Every unhappy family may be unhappy in its own way, but at the root of most dysfunctional clans is one hell of a dysfunctional mother. Lucille Bluth is no exception, systematically destroying her children’s self-esteem, independence, and general ability to function one vodka-soaked zinger at a time. The most obvious example of Lucille’s role in shaping the Bluth family as we know it is Buster, who’s been shaped by decades of over-mothering (and Motherboy events) into the funniest Oedipus complex to ever grace network television. If nothing else, Lucille at least deserves recognition for raising a child who still mistakes boxed wine for juice and whose sole romantic interest just so happens to share a name (and generation) with his mother.
But Lucille’s semi-toxic influence leaves no Bluth untouched. She famously doesn’t care for her oldest child, she adopted her only daughter from a loving home just to stick it to her husband’s business rival, and she’s about as appreciative of Michael’s never-ending sacrifices as she is of G.O.B.’s magic tricks. And let’s not forget Annyong, the impulsively adopted Korean spy Lucille famously ordered to “go see a Star War.” With a mother as relentlessly critical of her children as she is blithely uncritical of herself, the Bluth kids didn’t stand a chance of growing up to be normal, well-adjusted people. And that’s how you end up a 30-something failed magician, or married to an “analrapist,” or bailing out your perennial unappreciative family. By creating the desperate need for approval that motivates so many of its characters’ actions, Lucille is the wind beneath Arrested Development’s wings.
Still, Lucille is so much more than just the origin of other characters’ humor. In a show that’s otherwise packed with the almost surreal comedy that simultaneously guaranteed its cult-hit status and doomed its appeal to a larger audience, Lucille gets the lion’s share of one-liners. I’ve heard “Get me a vodka on the rocks… and a piece of toast” quoted more than any other joke on the show, and “I don’t understand the question and I won’t respond to it” is classic enough that The New York Times deemed it tweet material. Lucille is hardly the first wealthy high-functioning alcoholic to don a pantsuit and have lunch at the country club, but she’s certainly the best written, and the most fun to watch.
By the time she made a break from the SEC aboard the Queen Mary, Lucille Bluth had established herself as Arrested Development’s funniest, most iconic, and all-around best character, and certainly the one I’m most excited to see return this Sunday. No wonder the good people at Archer essentially kept her character intact when they cast Jessica Walter as Mallory; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.