Revisiting Arrested Development – Season 1, Episode 10: Pier Pressure

You want a Revisiting Arrested Development installment on one of the most beloved Arrested Development episodes of all time? Well, you’re gonna have to show me the money! …Okay, you can put your shirt down, Derek. Just give them the stuff.

It’s…

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SEASON 1, EPISODE 10: Pier Pressure
Written by Mitchell Hurwtiz & Jim Vallely
Directed by Joe Russo
Original airdate January 11, 2004

Arrested Development premiered at a crucial point in the evolution of tv comedy. The “mockumentary” format had been somewhat popularised by the British version of The Office, though had not yet become the tired device it is today. There were a few single camera comedies currently in production – Curb Your Enthusiasm, Scrubs and Malcolm in the Middle spring to mind here – though the airwaves were still dominated largely by formulaic multi-camera comedies such as Everybody Loves Raymond and Becker. The US version of The Office was over a year away, and even further was the incredibly strong comedy lineup held by NBC for a few years (it’s still pretty amazing to think there was a two hour block of broadcast television as strong as The Office, 30 Rock, Community and Parks & Recreation). Arrested Development was an instant critical darling, though never found success in the ratings, which most people generally cite for two reasons: Fox’s abysmal promotional campaign (or lack thereof), and the notion that it was just too damn ahead of its time. The former is undeniable, and given AD’s undeniable influence in many comedies that have since followed, I dare say there’s a lot of truth to the latter, too. But Arrested Development was still a major game changer, at precisely the time the genre needed to be jolted out of its comfortable mediocrity.

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To contextualise this episode, I’d like to go back to 2004. A 15 year old Gooch exclusively watched comedy, having grown up on The Simpsons and South Park – and yes, even those mediocre multi-camera sit-coms mentioned above (hey, it was difficult to have a frame of reference for how good live action comedy could be when that was almost all we had at the time), and my foray into tv drama was still a couple of years off. I didn’t quite know what it meant to be “invested” in a tv show. As mentioned in my write-up for the Pilot, I’d watched Arrested Development right from its Australian premiere, having heard good things about it on a Futurama forum I frequented at the time, and while I liked it enough to keep watching on a week-to-week basis, I hadn’t quite fallen in love with it. Until Pier Pressure aired, that is.

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It’s a little tricky to pin down exactly why Pier Pressure is such a universally beloved episode amongst hardcore fans, seeing as it generally steers clear of Arrested Development’s unique brand of intricately plotted storytelling in favour of a relatively straightforward sit-com premise: Michael erroneously believes his son is getting into drugs, and wants to teach him a lesson. Things do snowball in the third act, of course, but for the most part, I could easily see a lesser show like Modern Family attempting the same basic plot (sans male strippers and one-armed man with fake blood, of course). On top of that, the rapid-fire pacing is notably subdued here, ditching the show’s usual M.O. of providing a laugh with every line or two, opting instead for less frequent moments that aim for far bigger laughs. Pier Pressure is also a largely stand-alone episode in the show’s run (excluding its lesser sequel episode, season 3’s Making a Stand), and many would consider it a terrific introduction to the series to AD virgins. So, why does such an episode frequently crack the “top 10” list for so many diehard fans of a typically heavily-serialised comedy? Well, honestly, it’s pretty simple: It’s an incredibly funny 22 minutes of television.

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Pier Pressure spends the majority of its time on the aforementioned Michael/George Michael plot, beginning with Michael expressing concern about his increasingly stressed-out son when he gets an A-. We all know how it turns out, so I won’t bore you with the plot details. The episode also contains a sub-plot where Lindsay tries to discipline Maeby by making her spend the day with Lucille. The two narratives share strong thematic links – with lessons/discipline proving to be this episode’s bread and butter – though they don’t really dovetail at all aside from a brief scene at the beginning, and I suspect the B plot was largely coined just to give Maeby, Lindsay and Lucille something to do here. The sub-plot itself is nowhere near as memorable as the rest of the episode (and for that matter, Maeby’s relationship with either of the matriarchal figures never proves quite as fruitful as, say, the Gob/George Sr, Michael/George Michael or Buster/Lucille elder-child pairings), though it does deliver us quite a few fantastic Lucille lines, which are always welcome.

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One of the things that endeared me to Arrested Development as a teenager was its willingness to broach material that was largely taboo in sit-coms (jokes about incest, marijuana, etc. and most of the characters being terrible people in general) without being blatantly offensive and/or provocative for the sake of it, like a lot of other so-called “edgy” shows do. I remember completely losing it at the sight of J. Walter Weatherman’s arm flying off and fake blood spurting out everywhere, and the idea of a half-hour broadcast network sit-com doing an episode about marijuana was a pretty ballsy one for its time, seeing as the substance was still very much illegal in the US in 2004… I was a straight-laced teenager who thought weed was a life-destroying drug akin to heroin, and admittedly, as an adult who partakes on a regular basis, it does sometimes bug me when tv shows demonise marijuana while far more harmful substances are both legal and free of social stigma, though the fact that this episode looks at the matter solely through the eyes of the prudish and narrow-minded Michael Bluth (and turns its medical benefits into a plot point) prevents it from falling into the same trappings.

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If there’s one undeniable star of this episode, though, it’s George Michael. Largely relegated to the sidelines these past few episodes, the character truly gets his chance to shine here, and while I know it’s unfashionable to praise Michae Cera around this part of the internet (largely due to his post-AD career choices), I really cannot speak highly enough of his performance as George Michael Bluth. Michael Cera looks so delightfully uncomfortable in his own skin, and makes so many uniqueacting choices as George Michael, he truly does take the character and turn him into his own entity entirely. When one considers how hit-and-miss child actors can be, the discovery of Michael Cera for this role truly was a casting miracle, and he absolutely elevates the already-top notch writing in the process. And then there’s that ending, where George Michael almost confesses to Michael his crush on Maeby, only for Michael to dismiss it as another lesson, is hilarious and even a little heart-wrenching, the camera briefly lingering on George Michael before we cut to the credits, as we see him just as lost, anxious and uncomfortable in his own skin as he was at the start of the episode. The writers would pull this same move a few more times before George Michael’s successful confession to his father in the season 3 finale, Development Arrested, to varying effect, though in this instance, it was an excellent way to end a very funny episode of television, particularly one that showcased Michael Cera’s comedic skills so well (not to say the rest of the cast didn’t do an incredible job here, I’d just yet to really go into the subject of Michael Cera’s performance and this seemed like the most appropriate opportunity to do so). Arrested Development wouldn’t quite become my all-time favourite comedy until I bought the season 1 dvd a couple of months later and rewatched it into oblivion, but suffice it to say, by the time I’d finished watching this episode for the first time, I was well on my way to being a convert.

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MY FAVOURITE JOKES/MOMENTS

* Maeby’s report card from her former “progressive” school, Boston Sunshine Academy:

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* Every single one of J. Walter Weatherman’s lessons is pure comedic gold. This was the best video I could find of them on YouTube (excuse the mirroring and the picture around the video file, I’m guessing it was done to avoid copyright flags):

* “My gut is telling me no. But my gut is also very hungry.”

* BUSTER: Well, I didn’t make a commitment… I did refer to it as our nausea. But you know, that’s when we were going at it really hot and heavy.
MICHAEL: Well, now it’s my nausea.

* LINDSAY: I can’t.
LUCILLE: Why not?
LINDSAY: Because I’m… Don’t want to.

* “I don’t criticize you. And if you’re worried about criticism, sometimes a diet is the best defense.”

* MAEBY: D plus. Sign this.
LINDSAY: This is a D minus.
MAEBY: Well, either way, it’s above a D right?

* “I know you got a crocodile in spelling, but this has gone too far.”

* LINDSAY: You are now punished. I punish thee!
MAEBY: Are you serious? What could you possibly come up with that would punish me?
LINDSAY: Oh, I have to come up with another thing?

* “Your finger is still in the book.”

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Seriously, say what you will about Michael Cera, but no one else could have played George Michael.

* I generally hate it when the effects of drugs are wildly misrepresented in film and television, but I can’t deny this is a very funny image:

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* As is the misdirect when the narrator says “So Buster went to the toughest, most streetwise kid he knew,” and we see Buster walking past a group of street thugs, only to smash cut to George Michael.

* MICHAEL: Here’s 20 bucks. I want you to close up shop and go crazy. Go find yourself something to buy that you don’t need.
BUSTER: Absolutely! Here, take $225 from me.

* Quite possibly the definitive Lucille Bluth quote: “Oh, she thinks I’m too critical. That’s another fault of hers.”

* “He left me $200. $100. 100— I accidentally said 200.”

* MICHAEL: For all I know, this has been going on forever. You know, he’s been stressed. His eyes have been red. His grades are dropping.
GOB: I heard about the A minus.

For a family who deal primarily in lies and deceit, they sure do know the ins and outs of one another’s lives.

* MICHAEL: Your Uncle Gob seems to think that he saw you down at the docks today. Was that you?
GEORGE MICHAEL: No, no… Maybe it was the other George Michael. You know, the singer-songwriter?
MICHAEL: Yeah, that makes sense.

The notion that Gob would see the aforementioned singer-songwriter and just casually refer to him as “George Michael” without distinguishing him from George Michael Bluth is ridiculously funny to me.

* Another huge laugh is Gob exhaling smoke after being left alone with the weed briefly, and trying to cover it up by saying “It’s cold out here.”

* And quite possibly the biggest laugh of the episode for me: “Uh, he’s, uh, dead. You killed him when you left the door open with the air conditioner running.”

* GEORGE SR: Tonight? No, it’s Yontif, the first night of Yom Kippur.
MICHAEL: Dad, that’s just one night, and it’s back in September.

George Sr’s warped understanding of Judaism is always good for a chuckle.

* LINDSAY: That was supposed to be for me. She was my au pair, I’m the one who cleared my throat and pointed to the laundry room! Ma, you know I wanted that!
LUCILLE: I know. But it’s an elephant, and I didn’t want to invite the comparison.

Lindsay’s line about the au pair definitely went over my head back when I was 15, but it’s a brilliantly written gag.

* “These guys are real dancers. You know, they’ve never done any hot policing.”

* GOB: These guys are pros, Michael. They’re gonna push the tension till the last possible moment before they strip.
MICHAEL: They’re not going to strip, are they?
GOB: I told them not to, but I can’t promise that their instincts won’t kick in.

* GOB: Now we wait.
GEORGE MICHAEL: How long?
GOB: Who knows? An hour… maybe five.
(Derek immediately walks up to the yacht)
DEREK: Drug delivery!

* I love that the Hot Cops break the charade and start dancing together just a few seconds after they rock up.

* Buster finally getting his revenge on Gob is a great little bit of physical comedy from Tony Hale and Will Arnett. “Why are YOU hitting yourself?!!”

* The entire sequence of the fake drug bust is incredibly well done. It’s just believable enough that you really consider for a second that the show might actually be taking this incredibly dark turn, and the reveal of the fake arm is brilliantly executed (and, of course, makes perfect sense once we realise what’s happening).

* MICHAEL: You taught me a lesson not to teach lessons?
GEORGE SR: It was my last lesson.

* MICHAEL: You knew the whole time, didn’t you?
GEORGE MICHAEL: Kind of. One of the Hot Cops is my choir teacher.

MINOR NITPICKS

* Despite being the header image, I don’t particularly like the cutaway with Gob almost getting his head blown off. Any “joke” where a character narrowly escapes death by pure coincidence just never sits right with me (I realise this is a matter of personal taste, but hey, I don’t have a whole lot of nitpicks with this episode, so here it is).

* There’s a joke in season 4 where George Michael mentions he’s never met Lucille 2, and doesn’t know who she is. While it’s true they never shared any dialogue together, this episode would at least seem to indicate that he does, at least, know who she is (Buster mentions Lucille 2 by name, says she’s his girlfriend, and George Michael responds “She’s your girlfriend? Dad said you were her nurse.”)

EPISODE NOTES & TRIVIA

* Much like quite a few episodes in the first half of season 1, Tobias is not featured at all here. I’m about 90% sure that we have the entire cast present in every episode for the rest of the Fox run now (I think the one exception being Maeby’s absence in season 3’s For British Eyes Only?), though I’m going purely by memory here, so I may be mistaken.

* This episode supposedly came to be because the Fox executives specifically requested that the writers do an episode wherein Michael teaches George Michael a lesson. While I’m sure this probably isn’t what they had in mind at all, it certainly goes to show that not allthe notes the show received from the network were bad.

* The season 3 episode Making a Stand is essentially a sequel to this one, and largely mirrors many of its scenes and plot points.

* The family’s love of icecream is brought up twice in this episode (Michael mentions that he buys George Michael icecream when he gets an A, and Lindsay offers to take Maeby out for icecream to separate her and Lucille).

* J. Walter Weatherman is portrayed by Steve Ryan (who would later reprise the role in the aforementioned Making a Stand). The actor sadly passed away on the September 3, 2007, at the age of 60.

* This is the first mention – and appearance – of the Hot Cops, a male stripper agency who dress as police officers. Their next appearance would be later this season in Best Man for the Gob, though they would also make multiple appearances throughout the following three seasons.

* Big Yellow Joint is another David Schwartz original, and easily one of the catchiest numbers in the Arrested Development soundtrack. It can also be heard in season 2’s Afternoon Delight and Meat the Veals, and season 3’s Prison Break-In.

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* Buster’s line “I am not essing around” is the first instance of him abbreviating what he deems to be a naughty word (in this case, presumably “screwing”) to just the first letter. He’d do it a handful more times throughout the series.

* George Michael utters the phrase “family first,” instilled in him by Michael in the Pilot, and repeated in Visiting Ours.

* The phrase “smoke the marijuana like a cigarette” is uttered again by George Sr in season 2’s Sad Sack, while posing as Oscar.

* This episode does not feature an “on the next” (I believe the only other episodes not to contain one are In God We Trust and For British Eyes Only), nor were there any deleted scenes for Pier Pressure on the season 1 dvd.

THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

* One of the notes on the refridgerator in the first scene reads “I FINISHED THE MILK. WILL BUY MORE – GEORGE MICHAEL.” This would become a bit of a running gag, with many subsequent episodes also containing instances (often subtly placed in the background) of Bluth family members leaving notes for one another.

* Like owner, like pet – J. Walter Weatherman’s dog is missing a leg:

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Also, on the note of J. Walter Weatherman, his role in this episode marks the show’s first foray into the subject matter of amputated limbs, something that would become a huge plot point with Buster next season.

* Buster’s nausea study has the following note written on the front page:

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* Michael can be heard calling himself dumb in a frustrated mutter while visiting George Sr in prison, which directly mirrors George Michael’s words earlier in the episode.

THIS INSTALLMENT’S DISCUSSION QUESTION

As mentioned, this was the episode that took Arrested Development from a show I liked just fine to a show I absolutely loved. Was there a specific episode that hooked you in as a fan?

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