11 Great Moments of Foreshadowing in Arrested Development
Since first airing on Fox in 2003, Arrested Development has established itself as a paragon of depth in television comedy. Fans of the show have spent years digging out jokes buried in the background, beneath the narration, within the soundtrack, and everywhere in between.
To celebrate the show's return to Netflix for an all-new fifth season, here's a look at several great examples of foreshadowing hidden within the Bluth family's exploits.
1. HOLD ON, SURELY FÜNKE!
Season 1, Episode 14: Two episodes before we are first introduced to Maeby’s sickly alter ego, “Surely,” posters wishing her a speedy recovery are visible on the walls of the high school. Surely, despite suffering from “BS,” reoccurs throughout the rest of the show’s original run.
2. BUSTER IS "ALL-RIGHT"
This one is well documented around the internet, but the sheer amount that the show foreshadows Buster’s life-changing encounter with a certain yellow-bow-tie-wearing seal is impressive.
Season 1, Episode 20: Buster says, "This party is going to be off the hook!"
Season 2, Episode 1: A news broadcast can be heard in the background mentioning a seal attack. John Beard says, “Meet one surprised bather, coming up.” The camera immediately shows Buster.
Season 2, Episode 3: Buster, upon seeing his lost hand-shaped chair, says, “Wow, I never thought I’d miss a hand so much.”
Season 2, Episode 6: There is a portion bitten out of the banana stand sign as it is pulled out of the bay; the bite pattern is consistent with a seal. Buster wins a toy seal from the claw machine. When he returns home, the narrator mentions that, “Buster had gotten hooked playing”.
Season 2, Episode 11: A seal can be seen in the background during Buster and Lucille’s beach photo shoot. Later, George Sr. says, “What if I never get a chance to reach out and touch that hand of his again?”
As Buster sits on a bench near the beach, his position crops the words on the back of the bench to say, “ARM OFF.”
Season 2, Episode 12: When George Sr. visits the car dealership, an inflatable man in the background is missing the arm that Buster will soon lose. Also, Gob, while releasing the infamous seal into the wild, says, “You’re not going to be hand-fed anymore!"
Buster deals with the loss of his hand for the rest of the show, even after being given a much larger one. It must be difficult becoming a monster.
3. THE IRAQ CONNECTION
Even in its first season, Arrested Development chose to reward devout fans with callbacks and hints at overarching plot lines. Some prime examples are the subtle nods to the true nature of George Sr.’s trips overseas: illegally building homes in Iraq.
Season 1, Episode 5: George Sr. admits that he has “committed some light treason.”
Season 1, Episode 14: Michael notices that pictures of one of Saddam Hussein’s mansions look strikingly similar to their model home.
Season 1, Episode 16: George Sr.’s precious “cooler of evidence” is labeled “H. MADDAZ,” which is “SADDAM H.” spelled in mirror-reverse.
Season 1, Episode 22: Kitty mentions that the family has been building houses overseas and hiding it from the U.S. government. Michael, thinking she’s merely referring to tax evasion, dismisses the statement. Later in the episode, the truth comes to light after Michael sees a news report laying it all out for him.
The family building homes and frequently doing business in Iraq carries as a reoccurring theme for the rest of the show’s original three seasons.
4. CALLING DR. BLUMEN
Season 2, Episode 1: You'll have to be paying close attention to notice this one: In the season two opener, Michael—on his way to Phoenix—makes a call to the family pretending to be a “Dr. Blumen.” Later in the episode, the above scenario happens for the first time.
5. GOB HAS MADE A HUGE TINY MISTAKE
Season 3, Episode 1: Gob receives a letter from an organization attempting to reunite him with his son. After some confusion (including the narrator disagreeing with Gob’s statement that he doesn’t have a son), Gob finally realizes that he is the father of none other than Maeby’s longtime crush, Steve Holt(!). This comes as a big surprise to Gob, but the show has been hinting at this twist since season one.
In the 19th episode of season one, Gob accidentally mutters that he might be a father, a fact that he references again in the fifth episode of season two. The foreshadowing really kicks up later on in season two during George Michael’s election campaign against Steve; Gob reveals that he got a girl pregnant during high school and notes that Steve looks like a girl he dated. Michael also tells Gob that Steve is “basically a young you.” During the post-episode teaser, an investigator shows Steve a photo of his father (Gob), but the fact is dropped until the season three premiere in which Gob’s “huge tiny mistake” is finally revealed.
6. A THOROUGHLY POLITE DUSTUP
Season 3, Episode 4: During season three, Buster puts himself into what doctors call a “light-to-no coma” in order to avoid testifying against his family. Soon, his nurse Julia Adelaide (played by Bronwen Masters) becomes infatuated with him. This romance is foreshadowed by a short scene from A Thoroughly Polite Dustup, a fictional 1941 British war film. Masters and Tony Hale, who sports a hilarious fake chin, mustache, and bandaged left hand (the one Buster lost), play the nurse and soldier in A Thoroughly Polite Dustup.
Eight episodes later, Buster and Nurse Adelaide reenact a portion of the scene (almost word-for-word) just after Buster drops his coma charade.
7. ANNYONG'S REVENGE
Season 3, Episode 13: Lucille and George’s adopted Korean son, Annyong, starts off as what appears to be a pretty one-dimensional and purposefully annoying (get it?) character, but expands greatly during the final episode of season three when his revenge plot is finally revealed. This moment was foreshadowed way back in season two when his real name “Hello” is spray-painted on the side of the Bluth's destroyed frozen banana stand during episode six.
His plot is also briefly noted in the fifth episode of season three, when he is shown hiding inside Lucille's home in order to steal Bluth family secrets. The narrator describes him as a “mole,” a fact that is also foreshadowed by the mole on his shirt two episodes earlier.
8. MICHAEL'S "FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX"
When Arrested Development returned via Netflix in 2013, its knack for nuanced storytelling became all the more complicated with the new season's unorthodox time frame. Pretty much every major plot point is foreshadowed in some small way—but one event pays off on a joke that’s been running since the very first episode.
Season 4, Episode 1: Season four starts off with Michael finally, albeit briefly, moving to Phoenix, a town that the narrator describes as a place “he'd always imagined would be his destiny.” We should have seen this coming, as Michael threatens to leave the family to live in Phoenix during the first episode of both seasons one and two. Another allusion to Michael’s love for Phoenix is the fact that he attends The University of Phoenix online throughout season four.
9. EVERYONE'S "A HOT MESS"
Season 4, Episode 10: During this episode, Lucille and Buster discover a phrase that both find very useful in their arguments, and it becomes a running joke between the two: "A hot mess." They’re a little behind the times, though. Michael uses the phrase to describe Lucille 2 in the first episode of the season and Oscar yells it to Dr. Norman in the second.
10. GEORGE MICHAEL'S FAKEBLOCK
Season 4, Episode 1: The computer program that George Michael develops throughout season four isn’t what it appears to be. Scenes falsely hinting that it is privacy software are spread in the first episode. But when George Michael is introduced earlier in the episode, the sound of a woodblock, foreshadowing what he’s really working on, underscores his name.
11. ENDING UP ON THE "WRONG SIDE" OF A NOODLE
Season 4, Episode 10: An incarcerated Lucille gets attacked by her Asian gang mate, armed with a sharpened noodle. But this wasn’t the first time that the Bluth matriarch had ended up on the “wrong side of a noodle.” George Sr. apologized for a much different kind of noodle stabbing in episode two, foreshadowing both Lucille’s run-in with the Jade Dragon Triad and George Sr.’s evaporating masculinity with a single line of dialogue.
With another season of Arrested Development to binge-watch, there's sure to be more wild foreshadowing to come. (Thanks to Recurring Developments and The Arrested Development Wiki for assistance with episode numbers.)
An earlier version of this post originally appeared in 2014.