“Storming The Castle” (season 1, episode 9; original airdate 1/4/04)
I know we’re a ways away from Arrested Development’s “no one was making fun of Andy Griffith” episode—that’ll be “For British Eyes Only,” which we won’t get to until late next year at the earliest—but I had that line stuck in my head in this week, because “Storming The Castle” has such a classic Andy Griffith Show set-up. Remember the episode “The Horse Trader,” where Opie catches Andy being dishonest in a deal, and shames his dad by doing likewise? (If you don’t, you should; The Andy Griffith Show is awesome.) Well, we get that same kind of story on two fronts in “Storming The Castle.” First, we have George-Michael questioning his father’s decision to bring home an office chair from The Bluth Company. (“People can take chairs home from work? Isn’t that why grandpa’s in jail?”) Second, we have Maeby, relishing the contradiction when her meat-eating mother rails against leather. (“I’m not against the insides,” Lindsay explains. “You are aware that they don’t remove it from the cow surgically, right?” Michael needles.)
Yet those are effectively the B and C-stories in an episode that’s mainly about the magic of GOB. And I mean that literally. “Storming The Castle” offers the first extended look at GOB’s life as a magician, and even introduces another key piece of Arrested Development-iana: Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” which plays during GOB’s performances. (Go ahead. Take a second and sing it to yourself. You know you want to.)
Early in the episode, a bike-riding Michael is stopped by a man named Rollo who hisses, “If you care about your brother, you’ll get in this car,” but when Michael asks, “Which brother?” and hears that it’s GOB, he bikes on. Then as he pedals away, Mike hears Rollo say that GOB should “say goodbye to his legs.” (Cue Lucille: “Good thing he’s already got that little scooter.” Then cue exaggerated Lucille laugh at her own joke.) It turns out that “legs” in magician parlance refers to the bottom half of sawing-a-lady-in-half trick, and that GOB has been cheating on Marta with his legs. Because of the affair, his top half has quit. “Word really gets around in there,” GOB marvels. Suddenly, Michael sees a way to break up Marta and GOB without having to be the bad guy who announces that her boyfriend’s a philanderer. He arranges with Rollo to get GOB a gig at the Gothic Castle, where he plans to bring Marta in as a surprise “top half.” This, he hopes, will result in Marta discovering GOB’s affair, which should also free up the “legs” for Rollo.
It’s fun to watch Michael in bad guy mode, which is something that comes fairly easily to him—he is a Bluth, after all—even if he’s not all that good at it. We see him riding home from work with his office chair awkwardly in tow. Later we see him rolling in and out of the frame in his new chair while talking to Lindsay, but he can’t control the thing very well, and when he tries to recline in it, he bangs his head. Then he proves correct Lindsay’s insult that he’s “too noble” when he backs away from his GOB-usurping plan. He does bring Marta to the Gothic Castle, but when he finds out that the legs didn’t show up, he gets his son to step in. (George-Michael has hairless, womanish legs, which is why he joins Maeby in becoming a leather freak; he hopes it’ll make him look more macho.) In the end, Michael plays the nice guy again, telling Lindsay, “Call me what you want.” “An impotent man-boy?” she suggests.
And speaking of man-boys, there’s also a D-story in “Storming The Castle,” involving Lucille’s efforts to get Buster to break up with Lucille 2. (“I’m going to continue dating, Mom,” Buster insists, which sounds a little like he’s saying he’s going to continue “dating Mom.”) Really though, the Buster, Maeby and George-Michael stories are extensions of one larger story, about parents worrying about their kids, and worrying about the example they’re setting for them. “He stays there sometimes until 7 or 8 at night,” Lucille laments to George Sr. about Buster’s romance with Lucille 2. “Peanut brittle on his breath.” That’s not too far removed from Michael wondering why he has to be on his best behavior all the time, just before he spots a leather-clad George-Michael and sighs, “Oh, that’s why.”
“Pier Pressure” (season 1, episode 10; original airdate 1/11/04)
Arrested Development kicked off 2004 in impressive fashion with “Storming The Castle,” and then cemented its place as the best sitcom on the air with the episode that followed. In fact, I find myself a little stymied when it comes to writing about “Pier Pressure.” It’s such a top-to-bottom brilliant episode that my first impulse is to step back and admire all the ways it comes together, just as a piece of top-shelf comic plotting and joke-generating. But it’s probably more useful to look at the well-sculpted character touches that bind those gags, and then do some admiring.
For example, plenty of sitcoms could come up with jokes about one parent celebrating her child’s “C-” while another is faintly disappointed by his son’s “A-.” But Arrested Development makes exactly the right jokes for its characters, with Lindsay continually rounding up Maeby’s “minus” to a “plus,” while Michael insists that when it comes to George-Michael’s grade he’s “very proud… minus.” And then there’s the brief cutaway to Maeby’s report cards at her old “alternative” school, which have assessments like “Science makes Maeby feel…,” followed by little pictures (and in one case, a “C-”), all of which sets up the great throwaway joke later where Maeby can’t remember how to spell her mom’s name and Lindsay says, “I know you got a crocodile in spelling, but this is going too far.”
“Pier Pressure” then goes on to show how the patterns of behavior in the Bluth family were set decades ago, and are likely to continue for decades to come. Michael it seems was deeply affected by his father’s frequent employment of J. Walter Weatherman (played by Steve Ryan), a one-armed man whom George Sr. would use in elaborate, gruesome scenarios to teach lessons to his kids. (Cue everyone: “That’s why you always leave a note.”) While Lindsay was so diminished by her mother’s constant criticism that she now lacks the will to discipline her daughter. “I punish thee!” she says, apparently assuming that bitching Maeby out for a bad grade requires some kind of formal, possibly Biblical proclamation.
Michael decides to parrot his father and stage his own over-the-top morality play for the benefit of George-Michael. (He asks his dad if he can contact J. Walter Weatherman, but George Sr. says, “You killed him when you left the door open with the air-conditioning running.”) Michael suspects his son of using drugs, the evidence being George-Michael’s red eyes, his stressed-out demeanor, and the fact that he leaves a note for his Uncle GOB asking for a bag of pot. In actuality, George-Michael is getting the marijuana for Buster, who wants to pass it on to Lucille 2 to quell her vertigo-induced nausea. Buster can’t ask GOB himself, because he has too many memories of his brother making fun of him and beating him up as a kid. He goes to George-Michael instead because George-Michael works at the banana stand, which has been a haven for pot-dealing since the late ‘60s (when hippies referred to it as the “Big Yellow Joint”).
Lindsay, meanwhile, decides that the best way to punish Maeby for being so slack about school (or, more accurately, for making her look bad in front of Michael and their mom) is to force her to help Lucille doctor a stack of receipts for tax purposes. Maeby, in rebellion mode as always, relishes the chance to spend time with her “Gangy,” and even enjoys the ways Lucille puts down Lindsay. (“Sometimes a diet is the best defense,” she says when Lindsay complains that she’s too critical. Later Lucille explains that she doesn’t want to give Lindsay an elephant-shaped brooch because she “didn’t want to invite the comparison.”) But soon Maeby realizes that Lucille’s barbs sting her as well, as her grandmother passes on some jewelry to her and whispers, “It’ll distract from the freckles.” At the end of the day, Maeby bails on Lucille, though she does follow Bluth family protocol and leave a note: “Thanks For The Gift. Love, Fatty.”
So yes, the roots of shame and fear run deep in the Bluth line, as evidenced by the scene of George-Michael yelling at himself while doing homework, followed later by Michael mumbling to himself, “I’ve been pushing him too hard. Dumb, Michael!” And the roots of the plot in “Pier Pressure” twist together sublimely at the end, as Michael’s plan to scare his son straight goes into effect. Attempting to help GOB square his debt with the stripper agency “Hot Cops” (for whom GOB works occasionally, and poorly), he hires them to pretend to arrest George-Michael when he comes by the pier to pick up the pot from his uncle. GOB warns his brother in advance that these guys have never done any actual “hot policing,” and sure enough, when the strippers surround the Bluth yacht, GOB shouts, “It’s the cops! And a construction worker!” while one of the Hot Cops shouts back, “Let’s get this party started!” (GOB tries to assuage Michael’s worries about his colleagues falling back on their exotic dancer muscle memory, saying, “They’re going to push the tension to the last possible moment before they strip.”)
Then comes the topper, as what appears to be real cops surround Michael and GOB at the fake drug-buy, just after what appears to be real dealers dub a bale of dope onto the yacht. When a fake arm falls onto the dock though, Michael realizes that his father is behind all this. J. Walter Weatherman steps out of the shadows and says, “And that’s why you don’t teach lessons to your son.” That’s how messed-up the Bluths are. Even when trying to rid the family of some bad habits, they can only do it by pushing those habits even further.
- It’s typical of Michael to blame the chairs whenever he leans too far and falls over.
- Michael: “I’m a saint, y’know. I’m a living saint and I get absolutely nothing out of it.” (Lindsay: “Well, you get a false feeling of superiority.”)
- Marta says that GOB doesn’t think his family takes his magician job seriously enough, to which Michael says, “Oh, the tricks! The little tricks!”
- Tobias and Lindsay have held fundraisers promoting “No More Meat,” “No More Fish,” and (for school lunches) “More Meat And Fish!”
- George-Michael, sounding at once bad-ass and over-prepared in front of Maeby: “I’m going to need a leather jacket for when I’m on my hog and need to go into a controlled slide.”
- Is it me, or is Michael’s hair getting messier by the episode?
- When Buster is reminded that Lucille 2 changed him as a baby, he mutters, “That’s why she didn’t look surprised.”
- The marquee at Playtime Pizza reads: “A magician named GOB.” (This is also the way he’s introduced at the Gothic Castle, though the MC pronounces it “gahb.”)
- The Arrested Development writers never miss a chance to feminize Tobias. When he struggles to extract ice cream from a container, he complains, “You have to be some sort of She-Hulk to get this.”
- Of course that’s nothing compared to what “Storming The Castle” does to Tobias later on. When he hears that Maeby is into wearing leather, he goes to his local clothing store and asks for “something that says ‘Dad likes leather.’” He returns home with the perfect gay bar ensemble—complete with a chain that chokes him when he makes exaggerated movements—which suits him well when he goes looking for the Gothic Castle and ends up at the Gothic Arsehole. (“I am looking for the magic!”)
- Conversion alert: While in solitary confinement, George Sr. sees the shadow of The Star Of David. Later he walks out of solitary with a piece of his shoe on his head, serving as a makeshift yarmulke.
- J. Walter Weatherman is a one-armed man with a three-legged dog.
- Lucille shows off her jewelry collection to Maeby: “And this is from when your Pop-Pop yelled ‘Oh Melanie’ when he was making love to Gangy.” (Along the same lines, Lindsay later makes her best claim to the elephant brooch: “She was my au pair! I was the one who cleared my throat and pointed to the laundry room.”)
- Lucille on Lindsay: “She thinks I’m too critical. That’s another fault of hers.”
- “I need a favor” “We ought to put that on our family crest.”
- GOB is not above helping himself to some of the pot he procured for George-Michael.
- When confronted about the pot-buying, George-Michael suggests that maybe it was the other George Michael down at the pier? Y’know, the singer-songwriter?
- Buster makes a strong statement: “I am not s-ing around!”
- George-Michael, playing along with a confession: “I was going to smoke the marijuana like a cigarette.” (In fact, George-Michael wasn’t that worried about being arrested. “One of the Hot Cops was my choir teacher.”)
- Once again this week, only one of these two episodes had an “On The Next” segment, but both of the OTNs in “Storming The Castle” were funny: First, GOB gets booted back out of the Magicians’ Alliance for using non-approved assistants in his act. (“Well, you’re out,” Rollo says, after about two seconds deliberation.) Second, Tobias boasts “I got a gig,” which prompts a cut to The Gothic Arsehole, where Tobias is singing in a leather-bound barbershop quartet called Whips & Snaps.
- Next week: “Public Relations” and “Marta Complex”