Standing Tall: an Introduction to Perfect Strangers Reviewed

Pt. 1: On the Shoulders of Giants

My name is Casey and I like to watch old sitcoms.

Okay, maybe “like to watch” isn’t quite correct. But “like to hatewatch” wouldn’t quite get it either; nor would “like to watch ironically”.

I like to revisit media from my youth, things that got to me before I developed my own tastes, before I had much else to compare them to, before I could even appreciate the context they came from.

Here’s a few f’rinstances:

Music: Ray Stevens sure had no idea he was so racist, did he?

Comics: Spy vs Spy was about how neither side of the Cold War was morally superior

Toys: I’m even more upset as an adult that I never got action figures of Hooks, Callahan, Lydia Deetz, or Barbara Maitland

Movies: Oh, Gremlins was about fear of black people moving into white neighborhoods; I get it now

I may only have vague memories of some of these things, but I know they occupied a fair amount of my childhood.  I like to look at them, try to know what they were in ways I couldn’t have then, unpack the meaning they had for me and what lasting impact they’ve had on my personality and thinking.  Engaging with the pop culture of my youth is my own shitty Vergangenheitsbewältigung.  It can be a weird process, an embarrassing one, but also a fun one too.

So I’ve decided to do an episode-by-episode review of Perfect Strangers, a show that ran on ABC from 1986 to 1993.  I’ll admit that I probably only saw the last 2–maybe 3–seasons of the show, but I do remember that I was totally into Balki Bartokomous. I distinctly remember repeating some of his lines (“Well paint me green and call me Gumby!” in particular).  And Balki–as well as other “wacky other” characters on TV at that time–figured large in my concept of myself; but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Why am I doing this? Why sign myself up for a week-to-week review of a show that probably doesn’t deserve it?  For the reasons stated above, sure.  I was also inspired to do so by a couple of similar review blogs: Full House Reviewed, and Noiseless Chatter, which is close to three-quarters done reviewing ALF.  I’ve enjoyed the hell out of their reviews, and part of me wants to give something back.  Admittedly, there’s a part of me that has a huge fucking ego to think I can fill either of their shoes; there’s a part of me that’s scared to death that I can’t.  So let’s also frame this as a writing exercise.  I haven’t written much outside of my webcomic since graduate school, so I see this as a chance to build up some skill outside of comics.  And what has been really great about the ALF reviews is how Phil looks at the various and specific ways that ALF just plain didn’t work as a television show; my hope is that this endeavor might also help me take apart the act of storytelling and better inform my own attempts within my webcomic.

Pt. 2: On the Wings of My Dreams

I hope this review blog can be a fitting next generation to Phil’s ALF reviews.  Which I suppose makes Full House Reviewed the grandparent?  And all of the other review blogs the relatives you only see on the holidays and don’t quite remember? (Seriously, go look at Family Matters Reviewed and tell me that’s not the blog equivalent of your weird uncle.)  I may not be capable of reaching Billy Superstar’s heights of vulgar hilarity, or Phil’s devastating insights, but sometimes the middle ground that exists between such extremes can be pretty fertile ground. Hey, that reminds me:
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Let’s take a look at the opening credits, huh?

These guys look so different!  What kind of crazy circumstances brought these two together?  I’m willing to find out, because the show has promised me that, strangers or not, there’s something perfect about their pairing.  That’s a pretty big boast!

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Blame the DVD for the crummy video quality.

Sitcom intros have to do a lot in a compressed time frame, and boy does this one not disappoint.  I mean, we’ve already established that Larry has more money than Balki. You see, Larry has two sweaters, while Balki only has the one shirt.  Marvel at my deep insights into the coded language of sitcom intros.

Larry Appleton hails from Anytown, USA, land of the white picket fences, cookie-cutter houses, perfectly-maintained lawns, and mom still making you a bag lunch, even when you’re moving off to Chicago.

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Also, evidently, the land of popping out kids every couple of years.  What do you want to bet they’re Catholic?  We later find out that Larry has 8 brothers and sisters; I assume that three of them aren’t shown here because, seriously, once you’ve done fat kid, bratty kid sister with pigtails, girl who’s into baseball and nothing else, preppy brother, and a really cool bro, what else is left?  I’m getting the feeling that Larry is leaving behind a potentially much better sitcom.  I mean, that one guy is obviously… just… so cool.

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Meanwhile, Balki says goodbye to his own sitcom premise.  You can tell it’s foreign because people are wearing shawls and hats, and some of them are legit old.  Just like the scene with Larry, I’m sure that each of these characters represents various stereotypes of foreign culture, but they’re lost on me because I’m not foreign.  Also of note is that Balki has turned over his sheep-herding duties to Joel Hodgson there in the background. I’m not going to make a joke about how he’s taken over the sheep-fucking duties, too, because now there’s less competition for the stone-cold Myposian foxes shown here.

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Ah, shit. Why do I get the impression Balki’s going to be making that face a lot?

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Goddammit I already want to smack him one.  I’m sorry. Gotta keep a positive outlook. It’s only the credits. I can skip them on future episodes.

And just when the music has you thinking the show’s about to begin, there’s more intro!

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See? That face is better. I guess every dark street does have a light at the end.

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Larry’s looking a little rough, though.  That egg salad sandwich isn’t sitting too well.

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Finally, our heroes have reached their common destination: late 70s Chicago! Now let’s never speak of the opening credits again, at least not until next season at the absolute soonest.

As the show’s introduction ends, so too does the introduction to my long-term project to review it.  Whatever metaphoric rain and thunder, wind and haze this show dares to throw at me, I’ll just remind myself that it’s my life, and my dream, and nothing’s going to stop me now.

Join me next week where I’ll review the first episode, “Knock Knock, Who’s There?”!

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 20: PERFECT STRANGERS - gallery - Season Two - 1/20/87, Mark Linn-Baker (Larry), Bronson Pinchot (Balki), (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

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One thought on “Standing Tall: an Introduction to Perfect Strangers Reviewed

  1. Omigod, thank you for doing this! “Perfect Strangers” was one of my favorite shows growing up. (I was mostly an ABC kid, because that’s what came in the clearest.)

    Like

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