Welcome to one of the most anticipated events of the 2013 Television Critics Association winter press tour: the reunion of virtually the entire cast of “Arrested Development” to discuss the show’s resurrection on Netflix with 14 episodes debuting in May (date TBD).
We’re curious to hear from creator Mitch Hurwitz what the Bluths have been up to, what format these episodes (which will all be released on the same day) will take, what took so long to make this happen, and a lot more. And I imagine one or two people will accuse Michael Cera of holding the whole thing up.
I’ll be live-blogging the whole thing, as often as I can given the hotel’s mediocre wi-fi, so just keep on hitting reload as we go.
1:40 p.m.: Netflix is just wrapping up panel for another of its original series, “Hemlock Grove.” Someone on Twitter compared the fate of this cast to any of the acts who were on “The Ed Sullivan Show” the night The Beatles first performed there. I like the analogy, and not just because there’s a great “This American Life” episode about that.
1:41: The “Arrested” ukelele theme plays and I hear an audible gasp from the critic sitting right behind me. We have most of the cast, save David Cross and Tony Hale.
1:42: Did they think this day might never come? Hurwitz was superstitious about 2012, “if that’s what you’re asking. But now I feel like a fool! Listen, it didn’t seem as impossible to me until we got into it, and I realized how impossible it was. I’m close to all these people, we’ve all remained close in different ways. I think I just always held out hope that this would work out – and it was a very naive hope. So, yeah, it’s a good point. We shouldn’t be here.”
1:43: Was there a brief point where it felt like AD fanfic? Mitch says when he was breaking stories with the original writers, they realized there were some fan fiction ideas that scooped them. A challenge was for the episodes to be surprising, and that was easier when nobody was paying attention. “We all started really guarding the material, just to make it fun for the audience.” He warns us they’re going to evade questions like crazy because they want to reward fans for sticking with them.
1:47: How will the episodes be structured? Bateman tries to derail it by joking that Hale and Cross are off the show. Hurwitz: “I would say it is a very different form that emerged really organically. It really followed the function… The family grew apart, and everybody else kind of grew up and got other shows, and the only way we could get everybody for what we will loosely call an anthology… was to dedicate each episode to a character’s a point of view.” They started finding out that stories would intersect. He tries to figure out how to illustrate the point without giving away a storyline, and begins inventing “Hemlock Grove” plots. Says you’ll see the same scene twice from multiple perspectives. “It was an evolution of the format that was necessary.” Bateman adds it’s exclusive to the format Netflix provides, so you can watch a portion of the Michael episode, then click over to Lucille’s episode. Mitch says originally, they wanted to find a way to jump from one story to another – “Almost a Choose Your Own Adventure sort of thing” – and that contribnuted to make “one giant 700 minute Arrested Development.”
1:48: Bateman still pushing the idea that they could do a movie, and they want these episodes to just be “act 1” of that storyline. “These are episodes that set that up.” He says you should not refer to this as “Season 4.” “It is certainly a satisfying conclusion to these episodes if for some reason a movie doesn’t happen, but they are all meant to work within one another as a hybrid package of Arrested Development stuff.”
1:50 Critic asks if Hurwitz is worried about tarnishing the show’s legacy at all. Hurwitz: “I could vomit right now – on cue.” Bateman says we shouldn’t compare these episodes to “What was the series, when you had 22 minutes, and you had every character in every episode.” This is very different creatively, per the format Netflix provides them. Will Arnett says it’s its own thing. Hurwitz says they decided to just tell the kind of stories that made them happy and “not be precious about it.” They got lots of great reviews and awards back in the FOX days, and even then, they had to decide “not to be precious.” Somehow, this leads into a discussion of whether Michael Cera was once “precious.”
1:51: “Don’t do it!” Bateman warns Hurwitz. “Don’t say the N-word! That’s Will Arnett’s joke! He’s the racist!”
1:52: Hurwitz wanted to surprise the fans with something they didn’t see coming. They had talked about a movie forever, but not more episodes. He says they always knew there would be 14, even though it was initially announced it would only be 10.
1:53: Is there a recommended order in which to watch the episodes, or can people pick and choose? And given Hurwitz’s spoiler fears, what are the challenges of all the episodes debuting on Netflix at the same time, when people can start spoiling it if they watch faster? Hurwitz remembers when he was first told that all the episodes would debut at once, Netflix’s Ted Serrandos compared it to releasing an album. Hurwitz has an absolute order they’ve created to lead to the maximum number of surprises. So if you watch in that order, “when you get to episode 4, you’ll go, ‘That’s why he did that in episode 1!'” And since so much of the audience discovered the show after it was already out, “There are going to be problems that will be ruined by spoilers, but that was going to happen anyway.”
1:55: Hurwitz adds that Netflix viewers loved to binge-view “Arrested Development.” It may not be how he grew up watching TV, “But you gotta stay with the audience.”
1:56: Michael Cera is on the writing staff for these episodes. He started the job on a day they were writing for George Michael, after the writers had been working almost a year on the movie, “And I really just stuck around.” Hurwitz says, “Michael is such a brilliant guy, and such a great writer… Suddenly, we were very dependent on having Michael Cera be in the writers room… It’s like this was his first language: ‘Arrested Development.'”
1:59: Have any of the actors binge-viewed? Portia DeRossi did that this summer with “Breaking Bad.” “I like it. People kind of are used to getting what they want now. It was great not to have to wait a week to see an episode of something we’re really into.”
2:00: Jeffrey Tambor says he frequently hears people say they’re glad the show is coming back on Netflix. “The technology and the show are sort of in step.”
2:01: Jessica Walter says that, as far as Lucille goes, “I have finally gotten to play Joan Crawford with laughs.” Hurwitz says that meant “we had to trim all the Joan Crawford out of Arnett’s performance.”
2:02: Because most of the actors were in second position on “Arrested” to their day jobs, it was incredibly complicated to shoot scenes. Hurwitz: “We’re telling a complicated story that jumps around in time and has all these intersections, and we’re shooting it way out of order.” He brought back some of the original show writers, they began writing them in order, “and quickly jumped to, ‘Oh, we’ve got Tony Hale today'” and had to write for Buster.
2:03: How long are the episodes? They vary in length. “We’re just starting post-production,” so some of the storytelling will be in flux. “In general, we’re just going to try to make these under a half-hour. Try to take the cable TV comedy model.”
2:04: Walter: “It’s different from Arrested Development, and beyond anything I had hoped. I hope there’s a movie.”
2:05: Arnett references “Sit Down, Shut Up” and “Running Wilde,” two later collaborations with Hurwitz and another “Arrested” alums that weren’t as beloved. (Hurwitz: “Let’s redact all of that.”) During production of both of those, Hurwitz showed him files of story ideas he was working on for a movie or another series. Bateman says Hurwitz’s writing is “so pleasantly dense” that it’s not necessarily conducive to something that has commercials in it.There would be so much exposition required in a movie that it made more sense to take care of that first with these Netflix episodes.
2:07: Tambor recalls that two weeks in, they hadn’t seen each other, and then all nine of them were there in one evening, in a living room scene. “This isn’t, I would say, a sentimental group. But that was a pretty interesting room.” Hurwitz recalls Tambor telling him, “‘Everywhere I look, it’s the funniest person I’ve ever seen.'” Walter says, “It was surreal. There we all were, nine years later. Except for the two kiddies who grew up, we were all the same.”
2:13: Bateman attempts to close the panel by saying, “Thanks again for all your support, during the FOX years, until now, during the years we weren’t on. We’re very very happy to be back together for these episodes, and you guys are largely responsible for that.” But then Hurwitz offers to show us a clip of something that was cut from the show, which will give us an indication of what had to be cut down for time. It involves Buster and Lucille sharing each other’s personal space, but I won’t say anything more in case it goes back in. All I will say is that it was insanely funny.
Any trepidation I may have had about the show’s return is, for the moment, gone after that clip. The Bluths are back, baby!