‘Arrested Development’ returns Sunday, in a nonlinear way

Posted 7:10am on Wednesday, May. 22, 2013

Portia de Rossi only believed it was happening when her agent got the good news from the producers. Michael Cera only believed it was happening when the cameras rolled.

It happened all right. After years of clamoring from fans and rumors firing them up while the cast hung on for a green light, Arrested Development has risen from the dead with 15 half-hours premiering en masse on Netflix at 2:01 a.m. Sunday.

Arrested Development is the cockeyed comedy blessed with a king’s ransom of talent and the twisted vision of its mastermind, Mitch Hurwitz, that aired on Fox for three seasons as a cult favorite, then was canceled for low ratings — and maybe because it befuddled everyone who wasn’t hooked on its lunacy. (Those original three seasons are available for streaming on Netflix, too.)

“I think the show scored some ‘cool points’ for dying before its time,” says Cera. “But there are still a lot more places for it to go.”

“Mitch and the cast didn’t want to do something not as good as the old series,” says co-star Jason Bateman, who plays Michael Bluth, the fractious family’s would-be mediating presence. “We didn’t want to do something lateral or just a retread.”

The new Netflix season takes the form of what you might call an anthology as it updates viewers, character by character with each episode, on the Bluth family — that once-wealthy, now-broke and at-each-other’s-throats clan squabbling in Newport Beach, Calif.

A wicked homage to the scandals of Enron and Tyco and a loopy foreshadowing of the 2008 Wall Street meltdown, Arrested premiered in 2003 as a send-up of high-end vanities, greed and corruption as displayed within the Bluth family circle.

Besides de Rossi, Cera and Bateman, the cast of Arrested redux brings back Will Arnett, Alia Shawkat, Tony Hale, David Cross, Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter, who reconvened in a strategic yet catch-as-catch-can fashion.

“There was no reality where we could get everybody for a full 7- or 8-month period,” explains Hurwitz. “That gave birth to the form we came up with for the new series.”

The 15 episodes dwell on individual characters during the six-year span from when the series was canceled in 2006 up through 2012. That structure was supposed to make it simple to book each actor for an isolated shooting schedule.

Then Hurwitz took his creativity another step. Since all the episodes are happening simultaneously, he couldn’t resist including crossover appearances from other actors in each episode. He wanted characters and story lines from different episodes to intersect. But his ambition made it all the trickier getting the actors he needed in place for any given episode.

The overall effect is a sort of hypertext array for the 15 episodes.

“Mitch made it a choose-your-own-adventure season, in that you can watch any episode out of order and it makes sense but, depending on which order you watch them, the series kind of tells a different story,” says de Rossi, who plays spoiled materialist sister Lindsay.

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