Seven years after the Bluths literally sailed off into the sunset, Arrested Development returned for its fourth season, which was posted on Netflix Sunday morning in its entirety. Whether you’ve already fired up the Cornballer with a side of hot ham water while blowing through all 15 episodes of the new season or are wanting to play catch up on the old ones first, here are the 15 best and most essential episodes from the first three seasons of Arrested Development.
Arrested Development started with Michael asking his son George Michael what they always say the most important thing is. After George Michael incorrectly answered “breakfast,” it was then quickly corrected to “family.” When Michael hires a publicist to try to make the Bluths look like a working and relatable family, it leads to the publicist posting a negative newspaper article about the Bluths. As Lucille says, “We may pick on each other, get into little scrapes, call each other names, and occasionally steal from each other, but that’s because we’re family.” The Bluths might usually be at odds with each other, but when someone on the outside threatens them, they’re quick to come together for the good of family.
While many like to credit The Office with popularizing the faux-documentary style to American audiences, Arrested Development actually did it first, and “Spring Breakout” doesn’t let you forget it. Not only is it a great episode that has Lucille in rehab, Buster tasting alcohol for the first time since nursing and Gob blowing up the family yacht, but Ron Howard comments on the shoddy narration of show-within-a-show, “Scandalmakers,” the cameraman covers the camera when Kitty flashes Michael and Maeby complains about demographics—mirroring the problems Arrested Development was having.
Throughout Arrested Development’s three seasons, the show consistently added new family members to the Bluths, from adopted Korean son Annyong (hello) to uncle-father Oscar. But the most consistently hilarious was Franklin Delano Bluth, GOB’s African-American puppet, who was always spurting off things that Whitey wasn’t ready to hear. Franklin’s shining moment comes in “Righteous Brothers,” when Franklin and GOB record the duets album Franklin Comes Alive, and later an ether-soaked Franklin becomes an accessory to the kidnapping of George Bluth. His song “It Ain’t Easy Being White” isn’t the most shocking moment of “Righteous Brothers” though, as Buster finds out Oscar is his real father and George Michael and Maeby share their first kiss. Well, first kiss that isn’t trying to teach their parents a lesson.
Most people might consider Michael the most normal of the Bluth family, but he proves he can be just as messed up as the rest. When he learns that his father was building houses in Iraq before fleeing prison, he’s immediately ready to pack his bags and abandon everyone with his son. Michael’s willingness to bail on the Bluths and the self-righteous assumption that he’s better than everyone else in his family is Michael’s crutch. GOB’s catchphrase might be “I’ve made a huge mistake,” but Michael makes just as many, but rarely acknowledges it.
Even when an episode of Arrested Development isn’t exactly integral to the overall narrative of the show, just the sheer construction of the episode can be fascinating. One of the best examples is “Best Man For The Gob,” in which we see what might happen if GOB is put in control, while also having several different stories all with the connective tissue of trying to keep the family together. It’s a beautifully constructed episode, that also hints at future plots, sometimes years away from a punch line, such as Buster losing his hand, the fact that GOB might have a son and that Lindsay might not actually be a Bluth.
Arrested Development always tried to eschew the typical family dynamics throughout its entire run, having cousins fall in love and real-life siblings play love interests. Maybe the most disturbing relationship though was between Buster and Lucille, balancing somewhere between mother-and-son and lovers. “Motherboy XXX”—one of the most insane episodes—has Buster stopping George Michael from going down the same path he has, by sabotaging a mother-son pageant with Michael. It’s so creepy and odd, it’s hard to imagine many other shows doing anything remotely similar, much less doing it as well.
Speaking of incest jokes, “Afternoon Delight” is one of the dirtiest episodes the show ever did, as two groups of family members accidentally sing the title song in karaoke before realizing what it means. It also contains one of the most bleeped-out sexual harassment discussions ever. This is, of course, because GOB is a horrible boss. The oldest Bluth sibling may be an idiot, but he brings joy to the company’s Christmas party by falling from a crane in a banana suit, his only suit that he isn’t willing to brag about the price tag.
The first three episodes of Arrested Development work together like an extended pilot—it’s the combination that hints towards what this show will become. “Bringing Up Buster” gives the contribution of some AD favorites, such as the Cornballer and Steve Holt (Steve Holt!), while also utilizing the camera pullbacks and joke callbacks in a way that hadn’t been seen on television before. We also get a deeper look at Buster’s psychology, the budding George Michael-Maeby relationship, and Tobias’s confused sexuality.
The entire five-episode arc of Arrested Development with Charlize Theron as Rita is a perfect example of the show setting up jokes that either won’t be paid off for several episodes or won’t even work until a second viewing. Watching “Forget-Me-Now,” the best of Theron’s episodes, a second time, the signs are everywhere that Rita is, in fact, a MR F. But it’s easy to be distracted by some late-in-the-series additions that became instant favorites, like Scott Baio’s Bob Loblaw, Bob Einstein’s surrogate Larry Mittleman and the look back into Tobias’ medical career as the first “analrapist.”
Probably the most recurring trope in Arrested Development is struggling to meet the expectations of parents. “Top Banana,” which directly follows the plot started in “Pilot,” has Michael trying to show his father that he could run the business he wasn’t given the opportunity to run, and George Michael trying not to disappoint his father by making a mistake as the newly crowned Mister Manager of the Banana Stand. Despite how the characters might disappoint their parents, however, the Bluth Company can’t fail since there’s always money in the banana stand.
For a finale of a show that always had so much going on, “Development Arrested” is packed with new revelations, while also wrapping up what was believed could possibly be the end of series. Likely so much of what is seen in this finale will be important to the fourth season, such as Lindsay not actually being a Bluth, making George-Michael and Maeby not real cousins and the revelation that Lucille was the mastermind behind The Bluth Company’s dirty dealings. “Development Arrested” might be the most packed of Arrested Development episodes, full to the brim of returning characters, self-references and some incredibly weird places for the fourth season to jump off. Or as Ron Howard hinted, maybe even a movie.
Nothing gets a show going like a road-trip episode, and “Good Grief!” surely brings about some of the greatest moments for many of the series’ characters. The family tries to find George Sr.’s body in Mexico, only to have George-Michael find him in the backyard, while the rest of the family plans his burial. We get some of Michael’s best incredulous discussions of Ann, GOB’s worst magic trick, Buster’s involvement with Army and childhood anger, and of course, the brilliance of “Christmas Time Is Here” whenever a character is sad—one of the most hilarious jokes Arrested Development ever made.
It usually takes a show several episodes to find their groove, but what makes “Pilot” so fascinating is just how genius Arrested Development is right from the beginning. The show’s first episode does a brilliant job of setting up what is a pretty large cast, gives us a sense of history within this group all while instantly knowing the voice of the show that it will carry throughout all three seasons. All within about 23 minutes. Arrested Development knew exactly what it wanted to be and came out the gates running full speed ahead.
“Pier Pressure” isn’t just one of the best episode of Arrested Development but it’s also one of the best sitcom episodes in modern television. “Pier Pressure” constantly throws twists and turns in the third act, utilizing J. Walter Weatherman to teach lessons that ultimately blow up in the family’s face. The way “Pier Pressure” builds and twists makes it the most perfectly constructed episode Arrested Development ever made, therefore putting it in the running for one of the best comedy episodes ever.
Arrested Development often got meta, but “S.O.B.s” is an episode so self-referential, it’s easy to not understand half the jokes without knowing the context of the episode. With only a few episodes left of its third season and rating sinking, Arrested Development was hoping their show would get picked up for an unlikely fourth season, or possibly get picked up by another network. “S.O.B.s” directly comments on the show’s struggles, flashing SaveOurBluths.org on the screen, having Michael and George Sr. say they don’t have a shot with HBO (The Home Builders Organization), but that it may be “showtime,” and even having Ron Howard flat out just narrating, “please tell your friends about this show.”
In “S.O.B.s,” the show pulls out all the stops, with a “live” ending, promising a character death and 3D moments. Guest stars like Judge Reinhold, Zach Braff and Ben Stiller make second-long cameos, while Andy Richter plays quintuplets, a reference to his own struggling show Quintuplets. As Michael wants the family to become more relatable, Gob accidentally becomes a waiter and Lindsay becomes a stay-at-home mom, but of course they aren’t cut out for their new occupations.
Michael’s speech at the episode’s fundraiser is by far some of AD’s best writing, as Michael talks about how he would like to say the Bluths have been treated unfairly and were never given a fair chance, but that this isn’t the truth. This is true, as Fox gave AD three seasons, often placing them in prime timeslots in the hope of saving the Bluths.
“S.O.B.s” is the perfect encapsulation of what made Arrested Development so great. It’s a show that required focus and attention, one that couldn’t be jumped right into. You either loved the Bluths or didn’t and they weren’t the type to change just to be liked more. The Bluths weren’t able to be saved right away, but after years of people catching up with AD, and discovering how great they truly are, the Bluths finally have the audience they wanted and the latest chance they’ve been given couldn’t be more anticipated by millions.