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Season 4, Episode 19: Just a Gigolo

Found half-buried in the abandoned lot that once was home to the Chicago Chronicle, I present to you what remains of the diary of Lydia Markham aka Edwina Twinkacetti.

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November 15, 1987

Vinnie finally stopped dragging his feet, and I finally got in at the newspaper!  It only took me, what, three months?? He kept complaining about how much money and effort it takes to lean on people for fake job references, how careful they have to be when they’re burning down newspaper buildings (just throw some water on it when it’s done, Vinnie!), how he’s giving up his two best girls for this

if those are his best… I shudder to think…

The setup here is good for monitoring.  You can only get to the parking garage through the basement, which is where they work.  I can see the recognition in their eyes… but it fades a little every day. I am beginning to believe Superman got away with just glasses.  I make sure to throw them off a little… insulting the sad-looking one (Larry), making up stories about my past for the dumb one (Balky).

Turns out my biggest worry was for nothing: nobody here knows anything about psychology! From the top down there is not a single person here who thinks like a human being! I write whatever advice I want, and they eat it up! I have even started playing a little game with myself, acting like I have different mental problems. God help me, they buy it.

I’ll have to keep my eye on the Afro-American, Harriet. She’s sharp.

November 21, 1987

Met a suicide-in-waiting who does the crime beat. Told him he had to face his fears… and that the occasional drink never hurt anybody. I’m so respected here! I want to laugh, but also to cry.

November 22, 1987

god I want to cry

November 30, 1987

Sent $200 to mom and the kids this morning. There is a letter from her sitting on the nightstand next to the photo of Donald (the one from the contest). I haven’t opened it.

December 2, 1987

Balki has developed an addiction!!!! All it took was a few conversations about the “fancy” programs I watch. He started talking a bunch of nonsense. Father gave me my first car… and old 1962 Galaxie… it pissed oil. According to Father, that’s how you could be sure it was working.

December 10, 1987

Frank was here this morning! And happy! I was livid.  I stalked around my office screaming for a good 15 minutes.  Susan (my assistant) came in… asked if I was okay… told her I was just relapsing into an “acute paranoid hypomanic episode”. “Oh,” she said.

Found out from Harriette that the cousins “saved” Frank by telling him how good he had it. I wondered briefly if they knew… why were they there that night anyway?? But then I had lunch (chicken salad and water) and felt a lot better. Most likely they get off doing their inversion thing on the mail table.

December 12 13, 1987

crying

December 15, 1987

god the screams

December 19, 1987

Was prescribed this hot new “miracle drug” called fluoxetine… doc says it’s just short term… just to help me sleep… just to take the edge off…

December 23

Office Christmas party. Pretended to get drunk and have daddy issues.  Kissed Harry under the mistletoe and he bolted. I am surprised to find that I do not feel insulted by this. Feels more like a challenge, really!

December 31, 1987

Snet some $$$ to that BITCH even thoug she’s a BTCH tells me Im not a good momther sends me me a damn picture of whats their names

shit whats their nanmes???????? denny and the girl one okay marcie

fuck

January 1, 1988

woke up and he was screaming SCREAMING not even muffled by the glass screaming directly into my head from the nightstand

January 2, 1988

oh god

January, sure

i have

January 5, 1988

Note to self: let’s not get so drunk we forget to take our pills for a week!

January 9, 1988

Note to self: never sleep with a film director… even one who does commercials… they’re always telling you what to do…

January 28, 1988

Vinnie… okay, fine he’s “Vince” now… thought it would be fun to try to scare the cousins. I told him I was happy with the results, but to consult with ME first in the future.  I could never trust him. Donald should have known Vince would get caught the way he did. I mean… the guy only parked his big black limousine one block from the discount store!

January 31, 1988

Sent $150 to mom and the kids this morning.

(2 pages torn out)

March 28, 1988

Harry was loaded! Emphasis on “was”! Emphasis on “loaded”!!! The poor bastard… keeping all his keys together… I actually find it kind of sweet that he changed his office safe combination to my measurements. Vinnie didn’t know about that safe.

March 31, 1988

Sent $400 to mom and the kids.

April 17, 1988

Found the most gorgeous apartment in downtown!  Thanks, Harry!!

April 30, 1988

Balki had a stupid little “graduation ceremony” yesterday.  The idiot can barely speak correctly! I ended up having to stand next to one of Vinnie’s girls… the tall one… there’s barely a brain between the two of them, and it’s all in the other’s head (Mary?). I would have pegged the tall one as a match for Balki.  But who understands attraction, really?

Sent $150 to mom and the kids.

May 6, 1988

Balki’s grandmother is dead! Thanks, Vinnie!

May 7, 1988

She’s still dead! HAHAHAHA!

May 9, 1988

The doctor did say the pills were just for a few months, and I certainly

(7, perhaps 8, pages ripped out here)

lovely… but said he could never leave his wife. YECCCH

October 15, 1988

I put the picture of Donald away and replaced it with one of the kids. No idea why the bottom right corner is cut off.

Larry had the gall this morning to call me an idiot! ME! The guy who can’t go 15 minutes without crying.  I guess that means my plan is working. Balki is as dumb as ever. I think he may have gotten worse?

Also, whoopty doo, I won a measly $100 playing the lottery.

October 28, 1988

HARRIETTE KNOWS

THAT BITCH KNOWS

October 29, 1988

screams from the closet… took two pills to make up for yesterday…

October 31, 1988

Sent $170 to mom and the kids.

November 5, 1988

Yesterday night was beautiful.  I gave the cousins a piano to bring to a party at my apartment. I picked one that was slightly too big for the elevator, put some extra weight inside it (bags of sand left over from Ritz), oiled the wheels a little too well.  They even managed to let the piano fall out of a window! I came downstairs briefly to see them and they were so demoralized!!!

Also, that’s the end of Chuck “Micropenis” Panama.

November 6

HER HUSBAND IS A COP

(3 pages missing)

November 27, 1988

Just got back from an office camping trip. I forgot to bring my meds with me on this trip, but you know what? I feel okay!  And I’ve got these cousins figured out, and I barely have to put forth any effort. A little backhanded compliment here, a little threat to his manhood there, and Larry decides to take his cousin and those bimbos away from the group.

I’d hoped they’d die but NO for some goddam reason everything THEY do works out GREAT

who would choose blonde as a hair color for fuck’s sake

November 28, 1988

I woke up to screams and looked at the nightstand… the children were the same but they weren’t mine, they never were… I turned over and there was the picture of Donald on the other pillow. I must have been drunk last night and gotten it out of the closet…

I must have thrown the bottle in the garbage can outside…

December 9, 1988

Spent the evening at the cousin’s apartment. Couldn’t believe the smell.  Saw some psychology books on their shelves. Is this as bad as I think it is?

December 31, 1989

Sent $250 to mom and the kids.

January 31, 1989

Sent $160 to mom and the kids.

February 15, 1989

Spent the night with Bink. He barely makes 30K! Butt like boiled potatoes. YECCCH!

February 18, 1989

Showed Balki a mop and he asked me “what this?” Think I might buy myself some

(pages missing)

for a loop that all I could do was make a bedwetting remark. As soon as he said “used car” it hit me… I never got rid of Donald’s car… they must have seen it at Tony’s Mambo Room…

…the psychology books…

…Balki likes to hang out with Harriette’s husband…

…we have an investigative team now…

No. Don’t let it overtake you, Lydia.

February 24, 1989

You know… you spend so much time coming up with new neuroses to show off… and everyone just focuses on how much sex you’re having. I swear, Western views on sexuality are the real neurosis…

March 31, 1989

001

I had the newspaper’s basement–and, thanks to Vinnie, the apartment–bugged a long time ago.  But I’ve really given up on it by now. Balki has three or four phrases that he says everyday… he HAS to say them… “well of course not” he thinks he’s being so damn CUTE.

002

Other times he just talks nonsense, worse than he did in the store for certain now… far worse… TOO far worse… is he speaking in code? is he taunting me? Doth Balki protest too much?

But then things pick up later when Balki tells me about a guy he “found” for me.

003

That suit, that hair… I tell you, I’m a sucker for receding hairlines… and *sigh!* he actually reads my column… his name is Jack Colby… he’s taking me to JAMAICA!!!

004

Oh this dumb stranger is perfect!!!

Note to self: send $$ to mom when you get back.

April 2, 1989

Can you believe it? Jack’s been running the same scam as me! He’s so obviously trying to find out my net worth. “Ah, this is certainly a Lanvin” He knew it was a Gucci! Who doesn’t know a Gucci shoe??? Of course I’d done research on him before we came here (something I DO unlike those Marshall and Walpole greasestains) so I knew he’d been married a few times. But here’s the thing–and I love this–he keeps his formers alive around! He’s got it so they pay him alimony. HOW???

I called him out on it over dinner (we had escoveitch… it’s like escabeche but SO much tastier… I need to get back down there soon!). He wasn’t even phased! But what’s more, he didn’t try to run.  He’s not smart (he kept embarrassing me in front of the waiter by saying “tamarack” instead of “tamarind”, like, really, guy?) but he can see opportunity… I appreciate that.  We schemed over the weekend.  I’ve been a short-term investment, short-term payout kind of gal myself… but then I think you have to do that at first… luxury apartments don’t pay for themselves. Jack’s style is long-term investment, but with long-term returns. I think I may keep him around awhile.

What’s that Gaddis quote? When someone tells you to make your money work for you, that’s wrong. You make somebody else’s money work for you.

Also… he’s HUGE…

April 3, 1989

Came back to work today.  I woke up pleasantly sore this morning (let them laugh) and had my usual espresso. During cup #6 I glanced over at the medication bottles (? jars? capsules?) and I realized: I don’t need those anymore.  It’s been almost two years since my time with “The Donald” was over… I swear that sobriquet was a third of why he had to go…

(written out to the side on this page in another color: “VIALS!!”)

005

I was so happy this morning that those two idiots in the basement didn’t even sour my mood. I came in singing Day-O!  I didn’t care about Balki’s malapropisms, or how he called me Miss Lydia… that kind of linguistic mangling is for daycares and Southern churches… either you’re formal or informal with someone I mean, God, PICK ONE!!!  Actually, seeing them improved my mood.  I completely unnerved them with my marriage announcement. Sure, Larry looks that scared on any day that ends in “y”, but telling them about my marriage even threw Balki off! Things are looking up!

006

On the other hand, Larry was mumbling under his breath… I swear I heard the words “reason #30”…

007

What does that mean?

What could he know?

April 4, 1989

008

Jack and I had our engagement party last night.

Donald was on my nightstand this morning.

009

I invited everyone from work back to my apartment, even that letch Wainwright (the women at the Chronicle don’t call him “Roving Touch” for nothing). Thank God I hired a butler to announce everyone’s names because heaven knows I won’t remember the names of the black ones when I introduce them to Jack.  At least I did that… nothing else went right.

Friends close, enemies closer, right?

010

It helps if you know which they think they are.

Larry was wearing a dress and a wig! What the hell were they trying? And who picked out that dress for him? His “girlfriend” certainly doesn’t have that kind of fashion sense

WHAT DO THEY KNOW?

I learned years ago–from Donald,

SCREAMING

of all people… he was in his prime then… not to give away anything more than I have to unless I’m getting something good in return. I smiled and nodded when Larry was introduced as “Desiree”…  he starts talking about how his “late husband” was some kind of multimillionaire businessman…

Well har dee har I’ll be snookered

011

Alarm bells were going off in my head!  Certainly this was some kind of charade meant to shake me up. It took wearing a dress for that Midwestern runt to show some balls! Mocking ME, mocking MY cover story.  I tried to keep myself calm, remind myself that Larry and Balki were off in their own little world of two most of the time. Worst case scenario they’d knock over my potted plants, throw food around, grab each others’ asses, cry, and then loudly proclaim that they’d “learned their lesson”. Like some Saturday-morning cartoon version of the Kipper Kids. Most everyone ignores it at this point. Right?

Balki’s still talking like the Family Circus brats… but he’s started throwing in actual puns… not good puns… but his English wasn’t this good on Friday…

HAR DEE HAR where DOES he come up with them???

Jack and I were having a good time… joking about which of the women at the party he’d pick for his next wife.  Of course, I’d never let him marry any of that gutter trash. I’ve always known not to shit where I eat, even before I met Donald… he certainly never realized that one…  I think we’ll find Jack some nice Jewish Princess in Skokie next.

012

At one point I saw Harriette and Larry talking.  It was only for a few seconds, but that BITCH has to GO. Maybe some food poisoning will keep her off her feet for a day or two… long enough for that idiot Wainwright to realize he can press buttons too…

HARRIETTE HARRIETTE HARRIETTE

(these are almost entirely crossed out and a pen has torn through the paper in places)

I’m being rational about it now, but I was on the verge of a major freak-out.

013

I saw Larry and Jack talking and decided it was time for me to go… like, Splitsville, population Lydia

I disappeared into my bedroom to make sure my bug-out bag was in order… the water was there the bus tokens were there the sunglasses and the housewife clothes were there but where were the WIGS what good are the DRIVERS LICENSES without the damn WIGS???? and I looked up and I saw Donald and I threw him in the closet

014

Francine, my maid, came in at one point to tell me that she walked in on Jack making the moves on a blonde woman in the coat room and I yelled at her WHERE ARE THE WIGS can you believe it? I yelled at my maid of two years WHERE ARE THE WIGS I cried and then I really did cry and Francine and I cried together… Francine told me she wanted to follow no matter where I went… and I realized how much I’d be giving up here… I’m no spring chicken… but I don’t want to start all this over again in a new city…

015

Francine gave me the strength I needed… I knew I could regain control… all I needed to do was walk out there and announce the marriage proposal right away… before anyone else could say anything… I had planned to rip off Larry’s wig and claim that it was a joke we were playing on Jack… but I realized in that moment that Larry’s wig was MY wig it was my country music singer wig it was MY WIG that I BOUGHT from SEARS OF COURSE IT WAS LYDIA DON’T BE RIDICULOUS

(“GET OUT OF THE CITY” and “FUCK YOU JACK” fill the left and right margins of this page)

016

it threw me off just long enough that I hesitated, and then Jack, that pituitary gland in a Perry Ellis, dumped ME he fucking dumped ME

and Balki… he pulls MY WIG off of Larry and I see it now… I thought I had them right where I wanted them… Larry was just genetic detritus Balki couldn’t even remember what mail bags were half the time but WHY DOES EVERYTHING WORK OUT FOR THEM WHY

FUCK WHY

I see it now… Balki pretending to be a hypnotized Elvis… Balki pretending to grab a bowling ball while touching my face, a coded message that even a blind man would know who I am how long had they planned this?… how long had it taken them to rub my face in the fact that my disguise consisted of different hair… and whose plan was it??? What are they going to do?? this was supposed to be MY MY WIG (violently crossed out) MY YOU DO I DO YOU DO I DO YOU DO I DO Y (scribbles for the rest of the page)

this was supposed to announce MY WEDDING and its a horror version of Dirty rotten Scoundrels because JACK IS IN ON IT I KNOW

I KNOW HE KNOWS

in front of EVERYBODY jack says he wants to boff Lary… I could barely hear anything… blame it on whatever the hell Blaki Bkli Bbla GOD DAMMIT

(page is crumpled and torn, but still complete)

Balki was yelling god only knows what… but I could only hear my own blood HIS BLOOD rushing in my ears and I grab whatever the black guy was holding (i was hoping it was a GUN do you udnerstand it was) MINE THE SUCCESS WAS MINE

THESE FUCKUPS SHOULD BE THANKING ME FOR THEIR JOBS AND THEIR WOMEN

it wasnt a gun it was a PASTRY but it was MINE it was AMERiCAN okay it was FRANCINES but FRANCINES MINE OKAY

017

and I make jack EAT IT and I wish I could say the rest was a blur but MY WIG I know i was cry again and the dirty inbredscoundrels were closing in on me and Balki leans in close and sayd right in my face: “your move, ex-lax”

018

like i said kind a blur but I hit my redial button this mornign and it was for ennifer

(the “J” in “Jennifer” was written, then erased)

i hope that tramp saw her demasculated boyfriend waering that dress and just destroyed his emotional state emotionally

019020

April 30, 1989

Sent $200 to mom and the kids.

June 5, 1989

Met Marshall at Pierre’s… a new French café down the street from my apartment… and what a romantic… can you believe he

(the remainder of the book appears to have been burned)

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snlbronsoncard2

Saturday Night Live This: a Review of the Time Balki Hosted Saturday Night Live

Welcome back! For the second week in a row, here’s a post that is not a review of “Just a Gigolo”.

Filling in is Philip J Reed, Lord and Lady of Noiseless Chatter, with a special Valentine’s Day gift for you. (This post was written in exchange for my promise that I would stop putting on my Reagan mask when we’re on the Kiss Cam.)

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In 1987, Bronson Pinchot hosted Saturday Night Live.

snlbronsoncard3

Let…let that sink in for a moment.

Balki.  The guy who played Balki.  Hosted Saturday Night Live.

It was great and I enjoyed it.  Thanks for reading, and enjoy your weekend!

Okay, okay.  Let’s look at the context here.  Balki was a legitimate breakout character, one immediately recognized, understood, and enjoyed by a large portion of TV viewers.  And Saturday Night Live was…not very good at the time.

Pinchot was tapped to host the February 14, 1987 episode, presumably because nothing is more romantic than sitting silently with your sweetheart, watching a guy famous for a silly voice participate in tepid sketch comedy.

And, you know what?  Let’s put snark aside.  Hosting Saturday Night Live is a valid thing for Pinchot to be proud of.  It’s an honor.  Not that all of its hosts have been honorable, and certainly not that all of its eras were even remotely worth watching, but the show is an institution.  Hugely influential.  Hugely important.  It’s a show that has more of a reputation than most of the people involved with it have ever had.

In 1987, it was fighting to claw its way back into relevancy.  Its early years were marked by a great cast, strong writing, and a thrilling irreverence that was simply unlike anything American audiences had ever seen.  (British audiences had Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but we liked the Coneheads.)  Its singular gimmick – the fact that it was performed live – lent the show an air of unpredictability, even though we know things are tightly scripted.

But like any show that runs for a substantial length of time, Saturday Night Live found its credibility flagging.  Cast members left for other (often bigger and better) things.  Writers were cycled in and out behind the scenes.  Eventually creator / showrunner Lorne Michaels left, and the show continued without him, seemingly in format only.

It wasn’t good, and the Lorne-free years are rightly reviled as being toothless and hollow.  In the time that Lorne was gone, only two true talents really rose above the material and kept the flame (if not the blaze) alive:  Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo.

But by 1987, the show was primed for a second renaissance.  And it would have one…but not for another few years.  Brandon Tartikoff – the whizkid president of NBC who could genuinely do no wrong – insisted that Lorne Michaels be reinstated.  Old blood from the show’s early relevance – namely Al Franken and Tom Davis – were brought back to whip it back into shape.  Jim Downey was made head writer.

And, most noticeable to those watching at home, flagging cast members were dropped in favor of new faces.  Season 12, the season in which Pinchot hosted, saw the first appearances of Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon, and Victoria Jackson, all of whom would help usher the show into another, brilliant golden age.

Pinchot had the good fortune of catching the show on an upswing; the comedy was on the rise, but its clout was still low enough that an as-yet-untested sitcom star could get the chance to host.

This episode aired during season two of Perfect Strangers, right between “Ten Speed and a Soft Touch” and “Snow Way to Treat a Lady (Part the First)”.  (So you asked me to do this too late, Casey YOU FUCKING IDIOT.)  Balki had not yet become a cartoon character, and Bronson still had an opportunity to demonstrate to viewers that he was more than a comedy accent.

Sketch by sketch, let’s see how that turned out.

Saturday Night Live

Season 12, Episode 11:  Bronson Pinchot / Paul Young

Sketch 1:  Liberace in Heaven

sketch1liberace

The cold open is…a weird one.  It’s just Phil Hartman dressed as Liberace, sitting at a white piano.  He’s wearing angel wings, and tinkling away.  (In a musical sense.  Ahem.)

True Liberati like myself and Larry know immediately that this show aired only 10 days after the man himself passed away, so this was a very topical sketch.  Except that it’s not really a sketch at all; it’s certainly the quickest cold open I’ve ever seen on the show.

Here’s what Hartman says, in its entirety: “If you thought the censors were going to let us do any more than this, you’re crazy!  You’re living in the 70s!  Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

So, yeah, it’s not really a sketch.  It’s not even a monologue.  It’s basically just a line, and I’m not sure what it means.  Maybe the show really did have an idea for a Liberace sketch that was nixed by the censors, or at least by concern that the censors wouldn’t allow it.  I don’t know what it would be, but I’d assume it was Liberace being fucked to death by a big gay man.  He could say, “I’m in heaven!”  Lorne, return my calls.

Hartman’s Liberace is the standard impression you’d expect, and this one drifts pretty firmly into Paul Lynde territory, but for TV sketch comedy it’s fine.  It’s also interesting that Hartman, a new kid, is given such an early solo spotlight.  I think the show was already very much aware of how much he had to offer, and how much of him the audience deserved.

Then we get our standard (for the time) opening credits, with Jon Lovitz having trouble with a turnstile the same way the cousins have trouble with that revolving door in their credits.  CLEARLY DELIBERATE HOMAGE.

introlovitzturnstile

Monologue

monologuebronson

Bronson Pinchot wastes no time in introducing himself to the crowd as an insufferable prick.

No, seriously.  It’s not even part of the monologue.  There it would be understandable, as “I know you know me as this one thing, but really I’m a secret asshole” is the joke behind 80% of all Saturday Night Live host monologues.  (The other 20% just start singing for some reason.)

The first thing he does – again, not as part of the monologue – is quiet the audience so he can chide legendary announcer Don Pardo for ever-so-slightly getting his name wrong.  “I just want to mention one thing before we get started.  Don Pardo mispronounced my name.  It is not Pinch-Oh.  It is Pinch-Ow.  Okay.  So that’s out of the way.”

And, man, what a dipshit.  This is literally the first thing he does with this unquestionably invaluable opportunity.  He shushes the crowd – shushes the people cheering for him! – to announce to a live audience all across America that an old man made a mistake.  He really seems to take it personally, and it gives the actual monologue a sour note.  We no longer want to laugh with Pinchot…we want to kick him in the balls.

It’s idiotic.  It’s the showbiz equivalent of being taken to meet your significant other’s grandparents and shouting “The fuck smells like old people?” as soon as you walk through the door.

The audience, for what it’s worth, seems as rattled by this as I am.   There’s some nervous laughter, some audible shifting in seats, and Bronson – no joke – actually justifies it.  “It had to be said,” he claims.

So, there’s Bronson’s second rule of comedy, right after “pick on old people who are just doing their jobs.”  It’s “Always correct your audience.”

I wish I could say the ensuing monologue lands with a dull thud, but that would mean that it lands at all.  It’s actually just some shaggy-dog story about Maureen, a presumably invented ex-girlfriend of Pinchot’s (it’s Valentine’s Day, you see) who encouraged him when nobody else would.  The joke is that now he’s actually famous, she was right to encourage him, and he didn’t invite her to the show.

That is really the joke.

So the whole “I’m a secret asshole” thing could have worked here, if not for the fact that Pinchot already revealed to the world that he’s an open, active asshole.

Of course, a shaggy-dog story lives or dies on its delivery, and Pinchot obviously thinks he’s a better storyteller than he actually is.  He drags it out, speaking too slowly, leaving too many pauses for the comedy to crawl into and die.  The laughter out of the crowd is awkward, coming after sentences that clearly aren’t jokes, and it really is pretty bad.

Did Pinchot write this?  Maybe not.  But he did perform it, and that’s the problem.  A more natural storyteller could have salvaged it.  Pinchot just reads a long story off a set of cue cards.  Somebody else…oh, say, Mark Linn-Baker just to pull a name out of nowhere…might have had the chops to give it some personality, some life.  Pinchot just slowly buries it in front of everyone.

Also, just for the record, after the monologue he introduces musical guest Paul Young and special guest Paulina Porizkova.  He just calls the latter “Paulina,” because he can’t fucking pronounce uncommon surnames either.

Sketch 2: Amerida

sketch2amerida

The first proper sketch of the night is…pretty awful.  If this is what they lead with, I really am not looking forward to the rest of the evening.

There’s no Pinchot, so I won’t spend too much time here.  It’s Phil Hartman playing a guy who is not very happy about America being taken over by Canada.  Which…is…what happened here, I guess.  Nora Dunn is his wife who reminds him that Canadians say “aboot” and Victoria Jackson is his daughter who reminds him that Canadians use the metric system.

I guess the joke is that this guy gets so upset over what, in most cases, amounts to nothing more than having to learn some different words and spellings?

I don’t know.  It sucks.

Sketch 3:  Nightline

sketch3nightline

In a pretty rare instance of two sketches being connected, this one is an episode of Nightline commenting on the Amerida sketch (which they refer to as being a TV show of its own, though if anything Lorne was planning on making a movie out of it).

Here we’re back in impressions territory.  Dana Carvey gets to trot out his soon-to-be-famous Ted Koppel.  It’s a bit rough around the edges, and he doesn’t really have it down yet, but it’s interesting to see a gifted impressionist finding his footing.

Phil Hartman does a predictably great Henry Kissinger.  Kevin Nealon also gets to be on TV, like they promised him when he signed his contract.  He plays Brent Musburger, some sports guy so I don’t know who he is.

Pinchot plays Carl Sagan, and gets a huge laugh when he’s introduced.  He leans his head back and shows his teeth a lot, which is what Sagan was famous for.  I guess.  I mean, based on this I’d absolutely have to guess that.

He makes for a good likeness of Sagan, but his impression isn’t especially good.  Just think back on whomever you last heard say, “billions and billions of stars” in a flat voice that sounds like it’s coming from the front of their mouth and you’ve got a better Sagan impression.

Pinchot’s gets a big laugh, at least, due far more to his mannerisms than the material, which doesn’t seem to have many jokes in it anyway.  The entire sketch is obviously an excuse to do impressions, and wasn’t born of any especially clever discovery in the writers’ room.

The sketch ends with Pinchot actually saying the “billions and billions” bit, at which point a duck drops from the ceiling and the sketch ends.

Kissinger is upset because…he didn’t get to say much, I guess?  Who knows.  It really sucks.

Sketch 4:  Sports Illustrated Commercial

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Special guest – and emphatic not-actor / not-comedian – Paulina Porizkova actually gets a bigger laugh than Pinchot’s gotten all night.  And rightly so.  No, she’s not exactly natural in this fake commercial for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, but she is funny, and it’s a good concept.

The joke is that she’s trying to sell the swimsuit issue as having more merit than just containing photos of sexy ladies in skimpy outfits. She spotlights its other virtues, such as “sports scores, and essays on thoroughbred racing.”  She’s charmingly desperate to convince people to buy it as something other than an aid to masturbation, and it’s actually a pretty decent, quick little sketch.

The true, raunchy intentions of the swimsuit issue seep out as the commercial plays sexy jazz music over benign photographs of female golfers and gymnasts, which is a funnier touch than I can convey here.  The best joke is that it comes with a door hanger that reads, “Keep out, mom, I’m studying.”

For those who don’t know, Porizkova was a famous swimsuit model who actually graced the magazine’s cover twice, in succession.  The month this episode aired, though, she was displaced by new covergirl Elle Macpherson, who then held the cover for three years in a row.

I have no regrets about researching this entry.

Sketch 5:  Birds Eye Jingle

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This is one I didn’t expect.  Dana Carvey performed a sketch in the season 12 premiere, a very famous one that I remember well, in which he played a washed-up rockstar performing a song called “Chopping Broccoli” for some record executives.

Well, okay, the song is called something else, but we all remember it as “Chopping Broccoli” for very good reason.  It was a great sketch, but I didn’t know the character ever came back.

He’s here now, though, upset that his success with “Chopping Broccoli” has led to him recording a jingle for Birds Eye.

It’s not especially good, the character didn’t need to come back at all, and, man, I have to admit it’s pretty odd to see a Saturday Night Live sequel sketch that isn’t just the same jokes in the same sequence as we saw last time.  This one actually moves the story of this character ahead, which is odd.  That’s a better impulse than recurring sketches usually have, but it’s pretty pointless.

Jon Lovitz plays Ringo Starr, just to really hammer home the pointlessness.

Sketch 6:  Romance

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Oh, hey, look, it’s Bronson Pinchot!  I almost forgot he was in this episode.

Anyway, we get a whole sketch about…uh…well, there’s…

Okay, it’s a sketch-length excuse for Pinchot to play Serge from Beverly Hills Cop again.  That’s literally all it is.  He even tells a few of the same jokes, and calls a character Achmed instead of their actual name, ostensibly due to a mishearing but when you hear TWO DIFFERENT NAMES as Achmed, that no longer flies.

In this sketch Serge comes off as nothing more than a fay Balki, which really shows the breadth of Pinchot’s abilities: he can play one character, or play that same character with kind of a lisp.

It literally is exactly like the scene in which Axel Foley is waiting to see Jenny Summers, except it’s ten times as long, half as funny, and…well, there might not be another difference.  Phil Hartman plays a guy waiting to see a girl while Serge offers him drinks and acts like a crude gay joke on legs.

Nora Dunn plays a prostitute named Babette, which is apparently one of her recurring characters.  I don’t remember her at all, but Dunn was always clearly better than the material she was getting, so that’s not her fault.  I do recall her doing a pretty great Liza Minelli, though.

Weirdly, at about the halfway point the sketch turns from being about Serge to being about Babette, and it’s not an improvement.

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Weekend Update

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Weekend Update by its nature doesn’t age well.  These are jokes that, by design, would feel old one week later, so you can only imagine how many shrugs an installment of this segment from 1987 will elicit.  We’re in the Dennis Miller years, as well, so fuck it.

I never really liked Miller as a kid.  Even then I thought he was a smug asshole, and the years have not changed my view.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I prefer any other anchor to him.  (The top three, however, are clearly Norm Macdonald, Kevin Nealon, and Jane Curtin.)

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We also get a report from Dana Carvey as Jacques Cousteau.  Carvey looks nothing like the guy, but his gift for impressions comes through, and it’s very easy to see even at this early stage of his career why he’d become such a valuable player, and one of the most memorable cast members the show’s ever had.

His monologue here – about the mating ritual between a male and female napkinfish – is legitimately funny, and he knows exactly how to work an audience even with material that’s not especially smart.  It’s fair to say that he succeeds here exactly where Pinchot failed in his monologue.

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There’s also a very welcome edition of The Big Picture with A. Whitney Brown.  Brown’s Big Picture series appeared now and then on Weekend Update around this time, but it never really fit.  The guy was sharp, intelligent, and winningly caustic, but he also deliberately occupied a realistic position in a segment that wasn’t interested in realism.  (See: a moment ago, in which Dana Carvey made two napkins fuck.)

Brown was great, though, and came across as a political editorialist more than a satirist.  He pointed out problems humorously, but never lightly, and it made his work here feel like a clear precursor to The Daily Show.  (Where, indeed, he’d serve as one of its first correspondents.)

He had the good looks, innate authority, and serene demeanor of an actual news anchor who just happened to be deeply disappointed in the political climate and the idiocy perpetuating it. This wasn’t a good match for Weekend Update’s zippier, superficial jabs at current events.

It’s kind of neat to see this relic of a more “serious” version of the show that never was, even if it’s kind of sad that it gets fewer laughs than Pinchot’s monologue.

Anyway, when Brown finishes making perfectly salient points about government salaries, Dennis Miller wriggles into a full-body condom.

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Musical Guest: Paul Young, “War Games”

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It’s not the Crosby, Stills & Nash song.  Nobody cares.

Sketch 7: The Life of Golda Meir

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A very game Paulina Porizkova plays Golda Meir, being ogled by her advisors as she attempts to defend Israel.  The joke – communicated via title card because the sketch wasn’t doing a good enough job on its own – is that the Golda in this sketch is a composite character, based on “the real Golda Meir and a beautiful young model.”

It’s nothing great, but Porizkova is much better here than she was in the Sports Illustrated sketch.  Not that she’s a great actor, but based on this I’d have to assume she was still shaking out some stage fright when we saw her earlier.

Now she’s quite good, and decently funny.  I wish she got some better material to work with, as all she needed to do is deliver exposition and get salivated over.

Pinchot has, like, one line about how naked he wants to see her.

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Porizkova actually feels like an unofficial co-host this week, as she headlines about a third of the sketches, appears instead of Bronson in a few of the title cards, appears with him in one other, and even introduces the musical guest.

This could be a result of the fact that the show didn’t trust a full episode to Pinchot…or the opposite.  Perhaps they wanted a Porizkova episode to air near the release of the swimsuit issue (which was a massive deal in those pre-internet days) but didn’t trust a non-actor to be versatile enough.

Hedging their bets by hiring both was a good idea, but though he gets more screentime it’s Porizkova who actually surprises.  I didn’t know she could be funny.  I did know, however, that Bronson Pinchot could do an accent.

One accent.

Sketch 8:  Sketch Artist

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Kevin Nealon is a police sketch artist who doesn’t sketch anything.  Rather he moves his face around to match the description of the criminal given by Bronson Pinchot.

It’s actually a pretty funny concept, but it goes on a bit too long.  It’s the kind of thing Python could have done quite well, but it doesn’t really pop here the way it could.

Nealon gives it his all.  Pinchot has nothing to do aside from feed him lines.  It’s…okay.

There are a couple of clever highlights, though.  When he finds out that the guy was white, Nealon says, “Okay, good, that’ll save us some time.”

Later he finds out the criminal was missing an ear, so he places a hand over one of his.  Bronson says, “No, he didn’t have a hand over his ear.  He had no ear.”  Nealon thinks for a moment, and then dismisses it.

It’s a nice concept.  It really is.  I can see why this survived the initial pitch session, but something holds it back from being much of a sketch.  (Did I just make a pun?)

It is an early example of Nealon asserting his comic presence on the show, though, and a pretty great one by those standards.  At this stage he was only a featured player; he’d be promoted to main cast the following season, obviously as a result of performances like this.

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Musical Guest: Buster Poindexter, “Heart of Gold”

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It’s not the Neil Young song.  Nobody cares.

Sketch 9:  Screw

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Bronson lets us see that he can do something other than play Balki and Gay Balki by playing Smooth Balki.  Specifically he plays some guy named Armando who seems to drift in and out of whatever accent he’s supposed to have.

The joke is that he tries to bang an uglied-up Jan Hooks who deserves far more than this.

It’s an odd sketch.  It starts with Hooks being unable to describe the kind of screw (literal screw) she needs to a hardware store clerk played by Phil Hartman.  Armando is able to figure out the name of the screw using some kind of telepathy or something.

Then he wants to get his poke on, and they sit down at a table (in the hardware store) and they have coffee.  But then Armando comes on too strong and Jan Hooks leaves, but she gives him money because she feels bad for him, and he falls to the floor and kisses her hand with gratitude.

No fucking clue.

Musical Guest: Paul Young, “The Long Run”

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It’s not the Eagles song.  Nobody cares.

Sketch 10:  Miss Connie’s Fable Nook

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Jan Hooks narrates a fairy tale about Dennis Miller, Dana Carvey, and Kevin Nealon trying to bone Paulina Porizkova.  They dance for her.  She tells them that their dance sucks dick.  Jan Hooks plays a zither.

Nobody involved knew what the fuck was happening either, but I guess that’s pretty common for the last sketch of the night.

Goodnight

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And that’s it.  Bronson comes out with the cast and just says, “Goodnight.  Thank you.  Great.”

Not even a complete thought.  I don’t know if he was just tired and wanted to go home, or if he was upset somehow, but it certainly doesn’t seem like he’s too excited to have completed an hour and a half of live sketch comedy on possibly the most famous show in American TV history.  I guess we should just be grateful he didn’t come out and say, “Also, before I forget, Don Pardo smells like shit.”

So, yeah.  Bronson Pinchot hosted Saturday Night Live, and though he was in an episode with some truly talented people, I think it’s fair to say that he got the episode he deserved.

Tune in next week for my review of the episode hosted by Mark Linn-Baker, in which he plays Larry, Gay Larry, Really Gay Larry, Evil Larry, and Harpo Larry.

Goodnight.  Thank you.  Great.

Boner* Count:

  • Phil Hartman (8)
  • Bronson Pinchot (7)
  • Kevin Nealon (5)
  • Dana Carvey (4)
  • Paulina Porizkova (4)
  • Jan Hooks (3)
  • Nora Dunn (2)
  • Jon Lovitz (2)
  • Dennis Miller (2)
  • Victoria Jackson (1)
  • A. Whitney Brown (1)

* speaking appearances

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I’m hoping that next week will be the review of “Just a Gigolo”.  Even if it’s not, it will be a wonderful post. – Casey

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Family Matters Recused

Last week I promised you the review for Season 4, Episode 19: Just a Gigolo. It’s my fault that you aren’t getting that today. I am sorry. I’m trying to get an academic guest post set up for that one, but it’s not ready. So for this week and the next, at least, we’re going to take a little break from season 4.  This post was originally going to run between seasons 4 and 5, and it’s simply coincidence that I’m posting it on the first Friday of Black History Month.

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Family Matters Assumed

Just over a year ago, through the Perfect Strangers Reviewed Facebook page, I received a message from someone whom I won’t name. Over the course of a week, ze contacted me, Philip J. Reed, and Sarah Portland about our review sites; possibly others.  The question asked of all of us is whether we were going to continue our reviews.  That is: would Phil review the ALF cartoons?; would Sarah review all of the new Star Trek stuff?; and in my case, when would PSR be done, and would I be reviewing Family Matters?  After all, said ze, Family Matters was “a continuation”.  Whoever ze is, ze damn sure ain’t this stock photo of a “lawyer”.

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Paul Graham of www.paulgraham.com fame laid out a a hierarchy of disagreements in 2008. I saw it online during the last presidential election (and yes, *sigh*, I’m going to have to talk about that shit in this post) and thought it was useful. Someone going by the handle of “Loudacris” on a site called CreateDebate made a graphic to illustrate Graham’s hierarchy.   Here it is:

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So let’s go backwards through these.  First of all, mystery questioner… I’m not going to call you an asshat.  We’ve spoken through Facebook on multiple occasions, you’re obviously a fan of Perfect Strangers, and you read my blog. Morever, you’re a real person. You have feelings, and we all want to be understood by others.  I don’t think you’re an asshat, but the question was kind of an asshat question.

Second of all, you’re hiding behind an avatar.  If you can’t prove you’re a real person, then  what authority do you have about 80s/90s network sitcoms? I owe you nothing.

Third, you asked me about this when I had barely done a year of Perfect Strangers Reviewed. Maybe artists like me are touchy about people asking for free work, but damn if it doesn’t happen again that, when you post hard work online, you’re bound to eventually get “you should do more” as the first comment. At least have the courtesy to first compliment me/us on my/our work. And when will I be done? Am I falling behind your media feeding schedule?

Are all of you getting the message from that pyramid above? Name-calling and ad hominem attacks and responding to tone are mean, made by the real asshats who can’t engage in a discussion.  Let’s continue.

Fourth, to settle matters for all asshats, everywhere, forever: Family Matters is not what I’d consider a continuation.

Fifth, okay, Family Matters is not a continuation, it’s a spinoff.  I kind of want to define continuation by the persons making it, but that doesn’t work; so let’s say that intention is key.  Saved by the Bell: The College Years is a continuation. Extreme Ghostbusters was a continuation. Fuck, The Munsters Today, however it was received, was a continuation. (I’ve actually considered reviewing The Munsters Today after I’m done with this. The answer to the question you just thought is “no”.)

Sixth, the argument boils down to a misunderstanding of the differences between a character and a scenario. It’s a continuation of the character Harriette Winslow, as portrayed by Jo Marie Payton-France-Noble-Clark-Downs-Nahasapeemapetilon, sure, and her husband, Carl, and it takes place in Chicago. But could anyone look at both shows and say that they form one narrative? There’s more coherence between the New and Old Testaments, people.

Seventh, I’ll refute a central (implied) point: I should review Family Matters.  Here’s my answer: fuck no.

BUT

I want to take this opportunity to talk about why that is in more depth. I’m going to take the long way around, and this is ultimately a semi-political statement on race. (Spoiler: I’m a liberal atheist who thinks we’d be a whole lot better off without money. You’ve been warned.)

Family Matters Remembered

I’m not going to ever review Family Matters, but there are some things worth talking about. I’ll start with me as a childhood viewer.

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I watched Family Matters as a kid; and just like many white kids then, I loved Urkel.  I had an Urkel talking doll; I had an Urkel backpack; I still have my copy of The Lean, Mean Urkel Machine that I probably got from the Troll book fair at school.  I share partial blame for his success. I’m sorry.

I remembered the episode where Urkel tries to infiltrate a gang and this guy puts on a tiny pair of glasses and calls himself an “artiste”. I had remembered it being Mr. Potato Head glasses, but it wasn’t, which means I need to go apologize to some people I helped put in prison.

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I remember Urkel burning down the restaurant.

I remember the one where Urkel had a jetpack.

I know I watched the show with my dad, because he told me what kind of car Urkel drove. I still wouldn’t mind owning an Isetta myself.

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I remember Myra.  I really liked Myra, because Myra had large breasts. I remember the episode where Urkel was afraid to touch her breasts.

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I remember that I stopped watching regularly around the 5th or 6th season. I remember watching the other shows in the TGIF block around that time – Step by StepHome Improvement, Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, Boy Meets World, but somehow it seemed that the magic was gone. I know I didn’t watch any of those regularly. Was I really only into Full House and Perfect Strangers and Family Matters? Was ABC’s TGIF programming simply not as much of a draw for me once I started watching better-written stuff like The Simpsons and The Critic?

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I know I tuned in a couple of times in the last few seasons of Family Matters and being disappointed that it seemed to have turned into the Stefan Urquelle show.

Family Matters Revisited

I watched the entirety of Family Matters for this post. All 215 episodes. Just to talk about why I won’t write about it.

Here’s the first thing that jumped out at me about Family Matters: it’s a show about black people.

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From what I understand, the Winslows were originally living in the Caldwell Hotel.  In the pilot episode, you can see a hallway outside their door, which would be replaced with a front porch in every other episode. So maybe it was still in the hotel?  It’s also my understanding that Larry and Balki were intended to show up in the pilot. Consider this: an appearance by the cousins would have been conferring the success of Perfect Strangers onto its child.  I’m honestly glad that somebody was smart enough to nix that appearance.  History is littered with those in power conferring rights and respect to the powerless; when that happens, those in power control the language of the narrative.  (Think, for instance, of when any man says that women should be respected because they are someone’s daughter, sister, mother, etc.; such language denies them respect on the basis of their personhood.)

Anyway, before I talk about Family Matters proper, let’s see how Perfect Strangers addressed the change.

The promo gives the impression that, for the world that Balki and Larry inhabit, Harriette and her family got a television show, replete with relatives that could be removed as needed. And, wow, what the hell happened to Balki’s accent? Am I going to have to listen to that for the next

*counts on fingers*

10 years of this blog?

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Not only does the show assertively stand on its own in this way, but Harriette mirrors this behavior.  She loses her job as elevator operator (my guess is that Balki mentioned to the wrong person that the elevator had buttons for all the floors) and interviews for a job as a security guard (my guess is that Lance Dick accidentally shot himself); when she’s initially turned down, she states the case for her qualifications loud and clear to the white manager.

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(“A sister doing it for herself” is just one of the many awful and tone-deaf jokes you’d get from me, a white guy, if I reviewed the show.)

Eddie has a Chicago Chronicle sign or something in his room in another episode, but aside from those two things, Harriette’s job at the Chronicle is mentioned only a couple times per season after that. In the 5th season, she loses her job after having worked at the Chronicle for 23 years. It may be worth noting that, by that point, Perfect Strangers was off the air. It’s where the Chicago Chronicle originated; perhaps there was no need to keep that tie once the originating show was gone? And while we’re talking about continuation, Jo Marie was replaced during the 9th season.  Those two things really erode the idea of “continuation”, but that’s not the reason I won’t review it.

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Family Matters Refused

The fact that it would take me probably 5 years to do is also not the reason I won’t review it.

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I said “fuck you” at Family Matters multiple times while watching it; but that’s not the reason I won’t review it.

Or, actually, here’s my review of the series: I liked parts. I hated parts. It was good. It was bad. I have things I could say about why it was good. I have things I could say about why it was bad. Family Matters was a sitcom. It did sitcom things in a sitcom way.

But ultimately, I won’t review Family Matters because it’s about black people, and I ain’t one.

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I know a few things about black people, and it’s all second-, third-, or nth-hand information; some of it from black people; most of it from books. In the first episode alone, I can see some things in the construction of Family Matters that fits in with things “I know” about African-Americans. You’ve got a big family living all together; there’s a matriarch present; there’s a mention of Prince; hell, the littlest kid is named Little Richie. But I don’t know enough. I don’t know half the celebrities that show up. I don’t know half the bands.

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You’ve got episodes about making it big in sports, making it big in music, about driving while black, and about racist reactions to Black History Month. And for those first two things? I bet I’m making a bigger deal about them than I ought to, because I think of sports and music as being domains that black people are better in. That’s what I’ve been told my whole life, and I know damn well that if I looked at any amount of data on either thing, my understanding would be more nuanced by some order of magnitude. However, I don’t think that I remember any white sitcoms taking considerable time out of a story to have someone sing a whole song, or to have the characters doing nothing but practicing their dance moves in the living room as a group. When Balki and Larry sing, it’s always meant as some sort of joke. When Family Matters does it, you can tell it’s because someone thinks it’s important.

I’ll come back to the driving while black thing for a second. If you’re in enough of a social media echo chamber not to have seen this over the past half year, I’ll say it here: people of color weren’t surprised at the results of the 2016 presidential election, or any of the language used by the current administration. Being arrested or killed for nothing more serious than holding toys or candy is only a surprise to us. You may have only gotten upset (or not) hearing people asking “why’s there not a white history month” in the past few years. But black people? They’ve been seeing–living–this shit for years. Every god damn day.

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When Philip J. Reed finished his ALF reviews, he mentioned that he couldn’t have imagined anyone’s voice but Billy Superstar’s for Full House Reviewed; moreover, that each of the shows we have picked to review are perfect for our personalities, and our voices.  I’m a neurotic, college-educated white guy who holds himself back from approaching women; I’m an overgrown child who still buys toys and wants to believe in people. I write detailed jokes about Daisyworld and put them right beside the easier jokes about Balki and Larry fucking. The internal focus between Larry and Balki mirrors in many ways my own internal struggles about how to do things. I’ve left women in my life hanging, and it’s often because I’m caught up in my own shit. As sad as it sounds, I am the cousins, and Perfect Strangers is the right show for me.

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I’m not from a big family; I don’t even keep in touch with all of them anymore. I’ve never once gone to a black church and left Christianity’s fold a long time ago. I may have had “nerdy” interests, but I was never quite the type of social outcast Steve Urkel was. I didn’t grow up in a city. I’ve never been a robot.

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And most importantly, I’m not black.

This show is not for me.

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This show is not for me.

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This show is not for me.

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I think that, if anybody’s going to review Family Matters in a complete sense like I’m doing, it should be a black person.

*sigh*

But does that just make me one more white guy telling a black person what they ought to do?

Family Matters; Me, Cued

I hope not! But if it does, and I am, I hope you’ll tell me.

Let me take a page (or two) from Scott McCloud’s 2000 book Reinventing Comics. It’s hard to quote comics, so I’m just going to reproduce the relevant panels.

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But let me also focus on the converse of who should write Family Matters Reviewed by saying who shouldn’t. I don’t think me, or any other white person, is the right person for it.  If we’re going to take a teleological approach, even playfully, and say the shows pick people, Family Matters hasn’t chosen yet.

There were two previous attempts to do Perfect Strangers, and both failed*.

Originally, Billy Superstar had wanted to review Family Matters, but all the seasons weren’t available on DVD yet, so he didn’t. There’s another guy who did reviews for a few seasons of Family Matters. I’m not going to link to it now; you can find it if you want. I linked to it once before, and now I regret it. It was written by a white guy. I haven’t read much of his reviews of the show, but I read enough to read one where he makes a joke about Harriette looking like an orangutan.

And you know what? It took a fair amount of work (I’m a research librarian, remember) to find out this guy’s name. I’m calling this guy out: UNACCEPTABLE, SHANE JEFFRIES

Let me get political again here. YOU MADE A RACIST JOKE, SHANE JEFFRIES

At the risk of back-patting, what I hear/read from women and African-Americans and other minorities is that one of the best things white cishet middle-class guys without disabilities like me can do is call out this kind of bullshit when we see it and say that it’s not okay.

SHANE THAT IS NOT OKAY IT IS 2017

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Please note the difference. On Facebook, I was asked a question by someone going under a false name, and at first glance the question read as entitled, but there’s just an interested fan behind the avatar.  I didn’t say that person’s name.  “Rambo Homer McFly” doesn’t deserve that level of respect, or privacy. You’re an asshat, Shane. Go back to where you belong.

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As far as I’m concerned, that kind of joke disqualifies you from writing about the show. I’m glad you went on to other things!  But I’m afraid that if I review Family Matters, I’ll end up making jokes that are just as racist–or be so cautious that I end up making fewer jokes, and still be racist. Because… I’m racist! I have racist thoughts about real people. I’ve done racist things, and I’m certain I still do in ways I don’t see. I benefit from racist structures and systems. Yesterday was the first day I tried calling a government agency to express my view about a nomination; why the fuck did I wait so long?

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I have taken a test developed by Harvard researchers and gotten back hard data that the associations in my brain are racist. I’m from Georgia; my grandfather was in the KKK. I’m ashamed of that, and I’m responsible** for the bad aspects America he helped create. It’s unavoidable that my brain is going to continue to come up with ignorant racist bullshit for the rest of my life; my hope for the future is that each generation will be less so.

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An important aside: I make numerous jokes about Larry and Balki being gay. I know only a few gay people. If I make insulting jokes, or say anything in bad taste, or anything that puts you down for being who you are, I want you to tell me. I need to know. I may ask questions, but I won’t argue with you. I don’t want to hurt anyone.

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Family Matters was a show for black people and, sure, it was also a show written so it would have broad appeal for white people. But I feel that any white person is going to have less to say about the show than it deserves. Because black people know their own experience; and they also know the experience of how they’re supposed to present themselves to white people.  I know next to nothing about the latter, and even less about the former.

Family Matters Pursued

I think Family Matters could use some love (and some hate) from someone qualified to write about it. I illegally downloaded the entire run of the show–only to find out it wasn’t complete. There were numerous episodes missing that I had to purchase from iTunes, which really has more to do with the DVD releases than anything. Much of the season 9 rips were recorded during what was obviously a marathon, because I kept seeing the same show advertised in the bottom third of the screen. Also there’s one episode that’s lost a few minutes in the middle because a storm warning cuts in.  At any rate, for big movies, you can download them as soon as they’re released in Asia, which precedes the DVD release in the US, generally. But I downloaded these in November, a couple weeks after season 9 was released on DVD.  I honestly would have expected it to be on torrent sites, but then again, I’m an impatient criminal. At any rate, it’s out now! If you’ve been waiting to review Family Matters because African-Americans are disproportionately jailed for crimes that white people like me are more likely to commit, now’s your time!

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By the way, yes, that’s Donna Summer in some sort of gas-powered egg timer. Family Matters went to some weird places. Just a heads-up.

I’d love to hear what a black woman my age has to say about the show. I’d love to hear what a black guy my age has to say about the show. I’d love to hear what any black person has to say about this show. Because god damn there’s a lot to say.

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Maybe Family Matters and its reviewer haven’t found each other yet; maybe they never will. Maybe they have, and that person hasn’t acted on it yet. Maybe it’s there and I haven’t seen it? (down there, the comments, tell me) But here’s a message for that person (or the cooler self they become when they use the “boss sauce”):

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Doing this kind of review blog certainly hasn’t been entirely a cakewalk***.  I have a lot of fun with it. It tells me a lot about myself, and about others, and about television, and about comedy, and about fans, and about nostalgia. But the more I invest in it, the worse it hurts when the show goes bad. When it acts like suicidal thoughts can be done away with in the time it takes to microwave a TV dinner; when it decides to let women stay around only if it helps the main characters get laid; when a character takes a moral stance that is then reversed in the next episode, or the very next joke they make; when it tells you there’s something wrong with you for being the way you are, or thinking the way you think.

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And if you’re black, or if you’re a woman, or if you’re a black woman? I’ve seen enough to know that when you say anything online, you get hateful comments at the very least, and at worst, death threats (or worse?). And that may not even be the half of what you’d have to deal with if you took this on. Yeah, it’s a dumb old sitcom, but I’ve seen people who look like me get upset over far less. The worst I’ve had so far is a message on Facebook. You’ll likely be surrounded and policed by fragile white eggshells, jealous of your strengths and courage.

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But if you’re out there? And you take this on? I will eagerly, hungrily read it. I will sit, and I will listen, and I will try to understand the interiors I cannot see. I will know that this is a larger, harder endeavor than Perfect Strangers Reviewed is in more ways than one. I will share your work, and I will encourage your work, and I will defend your work, and I will make stupid jokes in the comments about Waldo, or about Myra. And you’ll tell me I’m racist. And you’ll tell me I’m sexist. And I’ll learn, and I’ll try harder not to be.

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Seriously, though, I’m totally ready to make stupid jokes about Myra.

And will anything I’m saying here make a difference to you? Do you need my allyship at all? Those aren’t questions for me to answer. If and when you show up, let’s talk about those things. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here.

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Here’s what I know: Balki and Larry didn’t show up in the first episode; Harriette got a new job all by herself; I’m not reviewing Family Matters.

Ding Ding Mahmoud

So, back to the regularly-scheduled programming of white guys and their arguments that matter only to them. I’ll talk about Family Matters again at some point.  After all, it’s informed my readings of long-running sitcoms in general, and Perfect Strangers specifically, so it will be hard not to.

But I wanted to make sure that I said all this, because 80s/90s sitcom reviewing is a thing I’m doing right now. I think it’s a burgeoning community and I even see its potential as an art form. (I try to be an artiste with this blog.) Independent snarky sitcom reviewing is now a domain I have a voice in, and I’m invested in this, and I’d like to see it become more of a “thing”.  I want it to be a good “thing”, because there were plenty of times when the shows themselves certainly weren’t.

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Oh yeah, by the way, there’s a Perfect Strangers Reviewed Facebook page, where you can ask me whether I’ll review your favorite show.

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Urkel count: I lost track of how many different Urkels there were sometime around season 6

*for some goddam reason

**not “guilty of”–I see some white people confuse the two and try to reject the former

***yet another of the many instances of awful and racially-unaware uses of language you’d get if a white guy reviewed the show