Original airdate November 30, 2003
Written by Barbie Feldman Adler
Directed by Greg Mottola
Production Code #1AJD05
“Michael discovers his siblings have been using his father’s car without his knowledge. Lindsay attempts to prove her charitable side to Michael by returning to her activist roots and volunteering at the wetlands, while Michael’s desire to demonstrate his own penchant for charity causes him to unwittingly commit human abduction. A chipped tooth causes Gob difficulty when George Sr. needs him to break into a permit office. Buster struggles to hide from Lucille 2 as the Bachelorette Auction approaches, where he has been tasked with bidding on Lucille.”
NOTE: Deconstructing Arrested Development openly discusses spoilers when relevant (which can include episodes that come later in the series). Readers who have not seen the series in its entirety are advised to proceed at their own discretion.
If you’re watching Arrested Development on dvd (as recommended), Charity Drive closes out the first disc. I suppose that makes me think of this as the end point of the show’s introductory period. In a lot of ways, Charity Drive really does feels the show moving out of gestation and transforming into the Arrested Development we know and love. There’s no doubt that it’s all been outstanding television so far, but of all the episodes in the show’s initial run, this one may feel the most like “peak Arrested Development.” Unlike many other early season 1 episodes, Charity Drive could be slotted into season 2 or 3 and not feel at all out of place (stylistically, of course – that’d be a hot mess continuity-wise).
Not only is Charity Drive an impressively fast-paced twenty minutes of television for such a new show, but it manages to give every character something to do. Even Tobias – who is relegated to a brief mention – still provides us with a funny cutaway gag. In a lot of ways, it’s a quintessential installment, with the show’s most rudimentary concepts and formulas all driving the narrative here: The Bluth Company’s shady business dealings, the family’s competitive behavior, Michael’s self-righteousness, and of course, elaborate misunderstandings. Not to mention the narrative dovetailing, which is not yet as intricate as we’d come to expect from Arrested Development, but certainly makes for more clever and surprising plotting than what most other tv comedies offered at the time.
A good example of what I mean would be the Lindsay subplot here. Her faux activism was established in the Pilot, and guides a lot of her stories in the early episodes (Key Decisions being another example). On the surface, there’s not a great deal to the Lindsay scenes here – they serve more as an offshoot of Michael’s storyline – but they still make for some of the episode’s most outstanding moments, thanks largely to Portia de Rossi’s expert comic timing and sheer commitment to the bit. It’s once the other narratives around this one begin to unfold that Lindsay’s scenes become more than just her being miserable in the wetlands. After all, it’s Michael’s interactions with Lindsay (and Lucille) in the episode’s first act that prompt him to inadvertently kidnap a stranger in the second, which in turn lead to multiple funny pay-offs when Michael and Lindsay are reunited in the third act.
Perhaps most interestingly, the more reprehensible aspects of Michael’s personality are already apparent in this episode. Between Michael throwing food away to spite Gob, his coddling of George Michael, and how aggressively forceful he is with his unfamiliar passenger, Helen Delgado (regardless of who he thinks she is), Charity Drive may be our first real glimpse into who Michael Bluth really is beneath the surface; territory the show would explore a lot more thoroughly in its later seasons. Though here, he’s at least given a brief moment of redemption when he bids $1,000 on Lindsay at the charity auction – once again solidifying Michael and Lindsay’s bond as one of the strongest in the family – only to receive his comeuppance when he’s arrested shortly thereafter. Even if, disturbingly, it seems as though an innocent man ultimately goes for Helen’s abduction.
It’d be impossible to talk about the misunderstandings in Charity Drive without mentioning Buster’s subplot. His accidental bidding on the wrong Lucille is a classic moment, and it’s largely due to how Tony Hale plays the scene, which could best be described as equal parts flustered and horrified. It’s also, however, a prime example of how Arrested Development’s approach to comedic storytelling. A more standard sit-com might have a basic plot peppered with funny one-liners, but with Arrested Development, the story and the jokes are often one and the same. It’s not uncommon for an episode’s biggest laughs to also double as its most important plot points, and it’s a prime example of how seamlessly all the components of this show blend together.
Like a lot of early episodes, the George Michael/Maeby storyline largely revolves around George Michael doing things he wouldn’t normally do in order to impress Maeby. There’s nothing particularly memorable about the adventure the two share, with most of this subplot’s laughs instead coming from the kids’ interactions with the adult characters (namely Gob and George Michael, which always makes for a funny pairing, if only for the proven rule that pairing up a character with their polar opposite is a sure-fire way to generate comedy). Having said that, it’d be unreasonable to expect anything more from a story that takes up so little screentime, and the writers were absolutely right to shift their focus elsewhere for this installment.
It’s easy to imagine this episode originating from some sort of network note requesting the writers exhibit the Bluths’ more charitable side (like how Pier Pressure was supposedly inspired by a Fox executive’s suggestion that Michael teach George Michael a lesson). When you’re writing an episodic comedy about wealthy socialites, the subject of charity is inevitably going to come up sooner or later. There is inherent ridiculousness to the idea of the rich throwing themselves lavish, costly events to raise funds for those less fortunate, and while I can’t say Arrested Development mines this territory for all it’s worth, the subject is still a fine fit for the show’s unique brand of satire.
No one has ever accused Arrested Development of being “simplistic,” but revisiting the show’s earliest installments does feel like going back to basics to some extent. At least in the sense that, if a room full of writers were spitballing story ideas for a comedy about the rich elite, they’d probably arrive at quite a few of the same general ideas. Many of these early stories are simply examining the ways the Bluth family’s luxurious lifestyle is impacted by their new circumstances. The charity auction is the second fancy event the characters have attended in the last few episodes (following the Desi awards in Key Decisions), and the previous episode contained a subplot about the family’s country club membership. I could easily see a lot of these ideas coming simply from the writers asking themselves “What do the rich get up to in their spare time?” In a lot of ways, this is all part of the natural evolution any sit-com goes through; veering down the more obvious roads that present themselves at the beginning of a series is a reliable way to establish the fundamentals of the show’s story/world/characters, and in turn, open up more interesting avenues to explore.
… You just have to be careful on the drive there.
“The permits have been filed absolutely on time. You have my word on that. Um, tell you what. Let me get some of this… Well… Well, as you… The important part is here.”
KITTY: They think you’re full of *beep*. I think it’s the sweating.
MICHAEL: I’ve got to get a car.
KITTY: Don’t worry. I told them the truth.
MICHAEL: That I rode here on a bike?
KITTY: That the permits weren’t filed.
MICHAEL: But my dad filed the permits before he went to jail.
KITTY: He most certainly did not.
MICHAEL: So, I just lied to the investors?
KITTY: You most certainly did.
And then later in the same scene:
GOB: Give me a Gob.
GEORGE MICHAEL: GOB!
GOB: Why don’t you just take your precious portable stairway vehicle you’re always trying to convince us is a car?
MICHAEL: Yeah, that would be great, except our brother-in-law left it in an airport parking lot.
GOB: From whence it came, huh?
NARRATOR: In fact, Tobias had intended to park the family’s only vehicle at the airport parking lot, but was waved onto the tarmac instead, where he found a spot close to his gate.
MICHAEL: Hey, hey, hey, woah. Two sticks and extra chocolate? Is it Mardi Gras? What are you charging for that?
GEORGE MICHAEL: He doesn’t like to discuss money.
GOB: I don’t like to discuss money.
MICHAEL: What does that mean? You’re paying for that.
GOB: A Bluth banana? No, I hadn’t planned on it.
GEORGE MICHAEL: Hah!
GOB: But I’ll tell you what. If you want to use my likeness for a Hamburglar-type character, I’ll sign off on that. “Mr. Bananagrabber” or something.
“My own brother. Michael. My own selfish brother. Michael…”
MICHAEL: The bachelorette auction? You know you’re married.
LINDSAY: You just go to dinner with the guy. It’s for charity.
MICHAEL: That’s what you said about posing for the Ladies of Literacy calendar. The one with the pictures of all the 30 year old women in lingerie with their nipples covered by copies of Oliver Twist. Yeah, that made a big difference for the young ones.
LINDSAY: It would have if it didn’t get banned from the schools.
MICHAEL: Come on, face it, you just do all this charity crap just to stroke your ego. You don’t even know what the auction’s for tonight.
LINDSAY: The wetlands.
MICHAEL: To do what with them?
LINDSAY: …Dry them.
MICHAEL: Save them.
LINDSAY: From drying.
“Oh, you don’t do it for us, Michael, you just do it because you love being the guy in charge. ‘Cause you love saying no. Like you said to Gob when he wanted a frozen banana. And even after he gave you the rights to his Mr. Bananagrabber character.”
MICHAEL: What happened to Luz?
LUCILLE: Supposedly, Luz had to take her daughter to the hospital. That’s Lupe, her sister.
MICHAEL: I hope she’s okay.
LUCILLE: She’s awful. Can barely wash a dish.
LUCILLE: You’re the selfish one. You’re the one who charged his own brother for a Bluth frozen banana. I mean, it’s one banana, Michael! What could it cost, ten dollars?
MICHAEL: …You’ve never actually set foot in a supermarket, have you?
LUCILLE: What are you going to do?
BUSTER: Bid on you.
LUCILLE: How much?
BUSTER: When they call my name.
LUCILLE: No, they’re not going to call your name, they’re going to call my name. Good grief!
“I have been a part of this archaeological dig. We think we found a part of a pterodactyl under Fashion Island…”
“That was 90% gravity.”
NARRATOR: Michael surveyed the damage to his father’s car – the partially excavated skull, the spilled nail polish, the burned seats – and he came to an important decision…
MICHAEL: I’m getting some ice cream, I can tell you that right now.
GEORGE SR: Hey, listen, about that permit thing, that’s an easy fix. Just break into the permit office, slip the application into the next file and then tell them “Hey, you guys screwed up.”
MICHAEL: I’m not doing that, dad.
GEORGE SR: Michael, you lied to your investors. You gotta make that right. Call Gob, he’ll handle it. That’s what he’s for.
MICHAEL: That’s what he’s for?
GEORGE SR: You better tell him I’m asking. I don’t thing he’s going to do it for you after you wouldn’t even give him a frozen banana, Michael.
MICHAEL: Is there a chat room that you guys all…?
GEORGE SR: Not charitable.
GEORGE SR: I’ve got a dance I gotta get ready for.
MICHAEL: Woah, there’s really a dance?
GEORGE SR: I don’t know. Both sides are making a lot of promises.
GOB: I have some conditions… Terms.
GOB: One condition and one term.
MICHAEL: All right. Let’s have the condition first.
GOB: A free banana whenever I want.
MICHAEL: Single dip.
GOB: Double dip. But I’ll take one stick.
MICHAEL: All right, what else?
GOB: Creative control, spin-off rights and theme park approval for Mr. Bananagrabber, Baby Bananagrabber, and any other Bananagrabber family character that might emanate there from.
MICHAEL: I retain animation rights and we go back to single dip.
MICHAEL: Great. What else?
GOB: You humiliated me in front of my nephew. I expect you to fix that. I want the respect of your son.
Michael: You better let me do the talking.
“I don’t know if that smell is you, the car, something you ate, or something you’re about to eat, but my god, you’re in a service business!”
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some nature to save…”
NARRATOR: Unfortunately, the woman he picked up wasn’t Lupe, but was a total stranger. And upon seeing bones, a shovel and what appeared to be blood, she realized he wasn’t who she thought he was.
HELEN DELGADO: Oh, mister, please, por favor, dejame salir del carro.
MICHAEL: This is going to be tricky, I don’t speak Spanish.
HELEN DELGADO: Yo es scared-o. Uh-huh.
MICHAEL: Izquierdo. I know that one. Left turn it is, missus! …They call me selfish.
“I mean, I guess it would just be a guy who you know, grabs bananas and runs. Or, um, a banana that grabs things. I don’t know. Why would a banana grab another banana? I mean, those are the kind of questions I don’t want to answer.”
Michael’s interactions with Helen go to some hilariously dark places, with him unintentionally phrasing things in the most terrifying possible way, ie. “I’m not going anywhere until she’s taken care of.”
GEORGE MICHAEL: You heard my dad, I have to do whatever you ask me to.
GOB: All right, take this lock-pick, break into the permit office for me.
GEORGE MICHAEL: I think I’d better check with my dad first.
MAEBY: You’re going to break into a permit office? Sweet, can I come?
NARRATOR: And George Michael saw a chance to get closer to Maeby.
GEORGE MICHAEL: You know, my dad hates to micromanage. Let’s just do this.
“Oh, good lord, you smell worse than before. …Oh my god, it’s me!”
GEORGE SR: There’s a dentist in here who took liberties with his patients. I’m going to ask him to take a look at whatever is happening with you.
GOB: Thanks, pop.
GEORGE SR: Hey, my stock is never going to be higher with his gang than it is right now.
GOB: Yeah, so have you made a decision?
GEORGE SR: I don’t know. I thought it had it down to two, but then the Haitians made this beautiful pitch…
GEORGE MICHAEL: I thought we didn’t want anyone to know we were here.
MAEBY: Well, it’s a little late for that, our fingerprints are everywhere.
GEORGE MICHAEL: But you said they weren’t gonna check for fingerprints!
MAEBY: No, I said don’t wear your mittens. I didn’t want you to look stupid on the security cameras.
GEORGE MICHAEL: There’s a security camera?
“Save yourself. I’ll take the hit. My record’s clean. Well, I got my bike seat was stolen once, but I don’t think it counts on your record if you’re the victim. I mean, there is a record, but it’s not like…”
“Oh, honey… You’re not supposed to show up as the wetlands.” – Lindsay got burned by more than just the sun.
“And Buster showed up just in time…”
“…To bid on the wrong Lucille.”
“Look, a seagull!”
“… I never should’ve given up animation rights.”
Supposedly, the Mercedes seen in the 1982 flashback is actually a 1986 model. I know virtually nothing about cars, so am unable to verify this detail personally.
The close-up of Tobias’s photograph in the newspaper clip initially shows the caption “Actor” Tobias Funke…
But when we cut back to the newspaper after the airport surveillance footage, “Actor” has been removed from the caption, and inserted at the beginning of the headline instead:
In reality, a missing persons report couldn’t have been filed so soon after Helen’s disappearance – let alone reach the point where multiple police vehicles were looking for her – so soon after she disappeared (especially when you consider that, whoever was picking her up was unfamiliar enough to her that she’d mistakenly get in Michael’s car in the first place). Season 5’s Family Leave would later confirm that, in the Arrested Development universe, a person needs to be gone a full 72 hours before they can officially be reported as missing.
Buster mentions his rape whistle by its full name here, but when he brings it up again in The One Where Michael leaves, he abbreviates the word to the letter “R,” as he does with many words he’s uncomfortable saying aloud in full.
While Portia de Rossi’s American accent is normally great, she does briefly slip up when saying the word “stupid.” She pronounces it the Australian way (“schoo-pid”), while Americans would typically say it with a hard T.
While “Let’s go see pop-pop” is an amusing line to end on, it doesn’t really work when you think about it, seeing as the three wouldn’t be taken to the same facility in any event; George Sr. is in prison, not jail, not to mention George Michael is a minor.
I also question whether the cops would really detain two people for unrelated crimes in the same car, though I suppose we’re at that point in the series where the writers are becoming a little more lax towards realism.
Not a complaint about the episode itself, but in the official episode synopsis (printed on the original box set edition of the dvd and used in places like iTunes, Amazon Prime and Google Play, among others), it incorrectly states Gob is the one who makes the erroneous $10,000 bid.
This episode’s title refers to the charity auction, as well as Michael and Lindsay’s attempts to be more charitable, and Michael’s drive with Helen (along with the fact that the family car plays quite a significant part in the episode’s story).
This is the first episode penned by Barbie Adler. She also has writing credits for Altar Egos, Sad Sack, Switch Hitter, The Immaculate Election, Meat the Veals and Spring Breakout, in addition to working as a producer in season 1 and a supervisor producer in season 2. Other shows she’s written for include Bless This Mess, Boy Meets World, Even Stevens, How I Met Your Mother, Life in Pieces, Man Up!, Miss Guided (which starred Judy Greer), My Name is Earl and Up All Night (which starred Will Arnett) – also serving as a producer on the most of these. On top of all this, she created the short-lived sit-com Kevin From Work.
She is credited here as “Barbie Feldman Adler,” though the “Feldman” would eventually be dropped from her name for all of her season 2 credits (she would then switch to “Barbara Adler” for her later tv credits from 2012 to 2019, going back to “Barbie Adler” in 2020).
This is the first appearance of Lucille’s housekeeper, Lupe (played by BW Gonzalez). She is the sister of Luz, Lucille’s former housekeeper seen in Top Banana.
Lupe doesn’t have a single line in this episode, but she would go on to become a somewhat frequent recurring character (sometimes even playing a significant part in the story, like in season 1’s Staff Infection or season 2’s The Immaculate Election). She appears in every season except season 5.
Series regulars Kitty Sanchez (Judy Greer) and Lucille 2 (Liza Minnelli) each have their second appearances in this episode. Mel Gorham also guest stars in the one-off role of Helen Maria Delgado.
Supermodel Claudia Schiffer has a brief, unspoken (and uncredited) cameo as the Balboa Towers guard with whom Gob flirts before he burns the car seat:
When season 1 is viewed in its original broadcast order (which, unfortunately, is the order Netflix have gone with), this episode comes before Visiting Ours. They should be watched the other way around, as Kitty is formally introduced in Visiting Ours, and Michael is still commuting via staircar and bike in that episode, despite gaining access to the family car at the end of this one.
This episode should also be followed immediately by My Mother, the Car, as that episode deals with the fallout of Buster’s erroneous bid, in addition to one of its major plot points being subtly established in this episode: The rock in the back of the family car, placed there by Buster after a recent archaeological dig.
The film grain on the flashback in the opening scene is another little nod to the show’s “documentary” framing device. I always love the little suggestions that, within the Arrested Development universe, somebody is shooting and compiling this footage for some reason.
This scene also marks another time the Bluths’ love of ice cream has come up.
Gob says “from whence it came,” a term he first deployed in Top Banana.
This is the second consecutive episode featuring the country club. Lucille had multiple scenes on the club premises in Visiting Ours, and here, it serves as the venue for the bachelorette auction.
Lucille uses the terms “exit strategy” and “good grief” in this episode, both of which would later become episode titles.
This is the first instance of Gob addressing a stranger as “guy,” one of my favorite little character details.
This episode introduces the Bluth frozen banana mascot Mr. Bananagrabber, a creation of Gob’s who bears a great deal of resemblance to him.
While Mr. Bananagrabber would never be overtly mentioned again, the character has some “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” appearances in The Immaculate Election, Spring Breakout and The B. Team. He also shows up for a similarly brief cameo in the short-lived animated comedy, Sit Down, Shut Up, created by Mitch Hurwitz (and starring multiple Arrested Development cast members).
Gob would chip his tooth and start whistling again in season 2’s Switch Hitter (twice, actually – once in a flashback, and then again in present-day).
The Bluth family’s tenuous grasp on Spanish had previously been established in Key Decisions, but this is the first time it is played as a plot point (in the form of Michael and Helen’s interactions). The next instance would be in Marta Complex.
The song that plays when Lindsay commutes to – and arrives at – the wetlands is Going Up the Country by Canned Heat. Bobby Darin’s rendition of Isham Jones’ It Had to be You can also be heard at the end of the episode.
In season 4, Lindsay and Tobias wind up purchasing an expensive mansion built on the former site of the wetlands (setting up the “Thanksgiving miracle” that plays out over Indian Takers and A New Start).
George Sr. calls Gob a “stupid ass” here, not dissimilar from the phrase “horse’s ass,” an insult he would use in season 2’s Motherboy XXX and Spring Breakout, and season 5’s Saving for Arraignment Day.
The Bluths are down another $11,000 after the events of the auction – just a few episodes after incinerating $250,000.
The following year’s annual charity auction occurs in season 2’s Burning Love (which may be a minor mistake, as this one occurs shortly before Christmas, whereas the next one occurs shortly after it). The episode features numerous callbacks to this one, with many events of the subsequent auction playing out in identical/comparable ways.
Another recurring joke established in this episode: Lindsay – a woman who puts so much of her self esteem into her appearance – keeps inadvertently winding up in unappealing states whenever she’s hoping to entice a prospective date. It wouldn’t quite become a runner until season 2, during the “open marriage” arc between the Fünkes.
Tobias does not appear in this episode, save from a stock photo used in the newspaper clipping.
Charity Drive has a total runtime of 21 minutes and 39 seconds, and is rated TV-PG-L. It is tied with My Mother, the Car and In God We Trust as the show’s shortest episode.
There are no deleted/extended scenes for this episode.
It’s implied that Gob chips his tooth because he requested his candied apple be double-dipped, as hinted by the fact that he has two sticks supporting it, and tells the vendor to call it a Gob (both of which are consistent with his double-dipped banana orders at the banana stand).
(And, if you look closely at the shot above, you’ll see the candied apple stand actually has a sign up regarding potential dental damage.)
Buster states he found a pterodactyl head on his dig, but the unearthed skull is that of a creature far closer to human (if not an actual human being). Also, his archeological group had previously appeared in a still image in Bringing Up Buster (all wearing the same clothing they’re wearing here, implying that photo was from the same dig).
Lindsay’s t-shirt reads “Neuter Fest ’98,” one of Lindsay’s charity events mentioned in Key Decisions.
At the charity auction, someone in a gecko costume can be seen standing behind Buster, presumably to raise wetlands awareness. It is unclear if there’s anything more to the gag than the pure oddness of the visual, though just a couple of episodes earlier, Lucille was comparing Buster’s appearance to a lizard.