Back to IndieWire

‘Arrested Development’: David Schwartz on Writing Music for the Remix and Pushing for More Songs in the Rest of Season 5

The composer-songwriter also shares thoughts on a possible "Northern Exposure" reunion and the joys of teaching Ted Danson to play bass.

Arrested Development Season 5 Michael Tobias

“Arrested Development”

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

It’s been five years since the latest season of “Arrested Development.” That means it’s been roughly 1,829 straight days of “Getaway” resting comfortably in the subconscious of the show’s fans.

As composer and songwriter David Schwartz told IndieWire, he’s well aware that some of his music might just be lodged in your brain right now.

“It gets stuck in there. A lot of people get angry at me about that, an ‘I have your music stuck in my head’ kind of comment. They’re not really angry, but I hear that a lot in the ‘Arrested’ offices, which is nice,” Schwartz said. “Somehow I guess I’m more successful at clearing it out than not. It’s sort of requirement to start the next piece. And there’s always another piece to write, you know?”

Though Schwartz’s contributions are heard but rarely seen (he’s halfway to a Milford Man, if you will), it’s impossible to imagine “Arrested Development” without the music. The peppy swing music that runs through significant portions of every episode is as integral to the show as the memorable characters at its heart.

When series creator Mitchell Hurwitz recently remixed “Arrested Development” Season 4 into a format closer to the original broadcast run, Schwartz contributed some new music to the project. It wasn’t under the same late-night, all-hours writing conditions that come with working on a full season at a time, but the experience gave him a chance to get back into shape for Season 5.

“Mitch called me up. I wasn’t like working on it like I would normally, but he said, ‘There are some scenes where I’d just love to try something different here and it would be fun for people to hear different stuff’ and ‘I recut this scene and do you want to try to do some score on it?’ And I said, ‘Of course.’ So he had sent over a bunch of different scenes. It wasn’t like doing a full season at all, but it was fun to dig into the ‘Arrested’ sound a little bit.”

Though the show returns to some of the trusted cues (“The Chipper” or “Andele“) and more subtle backing tunes (the legitimately great “What Could Be Better“), Schwartz’s goal at the beginning of every season is to start from scratch. While Hurwitz and music editor Jason Tregoe Newman have more institutional memory of the music from past seasons, Schwartz keeps his focus on the present.

“What I like to say is I have to push the old stuff, erase it from the hard drive to get the new stuff out there. Mitch seems to be studying my cues and knows them all,” Schwartz said. “Sometimes those change and their names change, as they have different versions of them. There’s always a bit of hectic searching going on at the last minute to find something that we remembered from something else, but at the same time I have something new there that we can listen to and decide at that point what’s going to go in.”

Oddly enough, because of the way that sound works on the show, some of the best, most recognizable work of Schwartz’s career is music that’s been cut off (“Mitch loves to cut cues off in the middle of the note,” Schwartz said.) Still, when writing for “Arrested Development,” Schwartz’s goal is to always finish a theme or a song or a cue. Those songs, which range from “Getaway” to “It Ain’t Easy Being White” (the series soundtrack’s two most-streamed songs on Spotify), are just as foundational to the show as the music itself. In each case, there’s always a chance the show might need it later.

“Very often, I just have to finish the idea musically. It’s been harder in the last two seasons because time restrictions are even tighter. But when I write a song, I know it’s going to be used for 20 to 30 seconds. Which is long for any TV show, unless you have the kind of TV show that has big two-minute montage and pictures of fields, which doesn’t happen in ‘Arrested’ by any means,” Schwartz said. “If you write a song, you write a great verse and a chorus, then you want to finish it because, you know, to come back six months from now and try to finish it, you’re not going to do it or it’s not going to be the same.”

One of the show’s greatest series of callbacks is the tiny piano/flute “Father” theme that ran through the opening seasons. As Oscar found creative ways to tell himself and select family members that he was really Buster’s father, the music would play in the background of lines like, “It’s your father’s birthday. Which coincidentally is…my birthday…” Sharp-eared listeners can hear that theme come back in various points of “Arrested Development” Season 5, including scenes when Tobias begins to explore his own particular father-son relationship.

“It always pops up. There are so many different fathers themes. If you think about it, everybody on the show has a father issue. I wanted to see where I could go or put in different instruments. That’s a fun one. I think the first time we did that, we said, ‘Let’s play this really seriously and you know, a little bit arch, but are people going to get it?’ And our fans are very smart. They get so much. Mitch has never worried about confusing people. He was worried about boring them,” Schwartz said. “It’s part of the fun of working on this show. Mitch and Jim Vallely are hysterically funny. We may be working very late hours and not have days off, but we’re always laughing. So to me, that’s pretty great.”

Having those comedic moments come from places of sincere music also comes in Season 5 with more discussion of Michael’s late wife, Tracy. Schwartz says he doesn’t have any more information than audiences do, but that may have helped in writing music for a scene that ultimately becomes another tender moment ruined in Bluthian fashion.

“When it was introduced in this season, I said, ‘Great.’ You know, this has never really been explained and everything would be different if she was alive today. That’s my own thought,” Schwartz said. “I thought it was a nice sentimental thing. I definitely tried to write it straight. Of course, being totally sabotaged by his family. I sort of say to myself and sometimes that the people I’m working with, ‘Well, let’s go for fun, not funny.’ Instead of trying to have the music come from obvious comedic musical elements, just make it fun and make a safe place for the jokes to really flourish. I don’t know if Mitch was playing a long game there and waiting for that or it just sort of came up in the writer’s room, but I think it’s great.”

While Schwartz has been an integral part of a before-its-time comedy that was revived years after it first went off the air, he got his start on the series “Northern Exposure,” which has had rumblings of doing the same. If the show does come back, Schwartz says he’s ready to answer the call.

“Oh my God, yes. It’s not a show where a bunch of people did the music. I did every cue and it had songs too. I feel it’s my identity there and, put it on the record, I’d be highly insulted if I wasn’t asked,” Schwartz said. “And I would do it in a second. I love it. It was the first show that I did and the people I did it with were beyond talented and had incredible musical minds.”

As Schwartz finishes up the final eight episodes of “Arrested Development,” he’ll also be working on Season 3 of the NBC show “The Good Place.” Aside from working on the music for the show, Schwartz also had a hand in one of 2017’s best TV episodes, “Dance Dance Resolution.” For one particular Bad Place iteration set at a jazz club, Schwartz said he helped Ted Danson learn his instrument.

“I got to teach Ted to play bass. He has one scene where he’s an upright bass player and it was a delight. I brought in my friend Mona who is a great drummer to teach D’Arcy [Carden] to play drums. D’Arcy actually became a pretty good drummer after a few hours. Ted had 15 minutes with us and he was just chugging along with the bass.”

Regardless of what show Schwartz is working on, the goal is to have the music play as integral a part in the show as it does with “Arrested Development.”

“It’s not like, ‘Oh, let’s put this Madonna song here over this skyline.’ It’s part of the fabric of the show,” Schwartz said. “I’m happy that I can listen to them and they feel like songs that people hum along with. That’s definitely a fun part. So far in this season, we’re light on songs, but I’ll push for that more in the second part of the season.”

Sign Up Stay on top of the latest film and TV news! Sign up for our film and TV email newsletter here.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Television and tagged , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox