When I started writing about this season of Arrested Development, I said—or at least implied—that I think it’s the best of the series’ first three, and thus one of the best seasons of television in the history of the medium. But it ain’t perfect. By happenstance, this week’s pair of AD episodes represent the low ebb of season two, albeit for very different reasons. “Burning Love” is a largely pointless retread, padded out with some of the lamer gags of the series; while “Ready, Aim, Marry Me” is actually a very funny episode (in my opinion, anyway), marred by a bit of awkward casting that many Arrested Development fans can’t abide. So let’s survey the damage, shall we?
“Burning Love” (original airdate 01/30/05)
One of the reasons why I love the second season of Arrested Development so much is because of the density of its storytelling; the plot thickens and spreads, such that even the smallest little addition to the Bluth mythology pays off, sometimes weeks or months later. This season just moves, and even with The Narrator doing his best to keep the viewer up to speed, the simple fact of the show at this point in its run is that if you’re not a committed, attentive viewer, you’re going to get lost.
The problem then with “Burning Love” is that it doesn’t plow ahead so much as circle back, repeating a main plot that the show had already done in season one. Specifically, this episode brings back the bachelorette charity auction at the Bluths’ country club, where Buster once bid on Lucille 2 when he was supposed to have bid on his mother. “Burning Love” is essentially a redoubling of the farce of the previous year’s “Charity Drive.” Again, Lucille wants one of her sons to bid on her: first Michael, then GOB (after Michael punnily tells her to “find someone else to do your bidding”). Michael intends to bid on Stan Sitwell’s daughter Sally—whom he’s had a tongue-tied crush on since boyhood—while GOB ends up bidding on Lucille 2 because he’s jealous of the attention that Stan Sitwell is paying to her. Meanwhile, Tobias wants to rekindle his romance with Lindsay by bidding on her, except that he has no money, having been fired from his job as a Blue Man Group standby understudy. (The last straw for the BMG comes when Tobias takes out an ad for his own one-man version of the Blue Man show, promising, “And I talk!”)
None of this last-second-biddings-and-misunderstandings business is handled any better here than it was in the far funnier “Charity Drive.” Plus it’s hampered by a particularly weak subplot, which sees Lindsay going on a date with gun nut TV star Moses Taylor, and being abandoned by same when she gets mistaken for a wolf and shot by Tobias. The reasons for this are convoluted, having to do with George Sr. making wolf noises in the attic to get Michael’s attention, the community assuming that a wolf is stalking the area, Tobias wanting the reward that comes from capturing the wolf, and Moses Taylor fleeing the scene of the crime because a British tabloid has broken the story that he hunts people (“but plays clean-as-the-queen’s-bum on the telly,” according to the subhed). The connectivity of all this is classic Arrested Development, but it’s a bummer to see Lindsay relegated to yet another storyline where she suffers romantic humiliation, and it's a corny bit of slapstick when she breaks a heel while wearing a fur and gives out a howl that confuses Tobias into shooting her.
Also a botch: The subplot that has George-Michael helping to organize a Christian music bonfire for Ann. (That’s Christians destroying music; not Christian music getting destroyed.) Though Ann’s weird religious beliefs are a reliable source of comedy, the payoff for this subplot is a mild pun, as a bunch of teenagers show up to The Model Home to rip free music as part of a “CD-burning party.” [Cue sad trombone.]
Still, as always, even the worst Arrested Development outpaces nearly every other comedy on TV. “Burning Love” is hardly devoid of laughs, even in the George-Michael storyline, which has two gems: the “Homefill” label on the Peter & The Wolf (!) children’s album that he considers torching; and the anecdote about how as a boy G-M loved The Jerky Boys and tried to emulate their prank calls, mainly by phoning his father and saying, “I want to buy a house, Dad!” There’s also a decent running gag about George Sr.’s plan to put a hot tub in the attic, to serve as a water supply and so that he can cook boil-in-bag dinners. (The sad, inevitable result of this is that George Sr. ends up dazed, surrounded by frozen food boxes while veal marsala clogs up the hot-tub’s intake valve.)
But the best parts of “Burning Love” have to do with Michael, who keeps reverting to boyhood every time he’s around Sally. He forgets to wear a jacket at the country club, and is stuck having to wear the oversized one provided by management. He tries to keep Sally’s car from getting torched—the result of one of GOB’s little tricks gone awry—and she ends up arriving after a fireman has bundled Michael in a blanket and lifted him up like a sleepy toddler. And when Michael fills in for his son at the banana stand, Sally comes by and assumes he still works there, like he did when he was a kid.
In a way though, Sally’s right. Michael is just a kid, and a slave to his impulses. And in that way, he’s a lot like his father. The gap between “I’d like a hot tub” and “Screw it, I’m buying a hot tub” for George Sr. is perilously short; and one of the main reasons why George-Michael gets his dad to cover for him at the banana stand is because he figures that if Michael spends even a few minutes there on a hot day, he’ll finally spring for an air conditioner. And G-M’s right. For all his talk of sacrifice and belt-tightening, a few beads of sweat is all it takes for Michael to break out the company credit card and ask for “the biggest air conditioner you’ve got,” adding, “I need it today; I’m not here tomorrow.”
“Ready, Aim, Marry Me” (original airdate 02/13/05)
I watched both of these episodes before taking my two-week hiatus, and when I came back to my notes, I found it very hard to remember much about “Burning Love,” while “Ready, Aim, Marry Me” was still fairly fresh in my head. I’m not saying that this proves “Ready, Aim, Marry Me” is a superior Arrested Development episode—after all, sometimes the bad stuff stands out more than the merely mediocre—but I do think it’s a lot better than its reputation. The glaring issue with “Ready, Aim, Marry Me” is the casting of Martin Short as “Uncle Jack,” an old family friend that the Bluths turn to for financial help. Short’s broad comic style clashes with the more low-key approach of the rest of the cast, which is probably why he never appeared on the show again, and why this episode was sort of dumped by Fox and/or the AD producers. It aired after a week off, and then was followed by two further weeks with no new episodes—which is the sort of erratic scheduling that can cause an episode to get missed.
Then again, “Ready, Aim, Marry Me” had to air when it did, since it’s ostensibly a Valentine’s Day episode. And while Short is out of place in the Arrested Development universe, he’s still very funny—at least to me.
The rather complicated backstory of Uncle Jack Dorso—rhymes with “torso”—is that he used to be a radio and film star in the ‘40s, in the popular superhero series “Red McGibbon & Bullet: Nazi Hunters.” Then McGibbon was exposed as an actual “red,” and Dorso began a second career as a fitness guru renowned for his birthday “feats of strength.” One of those feats cost Dorso the use of his legs—now pretty much held together with duct-tape—such that he has to be carried around by a hulking, hard-of-hearing manservant named Dragon. Since the days of George Sr.’s father, Uncle Jack has been a go-to source of quick cash for the Bluths, though getting that money has sometimes required Lucille to “take a bullet” for the family. But now the always unappealing Uncle Jack is downright repellant, as he hangs limply from Dragon’s arms and vomits all over everything when he’s jostled. “Ignore it!” he demands. “It’s just something the body does when you shake it.”
I’m sorry, but the way Short delivers the above line makes me laugh, as does him describing Dragon as “half-deaf… it was a stupid, stupid hire,” and him confiding, “I’m invited into very few personal homes.” I even laugh at Dragon swooping Uncle Jack towards Michael’s crotch when Jack spies a dish of snacks and snaps, “To the nuts!” The Uncle Jack plot is admittedly kind of gross, as Michael makes arrangements for Jack to spend a sensual spa day with Lindsay that Lindsay is supposed to be spending with Tobias. (“Remember, it’s not their real uncle,” The Narrator keeps reminding us.) But Short’s slapstick approach, while off-model for the show as a whole, makes the story too silly to take seriously—which is good, because otherwise it might’ve been too appalling.
Plus, there just so much non-Short material to enjoy in “Ready, Aim, Marry Me,” including a brief-but-hysterical running gag at the start that has Lucille spilling her drink all over The Model Home while she’s trying to do airquotes. Later, George-Michael sees the mess on the floor and when his dad says that his grandmother “had a little accident,” G-M assumes incontinence and asks, “Does that mean she has to come live with us?” (Tobias though slips in the puddle of booze and immediately asks Michael, “Was your mother here?”)
This is also the Arrested Development episode where Michael suggests that Tobias start carrying around a tape recorder so that he can hear how sexually suggestive and homoerotic his everyday conversations are. Cases-in-point: When Tobias inadvertently uses up the spa package that he got from the bachelorette auction, he says, “I’m afraid I prematurely shot my wad on what was supposed to be a dry run, if you will, so now I’m afraid I have something of a mess on my hands.” When Michael offers to give Tobias and Lindsay his package, Tobias says, “You really are quite the Cupid, aren’t you? I tell you, you can zing your arrow into my buttocks any time.” And when Michael takes Lindsay’s place while she’s with Jack and Dragon, Tobias shrugs and says, “We’ll clear all that up in the spa when I get my facial.”
The Uncle Jack plot comes to a head (or perhaps torso) at the spa, where Buster and GOB skulk around, using their Army and magician skills to catch Lucille 2 canoodling with Stan Sitwell. There follows what on the stage would be classic door-slamming farce, as various members of the Bluths zip from cabana to cabana, surprised by what and who they find in each tent. But there’s a little more to “Ready, Aim, Marry Me” than just sexy romping and scandalized reactions; the episode is also a reminder that as awful as the Bluths can be, they do care about each other in their way. Michael assumes that no one’s going to get hurt in his efforts to pimp out his sister to Uncle Jack, but then Maeby comes in and reminds him that Tobias is counting on this spa trip to revive his marriage, and he mutters, “I screwed my brother-in-law.”
“Well, I’m all grown up now,” Maeby replies. (And she didn’t even have to take a bullet to get there.)
- You know what I’m hungry for? A little fried cheese… with club sauce!
- Though “Burning Love” isn’t so great of an episode, it does feature one of the all-time great Lucille put-downs, when Lindsay tells her mom she’s not busy and Lucille scoffs, “What, did nothing cancel?”
- Also, in response to Lindsay saying she needs to borrow a fur because she’s “cold,” Lucille says, “So am I. No.” Lucille is a very funny lady.
- The man who delivers George Sr.’s boil-in-bag meals? Steve Holt!
- Tobias isn’t just a man; he’s a man’s man.
- There’s supposed to be a two-week waiting period for guns, except for at a gun show, which—what timing!—the local gun store is holding out back.
- Moses Taylor’s TV character is named “Frank Wrench,” which prompts a particularly awkward piece of Lindsay sexy-talk, as she purrs that she’s going to “see if I can get a Wrench to strip my nuts.”
- I didn’t catch this back in 2005, but both halves of the name “Moses Taylor” come from major Charlton Heston roles. (Another dig at the NRA there.)
- Taylor leaves Lindsay on a bench that sports a Spanish language ad for Barry Zuckerkorn (“Es el mejor!”), including his website: www.barrygood.com.
- Oscar only has two pairs of pants, which means that when Lucille throws one pair out, it “puts a lot of pressure” on the remaining pair.
- But still, you may ask… Where did the lighter fluid come from?
- I confess to being a little angry on Michael’s behalf that everyone in his family openly calls Sally “Stickwell” because they’re sure Michael’s “going to stick it to her.” Nothing worse than people botching your play before you can make it.
- In addition to the insights into Michael, there is a sly piece of commentary on the recklessness of the Bluths in a brief shot of an actual wolf scampering through the park. With all of George Sr.’s howling, and Tobias hunting his wife, there’s an actual predator that could easily get missed.
- One thing you can say about Stan Sitwell: He has balls. (Satiny and smooth, probably.)
- GOB can’t do a full chicken dance in “Burning Love” because he hurt his ankle doing the chicken dance. But he joins Lindsay in the rare double chicken dance in “Ready, Aim, Marry Me.”
- Seriously, how can you hate “Ready, Aim, Marry Me” when it has Lucille at The Model Home yelling “Bitch!” at the wall towards Lucille 2, which pushes Michael to remind her, “She doesn’t live next door when you’re here.” (Later, back at her own apartment, Lucille yells “bitch” again, and Michael gives her a quick, reassuring thumbs-up.)
- Lucille, on what she assumes to be Lucille 2’s plan to hurt her by getting close with GOB: “The joke’s on her because she doesn’t know how little I care for GOB.” Lucille is a very consistent lady.
- Incest theme ahoy: Michael describes the gift basket from the bachelorette auction as “full of father-son fun,” at which point George-Michael peers inside and asks, “What’s Kama Sutra oil?”
- One episode after passing out surrounded by fast food boxes, George Sr. gets wedged under the furnace while chasing after a sourball. Hey, the man’s hungry.
- The best “on the next” in these two episodes: Tobias follows Michael’s advice and records himself for one day, but doesn’t hear anything wrong with lines like “even if it means me taking a chubby I will suck it up” and “I’ve been in the film business for a while but I just can’t seem to get one in the can.” Though he does see Michael's point when he hears himself say, “I wouldn’t mind kissing that man between the cheeks.” (“Tobias, you blowhard,” he says to himself.)
- Next week: Season two really gets cooking again, with the quasi-two-parter “Out On A Limb” and “Hand To God.”