x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

TV: Arrested Development is refried funny

Seven years after 'dying' in the ratings game, the cult comedy Arrested Development is reborn with 15 new episodes and fresh Emmy kudos.

Will Arnett, left, and Jason Bateman in Arrested Development, which will premiere in the UAE on August 20. Courtesy AP, Netflix
Will Arnett, left, and Jason Bateman in Arrested Development, which will premiere in the UAE on August 20. Courtesy AP, Netflix

With more bad attitude than a Walking Dead "biter" — and to the delight of its legions of never-say-die comedy fans — Arrested Development has defied all odds to come back to gnaw on our brains anew after seven years in the TV tomb.

Outrageous hardly describes the goings-on of the formerly wealthy and routinely dysfunctional Bluth family — so desperately held together for so long by the sitcom's straight man and widowed single dad Michael (Jason Bateman).

Staying sane doesn't come easy for Michael with his unfortunately named teenage son George-Michael (Michael Cera), the manipulative patriarch George Sr (Jeffrey Tambor), the hypercritical mother Lucille (Jessica Walter), the socially awkward baby brother Buster (Tony Hale), the scheming failed-magician older brother Gob (Will Arnett) and the spoiled twin sister Lindsay (Portia de Rossi).

A cult hit and a critics' darling — despite being a beggar in the ratings — Arrested Development aired for three seasons on Fox before it was spiked in 2006. Soon, fan-based websites sprouted up. Then Time ranked it among its All-TIME 100 TV shows, while Entertainment Weekly hailed it as a "new TV classic". The mammoth IGN entertainment site declared it the funniest show of all time.

In the US, the streaming video service Netflix — with a subscriber-driven economic model that depends not a jot on ratings — took note of the pent-up demand and seized the comeback opportunity. It released all 15 new episodes of the fourth-season revival in May, with the UAE premiere scheduled tomorrow on OSN.

When we last saw the clan, the family-misdeed-mastermind Lucille, on the run from the Securities and Exchange Commission, had commandeered the Queen Mary and set out to sea.

In the new episodes, the show's creator Mitch Hurwitz says: "The bigger story is the family has fallen apart. They all went their own way, without Michael holding them together, so they're left to their own devices, and they're not the most successful devices."

Unlike the original series, which tap-danced around all the characters in each episode, each new half-hour will focus, anthology-style, on one character. Getting the entire cast together at one time proved impossible due to their burgeoning post-AD careers. Only Bateman will show up in every episode.

"Contractually, we couldn't use all the characters in every episode; they were not free to do as much television as they want," adds Hurwitz. "[So] we're not jumping from one thing to another; you're staying with one character. The moment you saw in one show will reappear in another show from a different character's perspective. If people watch it all at once, it will seem like a giant Arrested Development. It's really tailored for Netflix."

In the fourth-season opener, the aptly titled Flight of the Phoenix, Michael says goodbye to the family business and goes back to college, bunking up in his son's dorm room — to the discomfiture of all save for the oblivious Michael.

While critical reaction to the new season was mixed in North America — with the new anthology-style approach being cited as the biggest bugaboo — there's no denying the Bluth magic is back. Netflix executives have laughed off the critics and announced plans to triple investment in original programming in hopes of seeing Netflix evolve into the next HBO or Showtime.

Emmy voters also confirmed Netflix is moving in a boffo direction with three nods for Arrested Development — including an Outstanding Actor nomination for Bateman. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Emmy ceremony is set for September 22 in LA.

Arrested Development returns 8.30pm tomorrow on OSN Comedy HD

artslife@thenational.ae

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