“Prison Break-In” (season three, episode seven; originally aired 12/12/05)
The gift and the curse of the original run of Arrested Development was that the longer the show stayed on the air, the more the writers could draw on the wealth of running gags and backstories that they’d seeded throughout the previous years, which also meant that they could rely on those as a kind of crutch, padding out an episode in much the same way that Saturday Night Live now fills out its 90 minutes with another installment of J-Pop America Funtime Now or What’s Up With That? “Prison Break-In” is one of the most callback-heavy Arrested Development episodes, and that’s not even counting the way the main plot, which has George Sr. trying to escape house arrest by using papier-mâché heads (and then an unwitting Oscar). The plot repeats a couple of standard AD stories, right down to the ending which sees George Sr. abandon an escape-in-progress so that he can win back Lucille from a rival suitor. (Because the Bluths never want what they have, only what’s just slipped out of reach.)
Still, at least the callbacks in “Prison Break-In” are mostly very funny; and they do range from the recent to the (relatively) ancient. There’s a joke about the recently departed Rita having won a silver medal in the “two-legged race” and there’s a shot of George-Michael’s Star Wars Kid video, which the Bluths once used as part of their fundraising efforts for their accidentally made-up disease “TBA.” Also, when Michael pulls out his guitar to sing the blues over his break-up with Rita, George-Michael attempts to join in on the wood-block. And once Michael and GOB arrive at the old prison to try and stop Lucille from having sex with Warden Gentles, we see prisoners trying to use the staircar to escape again, and we’re reminded of the time that GOB was forced to watch his parents have sex in the conjugal trailer. (The jetpack from “Mr. F” returns too, though when GOB and Michael try to use it to break into prison, the pack flies off without them. “Now we know what the strap was for,” GOB says.)
The parts of “Prison Break-In” having to do with George Sr. trying to fool the warden’s security cameras with fake versions of himself aren’t that funny, though they do extend the “cheap copy” theme that has been prevalent all season (what with Wee Britain and the Bluth Company’s “tiny town” and the like). This episode also offers a half-hearted—and now dated—parody of the Fox series Prison Break, which at the time had helped usher Arrested Development off the air when it became the hit that AD wasn’t. The parody is only mildly amusing, except for when Tobias calls himself “Uncle T-Bag,” and when GOB reveals that he’s drawn a crude map to the prison on his stomach. And “Prison Break-In” is heavy on the drug references too. Buster places his new pet turtle “Mother” in Oscar’s old box of weed and when Mother dies, Oscar suggests, “We could cremate it.” (Oscar also gets clobbered by the top of one of GOB’s cages, which prompts the Narrator to joke that it’s “not the first time he was knocked out by a powerful lid.”)
What makes this episode more than just a scattered batch of in-jokes though is the return of Warden Gentles’ screenplay New Warden, which we see enacted by a group of kids. (There’s that “cheap copy” thing again.) There’s something delightfully wrong about watching youngsters talk about drug deals, and about beating each other up with a pillowcase full of batteries; and in seeing a tiny version of Warden Gentles complaining about losing his promotion (“You’ll pay for the loss of $2,300 a year!”) and exacting revenge on the Bluth family in a disgusting way (“Enjoy the chlamydia, Lucille!”).
It’s while reading a copy of New Warden that Michael—who wishes he’d read The Man Inside Me instead—begins to worry that the warden has a nefarious plan for his mother that he and GOB need to thwart, whereas before Michael was only creeped out at the thought of his mother making herself sexually available to the warden, with the help of Lindsay’s “tube of vag… etable paste.” (Later, in another of Arrested Development’s dirtiest-ever jokes to make it onto broadcast TV, Lucille says, “I want to cry so bad but I don’t think I can spare the moisture.”) Of course the whole Lucille/Gentles affair turns out to be part of George Sr.’s escape plan, though it goes awry once Lucille decides that maybe she should sleep with the warden anyway, even after she’s gotten the ankle-bracelet code that she was seducing him to procure. Thus George Sr. is compelled to sabotage his own scheme, to save his marriage.
That’s the other big theme in “Prison Break-In:” the Bluths and their cons, which they execute sloppily and sometimes even inadvertently. The “TBA” fundraiser is one example; and so is this year’s fundraiser, to cure “Graft vs. Host” disease, which Tobias suffers from when his hair-plugs reject his body, making him weak as a kitten. (Again, that’s “Graft vs. Host,” not, as GOB jokes, “Steffi Graf vs. Happy Days star Donny Host.” (Cue Narrator: “It’s Most.”)) When the rich folks who’ve paid money to be locked into prison as part of the Bluths’ benefit learn that their money is going to a man who could be cured if he just removed his plugs, they start a riot, which shocks Lindsay, who as a Bluth never thought that people might have a problem with their new pet cause. Before this storyline ends, The Narrator gets the chance to slip in one of the best puns in the show’s run, as he describes Michael as feeling “like the host that the grafting family was rejecting.” The grafting family—that’s a good one.
“Making A Stand” (season three, episode eight; originally aired 12/19/05)
There are Arrested Development episodes that repeat themes and jokes from earlier episode, and then there are the episodes that are half-sequel/half-remake. “Making A Stand” is one of the latter, attempting to recreate the magic of “Pier Pressure,” by telling another story about George Sr.’s use of the one-armed J. Walter Weatherman to impart “lessons” (which provokes another nesting sting operation, with lessons within lessons). But while “Making A Stand” isn’t as good as “Pier Pressure,” that’s mainly because “Pier Pressure” is one of the funniest TV episodes of all time.
“Making A Stand” mostly just ups the meta ante in this meta-meta third Arrested Development season. The plot isn’t just about J. Walter Weatherman’s lessons, it’s about a world where everybody constructs elaborate pieces of theater to make a point, nearly all the time. This is the episode that introduces Boyfights, the series of videos that George Sr. produced in the ‘80s, making money off his master plan to toughen GOB and Michael up by getting them to attack each other. Also in this episode, Buster gets a job working at an Iraqi toy store, where his handlessness is meant to warn customers not to steal. But Buster rebels at the whole exploitation of the disabled to teach lessons, and decides to teach a lesson about that. (We’re through the looking-glass here, people.)
The whole lesson-teaching enterprise culminates in one of Arrested Development’s best farcical set-pieces, as Michael enlists GOB and their parents’ Mexican (and Guatemalan) remodelers to pose as Columbian kidnappers, and to pretend to take George Sr., in retaliation for a botched business proposition. While that’s going on, George Sr. enlists GOB and J. Walter Weatherman to put one over on Michael, but then Michael and GOB pull a double-double-cross on George Sr., and Buster and Weatherman put one over on everybody. The action is fast-paced and snappy, aided by the workmen—one of whom is a member of The Groundlings—who all seem to enjoy the fact that this little playlet is “unscripted, like Curb.”
But the MVP of “Making A Stand” is GOB (as it so often is on Arrested Development). This episode is one of the best at showing GOB in all of his arrogance, ignorance and insecurity—all the qualities that make him the most lovable boob in the Bluth clan. Whether his sleeve full of coins is firing at inopportune times, or he’s letting his dad talk him into making an illegal deal with “our Mexican friends from Columbia,” GOB is on a real anti-roll in “Making A Stand.” The episode gets its title (in part) from GOB taking Michael’s advice to open his own banana stand, which he does on the boardwalk, right across from the Bluth family’s existing stand, advertising his product with a sign that reads, “A frozen banana that won’t make you sick and kill you.” GOB’s stand has everything to attract customers, including a couple of sexy young ladies—“at least strippers,” Michael figures—who can “make your banana stand.” What he doesn’t have are any bananas, or chocolate, which he hopes to borrow from “the other branch,” along with the recipe for how to make the treat. (When Michael cuts George-Michael off in the middle of telling Steve Holt!, “Just freeze the banana and stick it in the…,” GOB shouts, “Stick it in the what?!”)
Twice in “Making A Stand,” The Narrator rushes through parts of the story that he considers dull and unfunny, illustrating them with a photo montage and playing different snippets of crappy music (nearly all of them songs from previous Arrested Development episodes), as a way of proving his case that there’s not much there. What’s most notable about these scenes though is that the first time, The Narrator laments that they couldn’t afford the rights to The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” while the second time, the sequence is scored to the very similar song, “Yellow Boat.” So there you have it: yet more AD ersatz-ery.
- I can’t entirely explain why, but I think my favorite joke in these two episodes is the flashback to the family going through their suggestion box to decide what their “TBA” fundraiser should be for: herpes, shrinkage (“Somebody saw Seinfeld last night”), neck flap (submitted by Lucille and Buster), or ovarian cancer. When that last one comes up, George Sr. rolls his eyes toward Michael, saying, “Gee, I wonder who that was?” It’s such a mean thing to say. It’s also a quintessential Arrested Development joke, in that anyone who was watching the show for the first time would have no idea why that was supposed to be funny.
- Maeby has lunch with Warden Gentles so that he can pitch her on New Warden. When he hands her the script, he says, “I think you will find the dessert both engrossing and high-grossing,” to which she sighs, “So we don’t get dessert?”
- Michael can’t comprehend that Warden Gentles might desire Lucille. When Lindsay says he likes her, Michael says, “Likes her what?… Who’s the her in that sentence?… Her?”
- Tobias doesn’t understand why Warden Gentles would be interested in Lucille either. After all, he runs a prison. “He can have any piece of ass he wants.”
- GOB meanwhile would rather forget the very image of his mom and the warden going at it. (“I’ve got a thing of pills in my pocket. I don’t supposed I could convince you to grab me one?”)
- GOB shoots a video for the GvH fundraiser in which he uses editing tricks to make objects disappear, including a “candy ball machine.”
- I always enjoy the bits where George Sr. shaves Oscar’s head, because the shaved Oscar always has a few stray long hairs to distinguish him from his brother.
- George-Michael praises the prison: “It’s a lot like school, only air-conditioned.”
- It’s hard to believe that it takes until the final appearance of Bob Loblaw—switching sides to become Tobias’ divorce attorney in “Making A Stand”—to introduce Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog, which seems like such an integral part of that character. (Also, the Law Blog joke is so funny that it steamrolls the almost-as-funny follow-up, where Tobias says, “You, sir, are a mouthful,” and The Narrator talks about Tobias “trying to get his mouth around Bob Loblaw.”)
- A horror movie that Maeby is dveloping features a monster that looks like Alf, a resemblance which isn’t helped when one of its would-be victims says, “You must be the creature that ate our cat!”
- GOB keeps a live dove in his pants, and tries to keep it happy because an angry dove in the pants is “how Tony Wonder lost a nut.” Later, GOB embraces Michael and tells him that if he feels anything moving in the crotch area, it’s just the bird. (Cut to: the dove, walking around on the counter behind GOB.)
- GOB still can’t pronounce circum… cirsum… cirsumventing?
- GOB really needs to take his CD (and tape) of “It’s Not Easy Being White” out of his boombox.
- The full text of Buster’s advocacy button: “The only scary thing about a one-armed man trying to scare someone is the fact that he feels that his one arm is good for nothing but trying to scare somebody.” Naturally, Buster put this button on upside-down.
- “Don’t worry, these young beauties have been nowhere near the bananas.”
- The best “on the next” in these two episodes: GOB is pushed against the window of the warden’s office and sees his parents having sex again, but what’s especially funny about this scene is that in the background, a prisoner is seen escaping using the jetpack that GOB and Michael left on the ground earlier.
- Next week: “S.O.B.s” and “Fakin’ It”