“Switch Hitter” (season 2, episode 7; originally aired 1/16/2005)
The seventh episode of Arrested Development’s second season—and the first of 2005, for those of you who like to keep track of such things—is called “Switch Hitter” because it’s about the big annual softball game between the Bluth Company and Sitwell Housing, for which GOB will be playing for the Bluth’s rivals. (Also “switch hitter” is a slang term for “bisexual,” and though there’s nothing specific about that in this episode, this is Arrested Development, where sexuality is nearly always in flux.) But if credited writers Barbara Feldman and Courtney Lilly had wanted to pick another title for this episode, there’s a perfectly apt one right there in their script: “Confidence Man.”
Actually, technically, it’s “Confidence Man 2,” which is a movie role that Tobias intends to audition for—once the hooky-playing Maeby urges her unconfident dad through the studio gates, that is. Tobias follows his daughter’s advice, trying to get a buzz going around the studio by walking around the offices saying things like, “This Fünke is all anybody’s ever talking about!” But this being Tobias, he then introduces himself at his audition as “Tobias,” leaving off his last name, which means he gets dismissed before he can say another word. But his Fünke-buzz does have an intended side effect. When Maeby ducks into an office to call George-Michael, to pester him about an Old Man And The Sea book report he promised to write for her, the people around the studio assume that she works there, and that she’s the “Fünke” that everyone’s so excited about.
Thus begins one of my favorite storylines in the entire run of Arrested Development: the “Maeby as movie exec” storyline. It’s not the most daring or original bit of satire, granted. The whole mockery of Hollywood as youth-obsessed and easily swayed by bullshit-artists is almost as old as Hollywood itself. But Alia Shawkat had been underused in season two, and this twist plays to her strengths as a comic actress, and to the character’s strengths as well. Maeby is a confidence man, both in the way she habitually lies to people to get her way, and in her, y’know, confidence. For example, when she runs into studio executive Mort Meyers (played by Jeff Garlin), he initially suspects that she might be a teenager, but she just laughs, “Marry me!” and before long he’s taking a look at the Old Man And The Sea report that she had a PA work up, and he’s saying, “Go young. Young Guy And The Sea. Big spring-breaker for us. CGI the fish. Let’s fast-track this one.”
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Besides the Maeby subplot, there are a few other minor stories weaving through “Switch Hitter.” Lindsay (still largely a non-factor in season two at this point) starts taking Teamocil again, which reduces her sex drive but makes her very focused on helping the Bluth Company win their softball game; and Lucille works her magic on General Bill Anderson (played by J.K. Simmons) to get Buster transferred from the infantry to the USO. (Did you know that Lucille used to be in the USO, during the Vietnam War? That’s where she met Oscar, who was the worst croc-spotter any Swift Boat ever had.) Meanwhile, back on the softball field, George-Michael has oversold the skills of one Ann “The Wall” Veal, saying that she has a low center of gravity, so you can’t knock her over—when in fact she kinda sucks.
It’s that last storyline that most fits the “confidence man” theme of “Switch Hitter.” Say something is so with enough conviction, and you can make others believe it. That’s something that GOB and Michael struggle with, largely because of the way they were raised by their father, who withheld approval, believing that would make his kids work harder. Even when Michael made good suggestions—like saying that “Sudden Valley” is a terrible name for a housing development, because it sounds like a disaster waiting to happen—George Sr. would say, “What are you taking stupid pills? C’mon.” (This is how tightly constructed Arrested Development is: Even GOB’s favorite exclamation has an origin.) The end result is that GOB is willing to betray his family and play for Sitwell Housing because Stan Sitwell (played by Ed Begley Jr.) seems genuinely to appreciate him, and Michael is willing to give GOB ideas to help him succeed at a rival company because Michael wants to be president of the Bluth Company again. And yet both of them will give everything up to hear George Sr. even mutter “I’m proud of you,” as he does at the softball game when he’s disguised as an umpire.
If it wasn’t clear before, it should be well clear by now: The family that we spend time with every week on Arrested Development aren’t exactly “heroes.” If anything, George Bluth is a fraction of the man that the philanthropic, kindly Stan Sitwell is. The only thing that seems fake about Stan Sitwell is his hair, because the man has alopecia, and has to rely on an elaborate series of wigs and stick-on eyebrows to replicate the appearance of a normal human. (Though he doesn’t always get it right. When GOB tells Stan that he “looks surprised,” it’s only because Stan glued his eyebrows on too high.)
Leave it to Lucille, though, to misread Stan’s confidence as all show. “We could get a giant checkbook, too,” she says about Stan’s philanthropic photo-ops, as though that would be all it would take to make the Bluths as decent as the Sitwells. Outside of their patriarch’s head-games, nothing deters this family’s cockiness. “We can build houses, we can win games,” Michael assures his father. And when the house immediately starts falling apart around them? Michael persists. “We can win games.”
“Queen For A Day” (season 2, episode 8; originally aired 1/23/05)
“Queen For A Day” continues the Producer Maeby storyline, as she runs into Mort in the parking lot, deflects his suspicions and flirtations with a well-timed, “Why don’t we ask your wife to come with us?” and then ends up with a stack of scripts to read and annotate, which feels to her a little too much like schoolwork. Luckily for Maeby, her grandfather is starved for something to read up in the attic—“Pop-Pop gets a Grisham?” he begs Michael at one point—so he reads the likes of Armageddon 2: Armageddon and marks them up for Maeby. And while Maeby is thriving at her new job, GOB is getting fired from his, when Stan Sitwell gets tired of hearing him reiterate the same idea for a sexy, singles-focused housing development. (It starts out as “Single City,” then “Swing City,” and then “[Bleep] City,” to “filter out the teases.”)
But mostly “Queen For A Day” is about what happens when the Bluth Company stock is unfrozen, and the various family members are free to sell their shares and make impulsive purchases, even though Michael sends them a formal letter begging them to do neither. (No one in the family save Buster reads past the word “unfrozen.”) Tobias buys a drag bar called The Queen Mary, which is promptly re-named “Tobias Is Queen Mary.” Lucille has a new whirpool tub installed, even though it pushes Lucille “Lucille 2” Austero’s kitchen wall and cupboards out a few inches. Lindsay pledges membership fees to the family’s old country club. And GOB, as GOB usually does, goes yacht shopping.
Michael has no leverage to get upset about any of this, since he’s already sold some of his stock and bought a Corvette. He’d been upset that his father had never bought him a company car (although “according to the books,” he has four) and that he’s been stuck driving an oversized beast of a vehicle that knocks down banners and gets the occasional hop-on (“of course you get hop-ons”), and so when he arrives at the car dealership, Michael steers himself away from the practical cars and even the luxury cars, and gravitates to the sports car, which comes with a windbreaker and sunglasses, hung up under a sign that reads, “Your New Life?”
After several consecutive Arrested Development episodes with strong main plots alongside the subplots and serialization, “Queen For A Day” is pretty heavily skewed to the serialized side, moving along the Bluth/Sitwell rivalry story, as Michael assumes that the “Standpoor” who is buying up all the unfrozen Bluth stock is actually Stan Sitwell. In actuality, it’s Lucille Austero, who uses the company name “Standpoor” because of her vertigo, and who has an automatic order in with her broker to buy Bluth stock, because she unaccountably loves the Bluths so much. Unfortunately, when Michael tries to woo Lucille 2 by taking her for a spin in his Corvette, it retriggers her case of “the dizzies”—and this after she thought she’d been cured. (“I am stable as a table!” she tells Buster earlier, when they run into each other at The Queen Mary.)
“Queen For A Day” reveals something about what the individual Bluth boys want. While even the usually cautious Michael is his seizing his “new life,” Buster is getting trapped on his mother’s balcony when he thinks he sees a graham cracker. (“You baited the balcony?” Michael asks Lucille. “Prove it,” she answers.) And while GOB is looking at boats, he’s also going around wearing the false eyebrows he swiped from Stan Sitwell, insisting, “They make me look dressier!” Michael wants the rewards his father withheld from him his entire life, GOB wants to look like the kind of person his father would respect, and Buster just wants a cookie.
Alas, this episode called is “Queen For A Day” not “Queen For Life,” and so it doesn’t take long for everything to return to normal levels of chaos. Lindsay sends Hot Cops (dressed as street toughs) to try and terrorize Tobias into selling the Queen Mary—which works, but in a roundabout way. Tobias is impressed with how quickly the Hot Cops take to his musical-theater-therapy program, and brings them with him to try and convert the real street toughs in the neighborhood, where they’re promptly beaten up and shot, convincing Tobias that maybe he’s not where he should be. And after Michael persuades Lucille 2 to return enough stock to allow the Bluths to remain in control of their own company, GOB sweeps in and, according to the narrator—which means we know it’s true—[bleeps] Lucille 2. She subsequently restores GOB to the presidency, usurping Michael yet again. And the worst part? As GOB’s reclaiming his old office, he tells Michael, “I do need the keys to the company car.”
- All of a sudden it’s attack of the once and future NBC character comics on Arrested Development. Craig Robinson as a security guard! Andy Richter eating a sandwich! (And in the upcoming “Burning Love,” we’ll get Jack McBrayer as a waiter and Brian Baumgartner as a gun salesman.)
- “Switch Hitter” brings back one of the best recurring visual gags in Arrested Development: the way that the merest tap of any load-bearing surface in the Model Home leads to random parts of the house coming detached. Here, not only does Michael’s casual “knock on wood” make the molding around the entertainment center fall off, but when the episode flashes back to five seconds earlier up in the attic, we see George Sr. listening at the grate as Michael distantly says “knock on wood,” at which point a hunk of ductwork falls on George’s head.
- Along those same lines, the family fridge recedes into the wall, and without George-Michael and his “powerful little fingers” around, GOB has to use a butter knife to try and dislodge it. But then Tobias leans on the fridge, and it falls into a huge hole—though not into the garage, Tobias notes, adding, “Knock on wood.” [Sound of distant crashing.]
- We get a new twist on the Arrested Development bleeping humor when Lucille receives a postcard from Buster that’s been censored by the Army: “Sergeant Blank is treating me very blank, and it looks like I’ll be shipping off to blank in about a blank. I blank you, Mother.”
- Incest theme ahoy! In “Switch Hitter,” we learn that Buster once appeared on the cover of Balboa Bay Window (“The Magazine Of The American Society Of Ladies Who Lunch—A Lot”), in an article titled, “Why I Want To Marry My Mother.” And when George-Michael talks about maybe getting his first kiss from Ann, his dad leans in for a peck on the cheek, saying, “Just want to get in there first.”
- When George-Michael offers to give up his spot on the Bluth softball team so that Ann can play, his dad says, “You should be playing the field.”
- Does anyone else out there say “candy beans” instead of “jelly beans,” as the Bluths do? Or is that just what you call them when a fake eyebrow falls into a bowl?
- GOB’s response to Sitwell’s insistence that one house out of every 450 in their construction partnership be given to a low income family: “So the other 449 families live in fear? C’mon!”
- Lucille walks into the house and asks for a vodka on the rocks. When Michael reminds her that it’s breakfast time, she tacks on, “And a piece of toast.”
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- GOB knocks out his tooth again, for those who’d missed that sweet whistle.
- Wireless crapability… that one explains itself.
- Michael to George-Michael, when his son says that he’ll be riding to school with the Veals: “You don’t need to be all penned in with them.”
- Tobias says that he’d love to go out on the town and play wingman for Buster: “Even if it means me taking a chubby, I will suck it up.”
- Maeby’s response when she gets a paper-cut while reading a script: “Back to film school, [bleep].”
- Barry Zuckerkorn sports an eyepatch during one scene of “Queen For A Day”—and at one point winks at Michael from beneath said patch, rather than with his uncovered eye—because he’s suing the Los Angeles Kings for hitting him in the head with a puck. Barry’s faking it, though: A head injury won’t explain his usual lack of legal acumen. (When trying to explain the particulars of Bluth Company stock control, for example, he admits that he got this info from “Ask Jeeves.”)
- Michael has to leave the house early when he’s driving the staircar because he’s “expecting headwinds.”
- Michael signs papers for his new car in almost exactly the same place and position that GOB signed for the new boat a few episodes back.
- In a meta moment, Lucille 2 expresses her dislike for other people singing the theme from New York, New York.
- “At least in prison, we had knife fights, and we had movie night. And once, both. Those men did not enjoy Soapdish.”
- The best “on the next” in these two episodes: Barry uses his Kings settlement to buy the Queen Mary, and asks if it still has “the dungeon area.” Getting pretty medieval all of a sudden.
- I’ll be off for the next two weeks, attending an A.V. Clubber’s wedding and then jetting off to Comic-Con. I’ll be back on July 18th with “Burning Love” and “Ready, Aim, Marry Me.”