Few sitcoms have reached the heights of cultishness that Arrested Development has. If someone asks if you’ve watched Arrested Development and you haven’t, lie. It’s for your own safety and social standing. But, as soon as you have some free time, do yourself a favor and go and binge watch it immediately. The first time you watch it, you’ll probably pick up on half of the jokes. It is with the subsequent rewatches (of which there will probably be many) that you start to realize how layered and intricate the jokes on Arrested Development tend to be. Sure, they’re going for the face-value laugh, but the cast and crew are also playing the long game. Between characters like J. Walter Weatherman or Carl Weathers and running gags like the Peanuts walk, these references delight fans new and old alike.
With a lesser show, recurring jokes could feel lazy, like a crutch for writers who are struggling to come up with fresh material. However, with Arrested Development, the jokes are either still funny in their original forms, or they evolve into something uniquely hilarious with each new layer. Let’s take a look at some of the best recurring jokes (besides the ones mentioned above) from the first four seasons. There are too many to be covered in one post, so be sure to leave your favorite bits in the comment section.
One of the jokes with the biggest payoffs is Buster’s eventual loss of his hand. Set up in the first episode of season two with a news report about a seal attacking a swimmer, there are many hints along the way through season 2 about Buster’s fate. The biggest bit of foreshadowing happens in the episode “Amigos,” when Buster is reunited with his hand chair that Lucille had given to her maid, Lupe. Buster laments that he “never thought he’d miss a hand so much.” When Gob releases the seal back into the ocean (despite its new taste for human blood) in “Hand to God,” he tells the seal that “you’re back in the real world. You’re not going to be hand-fed anymore.” Ouch.
“Does this sufficiently hide my thunder?” To say that Tobias has the lion’s share of sexual hang-ups is an understatement. You would almost feel bad for him if it wasn’t so hilarious. Stuck in a sexless and loveless marriage, Tobias’s anxiety manifests as a pair of jean shorts. He is a self-proclaimed “never nude,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Those shorts are as naked as that man will get. Needless to say, it is a bit of an intimacy hindrance. The jorts essentially became a symbol of sexual dysfunction: Zach Braff’s Phillip Litt, a Joe Francis stand-in and creator of Girls With Low Self Esteem, is also revealed to be a never nude.
Franklin Delano Bluth
The Bluths’ relationship with Franklin, a puppet, is a strange one. Whenever a member of the family is using Franklin in the traditional, puppet way, they seem to involuntarily take on his obscene demeanor. Also, Franklin is treated like a human by members of the Bluth family despite being fictional and made of felt, like when George Sr. attacks Franklin for kissing his wife or when he is perceived as a threat by police in “Meat The Veals.”
Ann was frumpy and a bit of a sheltered weirdo, but she didn’t really deserve the abuse heaped on her by many of the adult Bluths. As George Michael’s first girlfriend, she was bound to be met with some reticence from his father, but Michael’s disdain is over the top and hilarious. Between continuously forgetting her name, leaving her behind in Mexico, and wondering if “she’s funny or something,” it is no surprise that Michael’s dismissal places a great deal of strain on George Michael and Ann’s relationship. Eventually they break up, but she eventually hooks up with Gob. Ew.
The Chicken Dance
Michael never getting the respect of gratefulness that he feels he is owed is another running theme. Despite keeping the family afloat on their sea of bad decisions, they still treat him with the same derision that they do everyone else. After the death of his wife, Michael doesn’t really put himself out there with women, and his siblings and parents decide that the best way for him to help him with that is to call him a chicken, complete with elaborate dance. However, their dances reveal that they haven’t got a clue what a chicken actually looks like, leading to hilariously stupid results.
As relationships evolved, so did Buster’s greetings. Buster is easily the sweetest Bluth, and his simple yet genuine greeting for his brothers belies a genuine affection. The catchphrase gets more and more hilarious as it is adapted for use with people outside of the immediate family: “Hey Fake Uncle Jack,” “Hey father-uncle-dad,” “Hey possible nephew.” It also makes Michael and Gob’s misunderstanding of the Spanish word “hermano” all the more ironic.
Gob’s Various Catchphrases
Gob doesn’t handle anything well, and instead of trying to understand or fix his mistakes, he would rather scream about it. He spends most of his time as a CEO shouting about how expensive his suits are (“Yeah, like I’m going to spill coffee all over this $3,ooo suit! COME ON!’), further alienating the employees. He also constantly has to remind his father that his magic is more than mere tricks, calling them “illusions” instead. Probably the most quoted one, however, is the despairing “I’ve made a huge mistake.”
Bluth Family Banners
The Bluths are all terrible communicators. They won’t actually tell each other how they feel, instead choosing to show their true feelings through banners at family parties or get-togethers. If you want the truth in a scene, look for a family-made banner. Banners also play a role in Lindsey’s terrible fundraisers and various business functions throughout the show.
The Sound of Silence
Arrested Development‘s season four was perhaps a little too ambitious, with each episode providing new layers to the same story told over and over again. While not every aspect of that was successful, there were a few new jokes added that were pretty great. One of the best is the new signifier of Gob’s regret. Whenever he makes another huge mistake, he loses track of time, stares out in the middle distance, and Simon & Garfunkel’s somber “The Sound of Silence” starts to play. This is done to great effect in season four, and will hopefully reappear in the future.
It began with Gob’s boat, but really escalated. When he becomes CEO, Gob handles it in typical Gob-manner by immediately screwing up. Despite the company’s financial situation, not to mention the families money woes, Gob decides to purchase a yacht, The Seaward. However, when the boat arrives, it is instead named “The C-Word.” Hilariously driving home the point is Lucille’s misunderstanding, but she seems awfully chill about that kind of perceived name calling from her children. Par for the course in the Bluth family.
The overly literal doctor is often the cause of much Bluth distress. The Bluths end up in the hospital a lot, and they always receive their news from Doctor Wordsmith, who has a hilariously terrible bedside manner. Nicknamed “Doctor Wordsmith” by Lucille, he presents the diagnosis in either a misleadingly favorable or grim way. For example, he tells the family that they “lost” George Sr., leading the family to think that he had died instead of simply going missing, and that Buster will be “all right,” referring to his missing left hand.
No One Knows How To Wink
“Bluth” and “failure” are pretty synonymous, but the fundamental level of screwing up is part of what makes it so funny. They’re bad at business, politics, and behaving like good people, but the Bluths are also bad at winking. Winking in general is hard to do without looking creepy, but their lack of poise is so bad it’s great.
Played by Martin Mull, Gene is a private eye and seeming master of disguise that only Lucille seems to favor.