Oof, I’ve had a rough & busy week at my “real” job (i.e., the one that pays money). So please forgive any typos or whatever.
So, here we are, “The Unnatural”! Finally: the episode about sheep-fucking we’ve all been waiting for! I’m glad they’re addressing this early on in the season. Get ready for love, Mypos style!
Oh, no, nevermind. It’s about baseball. I’m guessing that fucking sheep is probably more of a job perk than a national pastime on Mypos, so it probably won’t come up this week. Since the title of the episode is a riff on the baseball film “The Natural”, I’m sure that [placeholder–remove once you’ve watched the movie and can make a good Joe Don Baker or Wilfred Brimley joke].
Wow, the writers just cannot think of anything for Twinkacetti to do in the store except to stand there and count the money in the register. In the store. That he owns & manages. That exists to sell things to people.
Everybody keeps shouting “We’re number 1” for a bit before Larry asks to be put down. Alright, Larry, you’re a pathetic, no-good… hey, look, New Tina and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) are here!
Once again, I have no idea how much time must have passed since the previous episode, but obviously this whole team has played whatever constitutes a season. Weeks? Months? Either these two have no social life, or they’re seriously undercutting their own claim that they don’t exclusively socialize with jock types; because there’s no way in hell I’m willing to believe they were happily lured onto a discount store’s baseball team by Balki and Larry’s charms.
Evidently, the Ritz Discount Royals “creamed the Hoot Owls 10 to 4” thanks in large part to the efforts of someone named “Slugger” (not seen), who hit four home runs. Balki also did his part by being the waterboy, scorekeeper, and sole cheerleader for the team.
Larry, who is the manager of the team, tells the team that only the Shop’N’Spend Spartans stand between them and the championship; so now I’m curious what store the Hoot Owls play for. He also lets them know upfront that they don’t even get to look at, much less touch the trophy. I’ll give you three guesses as to where this episode is going, and the first two don’t count.
The rest of the team leaves, so bravo to this episode for putting both Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) in a scene and refusing to give them a single line.
Then Larry and Balki keep talking about Slugger (who, unfortunately, will probably not become this show’s Poochie) and it’s revealed that Slugger will not be playing in the championship game. Larry despairs at this news, and Balki asks if the members of the team really are as equal as Larry claimed. Larry admits to lying, obviously shamed, and I ask that you compare this to Larry encouraging lying just last week. In only three episodes, this season has established Larry as a superbly-written example of a complex moral character, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since [placeholder — look up some Shakespeare villains, or maybe something from Faulkner?].
Anyway, in case you couldn’t tell from Balki’s conversation with Larry, or in case you’re completely unaware of how sitcoms are structured, Balki pretends to be “Mr. Baseball” and whips out some sweet baseball moves.
Larry finds out over the phone that another player won’t be out of prison until after the game (do you think it was Gus who called Larry? I hope it was Gus!). Balki tries to butter Larry up with some liquid antacid… in a baseball glove! Foreigners may be loud, but they can also be terribly subtle when trying to achieve a goal.
Giving up on subtlety, Balki just out and says he wants to play. Thank God, I was afraid we were in for another 8 minutes of physical comedy. Rather than trying to dissuade Balki or give him shit explanations, Larry actually points out that Balki’s never played before, and that the trophy means a lot to him. We get a little history on Larry here, which is great, because I was honestly getting tired of Larry’s whole childhood boiling down to “I had to share X with everybody”. I almost made a joke about it earlier in this review, but I then worried that I was going to be making that joke every week and held back. Here’s what we find out about Larry’s brothers and sisters:
–Danny locked Larry in the attic for 3 days
–Elaine once held Larry down and shaved his head
–Billy shared a room with Larry, but Billy had tons of trophies on all his shelves
And here’s the first time this show caught me by surprise with a joke setup
Larry: You know what I had on my bookshelf? A wooden replica of a wheel of cheddar cheese, with a plaque that said “First Place – Wisconsin State Fair – Cheese Throw”.
Balki: Wow. I bet Billy was pretty jealous.
Larry: It was Billy’s trophy. He didn’t want it on his side of the room.
Poor Larry. Show me on the doll where your upper-middle class Christian upbringing touched you. Anyway, Larry offers a decent compromise: to let Balki practice with the team tomorrow and then make his decision on Balki’s performance. I’m surprised at how reasonable everyone is this week. I mean, Larry has to fuck something up so he has to learn a lesson instead of Balki, right?
Balki starts crying that he wants to play baseball now, even though the park is closed for the day. I’m on Larry’s side 100% this week. 50% is because Larry is right and Balki’s a frigging baby. The other 50% is because this is all to set up the physical comedy segment of these guys playing baseball in the apartment.
Larry does that thing where he repeats instructions in a very level tone as he tells Balki how to throw the ball (“up… and over the plate”). I don’t mention all of them, but there’s really a lot of elements like this in the show that get repeated across (not all, but many) episodes, and I actually like that. My catchphrase count probably is misleading at this point, making the show look inconsistent, but somebody had a great idea of how to keep that from happening: establish a variety of catchphrases (don’t be ridiculous, watch and learn), catchphrase structures (repeated instructions), and visual catchphrases (the Dance of Joy). I can imagine having a toolbox full of these things was helpful for writers. You don’t have to use all of them in any given episode, but they’re there if they happen to fit what you’re writing. It’s a very basic prototype-version of what Arrested Development would later perfect. I like it, but that may be because I didn’t expect it from a sitcom that’s fondly remembered but not often watched. Did other shows do this and it’s really nothing special? Feel free to tell me if I’m making too much of this.
But then, haha, Balki tells him to just shut up already so they can get to breaking whatever it is they’re going to break. Balki proceeds to mimic everything he’s seen pitchers do, right down to disagreeing with the signals from the catcher.
Balki starts his catchphrase but Larry just shouts at him to throw the ball. I’ve watched this part of the scene 5 times now and I’m still laughing.
Larry breaks the lamp because of course he does. Larry’s lesson is that giving into the child’s pouting only reinforces the behavior and the episode ends.
Goddammit, there’s more. The cousins come back from practice.
Another reason I’m siding with Larry this week. Every time Larry comes back from an unseen locale, he’s been physically harmed. Balki? Balki just gets dirty.
But then we find out that Balki spent the entirety of the practice sliding into each base. Yeah, okay, Balki’s an overgrown child, but I’m guess I’m going to have to side with Balki instead. (Isn’t this exciting? I’m switching allegiances faster than [placeholder – some character from Game of Thrones is probably the obvious joke, but maybe look into House of Cards? it’s probably more intellectual] over here!) This is Balki’s first time interacting with the spaces and equipment of baseball. Unstructured play is important for children’s development not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. This is an important first step for Baseball Balki, but at the same time, he’s not going to help Larry win a trophy. Damn, I’m siding with both of these losers; what the hell has happened to me?
Balki then launches into how everybody on Mypos romanticized American baseball, and he makes the same face I did the one time my dad and I played catch and the baseball hit me square on the bottom lip.
Larry surmises correctly that you don’t shit on pathos in a sitcom without dire consequences. He makes some vague assurances that tomorrow will be a “big day” for Balki and sends him off to the showers.
Twinkacetti calls up Larry to tell him that someone named “Duke Lyle” will be taking Slugger’s place on the team for the final game. Larry’s really stoked about this, so evidently Duke Lyle was pretty well known in the Local Store League back in the day. Larry stands around dreaming of using the trophy he’ll win to bash in his brother Billy’s skull, but since Balki has been off-screen for more than 10 seconds, he starts singing “The Impossible Dream” in the shower.
Our third location this week is a baseball field! It bugs me that the Ritz Discount Royals still don’t seem to have enough players on their team. They’ve only got seven players, even with Duke Lyle, who instantly senses what a tight bundle of psychoses Larry is.
Duke demands payment ($50) up front, which makes Twinkacetti very happy. You may see this as yet another tired “Twinkacetti likes money and nothing else” gag, but you would expect most greedy people would be in competition with other greedy people. Twinkacetti gets off on the idea of greed itself.
Balki shows up and shows off that he somehow got a team uniform without anyone else knowing. Hey, wait… Twinkacetti balked at having to pay Duke Lyle, forcing Larry to pay him, but Duke showed up in a personalized uniform. What did custom-tailored baseball uniforms cost back then?
Cousin Larry puts Balki off one more time, claiming that Balki is the team’s “secret weapon”. This makes Balki so happy that he makes the same face again. Listen, show, I already used up this week’s “same face” joke. Cool it.
Then we get a montage of extras playing baseball, other extras sitting in the bleachers behind the plate, Larry being upset, Balki trying to play, Larry arguing with the umpire, the scoreboard, Mary Anne (Sagittarius) completely sucking at baseball. This montage ends with Mary Anne being upset that she broke a nail. In case you had any doubts after two weeks of seeing Mary Anne and hearing all 3 of her lines of dialogue: MARY ANNE IS THE DUMB ONE. MARY ANNE WILL BE BALKI’S GIRLFRIEND.
Larry puts Duke Lyle in to bat at the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs because they actually still have a chance of winning, so Balki lays the guilt trip on thicker than, I dunno, something Myposian that’s thick. He accuses Cousin Larry of valuing a trophy more than he values friendship.
Oh, you got him good, Balki. The music comes on and Larry starts realizing that maybe he is doing all of this for himself and then Twinkacetti runs out of the bushes with a porn mag in hand and it really cracked me up.
It takes Balki, Twinkacetti, and the umpire to force Larry into making a decision. Duke Lyle doesn’t give a shit, and that, my friends, is this week’s lesson: get paid up front so you don’t get bogged down in sitcom plots.
Larry gives in and lets Balki play, but is so overwhelmed by the phallic symbolism here that he snuggles up to Balki to give him some tips on “bat holding”. The umpire tells them “There’s no buttsex in baseball”.
The show then has Balki miss the first two balls, attempting to simultaneously build tension, reference “Casey at the Bat”, and play it for laughs, all three of which it fails at.
I feel you, Cousin Larry.
Then the video quality changes. Holy shit! We’re outside!
Holy shit! Somebody actually made a Shop‘N’Spend Spartans logo!
Yeah, whatever; like there was any doubt here.
Mary Anne (Sagittarius) does some silly jumping dance while Balki slides into every base. Heh. “Slides into every base”. It’s funny because I’m reimagining the line as being about penises and buttholes. [placeholder: make a better joke, Casey, like come on.]
So Cousin Larry got his trophy, Balki got to play, and Larry learned an important lesson: that trophies aren’t as important as endless subservience to sitcom plots. Then Balki reveals that he had always been really good at the Myposian version of baseball. Oh fuck this. Balki got a bigger trophy and made the face again, and I would have loved to have made jokes about those, but screw this episode.
But I am not even going to screengrab that shit, because I am (Ritz Discount) royally pissed at the way the lesson was handled this week. Let’s review, shall we?
- Larry manages a baseball team; Balki has been helping out on the team for weeks doing odd jobs
- Balki waits until days before the very last game to tell Larry that he wants to play
- Larry says no, since Balki has not had a chance to practice with the team
- Larry explains that it has been his lifelong dream to win a trophy
- Balki chooses not to share that he was good at the Myposian version of baseball, which consisted solely of batting
- Balki guilts Larry into letting him practice, and he spends the entire time sliding into bases and making no effort to prove his value as a player
- Larry says “I’m sorry, you can’t play”, at which point Balki reveals that it’s been his lifelong dream to play American baseball
- Larry puts him off and puts him off until Balki gets to trot out a huge guilt trip
- Larry sacrifices his own dream to let Balki have his, and then they both get what they wanted
I’m used to this sitcom structure: the (younger) character with less power gets what they want no matter how bratty they act. All it takes for the (older) character with more power to not deserve what they want is to be untactful EVEN ONCE about the whole situation. But this goes a step farther, because Larry tried being honest first, only resorting to lying and delaying when honesty didn’t work. He also kept giving in to pouting, which is a tried-and-true method for parents to lose control over their children over time. He also stated his lifelong dream first. If Balki valued their friendship, he should have been doing whatever it took to help Larry achieve his dream, even if it meant not playing. It’s one thing to set up competing dreams as a zero-sum game; you could do that and still get some interesting stories out of it. But it’s another for the lesson to be that you should give up your dream for someone else’s, only to also magically achieve yours at the end.
This episode tries to have it both ways: that Balki is both an adult and a child. If Balki were actually a child, he would have an excuse to not know what information should be provided to his elders, and at what points. You could easily put an adult in a position where they realize they need to be gentle with a child and not bruise their enthusiasm. But Balki is (I assume) roughly Larry’s age. Are we supposed to assume that Mypos is so idyllic that social conflicts never come up?
Even if this episode had even had Balki telling Larry that he didn’t need a trophy to know that he was good at something (say, managing a team all the way to the championship game), and that he should let go of the emotional hold that Brother Billy had over him, it would have been a little better. Maybe end it with the team losing, but with all of the players being happy with Larry’s leadership. I think a first-season episode could have pulled that off. Remember how impressed I pretended not to be by the discussions of ethics in photojournalism and integrity way back in “Picture This”? Good grief, nine episodes in and I’m already wishing the show was as good as it used to be.
The direction this episode took sort of scares me. So, uh, Happy Halloween, boils and ghouls.
Be sure to join me next week when I review “Lifesavers”! (Yeah, the order’s different on the DVDs, but they messed up on the episode order on the DVDs, so I read.)
Boners: Larry (0); Balki (0)
Catchphrase: Larry (0); Balki (0.5)
Bonus facts: The names & numbers of all the players on the Ritz Discount Royals team
Mary Anne: 6
Duke Lyle: 23
Manager Larry: 13
The last name of one of them is “Scheinwald”