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”It was Arrested Development”
Is this the greatest third season of any show on television? You can’t see me, but I’m unconvincingly shaking my head. These were some of the most genius-ish written episodes of television ever, taking into account the first two seasons. If you watch any almost any other good TV series’ third season before watching the first two, there is generally a latching-on point to hitch an attention span, and little is lost beyond the exact experiences that led the characters you see to the mindsets that they then hold. With Arrested Development’s third season, you’re missing out on at least eight minutes of backwards-compatible referential information of a twenty-two minute episode. Like reading the last three chapters or watching the last fifteen minutes of something, starting with these (then) final thirteen episodes is stupid. Viewer stupidity is what Mitch Hurwitz and the writers exploited with their masterfully-executed Mr. F mini-arc, though they might have called us all something more reta…"Hello, Michael." I only chose four episodes here since it was regrettably a shorter season and I was short on time, though I had initially intended to only do three. You can't blame a guy who meant to only cover two episodes. Come on!
For British Eyes Only
“I’m just in the middle of a stupid girl problem, that’s all.”
“I don’t even have a girl, much less a stupid one.”
“No, the problem is stupid. The girl isn’t stupid.”
“But if they ever had a child, it would be…”
This is an amazing way to begin an episode, with Michael and George Michael waking up next to each other in half of a log cabin, each talking about two completely different things, and neither latching onto the grander idea behind what was happening in each of their lives. Michael ends up becoming enamored with a girl whose mental capabilities were on a tangent, and George Michael is of course referring to his and Maeby’s situation. It also ends up letting us know in the long run that for all that Ron Howard as a narrator is aware of, he didn’t even know about Lindsay being adopted at that point. Unless their kid would have just been naturally stupid.
”My whole face is British.”
Comedy vet Dave Thomas and the charmingly adorable Charlize Theron play an uncle-niece combo for this five episode stint, constantly keeping both characters and audience members trying to figure out what's going on. And anyone who says they knew what was going on all along is mental - so maybe that person and Rita would get along. This show pokes fun at so many personality types, it's obvious that British folks would make the cut, with the capsule-sized insanity of Wee Britain and several James Bond visual and audio cues making that apparent. Michael's innate discomfort with talking to women he is attracted to dips back into "Is Michael a murderer?" waters, as his entry into Britishisms included comparing Rita to a prostitute and and himself to Jack the Ripper, all while unharmoniously tossing about British phrases out all willy nille. One of those phrases: As you like it. As Ron Howard puts it: “Had he been Jack the Ripper, he would have soothed himself in a most unsavory way. But instead, he just sat in his car and ate a whole thing of candy beans.”
George Sr. is now on house arrest - “More touching.” – and this leads to some amazing things later on, but for now gives us one of the first times we see George and Lucille together as a somewhat normal couple, rather than it being some kind of court-ordered thing. (Even though it is a court-ordered thing.) We can’t emphasize enough that no one is making fun of Andy Griffith, but the whole pay-for-play deal with the fictional lawyers held such potential, and to have L.A. Law’s Harry Hamlin be the actual paid for stand-in was kind of spectacular, as it’s a much more honed-in pop culture reference. As messed up as the Abu Ghraib picture was last season, the picture and simultaneous comment about Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein together made me look over my shoulder the first time I watched it. We’ll get into it later, but beyond relying on previous seasons to establish its jokes, Arrested Development was very much a product of the exact time in which it was created.
But fuck plot and story and all that. This is the episode where we got to see seven chicken impersonations. George Sr., Lindsay and Lucille doing it all at once is probably more memorable than whoever got re-elected last year. And then we get a brief G.O.B. chicken performance. Later, Michael repeatedly clucks to Lindsay on the phone (ending with a questionable “-uck” after he got into a wreck) and Tobias actually appeared as the chicken stand-in to G.O.B.’s chicken, and he gave a rousing “Bawk!” Few shows can possibly build up the amount of potential for chicken impersonations that this series does with ease.
Tobias’ hair plugs are worth about three paragraphs on their own, but we must rely just on picturing him screaming for hours. The same goes for all the implications made about what George Sr. and Lucille did with Buster’s prosthetic hand, which went through the “Pots and Pans” cycle, don’t worry. Free Bird. Free Chicken. It’s an impeccable twenty-two minutes of comedy.
Things That Make The Episode Memorable
When we first meet Rita, she’s trying to pile sugar packets into the ring at the top of a condiment holder. And it meant nothing on first viewing.
“And the soup of the day is bread.”
“You’re a regular Brad Garrett.” He’s just won the Emmy, beating out Jeffrey Tambor, to whom the joke is delivered.
Tobias calling himself “buy-curious” and saying he has a “TV opportunity” are two jokes that you just don’t want to have to explain to an elderly relative.
Rita’s hats are already superiorly over the top.
“You haven’t had a serious relationship since your wife. And…you guys weren’t even speaking towards the end. “
“Lot of that was the coma.”
“Yeah. I’ve heard your side of it.”
This show even uses arbitrary blurring – as in the digitally-altered shot of Buster’s hand appliance hole – for comedic effect. Jokes. Are. Everywhere. Dot com.
“Mr. Gay, he’s bleeding!”
Speaking of bleeding, how is Rita’s condition not already bleeding obvious?
"You're blowing my mind, Frank."
“Mr. F” is the umpteenth episode with multi-directional jokes simultaneously happening involving the title of the episode, all within the central plot, all working against everyone involved. Because this series and Monty Python’s Flying Circus are my favorite things to ever happen on television, I have tossed about an umpteen amount of superlatives around in these features, and I’ll probably throw a few more at you. But I’ll just say that upon first viewing, this episode had the moment that made me lose my shit and go bonkers hysterical with glee.
I’m of course talking about the built-up climax of George Michael in a jet pack “taking on” Tobias in a mole costume in a miniature town. It’s one of the most beautifully constructed set-ups, and it helps if you’re a fan of Godzilla, and similar monster movies. Created in the most sitcom of ways, a joke about the King of the Monsters turns into a G.O.B. idea to save the company, mostly based on politically incorrect views on Asians. “God knows they’re squinters.” Then the mix-up between the jet back and the train set leads to G.O.B.’s Sudden Hill mini-suburb and George Michaels’ Japanese instructional video on how to assemble a jetpack. And just when the Japanese investors that could save them –but not if money actually got exchanged – Tobias comes tumbling over the hill, and smashes a water tower for not passing muster and the Japanese people get so insulted and it was the single most amazing thing to happen on television up until that point. It was The Simpsons having Sideshow Bob get hit in the face an absurd amount of times in as much as the comedy here was pushed to such unrealistic limits that it almost lost touch completely, but in retrospect, it wasn’t like that at all. It was just really great writing.
Tobias and Lindsay aren’t the most amazing couple in terms of loving each other romantically, but they generally tend to eventually do the things that people who probably love each other might do; it indeed takes that much of an adverb-laden construct to get them together. But C.I.A. agent Frank seems to make Tobias feel at home with himself – “I’m so glad you went first.” – and it’s very uncomfortable for anyone else, even though we understand that this is someone once again selling Tobias out to get to George Sr. Only when Tobias blows it, Frank's genuine remorse makes us wonder what might have been. In theory, I think Tobias knew he wasn't really part of an audition, and he was only doing this to make Frank happy to begin with. Very much a missed connection, told while David cross is wearing the most nauseating hair plugs.
"That explains what she's doing with him."
The obvious Siss-Boom-Pow moment is finding out that Rita is indeed a mentally handicapped female, putting a vastly unbelievable-but-still-fitting conclusion to the Mr. F fiasco. Of course, Tobias was actually Mr. F. and we already knew that something was wrong with Rita, but still. What a payoff, and one that seems so face-punchingly obvious in retrospect, as going back over the previous four episodes reveals a wealth of clues to her Rita-dedness. But "Mr. F" in particular definitely works best upon first viewing, when genuine surprise follows Tobias' mole revelation and the pricelessly groan-worthy reveal; those things can't possibly provoke the same reaction the way the one-liners can make you laugh over and over. But few comedies can create shock value through situations that aren't vulgar, and even fewer keep their more surreal elements within the context of the story. This episode delivers on all fronts, and will put yet another parodied Bond soundbite in your head. "For British Eyes Only-eeeee."
Things That Make The Episode Memorable
We got to see an actual mole in animal form, and a mole animal costume. We got to see Tobias unintentionally be a mole. We got to see Annyong be an intentional mole. And we got multiple references from Tobias about the moles on people’s bodies. But instead of bleeding the well dry, that final reveal was pretty mind-blowing for a sitcom.
Ron Howard again gets to call out the narrator on Scandalmakers.
I love Bob Einstein with much of my heart, due to his Super Dave character that blew my childhood’s mind. He is perfect as Larry Middleman, and matches any other character to the persona that we are presented with. He’s such a professional, he doesn’t show disappointment, but even a pro like Larry has a breaking point. The disjointed rapport between George and the others through Larry is about as unique a dialogue technique as you’ll find on television, especially when Larry inserts something, or when Buster hops into it.
George Sr. getting past the sensor. "When mother sees this, she will blow a cow."
"Look at us. We're crying like a couple of girls on the last day of camp."
Poor Michael and his poor love skills.
Let’s take a trip back in time, starting with an obvious statement: Arrested Development never really fared well during its initial run. The third season was on life support to begin with, and the episode order decreased in number right before this episode was written, which let the writers get self-referential in a different way than they had before. If the writers were previously trying to make you forget you were watching TV while telling its story, that temporarily ended with “S.O.B.s.”
”And one of these people…will die!” A “Save Our Bluths” (dot com) fund raiser is conceived in order to bring money back into the company so they can get good representation, despite the company not really being worth anyone’s money. It directly mirrors and explicitly refers to the series’ ratings being in dire straits. It masks rumors of other networks picking up the show - HBO (Home Builders Organization) and Showtime – into the story, and uses a wealth of frequently used television gimmicks in order to poke fun at…everyone, I guess. What other episode of Arrested Development would allow for a 3D shot of G.O.B. hurling a tomato at the screen? Ron Howard often steps out of the narrative to speak directly to the audience in the series, and here he pleads for viewers to tell their friends about the show. Not that it would have mattered, as Fox aired the last four episodes in two-hour chunk the next week and left it alone. Maybe it was the Andy Dick cameo.
”He’s totally in charge of the situation.”
While the B-story of Maeby’s attention to her producer career getting her kicked out of her “feel-goodery” school gives us some great Maeby moments (especially helping Glitter Queen Tobias with his casting agent gift bags), the real success is in getting Andy Richter to play quintuplets, allowing Richter’s self-deprecating jokes to get multi-faceted. We’re then introduced to the legend of a serial poisoner called the Muffin Man, who terrorized teachers in the ‘70s with baskets of poisoned muffins. Sadly, it’s soon revealed that George Sr. was the original culprit while the rest were just copycats. I feel like this could have been a season-long stretch of references that had to blow its payload before it was ready. “Do you know the Muffin Man?”
Lindsay attempts to be a homemaker, slaving all day over her patented dish Hot Ham Water – “So watery, and yet there’s a smack of ham to it.” – and everyone but George Michael is pleased about it, since Lindsay is barely cut out to be a woman, much less one who attempts to embrace stereotypes. (“Sister’s my new mother, Mother.”) No one should have let her cook the food for the fund raiser, but even that probably mirrors how the writers and performers felt about Fox at the time. They gave and they gave and they gave, but in the end, they got ripped away from the fanbase, and Fox can suck on a bowl of raw chicken. Maybe I’m projecting.
The final gimmick completely shattered whatever narrative walls were constructed around this series, as Lucille’s last line of the show was delivered via a live telecast, which was celebrated for a second or two before someone says, “We’ve still got the west coast feed, guys.” It of course is a jab at single-camera sitcoms over the years that have gone the “live episode” route, and it just goes to show you how much fun these people had making this thing. And to really cap things off, the end credits run over the delightfully silly and creepy “Discipline Daddy” song that shows up briefly earlier on. Like, “Mr. F.,” it’s an episode that works better within the overall structure, complete with background information, but it works completely fine without getting nerdy about it. And eventually the “Save Our Bluths” campaign worked!
Things That Make The Episode Memorable
“If I may take off my acting pants for a moment and pull my analrapist stocking over my head…”
Theorizing what G.O.B. would do for money when he followed people to their cars. “I can’t offer to [bleep] them in front of their husbands!”
“Bob Loblaw Lobs Law Bomb” “Movie Execs Doing Snow Again”
Buster yelling, “He’s a robot!” as his hand falls off, revealing his own simple mechanics.
“Oh, G.O.B., you could charm the black off a telegram boy.” It’s a line that would make me shoot milk out of my nose if I would ever happen to be taking a mouthful when hearing this line. Too bad that bitch choked on a thumb.
“He’s a regular Freddie Wilson.”
Larry Middleman as someone else’s surrogate felt like light infidelity.
“I love my cousin.” “I love you too, pal.”
For quite a while now, “Development Arrested” has been one of the most soul-crushing 22-minutes of television, if only because viewers knew that nothing was coming after it. It’s a wonderful episode on its own, and manages to close doors on a lot of story elements that have tangentially been withering around among the comedic moments. And now that I know there are another 15 episodes coming just hours from now (!!!), I can view it with that lens, while still retaining the feeling that television would never be the same for me.
”And that’s when Michael finally cried. It wasn’t exactly a turn on.”
Callbacks abound here, particularly in the many ways in which it mirrors the events from the pilot episode, giving things a nice cyclical tie up. We didn’t know before just how deep in the shit Michael Bluth was just by being related to these people, but at this point, we know he can never get away, as does he. Even in the end, when he’s finally getting away – by boat rather than car – he’s still stuck with his scheming father next to him. Harboring a fugitive. From an actual boat harbor. (”Oh, stupid Oscar! When are you gonna learn there’s no such thing as free shrimp?)
Just when it repeatedly looks like everything is going to be okay, everything repeatedly goes wrong, just as we’re accustomed to seeing it – though maybe not necessarily with alopecia-sufferer Stan Sitwell, with his severely misplaced cruelty-free alpaca hair pieces, dropping info-bombs.
”I’m just not that into older women.”
There’s something so awkward, awful and wonderful in the reveal of Lindsay’s adoption. In true Arrested Development fashion, they didn’t just come out and say it; they hinted at it through a series of jokes and then they revealed it. It completely releases George Michael and Maeby from the biological side of their taboo, by having drunk Lindsay become sexually aggressive towards Michael when revealing it to him, it gives you a different view of what she has been thinking about all these years. Perhaps. I mean, she obviously wasn’t thinking about Tobias. In any case, it provokes further thought, and that’s what a great finale does. While the plot is important, it’s the characters that eventually matter.
Buster eventually conquers his two biggest fears. (G.O.B. apparently can secure a tie to a seal better than anything else in his life.) Maeby’s failures eventually gain her a larger success. G.O.B.’s depravity has him in a relationship with a “church girlfriend, eventually revealed to be Ann, and George Michael finally gets to prove himself a man – at least to himself, after confessing to Michael that he and Maeby made out, and then some; and Michael finally paid attention. Tobias gets to be around a bunch of hot se-…sailors, and it makes him closer to his wife. Nearly everyone gets their moments.
”Risky! Risky!” “Two million! Two million!”
We already knew that Annyong was behind all of the Bluths troubles, but we find out now that it was because George Sr. ran Annyong’s grandfather out of business. (“Cold Banana In Delicious Brown Taste.”) But instead of making this a big moment, it’s seemingly just to let viewers know that Annyong still has a crush on Maeby. Everyone is all so perfectly blasé about the whole thing, and that’s exactly what we know about these people. And as genius as it was, I cannot believe that the show ended with Ron Howard saying, “Maybe a movie,” thus placing its cast in the eyes and reach of optimistic Internet fanatics.
It’s a perfectly fitting, if somewhat rushed ending to a perfect sitcom. Michael realizes that he will never get out of this cycle, and fans didn’t think they could ever get back into that cycle again. Yet here we are again. Thank you, Netflix What’s this feeling? It isn’t hungry…I think it’s appreciation.
Things That Make The Episode Great
I’d like to think that George Sr. was completely innocent – except for maybe the Muffin Man poisonings – and that Lucille built their illegalities from the ground up. Again, it gives depth to what we thought we already knew about these people.
“Yeah, well somebody’s drawing a little 1 on those checks.”
The dark humor here is thick. “It looks like George Michael got his mom back today.”
There is someone out there whose favorite joke about this episode is the frequent use of the Pete Rose photograph. It’s a truly inspired choice, and nothing else besides maybe a sketch show is going to get that random.
“I’ve never seen a CEO cry like that before. Except at his sentencing.”
G.O.B. not wanting the C-Word to smell like fish combines double entendre highbrow tactic with a rather rudimentary view on female parts; the low brow, if you will.
“That we all only had three more weeks on Earth and that fossils were just something the Jews buried in 1924.”
The Risky Business gag.
Check out my favorite episodes for Season 1 and Season 2, see if you agree with our predictions, and check back over the next few days for all our Arrested Development Season 4 recaps! But more importantly, enjoy the show! Huzzah!