First airdate: 25 April, 2004
Written by Mitchell Hurwitz & Richard Rosenstock
Directed by Lee Shallat Chemel
Any little feelings that Arrested Development was leaking air as its first season wore on were quite put to rest with by its penultimate episode, “Not Without My Daughter”, a giddily overstuffed episode in which the plotting could hardly be denser without any sacrifice at all in the intelligence, number, and subtlety of the jokes. On the contrary, I’d argue that “Not Without My Daughter” is the funniest of Season 1’s back nine episodes in addition to being the busiest and most complex. These things are not incidental to each other, I suspect.
Once again, we have a nice, tightly-bound episode in which every single plot thread is ultimate working on the same theme, which in this case is that good old AD standby, how to be an effective parent: but where most times this shows up in terms of Michael and George-Michael vs. Lindsay and Maeby, or vs. Lucille and her children, this time the point of comparison to the several Bluths and their more or less effective roles as parents and parent-surrogates is society at large, in the form of Take Your Daughter to Work Day, which in the AD universe is less of a good way to expose young woman to professional life, and more of a mandatory national holiday, with several of the best subdued background jokes – not to mention the many very overt jokes – based on how fathers bring their female offspring from teenagers on down to infants to jobs that are, almost uniformly, deeply inappropriate for children (the episode’s central gag requires that we ignore that, almost since the day was introduced in the early ’90s, it’s been customary for workplaces to encourage children of both sexes to join in).
That’s the organising joke behind the episode, anyway, but “Not Without My Daughter” has so, so much more going on than just clever sight gags involving incongruous little girls. It is, for starters, and least exceptionally, a great example of one of those fine episodes of a sitcom where the characters have been well-enough established that the mere act of watching them act as we expect them to is pleasurable, and watching them forced to act as we do not is a delightful surprise; and thus do we get the stories of Lindsay and Tobias’s attempts to find jobs wildly ill-suited to their temperaments (this is, maybe, my all-time favorite Lindsay episode, in fact). Thus do we also get the usual litany of “the Bluths are terrible and they hate each other” gags, humor which is only able to keep from being truly bitter because of our own affection for the characters involved, and which reaches one of its greatest highs in the beginning of this episode, the back and forth between Lindsay and Michael about Lucille that culminates in “Old thing gave it to me” (I’m also awfully fond of Michael’s “[bleep] it’s my mother”, in the same vein).
Then there is the sheer delight in wordplay – and not necessarily in character continuity, I fear to say, for no matter how often I watch and love this episode, I don’t think George-Michael would really act this way – of the daisy chain whereby Gob, Tobias, and George-Michael have a successful conversation in which none of the men is actually paying attention to the other two.
There are two of the best accidental homosexuality jokes in the show’s run, Tobias’s “Oh God, no” at Girls with Low Self-Esteem (itself making a very thematically keen reappearance; the phrase “self-esteem” is used very smartly as a unifying element throughout the episode) and Gob’s unthinking “Not a lot of complaints, if you know what I mean. At least not from the girl”, the perfect punchline to an excellent example of the “Gob says horribly wrong things in front of innocents” tradition in the show.
And so on, and so forth – I will not belabor all of the little ways in which the show’s major recurring jokes all put in an appearance, but “Not Without My Daughter” works, not accidentally I am sure, as a sort of catalogue of just about everything that Arrested Development had been up to in its first season: snarky narrator, incest, “no touching!”, cutaways, jokes in the music, and the individual foibles of each and every single Bluth (the only major element of the show as it existed at this point that was not touched on at all is George-Michael’s crush on Maeby, which was at this point in remission, anyway). This gives the episode the feeling of both a summing-up – as the show readied for its summer off, and potentially the end of its existence (at no point was AD ever free from the threat of cancellation), the writers having a chance to bring everything back for a farewell bow – and a bit of bragging, cramming a mere 21 minutes so full of jokes of every stripe and creativity the likes of which the half-hour sitcom had not been much inclined to so much as fantasise about prior to this show’s birth. It is a show-off Arrested Development, I mean to say, and well-earned.
Even with all that going on, there’s still room for new growth: a visual gag that presages the major future plotline of Oscar Bluth, and a considerable deepening of Maeby’s personality that would start to pay off in the next season, when she’d become a more active character. It’s all dense as hell: even if I was inclined to just rattle off the gags I loved best, I don’t think I could do it, simply because there’s too much going on. It’s a breakneck episode working on every level with too many rapid-fire jokes to even keep track of them all, and while it is not my absolute favorite Season 1 episode, it might very well be the most rewatchable.