom must have thrilled the creators, the truth is, Arrested was a funnier and better show when it was subject to network time limits and demands, proof that creativity often blossoms best under a few constraints.
Even so, there is much to treasure here, and the show's most loyal fans, and the acolytes who will forgive Hurwitz anything, no doubt will be thrilled by it all. Others will be thrilled by much, and exhausted by the rest - and wonder when watching TV turned into a task.
Which may not be such a good thing after all.