Revisiting Arrested Development – Season 1, Episode 6: Charity Drive

Hey, hey, hey, woah! Two sticks and extra chocolate? Is it Mardi Gras?! …I’ll tell you what. If you want to use my likeness for a Hamburglar-type character, I’ll sign off on that. “Mr. Banana Grabber” or something. How terribly grand!

It’s…

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SEASON 1, EPISODE 6: Charity Drive
Written by Barbie Adler
Directed by Greg Mottola

Original airdate November 30, 2003

Over the past five episodes, we’ve gotten to know all about the Bluths, their questionable morals and their unhealthy family dynamics, touching on things like their shady business practices and incredibly flawed personalities in the process. While it’s all been excellent television so far, it still hasn’t quite felt like the Arrested Development we all know and love yet (for reasons I’ve explored in previous installments; namely the slower pacing and the lack of intertwining plots). But, as those watching the series with me on dvd also reach the end of season 1’s first disc, we’ve finally come to an episode that employs all of Arrested Development’s token formulas.

Charity Drive is a shockingly fast-paced episode for a sit-com just six episodes in, and manages to give something for almost every character to do; even Tobias, who appears only in a stock photo, still delivers us a funny cutaway gag. On top of this, the standard Arrested Development plot catalysts are utilised to great effect – the Bluth Company’s shady legal practices (the sub-plot with the permit office break-in), George Michael’s crush on his cousin (the reason he goes ahead with the break-in), Michael’s self-righteousness (his brief feud with Gob), the Bluths’ overtly competitive nature (Michael and Lindsay competing to prove themselves more charitable, along with Lucille trying to be bought for a higher bid than Lucille 2), and good old fashioned misunderstandings (Michael accidentally kidnapping a stranger by the name of Helen Delgado, who he believes to be Lucille’s new housekeeper, Lupe). All of these prove for excellent story fodder, particularly Michael and Gob’s scenes together – which are always joyous to watch, on account of Jason Bateman and Will Arnett’s impeccable chemistry – and Lindsay’s brief foray into the wetlands.

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The more reprehensible aspects of Michael’s personality are also really apparent in this episode. Namely the extent to which he coddles George Michael when he overhears Gob call him selfish, and how aggressive he is towards Helen Delgado (regardless of who he thinks she is). He is, thankfully, given a nice little moment of redemption when he bids $1,000 on Lindsay at the charity auction – once again proving that the Michael and, of course, receives his comeuppance when he is arrested shortly thereafter. Even if, disturbingly, it seems as though an innocent man ultimately goes down for Helen’s abduction. In addition to this, Buster is continuing to avoid Lucille 2 following the events of Key Decisions, and while the gag with Buster bidding on the wrong Lucille is an obvious one, though Tony Hale’s flustered, horrified reaction completely sells it.

The gags are flying thick and fast in this episode – which could easily be slotted into season 2 or 3 with only a few minor adjustments required – and it’s incredible that, with just over a handful of episodes, we’re already beginning to see callbacks and subtle background jokes pop up. I tend to think of the first season as being much more subdued – and to an extent, it is (in comparison to the later seasons, at least) – but Arrested Development found its footing and hit its stride at a shockingly early point in its run. And, of course, nothing works out for anyone, with the permit office break-in ultimately proving a failure, both Michael and George Michael being hauled off in a police car, the Bluths out an addition $10,000 at the charity auction (on top of Lucille’s plan falling apart and Buster sending the absolute wrong message to the woman he’s trying to avoid), and even Gob ruing his agreement to give up animation rights to a certain banana-grabbing character to Michael. But hey, at least Michael can drive the family car guilt-free now, right?

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MY FAVOURITE JOKES/MOMENTS

* MICHAEL: Honestly? Gob’s driving the car?
KITTY: I’m not the liar.

* GOB: Give me a Gob.
GEORGE MICHAEL: GOB!

love that George Michael thinks his uncle just wanted him to yell his name. On a similar note, in pretty much every scene where Michael and Gob are talking in front of the banana stand, George Michael can be seen in the background just looking on with a dumb smile. Michael Cera brings so much to the character of George Michael.

* MICHAEL: What are you charging for that?
GEORGE MICHAEL: He doesn’t like to discuss money.
GOB: I don’t like to discuss money.

George Michael’s little laugh when Gob says “A Bluth banana? No, I hadn’t planned on it” is also great.

* MICHAEL: That’s what you said about posing for the Ladies of Literacy Calendar. The one with the pictures of all the 30-year-old women in lingerie with their nipples covered by copies of Oliver Twist. Yeah, that made a big difference for the young ones.
LINDSAY: It would have if it didn’t get banned from the schools.

We also get a little glimpse of the calendar later, as Michael says to himself “I’ve always tried so hard not to look at this thing.”

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* LUCILLE: Supposedly, Luz had to take her daughter to the hospital. That’s Lupe, her sister.
MICHAEL: I hope she’s okay.
LUCILLE: She’s awful. Can barely wash a dish. …Uh-oh. She better not walk through here after she’s been in there. Tell me you’ve got an exit strategy!
MICHAEL: Mother…
LUCILLE: Oh, please. They didn’t sneak into this country to be your friends.
MICHAEL: Wow.
LUCILLE: Don’t you judge me. You’re the selfish one. You’re the one who charged his own brother for a Bluth frozen banana. I mean, it’s one banana, Michael. What could it cost, ten dollars?
MICHAEL: You’ve never actually set foot in a supermarket, have you?

(It’s amazing to think that’s a single string of dialogue – there are so many great quotes in it.)

* LUCILLE: I got you tickets to The Producers. I already saw it in New York. But that’s of no use to a woman whose vertigo makes flying a grotesque misadventure.
LUCILLE 2: You must have scrimped and saved for these. But isn’t this the night of the auction?
LUCILLE: Is it?

* Lucille running through the bidding plan with Buster is also incredibly amusing. “No, they’re not going to call your name, they’re going to call my name!”

* As is the flashback to Buster’s archaeological dig:

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* GEORGE SR: Call Gob. He’ll handle it. That’s what he’s for.
MICHAEL: That’s what he’s for…

* The running joke with every other member of the Bluth family somehow knowing about Michael’s refusal to give Gob a free frozen banana is one of my favourites (especially Lindsay chiming in with “And even after he gave you the rights to his Mr. Banana Grabber character!”), and the capper is just perfect:

GEORGE SR: I don’t thing he’s going to do it for you after you wouldn’t even give him a frozen banana, Michael.
MICHAEL: Is there a chat room that you guys all…?

* GEORGE SR: Okay. I’ve got a dance I got to get ready for.
MICHAEL: Woah, there’s really a dance?
GEORGE SR: I don’t know. Both sides are making a lot of promises.

* GOB: One condition and one term.
MICHAEL: All right. Let’s have a condition first.
GOB: A free banana whenever I want.
MICHAEL: Single dip.
GOB: Double dip. But I’ll take one stick.
MICHAEL: All right, what else?
GOB: Creative control, spin-off rights and theme park approval for Mr. Banana Grabber, Baby Banana Grabber, and any other Banana Grabber family character that might emanate there from.
MICHAEL: I retain animation rights and we go back to single dip.

* “I don’t know if that smell is you, the car, something you ate, or something you’re about to eat, but my god, you’re in a service business!”

* Lindsay accidentally stabbing the frog with her “poker thing” always gets a huge laugh out of me:

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.. As does the callback later. “I think I maced a crane, Michael!”

* “I mean, I guess it would just be a guy who you know, grabs bananas and runs. Or, um, a banana that grabs things. I don’t know. Why would a banana grab another banana? I mean, those are the kind of questions I don’t want to answer.”

* All the interactions with Michael and Helen are brilliantly written, though I particularly like the moment when he yells out “LOCO!” One can only imagine what must be running through her mind.

* “Save yourself. I’ll take the hit. My record’s clean. Well, I got my bike seat stolen once, but I don’t think it counts on your record if you’re the victim. I mean, there is a record, but it’s not like…”

* I always thought this was a wonderfully understated Lucille quote:

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MINOR NITPICKS

* Supposedly, the Mercedes seen in the 1982 flashback is actually a 1986 model. I’m not a car person, so someone else may have to verify this.

* The close-up newspaper clip shows the caption “Actor” Tobias Fünke before cutting to the staircar footage, then afterwards, cuts back to the newspaper and pulls out to reveal the whole article, where the word “Actor” has instead been moved to the headline, and the caption simply reads Tobias Fünke. Having said that, the full newspaper headline is very amusing:

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* Buster makes mention of his rape whistle here, but in season 2’s The One Where Michael Leaves, abbreviates the word to the letter “R,” as he does with many words he’s uncomfortable saying aloud.

* Although Portia de Rossi’s American accent is normally spot-on, she does briefly slip up here when saying the word “stupid” – one can clearly hear her pronuncing it the Australian way (“schoo-pid”) whereas Americans pronounce it with a hard T.

* While “let’s go see Pop-Pop” is a cute line to end on, it doesn’t really make sense, seeing as they wouldn’t be taken to the same facility in any event (not to mention that George Michael is a minor, and the “on the next” would indicate that Michael was only taken to the police station). I also question whether the cops would really arrest two people for unrelated crimes and put them in the same car, though then again, I suppose we’re at that point in the series when the writers are becoming a little more lax on the realism.

* Not a nitpick with the episode itself, but on the DVD synopsis, it incorrectly states that Gob bids $10,000 on the wrong Lucille, when, in fact, Buster is the one who makes the erroneous bid.

EPISODE NOTES & TRIVIA

* This episode’s title refers to the charity auction, Michael and Lindsay’s attempts to be more charitable, and Michael’s drive with Helen (along with the fact that the car plays a very large part of the plot in general).

* Broadcast order puts this episode episode before Visiting Ours (and, as I learned in the comments section for the previous installment, Netflix has season 1 in the same incorrect order, too). There are no major continuity issues created, but Michael’s brief scene with Kitty certainly works better here if one’s seen her extended introduction in Visiting Ours.

* As mentioned earlier, Tobias is absent from this episode, which means only two of the first six episodes contain the entire cast.

* The film grain on the 1980s flashback is a nice touch. I always like the little reminders that this is footage being shot and compiled by someone for some reason, even if the logic completely falls apart if you ponder it for more than a few moments.

* The aforementioned flashback also marks another instance of the Bluths’ love of icecream.

* Supermodel Claudia Schiffer has a brief, unspoken (and uncredited) cameo as the Balboa Towers guard with whom Gob flirts (and subsequently burns the seat in front of).

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* Gob uses the term “from whence it came” for the second time (his first instance being in Top Banana).

* Lucille uses the phrases “good grief” and “exit strategy” in this episode, both of which would later become episode titles.

* BW Gonzalez makes her first appearance as Lucille’s housekeeper Lupe. She is the sister of Luz, Lucille’s former cleaner who was seen in Top Banana. She doesn’t have a single line in this episode, but would become one of the few recurring side characters to show up in all four seasons.

* The large rock in the back of the car becomes a major plot point in the next episode, My Mother, the Car (another reason I advocate for watching season 1 in production/dvd order).

* I believe this is the first instance of Gob addressing a stranger as “guy,” one of my favourite little character jokes in the show.

* Gob’s “Mr. Banana Grabber” character is first brought up here – and seen for the first time in the “on the next,” bearing a striking resemblance to Gob:

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The same commercial is playing on the tv in Oscar’s trailer in Whistler’s Mother. Mr. Banana Grabber would also later make a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in George Michael’s campaign video in season 2’s The Immaculate Election, and can also be briefly seen in the Scandalmakers intro, seen in season 2’s Spring Breakout and season 4’s The B. Team.

Mr. Banana Grabber also made a brief cameo in Mitch Hurwitz’s animated series Sit Down, Shut Up.

* Gob would again chip his tooth and whistle when he pronounces the letter S in the season 2 episode Switch Hitter, both in a flashback and in the present-day plot.

* The Bluth family’s tenuous grasp on the Spanish language had previously been established in Key Decisions, though this is the first instance in which it becomes somewhat of a plot point. It would, of course, later come up again with the whole “hermano” debacle in Marta Complex.

* The song that plays when Lindsay commutes to (and arrives at) the wetlands is Canned Heat’s “Going up the Country,” another rare instance where a licensed song is used as background music. A version of Isham Jones’ “It Had to be You” can also be heard at the end of the episode, though I’m unsure who’s performing this particular rendition. Is anyone in the comments able to clarify for me?

* George Sr. calls gob a “stupid ass” upon finding out he delegated the break-in to George Michael; a moment quite similar to him calling Tobias a “horse’s ass” in season 2’s Motherboy XXX.

* Season 2’s Burning Love features the following year’s annual charity auction (which may be a minor mistake, as this one occurs shortly before Christmas whereas the next one occurs shortly after it), which features many callbacks to this episode – the events of the charity auction play out pretty much the same way.

THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

* The candy apple store actually has a sign up reading “Proprietor not responsible for dental damage.”

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* Buster states he found a Pterodactyl head on his dig, but the skull is quite clearly a creature far closer to human beings (if not an actual human).

* Linday’s t-shirt reads “Neuter Fest ’98,” one of Lindsay’s charity events briefly mentioned in Key Decisions.

* At the charity auction, someone in a gecko costume can briefly be seen standing behind Buster (presumably to raise wetlands awareness):

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THIS INSTALLMENT’S DISCUSSION QUESTION

Liza Minnelli does a truly great job as Lucille Austero, and while she’s not a name I ever thought I’d be excited to see on a tv show I watched, I think it turned out to be a truly inspired piece of casting. Are there any guest stars on the show who’ve turned out to be an exceptionally pleasant surprise for you? Be it someone you outright didn’t like, or simply had no opinion of beforehand?

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