Arrested Development creator, stars on reuniting for season 5, Lucille 2 mystery, and Jeffrey Tambor
It’s an absurdly pleasant May night in L.A. and Mitch Hurwitz is spending Cinco de Cuatro — the holiest of Arrested Development holidays — the way he has spent every single day and night for the past four months: studying a triptych of monitors, stitching together footage from the zany-brainy comedy’s upcoming season, and hand-wringing laughs out of every frame.
“You can’t believe how many things you can put in a show after it’s shot,” he observes, his eyes glinting more mischief than fatigue. It pains the quip-smart creator on a molecular level to think that he might’ve left a joke on the table, which is why he is now manning an Avid machine in his home. After long days of supervising editing at a nearby postproduction facility, he holes up in his daughters’ old playroom (where hangs a Bluth’s Original Frozen Bananas poster and framed Taylor Swift photo). Up until 3 a.m., he might be: rearranging a sequence of reaction shots of a suitcase (for a Tony Wonder gag); sneaking another subtle look or line from Jason Bateman into a deeply nuanced, ultra-awkward run-in between smug man-of-reason Michael (Bateman) and his skittishly earnest son, George-Michael (Michael Cera); or fretting that Tobias’ flesh-color-painted mustache looks so flesh-colored, viewers might not be able to notice the gag. Mitch Hurwitz doesn’t make Arrested Development — he lives and bleeds it.
“A lot of the people that have come across this process have totally looked at me like I was crazy,” he continues, shaving milliseconds from a pause by failed therapist–turned–failed actor Tobias, who’s responding to a barbed question from dismissive Bluth matriarch Lucille (Jessica Walter). “As they should. It is crazy…. It’s obsessiveness, and it’s just feeling really bad until it’s funny.” Hurwitz reviews scene after scene — now delusional illusionist Gob (Will Arnett) tragically bungles a speech — like an NFL defensive coordinator analyzing nickel formations. “These people are not as bad as they seem,” he says with a mixture of pride and amusement. “They don’t necessarily have good hearts, but a lot of their other organs are just top-notch.”
This flagrantly flawed family of narcissistic ne’er-do-wells first won hearts, minds, and funny bones 15 years ago, and Hurwitz knows that fans await this next chapter with hopes almost as high as Lucille’s jazz-handed scream of delight when Gene Parmesan unmasks himself. After all, it’s not every year that the saucy, subversive, Emmy-winning comedy offers up new episodes — more like every five or seven years. (“I’m surprised it came together this quickly,” deadpans Arnett.) Following a low-rated three-season run on Fox that ended unceremoniously (as in, the network aired the final four episodes opposite the opening ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics), Arrested slowly burgeoned into endlessly quotable cult legend (“I don’t understand the question, and I won’t respond to it.”). This prompted Netflix to revive it in 2013 with a fourth-season deconstructionist experiment that was wildly ambitious and innovative, yet fell shy of many fans’ expectations as the Bluths spiraled off into disjointed individual journeys with few group gatherings. But this time the gang’s truly all back together again — including Jeffrey Tambor, who was terminated from Transparent in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations — and Hurwitz believes that this family reunion will feel more familial, more…familiar. “I went back to a more traditional show, just because it seemed like the only other place to zig while everybody else was zagging,” he says. “What, am I going to tell the story backwards this time?”
The Bluths are indeed moving forward, but where season 5’s 16 new episodes (the first eight arrive May 29) find the clan circa 2015 just might resonate in this bifurcated sociopolitical climate. “The Bluths forget but never forgive,” sums up Hurwitz. “You just carry around all this anger, but you don’t deal with it. And that is the starting point: Nobody has quite dealt with the mess they’ve made. It makes me think of what was going on with America. We’re all growing — we’re finally having an African-American president, we’re finally acknowledging transgender people and allowing gay marriage — and then it’s like, ‘No, let’s pretend none of that happened. Let’s just go back to what it was! It’s just easier!’ So that’s a big undercurrent in this.” He laughs. “Which is also funny, because it’s what the fans want: ‘Just go back! Make it great again!… Make Arrested Greedy Again!’”
WHEN WE LAST CAUGHT UP WITH THE BLUTH BUNCH, cinco Cinco de Cuatros ago, George-Michael over-emancipated himself by punching a deceitful Michael, hypocritical socialite Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) wall-mongered her way into a Congressional race, and Buster (Tony Hale) was on the hook for the murder of Lucille’s rival, Lucille 2 (Liza Minnelli), who’d vanished save for some bloody prints. Soon after the fourth season, Hurwitz began gathering ideas for a fifth — Fox Searchlight’s interest in a movie had waned once Arrested re-entrenched as a TV show — and in 2015, he reconvened the writers to brainstorm a new story revolving around the Bluth Company’s proposed wall on the U.S.–Mexico border. And then…presidential candidate Donald Trump announced his plan to build such a wall. “It’s like, ‘Well, now it looks like a really bad parody of Trump,’ when in fact it anticipated him,” says Hurwitz. “There were all these things that we really did have to resist, like doing the Saturday Night Live thing — Barry Zuckercorn [Henry Winkler] as Michael Cohen.”The wall plot would be scaled back, though there are still winks — imagine Lucille’s reaction to Trump’s infamous campaign pledge — and it factors into later episodes. (And if you think that parallels won’t be drawn between the two entitled, legally troubled, nepotism-happy real estate families, you’ve made a huge mistake.)
Time slipped by, as everyone was busy with other projects. “The studio wanted to do it, Netflix wanted to do it, the actors wanted to do it, I wanted to do it, but we all have to want to do it at the same time,” explains Hurwitz, who co-created Maria Bamford’s 2016 Netflix comedy Lady Dynamite. Yet the Bluths remained on the brain. “It’s this living entity, that takes different forms, but it’s never really gone,” says Arnett, who recalls how Arrested story ideas would surface in the Flaked writers’ room, which included Hurwitz and AD executive producer Jim Vallely. “The truth is, we’re always on the verge of ‘about to do it.’”
Suddenly, last summer, a metaphorical ukulele started strumming that jaunty theme song, and Balboa Towers reopened for residency. “Seeing that set rebuilt once again, down to the nails in the walls — it was surreal five years ago, and it was surreal now,” Walter says of her penthouse return. “It was quite overwhelming actually, because this show means so much to me. Capital S-O.” Bateman savored the communal spirit just off-stage. “There was often this flotilla of trailers, and it’s different from other projects,” he says. “You can pop around and knock on neighbor’s doors. It’s kind of like you’re living in an apartment building, and everybody in the building is a neighbor that you love. Each has a different flavor and characteristic that you like to hang around with.”
The prospect of another reunion filled Hale with childlike wonder.“‘What’s my hand going to look like?’ I remember saying that,” recalls the Veep vet. “That’s just like Christmas morning.” Arnett, who’d spent a few weeks in the writers’ room before filming, was reminded on his first day back on set that it takes a village to buoy the Bluths, down to tiny continuity details. “Jason was shooting this scene where he’s got to come into the model home,” he says. “And Jason’s saying to Troy [Miller, the director], ‘Wait, what am I doing? Remind me what the thing is.’ And as I walked by, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, by the way, Jason, you shouldn’t have your bag with you.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh yeah.’ And then I just kept walking. That’s kind of the way it is. It’s just, like, all hands on deck.”
All hands were needed to coordinate the actors’ stuffed schedules. Kyle Mooney, who has a sizable guest role, was available only during SNL hiatus weeks, while all of Bateman’s scenes needed to be filmed before he departed for season 2 of Ozark. De Rossi, who had asked to be written off Scandal, planned to step away from acting to focus on a new business, but Hurwitz managed to persuade her to briefly un-retire. He was grateful to secure de Rossi for a limited time — “she always wanted to do it” — though the writers had to reduce and rejigger a story line about her Congressional bid, which means Lindsay is featured less prominently than the others.
Similar to season 4 production, scenes were shot wildly out of sequence and/or written on the fly. “There was a level of limberness that one needs to bring every day when you’re doing this show,” says Bateman. “A different process would be a different writer, and no other writer would be as good for this show as him…. He’s just great [at] juxtaposing something super highbrow or complicated with something that is ludicrous and knuckle-dragging in its comedic broadness.”
Filming on season 5 ended in November with an exhausted brow wipe — but also with uneasiness, as Tambor’s former assistant and a Transparent actress accused the actor of sexual harassment. “It was very jarring,” recalls Hale. “That was not my experience at all with him.” After a three-month Amazon investigation, Tambor, who won two Emmys as transgender woman Maura Pfefferman, was fired from Transparent. While Tambor conceded that he can be “volatile and ill-tempered”—in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he admitted to lashing out at Walter and later “profusely apologized” — he strongly denied the allegations in a November statement, saying: “I have never been a predator — ever. I am deeply sorry if any action of mine was ever misinterpreted by anyone as being sexually aggressive or if I ever offended or hurt anyone.”
What would Netflix and Arrested Development do? After months of silence, Netflix announced in early May that Tambor would appear in season 5. Hurwitz tells EW that he discussed the accusations with the actor when they surfaced in November, and that “he was as surprised by it as I was.” He acknowledges that Tambor — with whom he’s worked for 20 years and whom he considers a friend — can be “difficult” and “a grump,” but says that “Jeffrey has never evinced that kind of behavior.” Emphatically stating that “we all stand with victims of sexual abuse,” Hurwitz says that he hadn’t received any sexual-misconduct complaints about Tambor from the Arrested cast and crew, and when he checked with Netflix and the show’s studio, 20th Century Fox Television, they hadn’t either. The creator says that given the information that he had, he did not envision a scenario in which Tambor would be removed from season 5. “We were done shooting — there was no version of cutting him out of the show, or there would be no show,” he explains. That said, “Am I going to cut Jeffrey out of the show, based on allegations that he disputes, that Amazon hasn’t shared, and that we have never experienced any complaints about? No, of course I am not going to…. I’m going to support Jeffrey.”
Bateman, Arnett, and Hale expressed similar sentiments to EW, while Tambor declined to participate in this story. (Netflix also would not comment, but in a recent statement, chief content officer Ted Sarandos called Tambor “totally professional.”) Walter, his onscreen wife, says she is still “privately processing my feelings about the way I was treated by him,” referring to that season 5 outburst. She does note that she “never saw anything from him that crossed the line” in terms of sexual harassment. “I have great empathy for the courage of people who feel they have been harassed in any form speaking out — and sympathy for people who have been unjustly accused,” she says. “It’s a very difficult situation for everyone involved.”
Exactly how will viewers will react to the new season with Tambor’s inclusion, in light of the headlines and controversy, is unknown. “The life that the product lives after your participation is often something you have nothing to do with,” notes Bateman. “You can just do your part, and now you hand it over to the audience. It’s up to them what they want to do with it, how they want to think about it, how critics want to review it, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You just watch it go out into the world.”
REGRESSION IS ONE WORD HURWITZ USES TO DESCRIBE SEASON 5. Here are three others: “Where is she?” She (not her?) is vertigo sufferer/Buster luster Lucille Austero, a.k.a. Lucille 2, last seen lying on the stair-car stairs. A determined detective named Lieutenant Toddler (Rebecca Drysdale) is hot on the case, so Lucille 2 “better get back here, because Buster is the one paying the price for her disappearance,” says Hurwitz, noting that the loopy man-child serves as the catalyst for bringing the Bluths back together this season.
Unfortunately, Buster is not so great at clearing his name; in fact, he keeps pointing a finger at himself. “I feel like he is such in a state of arrested development,” says Hale. (Hey! That’s the name of the show!) “All Buster does want in life is safety. It was fun because it felt like taking someone like Buster and putting him in Law & Order. He’s just like, “What the hell is going on?’”
If Buster feels like he’s been through the wringer, so does a certain replacement appendage: his government-experiment superhand melts in the dryer, leaving him with its skeleton. (“I tried to use it a lot,” notes Hurwitz, “because it was $60,000.”) “Since it is mechanical, it did a lot of things that Buster didn’t intend — and also [I] didn’t intend, because someone else was controlling it,” reports Hale of the contraption. “It was a very well-built thing. [But] I’d be doing a line and look down, and three fingers would fall off or five bolts would unscrew. Or I’d feel like a jolt of electricity.”
In a slightly less shocking development, Gob has been reinstalled as president of the Bluth Company. (“I guess he’s Don Jr.,” says Hurwitz. “They do line up pretty well.”) In addition, the clueless prestidigitator, who wound up in bed with rival Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller), is still dealing with the aftereffects of that quasi-magical, confounding encounter. “Really, all he’s trying to do is figure out who he is,” says Arnett. “Gob’s desire to understand his relationship with Tony Wonder takes us to new heights.” This may involve the procurement of a Beard — John Beard’s ex-wife Joannie (Lauren Weedman).
Lucille will forge a relationship — perhaps romantic, perhaps not — with a lawyer-turned-surfer named Dusty (Dermot Mulroney), which will make Buster and George jealous. And in a season of regression, there is growth for the grand dame wielding a martini. While Walter promises that Lucille is “crazy and mean, and vicious as ever… Mitch has really gotten into a little bit of humanity for our Lu. There are multi-layers to Lucille that you haven’t seen.”
Meanwhile, Michael (who’s teaching family self-defense classes, as in how to defend yourself from family members) longs to repair his relationship with George-Michael (who has been working on his broom-based lightsaber moves), after it imploded over their romances with Ron Howard’s daughter, Rebel (Isla Fisher). “As much as he postures as the only goddamn smart one in this cage of monkeys, he’s just as dumb and as dysfunctional as the rest of them,” says Bateman. “He really gets exposed, though, when he’s around his son. George-Michael is like his kryptonite.” And once again, there are fake-outs and fumbling on both sides. “George Michael, who has not been dating [Rebel], is trying to convince his father that he has been dating her, so his father doesn’t feel like he broke up with her for nothing, and Michael actually didn’t really break up with her,” hints Hurwitz. “She’s this avatar for all of their dysfunction.”
Speaking of dysfunction, Lindsay, who has replaced Herbert Love (Terry Crews) on the ticket, is prodded by Lucille into running for Congress against Sally Sitwell (Christine Taylor), who has replaced Lucille 2. Her beyond-estranged husband, Tobias, desperately tries to remain in the family, toiling as Lucille’s therapist and pretending to be Michael in a behind-the-scenes campaign video. (Which sort of explains the flesh-colored mustache.) Slippery, testosterone-deficient George Sr. is hitting rock bottom and secretly scheming ways to kill himself, while master-of-disguise-and-lies Maeby (Alia Shawkat), who has passed herself off as younger and older, is now playing really older: she has a tight wig game and hides out in a retirement community.
In other news, the Bluths give themselves a Family of the Year award, the banana stand has pulled a Lucille 2 and gone missing, and some non-maritime courtroom drama will introduce confused-yet-killer district attorney Lottie Dottie DA, played by Frances Conroy. Through much of these adventures — one of which takes you under the sea — you’ll see literal togetherness from the Bluths, which especially pleased Walter. She not only calls season 5 “off-the-wall, wild, funny,” she deems it the best one yet. “So much of it is the ensemble together, which I think is really important,” she says. “That’s one of the reasons I loved it so much, because we didn’t have that in season 4.”
Arnett agrees — to a point: “I reject the notion that season 4 was the bastard-stepchild season that nobody wants to talk about, and now we’re back to ‘the real thing.’” Hurwitz agrees — completely. “The only thing that pains me is I have to kind of play the game that ‘Oh yeah, it wasn’t their best season,'” he says. “I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It may not be that appealing. It depends on what you mean by best. It was such a massive, complicated puzzle that at the same time I wanted to be funny. And I wanted to play with storytelling, and I did. We did it. We got through it.” (Hurwitz re-edited those 15 episodes into 22 installments that interweave all of the characters’ storylines, viewing it as a “great challenge” and a way to make the show more viable for syndication. Earlier this month, Netflix released the “remixed” season 4, which led to a brief pay dispute with the actors. It has since been resolved with the stars receiving compensation, sources tell EW.)
After all that season 4-play, when it came to season 5, Hurwitz says with a shrug, “I just made the show like we always did. It usually began and ended with the family together.”
So, is season 5… the end? While the creator already has more misadventures zipping around his head — “It flows so easily out of this cast, it’s hard not to want to do more” — it may be another epic wait. “We’ve always been underdogs,” he says. “Nobody ever got cocky, really. We’re still just trying hard. So actually, the every-few-years thing works great for me, because it’s hard to get a laugh through to that screen.”
That may not sit well with the woman who doesn’t care for the Sitwells. “I’ll be too old in five more years,” quips Walter. Bateman is open to a Bluth-ercise video: “It would be a combination of small muscle exercises that Michael knows how to do,” he explains. “Lot of shoulder lifts with his workbag—you can probably work your traps pretty well.” But Arnett is thinking bigger. And darker. “I like the idea that we’re all working towards Arrested Development: Last Bluth Standing,” he says. “Mitch has written out versions where each one of us is the last person, depending on who lasts the longest, and I predict it will be me. Yeah, I’m going to outlive everybody.” Or at least that dove in Gob’s jacket.