Seven years after it was canceled from Fox due to spotty ratings, the cult phenomenon “Arrested Development” returned to television Sunday on Netflix amid much different circumstances.
The intervening years have seen the critically acclaimed comedy about Orange County’s blundering Bluth family gather a hugely loyal fan base. Once-obscure actors Jason Bateman and Michael Cera graduated to the A list, while talented performers such as Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett and David Cross continued prominent careers in television and film.
Actress Alia Shawkat, who reprises her role as rebellious teenager Maebe Funke on the show, said enthusiasm among the cast was high for the reunion even after many of the actors had moved on to other projects.
“I think everybody was really excited, they really wanted to be a part of it. We couldn’t wait, we couldn’t believe it was actually happening,” Shawkat said recently in an interview with The Malibu Times.
Despite a hugely talented ensemble cast featuring the aforementioned actors as well as memorable players such as television vets Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter, as well as song-and-dance icon Liza Minnelli, the show struggled to gain a foothold with viewers before it was canceled in 2006. The much-anticipated fourth season was released Sunday on Netflix, with all 15 episodes made available for immediate viewing.
The show centers around the comically dysfunctional Bluth family, a once-leading family of Orange County’s upper crust who struggle to reign in their extravagant ways after their patriarch, George Bluth, Sr. (Tambor) is sent to prison for financial improprieties. Bateman plays Michael Bluth, the straight man who takes over the Bluth Company in his father’s absence, while trying to restrain the profligate lifestyles of his siblings— Lindsay (de Rossi), Gob (Arnett) and Buster (Tony Hale)—as well as his domineering mother (Walter).
Michael’s unsuccessful attempts at instilling discipline into his perpetually selfish, childlike family endeared the show to a generation of Netflix-watching viewers upon rewatching, as did a rotating cast of oddballs such as Henry Winkler, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Minnelli.
Shawkat plays Maebe, the daughter of erstwhile couple Tobias (Cross) and Lindsay (de Rossi) Funke. Her awkward, on-and-off romantic link with her cousin, George Michael Bluth (Cera), kept audiences on their toes through the end of the third season, when it was revealed Maebe was in fact not biologically related to the Bluths. Shawkat allowed that there would be “some” resolution to the cliffhanger in Season 4.
“It’s definitely addressed,” Shawkat hinted vaguely. “If anything, their childhood experiences together definitely is shown to affect their future relationships.”
Born in Palm Springs, Shawkat began acting at age nine and spent several of her formative years on the show with Cera. While some might consider it strange to act at such a young age, Shawkat said she “knew what she wanted to do [for] years before.”
In addition to acting, Shawkat also sings in jazz clubs and paints (acrylics and inks), and has participated in shows in Mexico City, Paris and Los Angeles.
Looking ahead, the young actress said she hopes to “be part of well-written film and television in the future.”
Now 24, Shawkat lives in east LA but likes to go hiking on the westside and enjoys spending time in Malibu.
“Encinal Canyon, I love it up there,” she said. “I have a friend who has a house up that street all the way. And I’ve been up there for many parties, it’s really rad.
“When I was in high school, one of my best friends went to Malibu High,” she continued. “When I was up in LA working we’d hang out afterwards… Malibu High kids were like the coolest. It was fun, I love Malibu.”