Books on TV: Arrested Development’s Lindsay and Tobias Eat, Pray, and skip the Love part
Eat, Pray, Love is Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir of “one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India, and Indonesia.” If you’re one of the ten million people who didn’t buy a copy, you probably watched it play out in the Julia Roberts movie version where Javier Bardem plays a big sexy bowl of pasta (there’s a meatball joke in here somewhere. I know, I’m the worst). This book is pretty much everywhere and its title is slowly replacing the “Live Laugh Love” plaques on everyone’s mother’s kitchen walls.
Arrested Development is an American sitcom that aired from 2003 to 2006 and that some (all the award shows, Ellen DeGeneres (it’s a pretty safe bet) and this writer) think is better than all the other sitcoms. It features short episodes with elaborate, often-meta story lines about a dysfunctional, money-hungry family and stars Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Michael Cera, David Cross, Will Arnett, and Liza freakin Minelli. The beloved Bluth family is finally back thanks to Netflix, who revived the show after seven long years. Praise GOB.
What the show has to say about the book:
After making it two thirds of the way through Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, Lindsay Bluth-Fünke (Portia de Rossi) runs off for her own journey of spiritual enlightenment. In an attempt to let go of material things and find herself, Lindsay leaves her marriage, a la Gilbert, and hops on a plane to India (Little does she know, her husband Tobias (David Cross) has also found the book and, after ripping out the love part, has also hopped on that same plane to India to find himself). On the plane, as her new non-materialistic self, she succeeds in only buying two things from the plane’s catalog- an inflatable hat bag and self-cleaning cat litter box (just in case she ever buys a hat or a cat). Upon arrival, she gets equal doses of spirituality and knockoff purse lessons from the “shaman at the Mumbai Four Seasons” (who she doesn’t realize is actually her neglected daughter in disguise). The shaman/scorned daughter tells Lindsay she is “full of shit,” to which Lindsay graciously responds “thank you,” deciding of course that this must be a compliment in India. The shaman also tells Lindsay that the “love” she is seeking is home where she left it (an attempt to get her mother to notice her). Lindsay, however, doesn’t recognize her daughter (or seem to remember she has one) and returns home to try out the advice on her husband, a new activist boyfriend, and finally conservative politician Herbert Love (the show’s parody of Herman Cain) instead. Herbert Love pays her off and, in one of the best moments of the episode, she tries and fails to throw the money back at him, unable to let go of it because she “doesn’t have the muscle memory.” As always, it’s a delightful combo of narcissism, hypocrisy and irony, but in this instance the show is not only making fun of those attributes in Lindsay, but also in the book (sorry, EPLers).
Should we read it?
Often times TV or movies adapt or draw from a book because they see great value in the book’s material. Arrested Development is not that show. The episode uses satire to criticize the same things the New York Post criticized in the book:
“the most disturbing aspect of Gilbert’s book: it is the worst in Western fetishization of Eastern thought and culture… You may be a well-off white woman, but if you are depressed, the answer can be found in the East, where the poor brown people are sages.”
Lindsay Bluth, surprised: “I’m surrounded by squalor and death and I still can’t be happy.” (Also that nice little part where all her shaman-imparted knowledge actually came from her own all-American daughter in costume).
Bitch magazine also criticized the book in their article “Eat, Pray, Spend,” which calls the book a perfect example of “priv-lit”: “literature or media whose expressed goal is one of spiritual, existential, or philosophical enlightenment contingent upon women’s hard work, commitment, and patience, but whose actual barriers to entry are primarily financial.” (Mumbai Four Seasons, anyone?). Elsewhere in the article, they say “the book could easily have been called Wealthy, Whiny, White.” It’s no wonder Arrested Development got their claws into this one.
The Daily Mail’s review of the movie opens with a hopeful question that Eat, Pray, Love is actually a “savage satire of the me generation.” Unfortunately, it’s dead serious; thankfully its TV adaptation is not (although, to be fair, the episode did have some stereotyping problems of its own). Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for pasta-gluttony (pesto! alfredo! arrabiata! MIXED!) and enlightenment, but this book is best read with a bit of a critical eye. Apologies to Groucho Marx, but I think you might be better off having the boob tube do your reading for you here!
Let me know if you’d like to see more of these articles (I promise the book won’t always lose!) If so, I’m psyched to do one on Walter White reading Walt Whitman in Breaking Bad’s much anticipated return in 68 days (but who’s counting).