[The following interview discusses plot points from the entirety of the new season of Arrested Development. If you have not all watched all fifteen episodes, bookmark this page and come back later.] Arrested Development boss Mitch Hurwitz is always thinking of the next arc, the next reveal, the next joke, the next twist on a joke. So by the time he wrapped the latest season, which premiered on Netflix, he already had the Bluths’ next chapter mapped out. It’s why every member of the family is seen hitting rock bottom at the end of what Hurwitz has long talked about as an eight-hour prequel to an eventual Arrested Development movie (which might instead morph into another season!). After digesting all fully stuffed fifteen episodes, Vulture got Hurwitz on the phone for an extensive talk about what the next iteration of Arrested Development will look like, how he managed to keep this season’s overlapping stories and time lines straight, and most important, why he denied us George Michael’s full chicken dance. Plus: he shares the stories behind the ostriches and Fantastic 4: An Action Musical.
The season ends with a lot of heartbreak for the Bluths. Lucille wants a divorce from George Sr., Michael and George Michael are at odds, Gob’s still got Tony Wonder on his mind. Obviously, those are all great cliffhangers for whatever comes next, but was a movie (or more episodes) a foregone conclusion when you wrote it? If not, why end that way?
Because it’s the ineluctable result of not developing as a human being. To reward that behavior would be really a mistake. The initial idea for these new episodes was to reset things. Let’s show what happens to this family, who were starting to make progress as human beings, when they decide to go it alone. Part of the theme of this thing is that we do need our families. Our families are attached to us whether we like it or not, in all these mysterious, invisible ways. It’s somewhat allegorical but we see that they’ve all affected each other’s lives in really profound ways for the negative because there’s no communication between them to speak of. So in one sense that was the theme, but in another way it really was just setting up the future. If the pilot was about their lives falling apart, then this was designed to be the first act of a larger story about winding everybody up, getting everybody to a point of peril and then having a jumping-off place for the next story where they all come together.
The biggest cliffhanger is that Lucille Austero is dead. Does that mean that whatever comes next, be it a movie or another season, will be a murder mystery?
That’s right. That really is the idea. Everybody’s gotten their lives into a state of peril and everybody said, “To hell with this family,” and Michael said “I’m done with all of you,” and then — Buster is arrested for murder! Now what do they do? Now they have to come together or let their baby brother go to the chair. We’re sort of resolving or ending the season with both an emotional story and a plot story. The plot is that Buster’s been arrested for the murder of Lucille 2. And think about it, all the Bluths have a relationship with her. One of the main reasons we were kind of obsessed with telling the story in the right order is because we wanted to slowly reveal not only that Lucille 2 was gone and that she died, but that they all had ways in which they were connected to her that could either look like motives or could exculpate some of them. But they’re all connected to this woman who disappeared … It’s always been a show that dealt with a lot of big plot points, stealing the Queen Mary and all these off-the-wall things. The more important stuff is really what’s going on in their hearts and minds. That’s what the Michael–George Michael thing is about.
Did you ever consider dividing the story lines so that there were more of the main characters in every episode? Would there have been a way to do that?
Well, no. You do in the creative process explore so many different ways to do something, and then a lot of it is also driven by the constraints that are put on your shooting and the material. All of creativity is about what can’t you do more than what can you do. In this case, because of the schedules of the actors, the initial idea was, Well, I know I can get them all for one week at a time, or this four-month window of time that they were all available at different points. That’s how the idea of an anthology emerged. I haven’t actually done the math but I’ll bet they’re in a lot of each other’s episodes. It’s just that the narrative point of view is from one perspective. I think if you were to take apart one of the old shows there wouldn’t be that many scenes they’re all in. There would be a lot of two- or three-person scenes. I think we just did it in an eight-hour version instead of a twenty-minute version. It’s almost like, here’s all the separate A, B, C, D, E stories, but we’re going to give them each a lot of room to play.
If you had your way, would the next chapter of the Bluths’ lives play out as a movie or another season? It seems like a movie would be easier as far as scheduling goes.
That’s always why I wanted to do a movie. I thought then we just book it. We tell everybody to book it as if you would book a movie. But that’s still a little more complicated than a regular movie because in a regular movie you cast and you get people who are available as opposed to asking nine people to become available. Whatever the next step is, I will say that by design the Bluths will come together. They’re all going to be together. Now it’s a question of what’s the most efficient way to do that, how do we make that happen and when do we make that happen? It certainly won’t be another seven years. If we do it, we’re going to do it soon while we’re all still alive. While we’re all still sensate. A lot of it has to be worked around John Beard’s schedule.
By the time you’re done with all fifteen episodes, you realize just how much layering and interweaving was there from episode one. How did you keep all the stories and timelines straight?
Well, I spent a lot of time breaking all of the stories, well into the time that we should have been delivering scripts. It became clear that we were not going to be able to do these with one character per week – we’re going to be shooting these in every single order you can imagine. It had to be mapped out ahead of time. Like anything, you just start really internalizing it. I just thought about it all the time. I’d wake up and think about it, I’d go to bed thinking about it. This continued all the way through post-production where I would still be saying, “Wait a minute – if he’s going to be in the restaurant that means he already had to run into Lindsay and already had to get her permission for the movie because he won’t be able to do it there. So we’re going to have to go reshoot a scene. Then I’ll have to open up her episode…” That’s the long way of saying we did have cards up on the wall with lots of string, marking things that had to happen before these other things happened and at the same time as these other things. And a lot of it was just me being on set and realizing this is the only time I’m going to have these two actors together. There was a lot of frantic rewriting on my part on the set. A lot of it. I mean almost every scene. On the old show, I used to take my big pass at the end of a script — we’d write it, I’d sit at the keyboard and drive through with a few really trusted writers and throw things in it, and then I’d take a final pass straightening everything out. I didn’t get to do that here. There was no time.
Was there anyone from the original run that you wanted back but didn’t get?
We couldn’t get Franklin. He was touring. He’s very big in Japan. He has a vodka ad that put him over the top. No, Franklin will be back at some point. The truth is I couldn’t get Ben Stiller for the longest time. I just refused to rewrite the Tony Wonder story. We stopped shooting in December, and I don’t think we shot Ben until March, and it was just because I wouldn’t let it go. He was very busy and directing his own film. But I didn’t want to recast Tony and I didn’t want to create a new magician because then it’s just a magician joke and it’s not really about that. It’s about connecting. It’s about somebody else who has secrets. These two guys have been in the field where it’s all about secrets. You don’t connect to anybody. Finally, we stopped editing. I bet it was three or four weeks before we were done editing all of the episodes and people were getting nervous, like, What are we going to do? Finally, I called him one more time. He had just gotten done and was going to be in LA for two days. I sent him the script, he loved it, but said, ‘You’ve got about 20 pages of me here. I mean, I’m really only probably available to shoot about five.” I said, “It’s okay! We’ll make it!” it was intense. It was like, “Great. Now to the magic club. Now back to the apartment. Now we’re going to do the bed scene with [Stiller’s wife Christine Taylor]. Now really quickly, we’ve got to go do the magic act.”
In the original show, Ann Veal was a character so plain and forgettable the family called her almost everything except Ann. Seven years later, she’s far from a quiet pushover. Why give her a personality?
I always liked the idea that the people who aren’t in the family, even the ones who seem like jokes, are still much more functional than this family. Gob is embraced by Ann’s loving family and that’s him hitting bottom, in effect. He doesn’t understand love and acceptance. The idea of the season in general is to go deeper into each of these characters. I liked fleshing them out. Also, I didn’t want to go back to all the same jokes that Ann was just this one-dimensional, plain girl. She’s a real girl who has been horribly mistreated by this foolish man.
Where did the idea for a Fantastic Four musical come from? And are there full versions of the songs, because I need them.
We played that medley – and it’s just a medley – out on that boat at 3 in the morning in Long Beach Harbor probably 700 times. It got to the point where I couldn’t stand it anymore. [Sings] I doooon’t want to beeee – invisible. I liked the fact that there’s sort of a foursome at the heart of Arrested Development with the four siblings. I liked that there’s a lot of metaphor in Fantastic Four. Somebody who’s invisible, someone who’s too hot like Gob, somebody who’s awkward like Tobias. Then there’s Michael, who has to stretch like Mr. Fantastic and be the leader and turn himself inside out for the family. And I liked the idea of having rocks all over Tobias.
Have you heard from Marc Cherry, who became “baby-faced singer Mark Cherry” on the show?
For a little while, I was trying to get him to also be in Lucille 2’s rehab, but he had to go to Atlanta where he’s shooting Devious Maids. I wanted there to be two Marc Cherrys in the scene. I’ve got to call him still because the best line of the whole thing is “baby-faced singer.” In the old show, it was “baby-faced showrunner.” My favorite lines are so inside. I go way back with Marc Cherry. We started on The Golden Girls together.
What about Peter Scolari, star of the direct-to-DVD Angels and Demons sequel?
We had to get his permission actually. We shot him for that poster, which is for the Spanish translation of the sequel, Angeles y Diablos: ¡Mas! ¡Mas! ¡Mas! You can see the poster in Michael’s office in Hollywood and then when we go down to Orange County, it’s there in Spanish. All of those posters, we spent so long on all of them and you barely see them. Splash is Agua. The Dilemma says something like, “Two men. One sees the other man’s wife kissing another man. What does he do? Does he tell her?” Cinderella Man was Señor Princesa. [Executive producer] Jim Vallely and I tend to do most of that stuff together. They’d come back and tell us, there’s a computer screen in the James Lipton scene – did we want to put something on it? My first reaction is always, “Oh, come on! Does everything have to have something? Why did I start this?” Then we find something and I’m so happy! You can see the Craigslist page for the cave that George Sr. buys, and it’s there for a fraction of a second, but every single word on it is a joke. I think it’s too small to even see. Everything is like that this season. There’s more than anybody could ever see. But it turns out it’s not that easy to rewind on Netflix!
I did a lot of pausing during my marathon, and you’re right.
I didn’t realize that until it premiered. It’s challenging. But there is stuff everywhere. There’s stuff on the back of the flat where Buster is testing his new hand. There’s stuff when they’re driving in the Entourage sequence, they’re passing funny signs, and not just And Jeremy Piven.
Have you heard from Jeremy?
No. We talked about Julie Bowen a lot, too. I wonder how she is with this? At first, they’re probably flattered. Then their next thought is maybe, “Wait a minute….”
You almost revealed George Michael’s chicken dance. Why almost?
It was what was funniest. The absence of it is funnier, I think. There’s the big wind-up, then oh! Someone’s on the phone! Listen, it’s not our fault. He answered the phone and had to stop. There is more life in the chicken dance.
In another interview, you mentioned that the ostriches are part of the show’s future world. What did you mean by that?
Yeah, I mean I think so. I don’t know why I said that. There will be more explanation at some point. But in general, I just like the idea of a flightless bird, a badly designed bird, a bird that almost flew away and then just runs around in circles and sticks its head in the sand.
There was a lot of great uses of animals. I liked Tobias and Lindsay trying to cook a live duck.
There were so many other funny things in that sequence too that we couldn’t get in. They don’t know what to set the oven on to cook the bird so they decide “self-clean” is right. Yes, let’s cook it on self-clean! They don’t know anything about cooking but they know they need a clean duck!