Seven years ago, the idea of a new season of "Arrested Development" airing on Netflix would've sounded more ridiculous than Tobias showering without his cutoffs. But after all the false starts, false hope, rumors and denials, fans of the beloved cult sitcom are finally getting more of the Bluths when the long-awaited fourth season premieres in its entirety on Netflix on May 26.
Of course, pretty much the day after "Arrested Development" went off the air in 2006, whispers of a potential comeback started working their way around the Internet. So you can forgive Michael Cera, who's since grown up from the endearingly awkward George Michael Bluth into an endearingly awkward leading man, for being skeptical at first about the TV family reunion.
Once word came that the show was being revived by Netflix as part of the company's original programming, Cera wasn't just back on board, he was in the writers' room as well, thanks to an invitation from series creator Mitchell Hurwitz. And with the premiere only days away, HuffPost TV recently spoke to Cera about his experience writing for the show, his willingness to return for a fifth season, and why it was fellow Canadian Leslie Nielsen that ultimately convinced him to come back (sort of).
HuffPost TV: So you're writing for the show this season as well. Are you just writing the George Michael episode, or did you contribute to other episodes?
Michael Cera: I was in full-time after I went in for the first time in July, and then I wrote with them through to the end. It was amazing. The first day I went in, we were working on George Michael's episode. But I didn't feel like I was thinking of it in terms of performing it. Basically when you're in there, you're kind of all performing it together. Just making jokes and trying to make each other laugh, so you get into that rhythm really quickly being in there with those guys.
What was it like filming this season after such a long layoff?
It was so strange. For me, it was really hard to process. It's just so uncanny, being in the room with everyone. We were all working on a scene together and watching people find their characters again, it was so surreal. And also, you know, I'm at a different point in my life now than I was when we wrapped. I was 17 when we wrapped and I'm 24 [now]. And that goes for everyone. Everyone's at a very different part in their life and a very different situation. So you're trying to deal with all that, while finding this tone again.
How long did it take you to get back into George Michael's character? Was there a big adjustment period?
There was basically one day early on, maybe my third day of working, where we had this really long scene to do, it was like five pages, and there were a lot of layers to it. Just a lot of complexities. The first third of that scene is in one episode, and then the middle is in a different episode, so you're trying to keep all these things in your head, and remember all the lines. And we didn't even rehearse, we just kind of jumped right into it. So we were shooting for like four hours, and it was with Jason [Bateman] and Alia [Shawkat]. And I'd say by the time we were done shooting that scene I remembered what it was like to work on the show. Just working off of Jason and how fast he was going, and just how sharp he was with the jokes, and his rhythm. Just keeping up with him got me back into the rhythm of doing those scenes.
Did you find that you had any more freedom knowing that this would be something that was produced for Netflix as opposed to network television?
From what I could tell, it seemed like there was total creative freedom for Mitch [Hurwitz], and support from Netflix. I'm pretty sure they said yes to everything he needed. In terms of budget and in terms of time, they were just completely supportive. It was very different from doing the show the first time, because this was almost like doing a movie. Because when you're doing the series, you'd spend five days doing an episode, and then they would have to edit it and then it would go on TV. But this was more like shooting a movie, because you just had to amass all this material over five months, and then he would go and edit it. So it could kind of get out of control. [Laughs] Because you don't have to actually be done with an episode, you can keep adding to it and the thing was constantly evolving and shape-shifting. So that was a great thing, and it came with its own set of challenges, I think.
The truth is, when we were doing the series on Fox, I was just focused on what I was doing and only peripherally tapped into whatever kind of network notes were being given. And it always felt to me like we were making the show we wanted to make on Fox. So I don't think it was creatively limited on Fox, although I'm sure they would've been probably encouraging Mitch to make the show less serialized and somehow more palatable. [Laughs] But the truth is, we made the show that we wanted to make that time too. I think because he doesn't really compromise in terms of the content.
News reports about "Arrested Development" coming back have been coming out since the show ended. Did you feel any pressure to deliver because there's been so much demand for this show?
I would imagine that when it's just a hypothetical thing, and it's just a concept, it would be probably really daunting for Mitch. But he's such a wonderful writer, and once he got his hands into it, it just took on a life of its own. And I think it's really high quality this season, I like it a lot. Those concerns subside, because you just do the best work you can while you're there. I think it's just putting yourself there is the daunting thing. I think it's really good, and I think everyone's really funny in it. And maybe if people watch it with a really high expectation, they'll maybe be disappointed because of the level of their expectation? I mean, people will react to it how they react to it, but I'm pretty sure it's really good. [Laughs] I like it anyway.
Can you tell us anything about where we're going to find the Bluths, where we're picking up from?
Everyone's caught up from where the series ended. Just kind of a quick recap, and then the story starts in present-day and moves forward from there. Every character has multiple storylines going on and they intersect. There are like a million background jokes. But also you'll see a scene the first time, and then in a different character's episode, you'll see the same scene with a new context and new information. And then the same dialogue that you've already seen will make sense in a different way. So those things are really very appetizing payoffs. And it's funny. I think on top of all that it's really funny and silly and just bizarre.
Are you game for the movie if it happens?
Yeah, that'd be great. I think the series, story-wise, cues up a movie nicely. I'd also be game to do another season. I think it works really well episodically, this show. So that would be fun too. But I do think it should continue, because there are a few things really nicely set-up. We'll see. I don't really know what would dictate that. Probably whether or not there was money for it.
What are your thoughts about working with Mitchell Hurwitz again?
Mitch is really very difficult to impress. He has a high standard, but he's not snobbish. He just has a high quality meter, I think. So he is very meticulous with story and with structuring, but after all that, the most important thing to him is whether it's funny or not. And if something is funny he'll make it work. If something is silly or just makes him laugh, he'll work it into the story and work the story around that somehow. And I think that's why the show is appealing, because it's got a really high joke rate, and a lot of them are funny. [Laughs] And he's also just so funny. He always makes everyone laugh. And in the [writers'] room, if you make him laugh, it's the greatest thing ever. And everyone tries to. Everyone just wants to make him laugh.
And also, Mitch being on set was amazing, because he would constantly reshape things, and whole storylines he would change on set, and then react to later. It was really inspiring to watch. It was impressive.
Did it take much convincing to get you to come back? Was it immediate, or did you have to think about it a bit?
Well, once the idea was mentioned of doing a series, that seemed to make the most sense to me. I was hesitant a while ago about doing a movie. I don't remember exactly why, except probably I was really overthinking [it]. I was really proud of the show, and I like things that end before their time, I'm a fan of that. And I'm a fan of getting out while you're ahead. I really was proud of the show as this kind of nice, short-lived work.
So I did have hesitation, but I remember when I came around was when I was watching a DVD of "Police Squad!," the Leslie Nielsen, Zucker Brothers show. And there was a "Making Of," and Leslie Nielsen was talking about when they went to make "Naked Gun" afterwards, he was so excited to work with those people again. And then I thought how fun it would be to work with all those people again and be around Mitch and them, and realized it would be an amazing opportunity. And the truth is, any time spent with Mitch in particular is always really informative for me. He's had a huge impact on who I am as a person, and my taste in things. A really big impact on my life.
"Arrested Development" can be watched on Netflix at any time, starting on May 26.
Related on HuffPost:
In which we meet J. Walter Weatherman, the one-armed man that George Bluth uses to teach lessons meant to make them more responsible. Given how the Bluth kids turned out, that worked out pretty well! Weatherman was part of an elaborate pot bust at the Bluth boat, a sequence that showed the comedy using one of its signature moves -- escalating, farcical confrontations among different sets of characters -- to hilarious effect.
A classic thanks to the insane fight among Buster, Michael and GOB, a conflict that began with Michael's attraction to GOB's girlfriend Marta, progressed through a misunderstanding about the word "hermanos," and ended with the Michael and GOB rolling around on the grass and Buster shouting, "Will someone please have the decency to punch me in the face?" Contains this classic exchange between an angry GOB and an actor on the set of Marta's telenovela: "Como?" "Oh, you're going to be in a coma all right!!"
"The One Where They Build a House"
A classic if only for the side-splitting scene in which GOB and Michael stage a rock-paper-scissors battle with a giant boulder and gigantic scissors (Ron Howard's bone-dry narration: "Unfortunately, the whole incident was covered by the paper."). But there's lots more to love in this gem from the second season, which found the show at the height of its game: There were the scathing Iraq allusions, Lindsay's crush on Thomas Jane, whom she thought was a random homeless guy and the specter of GOB being put in in charge. By the way, Michael "does not have a problem with that."
The gang's excursion to Mexico could have seemed frenetic had the storylines and jokes within them not been so well-orchestrated and gleefully deployed. But by that point in Season 2, the writers, directors and cast had built the "AD" machine up to the point that they could throw it into high gear and all the parts moved together beautifully; everything in "¡Amigos!" was pleasingly synchronized and delightfully ridiculous. As members of the clan hit the road to find George in Mexico, chicken dances erupted, mistaken identities abounded, Ice melted Lindsay's and Ann (her?) was accidentally left behind. It was a veritable plethora of amusing Bluth insanity.
The winning "Good Grief" ably demonstrates how "AD" managed to locate real heart inside all its dizzyingly constructed silliness. The show's appealing narration and folksy music balanced out its wackier elements, and here, the many references to the beloved "Peanuts" canon gracefully communicated a certain kind of bittersweet disappointment. There's so much to say about this ambitious half-hour -- which featured George as a witness to his own funeral, which GOB of course bungled -- that Ryan McGee and I did a <a href="http://talkingtvwithryanandryan.libsyn.com/webpage/watching-tv-with-ryan-and-ryan-episode-4-arrested-development-good-grief" target="_hplink">whole podcast on the episode</a>.
Never let it be said that "Arrested Development" shied away from going big and broad -- it did so effectively here, with an episode that built to a car slipping on a banana peel and Buster trying out his new crane-game skills on his own brother, who happened to be wearing a banana suit at the time. And any show that dwells on family member singing the lyrics of "Afternoon Delight" to each other has a firm grasp on cringe-inducing yet hilarious wrongness.
"Out on a Limb"/"Hand to God"
A two-parter jam-packed with delightful hijinks, in which Michael meets a "blind" lawyer named Maggie Lizer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Buster wonders who his real father is, Lucille begins to like Ann (<em>her</em>?), Maeby struggles with her "Young Man and the Beach" movie, and the youngest Bluth brother famously encounters a "loose seal." Like many of the best episodes of "AD," these installments are dense with interconnected stories that skitter through the Bluth family like Buster on a juice-box rampage.
Lucille's attempt to make George Michael into her new Buster via the creepy Motherboy dance is stymied by Buster himself, who does all he can to save his nephew from his emotionally stunted fate. And the "loose seal" that ate Buster's hand, as it turns out, was eaten by a shark, which Barry Zuckerkorn jumped over (a deeply meta reference to the shark-jumping moment in "Happy Days" which gave rise to the term).
When someone gets what they want on "AD," it usually turns out to be a nightmarish experience, as is the case when George Michael and Maeby finally kiss and she says, "Hey, look at that, we didn't get swallowed up into Hell" -- and of course, part of the model home collapses into a pit. At the courthouse, there's another Michael-GOB donnybrook and a member of the Bluth family is finally put (back) in the slammer. It's not the George Bluth, of course; it's his hapless brother Oscar.
Worthy of inclusion in any "AD" Top 10 just for the scene in which Det. John Munch (Richard Belzer) leads a scrapbooking class (one designed to get the ever-gullible Tobias to share incriminating Bluth documents). The brothers Bluth finally make it to Iraq, where they find several Iraqi men -- all of them Saddam Hussein stand-ins -- living in a Middle Eastern version of the model home. Though the CIA wants to bust them, somehow Buster saves the day, and for once Operation Hot Brother is a massive success.
"Immaculate Election," which featured Mrs. Featherbottom and Buster's dalliance with a Roomba; "Missing Kitty," for general Kitty Sanchez nuttiness; "Spring Breakout," for Howard's deadpan evisceration of the narration of the melodramatic program "Scandalmakers" ("Real shoddy narrating. Just pure crap."); "Sword of Destiny," in which we meet Tony Wonder; "Meet the Veals," for the crazy series of confrontations among the Bluths and the Veals and for some memorable Franklin moments; "Mr. F," for the destruction of Tiny Town sequence -- giant mole, jetpack and all; the season 3 finale "Development Arrested," one of the show's more frenetic outings, but it brought the loony story of the Bluths full circle to the infamous boat party that began it all.