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Do you remember where you were when Arrested Development’s glorious finale aired? Did you watch it live (or die, depending on how you pronounce it)? In the last seven years, it never really occurred to me that I may one day get to write about the show in either a retrospective form, or about actual new episodes. I’m still having trouble believing it’s real. Maybe I should lay off the Teamocil and see how I feel about anything.
I’m not pretending this is some exhaustive comprehensive list of the show and the layered web of storylines and in jokes that it created. (This Gif History of the series is admittedly more impressive.) And I’m not saying the episodes I list are the “best” or the “most important” to the series as a whole or what it means to people. I feel the need to preamble this because the Internet is full of people who like to point fingers accusingly rather than giving in to pure celebration. And now the story of a wealthy family, and the five most memorable episodes that they gave us in Arrested Development’s first season, ordered by air date. You can’t rank these things. Come on!
Is there anything that this episode doesn’t do? It builds upon one of the best television pilots ever created, layering in joke upon joke upon joke, so that some character beats – such as G.O.B. (Will Arnett) and his assumed affinity for murdering small animals – end up paying off for the series’ entire run, and it often seems like there aren’t any jokes that don’t in some way reference or subvert information we’ve already been given. (And this episode contains one of the rare times G.O.B. calls what he does a trick instead of an illusion.) But it’s all generally new in “Top Banana,” which makes repeated viewings all the more rewarding, as familiarity with story outcomes and inside joke payoffs add another element of humor when moments happen for the first time. “No touching!” Who would have thought such a simple two word command would be used in so many different way?
“They’re grown-ups. They’re allowed to have fun whenever they want. We’re kids. We’re supposed to be working.”
And it’s a complicated episode on top of everything else, going back and forth in time and criss-crossing stories guided by Ron Howard’s always on point meta-narration. The pilot made it look like this family was having problems, but the flagrant greed and debauchery come out in full force here, with fat jokes and alcoholic jokes and gay jokes and incest jokes and everything else that makes the Bluths the most horrifying and relateable family I can think of.
”I’m doing the time of my life.”
We see the first of many times Michael attempts to do better than his father only to avoid the obvious-in-retrospect problems that he stubbornly avoided understand. This fallibility is one of the reasons Michael is such a great anchor for this band of wacky characters. George Sr.’s own stubbornness about hiding his involvement in past crimes doesn’t help Michael’s state of mind, nor do G.O.B. and Lindsay’s attention-seeking selfishness and Lucille’s…well we can’t sum up all of Lucille’s personal faults on something as small as the Internet. But we love her more than anyone because of it. “Top Banana,” while maybe not perfect, gives the illusion of being perfect, and that’s just as good.
Things That Make The Episode Memorable
“There’s always money IN THE BANANA STAND!!!”
Mister Manager, a simple joke that made me laugh every time.
“DEAD DOVE. DO NOT EAT.”
G.O.B. as “The Goofball. The Joker. The Magician!”
Ice cream sandwiches and Maeby’s bad banana math.
Tobias crying in the shower, wearing cut-offs. Little did we know…
The reason that Tobias was crying in the shower: the absolutely hilarious Fire Sale audition. Several times in the series, a scene will either cut or end right in the middle of David Cross singing something, and it never fails. In this case, it’s “Amazing Grace,” sung for those who perished in the fictional fire.
The doublespeak is all over the place here, but Patrice O’Neal’s “flamer” T-Bone is one of the silliest. It’s one of about a billion homosexual puns put to use.
In God We Trust
Arrested Development is going full throttle by the time it gets to this seventh episode of the season, which makes good use of its guest star lawyers and the dynamics between siblings puppeted by a domineering mother. This is far more of a character-developing episode than one that furthers the plotline of George Sr.’s illegal dealings, or any plotline really. It centers around the Living Classics Pageant, and weaves such an interesting tale about filling the role of Adam in Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, a spot normally held by Buster, who is trying to go independent here.
“He’s very good.”
Once George Michael agrees and gets into that foam muscle suit, he brings to the screen the exact kind of brainwashed thinking that teenage boys get into in order to make a female notice them. Granted, his situation is entirely specific, as he’s trying to attract his cousin (in theory) based on a throwaway comment she made. The male species is complex at best.
“I’ll understand more than you’ll never know.”
That complexity is best showcased by Tobias, a character without which this show would be a complete failure. (Okay, not really). He assumes George Michael’s wariness to appearing nude (in a suit) is a sign of his being a fellow closeted Never-Nude, and outs himself in the same episode in which Lindsay outs him to Michael, who in turn tells Lucille. Luckily, there are many more things to make fun of Tobias for that his clothing habits aren’t a constant source of woe. Admittedly, George Michael choosing to wear cut-offs for the Living Classic instead of just affixing some foam balls to the front is kind of weird.
Everything ends as it began, with nothing accomplished, though Barry sees to it that they’re a lot poorer after all their troubles. I don’t think a spinoff featuring Barry Zuckercorn and Wayne Jarvis would work as a whole series, but maybe a series of web shorts. But then Wayne is probably too professional for that.
Things That Make The Episode Memorable
“There are dozens of us! Dozens!”
Lindsay may never have a character moment so pitch perfect as the one when we see her choose to fall asleep instead of meditating.
“I shall duck behind the couch.” “I shall duck behind that little garbage car.”
No actor can lay across a suitcase like David Cross.
“Where is God? There is no God!”
Seeing Buster and Lucille 2 as a couple in public is always amazing. Tony Hale makes me feel autistic when I watch him sometimes.
No one seems to know where Portugal is. Also, these people are lazier than sloths on Thorazine, but they will drop everything to drive across town just to argue about something for 20 seconds.
“It’s never the ones you hope.”
“Pier Pressure” is one of the best episodes of television outright, and isn’t limited to this list in any way. This of course has much to do with the first appearance of the one-armed lesson-messenger J. Walter Weatherman, played by the late Steve Ryan. By sharing in George Sr.’s beliefs that children are better taught through fear than affection, Weatherman has become one of the series’ most beloved characters, and he literally has around two minutes of total screen time. With these horrifying experiences tied to why one shouldn’t yell, I can’t imagine how George Sr.’s lessons about safe sex went. I suppose G.O.B., Lindsay and Buster are all reasons why you should “Always remember to wear a condom.”
”We ought to put that on our family crest.”
The plot for “Pier Pressure’ – the title itself is already pulling double meaning – is pure farce, and deals with Buster asking George Michael for marijuana in hopes that it would help Lucille 2’s raging vertigo. And so George Michael goes to G.O.B., whose judgmental point of view doesn’t affect the fact that he actually was the best person for George Michael to go to. Perhaps the young man wouldn’t be doing any of this if it wasn’t for Michael’s slightly elevated scale of acceptance when it comes to George Michael’s school grades. Like father like son, both characters beat themselves up over dumb decisions, and both characters are ineffectual against making these dumb decisions.
“Oh my God, this guy’s arm…”
But no one can ever get anything around old George Sr. himself, who runs things from jail like a mob boss in a criminal drama. Instead of just talking to his son, Michael attempts to ape his father’s skills by setting up an elaborate lesson-building scenario involving G.O.B.’s Hot Cops stripper friends to “bust” George Michael for his weed dealing. And when that goes about as smoothly as you can imagine, the shit really hits the fan as Weatherman and his team appear, fooling everyone into thinking a violent drug deal is actually happening. “And that’s why you don’t teach lessons to your son.”
On the flip side of things, we get Lindsay’s vague attempts at parenting come back to haunt her as she sends Maeby off to help Lucille for the afternoon and the two of them get along swimmingly. A scene that deals more obviously with family dynamics, it takes place while Lucille is doctoring SEC receipts. What other show smashes the SEC and brooches into the same scene? Of course, Lucille’s harsh forms of judgment will always render her a loner in his own family. It’s no wonder George Sr. was cheating on her all the time, as we learn in this episode. “And this is from when your Pop Pop yelled out ‘Oh, Melanie,’ when he was making love to Gangy.”
I love George Sr. and G.O.B. in this episode. George Sr. continues to pass himself off as a religious man, despite being erroneous on days of worship, and it’s more than obviously just a ruse to give him something to do with his days. G.O.B. meanwhile is both a good brother and bad uncle by telling Michael about his son’s request for marijuana, but then he’s a bad brother and a terrible uncle by actually buying (and smoking some of) the weed and pocketing a hundred dollars. G.O.B. does a lot of horrible things, especially to children, and this episode strung them out end to end. I’d love to have heard the conversation between him and whatever Hot Cop he talked into setting the pier scene up. One of them brought a boom box to a drug bust. This episode is amazing.
Things That Make The Episode Memorable
“That’s why you always leave a note.”
“There goes my chance at a good job and a happy life full of hard work like you always say.” Poor George Michael.
Isn’t it weird how Buster will occasionally say things like “s-ing” instead of “screwing,” yet he has the most intensive bleeped-out comments in the series? “Well, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Even in a special school that gives pictures for grades, Maeby still gets a C-.
“That was supposed to be for me. She was my au pair. I’m the one who cleared my throat and pointed to the laundry room.” Such a strangely dark line.
J. Walter Weatherman petting his three-legged dog with his detached prosthetic arm.
Lucille 2 fights her vertigo by grabbing a ship steering wheel affixed to her wall.
George Michael once more confesses his feelings for his cousin to Michael, who only sees it as a mini-lesson that telling the truth isn’t always the best option.
“Big yellow joint…big yellow joint…”
As much as “Beef Consommé” is about Michael and G.O.B. (and Buster, by extension) fighting over the love of Marta and the conclusion of the entire “Hermano” mini-plotline, this episode stands out for its key moments where Michael acts purely in self-preservation and for Tobias’ short-lived breakthrough in Never-Nudism.
“It sounds like someone who you think’s name is Tio is about to get his ass kicked.”
G.O.B. is such a moron. Despite taking four years of Spanish, he still doesn’t know hermano means brother, though he does know how to say brother in both French and Italian. His motives are unclear in this episode, as he wants to beat someone up, but then allows Michael and Marta to be together, but then gets mad when Buster tells him they were kissing. And Buster (with or without the mariachi band) trying to get involved with Marta is truly ridiculous, especially with his discomfort for Lucille 2 on the backburner. But who gives a shit about deeper meanings and motivations when it all comes together in a big yard brawl? I’ll be sorely disappointed if this next season comes and goes without at least four people rumbling in the grass. Much like the ridiculous “Mr. F” storyline in season three, I was glad to see the Marta storyline end, if only because she was written more as a constant foil than as an actual character.
We meet Judge Ping for the first time at George Sr.’s trial and discover that he and Barry don’t have the greatest relationship. I have trouble thinking of anyone who enjoys Barry.
”Call it what you want. I’m tired of paying Lupe to clean one dish.”
I love this episode because it features a very optimistic George Michael trying to find out whether Maeby could have possibly been adopted. He asks Lucille if Lindsay had ever been pregnant, and her response, “Oh yes, dozens of times,” does nothing for his hopes, but it certainly is a dark comment. And when he tries to get information from his uncle, Tobias unleashes his non-heterosexuality by starting to explain sex to George Michael. “When a man actually wants to make love to a woman…” And when George Michael cuts him off, Tobias is clearly pleased, not wanting to discuss something so “ugh, gross.” Never-Nudity comes up again, and we find out that two members of German parliament were also members of this strange community. “Nein Wohlstandig.”
But then Tobias and Lindsay actually get down to some love making by the end of the episode, which leads Tobias to come down to breakfast completely nude. Not a lot of consistency with this guy, but it’s played for big laughs. Especially when we find out he’s wearing something else underneath the cut-off shorts.
Things That Make The Episode Memorable
G.O.B. likes to make love to the sound of his own singing voice. Natch.
“You selfish c…ountry music loving lady. Hello, Maeby.”
Perhaps the only time a TV character is referred to as “the weird brother of prime rib.”
“Am I in 2/3 of a hospital room?”
It is invigorating to see Michael at the end of this episode, truly proud of himself that Marta chose him over G.O.B., even if he’s the only one that sees it that way. It’s the rare moment where he can use life experience rather than a witty quip to raise himself above his sibling.
The family eating breakfast at a table with a fake turkey in the middle of it.
Oscar de la Hoya.
Let ‘Em Eat Cake
As season finales go, “Let ‘Em Eat Cake” is impossible to understand without watching the episodes before it. I hate procedural dramas where the finales are only different in that they end in a cliffhanger. Arrested Development doesn’t have time for viewers to not understand what’s happening. The only thing keeping this episode from being completely timeless is the constant attention paid to everyone being on the Atkins Diet, which was certainly in the public consciousness at the time but has since died out along with its founder.
The family is losing money as always. The model home most of them live in is seeing the constant results of shoddy workmanship as things keep breaking. (Not that Tobias slamming cabinet doors helps.) Michael is stressed out because he has to take a polygraph test, and George Sr.’s secretary Kitty is trying to use her own leverage – assuming George Sr. is solely in trouble due to back taxes - to try and become the head of Bluth Company. While Michael fights to retain ignorant of his father’s crimes, he eventually finds out via a news show Hindsight (instead of 20/20, get it?) that showcases shoddily built homes in Iraq.
”Heart attack never stop old big bear.”
It’s the kind of conflict and revelation that just doesn’t come up in sitcoms ever. Perhaps a politically motivated show like Veep could work something like this, but Arrested Development knew how to raise the stakes like few other shows on TV, and though George Sr. ended up being a patsy like he claimed, we didn’t know this yet, and we were told that a beloved sitcom character was actually an international traitor who eventually escapes custody by faking a heart attack and jumping out of a hospital window. It reminds me of Sammy David Jr. kissing Archie Bunker on the cheek on All in the Family, because it presents audiences with something they’re not used to seeing that works on multiple levels, both within the show’s context and from a sociological standpoint.
”What about macaroni – let me finish – salad.”
And beyond that, we get a great look at some of Lindsay’s past business adventures, including “Mommy, What Will I Look Like?” and “Dip a Pet,” and we get to see Tobais’ re-emergence as the author of the book The Man Inside Me, which plays to both his innate homosexuality and the running gag throughout the series that Tobias may in fact be a black man. We could sit here all day discussing that one.
Also, for better or worse, this is the first appearance of Yam, I mean Ann (Her?), who George Michael immediately gets drawn to, making Maeby somewhat jealous. It’s so strange to constantly shoot for Maeby to react to George Michael’s advances as the series goes on, but her kissing Annyong (Annyong!) is a sure sign that the attraction is there. Go (potential) incest!
“We lost him.”
Upright Citizens Brigade’s Ian Roberts makes his first appearance as the bedside manner-lacking Dr. Fishman, whose plays on words consistently get the Bluths either mistakenly relieved or dismayed at whatever he has to tell them. “He just got away from us. I’m sorry.” A sign that this series is able to throw every kind of joke at the wall, confident that 99% will stick. And to cap off the first season with George Sr. once again on the run is a great move, and leads to even more insanity once season two hits. (Actually, the episode caps off with everyone but Michael and George Michael pigging out on carbs)
Things That Make The Episode Memorable
“Bees?” “Beads.” “Beads?!?” “G.O.B.’s not on board.”
“Let’s just have G.O.B. [bleep] our way out of it."
This episode has some of the best cutaway gags the show ever aired, both with Barry’s frequent trips to dark rest areas and in using the “Footage Not Found” insert when characters are probably telling lies.
”Can we please have one conversation that’s not about my rack, Michael?”
“But I’m the oldest. The matriarch, if you will.”
I happen to think George Michael’s joke about the banana stand was top notch.