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 Development. The 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)