… And now the story of a television show before its time and how, seven years later, they’re still breaking ground. It’s Netflix’s Arrested Development.
Mitch Hurwitz’s iconic but sadly short-lived comedy series center on a selfish, spoiled Orange County family had “blood in the water” pretty much from the start of its first thirteen episode season. At least that’s how series star Jason Bateman put it, pointing out that the show was always designed to feature a long, dense trail of breadcrumbs to carefully tell each story in an “exaggerated…style and tone” that audiences either loved it or hated it right off the bat. For the record, Bateman did follow up to note that he personally thinks “one of its strengths is that it’s very specific and it makes a choice.”
Arrested Development became famous not only for its amazing guest stars, completely original characters, witty one-liners, and meta references (although it is certainly memorable for all of those things, too), but also because it was able to layer its humor and stories. Something that popped up as an aside in one episode would be the key to a reveal down the line. It was not the kind of television made for passive viewers, and those who picked up on such telegraphing would eagerly go back and rewatch episodes to see what other examples they may have missed.
This was all back in the early 2000s, before DVRs were as commonplace as they are now and certainly before watching a cult favorite show was a social event online or something one did in a “marathon” session, watching a number of episodes back to back on only one day. True to its innovative spirit, the next “act” in Arrested Development’s story will be told in fifteen individual pieces that make up on large arc. Hurwitz has numbered them in a traditional order, starting with a back story heavy premiere for new viewers or fans who just need a Bluth refresher course, but the “episodes” are meant to stand on their own, as well.
“Not everybody’s in every episode. As much as you treat these as individual episodes, the fifteen are meant to be one singular act of this three act saga that [Mitch] is going to tell. So it’s a good thing they’re all going to be released on the same day so you can get your fill,” Bateman said at a press conference in Los Angeles.
The return episode is naturally centered on Michael Bluth (Bateman), the prodigal son who returned time and time again to bail his family out despite always proclaiming to be done with them. Not-so spoiler alert: he is back helping his family again here, only this time he isn’t quite the “most together” member of the Bluth family. In fact, the title of the show seems to apply more to Michael than anyone else when we rejoin his saga, as he has quite literally dragged himself back to a more youthful time.
“It’s channeling your focus on one character for an episode so in a way it’s almost easier to digest than the original series [when] we were following storylines A, B, C, D, E, and F. Now we’re just kind of following this one character [per episode],” Portia de Rossi said.
“We have a little bit more time to tell the story—as much time as we need—so you kind of sit with the jokes a bit more. You’ll definitely see that with Jason’s character because he has these amazing moments where he just sits and waits for jokes or for us to make fools of ourselves.”
Since the focus of each “episode” will shift between the characters, there will be scenes that repeat themselves, as we see them in one episode from one person’s point of view and then later, in another, from another character’s. Time is not as much a luxury this go-around because thanks to Netflix, each “episode” is a full half-hour, whereas Hurwitz had to account for commercials during his previous run, which actually took about ten minutes of material out of his scripts. Here, though, a lot of ground is covered in each individual episode, so the slight repetition will help emphasize what are the most important story bits versus more simple quick-witted asides. This will also allow the audience to get more and more insight and information into the bigger picture as time goes on, and it also provides the perfect opportunity to bring back to life what Arrested Development always did so beautifully (and forgive us for editorializing but best) with planting the seeds and then letting them grow in the audience’s mind.
“There was one scene we did specifically that was like a five-page scene in the computer lab, and different sections would be appearing in different episodes, so you’d have to…deliver a line that made sense in multiple, different contexts and actually play against each other. You’d have to deliver it in a way that actually worked for all three [because] you’d see it in a different episode having different information, and it had to work in all three. That was a really different process,” Michael Cera said.
The actors were certainly all excited to be challenged in this way, as often times they would get a scene and have to ask Hurwitz to explain their motivation or what something means because they had yet to see the scenes that would follow (“It was all in Mitch’s head,” Bateman said). But the audience should be excited, too, about this kind of involved, extremely detailed storytelling. Obviously Arrested Development’s audience has always been extremely passionate about the show, but this kind of revolutionary thinking about how to keep the show going proves the passion from behind-the-scenes, as well.
“If you’re watching especially in chronological order, I think as you get to episode three, episode four, you’re going to realize how you’re supposed to be watching it,” David Cross said.
“It’s going to be a bit of an epiphany or a revelation when you get to episode four or five; you’re going to realize ‘Oh there’s a structure to this that I wasn’t aware of when I started watching.’ That’s going to make everybody triple excited. There’s going to be a sense of discovery to it…that I think will redefine what TV can be.”
Arrested Development will debut its new episodes on Netflix on May 26 2013.
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