Catching Up With Arrested Development Creator Mitch Hurwitz
Come on! By now you have to know that the Bluth family is back. After seven long, banana stand-free years, Arrested Development finally returns for a fourth season this weekend. All 15 episodes go live on Netflix at 12:01 a.m. PST on Sunday, May 26 (that’s 3:01 in the morning for East Coasters).
The fourth season will revisit the Bluth family and fill viewers in on what’s been happening since we last saw them in February 2006. Each episode will focus on a single character (all the major characters get two episodes each except for Lucille, Buster and Maeby) and some scenes will be shown multiple times from differing vantage points.
Days before the show’s return, series creator and executive producer Mitch Hurwitz spoke with reporters about viewer’s expectations, how he thinks viewers should consume the show and if he’ll be staying up to watch.
It’s been over seven years since we last saw the Bluths. Why did it take so long?
Mitch Hurwitz: Timing is everything. At first it was too soon, and then the time was right but I was busy with other things, the cast was busy with other things and by the time I 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 what’s been going on in this family’s life. So that kind of 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. I know Jason Bateman [who plays Michael Bluth] early on said we should do it like the Michael Apted films and do it every seven years, and I like that idea except you only get so many seven years in your life which you realize as you get older. I think it would be a great thing, if this is successful and I hope it will be, that we find someone to underwrite our efforts every couple years.
Initially it was announced there would be nine episodes, then it was 14 and now it’s 15. How did the episode order increase come about?
Hurwitz: Netflix. They’ve been very generous, and I believe they had a contract in place that allowed them to ask for more episodes. I know from our perspective they were interested in more content and the one thing that was in the contract, they didn’t want the shows to be too short. The first couple episodes I really labored to make be under 30 minutes and then finally I had a talk with Ted Serantos [Netflix’s chief content officer] who said, “No, we never said under 30 minutes.”
It really was dictated by the story. My initial idea was “well, we have nine characters, we’ll do nine episodes” but there were all sorts of things in the story that just transcended one episode. There were just a lot of things I had the freedom to do to keep those episodes entertaining and interesting while sort of sneaking our macro story in there.
This feels like the first series Netflix is going to debut that was sort of explicitly put together to take advantage of how Netflix works. Did that free you up or constrain you?
Hurwitz: I happen to love the idea of exploiting the technology. That’s the type of thing I really get a kick out of. We spent a lot of time thinking about how to take advantage of the opportunity. It became kind of the great challenge of this. We knew we’d have an audience that would be interested in the details. I think in many ways we have things in the show that the technology isn’t quite there to handle. In a way we’re still about a year 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.
I just liked the idea that what was different about this is that the audience owns the material. They weren’t being told when they would get each particular bit of information. Hopefully you will see that it informs the telling of the story.
All the episodes will be available at once. Any advice on how fans should watch them?
Hurwitz: My knee-jerk is it’s comedy and I think if you watch them all back-to-back you’ll gain something and you will lose something. What you’ll gain is the macro story, and what you might lose is some of the fun. One of the things I liked about bringing the show back is, “Oh good it gives people something to look forward to.” And so that I’m excited about. In doing the show I was very aware there’s going to be people who use it up in one night, so there is enough detail that it will be fun to re-watch. Oh, they have to watch them in order. That’s very important because it turns out stories have to be told in order.
Expectations for this are exceedingly high. How are you feeling about that?
Hurwitz: I’m not happy about them. I’ll be honest. I feel like we should just all lower our expectations. That would be great. 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 when nobody knew what it was and there was no conversation to be had with the fans. I will say in the last couple days I’ve started getting nervous.
You are on Netflix now without the restrictions of network TV. What can viewers expect? More swearing? More racy content?
Hurwitz: It’s all bottomless this year. No pants. We actually do have nudity in the show. I won’t tell you [who]. It’s one of the principal cast members. There were people where we had to say, “Please stop taking your clothes off. The scene doesn’t call for it.”
I think we’ve more or less embraced the idea of the old show. It’s sort of being filtered by this narrator in an invisible way. That’s what I think the conceit is. Someone like Ron Howard, it meets his sensibility. Ron Howard as a character and also kind of like we think of him as a clean-cut, really good guy. It’s become kind of the personality of the show that we leave some things unsaid, we cover things up, we blur certain things. So we just embrace that.
The other thing is you do want younger people to be able to watch it. There are a lot of things that have two meanings. That is often what we try to do so that a younger person can watch it.
The show has some of the most ardent viewers of any TV show. How are you planning to get feedback and learn what fans are thinking once the episodes go live?
Hurwitz: I was just thinking about that. Well, what is going to happen after 12:01? I’m going to wake up Sunday morning because I’m not going to stay up. I won’t have any data. I won’t know anything. I could go online I suppose. And then I was thinking, “well maybe I should do like a live Twitter thing.” And I thought, “No, people will just register their complaints with me. Why do I want to offer that opportunity to them?”
I imagine I’m going to call Ted and say, “Well what have you heard?” Netflix will know everything. They’ll know who to a person stopped watching it. It’s all coming out of their computer as opposed to the airwaves. The revolution is here. They do have a lot of data. The bigger question is, “Do they care?” They’re not broadcasters, so do they care if they get what we used to call an eight share or a 10 share or do they just say, “No it’s already accomplished what we needed it to accomplish. It’s established Netflix as a place where you can get premium content.” It’s a whole new world. It’s very interesting.
When did you finish working on the episodes?
Hurwitz: I got it done last week. I don’t think there’s ever in the history of entertainment been a project that has had as much expectation, has had as much money spent on it, and that has had absolutely no testing.