Revisiting Arrested Development – Season 1, Episode 17: Altar Egos

Oh, I wish you could see it. It’s just beautiful. An elderly couple, walking hand in hand. They’re having a wonderful time. Already served, not to exceed six years, but no less than three… Uh, three years is what I give them, and then one of them dies and the other one is… not too far behind him…

It’s…

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SEASON 1, EPISODE 17: Altar Egos
Written by Barbie Adler
Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar
Original airdate March 17, 2004

While Arrested Development employs far more continuity/serialisation and world-building than the average comedy, the show does stick to a somewhat conventional episodic approach (save from season 4, of course), in that the A-plot of an episode is usually wrapped up neatly within its runtime. Altar Egos is a little different, in that it’s very clearly the first installment of a two-parter – something Arrested Development wouldn’t do all that often in its original Fox run. The only other “official” two-parter that springs to mind is Out on a Limb/Hand to God in season 2, which, coincidentally (or perhaps not so coincidentally?) marks the only other appearance in the show of blind lawyer Maggie Lizer – though I suppose a case could be made for Righteous Brothers and The Cabin Show being a two-parter of sorts (not to mention “sequel” episodes, like Missing Kitty/Spring Breakout or Pier Pressure/Making a Stand).

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While two-parters are often used by comedy shows as a “special event” gimmick of sorts, Arrested Development utilises it perfectly – realising that spreading the narrative out over two episodes means extra time to explore everything – and packs the narrative with all sorts of twists and turns accordingly. It’s not uncommon for two-parters to pad themselves out for time, but Arrested Development does the exact opposite here, cranking up the pacing (and intricacy of the plot, for that matter) up to 11, feeling more like a season 2 episode than anything else the show’s so far. Many of the stories here revolve around characters discovering that other people aren’t who they say they are (hence the episode title, which also plays as a reference to Gob getting hitched) – with George Michael learning that Maeby has been posing as a deathly sick twin by the name of Surely Fünke, and George Sr. learns his new fan his actually a government agent (and, of course, there’s the whole Maggie Lizer thing, though the reveal doesn’t come until the next episode). George Sr. spends the entire episode going back and forth on whether or not to take a plea bargain that nobody’s actually read, giving us an interesting look into the George Sr/Lucille relationship in the process, while George Michael finds himself repeatedly at a moral crossroads, much like his own father.

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The aforementioned Maggie Lizer functions largely as wrench-in-the-works for Michael’s plan to attempt a one-night-stand, and later, the ongoing trial against his father, which has served as a catalyst for many storylines over the course of this season. This storyline is also mirrored with Gob and the unnamed woman he marries while also pursuing a one-night-stand, failing to follow the rules he himself laid out. Gob’s wife – played by Will Arnett real-life wife at the time, Amy Poehler – shares some excellent comedic chemistry with Gob (and later Tobias) that make her scenes generally very amusing, while Maggie Lizer is also played adeptly by Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld alumni and current star of the excellent HBO comedy series Veep). However, it can be a little tricky to fully grasp the motivation of the latter, especially following the reveal that she’s not blind.

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I understand her character’s reckless and a bit of an agent of chaos in general, but why did she approach Michael in the first place knowing she could get disbarred for doing so? And why opt for a blind dog to pose as a seeing eye dog? There are a lot of contrivances in the plot that don’t really hold up under scrutiny, and while contrived plots are essentially Arrested Development’s bread and butter, it seems like this particular idea could’ve used a little more hashing out, if I’m being honest. Before season 2 premiered, this and Justice is Blind were actually regarded as the show’s weakest episodes on The OP, an Arrested Development fan site I used to frequent, and the plot issues played a very large part of that. It seems like the hardcore fans have since warmed up to it over time – and, despite my previous complaints, I do think that the two episodes make for some of the funniest material of the entire first season. I’m a little more partial to Justice is Blind, largely because David Cross steals the show so marvelously, but more on that in the next installment!

MY FAVOURITE JOKES/MOMENTS

* CINDI LIGHTBALLOON: I’m a mole.
GEORGE SR: You know, God… God doesn’t care how big your teeth are. Yes, you could go to a dentist and you could, whoo… you could grind off about — I don’t know — 30%. Maybe more. Yeah, I wouldn’t miss it.

* MICHAEL: We don’t know what the plea is yet.
BARRY ZUCKERKORN: Is that a shot at me? Because makes me want to read it all the less.

* “These are lawyers. That’s Latin for liar.” (Gob really doesn’t have a firm grasp on any language other than English)

* MAGGIE LIZER: What’s your name?
MICHAEL: Chareth.
MAGGIE LIZER: Chareth? So then what’s your last name?
MICHAEL: Cute story…
MAGGIE LIZER: Cutestory?
MICHAEL: Yes. Chareth Cutestory.
MAGGIE LIZER: That’s an interesting name.
MICHAEL: Is it?

I kinda wish Maggie hadn’t cut Michael off there – part of me wants to hear him fumble his way through the “cute story” he had in mind.

* “There was some talk of ice cream, but not exactly on my terms.”

* The montage of moments where Michael failed to realise Maggie can’t see, which escalates his obliviousness with each clip, culminating in this:

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(In hindsight, this really is a massive precursor to the whole Rita story arc, huh?)

* GEORGE SR: This is not what it looks like.
LUCILLE: It looks like you’re tweaking her nipples through a chain-link fence.
GEORGE SR: Yep. Yeah, that’s it.

* GOB: You should have stayed with me last night. You could have seen me get some major action from a major blonde. Who just majored in marine biology, if you know what I mean.
MICHAEL: I-I don’t know what you mean. I can’t imagine what that means.

* The dare montage:

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* “I’m sorry I don’t memorize every single word that comes out of your mouth!! Sometimes I just like to think… Think my thoughts.” – It’s not a hilarious line on paper, but Will Arnett’s delivery makes it so.

* GOB: Believe me, we didn’t do any sleeping. I had sex last night.
NARRATOR: But he really didn’t.
GOB: Yes, I did.

* “I am going to trial because you don’t understand what a blooper reel is?! Guard!!”

* GOB: You and dad are getting divorced?
LUCILLE: Oh, don’t worry, sweetie, no one is fighting over you.

* LUCILLE: Your father with his disgusting tweaking! I couldn’t breast feed any of you kids because of that man!
*Michael and Gob react in disgust*
BARRY ZUCKERKORN: They still look fabulous.

* LUCILLE: Oh, George, I should have never doubted you! Even when you slept with my sister it was for a good reason.
GEORGE SR: Got her to stop drinking, didn’t it?

* The scene in the courtroom has a lot of great moments…

… But I think the biggest laugh of the entire episode for me is at the 0:54 mark, when Barry Zuckerkorn stands up and yells “OBJECTION!” in response to… well, nothing.

* GOB’S WIFE: Unbelievable. The seal deal fell through. Three of the seals died on their way to Chad. How am I ever going to find a maritime lawyer?
GOB: I’m sorry, did you say seals?
GOB’S WIFE: Yes. I trade trained seals for a living. Do you ever listen?!
GOB: Do you ever stop talking?!

(“How am I ever going to find a maritime lawyer?!” is a great capper to the running gag with Chareth Cutestory’s profession, too.)

MINOR NITPICKS

* This is more of a personal preference, but I really wish they hadn’t done the Maggie Lizer reveal in the “on the next” here. I feel it takes the weight out of the cliffhanger with her handing Michael the evidence, and the “Justice is blind” reveal in the next episode would’ve been a far more effective way to drop that bombshell.

* Amy Poehler is never given a consistent credit. In this episode and Justice is Blind, she’s credited as “Gob’s Wife,” then in Best Man for the Gob, she’s credited as “Wife of Gob,” followed by “Bride of Gob” in Whistler’s Mother and Motherboy XXX (there is, however, a long chance that this could be an elaborate meta joke about no one knowing her character’s name).

EPISODE NOTES & TRIVIA

* As mentioned above, this episode is essentially a two-parter with Justice is Blind. I had initially considered covering both episodes in a single write-up, but opted to stick to my current approach so the notes and so-forth wouldn’t be twice as long as usual (not to mention the later episodes make it quite hazy as to what constitutes multi-part episodes for the series).

* This episode and Justice is Blind initially aired before Missing Kitty, creating some continuity issues (which I went into in the previous installment).

* Buster does not appear in this episode.

* Julia Louis-Dreyfus makes her first appearance as Maggie Lizer. As mentioned above, she also shows up in the subsequent episode, Justice is Blind, along with season 2’s Out on a Limb and Hand to God. Amy Poehler also makes her first appearance here as Gob’s unnamed wife (a bit of meta casting, as her and Will Arnett were married in real life at the time), and also appears in the next three episodes as part of a minor story arc (later revisited in season 2, where she appears again in Motherboy XXX). Jane Lynch also makes her second and final appearance as Cindi Lightballoon, and recurring side characters Barry Zuckerkorn (Henry Winkler), Judge Ping (Michael Paul Chan) and Stefan Gentles (James Lipton) all show up here as well.

* Apparently, in the episode’s initial broadcast, Barry Zuckerkorn’s line “I could kiss you on the nuts” aired uncensored.

* This is one of the few times that footage (and a teased plot point) in the “on the next” actually appears in the next episode – and not as a flashback, either!

* This episode contains my favourite deleted scene from the show, and I’m always devastated it never made it to broadcast. It’s the most brilliant culmination of all the Maeby/Surely jokes imaginable, and one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen left on the editing room floor:

(The scene is 1:16 – 3:19, though the full clip in question also contains all the deleted scenes from Staff Infection, Missing Kitty and Best Man for the Gob)

THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

* The flashback footage of a young Michael Bluth’s performance in The Trial of Captain Hook contains several instances of foreshadowing, the most cited being Captain Hook’s hook falling off his hand as being the first hint that Buster would eventually lose his hand:

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That one’s debatable, of course, but what isn’t is the lyrics foreshadowing Michael throwing a bible at Maggie Lizer in the next episode:

“You’re a crook, Captain Hook, judge won’t you throw the book, at the pirate…”

* It is mentioned that the number of women Michael’s slept with has gone from 4 to 5 – referring to the events with Miss Baerly in Shock and Aww.

* The shot of Maeby’s “failure of 9th grade” letter is exactly like that of Lucille’s “you’re an adoptive parent” letter from Shock and Aww:

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* Maeby puts “S. Fünke” on her failed test. She’s failing tests as Surely so she can get the correct answers and take them again as Maeby.

* Cindi Lightballoon again shows up in the “Blendin Mobile Pet Grooming” truck, which I’ve learned may be a reference to Jane Lynch’s role in the film Best in Show, where she played a professional dog groomer.

* Barry reacts to seeing Judge Ping with “We’ve got Ping again,” recalling his “We’ve got Ping” line from Marta Complex. He then reacts identically when he learns the prosecutor is Maggie Lizer.

* Barry Zuckerkorn (played, of course, by Henry Winkler) can briefly be seen doing the classic “the Fonz” pose in the bathroom mirror:

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* When Maeby is seen posing as Surely at the fundraiser, one of the kids yells “somebody get her a cupcake!” It’s the same kid who made Miss Baerly the Saddam Hussein cupcake in Shock and Aww.

THIS INSTALLMENT’S DISCUSSION QUESTION

Do you have a favourite deleted scene from the show?

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