Interview with Jo Marie Payton

Two weeks ago, I had the unequaled privilege of speaking with Jo Marie Payton about her time as Harriette Winslow on Perfect Strangers. Jo Marie and I discussed her early career, working with her Perfect Strangers co-stars and producers, and the undying popularity of Family Matters. We spoke over Skype, and I have lightly edited the transcript and audio to hide how terrible an interviewer I am.  Listen to it or read it–or both!

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Casey: What I’ve been doing for the past couple of years–I’ve been doing review of Perfect Strangers in blog form. So I’ve seen at this point all the ones that you were in. And I just have to say, before I ask you any questions, I think you were one of the best, consistently funny parts of that show. I do think the show suffered when you, you know, went to Family Matters. So my first question: what is your understanding of who Harriette Winslow was in those two seasons of Perfect Strangers?

Jo Marie: Well, you know what, initially, when they were searching for Harriette, this is the story I was told. They were looking for somebody like Selma Diamond. You know, in our industry, we have a copycat mentality sometimes, and Selma Diamond was the little Jewish lady that was on Night Court, the little… whatever she did over there.

selma diamond

[Selma Diamond played bailiff Selma Hacker on the first two seasons of Night Court – Casey]

Anyway, they were looking for somebody like that, is what I was told. And they needed somebody that they thought had perfect timing. So Joel Zwick, who was our major director for Perfect Strangers and then Family Matters said “No, this lady”, him and Jim, oh god, I can’t think of Jim’s name right now. There were two producers, they said “No, this lady… we don’t know this lady, we don’t know her real name, we know we’ve worked with her on The New Odd Couple with Ron Glass and Demond Wilson, and her character was ‘Big Mona’.”

newoddcouplebigmona

So, I was told that Miller-Boyett–Tom Miller and Bob Boyett–said go to–and we did it at Paramount–said go to Paramount, go to the archives, pull up the credits and find out what her name is. And that’s how they called me in. And I went in, and I had just left Miami, as a matter of fact I’m in Miami now. I had just left my Mom’s house with my young baby, and I told my mother, I said “Listen, I’m going to give this another five years, and then I’m just going to hang it up and I’m going to take one of these good jobs that everybody’s asking me”–because at that time I was sales administration manager for a wholesale touring company. But I had still been doing my career, you know, doing different things, but I told my mom, I said “I need something. I’ve got this baby, I need a house, and to come out of the apartment, and something’s got to pop in the next five years, or I’m going to take one of these good paying jobs that everybody keeps offering me that I keep turning down!”

And so I left that Sunday, I got–and I was sick–I had gotten sick from traveling, and I had a bad cold. And I got in that Monday to Los Angeles and my agent called and said “You have an interview at Warner Bros. in Culver City, that’s when we were at the, you know, at the studio, in Culver City. And I said “Okay…” And I didn’t feel good, but I went anyway. So when I left there, I asked her, I said, “You know, there were quite a few people in there. This was a recurring role and why you didn’t tell me” and she said “Well, I know you didn’t feel well and I didn’t want you to get false hopes and stuff, I just wanted you to go in there and do the best you could.” And she said “But they’ve already called back and asked you to come back again for producers and writers the next day.” I said “Oh! Okay,” you know. So I went back, and I only worked about 15 minutes from there, so I went back the next day. And when I went back the next day it was Tom Miller, Bob Boyett, Paula Roth, oh my god, Bill Bickley, Michael Warren, all the producers were there. And I read for them. There was one other lady, I forgot what her name was, there was one other black lady there, I don’t remember what her name was. And I auditioned and everything, I spoke to everyone, and then I left, and when I left, prior to my coming to Miami I had… my Mexican girl friend was sick. And she didn’t live far from there, so I went to see her. And my husband had picked up the baby, and about 9 o’clock I called him, because it was a late rehearsal. And I said “Is everything okay?” and he said “Yes,” he said, “but your agent’s been trying to reach you. You have some contracts, she had to negotiate your contract without you!” I said “What?” He said “She’s sitting over on Sunset Boulevard, you need to get over there right away and sign these contracts because you have to be at work tomorrow!” I said “What?!” So anyway…

I went in and I signed the contract and, oh my god, more money than I’ve ever seen–a week, you know!–and I said “Oh my God!” So anyway, she said “Well, this is the best I could do, I had to get it for you, they want you on set tomorrow.” So I went in there Wednesday, and she was Harriette Winslow for ten and a half years, you know. That was really crazy how that happened.

And I continued working on my job. I think I stayed there, like, three to six months, something like that. I know I stayed there, because I didn’t want to just cut out, you know, and like I said, I was sales manager. They let me take my work home, the computer home, and then I had an assistant at the job, and they were all elated, everybody, my boss and everybody, which I still talk to today. They were so elated, and they knew I was in the business. Although, I almost left that job a couple of times, and my boss said, “You know what? We’ll work around it.” And they did!

Casey: From what I can tell, just looking online, for ABC in 1987–for their weeknight primetime blocks–you were just one of three black actresses on ABC that year. Was that significant for you?

Jo Marie: I didn’t know that until I read it in your notes! I said “Oh my god!”  Isn’t that something? I’ll have to put that on my resume. My bio, that’s where I need to put it. Isn’t that amazing? And I said “Oh, wow!” So anyway, thank you for that! But, you know, I didn’t know it at the time. I was just working. So it had to be Phylicia Rashad–was this ABC you’re talking about or just talking about networks?

Casey: Yeah, the other ones on ABC were Robin Givens and Kimberly Russell, and they were both on Head of the Class.

head of the class

Jo Marie: Okay, then, okay, okay. When you mentioned that, I said “Okay.” That’s why, when the season started, I was the rep. I don’t know, I guess that’s why I was the rep for ABC. We went to Canada, and ABC had one rep, NBC had one rep, and CBS. It was myself from ABC, Howard Rollins, I think from CBS, because he was doing In the Heat of the Night, and it was Nicolette Sheridan, I think it was, was doing a show after Dallas or something, the one after that.

And they flew us in to Canada, and put us up at this beautiful hotel, and we were the only one representative from each one of the networks. And when we went into the studio the next day they had these huge pictures on the sides of the wall, and I said “Oh my god!”, you know. It was magnificent, so I kind of knew I was special then.

Casey: I looked through all the shows, on Wikipedia, and even when you take into account CBS and NBC, there were only a dozen black actresses at that time, and a third of them were on The Cosby Show.

Jo Marie: Wow, isn’t that amazing! I’m so glad you told me that! That’s real interesting. Yeah.

Anyway, I do know – I think it was back in 1977 – I do remember, I think I was the only black actress in Hollywood at that time that had two contracts. I was on a holding contract for ABC for a project the whole year. The whole year, every week they paid me a check to have to sit, so they could try to find me a project. And that was after I had done, I think, the old… Redd Foxx had a variety show after Sanford & Son called The Redd Foxx Variety Show. And Blye-Einstein, who were the casting people in… oh my goodness, what was the city outside of Bel Air, out near the valley? anyway, but they were out there, and they needed a jazz singer. And I sang, but I wasn’t like a singer singer, you know, I was an actress that can sing, that can carry a tune, that’s what I say. I went out, and I didn’t have any music or resume, the same way I got into my first equity show. No music, you know, no bio, no resume, I just went in there and sang. I had an agent, though, in Los Angeles. They told me to sing a song, you know, I didn’t have any music or whatever, and they said “What do you want to sing?” and I said “Ain’t nobody’s business if I do” They said “okay, let’s hear it.”

If I should take a notion

To jump into the ocean

Ain’t nobody’s business if I do

They said “That’s enough, we’re just over at CBS.” I went on to CBS to work with Redd Foxx, Slappy White, Prince Spencer, Gerald Wilson’s band. It was a phenomenal group of people. And I was Georgia Brown the jazz singer! And I did, like, instead of one episode, I did six episodes.

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And they liked the character, and so what they did was they took the character and put her and Redd together as a couple. He was Alphonze and I was Victoria. So they did seven episodes of that, I’m saying pre-pilot, you know, for another situation comedy. They fell in love with that, and that’s when ABC said “Okay, let’s do a holding contract.” They did a holding contract for me, but at the same time I had gotten a deal from Paramount to do The Plant Family, a pilot that Jimmy Burrows directed. Jimmy Burrows, from Taxi and Will & Grace and all of that, actually directed my first international pilot, you know. Normal Alden was up for an Academy Award that year, and Joyce van Patten was in it, I was third lead and I helped to sing the theme song also for that show. Jesse White, the Maytag man, was in there, and it was great.

So anyway, I had that contract, and I had the ABC contract, and what happened was they came in the same day. And my agent said “Oh my god. The one with Normal Alden who’s up for Academy Award is being directed over at Paramount. It stands a chance of getting picked up. The ABC is a holding deal, what are we gonna do?” Well, I didn’t know, I had only been there two years, I said “I don’t know.” “So what do you feel like?” I said “I don’t know.”

So my agent said “Well, you know what? We’re going to sign the Paramount deal, it’s a bigger deal than the holding contract that you may not get anything out of. They already want you.” So she signed that deal, oh my god, when she signed that deal, ABC hit the ceiling! They said “No! She can’t do that! You know, you guys have already promised that she would sign the deal” and, oh, I can’t think of it, the big guy, he was kingpin over all the networks, but for ABC, I’m trying to think of his name, his name was Fine or something like that. He said “Calm down.” He said “This young lady, she doesn’t know this, just leave her alone.” He called me and he said “Listen. Go to Vegas or something, just take a break, you know you anybody in Vegas?” I said “I have family.” “Go out there and take a break and we’ll work it out.” So what they did was, they both of them made me sign the contract. But the ABC contract, they broke down some of the money on it, because they couldn’t get a compromise on it. And they stepped into second position. But they still wanted the deal, and I had the deal for twelve months, and they sent me a check every week for twelve months, just to stay in place.

Then The Plant Family didn’t go. It wasn’t a go. And after the twelve months, I was looking, and they were looking, and after it ran out, I said “Oh god, I gotta get a job.” I said “But who’s going to hire me?” I remember crying, I said “Who’s going to hire me?” People are seeing me on TV every week, they saw me on the Redd Foxx Show and I do these other things, like The Carol Burnett, on The Merv Griffin Show, I was jumping back and forth on different things. And I said “Who’s going to hire me, oh my god, nobody’s going to hire me. They’re going to know me, know I’m an actress, they know I’m going to leave the job”, you know. And I know I was smart as hell, but I said, “I don’t think they’re going to take me.”

So I saw this ad in the papers said “We need this terrific attitude, this-that-and-the-other blah blah blah blah, can type 65 words a minute and so on so on so on.” And I said “Well, hell, that’s me, I can’t type 65 words a minute, but all the other stuff they need, that’s me.” So I went in for the job and I actually got it! I was sneaking out of–I had a girl friend–and I was sneaking in and out to do my auditions. Sometimes as far as Culver City all the way to North Hollywood! I was flying in my ‘57 Chevrolet that a friend of mine gave me, you know.

1957 chevrolet

And one day the elevator was broken, and we were on the third floor, and I was a lot heavier than what I am now. And I shot out of there and God was with me. I got every light. But in one hour I left from Culver City, twenty-something miles, to get out of my car and go do the audition, get back in my car, get all the way back. But by the time I got back to my job, I was huffing and puffing and I was breathing so hard I felt I was to have a heart attack. I just had to stop for a minute and catch my heart and breathe. So when I got upstairs, I said “Oh, I can’t do this anymore, I just can’t. I just need to tell these people, you know, what I do, and what’s happening.” So I went in and knocked on my boss’s door. His name was Rob Underhill, beautiful, beautiful gentleman, English, used to work on the QE2 cruiseliner. And I said “Rob, I need to talk with you.” And he said “Come on in, sweetheart, what’s the matter?” And I said “Well, I just left from here and went all the way to North Hollywood, and came back, and the elevator was broke, and I just feel like I’m about to die right now.” And he said “Well why did you do all that?” I said “Well, because I’m in show business.” He said “We already know that!”

He said “But please tell me you’re not going to quit.” I said “Well I may have to!” So he said “Well sit down and let’s talk a little bit. Tell me about it.” So I told him about my family and my career. And he was the vice president of sales, so he said “You know what? Yes, let’s try it out! Let’s see, let’s work around it.” So I did, you know, and then my other boss was the president of the company and we were a wholesale touring company, selling the Olson’s European tours, and there was nobody in the world that had a better tour than Harvey Olson. They were, you know, pricey tours, and Travel World was up there with him. I was working for a company like that. We worked it out, you know, I started out as, like, you know, the assistant, and all, and then the gentleman whose job I took was Bob Barton’s, and his father was the CEO and president of Parker Brothers toys, and he went to Dartmouth. And they gave me his position when he left! And I said “Oh my god! I don’t have a college degree, but I got good people skills”, okay?

I remember, I’m telling you, I didn’t even think I’d go back into all of this, but I’m going to tell you anyway, then I’ll stop and let you ask me another question. They left to go on a–there was a lawsuit or something came in–and they all left town. They said “Jo can handle it. She’s an actress, she can handle it.” And I did, you know, and then I started singing for them, every time my shows would come on, everybody would meet in the lunchroom and they’d have a TV there. And they really supported me. So I was there for seven and a half years, and when I got Family Matters, they genuinely and truly were elated with it. But I did almost quit two times. My boss said “Don’t quit,” and then the next time I did kind of walk out and say “Well, you know, I really can’t do it.” And then the other president of another department came to ask me to go to lunch. I went to lunch, and she said, “You know, it’s not the same thing.” It was Henny Osgrove, I never will forget it. She said “I need to talk with you, can we have lunch?” and I said “yes.”  And because it was that kind of travel company, you know I had put together potlucks and all that stuff because it was so many different people from different nationalities and different countries and things, you know. And the sales reps, I knew all the sales reps and tour guides and stuff like that.

She said, “You know what, since you left it just… ooh, please consider coming back, we’ll put you wherever you want.” I said “Well, can I go on the phones, then, so I can take a break?” and all this kind of stuff. “Can I get some seminars?” because I had like 250 seminars a year and I had to take the breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and all the meals, and the wines. My boss taught me how to do all this stuff! And I was doing the payroll for all the sales reps around the country. The only hotels we did was the Ritz-Carltons and the, whatever, the finest hotels in that city, that’s what we used. And it was very testy for me, but in order for me to be able to do, you know, continue my acting, I just had to make myself very valuable to them, and I did, and they wind up giving me the key to two buildings, you know, we had two buildings side by side, and giving me the combination and all, and trusting me. And they said “You know what, just get it done whenever you can get it done” and that’s what I did. I took my work home, and it was a lot! But you know what, when I look back at it now, it all paid off. It paid off very well, because I was able to continue my career. I was able to leave that job the way I wanted to leave it, in good spirits and in good shape and everything and all with those people. And we’re still friends today, whenever I see some of them. And I just always wanted it to be a win-win situation, and it was. And my continuing to work like that put me in a position to max out my pension before I was old enough to take it. It was good.

Oh, I gotta tell you one other thing, though. I’m gonna give you a little bit more trivia, because I give it to everybody. When Redd and I did the Alphonze and Victoria skit on his show–on the variety show–those characters, when Redd and Della Reese were doing The Royal Family? Those were the same characters, and the same character names that Redd Foxx and I created in 1977. And before Redd did it, he contacted me and asked me if I would do the show with him, The Royal Family.

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And I think at that time I had just finished doing, like, six Silver Spoons with Ricky Schroeder; that’s how I knew Joel Zwick and Jim Geoghan, and all of those. And I couldn’t do it, because something else was coming up. I couldn’t do that with him, and I tell everybody, I say–those two characters, if you go back and find any of that footage on the old Redd Foxx Show, you will see Redd Foxx and I doing Alphonse and Victoria. And there was a gentleman that wrote a book about Redd Foxx, and he had another actress’ name there, and I contacted him. When I saw that excerpt from his book, I contacted him, and I told him that that was me. I said “And if you want to, I can have the contracts pulled up and you can see it, it actually was me.” And when he thought about it and he saw my face, he said “Oh my god” he said “oh, Ms. Payton, I am so sorry. That was you. I am so sorry, I apologize. I hope there won’t be any legalities.” I said “No,” I said “But I just wanted you to know it.” Because he had done books and everything on it.

Casey: I’ve read some old interviews with you about your time on Family Matters, and I definitely get the strong sense that you and the other castmembers were kind of a family behind the scenes. And I’m wondering: how does that compare to working with the other Perfect Strangers cast?

Jo Marie: Well, you know something, I got in, and I loved my Family Matters cast. As a matter of fact I just talked with Kellie last week–that’s Laura–I just talked with her last week, and I talk to Reggie all the time. They were my family, but, you know something, my working experience with Family Matters was totally different than it was with Perfect Strangers. Mainly because working with Bronnie–that’s Bronson Pinchot–and Mark, and those. They were all adults, so we didn’t have to make adjustments in time, you know, for their schooling and all that kind of thing, you know what I’m saying? It was just different then, and they were so professional. I mean, Mark Linn-Baker, Bronson Pinchot, and it was Melanie Wilson, and what’s the other little cute blonde girl, I forgot her name–Rebeca. Rebeca. Ooh, I don’t know where Rebeca is, she’s the only one I haven’t seen anywhere. They were wonderful to work with, but I’m telling you I was amazed at the chemistry between Mark Linn-Baker and Bronson Pinchot. Because they were so sharp, and their timing was so good, well, I knew I wasn’t a spring chicken either. But I enjoyed working with them because 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. We had an incredible crew.

But I have really–I worked the longest on Family Matters, and I loved them the dearest, but the experience–the working experience–I enjoyed more because it was all adults. I didn’t have those lag times, you know, in between schooling and have to wait until the kids finished school and stuff like that. Because Kellie and Darius were 11 years old when we started the show, going on 12 or something like that. Jaleel was 10, because he’s a year behind them–that’s Urkel.* And then the others were smaller than that! You know, where there’s lots of time with the counselor, you know, and Tom and Bob, bless their souls, and Bill and Michael were very strict about rules being, you know, adhered to and all. And so we kind of worked around them, but they were the nicest, sweetest kids, and I loved them. But anybody that knows me, they know I always talk fast, I walk fast, I do everything fast. I didn’t want to spend all day there, because I had my daughter and my husband I wanted to get home with. Sometimes that kind of, you know, got–I don’t want to say “got in the way”–but that is the biggest difference when I went into Perfect Strangers. And also my part was smaller, you know. I’d just go into work and shoot out. I was in and out! In and out, and that was it.

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Casey: I really enjoyed the times when you and Belita Moreno got to play off of each other, got to squabble with each other. What was it like working with her?

Jo Marie: Ooh! That’s my girl! Oh my god, she was like my sister. She was like my sister from another mother. Okay? And Belita Moreno, when I saw that–and I contacted Belita a couple times when she was doing The George Lopez Show. Belita–I will always remember her til the end of time because she was the one that gave me an experience that–I was just flabbergasted and I still use it til today. She took me to Bed Bath & Beyond on a lunch break, and I’ve been crazy ever since.

I didn’t know–being a poor girl and not being able to buy things like that, come on, at that time Bed Bath & Beyond was even more fabulous than it is now. It’s gotten, you know, kind of commercial but at that time it was the place to go outside of Brooks, Macy’s and all of that. Bed Bath & Beyond had it going on! So she took me there one day and we were–I was in my money then, you know. And she took me there and I lost my mind. I was there last week! I will always remember Belita for that. We would laugh a whole lot, waiting on our scene to come up, after our scene’s finished, we’d be practicing what we were going to do, or whatever. She was the funniest, sweetest, sweetest person. The same way she was on George Lopez and crazy, she was crazy (laughing). When I think about it–when I think about Belita, I have to laugh, but she was so little and short. She was amazing. She was amazing. I should try to contact her, because I loved her so much. I loved her, and even though when I left the show and I would run into her, I loved her so much.  She was a sweetheart.

carlharriette

Casey: There was one episode of Perfect Strangers in your second year there where you and Reginald VelJohnson appear together. How long had the two of you been working together? Were they already developing Family Matters?

Jo Marie: No, listen, I didn’t even know Reggie, I had never seen Die Hard, I had no idea who he was. I know at the end of the first season [season 3 – Casey] Tom and Bob told me that–they called me in on a meeting. And when they called me in, they told me that they were going to–they were thinking about spinning off the character into a situation comedy–a family–giving me a family, putting it all together, and, you know, spin it off. So I said “Oh my god!” I was all excited, of course, and I went home, I stood on hiatus, and I said “Oh my god, they’re going to spin off this character!” you know, “And they’re going to find me a husband” and stuff. So when I went in the second season [season 4 – Casey], it hadn’t happened, you know, I didn’t see it. Well, nobody came to me about it. But just before the second season was over with, they called me in. And when they called me in, I said “Oh god, this is going to be my pink slip,” I said, because they didn’t mention anything else during the season, you know. It was just before Reggie came on to do that episode. I said “They’re going to give me my pink slip.” And they said “No, we’re spinning the character off, so we’re going to bring in–and we’re going to start auditioning now–your husband.” Oh my god, there were quite a few men that came in there. I remember, god I’m trying to think of his name now, he played Muhammad Ali–no, he played… Elijah Muhammad, whatever.  He said–Al Freeman, Jr.! Al Freeman, Jr.–and I heard he said “I’ll pay my own ticket just to go in there and audition with this lady.” I had a group of really wonderful men that came in!

alfreemanelijahmuhammad

But that Reginald VelJohnson… When Reggie came in, and we did it, it was instant. And so when he walked out the door, and they said “Jo, we need you to come back in.” So I came in–because I was having coffee, or something–and I said “Who is it?” And so, they said “You know who it is, don’t you?” And I said “Yes I do.” I said “It’s Mr. Die Hard, it’s Reginald VelJohnson.” They said “Oh! That’s it!” He said: that energy, that chemistry–today people call it “that Harriette Winslow and Carl Winslow energy, we need that kind of juice,” that’s what they call it. But he was absolutely wonderful. I can honestly say–saying let God strike me–Reggie and I never had an argument. From that day to this day we have never had an argument. And I remember Reggie, when he, when we first–the pilot, when we were doing the pilot, and I said “Reggie, you need to stand right there.” And he said “Where?” I said “You need to stand on your mark.” He said “Where’s my mark?” I said “Well my color’s green, this is your color.” He said “Oh oh oh oh.” So Reggie will tell people today–and he’s done it in so many interviews, “I didn’t even know where my mark was, Jo taught me how to hit my mark.” (laughing)

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But we became very good friends, and I don’t know if you know it, but we did a Lifetime special again about three years ago. [The Flight Before Christmas, 2015 – Casey] And when we did the special, we were called in because they were looking for a couple that was running this bed and breakfast. And somebody suggested “Say, why don’t we call Reggie and Jo Marie, Carl and Harriette, and let them run the bed and breakfast?” And they did, and it was wonderful. And Mayim Bialik, who played Blossom, and Ryan McPartlin, they were the main characters. And we had such a great time with them, but I think they had a better time with us. And Mayim said “Oh my god, you know we can’t let you guys get out. We have to take a picture! Can we take a picture with Carl and Harriette?” We took a picture and I think it went viral! My face all over the place! It’s all over the place. But it was great.

mayim

And then the first time I ever went to Broadway, because my first union was equity, I had an equity card before all the rest, because I was touring with Robert Guillaume, that played Benson, and a whole bunch of other really wonderful people. But, when I actually stood on a Broadway stage, it was maybe four or five years? No, no, it was longer than that. After Family Matters had ended, and we got a request from the city of New York, because they were doing something on home whatever, and all, and family, and stuff like that, and they asked for Reggie and I. They said “We would love to have Reginald VelJohnson and Jo Marie, for the real Harriette, to come and be the host emcees for the program.” And then they called in Stephanie Mills because she was on Broadway doing Purlie, and she had done the song “Home”.**

So they wanted “Home” and they wanted that family feel. I want you to know: that entire venue–standing room only–came, and those people, so amazed, said, that people called and said “We just want to see them back together.” I almost cried. Reggie and I were standing backstage and we just lost our breath. He said “Do you believe this?” Then the gentleman came and said “Those people bought tickets because they said they just wanted to see you and Harriette back together.” I said “Oh my god.” And then when we finished hosting, we went back and we just hugged and said “Is this amazing or what? This show has been off the air how long?” Oh my god, it was incredible.

harriettecarl

Casey: What was it like leaving Perfect Strangers? Did you feel a strong connection to that show was being broken?

Jo Marie: No. I never felt like it. Let me tell you why. I don’t want to cry. I loved Tom Miller and Bob Boyett so much. I respected them so much. I liked Bill and Michael also, but I had a special feel for Tom and Bob, because they–I feel like they cuddled me, you know and I feel like they generally cared about me. And Tom–which I never will forget it–Tom Miller, when we did the pilot for Family Matters, and I think we were, like, three or four shows inside of it, but they were always very, very nice to me, and accommodating, and they made sure, you know, I had a nice dressing room.

theleeboys

They didn’t treat me like I was African-American or whatever, they just treated me right. But I think one of the biggest compliments I got that somebody told me Tom Miller said, “You know what, I just love her, because when she what she does, regardless of how much material you give her, she’ll come in and do two lines like it’s the end of a hundred.” I said “What?” They said Tom said, “Whenever you hit that stage or hit those cameras or whatever, your monologue could have been, or whatever you had, could have been a hundred lines long, you only got two lines and you’ll just zap ‘em,” you know. And said that he loved that about me.

But, when we actually did, I think we had done, like, the pilot and a few episodes, Tom Miller called me one Saturday morning. I will never forget it as long as I live. He said “Hi, honey, it’s Tom.” I said “Hi.” He said “I’m not a phone person, I don’t talk on the phone, but I wanted to talk with you.” So he says “Well, you know you’re never coming back to Perfect Strangers, right?” And I said, “Yeah, Tom” because they had given me a deal, a guarantee. They did the pilot and a guarantee of half of all the shows of Perfect Strangers if Family Matters didn’t work out. Well, Family Matters worked out. So Tom had said “You know you’re never coming back, right?” And I said “Yes”. He said “Well that’s why I wanted to talk with you. I just wanted to tell you to always stop and smell the roses, and stay as wonderful as you are, and all these–because you’re getting ready to take a ride now.” And I see he was trying to, you know, really just comfort me and let me know to just out there and do what I do. And I remember somebody told me, even with Reggie, with our chemistry and everything, even if we had, like, banter, said “You can’t be mean to her, because you can’t–it can’t come off mean because people like her, she’s strong, you know.” And they said “But you can’t be mean to her, then it makes your character not look right.” But then, you know, I felt like the entire time that they were there, and then after we got into Family Matters–I think maybe 2 or 3 years after we did it, then they turned it over to David Duclon, you know, with Bill and Michael and them, but with David Duclon, I think it might have been, eh, it might have been a little longer than that.

But at any rate, I still always felt like they were there because I knew I could always contact them. And I remember one year, they gave me a gift and I still have it right now. A Christmas gift. And I opened it up and it was from Tiffany’s. They always gave wonderful gifts, but this particular gift was a harlequin clown that went to a harlequin circus set. And Bob Boyett called me in the office, and they gave me that gift, and the paper–when I opened it up, I said “Oh my god, it’s a clown!” And he said “It’s not just a clown, it’s a special clown. It’s the only clown in this particular harlequin circus. So it can be very, very valuable. If somebody wants to put that circus together, remember, you have the clown.” He said “But we gave it to you because we think you’re the most beautiful clown. We think you’re the most beautiful clown we’ve ever seen.” And they had a note in there, it was absolutely beautiful. I think it’s the best gift that–outside of my God-given–my daughter–I think that the best gift that anybody gave me was that darn harlequin clown.

clown

[In a follow-up email, Jo Marie described a clown like this Tiffany & Co. piece from the 1990s Gene Moore circus collection]

And it made me want to do–always do my best for them, you know. It didn’t matter, all the other stuff, I always wanted to pay them back by giving them the best that I had. The best that I had to make sure that–I didn’t give them 100%, I gave them 200%–because that’s what they expected out of me. To just do it, regardless. And I think when Tom was talking to me, he was telling me that shows don’t always go the way you want them to go, and we know that happened, that way. You know, the show was created for me, it was licensed on my character, and Urkel popped out.

urkel

But by the same token, and when I was asked about it, I said “Well, Perfect Strangers was treated for somebody else and I popped out of that too, but that didn’t matter, you know.” And it doesn’t matter today. The show was a success. And what it was to me, was that I was supposed to stay in my lane, do my job. And that’s what I did, you know. And when I left, when I walked out of that door on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, I went home to my family, and I tried to keep a balance on it. Even though, sometimes I was not happy with certain things. I still, because I respected and cared so much–not only about myself and my career–but I loved and cared about Tom and Bob because I knew they cared about me. And I just want to–and that represented them. You see what I’m saying? They took a chance on me. And it paid off well, not only for them, but for me. But I’m going to tell you: when I left Miami–and I’m telling you the story about when I told my mom I was going to give it five more years–I prayed for a project. Family Matters, Perfect Strangers was it. I prayed for a project, and it was Perfect Strangers, and it didn’t matter who came in that prayer with me, we still made it to the top.

Casey: I’ve read somewhere–and I’m not sure where this information comes from–I’ve read that Balki and Larry were supposed to make an appearance on the first episode of Family Matters.

Jo Marie: Right.

Casey: So what led to the decision of not doing that?

Jo Marie: I don’t know! I don’t know. I always heard they were coming but I don’t know. But I do know that I wasn’t going back there because, you know, like I said, Tom had said “You know you’re never coming back.” And before the conversation ended–the phone conversation ended, he said “a messenger will be coming to your house today.” I said “He will?” He said “Are you going to be home?” I said “Yes.” “Because you’ll need to sign for it.” I said “Okay.” He said “Because we’re sending you a big check for all of those shows that you’re not going to do. I said “What?!” He said “We’re sending you a big check,” and they did. It was thousands of dollars. I almost lost my mind!

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But they didn’t come over. You know something, Mark Linn-Baker did do one of our shows, Bronnie never did one. Mark did one, and I think Melanie Wilson did do one.

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Casey: One of the things that I’ve noticed as I’ve been reviewing Perfect Strangers–it had a very unique, committed focus on just two characters.

Jo Marie: It did.

Casey: It seemed weird to me that they didn’t work you, or Belita, or Sam Anderson into many of the stories, more than just a few lines.

Jo Marie: Right.

Casey: Do you have any insight on that direction?

Jo Marie: No, but I’ll tell you what. They were so darn good, I didn’t even worry about it. They were so darn good, especially when they did the Gleason and Norton thing. You know, they just had good comedic timing. They could do that–what do you call it–that slapstick stuff, they were so talented. They could do anything!  I enjoyed them myself to tell you the truth. (laughing) It didn’t bother me. I was in my element, I was working, I had excellent producers, and a good camera crew. I still talk to my camera crew right now, those guys, and I see them on different shows. But it never bothered me, and then especially I have to say that it didn’t bother me because I got spun off into another character, well, another show. But it was wonderful working with them. They were very nice to me, and I appreciated the fact that they were so doggone professional. They really were. It was no horsing around and fooling around.

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There was a little incident one time. And Bronnie and I went in the elevator and, you know, we talked it over, and we have been beautiful, you know, castmates and friends since then. We just had to have an adult conversation and we did and they allowed us to do it. And I never say it.

And nobody knows what that conversation was but myself and Bronson Pinchot. That’s it.

Casey: How did the Perfect Strangers cast feel about you getting spun off?

Jo Marie: Well, I believe they were happy. I know Bronson was, because he talked about it all the time. I’ve seen him on different interviews and he talked about it, you know. He would mention it, even if they didn’t mention it he would mention it. And I think there was a little bit of–I’m not going to say I think, I know it was a little bitter–a little jealousy that popped up with Melanie Wilson, because I did have a little snit with her. And this only happened–I didn’t know she held it like that, but she did. When I came–there was one particular time when I came, because we would always come out and, you know, do our bows to the audience. And the audience would ask questions and everything, and all, and they started asking me questions, you know. And on this particular day an audience member asked two times, I think it was, you know, that “I’d like to hear from Harriette” and she wouldn’t give me the microphone. When the Q&As were over with and all, I said “Why didn’t you give me the microphone?” And she said “Because I was busy talking on it!” And I said “But the lady asked two times.” I said “Please don’t do that again.” And I think ever since then, she and I kind of–there was a little cloud there. We spoke, you know, and even when she did Family Matters, we were cordial. I’m just telling you the truth. But she was the only one. I think–well, I don’t think, I know–you know, Melanie was a little bit of a prima donna, you know, she was very beautiful, but I think it was just her. You know, it’s always somebody. But like I said, I don’t carry grudges, I don’t carry hate, I understood, you know, where she was with it. But it is what it is. I don’t want to go out–I’m famous for shooting straight from the hip and just telling the truth. And that’s what it was. But like I said I didn’t hold it, you know, against her. She probably held it against me, but I didn’t. But I remember it, you know, and I remember it well. And that did kind of put a little thorn in the side, you know, with us.

And to tell you the truth, when you–I’m going to tell you the truth, because this is how I am–when I got your request for this interview, I had mentioned to my husband, I said “You know, not everybody wanted this reboot of Family Matters. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if they rebooted Perfect Strangers instead of Family Matters?” I said “Because I think, I don’t know what happened to”–god I can’t even think of her name now, that little cute little blonde girl, you called her name.

Casey: Rebeca.

Jo Marie:  Rebeca! I don’t know what happened to Rebeca because I never saw her after this. But I know that Mark is still here, Bronnie’s still here, Melanie’s still here, Belita’s still here. I think Sam Anderson–who was Sam Gorpley–I think Sam’s still here, out in the valley…. I said “Wouldn’t it be a hoot if those guys still owned that newspaper?” I mean, where they owned it not as opposed to working there. That they owned it, and they had people working for them. There’s always, you know–we call it “Show Business”. You show ‘em, and it’s good, you got a business. I said “Wouldn’t that be a hoot?” And then Harriette did come back there.

Casey: I would watch that.

Jo Marie: Oh yeah!

Casey: Are they talking about a reboot?

Jo Marie: Nobody’s mentioned it to me. I know that the only people that have mentioned it to me are our fans. (laughing) Our fans are begging for it every day. They’re begging for a reboot. “Are we gonna have a reboot?” I said “I don’t know, nobody’s talked to me yet. If you wanna see it, you gotta go to Hulu, Hulu’s got the entire line-up if you still wanna see it.” Because it’s never been off the air, it’s always been somewhere, I know that for a fact because residuals come in. I say “You can see it.” And then some people say “Well I don’t know if I want anybody to mess with it.” But by the same token, when Entertainment Weekly threw us in last year, November we were there. And they put that big spread on all of the networking sites and they did the one-hour special.

It went viral and so people are still asking right now, “Are we going to get a Family Matters reboot?” because they know we’re all here except for the grandmother and Myra. And I remember Kellie saying to me–that’s Laura–she said “Ms. Jo Marie, why won’t we hear anything about a reboot? Why don’t we have a reboot? All of us are still here except for the grandmother.” I said “Guess what, Kellie? I’m the grandmother now, you’re the mother.” She said “Oh my god, I never thought about it, Ms. Jo Marie!” I said “Now, you’re at the age where you’re the mother, and I’m the grandmother.” She said “Oh my god, that’s right.” I said “So you won’t be without a grandmother, because they’re not gonna give me any young kids, they’re gonna give them to you.” She said “Ms. Jo Marie, we got it all. We got it all.”

Casey: I would love to see it, personally, because I was watching Family Matters from the beginning. I didn’t catch much of Perfect Strangers, I was a little too young.

Jo Marie: Well you know, speaking of Family Matters and people watching it, you know that Australia had Family Matters for the entire 9 seasons that we were on. As a matter of fact, Australia flew me out there to work at the Royal Children’s Hospital. And then we got a letter back and said that the year that I came there to work with the Royal Children’s Hospital was the biggest money-making year that they had. But I do remember that when I was on the phones, and doing the telethon and all this stuff, that people started calling in to say “If she answers the phone personally, I will double my pledge!” you know. And so I was jumping all over the place! I was jumping, I was tiny then, I was about a size 10.  And I was jumping all over the place, and they thought it was the cutest thing, but they made a lot of money. And then I went to Africa and I went to Paris, and when we got to Paris because we did–we went over to do a two-parter, it actually turned out to be a three-parter.

But they had the show. People were flying me everywhere. And then Jerusalem wanted me and I was scared to go, I should’ve went to Jerusalem. The show was there, so people loved it. When I went to Europe–when I went to London–Perfect Strangers was there and they were calling me the lift operator. “Harriette the lift operator! The lift operator!” That was before Family Matters, so it was all over the world and I heard people speaking it in Chinese. And I was at a casino one time and I unloaded the bus because they saw me with my husband, and all of them are on the bus, and somebody said “Oh! Harriette! Harriette!” They jumped off the bus and they had their cameras and they were taking pictures.

I’m telling you, it’s been wild! On the freeway one time, traffic was slow and I was in my car, and I had the big black Mercedes at the time and there were a bunch of prisoners in this bus. And it was hot so they had the windows down, and one of them started to say “Hey, man! That’s Harriette! It’s Harriette driving!” So the people on the bus went crazy. I said “Oh my god, this is wild. This is wild.” I’m so happy that people liked us, and Reggie did try to come up with a project one time for us. But I’m going to tell you something. There’s somebody out there that’s real smart–I hope it’s our producers, because I do believe that they cared about us–I don’t know what the issue is, I really don’t, honestly. But whoever decides that maybe they want to do this, it’s gonna make a lot of money this time, the same way they made a lot of money the first time. Because I know people want to see us, I know they do. And we’re ready. Like Jaleel and I said–it would only take them putting a script in our hand, and two or three days we’ll be there and the show will be shot. Period. That’s how we worked, we had the chemistry. I know exactly what they’re saying and how they’re going to say it out of their mouths and the same thing with them with me. We know exactly what it is. It’s not like they have to work at it. All they have to do is pay us.  Have the set done up, get in the good directors and just pay us, we’ll give them what they need and more, you know, and bring it up to date.

Casey: After nine years I imagine you just know everybody in and out.

Jo Marie: Aw, yeah. We do.

Casey: Well, I have one more sort of general question about Perfect Strangers. What were your favorite moments or favorite stories?

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Jo Marie: You know, I liked the sexual harassment one, I really did, with–oh my god, she was so great on that, I think she was nominated for an Emmy for that particular show. Her and Bronson Pinchot were just magnificent in that show. Because she–what is her name–she’s a great actress, she still is. That one on sexual harassment was fabulous. And then the one where–there was one where we went to a Christmas party, or something, and it was hysterical.

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And the one they did Jackie Gleason, I wasn’t in even that one. But when Mark-Linn Baker and Bronson Pinchot played Jackie and Norton and the girls played Trixie and Alice, oh man, it was fabulous!

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My favorite parts of Perfect Strangers wasn’t the parts that I did. When me and Belita Moreno was together, I loved everything we did when we had an opportunity to work together. But my favorite really was Mark and Bronson. It was always–for me it was always a joy for me to watch them work. I don’t know if they practiced together off the set, at home, or whatever, but damn, they were good, you know? They were just that–for me–they were just that on it.

Casey: I was just looking it up while you were talking. It was Holland Taylor.

Jo Marie: Yes it was! Holland Taylor, exactly. That was a good episode, I will always remember that episode. And in today’s, you know, climate of what we’re having and everything and all–you see I already knew about it, because I was in the business, so, I mean there’s some stories I could tell myself–but that episode was done so beautifully. The levels on it–Holland’s levels on it were great. But we had good writers–both of the writers we had on Family MattersPerfect Strangers and Family Matters. We had the best writers, we had great directors. Rich Correll was our director–I don’t know if Rich–I think Joel directed all of the Perfect Strangers. Rich Correll came in and he and Joel were the top directors for Family Matters, along with John–I can’t think of John’s name [John Tracy – Casey]. we had quite a few of them on Family Matters, but Joel Zwick was the major one. There was a reputation–if Joel Zwick directed a pilot, the pilot was going to sell!

So if I had to answer the question again–my favorite moments on Perfect Strangers were the moments that I enjoyed so much watching Mark Linn-Baker and Bronson Pinchot. Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn Baker. Those are my favorite moments. My favorite episodes were the ones I did with Belita Moreno.

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Let me tell you this: you have really lightened my whole week, my day especially, because you took me back into memory that I don’t often have a chance to revisit. So for that I thank you so much. There’s so much in between all the other stuff, and I know my answers were very long. But I got paid–I always tell people I get paid a lot of money because I got a very good memory. And you just made me go back and remember some of the things that make me happy and excited to continue on being in my element and doing what I truly love to do. And that is making people happy, and it makes me happy to be able to have them enjoy what I do. So for that I thank you so much.

Casey: Oh, well thank you so much! And I really appreciate your answers, especially the long ones, because there’s not a lot of–I couldn’t find any other interviews with you about Perfect Strangers.

Jo Marie: Well, I appreciate that. And if you talk to any of them, please tell them I’m sending them love and blessings, and that I miss them, okay?

Casey: Thank you again so much, Ms. Payton.

Jo Marie: Take care, and you have a wonderful holiday season, okay?

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*Jaleel must have been 12 when his first episode was filmed, but he is around half a year younger than Darius McCreary and Kellie Shanygne Williams. If Jo Marie met Darius and Kellie any time after June 1988, they were 12 at that time. As thorough as Jo Marie’s memory appears to be, I am disinclined to attribute any error to her or to suspect any age misrepresentation on the parts of the younger actors (and even if so, cf. Charo). I would suspect that the two were eleven when they first began talking to ABC. If you want a more thorough picture, please, start a Family Matters review blog.

**In a follow-up email, Jo Marie clarified that this program was from ~2004, part of the New York City Commission’s Promotion on Home and Family.

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Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Jo Marie Payton, who was a delight to chat with, and who is a much better person than I am.  I mean, I’ve never kept in touch with any of my cameramen. If you enjoyed this, please flood all of the other actors’ social media with demands that they let me interview them!

Join me next week for “Out of Sync”!

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Season 6, Episode 17: Speak, Memory

001

Look, show, nobody’s following their dreams anymore, get a new song or something.

002

It’s evening in Chicago, and we visit that two-tone pair of cousins immediately after a late Winter rain, which has freshened the air, washing away

the gas

and the cans

and the worms

and the dung

and the feuds

and the dreams

and the knife

and the drugs

and the rings

and the ropes

and the pain

and the tricks

and the keys

and the lips

and the soil

and the shows from the days that are no more.

003

It turns out Norton didn’t take all of the food, and there’s still a chicken leg in the fridge for Larry to eat.  Balki is doing his English homework, and reports that it’s going “real good”. Ha! What a stupid foreigner, actually speaking English the way native speakers do!

004

Balki is surprised that, once again, this week’s opening jokes are once again about Myposian food. Do you give a shit what animal it is this time? Yeah, me neither.

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Jennifer rushes in with news that’s so important she can’t wait the full thirty seconds for Larry to let her in. She announces that, after almost five years after she moved to Chicago, her mother is finally coming to visit.

Larry says that he might as well meet as much of Jennifer’s family as he can, since it’s likely none of them will be asked back for the wedding episode. Balki hovers behind Larry, hoping that he can hitch a ride on this plot since he’s already delivered his two jokes for the week.

Jennifer explains to Larry that having standards skips a generation in her family and that mom has never approved of any of her boyfriends.

008

Larry claims that his years as a reporter have turned him into a “weaver of verbal magic” and that he can put all his lying experience to use to get mom’s heart wet.

The “oh no” moment comes when Jennifer, on her way out, says that she thinks Larry has a better chance with impressing her mother than her former beaux: a baseball player, a surgeon, a congressman, and a Heisman winner among them.

009

This is Jennifer’s 73rd appearance on this show, and this is the most we’ve ever learned about her all at once. Just thought I’d mention that.

To use an entirely new metaphor here, this scene is a pile of shit. But I think there’s a tiny nugget of gold here, or, well, not gold, pewter maybe? That somebody ate? I’m bad at metaphors. This is (spoiler) the entirety of Jennifer’s story arc for this episode: she’s worried about what her mom thinks, and then she gets over it. It’s got to be the shortest conversation any couple has ever had about each other’s family members; if Larry wanted to impress her mother, he’d ask at least one question about what impresses her or what she likes, or even maybe what her name is. But it’s the far better version of Jennifer we’re given small glimpses of sometimes, like in “Bye Bye Birdie” when she and Larry shared a benevolent social condescension and she teased him about his jealousy. I do appreciate that Jennifer seems to allay her own fears for a different reason than the one Larry gives: that Larry doesn’t share the same negative personality traits that her exes had. This is also a Jennifer who shrugs off Larry’s lying and puffing, which is weird but also further evidence of her confidence in Larry. I’m reading a lot into a single minute, but I kind of have to.

The way the conversation played out could have been a resolution in itself, leaving room for both of them to enter the meeting-mom situation worry-free, only to be faced with some other twist (mom is worse than Jennifer remembers, other restaurant patrons are people that Larry has wronged over the years).  But since I spend more time on a single blog post than these two do with each other in a year, there’s no room for Jennifer to address Larry’s fears.

Balki tells Cousin Larry he shouldn’t lie just to–

011

Oh, wait, no, he just slaps him and tells him to calm down. Larry starts wildly casting for professions he can pretend to be, considering and discarding both priest and clown, a joke that goes a long way toward excusing his neuroticism here. Balki says that Larry doesn’t know what mom’s criteria are and he should not try to second-guess–

013

Oh, wait, no, he just slaps him again and leaves.

Balki: Oh, popopopo, App-le-toniki babasticky Bartokomouki gullibiliki challabalouki….

From the two years of extensive notes I’ve been taking on the Myposian language, I believe that translates to “this counts as a joke that we can end the scene with”.

014

Later, at the Chicago Chronicle, Balki is doing what I’ve decided must be the entirety of his job: throwing letters from one basket to another.

015

Gorpley mentions the only aspect of his biography to make it past season 4 by way of asking Balki to throw away all letters from his ex-wife.* Balki’s excuse for letting one through is that Ex Gorplis tends to attach her mail to bricks she throws through the windows.

Let’s think about the windows in here, the tiny ones, at ground level, up near the ceiling of the basement, and how Gorpley could have gotten her arrested for this. Thought about it? Good, let’s move on.

016

Balki answers Larry’s phone and tells Jennifer that Larry is upstairs in the Sports Department getting a punchline ready.

Balki: No, I don’t know why he’s never around when your life is falling apart or why Sam Anderson is getting as many lines as you.

Let it never be said that this show did not make attempts at gender parity: a man finally asks to be blessed with the sacred exposition.

017

This week’s plot-twist-by-phone is that Jennifer’s mother is coming early and Larry has to have dinner with her tonight.

018

Evidently the Sports Department is one amorphous, multi-limbed blob, because Larry says to the hallway “if you were any kind of sports department, you’d give more coverage to American Gladiators” and it throws a book at his head.

019020

It turns out that Gorpley is here solely to make this scene longer; I see no reason why Balki couldn’t have relayed the information to Larry. When Gorpley shouts up the unnecessary plot twist, Cousin Larry makes one last desperate attempt to summon a better profession out of thin air, becoming a stunt man for a few brief seconds.

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Balki helps his cousin to his feet while Gorpley furiously masturbates into a coffee cup.

After seeing Larry wince from touching his own head, Balki touches Larry’s head repeatedly.  But Cousin ????? doesn’t know who these men are anymore.

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Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back after I apply a cold compress to my sanity.

029

Not that there’s necessarily any real-world evidence to support this, but sitcoms often go the route of surrounding the amnesia sufferer with familiar faces or objects or, in this case, stock footage.

030

Balki has enlisted Lydia, the show’s resident psychology character, to aid in–

031

Oh, no, wait, Cousin ????? walks in and is afraid he’ll embarrass Balki by asking why there’s an audience just past their television.

In the first time this has ever been remotely funny, Balki gets ????? to repeat his name:

Cousin ?????: My name is Co-sin Laray App-le-ton.

032

Balki tells Cousin ???? to relax his jaw, hoping to access cerebral memory through physical memory. I was trying to be real subtle with that gay joke, but then Balki says that Cousin ????? now doesn’t know himself from a hole in the ground, so fuck subtlety.

Cousin ????? asks Balki to tell him who he is. Well spin me off and call me Family Matters! This is a solid setup! Cousin ?????’s new situation is, in its own way, the perfect answer to his problem in the first act: if no person can be good enough for Mother Lyons, he can be no one at all.  We have a man here who cannot remember any of his past humiliations, failures, setbacks. He does not know how hard he’s been on himself, and feels no need to lie, because there’s nothing to gain, and nothing to be ashamed of.

Just think of the directions this episode could go!  There are as many as five different people in his life who could give him varying stories about who he is, and he could either try to make a whole person out of them, or choose the one he likes best, or even make fun of how stupid some of his past antics have been. And even if this is limited to Balki, there are interesting depths to be mined. Balki knows his cousin’s faults, and his cousin’s meanness, but Balki also notices the good stories people live, and can tell ????? about his dreams and the people who love him.

Or, shit, take Balki out of the equation altogether, narrow it down to just Larry and Jennifer and her mom. Whatever the setup or location, Jennifer telling Larry about the blossoming of their relationship doubles as her telling her mom about it. Larry’s memory comes back at the end and he honestly tells her that nothing he’s the luckiest man on Earth to be blessed with such a patient woman.

But you’ve likely remembered enough other reviews to know that the fact I’m saying all this means that not a damn bit of it happens. What do we get instead?

Well, the fact that the cousins say “My name is Co-sin Laray App-le-ton” a combined total of 19 times in this scene might give you an indication.**

Anyway, what the fuck, who cares, I would have started by asking ????? what he does know, but who cares, Balki tells him that he’s from Madison, Wisconsin, works at a newspaper, and that he gargles the song “Moon River”.

And a tiny success! ??r?? has remembered to repeat the punchline!

Cousin ??r?? says the he remembers working with a “Mr. Portly”. Good try, ????y, but that’s too far back!

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Balki massages his eyebrows, the same way he’s always done during blowjobs***, and ?ar?? remembers Gorpley’s name. ?ar?? now believes that his memory is fully back, even though he only repeats the facts Balki told him.

Balki: Your memory bank is no longer overdrawn.

Haha because banks can be overdrawn, right?

Balki offers his cousin his favorite–a coffee enema–and ?ar?? says he likes ‘em strong. In the time it takes Balki to brew a pot of coffee (10 seconds), ?????’s memory is gone completely again.

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????? compares Balki’s outfit to the Cisco Kid, and please, please more jokes like this. Balki sets up the rules for the rest of the episode: the doctor said that Cousin ?????’s memory might come and go for the next few hours.

(One brief-but-beautiful nonsequitur here is when Balki tries to get ????? to take a deep breath, Mark Linn-Baker takes a couple of tense, short breaths like he’s trying to dislodge a booger.)

This scene refuses to end, and now the cousins are saying the “my name is” line again. We’re 12 minutes into the episode now, this show doesn’t want to explore anything, it might as well be another 10 minutes of Balki pretending that Art Carney had early-onset Parkinson’s for all that this accomplishes.

After gargling “Moon River”, L?rr? exclaims that he now remembers how many girls turned him down for the senior prom. One did so pre-emptively, and jokes like this and the Cisco Kid crack should have taken up the majority of this episode.

When Balki reminds him of the dinner date, L?rr? begs for help in following the law set down in Leviticus 18:17.

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(What a nice cameraman, panning up too high so I would have room for my dumb catchphrase thing.)

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Jesus, you’d think that being in very same restaurant where he proposed to his fiancée, but the decor is completely different, would completely fuck with a recovering amnesiac, but whatever.

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Before going into Edward’s Chez Fino Caulfield’s, Balki quizzes ?ar?y on the only three facts the show can remember about him this week.

(You know, I can tell you why this restaurant keeps failing: they don’t keep the maitre d’ stand staffed.)

La??? asks why the fuck they’re both in this scene, which tips Balki off that he doesn’t remember as much as he claims.

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Balki tries to help ????y purge before dinner.

???r? cautions his cousin to not tell Jennifer about the memory loss, but offers no explanation for why the fuck they’re both in this scene.

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?????–who likely has forgotten to send in this month’s check to the bank for that $140,000 house–pays Jennifer a compliment by instantly popping a boner when she comes into the lobby. He says he’d love to have a threesome with her and her mother (whom we haven’t seen, 14 minutes into this episode.)

I mused earlier that it might be interesting if Cousin ????? were a better-adjusted person; it turns out that it’s just as funny and insightful to see that his personality has remained constant.  We get a small hint that perhaps he earned all those high-school rejections through him propositioning Jennifer within five seconds of meeting her. It’s creepy as all hell, which was sadly par for the course back then, and the most generous thing you could say about it is, in a better show, it could serve as some statement that ????? is attracted to Jennifer no matter what else he is or does.

????? realizes that all he has to do to palpitate that platinum puss is make small talk with some old hag for two hours; and shows us what other aspects of his personality are constant:

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Cousin ?????: We’ll get a wireless microphone and headset and Balki will feed me lines like in Cyrano d–

Balki: No, my contract says I’m in every scene.

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The three rush into the dining area and ????? stops them three feet away from Mama Lyons’s table to loudly recap the plan. This is hardest I’ve ever seen this show work to delay the central situation.

Jennifer introduces ?a??? and Balki to Katherine Lyons.

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Katherine Lyons: Hello.

You can really tell where Jennifer got her personality, huh? When Balki hugs mom and touches her face, some sicko in the audience yells “whoo!”

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Balki shows off his command of the English language by correctly referring to himself and his cousin as “insufferable”.

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Anyway, all this scene does is show how awful a choice it is for Balki to be here.  Balki keeps feeding L??r? clues for things he can’t remember, which is far more obvious and telling than if he were to just feed him the correct answer and let ???ry play it off like he’s been reading too many names in his line of work. Some (two) of the punchlines are funny, sure, but it’s the same joke over and over again: Balki hints and Lar?? guesses. But aren’t these scenes traditionally done where the “helper” is unseen? Or at least out of the line of sight of the others, making hand gestures that can be misunderstood?? And why the hell even have Jennifer here if she’s not going to be allowed to be part of the conversation??? Why the hell is Balki suddenly okay with lying????

?????

And, in the last time that it will ever be funny, ?arr? repeats “My name is Co-sin Laray App-le-ton”.

048

Mamma Lyons makes the same face most women do when I say how excited I am to marry their daughter.

I guess if a restaurant changes owners every couple of months it makes sense to just write the name on construction paper and glue it on the old menus.

????? says “My name is Co-sin Laray App-le-ton” again and the scene’s over. That’s it. Nothing came to a head, we went all this way just to turn around and go back to the apartment, two women got paid just to sit quietly while Addled and Coustello do a tired bit.

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Back at the Caldwell, L?rry is still reciting facts about himself to Balki, which is all this show really wanted to do in the first place. I’d have preferred a clip show.

Jennifer and Mrs. Mr. Lyons come by the apartment. Mom had stormed out of the restaurant immediately after the previous scene, but since that would have been an interesting direction for the episode to go, here we are with her rudeness unaddressed.

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Psychology sidebar which I’ve never done before: anchoring is a clever trick you can use to get lower car prices or prison terms.  Very often, and especially for things we don’t have a good numerical benchmark for, numbers can throw us off. Anchoring describes a process where we get attached to the first piece of information/option we’re given and judge the next pieces of information/options according to it, and not according to some benchmark.  Say a judge tells a defendant that she’s going to sentence him to 20 years in the state pen for stealing a car; the defense lawyer talks her down to 10. Unbeknownst to the defendant, the usual sentence is only 5 years, but 10 is only half of 20, so he’s relieved. It would seem, then, that the result of any such negotiation would depend a lot on who says a number first.  But Larry has achieved a resounding win in the anchoring war here. He was anchored at some point far above politicians and sports celebrities; but he in turn anchored Mrs. Lyons at zero, meaning that whoever he is is wonderful by comparison.

It’s an underlying mechanism that pays off in a way that the show doesn’t deserve after how it fucked around for the majority of its runtime.

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Anyway, Mrs. Lyons can tell that no woman has ever touched Larry’s penis and is confident that he’ll always be loyal to Jennifer; Larry calls her “mom” and she tells him to fuck right off.

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Balki says that this will make Mrs. Lyons his “aunt-in-law five times removed” and that he’s excited to stick his penis in her pets.

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Mrs. Lyons doesn’t even wait to get out of the apartment to ask if “the foreign boy” will be living with them when they marry. GODDAM IT SHOW YOU HAVE A HALLWAY SET

Melanie Wilson stands in the doorway awkwardly for a while so she can brag to her friends that she was in an episode for eight whole minutes.

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Join me next week for a special post!

_____________________________________________

Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (2)

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

Appearances left: Gorpley (7); Lydia (8)

Cut for syndication: Tess stabs Larry’s leg repeatedly with a letter opener while shouting “Remember me? Remember me?”

*Dear Sam, I dislike you. Yours, your ex-wife.  (I forget how much fun these format experiments can be, I should do more of these!)

**I think the guard locked the windows to the soul.

***Eyebrows are the clitorides of the face

Season 6, Episode 16: I Saw This on TV

Welcome back! I hope you all actually swallowed your food the past week.

001

We open at the Caldwell, where Larry runs in, throwing his briefcase and coat on the same couch they’ve always had for the past three months, declaring to Balki that he (he Larry) is the luckiest man in Chicago.

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Certainly Balki had a playful response ready–”you found a penny?” or “the homeless man on the corner gave you a free bottle of Gatorade too?”–but Larry has come home late.  Balki is upset because this week’s funny animal food is now dry and overcooked, and that Larry didn’t call him.

So, whatever, it’s a tired joke about how the daily lives of two grown men who live together can often intersect with that of a married couple. But we’re (we us) 112 episodes in here. It’s almost impossible that, even if the cousins made a point of eating together on workdays, this would never have happened before. Now, I’ve never been a part of any domestic couple where the other person would try to have dinner ready for me when I got home, so I don’t understand the part about it being overcooked.  I’m supposed to understand that Balki is a great cook: no one has ever once disliked the taste of what he prepares. So please, someone tell me: does souffle get dry if you keep it warming in the oven? And if that’s what he was doing, why did he then take it out of the oven and put it on platters before Larry got there?

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This episode is credited to writer Paula A. Roth, whose first writing credit for the show was “Hello Baby”, so I’m even more baffled by this joke. Whenever we see them, Balki and Larry are completely inseparable; and as we’ve seen over the past two seasons, Larry would drag Balki into a confessional booth rather than be parted from him. It seems that the only time Balki ever has to himself he spends hanging out in alleyways or going across town to Oscar’s Offal Outlet. But these men live together, they work together, for fuck’s sake they work in the same room, I don’t care if they do have two cars, we’ve been given every reason to believe they go to work at the same time.  Larry’s a reporter, and often has work that doesn’t fit within a certain timeframe, so maybe there are times when he’s not going to be there at the end of the day. That’s fine. But if he’s there at the end of the workday, Balki will know it. If Larry isn’t there, Balki should know whether he’s gone home or out chasing leads. Even aside from the most important thing here–Larry don’t want Spleen Cuisine–Balki should have given up on them eating dinner at the same time years ago. But fuck it, who cares, the dishes are covered so there must be a great visual gag coming about how pig pancreas souffle looks.

Nope? Nope. There’s no immediate reveal, and it’s not a souffle. It’s not even a collapsed souffle. I don’t know what the fuck it is.

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Anyway, Cousin Larry says that RT (Registered Trademark) Wainwright gave him two courtside tickets to that night’s Bulls’ game. (However, because of a 1989 Illinois state law that all personal transfers of printed materials must occur via delivery to someone’s residence, Wainwright is sending the tickets to the apartment that evening.) We all know that Larry’s the biggest Bulls fan this side of Interstate 90–hell, he talks about it constantly in almost every episode–so we don’t even need to be reminded why this particular game is the “biggest basketball game of the season”.*

Nah, j/k, Larry’s a man in a network sitcom who has never expressed interest in basketball before–of course he’s honor-bound to use the tickets, even though he promised to take Jennifer to the Ballet Russes and eat crêpes Suzette that evening. What’s more, Larry has “given the truth a handy” by telling Jennifer that he’s simply “doing something for Wainwright” that evening.

Balki censures Larry’s lies and refuses to accompany him to the basketball game.  Balki says that he saw the exact same thing happen on a TV show once:

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Nah, j/k, wouldn’t it be funny if this show ever repeated plots, though?

005

Balki: I saw the exact same thing on a rerun of a 1950s television show with a roly-poly bus driver, the names of either I cannot say lest it too quickly spoil the surprise for the studio audience and members of the home audience who didn’t watch any commercials or read TV Guide this week.

Perfect Strangers has played some neat tricks over the years: episodes where jokes were repeated, episodes that reversed their obvious lessons, episodes that were about characters or pets we didn’t see for the majority of runtime, and who can forget the time the show made a kid disappear? But even though I found out about this episode some time during season 3, I didn’t expect that Perfect Strangers would have the balls to show me the same story twice, except in one half of the show they’re wearing different clothes.

The first mention of Honeymooners on this blog was back between seasons 4 and 5, in a quote from Mark Linn-Baker. I’ll take that quote at face value, that those involved in the creation of Perfect Strangers had 1950s madcap household sitcoms in mind. No doubt fans and media made the comparisons as well, and now that I’ve watched a handful of Honeymooners episodes, I think that’s fair enough, at least starting with season 3.  It’s interesting to me that Perfect Strangers began with an innovative-enough twist on the buddy comedy by adding elements of Taxi and Mork & Mindy but that, beginning with the addition of the girlfriends, it started wearing the edges off its own unique shape until it could slot nicely into a different established sitcom category.

To me, nostalgia cycles follow money: pop culture properties come back into vogue when the kids who grew up with it finally get steady work and have disposable income. Those cycles, I think, have followed a 20-30 year pattern for much of the 20th Century (I think it’s shortening since the Internet, but that’s a different story for a different blog). An ex of mine was in high school in the 80s and she bemoaned the never-ending 80s nostalgia-wank that persisted through the 2000s; I’m having similar feelings about the 90s (I was born in 1984).

I feel it’s a safe bet to say that the late 80s were littered with tribute to 1950s and 1960s shows. I’m limited by what I can remember or have watched in recent years, but here’s a short list: the remaining cast of Gilligan’s Island appearing on ALF; the Beach Boys on Full House; The Munsters Today; The New Leave it to Beaver; The Bradys. Of all of the ones I can come up with, the only successful 1980s sequel series was the revival of The Jetsons. The sense that pop culture wanted to revisit some golden era was sometimes an explicit wish, like when ALF refers to those bygone shows as “quality programming”, or when Michael Harris on Newhart had a personal crisis that that era of television was gone forever, or when Homer Simpson cried out in his sleep to “bring back Sheriff Lobo”.

So, you know, I don’t know, why not do a Honeymooners episode? If fans were already seeing the similarities, and if the show knew it had two whole seasons to mess around and have fun before ending with (gee, look, a real spoiler here) both cousins married, why not lean into the comparison and try it out? It’s not like there were *ahem* any other pressing ideas or character arcs or situations they could have explored, and besides, maybe they could get one of the original actors to say something nice about them like they did with Lucille Ball. And, you know, audiences back then couldn’t compare this to the source material unless they could shell out money for the CBS Video Library on VHS, or unless their grandparents had Nick at Nite.  Nostalgia is a commodity, and Perfect Strangers didn’t have to compete with DVD or digital sales for getting a piece of Moon Pie.

So why not do a Honeymooners episode? Well, this show has a lousy track record when it comes to paying homage to 1950s television shows. When Perfect Strangers tried to be I Love Lucy (“Just Desserts”, season 3) it only just succeeded in the comparison by creating its own memorable food scene, though it left behind all hints of the subtle war-of-the-sexes commentary in the latter.  When it followed a Dick Van Dyke Show episode beat-for-beat (“Aliens”, season 4), any direct comparison revealed that Perfect Strangers had no interest in using any of the personalities it had at its disposal: whether it could have matched the character work in the earlier show is moot because it didn’t even try. And even thinking about season 4’s “Piano Movers” raises my blood pressure, which is risky for my transplant kidneys, so let’s not go there.

I keep writing and writing, yet this episode is still paused at 3 minutes in. *sigh* Let’s watch the Hacky Gleason Show already…

006

Ralph comes in and sets down his bus driver’s hat. I beg you keep this in mind. It’s essential that you do.

He shouts out the window for Norton, who must have thought it a great joke to not even pretend that he wasn’t standing right outside the door.

007

In season 4’s “The King and I”, Balki’s idea of Elvis was a palsied, confused man. Balki’s idea of Art Carney’s Ed Norton is of a marionette controlled by a puppeteer suffering a heart attack. If this were parody I could understand a little better the urge to turn the dial all the way up on the physical. If I were feeling generous, I might say that he’s trying to condense Carney’s Norton across dozens of episodes; but I’ve watched the rest of this episode already, so I’m feeling anything but generous right now. To his credit, Bronson Pinchot does a good job at a version of Art Carney’s delivery and movements, albeit an Art Carney who took meth before every scene.

008

Before they can even establish the plot, Bronson does so much flailing around that he falls flat on his face, and I don’t think it was intentional.  At least, Mark appears to be genuinely surprised.

Anyway, Ralph tells Norton that they have a chance to fill in for a couple of guys at a bowling tournament that night. Norton sits at the table and eats fruit, because Norton eating the Kramdens’ food was a joke that appeared on The Honeymooners.

009

I appreciate what costuming and makeup did for Bronson now that Alice and Trixie Norton (Simulation) are here and look almost nothing like their counterparts. Sorry, I take that back: they are in black-and-white. Mary Anne gets to do a different voice, I hope you enjoy knowing that.

010

Look at that hair, couldn’t they have given him a wig?

They do hit a lot of other beats from The Honeymooners: Ralph shushes Norton about the “secret” when Alice reminds him they’re eating at her mother’s, Alice calls Ralph fat, and also Trixie exists sometimes.

011

Apropos of nothing, Norton starts talking about pancakes and Ralph yells at him to get the post-war fuck out of there.

012

The Kramdens’ apartment was fairly cramped: we only ever saw their kitchen/dining/living room area, and never (at least in the episodes I’ve watched) their bedroom.  What must have been a low production budget (or maybe just the portion of the stage they could use) on The Jackie Gleason Show lent the Kramden sketches a true feeling of poverty. I’m guessing that Perfect Strangers likely had a different stage-audience setup, and maybe couldn’t use just a small portion of the stage, because the Kramden apartment set sure is fucking huge in comparison.  But there is one detail I’m downright impressed that the show thought to work in. Because of those cramped quarters, Jackie Gleason would often walk close to the camera when he walked around the front of the dinner table. It’s an effect created by a very specific set of circumstances, but someone saw that as an integral part of the Honeymooners experience.

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It’s too bad Perfect Strangers fucks it up by having the camera move way back before Mark does it, forcing him to put a few feet between himself and the table.

014

Anyway, Ralph tells Alice that he’s working an extra shift so he can buy her a refrigerator. The scene ends with Ralph smirking at the camera.

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It’s not enough for us to know that Ralph and Norton went bowling, and that Ralph fell down, hurting his back: we get tons of Bronson miming bowling.

017

Ralph asks for Norton’s help in hiding his back injury; a jittering Norton counsels that Ralph should simply tell Alice the truth. Why the fuck would you need to hide a back injury? Why the fuck would you need another person to stand there while you tell your wife you slipped on somebody’s spilled Moxie soda?

It’s because Perfect Strangers, for all that it had been slowly morphing into a modern-day Honeymooners, wants us to forget that these 1950s comedies usually had two characters in on a lie.

018

Alice comes in to announce that the big twist the writers came up with is that Ralph has to move the icebox right the fuck now to make room for the refrigerator.

So, the next lie is that it will take a while to make all the payments, or that he’ll have to wait a few days for the refrigerator to be in stock, right?

Nah, fuck you, the writers aren’t that clever and Ralph agrees to move the icebox. Norton calls Alice an “inferior decorator”; what a classic Norton misunderstanding!

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Like, there’s your excuse, right there, Ralphie boy: pretend to pull your back picking up the icebox.

020

This goes on for awhile.

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Anyway, because there were, you know, never any other characters seen on The Honeymooners, Alice says that she personally took the bus that goes by the bowling alley and heard about Ralph’s fall.

Alice says that visibility and agency of housewives on television may have been fine and dandy in 1956, but this is the 90s and she needs to go upstairs to see Trixie immediately. They tried to set it up for fifteen minutes or so that Ralph and Alice actually live together, and barely made it halfway through before reverting to Perfect Strangers and putting the women in time-out together upstairs.

Look, show, you’re the one who wanted to do a Honeymooners episode; but you have no idea how to write dialogue between a man and a woman longer than four or five lines that doesn’t either end with a kiss or the woman leaving the room. I shudder to think of these writers’ personal relationships.

Shoot, I’m sorry, I’m halfway through this and haven’t managed a gay joke yet. *ahem*

024

Norton steals some honey and shoves it up Ralph’s moon. It was crammed in.

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Norton dances over to the icebox and steals more food and then dances some more. This would be the equivalent of a Gilligan’s Island tribute where Skipper hits Gilligan with his hat every 20 seconds and calls him “little buddy” every 15.

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Back in the real world, Balki says that Ralph had to stay home the next day and listen to Alice yell at him. Sure, yes, lying is bad, but let’s pretend that women in 1950s sitcoms were constantly being put in their place, never voiced valid opinions, and existed solely as punishment for men.

Larry says that TV has nothing to do with the real world, and he’s right: Jennifer would yell for maybe 30 seconds and then spend the rest of the day in her own apartment.

And then Perfect Strangers undoes six years of its own joke by having Balki ask “do you see what I’m driving at?”.

Larry goes to answer a knock at the door.

027

Larry: There is no way in the world that Jennifer is going to find out about the basketball game, even if I stand right next to the door and talk about it.

GASP! Jennifer comes by with the basketball tickets, which were delivered to her.

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Jennifer: Save your breath. I know everything. You’ve lied to me for the last time. I’m not going to, like, break up with you or anything, or have an adult discussion with you either. I’ll be back in 8 minutes to forgive you.

The “oh no” music comes on.

Oh no! There was no other way for her to find out about the basketball tickets and we got stuck with this shitty plotting! Oh no! Every single other person on the cousins’ floor wasn’t around to accept the tickets! Oh no! There’s going to be a whole other fucking Honeymooners scene!

Perfect Strangers Reviewed will return after I calm down from my realization that this episode aired 35 years after The Honeymooners went off the air, and it’s now been almost 25 years since Perfect Strangers went off the air.

029

It’s now precisely one week later, meaning that all the cars and pedestrians on Caldwell Ave are back at their exact same positions.

030

Balki is feverishly watering a plant when Larry comes in and gets sprayed in the face.

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Larry–who is still paying off a $140,000 house–has spent the last week trying to ply Jennifer with gifts. Balki suggests that Larry apologize for lying, but Larry thinks he needs to do something heroic to win her back.

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Perfect Strangers must have been trying to win some kind of limbo contest, because this might be lowest I’ve ever seen it set the bar for Cousin Larry.  Larry, baseline heroic was established months ago when you won her heart by interrupting another man in public to say you kind of liked her.

Balki has waited a whole fucking week to tell Larry how the rest of that Honeymooners episode ends. Show. Buddy. You can’t have both a week pass and Balki tell two parts of an episode separately.

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A week has gone by in TV Land as well, which makes even less fucking sense. Alice isn’t talking to Ralph and conveys what she wants to say to him through Trixie, which is probably the cleverest this show has ever gotten away with not writing Mary Anne any lines.

Norton says that he’s never once lied to Trixie in their 13 years of marriage and

just

fucking

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I should just stop the play-by-play at this point and say that I did watch a number of Honeymooners episodes in preparation for this week’s post; enough of them to know that, whether or not he ever lied to Trixie directly, Norton being held up as some paragon of virtue is complete bullshit.

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The Honeymooners episode this most closely hews to is “Oh, My Aching Back”, which featured Ralph hurting his back bowling. But the similarities begin and end with that precis.  In “Oh, My Aching Back”, there’s a much more complicated lie. It starts out with Alice telling Trixie, line for line, how Ralph will come home and try to get out of going to her mother’s for dinner; and then Ralph comes in and does exactly what she says.  His excuse for not going is a physical at work the next day–which is true–but he also wants to go bowling.

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Alice leaves, but then catches Ralph and Norton about to go bowling when she returns for her umbrella. Norton leaves (!) and Alice scolds Ralph for lying, but she’s far more concerned that he’ll blow his work physical if he hurts his back like he did the last time he went bowling. He agrees not to bowl, and Alice leaves for her mother’s.

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Norton reappears, and he goads Ralph into bowling, appealing explicitly to Ralph’s pride as “man of the house”. Norton criticizes Ralph’s alibis, but only insofar as to say that Ralph is being a pussy. And after Ralph hurts his back bowling, Norton is completely willing to be a part of Ralph’s scheme to hide it from Alice by faking (he Ralph faking) a fever.

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Part of that plot is that Ralph is going to sleep in Norton’s apartment to use a heated sleeping pad on his back, so, yes, if they had been able to act on the plan, Norton may well have been ready to lie to Trixie.

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Norton’s physical comedy in this episode is much more constrained, holding his hands up like a surgeon when taking Ralph’s temperature, and later (lying to Alice by) pretending to sleepwalk so Ralph will have to take him back upstairs.

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Like basically every episode of The Honeymooners I’ve watched, Ralph’s downfall is by his own hand: here he helped the Raccoon Lodge win the bowling tournament and two members come by to give him a trophy.

At every point along the way here, Perfect Strangers cut storytelling corners and replaced that empty space with Balki Nortokomous dancing and holding food and saying things wrong, because that’s all Bronson and the writers can come up with at this point. In the original, Ralph’s lie was much more complex than Larralph’s, the women got their own (albeit Bechdel-failing) scene together, Alice was upset at Ralph for multiple aspects of what he was trying to get away with, there weren’t any off-screen asspulls like Alice’s bus going by the bowling alley, and Norton wasn’t a blameless angel. Ralph devises an overly-complicated scheme to hide his back pain, but all that Perfect Strangers can come up with is Larralph being unable to state a single reason why he can’t move an icebox. Ralph would get himself in trouble because The Honeymooners allowed his plots to get traction; Perfect Strangers opts to shut down the story by having everyone gang up on Larralph, and evidently half the episode that Balki watched featured Alice yelling at him.

And one of the most disappointing aspects of watching “I Saw This on TV” is that Mark Linn-Baker is not an adequate Ralph Kramden. Maybe he’s doing the best he can with what show is asking him to do, but he doesn’t have anywhere near the presence of Gleason.  Neither his body, nor the personality he puts on here, take up the same physical and attentional space as Gleason’s Ralph Kramden (and the relatively giant set here doesn’t help either). Mark’s Ralph Kramden doesn’t have the same puffed-up sense of self and entitlement that can only end up deflated in the final act. He doesn’t stare helplessly at the audience when he’s found out, trying desperately to hide his own embarrassment; but then again he’s not being asked to do that here. He’s simply being asked to sit there while Bronson tells him how wrong he is.

The only way that Perfect Strangers can compare itself to The Honeymooners is by making The Honeymooners look like a terrible show.

God help me there’s more of this episode left.

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While I was writing all that, the dialogue got so off-track that Norton is reciting a poem to Trixie. (Though we finally get a second good “Mary Anne is dumb” joke this season when she says that Norton is “a poet and don’t even know that he is”.)

So Balki’s telling this story to Cousin Larry as a way to encourage Larry to apologize for lying, right? Ralph apologizes to Alice; Alice calls him fat and leaves.

043

Even though lying is bad, stealing constantly and remorselessly is fine.  What weird morals 1990s people thought 1950s people had!

Ralph tells Norton that they should pay homage to multiple episodes of the classic 1990s television series Perfect Strangers, and that Norton should dress up as a Fake Burglar and break in that night to steal Alice’s wedding ring.

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Alice slips in behind them and hears the plan, which is lazy writing, but who can blame them? There just wasn’t time left in the episode for more petard-hoisting; I simply don’t know where all that time went.

Norton won’t agree to the plan, and Alice tells Ralph to buy her a fur coat and the scene ends with the supposedly 1950s cameraman zooming in on Ralph’s face for a catchphrase.

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Ralph: Yabba dabba doo!

Evidently this Honeymooners episode took place over most of a month, as Balki tells us that Ralph had to sleep on the fire escape for two weeks. So… Ralph ended up not carrying out some zany scheme, and he and Alice still didn’t talk about it or make up? Great lesson, Balki!

046

Cousin Larry, having ignored that whole fucking thing, says that he’ll never get to adjust Jennifer’s horizontal hold because he’s a liar. Like, that’s one of Larry’s two traits at this point; how have he and Jennifer not talked about this since getting engaged?

047

Anyway, Jennifer comes by with a teddy bear she found on her fire escape, and Larry admits that he didn’t give it to her.

048

Balki set up a test of honesty for Larry!

Seriously, fuck this show.

049

Balki does some Ed Norton shit, and then Larry tells Jennifer “baby, you’re the greatest” and shows her some love, Honeymooners style.

050

Ugh, show, Darla Wayne is a not a person!

Join me next week for “Speak, Memory”, where the cousins recreate scenes from Vladimir Nabokov’s early life.

____________________________________________________

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

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

Cut for syndication: Tess fills Balki’s spray bottle with sulfuric acid

*What the hell would make a game “the biggest of the season” anyway? Once you get far enough into a season, isn’t each game the biggest one, until the next?