There are many things that make Arrested Development one of the most beautifully crafted and endlessly rewatchable television comedies of all time: the cast’s performances are flawless, the jokes are brilliantly layered, there’s always so much going on etc. But perhaps the main reason is that there are so many running gags that it’s impossible to keep up and catch them all – all the callbacks, all the in-jokes, all the references – on your first viewing. This is one of the few TV shows that actually requires multiple viewings to catch everything (and even then, you still won’t). Anyway, here are the 10 funniest running jokes from Arrested Development!
10. The banners
Starting with the “Happy Trails Pard’ner” banner hanging up at George, Sr.’s retirement party in the pilot episode (right before he is ironically taken to jail), the Bluth family have hung up banners at pretty much every event or function they’ve ever attended. Gob’s premature “Mission Accomplished” banner parodied George W. Bush’s premature “Mission Accomplished” speech. The family put together a slapdash “Family Love Michael” banner when they decided to throw Michael a party at the last second, and then an impromptu “Michael Love Marry” banner when he decided to have an last minute wedding. In a bid to become Lucille 2’s campaign manager, Lindsay makes her a banner that reads, “I’m for Lucille 2 4 Congres” – complete with the spelling error, the text speak, and the number 2 after her name – on the back of Lucille’s classic “You’re Killing Me, Buster” banner (which was altered to say “You’re Kidding Me, Buster” when he won an Army medal). George Michael gets “Good luck in college, George Michael!” and “Your future starts now, George Michael” banners hung up before he goes to college. Buster hangs up a “Welcome Home Mother! Buster Made This” banner on the day of Lucille’s trial. Plus, “Happy Trails Pard’ner” was reused at George, Sr.’s wake.
9. Is Oscar Buster’s biological father?
A long standing question among Arrested Development fans is whether or not George, Sr.’s identical twin brother Oscar is the biological father of Buster. It’s left up in the air by the show, so it’s debatable. But it’s not all that ambiguous – it’s pretty obvious that he is. Still, the fact that we never get a definitive answer about it is what keeps this running gag so consistently enjoyable. Every time Buster says something and Oscar is in the room, Oscar manages to twist around his phrasing into something that suggests he’s his dad and the same heartfelt dramatic piano music comes on the soundtrack over it, like it’s a sweet soap opera moment. Like when Buster goes down to the police station and finds Oscar there and tells him the cops told him his father was there, and Oscar says, “Did they…?” Cue the dramatic music! It would make sense if Oscar was Buster’s real father, because he spent eleven months in the womb, which could have been down to all the marijuana in his system. Plus, Oscar is slow and harmless and innocent and naive, just like Buster. All of the other Bluths that George, Sr. fathered are cunning and manipulative and self-obsessed and crafty.
8. Blue Man Group
One of the funniest running jokes throughout Arrested Development is Tobias’ unwavering infatuation with the Blue Man Group. He first finds their flyer and mistakes them for a support group that helps depressed men, but finds himself cheered up by their unusual act anyway. After that, he’s a devotee who will do anything to join them as a performer. He gets a gig as an understudy, but he never manages to make it in their ranks. Through various circumstances, he either misses their call or they don’t want him or he’s not available – for whatever reasons, nothing ever seems to work out for him. But as funny as all the recurring gags are throughout the rest of the series, nothing can bring back the sheer joy that came from the very first time you see Tobias stick his head through a hole in the wall with a completely blue face. “Are you blue?” Michael asks, taken aback by the color that Tobias has painted himself. “Only in color,” Tobias smiles back. Whatever it is about the Blue Man Group that makes Tobias so happy, we just go along with it. The set dressers subtly started staining all the walls and the cabinets and the other characters’ clothes with blue smears so that you know Tobias has been walking around in full Blue Man Group makeup, or as he would say, he blue himself.
7. Loose seal
It’s hard to remember a time when Buster had two hands and didn’t occasionally yell out, “I’M A MONSTER!!” When you rewatch Arrested Development – which every fan should be doing on a regular basis, since there’s absolutely no way you picked up on all the jokes the first time around – you see how oblivious you were to all the signs that Buster would lose a hand. The foreshadowing of Buster’s hand getting bitten off by a loose seal wearing a yellow bowtie is off the chain. As far back as season 1, Buster says, “This party is going to be off the hook!” In the season 2 premiere episode, we cut from a news broadcast about a seal attack straight to a shot of Buster. When he finds his missing hand-shaped chair, Buster says, “Wow, I never thought I’d miss a hand so much.” There was the time he became obsessed with the claw machine and realized he was a natural using a claw – and he won a toy seal from it. You can see a seal in the background of Buster and Lucille’s photo shoot on the beach. And George, Sr. says, “What if I never get a chance to reach out and touch that hand of his again?” And there was that time when Buster sat on a bench and the only words left are, “ARM OFF.” The list goes on!
6. The doctor who says things literally
The writers of Arrested Development are great at creating recurring characters who organically turn up every now and then and never fail to get a laugh. They’re also great at writing dialogue that has a double meaning that you have to read into, or wordplay. One of the best examples of both of these things is the doctor who always tells a diagnosis to the family in a very literal way. For example, he once said of Buster, “He’s going to be all right,” when what he meant was that Buster had lost his left hand and would now need to use his right hand to do everything. Each time he breaks some news to the family, they get angrier and angrier that he has misled them into thinking the worst yet again. When he told them that they “lost” George, Sr. – “He just got away from us” – he meant that George, Sr. had climbed out of his hospital room window and escaped. When Tobias came in with a concussion, the doctor said, “It looks like he’s dead.” And then he clarified, “It just looks like he’s dead. He’s got, like, blue paint on him or something. But he’s going to be fine.”
5. Mr. F
When Michael gets wrapped up in a conspiracy involving some British people hunting him down, a lot of James Bond references are made, like the “Michael Bluth will return in…” title cards at the end of each episode and the episode title “Notapusy” mirroring the 007 movie Octopussy. A lot of this story arc involves Michael searching for the mysterious Mr. F, and every time that name is mentioned – or even seen written down, like on Rita’s bracelet – a cute little “Mr. F” jingle plays on the soundtrack. It would later turn out that Rita’s bracelet doesn’t actually say “Mr. F,” but rather “M.R.F.,” an initialism meaning “Mentally Retarded Female.” But even after the true meaning of the term is revealed, the catchy, James Bond-like jingle continues to be used wherever appropriate. When it is revealed in a dark, shady hotel room that Gob’s puppet Franklin is actually Frank, the pimp who has been menacing Michael, the “Mr. F” jingle surely comes on. When Tobias speaks to Lucille 2’s brother at the rehab who reveals his interest in musical theater and how, in his early days as an actor, he was known as Mr. Fantastic, then sure enough, the “Mr. F” jingle plays.
4. Tobias’ homoerotic double entendres
Tobias Funke is a classic comedy character. He’s endlessly funny. The analrapist is so iconic that he turned up in a glass case in the Collector’s base of operations as a hidden Easter egg in Avengers: Infinity War. He’s such a great character, and most of it is down to the way he speaks. Tobias never stops with the homoerotic double entendres. Every single word that comes out of his mouth has a sexual meaning that he is totally unaware of. He’s completely oblivious to how his words may be misconstrued. For example, “I’m afraid I prematurely shot my wad on what was supposed to be a dry run, if you will, so I’m afraid I have something of a mess on my hands.” When he paints himself blue for the Blue Man Group, he says, “I just blue myself.” I mean, come on! Michael even asks Tobias at one point to tape himself for a day and listen back to it to see how the way that he words things might not be the best way. So, he does that and still thinks that everything he says and how he says it is fine, until one where he finally realizes that there is a problem with the way he phrases things. But then he goes right back to his old habits by saying, “Tobias, you blowhard!”
No one besides George Michael can ever seem to remember Ann’s name or even that Ann herself exists as a human being. When they do remember that she exists, they always without fail ask, “Her?” in complete disbelief. Michael never has to hide the fact that he hates Ann, because George Michael is too nice to call him on it. He looks at Ann eating an egg and goes, “Hey, you! She’s got a little hard boiled egg going there?” When George Michael starts talking about how he thinks the way Ann eats eggs is cute, Michael tells his son, “George Michael, I’m sure that Egg is a very nice person…” They have a bunch of different names for her, and none of them are Ann. She got called Ann Hog after Michael wanted George Michael to stop spending time with her and “being a little Ann hog,” and then the “hog” part stuck. “It’s just Ann,” as George Michael sheepishly points out. Michael has also called her Annabel, because he says she’s shaped like a bell. She’s also been called Bland, Yam, and Plant (because she can plant herself and become immovable). She’s so forgettable that Michael left her on her own in Mexico.
2. Chicken dance
Michael Bluth always sums up the running gags in Arrested Development perfectly in just one line. In the case of the family’s various attempts at imitating a chicken, as he watches the entire family do increasingly less accurate impressions, he says, “Has anyone on this family ever seen a chicken?” Whenever the cast members appear at an event for a press conference or a Q&A, they are always asked every time to do their chicken dances. It’s impossible to pick a favorite of the bunch. Gob’s jerky movements and hand clapping accompanied by a donkey-like “Caw ca-caw, caw ca-caw, caw ca-caw!” is the original, but the rest of the family’s dances are brilliant, too. There’s George, Sr.’s terrifying screechy one and Lucille’s distinctively more feminine “a coodle-doodle-doo,” which – fitting with her character – sounds like an upper class, high society chicken. The idea of a group of people who all have their own interpretation of what a chicken looks like is the most gleefully ridiculous and absurdist comedic idea that Mitchell Hurwitz could’ve come up with, and it is also one of the most hysterically funny running bits on the whole show. And seriously, have any of these people even seen a chicken?
1. “I’ve made a huge mistake”
Gob’s catchphrase is one of those TV quotes that is applicable to real life. We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we just have to stop, think about what we’ve done, take a long, hard look at ourselves, and say, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” Gob has used this line in all kinds of contexts. He used it when he swallowed a key and planned to break out of prison after passing it, only to discover that his prison cell didn’t have a private bathroom. He used it when he broke up with Marta and when he got back together with her. He used when he was made the CEO of the Bluth Company and realized how many problems come along with the position. Gob’s catchphrase has been used by other members of the family, too. George, Sr. used it when he got sick of his affair with Kitty. Lucille used it when she put Michael in charge of the company. Michael uses it when George Michael told him about Rita’s mental disability. Gob’s son Steve Holt used it when he was worried about having slept with his cousin Maeby. Oh, and Gob used it when he first found out about Steve.