This post has been updated to include the show’s most recent episodes.
“Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together.” Now that Netflix has welcomed back the Bluth family with fifth season of Arrested Development on Netflix, it’s worth looking back at the entire history of this wildly influential comedy. When we first met Michael, Gob, Lindsay, Buster, Lucille, George, Maeby, Tobias, and George Michael, Arrested Development felt like nothing else on television. It was smart, creative, and almost unbelievably funny. The reboot season that brought the series to Netflix in 2013 wasn’t quite received with the same adoration, but still had its moments. Five years later, the Bluths returned in a haze of mixed reviews and controversy about Jeffrey Tambor’s on-set behavior, sparked by a New York Times interview in which Tambor’s male co-stars Jason Bateman, David Cross, and Tony Hale seemed to excuse what he did. Now, all 84 episodes are out there to be judged and ranked. Where do the new episodes fall? What’s the greatest episode of Arrested Development ever? To figure that out and more, we rewatched every episode — including the new ones in season five — and ranked them all.
84. “Saving for Arraignment Day” (Season 5, Episode 14)
The worst episode of Arrested Development is the best example of what went wrong in season five. No one wanted a courtroom comedy, but this one is heavy on trial material, giving more time to Dermot Mulroney than any of the Bluths. Because that’s what we want when a 16-episode season (and likely a series) is coming to an end: a new, boring character.
83. “The Untethered Sole” (Season 5, Episode 13)
There should be a link to this episode in online dictionaries defining the word convoluted. Of course, the ridiculous plotting is often the charm of this show, but it can be an annoyance when it’s not working — and it does not work here. There’s a beat here in which Ron Howard has to try to explain the plot, and you can hear even he is starting to get confused and annoyed. The Smulders/Killam flashbacks are fun (and we would watch that spinoff) but balanced by the fact that the Guilty Guys subplot may be the least funny in all five seasons.
82. “Indian Takers” (Season 4, Episode 3)
One of the worst episodes of Arrested Development, Lindsay goes on a journey to find herself and let go of her baggage in India. Want some bad jokes about Indian culture? Flat comic timing? A trip to a methadone clinic? This is one you can truly skip.
81. “Borderline Personalities” (Season 4, Episode 2)
Skip this one too. George takes his brother’s sweat lodge on the border in pop-pop’s first episode of Netflix’s character-specific chapters. George and Oscar simply work better as supporting figures, which leaves “Borderline Personalities” as one of the show’s biggest duds.
80. “Chain Migration” (Season 5, Episode 11)
A lot of the criticism of season four was about how they divided the cast so often, which they tried to correct in season five. And then you get an episode like this, which basically falls into the same trap, splitting up a cast that works so well when they’re together. Even when the show is awful, you can usually give the cast credit for elevating it, but even they seem bored here.
79. “Courting Disasters” (Season 5, Episode 15)
The courtroom scenes arguably reach their dullest point in this episode, but the routine in which Lucille is perpetually entertained by Gene Parmesan never grows old. And the Fakeblock stuff picks up a bit here. In an awful end run, it’s slightly less awful.
78. “Double Crossers” (Season 4, Episode 6)
Another season-four misfire, but at least this one has a bit more of a developed plot, funny beats from Gob and Lucille, and some solid scenes between Michael and Gob. Come to think of it, if you’re going to watch this episode, just jump to the Gob stuff.
77. “Queen B.” (Season 4, Episode 10)
At this point in season four, even absolute fans start to lose track of the unconventional plot. It’s got something to do with a border wall, Lucille Austero taking over the company, and more confusion between George and Oscar, right? But why is Bobby Lee in drag and holding a knife made of uncooked ramen noodles? We miss Buster and Gob.
76. “Red Hairing” (Season 4, Episode 8)
If there’s one downside to Arrested Development, it’s the mid-season sag. For whatever reason, the Fox years tended to hit their low points at their midpoints, and that trend continued with Netflix’s revival season. Lindsay is the character that the show really couldn’t figure out after it returned to TV — this is the second flat Lindsay episode of season four — and a “blue himself” in this episode callback comes off as particularly desperate.
75. “Check Mates” (Season 5, Episode 12)
Alia Shawkat and Michael Cera were the best parts of season five, and they get some decent time here, including a great speech from George Michael about turning knots into why-nots. Too much wall stuff, and around here is when one starts really missing Lindsay in the end run, but the kids almost save it.
74. “Taste Makers” (Season 5, Episode 10)
Can an episode be saved by one really funny line? Will Arnett’s delivery on “I’m just stopping here because this is where my email comes” is perfect. And there’s some decent Cera and Bateman material in this one, even if the Tobias subplot is starting to really drag at this point.
73. “Rom-Traum” (Season 5, Episode 7)
This downright bizarre episode — about a family that’s chasing itself for no reason, in a story that ends with everyone getting flat tires — is the worst of the first half of season five. Even watching this episode twice, it’s difficult to keep track of what’s happening, and the Mexican-Romney-family joke is a stinker.
72. “Unexpected Company” (Season 5, Episode 16)
So this is how it ends. After another critically lambasted season, it would be a surprise to see Arrested Development return, so this is probably the supersize series finale. The energy level is way up from several of the episodes below this on the list, but who would have guessed that the end of this story would be so depressing? A few truly funny jokes aside — Tom Hanks walking around like Jim Lovell, “I think Billy Eichner is mean” — it’s a sad way for what was once the best show on TV to end.
71. “Prison Break-In” (Season 3, Episode 7)
The low point of Arrested Development’s initial three-season run would still be a decent episode of most other shows. It’s not that “Prison Break-In” is awful, just that it never comes together into the inspired comedy that defines most of the series. It’s especially odd because there are jokes that work well — the Bluth fundraisers for “TBA” and how Oscar ends up back in jail, to name the best of the bunch — but it’s oddly uninspired overall.
70. “The Fallout” (Season 5, Episode 9)
The premiere of the second half of season five is forced to spend way too much time reminding viewers what they forgot between seasons, but the cast seems ready at this point to really bring it home. The joke about mother’s hand, Tobias saying “balls” a lot, Guy Foxes — there’s more here that works than in the rest of the season, even if watching Tambor and Walters flirt is now a little icky with the on-set drama we know about. At least it’s not as boring as the episodes to follow.
69. “Not Without My Daughter” (Season 1, Episode 21)
The most forgettable episode of the first season centers on a series of Take Your Daughter to Work Day jokes, mostly regarding Michael’s attempt to take Maeby to the Bluth Corporation offices (instead of the son he brought along every previous year). It’s the rare early episode that feels like it’s merely treading water, perhaps saving the good stuff for the season finale.
68. “Queen for a Day” (Season 2, Episode 8)
The Bluths have money to spend, but they’re not supposed to actually spend it in “Queen for a Day,” yet another mid-season sag of an episode. Despite the return of Liza Minnelli and the Hot Cops, this is a great example of the period in which Arrested Development was repeating jokes from better episodes — and not in a meta way, but a lazy one.
67. “Sinking Feelings” (Season 5, Episode 5)
Uh-oh, season five is getting plot heavy! Too many convoluted story threads really hurt season four, and “Sinking Feelings” starts to fall into some of those same holes here, although Tony Hale nearly saves it with some great Buster scenes in jail.
66. “Premature Independence” (Season 5, Episode 8)
This episode is stolen by Jessica Walter from front to back, including a great phone call with Tobias, some passive-aggressive baiting of Sally Sitwell, and Lucille’s reunion with Buster, which we never knew this show needed so badly. The Milford Academy World’s Quietest Marching Band is pretty funny, too.
65. “Burning Love” (Season 2, Episode 9)
While Will Arnett reading the menu in his deepest, sexiest voice to Liza Minnelli may have gotten him the job as Lego Batman — “popcorn shrimp with club sauce” — this is still a pretty mediocre episode. The introduction of Stan Sitwell’s daughter, played by Christine Taylor, allows for a different speed for Bateman to play off, but it’s just not that funny.
64. “A New Start” (Season 4, Episode 5)
Much like George Sr., Tobias Fünke is a character who works better in small doses, and so the character-specific episodes of season four don’t really work with him front and center. Still, David Cross tries his hardest to keep it together as “Johnny Storm, the Human Flamer.”
63. “Smashed” (Season 4, Episode 9)
Slightly better than the first Tobias episode, “Smashed” still suffers from the same problem as “A New Start.” As great as Cross is, he’s playing a supporting character that can’t quite carry a whole episode, so turning Tobias’s trip to rehab into a musical show plays like Arrested Development fanfiction. This is the point in season four when even the jokes that work make you long to get back to better leading characters like Michael and Gob.
62. “A New Attitude” (Season 4, Episode 11)
The second Gob episode of season four doesn’t work nearly as well as the first, even with a sizable guest-starring turn from Ben Stiller as “Tony Wonder” that finds the competitive magicians trying to con each other, but ending up in a friendship they confuse with love. This is perhaps the best example of a plot that could have worked out if spread out over multiple episodes, but doesn’t when crammed into one Little Ballroom.
61. “Emotional Baggage” (Season 5, Episode 6)
“What part of mom is the fancy?” Even in a down season, Gob Bluth quotes like this one can make subpar episodes worth the time. “Emotional Baggage” is mostly about George Michael going to a BBQ at the Howard house, which should be funnier than it is, although Cera makes lemonade out of comedy lemons with his red hair and attempts at being tough. We also get some more Judy Greer as Kitty, although the Tony Wonder plot destroys that gag with an audio cameo by Ben Stiller that was probably recorded over Skype.
60. “Off the Hook” (Season 4, Episode 14)
The Buster episode of season four comes too late to be as effective as it could have been, despite its solid jokes. Although it’s fun to go back to Army with Buster (and see the bit about Buster going all Norman Bates when Lucille goes to jail), this one falls just short. Still, you have to love, “I’m not a Motherboy any more, I’m a Motherman.”
59. “An Old Start” (Season 5, Episode 4)
Gob moves upstairs just so they can see the roof of the Rite-Aid, while Tobias moves on to an amazing George Michael impression because no one was buying him as a straight man. Maeby’s variation on a Lucille is a work of art, but Stan Sitwell’s return is kind of meh. (How great would it have been if Maeby had to live with Gene Parmesan instead?) The Kyle Mooney stuff is funny, but this episode feels forgettable even as it’s playing.
58. “The Ocean Walker” (Season 3, Episode 6)
Maeby, in her role as Hollywood’s third-youngest movie executive, consults with Michael’s new girlfriend Rita (Charlize Theron) on her latest script … while Michael plans to marry Rita, without realizing that she’s mentally disabled. This is the point when the Rita arc had run its course, and the episode is just one long joke about her mental ability and Michael’s inability to see it.
57. “Blockheads” (Season 4, Episode 15)
The up-and-down fourth season kind of comes together in this finale, though it serves up too many subplots to possibly recount here. Bateman, Shawkat, and Cera are all great, but we’re happy there’s a fifth season so this wasn’t the final off-key note for the Bluths.
56. “Marta Complex” (Season 1, Episode 12)
The subplot in which Michael is finally ready to reveal his love for Marta — but gets confused when he thinks that she’s in love with someone named “Hermano” — always felt a bit beneath Arrested Development. It’s more something out of a CBS sitcom. And this two-parter in the middle of season one is the low point for that great year. Even the other plots feel repetitive and uninspired.
55. “Beef Consomme” (Season 1, Episode 13)
A solid brawl between Michael and Gob, as well as some good Buster bits make “Beef Consomme” a more effective episode than “Marta Complex,” but it still suffers from the goofiness of that “Hermano” arc. More successful is George Michael’s suspicion — or is it hope? — that he’s not actually related to Maeby.
54. “The B. Team” (Season 4, Episode 4)
Michael’s second episode in season four features the put-upon Bluth in a Hollywood adventure because Ron Howard wants to make a movie about his family. The meta aspect elevates this one a bit — Arrested Development fans were teased with the possibility of a feature film for years after the Fox cancelation — as does a solid guest turn by Isla Fisher as another woman that Michael falls for before he has any idea who she is. He does that a lot, huh?
53. “Notapusy” (Season 3, Episode 4)
There’s a lot of dwindling plots in “Notapusy” as season three treads water before we get to the big Rita reveal, and the puns — like Ann’s “Camel Tow” and Michael taking Oxycontin for incontinence — feel like jokes that should’ve been cut.
52. “Switch Hitter” (Season 2, Episode 7)
The debut of Stan Sitwell stands poor at the center of season two’s mid-season sag. The alopecia jokes get tired quickly and the other stuff feels like repeated jokes from better episodes, sometimes literally so with clips. It all ends in a silly softball game, but it does include a classic Gob line: “Nobody makes a fool of our family without my help.”
51. “Self-Deportation” (Season 5, Episode 2)
Good news: The episodes get much funnier from here on out. The search for Lucille 2 gets to Buster, who’s “not good with the cops.” Gob travels to Mexico with his father, but he’s still in love with Tony Wonder. They should have left that subplot in season four, though Tony Hale saves the episode with his amazing Norman Bates moment in the kitchen and the idea that APB stands for “Ah, Poor Buster.”
50. “Whistler’s Mother” (Season 1, Episode 20)
Notable for the premiere of George Bluth Sr.’s more follicularly blessed brother Oscar, “Whistler’s Mother” plays with the family’s obsession with money. Lucille wants some cash to fix Buster, George Sr. wants to give some to Oscar, Michael makes a bad land deal, and Tobias and Gob form a company called Gobias Industries. Still, the highlight is Lucille yelling “WHORE!” at her own daughter cage-dancing to protest the war.
49. “The Immaculate Election” (Season 2, Episode 14)
One of the weaker episodes of season two feels like a something of a letdown after the genius of the Motherboy pageant and the initial arc of Buster losing his hand. Still, George Michael’s lightsaber action in his garage is timeless and “The Immaculate Election” introduces us to one of David Cross’s most remarkable creations, Mrs. Featherbottom.
48. ”Señoritis” (Season 4, Episode 12)
One of the better episodes of season four works because of how strong an actress Alia Shawkat has become in the years since the Fox cancellation. (See also: Search Party.) Maeby’s cynical perspective always allows for some much-needed side-eye at the rest of the Bluths, especially her parents, and it comes at just the right time in “Señoritis.”
47. “Exit Strategy” (Season 3, Episode 12)
In the penultimate episode of season three, the Bluth boys actually go to Iraq and stumble upon a house full of Saddam Hussein look-alikes. Arrested Development often walked a fine line of ridiculousness and “Exit Strategy” stumbles on the wrong side of it a few times, although Buster saying good-bye to the nurse who fell in love with him while he was faking a coma is inspired.
46. “Mr. F” (Season 3, Episode 5)
The Bluths have a mole in their company, and everyone is convinced that it’s Michael’s mysterious new British gal pal, Rita. The funniest stuff in “Mr. F” is delightfully out there, such as George Michael in a jet pack, awful Godzilla impressions, and the very best scene for Larry the Surrogate — when Buster takes over controlling him instead of George, he ends up sweetly bonding with Gob.
45. “Shock and Aww” (Season 1, Episode 14)
Jane Lynch and Heather Graham guest star in an episode that feels like a restart to the season after the Marta story line. Even George Michael gets his first non-Maeby crush in the form of his ethics teacher (played by Graham), but his dad swoops in and ruins it. “Shock and Aww” also marks the premiere of a consistently great recurring character: Lucille’s adopted Korean son, Annyong Bluth.
44. “Storming the Castle” (Season 1, Episode 9)
Everyone wants to destroy love in “Storming the Castle,” with Lucille trying to drive apart Buster and Lucille 2, while Michael tries to break up Gob and Marta. This one also includes the first use of Europe’s timeless “Final Countdown” in Gob’s magic act, plus George Michael experimenting with leather.
43. “Flight of the Phoenix” (Season 4, Episode 1)
The first episode of Netflix’s Arrested Development revival works because of how much it reminds us of something that was once so perfect, even as it hints at the rocky road ahead. Regardless of the problems in season four, there’s something wonderful about seeing Jason Bateman and Michael Cera slide so easily back into their dynamic.
42. “Righteous Brothers” (Season 2, Episode 18)
The season-two finale gets most of the Bluth family onto the front lawn of the courthouse for an all-out brawl as their model home (a.k.a. the place where most of them have been living) literally falls apart. Most importantly, Buster Bluth finally figures out that his Uncle Oscar is actually his father, but the season ends with George shaving his brother’s head and sending him to prison in his place. Meanwhile, Gob records Franklin Comes Alive.
41. “Spring Breakout” (Season 2, Episode 17)
Girls With Low Self-Esteem returns with a Zach Braff guest appearance as the Bluth gang heads off to Spring Break, where, of course, they also find Kitty. She tries to kidnap George while Buster mistakes his mother’s boxed wine for a giant juice box. It’s a funny episode, but a lot of the jokes feel like echoes of funnier ones from a classic season-one installment.
40. “It Gets Better” (Season 4, Episode 13)
Michael Cera is fantastic in an episode that details George Michael’s college adventures, from the danger of ordering eggs at dinner time, to developing an app that mimics a wood block, to becoming “O.S.” (Overtly Sexual). If seen as a stand-alone short film, “It Gets Better” is one of the best in the show’s history. But when it loops back into the complex narrative of the season, it actually gets less interesting.
39. “Family Leave” (Season 5, Episode 1)
“Forget but never forgive” is one of Lucille Bluth’s mottos, but it also explains how some Arrested Development fans felt about season four. Season five starts much more promisingly, with an energy that comes from reuniting most of the cast in a single episode again — something that the previous season infamously avoided with its character-specific installments. As with a lot of the season, it’s pretty much stolen by Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat.
38. “For British Eyes Only” (Season 3, Episode 2)
Michael Bluth finds his way to Little England, where he meets Charlize Theron’s lovely Rita and gets nearly knocked out by a Poppins. The parody of British manners is very funny — “The soup of the day is bread” — as is the latest attempt to get Oscar out of prison, including, of course, another Gob “illusion.” Don’t you dare call it a trick.
37. “Justice Is Blind” (Season 1, Episode 17)
The two-part arc featuring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the attorney who fakes blindness closes out with an episode that’s repetitive paired with the one before it, even if it is hilarious to see Michael throw a Bible at Maggie Lizer in the courtroom to prove she can actually see. The subplot about Lindsay trying to get the Ten Commandments removed from the courthouse steps because she broke a heel is hilarious in concept, but underdeveloped.
36. “Everyone Gets Atrophy” (Season 5, Episode 3)
The best episode of season five has a number of highlights, most of which take place during a group scene in Lucille’s apartment. Sure, the Trump stuff already feels dated, but Gob’s excitement over Family of the Year and Tobias’s Michael Bluth impression go a long way. This is effectively when season five starts, as the first two episodes sent everyone to Mexico and tied up old loose ends (which somehow got untied again in subsequent, disappointing episodes).
35. “Sad Sack” (Season 2, Episode 5)
The second season started with such a brilliant flurry of hilarity that it had to slow down at some point … and it was right around “Sad Sack,” an episode that hinges on Maeby convincing Steve Holt that her mother is really her father and Buster needing Gob’s abuse to get over a wall at Army. On the bright side, it does contain a fantastic Maeby line when the military mistakes a pic of Tobias’s balls for evidence in the Middle East: “They found WMDs in Iraq, so we got a half-day.”
34. “Forget Me Now” (Season 3, Episode 3)
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Bob Loblaw! Scott Baio’s arc begins this episode, which also finds Rita and Michael getting closer. Some of the Rita stuff is already a little silly at this point, but “Forget Me Now” is saved by some clever love-triangle material as Maeby is torn between George Michael and Steve Holt, not realizing they’re actually both her relatives.
33. “My Mother the Car” (Season 1, Episode 8)
The first Arrested Development episode that isn’t utterly fantastic, “My Mother the Car” still works because of Jessica Walter’s characteristically great performance: After Lucille gets into a car accident while trying to run down a man on a Segway — a man she believed was Gob — she puts her Michael in the driver’s seat and convinces him he was behind the wheel all along. Bonus points for one of Buster’s best-ever “Hey, brother!” lines.
32. “Hand to God” (Season 2, Episode 12)
“I don’t have to go to the Army because a seal with a bow tie attacked me.” The second half of this season’s Maggie Lizer arc is overshadowed by Buster losing his hand and everyone trying to find the shark who ate it. Plus, Buster’s first “I’m a monster!” rampage when he learns he has a hook hand is a thing of beauty.
31. “Out on a Limb” (Season 2, Episode 11)
An episode heavy on callbacks, including the return of Maggie Lizer, “Out on a Limb” finds everyone trying to prove that the (appropriately named) attorney is lying about being eight-and-a-half months pregnant. Lindsay and Tobias rekindling their passion while they try to steal a stranger’s pee is hysterical, but the Maggie stuff just isn’t quite as funny as season one.
30. “In God We Trust” (Season 1, Episode 7)
This episode features Henry Winkler’s first appearance as the hilariously incompetent Barry Zuckerkorn, though it centers more on Lucille trying to pit Lindsay against Michael. Most importantly, it marks the first time that we learn that Tobias is a never-nude.
29. “Making a Stand” (Season 3, Episode 8)
After hitting a typical midpoint sag, “Making a Stand” was the bounce-back episode of season three, memorably featuring the revelation that the Bluth boys were semi-famous for video series called Boyfights. It also features the return of J. Walter Weatherman, the one-armed friend of George who taught horrifying lessons to the Bluth children, and culminates with a series of pranks that are truly something special.
28. “Family Ties” (Season 3, Episode 11)
Michael investigates evidence that he has a sister named Nellie, which also happens to be Lucille’s nickname for Tobias. In a typically meta move, Justine Bateman appears as the woman whom Michael mistakes for his sister, and in a typically Michael move, he doesn’t realize that she’s actually a prostitute. The reveal of Franklin/Gob as Nellie’s pimp is a season highlight.
27. “Colony Collapse” (Season 4, Episode 7)
The best episode of season four centers on Gob getting married to Ann Veal and turning the whole thing into another excuse for an illusion. (This time, the magician gets trapped in a fake boulder and Tobias serves as his assistant.) Arnett is fantastic in this “Colony Collapse,” the revival episode that most feels like original-flavor Arrested Development.
26. “Meat the Veals” (Season 2, Episode 16)
Everyone panics when it looks like George Michael wants to ask Ann Veal to pre-marry him. Michael plans to have Ann’s parents over and let his horrible family end any potential nuptials, but things go haywire when Mrs. Veal (Ione Skye) develops an attraction to him. All of the Veal stuff is funny, but without a doubt, the funniest moment is Mrs. Featherbottom trying to pull a Mary Poppins into the living room and realizing his umbrella doesn’t make him fly.
25. “Sword of Destiny” (Season 2, Episode 15)
Ben Stiller delivers one of the best-ever Arrested Development cameos as Tony Wonder, the king of the magicians, a.k.a. the guy Gob wants to try to impress so he can get back into the Gothic Castle. Meanwhile, Tobias tries to get a job at the Bluth Company to spy for George. Bonus points because Buster Bluth dancing onstage to “The Final Countdown” is amazing.
24. “The One Where They Build a House” (Season 2, Episode 2)
Ann Veal comes over for the first time, and Michael calls her “Egg” instead of Ann. This very funny chapter also includes Thomas Jane’s first appearance as himself. (Lindsay mistakes Jane for an actual homeless man, but he’s really preparing for a role in Homeless Dad.) It also features Gob using “Solid as a Rock” to promote the mobile homes and a line that should really be GIFed: “She had all kinds of orgasms.”
23. “Public Relations” (Season 1, Episode 11)
It’s not a top-ten episode, but “Public Relations” kicks off a theme that would resonate throughout Arrested Development when a publicist tries to tear the Bluths apart and they unite against her. The Bluths may destroy each other, but don’t you dare come at them from the outside of the family tree. It also features the great bit where Gob loses an old man in his Aztec Tomb trick — sorry, illusion.
22. “Fakin’ It” (Season 3, Episode 10)
Everyone is preparing to testify, including somebody named “N. Bluth.” Meanwhile, Judge Reinhold gets his own courtroom reality show, promoted with a series of talking magazine ads that spoof actual talking magazine ads from the era for NBC’s My Name is Earl. The big takeaway is that Michael thinks that he’s actually Nichael Bluth, though the highlights are the testimony from Tobias and Franklin, Gob’s racist puppet.
21. “Ready, Aim, Marry Me” (Season 2, Episode 10)
Some Arrested Development cameos are brief little moments and others are more committed bits of over-the-top lunacy, like Martin Short’s performance as Jack Dorso, a man with amazing upper-body strength but no use of his legs. As Lucille 2 and Gob’s relationship falls apart and Michael basically pimps his sister out to Jack to save the company, “Ready, Aim, Marry Me” ends in one of the most ridiculous sequences in the show’s history, but it’s an inspired insanity. We also get a classic Buster line: “Sometimes love should be terrifying.”
20. “Good Grief” (Season 2, Episode 4)
One of the most-GIFed moments in Arrested Development history comes from “Good Grief,” which features multiple characters doing the Charlie Brown walk of sadness, none more memorably than George Michael after he breaks up with Ann. Meanwhile, the Bluths think that Pop-Pop is dead and plan a wake for him, highlighted by a trick from Gob, of course, that goes horribly awry.
19. “Best Man for the Gob” (Season 1, Episode 19)
Two equally funny subplots fight for screen time as Buster gets punched out by a narcoleptic stripper (after going on a juice bender at a ridiculous bachelor party, naturally), and Tobias tries to reunite Dr. Fünke’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family Band Solution. “Best Man for the Gob” is one of those episodes that’s more over-the-top than most, but the cast makes it work, particularly Tony Hale.
18. “Visiting Ours” (Season 1, Episode 6)
George Michael goes to visit his father in prison for the first time, right after the old man basically gets a man killed during a jail baseball game. A Mr. Show reunion between Cross and Bob Odenkirk nearly propels “Visiting Ours” into the top tier, along with a conjugal visit that goes very wrong, but the real highlight is when George Sr. drops the bomb: “There’s a chance that I may have committed some light treason.” (Well, that and “Daddy horny, Michael.”)
17. “Staff Infection” (Season 1, Episode 15)
Everyone needs to get to work when Michael realizes that his family has been taking checks from the corporation without doing much of anything in return. (Even Annyong gets a job at the banana stand.) Meanwhile, Tobias goes to prison to research for his role as “Frightened Inmate No. 2.” The best joke of all? Gob’s first horrible chicken impression.
16. “Let ‘Em Eat Cake” (Season 1, Episode 22)
Years before Bridesmaids, Paul Feig helmed this season-one finale with the great revelation that the Bluth Corporation built homes for Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile, The Man Inside Me becomes a hit for reasons Tobias doesn’t quite comprehend, and we get our first meeting with Ann Veal, though she’s played by a different actress than Mae Whitman. Best of all is the closing scene, in which the very literal Dr. Fishman tell the Bluths that he “lost” George. It’s a cliff-hanger!
15. “Altar Egos” (Season 1, Episode 16)
An all-star episode that includes guest appearances by Jane Lynch, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Amy Poehler, “Altar Egos” serves up hysterical performances and characteristically ridiculous plots. Michael meets JLD’s Maggie Lizer, the attorney with whom he has a one-night stand, only to later learn she is the blind opposing counsel working against his father. It’s hysterically indicative of how little the Bluths, even Michael, pay attention to the world around them. Meanwhile, Gob gets married to Poehler’s character because, as he says, “She’s one of those girls who just dares you to do things.”
14. “¡Amigos!” (Season 2, Episode 3)
Martin Mull debuts as the mediocre private investigator Gene Parmesan, whose goofy attempts at costumes always impress Lucille Bluth. (Jessica Walter’s excited overreactions to Gene’s shtick never gets old.) The gang memorably goes to Mexico to try and find George Sr., and “¡Amigos!” is stolen by Buster sneaking into the trunk and getting out early in Santa Ana, thinking he’s already in Mexico. To top it off, this very funny episode is capped by everyone leaving poor Ann Veal south of the border.
13. “S.O.B.s” (Season 3, Episode 9)
One of the most meta episodes in TV history finds the Bluths staging an event to save their company, just as Arrested Development itself was on the bubble of cancellation at Fox. It opens with the promise of a “Cavalcade of Stars” — including Andy Richter, John Larroquette, and Judge Reinhold! — and riffs on 3D and live-audience stunt programming. There are even wink-wink references to the Bluths not being likable and the possibility of the show being picked up by HBO and Showtime. All that and Lindsay’s recipe for Hot Ham Water.
12. “Bringing Up Buster” (Season 1, Episode 3)
The Cornballer! Steve Holt! Buster’s yawns! So much great Arrested Development history starts in this early season-one episode, in which Tobias takes over the school play and totally disrupts George Michael’s attempts to kiss his cousin Maeby. Most of all, “Bringing Up Buster” sets the foundation for Tony Hale’s consistently brilliant performance. As he says himself, “Everyone is riding and laughing and cornballing except for Buster.”
11. “Charity Drive” (Season 1, Episode 5)
Judy Greer’s first appearance as George Bluth’s secretary-slash-lover Kitty comes in a hysterical chapter that also includes Lindsay Bluth going to the “wetlands” and Gob and Michael fighting over the Mr. Banana Grabber character. It’s perhaps most memorable for the charity auction where Buster, sans glasses, mistakenly flirts with Liza Minnelli’s Lucille 2. Or maybe it’s when Michael essentially kidnaps a woman who he mistakes for the family maid. It’s hard to believe this isn’t in the top ten, right?
10. “Development Arrested” (Season 3, Episode 13)
The final episode of the Fox run holds up as a truly great series finale, recalling both the maritime setting of the pilot and Michael Bluth’s remarkable inability to leave his family. He finally drives a boat off into the sunset, only to find his father has stowed away in the epilogue. Of course, who could forget the final three words still haunt fans? From Ron Howard himself, no less: “Maybe a movie.”
9. “Missing Kitty” (Season 1, Episode 18)
Spring Break! Kitty is upset after Girls With Low Self-Esteem doesn’t include her, so she gets breast implants … and then angrily shows them to pretty much everyone. While Michael tries to unsuccessfully fire his father’s girlfriend/secretary, his son is fascinated by his Uncle Gob’s magic abilities and blown away at his plan to make a yacht disappear, which he does. By blowing it up.
8. “The Cabin Show” (Season 3, Episode 1)
Another excellent season premiere that doubles as the last truly great Fox episode. From Will Arnett demanding that his brother “taste his sadness” to Tobias working at an establishment called Swallows (a family restaurant during the day that turns into a pansexual club at night), “The Cabin Show” was shot out of a cannon. It also features perhaps the best line reading of Michael Cera’s career with the simple, “It’s happening, isn’t it?”
7. “Afternoon Delight” (Season 2, Episode 6)
Jason Bateman directs a season-two highlight that’s best remembered for the way the title song features an awkward karaoke moment between Michael and Maeby, but it also features a half-dozen other standout jokes as well. There’s Gob constantly bragging about the cost of his suit (“Come on!”) and Buster playing skill crane instead of going to Army, which leads to one of Tony Hale’s best line readings: “The seal is for marksmanship and the gorilla is for sand racing.” Plus, it all ends with Lucille attacking a painted-blue Tobias in her kitchen. It’s fantastic.
6. “Motherboy XXX” (Season 2, Episode 13)
The best season-two episode outside of the premiere is also the best example of the love-hate relationship between Lucille and Buster. The Bluth matriarch decides she wants to go to the 30th annual Motherboy competition with Michael this time, knowing she can’t win with a one-handed boy. Carl Weathers returns and Henry Winkler literally jumps over a shark. A ton of bonus points for featuring Buster saying the words “Operation Hot Mother” and a terrific cameo by Amy Poehler. What else could you want from television?
5. “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)
Comedies need time to find their rhythm and voice, but it’s amazing how much of Arrested Development’s identity was there from the very beginning. Not only does this episode still work 15 years later, but it feels like so much of its tone has been replicated by other shows in the time since it aired. Quite simply, it’s one of the most consistently hilarious premieres of all time. It’s just as funny today as the day we first saw it.
4. “Top Banana” (Season 1, Episode 2)
If the pilot set the foundation, “Top Banana” built the house, offering up several of the most quotable lines in the show’s history. “There’s always money in the banana stand.” “No touching!” This is where we first learned about Tobias’s desire to be an actor with his hysterical audition for a “Fire Sale,” and where George Michael first stepped into the banana stand. We also learned that Tobias likes to cry in the shower and it’s really hard to angrily throw a letter into the ocean.
3. “Key Decisions” (Season 1, Episode 4)
In Gob’s best-ever story line, he tries to escape the prison that currently holds his father by swallowing a key and ends up crossing paths with White Power Bill. But that’s not all. “Key Decisions” is the first appearances of the stair car and Lucille 2. It starts the Marta subplot. It features Clint Howard as Johnny Bark. It has the first use of “I’ve made a huge mistake.” It’s a true ensemble comedy, an episode in which everyone delivers and the writers were clearly inspired to greatness. Even the little moments — such as Gob’s tiny “ta da” when he wakes up in the hospital, technically out of the prison — are hysterical.
2. “The One Where Michael Leaves” (Season 2, Episode 1)
Arrested Development has produced some of its best episodes with season premieres, and the best of the best came with season two. Riding high off the critical acclaim and awards won in the first year, the writers were never more confident than right here, beautifully echoing some of the jokes from season one while also setting the stage for what was to come. Lindsay is tempted by an open marriage, Oscar might be Buster’s dad, Gob turns a $100 bill into 100 pennies, and Tobias notoriously “blues” himself. The whole ensemble delivers in this episode, all of them so clearly committed to pleasing the fans of the show and taking it in a new direction. It’s a near-perfect episode.
1. “Pier Pressure” (Season 1, Episode 10)
Comedy doesn’t get much better than this episode of Arrested Development, which blends Gob’s boneheaded showmanship with the legacy of family cruelty that defines the Bluths. When Michael tries to teach his son a lesson by having Gob’s Hot Cops stripper friends pretend to be real officers, he’s repeating the abusive behavior of his father, who hired the one-armed J. Walter Weatherman to terrify his own children. The cosmic joke of Arrested Development is that Michael is just as shallow and cruel as the family he constantly tries to leave behind. Most of all, “Pier Pressure” is a showcase for one of the best TV-comedy ensembles of all time. Cera, Arnett, Hale, Bateman: Everyone is perfect in this episode. It was funny then, it’s funny now, and it’ll be funny forever.