There’s always a lot of hedging when Arrested Development cast members are asked about the future of the show. For instance, Tony Hale, who played Buster Bluth, told me in the spring of 2019 that he “would be very surprised” if the cult favorite series returned for a sixth season on Netflix. But he didn’t rule it out, adding, “I have no idea what is going to happen.” This time is different.
When I bring up the prospect of more episodes with David Cross, who was originally brought in to read for Buster and Gob before landing the role of Tobias Fünke, on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast, he barely lets me get out the question before declaring, “It’s over.”
“It’s over,” he repeats three more times. When I ask how he knows, he adds, “I just know.”
After premiering on Fox in 2003 and getting canceled after three seasons, Arrested Development had a highly anticipated return on Netflix in 2013 and then what ended up being its fifth and final season five years after that. The end was ultimately marred, not only by the sexual harassment allegations against star Jeffrey Tambor but also by a devastating New York Times interview during which Jessica Walter spoke up about the way Tambor mistreated her on set and was quickly dismissed by her male co-stars, including Cross.
Cross later apologized for his own behavior during that interview—as did Hale and Jason Bateman—and now he acknowledges that the on-set tensions that led up to that moment have a lot to do with why believes the show will never return.
“I think it’s all the things that led up to those kinds of things becoming an issue on set,” Cross says, carefully. “It was a difficult process for everybody—exceptionally difficult if you’re older,” he adds, alluding to Tambor and Walter. “And it was, you know, not good. It wasn’t good for the actors, that’s for sure.”
Unlike with the first few seasons, Cross explains that during the Netflix seasons, the actors were not given scripts in advance and sometimes received massive rewrites moments before the director called action.
“We didn’t know what we were supposed to do, things weren’t making sense to us,” he says. “And we were doing reshoots on things because somebody thought of a joke, you know, three weeks later, so we had to reshoot something for a story thing that we had no concept of what was happening.”
“I mean, it was a terrible way for actors to try to do what they do,” he continues. “And there were a lot of frustrations early on, the shoot kept extending. And you know, you’re asking a lot of people, and especially older people who just don’t have the physical stamina that some younger cast and crew do. And it led to some tensions and it was just a very bad way to work.”
Those tensions, he suggested, led directly to Tambor screaming at Walter, who told the Times, “In like almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set.”
Critically, the Netflix seasons did not garner the love and respect of the original run. And Cross certainly has fonder memories of shooting those first few seasons than he does of what was ostensibly a reboot years later.
He also believes that what creator Mitch Hurwitz “attempted to do” in seasons four and five “was really admirable and interesting and cool” while also admitting that it took him a while to understand what was going on. “Once I figured that out, I really enjoyed it,” he says. “It was a really cool trippy puzzle and remains an interesting experiment.”
Now we finally know that experiment is officially over.
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Co-star and co-screenwriter of Hulu’s ‘Happiest Season,’ Mary Holland.