From the outside, soundstage No. 7 at Los Angeles's Culver Studios looks like an unremarkable airplane hangar. Inside? The fourth-season resurrection of the cult comedy Arrested Development rages in full eccentric swing as Cinco de Quatro — a fictional holiday meant to upstage the May 5 Mexican fiesta — is being celebrated noisily. Everywhere you look there are bright crepe paper flowers, garlic ropes, wooden puppets and crazily festooned carnival stands. Amid this kaleidoscopic swirl stands David Cross as disgraced psychiatrist and denim-shorts devotee Tobias Fünke, trading lines with Liza Minnelli, who plays Lucille 2, a wealthy seductress with uncertain equilibrium.
In between takes, Minnelli rests on a high stool while creator Mitch Hurwitz confers quietly with Cross. It's anyone's guess what the topic is, but once the cameras roll, Cross starts capping the scene with delightfully odd ad-libs."Look!" he tells Lucille 2, "I see a real Mexican!" Later, Hurwitz explains that Tobias's one-liners are part of the new design of the series.
In this iteration of Arrested Development, which originally aired on Fox from 2003 to 2006, a 15-part saga of the once-rich, still-imperious Bluth family will be available for streaming by Netflix starting May 26 as a kind of megaepisode. It boasts darker humor, returning favorites (Carl Weathers, James Lipton, Scott Baio), new guests (Kristen Wiig, Conan O'Brien, John Slattery), a stampeding ostrich and lots of wince-worthy humiliation. Viewers can devour it in half-hour segments or all at once, and — except for the first two exposition-heavy episodes — in any order. "You know that line that David Cross just said?" says Hurwitz. "It refers back to another story. There's an overlap."
Each episode is told from a single character's perspective and is part flashback, part present-day update. But no cast member — save perhaps Michael Cera, who plays quavering-voiced George Michael and earned a producer credit this season — can share much about the overall story. "I understand the scenes I did, but how they work with the storylines? I have no clue," says Jason Bateman, who, as Michael, the least delusional Bluth, is the only actor to appear in every episode.
Viewers should keep their eyes peeled for Matthew Taylor, one of six contestants who won walk-on roles by proving their devotion. Look for the Cinco de Quatro crowd member with a frozen-banana-stand hat — a facsimile of the 500-pound kiosk, which he constructed as his winning entry. How many episodes do Taylor and his wife plan to consume on May 26 with similarly Arrested-addicted friends? "At least 12," says Taylor. "At some point, I have to go to work."