Five years ago, Arrested Development was the first cult favorite series to get the Netflix revival treatment, and it was announced earlier this month that the Bluths would be returning to the platform for a fifth season sometime next year. What better time to brush up on your references and hone your senses to catch the breakneck joke pacing of Mitchell Hurwitz’s great television opus?
The original series, which aired on Fox back in the early 2000s, was laden with intricate plot devices, callbacks and forwards, intertwining story lines, and references so specific you’d practically have to be Hurwitz himself to catch them. Here are some of our favorites you might have missed in the show’s first three seasons. (We don’t really talk about season four. It’s kind of like Lucille talking about GOB in public in that way.)
The 2004 Bush-Kerry Parody in “The Immaculate Election”
This second season episode, which aired only a few months after George W. Bush’s triumph over John Kerry in 2004, had parallels that were probably more obvious at the time of its initial release than now. The parody was embedded in George Michael’s student council run for president against classmate Steve Holt (who we later learn is GOB’s son and George Michael’s cousin).
Let’s break it down: Steve, who appeals to his peers with a religious-themed promotional video, is a direct parody of George W. Bush, down to the “four more years!” chant his video inspires, suggesting that Steve’s high school tenure has gone on longer than most. George Michael represents the defeated John Kerry, who, as Michael puts it at the end of the episode, “underestimated the religious vote,” which is thought to have handed Bush the 2004 election. There’s even a Ralph Nader Green Party representative via student Rav Nadir.
The Church of the Good Shepherd and the World’s Most Elaborate Sheep Joke
This running bit starts in Season 1 when Michael calls his staff at the Bluth Company “sheep,” an appropriate description for a group who mistakenly boards a bus that Lucille’s housekeeper, Lupe, had reserved for her family to take to the aptly named “Church of the Good Shepherd.” For good measure, there’s exactly one staff member always wearing a black shirt, making him the black sheep of the group. The Church of the Good Shepherd resurfaces again in Season 2 when George Michael tries to marry Ann Veal.
Lupe is one of the series’ most beloved and beleaguered secondary characters. She is always wearing a t-shirt that is two holidays behind at major family functions, like a “Gobble Gobble” shirt at a Valentine’s Day function or a sweatshirt that says “BOO!” during a Christmas party. She even wears a Bush/Quayle sweatshirt in a flashback to 1994. Fortunately, Tobias’s temporary alter ego Mrs. Featherbottom is afflicted with the same Bluth hand-me-down problem: She’s seen wearing a Bush/Cheney 2000 t-shirt in an episode that came out in 2005.
The Weird Friends Parallels at the Beginning of the Second Season
While the first three episodes of Arrested Development’s second season on Fox had nothing to do with the NBC juggernaut of the ‘90s that ended a year after AD began, the titles of these episodes mirrored the Friends model exactly. For all nine thousand of its seasons, Friends had titled every episode with “The One Where…,” which directly informed Arrested Development titles “The One Where Michael Leaves” and “The One Where They Build A House.” The last of the first three episodes is the dumbest and the funniest: an episode in Mexico appropriately titled “Amigos.”
Brad Garrett Beat Jeffrey Tambor for an Emmy and the Show Wouldn’t Let Him Forget It
Jeffrey Tambor was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor for his work in the second season of Arrested Development but lost the prize to Brad Garrett for his role as doofy brother Robert on Everybody Loves Raymond. Michael tells George Sr. in the third season premiere, “For British Eyes Only,” “That’s a wonderful performance, Dad. You’re a regular Brad Garrett.” There’s a number of references to the real-life careers of the actors on Arrested Development throughout the show’s initial run (Henry Winkler’s Barry Zuckerkorn jumps over a shark to simulate the actor’s famous moment in Happy Days, and Andy Richter appears as a set of quintuplets after his show Quintuplets had failed just a year before, to name a few), but this one is my favorite. He later got revenge: Tambor would go on to make a clean sweep of the awards with his later work in Transparent.
GOB’s Infamous Segway Has a Double Meaning
It’s hard to picture Will Arnett’s character GOB Bluth without a mediocre magic trick in hand as he wheels around on the hideous beast of the early 2000s, the Segway. What most viewers probably didn’t notice in the first viewing is that every time GOB appears on this Segway, he goes to another character in the scene and changes the subject to what he wants to talk about — that is, he always segues when he’s on his Segway.
The “En Memorio” Reel in “Key Decisions” Had a joke for Spanish-Speaking Audiences Only
Marta, the Spanish soap opera star from Season 1, who had the misfortune of dating both Michael and GOB, was one of my favorite love interests of the series. In the fourth episode of the first season, she invites Michael to go to a Spanish Emmys-style ceremony called Los Premios Desi, where the famous “En Memorio” reel is shown with Spanish actors who had died in the previous year. For some reason, they are all adults dressed as children with painted-on freckles, and the final credit goes to a gentle soul named “Ramon Villalobos: Artisa del Maquillaje de la Peca.” For Spanish-speaking audiences, or a slick Googler, this translates to “makeup artist of the freckles.”
There’s a Great Golden Girls Reference in Season 2, Partially Because Creator Mitch Hurwitz Used to Be a Writer on That Show
If you haven’t given Golden Girls a chance because it’s about four old white ladies in Florida … okay, I guess I get it, but you’re so wrong. It’s one of the best-scripted shows in the history of TV comedy, so it’s not entirely surprising that the super-genius behind Arrested Development had his hand in writing the series a full decade before AD came out. There aren’t many nods to the show in the series, but Lucille Bluth is checked into a rehab center called Shady Pines at the end of Season 2, which is the same name as the retirement facility Estelle Getty’s character Sophia Petrillo was always complaining about in Golden Girls. Incidentally, both of them are no-quit bitches, and both of them escaped their respective Shady Pines.
Jean Valjean From Les Misérables Is Referenced During Oscar Bluth’s Prison Days
Jeffrey Tambor is best remembered on Arrested Development for playing George Sr., the troubled patriarch who had trouble staying faithful and out of prison, but he played George Sr.’s sensitive, hippy twin brother Oscar with equal commitment. Oscar, who is Buster’s biological father, is repeatedly thrown in prison after being mistaken for George Sr., though he never commits any crimes himself, and we see in the Season 3 premiere that his inmate number is “24601.” For anyone who went through a musical theater phase in junior high, you’ll know that’s the oft-cited inmate number of protagonist Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.
There’s a Very Subtle Hint That Nellie Is a prostitute, Not Michael’s Biological Sister, in Season 3
A lot of the end of the series’ run on Fox, indicated that Lindsay Bluth was not actually Michael’s twin or a biological member of the Bluth family at all. This both opened up the (legal) possibility for George Michael and Maeby to be together, as it would mean they weren’t cousins after all, and motivated Michael to find out who his real sister was. He’s led to a woman named Nellie (played by Jason Bateman’s real-life sister Justine Bateman) through a series of misunderstandings, one being a record of Nellie, listing her as a “consultant” on an old computer of George Sr.’s. As it turns out, Nellie is a prostitute and not a consultant, a fact that’s subtly hinted at when you look at her screen shot on the computer — she’s actually listed as a “conslutant.”
George Michael Always Leaves a Note
One of the more famous running bits in the show is flashbacks to expensive and violently staged lessons George Sr. put on for his kids. They always starred one-armed former employee J. Walter Weatherman. One involves Weatherman losing a fake arm after George Sr. hits him with his car on a run to get more milk. “That’s why you always leave a note,” the armless Weatherman growled to the kids through the car window. It’s clear that, a generation later, Michael’s son George Michael has taken this lesson to heart: In the scene where Michael and Lindsay are discussing the lesson, a note from George Michael saying he finished the milk can be seen on the fridge in the background.
The Side Effects of Teamocil Are Arrested Development
In “Best Man for the Gob,” at the end of Season 1, there are flashbacks to a psychiatric medication Tobias promoted years earlier, called Teamocil, which was intended to bring him closer to his wife Lindsay. While it works for a while, the highly promoted Dr. Fünke’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family Band Solution is actually the beginning of the pituitary gland shutting down. What’s the side effect of that? You guessed it, friend — arrested development.
There’s about a million more references to unearth in all four seasons of Arrested Development, and if Hurwitz takes the lessons of the Season 4 reboot to heart — that is, keeping the episodes at their tight 22-minute original run times and ensuring that the full cast can be in the same room to perform instead of green-screening them in separately — there’s gonna be plenty more to come next year.