“Forget-Me-Now” (season three, episode three; originally aired 10/3/05)
Whatever the flaws in Arrested Development’s third season, it is, if nothing else, rich with new additions to the show’s mythology. “Forget-Me-Now” is thick with new characters and new running jokes that are among the best-remembered in the series’ whole run. For example: Bob Loblaw, the new Bluth family attorney. (As in: “We’re not here to talk nonsense to Bob Loblaw.”) Also: Larry Mittleman, the surrogate who stands in for George Sr. while the latter’s under house arrest, wearing an earpiece and a camera so he can be a true “middleman.” And: Tobias’ business card touting his expertise as an analyst and a therapist, or “analrapist.”
In fact, “Forget-Me-Now” is so chock-full of funny new shtick that it’s easy to overlook that there’s actually not much going on in the episode story-wise. (It’s almost as though the combined pleasures of Scott Baio’s super-serious turn as Bob Loblaw and Bob Einstein’s deadpan gruffness as Larry Mittleman serve the same function as one of GOB’s special forgetting pills.) The major inciting incident in “Forget-Me-Now” is that Buster has received a medal from Army, though no one really seems to know what he’s done to deserve it, beyond getting his hand bitten off. (“The army has taken to giving medals for being food,” Lucille scoffs.) But George Sr. thinks that they should throw a party for “Buster’s stupid thing” anyway, so that he can hoard enough balloons to attach to a chair and float off to freedom, Danny Deckchair/Larry Walters-style. Michael’s also excited to have all the Bluths gather at the apartment for a party, because that means he can be alone in his own house with Rita, to whom he’s said that he has no family. The family, though, thinks Michael wants to be alone so that he can shred documents and sacrifice himself, so they arrange to make the party for Michael, modifying the “You’re Kidding Me, Buster” (formerly “You’re Killing Me, Buster”) to read “Family Love Michael.” “Take a look at banner, Michael,” GOB says, gleefully.
Meanwhile, Maeby is half-heartedly pursuing Steve Holt! so that she can tamp down her feelings for George-Michael, and George-Michael is encouraging the relationship so that he can tamp down his feelings for Maeby. (When he hears Maeby say that Steve Holt! “knows how to please a lady,” George-Michael gamely says, “Good, I was hoping he’d be gifted sexually… What a fun, sexy time for you.”) But Maeby doesn’t really want to have relations, even before she finds out that Steve Holt! is her, um, relation. She’s skittish about sex in general, even though in her day job as a movie executive, she reads lots of scripts about teenagers having sex—including The 14-Year-Old Virgin, by Judd Apacow. So she ends up drugging Steve Holt! with one of GOB’s pills and convincing him that they actually had sex. (“I think even the anti-drug people are going to be okay with that,” George-Michael says.)
And then there’s Rita, who factors heavily into this episode, both in the wacky date she goes on with Michael (who still assumes she’s being quirky and/or sarcastic when she says and does silly things), and in the way the Bluth family kidnaps and drugs her as part of their misguided attempt to be kind. This episode still doesn’t reveal that Rita is mentally retarded; instead it continues to overtly suggest that she might be a secret agent, while covertly teasing her condition, by having her act like a little kid, and by having her block some of the letters on a “Wee Britain” park bench so that it spells “Wee Brain.”
This persistent conflation of the condition of mental retardation with just being dumb and childlike—combined with the jokey concealment of who and what Rita actually is—is what makes this storyline so uncomfortable for a lot of people to watch, especially a second time. (Rita doesn’t appear much in the next episode, “Notapusy,” but she has one line about being “in the Olympics once” that made me wince in a way it didn’t when I watched these episodes back in 2005, because back then I didn’t yet know how far Mitchell Hurwitz and his writers were planning to go with this.) The Rita storyline will be coming to an end for us next week, and we can give it a proper post-mortem then. I suspect that after rewatching her last two episodes, I’ll feel much the same way that I did after these two: This was a bold satirical idea that failed because it turned out to be more weird and confusing than funny. I find it hard to be outraged by it though, because by this point in the show’s run, Arrested Development had become so self-referential that nothing is real enough to find offensive. (I’m speaking only for myself here, understand.)
“Forget-Me-Now” makes this plain throughout, starting with its opening scene, where Baio’s Bob Loblaw says that he’s been brought in a couple of times before to replace Henry Winkler’s Barry Zuckerkorn, because he “skews younger,” which is a winking reference to when Baio replaced Winkler as the teen heartthrob on Happy Days. And later, during his date with Rita, Michael comments that the average American male is in a state of “arrested development,” which gets The Narrator all excited. That same Narrator (along with Tobias) also points out moments in the episode that would make an ideal act break.
And then there’s my favorite visible-wires-within-visible-frames gag in “Forget-Me-Now,” which involves the restaurant Fat Ammy’s, where the portions are so enormous that the leftovers go home in multiple giant shopping bags. Remember: This is a touristy faux-British neighborhood in an American community, where they have a touristy faux-American restaurant, in which the “British” waiters (played by American actors) speak with bad American accents.
What I am saying is that sometimes it’s better just to enjoy falling down the rabbit hole rather than thinking too hard about how you got there.
“Notapusy” (season three, episode four; originally aired 11/7/05)
I know that some of you find the British jokes in the Rita storyline to be fairly hackneyed, but I mostly like them, and especially in “Notapusy,” where The Narrator talks about how Michael has “fallen bum over noggin” for Rita, while Michael apologizes for his own new slang terms, saying, “Did I say ‘snog’ again? Bloody hell.” It’s also those Britishisms that kick “Notapusy” into gear, as Rita calls Michael a “pussy,” and Michael doesn’t realize that she means it in a good way, as in “pussycat” (like in the classic British WWII film A Thoroughly Polite Dustup, where a nurse calls a soldier a pussy, and he tells her that whenever he misses her he’ll just put a fag in his mouth).
Fearing that Rita doesn’t think he’s manly enough—and concerned about George-Michael, who turns away from any thrown object, and whose favorite physical activity is hanging motionless from the monkeybars—Michael asks his son to participate in a triathlon at the new “Church & State Fair.” But George-Michael is going to be busy helping Ann get ready for the fair’s “Inner Beauty Pageant,” so Michael decides to run with Steve Holt! instead. (Though they train together to the point where Michael can barely move, this “triathlon” turns out to be more like an obstacle course for toddlers, which is kind of a foreshadowing of where the Michael/Rita storyline is headed.)
“Notapusy” is another argument in favor the “falling down the rabbit hole” aspect of this Arrested Development season. The episode is little more than a collection of gags and sketches, very loosely motivated. Tobias takes over the management of Ann’s pageant run—promising “a little T&A… Tobias and Ann”—and offers to “out that queen.” GOB serves as a judge at the pageant, because he knows that if he plays his cards right, the third-place winner will have low enough self-esteem to want to “lay her crown upon [his] sweet head.” And Buster—whose “medal” in “Forget-Me-Now” was actually a deceptive re-enlistment—shadows his father’s speech to at-risk youth so that he can get one of those kids to join the Army in his place. It’s all very broad, and trades heavily on Arrested Development’s penchant for double-entendres and “inadvertently saying gay stuff” jokes.
But as with the Britishisms, I laughed at George Sr. speaking to a group of gay young men in the other “Startled Straight” tent at the fair, telling them horror stories about prison that they found highly erotic. And I laughed at Tobias pumping up Ann by saying, “You need to decide if you want a man or a boy. I know how I’d answer.” All of this—plus the subplot that sees Maeby put back on her homely “Surely” disguise in order to prove that the Inner Beauty Pageant is superficial—is well-trod ground for this show, but damned if it isn’t snappy.
Plus, after the more of-the-moment political satire of season two, it’s great to see “Notapusy” lean toward relevance again, making jokes out of Army recruitment bait-and-switches, California’s budget crises, and the increasing encroachment of religion into secular affairs. (The headline explaining how the Church & State Fair came to be reads: “Blue State In The Red.”) It’s not making a strong point, granted, but sometimes it’s subversive enough just to play up the absurdity of a situation, whether it’s by having a pageant judged by “pope impersonator, church” or by celebrating the deliciousness of corn dog crosses with “all the crucifixin’s.”
- Why should you go to jail for a crime someone else noticed? You don’t need double-talk; you need Bob Loblaw! (Bob Loblaw no habla español.)
- George-Michael finds out that Steve Holt! is GOB’s son and calls him a “moron jock,” which provokes GOB to call George-Michael a “pothead,” calling back to what most is often cited as the show’s best episode. (It’d be in my Top 3; that’s for sure.)
- GOB, attempting to make fun of Michael in front of one of his dates: “If you like the small, why don’t you come back for the medium?”
- Continuing the “this is all fake so don’t think too hard” idea: One of Michael’s dates in a the-Bluth-family-is-cruel-to-Michael’s-women flashback montage is cited as “Marta,” even though she’s played by a different actress than the previous two Martas on the show. (Lucille, presuming that Marta is a servant, hands her a pair of rubber gloves when Michael tries to introduce her.)
- Lindsay has found a new man to waste her time on in Bob Loblaw, who thinks she’s retaining him to initiate divorce proceedings while she’s actually hitting on him. “I will be needing to get off in four minutes,” he informs her when she calls him on the phone. “Let’s see if I can’t hit that target for you,” she purrs back. (Then in “Notapusy,” Lindsay gets Bob Loblaw’s daughter into the Inner Beauty Pageant, thinking that this’ll make her father want to “crown her.” Michael assumes that means have sex, but admits, “That’s meeting you more than halfway.”)
- The 14-Year-Old Virgin had once been called Losing It! Meanwhile, the screenplay for The Sexual Assault Of Abigail F. has now been renamed Losing It!
- Seals galore! Tobias wears a sealskin coat while pretending to be Lucille for Buster’s benefit. And Rita totes a seal backpack (with a little bowtie!).
- After Buster knocks out the seal-toting Rita, Lucille forgives the mistake. “You’re human. Except for the hand.”
- Franklin returns! It’s just for a few seconds, but long enough for the now-bleached puppet to croon, “It ain’t easy bein’ whiiii….”
- Michael ultimately decides to tell Rita everything about his family. “We’ll start with the misdemeanors and then we’re going to push right on through to the lighter treasons.”
- Because George-Michael (and Tobias) turn away from thrown objects, there’s a running gag early in “Notapusy” in which everything thrown ends with a distant shattering sound. This includes the broom that GOB tosses aside when Michael asks him to help clean up.
- The President’s Council On Physical Fitness rates hanging motionless from the monkeybars to be “slightly easier than the slide.”
- GOB gets so mad about Michael “stealing” Steve Holt that he plans to steal Michael’s bicycle. “As a… placeholder.” (As he says this, he fogs up the window at The Model Home, which is a sight-gag that makes me crack up for reasons I can’t really explain.)
- Jamie Kennedy is slated to star in a remake of A Thoroughly Polite Dustup, and thus hangs out with Maeby, which explains why “Notapusy” keeps flashing “X”s onto the screen, as a nod to the now-pretty-well-forgotten prank show The Jamie Kennedy Experiment. On the one hand, this gag dates the episode more than just about any other in the entire run of Arrested Development; on the other, when considered in the context of George-Michael’s love of The Jerky Boys, it continues the very strange “prank” motif that runs through the series.
- You know what gag never dates, though? Training montages. In “Notapusy,” Steve Holt! whips his Uncle Michael into shape, accompanied by the Survivor-like anthem “Balls In the Air.” (“Control your bladder when you die!” Steve Holt! shouts.)
- The less said about the groaningly ZAZ-esque “camel-tow” pun in “Notapusy,” the better.
- “Heeey, possible nephew.”
- The best “on the next” in these two episodes: When Steve Holt! wakes up from his non-intercourse with Maeby, he tells GOB, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” (“I know the feeling; I had you,” GOB says, before taking one of his own forget-me-now pills.)
- Next week: “Mr. F” and “The Ocean Walker”