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Season 4, Episode 1: The Lottery

Welcome to Season 4!

And, huh. Based on that episode title, maybe I wasn’t too far off in guessing at the writers’ preoccupations in season 3.  Season 4 premiered on October 14, 1988 as the lead-in to the proto-TGIF block of programming on ABC.  Full House, then in its second season, aired immediately after, but by the summer of 1989 it was moved to the start of the Friday night programming block.  Perfect Strangers would be bumped an hour later then, following Full House and Mr. Belvedere; why the change? TGIF: this guy’s inference? Families.  In Fall 1988 Perfect Strangers was in competition with Beauty and the Beast on CBS, and Sonny Spoon on NBC.  (Don’t remember Sonny Spoon? You and everybody else, bud.)

Anyway, who the fuck cares about that, what’s occurring to me now is that Season 4 is the first season where we’re not starting over. Season 2 was a year of struggles and pain, being willing to let go of parts of the past if they were keeping you from living in the moment (Larry the Christmas Boy and Balki the dog-owner). Season 3 was a little more forward-looking: it ended with the same lesson, but that was after a year of trying its darnedest to progress and move past its own tropes (Mypos sayings).  In a broad sense, Season 3 overgeneralized Season 2’s lesson of letting go into actively trying to forget unless pressed to (Larry the Camera Boy and Mary Anne the landlord-rememberer).  Season 3 gave us a new work environment, and a new set of second-tier characters that it was alternately hesitant to commit to (Mrs. Burns & Gorpley) but would bring back and highlight if they proved popular (Harriette and Lydia). Twinkacetti still existed in the world of Season 3, and we can assume that Mr. Burns probably does too, unless we’re told otherwise.  However:

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But for once, we’re in the same place, we’ve got the same characters. So perhaps the show doesn’t have to do as much heavy lifting in terms of introducing us to the characters and their situation, but I would argue it still must do some. Like how at the beginning of 4th grade the teacher spent the first couple of weeks reviewing stuff from 3rd grade. Back then it just made things boring for me, but I can see now it was the teacher’s way of sound out the waters, pre-test for the year, find out not only what we remembered by what we wanted to learn and how we thought of ourselves and others and school in general. So I’ll probably give the first few episodes some tiny passes if they need them. Big questions:

Are things the same? Have the cousins changed since the spring?  Who are Larry and Balki now? Is this show still about dreams, and if so, what are theirs?  In addition to those big questions, I have a shortlist of smaller ones:

Will we have an endless list of characters who stop by, threaten the cousins’ friendship in some tangential way, and leave? Or will Gorpley say more than “Bartokomous, where’s the line that you say after my line?”

Will the lessons still be pat and easy? Or am I still guaranteed somewhere between 2 and 4 decent story endings?

Are we going to retread familiar ground again?

Will Larry lie only 20 times, or 21 times?

Will Larry remember that cameras are still a thing, and never stopped being a thing?

What new thing will Jennifer not necessarily like?

Will Balki ever pronounce Larry’s name right?

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Anyway, here we are at the Chronicle.  It’s a new season, it’s sunny out, everything is success, success, success, and Balki is finishing up his work for the day.

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Mr. Gorpley stops him, demanding more work: in this case an office directory.  As we saw last season, Balki had graduated from American high school; here, we see that he has now been socialized into the American capitalist system and knows that employees are simply tools, their bodies owned by their faceless employers.  Balki brags that he has added every employee’s blood type to their directory entries.

Gorpley affirms this dim view of employee agency:

Mr. Gorpley: Your days are numbered.

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And Balki thanks him for it!  I’m going to pause from my hard-hitting exegesis to ask: how, in the 800+ hours of Balki watching television and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, did he never hear this phrase?

There’s a ding from off-camera!

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*gasps*

One miss!

Two miss!

Red miss!

Blue miss!

This one has a brand new ‘do!

This one has neuroses, too!

Lydia is excited because she won the lottery, and somehow there weren’t any lottery commercials on TV either, because Balki doesn’t know what it is.

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Harriette explains how the lottery is a backwards ritual that ought to be forgotten, as there are much better ways to control the population (in terms of stemming the dual tides of growth and revolution) than randomly stoning people to death.

Nah, j/k, Harriette mentions that the grand prize is $28 million dollars!

*counts on fingers… that’s 560,00 times $50!*

Then we find out that Lydia only won $100. 😦

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Larry emerges from the past, confirming that he did not write an article that day and that he is still a jerk.

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Harriette gripes about having to listen to Lydia whine about how Larry called her an idiot, and once again, Belita Moreno proves to be the only actor who knows how to use the different types of exits to their full potential–she starts whining as the elevator door closes.

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Balki starts in with his whole “I want to play state-sponsored snowjob” bit and Larry tries to talk him out of it.

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Larry: You have a better chance of being hit by a car!

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…after which Balki promptly runs out to the parking garage.

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Balki comes into the apartment shaking his imaginary tits, just like they do in Fiddler on the Roof. He’s singing Reason #17 that DVD as a format will be abandoned before the music rights on this season are cleared: “If I Were a Rich Man”.

Since there’s no women here, the cousins are forced repeat to each other what they did before they got home. Larry loaned Balki a dollar to play the lottery, and Balki pays him back out of his Freddy the Frog bank.  Freddy evidently has chosen some weird-ass antlered anteater wearing a cape as his avatar for this world.

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But Balki has done more than take on the music of Jewish portrayals in pop culture: he offers to pay Larry 50 cents back instead of the whole dollar

Larry does not want in, Balki keeps trying to sell him on the idea that Balki is being generous and thankful to him.

Balki: You took me in, gave me shelter…

Ignoring for the moment that Larry treats Balki like dirt and calls him a slob, this is a succinct (and, if I may say, clever) way to restate all that audiences need to know about the cousins’ relationship 50 episodes in. Larry usually is all about the quick fixes and get-rich-schemes, but his response here is fitting: he is rejecting fate (chance/religion) in favor of control.

Cousin Larry wants to tell Balki about economics

*leans in close to the screen, fingers poised on keyboard, ready to praise the show*

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Larry just starts reading the text on the dollar bill.

*shoulders slump, fingers type out “fuck you show”*

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Larry, the acceptable face of the Capitalist race, says that the dollar bill can buy things, while the other piece of paper has no value.  He has chosen to let the eye on the back of the bill see for him, and is thus blind to the fact that he errs in the exact same way Balki does.

Later that night…

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Black dress!

??? dress!

Dumb miss!

??? miss!

The women have come downstairs just to watch a man on a screen say six numbers out loud (the 80s were a strange, cocaine-fueled time, kids).

Mary Anne (Sagittarius) tells Balki to come back to the couch so that he won’t miss the drawing, something he certainly would have forgotten in the time it took him to grab a single bowl from the kitchen.

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Jennifer: Gee, I’ve heard money is nice when little effort is put forth to get it.

Mary Anne says that if she won, she’d buy the airline she works for (the 80s were also a cheap time when you could buy a lottery ticket for a dollar and an airline for $28 million) so she wouldn’t have to be scheduled on double shifts.

She then spouts what are meant to read as well-informed financial decisions she would make for the company.  Mary Anne is the rare character in this show for whom everything she says is funny.

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When she says something dumb, she’s funny because she misunderstands something. When she says something smart, she’s funny because she’s dumb.  But Jennifer?

Jennifer keeps the focus off herself by asking Larry what he’d do with 28 million. Larry again rejects the idea of chance by rejecting the question. But WWBD?

He would pay off the Myposian National Debt, which totals $635.

I hope you’re all wanting to strangle Balki as much as I am for blowing that money on a skywriting jet last season.

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Deep down, Balki still understands that capitalist excess is a danger to his way of life, and start starts getting scared when the numbers are announced. He begs Cousin Larry to hold the transcribed numbers (Balki hid the ticket) and Larry puts on this whole asshole 1950s sitcom “gee, Balki” kind of voice.

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We get a slow close-in on Larry’s face as he realizes what’s on the note that Balki handed him.

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The women try to leave, there being nothing else in the entire apartment to interest them, but–

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Balki won!

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In the next scene, the women finally leave. For the second time this episode, Balki calls himself “a simple sheepherder”.

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Look, Balki, I know that’s how all your masturbation fantasies start, but according to “My Brother, Myself”, you’ve been here for basically two years. You haven’t even touched your shepherd’s crook since *sniff* Susan left.

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The cousins are so happy that they do the Dance of Joy.

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Larry keeps pressing his cheek against Balki’s and saying “we did it”, but–

Balki: What you mean we, white man?

Balki very smugly gives Larry back his own rule-based thought process: he refused to play the lottery, thus he gets no share of the winnings. Cousin Larry deserves this on a couple of levels.  One, Larry put him down earlier in the episode. But more importantly, this is what Larry gets for being so rule-based for so long.  Larry offers to go buy 20 lottery tickets and give Balki half of whatever he wins as a show of good faith. They mention also that Larry told Balki that the word “sucker” has Balki’s face beside it in the dictionary. Okay, show, I’m warning you: you’re telling me that Balki knows not everything is literal. I don’t care how much else you’ve forgotten about the past 3 seasons (or was it 2? I’ll have to ask my man T-Boyett), but you’re blocking off escape routes early on here.

Larry cries…

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Balki relents…

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Balki: I’m just playing a game of cat and louse with you.

Not only does Mypos have such a small economy that $635 would pay off its debt, it evidently has its own food web too.

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Larry: In your face, Donald Trump!

…who lives up in the sky with God, apparently?  I usually don’t talk about that guy, because, well, here’s my opinion of him:

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But there’s definitive proof that his net worth was less than $28 million in 1988.

BUT

UH-OH

Where did Balki hide the ticket?

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Larry: You put the ticket…

Balki: I put the ticket…

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Larry: You put the ticket…

Balki: I put the ticket… in my…

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Larry: You put the ticket in your…

*lets out breath*

IN HIS BUTT HE PUT THE TICKET UP HIS BUTT HE FOLDED IT SEVEN TIMES AND HE PUT IT IN A LITTLE BAGGY AND HE PUT IT RIGHT UP HIS POOPER

Balki finally remembers that he put the ticket in his winter coat.

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And here’s your show-stopping physical comedy setpiece for the season 4 opener: Larry and Balki start throwing coats out of the closet.  That scene from the 1974 film version of The Great Gatsby, starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, where Daisy throws all the shirts in the air, got nothing on this!

The ticket’s not in the coat, but maybe he put it in a cereal box.

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So the cousins start throwing out the expired props from Season 3. You’ve got your Raisin Puffs, a couple boxes of Sugar Oatsies, and

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Colonel Kernels!  I’m seriously excited by Colonel Kernels. I hope they travel to the Deep South to meet the racist CEO and do physical comedy at his plantation house, spill their mint juleps and swing from his porch fans.

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Balki gets excited about a Captain Power decoder ring. He’s happy to have a complete set, but Larry throws it away, not realizing that exactly that kind of behavior is what increases the value of the toys that were kept in pristine shape. In fact, a few years past the airing of this episode, comics fans realized this fact en masse, driving up prices on old comics such as Incredible Hulk #181, and creating a boom/bust cycle of speculation involving numerous first issues, variant covers, and gimmick covers, like this one here for Amazing Spider-Man #400:

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Oh, sorry, I got carried away there. Larry’s screaming at Balki now, and Balki’s crying, and now Larry’s holding Balki’s arms for the 16th time this episode and Larry’s throwing Balki around.

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Anyway, Balki can’t remember where he hid the ticket. Larry yells at Balki to say what part of the apartment they haven’t torn apart yet, and Balki says “all those books that suddenly appeared for the first time this episode!”

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Larry grabs a volume of Shakespeare from the shelf and he just starts shaking it around and I, as a librarian, must turn my head away from this savagery.

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Then they tear open the vacuum bag, and, you know?

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I’ve lost the thread of this episode, and quite possibly this show. Wasn’t this episode about blood types or something? Wasn’t this show about a shepherd and his beer-drinking cousin?  Has Balki fixed the radio yet?

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The next day, we get a panning shot of the building’s exterior, which is the only part of this episode that’s felt like it’s taking place in a different year from that of the previous season. We see that the Caldwell Hotel has grown battlements, an outer reflection of the constant fighting within.

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The cousins, spent from the night’s exertions, lie limp on the floor, and Mary Anne thinking that they’ve been up all night partying Hunter S. Thompson-style is really great.

Jennifer makes the episode’s requisite mention of their job, but before they leave, Mary Anne returns the envelope Balki gave her. The episode spins this as an indication that she is forgetful.

Now that they’re millionaires, the cousins go straight to the offices of Unicorn Cereal.

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They’re so excited that they’ve been fucking the whole way there.

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The cousins meet Mr. PAY-OFF, who in a very officious way (he’s wearing glasses and everything) checks the numbers on the ticket.

Larry mistook 7 for 4 when he read Balki’s handwriting. The idea is that since Balki puts a horizontal strike through 7, it looks like a 4 to Larry.

*facepalms*

YA COULDN’T FRIGGIN’ MAKE IT A 4 AND A 9, SHOW?

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Larry demands that the official give them money based on the piece of paper that Balki wrote the numbers on, sealing the deal on that Colonel’s kernel of an actual commentary on assigned value.

The cousins only win $100. 😦  Barely enough to buy snacks for a Christmas party.

In the final scene, Balki names all the things you could spend $100 on in 1988: Air Jordans, 20 trips to the top of the Sears Tower, or a multi-year subscription to Sports Illustrated, including the swimsu-it issue.

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Larry has always wondered what women’s hips look like…

Mary Anne is dumb (and smart); Jennifer is uncomfortable talking about anything but her job, which you can already tell from her outfit anyway.

Lydia is a slightly more established, slightly more troubled Larry; Harriette is black.

Mr. Gorpley hates Balki.

The lesson of this episode:  Larry looks at things one way, Balki looks at things another way.  That’s it. That’s the lesson.

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Welcome to Season 4.

Come back next week for “Assertive Training”!

_______________________

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

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

Dance of Joy running total: 12

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation: 1988

If all of those articles we looked at two weeks ago were telling the truth, everything Perfect Strangers touched turned to gold, and its actors would see nothing but success from 1987 onwards. I mean, after all, it and Full House built the powerhouse of TGIF. And Bronson was so sexy. I mean, those lips! That hair! The promise of being his girlfriend for only three weeks!

*mops sweat from brow with the corner of a Myposian tapestry*

Sorry, I’m getting off-track here.

Last time, there wasn’t much to say about what our actors did to get paid the rest of the year. Let’s see if 1988 is any more fruitful.

Melanie Wilson (Jennifer)

nuthin’

Okay, well, that one’s not a surprise, certainly Pinchot was–

Bronson Pinchot

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Okay, well, he said he was going to be in a movie come Christmas ’89, so he was working, movies take a lot of time. Let’s move on to *ahem* established actors.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson already had a decade of television work under his belt by 1988, so it’s no surprise that he showed up in an episode of 21 Jump Street as “Dan Finger”.

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I’ve never watched 21 Jump Street, but I watched one of the scenes with him in it. I’m going to guess (and part of this comes from his IMDB page) that Anderson got a lot of work as guys in suits. He definitely pulls off the air of someone who would comfortably occupy an official role as some part of a bureaucracy.  After all, we first saw him in season 1 as a guy in a suit working at a bank.  In both cases, he’s been a frustrated-bordering-on-suppressed-anger kind of guy, and that’s how I like my authority figure characters. It gives the kids something to rebel against, and the parents something to identify with.

And hey, look at that, he was guy in a suit on Growing Pains, working as a frustrated part of an educational bureaucracy!

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I don’t know how in the world I forgot that Sam Anderson was in Critters 2: The Main Course. This lets me talk about Critters!

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The Critters series of movies is one of the better thought-out, better written, and most cohesive of the 80s/90s horror series I’ve watched (and I’ve watched a lot). That’s really not saying much, especially for what began as a Gremlins clone, but what makes Critters work is that it has a lot of heart, and what gives it that heart is the character of Charlie, played by Don Keith Opper. I could talk all day about Critters, but anyway, Sam Anderson plays Mr. Morgan, who oversees the publication of a small-town newspaper, the Grover’s Bend Gazette. Not a suit, but working in an established, official capacity.  I probably forgot him because you’re supposed to forget this type of character. He makes the newspaper real, has a little bit of personality (here, dealing with the minor headaches of placing rural “news” stories in order of importance), and then the movie gets down to business with killings.

Eugene Roche

He did a bunch of stuff, and then he died. From the looks of it, he may have been well-known for his role on Dave’s World. I really felt like breaking the law today, but I can’t find that show for download.

R.I.P. Eugene Roche, and R.I.P. Harry Burns.  I hope he finally got ahold of Lance’s column.

I’ve saved my favorites for last:

Jo Marie Payton

I couldn’t find Payton’s appearance on The Slap Maxwell Story or Frank’s Place (haha, what’d she do, stand on a grave and dispense wisdom? god it’s fun to make jokes about suicide), but she was also in a film called Colors. She played “2nd woman in recreation center”, so you decide whether that one’s worth tracking down to hear what “Mm-hmm, baby” sounds like with different acoustics.

Belita Moreno

When she wasn’t working with two idiots in Chicago, Belita worked with Two Idiots in Hollywood. I’ve never heard of it, which means it was a garbage movie for babies. It wasn’t released on DVD, but it would cost me four times as much to get a copy of it on VHS than it did to get Going to the Chapel (see below), so I’m sure it was at least better than that. She played some character named “Dreamhouse Barbecue Mother”, which coincidentally is also what I was planning on calling the first prog rock album I release.

As far as television, she was on Valerie, The Slap Maxwell Story, and Family Ties. I’m trying so hard to take money away from actors and executives, but I’m not finding the episodes of Valerie or The Slap Maxwell Story to download. At the very least, some degenerate soul uploaded the episode of Family Ties:

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Looks like she may have been somewhat typecast as only being able to stand beside short, fat, sleazy men. I expected a more prominent role for Moreno; here, all she does is smile, shake hands and say “I’m Norma”.

Rebeca Arthur / Mary Anne (Sagittarius)

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Finally, fuck and yes, I got to download a movie illegally! In one of those cosmic coincidences, Rebeca Arthur played a be-eyelinered character at a party named Tina in Scrooged. I was always intrigued as a kid by the skeleton hand lighting Bill Murray’s cigar but it wasn’t until now that I finally had the motivation to watch it. (Spoiler: that scene doesn’t even happen in the movie.) The script needed a sexy blonde who was hot for Bill Murray, so Rebeca Arthur was a sexy blonde who was hot for Bill Murray.

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Would that she were a sexy blonde who was hot for me.

Mark Linn-Baker

As we saw two weeks ago, Linn-Baker spent any time he wasn’t working on Perfect Strangers teaching and acting in New York. I’m having trouble finding anything about what plays he might have been in in 1988, but it’s safe to say he likely wasn’t in Cats, or Rodney Dangerfield on Broadway!.

He was in a couple of movies that summer, though. God help me: I was a model citizen and bought them both on VHS.

Me and Him (Sept. 1988)

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Mark Linn-Baker plays the voice of Griffin Dunne’s penis. It’s kind of like Stranger than Fiction, but with a penis instead of an author.  It fits with Linn-Bakers depiction of Larry–basically trying to pull someone towards their baser urges. So it’s kind of like Perfect Strangers, but with vaginas instead of Sears Tower ice cream sundaes.

Going to the Chapel (Oct. 1988, also released as Wedding Day Blues)

This movie was released mere days before season 4 began.  Here’s the front of the VHS box:

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Look, I like Linn-Baker and all, but if his name is listed first on the packaging, then “All Star Cast” is kind of a stretch. And to give you an idea of the budget for promotional photos: they took a picture of John Ratzenberger while he was asking if he was standing in the right spot.  This movie was much harder to pay attention to than Me and Him. It’s meant to be one of those ensemble pieces where all of the wacky relatives threaten to ruin the wedding and cause stress for the bride and groom.  The problem is, no one is wacky enough, or has enough impact on the plot.  Also, no one character is meant to be particularly prominent, which makes it obvious that Linn-Baker’s role was expanded in the first act of the movie.  I have no clue what the impetus of this movie was. I can’t imagine someone wanting to write it, or then writing it and thinking it was good. I can’t imagine the actors thinking it was good. I can only see this as a paycheck for everyone involved–but who the hell wanted to spend money on it?

Anyway, this is likely the only time that you’ll ever see Linn-Baker and Max Wright on-screen at the same time. And yes, they touch each other.

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Susan

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Susan’s cowboy boyfriend comes back and almost immediately lands in jail. He’s going to be hanged, so Susan tries wearing a nice dress to help him out.

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It works, but then Cowboy Boyfriend leaves again.

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I love you, Susan, and I know that you’ve moved on. I’ve gotten over my own sadness enough to start hoping that you’ll find happiness. But will you ever find true love?

______________________________

There were no changes to the opening credits in Season 4 other than the title losing the shiny reflection effect, so join me next week for “The Lottery”, which involves Larry pulling the slip with the black spot on it.

Also, many thanks to a real-live Jennifer for the art at the top of this  post!

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Season 3 Reviewed

As I said last week, I have lots to talk about. I’ll split it into sections to help you out. If you didn’t read last week’s textdump, that’s cool, whatever, I didn’t care anyway. But Section 1 will touch on the most important fallout of the historiography that I wrote.

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1. Season 2 Backtrack (Bring Back those Bouncy Blonde Babes!)

So it turns out that Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) were intended for only one appearance–the one in Season 2, Episode 2, “Hunks Like Us”.  Whether it was due to Linn-Baker and Pinchot arguing for their return because they felt they had good acting chemistry, or if it was just the studio audience reaction, the women were brought back as recurring characters. And then ABC started moving the episodes around; they placed “The Unnatural” right after “Hunks Like Us”, and my guess is that this was to assure home audiences that the women would stick around. But damn, that’s some rapid prototyping! I’d believe that Rebeca Arthur tested well with audiences, but Melanie Wilson? I just don’t see the appeal of the Jennifer character, other than as something for Larry to cry about.  And if ABC was willing to bring actors back because of a strong first showing, perhaps they got rid of actors for the opposite.  But this explains all of the confusion of why they were suddenly neighbors, and why they were suddenly stewardesses. Jennifer became Linda, Mary Anne was added so we could have some nutty upstairs roommates, and Gorbachev? Mary Anne was so dumb that she put him in the washing machine on hot and added too much bleach.

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I was so angry at so many things when I reviewed “The Unnatural”, as well as how the new women supplanted my beloved Susan (“The Rent Strike”), and how they were so obviously intended as the leads’ long-term girlfriends, I overlooked how their continuation answered one of my other gripes. There were scant few recurring characters in season 2 (basically, Gina and the Twinkacetti offspring, Here Today and Gone Tomorrow). So Season 2 did give us recurring characters, but I’m still unsatisfied, because I feel that they were overused. I could have used some more Schlaegelmilch, or maybe the one guy, or even that other guy, in “The Rent Strike”; and why couldn’t other denizens of the Caldwell have been on the Ritz Discount Royals?  If anything, ABC put too much faith in these two women. Did they give Melanie Wilson a 5-year contract, only to realize that she didn’t have much screen presence and shuffled her off the stage as quickly as they could get away with? Or is it simply a side effect of the fact that bringing her back as a stewardess robbed Jennifer of the one part of her bio (working at a gym) that was unique to her alone? At any rate, as I forecast, ABC is eager to move things around, focus on them if they work, and ditch them if they don’t; it may make for a less than continuous experience, but it pleased the viewers. And if Season 3 was a disappointment in terms of the show not committing to either characters who showed up once versus people the cousins interacted with everyday, then I’m going to put that down to ABC trying to come up with the best formula for the new situation of the cousins working at a newspaper. Once Lydia showed up, she kept showing up. Mr. Burns ran out of the room enough times that the show finally let him go forever.  Forget everybody else.

You know what? I’ll go a step further and say that not only was ABC trying to see what would work for recurring characters for this show; it was trying to figure out how to do a workplace comedy at all. I went to the trouble of clicking on every ABC sitcom from the 1980s in the Wikipedia list (up through the 1987-88 season, anyway), and it appears that ABC really did focus almost exclusively on households and families. The only shows I find that are definitely workplace comedies are Open All Night (1981-82), Off the Rack (1985), The Slap Maxwell Story (1987-88), and Just in Time (1988). These were set in, respectively, an all-night convenience store, a clothing store, a newspaper, and a magazine; and not a damn one of them lasted more than one season.  Smack dab in the middle of these, time- and setting-wise, were dual versions of Perfect Strangers: the discount store with the character-of-the-week, and then the newspaper with fledgling attempts at a recurring cast.

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2. Changes (and not) in character and setting (Reuse, Remix, Repeat)

We got two (three?) new bosses for the cousins, an elevator operator, a neurotic advice columnist, and the return of everyone’s favorite lovable ethnic scamp, Vince Lucas. I think that the show could have gotten away with only a handful more stories set at a discount store, so it’s good that we’ve moved on.  And just as we saw last week that the actors’ stories shed details to fit a strong narrative, so did the show. Twinkacetti gets all of one mention, and slowly the whole idea of a landlord is lost, though we do get echoes of other neighbors (Schlaegelmilch).  Another thing reading through all those articles told me is that Thomas L. Miller saw this as a friendship show.  I guess maybe I’ve just never watched many of them to know if this is standard, but seasons 2 and 3 were firmly, strictly that. Other characters existed solely to provide something for the cousins to fight over.  Once that conflict is established, does anyone else really need to be on screen or have any impact on anything?

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I’m realizing that some of the episodes I like best are the ones where the external world is more than just a vague hint.  In “The Rent Strike”, when we got to see the other apartment dwellers; in “Get a Job”, where a restaurant serves as more than mere backdrop.  An apartment building seems like an easy environment to flesh out.  But a likely-constantly-in-the-red junk shop? Well, some cops came by once.  But a baseball team? A racketeer? These things extended the world along minor linear paths (Twinkacetti’s greed, maybe? Balki’s interest in Spider-Man?), but they didn’t feel like they fleshed it out.

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But Season 3 has given us a workplace that automatically and instantly builds the world of Chicago-1. Not only is the Chicago Chronicle a microcosm unto itself, but it connects the cousins with the city and beyond.  We met an out-of-state psychic, the cousins’ ultimate boss is well-traveled, and Larry is given reporting jobs that take him to low-profile events. Some connections with the outside world are problematic, though. “Just Desserts” is a physical comedy high point, but it too forces our sense of the show’s reality in multiple ways. Food chemistry aside, why has Larry put aside slowly working toward his dream of photojournalism so he can try to sell stuff to chefs? “Taking Stock” is character-driven, but Balki forcing a company to reduce its profit margins is too fantastic to be taken seriously. But the smaller story of Larry and Balki causing Bob’s Market to operate at a serious loss for its first month does a better job of connecting the cousins to the world around them. That the ad in “To Be or Not to Be” gets on the air at all is unbelievable, even if the process of making the ad was character-driven. “Karate Kids” is character-driven, too, but again we’re on the smaller scale: Larry thinks he can pick a fight with a guy at a bar because brains, he assumes, win out against brawn. I get that Balki’s lack of sense of barriers and hierarchy makes meeting the Quaker Oats man and John Henry possible, but it’s still not probable. Between the two cousins, we begin to see shades of Homer Simpson meeting George Bush and Ken Griffey, Jr., Homer going to space, Homer running a snowplow business, Homer working as a Monorail conductor….

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So it seems that the bigger the scope and the higher the reach of a Perfect Strangers plot, the worse it fares in terms of reality. Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, because the Chronicle is meant to be the #1 newspaper in the U.S. But the cousins do work in the basement, where they are underpaid for being overworked on menial tasks.

A large part of what I think makes the Chronicle setting work is the characters, not only in and of themselves, but also in terms of the roles they step into.  Harriette is a strong character all on her own.  I don’t know enough to say whether her acting is any sort, or level, of African-American caricature (that is: I suspect, but I’m a white guy), but she’s there to talk truth to the cousins.  And JoMarie Payton has presence.  And so does Belita Moreno, but you already knew that. She bursts onto the scene with such energy and knowledge of character that we know who she basically is within seconds.  What’s more, she’s also there to talk truth to the cousins.  I mentioned way back my impression that Susan and Twinkacetti were there to act as angel- and devil-on-the-shoulder type characters for Balki and Larry, respectively, pulling them further in their respective directions; or, if mixed and matched, to pull/repel them closer to center.  Harriette and Lydia serve a similar purpose: Harriette to reinforce Balki’s experience-based knowledge, and Lydia to affirm Larry’s booksmarts. It doesn’t always play out that way (cf. Harriette’s advice in “The Defiant Guys”). And it may never be fully realized, given this show’s reliance on breaking established character for laughs.  But it’s there, and the fact that these two often rub each other the wrong way* makes them–and the show–that much more fun to watch.

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Speaking of filling roles, Twinkacetti’s gall was a whole divided into three parts. We had (and lost) Eugene Roche as Harry Burns, the disinterested Twinkacetti. We have Sam Anderson as Mr. Gorpley, the mean Twinkacetti. (Larry got the greed.)  Even though we saw more of Eugene Roche, it’s Sam Anderson who’s returning for season 4. I personally like the idea of a boss who tries to avoid his employees as much as he can, but I can see how a boss who constantly tries to find a way to fire a perfect employee makes for better sitcom conflict.

So we have new characters settling (sort of) settling into what were (sort of) puzzle piece roles, and ABC was constantly tinkering with things.  I feel like the group of characters is close to being cohesive, but the addition of so many decent actors who have their own personalities and, in Harriette’s case, a family outside the show, just makes Jennifer look more and more, well….

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3. Old TV shows are great! (Remember, Don’t Watch)

To sum up what we’ve seen this season about television:

–The Golden Age of Television was just that: perfect in every way

–When you’re dealing with an addiction, say, for instance, to television shows, it’s important to remember that addictive personality disorders don’t exist. America’s culture of excess (cable television) is what causes addiction, so be moderate

–The bar for a good TV show lesson is anything deeper than Ward Cleaver telling Beaver he loves him no matter what

–Getting on television is an admirable goal

Newhart is a pile, but gee, wasn’t The Bob Newhart Show great?

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–It’s important to pay homage to the Golden Age of Television, even if you’re selective with your memory

Shoot, hold on a minute, it’s late and my eyes are getting tired. Let me put on my glasses so I can pick out the next screengrab–

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Ooh, okay, maybe not.

4. Money & Death (Choose your own season finale!)

There sure were a lot of episodes about money and death, huh?

Money: “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, “Night School Confidential”, “My Lips Are Sealed”, “Just Desserts”, “Better Shop Around”, “My Brother, Myself”, “You Gotta Have Friends”

Death: “The Horn Blows at Midnight”, “Future Shock”, “The Break In”, “The ‘Pen’ Pal”, “Bye Bye Biki”

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I remember enough (little enough?) about I Love Lucy to associate get-rich-quick schemes with it, so if Perfect Strangers was still trying to honor that show, the trope is well-placed.  And it fits with Larry still refusing to give up on the idea that there are shortcuts to success.

And as far as threats to Larry, sure, we had job (3), girlfriend (5), and ego (22). But are there so few things going on the cousins’ world that they needed to dip into the well of Larry possibly losing his life (or at least, his future) three times? And what did Balki stand to lose this season? His work buddy, his job (2), his innocence about the business world, his meager earnings to a counterfeiter, his work ethic, his cousins’ faith in him, and his grandmother.  Sure, both cousins are dealing with real threats that real humans experience.

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But in one way, that’s glaringly bad. It’s unbalanced: the stakes are too damn high for Larry. In another way, it’s perfect for the cousins’ personalities. If Larry thinks in terms of getting rich quick, he likely also thinks in terms of losing it all quick. Okay, sure, Balki was a dick in “The Horn Blows at Midnight”. He should have known that Larry’s blood pressure was already elevated from his diet, and that convincing him he would soon die could only make that worse. In most cases, however, Larry makes the stakes high for himself, and the answer is usually along the lines of

–you just have to be upfront with your feelings

–you have to be upfront about your embarrasing situation; someday you’ll look back on it and laugh 3 minutes later

–you don’t have to impress someone who already likes you (remember? you and Jennifer struck a deal in “Future Shock”)

For Balki, on the other hand, this is the first he’s ever faced some of these threats. To a child, whatever is right in front of you (or was, just a moment ago) can become your whole world. Perhaps it’s not so imbalanced after all.

*holds up finger as sign of warning*

But for every successive season, the show will be less and less able to get away with that kind of imbalance.

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Speaking of stakes, I wonder what stakes the show felt it was facing. Season 3 had two–possibly three–episodes that could have worked as a finale.  I’m saying three because for some of you out there who illegally downloaded** this season may be seeing “You Gotta Have Friends” as episode 22. It’s not finale material, but someone thought it belonged last for some reason.  The one that aired last in the original run was “Bye Bye Biki”. But the story of “The Graduate” feels the most like a finale. It gives us that incremental success that we got at the end of both seasons 1 and 2. Balki graduates from Adult Evening Classes High School, and Larry makes a principled stand all on his own, virtually free of his own hang-ups. “The Graduate”, even with Balki’s statement that he now wanted to give back and make his own contribution to society, is very much a tying-things-up kind of show. Balki sees how he’d gotten so far, is grateful for it, and is ready to keep succeeding.  “Bye Bye Biki” does the same: Balki must face that the past is just that, and accepts that he should now cast his gaze forward.

But, the difference here is that we’re juxtaposing success and death.  And if you consider “You Gotta Have Friends”, we weave in the idea of money again.  On the larger level, the show spent a lot of money for the cousins to see Carl Lewis; on the smaller scale, so did Balki.

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I’m a writer, and ultimately my worries and feelings and thoughts and desires come out in what I write, both here and in my webcomic. So I have to wonder if, in aggregate, Perfect Strangers was worried about its own future.  Would it graduate to syndication at some point? Would the shortcuts it took to “lessons”, or making food episodes that matched the physical comedy on I Love Lucy, succeed?  Or did it indeed need some help from friends? Would the gamble of Carl Lewis work? Would a guest star like Perfect Strangers-brand cream-filled treats enough to agree to be on the show? Would the tiny gambles of character removal and tonal shifts it had been making all along pay off? Or would it misinterpret the lessons it learned early on about gambling (“Babes in Babylon”)?

Or would it die and leave an empty chair behind?

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5. Video games (and other media)

Even though I only majorly dipped into the video game joke well a couple of times, it was very prominent in my mind throughout season 3.

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Perfect Strangers seems to have suffered the same fate that ABC wanted for then-classic television.  For the most part, it’s remembered vaguely; for anyone who remembers more than Balki’s catchphrase, it’s remembered fondly.  Pardon my potential confirmation bias, but my take on the Perfect Strangers fan community is that it has a distinctly feminine bent–at least in its expression. Given, much of this has to do with the fact that, up until I started this blog and kept with it, there was basically only one website for this show; and it was (and is) developed and maintained by a woman.  But even the Facebook groups feel the same way. And when I say feminine, I’m just going with the common, “thick” version of the concept; it’s problematic; here’s not the place I want to discuss the term or its connotations; and I’m not putting it down.  There seem to be greater memories of feelings and moments, rather than memories of specific jokes or characters who aren’t Balki. But here’s the thing with confirmation bias: it’s easier to succumb to when there are fewer examples of a thing. It’s why minorities are criminals; it’s why redheads are sexy; it’s why I associate aviator sunglasses with dictators.***

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The Perfect Strangers fan community is small. Full House got a reboot; Three Stooges got a movie; you will never, ever stop seeing Star Wars or Shrek. Sure, every now and then a fan will ask rights holders about further Perfect Strangers DVDs, or ask the creators about a reboot, but the answers were, respectively “You never know” from the first and “It has been mentioned” & “It could be fun” from the second. You never know! The DVDs could come out tomorrow! Somebody on a forum mentioned locking up all the gays, and you know, it could be fun! You never know!

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Anyway, I’m taking the long way to make a point about the video quality of season 3 onwards. For those of you reading in the year 2054 who had the masters of every TV show uploaded into your brains at birth 1) I’m sorry, and 2) the video quality on this season is not great, and it lent my viewing experience a surreal feeling. I had to go to a torrent site and download the rest of this show, which is criminal enough****, and I’m okay with that, but many fans don’t share my blase nature, so it’s a certainty that fewer people in the past decade have seen seasons 3-8 than the other two. Also, the rips came with no contextual information, in an order different from original airings, and a few of the filenames feature misspelled episode titles. When did they air? Who recorded them off METV? Did they leave anything out? Who can we thank for the one episode with all them dancing Santas? These episodes feel as fuzzy as I imagine most people’s memories of Perfect Strangers are.

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What? Oh, video games, right. The Mario Cousins, Larrio and Balkigi.  I had an NES and a Gameboy as a kid. I had a handful of games: Mario Bros/Duck Hunt; Back to the Future; Super Mario Bros 3; Fun House; Rad Racer; Spy vs Spy; and for the Gameboy: Tetris Blast; Star Wars; and Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I never beat any of those entirely on my own. Fourth stage on BttF was the best I could do; my cousin figured out how to get the initial sword in Zelda and I figured out the rest; fuckin’ fuck Fun House. SMB3 I beat only through use of a Game Genie: I’d start on World 4 as invincible sledgehammer Mario and go from there. On my own, I could get to World 3, and that was after a couple of years of throwing myself against World 2 (that damn pyramid, man). When I got there, I promptly lost my frog suit and gave up, because I hate hate hate water levels. Besides, come on, if you’re a plumber, and you’re underwater, doesn’t that mean you did something wrong?

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I thought I could get away without talking about the other two Perfect Strangers review blogs that started roughly the same time as mine. I really don’t want to incriminate myself in those sites’ deaths, and you’ll have to find them on your own, but I feel successful that I alone achieved the escape velocity necessary to make it past season 2. Anyway, simply making it farther with this show, coupled with something that ought to have been 1st gen copy but looks like 5th,  were enough to plant the seeds that bloomed into confirmation bias when season 3 plots and structures started resembling season 2’s. I broke into uncharted territory, I lost some of the protection I had in the form of jokes I thought would keep running, and I made it through the water stage alive. And in a few weeks, I’ll move on to World 4, which I imagine assumed itself a giant after the gambles it made over the past 22 weeks paid off.

I think the point I was trying to make here is this: Perfect Strangers season 3 is this thing that I imagine has been seen more rarely, which makes me think of a thing with a 3 that I saw but rarely, and then gave up on a lot. Also I may or may not have murdered two other websites in code blood.

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6. Cue the synth clarinet, here’s your season 3 review in easy-to-swallow list form

Best episode: I still have a soft spot for the season 1 episode hiding inside “Karate Kids”, but “The Defiant Guys” wins here. It had Balki actually try out advice that worked for another person’s situation, but not his. Larry was sort of rude, but both cousins owned up for their part in the conflict. The fact that the physical comedy didn’t feel forced, but was a result of the conflict, was also good. Putting it at the end kept the focus on emotions and problem-solving, resulting in multiple lessons for different specific situations.

Worst episode: Never stop shoving hot pokers up your rectum, “The Break In”

Best one-off character: Ted McGinley as Billy Appleton

Worst one-off character: The homeless black guy they picked up off the street to play Carl Lewis

Best Balki-ism: “Cookies *grunt* cream”

Worst Balki-ism: the rest of them

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Season 3 Catchphrase Count: Balki (18); Larry (7)

Season 3 Boner Count: Balki (2); Larry (3)

Cumulative Catchphrase Count: Balki (59); Larry (14)

Cumulative Boner Count: Balki (11); Larry (13.5)

Dance of Joy running total: 11

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And for next week: I’ll look at what our actors did between season 3 and 4!

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*don’t you fucking dare say it

**I just called the police on you, by the way

***seriously, though, Charles Nelson Reilly was probably a dictator at some point

****by this point you’re already in jail and the police won’t believe you if you tell on me