First airdate: 24 March, 2004
Written by John Levenstein & Mitchell Hurwitz
Directed by Joe Russo
The two spring break episodes of Arrested Development, of which “Missing Kitty” is the first, are a pair of tiny miracles, showcasing everything that made the show such an exceptional thing, and they are both “for the fans” episodes of the highest order: mired in running gags and character details that require you to have been paying very close attention all along in order to make sense of things, while showcasing the series’ personality in all things – visual gags, cutaways, subtle punchlines, inventive raunch, deeply nasty people – in a way that makes them extra-lovable for people who are pretty much uncritically on board with everything the show is doing. That the third season ended before a last spring break episode could happen is one of the biggest tragedy’s of the show’s cancellation, for “Missing Kitty” and the second season “Spring Breakout” (I prefer the latter, by the very thinnest of margins) are among its unqualified highlights, and I weep to think what a little sibling would have looked like.
But none of that matters from a forward-moving perspective, in which “Missing Kitty” merely has to be itself: a feverish blast of Arrested Development‘s most aggressively warped sense of humor. This is the episode in which the Girls with Low Self-Esteem video series makes its appearance; it is the home of Gob’s crowning moment as a magician (and can I just pause to say, at this point, that the episodes giving Will Arnett a lot to do are very nearly always among the show’s best? Not that anybody in the cast is notably inconsistent, but when he gets a truly great line, he always finds the most excitable comic register for it. Here, in the midst of many great lines, his vocal and physical delivery of “Michael, a magician never reveals his- I sunk it! I sunk the yacht!” is a highlight not just of the episode, but of the season). It is the episode in which we first see Kitty Sanchez’s breasts for the last time, twice, setting up one of the show’s all-time finest recurring jokes. And it’s the episode that sets up, for an entirely different gag, the fact that George Sr. has a twin brother, the kind of odd detail that is quickly forgotten, until it needs to come back.
Generally speaking, it’s just a remarkably high-energy episode, with a giddy script that, admittedly, doesn’t tie together much at all. I don’t think that’s necessarily an accident: the way that Lucille aggressively and unsuccessfully tries to make her subplot suddenly fit into the spring break magic show subplot is at one level a parody of putting a neat bow on narrative threads through arbitrary connections. And, too, there’s no emotional heft to this one, like there is in other first season episodes, though there is an excellent mockery of heartwarming sitcom plots when the show’s dedicated “Michael realises something important about family” music plays right before he decides that he must, at all costs, separate his son from his brother.
Instead of depth or narrative complexity, what “Missing Kitty” has is outright comic ingenuity, by the carload. Even if I were inclined to just start listing things, that list would become quite unwieldy, so let me content myself to a few stray favorites: Gob’s offhand mentioning about tweaking his nipples in the magic show, and George-Michael’s boundless enthusiasm for said magic (Michael Cera is great in this episode; I’d forgotten how frequently he’s not put to much good use in the first season, but when he’s given a lot of good stuff, it’s terrific, enough to make all his subsequent career easy to forget about); Lucille’s ostentatiously evil behavior towards her children regarding their dead grandmother, and in particular her “wonderful” speech; related to that, Porta de Rossi’s delivery of “[Nana’s] fine. She’s been dead for six months”; and the repeated suggestion that spring break is some kind of national holiday season, expressed by several characters in several different contexts. Mostly, though, the episode’s specific brilliance isn’t a matter of particular lines or moments of acting, but its speed and scale: this is a packed, dense episode, with a huge number of locations and brief one-shot gags requiring a tremendous amount of creativity and work to put them over. That sort of thing is the heart and soul of Arrested Development, to me, and it is in fine form here.
It can’t all be great, though, and there’s one single element of this episode that I’m simply not very fond of: the Tobias subplot. It starts out well enough: his analysis of White Power Bill is excellent, and anything that gives James Lipton the line “There’s only one man I’ve ever called a coward, and that’s Brian Doyle-Murray” is clearly doing something right. But as we’ll have opportunity to discuss later, the “Tobias is gay” theme is one that I find somewhat inconsistent; sometimes it’s incredibly inventive and crude and genius (oh, season 2, how much I adore thee), and sometimes it feels obligatory. And frankly, it takes far too much time and effort in this episode to set up a “Friend of Dorothy” joke that isn’t all that great to begin with. Though we then get Tobias’s weird butchering of “Over the Rainbow”, and that’s almost worth everything it took to get there. Even the very best television can’t be flawless all the time, I guess.
(For debate, those who’ve seen the whole show: is the “On the next…” joke about Annyong deliberate foreshadowing that Not All Is What It Seems with this kid, or just a discontinuous one-off that happens to have a happy resonance with later events? Discuss).