After two seasons of dangerously low ratings despite nearly universal critical acclaim, Tony Hale, who plays childish, mother-worshiping youngest brother Buster Bluth on Fox’s "Arrested Development," has one pretty simple sentiment.
"We’re just glad to be back," he says of the show’s upcoming third season.
Hale cites a couple of reasons for its continued survival: The win for best comedy at last year’s Emmy Awards (the show is up for 11 more accolades at tonight’s ceremony), and the release of the first season on DVD (the season two DVD arrives Oct. 11).
"It’s one of those shows that you have to commit to watching two or three in succession to really get what’s going on," he says.
The sitcom boasts a bevy of inside jokes (say "never-nude," "Cornballer" or "I’ve made a huge mistake" to an "AD" fan and watch them erupt in delight) that can lead new viewers to feel alienated.
"Each line is just filled with so much background and humor," Hale says. "People don’t want to take the time to figure it out, they kind of just want to be fed the jokes — which I can understand, but this is more of a challenge."
A worthwhile challenge not just for the viewers, but also the actors. In the show’s first two seasons, Buster’s eccentric escapades included a torrid love affair with a widow several decades his senior (gamely portrayed by Liza Minnelli), Army basic training and a rabid seal biting off his left hand.
"It’s tough sometimes, when you see these situations. As an actor, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to make that genuine?’ " Hale says.
"You can always find some sort of element in there that someone might be dealing with . . . ‘Yeah, a seal might have bit off my hand!’ "
Hale says the third season will continue to escalate the dramatic risks (and the wackiness), but the show’s center — levelheaded main character Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) will remain constant.
"Jason Bateman does such a great job because he is able to be the eye of the storm; he bounces off the chaos," Hale says. "He provides that neutral zone which the show really, really needs."
"Arrested Development" has also distinguished itself with its creative use of guest stars, such as Ben Stiller as a showy magician, Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a pathologically lying lawyer and "Predator" actor Carl Weathers as himself. This will continue in the new season.
"Charlize Theron is guest-starring for four or five episodes," Hale reports. "She’s a fan of the show, I think that’s why she agreed to do it."
Sure, a recent Academy Award winner provides star power. But don’t think the show only utilizes the A-list.
"Henry Winkler (who portrayed attorney/deviant Barry Zuckerkorn) has his own show (CBS’ new "Out of Practice"), so Scott Baio is now our lawyer," Hale says. "They’ve kept that ‘Happy Days’ bloodline" (Ron "Richie Cunningham" Howard serves as both executive producer and the show’s omniscient narrator).
Guest stars are great, but Hale is certain who deserves most of the credit.
"These writers are just amazing," Hale says. "We’re just the puppets."