Tag Archives: Arrested Development

Maeby? She’s born with it

“Insanity runs in my family…It practically gallops.”

Arsenic and Old Lace

If I was ever to embark on another in-depth research project and blog, it would probably be about dysfunctional families. Any medium that covers the inherent weirdness in a family is fascinating and hilarious to me. The Corrections, The Royal Tenenbaums, This Is Where I Leave You, Six Feet Under Little Miss Sunshine, Maine, the collected works of Nicole Holofcener, The Simpsons, The Snapper and The Upside of Anger are some of my favorite texts.  All of these families have an obvious love for one another, but that love is coated with a bit of hate. The best of this genre would probably have to be Arrested DevelopmentThe Bluth family is a menagerie of sociopaths and is arguably an Outside Family. Ironically, Maeby Funke is the Outside Girl of that family because she is the most normal Bluth. Riddle me that.

The layered aspect to Maeby’s outsider status is yet another facet to Mitchell Hurwitz‘s unparalleled genius. After all, Maeby’s characterization is just one example of the show’s narrative complexity or, as Jason Mittell would say, the “redefinition of episodic forms under the influence of serial narration.”  This style of storytelling is becoming more and more of a pattern in television. I would argue that Maeby’s layered weirdness/normality is a chance for Arrested Development to flaunt its own creative density. At first glance in the pilot, Maeby seems to be one of the freakiest members of family. The whole kissing-her-cousin-in-order-to piss-off-her-mother thing doesn’t really bode well for her maturity. But as the series evolves and grows, the other seemingly-together characters show their true colors and Maeby reveals that she is crazy like a fox.

Of course, like all Bluths, this intelligence manifests itself in cruelty. Maeby hangs out with her grandmother to rebel against Lindsay; she continually lies to her family; she convinces her entire school that she is actually named “Surely,” and is dying of “B.S.,” so they will take pity on her and give her money; in a fit of jealousy, she convinces a boy that her mother is a transvestite; Maeby proposes to everyone around her; she has a weird mutual respect with Michael; she even cons her way into a successful movie-executive career at “Tantamount Studios.” In normal situations, Maeby would be the mayor of Crazy Town. But by Bluth expectations, she is actually an independent self-starter. She has integrity, finds a way to make cash on her own, and holds down a career with the respect of her peers. Even the self-deluding Michael can’t claim that.

What I’m getting at here is that Maeby didn’t really choose to be an Outside Girl. Anyone who spends 5 minutes watching Arrested Development can understand why the Bluth clan does not fit in with regular society. However, Maeby does choose to double down on being an outsider by trying to be successful and normal (again, by Bluth standards). Lesley Hart-Gunn argues that the Bluths are not a family “pulling together, but a family keeping up appearances.” Maeby doesn’t care about appearances and she doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her; she cares about herself. This is undoubtedly selfish, but also is a indicator of her being an Outside Girl in a family that only thinks it is on the inside.

I believe that Maeby leads multiple hidden lives, lies constantly, and keeps countless secrets in order to preserve her sanity. Without this life that is just hers, she would surely devolve to Lucille Bluth status. (Maeby has a tiny bit of confidence about her body and appearance, so let’s hope that that never happens.) Like the upcoming Margot Tenenbaum, Maeby finds a way to separate herself from the Greek-tragedy-with-laughs that is her family. And that separation–that compounded Outside Girl status–is how she maintains her wits and her link with the audience. She recognizes how messed up the Bluths are and she is smart enough to know that the dysfunction is ingrained in her DNA, along with always leaving notes.  But she removes herself from the core crazy and manages to maintain some semblance of of stability by lying like there is no tomorrow.

*Fun Fact: I even wrote my college admissions essay about This Is Where I Leave You. I bet you really wanted to know that.

What are your favorite Maeby moments? Do you think she is actually as messed up as her family? Feel free to vent your dysfunctional family stories and favorite AD jokes in the comments!

(Image #1 courtesy of ifc.com; #2 courtesy of onetinyhand.com; #3 courtesy of verbicidemagazine.com)

Making an ass of herself with agency

“She thought it would be fun to try photography/She thought it would be fun to try pornography/She thought it would be fun to try most anything/She was tired of sleeping”

“Beautiful” by Belle & Sebastian

No matter your particular age, economic status, gender or race, you probably currently have an opinion about Lena Dunham and her masterpiece of awkward social relations, Girls:

  • It is a brilliant portrait of what it means to be female, educated and young in New York City!
  • No, it is a dull, self-indulgent piece of crap about four lazy white chicks that pretends it is cinéma vérité!
  • No, it is an obscene series because it depicts weird sex, starring a nude woman with an imperfect body and more than  2% body fat!
  • It’s Sex and the Citybut depressing!
  • It demonstrates the bad behavior we all wish we could indulge in, a la Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm or Arrested Development!
  • Lena Dunham sucks!
  • No, you suck!

You can peruse Twitter at your leisure for more words of wisdom.

As you can probably tell, I am firmly in the pro-Girls camp. I think that the series is a warts-and-all story about four very different, very realistic young women. That being said, I do understand some of the criticism that has been hurled at the series. It depicts a very specific niche and some people–well, most people–are not like Hannah Horvath, Marnie Michaels, Jessa Johansson or Shoshanna Shapiro. But one piece of criticism that I will never understand goes something like this: these Girls are revolutionary characters, but their identities are contingent on the men in their lives.

Pardon my French, but I call bullshit.

There are guys in Girls, but they do not define Hannah and Co. And guess what? Hannah and Co. do not define the guys. These are all self-possessed, independent characters whose paths happen to cross because it is a television show and we need to observe conflict to feel entertained. We’re all free to be you and me! Yay.

But there are viewers who wholeheartedly disagree with me.  Serena Daalmans‘s analysis of the series argues that Hannah’s relationship with Adam (who is interesting to say the least) is completely passive. She opines, “Hannah’s need for something to happen in her life, rather than actually taking charge of her life, is disconcerting, as is her willingness to engage in non-fulfilling, awkward, degrading, and unprotected sex with Adam.”

Sorry, but I don’t buy that. Yes, I find Hannah and Adam’s coupling problematic. His initial behavior in the program is definitely not what I look for in a partner. And according to Dunham’s Fresh Air interview, that is the show’s intention. Yet I’m not going to say that her completely unromantic sexual encounters are examples of Hannah waiting for her life to happen. She does these things out of real affection for that weirdo and, as Jessa would put it, “for the story.” I would not personally make that choice, but I’m also not Hannah.

Hannah puts up with a lot throughout the series, and puts her foot in her mouth on a regular basis. But she is aware about her own flaws, admits to them and makes conscious choices as to how she wants to live her life. She yells at her ex-boyfriend for coming out; she wears some truly horrendous outfits; she hits on and then tries to blackmail her boss; she has sex with a stranger eighteen years her senior; she tries cocaine; she burns bridges left and right; she tells Adam she never wants to see him again, but then accepts his grand romantic gesture.

Even if you don’t agree with this type of behavior, it is hard to see it as lacking any agency. You might think Hannah is a sociopath instead of a human being with flaws and contradictions, but  you still have to admit that she makes these seemingly terrible decisions under no one’s influence but her own. Hannah is a writer who believes she needs interesting experiences to write well. Not all authors would deliberately put themselves in awful situations in order to write, and that is their prerogative. However, Hannah does make that choice and takes herself out of her ordinary life and habits. Her actions are shocking, infuriating and worthy of empathy. You might not be willing to try anything once like she is, but don’t say she is passive about her own life because she has unsexy sex. Hannah is doing what she wants, and screw you if you don’t like it.

How Outside Girl is that?

Am I right or do you think I am way off-base? What is your opinion about Lena Dunham and her series? Please feel free to share your perspective in the comments!

(Image #1 courtesy of cosmopolitan.com; #2 courtesy of hollywoodreporter.com; #3 courtesy of crushable.com; #4 courtesy of nymag.com)