“Not Without My Daughter/Let ’Em Eat Cake” (season 1, episodes 21/22; original airdates April 25 and June 6, 2004)
Arrested Development debuted as a comedy about a grossly dysfunctional family, and hit satirical targets that included corporate cockiness, useless heirs and heiresses, the media, and other big, timeless subjects. As the first season wrapped though, the show became more of-the-moment. The Iraq War subplot moved more to the surface, and the writers began to make their references and their comic topics more contemporaneous—running the risk of being “dated” for the sake of being more immediate.
Now, granted, “Take Your Daughter To Work Day” isn’t exactly the freshest concept to take on—I think of it more as a Clinton-era phenomenon—but it’s certainly not something I hear much about anymore. Nevertheless, Arrested Development makes the most of a largely forgotten and meaningless feel-good event in “Not Without My Daughter,” tying it to the Girls With Low Self-Esteem video series (implying that this what becomes of daughters who didn’t get taken to work), and populating the background of nearly every shot with young girls shadowing the supporting cast of security guards, police detectives, and businessmen. It’s tough to pinpoint the best of these little visual gags, but I’m going to go with the daughter of the prison guard, who bangs the table and screams “No touching!” just like her old man. According to her father, her self-esteem is through the roof.
“Not Without My Daughter” is largely about the daughters of Arrested Development—or in the case of George-Michael, the honorary daughters. Michael has been bringing his son to TYDTWD since he was a boy, and over all that time, G-M has enjoyed making little jokes about how “I’m your girl.” (It was cute until the teenage George-Michael started saying thing like, “Hey dad, you’re out of sanitary napkins in the ladies’ washroom!”) This year, Michael would like to bring Maeby, because he feels like she needs boundaries. He’s so appalled by her non-stop scheming and prevarication that he offers her $50 bucks if she can go a whole day without lying, and pledges to follow suit. (“This is gonna be fun,” Michael says. “I win,” Maeby interjects.) The problem is that Michael makes this no-lying pledge on the day that the police have come knocking to investigate the disappearance of the old Bluth Company secretary Kitty Sanchez, asking about whether Michael has seen her, or if he ever threatened her. (“I threatened her at a restaurant, but… it’s a restaurant.”) Luckily for Michael, Maeby gets back to her old tricks and lies to a baby-toting detective played by Kevin McDonald (!) to get access to a security code that opens every door in the station. That’s how she learns that Kitty is still alive, and being held by the cops.
Meanwhile, the other Bluth daughter, Lindsay, has a rare impulse toward responsibility and takes a job working at a clothing boutique, but because she doesn’t want to be thought of as a “shopgirl,” she tells her family that she’s been shoplifting all her fancy new outfits. (She has no qualms about this, because she says that merchandise-loss is built into the price. If she didn’t steal, “people would be overpaying for nothing.” Also, when Michael worries that she could get arrested, Lindsay says, “It was shoplifting and I’m white; I think I’m gonna be okay.”) GOB, though, is skeptical, refusing to believe that Lindsay could be as skilled at sleight-of-hand as he. So GOB enlists George-Michael in a scheme to release a box of mice in the shop as a form of misdirection. Unbeknownst to GOB or Lindsay though, Tobias has gotten a job in the boutique as a security guard. (“I do know stage combat if the partner is willing and a bit more petite than I,” he tells his new boss.) And so the whole B-story comes together in a bit of slapstick farce involving mice, pants, a disguised Lindsay, Tobias’ cat-like reflexes, and the alert daughter of Tobias’ new boss.
The C-story in “Not Without My Daughter” is something of a throwaway, involving Buster’s jealousy over Lucille’s interest in Annyong’s soccer game and… well, honestly, it’s all pretty weak and not that funny, though it does bring back Uncle Oscar as Lucille’s escort, and it does build to a scene where Buster and Oscar circle around each other, trying to give each other shoulder rubs. Stick a pin in that for next season.
“Let ’Em Eat Cake,” meanwhile, closes out the first season by dealing with George Sr.’s case once again, and finally revealing what’s been hinted at for a while now: The Bluth patriarch’s “light treason” involved selling some familiar-looking crappy homes to Saddam Hussein. When confronted with this, Lucille recalls that George Sr. did used to come back from business trips “reeking of lamb” (and once received a box of figs), though George Sr. suggests that the whole deal was his wife’s idea in the first place. Then Kitty re-emerges and threatens to tell what she knows to the authorities unless she’s put in charge of the Bluth Company, which she claims she was promised by George Sr. (Cue insert shot: “Footage Not Found.”) When Michael calls her bluff, Kitty goes to work on GOB, suggesting that he should be in charge of the family.
What GOB doesn’t expect though is that once Michael finds out about the Iraq deal, he’s prepared to take his son and leave the family, just as he wanted to back in the pilot. (When George-Michael asks who’ll take care of the rest of the Bluths, Michael suggests, “The state? Or the police? Maybe the Magicians Alliance could pick up some slack.”) But just when GOB’s realizing, yet again, that “I’ve made a huge mistake,” George Sr. has a heart attack, and Michael delays his trip to go to the hospital, where he finds out that the doctors “lost” his father—literally. So Michael ends the season by bailing yet again, saying, “There’s a lot of lying in this family,” and not being swayed by Lucille’s addendum, “And a lot of love!” For Michael, that would also qualify as “footage not found.”
With all that going on in “Let ’Em In Cake,” though, the episode is probably best-remembered as the one where the Arrested Development staff threw in a bunch of jokes about the low-carb Atkins diet fad. As someone who’s been on a low-carb diet myself over the past six months, I identified with the Bluths contemplating the madness of a diet that allows no popcorn, but lots of bacon, and no bananas, but lots of nuts. And the writers do get off a bunch of good lines here:
“I want a hamburger and french fries but I can’t have the bun or the potatoes.”
“Hash browns are potatoes.”
“What about macaroni… let me finish… salad?”
“You’re not thinking clearly. None of us are. We need bread.”
“I’m going to get a lethal injection because my son won’t eat a potato.”
That said, it’s a weird running gag to throw into a finale, especially since the show wasn’t guaranteed a second season and this could’ve been the last episode ever.
Actually, overall I confess to being a little torn by Arrested Development veering closer to from-today’s-headlines social comment than more generalized mockery. Like I said, the references—especially the low-carb diet ones—do tend to date the episodes a little. But at the same time, when I look at the run of smart sitcoms that emerged in the wake of Arrested Development, what’s largely missing from them is the social consciousness of the classic Norman Lear shows of the 1970s. 30 Rock, for example, tackles politics and the quirks of modern life, but is so cartoony that even though the show is very funny more often than not, I wouldn’t say that it really stings. Arrested Development, when it ramps up the political satire, does sting, because of the way it ties its larger observations about American life to the behavior of the likeable but enormously self-centered (and thus quintessentially American) Bluths.
We’ll see this manifest magnificently in the show’s second season, which gets weirder, denser, bawdier, and more scathing than even its brilliant first.
- It’s a good thing that the first Arrested Development season didn’t end with some big narrative-wrapping one-two, because as you can see above, these two episodes aired almost six weeks apart, with the first season finale essentially being burned off in June. Here’s where Fox, for all it did (commendably) to keep Arrested Development alive, began to squander its assets a little.
- Maeby used to sit in on her dad’s therapy sessions for “Take Your Daughter To Work Day.” Apparently, Tobias specialized in treating men who were repressing their homosexuality.
- Speaking of which, when Michael points Tobias toward the messed-up ladies of Girls With Low Self-Esteem, he asks, “Is this what you want?” and Tobias quickly answers, “Oh, God no!”
- GOB, excusing his sinking of the family yacht: “If you give someone permission to use a tissue, you can’t be upset if they blow their nose.”
- When Lindsay calls Lucille “sweet old thing,” Michael says that only two of those words describe their mother. So later, Lindsay just calls her, “Old thing.”
- Where did Tobias’ high-pitched “douche-chill” taunt come from? So un-Tobias-y. Yet funny.
- It’s hard to replicate in print, but I loved the three separate yet in synch conversations that George-Michael, GOB, and Tobias have about security, guards, and shopping.
- When George-Michael asks his uncle if he was ever awkward around girls, GOB replies, “Like if there were three of us and I didn’t know where to start? No, I think I did pretty well. Not a lot of complaints, if you know what I mean. At least not from the girl.”
- One of my favorite lines in Arrested Development history: “Say what you will about America, 13 bucks still gets you a hell of a lot of mice.”
- I also like George Sr.’s explanation to Buster as to why he was banned from organized sports: “You were just a turd out there.”
- Also good: Lucille scoffing at Oscar when he fears his camper—which has a hanger for a lock—might be vulnerable to thieves. “What are they gonna take? The one can of Comet you got in there?”
- While he’s in the police station, Michael takes a call from his shoplifting son, during which a detective overhears Michael saying, “I’m sorry? In your pants? I’ll be right there!” The detective interjects, “Y’know, there’s a Grover book: I Can’t Hold It In. Worked for us.”
- “We knew him when” dept., pt. 1: One of the detectives that grills Michael is played by future Survivor contestant and Alan Alda soundalike Jonathan Penner. (Whenever we watch Survivor, my wife and I often quote Jeff Probst’s response when Penner took issue once with his play-by-play during a challenge: “Jonathan… gettin’ mad at me.”)
- “We knew him when” dept., pt. 2: For one episode only, George-Michael's new love-interest Ann is played by Alessandra Torresani, better known to nerds like me as Zoe from Caprica.
- Speaking of Ann, she’s barely in this episode, though her distinguishing characteristic is already in play: utter blandness. Michael hasn’t had the chance to be underwhelmed by her yet, but Maeby finds her annoying from the start: “She barely has a face! You couldn’t pick her out of a line-up of one!”
- Tobias has a surprise best-seller with his autobiographical self-help book The Man Inside Me. I missed this while watching the episode, but while checking a quote, I found that on the Amazon page for The Man Inside Me (as seen on the show, not in real life, obviously), people who bought the book also bought Families With Low Self-Esteem, Caged Wisdom, Girls With Low Self-Esteem, and The Low-Carb Gay, Bi, And Transgender Diet (by B.J. Zuckerkorn!)
- “Nothing works in this house.” “Tell me about it.”
- GOB, appalled that Michael is being called in for a polygraph: “But I’m the oldest! The matriarch, if you will.”
- More GOB: “Now I’m expected to climb back on top of Kitty and do my thing again. This family runs into problems and it’s, ‘Oh, let’s have GOB [bleep] our way out of it.’”
- GOB to Kitty: “This is a side of you I’ve ever noticed. Have they always been this big?”
- Incest theme alert! When Lindsay, referring to Tobias, asks rhetorically, “How do you not have sex with me?”, Michael answers, “It is a struggle.”
- Two of Lindsay’s failed businesses: Mommy, What Will I Look Like? and Dip A Pet. With her latest beading business, Lindsay promises, “Soon I’ll be in the red, and you can take that to the bank!”
- You guys expressed disappointment last week that I trimmed up the GOB-and-his-wife “Who’s On First”-ish routine to make it more print friendly, losing GOB’s inflections and interjections. Well, I’m not even going to try to replicate the exchange between Lindsay and GOB about “beads” and “bees,” except to note that I always chortle noisily at the way GOB is equally alarmed by both words.
- I will print this, though: “Zero hour, Michael. It’s the end of the line. I’m the firstborn. I’m sick of playing second fiddle. I’m always third in line for everything. I’m tired of finishing fourth. Being the fifth wheel. There are six things I’m mad about, and I’m taking over.”
- Also: “They don’t allow you to have bees in here.”
- Barry complains that, “I’ve got an itch like you wouldn’t believe. I think something laid eggs on me.” Later he says it’s just poison oak, but doesn’t know where he got it. Cut to: a still shot of a rest area. Then he says he has Laker tickets. Cut to: a still shot of the same rest area. Has there ever been a sitcom to make so many gay jokes that are actually funny, rather than just desperate and vaguely mean?
- “I didn’t even know we were calling him Big Bear.”
- The best “on the next” in “Not Without My Daughter:” Still employed as a security guard, Tobias fires a gun maniacally at GOB’s still-loose mice.
- The best “on the next” in “Let ’Em Eat Cake:” Apparently done with Atkins, the Bluths have a family meeting in which everyone is scarfing down pastries and jelly-toast.
- And that’ll do it for this summer, folks. See you in mid-2012 for season two.