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SEASON 1, EPISODE 3: Bringing Up Buster
Written by Mitchell Hurwitz & Richard Rosenstock
Directed by Joe Russo
Original airdate November 16, 2003
Previously on Revisiting Arrested Development, we discussed how highly-regarded the second episode of the show is among fans. But the third episode is also quite significantly revered (particularly as far as the early episodes of the show go), despite being a little different from most episodes of the show. Arrested Development may have a very strong grasp on its characters, but it is also exceptionally plot-driven for a comedy. Bringing Up Buster has a notably straightforward narrative for an Arrested Development episode, instead functioning primarily as a character study. It sounds like a pretty normal episode of television (and, admittedly, the sub-plot with the high school play is very much a standard sit-com plot – albeit a very, very funny one), but of course, the word “normal” is never really going to apply when Buster Bluth is at the helm of your A-plot.
Given the success that many of the show’s cast members have since gone on to, it can be difficult to remember that a lot of them were basically unknowns when the show premiered – and aside from the kids, none were more unknown than Tony Hale, whose most recognisable role before AD was as the “Mr. Roboto guy” in a Volkswagen commercial. Making Buster the focal point of the third episode also makes a lot of sense in terms of establishing the characters of the show, particularly given his complete absence from Top Banana, but I’m sure some of the Fox executives must have been worried about the prospect of the show’s strangest and most potentially off-putting character being put front and centre so early on in the show’s run.
Arrested Development’s pilot was strong enough to firmly establish its characters from the get-go, allowing the writers to place the characters out of their comfort zones almost immediately thereafter – something that many other comedies would generally save for a little later in their run. And while Tony Hale is somewhat more of a “niche” actor (that’s not to discredit his acting chops by any means – the man deserves both of the Emmys he’s since won for his brilliant performance as Gary on Veep – but there’s no denying he’s best suited to a very specific type of character), he brings so much to the role of Buster that he proves himself more than capable of anchoring an episode of an ensemble show. I really cannot stress enough how utterly hilarious Tony Hale’s comedic delivery and unusual mannerisms are in this role.
The AD fanbase may not have quite developed the same penchant for psychoanalyzing the show’s characters as fans of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia have, but there’s an internal logic to the inner-workings of each Bluth’s mind, and an explanation for why each character is the way they are. Gob desperately seeks approval from George Sr, and tries to mimick the bravado he percieves his father as exuding, along with the more manipulative, conniving behaviour of both of his parents in general, but lacks the intelligence to pull them off. Lucille treats Lindsay particularly coldly (which, as we later learn, may have a lot to do with her being adopted), causing Lindsay to rebel, and without a strong father figure or a supportive mother figure, Michael took it upon himself to be the family’s (namely Lindsay’s) rock. By the time Buster was born, Lucille undoubtedly realised the disdain her other children held for her, and – coupled with the presumably rocky state of her marriage at the time, given the true nature of Buster’s paternity – did everything in her power to make Buster as dependent on her as possible. With each Bluth essentially fending for themselves, Buster never had any hope to begin with, and as such, became the definitive Motherboy to end all Motherboys.
Bringing Up Buster sheds quite a lot of light on just how Buster came to be… well, Buster – while also better establishing the relationships between all the Bluth siblings. We learn that, despite Buster’s unwholesome fixations and over-reliance on Lucille, he also harbours lot of the same resentment as his brothers and sister, but sadly, it’s far too ingrained in him at this point for him to ever become a fully-functional human being. But, at least he gets to blow off a little steam while spending the day with Michael – and has one assertive victory over Lucille in the process: “Front seat, mom. I sit in the front seat now.”
Meanwhile, George Michael’s taboo crush on his cousin Maeby lands him in a school play being directed by Tobias, who quickly comes to think that George Michael has a crush on Maeby’s crush, Steve Holt, and recasts the roles accordingly. Most of the B-plot is generally played for laughs (and, admittedly, David Cross, Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat all kill it in their small roles here), though there are flashes of the more intricate Arrested Development formula in the works, in the form of a minor plot involving Lindsay’s dress – which winds up as Steve Holt’s costume in the play, thus putting Maeby off until next season, because, well…
Unfortunate coincidences, misunderstandings and the beautifully convoluted dovetailing of plot threads would soon become a hallmark of the show, and while they’re largely confined to the B-plot here, the narrative unity is instead attained through thematic resonance – with each of the Bluths questioning their relationship with either their child or their parent, ultimately learning that flying too close to the sun can have the same effect as touching the Cornballer…
Never touch the cornballer.
MY FAVOURITE JOKES/MOMENTS
* While all the stuff with the Cornballer is memorable, Tobias burning himself is definitely the highlight of the opening scene:
* Tobias’s reaction to Maeby announcing that she’s in a play is also great. “It’s for high school. You can’t audition.”
* This classic scene:
(In addition to this all-time great Buster moment, I also love the fact that Lucille questions why Michael didn’t “invite” Buster to hear him lecture Lindsay about getting a job.)
* “Everyone’s laughing and riding and cornholing except Buster!”
* The scene with Michael, Gob and Buster in the copy room is simply brilliant all around, but the highlight for me would be Gob feeding a series of objects into the shredder as the scene progresses, which include a string of paper clips, a pencil, and several slices of bread – one of which he sniffs before shredding, as if checking its freshness:
I also LOVE Buster’s line at the end of this scene; “Yeah, Mom’s awesome! …Maybe we should call her?”
* This excellent little bit of physical comedy from David Cross:
* “And you tell me you’ve got some P.E. teacher directing? That just makes me want to puke all over your head, sir!”
* Tobias noting to his high school aged actors that they are playing adults “with fully formed libidos, not two young men playing grab-ass in the shower!”
* Every damn instance of the camera zooming out to reveal Buster’s presence in a scene.
* Gob explaining that he’s back at the model home, because “Things didn’t work out with Mom. It was utterly macabre.” Followed by a smash cut to:
* And, of course, I would be remiss without including this (quite arguably one of the most memorable moments of the entire series):
* GEORGE MICHAEL: I think your dad thinks I’m gay.
MAEBY: Oh, he thinks everyone’s gay.
* “Oh, hello, Buster. Here’s a candy bar… No, I’m withholding it. Look at me, getting off!”
* The school play is apparently Much Ado About Nothing, but apparently, the line “I would kiss before I spoke” is actually from As You Like It.
* This episode introduces the Cornballer, which would come back quite a few times over the course of the series. The fact that George Sr. continues to market it successfully in Mexico becomes a bit of a plot point in season 2.
* Lenor Varela can briefly be seen in a flashback here as Gob’s on-again-off-again girlfriend Marta, who’d become part of a major story arc beginning with the next episode (and carrying right on through to the mid-season finale). These are the only two episodes in which Lenor Varela portrays the character of Marta (known to fans as Marta 1.0), and would be played by Patricia Velasquez (Marta 2.0) from episode 7 onwards – more on that in the next installment.
* This episode also has quite a few overt jokes about Tobias’s questionable sexual orientation – a subject which was generally played a bit more subtly in the first season.
* And the first instance of Tobias’s self-described “catlike agility,” which would come back again in Altar Egos/Justice is Blind.
* This also marks the first appearance of Steve Holt! He only appears twice in the first season (the other instance being a brief cameo in Shock and Aww), but would later become a very signficant character to the Bluth family mythology.
* I didn’t really think of the bird motif as really being a major part of the show until season 4, but it’s actually been present in each of the first three episodes (the Phoenix metaphor in episode 1, Gob’s dead dove in episode 2, and the bird in Lucille’s penthouse here, coupled with the metaphors of letting baby birds fly away).
* The scene when Buster is making too much noise putting the bike together and Michael asks him to go to the snack room directly mirrors the scene in the pilot when Buster’s playing his drums and Michael asks him to go to the balcony.
* George Sr’s line about Buster having spent 11 months in the womb plays as an amusing piece of comedic dialogue here, but would eventually come to take on a double meaning following the introduction of his twin brother (and Buster’s biological father) Oscar towards the end of the first season.
* The first instance of a lesson most viewers will know by now: If you ever want Lucille to get along with you, just say something offensive (namely of a racist nature) in her presence.
* Michael has his first utterance of “Her?” here, when Tobias keeps referring to Steve Holt as a female. This is likely just coincidental, since the context is completely different pre-Ann, but in either case, it would become one of the show’s most beloved catch phrases later on.
* “Zip me up” has its first utterance too – also something of a catch phrase (and, given some of the scenarios in which it would later be used, somewhat of a continuation of the show’s incest theme).
* Tobias can once again be seen crying in the shower here, a callback to the previous episode (with another glimpse of his cutoffs, foreshadowing the Never Nude revelation a few episodes ahead).
* The title is a reference to Bringing Up Baby.
* The deleted scenes for this episode depict a much more elaborate storyline for Lindsay’s red dress, as explained by the narrator:
“And that’s when Lindsay came up with a great idea for how to keep her red dress without paying for it. First she went to the thrift store to donate her new dress for the taxdeduction. She then formed a faith-based corporation dedicated to dressing the unemployed. Then she could buy the dress from the thrift store at a reduced price, but for half its value as a tax donation. But only after she appointed a board of directors, filed with the state, payed off the notary, certified herself as both unemployed and as a resident of California, and then repeated the process from the beginning, with the exception of the residency requirement which would remain valid through the unveiling of the spring line. Soon the dress would be hers, and without her ever having to do any work.”
We then have a follow-up scene where Tobias ends up finding the red dress in the thrift store, rather than the attic as explained in the the finished episode. It’s a shame to lose such a great bit, but it makes sense that they’d cut footage from this storyline first.
* Richard Simmons briefly guest stars as himself in the Cornballer infomercial… I don’t really have much to add to this one, I’m afraid.
* Apparently, Tony Hale wasn’t actually swearing during the filming of this episode. A devout Christian who generally dislikes profanity, the vast majority of Buster’s dialogue underneath those extended beeps consisted solely of Tony Hale reciting the alphabet… I wonder how he feels being on a show like Veep?!
THIS INSTALLMENT’S DISCUSSION QUESTION
We had “favourite episodes” last time around, so: Who is your favourite character? Maybe do “favourite Bluth” and “favourite side character,” given how rich and vast the AD universe is.