Is there a God?
Wait… let me narrow that a bit. Is there a God in the Arrested Development universe? By which I mean: If someone were to get his hand bitten off by a seal while swimming in the ocean, which explanation would be more plausible: That God took the man’s hand because his mother prayed for a way to get him out of the military? Or that the man’s magician brother loosed the seal into the sea after the animal flopped at a trial run as his assistant, during which time the magician accidentally fed the seal a cat, giving it a taste for mammal blood? Before you answer, know this: The seal was wearing a yellow bow tie.
When Arrested Development fans say they’d like to see the show become a movie someday, they already know that creator Mitchell Hurwitz already knows how to handle long-form storytelling—based not just on the way the series itself is one long narrative, but also because Hurwitz and company occasionally pulled out an old-fashioned two-parter. “Out On A Limb” and “Hand To God” aired on the same night, and though they’re separate episodes with some subplots that don’t carry over, the major stories in both proceed merrily ahead, from one to the other.
The big subject of both episodes? God. Well, sort of. There’s more God in “Out On A Limb” than in “Hand To God”—and only the former really addresses the almighty issue directly—but a religion motif pervades. In these episodes we learn that the Gentiles of Arrested Development spend their Sunday mornings eating brunch at Skip Church’s Bistro, while the Jews can be found on Friday nights at Miss Temple’s chinese restaurant. It’s also at Skip Church’s where Maeby pounds down Virgin Marys and presumes they’re making her drunk. Meanwhile back at the Model Home, George Sr. puts on his Creation Of Adam God costume (previously seen in “In God We Trust”) and issues divine commands to Michael. All that’s missing from this two-parter are stained-glass windows and a baptismal font—though perhaps the water Buster swims in at the end of the first episode counts.
The most overt religious material in these episodes involves the show’s resident fundamentalist, Ann—yes, “her”—who is the one who persuades Lucille to rely on the power of prayer to get Buster out of the Army. (“This was a big get for God,” The Narrator admits.) The reason why Ann is even in the same room with Lucille is because Maeby presumes that her Gangy will belittle Ann the same way she belittles everybody, and that this will prompt Ann to break up with George-Michael, whom Maeby presumes is feeling stifled by his girlfriend’s faith. When G-M insists to Ann that, “I like your idea of fun; I like not having that,” Maeby is sure her cousin doesn’t mean it.
A lot of the action in “Out On A Limb” and “Hand Of God” is driven by people ducking authority—Godly or otherwise. The characters are skipping church, missing temple, ignoring what their God-clad father asks, and trying to get of a drab relationship with a fervent pilgrim. Heck, the whole Buster storyline was kicked into gear earlier this season when Lucille was shamed by The Big Guy—meaning Michael Moore. Granted, it was actually a Michael Moore lookalike, doing a bit for Jimmy Kimmel. (Lucille doesn’t know who that is and doesn’t care to find out.) But ever since making their commitment to “Michael Moore,” Lucille and Buster have been working hard to wriggle out of it, because the Bluths can’t even do what a fake celebrity asks of them.
Much of the rest of the action in these episodes is driven by parental confusion, which is a more down-to-Earth version of wondering whether there’s a God or not—and if so, whether He requires fealty. By sheer happenstance, Buster figures out that his “Uncle Oscar” is his father, but only because George Sr. sneaks into his room in an Oscar wig and pleads with him to hide rather than going to war. (As soon as Buster gets his hand bitten off at the end of “Out On A Limb” though, he forgets everything about who his real dad is.) And both of these episodes feature the return of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Maggie Lizer, who appears to be 8-and-a-half months pregnant, perhaps with Michael’s baby. (“Didn’t I use something?” Michael asks. “You thought I was blind,” Maggie explains.)
Unlike Martin Short, his old SNL castmate Louis-Dreyfus fits right in with the Arrested Development gang in her guest appearances. She can play cartoony without becoming too broad, and she can shade easily between attractive and sloppy, just like the actors playing the Bluths do. Louis-Dreyfus’ first season two-parter “Altar Egos” and “Justice Is Blind” is a series highlight, and she’s used just as well in season two in another pair of episodes loaded with twists, all spurred by the notion that “Maggie lies her ass off.”
In this case, there are questions throughout about whether Maggie is actually pregnant, or if she’s faking it with a prosthetic belly for the sake of jury sympathy. The truth is that she’s got a double-fake-out working. She’s pretending to be carrying a baby for two gay cops, but in fact she’s “outsourced” the job to a client whom she’s representing in a case against Skip Church’s (claiming the Bistro’s hefty “Skip’s Scramble” made the client fat). Louis-Dreyfus sells the fakery well, largely because when Maggie gets indignant about being doubted, she’s genuinely mad, even though she’s a big phony.
Because “Out On A Limb” and “Hand To God” are still ostensibly separate episodes, the latter has to spend a little more time than necessary re-explaining what happened in the former. But “Hand To God” does bring the story back around to the person who’s always at the center of the Arrested Development cosmology: Michael Bluth. Like a good guilt-ridden Catholic boy, Michael feels pressure from above to do what’s right, and he is passing that pressure onto his son. But at the same time, he’s always looking for loopholes. At the start of “Out On A Limb,” he’s sitting at Skip Church’s with his childhood sweetheart Sally Sitwell, imagining what kind of son he and Sally might’ve had; the next he’s insisting to Maggie that he’ll help her raise her baby whether it’s his child or not. He’s been programmed since he was a boy to be the nice guy—in public, at least. Privately, he almost gets George-Michael shot when he sends his son into Maggie’s house to look for evidence that she has a boyfriend, to prove that Michael doesn’t need to play father to her fake baby.
The cops who almost shoot George-Michael are watching out for Maggie because they think she’s carrying their child, but more important to the larger theme of these episodes, the cops are the same cops that we’ve seen over and over in brief glimpses on this show: Jay Johnston’s Officer Taylor and Jerry Minor’s Officer Carter. And when Michael visits them at their home, they’re listening to the “Hot Cops” theme song. And when the Bluths arrive at the hospital to check on the wounded Buster, they get the news from their usual ER doc, the literal-minded Dr. Fishman, who tells them that Buster is “going to be all right,” by which he means that Buster has lost the use of his left hand. Though Arrested Development has a large cast, its world is actually very small with the same bit players recurring, and connecting to each other in weird ways.
Arrested Development’s world is also one of portents. When George Sr. begs Buster not to go to Iraq, he frets that he might never touch his son’s hand again. When GOB frees his bloodthisrty seal, he says, “You’re not gonna be hand-fed any more.” When Buster sits on a bench before swimming, he blocks out some of the letter so that the words behind him read, “ARM OFF.” After the accident, Lucille smashes the hand off a “buckle up” public-service sign while speeding past it. George Sr. goes to a car lot with one of those “dancing man” balloons—only the “dancing man” has one deflated arm. It’s as though there were some intelligent force guiding these characters and constructing their world in ways that mock as much as enlighten.
What am I saying here? Only that I believe there is a God in Arrested Development. And his name is Mitchell Hurwitz.
- This season continues its left-field riffs on real-world events by having GOB’s long-forgotten wife pose like Lynndie England, pointing at humiliated Iraqi prisoners.
- Asked if he can remember his wife’s name, GOB blurts out, “Crendy!” (which rhymes with “Lynndie”). Then he suggests a mnemonic device might help him remember. “If her name is Amy, I’ll call her Blamy!” (Of course, in real life, her name is Amy.)
- Regarding his bride, GOB tells Barry, “I just want my wife back!” to which Barry says, “Hey, let’s save it for the stand, okay Tom Jane?”
- George-Michael’s idea of irresponsibility is to sneak away from the banana stand and have brunch at Skip Church’s… which is about 20 feet from the banana stand. (Michael forgives him, but says, “If you want to keep it open an extra hour, y’know…”)
- Michael tries to recover from saying “Who?” when George-Michael says, “Ann,” and he ends up saying, “I meant… ‘her?’” (He then brushes past Ann and says, “Excuse me, ma’am.”) But George-Michael turns the tables later when Michael says he may be having child with Maggie Lizer. “Her?” George-Michael asks.
- Michael, to both GOB and Lucille, within minutes of each other: “Let’s not spin in the comfy chair… That’s not a spinner.”
- Lucille believes that every incident of Buster’s defiance secretly has to do with him wanting to swim in the ocean. (She also shrugs that kids don’t come with a handbook, though The Narrator points out that bookstores are filled with just such tomes.)
- When Lindsay and Tobias pretend to be Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Tobias is Hepburn, naturally.
- Maggie jokes when she hears Sally Sitwell’s name that, “I think I had her little play oven… you pull her hair, she’d cry or something.” “This one kinda does that too,” Michael says.
- Ann’s church is trying to get Nip/Tuck off the air, though, “Ironically, she likes Gangy,” according to George-Michael.
- A couple of classic examples of Arrested Development double-backs: Lucille blows past a pedestrian who shouts, “Up yours, Granny!” to which she replies, “You couldn’t handle it!” and later we see from another angle that the pedestrian is George Sr. And in a second shot of Maggie exposing her pregnant belly, we see the prosthetic almost fall of her body while Michael’s looking away.
- Maggie admits that her “baby” is the product of a sperm bank, and that the father is some guy from Harvard. “Probably some geek Simpsons writer’s kid,” Michael grumbles.
- It’s remarkable how easily a “You’re Killing Me, Buster” sign becomes as “‘Welcome ho’me, Buster” sign.
- Google has no idea where “Sacremende” is.
- Michael compares himself and his son to Red McGibbon and Bullet, which is a reminder that Uncle Jack Dorso is still on the Bluths’ minds, if no longer on their show.
- I love the quickie sound effect of a bone saw as George-Michael stumbles into the morgue. So much horror this kid has seen in his short life.
- Another great, darkly comic gag: Buster wantonly wounding people and destroying property with his new hook-hand.
- The best “on the next” in these two episodes: Dr. Fishman reassures Buster and GOB that he’s removed the hook… from Buster. Unfortunately, that hook is still lodged in GOB’s ass.
Next week: “Motherboy XXX” and “The Immaculate Election”