The episode opens with Balki watching Gilligan’s Island and calling Gilligan a “dumb cookie”. This is one of those things that I see 80s movies and television shows do all the time: compare and contrast their characters and situations with the cultural touchstones that everyone knows. It says to the audience that the creators acknowledge their debt to those that have come before; but in most cases tries to make the claim that their show or film is more thoughtful, complex, and nuanced than its predecessors. Seriously, though: go pick any low-budget 80s horror movie and there will be a scene with someone watching Frankenstein, or Dracula, or the Wolfman. So Perfect Strangers wants to acknowledge that, yes, Larry and Balki constitute a pairing not unlike that of the Skipper and Gilligan, but look how far we’ve come: after all, Larry doesn’t hit Balki with a frying pan. But how nuanced is Perfect Strangers compared to Gilligan’s Island? Read on and the answer may surprise you…
Larry comes in with great news: he’s won a “state-of-the-art double-door refrigerator” from the Shop-N-Spend! Now he can have frozen Bismol on the weekends, or for special occasions! Let’s just hope the management at the Shop-N-Spend doesn’t remember that he beat their baseball team a few weeks ago.
Larry fails to hang his coat. Remember this. This is important.
Balki continues reading the letter and learns that the alternate prize is a trip to Vegas.
VEGAAAHSS! Now we are so done with the exposition we do the Dance of Joy!
Of course, Larry wants the refrigerator, but Balki wants to go to Vegaaahss, and he’ll do whatever it takes to convince Larry.
But Larry thinks Vegas is a “moral wasteland”. He then nicely undercuts himself by stating that such things are what he was told that he believes; which beliefs were then reinforced by seeing the film Ocean’s 11.
Psychology sidebar #1: Selective perception. Once beliefs are formed about a subject, information that supports the belief is more easily noticed and accepted. Information that contradicts the belief is easily ignored.
But just like Homer Simpson, Balki has endless lifelong American dreams, and going to Vegaaahss is one of them. He challenges Larry to a game of One Potato, Two Potato, but come on, when it comes to dream battles, we know who always wins.
Okay, I laughed out loud at Balki smacking Larry in the middle of the game. It’s funny because sometimes I want to smack Larry!
In an echo of last week’s “my culture is bigger than your culture” subtext, Larry whips out an equally flawed decision system: the coin toss. By the way, coin tosses are not perfectly 50/50 because coins are not evenly weighted. But Larry loses, so Balki gets to say “VEGAAAHSS” and brings back the fake titty-shake for old time’s sake.
And the third location is a big pink hotel room!
Balki: It’s everything I dreamed Vegas would be.
I’m with you, Balki. Seeing all of those shots of the signs on Sunset Strip throughout my youth led me to romanticize Vegas pretty heavily. Until I went there, whereupon I was honestly physically overwhelmed and slightly disgusted by the excess. I guess Winston Churchill was right when he said “If you are not a Balki at 25, you have no heart. If you are not a Larry at 35, you have no brain.” Or something like that.
Balki then sees a depiction of a naked woman for the first time that isn’t just a stick figure. After masturbating furiously while Larry’s in the bathroom, Balki jizzes all over one side of the bed, leading to this season’s best physical comedy sequence yet when they go to sleep.
Nah, j/k, Balki finds the “Magic Fingers” box, and that’s sexual enough for this episode.
Balki (purring): vegaaahss
Balki is thrilled to discover that Wayne Newton (biggest record-selling artist on Mypos) is in town, and shit, was he ever not in the 80s? I’ve just been assuming that he never left, and that he’s still the biggest attraction there, even today. But here we have another competition of desires, because Larry wants to go on a bus tour to the Hoover Dam, and then to the Liberace Museum, and then a desert walk. Again, when this episode aired, I had only just recently developed the ability to recognize that the baby in the mirror was actually me, so I have no idea if Liberace was less exciting than Wayne Newton. To me, they’re equal, but I get that Larry’s ideas are supposed to be lame and/or cheap; maybe when Bickley and Warren looked over this script, they said “Bob Keyes, you dunderhead, you forgot to work in a reference to Liberace! They’re in Vegas, for crissake!” Anyway, since Larry missed his opportunity in the first act to point out that a refrigerator would last for years, and that Vegas succinctly symbolized the fleeting nature of flashy experience, he whips out an actual reason to not go to the casino. Evidently “Unc-le” Pete was a gambling addict and Larry fears that if they start playing games of chance, they–
Oh goddammit show. You can’t have Balki pop a boner over velvet nudes and then pull this shit. But Larry caves.
Psychology Sidebar #2: Reinforcement. A trap that many parents fall into is that of inadvertently reinforcing their children’s undesirable behaviors. The child evinces an annoying behavior (crying, for instance), which causes stress to the parent. The parent rewards themselves by taking the easy route to stopping the stressor–acceding to the child’s demands, which also presents the parent with the reward of a happy child. However, this rewards the child for using that behavior to get what they want, increasing the likelihood that the child will use this behavior again. Further attempts on the part of the parent to curtail the behavior will likely result in an escalation of the child’s tactic.
Whoa! A fourth location! I guess this is what the show was saving its money for by not having one last week. The balance is restored! Cousin Larry and Balki ran through the casino to get here so that neither of them would fall prey to the foul demon Gambling.
Balki is then approached by Wendy, who is obviously a prostitute, as are all women in Vegas. She tells Balki that she “can do Hamlet in a rubber suit if the price is right”, but Balki misunderstands. Of all the fetishes of all the sick, twisted foreigners living in the United States, she had to pick the one that Balki didn’t have.
Larry makes sure that only he gets to have access to Balki’s golden nuggets by shooing Wendy away. Doesn’t Balki know what that woman does for a living?
Larry says that Wendy works in the world’s oldest profession, and then you think they’re laughing about boners, but then Balki says that he thinks she’s a sheepherder.
Oh, no, wait, I forgot, they fuck sheep on Mypos. Balki wants to play a slot machine, and Larry, being the dad that he is, sees this as an opportunity for Balki to learn how Vegas exists to take your money away.
Balki makes the same face I did when I fell off my Batman bicycle and skinned my knee when I was five; after he pulls the machine’s arm, he– you know what? Do I even need to give you a plot-point play-by-play anymore? Or can I just tell you guys each episode’s premise? Could I have just said “They go to Vegas and Larry is afraid of gambling” and spend my time and brainpower making better boner jokes?
HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT. They’re in the casino. This is a fifth location. This is blowing my mind. Vegas really is the land of excess, a point that the show conveys through this subtle and perfect use of multiple sets.
Balki mentions that he won $50 (is anyone surprised?), and then Larry actively tries to get Balki to lose it so that he can maintain his beliefs.
Psychology Sidebar #3: Cognitive dissonance. Sometimes selective perception is not enough to maintain belief; sometimes people are faced with information counter to their beliefs that cannot be ignored. What is inside and outside the mind no longer match up neatly, causing mental discomfort. Since changing beliefs often takes more energy and, in some extreme cases, can be devastating to one’s sense of self, various mental gymnastics often come into play to maintain the belief while also accepting the new information. For instance, if the belief “all members of group X are dumb” is faced with a member of group X who is demonstrably smart, the person may split group X into subsets: good Xers and bad Xers. Alternately, a person may take action to disprove the new information.
Anyways, Larry keeps winning, instantly addicting him to gambling, at which point he starts losing instead, making him angry and even more addicted. Isn’t it amazing how games of chance bend themselves to the gravity well of sitcom plots? Balki tries desperately to get Larry to stop gambling, stealing the roulette wheel’s marble.
Then the show makes a reference to The Shining, you know, because they’re in a hotel.
Larry goes into full addict mode, tearing apart the room, chasing Balki, and finally ragefucking Balki on the Magic Fingers bed.
Balki shows Larry himself in the mirror, and just like in Tommy, this is the magic moment.
Psychology Sidebar #4: Self-awareness. There is evidence that increasing someone’s self-awareness leads them to behave more in line with their self-image. For instance, trick-or-treaters presented with an unmonitored bowl of candy will tend to take more than they are told to unless there is a mirror present. Basically, seeing oneself places the subject external to themselves, remind them that others can see them; this prompts them to behave as though it were true. (Things like alcohol reduce self-awareness, which will really depress you once you start thinking about how saloons used to have long mirrors behind the bar.)
Trust me, this scene is really emotional. Balki points out that Larry isn’t an addict, he just got excited and scared that he was and went to an extreme. Larry swears off casinos forever, resulting in the reappearance of Balki Ricardo cursing in Myposian (including the word “baba”, which translates to “shit/bullshit/lies”).
So the lesson is to not go to extremes. Leave it to a sitcom to advise staying right in the middle of the road. The show then takes its own advice by repeating the “song as joke” of having these guys sing “Danke Schön” for the third time this episode.
Seriously, this song-as-joke mess is the equivalent of the thousands of single-panel webcomics about how somebody’s cat did the same thing everybody else’s cat did. This, my friends, this is “baba”. Jokes should tease, jokes should surprise, jokes should fucking blindside you with the unexpected and make you shoot the beverage of choice out of your nose. Even running jokes have to bring something new to the table eventually; they have to comment on themselves, be subverted, or even simply come back in unexpected contexts. Observe:
Psychology Sidebar #5: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. This is a two-step disorder. The subject has a obsession in the form of a thought:
- I’m not sure if I did X
- There might be germs here
- This situation promises my moral failure
The subject also has a belief that there is a “magic” act they can perform which fixes the problem identified in the obsession. In other words, because a thought occurs, the action must be taken to stop the thought.
- If I check the door three times, I can be sure it is locked
- If I wash my hands every time I touch Y, I’ll be fine
- If I start praying as soon as I see a woman in a bikini, I will not be tempted to lust after her
- If I write a show about two guys where the smart guy puts down the dumb goofy guy, it reminds me of Gilligan’s Island, so I have to make reference to it
- If I write an episode in a hotel, I have to make reference to The Shining
- If I write an episode about Vegas, I have to mention Liberace and Wayne Newton
Oh yeah. That’s right. You thought that whole psychology bit was me just analyzing Larry. You totally didn’t see it coming that I was going to turn that shit on the SHOW ITSELF.
SLAM DUNK, MOTHERFUCKERS
Remember how I mentioned other sitcom review blogs in my very first post, saying how great they were and how much I owed them? Yeah, well, that was all just pretext to me proving that I am the greatest sitcom reviewer. Did you see what I fucking did there? I just rained down a running joke/callback combo on all you jabronis. WATCH AND LEARN, Y’ALL
You may all continue to bask in my glorious presence next week when I review “Ladies and Germs”.
Catchphrase count: Balki (1); Larry (1)
Boner count: Balki (1); Larry (0)
Dance of Joy running total: 4
AND I’M OUT