Let’s assume the following about Arrested Development:

Everything from the beginning of the pilot episode till the main act break, when the SEC raids the Bluths’ boat party and arrests George Sr., actually happened.


From there, George Sr. is rightly convicted of treason (for aiding Saddam Hussein, as revealed in later episodes of the show) and receives a death sentence.

George Sr. is held prisoner in the awful conditions afforded to an enemy of the United States who is awaiting execution.

George Sr. is psychologically unprepared for this kind of horror, and suffers a mental breakdown.

From there the rest of Arrested Development is a fantasy George Sr. plays out in his mind fulltime, to avoid facing his own guilt and his own mortality.


Now here’s 10 ways the whole series makes a lot more sense in this scenario:

The characters make self-aware references about being saved by “the Home Builders Organization” (HBO) and other networks, because in George Sr.’s fantasy, everything that’s happening in his mind is a television show. This way he can turn the terror of imminent execution into the minor entertainment news of a TV show’s potential cancellation.

Insanely complex callbacks and references happen throughout the events of the show, which could only be the intricate handiwork of a madman with lots and lots of time on his hands.

Since that complexity is overwhelming, Arrested Development relies on a narrator to justify the action for us. This narrator sounds like Ron Howard, because a man of George Sr.’s generation has seen hundreds of episodes of The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days, enough to internalize Howard’s voice and make it feel realistic. George Sr. is fully committed to the fantasy, so he never wonders why Arrested Development is Ron Howard’s one and only major gig as a TV narrator, or why someone with an unremarkable voice would get so much voiceover work.

The show pretends every single aspect of American law is a joke, even though American law allows the government to do not-a-joke things like torturing people at black sites without any due process. It makes George Sr. happier to be in a world where the judicial system is easy to beat and his lawyer is the funny guy who played Fonzie (George loooves Happy Days).

The family business never goes completely bankrupt, even though most companies would collapse in this kind of scandal.

Even though George Sr. has been an awful father, and every adult relationship in the family is toxic, every Bluth (in particular Michael) works hard to save the family structure they hate. This could only happen in the fantasy of the patriarch of that family. In reality the Bluths probably scattered shortly after George’s conviction and had to sell the Bluth Company for pennies on the dollar.

George Sr. never liked Tobias, who’s only a part of the family because Lindsay hate-married him. So in George Sr.’s fantasy, Tobias undergoes constant humiliation, has emasculating sexual issues (repressed homosexuality, Nevernude), and can’t achieve intercourse with George Sr.’s beloved daughter.

Lindsay, George Sr.’s beloved daughter, is smoking-hot and flirting with every man she meets, but “can’t seem to give this away.” George Sr. wouldn’t want to imagine her getting intimate with anyone, so she never does.

In George Sr.’s fantasy, George Michael and Maeby are attracted to each other, because he’s an old businessman who doesn’t know other kids and can’t imagine effective alternate romantic partners for them. That’s why the only other prominent kids on the show are the kind George Sr. probably grew up with in a more old-fashioned time (Ann Veal), or one-note jocks (Steve Holt), or the sort of third-world adoptees George Sr. remembers hearing about at charity fundraisers (Annyong). George Sr. also finds a convoluted way to make George Michael and Maeby into non-blood relatives once he realizes he’s pushing them in too incestuous of a direction.

George Sr. creates Oscar Bluth, the most obvious sign that this is all a fantasy. Oscar, George’s twin brother, appears out of nowhere in “Whistler’s Mother”, the twentieth episode of the series. How did we never hear a word about this important family member until 19 other episodes had passed? It’s because Oscar’s an imaginary personification of everything Prisoner George Sr. wishes he had in his life: freedom, hair, youthfulness, innocence (legal and spiritual), a kind spirit, a positive relationship with Michael, the ability to please his wife Lucille (even making love to her on a beach, which is an obvious sexual fantasy), a deeper connection with Buster (as his “true father”, he can potentially counteract Lucille’s influence and turn Buster into a man), a career as an artist, and a life that was never corrupted by money and power. Oscar also functions as a “get out of jail free” card, allowing George Sr. to knock him out and steal his identity multiple times. In George Sr.’s fantasy this fools law enforcement into beating and incarcerating the real Oscar again and again, even though real law enforcement officers would never fall for that trick for a second.


You may find all this truth shocking, but it’s as Ann as the nose on Plain’s face.

  • Bryce Castillo

    Doesn’t George Sr. mention explicitly firing his twin brother in “Missing Kitty,” four episodes before his appearance?

    • Nick Douglas

      Yep, he thought of a silly joke for his dream, much like he chose to imagine that prison is a fun clubhouse where nothing bad happens and no one comes anywhere CLOSE to physically abusing each other (“No touching!”).

      But since the real horror of prison pushed into his fantasy, he’s turned that joke into a repeated escape fantasy.

  • kosmo

    The easiest way to spot a bad fan theory:
    “It was all in his head”

    • Zac Hansen

      It was well thought out, that’s what matters.

  • Brandon h

    But Tobias is on the gay protester boat before George is arrested. That indicates tobias’s repressed sexuality in the real world, casting the rest of the “fantasy” into doubt. Besides, I prefer to think of the show as what it is: a silly comedy in a cartoon-like world for us average schlubs to enjoy.

    • Zac Hansen

      I’m sure the person who came up with this theory does too. You’re not meant to actually take this seriously

  • Ken

    The animated GIFs made this almost unreadable, they were so annoying. The actual writing did the rest of the job to make this unreadable. At least the show’s writers know funny. This is… not.

  • Mike

    Wow. This is just horrifically poor writing.

  • Nik

    Silly comedy or crazy escape fantasy, it’s still brilliant. This was a fun read! I’m sure you could dig through for plenty of inconsistencies (the depressing state of George Sr.’s funeral) and then also turn them around (he was mentally tormenting himself with guilt), and in the end it lets people think whatever they want to think. Since one of the show’s strengths is how much fun it is to re-watch, having a different frame for it is fun, regardless of whether you buy in to it.

  • Bramlet Abercrombie

    Interesting but full of holes. The gifs were horrendous. Keep up the writing about AD though. Theories are always fun to read and debate.

  • kazikian

    I’ve read a lot of these what-if show synopses, and often they’re on point. This one isn’t. Fail.

  • MilesLothe

    “This scripted television sitcom makes more sense if you imagine it came from the mind of someone telling himself an escapist fantasy” will almost ALWAYS seem to make more sense than the claim that the events of the series mimic real life, because sitcoms come from the mind of individuals telling themselves escapist fantasies.

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