Get ready to blue yourself: “Arrested Development” is returning to television — or something like it. After seven years of rumors, false starts and fan campaigns, Michael Bluth and his delightfully dysfunctional family of oddballs is back, this time on Netflix, where 15 new episodes will be available immediately for streaming starting on May 26. Jason Bateman, Portia De Rossi, Jessica Walter, David Cross, Alia Shawkat and Michael Cera recently sat down with press in Los Angeles to reveal a few secrets about the show’s rebirth, in the process highlighting both what has changed in the seven years since the show went off the air, and what has stayed the same. Check out Indiewire’s list of 10 things fans can look forward to, or should be aware of, in the new season of “Arrested Development” — including not calling it a “season.”
The characters on “Arrested Development” have always been immature and more than a little shallow. Don’t expect growth since the last time you saw them.
“It’s actually gone in the opposite direction,” said Jason Bateman, whose character Michael is, if only by a matter of degrees, the most well-adjusted. “If we’re ever fully rehabilitated, there will be no show, so yeah, we’re deeply banged up. The seven years have not been kind to us. You see everybody’s flaws.” Jessica Walter, who plays the Bluth family matriarch Lucille, revealed that their problems have only gotten worse. “The desperation, I would say, is magnified, in the 15 episodes we just did.” Bateman added, “Overall, the whole tone is a lot darker. It’s not as homogenized as you need to make things on broadcast.”
Because all 15 episodes of the new series will be available at the same time, storylines overlap and are more interchangeable than when episodes were broadcast on a weekly basis.
Bateman explained, “Netflix affords [Mitchell Hurwitz] the opportunity to have these stories go out over 15 different episodes that are so intertwined. The same scene will repeat, from different angles, in multiple episodes.” David Cross, who plays aspiring actor and former “analrapist” Tobias Fünke, said that viewers will quickly begin to understand how the show works after watching the first few episodes. “If you’re watching it, especially in chronological order, I think as you get to episode three, episode four, you’re going to realize how you’re supposed to start watching it, as opposed to just being a passive viewer.” “Not to give too much away, but it’s taking those moments you had as a fan of ‘Arrested,’ especially when you watch it on DVD, and go, ‘Oh, wait, that’s a reference to that thing three shows earlier.’ But, quintuple that.”
The episodes are numbered in a specific order, but viewers can switch them around for a different, and increasingly rewarding experience.
“Pretty shortly after you start watching, you’ll realize, ‘I can complete that scene, if I re-watch the second half of that last episode,'” Bateman said. “You’ll start to make your own order as you’re interested in certain stories, or try to figure out what the whole thing is going to be about.” Cross insisted that the first two episodes, which focus largely on Michael, offer a sort of rosetta stone for those which follow. “I think it is important, just based on watching the episodes the other night, to watch episodes one and two first, because of the story,” he said. “Because of the whole Cinco de Quatro [storyline], and it catches people up. But after that, go nuts.”
Despite the similarity of its intricacies, it’s important to not mistake the new series for the old one, even superficially.
Even Portia De Rossi, who plays Tobias’ wife Lindsey, wasn’t entirely sure how to characterize its return. “Are we calling this a season?” she asked his fellow castmates. “Just to manage expectations, if we call it a season, the implication is that this is going to feel like the other seasons,” Bateman clarified. “It’s not.”
Despite their collective enthusiasm for the show’s return, even the cast members themselves admit that there was real skepticism that a proper reunion would ever happen.
“I think it was a little boy who cried wolf for a while, I must admit,” De Rossi confessed. “Really, until business affairs called, that’s when I knew that we actually were going to [make the show]. Because it was oh, it’s going to happen in this month or whatever, and here’s a script or here’s an idea. Until it got down to that, I was a little skeptical. Having said that, I always knew that all of us would be on board and willing to do whatever Mitch wanted us to do as part of the show.” Walter said she felt confident only after they asked her to get into costume. “I always believe that when wardrobe calls,” she said. “You could have the contract signed, whatever, and then all of a sudden [it doesn’t happen]. But you know when they’re putting out money and saying we want to buy clothes that it is.”
Nevertheless, once the cast and crew came back together, they said it felt just like it had during the show’s original run.
Remarkably, the Bluths actually spend relatively little time all together in the new series, but to Walter, those infrequent reunions were key moments in rekindling the old “Arrested Development” energy they used to share. “There are only two scenes in the entire 15 episodes where we’re all together,” Walter revealed. “But the first time we all sat down in that penthouse, which was recreated to the nails in the wall, we were so excited we hardly had the chance to calm down. Once we heard the voices and saw the faces that looked the same, except for the kids, who are now adults, that’s when I knew we were really back. Incredible. It was surreal.”
Still, some members of the cast admit that they’re not quite as spry as they perhaps were in 2006 when the show went off the air.
“Much like the fading athlete who perhaps should have quit a year before he starts degrading, I was definitely attempting to do some fun stunts,” Cross said when asked how capable he still is of pulling off Tobias’ dexterous physical humor. “My mind is the mind of a fresh, virile, 19-year-old, but I’m definitely getting creakier bones. I’m not nearly as limber. Also, I’m fatter. I was doing ADR, and I was doing a scene with my shirt off, which was never a problem before. I turn around and I go, ‘Oh my God.’ There’s definitely that middle-aged gut. I didn’t even suck it in. I’m not quite as limber, but, still, for my peers in my age group, dude, I’m top-notch.”
While their developing relationship was mostly relegated to subplots during the original series, George Michael and Maeby will continue their furtive romance in the new series.
“The Maeby thread is going, but I don’t know how much to say about it without totally blowing the whole thing,” said Michael Cera, who plays George Michael. “It’s definitely something that was taken into consideration.” Bateman jokingly gave away a crucial detail in the development of their secret love affair. “They have a kid,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s a spoiler. There’s two children, actually.” “And they’re ultracute, as you can imagine,” Cera observed. “But actually, he’s less of a daddy’s boy this season, and kind of trying to take a step back but I think actually turning into Michael inadvertently — in terms of hairstyle and looks.”
Meanwhile, will audiences blue themselves at the sight of the new series? Or will Tobias? David Cross says yes, though he won’t explain who does, much less how or why.
“There’s a couple of characters that get blue,” Cross said. “That’s all I’ll tell you.” Tobias’ Blue Man Group phase ranked among fans’ favorite storylines, which is particularly why they would be disappointed if there weren’t a nod to it in Netflix’s series. “Well then, perhaps that was taken into account,” Cross admits coyly.
When “Arrested Development” debuted in 2003, it managed to tackle some real-world issues even as it chronicled the increasingly ridiculous exploits of the Bluths. The Netflix series won’t merely update audiences about the show’s characters, but the culture in which they — and we — now exist.
“I think we’re greedy as a culture,” De Rossi said when asked what “Arrested Development” has to say about contemporary society. “I think [the show] just highlights the fact that this society has become a little self-obsessed, greedy, and I don’t know, it seems to be tipping off of its axis just a bit. And I think that you have this family, and we have this housing development, the McMansions, kind of plays to our consumerism as a culture.”
Cross added, “There’s something as a viewer you tend to forget about, which is that this family that we’re watching is shot in a documentary-style. And we’re so inured to it and used to it, but… the idea of what’s real and what’s fiction is blurred because so many of these people are phony and shallow in their own right, whenever you watch any of the ‘Real Housewives’ or any of those type of shows. They’re all performing, even though they’re real people. In ‘Arrested Development,’ there’s cameras there, and I think we even did an episode where you see a boom. We did that on purpose to remind you that this is documentary-style, and now even moreso I think in 2013 that that’s the landscape of our TV. And we just forget what’s real and what’s performing for the camera.”
BONUS: Even with anticipation high for the series, that rumor about an “Arrested Development” movie has yet to e confirmed. But at least one cast member thinks that it wouldn’t be too difficult to get everyone together again, if it did happen.
“I hope that there is still a possibility of a movie,” De Rossi said. “I think we all would love to be a part of this crazy family for as long as we can be in any format that Mitch thinks is right for the show. I think we’re all on board for that.”