Arrested Development: “Best Man For The Gob”/“Whistler’s Mother”
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Arrested Development: “Best Man For The Gob”/“Whistler’s Mother”

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Arrested Development

“Best Man For The Gob”/“Whistler’s Mother”

Season 1, Episode 19

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Arrested Development

“Best Man For The Gob”/“Whistler’s Mother”

Season 1, Episode 20

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“Best Man For The Gob” (season 1, episode 19; original airdate 4/4/04)

Prior to this Arrested Development season one re-watch, if you’d ask me to list the season’s best episodes, I don’t know that I’d have put “Best Man For The Gob” on the list. Frankly, it’s not one I remembered all that well, aside from its introducing the drug-industry-supported Dr. Fünke’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family Band Solution into the show’s mythology. But let me tell you now: I greatly underestimated this episode. It’s one of AD’s tightest and funniest, even though—or perhaps because—it doesn’t do much to advance the season’s master-plot.

Narrative-wise, “Best Man For The Gob” is mostly significant for hastening the exit of Amy Poehler as GOB’s still-nameless wife. The episode largely revolves around a post-wedding bachelor party that Michael intends to throw for his brother, until George Sr. hijacks the event in an attempt to intimidate The Bluth Company’s accountant. But GOB’s wife pops up throughout, first at a party thrown on her behalf by Lucille, and later at pharmaceutical convention where Tobias is trying to stage a reunion of his band—whom GOB’s wife loves. (She really digs their song about the drug Teemosil, about which she says, “It was like you knew every side-effect I was going through.”)

Dr. Fünke’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family Band Solution is a fine comic creation, from their unnecessarily hippie-ish clothing—criticized by Lindsay, who notes that there’s absolutely no reason for the family to dress this way—to their co-option by corporate conglomerates. (Cue The Narrator: “The group was underwritten by the Natural Life Food Company, a division of ChemGrow, an Allyn-Crane Acquisition, and part of the Squimm Group. Their motto was simple: ‘We keep you alive.’”) I love the way the show plucks this weird idea out of the air and then just rolls with it: showing flashbacks of the band performing with a young Maeby, who’s responsible for reading off the drugs’ side effects; and implying that Lindsay used to take full advantage of the band’s supply of the products they were pitching. (“We are pushers, not users!” Tobias reminds her.)

Maeby tries to convince her mom that her days in the band were Lindsay’s happiest in the family, but Lindsay tells Michael that at the time she was just “whacked out on Zanotab,” which makes every thing better for 15 minutes and then “it burns when you pee and your marriage goes to hell.” Anyway, Maeby’s main reason for going along with her dad’s efforts to revive the band is because when they’re all together, she has to spend less net time with each parent individually. So while Lindsay and Tobias squabble during rehearsal, Maeby tries to get them back on track. (“Let’s take it from ‘loose stool’… ”)

The other great comic creation in “Best Man For The Gob” is Ira Gilligan (played by Michael Hitchcock), the aforementioned accountant. Gilligan prefers to be called “Ira,” but every time he tries to explain that to George Sr., the elder Bluth assumes he’s talking about IRA accounts, so “Gilligan” he remains. Which is how it should be, since that allows George Sr. to shout “Gilligaaaaan!” exasperatedly, and for Gilligan himself to end the episode luxuriating on a remote island in a familiar-looking red shirt and white bucket hat. (To quote GOB: “Who doesn’t like Gilligan?”)

The name also allows GOB to say “Gilligan killed the skipper!” when he means to say “stripper.” In order to keep Gilligan from sniffing around some missing money (which it turns out Gilligan actually embezzled), George Sr. suggests that they stage a fake murder with this narcoleptic stripper he knows, and convince a drunken Gilligan he’s the killer. When GOB hesitates, George Sr. needles him with, “You’re not gonna go all Michael on me, are ya?”—thus reinforcing the notion that Michael is no fun. 

To counter this perception, Michael decides to take his son on a fishing trip. (“Why, what did I do?” a disappointed George-Michael yelps when his dad tells him the happy news.) Even though the whole fishing arc only lasts about a minute, I like the way “Best Man For The Gob” uses the trip to frame Michael once again as someone who will force himself to pretend that he likes things he doesn’t, in order to fit the mold of the person he’d like to be. He tries to sound convincing in his description of fishing’s great pleasures: “Getting up at 4 a.m., slapping on the ol’ seasick patch, then we get out on the choppy water and catch ourselves some lunch… after we gut it.” George-Michael too pretends that this sounds just swell, as he’s laying in a hotel bed trying to sleep while bright sun streams through the curtains and happy families outside play in the pool. (“Marco! Polo!”)

Overall, what makes this episode work so well is the way that the writers throw these new situations out—the band, Gilligan, a fishing trip, a bachelor party—and then let the characters react to them exactly as these characters would. Even when Arrested Development brings back the Hot Cops—brought in by GOB to help with the dead-stripper sting—they stay true to form, never following directions quite right and constantly looking for opportunities to take off their clothes. One of the HCs even screws up the plan when he makes Gilligan the designated driver.

“Best Man For The Gob” is also Simpsons-esque in the way it zips through visual gags, as in the completely random but very funny contrast between the ice cold Bluth Company conference room and Michael’s sweltering office. The first few minutes of this episode sees characters ignoring Michael’s explanation for the temperature discrepancy and demanding to switch rooms, only to complain again when they get to the new spot. The scenes cut back and forth on a dime, with different lighting and different music depending on where the characters are. By the time Tobias arrives, wearing Lindsay’s coat in the conference room and going bare-chested in Michael’s office, I knew this one was a winner.

“Whistler’s Mother” (season 1, episode 20; original airdate 4/4/04)

“Whistler’s Mother” isn’t anywhere near as funny overall as “The Best Man For The Gob,” though this episode does contain what is easily one of the best bits in the entire run of Arrested Development: the box of whistles.

Like the titular item in the Newsradio classic “Complaint Box”, the whistles in “Whistler’s Mother” work because they make a little noise, which means they can intrude on the action even when they’re off-frame. When Michael hands out the whistles to his board, demanding that they figuratively “blow the whistle” if they see any wrongdoing, the overeager businessfolk start blowing willy-nilly while Michael’s trying to talk. Cut to an on-screen graphic reading “20 Minutes Later,” and Michael re-collecting the whistles. Which is funny enough right there. But then the scene gets goosed even higher when on of the boardmembers blows the whistle on a colleague who kept a whistle. (“I was in the bathroom when you asked for it back!” Tweeeeet! “No he wasn’t.”) There’s just something inherently hilarious about people immediately abusing the little bit of power they’ve been granted. Especially if the abuse makes a tweety sound.

“Whistler’s Mother” also features an Arrested Development version of “Who’s On First?” in the form of this conversation between GOB and his soon-to-be-absentee wife: 

Wife: I’m in love with your brother-in-law.
GOB: You’re in love with your own brother? The one in the army?
Wife: No, your sister’s husband.
GOB: Michael?
Wife: No, that’s your sister’s brother.
GOB: No, I’m my sister’s brother. You’re in love with me.
Wife: I’m in love with Tobias.
GOB: My brother-in-law?
Wife: I know it can never be, so I’m leaving. I’m enlisting in the army.
GOB: To be with your brother.
Wife: No.

The rest of the episode is noteworthy primarily for introducing Oscar Bluth, George Sr.’s twin brother, a long-haired love generation holdover who lives in a trailer on a worthless lemon grove next to an army camp. “Do you know what it’s like to have a sibling who has no source of income except for you?” George Sr. moans, referring to Oscar. “Just one?” Michael replies. “No… It sounds wonderful.”

What holds “Whistler’s Mother” back a bit is that the main plot-driver is an overfamiliar one for this season: Michael has found new investment capital for The Bluth Company, and his family members are angling to get some for themselves. Lindsay needs cash to have an affair. Tobias and GOB come separately to Michael’s office to beg for dough, but when Michael suggests they come up with an actual business proposal, they form “Gobias Industries” and hold a meeting in a coffee shop, inadvertently convincing Michael that they want to invest in coffee shops. (When Michael agrees to give them some money for that, they back away quietly, lest they say something that messes up the deal.) Nothing wrong with any of this; it’s just not Arrested Development at its most inspired.

Naturally, Michael finds a way to blow the family’s money, by giving it to Oscar for his useless land. Lucille, though, gets it back, by using her feminine wiles on her brother-in-law. (Thus beginning what will prove to be a very fruitful storyline on the show and continuing the incest theme in a roundabout way.) In a flashback, we see that Lucille has bailed out Michael before, most notably by disappearing one of his former teachers, Mr. Vandenbosh. Whenever she intervenes on Michael’s behalf, she embraces him first, causing him to panic and ask, “What’s happening? Why are you squeezing me with your body?”

Beyond the rote plot and two stellar comedy routines though, what stands out to me about “Whistler’s Mother” is the ramping up of the Iraq War material, which had been floated earlier in “Shock And Aww,” via Miss Baerly’s obsession with Saddam Hussein. Here, Lindsay gets upset when her favorite hair stylist is called up by his reserve unit, and so she decides to protest. The Arrested Development writers have some fun with the military’s officious handling of dissent, as Lindsay is herded into “the free speech zone,” in a cage far away from the TV cameras (who are in “the free press zone”). And they have some fun with the anti-war movement too, bringing in Dave “Gruber” Allen as a grizzled activist who gives up as soon as he gets sprayed with water, saying, “Face it, Lindsay, they’ve won.” Already, the show is demonstrating a willingness to make political satire a major part of its comic palette.

And they’re just getting started.

Stray observations:

  • My other favorite bit of comic business in “Best Man For The GOB” involves George-Michael calling himself “The Human Metronome” and trying to interject himself into The Family Band by playing woodblock. More than once he wanders into frame, tapping happily on his block of wood, which is a funny image in and of itself, but even funnier because of the “sneaking in from the side” staging.
  • I love how it’s completely unremarked upon in both episodes that GOB is still wearing the hideous sweaters his wife likes.
  • One of my favorite out-of-nowhere lines in the entire season comes when Michael asks Tobias when “the rough patch” between him and Lindsay began. “Well, I don’t want to blame it all on 9/11, but it certainly didn’t help.”
  • George Sr.’s response when Michael asks him about the money that Gilligan can’t find: “I dunno… I probably stole it.”
  • On meeting GOB’s wife, Lucille squeals, “I have always wanted a daughter! And a blonde! How fun!” All while Lindsay looks on.
  • GOB meanwhile, sums up his relationship with his wife thusly: “All chain and no ball.”
  • GOB wants Michael to speak to his wife and convince her that GOB’s no good. The problem is that GOB can’t stop himself from bitching about Michael at every opportunity, so he warns his wife about his brother before Michael can do what GOB asked.
  • “There’s no ‘I’ in Teemosil… at least not where you think.”
  • I couldn’t make out all the drugs being pitched at the convention, but I believe I saw “Erector,” “PlaceboJolt,” and “Adrenobeast.” Also: The Magnet Suit!
  • Tobias, alone on stage: “I feel a bit like a Mary without a Peter and a Paul”
  • Buster drinks the stage blood that he and GOB bring for the fake stripper-murder, because it looks and tastes like juice, and at home, Buster’s not allowed to have juice.
  • The stripper punches out Buster and—seeing the stage blood on Buster’s face—assumes she’s killed him. “Again?” she whines.
  • “Whistler’s Mother” is the first (but not the last) Arrested Development episode directed by Freaks And Geeks co-creator Paul Feig, now a player in the movies thanks to the success this summer of Bridesmaids. Fun fact: The line “Face it, Lindsay, they’ve won,” is the same thing that Dave “Gruber” Allen’s F&G character says to Lindsay Weir in the episode “The Little Things.”
  • Lucille has a habit of spending company money on herself, including getting work done on her neck. (“It is easier to look at now,” Michael concedes.)
  • Michael gets excited when Lucille texts him about “a matter of land,” but she actually means “a matter of l and d… life and death.” (And the matter? “Buster’s jaw clicks when he eats.”)
  • “It’s not about money in the sense that I’m coming here saying, ‘Here Michael, take some money.’”
  • Oscar once wrote a song for David Cassidy that Cassidy wouldn’t do on on The Mike Douglas Show because he didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of John and Yoko.
  • In bed, Tobias is reading the book Acting: Like A Man.
  • To protest the loss of her stylist, Lindsay uses the same sign she used to protest the cable company when it dropped the Style Network (and the same sign she used to protest Michael when he wouldn’t get cable).
  • The best “on the next” in “Best Man For The Gob:” GOB notes that Buster finally got punched in the face, as has been his recent dream.
  • The best “on the next” in “Whistler’s Mother:” After deciding to become a presence on the Bluth Company board, Lucille belittles Michael with anecdotes about his childhood, such as, “I remember a certain young man who used to say, ‘I don’t have bad dreams in your bed, Mommy.’” (Cue Michael, under his breath: “That was Buster.”)
  • Next week: The big finish. (For this year, anyway.)

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