“Beef Consommé” (season 1, episode 13; original airdate 2/15/04)
It’s ending-and-beginning week here at TV Club Classic’s Arrested Development HQ. “Beef Consommé,” the thirteenth episode of the show’s first season, was also the last of AD’s original Fox episode order, and as such was designed to serve as a series finale if the network had chosen not to order any more. Can you imagine what that would’ve been like, if only thirteen Arrested Developments had ever been made? What a thirteen, though; not a dud in the bunch, and maybe three or four episodes that could contend for “greatest of all time” status in any sitcom slugfest. So those of you who are dogged “their old stuff was better” types, this is the point where you’ll want to jump off. (You’ll miss a lot of brilliant comedy if you do, though.)
I can’t quite put “Beef Consommé” in the pantheon with the likes of “Pier Pressure,” if only because it’s not as intricate. But it’s a damned funny episode, and heavier on the slapstick and visual gags than usual, right down to the three-way brother-fight that serves as the climax. Nowhere is the comic approach of “Beef Consommé” more evident than in the scene at the beginning of the episode where Michael goes to apologize to Marta, she calls him “sensitive like a woman,” and then they attempt to have sex in a bedroom filled with reminders of GOB. They roll over on his wand, they stumble into his picture on the mantle (which they flip down to reveal a picture of Jesus Christ), and when they switch on the stereo to set the mood, the song that plays is GOB’s rendition of “Love Is In The Air.” (“He liked to make love to this.”) It’s the escalation that makes the scene work—it’s classic farce.
Meanwhile, GOB, having finally learned that “hermano” means “brother,” is determined to confront the actor who plays Marta’s brother on her soap: a guy whom Buster thinks is named Tio. (Cue GOB: “Sounds like someone who you think’s name is Tio is about to get his ass kicked.”) But what GOB doesn’t know is that the actor in question once starred in a film about the life of boxer Oscar De La Hoya, so soon GOB is having his own, much more violent physical encounter with a Spanish-speaking person, after which he regains consciousness on the set of the soap, in two-thirds of a hospital room.
But the brother who has it the worst in this episode is Buster, who has decided to embrace maturity by way of declaring his own love for Marta. He shows up at her house with a mariachi band—playing “Love Is In The Air”—but when he arrives, he finds Michael at her door already, telling Marta that after GOB’s run in with Tio, he has given Michael and Marta his blessing. (Or, to put it in Michael’s words: “My brother said we can do it.”) So Buster has to fall back on his other planned step to adulthood: getting into a fight. When he was younger, he followed his mother’s advice on fighting, which was to curl up in a ball. Now he wonders aloud what it would be like to be in a fight as a grown man—to which Michael cracks, “You’d be a much bigger ball.” Buster’s ready to punch and be punched, and when GOB and Michael start scuffling at the end of “Beef Consommé,” Buster tries to get into the mix, before the action gets too rough an he falls back on instinct, curling up on the ground. (“Well, it’s effective,” Michael admits.) Making matters worse, when Marta comes by, she’s disgusted by the brothers fighting in public and says she doesn’t want to be with any of them—not even Buster, about who she says, “I’m not sure who you are.” One upside? After Marta says she doesn’t know him, Buster realizes, “That’s how it feels to get punched in the face.”
As I’ve written before, I think Arrested Development works best when it grounds its allusions and one-liners and cartoony antics in the relationships between the various Bluths. Buster was a little underused early in the season, as the Michael/GOB and Michael/Lindsay dynamic took center-stage, but “Beef Consommé” makes great use of the history between these three man-boys, who resent each other to varying degrees.
The episode also makes a game effort to wrap up a couple of other lingering storylines. George-Michael continues to ask questions about whether Maeby is really his cousin, starting out by asking Tobias where she came from and getting a typically creepy answer that George-Michael cuts off. (“When a man needs to prove to a woman that he’s actually… No, when a man loves a woman, and he actually wants to make love to her, something very very special happens, and with deep concentration and great focus he is often able to achieve an erec….”) Then he goes to his grandmother, who tells George-Michael that Maeby was a test-tube baby in a typically Lucille-ian monologue full of snide dismissals and self-satisfied slang. (“She was made in a cup, like soup… How do you like them eggrolls, Mr. Goldstone?… All I know is it took an extra year before we could add a den… She already spent her inheritance getting here.”)
The other big event of “Beef Consommé” is George Sr.’s arraignment hearing, which “very good” attorney Barry Zuckerkorn believes could end with the Bluth patriarch getting released, provided that the family shows up and supports him for “ten minutes, tops.” (Cue Lucille: “See if you can get it down to five.”) But everyone but Lucille and GOB gets distracted and fails to show up on time—“no one showed,” George Sr. grumbles while looking right at GOB—and even Barry is underprepared, looking shocked as the court reads off the long list of charges against George Bluth. (“I did not get that page,” Barry mumbles.) If this had been the last Arrested Development, the series would’ve ended with both Barry and George Sr. panicking and running “with great intensity” while GOB and Michael’s fight distracts the authorities, though George Sr.’s fugitive stint finishes quickly when takes a wrong turn and runs right back into his holding cell.
I don’t think that ending would’ve been what I would’ve taken away from Arrested Development, though. To me, “Beef Consommé” is more about the moment when the cameras have to duck and then leave because they’re not allowed in the courtroom; and the flashback to Buster getting attacked by a boy in a bear suit, who then steps gingerly on Buster when he curls up on the ground; and the way that Lindsay coaxes Tobias to finally get naked, which requires him to drop his cutoffs and his cock-sock; and the moment when GOB on his Segway tries to outrace Michael in his staircar.
And even all those little scenes and touches can’t beat my absolute favorite thing about “Beef Consommé,” which is a little throwaway bit of business where GOB goes looking for a snack while he’s talking to Buster and settles on uncooked spaghetti. Without ever making any direct comment, that little sequence says so much about GOB and the Bluths, just by showing GOB in mooch-mode, convincing himself that dry pasta might taste good and then making a face when he realizes he’s made a huge mistake.
“Shock And Aww” (season 1, episode 14; original airdate 3/7/04)
“Shock And Aww,” meanwhile, is the first of season one’s “back nine,” and an interesting episode for a couple of reasons. First off, it’s clear that making the first thirteen Arrested Developments showed Mitchell Hurwitz and company just how dense they could make the show, because with “Shock And Aww,” we start to see more seeds being planted for jokes that won’t pop up for weeks. It’s the opposite of the “callback” method that AD did so well in the first two-thirds of the season. These are call-forwards.
Second off, “Shock And Aww” is yet another episode with an Andy Griffith Show-style plot, like “Storming The Castle.” There’s an Andy Griffith where Opie develops a crush on his teacher Helen Crump, and has his heart broken when he realizes that his Pa is already sweet on her. And in “Shock And Aww,” both George-Michael and Michael get smitten by the former’s ethics teacher, Ms. Baerly. (“No ring,” both father and son note approvingly.)
Though the episode is littered with those call-forwards—which I’ll cite in the “stray observations”—it’s not devoid of callbacks, or at least thematic recurrences. Making Miss Baerly an ethics teacher continues Michael’s infatuation with at least the idea of being a good person. (“How could one thing be right and another thing be wrong? I mean, that’s the rrrrrr of it!”) The incest theme comes back when George-Michael tries to tell Lindsay about his feelings for Miss Baerly and she misinterprets it as him pining for a mother, responding by saying that “aunts can fill that role” and “I’ll be right across the hall.” (Cue the narrator: “Lindsay had never been more proud of anything she’d said in her entire life.”) Then of course there’s the Maeby-like spelling of Miss Baerly’s name, and the way she and Michael have to walk up the Staircar to sneak into his bedroom in the Model Home. “Shock And Aww” offers multiple examples of the Arrested Development writers deploying some reliable weapons from their arsenal.
I don’t think this is one of the top-shelf season one episodes though, largely because so much of it is involved with introducing new characters and setting up the rest of the season. We meet Cindi Lightballoon (played by Jane Lynch), who pretends to be a disciple of George Sr.’s “caged wisdom” but is actually an FBI agent. “I’ve come to learn at your feet,” she says, to which a horny George Sr. replies, “That’s a good place to start.” (Later, Cindi hides a camera in her undergarments, but when George Sr. begins groping her through the prison fence, her cohorts in the “dog-washing” truck think they’ve been made, and quickly begin hosing down a fake dog.) We also meet Annyong, whom Lucille adopted from Korea in a fit of drunken pique years ago. Now she’s trying to figure out how to get social services to take him back. (“I think it’s a him,” she says. “You’ve got to strip them down to next to nothing to tell.” “Tell that to social services,” Michael suggests.)
But the MVP of “Shock And Aww” for me is Heather Graham as Miss Baerly. She fits right into the Arrested Development tone, unlike some guest stars on the show who try to play too straight. There’s a darkly funny/awkward bit of flirting between Michael and Miss Baerly where he laughs because her predecessor Mr. Daniels had a stroke—caused by Maeby asking him on a date, we learn later—and she laughs when he says that his wife is dead. Miss Baerly loves Sadaam Hussein, possibly just as an ethical case study and possibly in a much deeper way, and she has a hard time talking about torture without giggling because she’s so happy to have met a man she likes. Though when Michael finds out that George-Michael is in love with Miss Baerly, he comes by the school to break up with her, and she asks, “This isn’t one of your wife-died jokes?”
This episode is also a nice showcase for George-Michael, now broadening his romantic prospects to ever-more inappropriate targets. There’s something so sweet and so Bluth-y about George-Michael walking his dad through his plan to woo Mis Baerly, which would’ve involved him asking her to dance as a kind of joke, and then them falling in love through joke-dancing. In typical Bluth fashion, he George-Michael has to admit: “I didn’t think it through.”
- Though GOB took years of Spanish classes, the word “hermano” never rang a bell with him. And yet he seems to know the word for “brother” in every other language. (“You’re a good guy, mon frere!” “It’s all because of you, fratello!”)
- Michael is deeply attracted to Marta’s sense of right and wrong. Also “your hair and your face and your breasts.”
- Marta apologizes that she was disrespectful to GOB, which Michael shrugs off quickly: “Oh, who cares? Nobody respects him.”
- When a sleuthing George-Michael asks GOB if Lindsay was ever pregnant, GOB quickly answers, “Oh yeah, dozens of times.”
- When Buster suggests that maybe he could be with Marta, GOB scoffs, “That would be like going from prime rib to… the weird brother of prime rib.”
- Even though I watched these episodes when the originally aired, I’m still routinely surprised by what Arrested Development was able to get away with. Case-in-point: Tobias having to change course with this Lindsay-directed insult when George-Michael walks by: “You selfish cunt…ry music-loving lady.”
- Among Buster’s dreams: To dance; to get a checking account.
- When Buster walks into the courtroom with his mariachi band, Lucille sighs that Buster’s only been on his own for two days and he’s already joined a gang.
- Lucille mainly wants George Sr. to come home because she’s tired of paying Lupe to clean one dish.
- Henry Winkler has been funny post-Fonz (I love him in Night Shift), and he’s been funny post-Arrested Development (I love him in Childrens Hospital). But I don’t know that he’s ever been as funny as he was as Barry Zuckerkorn, a role that allowed him to show a knack for farce to rival any Marx brother. “Beef Consommé” hits a comic high when Barry comes rushing into the hearing late, saying that he was just in another hearing and he has good news. “I think I’m gonna get off!” Then he cheerfully says, “Anyway, what are we doing here? What’s the plan?” And when an outraged Lucille responds, “The plan? You’re our lawyer!” Barry calms her: “Figure of speech.”
- In “Shock And Aww,” GOB invites Michael on a double-date with two “fun girls” (another Andy Griffith nod). Michael’s date is kind of mannish. (“You’ve got a mustache… I mean you’ve got milk on your mustache.”) And GOB’s date, we learn later, is one of George-Michael’s classmates. (“I bought a yearbook ad from you. Does that mean anything anymore?”)
- As I mentioned, there’s foreshadowing aplenty in “Shock And Aww,” from Michael noticing that Sadaam Hussein’s palace looks like the Model Home (“That is our exact outdoor firepit”), to Miss Baerly waxing enthusiastic about Sadaam’s policy of punishing criminals by chopping off their hands, to a poster on the wall of the school that reads: “Hold On, Surely Funke.” More on all of this in the weeks and years to come.
- “Shock And Aww” also features a funny background performance by George-Michael’s classmate Jeremy, who bitterly throws his special Sadaam cupcake in the trash when Miss Baerly says she’s met someone, and later shows up at the dance to growl, “The lady said no, man!” at the Bluth family. He also asks Miss Baerly to dance and she says yes, thus proving that George-Michael’s plan might’ve worked.
- When Michael comes to the school to tell Miss Baerly he can’t see her anymore, she reassures him that George-Michael’s not around: “He’s not in this class; these are the dumb kids.”
- When Buster complains out loud about Annyong, saying, “You’re trying to steal from the wrong man, my little immigrant friend!” Lupe overhears him in the background, and quietly removes an object from her purse and sets it down on an end-table.
- Steve Holt! returns, and dances with Maeby after she tries to hold his feet to the fire regarding diversity.
- GOB sleeps around a lot in this episode, always thinking he’s spiting Michael, and always getting it wrong. He has sex with the wrong teacher at the school—“I [bleep]ed Mrs. Whitehead!”—though when she calls later, he’s confused. (“Who is Edna W.?”)
- The best “on the next” in “Beef Consommé:” Tobias “quietly overcompensates” for his former never-nudism by walking around starkers.
- The best “on the next” in “Shock And Aww:” Jealous that Annyong gets to light candles for his religious ceremonies, Buster vows to light a candle too. Cut to: Buster, going to retrieve the fire extinguisher while smoke billows out of his room.