Since it first hit the air in 2003, Arrested Development has been churning out some of the most irreverent humor on television. However, it’s not just the show’s amazing cast that has made it such a hit: die-hard fans can attest to the show’s commitment to individual jokes, often referring to the same hilarious gag over and over throughout the show’s five seasons. We’ve rounded up the 30 funniest callbacks from Arrested Development, and whether you’re just started watching or have binged the whole series more than once, these recurring jokes are sure to make you laugh. And for more hilarity, check out The 30 Funniest Movie Lines of All Time.
Nobody Understands Spanish
One of the most longest-running jokes in the Arrested Development universe is the notion that nobody in the Bluth family knows any Spanish. In the show’s first season, Michael (Jason Bateman) becomes incensed when he believes Marta (Patricia Velasquez), the woman dating his brother, Gob (Will Arnett), is also secretly in love with a man named hermano, when, in fact, “hermano” means brother in Spanish. This theme is referred to again in the fifth season, when Gob and George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) don’t realize that the women described as “primas” by their waiter are cousins, and tells him, “I’ve seen better.”
In the episode “Key Decisions” in the show’s first season, Michael confronts his sister, Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), about wearing ostrich-skin boots, in response to which she admits she doesn’t care about ostriches. This becomes a running theme in season 4, when Lindsay starts dating ostrich farmer Marky Bark (Chris Diamantopolous) and various ostrich imagery is seen throughout the season. And if you think that’s funny, you’ll love The 30 Funniest Sitcom Jokes of All Time.
Buster (Tony Hale)’s prosthetic arm is the butt of countless jokes throughout the series, but it’s the foreshadowing leading up to the loss of his hand that really takes the cake. Prior to his hand being bitten off by a seal, Buster is seen sitting on a bench reading “Army Officers,” but his body covers half of the lettering, so that it only says, “Arm Off.” Similarly, when visiting his mother’s housekeeper, he sees a chair his family had given to hers, and comments, “I never thought I’d miss a hand so much.”
In season 1 episode “Key Decisions,” when Gob’s girlfriend, Marta, is nominated for a Desi Award, the awards montage shows a number of adult men playing children by dressing up in a red wig with freckles. Similarly, in season 4, Lucille 2 (Liza Minelli) is seen sitting with her foster son, Perfecto Telles (Eli Vargas), who is wearing the same get-up. And for more humor from your favorite stars, check out The 30 Funniest Celebrity Books.
When Tobias (David Cross) and Lindsay split in season 2, he returns to see his daughter, Maeby (Alia Shawkat) dressed as a Mrs. Doubtfire-esque housekeeper named Mrs. Featherbottom. In season 4, Lindsay uses the alias Cindy Featherbottom when she’s having an affair with married politician Herbert Love (Terry Crews). Similarly, Maeby uses the same last name when she re-enrolls in high school as a 20-something.
The Sitwell Family Alopecia
Stan Sitwell (Ed Begley, Jr.)—the Bluth’s biggest competitor in the real estate business—is notoriously hairless, due to his alopecia. In season 4, it’s also revealed that his daughter, Sally (Christine Taylor), is suffering from the same condition. This comes to light when she admits to her boyfriend, Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller) that she’s never shaved her legs, and when the couple keeps finding fuzzy caterpillars—actually her artificial eyebrows—around the house.
Everyone’s Having Fun Except…
Despite being a pro at excluding others, Lucille (Jessica Walter) has a real sore spot for feeling like she—or her closest friend, Buster—are being left out. In season 1, episode 3, Lucille complains to Michael that Buster is being excluded, telling him, “Everyone’s laughing and riding and cornholing except Buster,” Lucille tells Michael. In the first episode of season 5, when Lucille is feeling excluded by the beach-goers in Mexico, Tobias repeats a similar refrain, saying what he believes her to be thinking: “Everybody’s having fun but me: running, laughing, and I’m stuck here doing therapy.”
Tobias As an Albino Black Man
Throughout the series, there are hints to Tobias being a black man, despite the actor playing him being white. Tobias is seen in promo shots for the show wearing a dashiki, a West African garment, and in the show’s fourth season, he reveals to Michael that his middle name is Onyango, a name commonly-used in Kenya and Uganda. Similarly, in season 2, when Lindsay says that people assume Tobias to be the name of a “big black guy,” he responds, “Well, obviously, I’m not a big guy.”
Tobias’ nevernude tendencies—meaning he never removes his jean shorts—are well-established throughout the show’s early seasons. However, what even big fans of the show may have missed is that in season 4, when he tries to make money playing a costumed character selling photos in Hollywood, he chooses The Thing from Fantastic Four, a character also known for wearing small blue shorts.
In season 1, Gob comes up with a character called Mr. Bananagrabber, a potential advertising tool for the Bluth family banana stand, later passing off animation rights to his brother, Michael. It seems that Michael takes him up on the offer, too: Mr. Bananagrabber is briefly seen again during the same season, when the character makes an appearance in George-Michael’s student body president campaign video. He’s then seen again in season 4 during an intro for fictional crime show Scandalmakers, and a similar image is used in an advertisement for a knife store in episode 11.
Throughout the series, surveillance vehicles using the name Blendin are used to gather information on the Bluth family. The vehicles, which appear in six episodes, use names including Blendin Electric Company, Blendin Moving and Storage, Blendin Catering, and Blendin Floor Maintenance.
The subject of maritime law is used throughout Arrested Development, most notably when Michael claims to be a maritime lawyer—a reference to a role he had in a school play about Captain Hook—when he’s trying to pick up attorney Maggie Lizer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) at a bar. In season 4, Michael claims to be studying maritime law in school, and maritime law is used in Lucille’s trial for stealing a boat.
In season 4, Lindsay begins dating Marky Bark, an activist suffering from face blindness. His ex-girlfriend, Debrie (Maria Bamford) is, at the same time, starring as The Invisible Girl in Tobias’ production of The Fantastic Four—a nod to how Marky never saw her, either figuratively or literally.
Buster famously attended The Milford Academy, a private school in which children are expected to be neither seen nor heard. Throughout the series, the silence and hiding skills he learned at Milford come in handy, like in season 5, when Michael instructs him to lay low so he can be declared missing. “Milford style. I’m a Milford man, Michael. Winner of 1982’s ‘Least Seen on Campus,’” he replies.
Leaving a Note
While “that’s why you always leave a note” is a phrase repeated throughout the series, even die-hard fans may have missed how often it’s actually adhered to in the show. From Gob’s note reading “Dead dove do not eat!” in season 1 to Michael’s note on Lucille Austero’s door in season 5, the family communicates through a series of often-misinterpreted notes throughout the show’s five seasons.
Finishing Each Other’s Sandwiches
Lindsay and Michael, who believed they were twins growing up, are revealed to be siblings through adoption in season 3, episode 11. This is foreshadowed earlier in the episode, when Michael tells Lindsay that it’s like he and a woman he’s just hired as a company consultant—who happens to be played by Bateman’s real-life sister, Justine Bateman—“finish each other’s sentences.” However, Lindsay interjects and says “sandwiches” instead of “sentences.” In season four, the same exchange happens between Lindsay and Herbert Love, who interrupts Lindsay saying “we finish each other’s…” when he reveals a plate of sandwiches to her.
Throughout the series, George Sr. is routinely referred to as “Big Bear” or “Old Bear” although nobody seems to know the origin of his nickname. At the end of season 1, Gob says, “Old Bear, he likes the honey,” foreshadowing George’s spiritual incarnation as “Father B” in season 4.
The Phoenix Mural
In season 4, episode 1, as Michael makes his way to Phoenix, he passes by a mural that recalls previous plot points in the series. The mural shows the Bluth company staircar, the Mexican church where the family accidentally left George-Michael’s girlfriend, Ann (Mae Whitman), the Iraqi pedicab the brothers take in season 3, and the ship Lucille steals.
Happy Days References
With two former Happy Days cast members—Henry Winkler as Barry Zuckerkorn and Scott Baio as Bob Loblaw on board, it’s no wonder Arrested Development is full of references to the classic TV show. References fans may have missed include Winkler jumping a shark, much like the Fonz did, and Baio serving as a replacement for Winkler’s character, as he did when he took on the role of Chachi in Happy Days.
Sudden Valley, a George Bluth-developed model home community that remains unbuilt until the series’ fourth season, gets mixed reactions from other members of the family, with Michael and George-Michael expressing their misgivings about its ominous name. This foreshadows the turn of events in season 4, when Michael completes the development, only to have Gob fill it with sex offenders.
The Soup Nazi
When accused of conspiring with Saddam Hussein, George Sr. says that he thought he was meeting with the man who played the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld. In fact, one of the men who plays one of Saddam’s stunt doubles at the end of season 3 is Larry Thomas—the very man who played the Soup Nazi on the NBC hit.
In “Sword of Destiny,” episode 15 of the show’s second season, the doctor performing Michael’s appendectomy says, “When I got in there, the appendix wasn’t so inflamed. D’oh!” This Simpsons reference was snuck in because the Dan Castellaneta, the actor playing the surgeon, is also the voice of Homer Simpson.
In season 1, Lindsay decides to start a bead business, which Gob mistakenly hears as a “bee business.” Not to be outdone, Gob decides to start his own bee business, telling her, “We’ll see who brings in more honey.” This plot is referenced again throughout the fourth season, when Gob actually starts his bee business, ending with disastrous results.
Family First—Except For Steve Holt
When Gob sees his illegitimate son Steve Holt (Justin Grant Wade), in a yearbook, he announces that he looks like a woman he was with in high school. However, despite recognizing him in the yearbook, Gob doesn’t recognize him when they meet up at a bar in season 4. In season 5, the joke continues, when Michael doesn’t recognize his nephew, either. “This bug guy really knows our family,” Michael says to Steve when he arrives at the house with his extermination company—a significant departure from Michael’s repeated motto about the importance of family.
After buying a yacht that he thinks will be named “The Seaward” in season 2, Gob actually ends up with a boat bearing the name “The C-Word.” When Michael tells him to sell the boat, saying “Get rid of The Seaward,” Lucille mistakes it for them calling her a name, and replies, “I’ll leave when I’m good and ready.” The Lucille-boat confusion was set up even earlier in the series, however, when it was revealed that the family’s previous yacht was named Lucille.
Throughout the series, Lucille Bluth is shown giving her cast-offs to her maid, Lupe (BW Gonzalez). Lupe is then seen throughout the series wearing sweatshirts for holidays and events that happened months or years earlier—a Halloween sweatshirt at a Christmas party, a Thanksgiving sweatshirt on Valentine’s Day, and a Bush/Quayle sweatshirt while cleaning the house.
George Michael’s Name
When George-Michael wants to change his name in season 4 because of the similarly-named singer’s sex scandal, he opts for the name George Maharis instead, combining his own name and Maeby’s mispronunciation of the word “heiress” to come up with the new moniker. What viewers may not have caught, however, is that George Maharis was the name of an actor who was also involved in a sex scandal—in fact, his partner was a man named Perfecto Telles, the same name given to Maeby’s boyfriend in the show’s fourth season.
One of George Sr.’s money-making schemes, which is often referenced throughout the show’s first three seasons, is a series of videos called Boyfights, featuring Buster, Gob, and Michael. In seasons 5, Maeby tells George-Michael about Dadfights, a seemingly grown-up iteration of the same concept.
George Michael Not Knowing Lucille 2
While most of the show’s cast members have scenes with one another, one conspicuously absent pairing is George-Michael and Lucille 2. “You drive her car,” Maeby says to George-Michael in the first episode of season 5. “How do you still not know who that is?” This is a callback to the previous season, in which Lucille 2 plays a central role, but George-Michael admits that he has no idea who she is.
In season 4, episode 2, a woman is scene pushing a cart full of misting fans, bearing the name “Mr. Mister” down the road. While it may seem like a small detail, to avid watchers, it’s clearly a reference to George Michael calling himself “Mr. Manager” when he’s promoted at the banana stand in season 1. And for more sitcom chuckles, check out the 30 Funniest Jokes From Parks and Recreation.
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