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Netflix brings back the Bluths in new 'Arrested Development' season

A Netflix return CD mail envelope is shown in Encinitas, California, April 19,2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A Netflix return CD mail envelope is shown in Encinitas, California, April 19,2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Eric Kelsey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - All Michael Bluth wanted to do was to keep his family together, and with the best intentions in mind he found himself awkwardly trying to kiss a vertigo-stricken character played by Liza Minnelli.

With that moment of dizzy romance, the fourth season of cult television comedy "Arrested Development" begins its comeback on Internet video streaming service Netflix on Sunday, some seven years after getting the axe on broadcast television.

"Arrested Development" tells the story of the riches-to-rags dysfunctional Bluth family, led by well-intentioned son Michael, played by Jason Bateman, who cannot sort out their lives after Bluth patriarch George Sr. is jailed for fraud.

Netflix, which has been adding original shows to its online television and film library, will make the entire 15-episode season available at 12:01 a.m. PST on Sunday, harnessing the trend of viewers 'binge-watching' TV series online and through DVDs.

The new season of the Emmy-winning series was written with binge-watchers in mind, Bateman, 44, told Reuters.

"This notion that you can release an entire season of a television show on one day and people can take their time to watch it or they can binge, informed the actual writing of this whole story," he said.

The actor said that the new season would be similar to "one big episode," just told in 15 half-hour episodes with storylines that are "completely intertwined and braided."

"There are certain scenes that repeat in multiple episodes but are told from a different angle. That's just something you couldn't do on broadcast television," Bateman said.

The show picks up seven years after the third season finished in 2006, and centers on Michael, handcuffed by his own pride and trying to piece his life back together as his son George Michael (Michael Cera) heads off to college.

"The seven years have been really tough on Michael as they have been on the rest of the family," Bateman said. "He's just trying to keep his head above water and not become an embarrassment like the rest of his family."

THE CULT OF 'ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT'

Although the critically praised series was canceled by the Fox network in 2006 due to poor ratings, "Arrested Development" was exalted to cult status by the legions of fans that discovered the show on DVD and Netflix.

Ahead of the new season, thousands of fans have lined up in New York and Los Angeles this month in a promotion for free chocolate-covered frozen bananas from the replica Bluth banana stand, famous in the show for containing emergency cash hidden in its walls by George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor).

George Sr.'s catch phrase, "There's always money in the banana stand," even made it onto the floor of Canada's House of Commons during debate this month over billions of dollars in unbudgeted money.

The new series will see returning cast members including Will Arnett, Portia de Rossi, Tony Hale and David Cross, and will feature several guest appearances including by Minnelli reviving her role as Lucille II, Ben Stiller as magician Tony Wonder and new additions Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen.

The intention, once the show was canceled by Fox, was for creator Mitchell Hurwitz to develop "Arrested Development" into a film, but the years dragged on and the movie version never came to fruition. Bateman said there was never a doubt among the cast that the scheming Bluths would make a comeback.

"It was just a matter of timing," he said. "We (the cast) had been talking about it every couple of months for seven years, so it always seemed like it was right around the corner."

While "Arrested Development" is a redemption story of a loved show that fell victim to Hollywood's economic hammer, it has also in part become a launching pad for its actors, especially Bateman, Arnett and Cera.

"Mitch just sort of handed all of us a career," said Bateman, whose star had languished after several poor-performing TV sitcoms in the 1990s. Following "Arrested Development" he has landed prominent roles in films such as "Juno" in 2007, "Up in the Air" in 2009 and "Horrible Bosses" in 2011.

"I was given a second chance," he said. "I really wasn't doing anything before this show and it kind of hit the reset button for me and got rid of a lot of baggage I had associated with my name ... My name was no longer in my way but a little more of an asset."

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey, Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Paul Simao)

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