This week’s episode really surprised me. There’s a lot I really enjoy about this episode, but there’s a lot that frustrated me, too. I wouldn’t say it’s the most frustrated I’ve been by the show so far; “The Unnatural” retains that honor. But it definitely has the highest number of frustrating things in it. I’ll have a lot to say this week, so take a long lunch break. Anyway, let’s get to it so I can make another useless joke about the opening shot.
When you get wide shots like this that linger for a second, it creates this tiny bit of suspense. Will we zoom in to the Ritz windows? Or the apartment window?
We get a rare moment of Balki cleaning something without singing about it. I was worried that the joke of Balki having eclectic knowledge of music would deteriorate further and further every time they needed an extra “joke” in a scene. But we can now state with 100% certainty that Balki is not a Willie Nelson fan.
Larry enters from the bathroom with toilet paper all over his face. Hey, Larry never shits and Balki doesn’t wipe, so they’ve got to use it for something. Balki makes a joke:
Larry: Did you make coffee?
Balki: “Make coffee”? What do I look like, a percolator?
And it’s a shitty joke, the kind of joke a kid would make; we saw him do this same thing last week too. But I love this development. The writer here is acknowledging that there’s only so far you can go with Balki mixing up basic English words (and capping the gag with “percolator” is a nice additional nod to his growing vocabulary). It’s also been established that he watches the previous generation’s sitcoms (Gilligan’s Island and the Brady Bunch), so maybe he’s also trying on tired old jokes for size. At any rate, this is good. This is promising. Balki is also still learning to imitate Larry. This week, he’s trying out Larry’s “what is that”/”why is that” combo of repeating jokes.
But it’s necessary padding, because neither the studio or home audiences could probably tell what was on Larry’s face. And since they’re not even allowed to use safety scissors, they’d have no idea why someone would come out of a restroom with pieces of paper on their face. Nah, just kidding, it’s necessary to set up the plotline that nothing’s working in the apartment. No hot water, no working disposal in the kitchen sink.
Haha, Larry got dirty water splashed all over the tiny open wounds on his face! Will the writer remember that he has no immune system to speak of?
Balki offers to fix the sink, and picks up the tool belt he for whatever reason keeps right next to their record player. Hey, wait, that’s a new angle! I guess I thought that was just a wall. I’m going to go ahead and say that this week’s running motif is “out with the old, in with the new” and shove as many little parts and pieces of the show into that framework using the patented “By God It Will Fit” method.
Okay, here’s another perfect example of something I like and something I don’t like resting snugly side-by-side within a few lines of dialogue. Larry explains the idea of renting and “ownership” to Balki, and even if it doesn’t lead to Balki criticizing some sort of American system (like banks and loans in “Check This”), it’s something I like when the show does. On the other hand, this is the absolute first time that the show has made explicit that Mr. Twinkacetti is their landlord. Seriously? They couldn’t have thrown in one single goddamn line anywhere in the last 15 episodes to establish that?
Lest the audience also start wondering when the hell Twinkacetti was ever more than their boss, Jennifer comes in wearing only a towel. Balki starts openly ogling, I dunno, her knees, I guess, because she really doesn’t have much in the chest area if you ask me. He tries to get Jennifer to take it off all the same, and is that a boner you’re popping, Creepy Balki?
Also, what the fuck? Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) live in their building as well? Okay, fine, this explains their presence on the Ritz Discount Royals team, but… would that have not come up at all when Jennifer brought Balki the gym paperwork? Would it have not come up when they came over to Larry and Balki’s apartment in that same episode? Why are all these revelations happening at once?
Before Balki can use the plunger on Jennifer’s ass (I really, really wish I was joking) she runs off to use their shower–their cold shower, might I remind you.
Again, a good thing to pair with the frustrating one: there is a really nice subtle setup here. There was a line a couple of minutes prior about how Larry doesn’t like to talk before he’s had enough coffee (something all us working girls can relate to, amirite, ladies?). Larry continued his explanation to Balki about how renting works, and that tenants can demand change, unlike, say, peasants living in a feudal system, I dunno, on an island whose only contact with the outside world was the crate of Wayne Newton records that washed ashore that one time. But he talks up the idea of banding together so effectively that we, as the audience, know he’s going to end up leading them himself. The scene ends with Larry saying “I need more coffee” and I think that’s the subtlest I’ve ever seen this show be. And I like it because, for once, it isn’t Balki pushing Larry outside his comfort zone.
This week’s third location is the bedroom of that one friend in high school after he convinced his parents to let him live in the basement, after they’d moved most of their stuff out, but before he’s put up any posters. The tenants of the Caldwell Hotel have gotten together to make a list of demands of Twinkacetti.
Susan! Hey, everybody, it’s Susan! Susan’s waving! HIIIII, SUSAN!
Wait. Wait, no. No. No. The motif. No. Out with the–oh no, she’s paired with the old man. Oh god no. No no no.
The child and the old lady switch places.
oh sweet christ no the word “clean” is positioned above their heads. NO.
(Looks at IMDB to see how many more episodes Lise Cutter is in) NOOOOOOOO
*sniff* I guess… I guess I just have to enjoy what time I do have with Susan. The good thing that this — no, it’s just something in my eye, I’m fine — the good thing is that there are four women in a single scene, and they all talk. The old woman is named Schlaegelmilch, and that’s *sniff* it’s a perfect fucking name. And Balki almost pronounced “suit” right. And…and it’s great how efficiently this episode has set up that all of these new & old faces have known each other for some time. It’s like we’re dipping into an ongoing story that we didn’t even know was going on. Okay. I think. I think I can make some jokes again now.
Twinkacetti rolls up with a hat AND a scarf AND a vest, really playing up the mob boss angle. Watch out, Larry, or Mrs. Twinkacetti will break HIS kneecaps, and then he’ll break YOURS. He sees your list of demands, Larry, and he raises you a “fuck your list of demands”.
Balki tells the story of the Boston Tea Party, and Balki confusing the phrases “call it” and “call for” leads to Larry inadvertently leading the charge for a rent strike. Most of the extra tenants silently mouth their excitement so that ABC won’t have to pay them extra.
In the next scene, Dmitri is wearing earmuffs, and okay, you just won me over with Dmitri, show. Emotive accessories never get old for me. I was totally on Team Wade back in the day.
But then it’s back down into the unfunny valley again as Larry’s shaking and Balki’s foreign furs and Balki fucking cooking an egg over a candle aren’t enough for anyone to put together that Twinkacetti turned off the heat and electricity, so Larry has to ask fucking Balki what’s going on. I don’t care if you’ve had coffee or not yet, Cousin Larry, grow a fucking clue. Balki tells the story of the “Great Alfalfa Famine of ‘82”, which made me laugh.
Larry freaks out when there’s no running water, either, because he can’t think without coffee. You see, it’s the classic conundrum. If he could have the coffee, he could think clearly enough to just mix it with some liquid antacid, allowing him to have the coffee. Larry starts to gather up the furniture to build a fire to heat the coffee, and you see the shadow of someone moving out of the way who didn’t think Larry would get to that side of the set that quickly. That’s right, we see the clearly defined shadow of someone in this apartment without any working lights.
Meanwhile, Twinkacetti is on the phone with someone named Vinny–and I guess that’s just what happens when different writers don’t compare their scripts — they inadvertantly back-door Twinkacetti having actual mob connections into the canon.
The good thing that is paired with this is that, even though Larry has changed clothes, he did not wipe the coffee grounds off of his face.
Larry continues to not be able to think well enough to talk, so God has his brother, Aaron, relay his message to Twinkacetti. Balki lets loose a Myposian curse (something along the lines of “remoltsemuchitz”) that means “the byproduct of swamp slime”.
Twinkacetti: Gee, what are you, Jewish now? I can’t keep up.
Twinkacetti has laid a trap for our heroes, however: $10-a-cup coffee. But he’s soon to be hoisted on his own pitard, because little does he know that this is Larry’s secret weapon.
Nah, just kidding, Twinkacetti knows that every bone his wife breaks only heals back stronger. Unafraid, he sticks by his refusal to meet their demands.
…so all of the tenants just trespass and sleep in the shop.
This is how I’ll remember you, Susan, the morning sun casting a gentle nimbus around the corkscrews of your hair, the cute way you forgot to take your wristwatch off, the hint that maybe, just maybe, you held a second character trait somewhere deep within you, that perhaps you even contained multitudes.
However, the tenants have not exited the shop by the time Twinkacetti arrives, and here’s another example of good-and-bad grouped together. Good: Balki uses his shepherd’s crook to herd them into a giant tent. Bad: What the hell, there’s no fire escape? That’s illegal! Good: this leads to one of the best variations on the “walking bush” gag that I’ve ever seen.
Mrs. Schlaegelmilch is called by name again because it’s a perfect name and I would have done everything in my power to have someone say it again, too. Larry starts in on Twinkacetti and Twinkacetti actually apologizes, saying that all men are brothers. THIS EPISODE BRINGS BACK THE FUCKING BROTHERHOOD OF MAN THING HOLY SHIT THIS EPISODE KNOWS WHAT SHOW THIS IS. Twinkacetti says he’ll fix a few things around the building if they pay the rent today, but Vinny “The Finger” calls and Twinkacetti has a tiny heart attack.
What’s the big deal? Twinkacetti can’t owe more than $50, right? But Schlaegelmilch knows an opening when she sees it and pushes for more repairs. He gives into a few major, obvious things (fumigation, fixing doors), and Balki tries to push for all of them, but just deflates once it’s clear that all of the tenants who had speaking lines got what they wanted. Susan walks out of the Ritz Discount Store, and out of our lives forever.
This is the last frame she’s in. You can only just see the tip of the shoulder over which Balki popped his first American boner so long ago.
Back in the apartment, Balki takes a shit in the fireplace, providing fuel so that Larry won’t try to break the chairs for kindling again.
Balki feels humiliated: since he didn’t get the tenants everything they wanted, he feels that he came across as being foolish. Larry explains to him how negotiating works, and there’s the payoff that I was looking for earlier: we get Balki pointing out the seeming illogic inherent in adult tactics like asking for more than you really need so you’ll get the most crucial things.
Mary Anne (Sagittarius) comes by and asks, since Susan is now gone, if Balki would like to have breakfast with her.
Balki ends the episode by saying that he’s going to stick his penis in Mary Anne’s body.
This episode… where do I even begin? As much as it frustrated the crap out of me–essential details about the relationships of its main characters being only revealed once it became necessary (okay, I think there was maybe one line about Susan “going upstairs” somewhere in the first few episodes); Jennifer and Mary Anne taking over Susan and probably Tina’s roles; the incessant stretching of jokes to cater to whatever grade ABC execs thought the majority of their audience made it to before dropping out–it also delighted the hell out of me. The little dash of intellect in a complicated system Larry has to explain to Balki; Balki not needing to be a child for the plot to work; Larry being accidentally thrust past his comfort zone not by Balki’s projection of Myposian generosity onto everyone around him* but by the merest of linguistic mixups; the success in making us feel that Larry and Balki have been a part of a community for a long time; SCHLAEGELMILCH.
Plus I get the distinct impression that producer Mark Fink, who wrote this episode (it was his first), took his time familiarizing himself with the set. He used the kitchen sink, he used the fireplace, he forced this show to give us new angles of both the apartment AND the discount shop, and he picked the biggest, goofiest damn tent he could fit in there for the climax of the episode. It’s hard to know if Mark Fink did this episode in isolation from the other writers or just ignored them. One of these has to be true to explain Jennifer and Mary Anne suddenly living in the Caldwell Hotel. I mean, I know ABC used to try out different mixtures of its shows’ elements to see what tested best. I may never forgive the show for these women muscling out Susan, but at the same time I have to marvel at the efficiency ABC achieved with this setup, having the neighbor friend and the girlfriend be the same person. And hey, this way the show never has to go back to Reuben’s Perfect Body again, freeing up that set for use on Mr. Belvedere or whatever. Either way, playing a little loose with the elements of Perfect Strangers seems to have worked in the correct writer’s hands.
Out with the old, in with the new, and at both a script level (Larry being under Twinkacetti’s thumb changed to them being closer to equals; Balki popping boners over whatever woman he sees changed to a woman making the first move) and at a meta level (characters being changed out; new camera angles). I’m very tempted to say that I wish we could ignore at least some of the past few episodes and just let this be the beginning of season 2, but I did turn in that slam dunk of a review for “Babes in Babylon”, so.
Join me next week for “A Christmas Story”–it’ll be the last review of 2015! (Again, out with the old.)
If you want to see “A Christmas Story” before you read all of my dumb jokes about it, you can watch it tonight! Hop in the browser of your choice and navigate to http://www.noiselesschatter.com tonight at 8PM for their 3rd Annual Xmas Stream! Phil will be hosting a marathon of shitty old TV Christmas specials, one of which will be “A Christmas Story”. Also, Phil’s raising money for the Trevor Project, which provides suicide prevention resources to LGBTQ+ youth. The shows will be as bad as the cause is good, so stop by! I’ll be there, both watching and participating in the live chat!
Boners: Balki (2); Mary Anne (1 – I hereby move to call lady boners “coners”); Larry (0) (his other mug says “No boners until I’ve had my coffee”)
Catchphrase: Balki (1); Larry (0)
*Psychology sidebar: this is called the “false-consensus effect”