Revisiting Arrested Development – Season 1, Episode 15: Staff Infection

Whoa, whoa, what’re you folks doing on this part of the mountain? I can give you a ride back into town.

It’s…

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SEASON 1, EPISODE 15: Staff Infection
Written by Brad Copeland
Directed by John Fortenberry
Original airdate March 14, 2004

We’re now in the final third of the season, and Staff Infection’s plot seems like it should’ve come much sooner in the show’s run. A big part of Mitch Hurwitz’s pitch to Fox was that the show would involve the characters learning to live like the working class – which included getting jobs – and the potential storyline of the Bluths having to work like regular folk was hinted at as early as the first episode (in the “on the next” for the extended pilot). And yet, despite the obviousness of the primary story device here, this episode also feels largely like the precursor for season 2-era Arrested Development. The pacing is lightning fast, and every single narrative dovetails together in a clever way (even if a few of the plots require some significant suspension of disbelief – like Lucille apparently spending an entire day driving around with a car full of groceries looking for someone to unload it, which seems too cartoony even for this show).

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Every story in Staff Infection revolves around work (alongside a running motif on sheep, but more on that in the episode notes), with two of the show’s hardest workers (Michael and Lupe) finally getting the chance to unwind, while several other characters try their hands at “real” work for the first time, following the revelation that many of the Bluths have been receiving regular paycheques from Kitty, who is now absent. Tobias checks himself into prison to attempt to research for his upcoming role as Frightened Inmate #2, while Lindsay plays secretary and winds up getting most of the Bluth company stranded in the process. Also trying out a change in routine is Buster, who undoubtedly makes this episode his own as his fear of enclosed spaces displaces him from his simple assignment of scanning copies, and puts him on a construction site going toe-to-toe (or, rather, bulldozer-to-bulldozer) with the brother he’s always been at odds with.

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The sub-plot at the construction site is arguably known largely for the introduction of the “chicken dances” (which would return with a vengeance in the second season), but honestly, there’s a hell of a lot of great material there. Pretty much all of Buster’s behaviour on the construction site is gold – particularly his insistence that they should just “do it for the fun.” Manual labour is a complete novelty to Buster, to the point where it’s almost endearing watching him have such a great time dicking around on the construction site, even if one can’t help but empathise with the crew for finding him such a pain in the ass. The show never again addresses the issue with the Bluths receiving paycheques and having to actually work for the company, though I imagine either Buster and Gob either grew tired of construction or forgot about it altogether, or Michael eventually came to his senses and let them go. After all, with Buster on site, it was only a matter of time before a serious accident transpired, and as far as things with Gob go – well, just take your pick there.

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Everything ultimately ends up with most of the Bluth family, the construction workers, and Lupe’s family, enjoying a boozy gathering together as the recent hardships of the Bluth company appear to have momentarily subsided (at least until Michael hears that the feds were snooping around the offices), with everything being wrapped up in a surprisingly neat and pleasant manner by Arrested Development standards – with the exception of Tobias’s storyline, of course. Back in the day, I could never quite decide what my opinion of Staff Infection was – sometimes, it was one of my least favourite episodes of the first season, with me deeming it too outlandish in comparison to the episodes that surrounded it – but other times, it was one of the stand-outs of the first season, and a delightful sign of things to come. And now I think it’s one of those episodes you’ve just gotta be in the right mood for, and thankfully, I was in the perfect mood for this episode when I rewatched it. Get along, little sheep!

MY FAVOURITE JOKES/MOMENTS

* There are so many funny details in the note T (Tobias) leaves for Lindsay:

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* TOBIAS: Lindsay, say something to scare me.
LINDSAY: *beep* me.
TOBIAS: …Nope. Nothing. Thanks for trying, though. You know what I ought to do? I ought to check myself into a men’s penal colony. (because of course Tobias refers to prison by a term that contains the words “men,” “penal” and “colon”)

* BUSTER: I’m a scholar. I enjoy scholarly pursuits.
LUCILLE: Suddenly, playing with yourself is a scholarly pursuit.

* Some sly physical comedy from Tony Hale, as Buster goes to rub Michael’s back but is startled by the mention of Catalina:

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* And, of course, the infamous Buster photo booth incident (and the subsequent mirroring of the gag with Lucille’s Quantity Plus photo card):

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* “You see, for her, a family reunion might actually be a pleasant experience.”

* LUCILLE: We can’t have them hanging around like a bunch of freeloaders looking for an easy buck.
MICHAEL: What’s the emergency, mom?
LUCILLE: I need money.

* BUSTER: I will work in the copy room.
LUCILLE: I wouldn’t go in there without knocking, Michael.

The masturbation jokes also continue in the next scene, when the employees form a line for the bathroom, and Buster eventually walks out smiling.

* BUSTER: I need a different job. I’m having real trouble in a confined, indoor space… Hey, coworker!
MICHAEL: How do you feel about working outdoors?
BUSTER: Uh… What else do you have?

* “And the language these guys use. Rough! One of the guys told me to take my head out of my bottom and get back to work. My BOTTOM!”

* “There’s the Jewish notion of heaven, and that it can be obtained here on earth, and there is your belief in the cleansing power of the pipe.”

* WHITE POWER BILL: Who is this little k*beep*?
TOBIAS: Well, it’s been quite a while since anybody’s called me a tyke…

* ANNYONG: He no have father? Old lady adopt him, too?
MAEBY: No, he have father. Father no love him.
GEORGE MICHAEL: No, he love me! Um, loves me. He loves me.

* So, of course, this episode contains the first instance of Gob’s chicken impression. There’s very little I can really say on the matter, since presumably, everyone reading this knows what this gag eventually becomes, but in the meantime, this is a pretty great introduction to it:

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As is Buster’s annoyed “CHICKENS DON’T CLAP!”

* GOB: This is a game of courage! A game for men!
BUSTER: Yeah, well, it’s a game I’m ready for! Uh-oh, my seat doesn’t have a cushion.

* Michael yelling “you’re going to ruin it!” when the kid goes to retrieve his phone from inside the sandcastle, before realising how ridiculous he’s being.

* “That’s okay. I know how much you care about me. Unfortunately, so does the federal government.”

MINOR NITPICKS

* The “Nice instincts, son! Good reflexes!” gag falls flat largely due to poor audio editing – a more convincing skidding sound effect would’ve really sold that one.

* A boom mic can be seen in shot when Lindsay asks who else is bothered by the lights:

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* Lindsay says “Doesn’t this just want to make you curl up and forget about the world?”, instead of “Doesn’t this just make you want to.”

EPISODE NOTES & TRIVIA

* This episode’s title is a play on the term “staph infection.”

* This is James Lipton’s first appearance as the new prison warden Stefan Gentles, having replaced the previous warden James Buck for unknown reasons (possibly due to the events of Visiting Ours?). His character would also appear later this season in Altar Egos and Missing Kitty, along with season 3’s Prison Break-In and season 4’s The B Team. Supposedly there was initially a bit of animosity between David Cross and James Lipton (the former having mocked Lipton and Inside the Actor’s Studio in both his stand-up act and on Mr. Show With Bob & David), though the two are now on friendly terms with one another.

* This episode contains a recurring theme of sheep, beginning with the trauma Buster experienced in his photo booth flashback (which later returns with the combination of the flashes from the photocopier and the employees saying “Bob?” in a manner similar to a bleating sheep). We later hear Michael refer to the Bluth employees as sheep, and we see them behave as such in all their subsequent scenes, which include them boarding a bus labelled “Church of the Good Shepherd,” and later culminates in a farmer and his sheep dogs herding them into a trailer. Every cutaway with the employees also ends with an employee dressed in black tailing behind them (the black sheep). A cotton ball sheep can also be seen in stack of young George Michael’s artwork:

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* We learn Annyong can actually speak a little bit of English in this episode, implying there’s more to him than we realise…

* Lucille can be heard trying to get in touch with her former housekeeper Rosa, who we learn has died. Rosa would later appear in several flashbacks in season 2’s Good Grief.

* Although it’s presented as a solution to a problem here, the communal pool Michael concieves in this episode later turns out to be one of the many undoings of Sudden Valley. In the season 4 premiere, Flight of the Phoenix, the narrator explains “the main internet and information cable had been severed when the community pool was installed…”

* This is one of the few instances where footage seen in the “on the next” turns out to heavily impact the following episode. Although the scene in question is presented as a flashback, the transaction George Sr. made with White Power Bill was indeed a plot point that would be explored in the next episode, and the next episode deals directly with the consequences (assuming you’re watching them in production order).

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* There are two deleted scenes for this episode . In the first deleted scene, we learn Kitty informed Michael she wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be at work between the 5th and the 7th, at which point, he glances at her desk calendar and sees the words “Burning Man 5th-7th.” The second scene is a very brief extension of the White Power Bill/George Sr. stand-off, which is made worse by Tobias talking about George Sr’s immense wealth. Neither scene is particularly essential, and I actually think it works better without the show stating Kitty is at Burning Man (as this way, one can assume Kitty is absent getting the cosmetic surgery she can be seen sporting in the following episode, Missing Kitty).

THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

* In the Bluth company meeting at the start of the episode, Michael can be heard saying “I know we’ve been putting in a lot of hours, but we’ve got to keep our heads down and power through, you know, and sacrifice.” Later, George Michael uses a lot of the same words when giving his pep talk to Maeby and Annyong: “I know that that’s nobody’s favorite Saturday night, but I think if we just power through and keep our heads down, you know, we might be able to…”

* Warden Gentles tells Tobias “187 won’t be free till Tuesday… at midnight,” implying the current occupant of the cell will be executed. In Calfornia, “1-8-7” is the code law officers use for murder.

* When threatened by White Power Bill, George Sr. says “no teaching” in the same manner as he’s previously said “no touching.”

* The uncover feds once again don the “Blendin” cover (see my write-up for the previous episode):

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* A very small “hello” caption can be seen on screen when Michael approaches the banana stand looking for George Michael:

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THIS INSTALLMENT’S DISCUSSION QUESTION

The first few times around, I never picked up that White Power Bill was actually calling Tobias a “kike” (it honestly wasn’t even a word I’d ever heard before – it simply wasn’t in my vocabulary). Are there any jokes you didn’t get until having rewatched an episode multiple times?

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LINK TO PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT

LINK TO ORIGINAL DISQUS THREAD