“Sad Sack” (season 2, episode 5; originally aired 12/12/2004)
Fun fact! The cartoon character Sad Sack was created in 1942 by George Baker, a sergeant in the U.S. Army who drew the woeful soldier for Yank magazine throughout World War II, and then for a newspaper syndicate in the late ’40s and early ’50s. Baker’s strip spawned a radio show, a movie (starring Jerry Lewis!), and multiple long-running Harvey Comics series, the last of which is how most young people encountered the character in the ’60s and ’70s.
In the fifth episode of the second season of Arrested Development, “Sad Sack” has two meanings. Most prominently, it refers to Buster Bluth, slouching his way through Army boot camp (under the guidance of a “Sgt. Baker,” not coincidentally) until he literally hits a wall, in that there’s a wall in the middle of the camp’s training course, and Buster can’t climb over it.
“Sad Sack” also refers to Tobias Fünke’s scrotum.
Because this is Arrested Development, there’s a connection between the two. Former-Bluth-family-attorney-turned-nemesis Wayne Jarvis—the man so serious that he was named “the worst audience participant Cirque du Soleil ever had”—sued the government on behalf of James Alan Spangler, who took issue with Sgt. Baker calling him “Private Homo.” (Spangler, you may recall, was also Barry Zuckerkorn’s paralegal, and previously retained Jarvis to sue Barry for calling him a “homo.” Hey, the man has a cause!) Due to Jarvis’ lawsuit, Baker can’t properly motivate Buster, who instead has to ask his brother GOB to yell at him and punch him in the stomach so that he can climb that wall, complete his training, and stop being a Sad Sack.
And while Jarvis once represented the Bluths and sued the government, he now represents the government and is going after the Bluths, accusing George Sr. of building houses in Iraq to cover up Saddam Hussein’s caches of weapons of mass destruction. (That would bump up the charges against George Sr. from “light treason” to “medium to heavy treason.”) What Jarvis believes to be satellite images of those caches, though—grabbed by the government from the Bluth Company email server, without a warrant—are actually a close-up photograph of Tobias’ sad sack, taken by accident with GOB’s company cell phone. It’s Barry Zuckerkorn who first spots the government’s error, saying, “Those are balls.” There follows a montage of people recognizing that they’re looking at balls, while other kinds of balls are in the frame with them: baseballs, exercise balls, et cetera. Balls for all!
While not as taut or sharp overall as “¡Amigos!” and “Good Grief”—hey, they can’t all be two of the best sitcom episodes of all time—“Sad Sack” is even more pointedly political, with Jarvis explaining how he can raid the Bluths’ private records and databases by shouting, “Patriot Act!” Also, the way Buster’s unit mobilizes and the schools are given “half-day” because of all the fake WMD discovery could well be a comment on the misinformation and hysteria that drove the United States into the Iraq War in the first place.
And yet with all the Army silliness and testicular hoo-hah, what stands out most about “Sad Sack” is its curious “drag” motif. Still holed up in the attic, George Sr. has been raiding a box of Michael’s late wife’s maternity clothes, looking for something new to wear; meanwhile Lindsay has a raspy voice because of a cold, which Maeby uses to her advantage when her mom starts hitting on her crush-object Steve Holt!, telling Steve that her “mother” is actually her dad, pretending to be a woman.
There’s more to drag than just men dressing as women and women dressing as men, though, as was explained by the excellent 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning. In that movie, gay black males without much money compete in contests where they dress up as businessmen and soldiers, testing the boundaries of “realness.” So it is with Buster, playing Army. So it is with GOB, pretending to be the boss. So it is with George Sr., who dresses up as Oscar to try and trick Lucille into going bed with him. (George gives away his lack of hippie skills when he describes smoking marijuana “like a cigarette,” which is the same phrase that the square George-Michael used in “Pier Pressure.”) And so it goes with Lucille, who’s going against her nature and being extra-nice to Oscar, enjoying their worry-free sex because “the doctors said I couldn’t be a mother now if I tried.” So many Bluths in this episode are trying on new clothes.
“Afternoon Delight” (season 2, episode 6; originally aired 12/19/2004)
Fun fact! The song “Afternoon Delight” was written by Bill Danoff, a veteran songwriter who with his wife/collaborator Taffy Nivert helped John Denver compose two of his biggest hits (“Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “I Guess He’d Rather Be In Colorado”) before joining with Nivert, Jon Carroll, and Margot Chapman to form Starland Vocal Band. The group recorded five albums and had a short-lived summer variety series that employed a young David Letterman as a writer and performer. Starland Vocal Band won a Grammy as Best New Artist, but the quartet never matched the success of its first single, a sweet, soft, country-rock song about fucking.
In the Arrested Development episode “Afternoon Delight,” various members of the Bluth family discover just how raunchy the Starland Vocal Band can be. Michael and Maeby sing “Afternoon Delight” together at the Bluth Company Christmas party—because it was the first song in the karaoke book—and trail off once they realize what “thinking of you’s working up my appetite” actually means. And later, Lindsay and George-Michael sing the same song at the Bluth Company’s second Christmas party, and have that same stark “This is creepy, right?” realization.
Mitchell Hurwitz and his Arrested Development writers are extraordinarily clever folks, so I don’t want to underestimate them. But are they clever enough to concoct an episode called “Afternoon Delight” that mimics the effect of the song “Afternoon Delight”? Because this episode is one of the raunchiest Arrested Development has ever done—and it comes after the one about Tobias’ nutbag.
Some of the raunch is hidden (intentionally) behind what network television will allow, such as GOB’s big sexual harassment speech:
“Please refrain from discussing or engaging in any sort of interoffice bleeping or bleeping or finger bleep or bleeping or bleeping or even bleep. Even though so many people in this office are begging for it. And if anybody does anything with my sister Lindsay, I’ll take off my pants, I’ll shave bleep, and I’ll personallybleeeeeeeeep.”
Some is just the usual double-entendres, such as when Lucille brandishes her rape horn and her fireplace poker and threatens that if she encounters an intruder in her apartment, “First I blow him, then I poke him.” But then comes the line that, the first time I heard it almost eight years ago, actually gave me a Starland Vocal Band-like “whoa” moment. When Michael hears that Lucille is stressed out because Oscar’s not having sex with her, he pulls Oscar aside and suggests that he give Lucille “a little afternoon delight,” which Oscar assumes to mean a special strain of marijuana by the same name. There follows a little Three’s Company-level miscommunication, with Michael talking about sex and Oscar talking about pot, which culminates with Oscar saying, “Maybe I’ll put it her brownie.”
Beyond containing one of the dirtiest jokes I’d ever heard on broadcast TV (up that point, anyway), “Afternoon Delight” stands out for its scope. Maybe all the reporting about modern TV budgets has me thinking too much about what it costs to put on a show, but it’s impressive that this episode features not one but two parties, both with lots of guests—and one of them outdoors. The first Bluth Christmas party goes awry when Michael and Maeby stick candy on GOB’s expensive suit and then the assembled employees laugh at GOB, which prompts him to fire everybody. The second party is on the docks by the banana stand, and is Michael and GOB’s attempt to apologize to the staff, with GOB wearing the old Bluth banana suit. Just consider everything that happens in the scenes involving that second party: Lucille, stoned on Afternoon Deelite, drives very slowly into the banana stand, skidding on GOB’s discarded peel; GOB, trapped inside the crushed stand, gets plucked free by Buster, who applies his recent mastery of an arcade crane game to an actual crane; and then Buster drops GOB from said crane, with GOB falling a good 20 feet into the ocean. That’s a logistically complicated and probably not inexpensive series of visual gags.
What’s especially nifty about Buster playing banana grabber though is that it once again highlights GOB as a man out of his element. Early in the episode he boasts that he’s wearing his father’s pants (or more accurately he says “I did finally get into Dad’s pants,” because Arrested Development can’t let any potential incest joke slip by), yet he’s not really comfortable in them, literally or metaphorically. At one point in “Afternoon Delight,” GOB tries to make an indignant statement and ends up stammering the word “should” for 20 seconds; and throughout, he alienates the Bluth employees by talking about how expensive his suits are, with the dollar amount creeping up each time he mentions it. So it’s only fitting that he’d end the episode as an un-peeled banana, fully exposed and soaking wet.
- The last time Wayne Jarvis appeared on Arrested Development, it was in the episode “In God We Trust,” where one of the big plot points involved a living painting which required one of the participants to wear a tiny fake penis. Now he’s back in “Sad Sack,” in which the major plot point involves an enlarged photograph of Tobias’ balls. Also in “Sad Sack,” multiple characters microwave their favorite Hostess treat because they like “a hot Ding Dong.” If the case is related to male genitalia, Wayne Jarvis is on it!
- More egg motif: Michael makes a plate of scrambled eggs for his dad. Also, the plot of “Sad Sack” is driven by a photo of Tobias’ huevos.
- Horny Lucille is creepy Lucille. When Michael says that he refuses to lie about the business any more, Lucille coos that she’s not lying either—she’s “being lied… on,” by Oscar.
- Michael is skeptical that George-Michael would get a bad math grade because of being distracted by Ann’s prettiness—“Is she? … Do you?”—so he makes his son gets glasses. This leads to a very funny bit of Michael Cera business as he panics at his eye exam. (“Two! No, no, one! … Three! Unless three is too much of an improvement. I’m sorry, is one… is one in the mix, still?”)
- We finally get to see Ann’s “not pictured” yearbook picture, where we learn that her nickname is “Egg” and her quote is “Were we supposed to have a quote?”
- We also see Steve Holt!’s yearbook entries for the past three years—all as a senior—which include two straight years of him hooting that he’s “outta here!” in his quote, followed in the third year by him advising, “Study hard, guys.”
- Funny how quickly smartphones have begun to seem like the norm. The little sideways slider phones that the Bluth Company uses look weird now. Also, it sounds strange that GOB’s ringtone is a tinny reproduction of “The Final Countdown” rather than the actual song.
- George Sr. breaks a breast pump, though he didn’t know that’s what it was. (“I did not use it for that.”)
- The frequently fired Bluth employee Tom raises the ire of George Sr. at one of the past Christmas parties when he says in his big speech that “there is some speculation that George has been into the kitty.” More frank sex talk from “Afternoon Delight.”
- Classic Michael, being obnoxiously “good”: He tells his son not to accept Christmas presents from the employees, because “they’ll resent us.” In actuality, the employees resent that the Geroge-Michael doesn’t take the present.
- A new Ann nickname pops up in “Afternoon Delight,” when George-Michael talks about how excited he is to go to her family’s Christmas party, where they’re going to be making yams, after which Michael tells him to go “be with Yam.”
- That Veal family party is a classic, too. It’s held early in the day—“on Bethlehem time”—and features deep-voice singing of old world hymns. How merry!
- Foreshadowing: When Buster is skipping out on his Army deployment and practicing the crane game, he wins a seal doll. (He later tells his mom that the toys he wins are his “awards from Army,” and that he was named to “something called Hero Squad.”)
- A triumph of match-cutting: Going from GOB stealing his mother’s booze for the Christmas party to him rolling the boxes into the office.
- A triumph of circular editing: GOB is heard finishing a sentence in which he says, “-king 6300 dollar suit! C’mon!” and later we flashback to the start of that sentence, “No, Al, I want to spill booze all over my fu-.”
- Back at the Model Home, Lindsay is sitting around reading Poof! magazine.
- Tobias breaks into Lucille’s apartment to check on her, and she uses her rape horn on him, as promised. And then she hits him with her car. So once again a season two Arrested Development episode ends with Tobias croaking, “Who wants to take me to the hospital?”
- The best “on the next” in these two episodes: Lindsay tries on a shirt that reads “Shemale,” though it’s pronounced “she-mal-ay.”
- Next week: “Switch Hitter” and “Queen For A Day”