Saturday’s Six: Arrested Development’s Greatest Running Gags

Arrested Development (2003-2006) is one of those rare TV shows that rewards multiple viewings — gags and jokes and wordplay that you probably missed the first time around are exposed, and if you pay careful attention to the background you can often see continuity with both old and upcoming plots.  Here are six of my favorite running gags from the series:

1. Tobias’ Unintentional Innuendo

Tobias is gay — which is readily apparent to everyone except himself.  What makes this theme hilarious is that he’s a constant fount of unintentional innuendo, a stream of Freudian slips regarding the subject.  When he paints himself blue to be part of the Blue Man Group, he admits that “I just blue myself”.  Or when he references his old approach to being the first Analysis/Therapist, which culminates in the unfortunately-titled “Analrapist” cards.  That’s okay, because we love the guy, and even when he’s broke he’s willing to “stuff your sweet, pink mouth with so much ice cream that you’ll be the envy of every Judy and Jane on the block!”

2. Bob Loblaw

The Bluths have no luck when it comes to their lawyers, but in season 3 they finally seemed to get a competent one — the hilariously deadpan Scott Biao, who plays Bob Loblaw (to get that joke, you have to say his name out loud).  There’s nothing funnier than hearing adult characters talk about “blah blah blah” over and over again.  And don’t forget to read “Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog”!

3. The Banner

For being absurdly rich, the Bluths are strangely frugal when it comes to reusing old items.  Starting at some point in the second season, they’d hang a giant banner in their parents apartment for various parties.  The thing is, they kept reusing the banner but changing the words on it — so you get messages like “You’re Killing Me, Buster” changed into “You’re Kidding Me, Buster” to “Welcome Home, Buster” to (my fave) “Family Love Michael” (which later became “Michael Love Marry” for when he got married).  I don’t know why this tickled me, but the banner became one of those background details that I’d keep a sharp eye out for.

4. The Chicken Dance

Oh, the Chicken Dance!  Glory of glories!  Part of the Bluth family appeal is that they behave like a weird little family, with traditions that go way back before the start of the series.  One of these is doing a “chicken dance” to mock someone they felt was being too timid or chicken — but the catch is that everyone’s chicken dance looks nothing like a chicken whatsoever, and everyone has a radically different interpretation of the dance.  In one late-season episode, half of the family ends up doing the chicken dance at once — with Michael saying exasperatingly, “Has no one in this family ever seen a chicken?” — and it had me rolling on the ground.

5. Franklin

Everyone has a favorite character on the show, and mine is a constant toss-up between GOB (pronounced “johb”) and Tobias.  I usually give the edge to GOB for his over-the-top childish machinations, including his attempts at entertaining: his magic show and, as we find out later on, a former attempt at ventriloquism/singing with a black puppet named Franklin.  Part of the awesomeness that is Franklin is that, depending on the scene, some of the family — and cops — actually treat him as if he’s a real, distinct entity.  That coupled with the extremely white GOB trying to mimic gangster speech makes you thrill whenever he gets a bit of screen time.

6. George Michael’s Greatest Fears

Michael Cera is the underrated hero of Arrested Development, and for good reason: his character George Michael is a shy, good-natured kid (if a bit incestuous at heart) in a sea of dysfunctional human beings.  Cera does awesome things with George Michael’s mannerisms as he never quite gets the words out at the right time, and it’s hysterical when he constantly ends up being traumatized by the family (quite unintentionally) with some of his greatest fears.  His uncle Buster’s hook hand, going to prison after being freaked out by an episode of HBO’s Oz, and being forced to look after Tobias when Tobias’ body begins to reject the hair transplant makes you feel bad for him… but also laugh.


  1. I love this show so much, I don’t know where to start. I bought the entire thing and have watched it several times. My son loves it, too, and we bond by watching it together. I agree, more than any other show, you can watch it 3, 4, 5 times and notice something funny you missed or a connection to other episodes. Buster pathetically whining, “I’m a monster!” when he looks at his hook hand. The gorgeous Charlize Theron plays a mentally retarded female for 5 episodes before you realize it and go back and watch all 5 episodes again (a la The Sixth Sense) to see all the clues you somehow missed. The parade of amazing guest stars reads like a who’s who of comedy. But the very best moment, my favorite moment in all of television comedy, is when George Michael flies in with his rocket pack and takes out the giant mole while the Japanese investors look on. The entire episode set it up and you never saw it coming. The show had Shakespeare-level irony almost every episode, and the funniest, most ridiculous writing of any show, ever. And I agree, Michael Cera is so perfect as George Michael, the straight, normal, nice, well-meaning son who just wants to use Quicken to do his taxes but is constantly being ordered around and abused as the family’s schemes are played out. His innocence contrasts with the rest of the family’s selfishness and deceit. He reminds me of the delicate, refined Mary Swanson in Dumb and Dumber. God, I love this show. I wish I could marry it.

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