Back in November of 2005, when Arrested Development was canceled, I followed exactly three active television shows: Arrested Development, Lost and Gilmore Girls. The show didn't actually exit the airwaves until February of 2006, a few weeks after which in a depressed stupor I stumbled onto The Office via iTunes and quickly got hooked, needing something, anything to fill that sitcom-shaped hole in my heart. Now, seven years and three months later, The Office has ended, and a couple weeks hence, I'm about to be watching new episodes of Arrested Development. It's an oddly beautiful full-circle TV journey.
I don't really know how to feel about Arrested Development's fourth season. I'm equal parts excited and stomach-churningly nervous. I know it's going to be really, really surreal to watch these characters say and do things other than the things I've been watching them say and do over and over for the last seven-plus years. But whatever happens, I know that Arrested Development's first three seasons will always be my favorite sitcom of all time.
I just got done rewatching the show for what is without exaggeration probably my twentieth start-to-finish marathon, though the first that I knocked out in less than a week. (Let me put it this way: You know when websites post their lists of "20 Arrested Development Jokes You Missed" or whatever? Yeah, I didn't miss the jokes. I'm pretty hardcore.) However, unlike with previous marathons, this time I've made a comprehensive list ranking all 53 episodes. LET THE GREAT EXPERIMENT BEGIN!!
53. Season 2, Episode 10 - "Ready, Aim, Marry Me!"
Truth be told, the infamous "Ready, Aim, Marry Me!" isn't too bad for its first nine minutes. Tobias' pratfall on Lucille's spilt drink, Lucille attempting to shout next door at Lucille 2 while at the model home and Lindsay's chicken dance all make me laugh. But as soon as Martin Sheen's Uncle Jack steps (or, more accurately, is carried) onscreen, the episode goes to hell. The initial scene of Jack at Lucille's penthouse meeting the family is the only Arrested Development scene I find to be flat-out painful, not only bad by Arrested Development standards but just bad television, period. The end of the episode isn't as awful, but still… This episode makes Maeby feel C-.
52. Season 2, Episode 17 - "Spring Breakout"
While not the series' worst episode, this may be Arrested Development's dullest episode. Lucille and Kitty have a drinking contest, Michael and Gob swap out a cooler, Lindsay and Tobias protest Girls With Low Self-Esteem. It's kinda funny, as Arrested Development always is, but never exceptionally funny.
51. Season 3, Episode 7 - "Prison Break-In"
It was really a coin flip whether this or "Spring Breakout" would be right after "Ready, Aim, Marry Me!" The three are pretty clearly, by some margin, the three weakest episodes of the series. I decided to rank this one the highest of the three because of Tobias' body falling apart on his hair plugs and because of Ron Howard's delivery of "Actually, he loved galas. All kids do."
50. Season 1, Episode 20 - "Whistler's Mother"
Season 1's least notable half-hour involves the introduction of Oscar Bluth, who will become an utterly fantastic character in season 2, but here does little other than try to sell Michael a useless lemon grove and, in the space of one minute, gift Arrested Development with its only two fart jokes. The "free speech zone" stuff also doesn't approach its political satire with anywhere near the nuance, intelligence or hilarity as seasons 2 or 3. It still has its funny bits, though, including George Michael mistaking Maeby's meaning when she's talking about his hair that no one is supposed to know about. (Trivia factoid: Buster is absent.)
49. Season 1, Episode 11 - "Public Relations"
Jessie the publicist is one of the more unlikable characters Arrested Development ever came up with, and drags a fair bit of this episode down. However, it introduced the Milford Academy (where children are neither seen nor heard) and Carl Weathers, both of whom are awesome.
48. Season 3, Episode 11 - "Family Ties"
Easily the weakest installment of the show's final four-episode arc, "Family Ties" seems to have been created entirely for the purpose of making a lot of incest jokes with real-life actor siblings Jason and Justine Bateman. However, all that is great compared to the B-plot with Lindsay and Tobias both dating "Girl Michael," which may be my all-time least-favorite Arrested Development subplot save Uncle Jack. However, the Terri Schiavo parody with Buster is admittedly pretty funny, as are Gob/Franklin as a pimp, Gob's Program and George Michael and Maeby's accidental marriage.
47. Season 1, Episode 14 - "Shock and Aww"
The first Arrested Development after the show's initial 13-episode order isn't one of their more ambitious episodes, mostly involving romcommy misunderstandings as Michael dates George Michael's ethics teacher. It does introduce Annyong and the Saddam Hussein mythos, though, and has multiple instances of Gob "*bleep*ing" much, much older women, which is of course hilarious. (Trivia factoid: Tobias is absent.)
46. Season 1, Episode 7 - "My Mother, The Car"
This episode, involving Michael getting short-term amnesia after Lucille crashes the car with both inside and her subsequently manipulating him into thinking he's responsible, is the first I bumped into in this rewatch that I had little-to-no memory of most of, which probably speaks to it not being among my favorite of the series. But, credit where it's due, and in this case credit goes to the introduction of Les Cousins Dangereux, one of my favorite running gags in Arrested Development (and thus, by extension, in any sitcom ever).
45. Season 1, Episode 16 - "Missing Kitty"
One of the more immediately interesting things about "Missing Kitty" is that Tobias' victory over White Power Bill and creation of the prison-ruling "Dorothy" alter ego mark quite possibly the only major victory for the character in the entire series. Other points of note include the series' second "Final Countdown"-scored magic act and the debut of Kitty showing Michael her breasts (marked always by some variation on the line "the last time you're gonna see these!"). Other than that it's not one of the series' most memorable efforts, though it probably speaks to the show's overall unbelievable quality that even a somewhat lesser effort introduces great running jokes that will span the length of the series.
44. Season 1, Episode 17 - "Altar Egos"
Back in the good old days of 2004, I actually didn't like the Maggie Lizer subplot too much – or at least, not once her not-blindness was revealed, which neutralized the comedy a bit for me. I actually liked it more rewatching it now, though, and I loved then and continue to love today the Wife of Gob subplot. (Gob: "I had sex last night." Narrator: "But he really didn't." Gob: "Yes I did.") Also, Jason Bateman's reaction to Barry's "I could kiss you on the *bleep*" is the best. (Trivia factoids: Buster is absent. Also, this is one of the only episodes of the entire series where one of the "on the next Arrested Development" scenes does, in fact, happen on the next Arrested Development. And finally, this is, with over nine million viewers for its initial airing, the highest-rated episode of Arrested Development.)
43. Season 1, Episode 18 - "Justice Is Blind"
The Maggie Lizer two-parter comes to a pretty successful climax as Michael pegs her in the face with a thrown Bible in the middle of court. Other highlights include Tobias' attempted cat-like sneaking through Maggie's house, Buster's largely botched attempts to turn informant on George Sr., and more Wife of Gob. The two-parter ultimately isn't an all-timer, but definitely flies by quick as a flash and is entertaining start to finish.
42. Season 2, Episode 11 - "Out On a Limb"
I'm not an overwhelmingly huge fan of the Maggie Lizer stuff in season 2 either, though Lindsay and Tobias breaking into her house together is at least a spot of good fun. On the other hand, I pretty thoroughly enjoy all of the Buster/Lucille/Oscar drama ("You're high!" "You're drunk!"), and there's some funny Ann Veal stuff to be found.
41. Season 3, Episode 4 - "Notapusy"
The Gob/Steve Holt saga continues to delight, as it did and does through all of season 3, in this case by wrapping Michael up in it too as Steve and Michael train for a triathlon together. The beauty pageant and "scared straight" stories are pretty amusing if nothing particularly special by Arrested Development standards, but there's some great Ann Veal stuff and the hilarious sight gag of Michael Cera turning his back in terror as a glass and, later, a broom are gently tossed to him.
40. Season 1, Episode 15 - "Staff Infection"
"Staff Infection" doesn't have a hugely memorable story (Michael puts Gob and Buster to work on a Bluth construction site and Lindsay to work as a secretary), but is pretty interesting as one of the more top-to-bottom work-focused episodes of the entire series, and also for how airtight its script is. Tobias entering prison to research his role is the only story that doesn't collide in the final scene as everyone descends on the construction site – even Lucille not being able to unpack her groceries gets wrapped up in that. Also, lots of "Annyong," and the introduction of Gob's chicken dance. And Buster being frightened by a sheep. Never not funny.
39. Season 1, Episode 1 - "Pilot"
There's a strong argument to be made that Arrested Development's pilot is one of the better sitcom pilots ever, and almost certainly the most ambitious, establishing its still-funky (and utterly alien in 2003) aesthetics as well as its nine leads and their various relationships while shooting plot threads in countless directions over a lightning-quick 22 minutes. And of course filming on a giant-ass yacht, which couldn't have been cheap. Still, like all sitcom pilots, the cast chemistry and jokes haven't gelled into what they'd eventually become, so it's among the overall series' lesser episodes. That said, "Buster, you can't do that on the balcony, buddy?!"
38. Season 2, Episode 7 - "Switch Hitter"
This episode contains one of my single favorite moments of the entire series in Michael's misunderstanding-inspired kiss for George Michael ("…I meant from Ann." "Yes, I know, I just wanted to get in there first." "……….Okay."), in addition to the introductions of the Sitwell Company and its hairless boss Stan Sitwell, Maeby's movie studio job and Jeff Garlin as Mort Meyers, and of Andy Richter as himself (which will play into the season 3 episode "S.O.B.s"). Also guest spots from J.K. Simmons and future The Office star Craig Robinson. We got guest stars up in this bizzatch, yo! Other than that I find its softball storyline less inspired than the brilliance of the first six episode of season two, while still being funny.
37. Season 1, Episode 9 - "Storming the Castle"
"Storming the Castle" marks the first appearance of "The Final Countdown," and Gob's most extensive magic show to date on the program (with most of the "magic" consisting of him throwing around cards and handkerchiefs and wielding a knife in his teeth in a manner that is in no way magical, of course). Other than that it's not one of the show's most memorable excursions, though Tobias' leather daddy outfit is awesome and the "Where to, mate?" "The Gothic Castle." "…Gothic Asshole?" joke is one of the most amazingly dirty I've ever seen slip past the network censors. Even in 2013 it stuns and delights.
36. Season 2, Episode 12 - "Hand to God"
This is certainly the best episode of the Maggie Lizer saga, though that has less to do with Michael and Maggie themselves (though admittedly the gay cops are a pretty good addition) than what coincidentally happens to surround them, namely the aftermath of Buster's hand being eaten by loose seal. Buster's realization of his newfound monsterhood is a classic moment, and this episode's Dr. Wordsmith appearance ("He's lost his left hand, so he's going to be all right.") is on the shortlist of my favorite TV moments ever. The end of George Michael's story in this episode, stranded and terrified in the basement morgue, is also delightfully black humor. And yeah, there's some Maggie Lizer fake pregnancy stuff, which is fine.
35. Season 3, Episode 1 - "The Cabin Show"
Some bits of Arrested Development's third season premiere are a bit more forgettable, including the story of Lucille driving to the cabin with Buster accidentally in tow and then letting her car roll back into the lake. But the continuing incestuous not-quite-romance of George Michael and Maeby (and later Maeby and Steve Holt) is hilarious as always, and the episode also introduces the father/son relationship of Gob and Steve Holt, which was a source of unbroken and immense comedy through the entirety of the third season.
34. Season 1, Episode 4 - "Key Decisions"
This episode, which marks the debuts of the stair car, Lucille Austero and "I've made a huge mistake," holds personal significance for me as the first Arrested Development episode I ever saw. For the record, the *stab* "WHITE POWER!" "I'm… white…" moment was when I decided I had a moral obligation to comedy to stick with this show, and as Arrested is the show that got me really into TV in the first place, I'd say the entire existence of my TV fandom and this blog can be pretty much traced back to that moment. So even though the Lindsay/Clint Howard storyline is the rare Arrested story that's a complete whiff, I love "Key Decisions" all the same. (Trivia factoid: Tobias is absent.)
33. Season 1, Episode 21 - "Not Without My Daughter"
This episode makes two recent episodes a lot better in retrospect: "Whistler's Mother," by doing much better work with the character of Oscar (though he wouldn't bloom into true greatness until season 2), and "Missing Kitty," by following up on that episode's Girls With Low Self-Esteem/exploding yacht/Kitty stories in a way that's representative of Arrested Development's relatively impressive, airtight plotting for any TV show (and no "relatively" needed compared to any other sitcom). The two major themes running through the episode of nearly every Bluth getting busted by the law at some point and of everyone we come across having brought their daughter to work are highly amusing. A solid penultimate episode for season 1.
32. Season 1, Episode 12 - "Marta Complex"
This episode suffers just a little from the prominence of the not-especially-talented Marta 2.0 actress, but scores pretty much everywhere else. The George Michael/Maeby romance (?), which back in the day I thought was basically the funniest thing I'd ever seen on television and I still adore, is brought to the fore, the "hermano" misunderstanding has always been hilarious, and the Carl Weathers/Tobias balcony scene ("Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa, there's still plenty of meat on that bone. You take this home, throw it in a pot, add some broth, a potato, baby, you got a stew goin'!") is probably one of my favorite scenes in television history.
31. Season 2, Episode 9 - "Burning Love"
Even as it evolved the sitcom, Arrested Development maintained love and respect for some of the form's most classic tropes. Thus, this episode centered largely around misunderstandings, as Sally Sitwell continually believes Michael to be much more of a manchild than he really is through a mounting series of mistaken perceptions. George Sr. gets a hot tub in the attic, and Jeffrey Tambor's high, whining voice during the scene where he realizes it's too hot and he's made a mistake is insanely funny. Also, you have Gob's spicy club sauce, and Ron Howard's reading of "Gob had just blown up a car" is probably one of the top ten narrator lines of the series. (The episode is also amusing in a TV-comedy-nerd way for its small parts for two future NBC Thursday stars: The Office's Brian Baumgartner as the gun salesman and 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer as the country club waiter.)
30. Season 1, Episode 5 - "Visiting Ours"
Bringing the "Arrested" of the show's title to the fore more explicitly than all but a few other episodes of the series, this prison-centric episode's highlight is probably George Sr.'s utterance of "Daddy horny, Michael" ("He said some wonderful things"), though Gob getting detained against the trailer in which is parents are becoming intimate is also excellent. The Tobias/Lindsay marriage counseling B-plot is less notable. (Trivia factoid: Buster is absent.)
29. Season 1, Episode 19 - "Best Man for the Gob"
Tons of great Wife of Gob stuff in this episode, as well as the introduction of Buster's juice box addiction, Maeby's alone-time vs. parent-time bar graph and the best "Annyong" of the entire series. Funnily, it's the episode's big climactic setpiece – Gob's attempt to make Bluth Company accountant Ira Gilligan believe he's killed a stripper – that, while funny, ends up taking the comedic backseat to those other elements. Awesome callbacks to "hermano" and Buster's desire to get punched in the face from earlier in the season, too. It's also (or at least seemed to be to me during this rewatch) perhaps the most Michael-lite episode of season 1, with pretty long stretches that play out with Jason Bateman offscreen. This isn't really pertinent to its quality, but may be interesting if, like me, you're a huge fucking Arrested Development nerd.
28. Season 2, Episode 18 - "Righteous Brothers"
In terms of comedy, the best thing Arrested Development's second season finale has going for it is Gob and Franklin's "It Ain't Easy Being White" song, which makes me laugh hysterically to this day, in this episode and in all its subsequent appearances. The story the episode tells is also a very enjoyable one, from George Sr. turning Oscar in in his place to Tobias absconding to Vegas with Kitty to the creepily romantic developments with George Michael and Maeby. "You know it's true… everything I do… I DO IT FOR YOUUUU!"
27. Season 3, Episode 3 - "Forget-Me-Now"
A couple of great introductions in this episode: Scott Baio as Bob Loblaw and Bob Einstein as Larry Middleman, proving that even into its twilight years, Arrested Development's ability to introduce hilarious new characters never abided. Some of the stuff with the family accidentally kidnapping, beating and drugging Rita is – while funny in the moment – a bit too generically sitcommy-misunderstanding, but on the flip side the episode contains two moments that made me absolutely fucking howl with laughter upon my first viewing back in the day: The visual of Tobias' "analrapist" business card and Gob taking the forget-me-now in the final moments of the "on the next Arrested Development." "I won't forget this… Dad!" "…I will. I will."
26. Season 1, Episode 13 - "Beef Consommé"
This is the first episode of Arrested Development where they ditch any sense of episodic storytelling and just go pure serialized, which was incredibly bizarre for a sitcom ten years ago and still very rare today. It's funny, too! But its storytelling is probably the most immediately interesting thing about it. "That means brother in French. I don't know why I know that, I took four years of Spanish!" (Trivia factoid: This episode was written and filmed to serve as the potential series finale if Fox didn't pick the series up past its initial 13-episode order, thus the wrapping up of the Marta storyline, the Bluth brothers ending in a friendly place, Lindsay and Tobias finding a new spark in their marriage and George Michael deciding to suspend his pursuit of Maeby.)
25. Season 2, Episode 8 - "Queen For a Day"
Michael's corvette-buying A-plot is pretty funny stuff, but the real highlights of this episode include the Maeby/George Sr./George Michael script-noting subplot ("Armageddon 2: Armageddon… that's a bad title."), Tobias' purchase of the Queen Mary and subsequent attempt to clean up the streets, and of course Gob *bleep*ing Lucille 2. A strong example of season 2 Arrested not necessarily reinventing the wheel but nonetheless firing on every comedic cylinder you could reasonably ask for.
24. Season 3, Episode 13 - "Development Arrested"
One thing that separates Arrested Development and most of my other favorite (completed) shows of all time is that, while obviously great compared to all of the rest of TV, I don't consider its series finale to be one of the peak standout episodes of the series itself. Like the penultimate episode, "Exit Strategy," it's very plot-focused, but in this case the plot is a bit less gripping and climactic. But I don't want to sound down on "Development Arrested." It's still super quick and fun and funny. I don't normally consider Justin Lee as Annyong to be one of the series' most standout performers, but his reading of "But my real name is… Hello." never fails to make me roar with laughter. The episode also leans very heavily on the incestuous undertones that permeate the whole series, to my comedic delight. It was Arrested Development.
23. Season 3, Episode 8 - "Making a Stand"
This two-seasons-later unofficial sequel to "Pier Pressure," considered by many to be season 1's crowning achievement, may not be as fresh or surprising as the first J. Walter Weatherman-teaching-lessons installment, but is pretty damn enjoyable nonetheless. Lots of great Gob/Steve Holt stuff, too, which the first Weatherman ep didn't have. (The first scene, involving Gob accidentally spraying coins all over the Bluth Company board room and Steve Holt's boombox playing "The Final Countdown" and "It Ain't Easy Being White," is especially hysterical.) Exactly like "Pier Pressure," it suffers a little from a less notable Maeby/Lucille B-plot, but like that episode that doesn't prevent it from being pretty great.
22. Season 3, Episode 10 - "Fakin' It"
The accidental George Michael/Maeby wedding and Buster's coma and reemergence of Wayne Jarvis all entertain, but the highlight of "Fakin' It" is unquestionably Mock Trial With J. Reinhold, which between William Hung and the deposition of Franklin Delano Bluth achieves all the absurdity you'd hope for from an Arrested Development trial episode. "Judge Reinhold is neither a real judge nor has he received acting's highest honor." (Trivia factoid/personal anecdote: This was the first episode of the show's four-part February 10th, 2006 series finale, where Fox dumped it across from the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. I watched it live on the small TV of my college dorm's shitty, perpetually-empty rec room, which was both a lot of fun but simultaneously deeply depressing.)
21. Season 2, Episode 15 - "Sword of Destiny"
Ben Stiller arguably steps right up to the edge of overdoing it as magician Tony Wonder, but manages to fit into the world more or less comfortably through sheer commitment and his utterly brilliant delivery of the utterly brilliant line "My brother's widow. It's *bleep*ed up." It's definitely one of the better Gob-as-magician stories of the series. And over on Michael's side of things we have Dan Castellaneta (the spelling of whose name I admit I have to look up every time, despite The Simpsons airing for more or less my whole life) as Michael's new doctor, whose insane Frankenstein experiments make Dr. Wordsmith look positively normal. It must be pretty stressful to live in a world where even the doctors are lunatics.
20. Season 1, Episode 22 - "Let 'Em Eat Cake"
The highlights of Arrested Development's strong first season finale include the introductions of Ann (though played by a different actress than Mae Whitman, who would portray her for the remainder of the series) and "Dr. Wordsmith," as well as the kickoff of the Iraqi mini-mansions story that will carry the series through to more or less its end. (Or should I say the end of seasons 1-3, since that no longer constitutes the end of the series?) Also, "Beads!" "Bees?!" "Beads." "BEADS?!" The Atkins diet subplot is one of the foremost things in season 1 that actively dates the series, but strong finale nonetheless. Ballsy, too, since they ended the first season of their very low-rated cult show on a sudden cliffhanger that damn well could have ended up being the series finale if Fox hadn't opted for more. Lucky us, though, because they did, and Arrested Development season 2 may be the best TV comedy season ever.
19. Season 3, Episode 12 - "Exit Strategy"
Though I wouldn't necessarily call it one of the all-time funniest Arrested Development episodes, "Exit Strategy" pulls off something really difficult and impressive by actually bringing the show's series-spanning George Sr.'s crimes/Iraqi housing development/Saddam Hussein mythos to a fun and twisty and cohesive ending within the space of 22 minutes by sending the Bluth sons to Iraq. Give or take Arrested Development's own "Sad Sack," it's probably the closest a sitcom has ever come to actually feeling geopolitically epic. It's just satisfying, and speaks to the quality of this show's storytelling. And of course George Michael and Maeby going to second base. I am no scar. Dot com.
18. Season 3, Episode 2 - "For British Eyes Only"
Some Arrested Development fans don't like the Rita arc. I have to question whether or not these fans have seen "For British Eyes Only," as it's really fucking funny start to finish. George Sr. being even more terrified of living with Lucille than he was of prison, Gob being a terrible father to Steve Holt, the George Sr./Lucille/Lindsay triple chicken dance, Tobias' hair plugs (a story that would admittedly become a touch played out by the end of its run, but in this, its first episode, it's hilarious, especially the blink-and-you-miss-it scene of Tobias screaming in pain when the barber tries to comb his new hair), and yes, even Rita and her father ("How would you like someone going after some stupid person in your family?!") all delight. (Trivia factoid: Maeby is absent.)
17. Season 3, Episode 6 - "The Ocean Walker"
I can see why some might find "The Ocean Walker" offensive, as it essentially consists of a 22-minute-long string of retard jokes as Michael realizes the truth about his fiance Rita. Thankfully, I'm burdened by no such conscience when it comes to these things, so I think it's kind of fucking hilarious start to finish. Highlights include the cameo from Star Wars Kid George Michael on the video camera ("I'm sorry. We should get another tape… they're not expensive."), the series of flashbacks where Michael finally figures it out, and Gob's ending reveal that "It's my illusion!", one of my favorite "on the next Arrested Development" segments of the series.
16. Season 1, Episode 3 - "Bringing Up Buster"
While the high school Shakespeare B-plot doesn't necessarily represent Arrested at its absolute best (despite the final cut to Tobias crying in the shower "WHY, TRACY?! WHY?!" making it all worthwhile), this episode's titular Buster storyline is enormous fun, and does a great job filling out a character who was just briefly sketched in the pilot and absent from the second episode. Buster's mysterious, apparently shocking, all-bleeped description of Lucille is probably the best use of comedically-bleeped swearing ever.
15. Season 2, Episode 1 - "The One Where Michael Leaves"
There are few scenes in all of television that make me laugh more consistently than Michael's confrontation with a just-blue-himself Tobias Fünke ("Are you crazy?!" "Are you blue?" "Only in color, Michael."), which I can basically quote in its entirety line-for-line start-to-finish off the top of my head and have been able to for almost a decade now. In fact the whole episode kicks off season 2 in remarkably strong fashion, from the introduction of Oscar's hints about Buster's true parentage (complete with cheesy soap riff, of course) to a return appearance from Dr. Wordsmith, Gob's gaming ship, and launching the stories that will, over the next 17 episodes, carry Arrested Development through the most tightly-plotted sitcom season in television history.
14. Season 1, Episode 6 - "Charity Drive"
Another airtight, top-to-bottom entertaining episode. The A-plot involves Michael's quest to attain the Bluth company car and his accidental abduction of a woman he mistakes for his mother's housekeeper, but, while that's all hilarious, two of the funniest moments of the entire series are found not in that plot but in Lindsay accidentally skewering a frog with her trash poker and the final seconds of the episode with Gob watching the Mr. Bananagrabber cartoon. "Look! A sheagull! A-gulp!" "…I never should have given up animation rights." (Trivia factoid: Tobias is absent.)
13. Season 2, Episode 13 - "Motherboy XXX"
This is one of the series' more messy and sprawling and almost exhaustingly fast-paced but also entertaining, hilarious and comedically dense episodes. George Michael and Buster both get chances to shine in the Motherboy A-plot, while Wife of Gob and Carl Weathers reemerge in the subplots. I've seen the "making the product placement a joke by being really, really exaggeratedly obvious about it" gag a few times since (most notably in 30 Rock), but this episode's Burger King jokes were the first time I'd seen it and it made me laugh my ass off. Not to mention Henry Winkler (aka Fonzie) jumping the shark and the Motherboy the event/Motherboy the band mixup reflecting the real-life Arrested Development the band controversy. They even manage to tie everything together in the "on the next Arrested Development" as Buster scares everyone at the Christian camp. It's so dense, every single image has so many things going on.
12. Season 2, Episode 6 - "Afternoon Delight"
("-king $6,300 suit! Come on!") One of the most manic, madcap installments of a show that was already shattering the upper limits on how manic and madcap a live-action sitcom could be, this episode is first and foremost an incredible one for Gob. From the gradually increasing cost of his one suit to firing all the employees of the Bluth Company ("*bleep* you Tom.") to a quick sexual harassment seminar that's this show's funniest use of bleeped swearing since Buster's rant in "Bringing Up Buster" to being lifted and dropped from high up into the ocean by a crane while wearing a banana suit, this episode is Gob's hour to shine. Oscar getting Lucille high on Afternoon Deelite ("Maybe I'll put it in her brownie." "Hey!") is but the cannabis cherry on top of an already delicious Gob sundae. ("No Al, I wanna spill booze all over my fu-")
11. Season 3, Episode 5 - "Mr. F"
"Mr. F" is first and foremost a feat of paramount sitcom engineering. The way it outsizes the traditional sitcom misunderstanding into something ridiculously epic and enormous, culminating with Mole Tobias and Jetpants George Michael's Godzilla-style fight for the Japanese investors, is amazing both in its go-for-broke silliness and in the way nearly every second of the episode leading up to it carefully sets in place the pieces for it to happen. This is also the strongest episode for Rita in how obvious it makes her MRF-ness while also doing just as well a job hiding it, with the narration and her uncle leading the new viewer to believe it's a British syndicate plot until the last possible second. Lastly, Tony Hale's performance as Buster while controlling Larry Middleman is brilliant. Hilarious, awesome episode.
10. Season 2, Episode 2 - "The One Where They Build a House"
In terms of sheer density of punchlines, few episodes of Arrested Development or any other sitcom have anything on "The One Where They Build a House." From stuff I didn't notice/wasn't informed of until later viewings ("Get rid of the Seaward." "I'll leave when I'm good and ready.") to aspects that were immediately hilarious upon first viewing and still make me laugh nine years later ("I just want my kids back."), the episode is immediately indicative of the increased writers room vigor of season 2. I'd always thought of Arrested's second season as being an improvement even over the first, but this rewatch really made it clear that the quality spike is sharp and immediate. (Trivia factoids: Jason Bateman's reaction shot to George Michael's mayonegg explanation is the greatest reaction shot in TV history. Also, this episode was the last to hit over 7 million viewers during the show's initial airings.)
9. Season 1, Episode 8 - "In God We Trust"
In addition to marking the debuts of Henry Winkler's Barry Zuckerkorn and John Michael Higgins' Wayne Jarvis, both of whom fit into the Arrestedverse with instant and unbelievable perfection, this classic episode introduces us to Tobias' nevernudism ("I understand… more than you'll never know.") George Michael's muscle suit and portrayal of Adam in the living art festival are also fantastic. He has to wear it all the time. You'd never understand.
8. Season 1, Episode 2 - "Top Banana"
Give or take a Friday Night Lights, "Top Banana" is the best second episode of any television series ever, and certainly by a million miles the quickest I've ever seen a sitcom gel like this. The flaming banana stand whodunit/"There's always money in the banana stand" mystery is perfectly told in a propulsive, even exciting 22 minutes, the George Michael/Maeby relationship clicks as one of the funniest fucking things ever, and we get Mr. Manager, the fire sale audition, Tobias crying in the shower and Gob tossing insurance checks, frozen doves and dead rabbits into the ocean. It's brilliant. (Trivia factoids: Buster is absent from this episode, and there's an electric guitar in the opening title sequence that never appears again.)
7. Season 1, Episode 10 - "Pier Pressure"
Identified by both creator Mitch Hurwitz and star Jason Bateman as their favorite episode of the series, "Pier Pressure" is a bona fide classic sitcom episode. The way the pot-buying/lesson-teaching A-plot builds and twists upon itself and spirals so wonderfully out of control, with an endless barrage of punchline after punchline after punchline leading to the episode's awesomely absurd climax, is just ingenious comedy engineering; a work of art to behold. So why isn't the episode my #1? Well, because the Lucille/Maeby B-plot is pretty forgettable (literally - I doubt a lot of people with fond memories of this episode even remember its existence). Still an amazing sitcom episode, though. (Trivia factoid: Tobias is absent.)
6. Season 3, Episode 9 - "S.O.B.s"
Though it's arguably been outdone in this count at some point in the seven years since (likely by Community, or maybe Supernatural), in 2006, "S.O.B.s" was quite possibly the most meta a television episode has ever been without explicitly tearing down the fourth wall. It's also funny as fucking hell and the best episode of the third season. "Well, I don't think the Home Builder's Organization is going to be supporting us." "Yeah, the HBO's not gonna want us. What do we do now?" "Well, I think it's Showtime. I think we have to have a show during dinner." The Andy Richter quintuplets are fantastic, as is Gob as a waiter, Lindsay's hot ham water, the old racist lady choking on Buster's thumb, and putting on your 3-D glasses now. Arrested Development was always at its best as a scrappy underdog raging against the machine, and this episode is the pinnacle of that.
5. Season 2, Episode 14 - "The Immaculate Election"
Election is one of my favorite movies of all time, so it was probably predestined that I love this episode. And I do love it, a lot. In fact, back in 2005 when this was first airing and I got the season 2 DVDs, I think it's not hyperbole but a pretty damn good estimate to say that I watched "The Immaculate Election" somewhere in the area of twenty times. The high school election story and ill-advised Gob campaign video it leads up to are brilliant, as are the many hints about Steve Holt's true parentage, often accompanied by ominous musical stinger. The subplots, involving Tobias adopting the persona of Mrs. Featherbottom and Buster having an affair with Lupe, who Lucille then fires and buys a Roomba in her place, which Buster then has an affair with ("Why not, mother?! I'M HALF MACHINE.") are also hysterical. The whole episode flies by in what feels like five minutes. (Trivia factoid: The jock who calls George Michael "Star Dork" is The Social Network/The Lone Ranger star Armie Hammer.)
4. Season 2, Episode 5 - "Sad Sack"
The "those are balls" climax of this episode, which gets so insanely geopolitically epic as to feature the Pentagon, the Situation Room and F-16s, is easily one of the most crazily ambitious things I've ever seen a sitcom pull off, not even to mention the fact that when I first saw it back in the day I laughed so hard I damn near vomited. Functioning as a sharp, incisive commentary on the WMDs hysteria, the Bush administration's warmongering and Fox News itself, this episode – airing on Fox at a time, remember, when we were only about a year out from the start of the initially-very-popular Iraq War – was bold, daring, challenging stuff that also remembered to be funny as hell. This is Arrested Development at the height of its political commentary powers, and those powers are mighty indeed.
3. Season 2, Episode 16 - "Meet the Veals"
This episode is just ludicrously, staggeringly, almost unbelievably funny top-to-bottom. Tons of awesome Ann Veal and Mrs. Featherbottom stuff and soap-music-accompanied Buster/Oscar father insinuations, and the introduction of Franklin Delano Bluth, who is simply the best. When I first watched this episode back in 2005, during the Gob/George Sr./Franklin zooming close-ups sequence, I was laughing so hard that I actually lost my breath and my lungs hurt for a while like they'd been bruised. The episode comes to a hilarious climax with the wedding chapel fight, capped off by an even more hilarious ending as Ann asks George Michael to teach her the ways of the secular flesh, capped off by an even more hilarious "on the next Arrested Development" scene. Like "The Immaculate Election," this is one I watched literally somewhere around twenty times once I got the season 2 DVD set.
2. Season 2, Episode 3 - "¡Amigos!"
Arrested Development's early-second-season quality spike/high-wire act continues undaunted in this brilliant episode, chronicling the Bluth family's many trips to and back from Mexico as they search first for George Sr. and then for Ann. It marks Mae Whitman's speaking debut as Ann and the appearance of Gene Parmesan, the greatest single-episode sitcom character of all time. Between Lucille's excitement over Gene and very slow, contemptuous closing of the door on Gob, it might well be her best episode of the entire series, though Tobias also makes a huge impact in relatively little screentime with "Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot, your wife is dead!" This is 22 minutes of whip-smart, layered and unbelievably lightning-paced comedic brilliance.
1. Season 2, Episode 4 - "Good Grief"
The pinnacle of Arrested Development and perhaps of all televised comedy, "Good Grief," which details the immediate aftermath of George Sr.'s faked death, is one of the most sustained stretches of brilliant punchline after brilliant punchline after brilliant punchline I've ever seen, while also taking the time to shift the plot in a great new direction as George Sr. sets up shop in the Bluth attic. The Peanuts references ("WHERE THE *bleep* ARE MY HARD-BOILED EGGS?!"), George Sr. watching his own wake from the attic ("How many times I gotta tell this kid chicken wings?") and Gob wearing stripper clothes when he's not stripping ("You tell me.") are among many noteworthy peaks, but everything surrounding them is fantastic too. This is ambitious, hilarious, evolved TV comedy operating on a different level. Not a line out of place, not a speck of fat on it. Sitcom episodes this great come along but once or twice a decade.