10 Of The Best Arrested Development Episodes

Arrested Development2 10 Of The Best Arrested Development Episodes

You’re killing me, Netflix. Not only are you releasing the entire new season of Arrested Development all at once on May 26th beginning at midnight, but you have the previous three seasons readily available for us all to watch in the days leading up to it. I’m afraid I am incapable of resisting either of these temptations; I just finished going through all 53 existing episodes in the past week and am anticipating not being able to stop myself from watching the entire new 15-episode season into the wee hours of Sunday morning.

This is a show that both benefits and suffers from watching a string of episodes in a row. The continuity of the jokes is so strong that having as many of them fresh in your mind as possible will make the callbacks that much more satisfying. But the humor is also so dense and rapid-fire, sometimes there are several gags paying off at once, that you can become slightly desensitized from watching so much, and eventually a little exhausted. Then again, sometimes you can get so exhausted that the ridiculous humor, usually coming from Gob and Buster, becomes even funnier to you.

In honor of the new season’s forthcoming release, eight years in the making, here are 10 episodes that have to be included among the show’s best, and would be a nice condensed set of shows to watch in preparation for May 26th. Come on!

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1) Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

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I know very few people who took to Arrested Development after seeing just the pilot episode. It’s a show that relies on momentum and the careful layering of its jokes, and so a lot of what the very first episode serves to do is to lay the groundwork for the insanity that would come later. We’re introduced to all the characters, of which there are many even from the start, and with this comes a number of details that are necessary for the show to present even though they won’t be picked up on very much during the first viewing. It’s why the pilot seems so much stronger after having seen the entire first season, or entire series. The characters were clearly conceived right from the start.

Even more impressive than the conception of the characters evident from the first episode is the tone of the show, which was astonishingly fresh and different at the time, to the point of being a little offputting initially. We witness a family full of rather absurd characters, but the actors are playing them completely without irony. Operating without the usual comedic rhythms where clear jokes are delivered at regular intervals is a risky thing, but it also allows the story to breathe without too much pressure for constant gags, and also makes the laughs more surprising when they come. It may not have been easy to identify this the first time seeing it, but Arrested Development’s pilot episode accomplished all these things while making itself interesting and funny enough to keep the attention of most viewers. And we had no idea what we were in for.

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2) Season 1, Episode 10: Pier Pressure

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Ten episodes in and Arrested Development had found its stride. Its tone was clear as a bell and any early skeptics who had kept with it surely had found themselves understanding the show’s sensibility and humor. Specifically, we began to trust that any detail or early gag featured in an episode or episodes previous could end up paying off enormous dividends later on, so attention was crucial.

“Pier Pressure” was the first episode where we met J. Walter Weatherman, the one-armed man George Sr. used to scare the living hell out of his children to make them learn these trivial little lessons. In this case, it’s Michael who recruits Gob to scare George Michael away from drugs, unaware that his son is just looking to get some marijuana for Buster. And Buster wants it to help his girlfriend and mother’s best friend Lucille Austero with her vertigo. You see what sort of tangled wad we have on our hands. Just when we think the payoff comes as Gob and Michael reveal themselves and their lesson to George Michael, a seemingly dramatic shootout takes place with a man having his arm shot off. The reveal that it’s George Sr. trying to teach his son to not teach his son a lesson is incredible, and solidified the show as reliably amazing. The layers of plot and character motivation and intricate weaving of plausible storylines for this big moment are kind of astounding, and we witnessed them really for the first time in this way in “Pier Pressure,” which is probably why it’s creator Mitchell Hurwitz’s favorite episode.

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3) Season 1, Episode 13: Beef Consommé

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The conclusion for the storyline surrounding the brothers’ beef over Marta, “Beef Consommé” feels fairly conclusive in general. Apparently it was meant to serve as a potential series finale, fulfilling the initial 13-episode order of the series, in case Fox didn’t order any more. The climax comes at a hearing for George Sr. when Gob and Michael finally duke it out over Marta. It’s a pretty niftily handled scene, sticking to the show’s reality/documentary style and having the cameras remain outside the courtroom as per the judge’s order, and then having the fisticuffs spill out of the door and outside the courthouse entirely. And this is compounded by the running joke that Buster desperately wants someone to have the decency to fulfill a dream of his and punch him in the face.

This is also one of the better Tobias episodes, throwing into disarray his passion for being a real actor and his psychological condition as a never-nude when he is required to do a nude scene for a role. But he doesn’t learn about this until after he has delivered perhaps the best opening to a sex talk ever to George Michael, stopping himself before finishing the thought “When a man needs to prove to a woman that he’s actually…” The Tobias character is one of the most absurd character when it comes to gags, but here he also shows he can be the tiniest bit sympathetic on occasion, sheepishly removing his cutoffs with the Lindsay’s help.

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4) Season 2, Episode 2: The One Where They Build a House

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As the show progressed, the setups for the jokes seemed to extend even longer, and the eventual payoffs became even more outrageous. They certainly had invested enough in them. The best sight gag in this episode, perhaps in the entire run of Arrested Development, comes at the end when Michael and Gob, who have already settled a couple of matters with a game of rock paper scissors, engage in another physical fight. This time it’s with objects, Michael grabbing the rock that the company was using in its new Gob-conceived “Solid As a Rock” campaign, and Gob grabbing the scissors that Michael had wanted to use to cut the ribbon on the Bluth Company’s newly built model home. Certainly one of the greatest moments the show pulled off, and I don’t know anyone who saw it coming.

And speaking of not seeing things coming, this episode also featured Tobias, donning the blue paint for his Blue Man Group auditions, hiding alongside various blue backgrounds. This may have been the first time I had to actually stop the DVD when I was watching the season for the first time to get a closer look and verify that it was actually Tobias grasping the side of that blue moving truck because the gag was so subtle it very easily could have gone completely undetected.

Oh, this episode also introduced a lot of the Ann jokes, including the famous mayonegg.

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5) Season 2, Episode 4: Good Grief

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It was this episode that made me think that maybe Arrested Development was the greatest television show ever produced. It almost seems as if they took something that Lucille had said in several episodes, good grief, just an offhand remark, and they made an episode that incorporate the family’s grief upon learning of the death of George Sr. and a number of cleverly placed Charlie Brown references, the most obvious and enjoyable of which came whenever a character, feeling blue, walked with their head down while Peanuts-style piano played in the background.

The jokes in this episode showcase the more rapid and complicated humor Season 2 had progressed towards, but they were still not without their unbelievably crazy sight gags. But they also couldn’t have a visible joke that wasn’t a reference to something else as well. The moment I may have laughed at the hardest in my first Arrested Development run came when George Michael discovered George Sr. hiding in a hole behind the family home. It had the element of George Sr. faking his death and always being on the run from the law. It had George Michael being exposed to shocking things. And on top of that, the image was identical to the famous image of Saddam Hussein being discovered, which tied in to the show’s running references to all things Iraq. Priceless.

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6) Season 2, Episode 14: The Immaculate Election

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The revelation that Gob is Steve Holt’s father is another one of the crowning achievements of the series. It made Maeby’s crush on him instantly messed up, since he was her cousin. It paid off a number of early hints that Gob had a son. It set up new moments between Gob and Steve that allowed these two hilarious characters to somehow become even more bizarre and entertaining when they were together. And the very end of this episode is when the amazing reveal occurs.

That’s the ending to a tremendously strong episode. It’s the first episode where Tobias appears as Mrs. Featherbottom, perhaps the most ridiculous plot development in the entire series, but Tobias is such a ridiculous character already that allowing the other characters to be as dumbfounded by the move as we are makes it somehow forgivable until it just starts to work comedically. That doesn’t mean it’s not horribly stupid. But how can you not laugh at his reaction to his plastic nose falling off? Or for that matter, at Gob on a high school presidential campaign video growling “Steve Holt is a bastard.”

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7) Season 2, Episode 17: Spring Breakout

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By the end of the second season Arrested Development was bursting with narrative swagger. It had so much self-esteem that it started to really give the narrator, voiced by Ron Howard, some editorial authority. Some of the funniest moments of “Spring Breakout” come when clips of the Bluth’s portrayal on Scandalmakers are shown, with Tobias depicting George Sr., and the narrator just beaking the hell out of Scandalmakers’ own narrator’s shortcomings. The show compels a big landowner to question his doing business with the Bluths, and Lucille responds by showing up drunk and doing a chicken dance.

Drunk Lucille is definitely the highlight of this episode. Her escapades at the office get her sent to rehab, but when Kitty the secretary demands to meet with her, she leaves for the bar, mops the floor with Kitty in a drinking contest, and announces “I’ve got to get back to rehab.” Then there’s the scenes with Tobias and Lindsay on the boardwalk filming spring breakers and the reveal that the “Girls with Low Self-Esteem” producer played by Zach Braff is ironically one of the dozens of cutoff-wearing never-nudes. Also, Buster drunk on boxed wine. It’s too much.

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8) Season 3, Episodes 2-6: Rita

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Charlize Theron’s five-episode appearance on Arrested Development is another series highlight cementing the show’s cultural import. The premise that she’s this mentally challenged woman who seems smart because she has a British accent is brilliant on its own. Having Michael fall in love with her and be oblivious to this fact, which we learn before him but after being led to believe she may be a spy, is just extra cheese on the English muffin.

Any of the episodes from “For British Eyes Only” to “The Ocean Walker” will give you the gist of the section of the series, but for me, “The Ocean Walker” is probably the best episode of the whole damn thing. There are too many details to summarize, but the main joke that sealed the deal in my mind is set up with small moments throughout, from Michael’s first wedding video, to Tobias’ hair, to Gob’s errant lighter fluid spray, to Rita’s insistence that you can walk across the ocean. All this comes together in what’s at first a beautifully simple moment featuring Rita walking across the pool and out of Michael’s life. The episode ends with Gob saying that’s not a magic trick. And then the epilogue, itself a running series joke, starts with Gob screaming “It’s my illusion!” followed by about a dozen jokes and references to earlier events taking place at once. Had the series ended in that moment, it would have gone out in an absolutely brilliantly executed blaze of glory.

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9) Season 3, Episodes 10-12: Buster’s Coma

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These episodes don’t go together so much as I just have no way of deciding which one is the best of the three. The first episode that sees Buster fall deep into a light to no coma also features the famous “Mock Trial with J. Reinhold” plot, with little jokes sprinkled throughout, including a Hung Jury for a band that is named after its band leader, William Hung. Franklin the puppet is also featured prominently and hilariously as Gob finds new ways to make him talk without moving his own mouth. I just can’t even.

Then, in “Family Ties,” there’s Justine Bateman playing Michael’s possible-sister Nellie, a source for plenty of jokes and awkward moments where you’re like “Dear god they’re brother and sister!” and on top of that she’s a prostitute that Michael hires to blow everyone in the office (away). “Exit Strategy” might be the best of the bunch solely for its concluding sequence surrounding Operation Hot Brother. All the jokes about the Iraq War are tied up here, including George Sr. being confirmed to be set up by the British, the confirmation of a Bluth-style model home that turns out to be housing Saddam lookalikes, and the discovery of a fake WMD that inspires cravings for an ice cream sandwich. The stories from this third season were so tightly constructed that you got the sense the show was really starting to show what it could do.

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10) Season 3, Episode 13: Development Arrested

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Unfortunately, the development of what is surely the greatest network comedy to date was stopped short, forcing a finale to bookend a series that never got a chance to soar as high as perhaps it could have. The family is back on the boat, having a party just like they were in the pilot. The episode begins formally the same, right up to Michael waking up next to George Michael and discussing what’s important to them. And it ends the same way, police boats boarding the Bluth’s ship, this time with Michael and George Michael driving off into the sunset.

There aren’t many shows that can pull off callbacks to their very first episode with this type of success. I’m not sure whether it’s because the initial jokes are so memorable that referring to them later on is immediately recognizable, or whether most viewers watched them all so quickly that everything is just fresh in their minds. What’s certain is that no show before or since has invested so much detail in its humor, resulting in alienation for detractors and the highest highs of TV comedy for ardent devotees. The center of this was the investment we had in the characters, who were so vividly and absurdly presented that they left a profound impression on everyone who came across them.

When it comes down to it, the Bluths are a family that once you get to know, you just can’t get away from in your mind. You can’t help but want to see them again. If nothing else, the new Netflix season of Arrested Development will satisfy this desire, and let us taste a little more happy after 8 years of blue.

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  • Alex Lowe

    Great list! Another episode that is definitely in my top 10 is Marta Complex. The whole “hermano” joke never gets old.

  • Justin A.

    Loved Pier Pressure. I’ve often wished that I knew a one-armed man who I could use to teach lessons to my own children.