Revisiting Arrested Development – Season 1, Episode 11: Public Relations

Are we on? Hello. Hello from prison. The reception’s bad, but as the Talmud tells us… [STATIC] …to the jackal as to an oxen. *chuckles* …Did we get a laugh? [STATIC] … DO NOT wag our genitals at one another to make a point!! Okay, there’s no need for violence! Hanukkah can be spelled so many ways!!!

It’s…

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SEASON 1, EPISODE 11: Public Relations
Written by Courtney Lilly
Directed by Lee Shallat-Chemel
Original airdate January 25, 2004

We’re now at the half-way point of season 1 – at least in terms of the episode count – and one thing I haven’t really touched upon in this feature yet is Arrested Development’s sharp (and often scathing) satirical edge. This has, admittedly, been a conscious decision, as it wasn’t an element the show really ran with until season 2 (when jokes about the Bush family, the Iraq war and the 2004 election dominated certain episodes), but in truth, it’s been present right from day one, even if the first season skews more towards social satire rather than political satire. Granted, it isn’t Arrested Development’s primary source of humour – but this is also a show that’s willing to try every comedic style under the sun. AD is as comfortable doing cute puns and broad slapstick as it is making filthy incest gags and multi-layered jokes that are far too clever for the average Fox viewer.

So, when one considers the time Arrested Development premiered – in the age of rich socialites such as Paris Hilton dominating the media, and the increasing importance placed on the “image” of celebrities – Public Relations certainly makes a case for itself as being one of the most satirical outings of the first season. This episode takes no prisoners, dealing out equal burns to the upper class and the image-focused media who continue to perpetuate their lifestyle to a public who lap it all up. Not much focus had been given to the Bluths’ media persona up until now, but in a show full of horrible people, learning how publicly hated the Bluth family is feels oddly gratifying in its own way. And yet, when an outsider threatens the family dynamic in a negative way, the Bluths still band together to take them down accordingly – further sullying their public image in the process.

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Public Relations isn’t an episode that tops many “top 10” lists, but in a lot of ways, it’s an exemplary Arrested Development episode. The premise is organic and makes perfect sense at this point in the show’s run, and gives every character the opportunity to do something memorable (save from Maeby, who is unfortunately sidelined once again here). It also delivers many classic AD moments, such as Tobias’s encounter with Carl Weathers (more on that in the “my favourite jokes/moments” and “episode notes & trivia” sections), Gob’s incredibly dark storyline of losing Earl Milford, and of course, Buster’s “storyline” of “being neither seen nor heard” – which extracts all the laughs possible from its ludicrously simple concept, particularly the visual gag of Buster’s clothes blending in with Lucille’s wallpaper.

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Having said that, Public Relations isn’t a perfect episode of Arrested Development. The structure’s a little off (the episode is almost at its half-way point before most of its plots begin to kick in), the shift in Jessie’s character from cute-but-stern publicist to psychotic agent of chaos doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and it’s a little jarring that Gob’s storyline essentially ends with him having a dead body on his hands and is never so much as mentioned again, but in terms of sheer laughs, it’s a top notch installment all around. The absolute highlight for me would have to be the scene where Jessie outlines her plan for each Bluth in the model home lounge, which sees every actor playing their absolute strengths (virtually any time you get all 9 cast members in a scene together is guaranteed hilarity, which I think also drives home why season 4 felt “off” to some extent), and drives home exactly why Arrested Development had one of the best comedic ensembles on tv.

MY FAVOURITE JOKES/MOMENTS

* Actually, the very first joke of the episode is pretty damn funny in and of itself:

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* As is Lucille’s blind rage against Klimpy’s (and her visible disgust at the place in the flashback). The whole scene is fantastic, and while I unfortunately could not find a video that contained both parts, most of the best lines are here:

* “It’s a ball of foil for my son.”

Poor Lupe – she’s only been working for Lucille for a few weeks and has already resigned herself to routine bag checks and accusations (even if they’re not always completely unfounded).

* As mentioned, the entire scene in the model home lounge is pure gold. I can’t even quote individual bits from it because I’d basically be copying and pasting the transcript for that scene verbatim, so I will instead leave you with a video of my favourite moment:

I also always laugh at Jessie addressing Buster directly. The tone she takes, like she’s talking to a toddler, and his excited reaction, followed by the blunt delivery of the news that people find him “odd and alienating,” it’s all just so damn funny.

* The fictionalised version of Carl Weathers portrayed in Arrested Development is pure comedic genius. I love every sketchy piece of advice he gives Tobias, his morally-questionable thriftiness when it comes to obtaining free food (and money), and just how cheap he is in general. Actors playing fictitious versions of themselves on scripted comedies is nothing new (The Simpsons, Extras and 30 Rock are also prime examples of this), but this particular take on the concept is utterly brilliant.

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I won’t quote all of Carl’s lines, as they’re all fantastic and I’m trying to leave you guys some quotes for the comments section, but just know that virtually every piece of dialogue he’s had has made me laugh at one point or another.

* GOB: Ancient lore has it the Aztec gods put a curse on any man who…
OLD WOMAN IN CROWD: What?!
GOB: …He’s gone.

* GEORGE MICHAEL: Just trying to get the TV working.
MAEBY: Oh, yeah. I tried that earlier. I think it’s still hooked up to the prison.
GEORGE MICHAEL: So when those guys kept saying “Hey, you, boy,” that was me? I was the boy?!

I’d forgotten about that joke, and how beautifully twisted and unsettling the whole concept is.

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* JESSIE: Uh-huh. So the two months on the bike—that was what, for my health?
MICHAEL: We had great conversations.

* MICHAEL: What do you need her to spin?
GOB: Murder.

I was just getting into dark comedy around the time I discovered Arrested Development, so that act break got an enormous laugh out of 15-year-old me the first time I saw this episode.

* MICHAEL: Murder, huh? Who died?
GOB: My career.
MICHAEL: I’m going to go home now.

* “But he was spectacularly quiet in there. You can always tell a Milford man.”

I enjoy the Milford jokes a lot, but I’d have to say Gob’s casual delivery on that one (especially given the severity of his situation) takes the cake.

* Tobias reading lines with Carl Weathers is fantastic – particularly the way he elongates “I’m the laaaast cop” and stumbles over dark alley/darkened alley. I will always laugh at Tobias’s baffling acting choices, and I really wish we got to see more of Tobias’s “acting.” It’s certainly far funnier to me than the slew of gay jokes that later personified his character.

* More scathing satire on the media:

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* LINDSAY: Oh, my God, my husband.
MAN AT BAR: You’re married to Carl Weathers? *beep*!

* Also mentioned above is that I’m a big fan of the running gag with Buster remaining silent and out of sight for the entire back half of the episode, though I think the capper on the “on the next,” closing out the episode by teasing the plot point “and Buster moves to the kitchen,” may have given me the biggest laugh the show’s ever ended on.

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MINOR NITPICKS

* You see a lot of the cast struggling not to break during the big scene with the whole cast in the model home. David Cross in particular looks like he’s on the verge of losing it when Jessie addresses Buster (not that I can really blame him, given how hilarious that scene is, but still):

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* I understand that it’s part of the joke, but George Michael ripping on his dad for the number of women he’s slept with seems oddly out of character, given how naive season 1-era George Michael usually is. Plus, four women isn’t that low a number for a recently-widowed man in his mid-30s who was married for over a decade (and one who doesn’t actively seek out casual sex, at that).

EPISODE NOTES & TRIVIA

* The Milford Academy (along with the phrase “you can always tell a Milford man”) comes up multiple times throughout the show’s run – perhaps most notably in season 2’s Afternoon Delight, when Lucille sends Annyong there. It is not associated with the real-life school of the same name in Milford, Connecticut.

* This is not the first appearance of the “family style” restaurant Klimpy’s. A tv commercial for it could be heard in the background of a scene in Visiting Ours, while George Michael and Maeby were talking. It also isn’t the last appearance, with Michael and Gob going to a Klimpy’s Express for a double date in just a few episodes (in Shock and Aww). Buster also goes for a date with Starla at a Klimpy’s in season 2’s Queen for a Day.

* The Klimpy’s waitress Loretta is played by Becky Thyre, who’s had many minor roles in various comedies over the past couple of decades (I primarily knew her as Pam, a recurring side character on Weeds). Her character returns in season 2 to sue Skip Church’s Bistro in the two-parter Out on a Limb/Hand to God, and has a brief cameo in season 4’s Indian Takers as a waitress at C.W. Swappigans.

* This is the first of many instances where the Bluths get into a public brawl, the next one being in just a couple of episodes.

* Once again: This family really depends on ice.

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* The Bluths’ short-lived publicist Jessie Bowers is played by Jill Ritchie, who I’ve just discovered is the sister of Kid Rock. …Weird.

* It is mentioned several times in this episode that Michael has slept with a total of four women. This would also be brought up again in Beef Consommé and Shock and Aww (the latter of which sees him finally get that number up to five).

* Lindsay gets a job promoting Cloudmir vodka – its first mention on the show. Many ads for Cloudmir vodka can be seen in the background of subsequent episodes.

* This is the first appearance of Carl Weathers, though not the first mention. In Key Decisions, Lindsay told Johnny Bark that Tobias was attending a stage fighting workshop with Carl Weathers (which Tobias then confronts him about here, revealing the entire thing was a scam). Carl Weathers appears in the next episode, Marta Complex, along with season 2’s Motherboy XXX and season 4’s The B Team.

It is also strongly implied that Carl Weathers owns the aforementioned restaurant in season 4, C.W. Swappigans – which would tie in with the overall cheapness of his character.

* Gob’s “Aztec Tomb” illusion was first seen in the Pilot. It wouldn’t factor into the plot again until season 2, when George Sr uses it as a hiding place in Good Grief, though seeing as it’s stored in the attic, it can also be seen in the background of many episodes that season.

* Jessie calls George Michael “Opie,” at which point the narrator (Ron Howard) interjects with “Jessie had gone too far and she had best watch her mouth.” Ron Howard played Opie on The Andy Griffith Show.

* A patron at the restaurant yells “Bluth fight!” in the same manner people yell “Food fight!”

THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

* The initial newspaper clipping we see contains a smaller headline with a little meta joke:

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This is a reference to the hip hop group Arrested Development, who sued the producers of the show over the use of the name (eventually resulting in a settlement of $10,000 for trademark infringement).

This would also not be the only joke of this nature, with season 2’s Motherboy XXX also containing multiple jokes about a band sharing its name with something else (with the narrator commenting that the show is legally obligated to make a distinction between the two), along with similar jokes over song name trademarks in season 2’s Sword of Destiny and season 3’s For British Eyes Only.

* Before Earl Milford enters the Aztec tomb, he places his finger up to his mouth, the same way it can be seen in his portrait at Milford Academy in the first scene:

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This arguably also serves to clue in attentive viewers, as we don’t learn the man’s identity until afterwards.

* When Jessie visits George Michael at the banana stand, he mentions “I got a bum away from the stand without hurting his feelings,” which is followed by this quick visual gag:

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It is then later payed off in the form of another brilliant newspaper headline:

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* And lastly, Tobias can be seen awkwardly trying to get on camera in the background of Carl Weathers’ news interview (during which, Carl is also shown holding leftovers):

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THIS INSTALLMENT’S DISCUSSION QUESTION

A big plot point in this episode is Michael moving on from his presumably somewhat-recently-deceased wife – I was planning on devoting a paragraph to it above but figured it’d be more interesting to open it up to the floor. What are your theories on Tracey Bluth, her relationship with Michael (and the other Bluths) and her death?

LINK TO NEXT INSTALLMENT

LINK TO PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT

LINK TO ORIGINAL DISQUS THREAD