First airdate: 3 October, 2005
Written by Tom Saunders
Directed by John Amodeo
The Wee Britain/Rita plot arc that makes up more than a third of Arrested Development‘s third season might have gotten off to a rough and overblown (though I’d contend, frequently hilarious) start with “For British Eyes Only”, but any argument that the lengthy subplot is a serious detriment to the show’s legacy has to contend with “Forget-Me-Now”, a flat-out terrific episode that, in my eyes, fully redeems its predecessor. It is the nature of serialised television, after all, that some episodes set up the situations and some episodes pay them off, and the payoff in “Forget-Me-Now” is absolutely glorious.
For one thing, it has one of the tightest narratives of any of AD‘s 53 episodes: though there is a clear A-plot and B-plot, they are linked together incredibly well, feeding into each other so much that it’s almost easier to say that there’s just the one broad story. Michael’s story about trying to pretend his family no longer exists hinges on the subplot of Buster’s misbegotten party so significantly that it basically promotes the latter. And the themes explored in that whole slurry of dysfunctional familial relations are uncommonly deep and complicated, especially for a show that had for most of its life been edging closer and closer to turning its characters into richly-sketched parodies of human behavior, rather than actual humans. So “Forget-Me-Now” is able to marry the cartoon unreality that had taken over the show by the end of Season 2, and marry it to a deeply emotional depiction of family that only seems a little bit twisted by virtue of the selfsame cartoon unreality. And this is also part of what makes it brilliant.
(Of course, there’s also the C-plot, with Maeby’s failed courtship with Steve Holt!, and this does not tie much into the rest of the episode at all. But it’s so damn funny that I’m willing to give it a pass, particularly since George-Michael’s exemplary scene of acting chipper in the most deliriously awkward way – “Good, I was hoping he would be gifted sexually… What a fun, sexy time for you”. – is the best thing in Michael Cera’s career).
“Forget-Me-Now” also introduces Season 3’s two best new characters: Bob Einsten’s Larry Mittleman, the camera-wearing surrogate for a housebound George Sr. (who would only get better as he went on, though “Wink. Did you say ‘wink’, or did you wink?” is one of the character’s very best jokes), and Scott Baio’s Bob Loblaw, skeezy attorney and intertextually laden Happy Days joke (who maybe did not get better as he went on; the writers did what they could to keep the name jokes funny, but very little of the plot function he serves appeals to me nearly as much as the wordplay does). Larry the surrogate is an especially interesting case: in a season which is unusually concerned top-to-bottom with mistaken identities and fictitious stand-ins, he’s the most overt example of the overarching theme, a fake George Sr. treated as the real thing by most of the other Bluths, in increasingly weird and disturbing ways, though the bulk of that has to wait for later episodes. He’s also, I hate to say, one of the only funny ideas to grow out of the house-arrest plot thread that otherwise represents one of the season’s clearest signs of creative fatigue.
In terms of continuing to develop and deepen the season’s unique elements, “Forget-Me-Now” is home to, far and away, my favorite single element of Wee Britain: Fat Ammy’s an American-themed restaurant and caricature of U.S. culture as seen by the Brits who are themselves a caricature, on the subject of stand-ins (later episodes make it explicit that the writers are making fun of American conceptions of England more than England itself with Wee Britain, as though things like this remarkably dense joke didn’t already make that mostly clear). There are enough layers of mockery and satire that it’s hard to tell what exactly the target of things like the basket of donuts and 64-oz sodas (which are a joke only if you’ve never been to a multiplex) are meant to be, though the specific gag in which Michael, talking about the emotional and intellectual immaturity of American men, mentions the phrase “arrested development”, at which the narrator clarifies with confused amazement, “Hey, that’s the name of the show”, is such a perfect moment of self-mockery that maybe the idea is to satirise neither Americans nor Brits, but simply humanity itself.
The show’s regulars elements are in peak form, too, both in terms of the characters and the storytelling – this is a tremendously well-edited show, particularly in the cutaways to Michael’s past girlfriends, and especially the flawlessly-timed image of Tobias’s instantly-iconic “analrapist” business card. Not everybody gets a huge amount to do, but all of it’s pretty great: Lindsay’s attempts to throw herself at Bob Loblaw are better and more sustained than her romantic travails in Season 2, and Gob’s desperate attempt to build a running gag out of calling Michael’s girlfriends dogs is beautifully pathetic, an excellent example of comedy that’s only funny because we know the characters involved so very well.
If “Forget-Me-Now” has a flaw, it’s that the hints being dropped that Rita is a British spy, which are more pronounced here than in any other episode she’s in, don’t play very well on repeat viewing, once we know where the plot is going. If the spy parody had been embraced more fully, it might have worked better, and if it had been excised completely, it wouldn’t have been missed; in this form, where only the music cues really, truly work (but oh, how very good they are), it’s just too easy to see the seams in the writing, and it does sap a bit of energy out of what is otherwise far and away the best of the Rita episodes, and one of the top-tier highlights of the entire short season.