Arrested Development is all about the importance of family, and you can’t start a family without having sex, which is something Michael Bluth hasn’t done in years. In fact, it’s implied that he hasn’t shared his bed with anyone (except Buster) since his wife’s death.
Indeed, it’s episode 14, and the leading man has had no real prospects (Jessie was shallow and manipulative, and he never had a real shot with Marta). Even Tobias and Lindsay got it on before Michael had a chance to show someone the upstairs of the model home. He’s the anti-Cliff Huxtable (seriously, rewatch that show—Cliff and Clair are in bed for like half the first season).
So far AD’s approach to sexuality has been pure taboo. George Michael loves his cousin. Michael wants his brother’s girl. Buster has a serious Oedipal Complex. Tobias is a never-nude. George Sr. is (somehow) your classic high-powered philanderer.
The favorite joke of these healthy, well-adjusted writers is incest, and there’s plenty of it here: Michael and Buster begin the episode sleeping in the same bed. Then Michael tells Buster to go home and sleep with his mother. Lindsay, thinking she’s offering herself as a mother figure to George Michael, comes across as desperately trying to proposition him. All of this happens in the first three minutes of the episode.
“Shock and Aww” takes a more serious turn—but not towards Michael’s happiness. Everyone begins using love for selfish ends. Cindi Lightballoon (Jane Lynch) pretends to be a devoted follower of George Sr.’s Caged Wisdom teachings, but in reality, she sets up a honey trap. Lucille drunkenly signs adoption papers for a Korean boy, Annyong (Justin Lee), and then tries to get Social Services to deport him. Then, when she notices his presence makes Buster jealous, she pulls a child with a new puppy and declares, “I’m keeping him.” Gob offers to set Michael up with the hideous Nahzgalia (Iqbal Theba in drag, also known as Abed’s dad), but when he mistakes Michael’s manners for attraction, he sleeps with Nahzgalia out of spite. This is later repeated with the elderly Civics teacher Mrs. Whitehead. In the process, Gob cheats on his new girlfriend Shannon (Maliabeth Johnson) twice before she even has a minute of screen time.
The only person trying to do the ethical thing is Michael, who goes out with Ms. Baerly (Heather Graham) because he thinks George Michael wants a mother. Well, that, and she’s super hot. As with everything Michael tries to do, though, he fails. First, he sneaks Ms. Baerly up the stairs—meaning the stair car—for their first sleepover. Second, he finds out George Michael is smitten with her, so he breaks things off. In the end, he tries to patch things up but instead ruins George Michael’s plan of asking her to dance.
It can’t be ignored that Michael’s first thought of Ms. Baerly is “stepmother.” While he thinks that he’s acting in the best interest of his son, he’s not even considering the desires of Ms. Baerly. Before the relationship can even take shape, he mentally tries to force her into something that she doesn’t want.
By putting his son first (like he did with Jessie a few episodes ago), Michael is allowing his past to dictate his future. All of the Bluths do this. It can be inferred that Gob’s constant infidelity is learned from his father’s selfish wielding of absolute power. Perhaps Lindsay is attracted to Tobias because he’s the exact opposite of her father—Lindsay thinks that she deserves one of Lucille’s brooches because she sheds light on one of George Sr.’s dalliances. Buster dates Lucille Two because she reminds him of his mother. Even (do I have to say “spoiler alert”?) Lucille has an affair with George Sr.’s identical twin Oscar. The romantic life of every character in this show is completely and totally ruled by acquired prejudices. Now, allow me to be a little romantic:
You have to approach love with recklessness. It demands a high degree of naiveté—a belief that neither you nor your partner will do the same dumb, hurtful things you’ve done/had done to you in the past. Otherwise, the relationship is doomed to whatever destructive end you want: infidelity (Gob), resigned tolerance (Lindsay/Tobias), dominance (Lucille/Buster), outright abuse (Bluth parents to their children). This naiveté—coupled with a commitment to treat your partner like a human being—can erase stupid platitudes like “once a cheater, always a cheater” or a favorite of mine from my middle school abstinence-only sex education: “a piece of tape, once removed from its original surface, doesn’t stick as well to the next.” Yes, you learn from the past, but you also have to forget it. Not just move on. Forget it.
This, of course, assumes that you want to be a good person. None of the Bluths, save for Michael and George Michael, have ever wanted that.