'Arrested Development': Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Tony Hale on the Bluth brothers and new episodes
A megalomaniacal magician who makes a lot of huge mistakes. A hook-handed, shoulder-rubbing stay-at-home son who suffers from panic attacks. A well-intended, sensible yet slightly superior martyr/father who’s trying to keep his freaky family from falling apart. Together they represent the Bluth brothers, and though they don’t always see eye to eye, Gob (Will Arnett), Buster (Tony Hale), and Michael (Jason Bateman) are hermanos to the end. Now, their adventures begin anew as Arrested Development, the revered cult comedy that was cancelled by Fox in 2006, offers up 15 new episodes that will be released on Netflix tonight at the stroke of 3:01 am ET/12:01 a.m. PT. A comeback story for the digital ages? A second chance at comedy domination? A third thing? “I would call it ‘The Return of AD: Sweet Revenge; The Joke’s On Us,'” quips Arnett. Read all about this next chapter in the story of a wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together right here. After you’re finished, soak up these bonus quotes from Bateman, Arnett, and Hale, who discuss everything from the new season to getting back in character to action figures to onesies.
Series creator Mitchell Hurwitz always had Arrested Development on the brain, even while working on other projects, such as the short-lived 2010 sitcom Running Wilde, which starred Arnett.
ARNETT: There was an open document that Mitch kept in the corner. We would have ideas for Running Wilde and Mitch would say, “Oh, that’d be great for Arrested.” It wasn’t even ‘Arrested Movie’ — just an Arrested folder that was all these thoughts and collections of ideas. So we’d be talking about something and he’d go, “Oh let’s put that into Arrested.” It was like a living, breathing entity.
An Arrested Development movie had been long rumored and discussed. But Hurwitz shared an intriguing idea with the cast to set up a movie with a cluster of episodes that chronicled the exploits of each family member over the last half-dozen years or so.
BATEMAN: When he explained that the attempt to educate the uninitiated about the characters and the events that have gone on in the Bluth family would take up so much of the [movie’s] time, and that a more efficient and interesting way to do that would be to throw that into episodes, then it made a lot of sense to me.
HALE: The thing that I always loved about the show was the surprise element. It was constantly a surprise. I was surprised when they were like, “By the way, a seal is going to bite off your hand.” “By the way, Liza Minnelli is going to be your girlfriend.” You could never predict what was happening, so when he said that we were going to do episodes, I was immediately excited, because with a movie, you get the script and you get where it’s going. However, with television and how Mitch was working, you never knew what was coming next. I was excited to ride that surprise wave again, like Wow, what’s going to come up? What’s going to shock us?
Of course, new episodes would generate not just excitement, but also great if not impossible expectations from fans, who worship the old show. How did Hurwitz & Co. deal with Arrested‘s looming legacy? Largely by trying to ignore it.
ARNETT: You can’t be too precious about it. Put it this way: We don’t use words like “legacy.” If it works, it works. But in sticking with the original conceit of the show, Mitch looks for different ways to take chances. That, if anything, that is adhering to the legacy of the show. You just gotta keep trying. From moment one, we were always willing to risk falling flat on our faces, and that’s what made the show fun to watch — and fun to make. We always took chances, and we always took risks: “God, this is gonna be so stupid, but let’s just try it.” But there was always that safety net when we were working of, “Just go for it. Now’s not the time to hold back.” I’m going to name-drop here so get ready to catch it. I had a conversation with Ricky Gervais, and we were discussing that very idea: When you’re making a show, when you’re performing, that’s not the time to hold back; that’s the time to take a risk. And I think that Mitch has consistently done that. And he always encourages us to go for it. And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but at least you might have the opportunity to do something different.
BATEMAN: I was never concerned because Mitch was there. Mitch was the only one that was concerned because he didn’t have a higher authority to defer to. But we knew if Dad was there, the kids would be taken care of.
When it came time for the entire cast to reunite in Lucille’s penthouse to shoot their first scene together, Bateman felt more like a fan.
BATEMAN: It was just a neat moment to simply be a part of and have a front row seat for. The scene we were shooting was all the cast together — so the crew was there, the writers were there, the producers were there, the director was there — and finally then, that’s when it felt like, “Oh my God, we’re literally four minutes away from rolling cameras and being these characters again and doing this great material that Mitch writes again.” Just as a fan of the show, I was so excited to be that close to it and to be witnessing in real time. I felt really privileged…. I was grinning like a little girl who had just got asked to prom by some big stud. I felt super pretty.
Meanwhile, a familiar (and frightening) voice helped Hale get back into character
HALE: To be honest, it had been seven years since I stepped into Buster again so you think, “Man, I hope I can match the expectation.” I remember being on set, and [seeing] Jessica Walter as Lucille. [She and Buster] had such a codependent, messed-up relationship. Hearing her completely patronizing tone for Buster — not even patronizing, just flat-out abusive — it was almost like a nostalgic click. Something just clicked.
He also fondly recalls shooting the scene — the first one shown to fans — in which Buster and Lucille share a smoke
HALE: That was probably one of my favorite moments. That was one of those things where she would smoke and I have to blow it out and we just let it go and let it go and let it go. I felt like I was on The Carol Burnett Show. One of my comic icons is Tim Conway — I just love how he just trusted the material and didn’t feel like he had to force it…. You just felt like he was having so much joy out of it just riding it. And I felt like that doing this scene — letting it go and go and go, wherever it goes. You love those moments. She is just such a bitch on the show, man, and Buster is so needy and he’ll do whatever she asks. She is everything to him.
Bateman was impressed by Hurwitz’s grand vision for the new season, and how it aimed to explore fresh territory instead of cruise down memory lane. (“What he’s doing is so much more ambitious than any of the other episodes ever were,” he says.)
BATEMAN: It would’ve been so easy for Mitch to write nine 25-minute episodes that are just, as he says, greatest hits — a bunch of call backs and some recurring guest stars. And I think that for the most part the Arrested Development audience would’ve even happy to watch that. By the same token, if you compare this to going to see a band in concert, I hate when a band takes my favorite song and changes it so much when they play it live that I can’t even recognize it. I love it when they play it exactly the way I hear it on the radio. I think that he had that person’s concerns in mind as well, and I can say that these episodes have all of that. The song is played completely the same way but the album in its total has a different takeaway feeling than you had from the television show, and I mean that in the best way.”
How have the last seven years treated the Bluths? Let’s just say it hasn’t exactly been a fun, sexy time.
ARNETT: You’re going to find all of them in the very worst versions of themselves — emotionally, financially, socially, because they have been taken over or driven by their own egos, and allowed their own egos to have the better of them all. And it takes them to some very bad places…. None of them are immune to their own instincts, and their instincts are really bad. Even Michael. These are people who consistently make poor choices. It’s like you have nine narcissists who are constantly blaming each other for their own poor decision-making. And I include George Michael in that. That little punk’s just as much to blame as anybody.
But deep down inside...
ARNETT: There is an honor amongst thieves with this group. They are a family at the heart of it. As much as Lucille hates Gob and/or resents whoever, they do ultimately take care of each other. And even though they’re always constantly using each other for their own gain, they cannot be apart from each other. They don’t know how to live in the world without each other. It’s like each one of these people are drowning and they keep reaching for a soggy life vest and pulling each other down. It’s like a drowning daisy chain.
The man who’s supposed to be holding the Bluths together is barely holding it together himself.
BATEMAN: My character thought he was the only sane one, the smart Bluth. And the genes have caught up to him. He’s a little pathetic now, he’s probably realizing that he is not as smart as he thought he was, so he’s a little bit desperate and trying to maintain the veneer of being the only smart one, but the situation has made that challenging in that the money’s not there anymore and his family’s not really around much anymore and you just can’t keep up appearances after a while. He’s starting to deteriorate…. I really like that, instead of making him less tolerant of his family, which would start to be a little monotonous, Mitch actually made Michael more vulnerable and less successful and more beaten down over these years. He’s become more tolerant and more empathetic to the fools that his family are. And maybe he’s starting to realize that he’s a bird of the same feather.
Of course, Gob may have something up his sleeve.
ARNETT: Gob thinks his next trick might be the holy grail of tricks…. Gob is always looking to make a name for himself. He has that thing that he always has, which is he doesn’t feel like he’s getting his just due. And so he’s always looking for grander ways to accomplish that. And they actually seem to be just increasingly sadder ways.
And, yes, Buster is still latching onto Lucille(s)
HALE: Fear and desperation are huge through lines in his life and that will never leave. One thing I always loved about Buster is he really sees life with a totally different perspective than any other person in the family. He sees the innocence in life, he sees a sweetness, he’s incredibly naïve, and even though things have continued to spiral way out of control, he’s in the middle of that chaos but still with that same perspective, just like, “Oh what’s this door?” He kind of walks around in this pleasantville daze. And that remains…. Liza is back [as Lucille 2]. Seeing her again was just awesome. For Buster, there’s always just a switching of Lucilles. He just needs a Lucille in his life, whether it be 1 or 2. His desire is for some empowered female to take over. That’s all he wants. If there’s a Lucille 3, he’ll cling on to her too.… He continues his love of dancing. He likes to move. He just likes to let that body go free.
Hurwitz and the cast remain optimistic that they will reunite again for an Arrested movie. But why stop there?
BATEMAN: There’s something kind of cool about that Michael Apted series [Up], where every seven years they visit them. Maybe there’s a version of that with us. Maybe it’s some episodes every year, maybe it’s every other year, maybe it’s a film. It’s all up to [Mitch]. The notion of revisiting these people and doing this same process creatively with the cast, with the crew and with his writing — yeah, who wouldn’t want to do that repeatedly?
HALE: Whatever it becomes, I’m on board. Everybody leaving whatever they were doing and taking the time to do this shows that we all are massive fans. I think if they came out with babywear we’d be like, “Yep, we’re on board.” “Oh, we’re designing baby clothes? Got it. Sign me up.” Buster would have a fantastic line of onesies.
ARNETT: “Arrested Development: The Ride.” Ultimately we’ll have to build the model home, we’re going to have to build Lucille’s penthouse down in Balboa Island. There will have to be a fully functional banana stand that Michael Cera will be contractually obligated to go work at x number of hours per week. And then I think that we might just end up as an app — only for Android. Who knows?
BATEMAN: Action figures. That would make me extremely happy. [Michael would have] expanding and contracting pleats.
ARNETT: In classic Arrested style, there was no hard wrap date [when filming of the new season ended]. And it’s always been like, there’s been no closure. And I feel like it is this open book, this open story that’s just going to continue to try to tell in one way, shape or form or another. And by no means is it over. It’s become so enmeshed in our lives, it is this thing that we get to share, and that we get to share with our fans…. And we kind of get to root for it too, because we felt like at the time when we made the original series that we were taken off the air prematurely. And now because it’s taken on a life of its own, it’s almost like this thing that none of us can really stop. And none of us really wants to.