Mitchell Hurwitz’s critically beloved “Arrested Development” will make its improbable return from beyond the grave in May of this year, Netflix confirmed today at the TCA Winter Press Tour in Pasadena. The panel for the show, which followed presentations from the company’s other upcoming series, Ricky Gervais’ “Derek” and Eli Roth’s “Hemlock Grove,” was quite possibly the most anticipated of the two-week press event, at which Netflix was making its first appearance.
“Arrested Development” creator Mitchell Hurwitz was in attendance, along with cast members Jeffrey Tambor, Will Arnett, Jessica Walter, Jason Bateman, Alia Shawkat, Portia de Rossi and Michael Cera, for a session that revealed that the new season of the comedy would be more experimental than even hardcore fans would expect.
For one thing, Bateman suggested it wasn’t really a fourth season, more a “hybrid package of ‘Arrested Development’ stuff.” There will be 14 episodes, and to accomodate the current committments of the cast, who are all working on new things, as well as the fact that, as Hurwitz put it, “we couldn’t afford to do the show with what these people are worth now,” each episode will focus on a specific character. This allowed the production to not require everyone at set together — instead the interlocking episodes will inform each other in a non-traditionally serialized way, with incidents that happen in one episode becoming more clear or taking on another meaning after a later installment from another point of view. This doesn’t mean that episode order is unimportant — there is an intended sequence in which they’re meant to be watched for maximum comedy, but the full arc is meant to be looked at as one big “Arrested Development” rather than as the type of episodes the show aired in on Fox — Hurwitz used the word “anthology” when describing the “season.”
This new structure is also intended to accomodate the binge-viewing tendencies of contemporary viewers — Netflix will premiere all 14 episodes at the same time, and the show’s writers kept that in mind. “We’re just embracing it,” Hurwitz says of people watching many episodes at once, adding that spoilers will happen anyway. In the spirit of this not being broadcast television, the episodes will be of variable length, though they’ll keep around a half hour. Tambor says “The technology and the show are in step.” Production, however, was incredibly complicated, with the complicated story, interlocking structure, limited availability of cast members and shooting out of order. And even though they were all on set at the same time, Walter says “It was surreal. There we all were, nine years later. Except for the two kids who grew up, we were all the same.”
Hurwitz and company were very guarded about revealing plot details, though they admitted that when returning to write the show they occasionally found their storylines accidentally scooped by fan fiction, and that it was easier to be surprising “when no one was watching.” Cera joined the writers’ room this time, as what started as a visit became a regular gig with the show becoming very dependent on him. Overall, Hurwitz said, “The spirit of this was to surprise the fans with something they didn’t see coming.” The prospect of a movie is still very much being pushed, and while, as Bateman said, there is a “satisfying conclusion to these episodes if for some reason a movie doesn’t happen,” they’re intended to set up a feature to follow.
In that spirit, the crowd at TCA was only allowed to see a deleted scene rather than an actual clip from the series, but if it’s representative of what was cut out, the new “Arrested Development” is going to be very funny indeed. The video featured Buster (Tony Hale) helping Lucille (Walter) conceal her smoking by shotgunning her smoke like a baby bird and going to the door to blow it outside — a great sequence of physical comedy.