Season 6, Episode 10: Black Widow

Welcome back!  Sorry again about last week. I switched channels at the end of “The Ring” and forgot to switch back to ABC. I ended up writing a whole review of an episode of “Ferris Bueller” before I realized my mistake. No, you may not read it.

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We open on a dizzyingly high shot of the Chronicle, falling quickly to the ground.

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Inside we find Larry, already in progress, leafing through a bound folio of a past edition of the Chicago Chronicle.

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Just look at him, turning the page from the bottom of the book rather than the top, running his oily fingers over the sole archival copy of the newspaper of record for the city of Chicago.

Balki invites Cousin Larry to dinner at a Chinese-Italian deli, which serves “moo shu fettuccine”. Attaboy, Balki! Replace your proteins with starches!

Cousin Larry declines, as he’s trying to reproduce his success reporting on Marco Madison by researching mass murderers for a series of articles. In the course of his research, he’s discovered that “average” people can be murderers.

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Balki contemplates this, having never considered this profession before.

Philosophically, though this is very interesting. What was Larry’s belief beforehand? Did he think that “murderer” is an immutable state of being untethered to physical action and that–according to no less an authority than Jesus himself–whoever wishes someone dead has committed murder in their heart? Perhaps Larry pondered, per the proof provided by his prepubescent neighbor, that butchers burst forth from their bearers’ loins bound for boundless bloodshed?

Or perhaps the question is one of the so-oft-on-this-blog-invoked concept of humanity’s internal/external divide. Can one’s nature truly be hidden via the daily practice of interacting with that most formalized and accepted of social interaction: working in a service industry? And the bigger question, perhaps, is whether this makes Larry that much more of a failure; we’ve seen him carry out violence on the trust others give him as he strives to appear other than he really is. Is such a divide itself a crime of the soul?

Or, if I may reverse Socrates and look to the man to understand the city, it’s clear that Larry’s thoughts are scalable. He mentions the murder hiding in the bank teller and the barber and one feels as though we’ve caught a glimpse into the eyeholes of the mask called Capitalism.

Anyway, TGIF: die Tiefe des Geistes ist Furchtbar. The Pandora’s Maalox bottle* of philosophical inquiry into the nature of the self has been opened, and those with eyes to see, and with other sense organs that work correctly, no doubt already understand what this means for season 6’s larger subtext.

Actually, on second thought, Larry’s probably just surprised that middle-class white people with normal-shaped heads are mass murderers.

Balki answers Larry’s philosophical musings in kind, saying that mass murderers are more obvious than all that via oblique reference to Charles Whitman**, a Texan and former Marine. At this point, I rabbit-holed into research on mass shootings, because I was honestly surprised that Balki did not mention postal workers. The beginning of the main grouping of postal worker shootings were still about a year away as of this episode’s airing. It’s interesting to have a timeline applied to the referential melting pot of my youth, but god damn is it depressing to look back on a time where decades passed between iconic mass shootings.

The audience yuks it up over the memory of the 17 people Whitman murdered, and then further when Balki says “fortune cannoli”. So glad we’re getting such dedicated character-driven humor this late in the game.

Larry uses a magnifying glass–and then the camera zooms in hard–on a photograph that takes up about a fourth of a newspaper page.

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*gasp* It’s the Country Music Singer Wig Lady from episode 2!

Since this mass murderess was high-profile enough to rate newspaper articles, Larry knows that this would not be the only piece on her.  He flips quickly through the bound folio to find other articles and photographs, as well as cross-checking it with the microfilm copies of other Chicago-area newspapers.

Oh, no, wait, Larry brings this archival copy back to the place where books are constantly being ripped apart and animals shit on any surface lower than their anuses.

Larry shows the article to Jennifer, who reminds Larry that she and Mary Anne have been friends since the age of 9.

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Jennifer: Larry, you’ve got to stop watching America’s Most Wanted. In fact, I think everyone should stop watching it, as it comes on at the same time as both Full House and Family Matters. Next week, an anonymous love letter sends the Tanner household into romantic confusion!

Psychology sidebar: now that the truth is coming out about their dark past, Jennifer uses a little bit of distancing language to obscure the fact that she’s not negating Larry’s accusation. “I think I would know….”

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Larry thinks that Mary Anne Spencer and Mabel Alice Stallings (the killer) having the same initials is somehow proof. He keeps slapping his hands together and shouting “fact” at Jennifer.

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Balki busts in with a television strapped to his back and starts doing step exercises with the coffee table.  This is perhaps the most immediate and arresting symbol Perfect Strangers has used since last season’s men’s room key. Balki–having been cast onto the path of questioning the self by Larry–recognizes his reality as a projection of the television, and accepts his role as carrying the burden of repeating the same steps over and over, up-down-up-down-up-down

Nah, just kidding, Balki’s going hiking with Mary Anne on Mt. Whitefish and needs to build up his legs, and since he doesn’t own any sort of backpack, and never has, he’s practicing with the television.

And since there hasn’t been any organic way into physical comedy yet, Larry starts doing it too.

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Hey, by the way! It’s Mrs. Schlaegelmilch’s TV! Somebody finally found the show bible!

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Larry tells Balki that that was the allotted time they had for the bit, and Balki leaves.  After that, there’s a good moment where the“fact!” bit pays off when Jennifer does it. She, uh, really does enjoy her fiance’s neuroses, huh?

When Larry realizes that Balki’s death means he can’t drag the guy along to his honeymoon suite, he says he has to stop Mary Anne.  Jennifer pleads with him, saying that she and Mary Anne are so close they’ve been popping the pimples on each other’s asses for years.

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But Larry drags out of her that the two of them were out of touch for the years 1984 and 1985, the same time period as the Stallings murders. What’s more is that Mary Anne refers to those as her “dark years”. There’s no mention of the fact that Mary Anne was in London for a few weeks in 1989, or even the basic fact that they are sometimes assigned to different flights. They’re only stewardesses when the plot needs their absence to have some impact on the cousins. There’s only two of them when Balki needs to kiss someone.

Larry explains that Mabel Alice Stallings didn’t go to jail because none of the bodies were ever found.  Oh no! The justice system is so well-constructed that it refuses to prosecute citizens without substantial evidence! What will Larry do?

Jennifer says she’ll bring Mary Anne by later to look at the photograph. Jennifer, before you leave, is it worth mentioning that Mary Anne is too dumb to pull off multiple murders and escape justice? That’s she’s so dumb she thinks that only people in El Paso get borderline personality disorder?

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…Jennifer? No? All right.

Later that evening…

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…he still has his fucking backpack? Oh fuck you!

Larry comes out of his bedroom, trying to use his newfound knowledge as a physical shield.  Balki, on the other hand, knows he must carry this thing through to its grisly conclusion for entertainment’s sake.

(front/back, up/down)

Dimitri quietly eyefucks a woman in the third row.

There’s a slight disconnect between this episode’s title and the real-world “Black Widows”, who tend to murder their spouses in order to cash out insurance plans or inherit their wealth. We know that Balki barely earns any money as a mailboy; in fact, he bought Mary Anne a hatchet at her request, even though he’s still paying off a $140,000 house. Larry doesn’t try to posit why Mary Anne might be the kind of person who kills her mates. I mean, after all, the opening psychological volley of the episode was just that “average people turn out to be mass murderers”, as though the acts were some isolated aspect of their personality, some unpredictable computer error. And isn’t that scarier than the simple act of murder alone? That no amount of knowledge of another person can protect you from them having agency over your life?

I probably look like I’m signalling the beginning of some argument that underlying Larry’s fear is some deeper, primal terror regarding women, and of the trustworthiness of their motivations. You’re probably mocking me right now! “Hurr durr durr,” you say, “I’m Casey durr hurr I’m an academic an’ I like to be smart.”

Actually… no, I don’t think that’s going on here. This situation doesn’t strike me as inherently sexist. I could easily see Larry acting in nearly the same way if he thought Balki was out to murder him, even though he’d have far less reason to believe it of him. Speaking of how Larry might react to given situations…

Praise is a strong word, and generally advised against in the Perfect Strangers Reviewed stylebook, but thank the Sitcom Gods that Larry isn’t offering Balki as bait to Mary Anne, subtly goading her into violence so that he can make the front page with proof of her guilt.

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The sexist part of this isn’t that Mary Anne might be a murderer. No, the sexist part is that she’s not the one here swinging the hatchet around to scare Larry.

Larry sits Balki down to break the news to him in the most roundabout way possible that he might die if he tries to *ahem* scale those mountains.

But before Larry can tell him, Dizzy Borden herself show up.

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Mary Anne (Sagittarius) goes straight for the piece of equipment that she and Balki discussed previously. Wow, if she doesn’t rein in her impulses, she might give herself away!

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She answers Larry’s question about where Jennifer is by saying that “she’s gone”, and then quickly clarifying that she’s on a flight to Hong Kong. It’s one of only two lines of dialogue in the whole episode where something Mary Anne says could be even remotely construed as something a murderer would say.

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What the shit? She leaves? At least someone had the good sense to imply a burial by putting dirt all over her clothes.

Larry tells Balki that Mary Anne is a murderer and rushes to call the police. Balki stops him***, saying that Carl’s too busy rescuing Eddie and Steve from a gang of pool hustlers.

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Balki, who comes from island where 10% of the population is played by Bronson Pinchot, assumes that Mabel and Mary Anne are doppelgängers.

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Jennifer calls, and Larry is so grateful to hear her voice that he puts her on hold so Balki can make a joke. She was calling to let Larry know she was on her way to Hong Kong.

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Balki drags out rubbing Larry’s face in his mistake. Hey, remember how Larry was wrong to ridicule Balki for his belief that Larry would die three years ago? Nah, me neither.

Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back after I research mountain-climbing vocabulary in case I need to use it for the next few scenes.

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Why are we at the Chronicle?

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Who cares? It’s Lydia! It’s motherfucking Lydia, y’all!

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Larry tells Lydia how dumb he feels for thinking that someone so sweet could be a mass murderer.

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It’s a completely wasted appearance, though, as all the show wants from her is a recap of the “evidence”.

Why the fuck are we at the Chronicle?

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Aw, who cares? It’s Gorpley!  It’s mother issues Gorpley, y’all!

Gorpley surprises Larry by telling him that Balki has gone on a hiking trip!  If only Larry had had some way–any way–of knowing this beforehand!

Before either of them is allowed to say any more, Larry hightails it the fuck up out of there.

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Why the rappelling fuck were we at the Chronicle?

Here we are at downtown Chicago’s famous mountain range!

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Ooh, Mary Anne’s in shorts. She can crest my ridge anyday!

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In case you weren’t certain how tall a mountain was, it’s tall enough to drop something from. Balki says he is stuck.

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Where’s his fucking backpack? Fuck you, show!

Larry runs up and confronts “Mabel”, and then ties her up poorly.

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Make your own “Fifty Shades Larried” joke.

After having tossed instruction books, sprigs of parsley, VCRs, and rings, The Man Who Threw Too Much throws a rope down, which Balki does not catch.

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He ties another to a tiny tree and Mary Anne–the dumb one–tells him not to do that because it’s too small.  Cousin Larry, who–per the show’s canon–is ~370 lbs, climbs down to Balki.

When he arrives, Balki is singing Ashford & Simpson’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” which I guess is the closest we’re ever going to get to classic Perfect Strangers from here on out.

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Balki: Are we going do physical comedy now, Cousin?

Larry: What the fuck do you think?

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Larry tugs on the rope, uprooting the tree, stranding the cousins. Unfortunately, the outcrop they’re standing is too small for any physical comedy but having them put their crotches together.

As they say, if the mountain won’t come on the cousins…

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I guess you could say Balki is… stuck between a rock and a hard place!

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I guess you could say that Larry is… getting his rocks off!

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I guess you could say the cousins are… engaging in sexual congress on a cliff face!

There’s 5 minutes left, so the cousins switch places again.

(up/down, back/forth)

Mary Anne, who is so dumb she thinks that a buttress is the female version of butter, has untied herself and throws another rope down.

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Mary Anne gets the best line in the episode: “Larry couldn’t tie a knot if his life depended on it.” It’s not much, but it at least made me smile.

You would think, now that Larry’s life does depend on it, it might be worth someone intimately familiar with Mary Anne–say, oh, idunno, Balki maybe?–laying out any sort of argument as to Mary Anne’s nature. You would think that Balki would have some opinion on whether people are innocent until proven guilty, some Myposian way of handling oneself in the face of potential danger. You would think he’d at least say something like “you will know them by their Fruit of the Looms”.

That’s the difference, though. You would think. Perfect Strangers, on the other hand, is just fine having its main characters grunt and shuffle around while the episode’s focus patiently waits in the wings.

One of the central devices of the sitcom is that everyone’s true nature is always at the surface. Perfect Strangers sets up an episode that hints at a confrontation with that notion, and then proceeds to direct our attention to a blank wall. It’s not as though the show would even have to work all that hard to remind the viewer that Mary Anne is so dumb she thinks carabiner is an ethnic slur. But as we’ve seen numerous times now, it’s willing to ditch dialogue necessary to the inner logic of its plots, and it’s willing to keep the women out of their own stories. Argue if you like that a sole focus on the workings of Larry’s mind is worthwhile, but I can’t accept that it should come at the cost of others’ characterization.

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Later, at the Caldwell, Mary Anne explains that the Chicago Chronicle had the captions mixed up between her photo and one of Mabel Alice Stallings. Mary Anne–who once refused to live with her best friend after being accused of using just a little too much makeup–calmly and forgivingly explains that she is not a serial killer. The photo of her was when she was with her boyfriend at the police academy graduation.****

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How in the hell did Mary Anne get the original of a newspaper photograph?

As it turns out, Mary Anne’s “dark years” refer to the time period when she was fucking a guy named Tim Dark, who had previously dated Jennifer. His nightstick *ahem* was so arresting that Mary Anne was willing to cut off all contact with Jennifer for two years straight.

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Balki explains the “dark years” joke, and then says “these must be the Bartokomous years” and that is not a joke THAT IS NOT A JOKE

There’s a decent cumulative bit where Larry asks how he should hand out the apologies, and Balki reminds everyone that they had previously decided that embarrassments get group apologies, and lies individual ones. Balki further reminisces about the time that Larry gave them all gift certificates, and then decides on what Larry owes them this time.  Unfortunately, there’s absolutely no reason that this joke needed to be a monologue from Balki. It’s explicitly about a group of people deciding how Larry should atone for his sins, yet two-thirds of them just nod their assent. Fuck this show.

Larry apologizes to Mary Anne, Balki, and Jennifer in turn.  You know, I can be pretty down on the character of Jennifer. The show generally doesn’t give her much more to do than knock on the door, but I do want to compliment Melanie Wilson. I mean, look at that face: the face of a woman who spends every waking moment with the knowledge that she’s engaged to a season-6 Larry Appleton.

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It’s a completely fair statement that Melanie’s doing the most she can with, um… well, “the material they write for her” isn’t exactly correct, but you know what I mean.

Larry offers to take them all to a nice, quiet dinner, but before they can leave, Mabel Alice Stallings runs into the apartment and murders them all with her bare hands. The end.

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Nah, j/k, everyone laughs at Larry for giving a shit about whether his cousin lives or dies. These four sure do have fun when they get together.

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Join me next week for “The Sunshine Boys”!

________________________________________________

Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (1)

Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)

Appearances left: Lydia (9); Gorpley (10)

Cut for syndication: Tess hits Larry in the nuts with a crampon

 

*Pandora originally had a jar. Look it up and get it right from now on, okay?

**The clocktower shooter in Austin, Texas, 1966

***Sadly, Larry does not break his bone for touching the phone

****The very same one where Mahoney got a blowjob, no doubt

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No post today, sorry, HOWEVER

A confluence of events has left me without a review for this week, and it’s put me in the position of having to leave you without a review this week. I could just post a bunch of screengrabs and say “it sucked”; and it would probably be the most accurate and respectful review I’ve ever written! But I’m really trying to save that joke for whenever there’s an episode about, oh, idunno, everybody getting shipwrecked so they can make Gilligan’s island jokes and casually forget that Balki knows how to get off an island. Or one where the cousins enter the local raw-poultry-throwing contest and end up poisoning a woman on live television. Or one where he and Balki become undercover prostitutes.

Anyway, you dutifully navigated your browser to this blog this week, and I shouldn’t reward that behavior with just a post that says “tough titty”. Instead, I’m here to announce the

LAST ANNUAL

PERFECT STRANGERS REVIEWED

CAPTION CONTEST

That’s right, you heard right, a caption contest!  Here’s how it works: I’ll put up a screengrab, and you caption it with some silly turn(s) of phrase in the comments. If I think yours is the funniest, you win!  If I don’t think yours is the funniest, I’ll write you a personalized message telling you the bad news.

What do you win, you ask? Would you just wait a fucking minute? Did you seriously think I wasn’t going to mention the prize? You people.

For some goddam reason, I own some Perfect Strangers slides that were part of a press release kit for the show. I guess they served the same kind of role for TV executives that signing letters to the families of deceased veterans does for the president: having to consider briefly the havoc that they wreak on others’ lives.  They’re from 1991 and a couple of them even feature images from Season 6 episodes. One of them features Mark and Bronson doing a move called the “totem pole”. And then there’s one that features the Perfect Strangers logo because everybody but maybe eight kids had stopped watching this show by 1991.

I don’t want these furshlugginer things. The one with the cousins dressed up like Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton chases me through my dreams like a cancer diagnosis.

There are five of them and this is what they look like:

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They’re not actually blue, but white; blame the eBay seller for being considerate enough to actually photograph them in a way that captures the tiny frames of film.

Tuck them away in your hope chest! Project them on the wall during your next shitty party! Grind them into dust and cut your cocaine with them! Sell them on eBay! I don’t give a shit, I just want them out of my damn house!

All you have to do to win is write the caption for this image that makes me laugh more than the ones other people write. You can submit only ONE caption, though, so you’d better get it right the first time. I’m looking at you; you know who you are.

One more rule: you may not exploit any loopholes that I’m not thinking of. Also, you’ll have to give me your address if you want these things sent to you, but you don’t have to put that in the comments.

Here’s the screengrab! Go nuts! I’ll announce the winner when I feel like it!

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Season 6, Episode 9: The Ring

What the hell? Another Hitchcock film title?

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Oh, right, I forgot, Larry’s engaged to Jennifer now. Kind of slipped my mind after watching him barely talk to her over the past month.

Anyway, have I got a great review for you this week! There’s a brand-new concept in the psychology sidebar, some good symbolic BS stuff throughout (don’t think that non-standard opening shot on the ring itself was lost on me!), the “Mary Anne is so dumb” gags are fucking off the chain*, and man-o-man, I can’t wait for you to see the gay jokes I’ve got planned. It’s the funniest review I’ve written since “High Society”! Let’s get started!

Larry’s the quintessential hopeless romantic here, waiting a whole month after proposing to buy his fiancée an engagement ring. And even though we just saw him impress the fuck out of RT (Ring-Tailed) Wainwright, he still can only afford a ring from “discount jeweler”. And like any insecure man, he’s managed to convince himself that his choices spring not from his own monetary shortcomings, but from a keen sense of personal finance and business connections.

Balki, who will likely propose to Mary Anne by singing the complete Oklahoma! songbook and offering her a Ring Pop, says he thinks the diamond is too heavy for Jennifer’s hand.

Larry explains that his goal here is to strengthen Jennifer’s wrist for all the handjobs he knows he’s going to have to settle for as a married man.

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Larry: In America, the size of a man’s love for his woman is determined by the size of the diamond he buys her.

Psychology sidebar: You may think that Larry’s error is one of direction, one of cause-and-effect, when in actuality he thinks that his ruse is a victimless crime. Cognitive dissonance holds that, when there is a disconnect between two thoughts a person holds, or between two of their actions, or between their thoughts and actions, people will seek to reconcile the two by changing one or the other. As a result of this, people can inaccurately convince themselves of lots of things, even their own motivations. Take, for instance, a study where test subjects were asked to complete boring, tedious tasks; once they were done, they were asked to lie to the next test subject (who wasn’t really another test subject) that the tasks were actually interesting and fun.  The actual test subjects were offered either $1 or $20 to lie (most did); and they were later asked how interesting they thought the tasks actually were. Those who accepted $20 rated the task as boring; but those who took the $1 had managed to convince themselves that the task was fun. A dollar, they seemed to have decided, was not enough incentive to lie, so they must have believed what they were saying.** Conversely, one might assume, the more someone pays for something, the stronger they’ll assume their reasons were for parting with the money…

Larry, on the other hand (and what is this ring but Larry on another hand?), paid as little as he could. He thinks that Jennifer will dump him instantly if he gives her something inferior, and… dude? Have you met Jennifer? Have you met you?

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Balki tells us that things are precisely the same on Mypos, just with goat size: the happiest brides are those who are given goats that die quickly of cardiomegaly. Larry openly puts down Balki’s culture for some goddam reason because sitcom rhythms demanded a punchline there.

Balki sees the name “Tiffany” on the box and assumes not only that it refers to the singer, but that Larry bought the ring directly from her. If you ever wanted proof that Larry never again let Balki come with him to the grocery store after “Better Shop Around”, that’s it. Anyway, the ring itself came from Harrison Dunn, the “Diamond King”.

Larry: When I give this ring to Jennifer, it will be one of the great moments of my life.

Sure you don’t mean “greatest”, there, Larry?

Evidently, Larry called upstairs and told Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) to come by, but to give him just enough time to do the exposition with Balki.

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He made her come downstairs so he could give her the ring! *snff* Sorry, I’m tearing up a little, this is so sweet.

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Before Cousin Larry gives Jennifer the ring, Balki interrupts him turning off the lights and lighting candles so bright they cast his shadow in the wrong direction. Then he interrupts him again by turning on the radio, which is already set to WMSO 98.3, the station that plays nothing but “Moonlight Serenade”.

Then Larry gives her that ring.***

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Jennifer recognizes in its low value a reflection of her own and calls the ring “gorgeous”.

Jennifer: This is the biggest diamond I’ve ever seen! I have never watched TV or movies or read a magazine or looked at any photographs at all, ever.

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The cameraman briefly remembers that Mary Anne is there, Larry puts the ring on Jennifer’s finger, and they kiss (Larry and Jennifer, not Mary Anne and the cameraman).

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Then everybody hugs, and it’s played for laughs.

Mary Anne–who is so dumb it’s likely she would score low on an IQ test–espies the Tiffany’s box and suggests that Jennifer get the ring insured. Larry quickly explains that, as he has an insurable interest in the ring, he’s already purchased a policy that covers it; and further, that Jennifer’s ownership of the ring is conditional on their marriage.

Nah, j/k, Larry has no concept of keeping valuable items safe, what the hell was I thinking?

Balki mistakes “appraise” for “praise”, and that’s one of about maybe 100 good Balki misunderstandings that are conceivably left.

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Usually, Larry and Balki’s antics are ignored by those around them, or otherwise receive concerned, raised eyebrows; but god damn do I love Mary Anne, who actually looks over and smiles when Larry rushes to keep Balki from saying the actual price of the ring. Jennifer, on the other hand, stares blankly into space when she’s not in a close-up shot.

What’s more is that Mary Anne keeps up with the local news: she reports that Harrison Dunn has been arrested for his phony diamond trade.

Remind me which one of these two is the dumb one. The show gives Jennifer an engagement gift: her second punchline ever.

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Man, though, poor Cousin Larry! If only he had ever been in a situation where he interacted with someone who was selling shoddy merchandise to unsuspecting consumers…

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…if only he had ever purchased a product that didn’t live up to its claims…

 

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…if only…

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Balki says “oh po po”, which here is meant to indicate “uh-oh”, but originally meant something along the lines of “oh, come on” or “you can’t be right”.

Mary Anne and Balki leave to give Larry and Jennifer some time alone–oh, wait, no–on her way out, Jennifer tells Larry she loves him–oh, wait, no–she says she loves the ring and leaves.

Y’all, this episode feels very different, and I’m trying to put my finger on exactly why. Having Balki say something foreign, even if it doesn’t mean what it should, is par for the course at this point, but I think it’s a good example that stands for the whole. Last year, when I watched through the entirety of Family Matters, I saw that some of the later seasons were missing cast members (Rachel, for instance), and many episodes focussed almost exclusively on Carl and Urkel. I don’t know if the case of Family Matters had any sense of how long their contracts would last, but here on Perfect Strangers, they knew.  At this point, Mark and Bronson “knew” that their contracts would last through the end of season 7. So I have to wonder if, mentally, these actors were trying to move on already, if these roles were simply clothes to put on a few more times.

And it’s impossible not to notice how the actors themselves have changed. In late Family Matters, Reginald VelJohnson was getting noticeably older, and sometimes it seemed like his own mellowing out/slowing down showed through anytime Carl was supposed to be the same level of apoplectic in the earlier seasons. Jaleel White had to stand in increasingly awkward positions to try to hide his height and muscle, making Urkel look more and more like an outdated costume.  Similarly, here, it’s obvious that Bronson’s been bulking up.  It’s obvious (later in the episode) that Mark’s getting a little more buff himself.

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Bronson’s Balki voice is deeper than it was five seasons ago. But more than that, this episode has a distinct voice. That the entirety of the Myposian insight this episode was an extended “yeah, us too” almost makes me want to say that we’re getting package without value, structure without content…

 

thering

…hey, yeah, that’s a good metaphor, I guess I will say it! It should be no surprise that this episode was written by people outside the usual set of names: married couple Harriet & Sandy Helberg, a casting director and an actor, respectively. I have no way of knowing if they were on the regular writing staff and contributed to other episodes, but my gut tells me that they only did this episode, and that it was all them.

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Perhaps it took an outsider perspective to get what I think is the most insightful Larry moment we’ve had in a long time. Balki lays into him for lying to Jennifer, saying that this is typical Larry behavior.  Larry agrees, and says that he can’t let Jennifer know that he’s back on his bullshit. Most episodes demand that Larry devise a scheme to cover up his own errors, that’s the baseline now. It’s a nice development from Larry at the end of last season, who was willing to rob thousands of children of a TV host just so he could get a story on page 8 of the Culture & Arts section. Larry wants to change, and he’s embarrassed that he hasn’t already. But his words echo those of Augustine of Hippo: “Oh my Lord, make me pure–but not yet.” His plan is to sell his car, buy an actual version of the same ring, and switch it with the fake.

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Balki says, fine, fuck it, he doesn’t care, if it’ll get Larry to shut up, he’ll help.

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Later, for what must be the 100th time, no one thought to ask Balki what he cooked before eating it.  This time, it’s Moulinki loaf, which is made from fresh ox tonsil.

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The women walk three feet away to wash the dishes, and Larry reiterates the plan. It’s a good thing he does, too! I would never have been able to put together how the cousins bungle it.

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Balki makes the same face I did when I had an infected abdominal wound debrided a couple months ago.

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Larry comes up behind Jennifer and tells her that he paid thousands for that ring, so she better not fucking lose it to the disposal.

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Meanwhile, Balki just kind of breathes on Mary Anne’s neck (it should be me). The audience “woos” at this, hoping they’ll actually start screwing.

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Larry starts shouting at Balki from across the room about where he’s placed the fake ring.

Special note for all you readers who were born in the 90s: American-made men’s pants didn’t have pockets until about 1994.

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Balki fucks around awhile before switching the rings while Larry tells the women that a plate he uses regularly is from the 1700s. Balki goes all the way across the room for some goddam reason and the cousins silently shout at one another.

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Y’all, if you–

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Hey, if–

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Look, like–

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Just–

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It’s called walking over to Balki! It’s called whispering! It’s called a second draft! Jesus. You know, if you had asked me a year ago how to improve Perfect Strangers, I might have joked “take out the dialogue lol”. But now I see how wrong I would have been. Anyway, to clarify: Balki made a hand gesture that Larry understands to mean he didn’t switch the rings; Larry has Balki throw him the ring.

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Even though the women were completely focussed on washing the dishes, Larry throws the plate on the floor as a distraction so he can switch the rings. Larry! Can’t you hear the people in the audience saying “oh, no!”?

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Larry gives Jennifer the ring back and quickly shuttles her and Mary Anne out the door, as it’s categorically impossible for Larry to find out that the rings have been double-switched, much less for any comedic escalation or physical comedy to occur, while the women are still there.

Balki says it’s all well and good for the audience to know that Larry has the real ring, but how can we establish that Larry knows?

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Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back after I shout silently into the void for a while.

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The cousins post-mortem what went wrong, and quickly determine that Balki’s hand gestures meant “okay” instead of “that didn’t work”. Also, on Mypos, a thumbs-up means “you have mistaken that sheep for female; pull out”.

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Again, structure vs content: that’s great that Balki does not realize the universality of hand gestures (make that 99 good misunderstandings left), but if you think I’ll just blindly accept that Balki has never seen a thumbs up in the past five years, well, fuck you, show.

Oh no, though! Now they have to switch the rings! How will they ever pull this off after doing it twice with zero obstacles?

Larry decides that, since the women will magically appear in the insurance office the moment they wake up the next day, he and Balki must switch the rings out while Jennifer sleeps.

Since this week’s theme is structure vs content, let me talk about that for a minute.  If you take a basic description of each scene, it’s decent plot escalation. Larry buys Jennifer a ring on the cheap only to discover that it’s fake. Larry thinks he’s cleared the easy hurdle of switching out the fake ring with a real one only to find himself in a “we all put the yeast in” moment. Now, Larry must do it again, with the ring in a seemingly-inaccessible location. And, to be fair, trying to take something away from a sleeping person is a promising physical comedy scenario. Sure, you know how those sequences go–the sleeper turns over, the sleeper moves the MacGuffin under the pillow, the sleeper grabs hold of the other person and won’t let go of them. And like I decided for myself a couple of weeks ago, what I need to worry about is not whether Perfect Strangers tops the examples I’ve seen, but whether it does anything interesting or organic within the template. Theoretically, two people trying to not disturb the sleeper should provide some different possibilities for how the scene could play out.

Spoiler: like I said, “should”.

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Jeez, they sleep in the same fucking room? As much as they hate each other? And as much as Jennifer had her own room two seasons ago?

I try to take the rare looks into the women’s apartment as opportunities for insight into their personalities. Well, according to all the stuffed animals around the room, they are female.

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Larry pretends that Balki has shined the flashlight in his eyes, shouts, and falls to the floor.  I didn’t exactly expect this scene to be great, but I sure didn’t expect them to remove every ounce of suspense in the first ten seconds.

At this point, I know we’ve got about six minutes left, most of it without dialogue. Covering this scene would essentially be transcribing stage directions, so I’m tempted to just change–

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–oh, there it is, Balki kisses Mary Anne and Larry has to stop him from going any further. Season 6 has given us gags about child molestation and somnophilia, but thank God there’s no jokes about bed-wetting!

That settles it, though: let’s see what’s on NBC instead.

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Harry and Mac have been holed up in Harry’s chambers for hours now, and Mac uses his knowledge of psychology to advise Harry on facing the childhood bully who has reappeared in his life.

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There’s a nice touch here where we can see the history these two men have. Mac has obviously bragged about his two psychology classes many times in the past, as Harry mouths along as he tells the story. Just from that one moment, I can see that even though these characters’ foibles annoy each other, they still care about each other. Harry thoughtfully and quietly considers Mac’s encouragement–that he’s afraid of memories, not what’s in front of him–and leaves his chambers to go to the restroom.

*sigh* let’s make sure I’m not missing anything–

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Balki’s about to stick some tissue paper up Jennifer’s nose. It’s not that we’ve never seen this side of Balki before; even though it doesn’t match up with the Balki who was able to tell a multinational corporation to fuck off, Balki the Kid never really left. It’s just that he obviously doesn’t give a shit about what Larry’s trying to do. Balki is just an obstacle with no self of his own. Fine, fuck it, who cares, he’ll tag along.

Oh man, it’s Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds! After being threatened by Terry, an obviously nervous Harry asks what in the world he could want from him; after all, what happened was 25 years ago.

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But we find out that, for Terry, it wasn’t that long ago. He had to go to reform school, permanently knocking the trajectory of his life off course. Terry has a brief moment of self-reflection when Harry tells him that everyone else moved on with their lives, recognizing that he’s been playing out the exact same story for years; but it soon passes and he returns to roughing up Harry.

Alright, hold on, let’s make sure Balki isn’t going at Jennifer’s finger with a hacksaw–

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–yeah, no, he’s just got his face buried in Jennifer’s breasts.

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Harry decides to not run away from Terry this time, and slugs him. Terry is knocked out, though, by Mac opening a stall door from the inside and smacking him in the face. How in the hell Mac got to the restroom before him, I don’t know, but I realize that it’s for the purposes of scene efficiency. Someone needed to witness that Harry “took down” Terry; and ultimately it’s a minor bit of hand-waving in an otherwise solid character-driven sequence.

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*sigh* I’ve put it off long enough, let’s finish talking about “The Ring”.

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Oh, good, I made it back just in time to see Larry trying to (heh) get Balki’s “ring” off.

Jennifer and Mary Anne stare off into space until the scene ends. See? I’m doing it again, just transcribing stage directions.

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So, look, y’all, I lied to you at the outset. This isn’t a great review, it’s not even a complete review of this Perfect Strangers episode. Sometimes I’ll hit an episode like this and I’ll have nothing to say about it. I mean, you want some sort of symbolic analysis? The quality of the ring is the quality of the show itself at this point in its run, and that’s about it. Sometimes I wonder if it’s my fault that I can barely scrape together insight or jokes for an episode, but then Perfect Strangers throws up a “You Gotta Have Friends” or a “Piano Movers” or a “Bye Bye Birdie” and I remember that it’s always the show’s fault.

Here, the show’s fault is down to two of its own hard-coded rules that even a new pair of writers have no interest in breaking.

One is that the cousins must stay together. There’s absolutely no reason for Balki to even be in this episode past the one line where he acts as Larry’s conscience. Larry could have switched the rings out himself. Shit, he could have even been his own conscious if not for the fact that you have to say every thought process out loud on a sitcom.  There was even less reason for Balki to be in the bedroom scene. You and I both know that Mark could pull off that physical comedy on his own, and all Melanie really had to do was keep her eyes closed and move her hand.

The other is that the show refuses to do B-plots. Every time there’s an obvious opportunity for one, it closes it off pretty quickly in favor of whatever physical comedy will take up the last six minutes. And hell, I even have to walk back that generalization. Remember in “Here Comes the Judge”, when Balki hands out grievances like candy, but Lydia’s germ of a story gets swept away just so Larry can shout at Balki on a brand-new office set? The closest we’ve come to a B-plot in the past while was when Larry calls a chimney sweep twice. The show takes whatever’s around and pushes it all to the sidelines, clearing a nice round area in the middle of the floor so the cousins can act out increasingly hollow physical comedy that doesn’t even have cultural disagreement as an excuse anymore.

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Listen, show: instead of having the appraiser be a bugbear, why not have Larry accompany Jennifer to the insurance office? Let him interact with the person, try to distract both them and Jennifer at the same time so he can switch the rings, have him try to get the appraiser on his side, have Balki try to get worthless “collectibles” appraised. Anything but Larry not realizing he could put a ring in his pocket.

I mean, if you’re going to include Balki, include him in a bigger way! Separate the couples, have Balki take Mary Anne away to some other location and have Larry get himself into a tighter bind all on his own. Or have Balki try more and more desperate gambits to keep Mary Anne awake and out of her apartment while Larry sneaks in to Jennifer’s room. Anything but putting him in a scene and then giving him nothing to do but play with tissue paper.

Anything but sticking Mary Anne in a scene just so you can make a joke about her being sexually violated.

Blah blah blah, Larry got his car back and bought Jennifer a smaller ring.

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Join me next week for “Black Widow”, where the cousins will get spider bites and die.

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Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (1)

Boner count: Balki (1); Larry (0)

Cut for syndication: Tess hides razorblades in the Moulinki loaf

*Mary Anne is so dumb she thinks that “off the chain” is meant literally, and gets confused when someone says it in an idiomatic sense.

**I get paid nothing to write this blog.

***gives her dat, gives her dat, gives her, gives her, gives her dat, gives her dat ring, gives her dat, gives her, gives her dat, gives her dat ring, gives her dat, gives her, gives her dat, gives her, gives her, gives her dat ring