News Column

After Seven Years, a TV Cult Hit is Revived

May 25, 2013



Over her half-century in the acting business, Jessica Walter has found a reliable way to gauge if a production deal will really go forward. And she used it for a project about which she'd been especially skeptical: the revival of "Arrested Development."

"It was seven years in the waiting and when they finally actually said 'Yes, it's a go,' I still didn't believe it," says Walter, who played matriarch Lucille Bluth in the Emmy-winning comedy that ended its ratings-challenged three-season run on Fox in 2006. "I believe that a show is really happening when wardrobe calls you. Business affairs is one thing, but when wardrobe actually calls, you know it's a go. ... And when wardrobe did call after business affairs called, I said, 'Oh, my God, this is actually happening.' "

"Arrested Development" fans had the same reaction when Netflix announced 18 months ago that it would resurrect the series. And on Sunday, after several weeks of promoting the fourth-season premiere with a Bluth's Original Frozen Banana Stand Worldwide Tour, the Internet subscription service will release 15 new half-hour episodes -- all at once.

It'll be an extreme reentry into the wacky world of the dysfunctional, once-wealthy Bluth family of Orange County, Calif. Patriarch George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) went to prison after years of using creative accounting in his real-estate business, leaving his pragmatic son, Michael (Jason Bateman), to try to clean up his mess.

Other members of the clan are Michael's older brother, Gob (Will Arnett), a magician; their younger brother, Buster (Tony Hale), a mama's boy who has a prosthetic left hand (thanks to a run-in with a "loose seal"); their sister, Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), an aspiring socialite and activist; her husband, Tobias Funke (David Cross), a shrink-turned-wannabe-actor with lots of issues; and Michael's son, George Michael (Michael Cera), who has a crush on his cousin, Maeby (Alia Shawkat). (In the new episodes, Maeby reportedly pitches a show about the Bluths to Ron Howard, who sees it as a movie.) And of course there is Lucille, who has had some of the show's best lines, including "What's Spanish for 'I know you speak English'?"

"Lucille [now] has a bracelet monitor on her ankle. She's obviously at home under surveillance," Walter says. "She's also still drinking. ... She's in desperate, desperate straits. She's more desperate than she's ever been and reveals talents no one knew she had."

During its Fox run, "AD" had a cult following, but after its cancellation, the fan base widened, as people discovered it on DVD and the Internet.

Series creator Mitchell Hurwitz originally wanted to do a big- screen follow up, but he and executive producer/narrator Ron Howard realized it would take too much movie time to explain what the Bluths have been up to for the past seven years.

Netflix's "AD" is a sort of prequel for a movie Hurwitz still hopes to make. Each of the 15 episodes will mainly focus on one character, with a few characters getting more than one episode.

The new episodes were shot from early August 2012 to early January at the Culver Studios, where "AD" filmed its first season, before moving to the Fox lot.

The first scene -- which brought together all nine cast regulars - - was at Lucille's penthouse, which the art department had re- created, "down to the nails in the walls," says Walter. She found it "surreal" to be working again with former cast mates and many of their old crew members. "The excitement! It took about 30 minutes for everybody to calm down," she says.

Netflix did not send out previews, but in one clip, Lucille -- whose condo does not allow smoking -- gets around the ban by blowing cigarette smoke into the mouth of Buster, who then runs to the balcony to exhale. "It sums up their relationship, really, in a nutshell. Mama bird is feeding little baby bird," says Walter, whose domineering Lucille regularly dragged Buster to the annual "Motherboy" dinner dance. "It's a very unhealthy relationship."

Some old guest stars will also return, including Liza Minnelli, Ben Stiller, Martin Mull, Scott Baio and Henry Winkler. And new ones will show up -- including Kristen Wiig, as a young Lucille.

On Monday, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told investors that his company would broadcast only one new season of "AD," because his company has "less of a stake in it."

And what about that possible movie? "You know, I'm getting vibes that it could possibly happen, and I didn't think it was going to," Walter says. "Mitch Hurwitz ... he got this thing going after seven years. My money's on him."

She chuckles and recites one of George Sr.'s most memorable lines: "And there's always money in the banana stand."

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