Season 2. Huh? This is it, boy. We are free. Follow our dreams, you know? And the best part of it? Not working for the family anymore… Now, do you want to steer, or are you too old to sit on your pop’s lap and drive?
SEASON 2, EPISODE 1: The One Where Michael Leaves
Written by Mitchell Hurwitz & Richard Rosenstock
Directed by Lee Shallat-Chemel
Original airdate November 7, 2004
The second season can often make or break a tv show. While many shows’ first seasons can sometimes spend years being crafted in its creator’s heads, not to mention the retooling that can occur through network/producer intervention, focus groups, etc., the second season can prove a chance to examine the subsequent response, correct what didn’t work, and refine what did, which is often why many shows hit their stride in season 2. It’s also the point where a show essentially proves whether or not it has a long-term shelf life – since most good premises can sustain themselves for at least a single season (as exemplified by the recent influx of season-long anthology shows), but not every show has the legs to continue beyond that. There are a few different routes one can take when entering the second season of a serialised show – be it framing it as a continuation of the previous chapter, or treating it more as first chapter in an entirely new volume. And Arrested Development, the show that constantly has its cake and eats it too, manages to do all of the above and more in just 20 minutes.
Let ‘Em Eat Cake (NARRATOR: Hey, another cake metaphor!) previously ended Arrested Development’s first season on a couple of cliffhangers. The first being George Sr’s successful escape, and the second being Michael and George Michael’s decision to abandon the family. The former is touched on in this episode, but would be handled in a rather mysterious manner up until the fourth episode of the season (more on that in the following installments), while the latter is addressed immediately, with the episode opening on the two characters already embarking on their exit to Phoenix, Arizona – as they previously planned on doing in the pilot. Michael, however, delays this exit upon learning the rest of the family doesn’t realise he’s left (in what may be a reference to the way some fans were left confused at the end of season 1), turning back around TWICE to rub his departure in his family’s face. But Michael’s plans grind to a halt when he learns he is unable to leave the state without bail due to the family’s ever-increasing legal woes, reasserting the show’s winning “one step forwards, two step backwards” plot device.
Michael attempts to gain access to the company chequebook to post his bail, only to find that most of the other Bluths have jumped head-first into their respective story arcs for the season, cleverly lampshading this by having Michael remark on how much they’ve done in the few hours since they left (this episode takes place the same day as the aforementioned season 1 finale). Lindsay and Tobias are now attempting an open marriage, Oscar is staying at the penthouse, Gob is now (badly) acting as the president of the company, and Buster is enlisted in the army shortly thereafter. Generally, character arcs on the show will span anything from a few episodes (which is the case for Gob’s story) to an entire season, and while it’s a tad overwhelming to see so many kicking off at once, it definitely reassures viewers that the show isn’t going to be running out of steam any time soon.
The One Where Michael Leaves is mostly a place-setting episode, albeit a very funny one, but it’s the final act where this goes from being “standard Arrested Development” to a certifiable work of comedic genius. The first 2-3 minutes of this act alone (where Michael follows in his brother’s footsteps by taking a sledgehammer to the walls, learns in the weirdest possible way that Tobias is aspiring to be a member of the Blue Man Group, only for Tobias to wind up in the hospital) may be one of the funniest 2-3 minutes of television I’ve ever seen, and it’s a testament to the show that it manages to work in such a solid stint of hilarity while also crafting what would be an effective season premiere for just about any show of any genre. The Blue Man Group arc (and, of course, the infamous phrase “I just blue myself”) is definitely a fan favourite, and it’s hard to imagine a more perfect introduction than that. The fact that this episode then follows that up with another expert deployment of the “two steps backward” mechanism (AND pays off the odd runner about Annyong’s Uncle Sam costume) solidifies it as one of the show’s finest installments, in addition to kicking off what may be the most solid run of episodes in the entirety of the show (and if, like me, you own the dvds, this run of episodes makes up the first disc of the season 2 dvd).
I’ve talked a lot about what happens in this episode, how it works as a season premiere, and season premieres/second seasons in general, though one thing I’ve not really touched upon is just how different the show feels this season, right from the get-go. The pacing has been cranked up to 11, as is the ever-convoluted brilliance of the show’s intricate plotting. Not to mention the show’s now deploying background jokes, callbacks and subtle foreshadowing at a superhuman rate. I was, admittedly, a little sour on this when I first watched it, since so many of the jokes went over my head at the time, but I fell in love upon repeat viewings – which was the case for most of season 2, to be honest. The show feels more confident than ever here, which is saying a lot given how remarkably self-assured Arrested Development was from the moment it began. There’s a good reason season 2 is often regarded as the show’s best… Personally, I feel that picking my favourite season of Arrested Development is a damn near impossible choice, since I love them all for very different reasons. I do, admittedly, think season 2 is a little inconsistent overall due to that rough run of episodes in the middle (coupled with some annoying continuity issues), but if I were forced at gunpoint to pick a favourite, this season may just very well take the cake.
MY FAVOURITE JOKES/MOMENTS
* MICHAEL: That is not a family, okay? They’re a bunch of greedy, selfish people who have our nose. And Aunt Lindsay.
GEORGE MICHAEL: She’s not my real aunt?
MICHAEL: Not a real nose. Got a picture of her when she’s fourteen in a swimming cap. She looks like a falcon.
* GEORGE MICHAEL: She was really looking forward to seeing me in my Uncle Sam outfit in the get-out-to-vote assembly tomorrow.
MAEBY: Wasn’t that supposed to be before the election?
GEORGE MICHAEL: Yeah, they had to postpone it when that foreign exchange student parked too close to the gym.
* There’s a lot to unpack this in this brief cutaway:
* MICHAEL: Mom, you’re always asking me to help you look after Buster? You can find somebody else. (looks at Buster) I hope she doesn’t kill you.
BUSTER: I’ll kill her first!
* Will Arnett’s delivery on “What would I have made a mistake about?” just kills me every time.
* “Does this look contagious to you?”
* MICHAEL: Do you remember what we say about the family?
GEORGE MICHAEL: Uh, it’s not Aunt Lindsay’s nose.
MICHAEL: Yes, but no.
GEORGE MICHAEL: Don’t… Don’t tell them we were going to…
MICHAEL: We say that we don’t need them.
GEORGE MICHAEL: Oh!
GEORGE MICHAEL: Yeah, okay. A new one.
* Michael’s gradual realisation about the nature of Lindsay’s exercise tape and subsequent reaction is pretty funny…
.. But the subsequent flashback where Tobias is watching the same tape is absolute gold.
* TOBIAS: You know, Lindsay, as a therapist, I have advised a number of couples to explore an open relationship where the couple remains emotionally committed, but free to explore extra-marital encounters.
LINDSAY: Well, did it work for those people?
TOBIAS: No, it never does. I mean, these people somehow delude themselves into thinking it might, but…. but it might work for us.
The punchline there is obvious, but David Cross’s delivery totally sells it and then some. This scene also contains some fantastic physical comedy from Cross:
* “In three hours, G.O.B. had done $45,000 in damage.”
* BOARD MEMBER: Why should we believe in you?
GOB: For the same reason you should believe a hundred dollar bill is no more than a hundred pennies!
* GOB: So what brings you here, Michael? I hope it’s not for a handout. I run a pretty tight ship around here.
MICHAEL: With a pool table?
GOB: It’s a gaming ship.
* NARRATOR: Michael now had the distasteful choice of either asking his mother for money or going to jail.
MICHAEL: Maybe Buster killed her already…
* I was hoping to find a full video of the scene(s) I raved about earlier, but sadly, you’ll have to settle with these little clips instead:
… “He said some wonderful things.”
* “Mom volunteered me for the army. Just because the fat man dared her to.”
* “I’ve got the thingy! Half in English, half in… squibbly.”
* DR. FISHMAN: Excuse me, Mrs. Fünke.
LUCILLE: Oh, this guy again.
MICHAEL: How is he, doctor?
DR. FISHMAN: It looks like he’s dead.
LUCILLE: Oh my god!
GOB: Oh little guy. The tears aren’t coming. The tears just aren’t coming.
MICHAEL: Just to be clear. Looks like he’s dead, or he is dead?
DR. FISHMAN: It just looks like he’s dead. He’s got like blue paint on him or something. But he’s going to be fine.
GOB: What is wrong with you?
MAEBY: This *beep*ing doctor!
DR. FISHMAN: I’ll let you celebrate privately.
LUCILLE: We want this comped!
* “In fact, it was George Sr. who took wig…”
* Tobias’s “Nice to be back in a queen” is very clearly a looped line (a piece of dialogue recorded at a later point in time and overlayed in a previously-shot scene), due to the noticeable differences in sound quality. There are quite a few instances of this in season 2, and as someone with a lot of sound editing experience, it really bugs me. I understand looping is a necessity of filmmaking sometimes, but there are some very easy ways to mask the sound differences so they’re not quite as overt.
EPISODE NOTES & TRIVIA
* The episode title is a reference to Friends, which titled its episodes in a similar manner. This would continue in the next episode, The One Where They Build a House, culminating in the the title of the third episode, ¡Amigos! (spanish for “Friends”).
* Cast-wise, this episode features the return of several recurring actors on the show (Henry Winkler, Ian Roberts, Jay Johnston, John Beard and Justin Lee), and also features Ed Helms in a small role as James the realtor, back when Ed Helms was just “that guy from The Daily Show.” Helms would later reprise this role in a couple of season 4 episodes, before his character was eventually killed off in A New Start.
* The show’s composer, David Schwartz, appears to be trying something a little different with the score this season, ditching the more upbeat ukulele-heavy soundtrack for something a little more vaudevillian. It’s still very much in the vain of the show’s established musical tone/style, and pieces from the season 1 soundtrack still feature heavily this season, but I felt it was worth noting – Schwartz’s unique contributions to the show are integral, and all too frequently overlooked.
* Buster abbreviates “rape” to “R,” the same way he abbreviated “screwing” to “essing” in Pier Pressure. He would also later abbreviate “bitch” to “B” later this season in Ready, Aim, Marry Me.
* Maeby mentions that under Ann’s school picture, it says “Not pictured.” Later this season, in Sad Sad, we see Ann’s yearbook picture, and it does indeed say “not pictured” underneath.
* This episode begins the running joke where Oscar keeps deploying obvious hints that he is Buster’s biological father (which Buster completely misses), underscored by a sting of cheesy soap opera music, and often followed by characters rolling their eyes.
* Gob’s inability to use the office phone is displayed again in the very next episode, The One Where Michael Leaves.
* Lucille’s winking is a callback to the pilot, though supposedly, the moment where Michael turns away and Lucille steps back into his eyeline to wink again, was unscripted. Apparently the editors cut that together in post due to all the different angles the scene had been filmed from.
* Gob sits in silence for exactly 7 minutes after discovering the Saddam Hussein documents. This is a reference to George W. Bush, who sat reading to children for 7 minutes after learning of the 9/11 attacks (there are MANY references to the Bush administration this season, namely on account of the Bluth Company president being George Sr, followed by someone else, followed by another personal technically called George). Coupled with the references to Chemical Ali and Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 in this episode, it’s a strong sign of the increased political element to the show’s satire this season.
* When Michael encounters Tobias painted in blue, multiple blue paint stains can be seen around the model home in the background. This gag continues throughout the entire first half of the season. The hole Michael puts in the wall also remains there for the entire season, though is covered with a cabinet from the next episode onwards.
* Tobias appropriates his old cut-offs for his Blue Man get-up (though would not officially become a never-nude again until a few episodes later, in Sad Sack).
* This is actually the second time Michael’s had to change a shirt after a family member stained it with paint; Gob did the same to him back in Missing Kitty.
* Another running gag begins here, where Tobias keeps winding up in the hospital having sustained horrific injuries (this actually occurs in both of the following episodes, in fact).
* Dr. Fishman (the literal doctor) makes his second appearance here, following his first appearance in the previous episode, Let ‘Em Eat Cake, and a similar joke ensues with his misleading words being interpreted incorrectly. He would return for the next instance of this beloved running gag later this season, in Hand to God.
THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED
* George Michael’s question about whether or not Lindsay is his real aunt may be hinting at the revelation of her adoption in season 3.
* The Blue Man Group arc is foreshadowed when Michael calls up Lucille in the first scene under the pseudonym “Dr. Blueman.”
* Lucille says she has a rape horn because Michael took away her mace. We previously saw her spraying an innocent civilian with mace in season 1’s Visiting Ours.
* Early on, Lucille mentions that Buster now refuses to brush her hair. Lucille’s hair then gets increasingly messier-looking as the episode progresses.
* Lindsay can be seen wearing a “H.O.O.P.” (her anti-circumcision movement mentioned in the pilot) shirt during the Monkey Freedom rally cutaway:
(Additionally, Lindsay’s sign reinforces her ignorance towards nature – orangutans are not monkeys)
* When George Michael explains why he told the family they’re moving to Phoenix, Michael cuts him off with “Doesn’t matter what.” He previously cut George Michael off in a similar manner (saying “Doesn’t matter who”) when he appointed him to Mr. Manager in Top Banana.
* George Michael also keeps staring at Lindsay’s nose in the penthouse, following the information he learned from Michael earlier.
* This episode has a running gag where Oscar keeps getting arrested by police who mistake him for George Sr. It always begins with multiple cops piling on him, and ends with Officer Taylor hitting him with his baton and yelling “Yeah!” This happens 4 times over the course of the episode (the last instance actually being George Sr. posing as Oscar).
* When the narrator says “Lindsay had met someone and he hadn’t” (before Tobias spots the Blue Man Group advertisement), Tobias walks past a happy same-sex male couple.
* Gob attempts to hang a portrait of himself holding a frozen banana, replicating a similar portrait of George Sr. that has been seen in the background of many previous episodes:
* George Sr. hides incriminating documents in the Bluth Company walls, the same way he hid money in the walls of the banana stand (season 1’s Top Banana).
* The contract between George Sr. and Saddam Hussein appears to have been signed in blood:
* Some incredible foreshadowing about the loss of Buster’s hand. When Buster, Lucille and Oscar are watching the news together, John Beard ends his report with “And a seal attack. Meet one surprised bather, coming up.” The camera then immediately pans over to Buster.
* Michael’s line, “He said some wonderful things,” was previously uttered in Visiting Ours (following a flashback of George Sr. saying “Daddy horny, Michael”).
* There are multiple hints that it is George Sr. posing as Oscar in the final scene, such as Buster being visibly uncomfortable with the massage he gets from him, “Oscar” eyeing up the briefcase several times before slyly taking it from Gob, and of course, “You don’t need some piece of *beep* uncle hanging around.”
* At the beginning of the episode, it is mentioned that Lindsay and Tobias sleep in twin beds. In the end of the episode, when Lindsay is admitted to hospital with a fever, we see the two of them sharing twin beds in the hospital.
* The final scene in the “On the Next” is a giant callback to the final scene of the pilot, where Michael previously visited George Sr. in prison only to be told “I’m having the time of my life.” Barry Zuckerkorn even greets a passing-by inmate in the background in a very similar manner to the George Sr/T-Bone interaction that closed out the pilot:
THIS INSTALLMENT’S DISCUSSION QUESTION
What are your thoughts on season 2 in general?