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MAY
24
2 YEARS

'Arrested Development' Creator Mitch Hurwitz on the Significance of 'For British Eyes Only'

The showrunner tells THR about tricky edits, secrecy and how his teasing storylines have roots in Charlize Theron's season three arc: "There's so much you're setting up, and no one can know what you're setting up."

Mitchell Hurwitz Arrested Development Premiere - P 2013
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Mitch Hurwitz

If you're still curious about how Arrested Development's pseudo-season will play out, you might want to look back at one of the original series' funnier arcs: Charlize Theron's season three arrival as the beautiful and mysterious Rita.

The five-episode stint, which kicked off with fan-favorite "For British Eyes Only," culminated in the reveal that the Oscar winner was playing a severely learning disabled woman -- and not a British spy, as Michael (Jason Bateman) thought. Her condition is comically obvious in repeat viewings.

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Arrested Development creator and showrunner Mitch Hurwitz tells The Hollywood Reporter the groundwork for the series' new style of storytelling can be seen in the Rita's long con. And it's one of the reasons why he, Netflix and the cast have been so tight-lipped about the revived comedy's new plot points.

"I started experimenting with that kind of storytelling in the third season," Hurwitz tells THR. "I would arc out a character, like with Charlize, that had a secret that the other characters and the audience didn't know. It's all about what will give the audience the best laugh. It's not like Harry Potter, and I feel like we have to protect it. These fans are just so loyal, I don't want to ruin anything for them, even if the secrets aren't exactly earth-shattering."

Secrecy is something that has always played a large role in Arrested Development, even in the pre-spoiler culture of 2003. Hurwitz says there were lots of discussions early on in the series about keeping as many people out of the loop as possible.

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"I had to worry about secrecy internally at Fox," says Hurwitz, turning the conversation to one executive who became his co-conspirator. "She said, 'Wait a minute, they're building homes for Saddam Hussein?' We had a long talk about whether or not she should tell the others, and we decided together not to tell anybody. We wanted to lay these clues in slowly. That was the case with Charlize. Every joke had to work on several levels to pay off later."

Hurwitz has doubled down on the multi-layered storytelling in Netflix's Arrested Development. The episodes follow a unique chronology, with each of the 15 individual-character-centric episodes more or less occurring over the same time period and cast members wandering in and out of each other's stories.

"I like to think of it as spokes in a wheel or chapters in a book," he says. "Everyone has their own chapter, but they're all Bluths and a larger story emerges. I have a difficult time describing it, but hopefully at the end it will give a satisfying Arrested Development feeling to the audience -- even if we're getting them one at a time. It's a very complicated show, and I'm really attempting something that has never been done.... for a very good reason, I'm discovering."

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The unique format has prompted a lot of dialogue about how Hurwitz wants viewers to absorb the episodes. Aside from the implicit suggestion of multiple viewings, he says that they should be viewed in the same way as any other comedy: in order and probably not all in one sitting. And those anxious to see the big picture should be patient.

"It was very hard to make the first ones as funny as they could be," Hurwitz says. "There's so much you're setting up, and no one can know what you're setting up."

Email: Michael.OConnell@THR.com; Twitter: @MikeyLikesTV