Season 1, Episode 3: “Bringing up Buster”—November 16, 2003
We first learn about George Sr.’s “Cornballer,” illegal everywhere, yet, still marketed successfully in Mexico.
George Michael auditions for the school play, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, in the hopes that he’ll be cast as the lead and get to kiss his cousin Maeby, but instead he’s cast as a stand-in for Steve Holt.
Lucille lacks the funds for Buster’s usual “post-graduate studies” (i.e. sleep deprivation studies and archeological digs), so his summer vacation extends into the fall. Lucille resents Buster’s constant presence and pawns him off on Michael.
This is Buster’s episode. The title, “Bringing up Buster,” alludes to the 1938 Howard Hawks’ film Bringing Up Baby, starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. “Baby” is the pet leopard of Hepburn’s character. Whether Arrested Development director Joe Russo and writers Mitchell Hurwitz and Richard Rosenstock intended to draw a comparison between Buster and the pet leopard is debatable, but such a comparison makes sense.
Even if Buster is not likened specifically to a leopard, he is, in some ways, depicted as a pet. Near the beginning of the episode, he’s chasing a bird around the home that he shares with his mother, Lucille. Lucille yells at him to stop, but he persists, much like a pet cat or dog would do. Then, when Lucille, his “owner,” drops him off with Michael, he gets a little unruly in his owner’s absence— specifically, when Michael and Buster are stretching in preparation for their bike ride. Michael says, “You might be eating my dust all day slow-poke,” to which Buster responds, “You might be eating my—” followed by a jolting long string of bleeped out obscenities. Later, when Buster makes fun of Lucille with his siblings, his jovial jibes turn angry and again, he screams another long string of obscenities that end with “You old horny slut!” While these outbursts have many implications, one is that Buster feels vulnerable and volatile without Lucille and subsequently acts out, just as pets often do when they are away from their owners for too long. And at the end of the episode, when Lucille comes to pick up Buster, he eagerly runs to her side, like a dog eagerly greeting its master.
To further emphasize Buster’s vulnerability, volatility, and dependence, the episode also depicts Buster as an overgrown child. The above examples support this depiction. The outbursts, for one, make Buster seem like a little kid deriving joy from the “rebellious” act of swearing. Additionally, Lucille treats Buster as though he’s still her little boy rather than her grown son. When Lindsay asks Lucille if she can have money for her daughter Maeby, Lucille tells Lindsay that she also has child (i.e. Buster) who costs her money. Lucille drops Buster off at Michael’s workplace like she’s dropping off a child for a play date, even dressing him for the beach and packing him a change of clothes. She makes him ride in the backseat of the car and yells at Michael for letting Buster go out in the sun. And Buster still lives with Lucille, even though he’s probably in his thirties.
Worse than simply treating him like a child, many of the Bluths treat Buster as though he’s an ignorant child, oblivious to his surroundings. Right in front of Buster, Lucille tells Michael, “I know he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s sensitive, Michael, and you could pretend to be interested in him.” So much for being sensitive to Buster’s sensitivity.
Similarly, Buster goes with Michael to the prison where Michael and George Sr. talk about Buster’s problems as though he isn’t even there. They discuss the disturbing relationship between Lucille and Buster, specifically about how Lucille has smothered Buster his whole life and he subsequently turned out “soft, a little doughy.” Both humorously and sadly, George Sr. takes part of the blame for the way Buster turned out, suggesting that he ignored him. But clearly, he’s still ignoring Buster, so much so that he doesn’t even seem to be aware of Buster’s presence.
Because the Bluths and Lucille, specifically, have often ignored and belittled Buster, he never matured and learned how to be an adult. But it’s clear that Buster doesn’t want to grow. He has no sense of independence from his mother and wants to be with her at all times. Throughout the episode he makes remarks such as, “Mom’s awesome. Maybe we should call her.” And when Lucille picks him up at the end of the episode, he’s all too eager to return home with her. He’s comfortable playing the coddled child and is too scared to change.
Buster’s own state of arrested development serves as an omen for Michael. When George Michael begins distancing himself from Michael, Michael doesn’t know how to react. He’s afraid of making Lucille’s mistake and smothering George Michael, which could cause him to turn out like Buster—incompetent and dependent. But he also doesn’t want to ignore his son the way that George Sr. ignored Buster or even the way his sister Lindsay ignores her daughter, Maeby. He struggles to find a healthy balance.
Through Michael, we see the importance of reflecting on and learning from our family’s experiences. If he can avoid the mistakes his parents made with Buster (as well as with himself and the rest of his siblings), perhaps George Michael will have a better chance of growing up to be a well-adjusted, healthy, and happy adult who is capable of maintaining a healthy relationship with his father.
Michael also prompts us to reflect on how our own actions affect our families. Throughout the episode, he reflects on the impact his mother’s parenting has had on Buster. He also worries how his actions will affect George Michael over time. Like Michael, we need to cultivate a sense of self-awareness, so we don’t imitate the mistakes our family members have made and so we don’t keep repeating our own mistakes. We need this self-awareness to either avoid or free ourselves from “arrested development,” and so we don’t hinder the growth of the people we love.
- Maeby: “I’m surprised you tried out for this.”
George Michael: “Yeah, I just love the theater.”
Maeby: “That’s great! I’m just doing it to kiss Steve Holt.”
George Michael: “I actually think I’m going to quit. Yeah, theater’s dead.”
Maeby: “But he’s always gonna be at football practice so I’m gonna have to kiss the stand-in.”
George Michael: “But no. No. I love the theater, and I gave my word. So I’m back in.”
- “You can’t do that in the snack room, pal?” Michael, to Buster who’s assembling George Michael’s new bike in the middle of a company business meeting. Buster: “Mom told me to stay away from microwaves.”
- “Look, you’re playing adults with fully formed libidos, not two young men playing grab ass in the shower,” Tobias, to George Michael and Maeby during play rehearsal.
- Lucille: “Staying here? What, did that Mexican throw you out?”
G.O.B.: “She’s not that Mexican, mom. She’s my Mexican. And she’s Columbian, or something. Anyway, it’s over.”
Lucille: “You’ve got three days.”
G.O.B.: “Hey, if I can’t find a horny immigrant by then I don’t deserve to stay here.”
- Lucille: “Oh, hello Buster. Here’s a candy bar. No. I’m withholding it. Look at me, getting off.”