Welcome back! Now that I’m 22 episodes into this show, I’m finally beginning to ask the important questions. That’s a big apartment building, and there are multiple businesses on the ground floor there. Does Twinkacetti manage all of them? Is that why he’s always either running into or running out of his office? Just think, there could be a sitcom happening in each one of these businesses. Do you figure “Constant Imports” is about a clandestine illegal immigrant operation, with a different loud foreigner as a guest star every week? Does “Seoul Corp” pair a streetwise black guy with a booksmart Korean and they go on zany corp-related adventures? And what about “The Two Brothers Trade Inc.”? Is there… ANOTHER Twinkacetti?
Anyway, whatever. Balki the Kid is sucking up paper into an industrial vacuum. He ends up getting his fingers, face, and hair sucked up into the hose. Before he can become a modern-day Struwwelpeter story, though, Cousin Larry comes in and shuts the vacuum off.
Larry is ecstatic, because one of the writers finally remembered that he has a career goal of becoming a photographer. Hooray! It only took us more than 2/3 of the season, and Balki realizing 83 different American dreams, but here we are!
Larry received a letter in the mail from Roger Morgan, the man who inspired him to become a photographer. According to Larry, Roger Morgan is the best photographer in the world. How convenient that he lives in Chicago, right? Roger has invited Larry to be a guest at a black tie event, because Larry won 10th place in a photo contest that Roger was a judge for. This does alleviate some of my worries about Larry’s arc. It’s good to know that he has been putting in effort for his dreams this whole time, but why does the show let us know so late? I mean, I get that dialogue-less scenes of Larry moving around and frowning while he tries to get the perfect shot doesn’t make for good TV, but there’s a definite pattern here with the show. It took forever to mention that Twinkacetti was their landlord, or to mention that Jennifer and Mary Anne live in the same building. I sense that it’s simply lines and scenes getting cut from these syndicated versions, but who knows. Anyway, here we are, and I’m glad we’re getting a Larry episode. Let’s see how he fucks this one up for himself!
Balki just isn’t getting Roger Morgan’s place of prominence in the photography world (and seriously, how does that work anyway?), but he ventures a guess that meeting Roger Morgan is for Larry what meeting sheepherder Zimdog Zaggy Badbad. I think the similarity between the two is that it’s not explained why either of them was great in their field. Just go with it, folks, we’ve got to get this thing moving.
For instance, we have to establish a conflict for these yoyos. Balki instantly assumes that he’s going to be Larry’s guest for the event, and that there will be limbo there. Larry stops him short, saying that he plans on taking Jennifer, because EVERYBODY gets hot for 10th place guys (I’m tugging on my collar just writing about it). He promises Balki that if Jennifer can’t go, Balki’s next on his list.
Balki knows what’s what. It’s still early in the episode, and rule #1 is these guys can’t be apart, ever, so he knows Larry’s going to have to make good on that promise.
Twinkacetti bursts out of his office, headed for the door in that awkward “I just shit myself a little and am trying to make sure it doesn’t escape the crack” walk of his. And he actually speeds up the moment Balki starts shouting at him about Larry’s news. I love this man.
But such comic nuance is too good for this show, so he leaves. Besides, he’s due to insult Andre and Kwang-Hee in about 45 seconds.
But not to worry, Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) enter immediately. They’re even still fighting! Looks like the show found a character trait that stuck.
They’re fighting because Mary Anne is dumb. (Man, don’t you love character-driven comedy?) She mixed up where they were flying to next, confusing New York with New Zealand, meaning that Jennifer won’t be back in time for the black tie event. Yeah, haha, Mary Anne’s dumb, but Jennifer, why the fuck were you relying on Mary Anne for information? I think you’re dumb, too. In fact, I just came up with a great joke for Mary Anne in my head, something along the lines of “I knew it was a place that England colonized, so sue me!”; so you’re dumb too, show.
Balki’s super jelly about the women going to New Zealand, which he refers to as “the sheep capital of the world”. I don’t know what things were like in Spring 1987, but right now, China has the most sheep. Don’t make me call you dumb again, show.
Is it limbo time, Balki?
Oh yeah, it’s limbo time.
Later, Larry hangs tuxedos. This is important. Remember this.
But Balki’s already got a suit, and it even comes with curly-toed shoes, but I have to ask at this point how many outfits and sheep dolls and heavy winter wear he brought with him in that one backpack and that one cardboard box. Larry explains that “black tie” means “tuxedo”.
I will say once again that I love little things like this, where linguistic shorthand leads to misunderstandings. I mean, there are worse ways to get Balki into ethnic dress (“on Mypos is custom to wear curly shoes when cousins win 10th place because Hangdog Ziggy Batman had misshapen feet”).
Then, in rapid succession, Balki lets us know that he 1) doesn’t know what a tuxedo is, 2) doesn’t understand how renting clothes works, and 3) doesn’t think people will be able to tell them apart if they wear the same outfit. (I just looked it up and face blindness (prosopagnosia) is a real thing; and what the hell, so is never-nude (gymnophobia). As Larry would say, “damn”.) Balki then complains when Cousin Larry explains that the party won’t be fun, either. I GUESS PHOTOGRAPHY CONTEST EVENTS ARE DIFFERENT WHERE YOU’RE FROM, HUH?
Balki makes the same face I did when I played saxophone in the high school marching band; my feet were too narrow for the men’s sizes of the shoes that came with the band uniform, but slightly too wide in the heel for the women’s sizes; I wore the women’s size shoes which, after weeks of doing our 20-minute show (one year’s set paired Candide and Johnny One-Note, of all things) at football games and competitions, left my ankles raw and chafed. I made that very same face then.
Speaking of football games, this must be slapstick’s “bye week”, because what follows is more in line with the driving episode from season 1: Balki and Cousin Larry fill the middle section of the show with “practicing” how they should act at the black tie event. Larry sets the scene (we’re looking at photos, we’re holding drinks) and Balki wants specific details (Balki asks for a caffeine-free diet Coke).
Balki makes a joke and does a bunch of stuff with his hands. I mention this because it sparks a memory for me. If anyone else watches this episode, can you tell me if this is “from something”? As in, was it part of somebody’s bit? I ask because I used to see one of my older coworkers do something similar when she made a funny.
Okay, I want to make clear here that I’m not against scenes like this where they practice something, and then do it. What I dislike is how it feels a little padded. Something that does work about this scene, and something I feel has been poorly lacking in recent weeks, is Larry having to explain the seeming illogic in American social situations. Larry tells Balki that you can’t let on that you like a photograph, or even that you dislike it. You have to find out what the other person thinks, so that you can kiss their ass and agree with them about it. And even though they don’t make this explicit, it’s a nice thing for Balki not to get, because even though he’s probably used to being subsumed into a greater social community, it’s always been for the community’s benefit.
Cousin Larry, on the other hand, is trying to downplay his own identity, and take on the outer form of those he wants to impress. He wants to trade in his minor success for a date with a woman who he desperately wants to like him. Larry has already likened Jennifer (tall, blonde, thin) to the cheerleaders he went to high school with; so we know that he sees her as a status symbol. This is taken away from him, as is the plan for Balki to wear a tuxedo. Larry is constantly losing the ground he thinks he needs to hold.
Balki, on the other hand, is also slowly conceding his ideas of what he will take part in. The party won’t be fun, he won’t get to wear his Myposian clothes, there probably won’t even be pictures or puppy dogs; and though he fusses and complains, he doesn’t push back very hard, and takes every new restriction in stride. His playful approach evinces that his inner state is not terribly disturbed, and that his identity is maintained. So we have here, on the one hand, a character putting his identity on hold to achieve his desires; on the other, a character putting his desires on hold to maintain his identity (as a supportive family member). I don’t have to tell you which character is being rewarded along the way.
(Speaking of scenes cut for time, whattaya wanna bet that the cost of the damage to the tuxedo was $50?)
Oh man, here’s the third location, “The Milgram Gallery”, and I’ve got to hand it to the props department again for making a Roger Morgan signature (as well as “The Milgram Gallery” sign) that you only see for a few seconds. Balki comes in rockin’ those Myposian threads, meaning that EVERYONE’S LOOKING AT YOU, LARRY.
Larry pops boners extends his zoom lens over all of the hoi oligoi he recognizes (Frank Lambrey, photo editor of Shutter Magazine; Dick Jorgeson, who won “a Pulitzer Prize”; and Margaret Milgram herself).
Balki extends his… um… shepherd’s crook when he finds a woman at the gallery who isn’t post-menopausal or already with a man, saying that he wants to “rub her elbows”. There you go again, show, stealing my jokes about Balki and shoulders.
Larry does a shitty job of hiding out so he can hear what Margaret Milgram thinks of a photograph (titled “Hitchhiker on the road to bitterness”; it’s actually an apt title for Larry’s arc in this episode). But Balki steals Larry’s thunder in trying to play up the gallery owner, who looks Balki up and down.
YES. Call me old-fashioned, but I love cartoon tropes like this. A chicken in every pot and opera glasses in the hands of every society lady. There’s even a nice moment where, in the midst of parroting her opinion, Balki punctures the imagined distinction between refined and popular art by mentioning that the photograph in question is September in the Roger Morgan calendar they have hanging over their toilet. And it just gets better because Balki keeps misunderstanding her.
Margaret Milgram: A toilet? Please!
Balki: Oh, it’s right out the door, to your left.
Margaret Milgram: Well, I never!
Balki: Well, in that case let me suggest a high fiber diet.
Pinchot comes so close to ruining it by laughing, but who cares, he just talked about poop to a society lady!
Anyway, Larry and Balki talk about the picture, and Larry actually does have an opinion about it; something about using a different lens to enhance the emotion of the shot. Balki salts Larry’s game by pointing out that he still hasn’t sold a picture. As they say: in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; in practice, there is.
A waiter comes up with a tray of hors d’oeuvres and Balki takes the whole tray. They’re just going down the comedy of manners list, aren’t they?
Hey, everybody, Roger Morgan’s here! We must be getting close to the end of the episode!
Larry fumbles over his words and keeps trying to wipe the sweat off his hands while trying to talk to Roger Morgan. He then runs to stage right so that everyone won’t have to stand around, silently patient, while Balki gives him a pep talk.
When that doesn’t work, he gives him… wait for it…
a pep walk!
Where do I come up with them?
Balki lets Roger Morgan know how Larry feels about his work. Balki brings up the part where Larry would have used a different lens, Mama’s Boy Milgram gets a line, and Balki makes a joke about Margaret Milgram’s vagina. Roger Morgan takes it all in stride because, hey, we’ve all been there, right? (Awkward situations, not… you know.)
Larry runs away and Balki gets mad enough to shout out the episode’s lesson (“People should just be themselves”) and put down Mama’s Boy. Given that he’s barely gotten any lines, the put-down seems unearned, which once again smells like dialogue being cut for syndication. I mean, look, the guy reads like he’s a loser, but, come on.
Dennis Milgram: Those are they!
Give him some credit for impeccable grammar, at least. The Milgrams and the Cousins engage in some verbal sparring, making explicit one of the ideas of the comedy of manners: that “rude” has multiple meanings. But Roger Morgan was intrigued by how Larry would have used a different lens; after pressing for the explanation as to why, Morgan admits to having wanted to use the very same lens Larry suggested.
Balki is overjoyed at how well the point of the episode landed: Larry, finally willing to show his identity, has his desires fulfilled. Balki exclaims “Oh, po po po!”, which I remember from an earlier episode but I’m not sure what it means. Roger Morgan says that, if the judging committee had listened to him, Larry would have placed better than 10th. (I thought Roger Morgan was the best photographer in the world? So… wouldn’t he have the best opinions…? Whatever.) He asks Larry to bring some of his photos by his hotel, and that he’ll see if he can help Larry out.
But that’s not all, folks! There’s one more present under the tree! Morgan also recognizes Balki’s outfit for Myposian, and they talk gibberish to each other.
Roger Morgan: Dakh makh bingbing!
He leaves, probably to go help Constant Imports find a safe haven for a political refugee from Iran.
The last scene hammers home the yet unstated part of this week’s lesson: that everybody has an opinion, Larry’s matters too, and he doesn’t need to mimic other’s tastes to gain their respect.
Oddly enough, there’s no tender music for the lesson this week. I wonder if that’s because–
Balki fucking poses for the freeze frame. Good grief.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this incremental progress towards Larry achieving his dream. I assume we’ll revisit his photography career again at some point in season 5.
See you next week for “Ten Speed and a Soft Touch”, which just sounds like it’s going to be an episode about vibrators.
Catchphrase count: Balki (1); Larry (0)
Boner count: Balki (1); Larry (1)