Arrested Development returns but can the new episodes on Netflix capture the show's deadpan glory days?

The cult TV sitcom returns to our screens this week after seven years away but will it be as good as the much-loved original episodes, asks Sarah Hughes, and will that longed-for movie ever happen?

What's the link between a frozen banana stand, a chicken dance and a ventriloquist's dummy who just wants to promote inter-racial harmony? The answer is Arrested Development, the much-loved and prematurely cancelled sitcom, which returns with 15 new episodes available on Netflix on Sunday.

To say the return is hotly anticipated is almost an understatement. From the moment Arrested Development met its end in 2006, three-quarters of the way through its third season creator Mitchell Hurwitz has been lobbying for a movie – indeed he even had a character pitch just such a film in the final episode – but it wasn't until the show began to find a second life on DVD and the internet that the prospect of new material became a reality.

So just what is it about this tale of a highly dysfunctional family and their desperate attempts to make money that so struck a chord in the seven years it has been off the air? How did it go from barely watched to cult classic, hailed as one of the best sitcoms of all time? And can the cast and crew possibly strike gold once again?

The short answer is that Arrested Development was always a show ahead of its time. When it started in 2003 the most popular sitcom in America was still Friends.

It was a time of Everybody Loves Raymond and Will & Grace when comedy was still about broad gags, a laughter track and a multi-camera format. On HBO, Sex and the City and Curb Your Enthusiasm were demonstrating in very different ways that comedy could take risks but the idea that a network sitcom would do so was inconceivable.

And then came Arrested Development, a show both subtle and silly, which riffed endlessly on popular culture and had an omniscient narrator in place of a laugh track. In contrast to the majority of US sitcoms, Arrested Development had no teachable moments: the family at its centre, the venal Bluths, rarely learnt from their mistakes but instead blundered their merry way through life, bound together not so much by love as by a sense that family, no matter how bad, is all you've got.

Ratings were low by the standards of the day – the show pulled in six million viewers for its first two seasons and four million for the third – but Arrested Development can lay good claim to being the most influential sitcom of its era. Its knowing nods to camera can be seen in everything from 30 Rock to Parks and Recreation while Community with its pop-culture obsessions and love of a good extended in-joke is its natural heir. Even a more sedate sitcom such as Modern Family owes a debt to Hurwitz's show: what are the extended Pritchett-Dunphy clan but a warmer, less deranged version of the Bluths? Indeed, so great is its influence that these days it's the traditional shows that feel out of place.

For instead of the tight rhythm of set-up, gag, punch line Arrested Development preferred to almost throw its humour away. One-liners came thick and fast, often cutting quite close to the bone ("OK, Lindsay, are you forgetting that I was a professional twice over: an analyst and a therapist, the world's first 'analrapist'"; "Get rid of the Seaward" "I'll leave when I'm good and ready.") But they were delivered slightly off the beat ensuring that many times the humour didn't fully hit home until a few seconds later. As Ron Howard, who played the narrator remarks in recently released documentary, The Arrested Development Documentary Project: "It wasn't that laugh-out-loud but once you got it, it was belly laughs."

It was also a show that loved running gags and in-jokes. Phrases such as "And that's why you always leave a note" or "Has anyone in this family ever even seen a chicken?" were repeated throughout, while one of its finest moments came when the Bluths' incompetent lawyer, played by Henry Winkler aka Happy Days' Fonz, was fired, only to be replaced by a lawyer played by Scott Baio aka Fonz's cousin Chachi.

It wasn't entirely sui generis: the set-up and offbeat humour owed a debt to surreal Seventies comedy Soap while there were times that the Bluths' misfortune played out like a less-mannered Wes Anderson movie, a lovingly detailed world in which everything was slightly off key. But when it first aired it felt as though there was nothing else like it on TV.

In other words, it was the sort of show that made those who were watching feel as though they were part of something special. Reciting the silliest lines to fellow addicts made you feel part of a gang. As such it was also born for the internet – over the last seven years the way in which we watch, and crucially talk about television has changed and Arrested Development was perfectly placed to capitalise on that change. Fansites spurted up, Tumblr screencapping the best moments and quotes can be found everywhere while, most memorably of all, oldest Bluth brother Gob's most famous quote "I've made a huge mistake" has been superimposed over everything from pictures of distraught animals to screengrabs of would-be president, Mitt Romney.

That said, going back is always a risky business. Can the new episodes really capture the show's glory days of hook hands and incredibly inventive incest jokes? Interestingly Hurwitz has been quick to stress that this is not a fourth season but rather a series of prequel episodes ahead of his still longed-for movie. Will that movie finally happen? A lot depends on how this new material is received but the cast appear confident that the decision to reconvene was the right one. "Taken at AD mission control, all systems are go. Woo!" posted the show's lead Jason Bateman on (where else) Twitter as filming started. On Sunday, fans who have waited seven years to say "Steve Holt" one more time, will find out if that excitement was justified.

'Arrested Development' begins this Sunday on Netflix

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness