May 17, 2013 at 05:08 PM EDT

Arrested Development’s journey back to the screen has been long and unpredictable. It has taken many turns, involved the use of many birds. And on this December evening, it has banked a hard right onto a ­Hollywood side street and pit-stopped in a magic club on gay night.

Inside the gothic lounge of mystery, patrons in leopard vests, Army fatigues, and assless pants groove about. Near the bar, series creator Mitchell Hurwitz studies Will Arnett and Michael Cera as they rehearse a scene that will play out in multiple episodes: Decked out in leather and chains, Arnett’s sleazy-cheesy illusionist Gob Bluth has lured his innocent-faced nephew, George Michael (Cera), here under false pretenses (naturally). He busts a move on a flustered George Michael and shouts, “Ow! You bit my lip!” before apologetically whispering to him: “Hey, thanks a lot. I owe you big-time. Not a lot of nephews would do this.” Loud, so the crowd can hear: “Now get out of here! I never want to sleep with you again!” Whispering: “I do. I would sleep with you, George Michael… I mean, I probably won’t…”

In between takes, Hurwitz offers ­scientific pointers like “When you say ‘hot little ass,’ put your hand here,” then scoots behind the monitors to survey the action. “This may be the creepiest thing we’ve done so far,” he observes.

With take after absurd take under his leather-daddy belt, Arnett catches a breather. “I did some disturbing things tonight,” he says. “I kissed Michael Cera no fewer than eight times.”

And how was it?

“It felt like… coming home.”

After an absence of seven years, three months, and 16 days, Arrested Development will give fans who prayed for its return the mother(boy) of all gifts on May 26: Fifteen new episodes will be released all at once on Netflix. Designed as a prequel for a not-yet-greenlit movie, these installments have been the source of great anticipation and speculation since Net­flix announced the show’s resurrection 17 months ago. Our hearts and minds and Twitter feeds are about to tell us whether the wait for this moment of Bluth was indeed worth it.

Why all the fuss over a series that aired for only two and a half seasons on Fox and saw its final four episodes burned off opposite the opening ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics? Because Arrested Development was one of the most hilarious, subversive, inventive comedies of the aughts, featuring brisk-and-brainy jokes (“What’s Spanish for ‘I know you speak English’?”), labyrinthine meta-plots, and a quirky-jerky family that redefined dysfunction. The Emmy-winning critical darling only grew ­stronger in cancellation, with waves of people discovering it on DVD (3 million copies sold and counting) and the Internet, and fetishizing its myriad ­memorable lines like “I’ve made a huge mistake,” “No touching!” and “Are you forgetting that I was a professional twice over: an analyst and a therapist, the world’s first analrapist?” (You really want to pronounce that last one correctly.)

With every passing year, it became increasingly clear that there was life in the old underdog yet. “This audience has something invested that is alchemical at this point,” marvels star Jeffrey Tambor (George Bluth Sr.). “This is the right time. This is the right audience… It’s actually more right now than it’s ever been.”

So here it comes: the ambitious next chapter in the zany tale of the Bluths, the high-society clan that fell on hard times after its elusive patriarch, George Sr., nearly leveled the family’s Orange County, Calif., real estate business by apparently committing “light treason” — forcing pragmatic son Michael (Jason Bateman) to accelerate construction on his savior complex. Seven years later, things aren’t much better for the family, which also includes Michael’s cocksure older brother, Gob; younger brother Buster (Tony Hale), a mama’s boy saddled with panic attacks and a hook hand; sister Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), a fickle socialite-activist wannabe who’s married to Tobias (David Cross), a bumbling shrink–turned–aspiring thespian with a host of sexual and identity issues; vodka-fueled mother Lucille ­(Jessica Walter); and Michael’s own son, the ­achingly earnest George Michael, who harbors a shame-fueled crush on his jaded cousin, Maeby (Alia Shawkat).

“If the first series aspired to be The Godfather in terms of the family, this thing aspires to be a Godfather II,” says Hurwitz. “I’m sure a lot of people went to see The Godfather Part II and said, ‘What happened to the machine guns? What are we doing in Cuba? Meetings? Who cares about meetings?’ But The God­father II was more substantial and rewatchable. It was more complex. I aspire to do that kind of evolution with this. I don’t mean to compare it to The Godfather II — I just mean that, well, it’s not exactly what the audience expects, but I think it’ll scratch the itch.”

Will the new AD offer long-lasting comic relief — or remind us that past magic is impossible to recapture? Can a franchise that was too smart for the room find new life in a new decade in a new medium? Will this be a fun, sexy time for all? As Tobias would grandly declare: Let the great experiment begin!

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