It's no huge mistake: The Bluths are back!
Improbably, more than six years after Fox canceled the cult-comedy favorite, Arrested Development returns with 15 new episodes exclusively on Netflix, available for streaming all at once, Sunday at 3:01 a.m ET/12:01 a.m. PT.
And diehard fans can't wait, if activity on Netflix and social media is any indication. "It's seemingly reached a fever pitch in the last couple of weeks," says Will Arnett, who plays the family's misguided magician son George Oscar Bluth, more familiarly known as "Gob." "Certainly the show's never been more popular than it is now," he says, as many younger fans discovered it online only after the show went off the air.
The return has been a labor of love for creator Mitchell Hurwitz, who presided -- obsessively -- over the show's first three seasons and has tried to make a feature film ever since. This batch of 15 episodes (Fox aired a total of 53 from 2003-2006), is designed as the precursor to a still-hoped-for movie, but Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos says he'd "love" to do more.
Arrested "has always been among the most popular" TV series offered by Netflix, especially in the U.S., U.K. and Canada, Sarandos says, and this week, "the spike in viewing of the first three seasons has been enormous. The show is built to be watched over and over again" and in bunches, which fits Netflix's business model. "It's way too dense for 22 minutes a week."
Reassembling the entire cast proved difficult, partly the result of the show's rabid following. "We've all been given such a nice career boost or rehab from this show," says star Jason Bateman, whose Identify Thief is the latest in a string of movies. "We've all been working very busily ever since, but we were excited to come back."
And that forced some creative decisions that made the new episodes an ambitious, incredibly complicated jigsaw puzzle that's tailor-made for binge viewing, but also a bit of a risk.
Each focuses on a single character -- most of the major players get two apiece -- and several scenes are replayed in two or more episodes from different vantage points, revealing new information or adding a joke that wasn't apparent before. There are gags that refer to earlier episodes and earlier seasons, so sequential viewing is rewarded.
"No doubt it'll get a very mixed reaction" from the show's "very demanding" fan base, Hurwitz says. "How could it not, because it's a new thing? But if people make it through the whole (season), it will be a very rewarding Arrested Development experience."
The fourth season happily brings us back to Newport Beach, Calif., recaps what was thought to be the series finale, when hard-drinking matriarch Lucille (Jessica Walter) was caught by the Coast Guard after stealing the Queen Mary, and fills in the gaps in the five years or so since. She was put under house arrest, and the rest of her family hasn't held up so well either, thanks partly to the collapse of the housing market.
Not even the one son who's supposed to hold the family together. "Time has not been kind to Michael, who found himself a little closer to the frayed shape his family was in when we last saw them," Bateman says. "He always had a bit of a superiority complex, but he's kind of been slapped into reality, and he's definitely more vulnerable, exposed and a little ashamed. He's looking to get his dignity back, and he stumbles on a couple ideas. But it's a little pathetic."
Of course, the rest of the clan never managed success too well, either, so "they handle failure even worse," Hurwitz says.
"Desperation is what makes these people funny," Walters says.
But the intertwined storytelling also complicated the effort, and the entire season had to be shot piecemeal and out of sequence.
"On Day 1 we shot something for the last episode, which created a level of anxiety that permeated the whole thing," Hurwitz says. Most of Bateman's scenes were shot in the first month of filming, and some characters were digitally inserted into scenes with actors who filmed their own parts later. Though production wrapped in February, Ben Stiller became available only last month, for a day and a half of shooting, so the cameras rolled again for Gob's magician nemesis Tony Wonder.
Plenty of guest stars lined up for the reunion. Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen play younger versions of Lucille and George Sr., while Henry Winkler returns as inept attorney Barry Zuckerkorn (and Winkler's son Max plays his younger self).
Ben Stiller and Christine Taylor, Isla Fisher, John Slattery, Carl Weathers, John Krasinski, Ed Helms, Andy Richter and Conan O'Brien make appearances, along with beloved returning characters such as Lucille Austero (Liza Minnelli), Ann Veal (Mae Whitman), Kitty Sanchez (Judy Greer), Stan Sitwell (Ed Begley Jr.) and Bob Loblaw (Scott Baio). And producer/narrator Ron Howard, seen on camera only in the third-season finale, is now a more frequent presence.
Though some fans despaired that Arrested would ever be revived, some cast members were convinced that Hurwitz, a former Golden Girls writer who followed Arrested with a few short-lived comedies, would get his wish.
"I hoped it would happen, but I didn't want to hope too hard because the odds were against getting us all together," Walter says. When they did -- the entire cast reassembled for just one day, though scenes were sprinkled into several episodes -- "it took about 30 minutes for everyone to calm down. We were really excited."
After so long, "the only people who changed were the kids; they're all grown up," Walter says. "It was very easy to slip right back in."
The new season: The entire 15-episode fourth season (each 29-37 minutes) will be released at Netflix.com, available to subscribers online or on Internet-enabled TVs, Sunday, May 26 at 3:01 a.m. ET/12:01 a.m. PT
The history: Show aired 53 episodes on Fox from 2003-06, now also on Netflix and IFC; won best-comedy Emmy in 2004 and top writing awards in 2004 and 2005.
The characters: Each is the focus of two episodes except for Lucille, Buster and Maeby, featured in one apiece.
- Stable son Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman)
- His awkward, lovestruck son George-Michael (Michael Cera)
- Scheming Bluth patriarch George Sr. and his twin brother Oscar (Jeffrey Tambor).
- His boozy, bossy wife Lucille (Jessica Walter)
- Misguided magician son George Oscar Bluth (Will Arnett)
- Meek motherboy Buster (Tony Hale)
- Imperious daughter Lindsay (Portia de Rossi)
- Her estranged, sexually confused husband Tobias Funke (David Cross)
- Their daughter Maeby (Alia Shawkat)
Gary Levin, USA TODAY
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