Arrested Development is an undisputed cult classic, and like many cult classics, it has a kind of special magical presence. Cult classics have a tendency of reaching a status where even their flaws are enveloped into the greater enjoyment of the film. They are usually under-appreciated in their own time and simultaneously ahead of it, which is what causes them to gain traction after they have disappeared from the current pop culture climate.
Enter Arrested Development, a show that follows the misadventures of the Bluth family. Though a critical success with a dedicated fanbase during its initial three season run, it was plagued by poor ratings and eventually cancelled. It was, perhaps, one of the weirdest comedies on television, especially at the time, and also the most unique. It most definitely paved the way for other shows of a similar ilk (think 30 Rock and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia). The laughs it won were surprising and well-earned, with its running gags quickly becoming iconic.
When it was revived on Netflix in 2013 (seven years after its original cancellation), fans rejoiced, but the reception of the fourth season was ultimately tepid. Perhaps, after all that had happened in the years between, it felt less fresh to people; Arrested Development had paved the way, but was no longer the forerunner.
Nevertheless, here are ten episodes that stand out in the series' run – for their jokes, their sheer eccentricity, or their perfect meld of character, comedy, and daring.
Here is Screen Rant's list of the 10 Best Arrested Development Episodes
Where it all began.
From the very first minute of the first episode, the tone of the show was perfectly set. The pilot is set on a yacht during patriarch George Bluth's (Jeffrey Tambor) retirement party, where son Michael (Jason Bateman) is set to take his place as new CEO of the family company. But when Michael is passed over for the position, he begins his series-long effort of trying to escape his family, though he never quite manages it – perhaps because he really does fit right in.
It's an incredibly auspicious beginning, particularly because it feels so well formed from the first moment. There's none of the usual pilot missteps, things that haven't been figured out yet or will be subject to change. Arrested Development knows exactly what show it is from the start, and it never loses that. It's always been a confident show, which is why a lot of the surreal jokes and absurd humor pay off so well.
The series' second episode is the originator of some of the most enduring, meme-inspiring jokes, including but not limited to: "there's always money in the banana stand," "dead dove do not eat," its subsequent "I don't know what I was expecting," and "no touching!" The show builds on the foundations established in the pilot while settling into some of the longer running themes and narrative threads, such as George Michael's (Michael Cera) crush on his cousin Maeby (Alia Shawkat), Tobias's (David Cross) embarrassment of an acting career, and Michael's attempt to manage the family's machinations.
"Top Banana" is filled to the brim with jokes, with nary a second of downtime from one to the next. It's part of what makes Arrested Development such an easy show to watch over and over again; there will always be something that went by too quickly for you to notice the first time, leaving plenty to discover on repeat viewings. But what is additionally impressive is that none of the jokes grow stale with time, either. They're always just as funny as the first time you heard them.
The episode also ends with what would become a trend of painful irony: Michael and his son burning down the family's frozen banana stand for cathartic purposes – along with the thousands of dollars hidden inside it.
"Visiting Ours" tackles the struggles of marriage for multiple tiers of the Bluth family, from George and Lucille (Jessica Walters) in the prison conjugal trailer to the hijacking of Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) and Tobias's marriage counseling by an over-eager therapist.
In addition to that, we have the continuing company shenanigans. Michael uses his older brother Gob (Will Arnett) to get some important information out of his father's assistant, Kitty, by seducing her. Kitty is perhaps one of the best secondary characters on the show, played with such beautiful insanity by the ever-excellent Judy Greer. Gob fails at his task like he fails at most, to hilarious (and traumatizing) results.
"Pier Pressure" uses the Bluths' history to explore the echoing similarities from father to son when Michael relies on one of his dad's oldest tricks to teach his son a lesson. Said trick involved George Sr. hiring a one-armed man to fake a horrible accident (as violently and dramatically as possible), thus losing his fake arm and allowing fake blood gush everywhere, which was supposed to teach his children why they shouldn't do whatever it was they were doing that annoyed him, such as drinking all the milk without leaving a note to buy more. Michael decides to teach his son such a potentially scarring lesson when he begins to suspect George Michael of buying drugs, though he this was a misunderstanding stemming from a favor he was doing for Uncle Buster (Tony Hale).
The echoes of family history are one of the biggest themes of the show, especially with Michael's constant attempts to distance himself (emotionally, physically, and ideologically) from a family he disapproves of. The episode really plays not only on the interactions of the characters but the weight behind those interactions, making the final yacht drug deal showdown not only the culmination of the episode and the season thus far, but also the decades of knotty history between family members.
The family goes hunting for a missing George Sr. in Mexico, thanks to a tip from their private detective, Gene Parmesan (played by Martin Mull and introduced this episode, marking the first but thankfully not the final time we are treated to Lucille's inexplicably ecstatic reaction every time Gene appears). This intersects with Michael desperately trying to ignore the fact that his son is growing up and possibly growing distant from him – not that Michael admits as much. Instead he makes a target of his son's girlfriend Egg – sorry, Ann (Mae Whitman) – choosing to focus instead on just how much he doesn't like her. Meanwhile, youngest Bluth brother Buster tries to escape a previous commitment to the army by hitching a secret ride to Mexico, but accidentally mistakes the maid's nearby house for an entirely different country.
It's an episode with a lot of running around. It takes the family to Mexico, back home, and then to Mexico again, without any of them managing to accomplish any of their goals, as is Bluth tradition by this point. They don't manage to find George Sr. despite his being in their proximity the entire time, and even though Michael finally acknowledges his own myopic selfishness (a fault Michael is largely unaware of), he still can't bring himself to like plant. I'm sorry, Ann.
This episode picks up where the previous one left off. The family, believing George Sr. has died, decides to hold a wake for him, only for Michael to find his M.I.A. father hiding in the attic of their home. It also ramps up Michael's smothering of George Michael, proving that Michael didn't learn any lessons in the prior episode and also that he has no idea how much he has internalized the behavior of his own parents.
The family goes nuts almost immediately after learning of George Sr.'s supposed demise, but it's all self-serving: they desperately clamor for the will, Maeby uses the wake as an excuse to set her mother up on a date (so that she can have evidence of an unstable home to get herself emancipated), and Gob plans to use the event to showcase one of his masterful illusions. They also all conspire to hide the upsetting news from delicate Buster.
Some of the highlights of the episode are the repeated references to Charles Schultz, from the episode title to the familiar Peanuts music playing every time a character is sad, shuffling along with their chin tucked to their chest like Charlie Brown.
Michael and Gob's relationship takes center stage while they work out their contentious business relationship, which is full of one-upmanship and competition, as well as Gob undermining Michael's more levelheaded ideas with ridiculous ones of his own. We are treated to flashbacks of how their father used to pit them against each other for sport, inciting the boys to fistfights that he would tape and sell. Every revelation of the Bluth mythos is another funny and fascinating chunk of just how deeply dysfunction runs for them.
Michael wants to break the pattern but it only results in more strident competition, with Gob opening up a second banana stand directly across from the original banana stand. It's all another round of secret plotting by George Sr., which inspires Michael to teach his father a lesson – much like their father used to do to them.
The final episodes of Arrested Development's third season ramped up the meta-commentary to new levels. The family, having been trounced in the media, is desperate to regain their standing – much like the floundering series was desperate to stay on the air. It pokes fun at all kinds of television tricks intended to lure audiences, including 3-D glasses, live performances, and special guest stars. They ultimately decide to hold a "Save the Bluths" event, balancing the show's biting tone with their genuine desire to not get cancelled.
The various family members do their best to be more conventional: Lindsay tries to be a stay at home mom, Gob gets a job, and George Michael tries to express his feelings. It's all a bit of a wink to the fact that unsympathetic characters are the very point of the series, showing that a half-assed attempt to make them into more typical sitcom archetypes doesn't work for them. "We're veering away from relatability again," Michael says at one point, summing the thesis statement of the series very nicely. A lack of relatable characters is often seen as a weakness, but for Arrested Development, it's a strength.
These characters are self-absorbed and hilarious and terrible, and any attempt to normalize them only exposes how not-normal they are. Nowadays no one would bat an eye at a show like this but that's only because it was the one to break those barriers.
The third season finale (and series finale, until Netflix) takes us back to the pilot in many ways: a party on the family yacht, where Michael is once again itching to leave his family behind and start a new life somewhere new. He has fulfilled his seasons-spanning promise to keep the family together and he is truly living to regret it.
He spends the episode selling out in increasingly bigger ways, compromising himself to better service the company. Meanwhile Maeby seeks to sell the rights to the family's story so that they can make a movie out of it – mirroring the show's then-dream of continuing the series in cinematic form.
The episode shows us how the far family has – and hasn't – come. Everyone is still as backstabbing as ever, manipulating each other to their own ends, but there is one notable difference: Michael finally gets away.
It just doesn't necessarily last long for him.
While season four was a collection of hits and misses, Will Arnett's Gob shined, especially in the episode that followed what he had been doing from the end of season three to the show's current timeline. The episode is a true showcase for Arnett, who does some of his funniest work on the show to date. Whether he's staring dead-eyed into space while the gentle refrain of "The Sound of Silence" plays, or having some kind of verbal nervous breakdown on the floor of Ann Veal's home in response to a very simple question, he hits every comedic beat perfectly.
Though the format of the fourth season, which followed a different character per episode, had highs and lows, when it worked, it really worked. Focusing entirely on Gob showed that the character capable of carrying a standalone story, delivering both laughs and an undercurrent of dark comedy as it mined Gob's deep unhappiness. It was truly a side of Gob we hadn't fully experienced up until then.
What do you think? Did we miss any truly great episodes? Are there any more we should have included? Let us know in the comments!