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Dead Tree Alert: It’s Not TV. On the Set of the New Arrested Development

For the longest time, I told myself I would believe an Arrested Development reunion when I saw it. Then I saw it.

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Michael Yarish for Netflix

Will Arnett and Jason Bateman in a scene from Netflix’s “Arrested Development.”

When there started to be talk of reviving Arrested Development–even before it went off the air in 2006–I was, to put it mildly, skeptical. The rumors never ended: Showtime was interested! There was going to be a movie! There was a script already! And my response was always the same: I’d believe it when I saw a deal. When I saw the opening titles appear on a screen in front of me. When I actually stood on a set and saw Jason Bateman and Michael Cera shooting a scene.

Last October, I went out to the studios in Culver City and I saw exactly that:

There is no aspect of Arrested Development so perfect that creator Mitch Hurwitz does not think he can improve it, including the way Jason Bateman demonstrates his love to Michael Cera. Hurwitz is going over a red-penciled script, revised on the fly, for a scene in which Michael Bluth (Bateman) is on the verge of a confession to his son, George-Michael (Cera). “I think what would be great here is a hug,” Hurwitz says, putting his hands on Cera’s shoulders, pulling him in and giving him a gentle peck on the cheek.

Then Hurwitz heads back to his director’s chair. “Let’s make some streaming media, people!” he declares. “Let’s make something for some people’s phones!”

That’s the opening of my longread feature in the new print issue of TIME on the long-awaited, much-doubted revival of Arrested Development for a fourth (and quite possibly final) season on Netflix. It’s paywalled, sadly. But I had a lot of fun both reporting and writing it, and I’d love it if you bought a copy–or at least loitered overlong at a newsstand to read it–if nothing else for the awesome full-cast, double-page photo.

The article is about AD, of course, but also about what it means that the show is being revived in this way: through paid online-video streaming rather than a TV network, all 15 episodes going live at once.

Creatively, it means a very different-looking season of the show; the episodes (each focusing on a different character) will overlap chronologically and narratively. If it works (and we’ll have to see the whole season to find out), it will be a kind of interlocking comedy puzzle, with setups in one episode and payoffs in another, and scenes playing out multiple times from different POVs. The old Arrested Development was layered and dense, but the new delivery system will allow it to be more so, because fans won’t have to wait a week between episodes and forget key details.

Netflix made the Arrested Development possible, in part because it’s a show made for binge-watching; and thus it became more popular as a streaming rerun than it was as a broadcast network show on Fox. Conversely, as the next high-profile project for Netflix (after House of Cards), it could be instrumental in popularizing a new way to watch and make TV–outside the TV-network system, without commercials or even weekly schedules. Netflix gave Arrested Development new life (and another chance at becoming a movie); and Arrested Development may be instrumental in helping Netflix (along with Amazon, Hulu, et al.) create a new TV business.

So that’s the story. But as an Arrested Development fan, I’m sure there’s one thing you want to know even more: is the new version any good?

Good question! I have no idea! Netflix says it isn’t making episodes available for critics to review. As movie critics know, holding back the finished product from reviewers can a bad sign, though there could be many reasons for it (last I spoke with Hurwitz a little over a week ago, he was still editing episodes).

I can say that, for all my skepticism, I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw the two days I was on set. I might have expected a rinky-dink operation, but it was indistinguishable from when I visited the show (at the Fox lot) in 2004. Watching and hearing Tony Hale and Jessica Walter play off each other (“I’m not a motherboy anymore! I’m a mother-man!”) was like stepping in a time machine. (By the way, if you’re worried about spoilers, there’s not much of that in my article; there’s a lot I learned about the storyline of the new season that I chose not to spill.)

In other words, it looked like I was really, honest-to-God, watching Arrested Development. Whether it’s a good or bad version of the show, I’ll learn when you do. It will undoubtedly be different. But I have seen with my own eyes: it is actually happening.