You came. You watched. You binged. You partied like it was Cinco de Quatro. The long-awaited fourth season of Arrested Development has been voraciously consumed by viewers. Series creator Mitch Hurwitz recently took some time to talk to reporters about fan reaction, harsh reviews and when we can get to see more of the Bluth family.
These new episodes have received quite a bit of scrutiny. Is that all good to you or is it giving you a colossal headache? Do you read much of it?
Hurwitz: Well, I try to have a pretty open attitude about it. I mean, I do have to remind myself that I took this Netflix opportunity and tried to completely exploit it as creatively as possible. I think everybody wants to be loved all the time. It’s not realistic. But also it’s certainly not realistic if you’re going to be ambitious in terms of changing the form or evolving. There are risks either way. I think if I had done the exact same show I did last time there’d be blowback to that. I think what’s interesting about the show is I don’t think it was considered, at the time, this enviable classic. [It’s] so flattering that people have such esteem now for the old series. I didn’t really realize the height of that. I’m kind of glad I didn’t.
When I entered into the Netflix thing, they gave me this freedom, and then I had all sorts of restrictions based on the cast availability. And I just really, really fully embraced it as a way to use the new media to tell a different kind of story, to not give people exactly what they want, to surprise them and I think it’s inevitable that if you do that, people are not going to be on board at first, or maybe ever, but that’s just a risk that I very willingly took.
My least favorite kind of criticism is the kind that I agree with, like, “yep they’re right about that, that never ended up making sense” or “that was sloppy” or “that bit of storytelling wasn’t as sharp but we were losing the light.” I mean, there are certain things you agree with, certain things you grow from and certain things that you kind of expect if you try something novel and still, I really wouldn’t trade the opportunity. And the bad news is I’m going to do it next time too because I like the idea of playing with form and finding a new way to get at the themes of the family.
The fourth season ended with George Michael punching his father. Why end the season on that image with father and son in conflict?
Hurwitz: Well, I would say one of the things that I have done from the start is, even in the pilot, if you think about the audacity of this, but the pilot ended with “on the next Arrested Development.” And that’s a pilot, you know, there’s no series yet, so I really tried to do that from the start. I think it’s actually one of the things that helped me get it made as a series because one of the questions they ask in testing is, “Do you have any interest in watching more of these?” And I had outwitted the system by saying “here’s what happens on the next Arrested Development.”
So I always like the idea of “and there’s something else.” So I mean, I think that no matter what I do there’s always going to hopefully be the suggestion of there’s another step. I’ve always kind of trusted that our little family wants to work together and wants to continue telling the story. So in this one particularly not only are there opportunities for that to happen, but there really is a whole storyline behind it. I did feel like even if we’re to never come back again, you could look, maybe not today, but you could look back on the last episode of this season and say, “Wow, look at that, he broke out of the Bluth circle.” The whole show is a circle and everybody is arrested, everybody keeps falling back to the same patterns, and George Michael broke the circle. What does happen next? As it turns out, I do have answers to that but I just need someone to let me make them.
Viewers got a glimpse of Tracey, Michael’s deceased wife and George Michael’s mother [played by actress Maria Thayer], in the 13th episode of the season when Tracey appeared in a flashback infomercial for Babytock. What made you decide to finally show George Michael’s mom and show her in that way?
Hurwitz: You know, it was a couple of things. We just wanted to kind of sneak it in there, and we wanted to also kind of slowly point out that she really was similar to Rebel Alley. Isla Fisher’s character really was a pretty close match for Tracey. And there are a couple of other reasons that have yet to be revealed, so I can’t tell you.
Fans have already taken the 15 episodes and re-edited them into chronological order. How do you feel about people doing this?
Hurwitz: I love it. I think it’s like sampling, you know. It’s really interesting. The next iteration of the Netflix software I’ll bet is going to more that you can jump from place to place. We talked about that with the tech team, like is there a way that you could be following Michael into a conversation with Gob and then click a button and follow Gob out of it. I bet you that’s coming on Netflix. I mean, they are really out in front of it. I feel like such a kinship to them because they really like looking at this with fresh eyes too. It’s been very inspiring.
And the Netflix model is, “no, this is yours, you can do with it what you want, you can deconstruct it, you can construct it.” So, first of all, I’m very—flattered is kind of an obnoxious word cause it sounds like they’re doing it for me—but I’m very gratified that people are kind of taking this material in, ingesting it. I mean, what could be a better thing? The other big secret is so much of the story that we tell is created in post so, I feel like if we ever do that [reorder the episodes in chronological order] through Netflix that we would do it slightly differently than they would because we’d be writing the material. You know, we’d be writing all sorts of new voiceovers and possibly even adding material—we have a lot of material that we’re planning on putting out on Netflix at a later time. It’s not my place to talk about really because it’s their business, but I love the fact that it inspires creativity in people. That’s a great thing, and my hope with the show with the very start was, “Boy there are 15 episodes. I can tell there’s a drum beat leading up to them. Won’t people be so disappointed when they get to number 15?” And to me the fact that they still have ways in which to play with it and to dig it apart and to enjoy it, that’s really great.
So when can viewers expect more Arrested Development?
Hurwitz: Well, my hope was and is that we would do a theatrical movie. This is all complicated by the fact that there are existing rights so it’s not the kind of thing where we could go out and say, “OK, Warner Bros. wants it, New Line wants it and et cetera et cetera.” And “who wants it most?” and create that kind of action that way. It is the property of Fox, so if they were willing to do it as a theatrical release, I mean I’m just sort of talking over my head because it’s really all in the deal-making. I suppose there is a scenario where there was a made-for-Netflix movie; we just haven’t really explored it yet.
I don’t have a timeline yet. We’re going to not do what we did last time which is keep saying, “It’s coming. It’s coming. It’s coming.” If there is more, I promise you we’ll put a date out there. In fact I think one of the reasons we eventually said—I mean there were a few reasons—but one of the reasons we eventually said, “OK, let’s do this as a mini-series, as an anthology series” was to kind of manage expectations that had built up over the time for the movie. But also to give the fans something more satisfying than 90 minutes of content because we had promised them for so long that it was coming.