PASADENA, CALIF. — Did Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz really think Fox's cult-favorite comedy, canceled after three low-rated seasons, would ever come back?
"I certainly didn't think of it in terms of TV," he says, partly because "it would be impossible to get everyone together at the same time" to film it. But a few logistical somersaults — and a deep-pocketed benefactor in Netflix, the streaming service with 23 million subscribers — has improbably revived the dysfunctional-family sitcom, nearly seven years after Fox dumped it.
The all-at-once model "flies in the face of everything that's been going on in television forever," says Hurwitz, and assumes that voracious viewers are always up to speed. "Part of the experience of waiting for the next episode (forces) the need to create artificial cliffhangers (that) ultimately dilute the storytelling," Sarandos says.
House of Cards was shot in Baltimore in a feature-film style, and Arrested is also applying a new model, less because of its new home than competing demands for its stars, several of whom appear in other projects. "Contractually, we couldn't use all the characters in every episode; they were not free to do as much television as they want," Hurwitz says.
Each of 13 or 14 episodes (up from 10 originally planned) will focus on a single character, and only Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), the level-headed son who holds the clan together, will appear in all of them. (Michael Cera, who plays son George Michael, is also now among the show's writers.)
"The show will look very different," Hurwitz says, and is being assembled as a "very, very complex puzzle" from scenes shot out of sequence over many months.
Though famous for its layered flashbacks and juggling of multiple story lines, held together by Ron Howard's narration, new episodes adopt a different rhythm. "We're not jumping from one thing to another; you're staying with one character," while other cast members appear in smaller roles, and recurring characters played by Henry Winkler and Liza Minnelli, among others, will return. Howard and Brian Grazer, whose Imagine TV is behind the project, will also appear.
"The bigger story is the family has fallen apart at the start of our show," Hurwitz says. "They all went their own way, without Michael holding them together, so they're left to their own devices, and they're not the most successful devices." The season is designed as a "first act to what we eventually want to do, which is a big movie," though there's no guarantee it will ever get made.
"Each individual (episode) kind of depicts what happens in 2006 as the Bluths fled from the law on the Queen Mary" in what was once the series' finale, then explains what's happened to them since and leaves them in the present day, he says.
The true flavor "slowly reveals itself, as the moment you saw in one show will reappear in another show from a different character's perspective," he says. "If people watch it all at once, it will seem like a giant Arrested Development. It's really tailored for Netflix."
Only once did the entire cast reassemble, as the final episode teases a movie by promising an imminent family reunion. "It was such a joy to be back with everybody; it didn't feel like work, it felt like being back with friends," Hurwitz says. "You don't see them all together until you see the movie." But even apart, "I can assure you that the characters are just as damaged, self-involved and self-righteous as ever."
Netflix is betting passionate TV fans looking for shows they can't find elsewhere are the most likely candidates to remain loyal streaming subscribers.
"One of the reasons Arrested wasn't embraced at the time was it wasn't easy to get your head around it," Hurwitz says. "It was a point of pride with me; I wanted to create a show that had surprises. But that's what they want to do (at Netflix). They want to take risks. They encouraged the complexity that had been discouraged before."
Note: I took a bits out of the article because it talks a lot about Netflix and their other new series.
I'll admit it. I am so disappointed that they're not sticking with the old format, and only Jason Bateman will appear in every episode. I get that it would've been difficult to get everyone together at the same time, but I think their chemistry as a group was so important to the show. I have faith that it'll be great nonetheless, but I'm nervous they'll mess too much with what made it great in the first place. But maybe it'll be like he says, by the end it'll just feel like a 7 hour episode.