'Arrested Development' reborn on Netflix

Will Arnett, left, and Jason Bateman are back as two of the Bluth sons in "Arrested Development," which returns on Netflix on Sunday.
Will Arnett, left, and Jason Bateman are back as two of the Bluth sons in "Arrested Development," which returns on Netflix on Sunday. (MICHAEL YARISH / AP)
Posted: May 23, 2013

NEW YORK - Portia de Rossi only believed it was happening when her agent got the good news from the producers. Michael Cera only believed it was happening when the cameras rolled.

It happened all right. Arrested Development has risen from the dead with 15 half-hours premiering en masse on Netflix on Sunday at 3:01 a.m.

Arrested Development is the cockeyed comedy blessed with a king's ransom of talent and the twisted vision of its mastermind, Mitch Hurwitz, that aired on Fox for three seasons as a cult favorite, then was canceled for low ratings - and maybe because it befuddled everyone who wasn't hooked on its lunacy. (Those original three seasons are available for streaming on Netflix, too.)

"I think the show scored some 'cool points' for dying before its time," Cera says. "But there are still a lot more places for it to go."

Yes, Arrested Development died young, with a beautiful, if funny-to-look-at, corpse. But its fans weren't ready to bury it - and said so.

Now reanimated by public outcry, Arrested is going new places.

"Mitch and the cast didn't want to do something not as good as the old series," says Jason Bateman (who plays Michael Bluth, the fractious family's would-be mediating presence). "We didn't want to do something lateral or just a retread."

"I think it's new at every opportunity," says Cera (who plays Michael Bluth's straight-arrow son), "while retaining the show's original heart."

The new Netflix season takes the form of what you might call an anthology, as it updates viewers, character by character with each episode, on the Bluth family - that once-wealthy, now-broke and at-each-other's-throats clan squabbling in Newport Beach, Calif.

A wicked homage to the scandals of Enron and Tyco and a loopy foreshadowing of the 2008 Wall Street meltdown, Arrested premiered in 2003 as a sendup of high-end vanities, greed, and corruption as displayed within the Bluth family circle.

Besides de Rossi, Cera, and Bateman, the cast of Arrested Redux brings back Will Arnett, Alia Shawkat, Tony Hale, David Cross, Jeffrey Tambor, and Jessica Walter, who reconvened in a strategic yet catch-as-catch-can fashion.

"There was no reality where we could get everybody for a full seven- or eight-month period," Hurwitz explains. "That gave birth to the form we came up with for the new series."

The 15 episodes dwell on individual characters during the six-year span from 2006, when the series was canceled, through 2012. That structure was supposed to make it simple to book each actor for an isolated shooting schedule.

Then Hurwitz took his creativity another step. Since all the episodes are happening simultaneously, he couldn't resist including crossover appearances from other actors in each episode. But his ambition made it all the trickier getting all the actors he needed in place for any given episode.

"In a quarter of the scenes, someone is green-screened in," Hurwitz says.

Not that Arrested Development has ever chosen the simple or obvious path. From the start, it was dense, convoluted, and layered, packed with sight gags, self-referential jokes, flashbacks, hand-held cinematography with run-on sequences (promoting improvisation to enhance Hurwitz's scripts), and, of course, its droll, documentarylike narration by Ron Howard, one of the show's executive producers.

On Fox, the show won six Emmys and a Peabody as well as critics' love, while always fighting for its life in the ratings.  "There are way, way more fans of The Big Bang Theory," notes David Cross (who plays Tobius Funke, a quack-psychiatrist-turned-actor-wannabe). "But they're not as passionate as Arrested Development fans - because there's more to be passionate about."

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