By Drew Taylor | The Playlist May 21, 2013 at 4:10PM
If the hairs on the back of your neck are standing up it probably means you have Spidey-senses. It also means that the new season of "Arrested Development," available streaming instantly over Netflix, is about to drop on Sunday. We are so close to new episodes of the iconic cult series, about a family that falters during the financial crisis and must make do with each other, it's almost hard to fathom. But still – it's a reality. We've seen the bus stop posters. In preparation for the new season's launch, creator Mitch Hurwitz talked to Rolling Stone at length about the show, the potential movie, and what organizational chaos it was trying to make everything fit. Here are five things we learned from the interview.
Mitch Hurwitz Likens The Original Series To Writing A Novel
When describing the incredibly frustrating period of "Arrested Development" towards the end of the third season, when Fox had thrown in the towel but the cast and crew was still doing stellar work, including signing Charlize Theron to do a 6-episode arc ("You just don't get that on a weekly TV show, and certainly not one with low ratings like that,") Hurwitz said that his feelings about the work changed. Not only did was he frustrated because "the lack of ratings meant lack of other support, too," but he began to think about the show in different terms. I remember thinking, 'All right, I've got Ron Howard leading this charge. I don't know if I'm ever going to have this opportunity again, where I have a heavy hitter on my team that's not the star of the show.' It was like writing a novel or something. You're not really thinking, 'Boy, I hope this is a giant, giant hit.' You're thinking, 'OK, I'm writing this novel now, and I've got to put everything I have in it. That's the opportunity I have.'"
Fans of the series know that "Arrested Development" develops a labyrinthine series of inside jokes and references that are often repeated throughout the series. You can still think the show is perfectly funny without noticing the esoteric callback to an earlier joke, but if you do notice that stuff, it enhances the experience greatly. At one point, though, Fox wanted him to streamline the series. " There was talk at one point that they wouldn't sign up unless I signed a contract to simplify it by a percentage point. I forget the number. It was, like, a 30 percent or 40 percent simplification." Hurwitz says that he wasn't sure what Fox wanted him to do to simplify the show, and that he had to push back and say that he was making those references because he thought it would make for a funnier show. "That sounds a little artsy, but it really was because I thought it would get laughs," Hurwitz told the magazine. "After all is said and done, that's what it all came down to. I think it's funnier to have this extra thread going down with Tobias where he's in a mole suit, despite the fact that we already have a guy in a jet pack, to use an example of perhaps overkill." Don’t worry, Mitch: it is funnier.
Actors Were Combined Using Green Screen, 'Sin City'-Style (And Always Pretty Confused)
Much of the Rolling Stone piece is devoted to the maddening complexity of trying to wrangle the schedules of all of the actors (and then untangle those out-of-order performances in the editing bay,) recounting how it looked like Portia de Rossi's "Munsters" reboot "Mockingbird Lane" was taking off, which meant that they had to start writing her stuff first and then figure it out in reverse. Hurwitz described it thusly: "The whole thing was an incredible act of organization. I'm so exhausted, 'cause it really was about two years of trying to keep what was blossoming into a very complex story in my head at one time." One of the ways that they were able to even accomplish the new series was to film actors against green screens and then composite them later, which is oftentimes how Robert Rodriguez gets actors to be in his movies. Half of the stuff is on green screen," Hurwitz admitted. "There are scenes where there are two characters talking to each other. On one side, it's Jason Bateman in July, and on the other side it's Portia in November." Apparently the actors were confused almost all of the time, something that Hurwitz says was not his intention. " I wasn't really doing the Woody Allen thing of, 'Sorry, you can only have these pages.' It really took about three hours to explain the whole story, and I did it with a few of them. But then you only have so many three-hour periods. It would just end up tumbling out of me." So the actors will be just as surprised when they see the finished episodes? Excellent.
What's fascinating to read, throughout the Rolling Stone piece, is how involved Ron Howard was. When Hurwitz originally proposed the resurrection of the show not as a season of television but as a trilogy of movies, like "Star Wars" but where people who get their hands bitten off by seals instead of sliced away by laser-swords, Howard intervened. Hurwitz deadpanned: "He was like, 'I think it might be hard enough to get one movie made.' It was a good point. A studio might not want to spend $150 million on an 'Arrested Development' trilogy. I can see that argument." Howard ended up inadvertently inspiring the ambitious plan for "Arrested Development" that Hurwitz currently has laid out, which involves at least this one season of the television series and then a stand-alone movie. "At the time, he was working on the 'Dark Tower' trilogy," Hurwitz explained to Rolling Stone. "He told me about it as I was leaving his office. He said, 'I'm doing this 'Dark Tower' thing, and it's very, very complicated. I'm trying to get it to be a movie and then a TV show and then another movie and possibly another TV show.'" (Ultimately, that plan for 'The Dark Tower' collapsed under the weight of its ambition, though may yet be resurrected.) So when you watch "Arrested Development" on Sunday, just know that you have Stephen King to thank. Scary!
Hurwitz Isn't Entirely Sure The Next 'Arrested Development' Thing Will Be A Movie
Even though, throughout the piece, Hurwitz reiterates that the movie and the new season are interlocked and you can't have one without the other, towards the end of the interview he starts to waver about the movie. " I've got to see how this goes. I do have the movie all outlined. Maybe it's not a movie, though. I don't know. Maybe it's another series? Maybe it's something…" Hurwitz waffled. When pressed about an additional season (the show's fifth), he continued to noodle some more. "Well, I can't say because it's not my decision. I can say, unequivocally, I want to do more with this show and with these people. Unequivocally. It's designed with a closure to it, but also with a lot of avenues open for things that I think will be compelling." So if the Netflix series is even a moderate hit (something like "House of Cards,") then chances are we'll be seeing more of "Arrested Development" in the not too distant future.
"Arrested Development" airs on Netflix on Sunday.