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Never watched ‘Arrested Development’? Do you realise you’ve been wasting your life? Despite its eventual cancellation in 2006 due to low viewing figures, over three series, the tale of a dysfunctional, formerly wealthy US family garnered six Emmies, a Golden Globe and two Writers’ Guild of America awards. It reinvigorated Jason Bateman’s Hollywood career and those of Will Arnett and Michael Cera. For my money, it’s hands-down the funniest, cleverest, subtlest TV comedy of the last 25 years.
So I can’t believe it’s back… Seven years on, internet subscription channel Netflix, which has begun to create original content, has reunited the cast and made series four: 15 episodes, all released on Sunday May 26. It’s the most exciting TV event of the decade, possibly my life. But don’t just take my word for it: Michael Cera is almost as big a fan, and he was in it!
So layered with subtle jokes is ‘Arrested Development’ that it’s impossible to take them all in on one watch. ‘It’s some of my favourite comedy writing,’ says Cera. ‘You can view it a second time and have a totally different experience. The more you watch, the deeper you get into it. Not that it’s super-intelligent and inaccessible. There’s a dig at Boy George handcuffing an escort to a wall in the first new episode. Someone had to go after him…’
Each of the nine characters in ‘Arrested Development’ is played with such vibrancy that they leap through the screen. After you’ve watched a couple of episodes, these aren’t characters, they’re people you know. ‘Right from the first script read-through, we had such a great dynamic, it felt like, “Woah! We’re the champions!”’ says Cera. ‘Each of these characters has an inner life. Jason Bateman is unbelievably funny and you can’t not be hypnotised by Will Arnett’s energy. The whole cast is incredible.’
Without ‘AD’, Cera’s sparkling turns in ‘Juno’, ‘Scott Pilgrim’ and ‘Superbad’ might never have happened. ‘Yeah, it was inexpressibly formative and orientating for my career,’ says Cera. ‘But also in terms of my whole life’s direction. I was brought to California in the middle of high school and exposed to some of the funniest and most encouraging people I’ve ever met. It’s immeasurable how different my life would have been without it. It’s such a special show.’
Despite racking up awards, ‘AD’ was continually under pressure from network execs to dumb down for higher viewing figures, but it refused to compromise. No matter how hard it made life. ‘Fox wanted to cancel us so bad it got to the point where it was funny when we’d win awards,’ smiles Cera. ‘It made us a pebble in their shoe, because they couldn’t can us while we were winning prizes. So after one Emmies, our reward was a banner and ice cream. It got pretty comical.’
On television, ‘AD’ struggled to pick up viewers from an audience hungry for veg-out TV. Online, it can focus on pleasing fans of subtle, whipsmart comedy the world over. ‘This series is something new,’ says Cera. ‘You couldn’t do this kind of storytelling with a week between shows. It’s a novel, really. And it’s so, so funny.’
‘Arrested Development’ series four launches on Netflix on Sun May 26.