TCA Press Tour 2013: ‘Arrested Development’ Panel Report

Creator Mitch Hurtwitz and the cast of “Arrested Development” talk about their new, long awaited Netflix revival.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Every time an “Arrested Development” actor, or creator Mitch Hurwitz, has a new show at a Television Critics Association press tour, the inevitable question is asked: When is the “Arrested Development” movie coming? 

Today, the cast of “Arrested Development” and Mitch Hurwitz returned to the TCA for a Netflix session. The Netflix revival of “Arrested Development” will make 14 episodes available in May.

At the end of their panel Hurwitz showed a clip he said was deleted from the series for time. Lucille (Jessica Walter) is smoking in the living room, and Buster (Tony Hale) enters the frame and sucks the smoke she exhales, like a mama bird. Buster then blows the smoke out the porch door. This goes on six times as Buster gets sicker and sicker. Then Lucille takes out another cigarette and Buster takes three more hits. It may not work for time, but the scene is the epitome of a running gag.

We’ve been following these developments closely so we already know that each episode will focus on one of the Bluths. Buster may appear in Lucille’s episode and vice versa. Hurtwitz explained how they may intersect.

“The only way we could get everyone together for what we’ll loosely call an anthology, was to dedicate each episode to a character’s point of view,” said Hurwitz. “We started finding out that the stories would intersect. You’ll see a scene again from the other perspective and you’ll get all this new information. It is kind of an evolution of the storytelling that was necessary. I don’t know if the technology is there yet, but we wanted to find a way we could jump from one story to another, almost like a choose your own adventure. All of that conspired to make this one giant ‘Arrested Development,’ one 700 minute Arrested Development.’”

Jason Bateman revealed that the series itself is the setup for more “Arrested Development,” perhaps a movie. “Which basically is simply just the first act of what we hope to continue and complete in a movie which will be act two and act three,” related Bateman. “These are episodes that set that up. One does not work without the other. I think it was sort of mislabeled early on by a blogger that this was season four. In fact, it is not that. We should probably make that clear. It is certainly a satisfying conclusion to these episodes if for some unfortunate reason the movie doesn’t happen, but they are all meant to work within one another as a package of 'Arrested Development.'’”

You would think that creating an intersecting storyline would require very specific pre-planning. It turned out, Hurwitz ended up scrambling for plans as his actors became available. “We got very locked in on the story,” admitted Hurwitz. “It was incredibly, incredibly complicated. We still owe some pickups because we’re in second position to most of these actors. On series television, I suddenly got oh, this is why everyone has five year contracts. We’re telling a complicated story that jumps around in time and has all these intersections and shooting it way out of order. Yeah, I had the story with the writers, some of the old guys came back from the old show. We had worked that out. We started writing the shows in order and then very quickly had to jump to we have Tony Hale today and Jessica, we have to write the stuff that’s in Jessica’s. Fortunately we knew the story.”

With Netflix, “Arrested Development” can be as long as it wants, without a network schedule to adhere to. Hurwitz said he’s keeping each episode under 30 minutes. “We’re just starting post-production,” revealed Hurwitz. “We have a lot of post to do and a lot of pieces and a lot of storytelling. Some of the storytelling will be in flux. In general we’re going to try to make these just under a half hour, going to try to take that cable TV model.”

Even harder than crafting the intersecting story may have been beating the fans to the story itself. Hurwitz found that some of the fans were onto his ideas before he could film them. “We were originally working on a movie and there would be some fan fiction things that would scoop us,” said Hurwitz. “It happened a couple times. Well, we can’t do that. One of the things about the show was trying to be surprising. That was easy to do when nobody was watching it. Now that people started watching it, they get ahead of us. We’ve all started really guarding the material just to make it fun for the audience.”

With all of the episodes slated to be available at once, you can watch them in any order you want, but Hurwitz still has a specfic order in mind. “There’s an order we put it in to create the maximum amount of surprises,” shared Hurwitz. “That’s just one way to watch it. There are going to be surprises that are going to be ruined by spoilers, but that would’ve happened anyway. It’s happening on one day for hardcore fans, but the stuff just exists.”

Portia De Rossi almost spoiled one of the intersecting jokes. “We had a great, I thought, scene where I interpreted my mother’s tone as sarcasm because why wouldn’t I?” De Rossi said. “But she meant something totally different. So when you watch my episode, you’ll think wow, that was quite something that Jessica said.”

Hurwitz interrupted De Rossi before she could spoil Jessica Walter’s side of that joke. Walter herself simply added, “As far as Lucille goes, I have finally gotten to play Joan Crawford with laughs.”

Jeffrey Tambor revealed that all of the Bluths will share a scene together at least once. “We were two weeks in, we all hadn’t seen each other,” recalled Tambor. “We had shot in the desert the previous week. Jason and I did all our scenes. The second week was all nine of us in the evening in a living room scene. This isn’t a sentimental group, but that was a pretty interesting room and we all applauded.”

Hurwitz reminded us that it wasn’t unusual on the original “Arrested Development” to keep the family apart until key scenes. “I guess even on the old show we would maybe not all be in the scene,” related Hurwitz. “Maybe there’d be a penthouse scene. I think we did one where George Sr. was supposed to have died and Jeffrey was in the room as Oscar. We were together in various versions and everyone overlapped.”