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  • Sam Urdank Netflix

    Will Arnett, left, David Cross and Portia de Rossi share a scene – and a couch – in Netflix's "Arrested Development."

  • Mike Yarish Netflix

    Tony Hale, right, plays Buster (here in wig and moustache) in a scene from Netflix's "Arrested Development."

  • Sam Urdank Netflix

    Michael Cera, left, appears as George Michael on a Segway vehicle in a scene from Netflix’s “Arrested Development.”

'Arrested Development' finds new life, fans on Netflix

Published: Sunday, May. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 8AANDE
Last Modified: Sunday, May. 19, 2013 - 8:20 am

On Saturday night, Sacramento fashion consultant Kari Shipman will dress up to celebrate a TV sitcom that she never saw when it was broadcast, but has become so important to her that it informs her friendships.

Shipman, 29, will attend a costume party for "Arrested Development," the daring, brilliant Fox comedy that was canceled in 2006 after three low-rated seasons but has been resurrected, in a highly unusual move, by Netflix. The online streaming service will offer new episodes starting at 12:01 a.m. May 26.

Shipman plans to wear "a PETA T-shirt and fur," she said, to honor hypocritical activist Lindsay Bluth (Portia de Rossi), a member of the series' Bluth family, a comically heinous Orange County clan that hit the skids when criminal patriarch George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) was imprisoned.

Shipman is one of many avid late-comers to "Arrested," which was Emmy-winning and critically beloved, but a bit too absurdist and misanthropic to appeal to a large network audience. Shipman found and loved the show on DVD. She now describes herself as a "super fan" and gauges new acquaintances based on their reaction when she mentions the show.

"If they don't get it or they aren't blown away by it, that says something to me," Shipman said. "I am much less likely to want to have an intellectual conversation with them."

Such judgment would please snobby Bluth matriarch Lucille (Jessica Walter) and speaks to the passion fueling Shipman's fellow super fans to stream "Arrested" episodes over and over on Netflix. The online service clearly kept track, because it has gambled on a series that has been dead for seven years to retain existing customers and lure others.

The fourth season was "crafted for the on-demand generation that has come to discover the show in the years since it last appeared on TV," Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said in a statement.

Technology has given "Arrested" "a second life," said "Arrested" actress Alia Shawkat, 24, who plays Maeby, Lindsay's daughter and subject of her cousin George Michael's (Michael Cera) long-standing crush. "Over the past five years, the new way that everybody (hears about) everything is by word of mouth."

She gets recognized more often now than when the show aired, Shawkat said by phone from Los Angeles. "It's a regular thing for people to pass by and say, 'I can't wait for the new episodes.' "

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the burned-down Bluth family frozen- banana stand (an arson fire set, of course, by the Bluth family), "Arrested Development" will live anew, but in a changed media landscape, with Netflix availing all 15 new episodes for streaming May 26.

The all-in – or "binge" – approach reflects current viewing habits and follows a nascent yet successful model established by "House of Cards," the Kevin Spacey drama Netflix that debuted in February.

The online service's recent foray into original programming bolstered its business after its pricing debacle of a few years ago. Its streaming service reportedly added 3 million subscribers in first quarter 2013 – the "Cards" quarter.

The new "Arrested" season will satisfy longings of the series' loyal fans not just by offering a 15-episode block to binge on, but by bringing back all the main cast, the dreaminess of which becomes fully apparent only in hindsight.

Before he honed his straight-man skills as good son Michael Bluth on "Arrested," Jason Bateman was just that former kid actor. Will Arnett ("Up All Night") was barely known before lending his arch comedy skills to magician-layabout-lady killer brother Gob (or George Oscar Bluth). Cera perfected his sweet-sane approach to surrounding chaos as Michael's son, George Michael, before dusting it off for "Superbad" and "Juno."

Devoted "Arrested" fans meeting up for viewing parties can savor new episodes and the larger victory of the show's comeback after years of rumors of its return that did not come true. These rumors often were perpetuated by series creator Mitch Hurwitz (and the movie speculation persists).

The promise of a revived "Arrested" lived and died so often that cast members, like fans, had doubts.

"There would be an email or a phone call (from Hurwitz) every six months that it might happen or might not happen," Shawkat said. "It always seemed like a crazy idea until we were shooting."

The new "Arrested" season bears out a new mindset that entertainment is segmented enough for a smallish fandom to sustain and even fuel content. Such fan clout was demonstrated in March, when a Kickstarter campaign to finance a film version of the cult TV series "Veronica Mars" yielded more than $5 million in contributions.

David Bianculli, TV critic for NPR's "Fresh Air" and editor of the website TVWorthWatching.com, said "Arrested" could draw a modest (by network standards) but loyal following akin to that for pay-cable shows like Showtime's "Dexter," which might draw 2 million or 3 million viewers on night of airing. These fans repeat old seasons but also pay to watch new ones.

Netflix tests loyalty by offering all episodes at once, Bianculli said, tempting fans to quit after a binge. But the online service is offsetting this risk by introducing more and more original series, including July's "Orange Is the New Black," a women's prison drama from "Weeds" creator Jenji Kohan.

Viewers particular to one show are less likely to drop a subscription when "something else is just around the corner," Bianculli said.

Bianculli believes "Arrested" will be a bigger hit than other Netflix series. It is one of the most anticipated series – from any outlet – of the year.

"People loved 'House of Cards,' but many people did not know about it until it (came out)," Bianculli said. "A lot of people I have talked to about television can't wait for ('Arrested')."

Once the season goes up on Netflix, viewers no doubt will watch the first 15 episodes and then repeat them, to catch jokes they missed. This happens with every "Arrested" season. Hurwitz always stacks jokes to encourage multiple viewings by the home-video audience, Bianculli said.

For Declan Gallagher, a 21-year-old Sacramento actor who watched the show with his mother, Jean Ellen, during its run on Fox, this is part of "Arrested's" enduring appeal. He since has watched the entire series four times on Netflix.

"You can watch it 1,000 times and not only is it still hilarious, but there is always something new," he said.

At the Saturday night party Shipman will attend, costumed revelers will burn the 12:01 a.m. oil by watching new episodes. Shipman will attend a second party Sunday afternoon, when more-alert partygoers will view several episodes.

Gallagher plans to mete out the Season 4 episodes. He's waited too long to rush things now.

"What if this is it?" he said. "What if they don't make the movie? I think I want to delay my gratification and spread it out.' "

A BLUTH BREAKDOWN

A quick (re)introduction to the fictional "Arrested Development" family members, including their occupations, pathologies (note: everyone but Michael and George Michael start at a base level of narcissism) and hints of humanity.

George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor)

Occupations: Founder of the Bluth Co. real estate development firm. Inmate. Creator of the "Boy Fight" video series pitting his young sons against each other. Builder of homes for Saddam Hussein.

Pathology: Defrauder. Arsonist. Villain who (sometimes successfully) acts the victim.

Hints of humanity: Not as mean as his wife.

Lucille (Jessica Walter)

Occupation: Matriarch. Buster minder.

Pathology: Racist. Elitist. Cold toward her children and household staff.

Hints of humanity: Soft spot for son Buster. That might be pathology as well.

Michael (Jason Bateman)

Occupation: Runs the Bluth Co.

Pathology: Codependent. Enabler. Well- intentioned but clueless with son George Michael. Has trouble crying.

Hints of humanity: Cares about his family despite it all.

Gob (Will Arnett)

Occupation: Magician. Accidental waiter.

Pathology: Womanizer. Dove hider. Constantly angry despite an easy life.

Hints of humanity: Desperately craves his father's approval.

Buster (Tony Hale)

Occupation: Companion to his mother.

Pathology: Oedipal complex.

Hints of humanity: Does not have a mean bone in his body, though he does have a metal hook for a hand, which was bitten off by a seal.

Lindsay (Portia de Rossi)

Occupation: "Activist." Wife and mother (barely on both counts).

Pathology: Cause hopper. Compulsive shopper.

Hints of humanity: Occasionally shows affection for Michael.

Tobias – Lindsay's husband (David Cross)

Occupations: One-time Blue Man Group trainee program hopeful. Former therapist.

Pathology: Deluded.

Hints of humanity: Not intentionally cruel. Just permanently out to lunch.

George Michael (Michael Cera)

Occupations: Student, frozen-banana stand employee.

Pathology: Has a (nearly requited) thing for his cousin, Maeby.

Hints of humanity: Endearingly awkward.

Maeby (Alia Shawkat)

Occupations: Student. Teenage studio exec.

Pathology: Cousin love. Conniver – a chip off Pop Pop George Sr.'s block.

Hints of humanity: Next to her parents, she epitomizes normalcy and balance.

– Carla Meyer

Call The Bee's Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @carlameyersb.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Carla Meyer



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