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[This story contains spoilers for the fifth season of Netflix’s Arrested Development.]
When Arrested Development’s fourth season dropped on Netflix in 2013, Lucille (Jessica Walter) and George Bluth Sr.’s (Jeffrey Tambor) story included a ridiculous yet believably Bluthian plot about how the couple wanted to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Unfortunately, the five years in between seasons had an unexpected consequence. In 2015, Donald Trump declared his intent to run for president — and made it clear he wanted to build that very same wall.
With that storyline no longer a hypothetical “what if,” the Arrested Development writers faced an unusual conundrum for the recently released fifth season: How do you handle a joke when the now-president has made something you tossed out as a lark one of his key rally points?
Complicating matters was the fact that Portia de Rossi — whose Lindsay Bluth-Fünke was primed to run for office at the end of season four — was only available in a limited capacity following her semi-retirement from acting. “Portia was not as available to us as she was going to be at one point,” Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz acknowledges. “It’s amazing we got her at all because she was starting a business. So we did dial down our politics story.”
However, even if de Rossi had been available for every episode, Hurwitz admits, they still would have shaken things up. “But also, we dialed it down because it was too in the news,” he says. “You want to be a little behind the news, as you see we are a few times [in season five], or ahead on the news like we were with the wall [to make it more timeless].”
But the Trump-like homages, inevitably, are there. “Everything I’ve given her to do or say only makes her go up in the polls,” Maeby Fünke (Alia Shawkat), Lindsay’s daughter/campaign manager, laments in the season’s third episode. “It’s like the more offensive it is, the more people are behind her.” It turns out, Maeby — in an attempt to sabotage her mother’s efforts — had her mock a reporter with a speech impediment, and orchestrated the leak of a hot mic tape where Lindsay talked about wanting to grab a male by the “tush.”
“Remember, this was in 2015, and many of the offensive comments almost seem quaint by today’s standards,” series narrator Ron Howard deadpans via voiceover.
Given the Bluth family’s privilege and the general disdain for things they deem below them, Hurwitz admits there are some jokes it’s a little harder to not pursue on the topic. “Once it’s happening [in the current news], it’s like, ‘Well, Saturday Night Live is going to do this better than we do,'” he says. “Even so, it’s really tempting to do it. It’s tempting to do all the Melania stuff and have them use a publicist named John Barron. So we didn’t do as much of it as might be expected.”
One thing can’t be avoided, though: In addition to Lucille’s outrage over Trump (unknowingly) stealing her big idea, Hurwitz teases, “The series does deal with the wall by the end of the season.”
[Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before the viral New York Times piece was published.]
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