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
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine