Original airdate January 11, 2004
Written by Jim Vallely & Mitchell Hurwitz
Directed by Joe Russo
Production Code #1AJD09
“Buster wants to treat Lucille 2’s vertigo with medicinal marijuana. But when he enlists George Michael with the procurement, word gets back to Michael via Gob. Already concerned over George Michael’s recent A-, Michael concludes that his son is on drugs, and decides to teach him a lesson. Meanwhile, Maeby’s own slipping grades (eventually) prompt Lindsay to take disciplinary action, by forcing her daughter to spend the day with Lucille.”
NOTE: Deconstructing Arrested Development openly discusses spoilers when relevant (which can include episodes that come later in the series). Readers who have not seen the series in its entirety are advised to proceed at their own discretion.
It is virtually impossible to write about Pier Pressure without mentioning how revered it is. Pier Pressure is an episode preceded by its reputation, frequently topping “best Arrested Development episodes” lists from fans and critics alike. Creator Mitch Hurwitz has even cited it as his personal favorite. For quite a few devotees – myself included – the infamous J. Walter Weatherman scenes are a pivotal moment in one’s fanship of the show. It’s also one of the best non-Pilot contenders for introductory episodes to newcomers, being relatively easy to jump into without too much prior knowledge. The story is largely propelled by the characters, and all their defining characteristics are on full display, woven into each decision made and every line spoken. You can really get a good sense of who most of the Bluths are from this episode alone.
To that end, Pier Pressure is an uncharacteristically self-contained installment; Buster’s relationship with Lucille 2 does serve as an important plot point, but Lucille 2 herself is almost a non-entity in this episode, and there are no developments in their overarching narrative (likewise, George Sr’s conversion to Judaism in the previous episode does influence his behavior here – and this episode continues all the associated running gags – but as far as the story arc itself goes, we’re really just checking in). The episode would later inspire a full-fledged sequel, in the form of season 3’s Making a Stand (which doesn’t quite hit the same heights, though is nonetheless a solid episode in its own right, and boasts an equally fun show-stopper of a third act), but while Making a Stand doesn’t work without Pier Pressure, the latter loses no merit when presented as a stand-alone piece. Arrested Development’s serialisation was one of the show’s most noteworthy attributes, yet it’s barely present at all in the show’s most noteworthy outing.
While Pier Pressure is best known for its “lessons,” it is, at its heart, a character piece. Arrested Development has no misconceptions about the morality of its characters, but it’s a show that also recognises that people are, to a large extent, the product of their upbringing. After all, what hope did the Bluth siblings ever have of being functional adults when their father repeatedly traumatised them as children over petty annoyances? The show’s touched on this cycle of damage before, but hadn’t yet depicted it so bluntly, much less allowed its 1980s-era flashbacks to run so long. The Bluth siblings’ childhood would only be sporadically explored over the course of the series (most notably in the aforementioned Making a Stand, and the show’s final 4 installments, 3 of which open with extended flashback sequences), but it all plays into a pattern that’s evident throughout the entire series’ run.
Take Maeby, a prime example of the cycle in action. The rebellious daughter of a rebellious daughter, and someone who’d come to spend more time posing as other people than her father (who wants to do so for a living); Maeby is the logical amalgamation of her genetics and upbringing. She’s inherited Lindsay’s aversion to education, along with Tobias’s general disregard for others (though when it comes to Tobias, this trait is often the product of obliviousness, while with Maeby, it’s something between apathy and conscious detachment; both undoubtedly characteristics she internalised being raised by disinterested parents). She’s definitely developed strong coping mechanisms for emotional pain, yet when it comes to how she passes her time, she acts out with minimal regard for the consequences – partly to get attention, but largely out of sheer boredom. After all, she’s constantly surrounded by people who have no time for her.
In Pier Pressure, however, Lucille has nothing but time for her, as she needs someone to help take inventory of her possessions, so she can doctor some receipts for the S.E.C. Just as Maeby dismisses Lindsay’s ability to punish her for her increasingly poor grades, Lindsay gets a reminder of Lucille’s cruelty, and sends Maeby to spend the day with her. It isn’t long before Lucille unleashes that same abuse on her granddaughter, and Maeby gets a first-hand glimpse into what Lindsay’s childhood entailed. Maeby is the perfect foil for Lucille; the two most skilled manipulators in the family, neither of whom takes crap from others, there may be more of Lucille in Maeby than any other Bluth. Maeby was never going to put up with Lucille’s criticism. She is, however, astute enough to realise Lindsay didn’t have the option of simply going home, and so commits an act of rebellon with the rarest cause of all: Kindness to her mother.
The episode’s A plot (or, more accurately, A- plot) takes all the same themes and executes them on a larger scale. It even follows the same basic plot points; failing grades make a parent subject their child to the brand of parenting they grew up with, before eventually realising it’s best not to pass some things down. Michael, failing to recognise he is the primary cause of his son’s anxiety, comes to a the erroneous conclusion that his son is on drugs, thanks to the show’s trademark misunderstandings. As is often the case with Michael/George Michael storylines, communication proves to be the pair’s biggest downfall; situations snowballing as father and son fail to speak openly, when it all could’ve been avoided entirely with an honest conversation. It may be one of the oldest sit-com lessons in the book, though rarely do other shows deploy it quite so theatrically.
Michael has inherited that lack of open communication from his parents, so it’s fitting that his go-to idea in this scenario is one his father coined. George Sr’s “lessons” are as unethical as they are impractical, with the punishment and crime disproportionate to a downright Biblical extent (although, George Sr. does have experience playing God). The J. Walter Weatherman scenes play out like a series of dark comedy sketches – their total count fulfilling the time-tested rule of threes (with one appearance from him in each act). There are many reasons these scenes have proven so funny and striking to viewers over the years, and the show manages to build on the gag without ever losing its essence. By the time we arrive at a baffled George Michael being confronted by male strippers, it feels perfectly in line with everything else that has happened up to that point.
Supposedly, Pier Pressure stemmed from a network executive’s suggestion that Michael teach George Michael a lesson (with the finished product being a far cry from whatever they had in mind). Whether or not that’s true, the episode could be summed up as such; the beauty lies in Arrested Development’s ability to take a straightforward sit-com premise to such preposterous places, and to do so without ever losing track of the smaller character stories at its heart. As deplorable as George Sr’s lessons may be, they’re not without understandable motivation. If you’ve ever fantasized about taking more drastic measures to make a point sink in, this is the exaggerated realisation of that. And while few people’s grandparents are as nasty as Lucille, I’m sure many viewers can relate to Maeby’s experience of being disillusioned by a family member. These small-scale concepts are what make Pier Pressure so accessible, allowing the episode to remain grounded on a micro level at all times, no matter how absurd its comic setpieces get.
Pier Pressure may very well be a perfect sit-com episode. Each scene is packed with snappy dialogue from beginning to end, with bigger laugh-out-loud moments scattered all throughout the episode. And there’s virtually nothing to fault when it comes to pacing or structure. I’m more hesitant to call it a perfect Arrested Development episode, however, if only that I don’t feel it showcases all the series’ most distinct traits. In spite of the episode’s multiple twists (not to mention staged drug busts, and amputations complete with spurting fake blood), Pier Pressure actually has quite a narrow focus by Arrested Development’s standards. The episode devotes most of its attention to the A plot – to which all the twists are confined – occasionally checking in on a B plot that’s really just linked thematically. This isn’t a sleight on the episode, but an observation: This is ostensibly Arrested Development’s most beloved installment, and yet the show doesn’t use everything in its bag of tricks here. It doesn’t need to, because the episode is so strong as it is, any additional tweaks would only serve to its detriment. And when it comes to producing a classic tv episode, that may be Pier Pressure’s most valuable lesson of all.
MAEBY: C minus! C M-I-N-E-S.
LINDSAY: Did you even study?
MAEBY: No, I didn’t.
LINDSAY: Wow! How impressive is that?
“Back in Boston, Maeby’s parents had enrolled her in a progressive school with its own system of evaluation…”
“George Sr. had used his considerable means to stage intricate scenarios, to teach his children what he considered valuable life lessons…”
“…Typically, these scenarios would involve a man named J. Walter Weatherman, a one-time employee who lost his arm in a Bluth Company construction accident.”
YOUNG GOB: (tormenting Buster) Why are you hitting yourself? Why are you hitting yourself?
GEORGE SR: We’re out of milk! I could have got it earlier if someone would have left a note…
“Why?! If someone had left a note, this innocent man would still have his arm! Why?!!”
GOB: I need a favor.
MICHAEL: What happened to “Hello, I need a favor”?
GOB: I owe Hot Cops 500 bucks.
MICHAEL: Hot Cops?
GOB: It’s the stripping agency I used to work for. Cop uniform?
GOB: You know, I might’ve been a little too believable…
“Police! Open up!”
“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.
MAEBY: (holding up test result) D plus. Sign this.
LINDSAY: This is a D minus.
MAEBY: Well, either way, it’s above a D right?
LINDSAY: Look, I know you got a crocodile in spelling, but this has gone too far. I hate to say it, but Michael might be right. You need to learn a little discipline.
MAEBY: Hmm… Nope. That doesn’t feel right.
LINDSAY: No no no, I-I’m telling you! 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?
GEORGE MICHAEL: (muttering to himself while doing homework) No. No, that’s not the answer. What? No. You stupid jerk. Why don’t you… Dumb, dumb, dumb, George Michael, dumb, dumb…
MICHAEL: Woah, woah, calm down, you two, it’s just a math problem!
GEORGE MICHAEL: Yeah, but if I fail math, there goes my chance at a good job and a happy life full of hard work, like you always say.
MICHAEL: (sighs) …Maybe I’m pushing you too hard. You’re all stressed out, your eyes are all red. Why don’t you take the night off? Just shut the book. Go ahead. Just close the book. Go ahead…
“…Your finger is still in the book, George Michael.”
“Buster went to the toughest, most streetwise kid he knew…”
“Dad told me to take the day off so I decided to come in to work.”
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.
LUCILLE: (showing Maeby her jewelry) And this is from when your pop-pop yelled out “Oh, Melanie!” when he was making love to gangie.
MAEBY: This is so much fun! I can’t believe my mom thought being here would be a punishment.
LUCILLE: Oh, she thinks I’m too critical… That’s another fault of hers.
MICHAEL: (reading George Michael’s note) Oh no. This can’t be from my son.
GOB: Well, it is his handwriting. Plus he left me $200. $100. 100— I accidentally said 200.
MICHAEL: This is impossible. Why would he do this?
GOB: I know. You know? I was shocked. I mean, really, $100. You can’t get good weed for a hundred bucks. Anyway, (produces brown paper bag) here you go. Now we are even on you paying off that Hot Cops thing.
“Maybe you should save the lectures for your son. (mimes smoking a joint) If he can remember them!”
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: Heard about the A minus.
“Okay. Thanks for being honest…”
“It’s cold out here.”
YOUNG GOB: (Pinning Buster down) Why ain’t you getting up, Buster?!
J. WALTER WEATHERMAN: Tell me before you hit the gas!
GEORGE SR: I can’t hear you! The kids are yelling!
J. WALTER WEATHERMAN: Tell me before you hit the gas!
GEORGE SR: I guess you’re saying “Hit the gas!”
“That’s why you don’t yell.”
“…Yeah, yelling is not a good way to go.”
MICHAEL: I want the guy with the one arm and the fake blood. J. Walter Weatherman. How do I get a hold of him?
GEORGE SR: Uh, he’s, uh, dead. You killed him when you left the door open with the air conditioner running.
George Sr’s foray into (and tenuous grasp of) Judaism continues here, following his conversion in Storming the Castle:
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… That’s okay, you’ve only been a Jew for about two days.
This is followed shortly by this exchange (which, itself, comes immediately after George Sr. refers to himself as “a scholar”):
LINDSAY: Where’d you get that brooch?
MAEBY: Gangie. Nice, huh?
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.
MAEBY: Well, we can go get some ice cream, gangie. That would be fun, right?
LUCILLE: I don’t think so. That chubby little wrist of yours is testing the tensile strength of this bracelet as it is.
GOB: These guys are pros, Michael. They’re gonna push the tension ’til 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.
BUSTER: I really appreciate you doing this for me. You’re making a very miserable person happy.
GEORGE MICHAEL: She really feels awful, huh?
BUSTER: Oh, I was talking about me. But yeah, she’s a mess.
GOB: Alright, kid. Let’s deal some drugs. (flashes the yacht’s lights)
GEORGE MICHAEL: What are you doing?
GOB: Flashing the lights. So the dealer knows what’s going down. Now we wait.
GEORGE MICHAEL: How long?
GOB: Who knows? An hour. Maybe five…
DEREK: Drug delivery! You wanted some marijuana?
“What? Oh, no! It’s the cops! Oh! And a construction worker!”
“Okay, it was for me. Yeah. I was gonna smoke the marijuana like a cigarette.”
BUSTER: It-it’s for my girlfriend. She’s sick.
GOB: Why don’t you just wait it out? She’s gonna be gone soon.
BUSTER: Oh, that’s it…
“Why are you hitting yourself?! Why are you hitting yourself?! Why are you hitting yourself?! Why are you hitting yourself?! Why are you hitting yourself?!”
The “last lesson” is pretty much gold from beginning to end, with George Sr’s actors showing up as soon as George Michael is out of the picture…
… And things escalating drastically from there.
It’s executed with enough genuine intensity that no first-time viewer could be blamed for not seeing the final twist coming…
…A reveal punctuated by a perfectly paradoxical punchline:
“Honey… Oh, this is so sweet! Let’s sell it and go shopping.”
MICHAEL: You knew the whole time, didn’t you?
GEORGE MICHAEL: Kind of. One of the Hot Cops is my choir teacher.
MICHAEL: I mean, you know that there’s nothing that you can’t be totally honest with me about. I mean, you could say anything to me, you know? Anything at all.
GEORGE MICHAEL: Like, say I had a crush on my own cousin?…
MICHAEL: …Hey, you just taught me a lesson! (laughs) All right, we’re even.
The episode’s timeline is somewhat hazy; while two nights very clearly pass over George Michael’s storyline, Maeby only spends a single day with Lucille. Though granted, the narrator never explicitly states that these events are happening simultaneously, and the parallel storylines only really intersect at the beginning of the episode.
The episode title is a play on the phrase “peer pressure” (commonly linked to recreational drugs like marijuana). It references the pier where much of the episode’s first act takes place, and the pressure Michael puts on George Michael to get straight As.
This is the first of Jim Vallely’s many writing credits on the show (he has writing credits on 22 of the show’s 84 episodes – more than a quarter of Arrested Development’s entire run!). There are at least 5 episodes written or co-written by Vallely in each season, making him the most prolific writer on the show after Mitchell Hurwitz (who also received a writing credit for this episode). Vallely has also held various producer titles throughout the show’s run, being credited as a “consulting producer” in season 1, “co-executive producer” in seasons 2 and 3, and “executive producer” for seasons 4 and 5.
Pier Pressure is actually the first of several episodes scripted by the writing duo of Hurwitz & Vallely; the pair would pen multiple episodes across all 5 seasons (many of which are among the show’s most well-regarded). The other episodes they’re credited with writing together are Let Them Eat Cake, The One Where They Build a House, Motherboy XXX, The Righteous Brothers, The Cabin Show, Exit Strategy, The B. Team, Colony Collapse, A New Attitude, Blockheads, Family Leave, Premature Independence and Courting Disasters.
Jim Vallely and Mitchell Hurwitz go way back, having previously worked together on The Golden Girls (and its spin-off The Golden Palace) and The John Larroquette Show – with Hurwitz later bringing Vallely on board for his first two post-Arrested Development shows, Sit Down Shut Up and Running Wilde). Vallely’s other tv work includes Action, Brotherly Love, Brothers, Charles in Charge, Flaked, The Geena Davis Show, Ladies Man, My Wife and Kids, and Two and a Half Men.
J. Walter Weatherman is portrayed by Steve Ryan, in the first of two appearances he would make on the show (the other being season 3’s Making a Stand). An actor with a long list of credits to his name, Steve Ryan was also known for his recurring roles in American Dreams, Crime Story, Daddio and The West Wing. He sadly passed away in 2007.
Lucille 2 (Liza Minnelli) is the only recurring character present, making it one of the smallest cast lists of any episode in the series. The additional cast includes Greg Kohout as Derek (the one Hot Cop who gets a name here) and Johnny Savas as the “real” drug dealer, while Dan Horton, Benjamin Stoli Lowe and Scott Layne are credited as Hot Cops #1-3, respectively. Dan Horton actually reprises his role as a Hot Cop in Best Man for the Gob, where his character is credited with the name Marcus.
The Bluth family’s well-established love affair with ice cream continues: Michael mentions that when George Michael is rewarded with ice cream when he gets an A, and later, Lindsay tries to lure Maeby away from Lucille with it.
An archived photograph shows a very stoned Buster trying to devour the iconic Randy’s Donuts donut, a real-life LA landmark.
This gag also establishes Buster’s unusually low tolerance to mood-altering substances, which would be explored more over the course of the series.
Michael jokingly refers to George Michael as “you two” when he walks in on him talking to himself. George Michael would later be mistaken for two people – named George and Michael – in season 4’s Flight of the Phoenix (in a joke that also plays out over It Gets Better).
This is the first time the series has overtly stated the fact that George Michael shares him name with the singer-songwriter. It is acknowledged with surprisingly sparsity (though there was a joke about it in the original script for the Pilot that was cut, then subsequently reworked into season 4 as a plot point).
This is the first mention – and appearance – of the Hot Cops, a male stripper agency whose performers typically wear police costumes (and who Gob used to work for).
The next time they’d show up would be towards the end of the season, in Best Man for the Gob, though they appear/are mentioned in every season of the show (notable instances being Best Man for the Gob, Good Grief, Queen for a Day, Development Arrested, Indian Takers, A New Start and Check Mates). The show’s soundtrack would also come to include an official “Hot Cops” theme song (introduced in Hand to God), which finds its way into a somewhat regular rotation in the score.
“Lucille,” the Bluth family yacht, appears for the second time here following its introduction in My Mother, the Car. The yacht features heavily in the episode’s third act, and can also be seen at a few points in act 2 (most significantly, the flashback sequence, which shows the family had owned it since at least 1981). The yacht’s next appearance comes in Missing Kitty, where it is ultimately destroyed.
Buster abbreviates the word “screwing” to “essing,” marking the first time he’d use the first letter of an expletive in place of the actual word. He would later abbreviate “rape” to “R” in The One Where Michael Leaves, and “bitch” to “B” in Ready, Aim, Marry Me and Taste Makers.
The phrase “smoke the marijuana like a cigarette” would be repeated by George Sr. in season 2’s Sad Sack, while he is posing as his twin brother Oscar (who would serve as the show’s primary source for cannabis-related material in future episodes, following his introduction in Whistler’s Mother).
George Michael utters the phrase “family first,” instilled in him by Michael in the Pilot, and repeated in Visiting Ours. As this episode makes clear, it’s far from the only repeated phrase in the Bluth family:
This isn’t the only time Maeby feels sympathy for Lindsay over her neglectful upbringing. She would again reach out and do something nice for her mother in the series finale, The Fallout, as a direct result of learning more ugly truths about Lindsay’s childhood.
This is the second episode to not feature an “On the next,” the first being In God We Trust.
Tobias is absent from this episode.
Pier Pressure has a total runtime of 21 minutes and 54 seconds, and is rated TV-PG-LV.
There are no deleted/extended scenes for this episode.
One of the notes on the refrigerator in the first scene reads “I finished the milk. Will buy more – George Michael,” indicating Michael has already passed on some of George Sr’s lessons. The family’s notes would become a recurring background detail throughout the series, with the Bluths leaving notes for one another in many subsequent episodes (usually as a little background detail, though sometimes in a more overt capacity).
Like owner, like pet; J. Walter Weatherman’s dog is also an amputee:
George Michael and Maeby aren’t the only two who leave a note in this episode. Buster has the following written on the front page of his nausea study:
When Buster participates in the nausea study, the timestamp on the camera footage shows him taking the THC pill shortly after 4:20pm (420 being a number that’s extensively associated with cannabis and cannabis culture).
George Michael says Michael told him Buster was Lucille 2’s nurse. Michael often lies to George Michael to shield him from things that might be distressing/uspsetting, and has apparently deemed Buster and Lucille 2’s relationship to be one of them.
When Gob produces the bag of weed, he says to Michael “Might just be a few stems, but it should be pretty good.” For those who do not partake in the Afternoon Delight, the stem is essentially the most useless part of the herb to smoke, thanks to its almost complete lack of THC.
Michael calls himself dumb in a frustrated mutter while visiting George Sr. in prison, mirroring George Michael’s words from earlier in the episode.
One of Lucille’s (likely doctored) receipts is for a store called Balony’s.
Like father, like son; George Sr’s “last lesson” is a more elaborate version of the lesson Michael and Gob concoct for George Michael. Both schemes start with a group of fake drug dealers showing up to unload their product, followed by a second group of fake cops emerging to arrest everyone. George Sr. clearly spared no expense in putting his plan together, going as far as to rent fake police boats (and actors who don’t instinctively try to strip), but there’s no denying whose actors won the dance-off.
5 thoughts on “Season 1, Episode 10: Pier Pressure”
I find it entirely apt that J. Walter Weatherman lost his arm in a constriction accident while working for the Bluths, you know? It just fits. And what sort of name is that anyway?
I love that they recorded the Big Yellow Joint song (not one but two versions in fact!). The detail that the Banana Stand was a long-known spot for buying pot would have been fine enough, they didn’t need to compose and play a snippet of a song about it, but they did anyway.
Have you already covered George Michael’s room decorations? Sports balls across the walls, those strangely drab framed felt pictures of BASEBALL, BASKETBALL… and George Michael is just not that kid at all.
The joke about “it’s cold out here” somehow sailed past me the previous times I’ve watched this episode but totally worked this for me, I think it might have been my favorite one in this episode.
The way it all wrapped up with don’t teach your son lessons, this was my last lesson was perfect absurdity.
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I always took the set design on George Michael’s bedroom to be an extension of the model home gag. Like, it’s just set up to look like a generic kid’s bedroom as a selling tool for prospective buyers. The decorations are probably Homefills!
I hadn’t thought about that, it makes sense. It still seems like a good joke too, though, of course.
I’m almost completely positive you nailed every favorite line of mine in your quote section :) Fuck what a great episode! J. Walter Weatherman was an inspired creation. such a shame we didn’t have him around for the Netflix seasons…
I think I always forget Tobias isn’t in this one. He doesn’t really have a logical point of insertion into the story (probably part of the GOB/George-Michael plot?) so its better that they didn’t try to force him in for the sake of it.
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Such a shame to lose Steve Ryan, though at least we were lucky enough to see J. Walter Weatherman interact with a post-amputation Buster.
I would’ve thought Tobias would slot more logically into the Maeby storyline. In which case, his lousy parenting is already well-established, so the writers made the right call by sticking to the mother-daughter relationship and using it to invert the father-son dynamic in the A plot.
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