Arrested Development returns to screens tomorrow with brand-new episodes on Netflix following a seven-year hiatus. We talk to the show’s creator Mitch Hurwitz and stars Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter about their comeback on the internet streaming platform.
On realising that all 15 episodes of Arrested Development’s fourth season will become available at one minute past midnight Pacific Time, Hurwitz is concerned for the dedicated fans. “That makes it hard for people. They’ve got to stay up all night,” he says, to which Tambor replies with a simple, confident, “They will.”
Tambor’s confidence is not misplaced. Fans have been longing to be reunited with the Bluth family (of which Tambor plays the patriarch George Sr) since the show was cancelled by Fox in 2006.
“We had hoped for seven years that this would happen,” says Walter, recalling her first day of shooting the new series, which was also the first day the whole cast and crew were together again. On-set, the penthouse suite of Lucille Bluth, played by Walter, had been recreated exactly, “to the nails in the wall”, by the art department. “It brought tears to my eyes, it was a very emotional moment for me,” says Walter. “It was just the culmination of all those longings and hope.”
“It was one of the top 10 moments from my professional life,” adds Tambor. “This is an unsentimental group and it was quite a moment.”
Is this a huge mistake?
So what has finally brought this cult series back to our screens? “In television, it’s very easy to get into a rut and keep doing the same thing over and over again, and I think what makes it challenging and fun for me is finding a new way to tell stories,” says Hurwitz. “So, when someone like Netflix comes along and they’re interested, I can’t help but try to find a way in which we could do the show and use their platform in a way that we wouldn’t be able to use any other platform.”
This decision was both challenging and intimidating for the show’s creator. “It means stepping into an abyss to a certain extent,” he says. “It was a little scary at times – is this folly? Is this a big mistake?” he wonders, almost channeling one of the show’s long-running jokes.
We won’t know until tomorrow how the new season will be received by fans, but Hurwitz says he is happy to have taken the risk. He reveals that season four tells separate stories that are all intertwined in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without releasing all episodes at once on Netflix.
And that’s not the only way that producing a streaming-first TV show differs from the traditional broadcast model. “The fun of doing a television show is that you get to stay current; you make these shows and then two weeks later they’re on TV,” explains Hurwitz. “This is a little different in that we were making these shows and it was a year ’til they were on TV.”
This way of filming has its setbacks, particularly for a topical comedy show. “Two people that we’ve written jokes about have gone on and died, and then we’ve had to change [the script]. We might be creating these events – I don’t know, it’s really hard to know,” Hurwitz jokes.
Some aspects of Arrested Development will not change, though, even with Netflix offering less restrictions than network television. “It was very different in that with Netflix, anything goes, and we decided to kind of police ourselves a little bit,” says Hurwitz. “I always liked the fact that we did have to bleep things and we did have to use euphemisms, and I think we tried to retain that spirit.”
“We try to be classy, which a lot of shows aren’t any more,” chimes in Walter, with her tongue firmly in her cheek. “We don’t have toilet humour and that kind of humour in our show. We have classy, sophisticated, wonderful comedy.”
To which Hurwitz responds, “Jessica’s obviously never seen one of the shows.”
More stories to be told
Season four of Arrested Development will not just pick up with the Bluth family seven years after season three’s conclusion, but will also seek to fill in the gaps of what happened in between. But what happens after all 15 episodes have been lapped up by the hungry fans, what then?
“We can expect more of something,” Hurwitz assures. “I don’t know exactly what it’ll be – I don’t think I would have anticipated Netflix, I know I wouldn’t have. But there’s definitely more stories to be told. There’s more obstacles to making that a reality, but my sense is that everybody’s game. I certainly am.”
Tambor agrees, noting the demand that so clearly exists. “In London, [fans] were waiting six hours in the cold, practically hail, for us to get out of our cars,” he says. “So I think whoever is operating the controls here, they would be missing a huge business opportunity would they not keep going.”
Internet vs broadcast
Tambor had previously argued the case for Netflix over lunch with Hurwitz. “The perfect engine for us,” he declares – and he certainly knows his way around the online streaming market. “Apparently, I have become now the actor for the internet; I do this and I do Amazon,” he says, referring to his role in Onion News Empire, one of the first pilots to come from Amazon Studios and competing to become a full-fledged series on Amazon Instant Video.
“Acting is acting is acting, it doesn’t matter if it’s Netflix or Amazon,” says Tambor.
“As Jeffrey’s just mentioned, he’s done a show for Amazon, and this is Netflix and Hulu and what have you – this is more work for actors,” adds Walter, who is a fan of Netflix and the work of its chief content officer Ted Sarandos. “It’s a wonderful thing that they’re doing. House of Cards is a brilliant show,” she says. “The broadcast networks are all reality shows and housewives and what have you.”
“The broadcast networks have painted themselves into this corner where they have to get a very, very broad audience,” says Hurwitz.
Arrested Development was a show that stood out, but that did not ensure it success on broadcast television. “We were underdogs when we were last together – I mean, we still are – but it wasn’t like this was some hit show that was brought back together. It was a labour of love,” the creator adds.
Now that the show is set to conquer Netflix, Tambor asks Hurwitz if there’s any truth to the rumour that radio is next. “We’re talking to some people in AM,” Hurwitz replies.
Well, if it doesn’t work out, there’s always money in the banana stand.
All 15 episodes of Arrested Development season four will be available on Netflix from 8:01am IST on 26 May.