Repeated gags are part of what make TV shows great. They’re like inside jokes for long-time watchers, and the longer the show goes on for, the more joy comes from catching a callback to an episode past. And almost anything can qualify as a running joke, from a silly word that just keeps coming up to the image of a particular fruit.
But while these gags are fun little extras for most programs, there’s one show that is entirely based around the concept: Arrested Development. From callbacks that last one episode to those that stretch throughout the entire series, no show does it better than the formerly low-rated series that was canceled by FOX after just three seasons — only to be revitalized by Netflix for a fourth season that completely changed the game.
The quirky Bluths have brought hilarity to our screens time and time again, and we can only hope that the long-awaited fifth season comes swiftly now that a deal is “really close.” While we wait, enjoy reliving these 20 Hilarious Running Jokes On Arrested Development.
20. “You’re high!” “You’re drunk!”
Lucille, the matriarch of the Bluth clan, is conniving, cold, and ruthless. But more than any other adjective, her kids would describe her as drunk. In almost every scene, she’s holding a cocktail, and frequent comments are made about her drinking alcohol at any time of the day or night.
In season two, the audience discovers that George Sr. has a twin brother, Oscar. It’s revealed that he and Lucille had been romantically involved in the past, and the two quickly pick up where they left off. Though they’re identical (except for their hair), Oscar is very different from his twin — he’s a kinder soul, and treats Lucille much better than her husband.
But the two still butt heads frequently. As Oscar is a frequent consumer of marijuana, if the two are in a disagreement, it almost always ends the same way: Lucille cries out, “You’re high!” to which Oscar replies, “You’re drunk!” The dynamic is always entertaining, even when the pair stop sleeping together.
19. Ron Howard/Happy Days jokes
Things often get very meta on Arrested Development, and narrator Ron Howard is usually to blame. Howard was best known for being a child actor on the show Happy Days, before he transitioned to a storied career behind the camera. It was Howard’s production company, Imagine Entertainment, that conceived of the hand-held camera style of the show, and chose Mitch Hurvitz’s “riches to rags family” concept.
The narrator always had his own opinions of the Bluths and their antics, but it wasn’t until episode 11 of the first season that things got personal: Jessie, the PR representative Michael hires to help save the family’s image, is rude to George Michael, and refers to him as Opie, Howard’s character from Happy Days. The narrator responds drily: “Jessie had gone too far and she had best watch her mouth.”
From there, the jokes only got more meta, with Howard’s former Happy Days costars Henry Winkler and Scott Baio making appearances. And things reached peak meta in season four, when Ron Howard showed up as a version of himself who tries to convince Michael to sign over the rights to make a movie about the Bluth family. Very few shows can pull off that level of inception, but it was the perfect move for Arrested Development.
18. Gene Parmesan fools Lucille
Some of the best jokes are the ones that don’t occur all that frequently — that way, it’s more exciting when they actually do. In season 2 episode 3, the audience is introduced to Gene Parmesan, a private investigator the family has hired in the past. Throughout the episode, Gene shows up in some sort of costume, and completely surprises Lucille.
No one else is particularly affected by Gene’s antics, so the real humor comes from the fact that the person most delighted by him is the perpetually jaded and disinterested Lucille. This could just be another one-episode gag, which are very common on the show, but then season four reintroduced Gene.
The nature of the latest season, which focuses on one Bluth in each episode, made it so that we didn’t see our favorite characters interact very often. However, the supporting characters helped to tie everything together. Michael hires Gene to tail G.O.B., as Michael suspects his sibling is dating the woman he likes. Though we get to know the character a little better, there’s no moment quite as satisfying as when he first shows up and shocks Lucille once again, despite the fact that she already knew he was there.
17. Carl Weathers is Cheap
Tobias Funke, the husband of the only Bluth daughter, Lindsay, is in the midst of a career transition at the start of the series. He soon decides that he wants to be an actor, but struggles to book a gig or audition for some time. On a carpool ride to LAX, Tobias meets professional actor Carl Weathers, who agrees to coach him.
From the moment he arrives on screen, Carl is primarily one thing: frugal. He books inexpensive flights so that he can get bumped and receive money back. He uses Tobias to make money and does essentially nothing for his career, but gets free food wherever possible. Carl even explains how he saves the bones from meat to make stew.
Carl does end up getting Tobias an audition, and he disappears for a while, but returns in season four. Michael calls Carl up to ask him about getting the rights to his family’s story, and Carl gets himself a part in the project. Anything to get his face out there and make a buck.
16. Lucille’s Wink
One of the greatest things about the Bluths is how out-of-touch they can be. This is especially true of Lucille, who infamously asked in an early episode of the series, “I mean, it’s one banana, Michael. What could it cost, ten dollars?” But one of Lucille’s greatest failures is her inability to wink.
This joke actually begins in the pilot, when Lucille first winks at a Michael, causing him to request that she “never do that again.” The matriarch’s attempt at winking is anything but subtle, and lasts longer than any wink should, causing her son discomfort.
It turns out that this is a family trait. Michael also winks dramatically a number of times, as do Tobias and George. Lindsay also slips one in there, and the family’s lawyer, Barry Zuckercorn, hilariously tries to wink from underneath an eye patch.
But the greatest winking mishap comes when Lucille reads the warnings on her prescription medication, and perceives the drowsy eye followed by a cocktail symbols to be “wink wink” suggestion encouraging her to drink.
15. The Stair Car
As Michael tries to keep his family together, he frequently has to make sacrifices that the other Bluths don’t agree with. Left without transportation after selling the family jet, Michael tells his siblings they now all must share a vehicle — a stair car with the Bluth family name on the side that the buyers of the jet didn’t want.
The stair car brings with it many jokes, the greatest of which, “You’re going to get some hop-ons”, is mentioned on a number of occasions, but not really ever seen. However, the audience does see the car used in other dangerous ways, including two separate occasions where prisoners were able to climb up it and escape by jumping over a fence.
This car is almost another character in the series, and in the fourth season, Michael gifts it to George Michael as he heads off to college, much to the teenager’s dismay. In fact, the stair car even makes it outside the Arrested Development universe, appearing as an Easter egg during the airport scene of Captain America: Civil War, which was helmed by former Arrested Development directors the Russo Brothers.
14. “Who wants to take me to the hospital?”
The character of Tobias is often the… butt of jokes on the show. He doesn’t have many good days, and whether it’s brought on by himself or someone else in the family, is frequently down on his luck. In fact, in season two, he begins to require medical attention improbably often.
Tobias learns about the Blue Man Group, and paints himself blue in order to score an audition and impress the men in question. He’s later hit by Barry Zuckercorn, who can’t see him in the dark due to his altered skin color. Tobias also inhales some of the diamond cream Lindsay buys, is injured when private investigator Ice tackles him, and is run over by his mother-in-law, all in the span of a few episodes. And each time, he says rather pleasantly, “Who wants to take me to the hospital?”
Things get even worse for Tobias in season three, when his hair plugs cause him to develop GVH, which stands for Graft vs. Host. As Lindsay uses him and his disease to further the family’s charity efforts, Tobias gets sicker and sicker, but he maintains his always cherry composure.
13. J. Walter Weatherman’s lessons
Another joke used less frequently but with big impact, the audience first learns in season 1, episode 10 that George Sr. taught his children lessons by invoking the help of a former employee. Somehow, they’d end up in a scenario where this man’s arm was ripped off, which turned out to be a fake arm — he’d lost his real arm many years before on a Bluth construction site. The man, whose name was J. Walter Weatherman, ended every encounter by saying “And that’s why you [fill in the lesson].”
In the present day, Michael decides to teach George Michael a lesson, when he discovers that his son is looking for drugs. As it turns out, he was only doing this to help Buster’s girlfriend, Lucille 2, who smoked weed for her vertigo. Michael tries to recruit J. Walter Weatherman, but his dad refuses to give him his number, so he has G.O.B. call up some of his stripper friends who pose as cops. In the end, George Sr. gets the last laugh, calling in Weatherman to teach his son not to teach his own son a lesson.
Later in the series, Buster takes offense at how the family uses the one-armed man, having lost a hand himself. He pulls an elaborate stunt on G.O.B., Michael, his father, and J. Walter Weatherman himself. For once, Buster got the last laugh.
12. Charlie Brown gag
Like any great piece of art, Arrested Development often played homage to the stories that came before it. One particular nod that came about often included various references to Peanuts and the characters from Charles Schulz’s comic strip.
The most notable Peanuts gag was the Charlie Brown walk. This was most attributed to George Michael, who did the sad, head-down march a number of times throughout the series, when he was feeling sullen — once even walking in front of a red dog house with a pooch on top of it, the way Charlie’s dog Snoopy was often depicted. G.O.B., George Sr., Michael, and Tobias also performed this march to sad background music throughout the series’ run.
There are a few other Peanuts nods in the series. A season one episode is titled “Good Grief,” after Charlie Brown’s catchphrase, and features a few references, including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it image of the banana stand with a sign that bears a resemblance to the one on Lucy’s psychiatric counseling booth. But overall, the greatest of the gags might be the one that comes from Buster: the youngest member of the Bluth family refers to his genitalia as his “Linus” and his “Charlie Browns.”
11. Steve Holt!
Beginning in the third episode of the series, we meet Steve Holt, a young man Maeby has a crush on. Steve Holt is something of a dumb jock, having been held back a couple of years and frequently making his own name into a celebratory cheer. George Michael, who also has a crush on Maeby, ends up competing with Steve Holt for class president, which is when the signs start to pour in that he’s a more important character than initially assumed.
Along the way, there are also hints that G.O.B. might be a father, though he doesn’t know it. The connection starts to become apparent when, in season two episode 14, G.O.B. reveals that he knocked up a woman in high school, and that Steve looks like a girl he slept with once. Michael compares Steve to a young G.O.B., and Steve’s campaign video explains that he’s looking to meet his father, whom he’s never known.
The two eventually do connect, and G.O.B. tries to be a good dad to Steve — sort of. Ultimately, the relationship just kind of drops off, until G.O.B. tries to reconnect in season four, and Steve hires him for a job he never bothers to actually do.
In season one, G.O.B. is dating Marta, an actress on a telenovela with two sons. The eldest Bluth son is, as a whole, kind of a jerk, and isn’t very respectful of Marta. Enter Michael, who meets and quickly becomes infatuated with the kind and gentle woman, who supports his “family first” mentality. He quietly tries to win Marta over, but it takes a little while until she catches on and returns his affections.
After Marta realizes that she cares about Michael, G.O.B. overhears her speaking on the phone in her native Spanish, referring to “hermano,” which means brother. G.O.B. doesn’t realize this, and believes Marta must be interested in someone named Hermano. He soon loops Michael in on this, and the two, both in love with the same woman, try to figure out who she’s cheating on them with.
Meanwhile, Buster frequently greets both G.O.B. and Michael by saying “Heyyyy brother,” and is the one who informs G.O.B. of the true meaning of hermano. However, G.O.B. takes this to mean that the man who plays the brother on Marta’s telenovela is his competition.
Eventually, all three brothers profess their love for and fight over Marta, who now wants nothing to do with any of them. Michael overhears Marta’s son refer to “mi hermano,” and realizes he was the one Marta loved, and had screwed everything up.
9. Oscar is Buster’s father
As soon as Oscar arrives back in the Bluth’s lives, he begins to stir up some trouble for Lucille. Because Buster lives with his mother, he is around all of the time, and he and Uncle Oscar begin to interact frequently, and get along quite well. This isn’t exactly what Lucille wants, though.
Every time Buster says something about “my father,” soft music plays, and Oscar alludes to the fact that he, in fact, is Buster’s real father. Buster doesn’t catch on, but Lucille does, and urges him to stop. After George Sr. sneaks into his room while in disguise as Oscar and says “I’m your father,” Buster confronts his mom, who admits it, only to later be discredited when they learn who it really was.
It isn’t until Buster makes a connection involving the Cornballer that he finally realizes what Oscar has not-so-subtly been telling him all along. He then refers to Oscar as “Uncle Father Oscar” and George Sr. as “Father Uncle Dad.”
8. The Very Literal Doctor
The Bluths are so strange that usually, other people are taken aback by them. Of course, there are plenty of odd characters in their lives, and every character has various reactions to them. But there is no one who bonds the Bluths quite like their hatred for one man: Dr. Fishman.
Beginning with George Sr.’s heart attack in season one, the Bluths spend quite a bit of time at the hospital. And somehow, they always end up with the same doctor. Lucille eventually refers to him as Dr. Wordsmith, because he has one very distinct quirk — he describes every patient’s condition overly literally, and the Bluth’s misunderstand the updates he’s giving them.
Originally, they think that George Sr. died, because Dr. Fishman says they “lost him”, meaning the conniving patriarch escaped out the window of the hospital without them knowing (good old stair car).
Usually, the Bluths take his literal reports poorly, and it turns out that things aren’t as bad as they thought. However, when Buster loses his hand, the doctor tells Lucille “he’s all right.” They take this well, until they discover that Fishman is saying that Buster lost his left hand, thus only has the right remaining. Who would say that?
7. G.O.B.’s Magic Music
Oops — we meant “illusion” music. One subtle joke that started from the beginning was that every time G.O.B. performed a trick, his background music was the opening to “The Final Countdown.” No one ever addresses this, but the viewers came to learn that what hearing those dramatic notes meant.
However, season four brought with it a new song for G.O.B. When considering the present worries in his life, the beginning lyrics of the Simon and Garfunkel song “The Sound of Silence” are played, specifically, “Hello darkness, my old friend.” G.O.B. has always had commitment issues, and his on-again, off-again romance with George Michael’s high school flame, Ann, causes him a lot of stress.
Whether this is all occurring in G.O.B.’s head or out loud is to be debated, depending on the situation. The song also accompanies a few other characters in tough moments of their own, including G.O.B.’s friend and sometimes rival, Tony Wonder.
6. “Marry me!”
As Lindsay and Tobias Funke’s daughter Maeby, Alia Shawkat had a more subtle role. She was the “bad girl” to George Michael’s “good guy,” and acted as the instigator in scenarios involving her parents or her uncles. But for a little while in the beginning, she didn’t have much of her own storyline.
That is, until she accompanied her father on a Take Your Daughter to Work Day to the fictional Tantamount Studio where he was trying to get an audition, and she ended up scoring a job herself, as an executive. Maeby was 15 at the time, and she looked just barely her age, so this seemed unbelievable, but her confidence and gruff attitude somehow convinced those around her.
Of course, people still questioned her age, so she came up with a deflection: any time someone speculated, her response was to ask them to marry her. She also accidentally said it to Michael once, who in turn said it to Rita, but seriously. In season four, G.O.B. blurts out “Marry me,” only to have Ann believe he meant it literally.
Speaking of Ann Veal, the character started off as George Michael’s high school girlfriend, a very religious young woman whom he seems to like, but not as much as his cousin Maeby. After they break up, there are hints that she and G.O.B. are involved, but this isn’t confirmed until the finale of season three.
While she’s dating his son, Michael is unable to understand what George Michael sees in Ann. Michael doesn’t remember meeting Ann on a number of occasions, and when George Michael points her out, his response is, “her?” He also forgets her name, accidentally calling her “Egg,” “Bland,” and several other unflattering nicknames. Eventually he seems to recognize Ann, but still doesn’t get why his son is attracted to her.
Season four shows the audience what happened during the time since “Development Arrested” — G.O.B. accidentally proposed to Ann, she accepted, and he tried to get out of it. Years later, he discovers that she had a child with his frenemy, Tony Wonder. She ends up tricking the two magicians into getting intimate with each other. Never underestimate the egg.
4. Tobias’ Poor Phrasing
Few jokes occur as frequently as the implication that Tobias is gay. This one begins as early as the pilot, when Tobias dons Lindsay’s blouse and boards a ship of pirates — who are actually actors, which is what gives him the motivation for his new career. At one point or another, almost every character says something about Tobias’ questionable sexual orientation, whether overtly or, as the fourth season shows, as simply and directly as possible.
From his fashion choices to his mannerisms, Tobias gives his family many reasons to assume he’s gay, based on stereotypes. But it’s way in which the character himself speaks that really drives the message home. As Michael points out to him, Tobias’ poor phrasing makes it seem as though he’s interested in men, or sometimes, just features any sort of inappropriate double entendre.
There are far too many Tobias quotes to list here, but a few favorites include: “I can just taste those meaty man parts in my mouth” (referring to acting roles for a man), “I was a professional twice over: An analyst and a therapist. The world’s first Analrapist.” And who can forget “I’m afraid I’ve prematurely shot my wad on what was supposed to be a dry run,” as well as, “I just blue myself,” neither of which mean what they say. Tobias quotes are truly an essential part of the show’s humor.
3. “I’ve made a huge mistake.”
The Bluths are good at very few things, it would seem. But one thing they excel at? Making mistakes, and usually really big ones. Enter the infamous repeated line, “I’ve made a huge mistake.”
As the eldest brother, G.O.B. is arguably the least successful. He fails to contribute any money to the family, and tries to find any way he can out of a situation (making his career as an “illusionist” very apt). But because he’s not very smart, G.O.B. screws up — a lot. When he realizes what he’s done, rather than screaming or crying, G.O.B. often calmly utters this sentence.
Of course, he’s not the only one who screws things up. George Sr., Maeby, Lucille, Michael, and even recurring characters like Marta and Steve Holt admit their errors throughout the four-season run. But the line is quintessentially G.O.B.’s, and encompasses all that we both love and hate about him.
2. “No touching!”
The pilot episode sees George Sr. imprisoned for his white collar crimes, and so the patriarch conversing with his family while wearing an orange jumpsuit becomes a regular occurrence. Michael comes to visit to figure out how to save the company, G.O.B. and Lindsay beg for money, and Lucille arrives for both conjugal visits and to discuss strategy — showing the audience that she is the true mastermind behind the Bluth’s business.
Almost every time someone comes to meet with George Sr., they attempt to embrace or, more likely, hurt him physically in some way. This prompts the guard or guards standing by to yell out “No touching!”
The rule is one that is seen in all programs about prison, so it’s not a new concept. However, this cry quickly becomes a repeated gag. The joke even lasts after George Sr. is no longer incarcerated, from other jailbirds committing the same offense to other similar lines uttered in moments of distress. The Bluths are uncomfortable with affection, and it shows.
1. Chicken Impressions
Though much of what the Bluths say overpowers their actions, this running gag — while not as frequent as others — is arguably the greatest of all. It exemplifies their privilege and lack of knowledge when it comes to anything outside of the wealthy Orange County bubble they live in, and simply highlights the ridiculousness of the characters and the show itself.
It’s also funny because it’s a slow burn with a satisfying finish. We first see G.O.B. do a strange impression of a chicken in season 1, episode 5, at Buster, and he does it a few more times to Michael. G.O.B.’s dance involves clapping, and it seems like things couldn’t get weirder… until we see Lindsay perform her own version, kicking her legs out to the side and holding her hand up to her forehead like a feather.
Finally, in a season three episode, Michael tells his family about Rita, and they all join in: George Sr., Lucille, and Lindsay, with G.O.B. missing the opportunity. Michael questions his relatives “Have any of you ever even seen a chicken?”
Allegedly, creator Mitch Hurwitz has said that the origin of the chicken dance will eventually be revealed. Here’s hoping that season five brings more kooky impressions!
What’s your favorite running joke on Arrested Development? Let us know in the comments!