In 5 To Watch, five writers from The A.V. Club look at the latest streaming TV arrivals, each making the case for a favored episode. Alternately, they can offer up recommendations inspired by a theme. The reasons for their picks might differ, but they can all agree that each episode is a must-watch. In this installment: We share our picks for some of the most memorable small-screen vacations.
Whether or not you plan to down some Hurricanes, spring break is upon us. For a certain demographic, it’s the time of year to leave your inhibitions at home. But here at The A.V. Club—where we only drink responsibly, if ever—we’re staying put and revisiting some of our favorite TV vacations. Some of these getaways are motivated by contractual obligations; others, an attempt to rekindle a spark. But they all provide truly enjoyable journeys, even when the destination is a shuttered World’s Fair.
Arrested Development, “Spring Breakout” (season two, episode 17)
The penultimate episode of Arrested Development’s second season gets into the spirit of the Bluths’ favorite time of the year with gusto. George Sr.’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt, Buster’s having a heck of a time with a coconut, and Lucille checks out of rehab just long enough to wipe the floor with Kitty during a Señor Tadpole’s drinking contest. Bikinis, booze, bananas with nuts: “Spring Breakout” has all the hallmarks of a tropical TV vacation without the actual vacation part. Not that the densely packed script is any less fixated on the idea of a getaway: The word is printed on a poster that floats around the Bluth Company offices (and later Lucille’s penthouse), and there’s a running gag (no opportunity for wordplay goes unexplored on Arrested Development) involving surveillance footage of patients fleeing the treatment facility with the temperate name, Shady Pines. Essentially a sequel to the previous season’s “Missing Kitty,” it manages to stand on its own on the strength of all-time-great gags like Lucille’s misinterpretation of a prescription bottle’s “drowsy eye” symbol, the frenzy of Judy Greer, and a guest appearance by Zach Braff, whose portrayal of Girls With Low Self-Esteem creator Phillip Litt suggests that he should get more opportunities to play loathsome. To paraphrase The Narrator, who spends much of the episode bemoaning a different TV show’s shoddy voice-over: “Spring Breakout” turns into one of the Bluth family’s better parties. [Erik Adams]
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Let He Who Is Without Sin…” (season five, episode seven)
“Let He Who Is Without Sin” is frequently picked as one of the worst episodes of Deep Space Nine, if not all of Star Trek. In it, Worf and Jadzia Dax visit the pleasure planet Risa in order to work through some relationship issues; they’re joined by Dr. Bashir and the Dabo girl Leeta, who are there instead to commemorate a surprisingly forward-thinking “conscious uncoupling,” as well as Quark, who’s just there to get laid. In this effort he proves immediately successful. Risa is the hedonistic, everybody-fucks planet of the Star Trek universe, an endless paradise of beaches and leisure. (A purring, lamb-like Vanessa Williams guests as a native.) Much of the ire for the episode is directed toward the way it inverts all of this, with Worf turning weirdly conservative, and the plot focusing on an anti-pleasure terrorist cell that wants to undo Risa’s core principles.
Writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe has called it the worst episode he ever wrote. But it’s a better and braver episode than this reputation suggests. Deep Space Nine’s strength was its exploration of the contradictions and dark corners of the established Star Trek universe, full of traitors and war criminals and seedy hustlers that exist outside of the Federation’s sanctified orbit, and “Let He Who Is Without Sin…” attempts to do the same for the vacation industry, slotting political extremism right alongside beachside frolics and sauna-set leisure. While everyone else is having fun, Worf is just stewing, jealous and lonely, making the light-dark contrast even more apparent. Who hasn’t ever had a terrible time on a trip they were supposed to be enjoying? Sometimes everybody else’s joy-filled spring break is your expensive, plodding nightmare. [Clayton Purdom]
The reason why people travel in the first place is to expand horizons, gain perspective, and take a break from their humdrum, everyday existence. It certainly appears to do the trick at first for Don and Betty Draper in the season-three Mad Men episode “Souvenir.” Don gets a chance from his new pal/business prospect Conrad Hilton to visit Rome for a few days. Betty, worn down from a hot summer, annoying household errands, and a flirtation with governor aide Henry Francis, decides to join him. After arriving at the Rome Hilton in her pink suit, blond bob, and pearls, she almost immediately transforms into a dangerous European siren with a dramatic beehive and chic black sheath to match her dramatic eyeliner, unfurling flawless Italian and the sharpness to cut any number of Rome admirers to the quick.
The combination of newly smitten Don and glamorous Betty ensures that they will have a romantic getaway, one for the books. But the transition back to their regular suburban life is a bit rocky: At first Betty makes an effort, wearing a more stylish, geometric housedress, and baking lasagna for dinner even though the kids didn’t like it. But when her friend Francine waxes rhapsodically about her own idyllic vacation with her husband, Betty is wordlessly furious that what seemed like the adventure of a lifetime is apparently generic. Don offers his wife a charm of the coliseum, the souvenir of the title, but all that Rome really did was make Betty more aware of the unsatisfactory gaps in her day-to-day life. The fleeting memory of Rome transforms into an isolated romantic postcard of how the Drapers’ life together could have turned out. [Gwen Ihnat]
The Comeback, “Valerie Relaxes In Palm Springs” (season one, episode eight)
That old Buckaroo Banzai saw of “No matter where you go, there you are” is both true and untrue for The Comeback’s Valerie Cherish (Lisa Kudrow). Heading off to a long weekend at a Palm Springs resort with her husband, Mark (Damian Young), Valerie is the same person we’ve seen throughout HBO’s bittersweet showbiz satire so far: a painfully image-conscious, frustratingly fake former star who’s desperately trying to control every aspect of the reality show about her newly unglamorous life. Even on vacation, Valerie maintains that façade, sacrificing both Mark’s happiness and her own for the sake of those cameras by dragging along the pestering company rep for the sponsored car they’re driving, and even yielding to the requests of her producer, Jane (Laura Silverman), to not listen to any music they won’t be able to license. At the resort, Valerie’s still more concerned about looking good in her carefully assembled lounge attire than actually lounging. But when she meets up with an old friend—a recent cancer survivor whose near-death experience has given her an intoxicating fuck-’em attitude—Valerie suddenly finds the gumption to drop the act and take back a bit of her own self-respect. By the end, she’s drunkenly unloading on a bullying writer over the phone, and on the drive home, she’s even standing up to Jane by triumphantly popping in a Cheap Trick CD. “Palm Springs” is a pivotal episode in the series, and one that proves that, sometimes, you have to go someplace else to find where you are. [Sean O’Neal]
The Simpsons, “Bart On The Road” (season seven, episode 20)
Bart’s penchant for mischief was established well before this ill-fated road trip in season seven, but “Bart On The Road” adds a new layer to the character, as well as his family and friends. Nelson, who’s later described as “an enigma wrapped in a puzzle, wrapped in a vest,” is revealed to have surprisingly mature tastes. (His toppling of the Wigsphere, though? Not so much.) Martin turns out to be a spendthrift who can’t wait a day to throw away his stock-market earnings at Wee World—hardly the kind of kid who should be class president. Even Principal Skinner shows uncharacteristic determination, announcing a “Take Your Kids To Work Day” just so he can go on spring break early.
The workplace interactions vary, as Milhouse discovers the wonders of the cracker factory while Lisa joins Homer at the nuclear power plant, where father and daughter try once more to bond. Bart, meanwhile, turns a punishingly dull day at the DMV into a jaunt through the markers of adulthood. Thanks to a fake driver’s license, Bart ends up stranded in Knoxville with Nelson, Martin, and Milhouse. But the episode’s Branson-related sight gags and evergreen one-liners are just the “purple fruit” on this sundae. “Bart On The Road” pays special attention to Lisa and Homer’s developing relationship. It sees them open up about secret crushes and unglamorous day jobs before joining forces to save Bart and friends—and they didn’t need to use cruise control. [Danette Chavez]