Arrested Development Braintrust Clears Up Series Misconceptions at SXSW

Hurwitz, Arnett, and Tambour Offer Sneak-Peek at Clips from Season Four

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<i>Arrested Development</i> Braintrust Clears Up Series Misconceptions at SXSW

The return of Arrested Development, the show FOX dropped in 2006 after three seasons of semiotic nuttiness and general brilliance, is something people discuss in hushed tones. “I hear the film will be the first of a trilogy.” “They’re releasing a new half-season.” “No dude, I heard it’s a full season.” “Yeah, and George Michael and Maeby finally get together.”

Mitch Hurwitz, the show’s creator, joined cast-members Will Arnett and Jeffrey Tambour at Samsung Galaxy HQ in Austin today to clear up some of those misconceptions—and to show the press a pair of new scenes that suggest the show hasn’t lost a step.

First, the new episodes will indeed number 14 (essentially 75 percent of a full season), to be released all at once on Netflix in May. (Fans, rejoice!) Second, the episodes will be cued with a keen eye to the film, more so than Hurwitz expects fans to realize on first viewing. Each of the 14 episodes will dwell on a single character from the ensemble, all in service to certain hinted-at surprises in the film. As Hurwitz puts it, “there’s a bigger story that’s being set up.”

The trio—predictably warm and witty on the press dais, with Tambour as the straight man—also discussed the role of rehearsals in a show that owes so much of its charm to the pregnant pauses and muttered asides of improv. (It’s important, now and again, to note how heavily the show leans on the impulsive inventions of its cast.) “The first season we did try rehearsing,” Hurwitz admitted, and Arnett cut in—“Mitch didn’t want to do it any more.”

Thank the Lord!

FOX’s decision to cancel the show in 2006 was a source of grim humor throughout the presser. (“They’re all great people over there,” Arnett said with a conspicuous lack of earnestness. “And those people at NewsCorp? Just great.”) But Hurwitz and Arnett were convincing in their explanation of how FOX misread the show’s shelf-life and audience “reach.” (Hint: it has to do with the internet.)

“Young people were not counted in our ratings—or not valued,” Hurwitz said of fans who watched the first three seasons on the ‘net.

“Our demo was young people,” Arnett added, “who were unaccounted for in that way.”

For the new go-round, then, they flipped the script.

“We sort of married that creatively by releasing all these episodes at the same time, all telling this story, and the medium will make this work.”

If the buzz over the first season of House of Cards is any indicator, the Netflix model will work very well for a sitcom with a near-evangelical following. Hurwitz stressed that he wouldn’t abuse this model by trotting out old jokes—at least not lazily. One writer asked whether “all the secondary characters” would be coming back. Hurwitz ruminated.

“Saddam Hussein — a funny guy.” (Incredulous laughter.) “I’m just saying, he has good timing. He’s at William Morris, I’m at William Morris.” (More laughter.) “We wanted to avoid doing a greatest hits. But there will definitely be rewarding little things for fans.”

Whether that means Martin Short or Charlize Theron, only Netflix will tell. One thing is clear from the two clips that Hurwitz shared with us: the show, in all its unrehearsed, dysfunctional glory, brings the same game to the fourth season that it brought to the first three.

“The first clip is an outtake, which I think will become an intake,” Hurwitz announced. It was a five-minute, nearly wordless scene between Buster and Lucille that was pure Arrested Development bliss. I won’t say what happens (if that’s even the right verb), but Hurwitz himself glossed the scene very nicely: mother and son are “doing what they do best: almost kissing.”

Michael Cera  has joined the writing team for season four, though Hurwitz didn’t have a chance to discuss Cera’s role in the proceedings. As for the film’s release date? Hurwitz and co. said not to hold our breath; everything is in FOX’s hands.

As Arnett put it: “They own the football, and they own the field.”

Follow Ted Scheinman on Twitter.