Original airdate December 21, 2003
Written by Chuck Martin
Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar
Production Code #1AJD07
“Michael’s efforts to throw a surprise party for – and at the behest of – his mother lead to him sustaining short term memory loss in a car crash. As Lucille does all she can to prevent him from recollecting the accident, Lindsay visits George Sr. in prison but is disappointed by the reaction her presence invokes. Meanwhile, George Michael and Maeby try to sneak in to an R-rated movie, while Buster and Lucille 2 take things to the next level.”
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.
My Mother, the Car is not your standard Arrested Development episode. In fact, it may be the most unorthodox installment of the entire first season. A smaller, more character-focused episode, it possesses a notably darker tone and slower pace than the episodes that surround it, frequently veering outside the show’s usual stylistic choices. It’s even scored a little differently, with the show’s usual upbeat musical style being sidelined in favor of a more foreboding and dramatic soundtrack (at least for the A plot, anyway). Another reason this episode stands out so much is the way it’s written, as virtually every other episode in the Fox run has a 3 act structure (the standard for sit-coms). Designed as such to account for the designated commercial breaks, it’s a tried and tested formula: Establish the story in act 1, introduce obstacles and complications in act 2, then provide resolution in act 3. My Mother, the Car, however, is very much a 2 act story; the first half of the episode builds to a climactic moment, and that moment then becomes the catalyst for the second half.
My Mother, the Car borrows heavily from the mystery genre, but doesn’t utilize the genre’s tropes in a traditional way. We know all along that Lucille is responsible for the car accident, and is doing everything in her power to convince Michael he was behind the wheel. The writers spend the first act giving the Bluth siblings what they need to unravel their mother’s devious plan in act two – setting up her history of misdemeanors behind the wheel, her fraudulent license renewal, her penchant for manipulating her children, along with the rock behind the passenger seat (left by Buster in the previous episode). And one of the key details in cracking the plan – Lucille struggling to carry her groceries – isn’t initially played as a clue. It is, however, a clever plot turn that ties the A story in with Lindsay’s seemingly unrelated subplot.
Another notable detail that sets this episode apart is just how reprehensible Lucille’s actions are. Granted, the show rarely depicts her as sympathetic, but her bitterness and self-centered scheming hadn’t yet come close to this level of villainy (and even then, future instances would rarely reach such extreme heights). After all, this is a woman who is fully prepared to strike her injured son over the head with a heavy ornament just to retain her driver’s license. It’s a big risk taking a major character to such a dark place so early in the series, but Jessica Walter’s immaculate performance keeps the story plausible (or, at the very least, funny as hell). Lucille regularly steals the scenes she’s in, and this is proof that she’s just as entertaining when anchoring an episode. Really, the writers are taking a similar approach with Lucille here as they did with Lindsay in the previous episode: By consciously exploring character traits established in the Pilot. Any viewer who’s this far into the series already knows Lucille is ruthlessly cunning and manipulative, but this is the most revealing examination yet of those attributes.
Much like the previous episode, the George Michael/Maeby subplot here feels like something of an afterthought, only tangentially related to the main story (with Gob’s ability to make fake IDs coming up in both narratives). These scenes peak early, with the genuinely inspired Les Cousins Dangereux trailer (and George Michael’s subsequent obsession with the film) proving far more amusing than the cousins’ actual attempts to see it. While George Michael and Maeby have been strong characters when at a helm of a more substantial storyline (ie. Top Banana), there’s a tendency to saddle the pair with throwaway subplots in these early episodes. It’s never of poor quality, but the laughs ultimately come more from non sequiturs in the dialogue than the actual premise at hand. The show is still very much writing George Michael and Maeby as children at this point, which means they’re occasionally thrown into generic situations like “kids try to sneak into an R-rated movie.” It’s a common occurrence in sit-coms, though thankfully, the cousins – and their adventures – would evolve over time.
Despite the largely stand-alone narrative at its core, My Mother, the Car does advance the season’s larger story arcs in its own ways – most notably Buster and Lucille 2 sharing their first kiss. It would be easy for the writers to play the Buster/Lucille 2 relationship purely as gross-out comedy – and they’re hardly hesitant about calling attention to its creepier aspects – but it’s also a lot more than that. There is something genuinely endearing about seeing Buster experiencing romance for the first time, however unsettling the specifics may be. Not to mention it adds some additional layers to Buster’s complicated relationship with his mother, serving as an extension of the show’s incest jokes (at least in the sense that Buster is dating a woman so similar to Lucille, she has the same name).
The common thematic threads tying everything together in My Mother, the Car are secrecy and deception – both prevalent themes throughout the entire series. As Lucille concocts her heinous scheme, George Sr. runs a racket in prison (albeit very likely at Lucille’s behest), Buster secretly enters a taboo relationship, and Gob manufactures fraudulent IDs the cousins then use for their own forbidden inclinations. It’s an episode where every character dabbles in dishonesty to some degree, and with each lie told is a new shoe waiting to drop. It’s also relentlessly bleak for a prime-time sit-com on network television, but it still has some semblance of heart; the last few minutes demonstrate the genuine solidarity beyond the Bluth siblings (previously touched upon in Bringing Up Buster, which gives me the impression that almost all of their familial bonding revolves around airing out their grievances over Lucille). Gob and Lindsay regularly dismiss and disappoint Michael, but when it comes to getting the upper hand on Lucille, they all have each other’s back. Even if Lucille’s penchant for manipulation proves to be the stronger force in the end.
MICHAEL: Hey, mom. Remember we had that conversation about trying to cut back on things that aren’t necessities?
LUCILLE: Like it was yesterday.
MICHAEL: It was this morning. And now I hear that you’ve hired a crew for the yacht? I’m selling that yacht.
LUCILLE: Michael, you haven’t heard why I want it. To throw the most lavish party this town has ever seen for my birthday.
MICHAEL: I enjoy a bicentennial as much as the next guy, mom, but we’re not doing that.
“Honest to god, Buster, it’s like every little thing makes you seize up in terror lately. I just have no idea where you get that from… Get away from that stove, you’re going to light your hair on fire!! …He’s weak.”
“Well, they got the Asian right. Hotties might be a stretch.”
“Well, let’s start with the little one.”
LINDSAY: Michael, do you have any idea what would happen if I were to visit prison?
LINDSAY: It would be pandemonium.
LINDSAY: It would just give dad one more reason to think that I’ve got nothing to offer but my looks.
GOB: Yeah, I got some of that. Except he also didn’t like my looks.
MICHAEL: I can’t believe she got that driver’s license renewed.
GOB: She didn’t. I dummied her up a new one. Not my best work, though. She wanted to look 48. I nearly airbrushed her into oblivion. Ended up checking “albino” in the form.
MAEBY: We don’t have to go, do we?
MICHAEL: Come on, this is a Bluth family celebration. It’s no place for children.
LINDSAY: It’s always been “Michael’s got the brains, Gob’s got the charm, Buster’s got the…”
GEORGE SR: …High-fastening pants.
LINDSAY: You said that?
GEORGE SR: No, I’m saying that now.
“Excuse me, kids, can I see your IDs?”
“Where on earth are we going? …Left at the next corner.”
“Mom, you’ve already got two strikes on your record. You strike one more person and it’s technically a spree.”
MICHAEL: Tonight, mother was humiliated. And I want to throw her another surprise party, a real one, one where she’s not the one that’s yelling surprise.
LINDSAY: Mom yelled surprise?
MICHAEL: Yeah, she went from giddy to devastated. I mean, it would have been funny if it wasn’t so… No, it was kind of funny.
“What frail act got you this time, Michael? She couldn’t open a jar? What, did a clump of her hair come out in your hand?”
MICHAEL: I’m sorry you’re upset, but, you know, if you were nicer then maybe your kids would take better care of you, you know? Or want to be with you more.
LUCILLE: I’ve been a horrible mother.
MICHAEL: No, mom, you’re great. You’ve been a great mother.
Followed immediately by:
BUSTER: Um, is it okay if I do it for mom and not you?
BUSTER: Because I really like mom.
MICHAEL: We know.
MICHAEL: My head does not hurt at all. What did you give me?
DR. MILLER: Your mother asked me to pump you full of…
LUCILLE: Children’s aspirin.
DR. MILLER: …Okay.
LUCILLE 2: Buster, do you remember when we were kissing last night?
BUSTER: It was a wild, wild ride. But is this something we can do? Is this something society will allow?
LUCILLE 2: I don’t care what other people think. My god, for the first time in years, I felt like I was standing on solid ground.
BUSTER: You know, my panic attacks have decreased. I feel confident. I’m feeling proud, even! I mean, for the first time in my life…
(Lucille 2 then says “I’ll call Dr. Miller,” and we cut back to Lucille’s penthouse just as Dr. Miller receives that call, the show once again forging comedic beats in its jumping timeline.)
“Totally cool, didn’t feel a thing. You know, mom, I’m crazy about this aspirin. Can’t believe we give it to children.”
When George Michael approaches the yacht, we hear Gob shooing a woman away, followed by a splash. Gob then walks out while throwing the life preserver overboard. Shortly after, Gob makes a comment about not wanting people to think he is “some sleazy character from the docks,” and we’re then given the punchline to both setups:
“She’s an Olympian… hopeful. Swimming. I’m coaching.”
GEORGE MICHAEL: I, uh… need you to make some fake IDs for me and Maeby.
GOB: Like a passport?
GEORGE MICHAEL: Yeah, yeah, that would be great. Oh, and uh, preferably French. I like the way they think.
Having found several ways to sneakily injure Michael’s head and hinder his recollection of the accident, Lucille picks up an ornament and almost takes things to a horrific extreme before realizing she’s off the hook. She then tries to nonchalantly pass it off as a gift instead, which a drugged-up Michael actually buys:
LUCILLE: Buster, what’s going on? What happened to your head?
BUSTER: Nothing. Gob was just teaching me how to hit it with a hammer.
GEORGE SR: I’m paying thousands of dollars in Krugerrands.
GEORGE SR: Gold Krugerrands. Your mother snuck them in here, stuffed them in energy bar wrappers to keep me from getting strangled in the shower… or worse.
GEORGE SR: …In a way.
“That’s all I’ve ever wanted from you, daddy. For you to spend money on me.”
GOB: Turn this skiff around!
CAPTAIN: We haven’t even left the dock.
GOB: …But “skiff” is appropriate, right?
GOB: There’s no way that you were trying to hurt me. You don’t hate me, mom hates me! You kind of like me.
MICHAEL: Yeah, I kind of like you.
“Gob, this is nuts. Mother is frail…”
GOB: You set him up, mom. I was halfway to South America, but I couldn’t let you get away with it, because we’re brothers, mom, and we kind of like each other.
MICHAEL: You were going to South America?
GOB: …I don’t think so.
“I knew that society would never accept this, and they never will!”
There are quite a few shot-to-shot continuity issues with Lucille’s groceries in the opening scene. The bananas keep shifting position, as do the groceries in the cupboard behind Lucille (among other inconsistencies, such as the level of crumpling on the grocery bag):
There’s a major flaw in the joke with Lucille calling Michael her “third least favorite child,” and then the narrator referring to Gob as her “fourth least favorite child.” Being the fourth least favorite out of her four children would actually make Gob her favorite (and of course, Lucille’s barb at Michael fails to cut at all for the same reason). It is possible that this was intended as a joke – the narrator’s remark a conscious mimicking of Lucille’s erroneous phrasing – but it really doesn’t seem like that’s how they’re trying to play it.
The floor plan for Balboa Towers never quite made sense, and it’s perhaps most apparent in this episode. The entrances for Lucille Bluth and Lucille Austero’s penthouses are directly opposite one another, and yet they’re somehow able to see each other’s balconies.
It is suggested in other episodes (namely season 2’s Queen for a Day) that the apartments do also neighbor each other and share some walls – each wrapping around the building in an L shape, but even then, their balconies still shouldn’t be positioned as we see them. For the “L shape” design to work, the Austero balcony would have to be on the right hand of the Bluth balcony (in relevance to the diagram below), since the apartments are split by the elevator on the left:
This episode’s title (named for the fact that a mother and a car are both major plot points) is a reference to the critically panned sit-com My Mother the Car, which ran from 1965 to 1966. The show’s theme song can be heard when Lindsay, Gob and Buster are watching tv after the first botched surprise dinner.
Supervising producer Chuck Martin receives his first “Written by” credit for this episode. He had previously worked with creator Mitch Hurwitz on The Ellen Show, and would go on to pen several more episodes of Arrested Development over its first two seasons (Beef Consommé, Shock and Aww, Afternoon Delight, Burning Love, Out on a Limb and Hand to God). While his writing credits have been sparse since the show ended, he has worked as producer on Shrink and The Marriage Ref, and is a credited director of post-production on over 100 collective episodes of Avengers Assemble and the Guardians of the Galaxy tv series.
Another first-time credit: Episode director Jay Chandrasekhar, who would go on to direct 3 more episodes over the show’s first season (Beef Consommé, Altar Egos and Justice is Blind). Jay Chandrasekhar has had an extremely prolific career in television (with the occasional foray into cinema; most notably, directing the cult comedy Super Troopers). Other shows he’s directed include Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Chuck, Community, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Fresh Off the Boat, Happy Endings, The Goldbergs, The Grinder, The Loop, The Mayor, New Girl, Speechless, Superstore, Undeclared and Up All Night. And that’s with me omitting over half the things he’s worked on!
This is the first time Patricia Velasquez appears on the show, taking over from Leonor Varela in the role of Marta. Her participation in this episode is limited to a single long shot, which may have been a conscious decision to make the transition between actresses smoother (if so, the effort ultimately proved futile, as this is her second appearance in the erroneous broadcast order).
Her and Liza Minnelli are the only recurring cast members present in this episode.
Mark Blankfield makes his only appearance on the show, playing Dr. Miller, the family doctor for both the Bluths and the Austeros. He had previously been mentioned in Key Decisions. The episode’s script had a more sizeable role for Dr. Miller, which was actually filmed but then cut for time (see the Deleted/Extended Scenes section for more information).
This episode was broadcast after In God We Trust, creating further continuity issues with the broadcast order, as Buster and Lucille 2 are seen as a couple in that episode, yet they begin dating in this one (in addition to the fact that their cover is blown at the end of In God We Trust, but they are still keeping their relationship a secret here).
This episode also plays better when it immediately follows Charity Drive, as that episode establishes the rock behind the car’s passenger seat (broadcast order instead puts two episodes between Charity Drive and My Mother, the Car).
This is the first mention of Les Cousins Dangereux, the French film about two incestuous cousins that George Michael quickly becomes obsessed with. The actors in the trailer we glimpse here even bear some resemblance to George Michael and Maeby:
It would be referenced again numerous times throughout the show’s run: In the season 2 finale Righteous Brothers, Maeby is involved an American adaption of the film (with George Michael making the same statement in that episode about liking the way the French think), and George Michael later recognizes actress Rebel Alley from that remake in season 4’s It Gets Better. We learn in season 3’s Mr. F that George Michael has the poster for the original French version hidden behind another on his bedroom door. He also finds a copy of the film on dvd upon returning to his teenage bedroom as an adult in season 5’s Everyone Gets Atrophy.
Bach’s Italian Concerto can be heard playing in the restaurant when Michael and Lucille first arrive.
This episode introduces the Bluth family yacht, which Gob is living on for most this season. It proves a major setting in both Pier Pressure and Missing Kitty, ultimately being destroyed in the latter episode. His place of residence is then made a mystery for the remainder of the Fox run, until the season 3 finale, Development Arrested, when we learn he’s been staying on another boat, named The C-Word (which he presumably bought in season 2’s The One Where They Build a House).
The bandaged head would later become more of a Tobias trademark, with him sporting similar gauze in Afternoon Delight, Making a Stand and A New Start.
The next time George Michael met Gob at the docks would be in Pier Pressure. Given that episode’s premise, it makes Gob’s “sleazy character from the docks” line here even more amusing.
The woman at the docks marks the second instance we’ve witnessed Gob being unfaithful to Marta (the other being with Kitty in Visiting Ours). A cutaway joke in the episode also implies Gob’s been hiring prostitutes on the side, suggesting these aren’t the only two. Gob’s infidelity would become a plot point two episodes from now, in Storming the Castle.
There’s another nod to the show’s “documentary” framing device, with the camera seemingly being picked up off the ground in the aftermath of the car crash:
Lindsay would wear her “SLUT” shirt again in season 2’s Good Grief and The Immaculate Election, and season 3’s Exit Strategy. Season 4’s Señoritis also contains a brief flashback to the footage where it first appears here:
The phrase “that sounds like mom” is uttered again in the very next episode, In God We Trust. The episode also contains a plot point in which Gob believes Michael is fleeing to South America in that episode, which is likely inspired by the plan he himself concocts here.
This is the second episode where a Bluth tries to flee via the sea, the first being the Pilot. It would later happen again (multiple times) in season 3’s Development Arrested, with season 4’s Borderline Personalities revealing that the Bluths keep instinctively doing this due to poor advice given to them by their attorney.
Gob also said the line “I don’t think so” in the Pilot (delivered in the exact same manner).
This is the first instance of a Bluth hitting another family member with a car. It would happen again in The One Where Michael Leaves, Afternoon Delight and Sword of Destiny, with a near-miss in The B. Team and a family member being hit by a bus boarded by another in A New Start.
Tobias does not appear in this episode.
My Mother, the Car has a total runtime of 21 minutes and 39 seconds, and is rated TV-PG-L. It is tied with Charity Drive and In God We Trust as the show’s shortest episode.
Lucille 2 can be seen in a flashback playing poker with a group of rather flamboyant men. This is likely a meta joke about Liza Minnelli’s popularity within the gay community.
The flashback with Gob on the yacht where he mistakes the Asian couple for a pair of sex workers may be the most overt hint thus far as to Gob’s sexual orientation; he seems genuinely willing to participate in a threesome with another man (or at least unphased by the notion). Towards the end of the season, in Not Without My Daughter, Gob confirms he actually has gone through with at least one such threesome at some point in his life.
Seasons 4 and 5 would delve into this aspect of Gob’s personality in far greater depth.
“World’s Worst Drivers” is a fictitious tv show, satirizing some of the cheaper, more low-brow content Fox was airing at the time (and continues to air today).
Michael and Lucille startle the same two waiters both times at the restaurant during the false yells of “Surprise!”
The gold Krugerrands are another hint at the shady activities George and Lucille have gotten up to. The coins were illegal to possess in many countries between the 1970s and 1990s, due to economic sanctions against South Africa for its apartheid policy.
A little while after Buster jumps through Lucille 2’s window, there’s this background gag when Michael is on Lucille 1’s balcony:
This episode has an exceptionally long reel of deleted/extended scenes. There’s a flashback that reveals Michael’s parents forgot his 6th birthday but remembered his twin sister Lindsay’s (with George Sr. pointing to a pink bike and saying “It’s for both of you!”), a much longer stretch of dialogue between Maeby and George Michael at the cinema, where we learn George Michael wanted to go see a Pixar-esque CGI movie instead, an additional prison visit between Lindsay and George Sr. (where Lindsay questions if everyone in prison immediately turns gay, then muses on whether it’s the fluorescent lighting, and George Sr. tries to discourage her by telling her some “real animals” are getting out of solitary the next day, which of course, prompts her to return), and a funny little bit where Gob mishears Michael’s request to blow Lucille’s “socks off” as “skirt up.”
More notable, however, is the amount of material they cut in regards to Dr. Miller, which heavily implies Lucille is bribing him so he’ll give Michael false medical information (including the suggestion that Michael shouldn’t try to remember, because it causes “memory fluid” to pool up and escape). Clearly becoming increasingly uneasy with the situation, Dr. Miller eventually mutters to himself “I’m going to lose my license.” This was then to be expanded on in an “On the next” where Dr. Miller is bandaging up Gob’s head, and reveals “It’s Mr. Miller now,” to which Gob responds, “License problems? I can take care of that for you.”
5 thoughts on “Season 1, Episode 7: My Mother, the Car”
How did I miss this one? Hmmm….
Speaking of things I missed, I’ll have to echo MJM in that I didn’t catch the resemblance of the French actors to Maeby and George Michael. I always loved the set-up of this episode with Lucille’s deception regarding the accident. She’s so frail.
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My two observations from your write-up here are that I hadn’t noticed the two French cousins in the film even looked like George Michael and Maebe – him, especially – and just how janked up things got from being broadcast out of order. I’m currently watching the episode while reading your write-ups, so naturally I’ve been following the preferred order and reading just how this makes a continuity hash out of the episodes and my god, you’re right! It’s kind of sad how they put them on the DVDs (and Netflix) in the same wrong order, you’d have thought they would fix that for Netflix at least with Hurwitz there.
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The dvds have the episodes in the correct order (it’s actually what I’m going by). They may be the only outlet that does, since neither broadcast nor production order are correct, and Netflix just follows broadcast order.
Oh, I misunderstood. Good to know they got it right somewhere at least.
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It’s definitely the way I would recommend watching the series (especially since Netflix have hidden the original cut of season 4 now). Hopefully season 5 will get a dvd release too someday so I can complete my collection!