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Family Ties

"Family Ties"
Directors: Robert Berlinger — Writer: Ron Weiner — Aired: February 10, 2006 — Icon-image      

"Family Ties" is the eleventh episode of Arrested Development's third season.

When Michael hires a woman who may be his sister, her services might be just what the company needs. Meanwhile, Buster's coma attracts the attention of a politician.


After finding a picture of himself as a baby with a girl named "Nellie", Michael Bluth believed he had made a shocking discovery. While showing it to Lindsay, he theorized that their parents had given up Nellie years before and were now trying to pin the family's crimes on her. He believed her to be the mysterious "N. Bluth". During the discussion, Tobias enters the kitchen ready for a day at the gym, in hope of bulking up so that Lindsay would find him more attractive. The two had made an awkward attempt at love making the night before, but Tobias' lack of masculinity was a turn-off for Lindsay, and Lindsay's lack of masculinity was a turn-off for Tobias. They decided to take some time off, and try again in thirty one days, but not before exchanging a list of "cant's" and "wont's".

G.O.B. then enters, complaining that his religious girlfriend had dumped him after he suggested a "Holy Trinity", which he had misunderstood to be a threesome. Michael, uninterested in G.O.B.'s relationship troubles, asks G.O.B. if he remembers growing up with a sister other than Lindsay. He didn't.

Upstairs, George Michael was breaking the news to Maeby that their fake hospital wedding had turned out to be a real one. She wanted to tear up the marriage certificate that George Michael had received in the mail, while he wanted it framed.

Michael decided to find out more about Nellie, so he went to see his parents. He entered Buster's room, where he found George surrounded by computer equipment from the Bluth Company's office. Michael was worried that George was in the midst of one of his "Black Friday" firing sprees. In actuality, George was trying to delete the hard drives on the company's computers with an electromagnet. While there, Lucille complained to Michael that she knew Buster was faking his coma. Buster, was indeed faking his coma after falling for his nurse. Michael, bent on finding out the truth, asked his parents if they knew about a Nellie Bluth. Unfortunately for Michael, the only "Nellie" they knew was Tobias.

So Michael returned to an office full of old computers and paranoid employees. He assured them that, although they hadn't received pay, they would not be fired. Looking through the old machines, Michael found an old Kay-Pro computer containing what he believed to be information on his missing sister. Unfortunately, Tobias arrived from the gym dripping with sweat and shorted the PC out. Michael was upset, and unable to copy Nellie's phone number from the unit. Luckily, Tobias informed him that he could hit the "print screen" key and print out what ever had been showing on the screen. Tobias then told Michael that he is attracted to the female trainer at his gym, who is also named Michael.

While visiting Buster in the hospital, Lucille finds Rep. John Van Heusen standing besides Buster's bed, protecting his right to life. He claims to have been tipped off by someone who wanted to save Buster. That somebody was Buster himself, who made the call earlier that day.

Michael, meanwhile, was still searching for Nellie. Eventually, he found Frank, an acquaintance of Nellie's, who set up a meeting between the two at a hotel bar. When Michael met Nellie, he found that he had a connection with her that he never had with another member of his family. Unbeknownst to Michael, Nellie was not his sister, but a prostitute.

And so, the next day, Michael introduced Nellie, to the company staff. They were not happy to have her join the company, as they still hadn't been paid. Michael encouraged his employees to take full advantage of Nellie's "expertise". And as Michael left for more important business, Nellie made clear exactly what kind of work she would be doing for the Bluths.

With George Michael trying to make his fake marriage work, Michael got an update on how Nellie was working out. Michael planned to tell Nellie that he thought she was his sister over drinks that night. Lindsay would also be having drinks, but with a man other than her husband.

Michael arrived for his meeting with Nellie, only to find Tobias at the bar. Tobias was waiting for his trainer, "Michael". Michael arrived and realized that the girl "Michael" Tobias was there to meet was actually a man. Michael went upstairs, where Nellie confessed that she was mildly attracted to him. But it was a set up for Michael to be confronted by her pimp, Frank. Michael, recognizing the pimp's voice, turned on the lights, discovering that Frank was actually Franklin, voiced by his brother G.O.B. He informs Michael that Nellie is a prostitute, and Michael reveals that he thinks she is their sister. Downstairs at the bar, Lindsay arrives for her date, to find Tobias sitting there with fitness trainer "Michael", whom she was also there to meet. Fitness trainer "Michael", was under the assumption that the two had wanted a "Holy Trinity".

So Michael confronted his father about Nellie. George insisted that Nellie was his prostitute, not his daughter. Upon hearing that Michael and since gave Nellie access to the N. Bluth account earlier, he rushed to his computer and tried to close the account. But it was too late, the account had already been emptied.

The next day, Michael headed to the office to tell the employees that they would actually be fired. Fortunately for Michael, Nellie had used the money from the N. Bluth account to pay herself, the employees and upgrade the company’s computers. It was only embezzlement if the money was spent outside the company, she told Michael. Impressed by her handling of the situation, Michael offers Nellie a job at the Bluth company. But Nellie declines. After all, she made three hundred thousand dollars last year.



Recurring themes []


  • Enron - Nellie says she heard about a couple of prostitutes "consulting" at Enron, referring to the Enron scandal which (along with other companies) served as inspiration for the premise of the show.
  • Family Ties - Multiple references are made to the sitcom starring Justine Bateman, most notably the episode title and a mimicking of the show's soundtrack.
  • Sleeping Beauty - Lucille makes a reference to this fairy tale and the famous animated movie in regards to Buster.
  • Terry Schiavo - Several references are made to the controversial case of Terry Schiavo.
    • Representative John Van Heusen’s involvement in removing Baby Buster’s feeding tube parodies the involvement of various U.S. congressmen in the Terry Schiavo case.
    • Van Heusen comments that he believes life is sacred, except in the case of lethal injection. This is a shot at the stance of many politicians (particularly ones in the Republican party) who spoke against abortion and euthanasia during the Schiavo case, but were staunch supporters of the death penalty.
    • Buster's excitement as Van Heusen dangles the balloon in front of him mimics a video used by Schiavo's parents as evidence that their daughter still had consciousness and awareness of her surroundings.
  • True Lies - Nellie and Michael enters a hotel room to be confronted by her pimp, Frank, who hides his face in shadow. This is similar to the scene when as part of a mock spy mission, Jamie Lee Curtis poses as a call girl for a mysterious man.
  • Veronica Mars - George Michael asks Maeby if she wants to watch a DVD, but the name of the DVD is bleeped. Subtitles reveal that under the bleeping was a "reference to off-network high school private eye drama censored by FOX", referring to a show aired on UPN whose creator and stars professed their admiration of Arrested Development many times. Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat, who play George Michael and Maeby, also made guest appearances on Veronica Mars. It is unknown if this part was actually censored or just a joke, especially since the next episode contained a full-blown crossover with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, another off-network show.

Callbacks/running jokes[]

  • Banners - During the office party that Nellie throws for the workers, a banner reading "Workers Love Nellie" can be seen. This is a callback to the "Family Love Michael" banner from "Forget-Me-Now", and the "Michael Love Marry" banner from "The Ocean Walker". This time, the banner could make sense.
  • Bleeps - Nellie's speech to the Bluth Company employees listing her "ground rules" is almost entirely bleeped, and mirrors the sexual harassment speech given by G.O.B. in "Afternoon Delight".
  • Boyfights - Buster refers to himself as "Baby Buster", a name that he is also referred to as on the Boyfights videos his father had marketed from "Making a Stand".
  • "Excuse me, Judge Reinhold" - Call back to the previous episode, "Fakin' It", where the Bluths took part in a pilot for a courtroom television show with Judge Reinhold presiding.
  • Faker - Lucille calls Buster a faker, a name which comes up several times in future episode "Exit Strategy". It was also used in the previous episode, "Fakin' It".
  • "Her?" - When Michael sees Tobias's "date," he asks, "Him?"
  • Bar Music - When Lindsey and Tobias meet Girl Michael at the bar, the music playing in the background was first heard in the first season of the show, when G.O.B. defiantly throws a letter into the sea.
  • "I did" - G.O.B. lying about sex, and the narrator calling him on it, mirrors the scenes with G.O.B.'s wife from "Altar Egos" and "Motherboy XXX", and Starla from "The One Where They Build a House".
  • Ignorance - Michael misses Nellie's not-so-subtle hints that she is a prostitute, just as he missed Maggie Lizer's (pretend) blindness, and Rita's (real) mental condition.
  • Illusions - G.O.B. refers to Nellie as a girl who "turns illusions." ("Turning tricks" is slang for prostitution. Ironically, G.O.B. insists on calling his performances illusions for this very reason.)
  • "Marry Me!" - Michael uses Maeby's deflection at the end of the episode.
  • Mr. F - When Franklin is discovered, the "Mr. F" theme plays in the background. It is also played when Lindsay reminds Michael of the Mr. F incident.
  • Oscar - When George asks if Michael has seen Oscar, he is planning to use his brother to escape prison, as he did in "Righteous Brothers" and "Prison Break-In".
  • Is Tobias gay? - Tobias comments that he'd be more attracted to Lindsay if she were more muscular.
    • Lucille and George call Tobias a woman, and refer to him as "Nellie", as does the maitre d' at the hotel bar.
    • Tobias mentions being "jacked up on amyl and disco music", two things stereotypically associated with gay culture.
    • Tobias asks Michael for a "jaw session."
    • Tobias insinuates that he would be willing to date Michael in the future ("Flattered? Yes. Interested? Not tonight.").
    • Tobias goes on a date with someone named Michael who is, presumably, a man.
    • Upon seeing Michael's "KAYPRO" computer, Tobias comments, "Oh, K-Y Pro, huh?" This is a reference to K-Y Jelly, a lubricant often used for anal sex.
    • After Michael says, "I can't stand to hear one more lie out of this family," Tobias enters in the background and says, referring to Lindsey, "There's the woman I'm sexually attracted to", after which Michael says "Okay, but that's the last one".
    • Tobias calls sex 'heterosexual intercourse.' Michael corrects him and says that he can just call it intercourse.

Hidden/background jokes[]

  • Blew Them Away - As Michael is talking to one of his employees about Nellie's performance, the employee keeps saying that Nellie blew the male employees, Michael just thinks he keeps forgetting to say away (as in saying blown them away, like doing a good job) unaware of the fact that Nellie was a prostitute and the employee meant what he said literally.
  • Buster's Hand - Buster's hook becomes attached to George's magnet.
  • Holy Trinity - G.O.B. mistakes the religious term "Holy trinity" for a threesome. Later on, Girl Michael refers to a threesome as this.
  • Slut - Careful examination of Nellie's profile on George's computer reveals that she is a "conSLUTant", not "conSULTant." This is a hint to Nellie's true profession.
    • There is also a picture of Nellie in ASCII art, a note: "Call on Weekdays, Tough Negotiator" and a phone number: 310-555-0057.
  • "Weird on so many levels" - Michael's comment after asking Nellie to marry him is in reference to Justine Bateman being Jason's real life sister, and Michael believing that Nellie is his sister in the show.
  • In the background of George Michael and Maeby's marriage certificate, where the State Seal of California should be, there is instead a picture of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
  • When Lucille realizes her necklace was not actual gold, George replies that it wasn't really her 50th birthday, a reference to traditional wedding anniversary gifts.
  • Nellie finishes Michael's sentence at the end of the episode.
  • A number of classic computers can be identified in the Bluth Co. office, including the Commodore PET, Osborne 1, Apple II and Kaypro 10, which Michael uses. However, many of them have their brand labels removed.
  • One of the computers an employee is holding when Michael first arrives at the office is in fact a toaster oven.
  • When the flashback is shown of Black Friday, as George, Sr. makes his employees load computers into the moving truck, Fox Plaza can deliberately be seen in the background, as the show was produced by Fox.

Foreshadowing/future references[]

  • Nellie Bluth - In "Development Arrested", we learn that the "Nellie" from the photo was, in fact, Lindsay, who was adopted into the family at the age of three. Several hints to this are made in this episode.
    • Several comments are made about the size of Nellie's nose in the photo, most of which come from Lindsay herself. The fact that Lindsay has had plastic surgery on her nose has been stated several times on the show in the past.
    • When asked about having a sister, G.O.B. doesn't mention Lindsay.
    • Michael mentions that siblings can finish each other's sentences, and Lindsay is unable to do this with Michael. Interestingly, Tobias and Lindsay finish Michael's sentence the same way (sandwiches).
    • Nellie's picture in the computer printout bears a resemblance to Lindsay's picture under the entry of "hermosa" in the Spanish-English dictionary shown in the season 1 episode "Beef Consommé".
    • In the episode "The Ocean Walker" George Michael states that California does not allow cousins to marry, yet he and Maeby are legally married.
  • Religious Girlfriend - Although we see the woman who slaps G.O.B., we never get a look at the other person he's talking to. In "Development Arrested", it is revealed that the off-screen girl is in fact his actual girlfriend - Ann Veal.
  • Frank is Franklin - Frank's real identity is hinted when he says that he "ain't no dummy" and "you're gonna feel my hand up your ass" during a phone conversation with Michael.
  • The cancellation of the show is again referred to in the song played during the ending credits. It's based upon Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing", the words "wake up, wake up, wake up" being replaced with "watch us, watch us, watch us".


→ See more quotes from "Family Ties" at Transcript of Family Ties.


  • The episode title, "Family Ties" has multiple meanings: It references the 1980s sitcom of the same name starring Justine Bateman, also the fact that star Jason Bateman and guest star Justine Bateman are siblings. Additionally, it references the plot of the episode.


  • Justine Bateman, Jason Bateman's real-life sister guest stars in this episode as Nellie, a woman who Michael believes might be his own long-lost sister. Jason Bateman mentioned in several interviews prior to this episode, that he wanted to have his sister guest star as a potential love interest. His final words after saying "Marry me!" are "That is weird on so many levels", which is a reference to the fact that he had just asked his real sister to marry him.
  • Bluth Company employee Tom makes another appearance in the show. He had previously appeared in "Afternoon Delight", "The Cabin Show" and "Making a Stand". Tom is played by writer Tom Saunders ("Forget-Me-Now").


  • Birthdays - According to the marriage certificate, George Michael was born on November 2, 1990 and Maeby was born on September 22, 1990. However, in "Hand to God", George Michael said that he was older than Maeby, and in "S.O.B.s'" he says his age is 16 when introducing himself at his new school. Also, this would make their characters only 15 years old in this episode, which contradicts information given in previous episodes.
  • Marriage certificate - Mothers' names on marriage certificates are typically required to be maiden, rather than married names; thus, for Maeby's mother, it should have listed Lindsay Bluth, not Lindsay Fünke, and George Michael's mother Tracy would not have been listed as Tracy Bluth. Her maiden name was not otherwise revealed.
  • Drinks - After Michael orders refills at the bar, his drink changes into a Cosmopolitan and the levels of their drinks change as well.
  • The marriage certificate lists the address as “1 Lucille Lane / Newport Coast, CA 92606”. The ZIP code 92606, however, actually lies in Irvine, a neighboring city of Newport Beach (of which Newport Coast is a part).


→ See 66 pictures from Family Ties at Images from Family Ties.

1. "The Cabin Show"
2. "For British Eyes Only"
3. "Forget-Me-Now"
4. "Notapusy"
5. "Mr. F"

6. "The Ocean Walker"
7. "Prison Break-In"
8. "Making a Stand"
9. "S.O.B.s"

10. "Fakin' It"
11. "Family Ties"
12. "Exit Strategy"
13. "Development Arrested"

Season OneSeason TwoSeason ThreeSeason FourSeason Five