“Arrested Development,” as the opening credits inform us, is the story “of one wealthy family, who lost everything and the son who had no choice but to keep them all together.” This synopsis, about the Bluth family and their continued struggles, makes it sound like something out of the Chuck Lorre factory of middlebrow mediocrity. But “Arrested Development,” created by cracked genius Mitchell Hurwitz, would go on to become one of the most beloved (and short-lived) comedy series in the history of television, one whose fan-base was so outspoken that this weekend the series will be resurrected with a collection of episodes airing exclusively on Netflix‘s streaming service. The unthinkable has happened: The Bluths are back from the dead.
In honor of this glorious return, which is far more impressive than Jesus showing up, we decided to run down the five best episodes from the first three seasons of this twisted series. Hopefully this list will please everyone – analrapists, never-nudes, kissing cousins, racially inappropriate puppets, banana stand employees, and Carl Weathers. We’ve included Hulu embeds of full episodes where we could — but the rest are available on Hulu Plus or other digital outlets (but we included a couple key clips to make up for it). Onward….
5.) “S.O.B.s” (Season 3, Episode 9)
Behold, “Arrested Development” at its angriest and most meta-textual. The episode starts off by mocking Fox‘s gimmicky ad campaigns for similar shows it actually bothered to support, before the family decides to create a campaign of awareness for their plight (the “Save Our Bluths” campaign – which actually had a functional website for many years). At one point Michael says, “I can’t believe it’s come to begging,” at which point Ron Howard, as the nameless narrator, steps in to say, “Please tell your friends about this show.” It was both sad and funny: Mitch Hurwitz and the rest of the cast and crew knew that they were being abandoned by their network and probably wouldn’t make it past the next few episodes. It will probably go down as one of the funniest, most unapologetic cries for help in the history of the medium. The episode never becomes maudlin, instead imbued with a razor-sharp indignity and genuine outrage. They make jabs at other Fox series like “The OC” and openly reflect on what other networks would take them (“Yeah HBO is definitely not going to want us”). All the typical “Arrested Development” balls are in the air – Tobias’ closeted gayness, George Michael’s nervousness, and Gob’s total cluelessness (he gets a job as a fake waiter, working with a fellow waiter played by Jack McBrayer) – while forwarding the mission statement of the episode, which including a number of ill-placed celebrity guests mixed with true desperation (“We’ve got a better shot at Nicole Kidman“). Even in its waning days, “Arrested Development” had the tenacity to give The Man the middle finger.
4.) “Good Grief” (Season 2, Episode 4)
A number of plot threads finally merge in this exemplary early-season-two episode, which brings together everything from George Michael’s fractured relationship with Ann (her?) to George Sr.’s run from the law, to Gob’s attempt at magic-world legitimacy, into one delightfully insane package. In the first few minutes of the episode, Ice the Bounty Hunter makes the startling announcement that George Sr. has died in Mexico — he was murdered by a Mexican guard (confirmed by dental records, a death certificate and a “political cartoon from a leading Mexican newspaper”). This sends the family into a frenzy, with Michael unsure of what’s going to happen to the company, and Gob seeing the opportunity to use his father’s death as an excuse to get into magic magazine Poof by performing a trick involving the coffin. While things certainly move along at the show’s typically frenzied pace, this episode does slow down for a few subtle gags, like Tobias’ speech about John Wayne and feelings (including a joke about the airport) and a hilarious exchange between Buster and Gob about stripper clothes. This episode has a number of “Sad Peanuts” gags (the name of the episode is even a reference to Charlie Brown), including a canine on top of a red doghouse and a man dragging a Christmas tree behind him, while other small gags like the Mexican political cartoon featuring George Sr’s failed kitchen appliance The Cornballer, the similarity between George Michael checking out the newly discovered (and alive) George Sr. and news footage of Saddam Hussein after his capture, and a really sly Anne Frank joke, are so small that they fail to register at all (or at least on initial viewing). Of course it’s the end of the episode that really makes this unforgettable, as Gob tries to do a magic trick involving his supposedly dead father’s grave, with his assistant Buster wearing a militaristic stripper’s outfit. “I will become my dead father’s body as I am lowered into his grave,” Gob announces, before falling out of the coffin and being buried alive. It couldn’t have ended more perfectly.
3.) “For British Eyes Only“/”Forget-Me-Now“/”Notapusy“/”Mr. F“/“The Ocean Walker” (Season 3, Episode 2-6)
OK, we’re cheating a little bit here, but the entire five episode arc of Season 3 featuring Charlize Theron as the sweet British bird Rita (who happens to be mentally challenged) who Michael falls for is rather awesome. For one, for whatever reason, some of us at The Playlist weren’t convinced of Theron’s talents up until this point (the quality of “Monster” is still a heated topic of debate in some circles), but if we had doubts they were absolutely put to rest with her outstanding performance as Rita. It may be her finest to date, played with such glee and abandon. The character was surely alive on the page, but Theron kicks it up a notch with hilarious joie de vivre and it’s a shock that no one has tapped the South African actress for comedy roles like this one since (though Seth MacFarlane, likely having seen her amazing abilities, will be doing so for his next film). As usual, this episode arc offers much more than just the gunshy-in-relationships Michael Bluth finding love (chicken). As the title suggests, it’s part conspiracy theory spy story, and a send-up and celebration of all things British. It begins with a claim by George Sr. that a British construction firm tricked him into doing business with the Iraqis. During his investigation of this alleged claim, Michael meets and falls head over heels with Rita (Theron). Nervous and excited, Michael’s ineptitude in their initial meet-cute is staggeringly awkward (and therefore funny as hell). But Rita never seems to judge Michael for the peculiar, inappropriate things he’s always blurting out. And this is because he’s so smitten with her innocent, childlike ways that Michael doesn’t notice that she’s mentally disabled. Rita ends up meeting the Bluth family (cue Gob “forget-me-now” pills) and Michael is stalked by a man he believes to be a spy called Mr. F (an amazing cameo by SCTV alum Dave Thomas) and eventually he aims to marry Rita. Sadly, her secret is revealed, their plans fall apart, and in a nod to the special people in Hal Ashby’s “Being There,” Rita walks on water (sorta) and exits Michael’s life forever. It’s as sweet and touching and yet typically comical as any episode(s) throughout the show’s history and one we cherish and revisit often, because we’re such pussies.
2.) “Afternoon Delight” (Season 2, Episode 6)
This episode deserves to be on any best-of list, if only for the running gag of Gob telling everyone how much his suit cost (fluctuating in price), even though it’s not even his suit – it’s a hand-me-down from his disgraced father. Gob is pretty much this episode’s MVP, with his anti-sexual harassment speech which is so filthy that most of it has to be bleeped out, to his warning against any of his coworkers flirting with his sister, to the climax of the episode, which involves Gob discarding a layer of the banana costume and getting run over by his mother (high on pot). The episode ends with Buster, using his skills as an amusement crane operator, to successfully hoist Gob out of danger. It’s a moment of transcendent absurdity. One of the more incredible elements of the episode, looking back on it, is how it foretold a major plot point of the series: when Buster is trying to win a stuffed seal, Ron Howard’s narration reads: “He had gotten hooked playing the skill crane…” Episodes later, Buster would have his hand bitten off by a seal and his missing appendage replaced by a hook. Of course the name of the episode is “Afternoon Delight,” which is utilized in the form of not one but two karaoke performances of the kitschy 1975 single by the Starland Vocal Band (both played for extremely uncomfortable laughs in one of the show’s many incest gags), as well as a strain of highly potent marijuana that Oscar smokes with Lucille. Special attention should be given to David Cross‘ amazing performance in this episode, while not as showy or oversized as Arnett’s, it’s just as impressive. In this episode Cross gets outfitted in his Blue Man Group body paint, only to get beaten (and then “blown”) by Lucille and later run over by a car. It would be painfully sad if it wasn’t so fucking funny.
1.) “Top Banana” (Season 1, Episode 2)
While it’s tempting to include the pilot in this list, since it began this whole journey and also happens to be really, really funny, the pilot still had to adhere to a certain amount of conventions and establish, in a somewhat believable way, what the show was all about. In other words: it was great but it wasn’t totally “Arrested Development.” The onslaught of weirdness, more keeping with the show as a whole, wouldn’t reveal itself until episode two, when, amongst many other things, George Senior (Jeffrey Tambor) discusses his love of prison cafeteria ice cream sandwiches (Lucille on the phone: “Then why don’t you marry an ice cream sandwich?”), a frozen dove appears in the Bluth family refrigerator with a cryptic note attached (“Dead dove: Do Not Eat”) and Gob (Will Arnett) tries unsuccessfully to dramatically hurl a letter into the sea. Now this is the “Arrested Development” we would come to know and love, full of incest jokes (Michael to George Michael: “You’re staying on top of her buddy, do not be afraid to ride her… hard”), gags about child labor, misappropriation of the homosexual slur “flamer” and general strangeness. The episode would give birth to one of the most frequently quoted lines from the entire show (especially when facsimiles of the family banana stand would become a lynchpin of the cross-country promotional campaign). Say it with us now: “There’s always money in the banana stand!” Only two episodes in and “Arrested Development” had already established itself as one of the strangest, quickest, funniest comedies to ever air on television, something that it maintained throughout its brief run.
Of course, there are a number of episodes that barely missed the list: “Meat the Veals” (season 2, episode 16) the episode where George Michael gets pre-engaged to Ann (Egg?); “Pier Pressure” (season 1, episode 10) which involves Lucille 2, medicinal marijuana and a man who George Sr. hired to scare his children into submission; “Let ‘Em Eat Cake” (season 1, episode 22), the first season finale (even back then it felt like kind of a miracle that it had gotten that far); and “Development Arrested” (season 3, episode 13), which really did seem like the last ever episode of “Arrested Development.”
— Drew Taylor, Rodrigo Perez