Arrested Development is one of the funniest shows ever put on the air, and a big part of that hilarity is its abundance of running jokes. In fact, sadly enough, that ended up being one of the reasons why it was cancelled by Fox after three seasons.
A show whose humor is this dense, with countless recurring gags and repeated lines, is better suited to binge-watching than regular broadcast TV where you have to tune in once a week to get each episode and might end up missing a couple. That’s probably why Netflix eventually picked it up. So, here are Arrested Development’s 10 Funniest Running Gags, Ranked.
10 The Charlie Brown walk-away
As “the story of a wealthy family that lost everything,” the characters of Arrested Development are met with a lot of misfortune over the show’s five seasons. And whenever they’re down in the dumps, like George Michael breaking out with Ann, or George, Sr. finding out Lucille is sleeping with Oscar, or Tobias discovering that someone ate his hard-boiled eggs, they sullenly walk off with a piano riff from A Charlie Brown Christmas playing on the soundtrack.
In the Netflix seasons, the piano riff and walk-away in these sad moments were replaced by the opening tones of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” It was a funny gag, but arguably not as funny as the Charlie Brown moments.
9 “The Final Countdown”
Whenever Gob does one of his tricks – or, as he calls them, illusions – at a magic show, he always plays Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” Gob struggles to make it in the magician community, because he’s not very good at magic and he tells people how he does the tricks that he can do.
As a result, he was kicked out of the Alliance of Magicians. He spends the next few seasons desperately trying to claw his way back into the Alliance, and dreaming of being featured in an issue of Poof! magazine. And it’s all set to the sounds of “The Final Countdown.”
8 The stair car
The writers of Arrested Development wrung a ton of hilarious slapstick gags out of the stair car, like taking down banners and getting hop-ons. But it’s also an incisive symbol, representing the final remaining piece of the Bluth fortune. They used to have it all, and now, all that’s left is the car with a staircase on the back of it to take them to a private jet that they no longer have.
The Bluths’ stair car was seen during the airport battle in Captain America: Civil War, as the film was being directed by the Russo brothers, who also helmed many Arrested Development episodes and wanted to pay homage to their roots.
7 Oscar might be Buster’s father
As the ultimate dysfunctional family, there were plenty of secrets hidden among the Bluths. George, Sr. and Lucille adopted Lindsay and didn’t tell her until she was a week away from turning 40 (having told her she’d only be turning 37). Michael suspected that he had a sister his parents didn’t tell him about named Nellie Bluth.
And Oscar might be Buster’s biological father. Oscar constantly hints at it, with an emotional, heartstring-tugging musical motif straight out of a soap opera playing every time. After a while, the other characters get sick of it. Michael even tells Oscar to “shut up” when he’s suggesting he might be Buster’s father.
6 Blue Man Group
When Tobias first heard about the Blue Man Group, he thought it was a support group for depressed men. However, despite the mistake, the unusual performance group hooked him and cured his depression anyway. He went straight home and “blue himself,” then when Michael asked him if he was blue, he smiled and replied, “Only in color, Michael.”
Tobias’ obsession with the Blue Man Group isn’t fully explained, but it is obvious. They eventually hired him as an understudy, and he spent several hours a day in full-body blue makeup in case they needed him to come in and perform. (They never did.)
5 “I’ve made a huge mistake.”
Every couple of episodes, Gob has a reason to say, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” For instance, he got himself locked in prison for an illusion that he couldn’t possibly hope to pull off. Gob is a total screw-up, so it’s unsurprising that he keeps making so many mistakes. What is surprising is that he’s willing to admit it.
Well, he’s at least willing to admit it in the moment, but he conveniently forgets about all of his mistakes later in the series when he says, “I’ve never admitted to a mistake. What would I have made a mistake about?”
4 Literal doctor
Although he’s often referred to simply as “the Literal Doctor,” this character’s name is technically Dr. Fishman, and Lucille sometimes calls him Dr. Wordsmith. He’s the worst possible doctor to deliver bad news, because he uses turns of phrase that he means literally, often misleading his patients’ loved ones.
When Buster lost his left hand to a loose seal, the doctor told the family, “He’s going to be all right.” When Tobias was hit by a car while covered in blue makeup, he told them, “It looks like he’s dead.” When George, Sr. climbed out the window and escaped, the doctor told them, “We lost him.”
3 The Bluths’ chicken dances
One of the more absurd running gags in Arrested Development, no one in the Bluth family knows what a chicken sounds like. Gob jumps up and down, clapping his hands, yelling, “Caw, caw-caw! Caw, caw-caw!” Lucille gracefully moves her arms like wings and says, “A-coodle-doodle-doo! A-coodle-doodle-doo!”
Lindsay wiggles her hand around her head and warbles, “Choh-chee! Choh-chee!” The fifth season of Arrested Development didn’t do a great job of wrapping up the series and satisfying fans, but it did give the viewers closure on one thing that they’d been waiting years for: we finally got to see Michael’s chicken dance.
“It’s as Ann as the nose on Plain’s face.” The fact that no one can remember George Michael’s on-and-off girlfriend Ann is easily one of the funniest running gags in the show. Egg, Plant, Ann-hog, Bland – no one can ever remember her real name.
The producers of Arrested Development reportedly planned to cast a different actor as Ann in every episode to really sell how forgettable she was. However, when they brought in Mae Whitman as the second incarnation of Ann, they decided that she had the perfect look for the character and kept her around for the rest of the series.
1 Tobias’ ambiguous sexuality
Tobias hints that he’s gay in pretty much every single episode of Arrested Development, and yet he never realizes it. Early in season 1, when Tobias is about to announce that he wants to become an actor, Lindsay assumes the announcement is that he’s gay and he says, “No. No. No, I’m not...I’m not gay. No. Lindsay, how many times must we have this...No.”
He never wants to sleep with Lindsay, and to conceive Maeby, it took “deep, deep concentration and great focus.” He also assumed that George Michael was gay and Maeby later told her cousin that Tobias “thinks everyone’s gay.”