Jessica Walter's best Arrested Development moments as Lucille Bluth
- TV Show
Jessica Walter enjoyed an impressive seven-decade career in Hollywood, scoring on the big screen in Grand Prix, Play Misty for Me and The Flamingo Kid, earning an Emmy as the star of Ironside spin-off Amy Prentiss, and nabbing Emmy nominations on such shows as Trapper John M.D. and Streets of San Francisco. More recently, of course, the 80-year-old actress — who died in New York City on Wednesday — had been landing laughs as the voice of Sterling Archer's unforgiving mother, Malory, in Archer.
But to many fans, Walter was best known and most beloved as Lucille Bluth, the withholding, withering socialite on Arrested Development. Armed with a ridiculous regality and a lacerating delivery, Walter owned the role of the acidic matriarch of a wildly dysfunctional family: she leveled Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), never cared for GOB (Will Arnett), coddled the manchildish Buster (Tony Hale), and manipulated Michael (Jason Bateman). Here, we celebrate a few of Walter's highlights as Lucille — and after reliving these moments, you won't be able to spare the moisture as you mourn the loss of a comedic legend.
Do not go Gentles into the night
At the intersection of candor, absurdity, and self-preservation lies this one-liner from season 3. Lucille is wooing Warden Gentles (James Lipton) to help her family, and Michael barges in to tell her that she cannot debase herself and sleep with the warden. When she frets that her husband and son no longer need her, Michael reassures her, "Of course I need you, Mom. My heart is kind of broken, too. I've been kind of denying it lately, but, you know, it's just, I can't deal with the fact that my family's falling apart now that I really need you." Lucille's response in the this moment of vulnerability? "Oh, Michael. Honey. I want to cry so bad." A pause to think. "But I don't think I can spare the moisture."
Smoke on the Walter
Lucille was not going to be denied her pleasures, those being mostly martinis and not being bothered with the needs of her children. But she also craved a good smoke. There were just two problems in this season 4 scene: the building had a strict no-smoking policy and her ankle-bracelet monitor did not allow passage to the balcony. There was one rather disturbing solution, however. The ever-resourceful Lucille would blow her cigarette smoke into Buster's mouth, who would run to the balcony to exhale it. It was the demented apex of their cancerous mama bird/baby bird dynamic.
There was an almost serviceable private eye by the name of Gene Parmesan (Martin Mull) who would pop up in the middle of a Bluth scheme. His disguises were unconvincing and outdated. But there was one person he could reliably fool every time: Lucille Bluth, who would react with a delighted shout and flappy hands of surprise. "Isn't he the best?" she'd exclaim. Almost as good as your reactions to his reveals, Lucille.
LUCILLE: "I'll be in the hospital bar."
MICHAEL: "Uh, you know there isn't a hospital bar, Mother."
LUCILLE: "Well, this is why people hate hospitals."
Lucille should have been concerned for GOB, her ailing and hospitalized son. Instead, she was checked out of her maternal duties and already thinking about her next drink. Arrested writer Jim Vallely recently praised Walter's matter-of-fact delivery of this season 1 punchline. "She does no comedy spin on it at all," he told EW. "It's a hardcore fact that she knows. It's perfect. Ninety-nine percent of actors go, 'This is why people hate hospitals!!!' She does it a little lighter." And don't forget the dark cackle that accompanies her exit. "She realizes she's made a joke," Vallely added. "The juxtaposition of a mother leaving her sick son in the hospital, laughing hysterically — you couldn't have made it up. That's just the whipped cream and the cherry on the sundae." Viewers ate it right up.
Peeling away the obliviousness
To say that Lucille Bluth is out of touch with the average American is... to say something very accurate. In this season 1 highlight, she got defensive with Michael and tried to redirect her guilt, and the audience watched it backfire gloriously, much like a certain fruit when inserted into a tailpipe. "Don't you judge me," she snaps. "You're the selfish one. You're the one who charged his own brother for a Bluth frozen banana. I mean, it's one banana, Michael. What could it cost, ten dollars?" Do a gallon of milk next, Lucille!
Onward and c-word
Arrested Development loved its naughty wordplay and Lucille delivered the punchline of one of the game's most outrageous moments in season 2. When Michael told GOB to get rid of the yacht named The Seaward that he irresponsibly purchased as president of the Bluth Company, Lucille walked in on the conversation with a stubborn response that indicated that she knew exactly what her children thought of her.
May the 'better' person win
Lucille had a horrific and wounding relationship with her daughter, Lindsay, and that (lack of) love was on full display when the two went out to dinner, knives out, in season 1. As a flaming bananas foster arrived at the table, Lucille sniped, "You might want to let that fire go out before you stick your face in it." Retorted Lindsay: "That's funny, because I was going to say, you might want to lean away from that fire since you're soaked in alcohol." Lucille then cooly issued the tasty topper, as you'll see.
No response: necessary
Walter always played Lucille's let-them-eat-cake condescension perfectly, and her trip to a less-than establishment named Klimpy's delivered the goods of class conflict and fish-out-of-water comedy. ("This does not bode well," Lucille intoned ominously upon being greeted and being told to seat herself wherever she liked.) When the waitress came to take her order, things got even more delicious. "I'll have the Ike and Tina tuna," said Lucille. "Plate or platter?" the waitressed asked. Walter conjured up a mix of dignity and defiance and delivered a defining Lucille line: "I don't understand the question — and I won't respond to it."
The war on Star Wars
Lucille may not have known the price of a banana — or much about pop culture — but she knew the value in getting away from family. In this season 2 moment, Buster was now out of the house and Oscar (Jeffrey Tambor) — twin brother of Lucille's incarcerated husband, George (Jeffrey Tambor) — was moving in, heightening the already confusing family dynamic that was unraveling in Bluth household. With adopted son Annyong (Justin Lee) looking on as Oscar told Lucille, "I'll go unpack," Lucille did what she does best: buy off the problem. "Here's some money," she tells Annyong. "Go see a Star War." Indeed, the force of comedy was always strong with both Lucille — and Walter.