Welcome fellow ADdicts! Listen, after we get this write-up cleared, we’re going to have enough money for you to neuter thousands of animals. You can make dogs and cats a complete thing of the past. No more dogs and cats.
… Say that to them in Spanish.
SEASON 1, EPISODE 4: Key Decisions
Written by Brad Copeland
Directed by Anthony Russo
Original airdate November 23, 2003
Previously on Arrested Development, I marveled at just how strongly the show was able to establish its characters (and indeed, its world as a whole) in such a short amount of time. If one were binge watching the first season in a consecutive marathon, they’d be a little over the one hour mark at this point, and already, the series has showcased stronger characters, more well-thought-out storylines and, indeed, more laughs than most big budget comedy movies, let alone most of its small screen contemporaries. However, while Top Banana and Bringing Up Buster functioned largely as stand-alone episodes, Key Decisions instead starts laying the threads for many of the first season’s integral story arcs – and introduces us to quite a few characters who’d pop up again over the course of the series.
The world building continues in fine form right from the first few minutes, introducing the beloved staircar into the characters’ lives, establishing the shoddiness of Bluth homes, establishing characters like Luille 2 – and more thoroughly exploring Gob’s relationship with Marta, for that matter (it was mentioned very briefly in Bringing Up Buster, but that’s been about it thus far) – and reinforcing the premise that became the catalyst for quite a few season 1 episodes: The family need to start saving money and stop living so extravagantly. Hence how the staircar comes in. What’s more impressive to me is just how wonderfully they establish the deliciously vicious dynamic between Lucille Bluth and Lucille Austero before the latter has even appeared on screen – you completely buy that the complicated “close friends/enemies” relationship the two Lucilles share, one which undoubtedly has a rich history that doesn’t even need explaining. The AD writers are masters at articulating such things in just a couple of lines.
Key Decisions places many of the Bluths at a crossroads, putting them into scenarios in which they need to make a pivotal choice about their future and their happiness (hence the title, which also doubles as a pun on Gob’s key-swallowing antics); Michael and Buster both develop feelings for someone forbidden, Lindsay finds herself having to pick between the activism she used to engage in and an easier lifestyle of comfort and affluence, and Gob muses on his inability to commit to his girlfriend while attempting to bond with his eternally distant father (the show doesn’t need to spell out that those two things are related – most viewers are smart enough to do the maths there). In the process, the episode also sheds light on many of the characters’ insecurities, perhaps Michael’s being the most saddening – Key Decisions provides the first outright confirmation that Michael is a widower, and hasn’t been with anyone since his wife passed away. It’s quite interesting that they waited until episode 4 to drop that little piece of information (and even then, did so in a very subtle way that I’m sure some viewers would have missed), though then again, I don’t exactly recall questioning Michael’s single parenthood prior to this point during my initial viewing of the show. At any rate, it’s nice to see some of the characters’ behaviour better contextualised here, and the episode’s slower, more straightforward approach helps shape the show immensely.
That isn’t to say that it doesn’t have Arrested Development’s token plot intersections, however. While only one person’s plot (Buster’s) revolves around a misunderstanding, it’s quite nice to see just how meticulously woven everything is this early on, even if the dovetailing doesn’t always lend itself to an amusing pay-off just yet (well, okay, maybe the staircar stuff coupled with Gob’s failed escape attempt). The plus side, however, is that the narratives don’t quite feel as contrived as they’d later become (which isn’t a dig by any means – the later episodes of the show are gleefully convoluted, and I love it), but it’s always nice when there are soundly logical reasons for, say, why so many characters are in attendance at the Desi awards, and they don’t feel remotely forced by the writers. Even rarer for the show is the emotional gut punch this episode packs – Michael and Marta’s scenes together are genuinely adorable, and the revelation that Gob was almost going to break up with her, followed by his instant regret of this decision once Michael leaves the room? It really is an emotionally draining experience, and an example of the type of storytelling AD would later forgo in favour of tightening up the pace and packing in as many jokes as possible.
But, of course, this episode is also an incredibly funny installment of the show – and packed with many frequently-quoted lines (just scroll down to the next section if you don’t believe me!), many of which I’d forgotten were from this episode specifically… Yes, my 16 year old self would be furious at me for that statement, but the joke’s on him, because I’m getting laid and he isn’t! Seriously though, I actually find myself looking forward to the upcoming batch of episodes moreso than I have for any episode so far, largely due to the fact that I haven’t rewatched all of them into oblivion like I have these first four (particularly the Pilot and Top Banana). And now that some of season 1’s pivotal story arcs are underway – the Gob/Marta/Michael love triangle, and Buster’s relationship with Lucille 2 – I feel like I’m well and truly in the thick of it. I hope all you wonderful followers continue to stick with this feature for all the inevitably rich discussions ahead!
MY FAVOURITE JOKES/MOMENTS
* LINDSAY: I’ve always been deeply passionate about nature. Perhaps you remember Neuterfest?
MICHAEL: I’ll never forget your wedding.
LINDSAY: I care deeply for nature!
MICHAEL: You’re wearing ostrich-skin boots.
LINDSAY: Well, I don’t care about ostriches.
* “He’s a beautiful boy. They don’t appreciate him. It’s his glasses. They make him look like a lizard. Plus he’s self-conscious.”
* MICHAEL: I just haven’t met anybody who’s not completely self-absorbed and impossible to have a conversation with.
LUCILLE: If that’s a veiled criticism about me, I won’t hear it and I won’t respond to it.
* Gob announcing his break-out during Marta’s interview is hilarious – particularly when Gob stands up and the cameraman has to readjust the framing (complete with a boom mic briefly getting in the shot):
* And, of course, the footage of Gob trying to swallow the key:
* MARTA: I hope you don’t mind driving. I took a cab here. I just couldn’t find my keys.
MICHAEL: Well, my brother may have eaten them.
* “Look, I’m an activist, too, and I appreciate what you’re doing for the environment. But we’re not the only ones who destroy trees. What about beavers? You call yourself an environmentalist. Why don’t you go out and club some beavers?”
* LUCILLE 2: Lucille? Lucille! Aren’t you something? Showing up here without your husband. Shame be damned. Caution to the wind.
LUCILLE: That’s so sweet, darling. I’m here to support you. You’re the one who’s all alone and likely to stay that way. My husband’s just a phone call away.
LUCILLE 2: That’s one call per day, isn’t it? Gee, I should think he’d want to save that for his lawyer.
LUCILLE: At least he’s in prison, not an urn.
(I really cannot stress enough how great Lucille and Lucille 2’s interactions are.)
* “Well, I could ask the guys to leave, but, uh… you know, they’ve been locking the doors lately.” – I haven’t really commented much on Jeffrey Tambor’s performance as George Sr. but he really does nail the deadpan sarcasm of his character perfectly. It’s easy to see where Michael gets it from.
* GEORGE MICHAEL: You know, I can see why your mom likes it. It is a really nice tree…
MAEBY: We’ve got to get it torn down.
GEORGE MICHAEL: …that must die. Stupid tree.
* LUCILLE: Buster’s out of control!
MICHAEL: What, another panic attack?
BUSTER: Me? No. She’s just wigged out because I have a girlfriend.
LUCILLE: A waiter hands him a note, suddenly he’s Steve McQueen. He doesn’t even know what she looks like!
BUSTER: I know she’s a brownish area. With points! And I know I love her!
And from later in the scene: “That’s what you do when life hands you a chance to be with someone special. You just grab that… that brownish area by its points and you don’t let go no matter what your mom says.”
* MICHAEL: Hey, speaking of kidding, How serious are you about Marta? I get the sense that there’s not much of a future there. Am I reading that right?
GOB: Let me ask you something. How would you feel if I came down on you hard?
MICHAEL: You’re saying I’m not reading this right.
GOB: No, I’m saying move the bike. I need to jump on you to break my fall.
* GOB: I’m a complete failure.
GEORGE SR: Where’d you get that kind of talk?
GOB: From you. You always say that about me.
GEORGE SR: Well, maybe you’re not entirely to blame. I haven’t always been the best kind of father either.
GOB: Dad, you’ve done a pretty good job of being a father to everybody in here. What have they got that I don’t? I mean. you’ve never even… thrown a ball around with me.
GEORGE SR: Great, now you’re an athlete.
* WHITE POWER BILL (while stabbing Gob in the back): White Power!
GOB: I’m… white…
* Possibly the biggest laugh of the entire episode:
GOB: Am I still in prison?
LUCILLE: You’re in the hospital…
(And, as confirmed in the next episode, Gob really does consider his break-out a success on this technicality.)
* Buster’s line “Has your hair always been that pointy, Miss Austero?” is already hilarious, but Tony Hale’s arm gestures elevate it to one of my favourite moments in the entire series:
* I also love Lucille cackling at her own joke about hospitals. Jessica Walter is simply marvelous.
* In this episode, Gob reveals he’s never played a game of catch with his father and doesn’t seem to have much experience throwing a ball, which would contradict Season 2’s Switch Hitter, in which he’s considered the Bluth softball team’s best player and George Sr. even recognises him as such.
EPISODE NOTES & TRIVIA
* This episode begins with a cold opening, which is very unusual for the show (save from season 4, when it’s present in every episode). The only other Fox era episodes to not begin immediately with the intro are the Pilot, S.O.B.s and Development Arrested – though all of those instances are a little different to this one, as many pilots possess a slightly different format from the rest of their respective shows, the S.O.B.s cold opening is a short faux promo as part of that episode’s many meta jokes, and Development Arrested’s cold opening was done intentionally to mirror the pilot. Here, they’re genuinely trying out a proper cold opening.
* The staircar makes it first appearance in this episode – the first of many, as most fans would know. It’s pretty incredible how much comedy the writers have been able to milk out of such a simple sight gag.
I also realise I haven’t really gone into the show’s stock footage/photos and their various notations, but it’s a minor detail that I adore, and brilliant use of the show’s loose “mockumentary” style. And I’m thankful the show never made talking heads a part of its format, because it’s since become an incredibly tired device in tv comedy.
* Michael warns Lindsay to watch out for “hop-ons” – a phrase that is never explicitly explained, but presumably refers to people who get free rides by jumping on the back of the stair car. Hop-ons are referred to multiple times throughout the series (and George Sr. himself becomes a hop-on seasons 2 and 3), and the scene in which Michael first hands Lindsay the keys to the staircar is mirrored with the cabin car in season 3’s For British Eyes Only.
* Reporter Trisha Thoon makes her second appearance (her first being in the Pilot), and would also show up in Public Relations and Let ‘Em Eat Cake (the latter of which also contains footage of her demonstrating the poor craftsmanship of Bluth homes. Her only appearance outside of season 1 is in season 4’s Flight of the Phoenix.
* This is Leonor Varela’s final appearance as Marta, who would be portrayed by Patricia Velasquez for all her subsequent appearances in the season. It’s a little jarring, given the distinct differences in appearance and voice (and far more noticeable than the recasting of T-Bone, whose first appearance was very brief), and the two portray the character very differently. It’s difficult to say who I prefer, as Varela has excellent chemistry with Jason Bateman, whereas Velasquez plays off Will Arnett wonderfully (and the latter’s accent and broken English opened up the doors for some great puns). Supposedly, it was due to a scheduling conflict with Leonor Varela, though rumour also has it there was a dispute regarding her pay.
There would also be a joke about the recasting of Marta in season 3’s Forget Me Now, during a montage of the Bluths making abysmal first impressions to Michael’s girlfriends – one of which is also named Marta and is played by a third actress.
* Our first instance of Gob stealing Michael’s food – in the form of a regular (non-ice cream) sandwich.
* Some recurring characters at the prison are introduced here: Warden James Buck (who shows up again in the following episode, Visiting Ours, before being replaced by Stefan Gentles later in the season), White Power Bill (who returns for a brief story arc in Staff Infection and Missing Kitty, the latter of which he is killed off in) and Little Justice (who also appears in Staff Infection and Missing Kitty).
* Johnny Bark is portrayed by Clint Howard – Ron Howard’s brother. He would later make a cameo in season 4’s Colony Collapse, having set up a bee company since his appearance here. In season 4, we also learn that he has a wife called Joan Bark and a son called Marky Bark (the latter of whom is played by Chris Diamantopoulos and is a recurring character for that season), who explains that Johnny Bark died after a swarm of bees chased him out of a tree.
* Lucille Austero – A.K.A. Lucille 2 – makes her first appearance in this episode, and would become a major part in the story arcs for season 1, 2 and 4 (and, by the looks of how season 4 ended, her character is going to be a huge catalyst for the plot in season 5, regardless of whether or not she appears in it). She is played by Liza Minnelli, who may seem like an odd choice for a recurring role in a modern comedy series, but was apparently Mitch Hurwitz’s “dream casting” for the part from the initial conception of the character. They were able to get her on the show through Ron Howard’s connections – she used to babysit him as a child.
* Gob would also try swallowing a key as part of an illusion again in Spring Breakout and Notapusy. The results for both other instances are equally disastrous.
* Can we talk a bit about the bizarre runner with Spanish soap operas here – namely how children are portrayed by adult actors with dyed hair and freckles? I always thought it was surreal and absurd for the sake of it, but apparently that’s an actual thing that happens on Spanish soap operas! At any rate, it’s one of my favourite running jokes in the show, and thankfully, not just confined to this episode.
* This episode marks Gob’s first time uttering the immortal phrase…
* Tobias is notably absent from this episode, though Lindsay explains that he is stage-fighting workshop with Carl Weathers. Weathers would guest star as a fictionalised version of himself later in the season, making his first on-screen appearance in Public Relations, when we learn that he never showed up at the aforementioned workshop (and, given what we later come to learn about him, the implication is that the entire thing is a scam).
* For the first time, the “On the next” actually does depict something that would become a major plot point for the rest of the season. Although none of the subsequent episodes contain the scene with Buster knocking on Lucille 2’s door and saying “Let’s go for it,” the two would indeed begin to attempt a relationship from
* The deleted scenes for this episode contain a brilliant Lucille/Lucille 2 scene, in the form of a flashback set shortly after George Sr’s arrest:
LUCILLE 2: I just heard! Oh, you… At first, I thought it was just my television set playing tricks on me, but… Oh, I can tell by your face. it’s true!
LUCILLE: Oh darling, don’t you cry! You can’t afford to let those tears soften those sutures.
LUCILLE 2: Oh, you’re so sweet… But I’m afraid affording things is now going to be yourproblem.
LUCILLE: No amount of money can bring your husband back from the dead.
There’s also a great one with George Michael and Michael, with the former looking for a chainsaw to cut down the tree (and thus get closer to Maeby), almost walking in on Michael browsing Marta’s IMDB page. Michael, looking for advice, then proposes a hypothetical to George Michael: What if you have feelings for someone who is off limits? But, of course, George Michael interprets this as being about his crush on Maeby, and has a pained response lecturing Michael on how it’s wrong. After storming off, Michael says “good talk,” which he also uttered at the end of a couple of scenes that made it in the final version of the episode.
THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED
* Michael and Lindsay’s dialogue about ostriches certainly plays in a new light after having seen Lindsay’s story arc in season 4.
* “I thought you said throwing the ball against the garage door by yourself was how you got accuracy.” – A lovely subtle piece of dialogue that encapsulates George Sr’s parenting of Gob perfectly.
* When Buster is greeting the chip table, he can be heard asking “Como estoy,” which translates to “How am I?” The Bluth family’s tenuous grasp on the Spanish language would provide quite a lot of story fodder over the coming episodes.
* This is the first appearance of the “M. Sabino” guard uniform, which would later be seen in In God We Trust and Not Without My Daughter, on two very different-looking guards. The Orange County Prison budget appears to be stretched very thin.
* More ice cream sandwich jokes – Gob distracts the guards by unplugging the ice cream sandwich vending machine. The guards can also be seen eating them while watching Gob’s escape on the monitors.
SOMETHING I SHOULD’VE MENTIONED IN THE FIRST THREE INSTALLMENTS
You may notice that I have now added the writer and director of this episode underneath the title – details which I neglected to include for the first three episodes.
The Russo brothers have recently made a big name for themselves directing Captain America: The Winter Soldier (and have several Marvel projects in the works now), but prior to that, were very prevelant in television – particularly when it came to directing comedy pilots, which is no small feat as that essentially establishes the entire tone and style of a series. They would direct multiple episodes over the first and second season of AD, along with the pilots for related projects such as Running Wilde and The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret. Other cult favourites they’ve worked on include Community and Happy Endings (the former of which is what got them the Marvel gigs in the first place, due to its heavily stylised high-concept episodes).
Key Decisions is the first episode in which Hurwitz does not have a writing credit, though the show is largely group written (the writers are notable for being always present on set during filming, which is quite unusual for a tv show, but undoubtedly contributes to the density of the show’s writing – namely all those brilliant background details).
THIS INSTALLMENT’S DISCUSSION QUESTION
Seeing as I’ve brought up several other shows related to Arrested Development: What were your thoughts on Mitch Hurwitz’s short-lived post-AD projects (Running Wilde and Sit Down, Shut Up), and why do you think they failed?