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Series: Arrested Development
Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything — and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together. It's Arrested Development.

Arrested Development is a single-camera Sitcom, debuting in 2003, which was hailed by critics (and Emmy voters) during its initial run as the best new comedy in years, but ended up becoming the best TV show nobody was watching. However, since its cancellation, it managed to get a large, rabid fandom.

The show follows the farcical exploits of a wealthy family grappling with the loss of their fortune as the family patriarch is arrested for numerous dubious dealings involving the family business. The show's tone is quick-witted and fast-paced, tempered with a voice-over documentary-style narrationnote  and coupled with Running Gags, Brick Jokes, nested flashbacks, and other complex narrative structures.

Michael Bluth is the Only Sane Man in a family that doesn't know how to live frugally; he is trying to keep the company afloat and the family together, but his siblings live their lives on a whim. His older brother GOB (George Oscar Bluth II — pronounced "jobe", like the biblical Job) is a mostly incompetent magician who performs illusions. Michael's twin sister Lindsay is a fair-weather activist for whatever cause happens to catch her attention at any given moment; her husband, Tobias, is a disgraced psychiatrist turned disgraceful actor (and is in denial about his obvious homosexuality). Michael's younger brother, Byron "Buster" Bluth, is a bizarre Man Child who still lives with his mother, Lucille (who is constantly drinking and critical of everything and everyone). Michael's father, George, is enjoying his time in prison. Michael's well-behaved, but also quite awkward and confused son, George-Michael, and Lindsay's rebellious and Street Smart daughter, Maeby, frequently steal the show; the rest of the family is ignorant of the UST between them.

Arrested Development garnered critical acclaim (and Emmy awards) during its run, but it struggled with low ratings and numerous schedule changes. While it's considered Screwed by the Network by some (a common occurrence with Fox shows), the show did manage to get three seasons and fifty-three episodes under its belt before ending (rather than being cancelled). Series creator Mitch Hurwitz was offered the opportunity to move the series to Showtime, but he declined, since he felt the show had run its course.

A movie based on the series, which will involve the show's original cast and many of the same writers and producers, is currently in production.

A fourth season — consisting of Days in the Limelight which will bring the audience up to speed with the five missing years of the family's lives — has been produced to lead into the movie. In an interesting twist, the fourth season is exclusive to Netflix. It was released all at once on May 26, 2013. Mark spoilers for season 4.

Apparently the show did well enough that it was greenlit for a fifth season.

The show has a Wiki on Wikia in addition to the in-universe-styled fansite The Balboa Observer-Picayune. The wiki with the most comprehensive coverage of Arrested Development, however, is often Wikipedia itself.

There is a Recap page listing the show's episodes and the tropes used in each of them (still in development). You can also vote here for the best episode.

Arrested Development in general provides examples of the following tropes:

    open/close all folders 

    A-C 
  • Aborted Arc: Many plot twists from the first three seasons are dropped, and often never mentioned again. For instance:
    • "Hand to God". The epilogue revealed that Maggie Lizer is apparently pregnant with Michael's baby.
    • "Spring Breakout", which ended with Kitty coming into possession of a cooler containing George Sr.'s sperm.
    • "Exit Strategy": The real Saddam Hussein was hiding in the Model Home in Iraq after all.
  • Abusive Parents: George Sr. and Lucille Bluth have treated all of their children with varying degrees of abuse, which continued (to an extent) well into their adulthood:
    • Michael and Gob were constantly played against each other (and occasionally manipulated into physically fighting each other. Said fights were videotaped and sold later as Boyfights) because George believed it to be a way of preparing them for conflict in life. They were also constantly undermined to keep them working for George's approval (Gob' desire to pursue a career in magic is constantly mocked, and his parents make it clear that he is The Unfavorite; Michael had a ridiculously extreme work ethic instilled in him, and George would often shoot down his ideas for the family business, regardless of what he thought of them).
    • Lindsay is often reminded of the fact that she has never really achieved anything, and Lucille constantly makes cracks about her weight since she was very young. Her abuse is probably the darkest when it is learned that she is adopted, and Lucille admits they didn't want her and only adopted her to spite Stan Sitwell, who had been trying to adopt her himself.
    • Buster was made to have a crippling overdependence on his mother, only for her to discard him whenever she considers him to be an inconvenience or imposition; George is also highly disdainful of his lack of independence and maturity.
    • George would also traumatize his children by making them associate certain unwanted behaviors with severe mutilation, in order to teach them "lessons" (such as leaving a note when they run out of milk).
    • They have also spoiled all of their children except Michael to the point that they have virtually no work ethic, which most of the siblings seem to consider a form of abuse.
    • Tobias and Lindsay neglect Maeby so much she practically ruins her own life just to get their attention.
  • Accidental Murder: In 'Off the Hook', Buster kills quite a few people through a remote-controlled drone in Afghanistan without realising that he wasn't just playing a video game.
    • It's also a possibility that this is what happened to Lucille Austero.
  • Adam Westing: Carl Weathers is going to get a stew on!
    • Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Conan O'Brien, and Andy Richter in Season 4.
  • Aesop Amnesia: Michael frequently learns that he shouldn't be so overbearing toward George Michael and should let him have fun. He forgets this just as frequently. Probably deliberate since Michael is kind and well-functioning compared to his family, but is still pretty flawed.
    • Similarly, there are several occasions when it dawns on Lindsay that she should actually pay attention to her daughter. By the next episode, she's gone back to being obliviously neglectful.
  • Adults Are Useless:
    • Almost everyone in the Bluth family is a dysfunctional incompetent who either deliberately or unconsciously destroys everything good that ever happens to them. The exceptions? The teens. George Michael almost single-handedly runs the frozen banana stand that's the family's only steady source of income while Maeby bluffs her way into a studio producer job which she succeeds in until discovered (through George Michael's gaffe, so even the kids aren't perfect)
    • She gets it back when Hollywood execs go nuts over the teenage wonder, so in this case the adult cluelessness works in her favor.
      [running into members of their family while skipping work]
      Maeby: What are they doing here?
      George Michael: They're grown-ups, they're allowed to have fun whenever they want! We're kids, we're supposed to be working!
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: In season 4, one of the running jokes is a terrible, cheaply shot, early '90s movie about the Fantastic Four. Many fans assume it's completely made up, but that's an actual movie, and in fact the circumstances of production in-universe are similar to what actually happened, although the actress who played Sue Storm is actually named Rebecca Staab.
    • Plenty of people outside California didn't know John Beard was an actual newscaster.
  • Anachronic Order: Season 4 follows this. Several events are skipped or revisited from another character's point of view, and one episode's context can be completely changed by a future episode that happened at the same time.
  • And Starring: With Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter.
  • Arc Words: Season 1 has "light treason". Season 3 has "Mr. F." Season 4 has "Love Each Other" and repeated uses of the number four.
  • Arc Symbol: Season 4 has an ostrich representing the moment a Bluth family member starts to become more self-reliant.
  • Artistic License: The Queen Mary actually is welded to the dock, and actually had all the boilers and engine components removed before being docked.
  • Artistic License - Geography:
    • In-universe. Portugal, down ol' South America land.
    • This:
      Lindsay: You've had $80,000's worth of cartography lessons. Get us a channel to the ocean!
      Buster: Okay okay okay. Obviously this blue part here is the land...
    • Also the US Army mistakes Tobias's testicles for a photograph of middle eastern countryside. They even seem to have aircraft flying to a specific, imaginary location based on this evidence.
  • Ashcan Copy: In-Universe. In the 90s, Imagine Entertainment quickly cobbled together an extremely cheap and sloppy made Fantastic Four film, after Ron Howard was told at a company Christmas party by a drunk lawyer that Imagine would lose the license if they didn't do something with it within six days. The bartender team of the Christmas party was then hired to play the lead roles, and they were hired to tend bar again at the film's wrap party six days later.
  • As the Good Book Says: One of the Running Gags is that everyone misquotes the Bible.
  • As You Know: Lampshaded in season 4. Tony Wonder and Sally Sitwell keeps wondering why they are constantly discussing the details of their scheme out loud since they have already talked it over enough times to know it by heart.
  • Attack of the Political Ad: When George Michael lets Gob do an ad for his school president campaign, Gob pretty much attacks George's rival, Steve Holt, on the grounds that he doesn't even know who his father is. It turns out Gob is Steve Holt's biological father.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: George orders a jetpack to try and escape and George Michael winds up with it instead. The instructional DVD is in Japanese and even that shows that there is so much work into getting the jetpack to work properly for so little reward. When he does get it going, he ends up crashing into Tobias (who is dressed in a mole suit) and wrecking Tiny Town, much to Gob's (and the Japanese investors') disgust. Gob later tries to use it to enter the prison, but forgets to strap it on.
  • Bed Trick: During season 4, Oscar plays this on Lucille, pretending to be George. The Unfortunate Implications of this are pretty much ignored, as Lucille isn't particularly shocked to find out the truth.
    • Also during season 4, Ann plays a very complicated version of this on Gob and Tony, where both of them think they're having sex with her, while they're actually having sex with each other. This time the Unfortunate Implications are downplayed, as it seems both participants did in fact want to sleep with each other.
  • Big Bad: Lucille, who was behind pretty much all of the Bluth Corporation's illegal activity. Foreshadowed by her "dealing with" Michael's math teacher when he was a child, and stating that George Sr. is hardly a criminal mastermind.
    • Sally Sitwell is apparently shaping up to be this for the story arc started by season 4.
  • Birds of a Feather: GOB and Tony Wonder's relationship starts out as a revenge scheme, but end up developing feelings for each other because of how much they have in common.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The fourth season ends with George-Michael finally standing up to his father, who had just lied to him about not knowing that Rebel was with him, but it's implied that the relationship is so strained that they won't reconcile.
  • Blah Blah Blah: The lawyer's commercial sounds like "You don't need doublespeak; you need Blah Blah Blah!" He's actually saying "Bob Loblaw," who becomes a recurring character and also runs the Bob Loblaw Law Blog. Newspapers also occasionally have the headline "Bow Loblaw Lobs Law Bomb!"
  • Bland-Name Product:
    • Maeby works for Tantamount Studios.
    • In season 4, Herbert Love buys Lindsay a diamond pendant from Tiffani's. (It's an in-universe knockoff brand.)
    • The show's soundtrack interestingly contains many musical examples of this, with composer David Schwarz creating Bland-Name versions of popular songs that would presumably be too expensive to license.
      • "Free at last" stands in for George Michael's "Freedom"
      • "Balls in the air" is a parody of Survivor's "Eye of The Tiger"
      • "The Yellow Boat" plays as the Narrator explicitly states that "Yellow Submarine" was too expensive to get the rights to.
  • Blasphemous Boast: Although it is unintentional on his part, Gob's Christian themed illusion comes across as this.
  • Book Ends: The first and last episodes feature Michael, at a boat party, coming to the realization that nothing good will ever come from supporting his family and deciding to take George Michael and ditching them, as well as the police showing up by boat to arrest a Bluth. According to the DVD Commentary, a lot of the blocking was also deliberately reused from the first episode.
    • Also, in the fourth season, chronologically listed, the earliest scene depicts George Michael punching GOB in the face after discovering he dates his girlfriend. Said season ends with George Michael punching Michael for the same reason.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: Most of them. See the trope page.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: George has a son named Michael, and Michael has a son named George Michael.
  • Breakout Character: George Sr. and Tobias were originally planned to have smaller roles, but were bumped up to main characters due to their actors' performances.
  • Brick Joke:
    • GOB's girlfriend at the end of the third season: Ann, the third place contestant in the beauty pageant.
    • On seemingly dozens of occasions, Oscar very obviously insinuates that he is Buster's father rather than his uncle ("If only my father were here." "...Maybe he IS..."), but Buster remains completely oblivious until, offhandedly, Oscar refuses to "share his Pop Secret (brand popcorn)" with Buster. "Pop Secret? ...Is Oscar my real father!?"
    • In the first and last episode of the 1st season George Sr. says
      George Sr: I have the worst [bleep]ing attorneys.
    • In a throwaway line in the second season, Steve Holt upon discovering that GOB is his father, worries he inherited his receding hairline. In the fourth season, this is shown to be accurate.
    • In Season Four:
      Barry Zuckercorn: Take to the seas!
    • Every joke on this show, really.
    • In the first episode of Season 1, George Sr says that he made Lucille the CEO because "they can't arrest a husband and wife for the same crime". When Michael tells him that this isn't an actual law, he responds with "I have worst *Bleep*ing attorneys". In the second episode of Season 4, in a flashback, we see the source of this idea:
      Young Barry Zuckercorn: Yeah, because they don't have to be together, because you can't try a husband and wife for the same crime, right?
      Barry's father: ...Sure.
      Young George, Sr: We have the best *Bleep*ing attorneys!
  • Butt Monkey: Tobias, Buster — both before and after he lost his hand, Ann.
  • California University: A strange example of this occurs in Season 4, when the college George Michael attends is said to be UC Irvine, but the scenes were actually filmed at Occidental College. One wonders why they didn't just invent a fake university with a punny name, or mine the name "Occidental" for all of the multiple reference puns it was worth.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin' : Anytime Michael indulges himself or ever puts himself first (only a handful throughout the series) it has terrible consequences that are immediately revealed to his family who use the occasion to declare him just as bad as the rest of them (who ALWAYS indulge themselves and put themselves first).
  • Can't Get In Trouble For Nuthin': Maeby's attempts at teen rebellion tend to fail miserably. At best, they're not even noticed. At worst, her parents want to be included.
  • Casting Gag: One episode had Tobias roleplaying with a relationship counselor played by Mr. Show co-star Bob Odenkirk.
    • A late episode has Michael believe a prostitute is in fact his sister. She's played by Justine Bateman, Jason Bateman's sister.
    • Bob Loblaw, played by Scott Baio, replaces Barry Zuckercorn, played by Henry Winkler.
    • Twice, characters make reference to old TV shows that Ron Howard was on as a child, prompting comments from the narrator, Ron Howard.
  • Catch Phrase: Many, with inevitable borrowing later on.
    • Gob's Insistent Terminology of "illusions".
    • Responding with "But where did the lighter fluid come from?" when he fails his fire illusions and only lighter fluid spews out from his sleeves.
    • Also "Come on!"
    • "I've made a huge mistake."
    • "I don't think so."
    • "What am I doing?!"
    • The Narrator has "In fact..."
    • Buster's "Hey brother..."
      • "Hey coworker..."
      • "Hey hermano..."
      • "Hey campers..."
      • "Hey possible nephew..."
      • "I'M A MONSTER!!!" Especially in Season 4.
    • Maeby's standard deflection of "Marry me!"
      • It started when somebody pointed out that she seemed a little young to be a movie executive.
      • When she needed to look younger, it was "Babysit me!"
      • She realized she probably needed a new one when somebody responded "Okay!"
      • She once tried to use it on her uncle Michael... which wasn't as bad as when Michael used it (see Cast Incest).
      • She says "shit" a lot in season 4.
    • Oscar's cries of "I'm Oscar! ...Dot Com!", after George Sr tricks him into getting sent to jail.
      • The Saddam Hussein lookalike at the end of 'Exit Strategy' says something similar when trying to explain that he is only a Saddam Hussein lookalike, and the real Saddam Hussein had a scar on his forehead: "I'm No Scar! ...Dot Com!"
    • Kitty: "Say goodbye to these, Michael!"
      • "Because it's the last time you're going to see them."
    • Steve Holt: * arms raised* "STEVE HOLT!"
      • His mother Eve Holt used to do the same thing with her own name.
    • Also, each member of the Bluth family (Buster excluded, Tony Hale says that Buster has too much respect for chickens to imitate one) has their own impression of how a chicken sounds and moves.
      Michael: Has anyone in this family ever even seen a chicken?
    • "Is she really?" or "Really?" Michael's response to anything positive George Michael has to say about Bland...I mean Ann
      • "Her?"
      • "Who's Ann?"
    • Michael saying "And I have no problem with that"
    • "No touching!" and variations of it gets used a lot in the prison scenes.
    • "Typical."
    • Barry is "very good"
    • "Well, that was a freebie."
    • Annyong
    • Douche chill!
      • Annyong!
    • "Don't call it that." anytime someone calls Orange County "The O.C."
    • "The fact that... tells me you're not ready."
    • "You're out of the movie!"
    • Tony Wonder gets "Same!" in Season 4.
    • "Did somebody say... WONDER?"
  • Central Theme: A rather depressing one being Character Development—>Shaggy Dog Story. It is called "Arrested Development" after all. It's ramped up in season 4 where, after a time skip, everyone at first seems to have made some significant positive strides in their life. The season is a slow motion train wreck culminating in the batshit insane Cinco de Quatro.
    • Season 4's specific theme seems to be deconstructing the Fawlty Towers Plot by exploring all the effects of lying egregiously in relationships and to oneself regarding relationships.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Happens with the fourth season. While there still are comical hijinks like in the previous three seasons, there's less focus on them, and more on the characterization and drama. The season ends with Lucille 2 disappearing, while it's implied that one of the Bluths murdered her, and with George Michael punching his father in the face, and neither of these is played for laughs.
  • Character Development: Averted. The entire point of the series is that none of the characters can mature.
    • Played Straight somewhat in Season 4.
  • Chekhov's Gag: Very commonly throughout the show. Each episode more or less consists of a series of these, typically coming together perfectly (for us) and horribly (for the Bluths) at the end.
    • Prominently in Season 1 is George Sr admitting that he may have committed some "Light... Treason." While originally assumed to be a one-off joke, never to be referenced again, at the end of the season we see that he did: by working with and building model homes for Saddam Hussein.
    • A big one is the fear the children have of amputees because of their father using a one-armed man to teach traumatic "lessons" to them.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In Season 1, The H. Maddas files.
    • Season 4 has the roofies GOB gave Michael in the first episode.
  • Christmas Episode
  • Cliff Hanger: Season 4 ends with almost all of its plot points unresolved with the intention of continuing them in the next chapter (Season 5 or a possible movie):
    • George Sr, because of a drop in testosterone and a rise in estrogen suddenly is acting like a woman.
    • The Wall
    • Lindsay is going to run for Congress after Herbert Love fell into a coma.
    • Sally Sitwell's scheme with Tony Wonder.
    • GOB and Tony Wonder's relationship
    • Tobias was caught in Marky Bark's explosion.
    • Lucille had just requested a real divorce with George Sr.
    • We're still not done with Lucille's arrest just yet.
    • Lucille was going to return to rehab after Tobias called her The Invisible Girl.
    • Maeby is arrested for statutory rape of a student who she believed was an undercover cop who was of age.
    • There was also a throwaway scene where the Spanish woman George-Michael had sex with during his stay as an exchange student in Spain shows her friends George-Michael's "Star Wars Kid" video before standing up to reveal a baby bump. Is George-Michael the father? Will Michael become a grandfather?
    • George Michael and Maeby's potential relationship.
    • George Michael seems to have been targeted by Anonymous.
    • George Michael punched his father and they were at a stare down.
    • Buster is arrested for Lucile 2's murder
    • We have no idea who played The Thing in Fantastic 4: The Musical, since Tobias gave the costume to Buster, and Buster left it on the ground.
    • All of the main characters have motives, so we have no clue who's responsible for Lucille Austero's disappearance and probable murder.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Buster gets one in Season 1, GOB gets one in season 2 and Maeby, of all people, gets one in Season 4.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Michael is at the helm of a sinking ship of fools.
  • The Comically Serious: Wayne Jarvis
    • Ice
    • As is Larry, George Sr's surrogate in the third season.
  • Coattail-Riding Relative: Virtually the entire family coasts on George Sr.'s and Michael's business successes. Tobias, being especially pathetic, even occasionally tries to jumpstart his nonexistent showbusiness career by exploiting GOB's equally nonexistent fame.
  • Colon Cancer: John Beard's To Catch a Predator rip-off, which has the full title of "John Beard's To Entrap a Local Predator: Orange County Edition: Super Creeps"
  • Consulting Mister Puppet: Franklin.
  • Continuity Lockout
    • Though later episodes made painstaking efforts to sum up the episode thus far when returning from act breaks, presumably to catch viewers who might have been flipping channels.
    • The Continuity Lockout is less about the plot and more about missing those sneaky little hidden jokes. For instance, if you miss the first couple episodes, you'll have no idea why the family is always driving a staircar everywhere.
  • Continuity Nod: All over the place.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: A major arc of the fourth season is George Michael's descent.
  • Country Matters:
    • As a Last-Second Word Swap.
      Tobias: [to Lindsay] Great, and now you're mocking me!? You selfish cun— [sees Maeby] ...try music loving lady!
    • Also the Stealth Pun noted below in which Michael tells GOB to get rid of the Seaward, his boat, and Lucille says she'll leave when she's ready to. Later, he gets a boat actually named the C-Word. The boat is also a multi-part pun, as it stands for this trope and "cancelled", which was an impending threat for the show.
  • Cringe Comedy: All over the place.

    D-F 
  • Darker and Edgier: Season 4 takes a lot of the characters pretty dark places, most notably making Michael and George Michael as pathetic and unlikable as the rest of the family.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • The narrator becomes increasingly sarcastic throughout the second and third seasons.
    • Michael has his moments as well:
      Michael: Well, I'm sorry. It's just too late. I'm moving to Phoenix. I got a job. Something you apply for, and then they pay you to, uh... never mind. I don’t want to ruin the surprise.
  • Decoy Leader: George, Sr to Lucille, as revealed in the Grand Finale.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Double-Subverted. Michael appears again to be the protagonist of season 4, but then the episodes switch to character-centric episodes, and then George-Michael becomes the clear protagonist.
  • Dinner and a Show: Family dinners/get-togethers are almost guaranteed to descend into chaos.
  • Don't Explain the Joke:
    • GOB has a tendency to do this, such as when talking about how all of Michael's girlfriends are "dogs."
    • In Season 4, when Tony Wonder "magically" turns a bunch of men gay.
      Narrator: It was pretty easy to figure out how he did it. They started out gay.
  • Double Aesop
  • Double Entendre:
    • Tobias's frequent homosexual Un Entendres.
    • Gob's comment after getting a shock from seeing a picture of Jesus in a dark room.
      Gob: For a second I thought that was a real guy.
  • Double Meaning Title: The show is about a family with several children in different degrees of arrested development, who own a development company whose president gets arrested. Character development that ensues only after this arrest. Also, said development company struggles for three years with a deadlocked development project.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Lucille was one named one of the "World's Worst Drivers" by Fox.
  • The Dutiful Son: A premise of the show up to martyrdom levels; Michael the Only Sane Man sacrifices his personal agenda trying to keep the Family Business afloat.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The pilot.
    • The model home, the penthouse, and George's prison are not the sets we see from episode 2 on, but locations that look vastly different.
    • The Narrator spoke in a much more subdued tone of voice in the pilot, without the playful intonation that would become his trademark.
    • John Beard has a mustache.
  • El Spanish O: In one episode, George Bluth is mistaken for his brother while in Mexico. He tries to explain that they want his "brothero." It's even funnier that he puts the accent over the "e" (like you would if it were a real word in Spanish), so he's saying "bro-thero" instead of "brother-o".
  • End of Series Awareness: through out the whole run, as its viewership was small enough that it was always on thin ice.
  • Everyone Knew Already: Tobias' "Mrs. Featherbottom" act isn't fooling anyone. It doesn't help that it's a transparent rip-off of Mrs. Doubtfire (with a bit of Mary Poppins thrown in). But the family agrees to humor him because he is actually quite effective at doing all the housework.
  • Evolving Credits: in season 4, depending on the character who gets his/her Day in the Limelight, the narrator introduces the show as if he/she was the main protagonist. The subtitles on each character ("his brother", "his mother") change to be from that character's perspective as well. Each character also gets an additional instrument playing over the Theme Tune:
    • Michael - trumpet
    • Lindsay - sitar
    • Tobias - saxophone
    • GOB - electric guitar
    • Buster - accordion
    • George - acoustic guitar
    • Lucille - flute
    • George Michael - wood block
    • Maeby - scat vocals
    • Season finale (although centered on George Michael) - all of the above
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin:
    • "Dead Dove: Do Not Eat"
      Michael: [looks inside bag] I don't know what I expected.
    • Tobias is a never-nude, which the narrator points out is exactly what it sounds like.
      Michael: I thought he just liked cut-offs.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: The adult cast is never going to grow up and accept responsibility. Similarly, every season finale ends with Michael and his son fleeing the family only to somehow get drawn back into their mess.
  • Fake Pregnancy: Used every which way in a two-part storyline in which Michael Bluth's ex-fling Maggie Lizer not only pulls this on Michael to try and win him back, but also lies to two cops who have contracted her as a surrogate mother for their son and pawns the surrogacy off on a client so they can sue a local restaurant for causing the client's supposed "obesity." And then in The Stinger Maggie apparently learns she's actually pregnant thanks to one last romp with Michael in the preceding episode.
  • Faking the Dead: George Sr. in the beginning of the second season.
  • Faux Documentary: The show is shot with handheld cameras, and nothing is shown outside the realm of what could be captured with a camera crew following the main characters and supplementary photography (at one point Kitty's claims that George Sr. was going to give her the company result in the series' only "footage not found" (apart from a callback at the end of the episode and a reference to the "great times" in Lindsay's and Tobias' marriage). The idea was much more explicit in the first half-season, when the "footage" briefly went static in a car accident, and a judge forced the camera to leave the courtroom.
    • The show more or less abandons the concept temporarily whenever they want to feature flashbacks of the adult characters as children. The clips are shown with a fake super 8 filter. This is probably a stylistic choice.
    • In commentary on the pilot they discuss the documentary style they wished to mimic since it was so popular at the time. Although it wasn't held very strictly, they used digital cameras and had a rule to follow the action rather than lead it. There's at least one instance of a boom mic being used as a gag.
  • Fauxtivational Poster : George Michael has a poster thats says "Fun and Failure: They both start out the same way"
  • Fearful Symmetry: George and Oscar Bluth attempted to fight for Lucille once, but quickly gave up after every move made was identically countered.
  • Le Film Artistique: Les Cousins Dangereux, a French film about a forbidden relationship between cousins, which interests George Michael and Maeby (the former has a copy hidden in his sock drawer).
    • And a poster hidden behind the "Fun and Failure" poster in his room
  • Fist Pump: Steve Holt's Catch Phrase is shouting "STEVE HOLT!" with raised arms.
  • Flash Back
  • Floating Continent: Apparently a housing development idea of George Sr.'s that never got off the ground.
  • The Florence Nightingale Effect: A nurse who falls in love with coma patients.
  • Follow the Leader: In-Universe with "Mock Trial With J. Reinhold", "Bud Court" and "John Beard's To Entrap A Local Predator: Supercreeps!"
  • Foreshadowing: For example, count how many times in the 1st and 2nd season we see Buster alongside artificial hands.
    • Including his hand chair. After discovering that it was given to Lupe's family, Buster says "I never thought I'd miss a hand so much"- a full six months before he does.
      • In the very first episode, Michael's mother complain that someone cut the foot off her fox fur.
    • Also in the second season premier, George Michael mistakenly thinks Michael is saying Aunt Lindsay is not his real aunt when he was only talking about her nose being fake.
    • The second season premier features a newscast which briefly mentions a seal attack.
    • He also wins a stuffed seal from a claw machine. And briefly imitates the claw with his left hand
    • And let's not forget the season two episode where Gob "helps" George-Michael by attacking his candidacy opponent (Steve Holt), by pointing out that Steve doesn't even know who his father is, while simultaneously reminiscing about the anti-abortion girlfriend he had didn't have in high school. Well, Steve Holt's parentage gets revealed during The Tag. Guess who....
    • "For British Eyes Only" manages to doubly foreshadow a later reveal.The episode begins with a flashback to an earlier conversation where Michael responds to his son telling him he has a stupid girl problem with: "I don't even have a girl, much less a stupid one." Later in the day Michael meets a women named Rita. Who is mentally retarded.
      • Another incidence foreshadowing the same reveal is when Rita sits on a bus stop bench that says "Wee Britain" in a way that it ends up appearing as "Wee Brain".
      • And also when Trevor confronts Michael, asking "How would you like someone going after some stupid person in your family?"
    • Maeby is introduced as "[George Michael]'s cousin, Maeby," which could also be written as "[George Michael]'s cousin, maybe." A running plot point is George Michael desperately trying to find evidence that they aren't truly related.
      George Michael: Aren't you my cousin?
      Maeby: Maebe/maybe!
    • Gob says he "could be a father" in "Best Man for the GOB". He is.
    • Michael noticing similarities between the model home and the palaces of Saddam Hussein in Season One.
    • Repeatedly through the seasons, it is hinted that Maeby isn't George Michael's cousin, which turns out to be true, but not in the way in which it was repeatedly hinted. In the last season, there are several foreshadows revolving around Michael's mysterious sister N Bluth which resolves to be that Lindsy is really 3 years older than Michael and adopted, therefore making Maeby biologically unrelated to the Bluths.
    • The first mention of Tony Wonder in "Good Grief" foreshadows his and GOB's relationship in season 4. He doesn't appear in the episode except for a picture in Poof magazine - which GOB holds up, saying "I should be in this Poof!", right after obliviously (?) and repeatedly hitting on a male employee. For a Freeze-Frame Bonus, the magazine article text compares Tony Wonder to Liberace.
    • Gob foreshadows his entire plot arc for Season 4 in "Flight of the Phoenix" while trying to guess why Michael is in such a panic.
      Gob: If you were ashamed of being in love with a man, suddenly discovered these new feelings, then I might say something like, 'Homo much?'
  • Fake Buzz: Maeby drinks some virgin martinis and thinks she's drunk. George Michael tries to explain that "virgin" means non-alcoholic, but the venture is fruitless. Another time when Maeby and George Michael find some of Gob's fake wine (wine bottles filled with water). They drink it and think they are drunk. This leads them to get to second base.
  • Flanderization:
    • Tobias. His closet got way more transparent in the third season, to the point that practically every third line of his was a gay joke, and half of these were gay sex jokes.
    • The Narrator also suffered this in the third season to some degree, though this could arguably be seen as an (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to prevent further Continuity Lockout.
    • Gob was a much more competent magician in the first season. At least he seems to grow out of his habit of spilling his magic secrets every time someone asks how he does it. Probably why the Magician Alliance cuts him more slack.
  • Foregone Conclusion: From the moment Michael buys into the idea of a vote to decide who leaves George Michael and P-Hound's dorm room, it is instantly obvious that Michael is going to lose that vote. What makes it funny is that Michael is completely oblivious about how he unwanted he actually is despite George Michael's rather overt hints, uses several hours on (over)thinking about every possible outcome of the vote, boneheadedly insists on rules for the vote that only come back to bite him in the ass, and never considers for a second that he might actually lose.
  • Fully Automatic Clip Show: There's one of Maeby saying "marry me!" in the season-4 episode "Colony Collapse", in response to Gob accidentally proposing to Ann.
  • French Maid: In an episode preview Lindsay dresses as one thinking that she'll get to write off her debt to Bob Loblaw with a sexual favor...but finds herself performing actual maid duties.
  • Friendly Local Chinatown: The series has an unusual ethnic enclave in "Wee Britain", which is inspired by the German-themed Old World Village in Huntington, California.
  • Fun with Acronyms:

    G-I 
  • Generation Xerox: A recurring theme in Season 4:
    • Michael and George Michael, although growing further apart, do end up have a relationship with the same woman.
    • Tobias and Maeby both inadvertently up as registered sex offenders.
    • Lindsay's appearance and mannerisms match up closely with Lucille's when she becomes the new Republican candidate for Congress. She even has a rivalry with Lucille Austero's running mate Sally Sitwell, reflecting her father's with Stan Sitwell and her mother's with Lucille Austero.
    • Sally Sitwell is revealed to have alopecia, much like her father Stan Sitwell.
    • The season ends with Buster getting arrested like Lucille was earlier in the season.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: When they were children, George Sr. instigated fights between Michael and Gob, filmed them, and released them. The tapes were very popular in Latin America. invoked
    • The same could be said about the cornballer. invoked
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: All the time.
  • Gibberish of Love: George Michael tends towards this whenever he thinks he's got even an inkling of a shot with Maeby.
    • When his father meets Rita for the first time, we see where he gets it from.
  • Girls with Moustaches: GOB sets Michael up with a mustached girl out of revenge.
  • Give a Man a Fish...: And he'll want to use your yacht, and I don't want this thing smelling like fish!
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: Lucille Bluth in Vietnam
  • Golden Moment: Occurs almost entirely with Michael and George Michael, his son. Lampshaded when while making snacks with his father at the end of an episode George Michael remarks that he doesn't need his dad to stay out of his life, he's the biggest part of his life. Michael states, referring to the snack they are making, "That's a little cornball, son."
  • His Name Really Is Barkeep: Invoked when actor Judge Reinhold starts a reality courtroom show a la Judge Judy with himself as the judge. He then calls it Mock Trial with J. Reinhold. It eventually spawns an imitator show starring Bud Cort.
  • Hope Spot: The ending of 'Blockheads': Michael and George Michael finally forgive each other, and confess that they each didn't know that the other was dating Rebel Alley (which in Michael's case is a lie.) They hug, and just when we think the ongoing arc of their worsening relationship finally been solved... George Michael realises that something was weird about Michael's confession: 'How'd you know about the photo booth?' Michael, unable to respond with the truth thanks to the roofies GOB gave him the previous day, is lost for words, and George Michael lashes out and punches him in the face. Cut to credits.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Most lines spoken by GOB, Lindsay, and Lucille Bluth, with other members of the family getting a few here and there.
    • And, of course, Tobias's frequent claims that everybody else is a closet homosexual given the slightest provocation.
    • Done subtly with Michael: Despite his best efforts, he turns out to be just as meddling and arguably as abusive as his parents.
    • In the second season finale, the narrator explains how the Les Cousins Dangereux American remake was doing very badly due to the excessive bowdlerization, for example the film having to state constantly that the protagonists weren't biological cousins; later in the episode when George Michael and Maeby make out, the narrator, deadpan, reminds us that George Michael and Maeby might not be biological cousins.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Every episode's title rides somewhere within the scope of Double Meaning Title, Pun-Based Title or Homage:
    • "Public Relations": Michael hires a woman to handle public relations for the Bluth family, then after dating her finds their relationship becoming very public.
    • "Making a Stand": Gob makes a banana stand, then unites with Michael to make a stand against their father.
    • "Exit Strategy": The second-to-last episode, in which the Bluths go to war-torn Iraq (argued to be war torn due to a lack of an exit strategy) to find the evidence that exonerates their father (giving the show an exit strategy).
    • "Justice is Blind": Maggie Lizer's dog Justice is blind and Maggie can see.
    • "Queen for a Day": For the one day that Tobias owns the bar "The Queen Mary" he has it (accidentally) renamed "Tobias is Queen Mary".
      Tobias: I guess I can have them remove the Mary.
    • "Missing Kitty": George Sr.'s secretary Kitty is missing.
    • The first two episodes of the second season ("The One Where Michael Leaves" and "The One Where They Build A House") are titled with the Idiosyncratic Episode Naming of Dueling Show Friends.
      • The following episode is called "Amigos". Geddit?
    • The episode "Good Grief", centered around the Bluths' different reactions to hearing about the "death" of George Sr. This episode features homages to Peanuts including a beagle lying on the roof of a red doghouse, using music directly from the Charlie Brown specials, and being titled after main character Charlie Brown's catchphrase.
      • Don't forget the Charlie Brown Depressed Walk wherein the character walks slowly with their head down with the aforementioned music, just like in the specials.
    • "Family Ties": Michael Bluth (played by Jason Bateman) investigates into whether or not a woman he just met has family ties to him as his sister. She is played by Justine Bateman, who has family ties to Jason Bateman (she's his sister), and also starred as Mallory Keaton on the TV show "Family Ties".
  • Idiot Houdini: Nearly all of the Bluths.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten: A variant in season 4 where the military gives Buster a kitten to test if he has enough control over his new hand to avoid crushing it.
  • Important Haircut: A lot of the story lines revolve around hair and lack thereof.
    • George Sr. has a habit of swapping identities with his twin brother Oscar by force, either by putting on a wig or shaving his brother's head.
    • Tobias has treated himself to four thousand hair plugs, which resulted in him nearly dying as the transplant was rejecting his body. He also sported a classy wig while disguised as Mister Featherbottom. Erm, misses!
  • Incest Is Relative: It starts with George-Michael and Maeby. Then it snowballs. A lot.
    • Their respective parents have this going on too. Even outside of Lindsay once coming onto Michael, there are occasional implications about the fuzzy line in their dynamic.
    • Then there's Buster and Lucille. On the episode "Motherboy XXX," note  Buster tells Michael, "Whenever she'd [Lucille] change clothes, she'd make me wait on the balcony until zip-up – and yet anything goes at bath-time".
    • Plus there's also:
      Buster: Sister's my new mother, Mother! And is it just me, or is she looking hotter, too?
    • And the:
      GOB: You know that Kitty is starting to sound pretty damn sexy to me. Maybe I oughta...
      Michael: ...That was Lindsay.
    • In the final few episodes there are two other examples: Michael hires a prostitute (to manage the company) because he thinks she is his long-lost sister, and then in the finale we learn that Lindsey tries to make a move on Michael and GOB tries to move in on her. Also Michael and Tobias do some spooning (same-sex in-laws count as incest, right?).
    • The gag involving Michael's hired prostitute gets infinitely better when you realize the actress that plays her is Jason Bateman's sister, Justine Bateman. And even better than that when the show starts deliberately calling attention to the Casting Gag.
    • Another honourable mention would have to be Michael and Maeby singing "Afternoon Delight" together.. Only to find out a little too late what the subtext of the song is.
      • And Lindsay and George Michael doing the same thing later in the episode to get back at Michael and Maeby, not having stayed long enough to find out what the song is about. Although as of the season finale, neither of these pairings are technically incest.
    • Played with when Lindsay offers to be a mother-figure for George Michael and he mistakes it for a proposition.
    • "Gentlemen, start your engines!" Both Michael and George Michael toward a Lindsay they don't recognize in season 4. Doubles as a way of underlining the Like Father, Like Son theme the season has regarding those two.
      • And there's the fact that they both start hooking up with a woman who reminds Michael of his dead wife/mother of his child. How many kinds of incestuous implications does that have?
    • And there's also a scene where Gob hugs Michael, assuring him if he feels anything it's "just the dove" and the scene quickly shows that the dove is walking on the counter behind Gob. Yeah, it's that kind of show.
  • Indirect Kiss: When Lucille is confined by ankle bracelet to a non-smoking room, she hits on the idea of blowing the smoke into Buster's mouth and having him run onto the balcony to exhale it. It looks so wrong.
  • Insistent Terminology: They're not tricks. They're illusions. Used to G.O.B.'s chagrin in "Family Ties," among other episodes.
    • Though oddly enough, he eventually talks about a prostitute "turning illusions," the exact reason he gave in the pilot for why he doesn't like to say "tricks."
    • As much as he insists that they're "illusions" rather than "tricks" during actual magic shows, he tends to not have an issue with them being called "tricks" (and even does so himself) in casual conversation, implying that the whole thing is actually just a poor attempt to make himself seem more sophisticated while performing, rather than an actual preference.
      • Illuminated in Season 4: G.O.B offers up his Insistent Terminology, but when it's clear his bar tab is riding on the issue, he has no problem shouting, "Who wants to see a trick?"
  • Intercourse with You: Afternoon Delight. After figuring it out, George-Michael and dad find it too vague to mind singing it.
  • Irony: A Real Life example. A factor that greatly contributed to Arrested Development's humor and uniqueness (and eventual cult status) was the high level of Continuity between episodes and the innumerable brick jokes, callbacks, and running gags present throughout the series that rewarded longtime viewers and, in the process, helped set it apart from the myriad of other sitcoms it competed against. However, many people now believe that it was this level of continuity that at least partly accounted for Arrested Development's perpetually low ratings. Most sitcoms, due to their episodic nature, allow a viewer to jump right in and enjoy the humor without being confused by the plot. On the other hand, many first-time viewers may have abandoned Arrested Development after getting lost in the plot and/or being confused by the self-referential jokes.
  • I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: Alia Shawkat and Mae Whitman previously starred together on the Fox Family show State Of Grace.

    J-L 
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: Season 4 is very much this.
  • Jumping Out of a Cake: As part of a Zany Scheme pulled by GOB.
  • Joins to Fit In: GOB founded the Alliance of Magicians, as he feels the magician's craft isn't taken seriously.
  • Just Take The Poster: Tobias does this when an ad for an acting job is pointed out to him. When he shows up for the audition, he's the only one there.
  • Kent Brockman News: At 15 episodes, LA newscaster John F. Beard is tied with Henry Winkler/Barry Zuckercorn for most common recurring cast member/character.
  • Kissing Cousins: George Michael's crush and his cousin Maeby.
  • Lady Drunk: Lucille is almost never seen without a drink in her hand.
  • Lampshaded the Obscure Reference: The episode "S.O.B.s", Tobias brings up someone named Freddie Wilson while talking, prompting the other characters to say they "don't get that reference". This doubled as an in-joke about how some people thought the show's inability to gain mainstream appeal was caused by its numerous and sometimes obscure jokes about pop-culture and topical references.
  • Large Ham: A veritable buffet line.
  • Last-Second Word Swap:
    • "You selfish c-ount..ry... music... loving... person."
    • "She just called to ask me to bring her a tube of vag... is... table paste. Hi, George Michael."
    • Then there's this:
      Lindsay: Look, if you say no, you're just going to drive him right to her.
      [enter George Michael]
      George Michael: Hey, Dad, can you drive me to Ann's?
      Michael: Nnnn... Y-Y-Y-Y-Yes.
  • Leitmotif Count the number of times you hear Europe's "The Final Countdown" in relation to Gob.
  • Lemony Narrator: The amount of times Ron Howard breaks the fourth wall probably counts in the hundreds.
    • He also takes considerable offense to the bad narration of Scandalmakers.
  • Leno Device: Jim Cramer is shown talking about the Bluth company on his show and in a later episode makes a live appearance. John Beard is an actual Fox local anchor and is presented as an exaggerated version of himself. Beard has been cast in several series either as a generic anchor or As Himself.
    • In a variant, Joel Hodgson and Trace Beaulieu appear in Season 4 to reprise their roles as Joel and Crow to riff on Debrie's Fantastic Four movie, to show that the movie was that bad.
  • Lethal Chef/Cordon Bleugh Chef: Lindsey, who starts off with such delights as Hot Ham Water and "Cream Soda" (soda water with cream in it), before "advancing" to raw chicken served in the water it was defrosted in. Not to mention her tendency to leave the stove on and then wander off...
  • Let The Past Burn: An episode ends with Michael and his son, George Michael burning down the family banana stand while they watched as a means of putting the days where they miserably had to work there behind. Their father is not pleased because he had hidden a secret stock of cash in there and the two of them failed to find it.
  • Lies to Children: Thanks to Lucille's insane lies to cover up her alcoholism, Lindsay has grown up believing that vodka goes bad if not finished the day it's opened and that wine only becomes alcohol if left to sit.
  • Literal-Minded: Doctor Fishman, a very literal doctor who appears several times throughout the series:
    • 'Let 'Em Eat Cake', referring to George Sr, who had escaped out the window:
      Doctor Fishman: Excuse me, Mr. Bluth. We lost him. He just, uh... got away from us. I'm sorry.
    • 'The One Where Michael Leaves', referring to Tobias, who was covered in blue paint:
      Dr. Fishman: It looks like he's dead.
    • In the epilogue of the same episode:
      Doctor Fishman: You look really hot.
    • 'Hand to God', referring to Buster who has lost his left hand, making him all right:
      Doctor Fishman: He's going to be all right.
    • 'The Sword of Destiny', referring to Michael, who is suffering a rupture ulcer:
      Doctor Fishman: I’m sorry to say this, but it's too late for me to do anything for your son.
      [everyone gasps]
      Michael: ...Let him keep talking!
      Doctor Fishman: ...Because Dr. Stein here has already been assigned to his case.
    • 'A New Start', after moving to India, referring to Tobias, who broke his head twice:
      Doctor Fishman: This man here broke his skull in two places. Once outside the airport and once in the elevator when his sheet got caught and he was pulled off his gurney.
    • 'Off the Hook', where he has become an army doctor and is referring to Buster, who, after falling over while remotely piloting a plane, has been given a large artificial hand:
      Doctor Fishman: Mrs. Bluth, your son went down while piloting a plane over Afghanistan.
      Lucille: Oh my god.
      Doctor Fishman: He deserves a big hand for that, and we gave him one. I'm afraid besides that, there's nothing we can do.
  • Live Episode: Parodied with the end of "S.O.B.S"
  • Love Dodecahedron: Combined with Incest Is Relative.
  • Love Epiphany

    M-O 
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Subverted: she's actually a Mentally Retarded Female. Mr. F!
    • Maeby shows shades of this, especially in early episodes.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Lucille and George Sr.
  • Narrator: Ron Howard.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • George Oscar "Gob" Bluth = John Ellis "Jeb" Bush.
    • George Michael's cousin Maeby. As in, his cousin, maybe. (Turns out she's not.)
    • George Sr., while under house arrest, hires a man to wear a camera and a microphone and relay his words to the rest of the family during a consultation with a lawyer. The guy's name is Larry Middleman.
    • In the Grand Finale it is revealed that Annyong's real name is Heh-Loh.
    • Tobias in the fourth series dates a (recovering) junkie named DeBrie. Lampshaded when Tobias ends up discarding her quite literally in a pile of debris.
  • Metaphorgotten: Gob, on after the seal that bites off Buster's hand gets its flipper eaten by a shark.
    Gob: Poor little guy. He's probably out there somewhere, swimming around in circles, freaking out his whole family.
  • Mid Battle Teabreak: In a season 4 episode, Michael and GOB get in a fight in a padded children's play area after agreeing it is the safest place to fight. Shortly after the fight begins, they crash through the wall of the knife store next door. At this point, they stop the fight long enough to return to the play area.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: The vulture that's hanging around Sudden Valley doesn't look like any American species.
  • Muscles Are Meaningless: Lucille seems to be stronger than she looks, she can break through a barricaded door with little difficulty.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: "I'm going to stay here with all these... hot men. And Ira."
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: Tobias' girlfriend's role in a knock off Fantastic Four became fodder for this show
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Tobias' business cards: Dr Tobias Fünke, analrapist note 
    Buster: [gasps as he reads the card]
    Tobias: It isn't pronounced like that.
    Buster: It's not the pronunciation I was worried about.
  • No Bisexuals: Played for Laughs with Tobias and played disturbingly straight with GOB and Tony Wonder, two straight-identifying men who have sex and share some sort of confusing feelings.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The season 4 character Herbert Love is a pretty clear imitation of former presidential candidate Herman Cain.
    • Pop singer Mark Cherry appears to be a takeoff on Justin Bieber.
  • Not Blood Related: George Michael desperately looks for evidence that he and Maeby are Not Blood Related. In the end, it turns out that they're not... because Lindsay isn't.
    • Also, the Bluth's "uncle" Jack Bullet, who they exclusively refer to throughout the episode as as "Fake Uncle Jack", likely because a major plot point of the episode is his sexual desire for Lindsay.
      • "...and remember, he's not really their uncle."
    • When it's revealed that Lindsay is adopted, she comes on to Michael and Gob comes on to her.
  • Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught: Most of the conniving characters have no qualms about their schemes and are only concerned by the repercussions if they get discovered. As Bob Loblaw summarizes it "Why should you go to jail for a crime somebody else... noticed?".
  • Not So Different: Michael tries to be a good father to his son, but unfortunately in practice he's every bit as domineering and controlling as his own parents were.
  • Once More with Clarity: Several scenes in Season 4. The negotiation over film rights between Michael and George Sr. being the most prominent example.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. Lucille Bluth's best friend/social rival is Lucille Austero, played by Liza Minnelli. When the name confusion is not being Played for Laughs, the show refers to her as Lucille Austero, or Lucille Two. To a lesser degree, there's a bit of a theme with the names of most of the male Bluths. There's George Sr, Oscar, George Oscar (GOB), Michael, and George Michael. The only one to escape this is Buster.
    • Tobias also has a brief relationship with a transvestite (whom he believes to be a woman) bodybuilder named Michael.
    • There is, however, only one Steve.
      • STEVE HOLT!!!
  • One-Woman Wail: Parodied in the latest season. 'Co-oo-o-oooooo-oooooo-oo-ooo-incidence.'
  • The Only Way They Will Learn: Extreme "lessons" are a theme of the series, from Maeby's Kissing Cousins scheme to the lessons the Bluth children learned at the hands of J. Walter Weatherman.
  • Only Sane Man: Michael Bluth is all too aware of this trope.
  • On the Next: subverted; they're almost always one-off jokes based on hanging plot threads of the episode they accompany. Of course, there are a few Double Subversions where the preview is actually true...
  • Outdated Outfit: Lupe's hand-me-down jumpers
  • Overly Long Gag: Season 4 is especially fond of this, as episodes are longer on Netflix than they can be on network TV:
    • Michael trying to work out the roommate-voting scam.
    • "That way, we'll have it."
    • Gob and Tony Wonder downing the contents of their drinks in real time.

    P-R 
  • Parent with New Paramour: Played with throughout the series with each of Michael's new love interests.
    • They have one of the major obstacles to Michael forming a new relationship being fear about the effect it might have on his son, even though George Michael tends to approve and be encouraging.
  • Parental Sexuality Squick: Comes up a lot, considering Lucille's considerable libido.
  • Period Piece: Season four fills in all the years since the show was cancelled, and has a lot of fun with the 2007 real estate crash.
  • Person as Verb: "Don't go all Michael on me."
  • Police Brutality: A running gag in which George Sr. or Oscar (or one disguised as or mistaken for the other) gets tackled by police and a second later, one officer clubs him on the head with a nightstick. (Also, it's always the same two cops, each switching off on nightstick duty.)
  • Primal Scene: In Visiting Ours, GOB unfortunately witnesses his parents getting it on when he is detained against the window of the conjugal trailer they're in. It happens again in Prison Break-in.
  • Prison Rape: Referenced and played for humor several times:
    • In one first season episode, George Michael is revealed to have watched an episode of Oz as a small child (having confused it for The Wizard of Oz), and is terrified of visiting his grandfather in prison as a result.
    • In the third season of Arrested Development, George Bluth complains about being under house arrest with his wife (after having spent most of the first two seasons incarcerated):
      George Bluth Sr: In prison I just had to lie there and take it. Here, I have to lie there and give it.
    • In the same episode, George gives a speech to troubled youth about life in prison in order to scare them straight (i.e. off of drugs or gangs or whatever), but ends up describing prison rape to a group of gay youth who are expecting to be scared straight (i.e. into becoming heterosexuals). Needless to say, they are excited by the prospect of sweaty groping in the dark by buff men.
    • It's also made fun of when Lindsay visits her father in prison during a previous season and he's explaining why he wants her to stop coming:
      George Sr: I'm paying thousands of dollars in Krugerrands.
      Lindsay: What?
      [pause]
      George Sr: Gold Krugerrands. Your mother snuck them in here, stuffed them in energy bar wrappers to keep me from getting strangled in the shower or worse.
      Lindsay: Stabbed?
      George Sr: In a way.
    • In season 4, the activist/terrorist Marky Bark expresses fear of being imprisoned, commenting that prison is like [a restaurant running on the barter system], except there's only one thing to swap.
    • Possibly experienced by Tobias in a spell of imprisonment in the fourth season. He ends up as a registered sex offender, and the narration indicates that this status resulted in him being savagely beaten with a spoon. He also learned from his prison experiences the problem with calling himself an analrapist, and starts to call himself a theralyst instead.
  • Punny Name: Taken to Added Alliterative Appeal Tongue Twister levels; Lawyer Bob Loblaw, owner of Bob Loblaw's Law blog. He is quite the mouthful. One headline reads "Bob Loblaw Lobs Law Bomb." The new season gives us "Low blow, Loblaw".
    • Also Maggie Lizer as in Maggie Lizer ass off.
  • Racist Grandma: "Oh Gob, you could charm the black off a telegram boy!"
    • And several of Lucille's remarks towards her housekeepers and other Latino hired help. She also has said a few negative things toward Asians.
    • Season 4: George Sr. and Lucille state they don't tip black people, and are confused at others who see a problem with that.
  • Really Gets Around: Michael, surprisingly. GOB tries to be this.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Tobias gets fired from his job as a security guard by trying to get rid of some mice from a clothes shop (which GOB let loose) by firing randomly at them with his revolver.
  • Remember the New Guy: Franklin, GOB's puppet was apparently used sometime before the beginning of the series. However, the cast as a whole seemed to suddenly remember him all at the same time, on the episode of his debut.
  • The Resolution Will Not Be Televised: The movie seems like the likely stage for resolution and results of major plot threads such as Kitty making off with a great deal of George Sr's sperm.
    • Season 4 leaves several plot points dangling with the intention of them being wrapped up with the possible movie. (See Cliff Hanger above)
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Most of the Bluth family, with the exception of Michael.
  • Rule of Funny
  • Running Gag: Plenty which can be found here.
  • Running Gagged: Maeby used to say "Marry me!" whenever her coworkers thought she looked too young to be working to remove suspicion. One of her coworkers takes the offer a little too seriously, and she stops afterwards.
    • GOB did not get the message, as he accidentally proposes to Ann in Season 4.

    S-Z 
  • Shaped Like What It Sells: The Bluths' one consistent moneymaker is the frozen banana stand, which is shaped like a banana.
  • Share Phrase: On top of the show's numerous Borrowed Catchphrases, Lucille, GOB, Michael, and Maeby all say "That was a freebie" in the third season, with about equal distribution (Maeby says it in two separate episodes, but Michael said it in the first season).
    • And of course, "I've made a huge mistake."
  • Shout-Out:
    • As the Narrator, Ron Howard frequently makes references to his past careers on the classic TV shows The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days.
      • "Jessie had gone too far, and she had best watch her mouth."
      • "No one was making fun of Andy Griffith. I can't emphasize that enough."
      • The Andy Griffith shout outs really start to pile up in Season 4 once Ron Howard himself becomes a recurring character.
    • Tony Wonder wanted to call his magic DVD Use Your Illusion, but it turns out some band already had the rights to that.
    • Rita's uncle holds out a jewelry box to her and when she reaches for it, he snaps it shut, causing her to laugh uncontrollably, like in Pretty Woman.
      • Season 4 goes further: the box closing is mistimed, and Lindsay gets her hand hurt.
    • There's a censored mention of Veronica Mars in "Family Ties."
    • Season 4: The story mentions a couple of horrible (fictional) movies. Clips from these movies are shown with some very familiar audience silhouettes in the foreground. Turn up the sound and you'll hear some high-quality MST3K riffs - delivered by Joel Hodgson and Trace Beaulieu!
      • In one Season 4 episode, Gob is seen with some friends at a club called "and Jeremy Piven", a reference to the opening from Entourage.
    • The infamous sitcom My Mother The Car is playing in the background of an early season 1 episode.
    • The scene at the end of "Blockheads", where Gob is wiping off shaving cream from his face, mimics the final scene of Cruising. This can be seen seen as a commentary on the unexpected homosexual relationship between Gob and Tony Wonder, as well as a possible hint that Gob is the one who killed Lucille Austero.
    • In "Off the Hook", the way Buster, a child-like idiot savant, is fooled by the Army into thinking he's playing a flight simulator, while he's in fact controlling a remote plane and killing real people, is quite similar to what happens in Ender’s Game.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Quite a few, among them Gob and Michael, George and Oscar, Buster and Annyong.
  • Side Effects Include...: When Tobias and Lindsay performed as a singing hippie duo hawking drugs for a pharmaceutical company years ago, a young Maeby would deliver the side effects in between songs.
  • Sitcom
  • Sixth Ranger: Oscar, who first appears late in the first season.
  • Standardized Sitcom Housing: One of the most surprising aversions, considering the family business and how self-aware the show is. The couch is off in a corner and it's possible to go from the front door to the kitchen without passing through the living room. The actual model home used in the pilot had a grand spiral staircase...leading to an unfinished attic.
  • Stealth Insult: Michael can't go two lines without laying one of these down on his family.
    Lucille: It's so nice not to have to worry about contraception anymore. The doctor says that I couldn't be a mother now if I tried.
    Michael: And that was without even asking me.
  • Subverted Catchphrase: From The Stinger of 'Blockheads'. Even the police seem surprised.
    Buster: I'm not a monster!
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Poor Michael.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Lucille's housekeeper Luce was replaced by Lupe after a single episode.
  • That Came Out Wrong: Tobias is the master of faux pas.
  • Time Skip: Season 4 opens five years after the ending of season 3.
    • Justified Trope: Season four roughly takes place a good 5-6 years after Season 3, because it's been roughly 5-6 years since the Grand Finale in real time.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Averted with the "Next Time on Arrested Development..." scenes, which are integral to the story and don't spoil future episodes at all... Besides the scene at the end of "Altar Egos", which completely spoils "Justice Is Blind": Maggie isn't actually blind.
  • Un Entendre: Almost everything Tobias says.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: The constant references to the Enron accounting scandal and the Iraq War date the first three seasons to the Turn of the Millennium.
  • Verbal Backspace:
    Gob: Plus, she's religious. That one gets pregnant, it stays pregnant. Believe me, I dated a chick like that once in high school. [pause] No, I didn't.
  • Verbal Tic Name: Parodied with "Annyong", who always repeats this name back to anyone who says it- since it's Korean for "hello". Lucille actually just didn't care enough to actually learn his real name: Hel-Loh.
  • Vetinari Job Security: Things immediately fall apart any time Michael leaves.
  • Visual Pun: A double-whammy in "Making A Stand":
    Narrator: Michael was trying to include his brother in the business, at his father's request.
    Michael: So, the last couple of months have seen us hemorrhaging money...
    [piles of change suddenly burst from Gob's sleeves]
    Narrator: But he was finding himself overwhelmed by the change.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Subverted in that right until the end they keep working for approval from their father (or in GOB's case for both his father's and Michael's).
    • There is also the fact that George deliberately undermined his sons to keep them working for his approval, as he believed it built character.
  • Wham Episode: The Grand Finale, naturally. It concluded most of the major plot points brought up in that season. Lucille is responsible for all of the corruption in the Bluth company, Lindsay was adopted at an early age and is the illusive 'Nellie' that Michael has been trying to find, GOB's christian girlfriend is revealed to be Ann, Annyong, whose real name is Hel-Loh, is a mole for the CIA, and has been spying on the Bluth family from inside the walls of the penthouse, Lucille is arrested for her crimes, and Michael and George-Michael finally leave the family to fend for itself.
  • Wham Line: Several throughout the series:
    • 'Top Banana' gives us a hilarious one in its final moments:
      George Sr: There was $250,000 lining the walls of the banana stand.
    • Also from 'Top Banana':
      George Sr: How much clearer can I say... There's always MONEY... IN... THE BANANA STAND!
    • 'Justice Is Blind':
      Doctor: Justice is fine. Although... Dressing him up like a seeing-eye dog seems a little cruel.
      Michael: Cruel?
      Doctor: Well yeah, because he can't see.
      Michael: What are you talking about?
      Doctor: Mr Bluth... Justice is blind.
    • 'Good Grief':
      George Michael: ...Pop-Pop?
      George, Sr.: Hide me!
    • 'Sad Sack':
      Barry Zuckercorn: Those are balls.
    • 'Out On A Limb':
      Buster: I'M GOING TO WAR!
    • From the end of 'Mr. F':
      Narrator: But there was one piece of intelligence that Michael didn't have.
      Agent 1: Interesting...
      Agent 2: Don't even think about it J. She's an MRF.
      Agent 1: MRF, what's that?
      Agent 2: Mentally Retarded Female.
    • 'Development Arrested':
      Stan Sitwell: 5%? Lucille actually gave you less than her natural children?
    • Also from 'Development Arrested':
      Lucille: Well I know it was someone in this family...
      Annyong: Or someone who used to be!
    • 'Blockheads':
      George Michael: How'd you know about the photo booth?
  • Wham Shot: Annyong hiding in the walls in the epilogue of 'Mr. F'.
  • White Sheep:
    • Michael, George Michael and Buster are generally this in relation to the Bluth family. They are by far the most decent and the least manipulative and selfish. Contrasted to the others who are greedy and power-hungry, and generally hold very few morals. Tobias also fits into this trope, although slightly less so since his ideas of this don't necessarily comply with other people's ideas of this.
    • In Season 4, this trope is deconstructed with all three of them: Michael becomes much more frustrated and selfish, abandons his family and eventually kicks almost all of them out of the movie, Buster is pushed far past his limits, and eventually punches Herbert Love in the face, and George Michael begins to show his natural Bluth traits, most notably the power of lying, and ends up digging himself deeper and deeper, and eventually punches his father in the face after he finds out that he was lying to him. Not to mention the fact that they're all implied to have motives for Lucille 2's murder.
  • Your Cheating Heart:
    • Herbert Love has a wife and kids, but has also been in lots of sexual harassment lawsuits during his campaign. Then again, his wife is having an affair on him, with Buster.
    • And in a weird variation on Season 4, Oscar, George's twin brother, manages to have sex with Lucille while the Bluths were still married, but Lucille had no idea it was Oscar as he was pretending to be George.

Specific episodes and scenes provide examples of:

     A-M 
  • Accidental Kidnapping:
    • Michael accidentally kidnaps a Mexican woman whom he mistook for Lupe.
      Michael: Hey, c'mon, get in the car, and I'm not taking 'no' for an answer.
    • Also the Bluth family accidentally kidnaps (and assaults and drugs) Rita when they go to pick her up, unaware that she has been told that Michael had no family ( and that she is mentally retarded).
  • Accidental Marriage: Maeby and George Michael have one when trying to entertain people in a senior citizens home.
    • Also, GOB ends up marrying a woman in an escalating series of drunken dares.
    • Even funnier if you know that Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, who plays the woman he marries, were married in real life at the time of the episode's airing.
  • Accidental Misnaming: George Michael's girlfriend Ann, whom Michael and others variously call "Egg, "Yam," "Plant," "Plain," "Bland," and "Her?".
    • Who?
  • Apology Gift: Lucille Bluth reveals to Maeby that most of the items in her jewelry collection were gifts George Sr. gave her after she discovered his various affairs.
  • Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: There's something weirdly heartwarming about GOB's complete refusal to believe that Michael would ever try to hurt him in "My Mother The Car."
    GOB: You don't hate me! Mom hates me! You kind of like me!
    Michael: ...I do kind of like you.
  • Bandaged Face:
    • Lucille after plastic surgery.
    • Tobias in the throes of Graft Versus Host.
  • Batman Gambit: Michael attempts several of these. A failed example includes when Michael tries to break up GOB with Marta by putting her in the magic act.
  • Becoming the Mask: In Season 4, GOB sets out to get revenge on a newly uncloseted, flirty Tony Wonder by winning his heart and then breaking it. Tony is secretly straight and just pretending to flirt, because he thinks GOB is gay as well and has a boyfriend with money. They both end up truly enjoying each other's company and developing feelings for each other - the Narrator says this is confused friendship, but after they're tricked into sex with each other GOB says the experience has confirmed he's in love. Troper bonus: literal full face masks are involved.
  • 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 counseling 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."
    • He was certainly the most feared analrapist in the prison.
    • In the final episode of Season 3, George Michael punches GOB out cold when he realizes that his uncle has been dating Ann behind his back.
      • Her?
    • In the Season 4 episode 'Off the Hook', Buster punches Herbert Love in the face and knocks him out, and then possibly murders Lucille 2.
    • In the final episode of Season 4, George Michael punches his father for dating Rebel Alley while he still knew the discovery that George Michael was dating her as well.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The painters reminiscing about the Baby Buster videos such as "Too Old To Breastfeed"
    Painters: Yo quiero leche de madre!
  • Blatant Lies
    G.O.B.: Lindsay's been staying at the Four Seas for, like, a month—-she's probably charging the company.
    Michael: Lindsay's been in town for a month?
    G.O.B.: I don't think so.
  • Body Double: Turns out that the houses in Iraq that the Bluth company built were housing a group of Saddam doubles. Though for double spoilers one on of them may be the real Saddam and a double was killed in his place.
  • Book Ends: The finale, "Development Arrested", is filled with them.
  • Brutal Honesty:
    Michael: Did you burn down the storage unit?
    T-Bone: Oh, most definitely!
  • Buffy Speak:
    • A lot of the time, especially from Lindsay.
      Lindsay: Michael, if this is a lecture about how we're all supposed to whatever, and blah blah blah, well you can save it because we all know it by heart.
    • The narrator himself refers to Michael eating an entire "thing" of Candy beans twice.
  • By Wall That Is Holey: Played with in "The One Where They Build a House", where Buster, attempting to get injured to get out of the Army, runs under a falling wall (Mimicking another Buster).
  • The Cast Showoff: Tommy Tune as Lucille II's brother inevitably gets to do some tap dancing.
  • Celebrity Paradox/You Look Familiar: Richard Belzer appears as himself in S.O.B.s and then later as his Homicide/ Law and Order character John Munch in Exit Strategy.
  • Cluster Bleep Bomb:
    • At the office:
      Gob: Please refrain from discussing or engaging in any sort of inter-office [bleep]ing, or s[bleep]ing, or finger[bleep], or [bleep]sting or [bleep]eeing or or even [bleep]. Even though so many people in this office are begging for it. And if anybody does anything with my sister Lindsay, I'll take off my pants, I'll sh[bleep]. And I'll personally [long bleep].
    • When the kids are making fun of their mother:
      Buster: [impersonating Lucille] I'm an uptight [bleep] BUSTER! [long bleep] YOU OLD HORNY SLUT!
    • Dealing with the prostitute:
      Nellie: We're gonna have some ground rules first, OK? No [bleep]ing, [bleep] [bleep]ing, or [bleep]asting. And no [bleep]ing unless you're wearing a [bleep] [bleep] or you [bleep] before you [bleep] me. And if this winds up on the web, I will [bleep] you in the [bleep].
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Subverted. Wayne Jarvis tells Michael that GOB is "on the news! Right now!", and turns on the TV. They then wait several minutes for the segment about him to come up.
  • Cold Turkeys Are Everywhere: Parodied after a loose seal with a yellow bow tie bites off Buster's hand: he sees reminders of it everywhere, from his hand chair to his stuffed seal with a yellow bow tie to the words on his clock "ALARM OFF" minus the first two letters.
  • Continuity Editing: Done deliberately very wrong in the sleazy commercial of Bob Loblaw, where he closes the same book Egg, three times.
  • Creepy Uncle: The Veals have one. GOB, Tobias and Buster all play this role for George Michael occasionally.
  • Death by Racism: In the Tonight Someone Dies episode, the narrator points out the woman who does die after she says Gob could "charm the black off a telegram boy."
  • Disappearing Box: GOB's "Aztec Tomb" in the first episode.
  • Drugged Lipstick: On GOB's ventriloquist's dummy.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Played with in "Pier Pressure;" Michael apparently believes this, but the treatment it gets indicates that the folks behind the camera apparently don't.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: In-universe example. "And secondofly, I know you're the big marriage expert around here. Oh wait, I forgot your wife is dead."
  • Dude, She's Like in a Coma: When Buster is faking his coma, his nurse crawls into bed with him. She's done it before, too. The representative trying to keep him alive does it too.
  • Gambit Pileup: In "Making A Stand", George Sr. attempts to carry out a illegal deal with a Columbian cartel by using GOB to unwittingly launder the money and distracting Michael by playing him against GOB. In response, Michael makes a plan to convince his father that the cartel have kidnapped him after Michael caught on and called the deal off to teach him a lesson. However, after GOB tells George Sr. the full details of the plan less than a minute into its setup, George Sr. plants his go-to scare tactic amputee J. Walter Weatherman in the group to give him a means to teach them a lesson about teaching their father a lesson. After finding out that GOB ruined their scheme, Michael gets into a fight with him which spills onto the balcony, where Michael falls over the railing. Once George Sr. runs out to the balcony in shock, Michael comes up from his hiding place behind the railing to teach George Sr. the lesson about pitting GOB and him against each other that they had originally planned... at which point the police, investigating the commotion upstairs, break in and shoot Buster's hand off- his fake hand, which he had been passing off as his good hand by concealing his real hand under his hook all along, teaching them all the lesson he'd been trying to teach the entire episode about using amputees to scare people.
    • "Development Arrested", to a lesser extent.
  • Hit Me, Dammit!: Buster spends an episode trying to get into a fight only to drop and curl into a ball when the time finally comes.
  • Homosexual Reproduction: Maggie Lizer was a surrogate mother of a gay couple, who used a material mixed from the sperms of both of them.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Leaning on the Fourth Wall example:
      Tobias: Those Hollywood shows are so incredibly detailed. [gets a pot of coffee out of a cupboard containing only the pot and a Starbucks cup]
      George Michael: [gets a granola bar out of an otherwise empty cupboard]
    • The third season is full of this, and it's almost always Leaning on the Fourth Wall.
      Rita: [a Brit, played by the South African Charlize Theron] I just hate when they get Yanks to play British people.
  • Jumping the Shark: Parodied in the episode "Motherboy XXX", when Barry Zuckercorn (played by Trope Codifier Henry Winkler) hops over a shark to go to a Product Placement. In-universe, at least.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • The late season three episode S.O.B.s is chock full of references to the show's failing ratings and involves the characters pleading for support and trying to seem more relatable, while simultaneously stating that they would not be able to do a Channel Hop should they ultimately be canceled, and, by the end, openly accepting the show's impending cancellation.
    • When they discuss the idea that there is a mole with a listing device in the company in 'Mr. F', the cameras focuses on each cast member, ending with George Sr.'s surrogate and then finally with a wide cast shot of the conference room with a studio mic hanging overhead that gets quickly pulled away.
    • In Season 4, whenever footage from the original run is used, a watermark for "Showstealer Pro Trial Edition" is seen over it - a nod to the reduced budget on Netflix
  • Left Hanging: Nearly every single plot and subplot in season 4 is left unresolved.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: In season 4, George Michael gets the alias George Maharis when he introduces himself as George Mi—heiress (he had just been telling Maeby that the correct pronunciation was "airess", not "Harris"). As a Genius Bonus, George Maharis is a real person, and while George Michael chose the name to escape the embarrassing implications of George Michael and Boy George, that name carries very similar implications.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: Parodied in the first season: Maeby pretends to be a terminally ill student named Surely Fünke so that the school will hold fundraisers for "her" and she can abscond with the money.
  • Meaningful Name: Sitwell repeatedly has problems with the adjustment of his eyebrows.
  • Mistaken for Racist: "Afternoon Delight":
    Lucille: Michael, I was almost attacked last night in my own home! I walk in, and there's a colored man in my kitchen.
    Michael: "Colored"? What color was he, exactly?
    Lucille: Blue!

     N-Z 
  • No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: In-universe. Maeby produces an American remake of a French film about cousins dating. A religious group (led by the girlfriend of Maeby's cousin George-Michael) protests the film and turns it into a hit.
  • Not This One, That One: Inverted when we first meet Rita.
    Narrator: And that's when Michael laid eyes on the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen.
    [we see an older, heavyset woman]
    Narrator: No, not that one.
    [the older woman gets up to leave]
    Narrator: Wait for it.
    [the older woman walks away and reveals Rita behind her]
    Narrator: There.
  • Obfuscating Disability:
    • Played with: An attorney who can actually see claims to be blind in order to get the sympathy of her jurors; the Bluths try to expose her fake disability, but fail spectacularly because (only) on the day that they decided to prove she was not blind, she actually was temporarily blind due to an accident. She regained her sight in full the following day.
    • Maeby pretends to be a disabled girl called Shirley spelled Surely to get people to give money to her. Also Buster pretending to be in a coma to avoid testifying against the family.
  • Odd Friendship: Tobias and GOB, season 4.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: A staple of the show.
    • In "Afternoon Delight", Michael tells Oscar to give Lucille some "afternoon delight"—Oscar thinks he's talking about a particular strain of marijuana called "Afternoone Deelite".
      Oscar: Maybe I'll put it in her brownie.
      Michael: Hey!
    • Also, Lindsay and George Michael's exchange from Shock and Aww. Lindsay misinterprets her nephew's crush on his ethics teacher as a desire to set up a date for his father, making her a mother figure.
      Lindsay: You know, Aunts can fill that role too.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Byron "Buster" Bluth, Mae "Maeby" Fünke, George Oscar "GOB" Bluth.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: Michael goes to visit his father in jail. However, George Sr. tricked his twin brother Oscar into taking his place, and Oscar tries to convince Michael of this. When Michael doesn't believe him, and leaves to follow through on his plans with George Michael, Oscar tells him "I understand. Your child comes first." This is proof enough for Michael.
  • Peking Duck Christmas: Not the holiday precisely, but a similar idea. The setting has two Punny Name restaurants. One is called Skip Churches and is a Sunday Brunch place where Christians go in lieu of church. The other is Miss Temple's, a Chinese restaurant frequented by Jews in lieu of synagogue.
  • Platonic Prostitution: In "Family Ties," Nellie's customers never seem to want to have sex with her, and just need to talk about their deep-seated emotional problems: George Bluth sobs about his inability to make Oscar jealous with his money, GOB sobs about his inability to get Michael's approval, and, when she is inadvertently hired as an in-house prostitute for the whole Bluth company, she is concerned about the company's morale because the employees all just wanted to cry to her.
    • Possibly subverted, depending on the truthfulness of a phone call: "Away. She blew you away."
  • Plucky Office Girl: Kitty has used her position as one of these to get enough information on everyone to perfectly manipulate them all. Problem is, she's crazy, so how well this works is left up to the viewer.
  • The Problem with Pen Island: Tobias is an analyst and a therapist, and describes his profession with the self-coined portmanteau 'analrapist'. Needless to say, Tobias was mostly unaware of this trope being in effect when people reacted with shock upon seeing his business cards as he pronounced it differently than you'd imagine, so he didn't see it as an issue until later.
    • And in Season 4, he decides to show off his determination for a new start with a Vanity License Plate: ANUSTART (a nu start). He's finally learned his lesson about "analrapist", though, and now refers to himself as a "theralyst".
  • Prison Episode: The first season has George, Sr. in prison. However, as part of an "illusion," his son GOB goes to prison for an episode to prove he can escape in 24 hours time. He escapes when an inmate shivs him and he's taken to a hospital.
  • Product Placement:
    • Lampshaded when Tobias and Carl Weathers go to Burger King. "It's a wonderful restaurant!" Narrator and show producer Ron Howard immediately adds "It sure is!"
    • "Have you seen the new Mustang? You can hump that hood!"
    • Two references to Netflix appear the season broadcast by the service.
  • Ratings Stunt: Lampshaded and abused in the fifth-to-last episode "S.O.B.S":
    • Tonight Someone Dies: Subverted: the narrator reveals that it's going to be a racist background character halfway through the episode.
    • Celebrity Star: the episode features several Guest Stars, but a large portion of the plot revolves around getting Andy Richter, who George Sr. didn't even want.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The circuitous, Hyperlink Story-ish nature of season 4 is due to difficulties coordinating the actors' schedules. Tony Hale's schedule conflicts with Veep in particular were so difficult to work with that Buster's focus episode is mostly self-contained.
  • Really Seventeen Years Old: Maeby gets a job as a producer where she constantly has to hide the fact that she's still in high school.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Ice, the Scary Black Man bounty hunter hired by GOB sidelines as a caterer, which is the field he's actually most interested in.
  • Recognition Failure: When Lindsay is trying to meet men, she is enticed by a bearded homeless fellow described as having the rugged, unkempt appearance of a movie star. When she finds out he's just homeless, she leaves. However, it turns out that the homeless man is actually Real Life actor Thomas Jane, doing some Method Acting character research for a couple upcoming movies by posing as homeless. When Lindsay finds this out, she is enticed again. Tom Jane is confused that she doesn't know who he is, but seems pleased that she thinks he's gross.
  • Red Herring: The Mr. F the CIA is using as a mole is Mr. Fünke.
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: A good handful of episodes has the family business being messed up by this happening within the Bluth Company, but this trope is at it's most noticeable when the finale reveals that the CIA East put George Sr. up to building houses in Iraq and the CIA West pressed charges against George Sr. for building houses in Iraq, both without consulting each other.
  • "Risky Business" Dance: In "Development Arrested", Ted is dressed like Tom Cruise (sunglasses, collar up, no pants) under the "Risky Business" banner. He can be heard saying "I couldn't see through the glasses and I slid into the ladder", implying he (unsuccessfully) attempted to re-create the famous "sliding in front of the stairs" scene from the movie, in front of the ladder.
  • Rummage Sale Reject: Rita's style of dress veers in this direction. But it's to be expected, due to "MR F"
  • Saw a Woman in Half: One of GOB's many illusions. It is Serious Business.
  • Science Is Wrong:
    Gob: So, a young neighborhood tough by the name of Steve Holt's gonna be here any minute...
    Michael: Your son.
    Gob: According to him...
    Michael: And a DNA test.
    Gob: I heard the jury's still out on science.
  • Seamless Spontaneous Lie: Lucille uses a lie like this to cover up the fact that her children's Nana died, and she's been keeping the inheritance money they want for herself. By this point in their lives, the kids know not to believe her. This just makes Lindsay try even harder to find out what happened in order to get the money.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Tobias gets license plates made in the name of his hopeful roles, one of which says "DR HOUSE" .
    • See Actor Allusion above. Also an obscure, and apparently arbitrary, one: in "Fakin' It", Wayne Jarvis has the line "Why do there have to be puppets like Frank?" in reference to GOB's puppet Franklin.
    • George Sr. apparently has seen Astro Boy. He certainly would fit the age range when it came out.
    • George Michael is being threatened by Anonymous. Yes, that Anonymous.
    • In Season 4, produced by Netflix, Tony Wonder and Sally Sitwell mention that they don't want their plan to be a House of Cards, a reference to Netflix's first original series.
  • Sitcom Archnemesis: Lucille II is this in Lucille's opinion and Stan Sitwell is this to George Sr. In both cases, the detested person is a really decent person, but is treated as a nemesis because the Bluth in question attributes their own kind of motivations to them.
  • Smart People Speak The Queen's English: Rita is a subversion. Her English accent is (according to the narrator) the reason that people don't figure out that she's mentally retarded.
  • Sock It To Them: There's mention of a sock filled with batteries in a play being put on by the warden.
  • Something Only They Would Say:
    • Michael realizes that a mysterious pimp is actually GOB when the latter makes a remark about "turning tricks illusions on the street."
    • He also finally believes that the man in prison is Oscar and not his father when he says that Michael's family problems come before getting his own name cleared.
  • Spousal Privilege: Thoroughly mangled by George Sr.
  • Stealing from the Hotel: Marky Bark offers a handful of hotel soap bars at the restaurant that only accepts trade. They're rejected.
  • Stupid Sexy Flanders
  • The Tag
    Narrator: On the next Arrested Development...
  • Take That: Done in-universe, oddly enough, when the narrator spends a good bit of an episode knocking the narration of a rivaling show, Scandalmakers.
    • In the Season 2 blooper reel, you can hear David Cross tell off Fox's marketing team for its failure to market the show despite its great reviews and numerous awards and nominations. The best part is that he does it while half-dressed in his Mrs. Featherbottom costume.
  • That Came Out Wrong: The show specializes in these, usually half a dozen per episode from Tobias (who doesn't realize what he's said), but often from Michael as well (who only notices it half the time).
  • Theme Tune Cameo: Lindsay's ringtone.
  • Theme Twin Naming: Well, the twin isn't real, but at one point Maeby pretends to be a twin sister named Surely.
    • Also George Oscar Sr. and his twin brother, Oscar George.
  • Title Drop:
    • Only once in the whole three seasons.
    • In "Justice is Blind," a veterinarian reveals to Michael that...
      Vet: Mr. Bluth, Justice is blind.
    • Subverted a few times in season 4. One example is when the camera is focused on a bin labeled "active development," before panning out to reveal the bin next to it labeled "not going forward development".
  • Tour Guide Gag
  • Translation By Volume: Talking unnaturally loudly or slowly tends to be how the Bluths attempt to communicate with the various Spanish-speaking characters.
  • Twin Switch:
    • George Sr. often tricks his twin brother Oscar into serving prison time in his place. Despite the frequency with which this happens, both Oscar and the police fall for it every time.
    Oscar: Oh, stupid Oscar, when are you going to learn that there's no such thing as free shrimp?
    • George Sr. finds himself on the receiving end when the mexican police confuse him for Oscar, wanted for drug charges. He eventually convinces them of his real identity. That's when they remember he's the cornballer.
  • Twincest: Lindsay tells Michael she's "always been attracted to [him]" seconds after finding out they aren't blood relatives.
  • T-Word Euphemism: GOB's yacht.
  • Unusual Euphemism:
    • When George Michael says that he has Pop-Pop in the attic, Michael thinks he's talking about sex. Later episodes show that Michael may have been justified in assuming this, since other characters use it to mean exactly that.
    • "fronts-piece" and "I no dust Buster any more!"
    • Michael wonders whether he missed out on some new slang development when both Lindsay and Gob use "crown" as a sexual euphemism.
    • Buster says "Linus" instead of penis.
    • Buster says "Charlie Browns" for testicles. Buster saw the Peanuts specials in a way very different from the rest of the audience, for sure.
  • The Unfair Sex: Averted. Lucille is an abusive mother and Lindsay neglects her daughter.
  • Unsettling Gender-Reveal: Shows up in more than one context:
    • Invoked and subverted by Maeby, who wants Steve Holt to think Lindsay is her father, not her mother. She goes so far as to buy her mother a shirt with a label "in French":
      Maeby: It's pronounced 'Shemalé'.
    • Barry Zuckerkorn apparently seeks out this trope, exclusively:
      Barry: Hey, you're not one of those silly men that's dressed like a woman, are you?
      Prostitute: No, baby, I'm the real thing.
      [Barry floors it and drives away]
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: With the exception of Michael and George Michael, everyone is a lazy, self-involved Jerkass. Michael, for all he really, really tries to be a good person and caring father, occasionally succumbs to hypocrisy and selfishness. This is Lampshaded in "S.O.B." In Season 4, without the rest of their family to make them look better by comparison, both Michael and, to a lesser extent, George-Michael succumb to this.
  • Wallpaper Camouflage:
    • Reoccurring trope. Tobias' blue paint, from his stint as a Blue Man Group understudy, allows him to camouflage against any blue background. He also camouflages himself against a glitter background using Lindsay's diamond lotion in order to spy on her.
    • Buster's Milford Academy training allows him a high degree of skill in blending into the background of any situation.
  • We Should Get Another Tape: Trope Namer is George Michael's eventual response to the running gag where any recording always runs on to footage he shot of himself re-enacting scenes from The Phantom Menace.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Parodied. Annyong disappears between the first and second seasons, never to be seen again... until one On The Next gag toward the beginning of the third season reveals that he had been hiding in the walls note . He reveals himself as a spy in the final episode.
    • Played straight with Cindy the Ostrich, who isn't seen again chronologically after attacking Lucille 2.
  • What Have We Ear?: Another one of GOB's tricks illusions. Probably not a good one to use on White Power Bill Dirty Ears Bill.
  • Whole Plot Reference: George Michael's Fakeblock sub-plot in season 4 is essentially a parody of The Social Network
  • You Know What You Did: Despite having acknowledged how untrustworthy Lucille is, Lindsay and Michael both fall for their mother's attempts to make them believe that the other thinks badly of them.
  • Zip Me Up:

    Creator/Malik YobaCSI: Miami
As Time Goes ByDom ComBaby Daddy
Aquí no hay quien vivaComedy SeriesThe Aunty Jack Show
American Horror Story Freak ShowCreator/ 20 th Century FoxBatman
Around The HornAmerican SeriesArrow
Around The HornTurnOfTheMillennium/Live-Action TVAshes to Ashes
American IdolCreator/FoxAxe Cop
Archie Bunker's PlaceCreator/HuluThe Aunty Jack Show
    Creator/NetflixBojack Horseman
Elderly Blue-Haired LadyImageSource/Live-Action TVStripper/Cop Confusion

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