Having been hidden in the darkest shadows of the TV schedules in its first UK run, US comedy Arrested Development is finally getting the prime-time attention it deserves when it returns to our screens tonight on FX at 9pm. We jumped at the chance to sit down with creator Mitch Hurwitz and actor Will Arnett (who plays the incomparable Gob, pictured above clinging to the railings) to discuss the show's now legendary status.
ESQ: One thing about watching Arrested Development is that it looks like you all got on and had fun making it. Was that the reality?
Will Arnett: For me as an actor on the show it was just fantastic, it couldn't have been better. I was in my thirties and so was old enough to tell myself every day when I drove on the lot to recognise that this was a great experience, to bank that. In my twenties, I might have just glossed over it. Five years on, I've had other fun experiences professionally but nothing has matched that, where so many elements came together at once.
ESQ: What were the most important elements in making it work?
WA: Well, it started with the writing. We'd have the scripts delivered to the house at night and the cast would call each other there and then to say, "Have you read this yet? It's so fucking good!"
Mitch Hurwitz: Another thing was that we got to be the underdogs, and that's a rare experience. We did kind of like that our audience was small and growing and ardent, and so we never became too full of ourselves.
WA: The show won the Emmy for Best Comedy in season one but we were unable to enjoy it because we were so under the gun ratings-wise and that's everything in the States - they didn't give a shit about the Emmys.
MH: The morning after we won, I was called into the office for a meeting and instead of getting a pat on the back the agenda was very much, "Right, enough screwing around with these arcane plot-lines, we've got to make this a hit."
ESQ: So what do you put the gulf between its critical reception and its ratings down to? Was it too clever?
WA: One of the things that's written a lot about the show is that Mitch was trying to make this smart, heady comedy. That was never the goal. The goal was simply to get a laugh, on pretty much any level - puns, slapstick, whatever, we weren't snobbish. We might not have got the results on the ratings box, but five years later, looking at DVD sales worldwide etc, we can now say 'see we were right!'
MH: It's gratifying - we got the laugh. It's like telling a joke and five years later hearing a laugh at the back of the room.
ESQ: Maybe it was ahead of its time with its use of voiceover, cutaways and the absence of a laughter track?
WA: Yeh, anytime you start taking people out of what they're accustomed to in terms of that TV comedy experience is going to get a different response. People have that thing in their brain that says, 'ok this is a TV sitcom. There's the fat guy, there's the goofy guy that comes in, there's the hot wife - got it.' There's something comforting in that.
MH: Another important thing for us was that we were among the first to get these new HD cameras. This allowed us to save time on setting up and do multiple takes to help really find the comedy, to shoot in a guerilla kind of way that really helped the cast to be unbelievably funny. It also allowed us to do little cutaways and flashbacks and location shots - things that you really hadn't been able to do before and had only really been seen on animations like The Simpsons and now Family Guy.
ESQ: We talked about the writing earlier, but the quality of the ensemble cast (Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, David Cross, Jeffrey Tambor etc pictured below) is pretty remarkable for one show.
MH: The cast is what stands out for me now. Looking back now I am really struck by how fortunate I was to find a group of players that had such a similar sense of humour and were able to play with, what I would describe as, a British sensibility - a very dry, straight-faced take on the most absurd things. Look at Michael Cera, a 15-year-old kid who just blew everyone away with his ability to improvise in character. I could go through every character. Will, so fearless in his ability to evince shame and impotence and everything else that was built into Gob. Jason Bateman, who had to sit perfectly still and be the straight man while everyone else was getting the laughs.
WA: His job was so difficult. He had to ride this fine line of being the straight man and the eyes of the audience and still be funny.
ESQ: The only sane one amid a family of mad people.
MH: Well, we always believed he was the craziest one of all, with his relentless need to be the guy in charge.
WA: What kind of sociopath would put up with that for such a long period of time!
ESQ: And finally, what about the Elephant in the room - what's the latest on Arrested Development: the Movie?
MH: Well, we're working on a script right now and hoping to shoot it this year so watch this space.
Arrested Development starts tonight on FX at 9pm, continuing with double episodes each week