First airdate: 13 February, 2005
Written by Jim Vallely & Mitchell Hurwitz
Directed by Paul Feig
I shall try to start by accentuating the positive: “Ready, Aim, Marry Me” is not a worthless episode of Arrested Development. Far from it! No matter how much is going wrong – and there’s a lot, though not maybe quite as much as the immediately preceding “Burning Love” – it cannot be taken away from the episode that it’s a terrific showcase for David Cross’s Tobias Fünke, who had and would continue to have his fair share of excellent jokes surrounding “RAMM”, but gets a pretty stunning concentration of all-time great moments crammed into his B-plot. Did I not just complain, about “Queen for a Day”, that sometimes the “Tobias doesn’t realise he’s gay/doesn’t realise he’s not fooling anybody/is just prone to unbelievably bad phrasing” thread that extends over the entire series sometimes feels like a lazy crutch? Well, sometimes it is the source of the show’s finest, most energetic lewd wit. “I’m afraid I prematurely shot my wad on what was supposed to be a dry run, if you will, so now I’m afraid I have something of a mess on my hands”, he says in what is undoubtedly the most widely-renowned line from this episode, and with that, we’re off to the races on a cavalcade of jokes that would seem downright filthy if they weren’t so clever and delivered with sparkling giddiness by Cross, at his Season 2 peak in this episode. “Butterscotch! Wanna lick?” – “And I apologize for that. I thought it was a pool toy.” – “Tobias, you blowhard!” Top shelf moments all, and the best proof of all that no AD episode is entirely bad, not with that cast giving life to that writing team’s words.
Still, “RAMM” is pretty fucking rough going, and not just for the obvious reason. We’ll put him off for the moment, in consideration of some of the episode’s minor weaknesses: for starters, it does a pretty poor job of giving everybody in the cast something good to do, with George-Michael and George Sr. especially getting short shrift in limited, plot-moving scenes, and Maeby rising above them only because Alia Shawkat is able to extract so much from the reaction shot to Michael’s “I just screwed my brother-in-law”. The actual plot is also kind of grim and un-amusing: that the Bluths have no real affection or respect for each other is neither news nor, at this point in the show’s run, tremendously offensive, but I still have a hard time getting around the idea of Michael literally pimping out his sister, which seems, in context, needlessly cruel (though I do very much enjoy the joke where his lack of concern about the ethics of the situation manages to throw the narrator). When it all descends into a hectic chase-based farce, it’s crazy without much actual humor, a weaker version of what was already not too great in “Beef Consommé”. And while I enjoy Jessica Walter’s delivery of the line “The joke’s on her, because she doesn’t know how little I care for Gob”, it’s a gag that has been used almost exactly the same way before, and while callbacks are a strength of the show, repetition is not.
These aren’t episode-crippling problems, and in fact, I’m inclined to say that “RAMM” is mostly in most ways: a lower-tier episode, certainly, but better almost across the board than “Burning Love”. What pushes it down to be in the running for my least-favorite episode of the show’s run is the most infamous character in AD history, Uncle Jack Dorso, a parody of Jack LaLanne played by Martin Short, and every clause in there contains a different problem: the insistence on “he wasn’t really their uncle” is cheap for a show that makes such hay out of incest jokes (there’d be a much, much better variant on the exact same idea later on), LaLanne was a bizarrely specific topic of mockery for a TV show that aired in 2005, and Martin Short was a horrendous choice in casting. Though I don’t blame him for his performance: given the way the character was written and who he is as a comedian, he gave exactly what the producers ought to have expected.
That doesn’t mean that the performance works, any more than the character does. The backstory, in which we learn of Jack’s history as sidekick on a radio serial about Nazi fighters, is clever and well-done, and just far enough outside of the show’s wheelhouse that it feels original without actually running afoul of what Arrested Development is as a show, and that’s exactly what causes the rest of the character’s portrayal to fail so badly: he’s absurd, but the wrong kind of absurd. For one thing, he’s acutely gross, and not just in the much-hated vomiting gag (though there is absolutely nothing about that gag that belongs in AD: George-Michael’s sheepish “Gangee is incontinent” moment is an example of how bodily function jokes ought to work on this show). Everything about Short’s very committed embodiment of the character is more ore less distasteful: the slurring, the bellowing, the deterioration of his body in all ways. Not coincidentally, my other least-favorite episode is also plagued by being morbid and disgusting: there are ways to make that kind of humor work, but they are not, by any stretch, typical of what AD was all about, from the best to the most average moments on the show.
Couple with the atypically nasty direction the plot heads, this leaves “RAMM” as an episode that’s frankly not very fun to watch: it’s not an accident that all of its non-Tobias moments of greatness occur before Jack’s first appearance: the first escalation of the Bluth family chicken dances, Tony Hale’s excellent delivery of “that WHORE I’m dating now”. Afterwards, we get over-familiar visual jokes about wigs and a forced bit of wordplay on “drag”. And this had to be the last appearance of Liza Minnelli’s delightful Lucille 2 ever, and Ed Begley Jr’s affable Stan Sitwell until the series finale (the serial plot that brings them together is wrapped up abruptly, and lamely); even worse, it was the show’s only episode to air during the crucial February sweeps period. Dismaying all ’round