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The cult of 'Arrested Development'

The cult of 'Arrested Development'
Courtesy FOX
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Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - 8:58am

(CNN) -- Seven years after its finale, one of the greatest cult hits in television history is making a return. "Arrested Development" lasted three season during its initial run on FOX, with critical acclaim but dismal ratings.

Since its final episode aired in February 2006, a little thing called Netflix ushered in a new way of watching television. In doing so, the comedy found a massive following who kicked themselves for missing the dysfunctional antics of the Family Bluth before it received the dreaded "canceled" sentencing from prime-time television.

In a rare move, the Emmy-winning comedy is making a return, with 15 new episodes with the original cast and crew in tow. After a reported bidding war among outlets, Netflix won the rights to the fourth season everyone hoped for, but no one saw coming. After numerous false starts and scheduling conflicts, series creator Mitch Hurwitz was finally able to work in time for his entire clan to continue the saga of the least redeemable family in Orange County.

CNN recently caught up with the cast to discuss the new episodes, and star Jason Bateman appeared overjoyed at their family reunion.

"There really aren't a lot of shows that get to come back together, at least under these circumstances, where it's not a desperate retread and no one's really done much since the show went off the air. This was a celebratory gathering, a lot of good news, and we knew that we were being included in this effort that Netflix is making to change the way television is brought to people. We're just fortunate to be a part of that."

"Arrested" is the latest in Netflix's recent foray into producing original content, and marks a new way for people to enjoy television. For those who missed the show during its original run, Netflix made it possible to watch the entire series in one sitting. The increase in popularity for streaming and subscription services has created a culture of television binge-watching. Many fans of "Arrested Development" have never seen the show any other way, and on May 26, these same fans will have 15 new half-hours for their viewing pleasure. Portia de Rossi, aka Lindsay Bluth, admits to being a victim of binge-watching herself.

"I find it really frustrating to have to wait a week to watch a show, and I'm just so used to seeing things back to back when I want to see them. I think what Mitch has done with 'Arrested' for Netflix is even more brilliant because he's used that format and created something brand new within it."

With the abundance of reality series taking over both prime-time lineups and Nielsen ratings over the last decade, more and more people have begun turning to cable and premium networks to get their scripted television fix. Netflix is hoping to take a bite out of that population tuning away from the "Big Five" broadcast networks. In fact, these original series are even eligible for Primetime Emmy awards thanks to a recent rule change allowing broadband programming to be nominated alongside any broadcast, cable or premium network show.

Will the magic that has kept the original 53 episodes as must-see television a decade since the show's debut still be there? The cast believe so and if this upcoming season is a success, don't expect this to be the last you see of Never Nudes, Cornballers, and frozen banana stands. Bateman is quick to point out that Season 4 is the first arc in a new story.

"It's a three-act story that was too big to put in a feature, so we put the first act in these episodes and a movie would be acts two and three."

That's right, the long-rumored film version of the series is still in the works. The stars of "Arrested Development" may have to keep their characters within arm's reach in the coming future. They said they reveled at the chance to jump back into the shoes of their Bluth personae, and Jessica Walter had no trouble slipping into boozy matriarch Lucille.

"How bad does this make me seem? It's not that difficult. I hope I'm not like her! But when you play something for three seasons like we did, it's sort of like bike riding: You never forget. As soon as I saw the script and saw the people the first day we were all together in that dysfunctional crazy family, it all came back."

Season 4 features an interesting twist on the show's successful formula. To make the most of the limited time scheduled with the entire cast at once, each episode of the new installment focuses on a different member of the Bluth family. For de Rossi, it was the few scenes the ensemble got to shoot together that made her feel back at home.

"Once I was reunited with my cast on the set of Lucille's penthouse, that was that moment where it all just kind of clicked, for all of us. Because it wasn't just me and Lindsay and what she was like; it was how she related to everybody else and her place in the family. That was really awesome and that was when it all came rushing back."

With the release just a week away, will fans both old and new turn out to get a new slice of afternoon delight? De Rossi believes everyone will walk away satisfied.

"It's going to feel the same as it did. I was surprised how similar it looked and felt, and although we are all older, somehow it all worked."

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