Revisiting Arrested Development – Season 1, Episode 13: Beef Consommé

It is not you, Avocado! I can’t get undressed alone! I can’t get undressed by myself! I mean, this is a real affliction. I’m sorry it’s not recognized here in the States, but I know for a fact that there’re two members of German parliament. They’re called “nein wohlstandig nude.” But they’re German, so… They speak German, so they have a different…

It’s…

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SEASON 1, EPISODE 13: Beef Consommé
Written by Richard Rosenstock & Chuck Martin
Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar
Original airdate February 15, 2004

Before we jump into this episode – the mid-season finale of the show’s first season – I’d like to provide a little context behind it. For those unfamiliar with this system, a “standard” season order is 22 episodes (there are many exceptions to this rule; particularly with non-serialised animated shows where it’s very easy to air episodes out of order without affecting anything, and episodes can be held over until the following season and not suffer from visible character aging and so-forth). However, most new tv shows are initially picked up for a 13 episode season, ensuring the network hasn’t wasted their money on a full season of a show should it turn out to be a commercial flop. If a show does well, the episode order is generally extended to a full 22 episodes (that second order is known in the industry as “the back 9”). At the time of writing Beef Consommé, the episode was originally intended to serve as the season finale, had the show not been picked up for the back 9. The writers didn’t even find out the show’s episode order had been extended until well into the filming process of this episode.

With that in mind, Beef Consommé is quite an achievement for the show, successfully wrapping up many of the season’s running storylines while still being a predominantly character-focused episode – and a very funny one, at that. The episode did, of course, have the benefit of having gotten most of its ducks in a row in the previous installment (as mentioned in my review for Marta Complex, the two episodes are somewhat of a two-parter), with one major story arc already neatly concluding for the time being (Buster and Lucille 2’s relationship), but it still does a good job of tying everything up nicely for the most part, with the only notable loose end being Buster’s living situation – which, itself, is wrapped up relatively early in the following episode.

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The primary focal point for this episode is the Gob/Michael/Marta love triangle (if it can still be called that, now that Buster’s sort of involved). Admittedly, this was never a particularly suspenseful plot for the show – anyone who’s ever watched a broadcast network comedy before would know that a minor romantic interest introduced in season one probably isn’t going to be sticking around for the long haul, especially not in a show like Arrested Development, which has no interest in giving its characters any long-term happiness. Nevertheless, it was nice to see them bring the episode’s emotional resolution back to the family. Michael and Gob make amends upon being criticised by an outsider – it’s that “WE can say bad things about each other, but not you” mentality that generally makes “dysfunctional family” shows work, and Arrested Development utilises it well in its early episodes, even if the two may continue to argue over who she preferred more immediately after they’re both rejected.

Meanwhile, Tobias’s never-nude disorder goes from a running gag to a major plot point, as he discovers his new role of Frightened Inmate #2 contains a nude scene. Lindsay takes it upon herself to help him overcome his fears, in what turns out to be a surprisingly emotional character turn. We don’t often see Lindsay and Tobias as a supportive, functional couple, but when we do, it’s generally very endearing. George Michael’s crush on Maeby, on the other hand, simmers down when he realises that, even though there’s a strong possibility she may not be his real cousin, the bond they share as cousins (namely, in the wake of the Bluth family’s collective madness) is too strong to risk. We wouldn’t wind up finding out whether or not the two are blood relatives until the end of season 3, but for now, it’s a perfect time to put a pin in it and focus on other traits for both characters. And Buster’s desire to live a more fulfilling life, free of Lucille’s withholding tyranny, takes an odd (but funny) turn here, as he spends most of the episode desperately trying to be punched in the face – a feat which, funny enough, winds up being accomplished by Gob instead.

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It’s difficult to envision the first season ending here, particularly when taking into account where it goes from this point, and how truly superior a finale Let ‘Em Eat Cake is in comparison, but it’s still an ultimately satisfying conclusion to many of the season’s long-running story arcs. Tobias’s never-nude affliction isn’t brought up again for the rest of the season, George Michael’s crush on Maeby is largely subsided until the end of season 2, and Marta provides the first exit through the revolving door of Michael’s serious romantic interests (not counting Jesse from Public Relations, of course). It’s probably also worth noting that the show really begins to set up its long game from the next episode onwards – particularly in terms of the big reveal at the end of the season. I can’t quite imagine what the second season would’ve looked like had season 1 ended here (on one hand, the whole “Buster living in the model home” storyline might’ve been more fleshed out, but it’s also very possible the show wouldn’t have gone ahead with its tradition of George Sr. being in a different form of imprisonment each season), and the dramatic stakes are certainly a lot lower in the first half of the season – almost every storyline ends with things back where they started. But I suppose one can’t really complain about everything reverting back to the status quo in a show that’s very title is Arrested Development.

MY FAVOURITE JOKES/MOMENTS

* BARRY: However, it would help if you all showed up, looking like a loving, supportive family.
LUCILLE: For how long?
BARRY: Ten minutes, tops.
LUCILLE: See if you can get it down to five.
GEORGE SR: You know, maybe I should confess to these crimes, save everybody the trouble.
LUCILLE: Oh, get off the mount! You’re coming home guilty or somehow found not guilty.

* The running joke where Gob knows the word “brother” in multiple languages (despite taking four years of Spanish) is great.

* MARTA: I’m so ashamed that I was so disrespectful to your brother.
MICHAEL: Oh, who cares? Nobody respects him.

* The cd of Gob singing is brilliant (along the fact that his counting at the beginning of the song goes up to – and possibly beyond – twelve, AND he skips eleven!), though I love the joke concluding with Michael finding Gob’s wand in the bed. That’s some hilarious symbolism.

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* I’m still amazed they got this brilliant joke past the censors:

* GEORGE MICHAEL: Was Aunt Lindsay ever pregnant?
GOB: Oh yeah, dozens of times.

(George Michael’s “maybe we’re not related” mini-monologue before this exchange is also very funny, but it is understandably overshadowed by that moment)

* While Buster’s whole “this is my chance to live” speech is equal parts adorable and amusing, the punching gestures he makes when he says the words “face socked in” get me every time:

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* A great callback to the first line mentioned here:

MICHAEL: They just read the charges, and we look like a loving family for, like, six minutes.
LUCILLE: Ten minutes.
MICHAEL: We couldn’t get that down, huh?

* Once again, the combination of Tobias and George Michael always delivers the laughs. Their whole scene together is very funny, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t single out this exchange:

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* During Gob’s scene in the kitchen with Buster, he opens up Michael’s pantry, pulls out some raw pasta and proceeds to eat it:

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It’s so bizarre and yet perfectly in character, and the fact that it’s barely even acknowledged makes it infinitely more hilarious.

* Buster bracing to be hit in the face – coupled with the ridiculous grunt he makes – is one of my favourite act breaks ever:

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* MICHAEL: Mom wanted me to tell you she doesn’t care whether you live or die, but if you’re not dead, she would like to see you at the courthouse tomorrow in a blue sweater.
BUSTER: Damnit! I hate the blue sweater.
MICHAEL: She said it would look nice with the gray pants.
BUSTER: Damnit! She’s right!

* “Sorry, sorry, sorry, I’m so late! I had another hearing. Here’s the good news: I think I’m going to get off. I have a good lawyer. You look great in red! Anyhoo, what are we doing here? What’s the plan?”

No one quite makes an entrance like Barry Zuckerkorn.

* The initial reveal of Buster with the mariachi band (shown earlier) is probably the biggest laugh of the episode for me, though I also love Lucille remarking “He’s on his own for two days, and he joins a gang” when Buster shows up to the court house with them:

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* The whole fight between Michael and Gob is surprisingly amusing, particularly Michael’s go-to move of jumping into trees/bushes. But Buster chasing them around with a huge smile, trying to get punched in the face, takes the cake:

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* Tobias and Lindsay’s undressing scene together is actually quite sweet in its own weird way, and also packs an enormous laugh:

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* “I’m sorry, I’m not totally sure who you are.” – The perfect end to Buster’s story of infatuation.

* The “on the next” where Tobias overcompensates for (presumably) years of being a never-nude by casually walking naked around the model home is absolutely hilarious. Had this been the season finale, they at least would’ve gone out with a huge laugh.

MINOR NITPICKS

* Some of Michael’s dialogue in his first scene with Marta here seems a little too dick-ish (ie. “I also like your hair and your face and your breasts,” and the whole “you speak a little slowly” thing). It’s not necessarily out of character given what Michael Bluth becomes, but it’s a little hard to see why Marta remains so enamoured with him throughout that scene.

* I don’t want to start another debate about the design of the penthouses, but it really looks as if George Michael is knocking on Lucille 2’s door here, rather than Lucille Bluth’s. They pretty much never show the Bluth penthouse entrance from that angle.

* This isn’t really a “nitpick” since it’s completely understandable and doesn’t break the episode’s reality in any way, but during the “on the next,” you can clearly see most of the cast trying their hardest not to laugh (Will Arnett and Portia de Rossi both cover their mouths, and Jason Bateman turns his head away from the camera):

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EPISODE NOTES & TRIVIA

* A beef consommé is a soup-like dish that needs to simmer for an extended period of time when being cooked. The title refers to the fact that this episode resolves many things that have been simmering for a while now, along with the “beef” that Michael and Gob have.

* The previous episode’s “on the next” actually featured a scene with Tobias being upset about the nudity in his role as Frightened Inmate #2. Although the actual scene in question (with him on the phone to Carl Weathers) wasn’t included here, it is the first time in the show’s history that a potential plot previewed in the “on the next” actually was a storyline in the next episode. The “on the next” footage IS considered canon, and will often appear in flashbacks and the like, but this specific occurrence is quite rare for the show.

* Lucille’s line “How do you like them egg roles, Mr. Goldstone” is from the musical Gypsy, specifically the song “Rose’s Turn,” which she was listening to in the previous episode.

* Barry’s “Oh, we’ve got Ping” would be repeated later this season in Justice is Blind (as “Oh, we’ve got Ping again”).

* While Arrested Development uses a lot of mockumentary techniques in its format, the show is very careful about choosing when characters acknowledge the cameras – generally only doing so a couple of times a season, in a subtle manner. Judge Ping’s “there are no cameras allowed in my courtroom” (followed by the smash cut to the courtroom exterior, as the camera operators desperately try to peek in while the doors are open) is pretty much the golden example.

* This is the second time George Sr. has tried to escape while being under police custody (the first time being in In God We Trust). He would later attempt it again in Justice is Blind, eventually succeeding in the season finale, Let ‘Em Eat Cake – and, of course, would have several more attempts while under house arrest in season 3.

* Michael and Gob would later have a second fight in front of the courthouse in season 2’s Righteous Brothers. Also, season 3’s Making a Stand – in which we learn of the “Boyfights” videos featuring Michael and Gob as kids – features some very similar shots to what’s seen here. In addition to this, Buster’s desire to be punched in the face would also be referenced again (and fulfilled) later this season, in Best Man for the Gob.

* Although Tobias overcomes his never-nude condition in this episode, he eventually relapses again in season 2’s Sad Sack, and (to my knowledge) has remained a never-nude to date.

* This episode contains a short deleted scene, in which we learn why Barry Zuckerkorn is even more off his game than usual: He’d recently been caught with his mistress by his girlfriend, only to arrive home and find his wife cheating on him. Which, frankly, seems tame in comparison to how sordid his sex life would later become.

THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

* We get a brief glimpse at a page from a Spanish dictionary early in the episode, which featuers a few diagrams. Mustached look-alikes of Michael and Gob can be seen next to the Spanish words for “brother,” along with a black-haired Lindsay look-alike for “beautiful,” and a naked Tobias look-alike for “hermaphrodite.”

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* There’s a note on the fridge that reads “I finished the milk. Will buy more. – George Michael,” a reference to Pier Pressure.

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* Buster tells Gob that there’s a character on El Amor Prohibido by the name of Tio, who he believes plays Marta’s brother. He may know a little more Spanish than Gob, but once again, the trademark Bluth ignorance of the Spanish language wins out; “Tio” is Spanish for “uncle.”

* Michael tells Marta that sleeping with her behind Gob’s back would be “very, very wrong.” This line is later replicated by George Michael, who says that Maeby not being his cousin would be “very, very right.”

* Buster’s mariachi band is playing a rendition of John Paul Young’s “Love is in the Air,” the same song Gob was singing on Marta’s cd earlier in the episode.

THIS INSTALLMENT’S DISCUSSION QUESTION

Can you think of any other episodes that would’ve served well as season finales for their respective seasons if necessary?

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