Incompetence, Inc.: What Michael tries to prevent, in spite of the rest of his family altogether.
Not Blood Siblings: So many of the show’s pairings, mostly one-sided, involve this trope. There’s George Michael/Maeby, Steve Holt/Maeby, Annyong/Maeby, Michael/Lindsay, and GOB/Lindsay. There’s even a brief tease of George Michael/Lindsay due to a wacky misunderstanding.
Clingy Jealous Girl: A recurring problem as a result. Also Michael with George Michael (in a nonsexual way), he seems to be particularly jealous of George Michael’s girlfriend, Ann Veal, for taking his son away from him.
Benevolent Boss: He’s an honest and reasonable boss, though it has been mentioned that he works his employees too hard and doesn't know how to delegate authority.
Beware the Nice Ones: Season 4 implies that, after a series of injuries and degradation, he murdered Lucille Austero. Knowing the series, there may be more to it than that, but at the very least he does threaten her.
Can't Believe I Said That: He often does this before the other party has even left the room, mouthing “What is wrong with me?” while the other person’s eyes are diverted for some reason.
Hypocrite: His own actions often don’t line up with the things he judges the rest of his family for doing.
Narcissist: He might want to save the Bluth company and his family, but he wants to rub it in his family's face even more. This is a large part of why he never moves out (until Season 4, when the family and company are both beyond saving).
Not so Above It All: The stress of being in a family like the Bluths can make even a Good Guy like Michael slip up. Once he hits a rough patch in season four, combined with a increasingly strained relationship with his son, the similarities with the rest of his family are all the more glaring.
Whenever his son mentions his girlfriend Ann, his reactions are always either unawareness or apprehensiveness, and he makes constant hints and suggestions that he’d rather George Michael spent time with himself and drop her altogether.
After seeing his son take a break, he assures him that he doesn't mind, but that he should probably work an extra hour to compensate.
Deconstructed further in season 4, where the lack of the rest of his family constantly surrounding him makes his own flaws much clearer.
Only Sane Man: Michael is the only Bluth without any immediate glaring character flaws. Even after his own issues start manifesting, he remains the most rational Bluth (with the exception of his son), and is clearly still a good guy.
Until the end of Season 4. Assuming he murdered Lucille 2, he's one of the worst in the family.
Overprotective Dad: After hints of it in the Fox episodes, it balloons in season 4 when he tries to monopolize all of George Michael’s time and attention while the latter is in college.
Selective Enforcement: Almost everyone else can be horrible but the moment he does anything immoral, they condemn him for it. To add to it, these ‘immoral’ actions include not letting Gob have free frozen bananas, trying to seduce Gob’s girlfriend whom he frequently neglected and cheated on, and firing an incompetent assistant who was openly disrespectful of him.
Straight Man: Michael is the king of this trope; he’s more reasonable than the rest of his family, and not naive like his son.
Took a Level in Jerkass: Throughout the whole series, as a result of dealing with his dysfunctional and highly amoral family.
Ramped up a considerable amount in Season 4.
"Well Done, Son" Guy: Alternately played straight and averted. He has little to no respect for his father and doesn’t particularly care if he gets any from him. On the other hand, he does seek validation from the rest of his family as a whole for being the sanest and most competent of them, and never ever gets it.
White Sheep: Pretty much explicitly designated in that role by his family.
Generation Xerox: At the end of her Season 4 storyline, Lindsay’s abandoned her liberal ideals to become the Republican candidate for Congress in place of the now-comatose Herbert Love. After she makes this decision, she changes her appearance and even her mannerisms to resemble Lucille after she points out, “You’re a blonde, WASPy, Orange County princess”.
[reading from Jessie’s smear article] “Lindsay’s a combative, entitled princess”?! I should hire someone to kick your ass for that!
Important Haircut: In season 4, she haphazardly chops off her locks in an attempt to say goodbye to her glamorous former lifestyle when she moves in with a new hippie boyfriend. To her consternation, the bob she ends up with is even cuter than her long hair.
Strawman Political: Left-wing version. More specifically, she’s what some would call a ‘limousine liberal’, an upper-class liberal who doesn’t practice what she preaches. For instance, in one episode she claims to be an animal rights activist, and when Michael points out that her boots are made of ostrich, she basically replies that she’s only interested in saving ‘cute’ animals. Of course, the main reason she advocates all these causes is to thumb her nose at and feel superior to her family. Subverted in season 4, where she ends up as an ultraconservative Republican candidate, not out of a change in ideology, but because she embraces her selfishness and realizes that she never cared about those causes.
Actor Allusion: … who was portrayed by Will Arnett’s then-Real Life wife, Amy Poehler. Gob even lampshades it when admitting he doesn’t know her name and announcing a desire to make a pun on it when he learns what it is.
“Bad example: if her name is Amy, I’ll call her ‘Blamy.’”
Ambiguously Bi: Develops romantic and sexual feelings for rival magician Tony Wonder in Season Four. Although the entire situation begins as a revenge scheme with both men believing themselves to be straight, they end up genuinely falling for each other and even spend a night together after a succession of increasingly elaborate misunderstandings leads to confusion about their respective identities. Although their first sexual encounter occurs under false pretenses, Gob seems to be genuinely in love with Tony afterward, and the end of the season suggests that their relationship might continue.
Answers to the Name of God: In “Colony Collapse”, Gob refers to the Biblical figure Job...and pronounces the name wrong. When someone tries to correct him, he thinks he’s being addressed.
Black Sheep: Really, since it’s the Bluths, everyone who doesn’t have “Michael” in their name counts as one, but Gob is the only one considered as such by the entire family, especially as Gob and Michael are often in competition with each other, while Lindsay and Buster don’t really factor in to the larger scheme of the Bluth empire.
Butt Monkey: He’s been beaten up, tazered, stabbed multiple times, thrown into the ocean, and had two of his fingers cut off at one point. Not to mention he’s The Unfavorite of the family and practically everything he tries to do ends in complete failure.
Catchphrase: “I’ve made a huge mistake” and “Come on!”.
The Charmer: According to Lindsay, when summing up the children, George Sr. says that Michael has the brains, Lindsay the looks, and Gob the charm—both struggle to think of a positive attribute of Buster’s. It does seem to be largely true, as Gob is, by far, the most successful in the family with the opposite sex, at least in short-term relationships.
Chewing the Scenery: To be expected when he’s doing illusions. Less so when he’s just hanging around the house.
Hoist by His Own Petard: He founded the Alliance of Magicians, a guild whose members blackball any illusionist who reveals their secrets. In the first episode, he gets blackballed because the local Fox affiliate reveals the secret behind the Aztec Tomb trick, in which he had hidden George Sr.
GOB falls prey to this quite often, notably again in Season 4 when his plan to make Tony Wonder fall in love with him (and subsequently break his heart) instead results in GOB falling in love with Tony Wonder.
“Illusions, Michael. A trick is something a whore does for money. [sees children standing behind him] Or candy!”
The line was “Or cocaine!” in the original, unaired pilot (found on the DVD set).
It is also how Michael figures out that the pimp who has been threatening him over the phone was GOB (well, technically Franklin), due to a slip of his tongue that causes him to say that the prostitute he is working with "turns illusions for money." GOB quickly corrects it to "tricks", but does so too late.
In “Top Banana,” he was tasked by Michael to mail a letter; in an act of defiance, he dramatically threw it into the sea (after many attempts). It turns out that the letter was an insurance claim for the frozen banana stand, which Michael and George Michael ignited towards the end of the episode.
In Season 4: Filling Sudden Valley with sex offenders.
The Unfavorite: George Sr. and Lucille treat all their kids like crap, but Gob gets the worst of it by far. While Lindsay and Buster are their respective favorites, both are well aware of how much they count on Michael and are even, occasionally, proud of him and express genuine love for him. They both just consider Gob a nightmare. It probably puts it into perspective how badly he’s treated when Lucille claims she treats Lindsay better—the one she calls fat at least twice an episode.
Lucille: If you’re saying I play favorites, you’re wrong. I love all my children equally! (flashback to earlier that day) I don’t care for Gob.
In another instance:
Lucille: (to Michael) You’re my third-least favorite child. (later) Narrator: (as Gob enters the scene) And then Lucille’s fourth-least favorite child showed up.
At George Sr.'s court meeting:
George Sr.: Where the hell is everybody? Gob: I'm here, dad. George Sr.: I can't believe no one showed up.
Beware the Nice Ones: In “Development Arrested” George Michael punches GOB out cold when he realizes that his uncle has been dating Ann behind his back. In “Blockheads” he punches Michael square in the face when he realizes that his father has been dating Rebel behind his back despite knowing full well that his son was involved with her.
Butt Monkey: He’s put through a hell of a lot of trauma.
Missing Mom: Died of cancer two years before the series began.
Nice Guy: The only Bluth not to do anything horrible over the series. Until Season 4.....
Not so Above It All: His Bluth traits start to show during his storyline in Season 4, most notably the power of lying.
Took a Level in Jerkass: In Season 4. He's rude and entitled around his friends, and isn't much nicer to his father. Then there's the Fakeblock storyline, which ends with him committing massive fraud.
White Sheep: Unless you count crushing on his cousin against him (and trying to start a relationship with her), he’s by far the nicest, most decent, and most normal of the Bluths. Subverted in Season 4, where after a lot of pushing, his natural Bluth dishonesty comes out.
Book Dumb: In her twenties, she doesn’t understand what “solve for X” is even asking, let alone how to do it.
Maeby: C minus! C-M-I-N-E-S!
Broken Masquerade: Her job as a movie producer comes to a close when George Michael sends her colleagues invitations to her 16th birthday party.
Catch Phrase: “Marry me!” as a standard deflection, particularly when she illicitly becomes a film executive, or “That was a freebie …” for unusual luck.
Characterization Marches On: In earlier episodes, Maeby seemed more childish; the second episode showing her jumping on the bed and singing “Oops I Did It Again” in the shower. This aspect was quietly dropped to focus on how much more ‘adult’ she was than George Michael.
Cluster F-Bomb: In Season 4, she curses repeatedly in an awards acceptance speech.
Deconstructor Fleet: Every aspect of her character is taken apart and examined in the fourth season, and she goes from one of the more successful and well-adjusted Bluth relatives to one of the more pathetic and stranded members.
Fatal Flaw: For all her independence and intelligence, her need for her parents’ attention cripples her severely.
This gets REALLY bad in Season 4: She repeats senior year multiple times and even follows Lindsay to India because she's so desperate for her parents to notice her.
Hidden Buxom: She typically wears non-revealing clothing, but whenever she doesn’t, it’s shown that she has large breasts.
Now that Alia Shawkat is a grown woman rather than a teenager in season 4, there’s not much she can do to hide it anymore.
Laser-Guided Karma: In season 4, tries to seduce a man who she thinks is an undercover cop into sleeping with her so she can blackmail him for statutory rape. However, it turns out that he’s really only 17 (his bracelet indicated his membership in an anti-bullying organization) and since she’s 23 is arrested and taken to jail by a real undercover cop for being a sexual predator.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Maeby shows shades of this, especially in early episodes. Season 4 then heavily deconstructs it; she tries so hard to draw George Michael out of a shell that no longer exists that he decides to part ways with her because all she accomplishes is putting a ridiculously unwarranted amount of pressure on him. Her ‘manic pixie’-dom makes it impossible for her to listen to George Michael’s objections until he has to forcibly fire her from his ‘company’.
Only Sane Man: Compared to her parents. Compared to most of her extended family, really: She and Michael are the only ones to hold steady jobs, and she is smart enough to not get involved with the family's general craziness.
Punny Name: You could make a drinking game out of it, but then it would be medically unsound to marathon the whole series.
Unwitting Instigator of Doom: In Season 4. Her insistence on breaking George Michael out of his shell and promoting Fakeblock, which she only did because she wanted to help, will probably get him, and possibly her, indicted for fraud.
She only leased the model home to "To Entrap A Local Predator" because she needed the money, and it seemed harmless at the time since she assumed it'd be empty, but Tobias ends up as a registered sex offender when he comes to visit.
Older than They Look: In Season 4 she managed to redo senior year in high school for five years by posing as 17. Not that anyone isn't suspicious. Rumor around the school is there is an undercover cop among them. Of course Maeby is suspected by a couple of girls because at 23, its getting harder for her to pass as 17.
Annoying Younger Sibling: How Gob, Michael and Lindsay see Buster. While the other three, for all their faults, are capable of at least having adult conversations with each other, Buster’s arrival is like that of a helpless child showing up.
Artificial Limbs: Wears a Hook Hand after losing his real one to a seal. The army later gives him a freakishly large bionic hand.
Hidden Depths: Despite his childish, and rather innocent behavior, his attempts to be funny and witty often comes across as highly disturbing. The narrator also implies that he is actually more intelligent than both Gob and Lindsay.
Incest Subtext: With his mother. His relationships with Lucille 2 and Ophelia Love fall apart because he wants them to mother him, rather than be his girlfriend.
White Sheep: For all his flaws, Buster is the only Bluth who is never actively malevolent, exploitive, or manipulative, and he is notably less selfish than the rest of the family. For instance he is the only family member who follows Michael's order to not sell their stock, and he is shocked when he finds out that the drone has been controlling was not a video game.
Actor Allusion: While researching his would-be first role as “Frightened Inmate #2,” Tobias is accosted by Orange County prisoner White Power Bill, who uses the anti-Semitic slur “kike” against him. David Cross is ethnically half-Jewish, but identifies as an atheist.
Ambiguously Brown: As white as he appears, there are repeated hints that he is actually a very pale African American.
“Afternoon Delight” has two big ones: when he enters Lucille’s penthouse while painted blue, and she explains the situation to Michael thus: “There is a colored man in my kitchen.” And when Lindsay says that the name Tobias makes everyone think of a “big, black guy”, and Tobias admits that he is “not a big guy.”
In “Good Grief,” Tobias expresses surprise that Lindsay is chasing a black bounty hunter named Ice, “somebody [his] own type.”
"Red Hairing" has Lindsay falling in love with Herbert Love, a black politician, specifically because he reminds her of Tobias back when they started dating.
His middle name, Onyango, is a Kenyan surname.
Ambiguously Bi: Word of God says Tobias thinks he's straight, and he did elope with Kitty, but it's hard to ignore his constant gay innuendos and detailed knowledge of gay culture.
In late Season 3, he's adamant that "Girl Michael", his date, is in fact, a woman, even though he's very obviously a man.
Season 4 has him involved with a drug addicted former actress named DeBrie Bardeaux. A subtle hint is thrown out that she may really be a man.
Be Careful What You Wish For: In season 4. As the narrator notices, Tobias does finally get a starring role in a TV show like he always wanted. Unfortunately, this is John Beard’s To Entrap a Local Predator.
Beware the Nice Ones: In one episode, Tobias (best known for homosexual innuendo), enters the same prison as George Sr. Tobias uses his therapist training and counselling skills to unintentionally convince the most powerful inmate to kill himself, and then heads a new prison gang centered around Wizard of Oz imagery, whose members were called “Friends of Dorothy”.
Brilliant, but Lazy: He’s at least somewhat skilled as a psychiatrist and a physician but is too obsessed with the delusion that he was meant to be an actor.
Genius Ditz: He is clueless about anything other than psychology.
Giftedly Bad: Despite the fact that he could make a very decent living for himself and his family as a doctor, he continues to desperately try to fulfill his dream of being an actor, a field he has absolutely no talent in. It gets a deconstructive twist that shows just how deep his delusion is in Season 4 as he utterly ruins the recovering drug addict DeBrie’s life by dragging her along in his pursuit of his hopeless fantasy.
Mistaken for Pedophile: Tobias, in his usual bumbling fashion, manages to accidentally get involved in John Beard’s To Catch a Predator ripoff. And, not realizing what he has gotten himself into and bumbling further along, he inadvertently digs himself deeper by saying things like “Is there a little girl alone here?” and, equally incriminating, “Daddy needs to get his rocks off.” (It Makes Sense in Context.) As a result he is arrested and registered as a sex offender.
He is an analyst and a therapist; therefore, his business cards say “analrapist”. For which he was almost arrested. He admits that the cards were a mistake and even adjusts the portmanteau to “theralyst” when his credentials are brought up in season 4.
In season 4 as he decides to try for a new start, he celebrates the occasion by having a Vanity License Plate with the words “A NU START” made. It doesn’t look too good without the spaces either.
That Came Out Wrong: Subverted in that he is seemingly oblivious and the other characters rarely acknowledge it. Lindsay usually reacts by rolling her eyes in resignation, while Michael attempts to point this out a few times but even when taking his advice and recording himself, Tobias is unsurprisingly unable to see what’s wrong.
“We need to talk. Man on man.”
They might not explain what he’s saying, just for the rule of Don't Explain the Joke. Or because they’re happy to laugh about him behind his back.
Transparent Closet: Even the family in-universe snickers behind his back about it. Lindsay actually has to tell him this straight to his face in season 4.
Bad Boss: He treated many employees poorly and fired one for roasting him. He also cruelly shot down every idea Michael had to keep him looking for approval, even when he admits the idea was good, making him incompetent to boot.
"Well Done, Son" Guy: Exploited. He deliberately keeps shooting down both Gob and Michael’s ideas and play them out against each others because it motivates them to work harder and cheaper to get his approval. Michael grows out of it, Gob not so much.
Disproportionate Retribution: When he was in school, Michael once came home crying that a teacher had failed him, and now his life was ruined. His mother promised to take care of it. The teacher was never heard from again.
Fur and Loathing: Promotional photos show her with a mink coat draped over her shoulders (which might seem like Pretty in Mink out of context), and in addition to her attitude, one episode she wears a fox scarf and says that PETA complained because her dog needed some air.
Took a Level in Badass: Becomes much more assertive and commanding in Season 4, to the point that he fools everyone when he pretends to be George Sr.
Took a Level in Jerkass: In season 4, where he gets fed up with George Sr.’s Twin Switch act, and exploits it for his own ends instead. He also rekindles his affair with Lucille, but starts one with Lucille 2 at the same time.
Twin Switch: George Sr. cons him into taking his place in prison.
George Sr. later pulls it again as a part of his Sweat and Squeeze scheme, but as Oscar’s self-confidence grows he ends up turning the tables on George Sr. and exploits this for all it is worth.
Lucille “Lucille 2” Austero, his Mother’s Rival
Played By: Liza Minnelli
Ascended Extra: In Season 4, after becoming the major shareholder in the company. In fact, most of the season's storyline revolves around her.
Beware the Nice Ones: She refuses to sell her Bluth shares when she finds out Lucille took advantage of her.
Future Loser: In Season 4, Steve has finally gotten out of high school, works as a pest exterminator, has gained some weight, and his hairline is starting to recede just like he feared it would. Arguably a subversion, since he's still cheerful, energetic, self-employed and successful. Which is altogether more what the rest of his biological family can say.
Yank the Dog's Chain: In Season 4. For a moment it looks like Gob is going to make a serious attempt to reconnect with him, but he eventually bails out on Steve and even berates him later for not sending him any birthday cards through the years. Then Maeby doesn’t recognize him despite him doing his trademark pose.
Pokémon Speak: Subverted: everyone thinks he’s continually saying his name but ‘Annyong’ is actually the Korean word for ‘hello’.
His real name is Hel-loh, which loosely translates to ‘one day’.
This is illustrated when Michael takes a date to a Korean restaurant, and when he walks in the door, everyone says “Annyong!” Presumably he understands them, because he waves back to them. Why he never explained this to the rest of the family is a mystery, but perhaps he was just snickering behind their backs.
Put on a Bus: Lucille mentions she sent him off to a boarding school. He was actually hiding in the walls to gather evidence to exact revenge on the Bluth family.
Spell My Name with an S: Due to ‘Annyeong’ being the most common spelling of the Korean word. Also applies to his real name, which is usually Romanized ‘Haru’.
He more properly fits the trope in season 4, as he has an actual role in the Tobias plot.
As Himself: John Beard was a real newscaster for the Los Angeles area’s local FOX affiliate and was active during Arrested Development’s run. He relocated to Buffalo in the seven-year break between the show’s FOX cancellation and its Netflix resumption, but he still filmed all his parts.
Beautiful All Along: Subverted with Kitty, who is played by an attractive actress. When Gob gets her drop the glasses and let down her hair, he finds out that she is crossed-eyed and her hair is a puffy, unruly mess, prompting him to quickly tell her “OK, glasses on! Hair up!”
Breast Expansion: She decided to get breast implants when the makers of Girls With Low Self-Esteem refused to use footage of her taking her top off.
Catch Phrase: Considering the above, she could be angry. But no, she’ll take it in stride, and let you “TAKE A GOOD LOOK AT THESE! Because it’s the last time you’re ever going to see them!” In season four she becomes fond of ending sentences with “you pig,” generally when she’s disgusted by (perceived) sexist behavior.
Demoted to Extra: He only makes a brief appearance in season 4 thanks to the family rehiring Barry.
Oblivious to Love: Lindsay prefaces her flirtations with him with that she’s looking into getting a divorce. He carries on with the rest of their interactions as if she’s consulting him as her divorce lawyer.
Eat Dirt Cheap: The famous stew line. His love of Burger King also stems from this.
Gene Parmesan, his Mother’s Private Investigator
Played By: Martin Mull
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: His disguises are comically bad, but he did manage to track down George Sr. before GOB's bounty hunter did.
Master of Disguise: Parodied. He constantly turns up in various disguises and faked accents. They are all blatantly obvious, and the narration lampshades this, with the narrator saying, “Gene was far from the best.” Despite this, they invariably fool Lucille, eliciting a scream of delight from her each time. However, he gets pretty much anywhere instantly, which is surprisingly so given his standard—
Actor Allusion: In Season 4 she is both partner and partner-in-crime to Tony Wonder, who is played by Taylor’s husband, Ben Stiller.
She's also implied to be going bald. Christine Taylor previously played a bald woman in Friends.
Ascended Extra: Despite only appearing in two episodes throughout the first three seasons, she is given a much bigger part in Season 4, where she becomes Lucille 2's campaign advisor, and then is revealed to be behind Tony Wonder's grand plan.
Bald Women: It’s strongly hinted in Season 4 that she’s inherited her father’s alopecia universalis and is starting to wear hairpieces, just like Stan.
Big Bad: By the end of Season 4, it appears that she will become this in Season 5.
Not So Different: From Gob in Season 4. They both have an interest in magic and they both have never felt genuine friendship. They even share a leitmotif.
Suddenly Sexuality: Zig-Zagged. He publicly comes out of the closet in Season Four; and although this is revealed to be a publicity stunt, he and Gob develop genuine romantic feelings for each other, leaving Tony’s actual sexuality somewhat ambiguous.
Unknown Rival: Even before their shenanigans in Season 4, Gob keeps track of Tony’s career exploits and is highly jealous of him. But while the Narrator refers to their relationship as a “longtime rivalry”, when Gob auditions to be part of his magic DVD in Season 2 he mainly acts like an awestruck fanboy. Tony, by contrast, seems to barely know who Gob is but is intrigued by his act and not adverse to his success.
Celebrity Paradox: Bizarrely, despite that the narrator makes constant references to Howard’s career and more-or-less subtly portrays Howard in a positive light throughout Season 4, he still refers to the Ron Howard appearing in the actual show in third person.
Beware the Nice Ones: After the events of “Development Arrested,” Stan buys up the Bluth Co. stock Michael’s family had sold, and then sells it to Lucille Austero at a loss. To recover his money, he signs a contract with the U.S. government to build a wall along the Mexican border.