The return of Arrested Development
Jason Bateman, Portia Di Rossi and David Cross discuss the long-awaited return of ‘Arrested Development’
“They fuck you up your mum and dad / They may not mean to but they do” - Philip Larkin
‘Tell me again...?” Jason Bateman has heard the great Philip Larkin line before, but wants to know what comes next. We are in an air-conditioned Los Angeles hotel room, with an open terrace window. There are obligatory palm trees and a pool outside.
Bateman is dressed far more snappily than his Arrested Development character Michael Bluth. His monochromatic grey and black are a far cry from Michael’s Alan Partridge blazers and slacks combo. He’s also sporting a beard, and like everyone in LA, looks healthy, tanned, and – genuinely – like he hasn’t aged.
“They fuck you up ... tell me what family it doesn’t apply to.” Bateman is referring to the show’s Bluth family, of which he is the fictional second eldest child. Arrested Development began in 2003, ran for three series, and was suddenly cancelled in 2006, leaving fans outraged. The show had garnered a cult following with its brand of dysfunctional family comedy, and after six years it’s set to return.
In the interim, die-hard fans have waited anxiously for the news, while new fans have discovered the boxsets and old episodes on Netflix (who are hosting the new series). It was niche but revered and went out on a high. Returning to it brings the daunting task of recreating the old magic, but Bateman barely hesitates to answer.
“90 per cent of my concerns were mitigated by the fact that Mitch Hurwitz [the creator and writer] was still involved. If it had been someone else, I’d have been very fearful ... and I don’t think any of us would have done it. Mitch explained his plan for the episodes, and how Netflix would afford him the opportunity to deliver something that was different to the episodes that were on Fox. He was adamant that it wasn’t going to be a retread.”
At the press conference that day, it emerged that the show’s structure will not follow the longer arcs of the old series. The descriptions make it sound non-linear.
“It’s anything but linear,” says Bateman. “In a way, each character gets their own episode, but each character won’t be in every episode. There’s another way to watch that story – you can shuffle it up and watch them in whatever order you want. By the time you’ve watched all 15, it will be a satisfying narrative. It’s really ambitious.”
David Cross, who plays Tobias, agrees. “There’s a structure to this that people won’t be aware of when they start watching. There will be a sense of discovery that redefines what TV can be – but it’s important to watch episodes one and two first.”
Di Rossi reveals that it’s “easier to digest than the original series”. “We had so many overlapping storylines but now we have a little bit more time with each character. It has a nicer pace.”
Reconnecting with a fictional self from the past is a challenge for any actor. “I loved playing Lindsey. She was so earnest even though she was really vapid and self-centred,” says Di Rossi. Taller in person than she appears on screen, she sports a quiffed crop and speaks in measured sentences.
“Lindsey actually thinks she’s a good person doing good things. I liked that disconnect. It’s always fun to play ‘the innocent’ because you can get away with a lot comedically. Not playing her over the last few years I guess I missed not having a conscience,” she laughs.
David Cross’s Tobias is one of the show’s most-loved characters. A “never-nude”, Tobias wears denim cut-offs due to his fear of total nakedness, longs to be an actor and is unknowingly camp. He tries to find himself in performance art (the head-to-toe blue body paint is Arrested Development lore), and his family suspect he has issues with his sexuality. “Tobias is funny, goofy and sadly deluded,” says Cross, who plays Lindsey’s husband, “so he’s fun to do. When people come up to me, 95 per cent of the time it’s to say: ‘You blue yourself!’ They usually yell it from a passing car.”
The show’s writing was sharp and idiosyncratic. There were in-jokes that didn’t condescend, repeated motifs and running gags. The writers also coaxed high-profile guest stars to take part, including Liza Minnelli (who returns in the new series), Amy Poehler (ex-wife of Will Arnett, who plays GOB) and Ben Stiller.
The first new episode features Seth Rogen and Kristen Wiig, with later appearances expected from Mad Men’s John Slattery, Isla Fisher, Conan O’Brien and John Krasinski from The Office .
But how have the core Bluth family been holding up all years? “We haven’t really grown that much. Right?” Di Rossi turns to Bateman with a head tilt.
“Things have actually gone the opposite way. If we’re ever fully rehabilitated as a family there will be no show,” he laughs. “We’re still all deeply banged up. The seven years off has not been kind to any of us, and the fun is seeing everybody’s flaws. Overall, the whole tone is darker.”
Di Rossi is quizzical. “Do you think? To me, it feels very similar to the original series.”
The camaraderie on the show is palpable watching the cast interact. Michael Cera is gently ribbed by older cast members, and Bateman is gracious when asked about Cera being part of the writers’ room this year. “He’s incredibly intelligent and endearing. It was clear how smart he was in the writers’ room ... how he was able to grasp all of these disparate story lines and narrative efforts Mitch was making. I think he’ll end up doing more writing in the future, on this show or elsewhere.”
Bateman is about to get a huge opportunity of his own — directing his first film, Bad Words , in which he also stars as a high school dropout who exploits a loophole to enter a National Spelling Bee.
“It’s a tie between Bad Words and Arrested Development as the greatest experience of my career — and that’s saying a lot. For me, directing a movie is really the best job in the business. It requires a lot of hard work, which I’m excited about at this point in my life, because when I was younger I didn’t want to work hard at all,” he laughs.
Netflix has not committed (yet) to a second season but Horvitz had always envisaged that there would be a film version of the show. Given its deserved — but cult — appeal, a movie would be a harder sell to cinema audiences.
“I hope that there is still a possibility to make a movie,” says Di Rossi. “We’d all like to be a part of this crazy family for as long as we can be, in whatever format Mitch thinks is right for the show.”
The new series of Arrested Development is available on Netflix from Sunday .