Welcome to Season 4!
And, huh. Based on that episode title, maybe I wasn’t too far off in guessing at the writers’ preoccupations in season 3. Season 4 premiered on October 14, 1988 as the lead-in to the proto-TGIF block of programming on ABC. Full House, then in its second season, aired immediately after, but by the summer of 1989 it was moved to the start of the Friday night programming block. Perfect Strangers would be bumped an hour later then, following Full House and Mr. Belvedere; why the change? TGIF: this guy’s inference? Families. In Fall 1988 Perfect Strangers was in competition with Beauty and the Beast on CBS, and Sonny Spoon on NBC. (Don’t remember Sonny Spoon? You and everybody else, bud.)
Anyway, who the fuck cares about that, what’s occurring to me now is that Season 4 is the first season where we’re not starting over. Season 2 was a year of struggles and pain, being willing to let go of parts of the past if they were keeping you from living in the moment (Larry the Christmas Boy and Balki the dog-owner). Season 3 was a little more forward-looking: it ended with the same lesson, but that was after a year of trying its darnedest to progress and move past its own tropes (Mypos sayings). In a broad sense, Season 3 overgeneralized Season 2’s lesson of letting go into actively trying to forget unless pressed to (Larry the Camera Boy and Mary Anne the landlord-rememberer). Season 3 gave us a new work environment, and a new set of second-tier characters that it was alternately hesitant to commit to (Mrs. Burns & Gorpley) but would bring back and highlight if they proved popular (Harriette and Lydia). Twinkacetti still existed in the world of Season 3, and we can assume that Mr. Burns probably does too, unless we’re told otherwise. However:
But for once, we’re in the same place, we’ve got the same characters. So perhaps the show doesn’t have to do as much heavy lifting in terms of introducing us to the characters and their situation, but I would argue it still must do some. Like how at the beginning of 4th grade the teacher spent the first couple of weeks reviewing stuff from 3rd grade. Back then it just made things boring for me, but I can see now it was the teacher’s way of sound out the waters, pre-test for the year, find out not only what we remembered by what we wanted to learn and how we thought of ourselves and others and school in general. So I’ll probably give the first few episodes some tiny passes if they need them. Big questions:
Are things the same? Have the cousins changed since the spring? Who are Larry and Balki now? Is this show still about dreams, and if so, what are theirs? In addition to those big questions, I have a shortlist of smaller ones:
Will we have an endless list of characters who stop by, threaten the cousins’ friendship in some tangential way, and leave? Or will Gorpley say more than “Bartokomous, where’s the line that you say after my line?”
Will the lessons still be pat and easy? Or am I still guaranteed somewhere between 2 and 4 decent story endings?
Are we going to retread familiar ground again?
Will Larry lie only 20 times, or 21 times?
Will Larry remember that cameras are still a thing, and never stopped being a thing?
What new thing will Jennifer not necessarily like?
Will Balki ever pronounce Larry’s name right?
Anyway, here we are at the Chronicle. It’s a new season, it’s sunny out, everything is success, success, success, and Balki is finishing up his work for the day.
Mr. Gorpley stops him, demanding more work: in this case an office directory. As we saw last season, Balki had graduated from American high school; here, we see that he has now been socialized into the American capitalist system and knows that employees are simply tools, their bodies owned by their faceless employers. Balki brags that he has added every employee’s blood type to their directory entries.
Gorpley affirms this dim view of employee agency:
Mr. Gorpley: Your days are numbered.
And Balki thanks him for it! I’m going to pause from my hard-hitting exegesis to ask: how, in the 800+ hours of Balki watching television and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, did he never hear this phrase?
There’s a ding from off-camera!
This one has a brand new ‘do!
This one has neuroses, too!
Lydia is excited because she won the lottery, and somehow there weren’t any lottery commercials on TV either, because Balki doesn’t know what it is.
Harriette explains how the lottery is a backwards ritual that ought to be forgotten, as there are much better ways to control the population (in terms of stemming the dual tides of growth and revolution) than randomly stoning people to death.
Nah, j/k, Harriette mentions that the grand prize is $28 million dollars!
*counts on fingers… that’s 560,00 times $50!*
Then we find out that Lydia only won $100. 😦
Larry emerges from the past, confirming that he did not write an article that day and that he is still a jerk.
Harriette gripes about having to listen to Lydia whine about how Larry called her an idiot, and once again, Belita Moreno proves to be the only actor who knows how to use the different types of exits to their full potential–she starts whining as the elevator door closes.
Balki starts in with his whole “I want to play state-sponsored snowjob” bit and Larry tries to talk him out of it.
Larry: You have a better chance of being hit by a car!
…after which Balki promptly runs out to the parking garage.
Balki comes into the apartment shaking his imaginary tits, just like they do in Fiddler on the Roof. He’s singing Reason #17 that DVD as a format will be abandoned before the music rights on this season are cleared: “If I Were a Rich Man”.
Since there’s no women here, the cousins are forced repeat to each other what they did before they got home. Larry loaned Balki a dollar to play the lottery, and Balki pays him back out of his Freddy the Frog bank. Freddy evidently has chosen some weird-ass antlered anteater wearing a cape as his avatar for this world.
But Balki has done more than take on the music of Jewish portrayals in pop culture: he offers to pay Larry 50 cents back instead of the whole dollar
Larry does not want in, Balki keeps trying to sell him on the idea that Balki is being generous and thankful to him.
Balki: You took me in, gave me shelter…
Ignoring for the moment that Larry treats Balki like dirt and calls him a slob, this is a succinct (and, if I may say, clever) way to restate all that audiences need to know about the cousins’ relationship 50 episodes in. Larry usually is all about the quick fixes and get-rich-schemes, but his response here is fitting: he is rejecting fate (chance/religion) in favor of control.
Cousin Larry wants to tell Balki about economics
*leans in close to the screen, fingers poised on keyboard, ready to praise the show*
Larry just starts reading the text on the dollar bill.
*shoulders slump, fingers type out “fuck you show”*
Larry, the acceptable face of the Capitalist race, says that the dollar bill can buy things, while the other piece of paper has no value. He has chosen to let the eye on the back of the bill see for him, and is thus blind to the fact that he errs in the exact same way Balki does.
Later that night…
The women have come downstairs just to watch a man on a screen say six numbers out loud (the 80s were a strange, cocaine-fueled time, kids).
Mary Anne (Sagittarius) tells Balki to come back to the couch so that he won’t miss the drawing, something he certainly would have forgotten in the time it took him to grab a single bowl from the kitchen.
Jennifer: Gee, I’ve heard money is nice when little effort is put forth to get it.
Mary Anne says that if she won, she’d buy the airline she works for (the 80s were also a cheap time when you could buy a lottery ticket for a dollar and an airline for $28 million) so she wouldn’t have to be scheduled on double shifts.
She then spouts what are meant to read as well-informed financial decisions she would make for the company. Mary Anne is the rare character in this show for whom everything she says is funny.
When she says something dumb, she’s funny because she misunderstands something. When she says something smart, she’s funny because she’s dumb. But Jennifer?
Jennifer keeps the focus off herself by asking Larry what he’d do with 28 million. Larry again rejects the idea of chance by rejecting the question. But WWBD?
He would pay off the Myposian National Debt, which totals $635.
I hope you’re all wanting to strangle Balki as much as I am for blowing that money on a skywriting jet last season.
Deep down, Balki still understands that capitalist excess is a danger to his way of life, and start starts getting scared when the numbers are announced. He begs Cousin Larry to hold the transcribed numbers (Balki hid the ticket) and Larry puts on this whole asshole 1950s sitcom “gee, Balki” kind of voice.
We get a slow close-in on Larry’s face as he realizes what’s on the note that Balki handed him.
The women try to leave, there being nothing else in the entire apartment to interest them, but–
In the next scene, the women finally leave. For the second time this episode, Balki calls himself “a simple sheepherder”.
Look, Balki, I know that’s how all your masturbation fantasies start, but according to “My Brother, Myself”, you’ve been here for basically two years. You haven’t even touched your shepherd’s crook since *sniff* Susan left.
The cousins are so happy that they do the Dance of Joy.
Larry keeps pressing his cheek against Balki’s and saying “we did it”, but–
Balki: What you mean we, white man?
Balki very smugly gives Larry back his own rule-based thought process: he refused to play the lottery, thus he gets no share of the winnings. Cousin Larry deserves this on a couple of levels. One, Larry put him down earlier in the episode. But more importantly, this is what Larry gets for being so rule-based for so long. Larry offers to go buy 20 lottery tickets and give Balki half of whatever he wins as a show of good faith. They mention also that Larry told Balki that the word “sucker” has Balki’s face beside it in the dictionary. Okay, show, I’m warning you: you’re telling me that Balki knows not everything is literal. I don’t care how much else you’ve forgotten about the past 3 seasons (or was it 2? I’ll have to ask my man T-Boyett), but you’re blocking off escape routes early on here.
Balki: I’m just playing a game of cat and louse with you.
Not only does Mypos have such a small economy that $635 would pay off its debt, it evidently has its own food web too.
Larry: In your face, Donald Trump!
…who lives up in the sky with God, apparently? I usually don’t talk about that guy, because, well, here’s my opinion of him:
But there’s definitive proof that his net worth was less than $28 million in 1988.
Where did Balki hide the ticket?
Larry: You put the ticket…
Balki: I put the ticket…
Larry: You put the ticket…
Balki: I put the ticket… in my…
Larry: You put the ticket in your…
*lets out breath*
IN HIS BUTT HE PUT THE TICKET UP HIS BUTT HE FOLDED IT SEVEN TIMES AND HE PUT IT IN A LITTLE BAGGY AND HE PUT IT RIGHT UP HIS POOPER
Balki finally remembers that he put the ticket in his winter coat.
And here’s your show-stopping physical comedy setpiece for the season 4 opener: Larry and Balki start throwing coats out of the closet. That scene from the 1974 film version of The Great Gatsby, starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, where Daisy throws all the shirts in the air, got nothing on this!
The ticket’s not in the coat, but maybe he put it in a cereal box.
So the cousins start throwing out the expired props from Season 3. You’ve got your Raisin Puffs, a couple boxes of Sugar Oatsies, and
Colonel Kernels! I’m seriously excited by Colonel Kernels. I hope they travel to the Deep South to meet the racist CEO and do physical comedy at his plantation house, spill their mint juleps and swing from his porch fans.
Balki gets excited about a Captain Power decoder ring. He’s happy to have a complete set, but Larry throws it away, not realizing that exactly that kind of behavior is what increases the value of the toys that were kept in pristine shape. In fact, a few years past the airing of this episode, comics fans realized this fact en masse, driving up prices on old comics such as Incredible Hulk #181, and creating a boom/bust cycle of speculation involving numerous first issues, variant covers, and gimmick covers, like this one here for Amazing Spider-Man #400:
Oh, sorry, I got carried away there. Larry’s screaming at Balki now, and Balki’s crying, and now Larry’s holding Balki’s arms for the 16th time this episode and Larry’s throwing Balki around.
Anyway, Balki can’t remember where he hid the ticket. Larry yells at Balki to say what part of the apartment they haven’t torn apart yet, and Balki says “all those books that suddenly appeared for the first time this episode!”
Larry grabs a volume of Shakespeare from the shelf and he just starts shaking it around and I, as a librarian, must turn my head away from this savagery.
Then they tear open the vacuum bag, and, you know?
I’ve lost the thread of this episode, and quite possibly this show. Wasn’t this episode about blood types or something? Wasn’t this show about a shepherd and his beer-drinking cousin? Has Balki fixed the radio yet?
The next day, we get a panning shot of the building’s exterior, which is the only part of this episode that’s felt like it’s taking place in a different year from that of the previous season. We see that the Caldwell Hotel has grown battlements, an outer reflection of the constant fighting within.
The cousins, spent from the night’s exertions, lie limp on the floor, and Mary Anne thinking that they’ve been up all night partying Hunter S. Thompson-style is really great.
Jennifer makes the episode’s requisite mention of their job, but before they leave, Mary Anne returns the envelope Balki gave her. The episode spins this as an indication that she is forgetful.
Now that they’re millionaires, the cousins go straight to the offices of Unicorn Cereal.
They’re so excited that they’ve been fucking the whole way there.
The cousins meet Mr. PAY-OFF, who in a very officious way (he’s wearing glasses and everything) checks the numbers on the ticket.
Larry mistook 7 for 4 when he read Balki’s handwriting. The idea is that since Balki puts a horizontal strike through 7, it looks like a 4 to Larry.
YA COULDN’T FRIGGIN’ MAKE IT A 4 AND A 9, SHOW?
Larry demands that the official give them money based on the piece of paper that Balki wrote the numbers on, sealing the deal on that Colonel’s kernel of an actual commentary on assigned value.
The cousins only win $100. 😦 Barely enough to buy snacks for a Christmas party.
In the final scene, Balki names all the things you could spend $100 on in 1988: Air Jordans, 20 trips to the top of the Sears Tower, or a multi-year subscription to Sports Illustrated, including the swimsu-it issue.
Larry has always wondered what women’s hips look like…
Mary Anne is dumb (and smart); Jennifer is uncomfortable talking about anything but her job, which you can already tell from her outfit anyway.
Lydia is a slightly more established, slightly more troubled Larry; Harriette is black.
Mr. Gorpley hates Balki.
The lesson of this episode: Larry looks at things one way, Balki looks at things another way. That’s it. That’s the lesson.
Welcome to Season 4.
Come back next week for “Assertive Training”!
Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Dance of Joy running total: 12