Season 8, Episode 1: The Baby Shower

Voiceover: Last on Perfect Strangers

I’m trying. I promise you I’m trying so damn hard to last on Perfect Strangers. Just six more episodes.

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Balki and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) got married last time. Remember how they got married last time? Still the case that they’re married. I just want to make this clear in case the 1,000 bits of information-laden visuals, music, and Reverend SbCTfS pronouncing them statutorily immune from each other as far as rape lawsuits go isn’t enough for you.

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Also Larry’s penis turned out to be long enough to reach from his body to inside Jennifer’s.

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There’s a quote from the 2008 Dark Knight film that comes to mind as I make my last journey on this Ecstasy cruise into the past.

Harvey Dent: You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

It’s simply the most recent viral variation on ages-old warnings against power corrupting and/or not realizing one’s limited place in the grand scheme of (at least Western Society’s) continual thesis + antithesis = synthesis, synthesis + time = thesis cycle; the difference being that people aren’t getting quotes from Buckminster Fuller or Ernest Goes to School tattooed on their lower backs.

Perhaps a broader way of capturing the idea is to say that the elements of success can eventually become liabilities. It’s true of everything from religious beliefs to political systems , from laws to personal habits. And it’s certainly the case for sitcoms.

From the get-go, the farther-looking television critics recognized that Balki’s charm and innocence were a baked-in liability. And they turned out to be exactly that, even if only to Balki’s characterization or what plots the writers felt they could do. I’m sure you can think of other sitcoms that fit that longitudinal hero/villain idea, as well as those that don’t; and we’ll almost definitely be returning to that discussion over the next few weeks.

I personally prefer building arguments in a linear, accumulative fashion, rather than stating a thesis at the outset. But Season 8’s failure is a foregone conclusion. After the Season 7 writers made their final statements about what Perfect Strangers was, and what the most important aspects of the Balki/Larry relationship were, someone saw fit to bring it back. They revived the corpse, only to almost instantly regret it, murder it, and bury it. But just like in that Stephen King story, “Sometimes They Simply Ignore All Admonitions and Noisily and Violently Refuse to Stop Coming Back”, Season 8 managed to return from its grave.

As Balki might say: Bad panties always ride up.

Or as the Joker might say: Whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you…

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We open at the house. This House. Baby House. Who gives a fuck. It’s just a house, I’m not doing season-long quests for the perfect joke, it’s just the goddam house they rent.

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Larry shows off his fluffing skills (with the pillow, you sicko) and tells Jennifer to quit wasting time and get in the living room so they can reveal her new status as a sight gag.

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Fifteen months and this woman still hasn’t given birth. Either the little one knows there’s a sitcom outside, or it’s waiting to make sure the obstetrician likes it before it comes out.

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Jennifer and Larry’s conversation is your typical sitcom upset-pregnant-wife fare where the husband can’t win because the wife’s complaints and need for reassurance are all-encompassing. Complain if you like that it’s simply not interaction between the Cousins, but what’s worse is that it’s not unique. And I’m not talking base specifics, like what large mammal she compares herself to (whale), or what food she’s craving, or what specific public activities (restaurant, movies) she doesn’t want to do because of her appearance. It’s that the tables are turned and the show either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.

Jennifer has lived through six years of Larry’s constant need for reassurance that his body’s shortcomings don’t disqualify him from love. Jennifer rarely hesitates to tell Larry that she likes a little tummy on a man, or that she loves him for his other qualities*. We’ve never been given any reason to dislike her, or really feel anything approaching emotion towards her at all. So Larry’s scramble to find something nice to say about her looks falls flat, even without taking into account that Jennifer looks like she just stuffed a pillow down her overalls on a whim that morning. Who cares how long the season was originally supposed to be, every moment for a resurrected show ought to have some impact to argue its existence.

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I may be jumping the gun here, but since Balki’s not here yet, this may be the very last moment these two get alone together, and the writers aren’t the least bit interested in what’s unique to this couple. We don’t get Larry coming to any sort of realization that he’s paying back with interest every time Jennifer told him she didn’t necessarily like other guys who lifted anything heavier than a gallon of milk.

Instead, we get Larry going from promising Jennifer that she’s beautiful and radiant (like a cobalt explosion seen from a distance) to voicing passive aggression about how his bloated, cramping, exhausted wife won’t put out. Show, look, you’ve got possibilities to mine left and right. So Larry and Jennifer still don’t know how to talk about anything, maybe moreso when their friends aren’t around. Do a story about that!

Anyway, Larry clarifies that Balki and Mary Anne’s three-week trip to Mypos became a five-month trip. I can’t wait to hear what funny Mypos things they did! Larry tries to convince Jennifer to be excited that they can all catch up soon.

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Yeah, that wouldn’t work on me, either.

(I have no idea how to read Jennifer eating pizza. It’s not your typical weird-cravings joke, unless eating pizza in the middle of the day read as out of the ordinary in 1992. I watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid, so I honestly don’t know.)

(Also, Jennifer throwing the pizza directly onto the coffee table was a simple but good gag.)

(Also, you’re going to wish later on you were back here in this great scene.)

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Luckily, Larry won’t have to worry about his hollow reed going untouched, because Balki’s back! In fact–

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Balki: Balki’s back and he’s better than ever!

Well, at least Season 8’s making me laugh. What better line is there to reintroduce a character in an episode that ultimately wasn’t good enough to air until the absolute ass-end of the 1992/1993 season?

Balki demonstrates to the Appletons and the audience the benefits of getting an order for a whole 24 episodes by packing every single thing that Balki does into 5 seconds.

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He hugs people, he runs up the stairs, he shouts, he has an accent, jumps on the couch, he can do any number of fast, scary motions certain to upset the balance of hormones coursing through Jennifer’s body.

Balki says that the letter he received from Larry described Jennifer as fat–almost as fat as Larry, and then runs outside to get introduce Mary Anne’s new role as a sight gag.

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She’s got a bun in the oven radio in the shop!

So let’s see if I have all the facts now. Balki and Mary Anne both just up and abandoned their jobs for five months.  Jennifer hasn’t been working for at least, say, three months. Larry is still paying four times what the house is worth in rent, and just when he thinks he can add two more incomes to the household, Balki rolls up with $360K in long-term costs.

Oh, and Larry is the only one of these assholes actually trying to stay in touch, since Mary Anne didn’t share her life-changing new with her lifelong best friend.

Balki says that his “spud muffin” is having a “tater tot”. If you’ve ever wondered what it sounds like when Bronson improvises, there’s an example. It’s like when African-American language develops to the point of 2520 meaning “whitey”, except there it’s borne of actual culture and maybe even survival needs, whereas here Bronson just has no idea that you have to let people in on the steps your joke takes.

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Larry and Balki share the move that symbolizes grabbing the hymen right out of a woman and throwing it away.

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Ha! You get it? They can’t hug because they’re fat!

Mary Anne says that Jennifer looks just like Larry’s drawing:

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We get the beginnings of some actual story potential here when Jennifer needs Larry’s help to sit on the couch, and Mary Anne plops right down. It’s too bad Jennifer’s never once been to a gym so she could keep up with a woman who’s in fine fettle after working the fields and cooking for eleven men.

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Or maybe it’s that Balki’s sperm is made from pure ambrosia, and Larry’s just feeding Jennifer 1/9th the protein she needs so the bad won’t have any physical advantage over him.

At this point, I have more callbacks than I know what to do with. It could have to do with burnt offerings to Mypos’s newest god Carllewisiki for all I know.

Anyway Jennifer says Mary Anne should join her for the baby shower the next day and that since this episode title’s explicitly about the baby shower, they should leave the room.

Later that evening, Larry is babying Jennifer while Mary Anne makes decorations for the party. She’s a trooper, that Mary Anne. I don’t know about you, I’d want nothing more than a hot shower after 5 months of getting sloppy seconds after my husband had been out on the hillside. Jennifer asks Larry for a swift, messy death where her viscera will get on everyone she loves.

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To contrast this, Balki and Mary Anne begin loudly fucking while explicitly stating how problem free their pregnancy is.

Can you believe that this is the third time in 145 episodes that we’ve gotten anything like a window into these women’s differences? Well, of course you can, you’ve read this blog, I should stop being ridiculous. Jennifer and Larry interrogate Mary Anne, going down the whole list of stock jokes about what pregnant women go through: sore back, swollen ankles, mood swings. But Mary Anne’s so dumb she thinks only Martin Yan and Justin Wilson make stock jokes.

Balki says he has just the thing for Jennifer’s ailments, and comes back out of the pantry** with what looks like a stick of monkey deodorant.

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It’s the Midolcrampabloatolus root (Larry repeats it), grown at the foot of Mount PMSkolos.

What in the menstruating fuck? You don’t fucking have a period when you’re pregnant. Yes, progesterone is present during both PMS and pregnancy, but if you’re bleeding that much? It’s a problem. Balki tells us that when goats eat it, they explode. Oh fuck this.

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Balki says there are side effects, but that this isn’t the right place to discuss them. I mean, he’s technically right–this is a sitcom, so the best time to say a side effect is after someone has swallowed–but really there’s no better time to discuss a side effect than when you’re forcing a medicine on a person.

Larry presses him, and Balki admits that it makes women real hornylike so they want to touch your peepee. (You know, by the way, “root” can be a euphemism for penis; just letting you in on this joke in case I want to try out some variations on it.)

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Anyway, please take this opportunity to let it sink in that Balki has zero scruples with secretly hijacking a woman’s sex drive, and that Larry is wrong for giving Jennifer a choice in the matter. Welcome to Season 8, everybody!

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Mary Anne breaks the tension between Jennifer and a now gung-ho Larry to say that it’s time to go read fairy tales to their gestating cousins.

So, we’re a third of the way in here, so this has to be the story, right? That Jennifer needs chemical assistance with her pregnancy, and Mary Anne doesn’t. That Larry doesn’t believe in the medical efficacy of plants that haven’t gone through clinical trials. That Larry and Jennifer have to deal with these kinds of choices in their marriage but Balki and Mary Anne don’t. That Larry is unwilling to take a risk, but Jennifer is, so she can not be shown up by Mary Anne.

At this moment, it has the potential to be a solid four-person story, almost no matter what they decide to explore. So what path does the show decide on?

Just as soon as he’s left alone with another man, Larry decides to eat the plant that makes you horny.

I’m actually all for this as a plot point! I absolutely love stories that introduce rules just to see what the most interesting way of breaking them is. I think of this as a sci-fi/fantasy trope, and Philip K. Dick’s The Game-Players of Titan comes most readily to mind.

But because Balki’s back (and he’s bitterroot than ever), trying out a potentially dangerous drug so that both you and your wife can have some peace is a sin on the order of putting a used condom in the collection plate. And goddammit, even if we don’t see Jennifer and Mary Anne again this episode, there’s your damn story: Balki can’t understand Larry’s stress because Mary Anne is having an easy pregnancy.

And underlying this, I think, are some elements of machismo in Balki’s reprehensions. Sure, Larry’s tired of rubbing out a quick one in the elevator on his way to work, and the rules of the sitcom format are that his eagerness needs to be self-serving. But we started the episode with him trying to generate ideas for how to make Jennifer happy. The way scene played out, it’s simply that Larry hasn’t thought to ask Jennifer what she wants, and that sex is just a very sore point. Now that Balki’s here, Larry daring to express and act on his negative emotions is wrong. And, come on: an unstressed Larry can do more for Jennifer.

What kind of Myposian deity is telling these people that they’ll go to hell even if they so much as think of giving a baby a pacifier just so they don’t have to listen to it for a minute? Doktorspockos? Nippliki?

So anyway Larry sticks Balki’s root in his mouth and he eats it raw.

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Balki: You cannot just eat the Midolcrampabloatolus root like that. What do you think this is, some raw American jicama crudités?

Words the audience won’t know? Subverting Balki’s uncultured characterization to the point of removing it completely? Not even bothering to come up with an American dish? Three more clues the line is improvised by Bronson Pinchot.

Even the root knows it’s on a sitcom: it waits until Larry says it doesn’t work to kick in.

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Larry starts tripping fast and hard, talking a mile a minute and free-associating. He somehow manages to make Balki bite, eat, and swallow a piece of the root.

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It’s really too bad vomiting wouldn’t be discovered*** for another three years. They drag it out so you can be “surprised” by Balki’s transformation.

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Now they are so high they do the Dance of Joy!

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I was going to say that the show had run out of organic ways to lead to physical comedy, but… 😎

So what happened to the women this week in one of the most meaningful, transformative times in their lives? To these two women who have known each other for over two decades and now get to experience the same thing at the same time and compare notes? Their husbands hooted and hollered while they popped massive boners, just like every week, only slightly faster.

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THE NEXT DAY, Jennifer and Mary Anne get an understated sight gag where they’re supposed to be preparing snacks for their guests, but Jennifer eats them as Mary Anne prepares them. It could have been staged a little better–say, having them in the kitchen with other trays of food–but I’ll take it.

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Jennifer says that she barely got any sleep all night because Larry and Balki were making too much noise. And we know that they took heavy doses of an aphrodisiac.

I’ve never felt so baited by this show into making a gay joke.

*deep breath in*

*deep breath out*

Balki’s bareback and he’s better than ever!

They bumped uglies. In fact, they baby bumped.

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So, if the root is supposed to make them hyperactive****, why are they standing still in one spot talking at the women about how they turned the baby’s room into one big electrical hazard by upping the wattage?

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Of all the coked-up behavior her husband is displaying, Jennifer asks why Larry isn’t blinking. She tells them to quit fucking around because her friends are about to show up for the baby shower.

What the crowning fuck? Who throws their own damn baby shower? Jennifer! These are not your friends!

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On their way out of the living room, we get more of the running joke of Mary Anne not having the same leg pains as Jennifer. It’s the structure where Mary Anne describes a pain, and asks if Jennifer gets it. Jennifer’s relief that she’s not alone is the best thing in this whole episode, and Mary Anne’s unreadable delivery when she says she doesn’t get that pain the most intriguing.

So let me get this straight. Jennifer couldn’t fart without Larry there to pull her cheeks apart but she’s been getting around just fine as soon as Larry disappeared. Okay.

I could save my rewrite for the end of the review. But why wait? We’re really only going to see the Cousins from here on out. I would really love to see the original script for this one, because Mary Anne and Jennifer fighting has to have been the original idea here.

For whatever reason, they have to have the baby shower at their own house. Fine. But the stated premise was that they’re experiencing their pregnancy differently. The obvious arc would be that they resolve this by the end, over the course of a bitchfest. Who cares how you end it, really: I personally would go for Jennifer and Mary Anne finding that they’re going through different negative aspects of pregnancy. Jennifer’s are physical, so Mary Anne’s would be emotional. Maybe she felt something was wrong because it was going so perfectly. Maybe she wishes she could have to deal with some things on her own instead of having a perfect husband. And finally, they both realize that, as tiring as their husbands running around screaming and railroading each other is, it’s one less annoyance for them.

You’d be right if you said that I’ve been making this joke from day one–but this episode would be improved 100% by taking Larry and Balki out of the picture almost entirely. They’ve got endless energy and are running around the house trying to fix things, so really they just need to pop in every couple of minutes, describe the dangerous thing they’re doing, and keep moving. The guys rewired the whole house? Great, they don’t need to stand and talk about it for two minutes. The Cousins mess something up, the women roll their eyes, but it’s familiar: they’re finally a family again after all those months apart.

Or go the Married… With Children or late-stage Roseanne route: get all the women at the baby shower together and talking about their men and Jennifer and Mary Anne realize that all husbands are idiots.

All the pieces are there, and the show could still do as much of that story as can fit into 7 minutes.

Anyway Larry and Balki strip out of their clothes as soon as the women leave the room.

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I swear, this is gay-joke entrapment.

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Larry and Balki start dancing because why the hell not, they got renewed. Eat your heart out Baby Talk, Johnny Carson, Superboy, The Royal Family, Night Court, Dear John, Who’s the Boss?, and Growing Pains!

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Suck a withered prepuce, Jake and the Fatman! Woops!? More like Poops!

I don’t think I’ve ever once in my life seen any produce that re-grows its skin as you shave off pieces of it. Were they worried it would read as crack cocaine if there was no brown on it?

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I get that there are people who think that there is humor to be had in dramatizing even the tiniest bit of emotion in a situation. As in, they think that some moment they had that day where, idunno, a piece of software glitches, or they have to drive somewhere for a thing, but they didn’t want to, deserves expansion to where they not only describe it, but they need to try to dramatize what’s going on emotionally for everyone involved. Like, I just heard a radio commercial along the lines of “whether you’re a morning person or a sleepyhead, choke down some oil at McDonald’s” with soundbytes of a woman greeting the sun and a guy yawning thrown in. I’ve watched these people make video game reviews. I’ve worked with these people. They’re the ones you’ll see on social media who appear to rely exclusively on structures like these:

ABC writers: Let’s have the Cousins talk about wanting more plants

Mark & Bronson: OK but only if it takes too much time

I’m not going to say it’s the easiest type of humor, but it’s certainly one of the less interesting ones I’ve come across. Lest I make some claim that I’m funny enough to write my own sitcom, or that I could do anything groundbreaking, let me clarify: I watch a hell of a lot of TV, good and bad, and I’ve spent plenty of time on this blog trying not to make jokes the same way every week. Maybe I’m being a snob? I’ll try to be generous and say that I’m willing to believe people actually derive humor from that kind of thing, and most of them probably know how to wipe their own ass.

All that to say: fuck this bit where the Cousins depict plants under grow lights.

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Then pull out, and fuck it again.

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Just before Larry gets a running start to jump and break Balki’s leg, Jennifer walks in with some snacks. She asks them what they’re doing, and they admit to eating the root.

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Aren’t you glad hundreds of people were hired back for six wasted weeks just so you could enjoy all these funny faces?

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When Jennifer walks in on them, and when she gets her answer, she’s not in the least bit worried. I like the idea that the Cousins’ behavior doesn’t register as terribly abnormal to her, and ramps up to the reveal of them having eaten the root. I don’t mind being in the know that they ate it, but Balki’s line that they plan to tear down the house to grow more root would have landed so much better if we only heard it the same time Jennifer does.

Jennifer says Larry looks taller and his erection bursts through his zipper with a güiro sound effect.

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The moment she leaves, Larry shoves his little brown root into Balki’s mouth. They slap each other and then they eat the snacks, which are just one pie and one bowl of cherries. Are only zero women coming to this party?

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What the fuck did you expect to happen, really?

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Call it Chekhov’s Cake: if a dessert is present on a sitcom, it will end up on someone’s face. It’s been the Perfect Strangers tradition to destroy snacks and keep partygoers out since Season 1.

If there was some shared sense among the writers or actors that Perfect Strangers needed to make the case for its return after what looked and felt like a natural end to the series, they’ve more than done their job. They’ve proven that there’s no lack of story potential here, and up until about the 13-minute mark, they could have changed gears and explored any of them. But every step of the way, every time some interesting presented itself, the shows veers away to the only option it thinks it has.

Hell, even now, at the 18-minute mark, you could still salvage this one with a reveal that Jennifer and Mary Anne set up the living room as a fake decoy baby shower so the guys wouldn’t ruin the real one.

I’ve more than made my point about potential being trashed, so let’s talk about what we actually get in this episode. I feel like I have to make a pretty narrow argument for why the Cousins’ physical comedy doesn’t work here. After all, their mania here isn’t terribly different in intensity from Season 7’s “Stress Test”. And in one sense, it’s an inversion of that episode: Balki and Larry are doomed to disagree and fight about everything if you make them worried, but dear god can you imagine how dangerous they’d be if they agreed with each other?

But “Stress Test” linked the physical comedy to recognizable psychological tests. Here, Balki and Larry eat a potato and do the Neutron Dance. The setpiece manages to be both less creative than the one in “Fright Night” and less uniquely moronic than the one in “Bachelor Party”. The best I can say about this episode is that it’s not “Duck Soup”.

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Golden Girls only lasted seven seasons. I think it’s obvious why this show ran longer.

I’ll admit that, even with the often-precarious balance of story and physical comedy in most seasons of Perfect Strangers, it’s the latter that kept that it afloat in the ratings. But now that same saving grace is systematically acknowledging and shitting on every last story element. Either everyone thought this was what viewers wanted, or they knew cancellation was imminent and stopped giving a fuck.

They both do some voice that’s probably supposed to be Julia Child and fuuuuck this shiiiiiit.

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THE NEXT MORNING, Jennifer and Mary Anne are writing apology cards to the three friends they had left. Really? This is a funnier and more necessary scene than showing Larry and Balki scare a bunch of women? Anyway the Cousins apologize and promise that the comedown is far worse than whatever punishment the women could offer.

Balki: I feel like the Myposian army just marched across my face.

And I feel like any reference to Mypos should be required to make a joke about how it’s a weird, backwards island.

Balki and Larry apologize for eating the root and mention nothing else. So what the hell are the women sending cards for? Did they try to fuck the guests? All we know is that Larry and Balki ate two pies! What savages you women are to make pariahs of your best friends for having slightly fewer snacks at a party!

Balki asks Mary Anne for forgiveness and she grants it instantly. Larry asks Jennifer and she gouges out his eyes with her erasable pen.

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He explains that he ate the root so she could stop whining. How dare he give a shit!

Balki says he has another cure, but lest we worry, it’s an American and a capitalist one: he gives them twenty bucks so Larry can take Jennifer to the movies.

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So… the solution is the exact same fucking things that Larry suggested at the beginning of the episode. Take her to Encino Man and exchange handjobs in the back row. It’s really only valid when Balki says it.

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the fuck

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oh come on

The climax of the episode–a group of women being greeted by men with blood, ejaculate, and shit all over their faces–is shoved under the credits.

Perfect Strangers is back and it’s beggared as ever.

Join me next week for “After Hours”!

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

Boner count: Balki (1, continuous); Larry (1, continuous)

Dance of Joy running total: 24

Unused Larryoke Countdown #6: “These Roots are Made for Gobblin’” – Nancy Sinatra

*Her inability to name any in “The Wedding” excepted, because it felt like an unnecessarily mean misstep.

**Mary Anne doesn’t even change clothes, but the first thing Balki does is make sure this prop gets into the pantry?

***by Mr. Emmett S. Pew of Weehawken, NJ

****I guess you could say they’re undergoing a “quickening”!

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Intermission: 71 Things

I’ve tried to do various things to make this blog interesting and fun, you know, like reviewing Winnie the Pooh cartoons and offering up C.S. Lewis fanservice. I believe the kids these days call this type of behavior “extra” (and they say print newspapers are dying!).

I had hoped that I could arrange more interviews, with the actors, or with the writers, or even with the hosts of A.M. Los Angeles, you know, give them a chance go on the record as distancing themselves from the show. I’ve sent messages to these people on Facebook, Twitter, through their agents, through their family members. Lise Cutter declined to be interviewed; Bronson Pinchot declined to be interviewed, and told me I’d pronounced his name wrong in the message. Mark Linn-Baker returned my registered letter: scrawled on the envelope was “That’s Nice”. Rebeca Arthur left me on seen.

I pestered Louie Anderson. I sent a request to the head of Warner Bros.’s physical (props) archives, Bonnie Fallone Otto, because I know they have some of the outfits from the show, and who knows what else. I was trying to see if they’d let me watch the pilot. A copy exists, somewhere, and if an advanced alien race arrives before Earth turns to spent carbon, I’ll ask them to find it for me.

I promise you, I’ve done everything I can short of stalking, which believe it or not gets really expensive really fast if you commit to it.

There’s a slim chance I’ll actually hear back from a few people (*makes “call me” gestures at Belita*), and if they do, I’ll post the interviews, even if it’s after the blog’s over. I had left this week free for an interview, and boy oh boy am I not ready to write about Season 8 yet. I’ve seen it. It’s gruesome.

Ultimately, the best legacy a review blog can leave behind isn’t the reviews themselves, the insights, or even the great joke I had ready where I was going to ask Tom if he drives a Detrucky or a Devanney. The greatest gift that this blog can hope to bequeath to future generations is hundreds of high-quality stills of Bronson Pinchot that the A.V. Club or whoever can use without credit.

So I figured I would take this opportunity to revisit some old episodes and see what details are more visible now. I know you love it when I stop every other thing in a review to talk about the shit in the background, so please stop begging me for a post like this.

Season 1, Episode 1: Knock This

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Look at that! Already there’s payoff for this shitty filler post idea, Larry’s baseball sister (I dub her Abstinence) has “Appleton” on her jersey!

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It’s a bread. Balki’s holding a bread.

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Check out the fridge door: Larry is into funny dogs. Also his mom fobbed off all the old shit from her kitchen she hated the sight of.

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I believe that Time Magazine must be this one, with a cover date of Feb. 24, 1986, just to give you an idea of how quick the turn-around between this episode’s taping and airdate of March 25, 1986 was. I mean, we’ve covered that before, but AHA!, right? I’m important for finding this stuff out.

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Now I can make t-shirts with the Ritz Discount logo. That’ll be $50 apiece.

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I’m so not going to get into re-reviewing this mess, but remember how the very first episode was about how Balki how Balki quickly got a job because he’d been not only a sheepherder, but a marriage counselor, a veterinarian, and a chef as well?

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Only true Perfect Strangers fans will want the rarer logo with the alternate font on “Discount”. You too can “get it” for $100.

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Hey, look. A painting. This is worthwhile, right?

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Man that window display is even sadder in HD.

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That alphabet & numbers blanket is interesting. No idea what the Q thing is. Also, those must be photos of Yaya Biki! Was that her in the opening?

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Again, not re-reviewing, but the final joke in this episode is that only the dumbest foreigner would accept minimum wage. Haha. Ha.

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Season 1, Episode 2: Picture This

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Mark wasn’t kidding when he said he had to get rid of the elderly decorations. He missed the Toby jug there in the back.

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Does anyone recognize the Bailey’s Soda Cola? Was it regional to California?

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Remember the original Linda? Please tell me I’m not wasting my time going through these.

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Looks like their bathroom mirror was broken. I smell a deleted scene.

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AAAHHH those visors! They don’t make them like that anymore. Stupid “lead in paint” laws. Also: *sniff*

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Awww. Their first kiss.

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You know, Socrates was kind of a prototype for Jesus. Not saying Jesus didn’t exist, just saying it took a few hundred years to repackage the narrative and sell it.

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Season 1, Episode 3: Date This

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It’s PaulAndre!!

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It’s Frau Farbissina!

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Man, Jerseyman was sitting right there the whole time, just waiting on someone to flirt with his Jerseygirl.

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Wow. It’s the exact same people in the exact same outfits both nights in the same seats at the single’s bar. They can put “Appleton” on a jersey you’ll never see but they can’t get a room full of people to sit in different spots or switch coats.

Season 1, Episode 4: Baby Driver

Someone actually took a marker to some of the wording on the shopping bags–

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–but you can still tell that the Cousins shop at the only Ralphs outside of Southern California.

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More of that blanket. Lots of tentacles on Mypos, evidently.

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I would put the call out to y’all to track down better images of those posters at the Motor Vehicle Facility, but I’m the one working at a university library with a government documents collection. Lost forever.

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It’s basement Linda!

Season 1, Episode 5: Overdraft This

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Just swinging by for the puppy paper.

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Season 1, Episode 6: Birthday This

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Ho ho, Larry discovered postcards with titties on them!

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Is “CONFUSION GROWS” a better or worse headline than “WALK ON MOON”?

Season 2, Episode 1: Womb This

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Just want to point out that “Today’s Special” has been blue jeans for 7 episodes now (and will stay that way through the end of the season). I also suspect that Twinkacetti would have spent the first dollar he made on a porn magazine.

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I feel like this one might be a fun episode to cosplay for CousinCon 2020.

Season 2, Episode 3: Win This

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What, you thought I was doing all 120 episodes? Sshhhyeah no.

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Mostly I just want to see if any of our regulars are in the crowd at the baseball game, because there is ZERO REASON to ever watch this misery of an episode. (You’ll be happy to know they got a new bathroom mirror, though.) We’ve got PaulAndre back there, but more importantly–

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–it’s Basement Linda again! I’m beginning to think she’s the Cousins’ guardian angel.

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Steal a base or two in this Shop ‘N’ Spend Spartans raglan top, a “steal” at only $50!

Season 2, Episode 4: Burgle This

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I have a confession. This whole post was to get a better screenshot of Motorcycle Maidens magazine. Now I’m stuck having to watch the rest of these at 8x speed to finish this post.

But I did find out what magazine this actually was: the September 1986 issue of Cycle Guide. I may not have good ideas for bonus content posts for this blog, but you have to admit I execute them masterfully.

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While I’m here: Larry is reading The Variety of Fiction: a Critical Anthology by Edward Alan Bloom and Lillian D. Bloom.

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Twinkacetti does not read the Chicago Chronicle. Half of you have stopped reading this post.

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This one feels like a meme template. Go wild! Have fun with it!

Season 2, Episode 5: Vegaaahhhsss Thisssss

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Enjoy some smut!

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What the fuck? Either PaulAndre went undercover as a dealer in Vegas, or I really do have a problem telling black people apart.

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Basement Linda got a job there too, keeping a watchful eye over Larry’s potential for addictive behavior.

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Remember what I said about citations a few weeks ago? Apply it to memes and meme templates. There’s a wealth of them buried in any given show, but the shows that are under-represented simply don’t have a viewership that overlaps with meme creators. Alternately, think how Tom & Jerry of all things is finding new viewers through memes.

Season 2, Episode 6: Sneeze This

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That photograph with the signs stuck around all the way through the seventh season.

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Larry drinks White River cola.

Please tell me this is worthwhile.

Season 2, Episode 8: Vince This

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I gave up trying to research whether that’s actually the back of a Juice Newton album. Probably not, though.

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Basement Linda makes sure the Cousins get where they need to go: in this case, she directs their movements into the halls of justice to help bring down a local mob boss. Also that’s a young Marianne Mullerleile, before she gained weight and showed up in scads of roles that existed solely so other actors could throw fat jokes at her.

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Someone actually bothered to put Vince’s girls in the audience here, both chewing gum the entire time. Of all the things I can’t say about this show, not skimping on background details is the one I can’t say right now.

Season 2, Episode 10: Strike This

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We never got enough Schlagelmilch. She’s eating sausage with the angels now.

Season 2, Episode 11: Christmas This

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Putting all the boxes of unsold wrapping paper tubes together as a makeshift Christmas decoration is damned clever.

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Someone had to paint all this snow. I had to sit through the episode. Who had the harder job?

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(Does anyone else remember in the 90s when some company started putting out phone books with a fake Yellow Pages logo or is that just a dream I had?)

While I’m here —

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Season 2, Episode 13: Since I Lost This Baby

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That grey cat is a Pound Pur-r-ries doll (I only ever had Pound Puppies), and I’m touched to see that someone in props thought to keep some of the winter items from the Christmas episode around for a few weeks.

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Twinkacetti actually had paper bags printed up for the store? A rare luxury for the man who lives $50 at a time.

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Oops! The Hulu guy continued not to give a shit and didn’t crop out “Chez Paul”. Also, Balki’s advice for how Twinkacetti should beg Edwina for forgiveness involves rubbing his (Twinkacetti’s) face against her feet. I swear, y’all. If any of you ever get to interview Bronson, make sure the first damn question is about his foot fetish.

Season 2, Episode 14: Catfight This

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I came here solely for this. This is better than any voice Bronson has done since because Reagan impressions – or even just doing a voice when you put on a mask – has to have been a fairly universal experience back then. If you had asked me what Balki thought of Ronald Reagan, of an actor being the president of the United States, I’m not sure what story I would think it would lead to. But I would never have guessed that an immigrant who prized every bit of American culture would treat the president like a punchline. Fuck, even ALF treated Reagan like someone who could have a positive lasting impact on the world.

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Yecch. Just as ugly in HD.

Season 2, Episode 15: Dream This

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Good meme templates? You decide.

Season 2, Episode 17: Bike Baby

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The sign in front of the cash register is proof that the same set of people have been making text memes for generations: the usage of all capital letters, lack of grammatical sense, and endless ellipses are exactly the same as the stuff your parents pass around on social media.

“Our new incentive program….. one mistake and you’re through..…”

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I don’t feel I’m any closer to identifying this sheet of “Monster Man” tattoos, other than to say that they certainly weren’t called “Monster Man”, given the cobra and Indian chief present.

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In case you’ve forgotten this memorable episode where the Cousins don’t hang out with a kid, it centers around Larry’s bike being stolen. Balki was so concerned with helping Cousin Larry that he spent like half an hour buying a cigarette & blindfold for Dimitri and putting him in front of a loaded cannon.

Season 2, Episode 20: Puck This

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Are you gonna let me ding the bell?

Are you gonna let me ring up sales?

Are you gonna tell me the chili’s run out?

Fat Marsha, girl you make the message center go round

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Hey I was just a Mypos lad

Never knew good food from bad

But I knew life before I left the island scene

Living here with Cousin Larry

Things started to get hairy

Twinkacetti done made a slave boy out of me

Hey hey!

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I’ve been working at the Ritz

But with no raise, we called it quits

I’d hit on every blue eyed Suzy on the way (hey)

But their beauty and their style

Just disappeared after awhile

Take me to them thin blonde ladies every time

C’mon!

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Oh, will I get my fries tonight?

Oh, please cook my puck burger right

Oh, I like my chili dog real hot

Fat Marsha’s burgers make the rocking world go round

Fat Marsha’s burgers make the rocking world go round

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Hey, listen here

Now I can shake my pretend tits

For galoots and big nitwits

Lewis Arquette frequents this locality (I tell you)

But soon the shit had hit the fan

When Chilidude fought Jerseyman

Hey Fat Marsha, get these big men off of me (now check this)

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Oh (I know), you gonna touch my hole tonight (please)

Oh, down beside that pilot light

Oh, you gonna let it all hang out

Fat Marsha, girl you make Balki’s world go round

Fat Marsha, girl you make Balki’s world go round

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Get on those guys and ride!

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Ooh, yeah, oh, yeah, Fat Marsha girl

Fat Marsha girls, yeah, yeah, yeah etc.

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Season 2, Episode 22: Baby Roof

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Nice detail on having cups full of various lint.

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Not that you can really see them, but there. There is the best shot you’re ever going to get of Larry’s photography.

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According to Joel Zwick’s book, Mel Brooks was around that week and expressed some serious misgivings about whether they could pull off the roof scene; and Zwick remembers having to grudgingly agree with him when it wasn’t working. Unfortunately that’s all Joel says about it, other than saying it was for a story where the Cousins were on the roof trying to fix a leak. Either it was a lost script, or Joel misremembered this episode. It’s a pretty useless aside, I’ll admit, but the snark in me can’t pass up an opportunity to note that Mel Brooks of all people passed by the set of Perfect Strangers and all he had to say was how something wouldn’t work.

That’s worth noting, right? Please, please reassure me about this post.

Season 3, Episode 1: Report This

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Now that’s some character detail: there’s one of those soap opera magazines on the table. It has to be Balki’s. My mother and grandmother would watch soap operas, and tape them because multiple ones ran at the same time on different networks. Essentially they’re no different than any other magazine covering media news & speculation, but I’d argue Soap Opera Digest, All About Soap, Soap Maidens, etc. are still a highly unique entry in that category. Even putting aside the anachronism of the genre’s name, even by 1987, these magazines traded in speculation on things you would see the very next day or week, as well as summaries of daily television programs that moved at a glacial pace. (Though now that I say it, that’s a double-edged sword.) I’ll admit that I’m taste- and possibly gender-biased against the genre, but I still think these magazines are weird.

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I DIMITRI I HAVE IT HOKKI STIK

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No other website will offer you an HD screengrab of Mr. Feldman. Check over at Buzzfeed. No HD screengrabs of Mr. Feldman. Huffington Post? Twitter? Pornhub? No HD screengrabs of Mr. Feldman.

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And lookathat: PaulAndre started at the Chronicle the same day Larry did. And now I suspect that the alderman thing was some in-joke, because it’s the very first thing that Mr. Burns asks Larry about, specifically which of them drive foreign cars. How foolish was I to miss such an obvious clue that the Chicago Chronicle is not merely a tool for reporting, but a whip for keeping Americans American?

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What the hell is going on with these article titles, every one in a different font size? “Timber Industry whithers; Families Left Destitute”; “CONGRESS TO CHANGE SATILLITE CONTROL HILL”. I’m ashamed I can’t tell you what the comic is, but it appears to feature a horse, and have been done in-house.

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The inside of the paper, though, is the July 13, 1986 edition of the Chicago Tribune. NOW YOU Know.

Season 3, Episode 2: Baby Weight

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The art on Balki’s wall?

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What they have in the fridge?

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Dimitri eating a whole stick of butter?

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The best shot you’ll ever get of the Pioli’s Pizza logo? ($50 in sizes from S to 10X) (Also why the fuck does Larry have a pizza delivered to the apartment where Balki can see it? Sorry, I’ll stop.  Not re-reviewing these.)

Who cares about any of that? I came to see the candy bar wrapper.

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Even I’m not going to pretend that was worth the effort.

Season 3, Episode 4: Puff This

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None of you would buy a shirt with the Unicorn logo even if I could get a good shot. I’ve still got a lot more to go, let’s just get the relevant screengrabs and move on.

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Season 3, Episode 5: Feather-touch This

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Just here for the box.

Season 3, Episode 6: Blow This

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I rewatched the whole episode, still no damn horn in sight.

Season 3, Episode 8: Baby Confidential

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Just here for the posters.

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“Timber Industry whithers; Families Left Destitute” seems to be a regular feature in the Chicago Chronicle. Was that the name of Lydia’s column?

Season 3, Episode 9: Shock This

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Are they just eating lettuce with ketchup drizzled on? Same thing I had last night. Weird.

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There are three sheep dolls there, two of them with grey hair. I suppose the implication is that Balki and Mary Anne had a kid?

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Season 3, episode 10: Couch Baby

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A whole year later and Understand Your Dreams is still hanging out on their coffee table? Symbolism, addiction, television as aspirational propaganda, etc.

Season 3, Episode 12: To Baby Or Not To Baby

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DIMITRI THIS WEEK HE IS THE MUVY STARR

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Season 3, Episode 14: Pen This

Just to verify that the flashback wasn’t a newly-filmed scene:

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Season 3, episode 15: Baby Babka

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You’re welcome.

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Season 3, episode 16: Baby Buggy

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OH! It’s says “Russet Potatoes” and “Bartlett Pears”! This episode makes so much more sense now.

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I could stick around on this one forever, but I don’t want give you a list of groceries (a grocery list! HA! Don’t kill me), so I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves, like this one telling you how fucking scary a clown in a store with no kids is.

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Season 3, Episode 21: Test This

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How have I come this far with no shots of Lydia?

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Season 4, Episode 1: Gamble This

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No Harriette either? The hell is wrong with me?

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Ah, to be young and in love again.

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They have Oat Boats! Even if we didn’t have the Winslow/Urkel connective tissue between this and Full House, that cereal box would have been enough.

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(Image shamelessly stolen from the Full House Reviewed blog. It’s the only way I know to tell Billy how much I appreciate his pioneering work.)

Again, not re-reviewing these, but the audience goes absolutely nuts when Balki finds a decoder ring in the cereal.

Season 4, Episode 2: STOP This

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STOP buying lesser-quality clothing! Get the STOP logo tee for only $50.

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They went to Bugsy’s Burgers! If any of you were wondering if there was a show bible, there you go.

Season 4, Episode 3: Invade This

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And you thought this post wasn’t worth it.

I had assumed that Mary Anne was dressed as a pilot, but it’s clear now she’s just in her stewardess uniform. Still the best joke in the whole episode!

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Here’s Cousin Larry admiring the size of Balki’s veiny nuts.

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You know what? I think that’s a goddam Dimitri comic.

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So glad we got to see Linda’s nuts too.

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Season 4, Episode 6: Up a Baby River, This Part

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God I love Lydia.

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Here’s a better look at the inside of Brawny Dude’s cabin. Can you believe you’re reading this blog for free?

Season 4, Episode 9: Gift This

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Of all the external shots of the Caldwell they could have used to paint icicles on, they picked the one where a dude is standing around in shorts.

Wow, I didn’t notice they had Christmas decorations up in this one! Makes sense if you think about it. Honestly, we should all be so lucky to have a cousin who can deck out an entire apartment like this all by himself.

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God I love Lydia.

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Lydia got a Nora Trueblood Adams mystery book, and someone went to the trouble of making a cover no one would see for it: Zwick! A Short Story.

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The best way to thank me for this blog would be to not do something like use these HD screengrabs to carve me a Davros Cup.

Season 4, Episode: Gang Baby

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Instead, pick up a Motor Psychos shirt (on sale for only $50) from the Perfect Strangers Reviewed Etsy page.

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That sign still cracks me right up.

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Fran encourages you to Get Naked and Run Wild. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t write 1,000 words on how both Cousins have gotten temporary tattoos of blondes in the exact same pose, and what that signifies in terms of capitalism.

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I’m okay being remiss this week. Also, keep your snack area clean yuk yuk.

Season 4, episode 12: Bust This

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It’s Carl Winslow! Hi Carl!

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I’ll take back something I said when I reviewed this one. I thought that Carl had loosened the cap on the Maalox, and then Balki acted like it wasn’t loose; actually Balki put it back on to try to open it again. Everything else I said about Bronson still stands.

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Another meme template. Don’t disappoint me.

Season 4, Episode 13: Bink Baby

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I didn’t think this episode could get any better, but god damn are the colors great.

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Is it a safe assumption that this is a shot of the actual studio audience watching Perfect Strangers? In the front row, wearing black, appears to be Robert G. Lee, the show’s warm-up comic.

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Ri$k It All ring tees, with classic logo or coverall variation–YOUR choice–only $50 plus S&H.

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Can someone please email the Hulu guy and tell him he forgot to remaster three seconds of this one?

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I really think the Hulu guy was just choosing preset options in whatever editing software he used, because the colors change from shot to shot in this one now, depending on the depth of field, how much of the set is seen all at once; as though some algorithm is making a guess only for the colors it can see at that moment. Wouldn’t it make the most sense to get the widest shot, save the profile of adjustments, and apply them to every shot? Not my job or expertise, but I can tell they’re not being as consistent as someone mastering a current TV show would be.

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If anyone ever asks you what the second-best Perfect Strangers episode is, call up your local psychiatric hospital; once they’re safely sedated and unable to harm you, tell them it’s the one with the fuckable bananas and the wheelchair you can shit in.

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Ha! [Mardi Gras joke]!

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Season 4, Episode 15: Baby Bowl

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You’ll BOWL over your friends with one of these “Strike Force” or “High Rollers” bowling shirts, customized with YOUR name (no special characters). Don’t be a turkey! Get yours today for only 50 smackeroos!

Season 4, Episode 16: Elv This

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I’m just fucking around at this point, but this is some great costume and makeup work for a shitty episode.

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Looking back, without having to think about the episode in any sort of critical way, it’s strange and beautiful that there existed an era of television where contracts were secure and writers had to fill up 22 episodes a year, where plots were so unadventurous that getting the main character into an Elvis suit was a valid goal.

Season 4, Episode 18: Used Baby

Good re-use of the Ri$k It All coveralls, show.

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Cousin, when you said you getting oiled up, I didn’t think you mean this!

Season 4, Episode 19: Drag This

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*Casey wettens*

Season 4, Episode 21: Teach This

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Totally not re-reviewing any aspect of these, at all, but what a weird visual gag that over-the-top folder is. It’s just so much time spent on what should have been an episode focussed entirely on Larry. Plus, I think we all know Balki would have bought nothing but Lisa Frank products.

Season 5, Episode 2: Defraud This

Let’s get some more Balki outfits in this thing.

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Season 5, Episode 3: Baby News

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MY NAME DIMITRI I IN THIS SEENGULL PANULL COMIC I SEE YOU NECKS WEEK

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I would recommend you all coordinate your costumes for CousinCon 2020 so we don’t get–as much as I fantasize about the idea–20 Balkis in hair shirts.

Season 5, Episode 4: Baby Teeth

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I just wanted to point out the Jimmy Carter caricature, because otherwise you might think I wasted both of our time with this post.

Season 5, Episode 6: Rhyme This

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Have a limited budget for fashion?

Try makeshift makeup that’s ashen

201

It’s your fate to starve,

You artists who carve,

Even you who paint men with great passion

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Season 5, Episode 7: Baby Daddy, Part 1

I’ll continue to be remiss about explicating the caged, forgotten American-flag hobby horse in the stores of memory.

202

I half expected to find junk from the Ritz Discount down here, but it’s entirely different junk.

I stand ashamed before you for not having taken the opportunity for a running joke about “CLEAN” appearing over the girlfriends’ heads.

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Whichever one of you is planning to do Wings Reviewed, learn from my mistakes: write all 172 reviews before publishing any of them so you can really play up the interconnections while you’re revising.

Season 5, Episode 10: Lydia This

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The batch of Lydia Live! t-shirts came back from the factory wrong; all the collars were too tight. I’m trying to cut my losses by offering them at a severe reduction, only $50 apiece.

Season 5, Episode 15: HONGI BONGI

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HEEEEEYYYY BIGGI

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YOOM BAGONGA NINGI

Season 5, Episode 16: The Grand Babythis Hotel

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I had hoped there would be something interesting to see on the brochure, but all I can really do here is brag about how thorough and committed I am to this blog, and to you, the reader. Suggested donation is $50.

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Larry, you have to cut the strings to get down!

Season 5, Episode 17: Crowd This

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Thought I’d be able to identify the board game they’re playing, but I’ve failed you again.

Season 5, Episode 19: Boss Baby

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I haven’t pointed out that 70s-era cookie jar in the background yet, but it’s been there for a long time now. I can relate to Larry. I have held onto the Cookie Monster jar that sat in my childhood kitchen for my entire adult life now. I’ve never once used it, but I refuse to part with it.

Dimitri, Mr. Glover, and the Chronicle’s most famous news headline.

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Name a cartoon, a buffoon, and WALK ON MOON.

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If someone wants to steal my screengrabs through Google Image Search, they’ve got a lot of shit to dig through.

Season 5, Episode 24: Baby Uncle

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A LOT of shit.

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Onesies for the tykes emblazoned with the logo of their favorite television program–now in its 40th year–only $50

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Keep those letters coming in, kids! Just stamp ‘em and send ‘em to

Uncle Shaggy

℅ The Dog House

Channel 2

Chicago, IL 60609

This has got to be the Full House-est episode of Perfect Strangers. Not that I’m re-reviewing this. Just saying.

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I know some of y’all have been edging for 4,000 words now; go for it.

Season 6, Episode 1: Laser This

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What a boring-ass logo. Whose idea was this post?

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Season 6, Episode 2: Baby Baby

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What? It was a little girl?! I thought… you know what, no, it’s too embarrassing.

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This one I got another site I’m a member of, but I figured I might as well include it here for completeness’ sake.

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The fuck? Larry submits his articles on photocopies with “Chicago Chronicle” at the top of the page? If that’s RT (Re-Review This) Wainwright’s direction, it’s madness; if it’s Larry’s idea, it’s got to be the weirdest psychological tactic I’ve ever seen deployed.

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Be the envy of all your punk buddies! “Tess Was Here” – but where were YOU when you got it? You can beat on THIS brat for only $50 simoleons!

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Seriously. Make some memes out of these things or I’ve just wasted my time scanning through these 70 episodes.

Season 6, Episode 4: Geld This

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Seriously. Validate me.

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I’m smelling the barn here (yok yok), so I’m just going to try to blow through the rest of these with minimal commentary.

Season 6, Episode 5: Baby Feud

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It was completely lost on me that Zoltan Botulitis carved his initials onto Larry’s shirt.

Season 6, Episode 11: Sunburn, Baby, Sunburn

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Look at Bunky’s shirt! “Here today, gone bananas!” How witty!

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Season 6, Episode 12: Hocus Poke This

Just wanted a better shot of that doll.

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Season 6, Episode 13: Dead Baby

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Given last week’s discussion about Pioli presumably not having a reining effect on Bronson, and everything else we know about him, I don’t even know what to make of Judy Pioli being Bronson’s director and letting him make a joke about how enjoyable her breasts. It’s… probably not my place to have an opinion, but damn it I’m still going to say something. It’s questionable.

I’ve received hundreds of requests through the Perfect Strangers Reviewed Facebook page for a high-quality screengrab of Gorpley in a dress.

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You people are sick, you know that?

Season 6, Episode 15: Plant This

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: who the hell are aprons like these for? What sense of humor is this supposed to convey?

Season 6, Episode 17: Remember This

This is important.

I didn’t, um, actually have anything I wanted to look at in this one. I just wanted to make that joke. Um…

251

Balki offers Mrs. Lyons baby corns and she refuses because she knows the Lyons Company meets–but does not exceed–the FDA’s food defect action levels for mammalian excreta.

Season 6, Episode 18: Dub This

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You know, we’ve been through 144 episodes at this point, so I think I can let you in on a little secret: I didn’t like this episode.

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I disliked it so much that I’m willing to take half of the price of these Enright Records pocket logo shirts. That’s right, you heard right, you can have the “Enright Stuff” too for only $50!

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Heehee it’s like he’s jerking it.

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Hahaha take THAT, Google Image Search results for Fresh Young Balki B!

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Season 6, Episode 19: Elect This

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Really looking forward to the cosplay for next year’s CousinCon.

Season 6, Episode 20: Climb This

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I was trying to get a clearer shot of that Hulk Hogan action figure, but I’ve failed again. I’ve also failed to get any further clarity on why the fuck Balki pulls out an action figure. Either Bronson was running loose or lines from the script are missing.

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Holland Deodorant Company sent me a C&D, so those shirts had to be destroyed. Sorry.

Season 6, Episode 23: Extinguish This

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I haven’t used Twitter in a while. Can someone please let Kellogg’s know that ABC failed to cover up the Froot Loops logo in this episode and owes them money? And that I would gladly publicly refuse a reasonable percentage of that money for helping out?

266

You know, you’d really think firemen would know better than to store fire in cabinets.

For those of you still edging, enjoy these HD (hot drenching) screengrabs.

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That’s it! I hope you enjoyed this retrospective of highly personally-indulgent Perfect Strangers illegally-downloaded Hulu inconsistently-remastered High-Definition screengrabs, the theft of which I’ll still begrudge on the basis that selection of images constitutes the results of my effort and unique sensibilities.

Join me next week for “The Baby Shower”!

Thing #71:

Season 7 Reviewed

For most of Season 7 of Perfect Strangers, as far as anyone knew, it was the very last one.

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Everyone’s five-year contract was going to be up. The two principal actors were talking in interviews as though the show were ending, or at least expressing doubts about it. Mark that the show would have ever lasted that long, for him a strong enough admission that I think it’s safe to say he was no longer worried what impact candor would have on his career; Bronson that nothing else they could do could lower viewership further, much less bring it back.

Whether real or exaggerated in tabloids, there were definite tensions on set. Bronson refers to feelings at that time being “brittle”. The show was getting tossed around on the schedule–and what’s more to Saturday night–a double death knell. The time it took to tape an episode may have as much as doubled* by this point, as director Judy Pioli would insist on multiple takes of scenes.** Perfect Strangers was Pioli’s first regular directing gig, and who knows, maybe she wanted the opportunity to try out things she couldn’t when she had done a handful of episodes for other shows. Can you imagine, though, your last year or two of working on a show and suddenly it takes twice as long to do? The actresses facing losing a steady paycheck? Bronson, rising diva, seeing every one of his feature films fail and not having anything solid in place, other than some vague hopes from CBS? No damn wonder feelings were brittle!

For the writers, too, this was the last season. Nothing says series finale like a multi-part story ending with a wedding and a baby. They thought this season was Perfect Strangers’s last chance.

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The last chance to define who Balki was as an immigrant from Wackyland. The last chance to define who Larry Appleton was as a friend, a husband, a striver. The last chance to establish what changes they had gone through over the years. The last chance to show what their relationships with their girlfriends and coworkers meant to them. The last chance to integrate the dual settings of work and home. The last chance to showcase the physical comedy prowess of its lead actors.

On the whole, Perfect Strangers failed at every single one of these things.

But that doesn’t mean it was a thoroughly terrible season. Whenever Season 7 tried to tackle any of those aspects of Perfect Strangers, we got some of the most dreadful episodes we’ve seen.*** Luckily, the show gave itself some new things to explore, and scattered around this season are some surprisingly worthwhile concepts. I can only point to two or three episodes that I’d single out as “great”–but how many other seasons have I been able to say that for?

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The comment I see most often in Linda’s Facebook fan group (Perfect Strangers Online – P.S. I Love You) about Season 7, even from staunch fans, is that Perfect Strangers no longer felt like Perfect Strangers. It’s even come up in the comments here once or twice, but I’d have to expose myself to screenshots of Larry and Balki sharing a sleeve or sitting in their own meconium to find them, so I can’t remember who said it. Compared to any other season, though, Perfect Strangers was almost unrecognizable, visually. They were in a house, their office space had changed, all four main characters were on screen together a lot more often, Judy Pioli had some weird idea that actors had to stand in a line, and that movement during dialogue-heavy scenes needed to approximate that of a Newton’s Cradle, where one character would stand apart from the other three, and then who was singled out would switch.

And that’s just the broadest visual strokes. On a hunch (after watching 11 seasons of Married… with Children over the course of a few months and noticing this) I looked back at a few season 2 episodes to see whether the makeup was different. It was: whoever was doing makeup in season 2 used more blush on Mark and Bronson. Though it had been true for a few seasons at this point that Balki’s clothing choices were less and less rustic, now they weren’t even eccentric: he’s wearing sweaters or t-shirts in numerous episodes. If that was a deliberate choice to show Balki’s assimilation, bravo–but the fact remains that Balki was strikingly different, visually.

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If I had to guess, none of those visual aspects are what made Season 7 so different to most fans. Let’s chip away at what’s not that issue and see what’s left. Some concessions have to be made for the fact that Perfect Strangers wanted to tell its last necessary story: Balki and Larry getting married. (Somehow it failed even at that, pairing them off separately with two blondes #ApplemousForever.) And as suicide-affirming as they were, “The Gazebo” and “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” are fantasy episodes. Just like the one time you pulled up the nastiest shit you could find on Pornhub just to see what all the fuss was about****, they’re so far out there they don’t factor into this analysis. So that’s almost a third of the season gone right there.

What we’re left with is two major changes, both equally impactful.

The first is that Season 7 had absolutely no interest in the Cousins’ jobs. “Dimitri’s World” established for us that each Cousin got promoted to something entirely outside of what they had been doing up to that point. In Seasons 3 and 4, Larry Appleton was sent out on reporting assignments–sometimes fluff pieces like dog shows, or the city’s elderly, or inner-city groups. He kept hoping for a big break on exposing the criminal element of the city. Those are the kinds of assignments that could have led to an editorial position; he’d learned the city inside and out, and now had years of opinions built up. Season 5 had him working as lackey to an investigative team, but even then he seemed to be stuck doing background research. He seemed to be demoted back to fluff pieces by “Digging Up the News”, and the biggest assignment Wainwright gave him in Season 6 was to get the fuck out of the building for a few days during the basketball season. Can you believe the last time we saw Larry chasing down a lead on a story was in Season 4’s “Crimebusters”?

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If Larry’s trajectory was messy, and its endpoint confusing, at least it consisted of moves back and forth on the line of a reporter’s career. Balki… well, let’s just say TGIF: This Guy Is Flighty. He career was all over the place up to this point. He was an administrator, he was a caterer, he was going to be the head of the mailroom at another building. Why not head of the mailroom at the Chicago Chronicle, really? When Balki gets his new dual gig as editor of the “Children’s Page” and artist of the “Dimitri’s World” strip, Wainwright tells Gorpley off for not doing his job as head of the mailroom. If that was really the case, that had been the case for years. Gorpley avoided actual punishment for doing fuckall, and Balki got rewarded by being given entirely different responsibilities. (Made doubly weird by the fact that the last time he got promoted to a job whose responsibilities he wasn’t cut out for, that was half the point of the episode.) I wish I could say that’s not how workplaces function in the real world, but I expect sitcoms to be more simplistic than real life, not internally inconsistent.

Anyway, as soon as the new jobs were established they basically ceased to matter; so again, why did it have to be non-sequitur promotions? The other episodes that do take place at the Chronicle barely use it for plot purposes. The very next one there (“Missing”) doesn’t even occur in the new office, and has no reason not to other than the basement had a big floor and a doorway they could backlight. “Stress Test” just needed the setting as connective tissue for introducing a psychologist, and “The Elevator” had an elevator and some dumbass thought they needed an episode with an elevator.

Losing a setting wouldn’t be so bad if three of the five recurring characters weren’t tied to it. Surprisingly, the minorest of these historically–RT (Rough’n Tumble) Wainwright–was the most prominent one in Season 7. Since there were barely any Chronicle stories, it’s baffling to me why Sam Anderson and Belita Moreno were brought back at all. I mean, I guess it’s nice to have someone in the audience in a wedding episode, and it made sense to have Gorpley lead the Cousins into temptation for “Bachelor Party”, but past that, Perfect Strangers struggled to put them anywhere. Lydia’s biggest role this season was as the manager/owner of a community theatre, even though in Season 6 an entirely different character filled that role. The only joke that I can even recall about Lydia this season was that she got fingered by a corpse. I don’t know if the five-year-contract stuff applied to Sam and Belita too, but I can think of no reason for putting them in this season other than ABC avoiding a lawsuit. The writers weren’t even willing to flip to Lydia and Sam’s bio pages in the show bible, much less work them into a story, so they just walled them off with each other. As far as we know, they’re still fucking in a handicap stall to this very day.

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Losing half of a setting and premise I’m sure would be a major blow to any show, and a giant obstacle to overcome in re-establishing what it was about. And if you’re thinking that there wasn’t that much less Chronicle in Season 7 than 6–you’re absolutely right, but that’s just the end result of the path Perfect Strangers had been taking for years. If the Cousins’ jobs had taken up as much space in 7 as in 6, I would have said the writers found the balance they wanted; but after five years it was inescapable that they had stopped giving a shit about it.

The other “major change” that I think makes this season not feel like Perfect Strangers is the challenges the Cousins faced, and how they faced them. I used the metaphor a few times this season of Perfect Strangers as a car losing bolts and springs and carburetors; but this was the equivalent of all four engine mounts breaking. Where Larry and Balki had tackled problems together, suddenly the situations they faced were split apart. Larry was suffering relationship problems with Jennifer, and Balki was causing them for Mary Anne, but Perfect Strangers never thought to put those two things into contact with each other. I’m glad Season 2’s “Trouble in Paradise” offered an example of “two different pairs of people can experience the same problems” that I can point to, proving that the concept wasn’t just something I hallucinated after a heavy night of drinking. Perfect Strangers was exploring new territory, and it’s unfortunate that it didn’t stop to think whether Larry and Balki might compare notes on their women. That’s partially because of Standards & Practices–they couldn’t suggest Balki was sleeping with Mary Anne–but they could have explored literally any other aspect of intimate relationships.

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And that’s the bigger problem, more than the specific situations themselves: the show wasn’t having the Cousins tackle them the same way anymore. Let’s say that there are four types of “classic” Perfect Strangers stories:

  • The Cousins share a goal or problem, and have culturally-conflicting ways of approaching/solving it (“First Date”, “Can I Get a Witness?”, “The Rent Strike”, “Since I Lost My Baby”, “The Defiant Guys”, “Maid to Order”)
  • Larry has a get-rich/famous/appreciated-quick scheme and enlists others (“Just Desserts”, “My Brother, Myself”, “Better Shop Around”, “High Society”)
  • One Cousin gets into a situation/pursues a goal and the other Cousin makes it worse (“See How They Run”, “Up on a Roof”, “Night School Confidential”, “To Be Or Not to Be”, “Blind Alley”)
  • Balki isn’t as crazy as he sounds, and even if he is you’re an asshole for pointing it out (“Ladies and Germs”, “You Gotta Have Friends”, “The Horn Blows at Midnight”)

Those examples aren’t comprehensive, and two more categories (“Larry’s An Asshole” and “Let’s Break Shit”) are later additions. Season 7 featured only four episodes that could have fallen into any of those four categories. “Weekend at Ferdinand’s” had a very brief discussion of whether to let Larry be king or to pretend Ferdinand was dead, and even then we only got to see one Cousin’s method play out. “Two Angry Men” falls most neatly into a category by having Balki make Larry’s jury duty worse at every step along the way. Buried under the 15 minutes of setup, “Door to Door” is essentially a get-rich-quick episode. And “Get Me to the Dump On Time” felt the most like a classic episode by having Larry fuck up Balki’s goal without being an absolute shit about it.

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(It’s not always a bad thing to ditch templates: I cannot express how grateful I am that Perfect Strangers finally moved past having Larry drive Balki to tears in service of getting him on board with a plan.)

It’s not that the Cousins didn’t disagree on anything anymore, but it was bullshit like whether they should be nice to a ghost who wanted to murder them, or who got to hold a bullhorn, or who sat in which chair, or… you know what, I was going for the most ridiculous arguments from the season, and then I ran out of examples completely.

I’m exaggerating a little; I’m sure you all remember the episode where Balki argued over which side of the car trunk he got to be in. But that very trend is one of the worst things that happened to Perfect Strangers. The character of Balki, the cultural differences, was the driving force of the original premise. The same character is now just a wellspring of annoyance. He’ll derail a scene by doing different voices or accents. He’ll argue over seating arrangements. He’ll make sure to grab at–and improv a joke for–every prop.

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In Season 6, we saw a few episodes where space seemed to be left in the story for Mark and Bronson to expand on physical comedy as they saw fit. That makes a kind of sense in terms of expediency of process; if that’s the way it tends to happen, write the best episode you can around it. But then we saw in “Duck Soup” that crucial expository dialogue got cut so Bronson could moan through a duck call. And this season’s “Door to Door” cut out an entire scene and switched the Cousins’ roles just so Balki could pretend to look through soap bottles. So he could try to grab a book of out Larry’s hands. So he could play finger paints. Not a bit of it added to the episode.

How the fuck did it reach that point?  It’s not as though there weren’t opportunities to draw story from Balki’s character, but it’s hard for me to imagine a roomful of writers brainstorming and striking on the idea of “Balki grabs at the prop” over and over again. I can think of two explanations.

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One is that Perfect Strangers did have a new director, one who was still new to the field, had some other focusses, and perhaps had less clout or respect in the eyes of the actors than longtime director Joel Zwick did. There is certainly evidence for this. I was lucky enough to get ahold of Joel Zwick’s and Rosario J. Roveto, Jr.’s 2016 book Directing the Sitcom: Joel Zwick’s Steps for Success less than 12 hours before this post went live. It’s very illuminating. He confirms something we heard many times in other interviews:

We’re reshooting the pilot [for Perfect Strangers] …and now we’ve brought Mark Linn-Baker in to play opposite Bronson Pinchot for the reshoot. We’re doing a scene and the scene is over and I’m in a break. I look over there and there is Bronson and Mark doing all kinds of stupid stuff. They’re slapping each other, they’re grabbing ties. They had this whole physical vocabulary that just came naturally to them…. And they turned it from a verbal comedy into a physical comedy.

I wish I had known about this book sooner, because that confirms the tone that I suspected was supposed to be there originally. Production on those first six episodes was under a tight deadline, and there wasn’t time to retool the show to build it around that core; I’d say it took until about halfway through the third season for Perfect Strangers to hit the sweet spots of balance of physical comedy and story elements. The sweet spot, that is, if you’re trying to build the show around it. Reading about the creation of Full House (briefly: the original concept of three comedians living together got three kids shoved in sideways so it could be sold to broader audience tastes) had led me into thinking that all Miller-Boyett shows began fully-formed, and any changes after that were errors introduced into the formula. Season 1 just didn’t have time to adjust to what Zwick convinced producers Bickley and Warren the show could be. Here’s Zwick on knowing what staging he wants before rehearsing:

I’m a “stage firster,” always have been. That’s what I do. I believe in it. It works in most situations. Actors really don’t want to spend time staging themselves. These guys do one show a week. They’re not interested in inventing. Once in a while, you have a Bronson Pinchot, who was an inventor on Perfect Strangers. He was always trying to find something new and something different and something… outrageously something or other in everything we were doing. But Mark and I used to keep him under control. It took both of us working him to keep him under control. The great classic thing about Bronson was, we’re about to do a scene, and he comes storming in. He says, “Okay, I’m going to come in from the door. I’m going to cross to the kitchen. I will grab myself a drink. I will sit at the bar. I would do that, that, that. Then I would cross to the couch.” I said, “Bronson, that’s terrific staging. However, as your director, I need to inform you that, at that moment, all the cameras will be pointed at the couch.” He went, “Oh, in that case I’ll come in. I’ll sit on the couch and we’ll do the scene.”

I said, “That’s an excellent choice, Bronson.” [Laughs]

Here’s the signature Casey snark you’ve come to love and expect: note how he uses a contextually-value-devoid term like “inventor”. One last Zwick quote, on directing Robin Williams:

I directed one of the first couple of Mork and Mindys [season 1, episodes 3, 6, & 7 in 1978 – Casey]. Robin Williams was insanely funny. I finally went to him like I did with Bronson Pinchot and I said, “Robin. I’ve got to tell you something. If you want some of this stuff to wind up in the show, you better hit your mark and stay put. Then do anything you want that comes to your little brain, it’s fine, but if you think you can wander around this set without hitting your marks, none of it will make it into the show because the cameras can’t adjust to you wandering about.” He took that to heart and, boy oh boy, he became really good at that. He knew that he wanted his best work in the show, he had a plan.

Note the value-laden terms for Robin Williams, etc., says the snarky Casey.

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Thank God Bronson hit his mark in the car trunk so we could get that stellar one-man Star Trek showcase. (Is hitting their marks the reason why everyone runs into rooms this season? Is having four people stand in a line an easy way to not have to think about marks when you’ve got four actors? Paging commenter Sharon.) At least one-half of the force reining Bronson’s “inventions” in was gone, and it shows. The first thing that comes to mind with “wandering” is the beginning of the bedroom scene in “Fright Night” where it’s not enough for Bronson to point out his Wayne Newton poster, he has to carry it across the damn room so he can funnel more dialogue to himself, refusing to ditch the joke even after knowing that he’d be pretending to hang it on a fucking door instead of a wall. If Bronson wants to writhe around with his tuxedo pants around his ankles for a full minute or stomp around in a suit of armor, well, they can always cut out a few more of Rebeca or Melanie’s lines.

But I can’t believe that Bronson was just completely without guidance from the directors or writers–or at the very least that that’s all that was going on. As much as Linda derided tabloids as “rag mags”, dismissing whatever they had to say, I think those are the key to a lot of what we’re seeing with Bronson’s performance in Season 7. As we’ve seen in the reportage posts, all of the actors seemed to have their regular haunts up until the end (A.M. Los Angeles, Regis & Kathie Lee, Attitudes, Arsenio Hall). But it’s also true that there was less and less coverage of the show, in print or on television. The idea that someone would try to make up juicy gossip about a show that wasn’t even that popular anymore is a strange one.***** So when a rag mag says that, leading into Season 7, Bronson was worried that he would be muscled out of stories because of Melanie Wilson’s increased role, it puts some of these episodes into a new light.

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“The Wedding” gave us basically two Balki showcases one after another when he follows up getting the regular wedding script wrong by then doing the Myposian wedding script. “Fright Night” tried to make an inroad into giving Jennifer the role of switching cousinsides when she needed to, backing Balki up on the authority of the *ahem* ghostwriter; which was followed immediately by Balki playing with a Wayne Newton poster. Simply because I’ve seen other shows do it, it’s easy for me to see how Jennifer’s upset over being cast as Larry’s mom in “The Play’s the Thing” could have been the major part of the episode; instead Balki wanders on stage eating a bagel and we get to see him Hulk out twenty times. I guess we can throw “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” into this group as an example of Bronson demanding to play with props at the expense of Jennifer’s time on screen.

The most telling examples, though, are the ones where the writers succeeded in actually giving Jennifer more lines and an actual role in a story. In “…Or Get Off the Pot”, there’s the scene where Bronson improvs tangent after tangent on his own lines with diminishing returns, determined to make Melanie break and laugh, and then not allowing her to be the one to get the scene back on track. And “This New House” featured a very promising direction for Jennifer’s character, namely that she was more like Larry than anyone had guessed, or potentially that she had watched and learned how to handle Balki. And immediately after this is revealed, Bronson does a three-minute strictly-okay Robin Leach impression.

I gave the guy a lot of credit for the sobering moment he had when he realized his fellow actors were crying backstage because of their lines being cut. But again: when something turns out good, thank your skills; when it turns out bad, blame the writers. The most generous explanation I can come up with is that Bronson demanded the spotlight because he was the only one who would seriously keep pursuing a TV/film career, and forgot to care.******

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But even then, there’s that scene in “It Had to Be You” where he nudges Rebeca to get her to look at him. It’s obvious that she forgot a tiny bit of staging, but he just refused to let it go because goddammit he needed to make that face. One more quote from Joel Zwick:

All buddy comedy has somebody who reacts while somebody is being funny, and that’s what you need. I think that Bronson Pinchot loved Mark Linn-Baker because he knew that whatever stupidity he came up with, when he turned around, there would be Mark Linn-Baker staring at him. He always knew that Mark would be there.

We got all the reminder we needed last week that Bronson wants control and has seemingly infinite confidence in his own abilities as a solo comedian. The most generous I can be is that not everyone is Mark Linn-Baker. I would say that Bronson maybe hadn’t had the stage time with just Melanie or just Rebeca to build up a rapport, but his energy with Mark was evidently instantaneous. Certainly neither actress had the chops that Mark did, but Bronson seems to have not put in any time and effort to work on bits with them. Like he did in Zoya’s Apartment, a lack of communication resulted in him risking their performances.

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I wish I could be nicer, Bronson the Diva is the theory that fits the most pieces.

At least he was comedy’s last (and greatest) Renaissance Man, and even half an episode was too little time spent with his shining wit, right?

Ha.

Ha ha.

Ha.

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Speaking of comedy greats, let’s talk briefly about the fantasy episodes again. I was so convinced that “The Gazebo” was going to be the all-time worst episode that I ended up overpreparing ammunition for it. Really, “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” is a stronger contender for absolute worst Perfect Strangers episode.*** There’s no more analysis of the show’s entries in that sad category that I can offer. They represent the height of misguided attempts at variety or homage. But I ask you to consider one last thing about them.

Last week, we saw Mark Linn-Baker offer rare praise for Perfect Strangers’s uniqueness in delivering physical comedy at a time when no one else was. And it’s always been Mark that I’ve praised for the physical touches he adds. When he says that he and Bronson come up with the physical stuff, I believe him. The way he rushes down the stairs to grab a baseball bat and murder a burglar in “Car Tunes” likely wasn’t in the script, or at the direction of Judy Pioli. On the other hand, I’d believe that bit where they throw around a wine bottle in “Going Once, Going Twice” wasn’t designed entirely by them; but Mark gave that sequence his all. Anyone would have had to to make it work.

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But finding a shit to give about the fantasy episodes was more than Mark could do. I’ll allow that he studied some of Jackie Gleason’s mannerisms and voice for Season 6’s “I Saw This On TV”, even if he didn’t nail it or have the same larger-than-life presence. And I’m sure he watched a few old Laurel & Hardy films in preparation for “The Gazebo”. In both cases, Bronson’s performance outshone Mark’s. You’re welcome to just close this tab and delete the site from your history; I can’t believe I said that either. The both-hands-thumping-the-chest-fingers-splayed-to-indicate-his-own-importance thing that Oliver Hardy does seems to be such a central part of the character that it’s unbelievable that Mark didn’t incorporate it into his interpretation. Neither there, nor in “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” does it appear that Mark had polished up any of the physical comedy. I’m probably making too much of minor details again, but it is rare to call Mark’s performance the less-committed.

Luckily for us, we only got two entirely useless episodes, story-wise. On the other hand, Perfect Strangers was trying to tell us more, and longer, stories. Some (“This New House”, “Dimitri’s World”) are just bare piece-moving; I would have included “The Wedding”, but it moved pieces and gave us a decent “what antics are they up to this week” plot. Season 7 offered both a two-parter and a three-parter.  Philip pointed out that “Weekend at Ferdinand’s” would have made more logistical sense taking place on Mypos; I agree, and I think a three-parter that early in the season would have been too much to ask of viewers (as well as my suspicion that ABC wasn’t certain this season would make it all the way to April, plus maybe budget concerns). Especially if you subscribe to that theory, Perfect Strangers had more story than it could tell successfully, even if turning over four minutes to The Bronson Show every week hadn’t been the norm.

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I want to applaud Perfect Strangers for taking Balki back to Mypos; and nothing makes my therapist as concerned as the fact that I actually appreciated some aspects of Mama. But the show simply didn’t give itself time to explore long-established aspects of the Bartokomous clan, like their rising wealth thanks to electric shears, or what I assumed was Balki’s status as something of a folk hero thanks to tales of his adventures spurning the advances of horny old women, meeting a black man, buzzing the Kellogg’s building. We get the very loaded image of him literally unable to sell his own packaging as an American, but that’s it.

Which, by the way, could be explained by his forced exile from the island (“…Or Get Off the Pot”) because he spurned the advances of a horny old woman. Did his reputation preclude any possibility of a career there? Are you really just not allowed to herd sheep anymore? Again, Perfect Strangers had more ideas than it knew what to do with, or even put into conversation with each other. I’m glad we got to see just how Larry would (and wouldn’t) function in paradise, but between the smell of Balki’s imported little cheese dogs and Mama’s 16-pound breasts, the story needed room to breathe.

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Having more story than time is disappointing, but ultimately forgivable. Meeting the hitherto-unseen Mama and going to Mypos are exciting ideas to explore, but I’d stop short of calling them necessary. Balki’s relationship with Mary Anne, especially after a full season of him treating her like shit, was downright urgent. Setting aside three episodes to deal with that issue was a good choice, but just about every other choice they made was either wrong or incompletely considered. I fail to see the logic in spending one-third of a three-parter just getting across to Balki that his girlfriend’s upset; but if they had to do that, couldn’t they have made it a story instead of a series of $25,000 Pyramid questions? The show spent that time revealing things about Balki that had nothing to do with the issue at hand, and then spent the next two episodes also not dealing with the issue at hand. The following two episodes each had decent concepts, but they both started from the same point: Balki will gravitate to someone who’s the same as Mary Anne. With as much conceptual repetition and padding and Woody Woodpecker laughs as we got, I have to praise Season 6’s “The Break Up” for its economy.

I’ve made it sound up to this point like Season 7 of Perfect Strangers was a thoroughly bad season of television. Amazingly, with everything that I’ve discussed here, I can’t say that. It discovered a few new tricks that led to some definite successes.

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I mentioned in the last season review that Newhart was flagging in its sixth season. Moreover that around years 5-7 many shows, even great ones, can run out of steam or even unless they find something new to do. I’m just going to talk about Newhart this time (you’re welcome). After Newhart decided it couldn’t–or wouldn’t–change its characters in its sixth season, it found a new direction. If it couldn’t expand them forward, backward, or laterally, it could still shoot them directly through the roof. Starting in its seventh year, and breaking completely loose in its final one, Newhart became a lampoon not only of itself, but of that generation of sitcom. (The lampoon became explicit in the February 1990 episode “Seeing Double”.) Every supporting character’s tics were turned all the way up to 10. Michael Harris’s slick Hollywood patter became an onslaught of deliberate alliteration, Spoonerisms, and mixed-up idioms. The earlier sparsely-used “reveal” that Larry, Darryl, and Darryl knew famous people became their defining quality. In its final year, a baby was running a television network via giggles and gas, a whole episode was dedicated to a one-off character’s giant ass, and a Japanese corporation buys the town and turns it into a golf course.

I think the writers on Newhart felt that the quieter comedy of Bob Newhart was a dying breed, and that newer, perhaps brasher sitcoms (Murphy Brown, Roseanne, Married… with Children) were about to have their day. A caveat: I’m basing this on nothing more than the energy and common threads of sensibility behind Newhart’s choices in its last two years. But there was an eventness to it, a feeling that there was nothing left to do but blow up the whole concept of a sleepy sitcom. At the very least, I think those writers asked themselves questions about what the show was, what it represented, and what they could do with it as a structure.

When it wasn’t failing to hammer out story sequences, or jerking off to its own physical comedy forebears, Perfect Strangers was asking those same questions.

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A minor question this season put to itself was what it meant for the Cousins to live in a house. I joked in Season 5’s “This Old House” that it was trying on elements of your standard family sitcom. But the joke there–that all the interested buyers were named after other television characters–carried over into Season 7. The Cousins visited the auction for the estate of “Howell Thurston” and imposed on Howard, Marion, Richie, and Joanie. Perhaps there’s a reason the rich neighbor who owned a whole network of hotels was named Dumont? Dead Mr. Wilson in last season’s “Finders Keepers” may also be an entry here; and Farmer McGregor in “Wild Turkey” is the oddball (butterball?) for being from a book. Thurston Howell and the Cunninghams are the only clearly deliberate ones, but those and the ones in “This Old House” are enough to say that the Cousins moving into the “real” world of sitcoms was the intended joke. It’s one I wish the show had leaned into more forcefully.

Season 6 was best represented by a trashed chair whose pieces didn’t fit perfectly together anymore. Season 7 loudly asks us to look long and hard at this stupid-ass chair. Look at this, it’s Chairnobyl over here! What dumb fucker would put this in their house? Of all the chairs in the world, this is the craziest-looking one, I gotta show this to my friends!

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And Tom Devanney & Co. dragged that stupid chair to every audience they could find. I realize I’ve been thinking of Devanney as the head writer, and maybe that’s because I like his scripts best, but even the shittiest Season 7 episodes were getting in on this sensibility. Starting in Season 6, he writers seemed to be deliberately asking themselves what various groups would think of Larry and Balki: children (“Hocus Pocus”), news/Californians (“The Men Who Knew Too Much”), ghosts (“Fright Night”), their girlfriends (“The Gazebo”), a typical American family (“Wild Turkey”), a jury of their peers (“Two Angry Men”), celebrities (“Wayne Man”), a psychologist (“Stress Test”). (I suspect that “Door to Door” would originally have featured a montage of sales pitches if it hadn’t overworked its plot to death.) And for each audience the Cousins found themselves in front of, a different aspect of their dynamic was revealed. They’re inadvertently hilarious, a threat to society, maddening, familiar, unhinged lunatics, endlessly frustrating, confusing but ultimately caring, and ultimately a functionally volatile pair.

If Perfect Strangers had spent its first couple of years casting for ways to build a show around two actors’ natural rapport and instant physical vocabulary, Season 7 finally found a perfect way to do it. The writers finally understood the Cousins as a machine that could be turned on at will: set it down in a situation, press a few buttons, give it a nudge, and watch it go. It’s partially luck that “Stress Test” ran out of order as the last non-story episode, but it was the best illustration of how the writers and actors knew the machine called Larry and Balki inside and out.

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These directions, both major and minor, offered a far more cohesive feel to Season 7 than any of the multi-part stories, or even having the women around more did. If the TV-family names, and spinning the wheel to see what audience the Cousins are performing in front of that week, had been the entire season, it would have made up for the fact that the Chicago Chronicle was an afterthought.

It was very nearly a great season of an ABC sitcom. It had some truly horrid misfires on both the physical and story levels, but even with so many things stacked against the show–the loss of a veteran director, backstage emotions, Bronson’s self-importance, a rapidly-decreasing resemblance to its former self–it was the best final season Perfect Strangers could hope for.

But most shows, one way or another, kill themselves.

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Here’s that list thing I guess

Best episode: “Stress Test” (“Wild Turkey” runs a close second)

Worst episode: Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thee against the stones, “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby”

Best one-off character: Rob Bob for personality, Dr. Michael Aldridge for functionality

Worst treatment of a one-off character: Chester Bainbridge

Best Balki Moment: the sad Woody Woodpecker laugh in “Chicago Suite”

Worst Balki Moment: I’m spoiled for choice. Four-way tie between throwing Melanie off, the season-long dismissal of Mary Anne as a person, the Robin Leach impression, and the damn Star Trek voices.

Season 6 catchphrase count: Balki (12); Larry (10)

Season 6 boner count: Balki (2); Larry (5)

Cumulative catchphrase count: Balki (115); Larry (66)

Cumulative boner count: Balki (22); Larry (25.5)

Dance of Joy running total: 23

024

What selfinvolved enigma did Casey, finishing the season, gathering multivarious multiarmed multitudinous arguments, voluntarily apprehending, not comprehend?

Who was Doug?

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*Per private communication with Linda Kay of the fansite, who attended many tapings in the show’s last few years, but who skipped a number of Season 7 episodes because of the increased taping times. She says that episodes directed by Joel Zwick took ~2.5 hours to tape, and episodes directed by Judy Pioli took 5 hours.

**Per my interview with Jo Marie Payton: “…we would get in and out, and Joel Zwick is the fastest-directing director I know. He studies, he knows exactly what shots he wants to get, he knows, he allows you the space to do what you want to do in the short time that you have to do it because that show was, what, 22, 23 minutes long, something like that. He allows you the creative space to do what it is you feel like you need to do because he’s already done his homework, so he knows where the camera shots are.”

***SO FAR

****”The Gapezebo”, “Yes Sir, That’s My Stepmom”

*****Let’s continue last week’s discussion of citations for a minute. Without the full picture of, say, the scope and depth and breadth and tone of a particular tabloid’s coverage; and without the full picture of whether there were real or fake things being reported for shows with more (and less) prominent actors; this kind of analysis is unfortunately pretty limited. But still, it’s what we have.

******Potential philosophical discussion of human morality/integrity: we are at our most evil when we section off our thoughts and our feelings one from another. (I offer you every single viral tweet or Facebook post pointing out gross inconsistencies in conservative/Republican arguments/values at the individual, pundit, or politician level as grist for this topic.) That, perhaps, the worst thing we can do for our own minds/souls is to not put our internal informations in contact with each other.

P.S. Nowhere else to put this, but does anyone else think Rob Bob kind of functions as a Larry-Balki hybrid?