After seven years, “Arrested Development” makes a triumphal return to screens on Sunday, May 26 on the online streaming service Netflix. And while fans couldn't be happier, their joy is matched - if not perhaps eclipsed - by the returning cast and crew who were thrilled to be together once more.
“It's definitely the hardest thing I've ever attempted to do, but I'm very optimistic about it,” says executive producer Mitch Hurwitz of the long-awaited return of the quirky, genre-bending series he created and debuted on the Fox network back in 2003.
Cancelled after an abbreviated third season in 2006, “Arrested Development” is poised to become the “Star Trek” of sitcoms: like that sci-fi trailblazer, there was something too good about the wildly inventive antics of the dysfunctionally moneyed Bluth family’s saga to fade away.
For years, Hurwitz and his cast couldn’t escape questions and speculation that the show would somehow be revived elsewhere, or perhaps return on the big screen. That fervent hope gradually morphed into a clamoring demand which did not go unnoticed by Netflix, acutely aware of how frequently its subscribers were “binging” on seasons of TV series, “Arrested” central among them, and looking to get into the original programming game.
A deal was struck for a revival, and in typical "Arrested" form, Hurwitz upended the expected and opted for a unique format: a season of 15 interconnected episodes released simultaneously on May 26, each centering on a member of the storied cast of characters.
The first episode, which focuses on Michael (Jason Bateman), the long-suffering glue that held the Bluth family together, has the precise look and feel of the original run – including cleverly planted references to past gags – but it’s also clearly morphing into something different: the bigger-picture effect only begins to be revealed in fuzzy glimpses that will, presumably, pay off hilariously once every episode can be digested.
“Mitch is numbering them on purpose,” says Bateman, “It is not required to watch in that order, but pretty shortly after you start watching, you’ll realize that ‘Oh, wait – I can complete that scene if I re-watch the second half of that last episode.’ And so you’ll start to make your own order as you are interested in certain stories or start to kind of try to figure out what the whole thing is going to be about.”
“I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that there was definitely not a week that went by in my life since the end of the show that somebody didn't stop me and ask me, 'Is the movie going to happen?'” recalls Bateman of his experience in the years since the series ended. “It was actually most days. I would say five out of seven days a week, someone would stop me and ask me. That was the case in the media, too: whenever I'd go to a function or something, I'd get asked, even though I was there for a different project.”
Will Arnett, the actor behind ne’er-do-well magician Gob Bluth, worked with Hurwitz on various post-“Arrested” projects during that speculative period, and he noticed that revival notions were not-so-secretly percolating. “Mitch, every once in a while, would be talking about an idea and he always had this folder. And as he'd be writing something, he'd drop it in this other folder. And he had this bigger story idea for ‘Arrested Development,’ so I knew that there was this thing that actually existed.”
Bateman says that he tends not to try to find any vindication in the show’s return – just joy in being reunited. “I don't think any of us felt any sort of bitterness or huge frustration that the show had gone away,” he says. “For the most part, the emotion around the set when it went down was we were upset, but we felt pretty grateful that we got that far – there was blood in the water after the first like 13 episodes. That we had been so embraced by the vocal minority that cheered us on, and the awards or nominations or whatever it was, and now with this – it's just great, selfishly. I think I can speak for all us: Netflix gave us all a chance to have kind of a reunion party and hang out with one another and do Mitch’s work. So it's all been gravy for us really from the start.”
His cast mate David Cross, who plays the “never-nude” therapist-turned-thespian Tobias Funke, sees it differently. “I don't take the same meds as Jason,” he deadpans. “I was a little pissed that it was cancelled, kind of unceremoniously. I don't know if vindication is the word I'd use, but it’s certainly satisfying to know that all of us, as well as all the fans, were right: This should continue.”
Despite the years of speculation, Portia de Rossi (who plays the privileged but sexually frustrated Lindsey Bluth) says the prospect of a reunion only seemed real after a 2011 retrospective panel assembled by The New Yorker. “All of us always wanted to do either more episodes or a movie,” she says, “but Mitch started to talking to us as a cast about the possibility of Netflix, and we all thought that was a genius idea. It's like the perfect show to do something that is perhaps the future of television to be a part of that. It just seemed like a perfect fit.”
Particularly when it became apparent that while Netflix would finance the new season, they would not interfere with Hurwitz’s creative intentions. “Netflix was there in support of Mitch and his vision, and they just didn't get in there and mess it up,” says de Rossi. “They were just incredible partners.”
Everyone in the cast – and many guest stars from the previous incarnation – wasted no time in agreeing to the reunion. “I just missed the juiciness of the writing,” says Jessica Walter, the hard-hearted Bluth matron Lucille. “The writing was so character specific for all of us. They don't have ‘Arrested Development’ writer trees out there.”
Climbing into that tree for fourth season was actor Michael Cera, who launched his career on the series as George Michael Bluth before becoming a major film star in movies like “Superbad” and joined Hurwitz and other veteran scribes from the original run in the writers’ room. “I think it's an exciting change-up,” says Cera of the new series eposode change-up. “It makes what we're doing fresh – all the same elements but a different format. I love Mitch's pursuit of quality. He puts that above all else."
Even actors in minor recurring roles felt a career sea change as a result of their involvement in the original series. “It seemed to put me in the cool kids club,” says Judy Greer, who appeared sporadically but memorably as George, Sr.’s, frequently blurred-breast-flashing mistress Kitty. “People are like, 'You're in every episode.' I wasn't. I was really on, like, five. It wasn't that many, but you don't have be on a lot on that show to make an impression.”
“For me, this version was more fun even than the original,” admits de Rossi, “because it was kind of like a celebration as well as going to work every day knowing that we were doing something and hoping that people would watch it. We know that we have a fanbase who are as excited as we are.”
“It's so rare that people can come back together and do something and have that be relevant and there be an exciting level of anticipation for it,” says Bateman, “as opposed to sort of an eye-rolling irrelevance to it."
Bateman tried to keep that good fortune at the forefront of his mind from the first day of shooting. “This is the most beneficial thing I've ever done in my career, for my career, the most fun I've ever had doing anything in my career, the people I love the most in my career – all of those things,” he recalls. “It was amazing to be with all of them again, but then I had to remind myself that there was a job to do, and that I knew there were a bunch of people who really appreciated the show as much as I do, the fans.”
“And so I wanted to make sure,” he adds, “that it didn't suck.”