Revisiting Arrested Development – Season 2, Episode 13: Motherboy XXX

It-It’s not about school, pal. It’s more about family. Your uncle Buster’s been very depressed lately, and you haven’t visited him. Family first. Or did they not teach you that at the Promise Land?

It’s…

SEASON 2, EPISODE 13: Motherboy XXX
Written by Mitchell Hurwitz & Jim Vallely
Directed by Joe Russo
Original airdate March 13, 2005

The Out on a Limb/Off the Hook two-parter left us with a couple of lingering plot threads, both of which are picked up again here: The hunt for the seal who ate Buster’s hand, and Gob’s impending divorce (which comes with a hefty price on account of the aforementioned seal). This episode also reintroduces Carl Weathers, who’s on the hunt to get the rights to the Bluth family’s story for a tv dramatisation of George Sr’s escape – and sees a rare pairing in the form of Lucille and George Michael. Buster’s depression due to the loss of his hand has sent her looking for another son to accompany her on Motherboy, an annual mother-son event/pageant of sorts, and it’s not long before her and George Michael are heading south together. But for the most part, this episode is a caper, with another rare pairing at the centre: Michael and Buster. Granted, the two share a lot of screentime in many episodes (Bringing Up Buster comes to mind here, and most regard that as a classic episode), but in terms of seeing them together, sans Lucille and outside of the penthouse, much less working together to achieve a common goal? It’s somewhat of a rarity.

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What begins as a quest to recover Buster’s lost hand (and Swatch) quickly takes another turn, however, as the seal’s tracking device leads them to discover its severed flipper inside a shark. Buster feels sympathetic towards his attacker – realising it was just as defenseless against the its surroundings as he was. It’s an oddly poignant moment for such a conceptually ludicrous scene, and it works really well. After all, every single Bluth sibling was rendered ill-equipped to make it in the real world thanks to Lucille and George Sr’s terrible parenting. But while Michael has enough intelligence to competently fake it, and Gob manages to get by largely on unearned confidence, their younger brother possesses neither of these traits. Thankfully, he at least has the self-awareness to recognise how barely functional he is, and the compassion to not want his nephew to suffer the same fate. And so, he and Michael set off to prevent Lucille from turning George Michael into the next Buster, leading them on an amusing adventure together, full of injuries and accidental property damage.

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This episode does a decent job of tying up some of the show’s loose ends, with Gob inevitably botching his divorce, and Buster accepting that his hand is long gone, and it also sets up a few other things for later in the season (much as Gob’s Girls With Low Self Esteem video shoot in season 1 paid off a few episodes after the fact, so too does Tobias’s tv collaboration with Carl Weathers here), in addition to another person learning of George Sr’s whereabouts. But when I think back to it, what I mostly remember are the Buster moments. And that’s fine – Tony Hale is on fire in this episode, and manages to feature in multiple memorable sequences here, which is more than enough for any tv show to bring the laughs. I think part of the reason for season 2’s brief slump in the middle is the fact that we wound up with several episodes on a row focusing on The Bluth Company, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing any means, the simple fact is that corporate rivalries, unfrozen company shares and possible acquisitions just don’t provide the same potential for the madcap antics this show so often traffics in. While the first third of the season is perhaps most notable for its exceptionally intricate plotting, the last third of the seasons is mostly just pure fun.

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Despite all this, Motherboy XXX has never really been an episode I’ve had a particularly strong opinion about. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy it when I watch it, and it still made me laugh a few times when I rewatched it for this write-up. But all-in-all, it’s an A-plot driven episode with largely separate B and C plots that never really intersect, and while Arrested Development can handle straightforward linear narratives very well, it’s not what I’d call special about the show. Even if doesn’t provide the usual delightful misunderstandings that fuel the show (albeit compensated with a plethora of incest jokes), much less the intricate weaving of plot threads, Motherboy XXX is very funny. It manages to deliver plenty of laughs, and packs some seriously solid character moments. So the mere fact I could even say such an episode isn’t “one of the greats” speaks only to the incredibly high bar the show has set for itself; When Arrested Development is firing on all cylinders, it’s practically on an entirely different plain to anything, so when it’s only firing on some cylinders, it still manages to churn out something that would likely be a “series best” for many other shows.

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MY FAVOURITE JOKES/MOMENTS

* “Motherboy was a dinner dance aimed at promoting mother/son bonding. Lucille had gone over 25 times with Buster, and on a few occasions had won cutest couple. As one entered sexual maturity, and the other left it, it became harder to win…”

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* MICHAEL: What, Buster, for the first time ever, doesn’t want to do this?
LUCILLE: No no, he does. It’s just he’s been so mopey.
MICHAEL: Well, that could have something to do with the fact that a seal ate his hand.
LUCILLE: I don’t know what it is.
MICHAEL: I think that’s what it is.
LUCILLE: Who knows?
NARRATOR: It was that.

* Lucille’s other complaint about the new Buster:

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* LINDSAY: Oh god, not that “I’m in love with my mother” dance thing. I’m so glad there wasn’t one of those for daddies and daughters.
LUCILLE: Of course they have father-daughter dances.
LINDSAY: They do? He never took me?
LUCILLE: It was before we did your nose.

* “He’d even gotten a vanity plate made up announcing the achievement. And this wasn’t the first time…”

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* GEORGE SR: You know what’s risky? Letting your son go on that church thing.
MICHAEL: Well, her name’s Ann, dad. And he’s not going on her, okay? They’re just friends.

* MAEBY: Do you guys know where I could get one of those gold necklaces with the “T” on it?
MICHAEL: That’s a cross.
MAEBY: Across from where?

* MICHAEL: You don’t remember her at all, do you?
GOB: Hey, it was one night of wild passion.
MICHAEL: And yet you didn’t notice her body.
GOB: I like to look in the mirror.
MICHAEL: Okay, that would be disgusting if you’d actually slept with her, but I don’t think you did.
GOB: I did. And it was disgusting.
NARRATOR: They didn’t, but it would have been.

* I’m not sure what’s more amusing about Carl Weathers’ Scandalmakers choices: The fact that he’s playing Ice (and has made him the lead character), or the fact that he’s cast Dave Attell to play Tobias.

* The entire Burger King scene is great, but you’ve gotta love the capper:

* George Michael’s interactions with Buster are pretty much the highlight of the entire episode, and while I’d love to just post them all in their entirety, I think I’ll just highlight my favourite moment:

“So, who should go first? I know, let’s Rock, Paper, Scissors for it!”

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“What? No, no! You would have… You would have won that.”

* “Aren’t you the sweetest thing, spending some time with what’s left of your uncle?”

* The scene where Buster finds Michael and Gob in the staircar is also absolutely hilarious (come to think of it, quite a few of this episode’s biggest laughs are derived simply from people reacting to Buster), particularly Gob’s repeated cry of “Monster!”, and Buster’s entrance…

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…But the gold Motherboy trophy goes to Gob’s terrified exit line: “No, no, you should get in here. I’ll have to go with Barry! No, no, there’s not enough room for you, and me and… the stump… Barry!”

* Tobias sees the raw power of George Sr.:

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* BUSTER: Face it, Michael. They’ve won. He’s the new Buster.
NARRATOR: This was the worst thing Michael could possibly hear.

* BUSTER: So… the seal lost his hand, too.
GOB: Yeah, poor guy’s probably out there without a flipper, swimming around in a circle, freaking out his whole family.

* “Whenever she changed clothes, she made me wait on the balcony until zip-up. And yet anything goes at bath time!”

* BARRY: If you really want to settle this, then your job is to convince that “wife” of yours that you are willing to go in front of the judge and admit that you never had sex.
GOBBY: She has a name, Barry! …You don’t happen to know when it is, by the way, do you?
BARRY: That’s why I want to settle. I’m not “super prepared.”

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* BARRY: You don’t want to go in front of that judge. I caught him in a drag club.
GOB: What were you doing there?
BARRY: Wow… you should be the lawyer.

* MICHAEL: Buster, you can’t zipline over there!
BUSTER: Either I zip down, or he zips up, and that is a mighty long zipper on mother’s Cher jumpsuit. You have to get on your knees to start it.
MICHAEL: …This is much less scary. Godspeed, Buster.

* The highlights of Buster’s failed zipline attempt, now available in one convenient GIF!

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* “Nice to see you again… Usarmy.”

* BUSTER: My army training tells me… that this is going to be a hot mission.
MICHAEL: What? A hot mission?
BUSTER: Yes. I create a diversion, and you grab George Michael and go. We need a name. Maybe “Operation Hot Mother.”
MICHAEL: No, le-let’s try to top that.
NARRATOR: They never did, and later, “Operation Hot Mother” was underway.

* When the Motherboy announcer says they’re going to do some freestyle waltz – boys’ choice – and Lucille immediately commands “George Michael, you’re choosing me.” I don’t give Jessica Walter nearly enough credit for her amazing work on this show, and part of it is that she’s so completely convincing in the role of Lucille, I kind of forget that I’m actually watching a person act. Which I mean in the best possible way, of course – she really does kill it in every scene she’s in.

* Buster’s genuine delight at the trophy he and Lucille win:

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* “I can’t get out, actually.”

* “Having finally had sex, Gob can admit he never consummated their marriage…”

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“But Gob catches a lucky break…”

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“…But it doesn’t last long.”

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MINOR NITPICKS

* While I like the idea of Buster seeing reminders of his lost hand everywhere, it feels somewhat lazy that every single one of them had been previously used by the show to foreshadow the loss of his hand in the first place.

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* You can briefly see another camera (and the camera operator’s hand) in frame on the far left of the screen during Michael’s scene with George Sr. in the attic:

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* The footage of Lucille and George Michael in the car together is exceptionally grainy (as was often the case for in-vehicle shoots during this era of the show).

* Tony Hale’s left hand is visible in a couple of shots when Buster becomes detached
from his hook on the zipline and falls through the hotel skylight.

EPISODE NOTES & TRIVIA

* Amy Poehler and Carl Weathers both appear on-screen in new footage again for the first time since season 1. Dave Attell also has a brief cameo playing himself.

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* This episode overtly mentions that the Bluth siblings are particularly terrified of missing limbs, on account of George Sr. repeatedly using J. Walter Weatherman (and his prosthetic arm) to teach them lessons growing up. J. Walter Weatherman does appear on screen, but only in re-used footage from season 1’s Pier Pressure; it isn’t until season 3’s Making a Stand when Steve Ryan officially reprises the role.

* Tobias heads up to the attic to find George Sr’s “Caged Wisdom” tapes so he can study for the role. George Sr. was selling these tapes back in season 1 during his foray into Judaism – they were introduced in Public Relations.

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* This isn’t the first time Barry and Gob conferred in a public toilet – they previously did so in season 1’s Altar Egos.

* Tobias repeats the phrase “There are dozens of us,” first uttered in season 1’s In God We Trust.

* Tobias exclaims “Did I get lines? They told me I was just jumping onto a moving staircar!” This is a reference to The One Where Michael Leaves, where George Sr’s only appearance entails just this (save from a scene where he masqueraded as Oscar, though the audience didn’t learn it was him until after).

* Gob’s ex wife becomes yet another person to pronounce his name “Gahb” (a running gag that dates back to the Pilot).

* The show continues it’s George W. references with the use of the Bush-ism “misunderestimated.”

* We learned in Good Grief that Gob wears stripper pants even when he’s not stripping, which is unexpectedly reinforced here:

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* What appears to be a solid piece of physical comedy is actually a blooper they left in the show – Tony Hale didn’t even realise he’d hit Jason Bateman in the head with the door here:

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* “Operation Hot Mother” comes up again a couple more times in the show – Maeby’s working on a film by the same name later this season in Meat the Veals (which is implied may actually be based on Buster and Michael’s mission), and then Michael and Buster end up embarking on “Operation Hot Brother” in season 3’s Exit Strategy.

* Buster screams “I’m a monster!” for the second consecutive episode.

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* This is the second episode (both of the entire series, and in a row) to end with an alternate piece of music for the credits. Here’s the full version of the Motherboy song!

* This episode has a couple of deleted scenes – both from the “On the next” montage at the end. The first is a mostly visual bit with Gob getting drenched in the ocean trying unsuccessfully to catch the seal (with the narrator explaining that this is why they’re so expensive), and the second is George Sr. acting out some more melodrama with himself in the attic, when he proposes to one of the dolls that that they let the action figure watch.

THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

* George Michael asks Michael where the pump is for the air mattress, and Michael responds telling him that he had to take all the pumps out of the attic. This is a callback to Sad Sack, where we learned that George Sr. had been using Tracey’s breast pump for… other purposes.

* George Sr. tells Tobias that he gets the names Polly and Nellie mixed up. In season 3’s Family Ties, we learn there’s another reason he has the name Nellie on his mind.

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* George Michael’s sailor costume reads “USS ENTER RISE” – with the P from “ENTERPRISE” missing. This is a callback to Gob’s “PRESIDENT” sign also losing its P in The One Where They Build a House.

* I assume pretty much everyone is familiar with the term “jump the shark,” but just in
case: It’s a phrase used to refer to when a tv show goes downhill – often a particularly terrible moment or episode, after which the show’s quality never recovers. The term was coined in reference to the Happy Days episode “Hollywood: Part 3,” in which Fonzie jumps over a shark on water skis.

The writers feared that the overt product placement for Burger King in this episode would be the show’s own “jump the shark” moment, and so, they wrote it into the show in the most brilliant way possible: By having Fonzie himself – Henry Winkler – promote Burger King, then follow it up by literally jumping over a shark:

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On a related side note, the writers initially planned to push the product placement even further – the episode was originally titled “Tendercrisp Chicken Comedy Half-Hour.”

* There’s a running joke in this episode with a band also being named Motherboy. Though the actual band name is a reference to Loverboy, the joke itself refers to the show’s lawsuit with the hip-hop group Arrested Development.

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In addition to this, the people in the Motherboy photo are, from left to right: Tony Hale, Jeffrey Tambor, Will Arnett, Robert Smigel, and Jason Bateman.

Also – and I absolutely cannot say this for sure – but it sounds suspiciously like an uncensored “cocksucker” made it into the song clip we heard of the fake band. Take a listen for yourself.

* We get a little glimpse of Annyong’s actor on the Scandalmakers set:

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THIS INSTALLMENT’S DISCUSSION QUESTION

Let’s imagine that we see more of Scandalmakers; We’ve already got Carl Weathers playing Ice, Dave Attell playing Tobias, and Tobias playing George Sr. Who would some of your casting picks be for the other characters on the show?

LINK TO PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT