Much to the surprise and joy of every Arrested Development fan, the Emmy Award-winning comedy series following the wildly eccentric and entertainingly dysfunctional Bluth family is back with 15 new episodes debuting on Netflix on May 26th. Having seen the first new episode, I can say that the show is as twisted and funny as ever, and feels like it hasn’t missed a beat in the seven years since the last episode aired. From creator/writer Mitch Hurwitz, the series stars Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, David Cross, Portia de Rossi, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter.
During this recent interview to promote the new episodes, Mitch Hurwitz talked about how they ended up with 15 episodes, how they chose to exploit the technology of Netflix, his recommendation for the most gratifying way to watch the episodes, how much they took advantage of the freedom they had with the content, how he’ll get feedback from fans, his expectations for these episodes, and the possibility of a movie still happening. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Question: Since this project was first announced, it’s gone from 10 episodes to 14, and now to 15, which must have increased the budget. How did that work with Netflix? Did you have to ask for more money to get more episodes, or did you just end up with so much more material that you needed 15 episodes to fit it all in?
HURWITZ: I would say that Netflix has been very generous and, this is a little out of my camp, but I believe that they had a contract in place that allowed them to ask for more episodes, up to a certain number. I’m not exactly sure of the details of that. I know, from our perspective, they were interested in more content. The one thing that was in the contract was that they didn’t want the shows to be too short. With the first couple of episodes, we really labored to make it under 30 minutes, and then I had a talk with Ted Sarandos and he said, “No, we never said under 30 minutes.” I was like, “Oh, thank god! That just saved me weeks.” Jessica’s episode is 35 minutes. I wanted to be somewhat responsible and keep everyone’s attention with them.
Early on, I had worried about, “What if there’s not enough material?” So, I worked and worked and worked, working out these stories. The average script for these things is about 26 pages. I think I’d gotten to page 50, and I hadn’t gotten to the half-way point for one of the shows, so I was in a bit of a panic. When I did call Ted Sarandos, he said, “Well, we’ll take more,” and that was a big time saver for me. It really was dictated by the story. We had set out this whole story we wanted to tell.
My initial idea was to take the nine characters and do nine episodes, but there were all sorts of things in the story that just transcended one episode. So, I’m really glad they gave us this flexibility. We would suddenly find out that there was a piece of Jessica’s episode that we could put into the Buster episode, that actually helped the Buster episode and set things up, out of Jessica’s episode. It gives us more funny in that show. And so, there were just a lot of things that I had the freedom to do, to keep these episodes entertaining and interesting, while sneaking our macro story in there.
This feels like the first series that Netflix is debuting that was specifically put together to take advantage of how Netflix works. Did that give you more freedom, or did you feel more constrained, in different ways?
HURWITZ: I just happened to love the idea of exploiting the technology. That’s just right up my alley. That’s the kind of thing I really get a kick out of. So, we spent a lot of time thinking about how to take advantage of the opportunity, and that really became the great challenge of this. We knew that we had an audience that would be interested in the details. We have things in the show that the technology isn’t quite there to handle, as we did with the first show. With the first show, we had all sorts of things you could only get, if you were able to pause. We weren’t necessarily even on DVD yet, and DVRs hadn’t had that kind of penetration. So, this is kind of an extension of that.
By the very nature of it, we have these shows that are going to catch and audience up on what has happened with this family. And the next logical step out of that is that all these things are happening, at the same time. Everybody endured 2009 together, during the economic collapse, and that led to this idea of a concurrence of events. I think we’re still a year away from the audience being able to skip from one moment to another, effortlessly. But, what Netflix does allow is a chance to jump around, pretty easily. You can go back to the menu and jump to another episode. What’s different about this is that the audience owns the material. They aren’t being told when they’ll get each particular bit of information. Hopefully, that informs the telling of the stories.
As it turns out, we did a show where we wanted the rules of the world to be consistent where, if there was blue make-up on the wall, it will stay there the next week, and if somebody smashes a hole in the wall, that hole will be there the next week. What became the esthetic of the show was to create as much of a reality as we could.
What is your recommendation for what will be the most gratifying way to watch these episodes?
HURWITZ: My knee-jerk is that it is comedy and, if you watch them all back-to-back, you will gain something and you will lose something. What you’ll gain is the macro story. You’ll get a good command of that. And what you might lose is some of the fun of it. One of the things I liked about bringing this show back was that it gives people something to look forward to. In doing the show, I was very aware that some people will watch it all in one night, but there is enough that it will be fun to re-watch. Hopefully, people will be laughing a lot. But, you have to watch them in order. That’s very important because, as it turns out, stories have to be told in order. It’s like reading a novel. There are times when it’s tiring. And then, you get hooked and it’s a page-turner, and you really want to keep reading. I do think there will be some fatigue that sets in. I joked recently that I thought 30 seconds a day for three years would be the best way to enjoy it, and I’m going to stand by that statement.
With the freedom that Netflix gives you, did you decide to take advantage of that, at all?
HURWITZ: We actually do have nudity in the show. I won’t tell you who, but it’s one of the principal cast members. We had to say, “Please, stop taking your clothes off! The scene doesn’t call for it.” But, we more or less embraced the idea of the old show, being filtered by this narrator, in an invisible way. That’s what the conceit is. Ron Howard, as a character, is a clean cut, really good guy, and it just becomes part of the personality of the show that we leave some things unsaid. We cover certain things up. We blur certain things. So, we just embrace that. We decided that you’re still not allowed to say the bad words. We do want younger people to be able to watch it. There are a lot of things that have two meanings. That’s often what we try to do, so that a younger person can watch it. So, there’s still a lot of bleeping. There’s some inappropriate humor in it, but we don’t swear.
What can you say about your experiences growing up in Costa Mesa, and how that may have served as inspiration for the show?
HURWITZ: As somebody who wanted to be creative, growing up, I remember always thinking that the thing I had going against me was Orange County because it seemed like all of the comedy was coming out of New York, and it still is, to a certain extent. But, they say to just write about what’s happening in your backyard because that’s where you find the most creativity. It’s in the DNA of the show. There’s no question. I had a cookie business there, with my brother, when we were growing up, called the Chip Yard, and that became the inspiration for the banana stand. My father said that he wanted us to develop a work ethic, so we’d sit there selling cookies, all day. At the same time, on Saturday night, he’d say, “Hey, let’s go see a movie,” and we’d say, “We can’t, dad, we’ve got to sell these cookies.” He’d say, “Oh, for Christ’s sake, I’ll give you the $15. Come on, let’s go see a movie.” So, it was a very mixed message.
Once the show goes live on Netflix, are you going to go online to get feedback and hear what fans are thinking?
HURWITZ: I was just thinking about that, personally. I’m going to wake up on Sunday morning – because I’m not going to stay up – and I won’t have any data. I won’t know anything. I could go online, I suppose. Then, I was thinking that maybe I should do a live Twitter thing, but then I thought, “No, people will just register their complaints with me. Why do I want to offer that opportunity to them?” It’s an excellent question, and I’ve not given any thought, as to how I’m going to get any feedback. I imagine that I’m going to call Ted Sarandos and say, “What have you heard?” Netflix will know everything. Netflix will know when a person stops watching it. They have all of their algorithms and will know that this person watched five minutes of a show and then stopped. They can tell by the behavior and the time of day that they are going to come back to it, based on their history.
The revolution is here. It’s established that Netflix is a place where you can get premium content. It’s a whole new world. It’s very interesting. We’ll be discovering it together. It’s going to be interesting because they don’t have a lot to compare it to. I will tell you that we’re all human beings, and we all care about what people think of us. But in general, their outlook is, “We’re not looking at opening night numbers. We’re not looking at opening night box office. We want this to be part of the reason you come to our service.” If you’ve got a restaurant, you definitely want the line to be out the door the first night, but you’re more interested in people continuing to come to the restaurant. And that’s their outlook, a little bit. I think it allows for more creativity, in the process. It allows people to make interesting programming that maybe wouldn’t have a place on broadcast networks, if you were just counting people.
What are your expectations for these episodes?
HURWITZ: I’m not happy about them, I’ll be honest. I really feel like we all should just lower our expectations. That would really be great for me. I’m joking, of course. It’s very, very flattering that the fans are this interested, and it’s such a different experience than when we first made the show and nobody knew what it was. There was no conversation to be had with the fans. I will say that, in the last couple of days, I’ve started getting nervous. My shoulders were up around my ears at the premiere, at Grauman’s Chinese. That was a little overwhelming. It doesn’t feel like the kind of reunion shows that we’ve seen in the history of the medium, where everybody comes back a little infirmed, and tries out the old jokes. We really are trying to do something different with this, and I think that’s what made it viable for us and didn’t feel like we were just repeating ourselves. What might initially make it a little confusing to an audience will also hopefully reward them.
Why did it take so long to make this fourth season, and what is the status of the movie now?
HURWITZ: I think that timing is everything. At first, it was too soon. And then, the time was right, but I was busy with other things, and the cast was busy with other things. By the time we sat down to work on the movie, enough time had passed that suddenly a different story emerged. It was no longer as interesting to just see some sort of family adventure movie. But, what became compelling was the history of what’s been going on in this family’s life, and that gave birth to the television show. Our hope is that it still leads to a movie, or at least some mechanism of doing more content about this family. If this is successful, I hope that we find someone to underwrite our efforts, every couple of years.
Arrested Development is available on Netflix on May 26th.