Audience-Alienating Premise: The show actually got a decent amount of network support, it lasted 3 years despite being rather expensive to produce, but some theorize that FOX simply did not know how to effectively advertise the show, Emmy winning or not. Basically it's a show about a family of egotistical yuppies where only one man is trying to do the right thing, the rest are either pushovers, flawed to the point of being The Load or outright unsympathetic characters. The complex narrative, intricate business subplots and Incest Subtext out the wazoo complicates things further. This was pointed out in the third season by Michael: "Maybe we aren't as likable as we think we are."
Better on DVD: or on Hulu, as it were. (And remember to pause whenever a newspaper or other text piece appears on screen — there are always a couple of extra jokes thrown in).
Watching the episodes in quick succession instead of an episode per week makes the countless running gags and brick jokes funnier because the set-ups are fresh in the viewer's mind. The show is also made even more hilarious when you watch the first season and catch all the Foreshadowing of things you now know are to come.
Season 4 is fully aware of this, and features several Netflix-related gags.
Broken Base: Season 4 was very divisive for the fanbase, especially for its experimentation with narrative style where details of different scenes are gradually filled in over the season. Where some fans greatly appreciated this move, holding it up as innovative and an excellent fit for the Netflix format which encourages binge-watching, others criticized it for making it the first few episodes quite the slog to get through and that the first group's claims of "It gets better" are no excuse for this. The relatively darker mood of the season, due to the main characters often showing themselves from their worst sides, especially Michael, have also been a point of contention.
Cargo Ship: George Sr. seems to really enjoy ice cream sandwiches in "Top Banana."
Crazy Awesome: George sometimes leans into this. The man is clearly insane, doing things like setting up elaborately cruel pranks to teach his children life lessons (including to teach Michael to not teach people life lessons), posing as God in a live painting banquet so he can make a jailbreak, stashing away money in giant banana-shaped food stands, and using his eldest sons to stage "Boy Fights" so he could sell the tapes for money (even though he was already rich as all hell, so said money would be pretty much worthless to him).
Critical Dissonance: Broken Base aside, many fans have enjoyed season 4. Ironically for a show that has been a critic's darling, many TV critics have been underwhelmed by season 4.
Crosses the Line Twice: Any time someone other than George Michael mentions Michael's late wife Tracy. Their comments are invariably so painfully insensitive to someone who lost a beloved spouse (even Lucille liked her!) less than two years ago, that Michael evidently just lists them with the family's other exasperating traits he can't do anything about.
George Sr. doesn't mind his wife and daughter attempting to use the company medical fundraiser to bankroll their cosmetic surgeries, but gets exasperated that Michael is still going on about ovarian cancer.
George Sr., Gob, Lindsay, and Barry all at some point mistakenly call Tracy "Michael's ex-wife" or "Michael's first wife". Michael points out that he's only been married once, and she didn't leave him, she died. Prompting Barry to exclaim in annoyance that he's been claiming credit for handling their divorce.
Lindsay defending her failing marriage with Tobias:
Lindsay: Your marriage wasn't so perfect. I seem to remember you two weren't even speaking near the end.
His daughter Lucy Schwartz's song "Boomerang" was great enough (and catchy enough) that after hearing it, Mitch Hurwitz actually re-edited the final minutes of the season 4 finale (even bumping The Tag to after the credits) just to include it in the show.
Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: Season 4 can come off like this sometimes- namely while the comedy's still there, it's far darker than before, everyone is in a worse position than they were, and the few likable characters take several levels in jerkass.
Discredited Meme: The series' running gags get zigged-zagged all over the place in Season 4.
We wave goodbye to the staircar in episode 1, only to have it come back for one last hurrah in the last episode. Meanwhile, Michael is driving a Google camera car, which is just as ridiculous.
Sudden Valley is finally completed, so it's not just a model home on a barren hill. However, it's an unlivable, inaccessible ghost town.
Tobias is told early on that the way he talks makes everyone think he's gay, and he vows to do something about it. He doesn't, and his Innocent Innuendo lands him on the sex offender registry. He finally learns not to call himself an "analrapist", but "anustart" takes its place.
It looks like George Michael had finally gotten over his crush on Maeby, but he brings her back into his life to try again.
Buster gets a bionic replacement for his hook, but it's even more dangerous.
Ultimately, this is a series about people who don't grow or change.
Earworm: The "Mock Trial with J. Reinhold" theme song, as sung by William Hungnote infamous for being one of the worst American Idol contestants ever at the time.
Big Yellow Joint
The opening theme.
"You're a crook/Captain Hook/Judge, won't you throw the book..."
"Go away, Getaway! Get away, Getaway! Stay away, Getaway!" Even the chorus instrumental is catchy.
It's the Final Countdown! note Oddly enough, one of the only songs that's actually licensed.
The jazz/Latin tune that plays during the closing credits.
Ensemble Darkhorse: GOB, his puppet Franklin, and Tobias - Tobias is especially notable in that he was originally supposed to be a minor character, but the character left such an impression that he was promoted to main character status. Steve Holt and Gene Parmesan also qualify.
Epileptic Trees: The cliffhanger ending of season 4 involving Lucille 2's apparent murder caused a explosion of theorizing and analysis by fans trying to piece together clues. It's similar to the famous "Who Shot Mr. Burns" cliffhanger in that many of the characters have a motive and opportunity, so nearly every theory can be given at least a scrap of evidence no matter how ridiculous. Note that the WMG page for the show has an entire folder devoted to speculation about it.
Fridge Brilliance: In both episodes featuring Maggie Lizer, the blind lawyer, it made no sense that she would often make eye contact with Michael. Then, it turns out she's not really blind!
Then in the episodes where she returns and is pregnant, she meets with Michael no less than twice to go drinking, which won't harm her baby because she's not pregnant.
Maggie's seeing eye dog, Justice, is remarkably undisciplined and ill-behaved for a service dog. Then we find out that not only is Maggie not blind, meaning that Justice is just a regular dog instead of a service one, it's Justice who's blind.
Lucille constantly calls Lindsay fat. It's treated negatively in universe, but it's still deeply uncomfortable to watch knowing that Portia De Rossi went public about her struggles with anorexia after the show ended.
All the jokes about G.O.B.'s brief marriage and divorce have become somewhat bitter in light of the actors playing G.O.B. and his wife (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler) announcing their Real Life breakup in 2012.
George Michael's confusion of The Wizard of Oz with Oz led him to be terrified of prison. Over the course of the fourth season, he commits such massive fraud that it's almost a given that he's going to jail.
Lucille's jokes about Lindsay being fat sound escpecially mean since Portia De Rossi admitted to suffering from eating disorders.
She's now married to Ellen DeGeneres. Which, incidentally, means that her spouse is gay.
Oscar's and George's Sr.'s actor Jeffrey Tambor had twin children born in 2009.
Try hearing Gob and Franklin's signature song without thinking of "Accidental Racist", which may be impossible if you've watched the show afterward.
The Running Gag of how plain and unmemorable Ann is, when it's now impossible not to hear her as Katara.
And let's not forget about how Mae Whitman reunited with Michael Cera in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World as an evil ex-girlfriend exacting revenge.
Even more hilarious, one of the first episodes to focus on Ann was the Gene Parmesan episode. He is played by Martin Mull, another actor best known for his role on an action-oriented Nicktoon.
The scene in which Maggie interrogates Buster is a lot funnier to watch now that Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tony Hale star together in Veep.
George Sr.'s Season 4 storyline eventually comes down to him adjusting to life as a woman after most of the testosterone in his body was replaced by oestrogen. Jeffrey Tambor would later star in the TV show Transparent, where he plays a transgender woman.
Speaking of which, Oscar's hair greatly resembles Maura's on Transparent, and that's not counting the many times either he or George Sr. cross-dressed.
On top of that, both the Bluths and Transparent's Pfeffernans are well-off, out-of-touch Orange County families led by a business-minded patriarch.
It may be worth pointing out that Transparent creator Jill Soloway revealed that she explicitly wrote the part of Maura with Tambor in mind. It's entirely possible that season 4 is what inspired his casting in the show (Tambor had also previously portrayed transgender judge Alan Wachtel on the police procedural Hill Street Blues).
And we're sure a wrestling fan cannot hear Larry Middleman's voice without thinking of John Laurinaitis.
Mae Fünke's nickname is Maeby. So, in other words, she wants you to call her Maeby.
A brief flashback in "Motherboy XXX" shows Tobias despondent after apparently failing to secure the title role on House, M.D., which had just premiered to critical acclaim at about the same time as Season 2 went into production. A few years later David Cross, the actor who plays Tobias, married one of the series regulars on House, Amber Tamblyn (who played House's medical student Martha Masters in the final two seasons of the show).
The US-Mexico border wall was inspired by the failed attempt in real life in the mid 2000s. In 2015, Donald Trump ran for President of the United States on the platform that he will resume construction of the wall if elected. Lindsay becomes a staunch supporter for the wall and ends up looking like a female Trump (her hairstyle was trying to emulate Lucille's) after the original candidate became comatose.
Hollywood Homely: George-Michael's girlfriend Ann is often treated like this by Michael. While not particularly unattractive, she has a dowdy appearance and appears very unemotional and bizarre, failing to make any lasting impression on people in-universe.
Hollywood Pudgy: A few characters, notably Michael, make jabs indicating that Ann is fat. She's somewhat round in the face, but that's about it.
Gob. He's probably the most openly antagonistic of the main cast members, but he really does try to please his parents, and is deeply insecure due to his harsh upbringing. It would probably make it into Tear Jerker territory if it wasn't so damn funny.
Lucille actually inches toward this in season 4 due to an implied Freudian Excuse from herAbusive Parents. She also finally starts to realize that her children actually do hate her, or just don't care.
Maeby Funke. If you take away her resourcefulness, cunning, deceitfulness and rebellious attitude, you'll see a young girl horribly neglected by her self-centered parents and is desperate and will do anything to get some kind of attention from them.
Lindsey and Tobias are both horribly neglectful towards their family (especially their daughter) and are massive Attention Whores, but Lindsey has huge self-esteem problems because of her emotionally abusive mother and Tobias isn't knowingly mean just completely out of his depth and desperate to fulfill his dream of being an actor.
Some fans feel that John Beard and his goons crossed it in "A New Start" by basically framing Tobias for pedophilia and then kicking the crap out of him for no reason.
Similarly, Michael's Season 4 storyline deals with his descent from a Nice Guy to an all-out asshole after various failures. Perhaps the first sign of this is him ripping up Tobias' contract moments after he signs it in "Smashed".
Season 4 ends with Lucille 2 killed, and every Bluth family member with a motive for the murder. Whoever did it, this is certainly their Moral Event Horizon.
Lucille 2 herself crosses it in "Off the Hook" when she manipulates Buster into getting drunk (on juice) and missing his mother's trial, while attending herself to ensure that Lucille would be incarcerated, essentially ruining Buster's life in the process.
Narm: In rare case of one work making another Narmy, many have reported being unable to take the song "The Sound Of Silence" seriously after it's usage in the show as Gob's Leitmotif.
The same goes for "The Final Countdown," which went from "epic" to "hilarious" for many fans after being used as the centerpiece in Gob's lame magic shows.
Nightmare Fuel: In-universe, Buster's arm after losing his hand is treated like this by most of the other characters, particularly Gob. And while it's usually given a Gory Discretion Shot whenever he's not wearing his hook or a prosthesis, it's still visibly bloody in "Motherboy XXX" and other episodes immediately following the accident. Gob's very visceral freak-out at this point is not so much funny as real enough to sell it.
Gene returns in season 4. Uncle Jack, however, does not.
Rewatch Bonus: A lot. You'll never catch all the subtle jokes, set-ups, and foreshadowing on a first-time viewing. Season 4 takes it Up to Eleven due to being shown in Anachronic Order. For example, Lindsey's spotlight episode is completely different on a second viewing once you know Tobias was just barely off-screen the whole time.
The Rita Leeds arc once it's revealed that she's mentally challenged, not a spy.
There's a slew of office workers NBC viewers might be familiar with in early Season 2: The guy who Lindsay thought she had a date with? Andy Bernard. Phyllis worked for the Bluth Company before tranferring to Dunder Mifflin. Kevin worked as a gun shop owner who sold a rifle to Tobias. Darryl worked as a security guard at a movie studio where Tobias was looking for a role.
Remember the incredibly ugly woman GOB tried to set up Michael with in "Shock and Aww"? Iqbal Theba, better known as Principal Figgins from Glee.
There's also a blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot of AndySamberg at the tail end of the season 2 finale, as a stage manager for the Blue Man group.
SaulGoodman is a slightly better lawyer than he is a marriage counselor.
Kenneth Parcell from 30 Rock appeared twice as a waiter.
The first actress to play Ann Veal later became better known as Zoe Graystone.
Spiritual Adaptation: In addition to being a hilarious sitcom in its own right, Arrested Development is also probably the best comedic reimagining of Classical Greek tragedy that you'll see on the small screen. It could easily be a modern retelling of Aeschylus' The Oresteia (with a few elements of theThebantrilogy thrown in), with the Bluths standing in for the House of Atreus. All the tropes are there: intergenerational conflict, random mutilation and disfiguration, a powerful Big, Screwed-Up Family's fall from grace, a complex web of backstabbings and infidelity, an ambitious scheming matriarch manipulating a clueless patriarch behind his back, an Only Sane Man son trying to right his parents' wrongs, boatloads of Incest Subtext, and a surreal courtroom trial at the climax—all set against the backdrop of a brutal war in Asia Minor (though one involving battle tanks instead of a big wooden horse).
Squick: "Sounds like you saved enough skin to make ten new boys."
Stealth Pun: So stealthy it might not even count. In the season 4 episode "Red Hairing", Herbert Love - the Herman Cain-esque politician - gives a necklace to Lindsay that he bought at Brother Brothers Pawn Shop. If you do a little word association, "Brother Brothers" becomes "Cain Hermanos", a joke that not only works on its own, but also references what they're satirizing and uses one of the show's running jokes to do it. That might be a stretch, but if it is, that means the Arrested Development made a perfectly-working three-level joke by ACCIDENT.
Suspiciously Similar Song: Subverted at first in "Making a Stand", where a montage of stills is put to several different songs made for the series in an attempt to "make it funny". At one point, The Narrator mentions that it was "pretty funny to Yellow Submarine... but who could afford it?", at which point the music cuts out. Parodied later in the episode with a second montage set to a similar-sounding "Yellow Boat".
Unintentionally Sympathetic: Gob is clearly not supposed to be liked all that much by that audience considering he is one of the bigger jerks in the show which is no small feat, but given how he’s spent his entire life being The Unfavorite by everyone and a lot of his actions are the result of trying to get some sort of acceptance in his twisted view it's also easily understandable why he's like that.
Unintentionally Unsympathetic: Conversely, while Michael is supposed to have the audience feel bad for him due to being forced to put up with all the craziness his family causes, his behavior shows that he isn't really that much better than the rest of his family. Even before taking a major Jerkass level in the fourth season he could often act pretty smug and pulled some pretty despicable acts himself, such as sleeping with the teacher his son had a crush on and then setting Gob up as a scapegoat when he found out, and agreeing to let Uncle Jack have sex with Lindsay completely without her consent or knowledge. He also repeatedly treats George Michael just as roughly as his own father treated him and his siblings and though he’d often come to the realization that he was acting just like his own father and promise to do better from then on he almost always winds up forgetting this by the next episode, and that doesn't even take into account how he's often treated Ann like crap for no reason just because she was dating his son. This list on CollegeHumor even takes a look at TV characters who show signs of this trope, with Michael earning a no. 3 spot.
Values Dissonance: In the episode "Sad Sack", aired in 2004, Maeby pretends her mother is a Transsexual to make Steve Holt stop liking her. She uses the horribly offensive slur words "tranny" and "shemale" to describe her - but the offensiveness of the words is not acknowledged, and they're treated casually. In the 2010s, this would be virtually unthinkable.
...Except Season 4 brings back the "s-slur" joke; Tobias can be seen wearing a shirt with that word on it in a couple episodes (same scene redone from different POVs). So we're unfortunately not making this as "dissonant" as it should be.
Of course, part of the point of the show is that all the characters are jerks or idiots (or both). Maeby does it to manipulate Steve Holt, because that's what she does. And listen to Tobias reading from "The Man Inside Me", he is certainly the type of person who would wear that shirt without realizing what it meant.
Oscar due to constantly being framed, manipulated, and abused by his criminal brother. Reaches its zenith in season 4 where George Sr. twists Oscar's genuine desire to mend their relationship for a Get Rich Quick Scheme.