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The arrested development of a great sitcom comeback

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Sinead Gleeson. Photo: Ray Cullen

Sinead Gleeson. Photo: Ray Cullen

Sinead Gleeson. Photo: Ray Cullen

Tellyland is a magical place. One where dreams can come true, unicorns really DO exist and much-missed TV shows can be magically resurrected.

After a three-season run in the mid-2000s, cult comedy Arrested Development was consigned to the TV retirement home, to be watched nostalgically on boxsets by its hardcore fans. Jump forward to 2013, and the brave new world of decent broadband that supports online streaming. Crucially, enter Netflix, the US on-demand content giant who has brought the series back for a fourth run. Apart from unicorns, tellyland is also full of red herrings and cruel hearsay, so rumours of the show's return have been circulating for years.

"The return of Arrested Development has had more false starts than most shows," says Alia Shawkat, who plays Maeby Bluth on the show. Sipping water in a Los Angeles hotel room, it's an initial shock to see her grown-up self (she started on the show aged 14).

"Every six months I'd get a [does hyper-LA accent] 'We just wanna see where you guys are at' phonecall. When it finally happened for real, I was in the Middle East shooting and they called to ask me to come for a wardrobe fitting in two days. I was like 'I'm in Jordan'." Shawkat flew back to what she calls "one of the greatest jobs ever. I knew once we were a week into shooting that it was finally happening. I figured they'd shot too much to cancel it (laughs)."

Dysfunctional families are a staple of serial television, but AD's unique family made a big impression on viewers. The Bluth parents (played by Jessica Walter and Jeffrey Tambor) have four children, three sons and one daughter. Michael (Jason Bateman) is the eldest, who bears the weight of family responsibility and morality.

George is an awful magician, a poor man's David Copperfield. Buster is a mammy's boy who has never learned to fend for himself, and Lindsay (Portia di Rossi), is a lazy narcissist. Her husband Tobias is possibly gay and can never fully remove his clothes, and their daughter Maeby has feelings for her cousin George Michael Bluth (Michael Cera). Greek tragedy, anyone? Cera has been one of the most successful cast members in the intervening years.

His big film break came in Diablo Cody's Juno, and he went on to star in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Rumours abounded (which Cera denies) that he was the last cast member to commit to the return of Arrested Development. This season though, there is an added incentive: he has been given an opportunity to write for the show. "I got to write in the writers room this year," he said. Cera grew up very publicly on the show.

"Alia and I were very young on the show, so being around these guys was really formative for me," says Cera. Shawkat agrees. "Michael and I talk about the show as something that definitely shaped who we are as people – not just as actors.

"The writing also formed my sense of humour, Arrested Development is part of my soul."

Are she and Michael Cera still close? (I spot them having lunch together during a break in interviews). "Yes, definitely. We became close friends, then enemies, then friends again (laughs) but he made it special." Shawkat is self-effacing and very funny, cracking jokes and throwing in sharp asides all the way through our interview.

The producers have welcomed the confidence boost that comes with Netflix backing, but it's a different medium.

 

ENSEMBLE

Instead of weekly episodes to be discussed around the water cooler (which was how the 2003-2006 series were presented), all 15 episodes will be available this Sunday. It's a huge ensemble show with strong characters, so they've opted for a different approach. Shows will focus on specific characters, and not every character will appear in each episode.

It's not known whether Netflix will commission another series, but none of the actors will be short of work. Alia Shawkat plans to keep acting. Apart from wanting to "actualise all my crazy creative dreams", Shawkat also wants to visit Ireland.

"My great-grandfather was Martin Burke, who was a professional boxer. He trained and sparred with Jack Dempsey and owned a New Orleans boxing club called Marty Burke's.

"Fresh off the boat from Ireland, he met my Sicilian grandmother, and they spawned my grandfather Paul Burke, who was an actor (who starred in several US TV series, including Dragnet, Dynasty and Magnum P.I.). So I'm a quarter Irish – that's where I get my freckles."

Until then, she's got 15 episodes of being Maeby Bluth to get through. "But this time around she gets to do some f***ing weird ass s**t, and that was really fun to shoot."

Season 4 of Arrested Development airs on Netflix on May 26


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