Season 2, Episode 17: Ten Speed and a Soft Touch

Hey everybody! I hope you enjoyed the reprieve from slapstick last week, because it’s back with a vengeance!

First off, I want to say I had to do some searching to figure out what the hell the title of this episode is referring to. Evidently, there was an ABC show in 1980 called “Tenspeed and Brown Shoe”, featuring Ben Vereen and Jeff Goldblum as buddy cops whose personalities were at odds with each other. Even though this week’s episode centers on a bicycle, and our main characters are an Odd Couple type of pairing, the reference the title makes still seems a strange one. I would have titled it “Bike This” or “Bike Baby”, but I’m a Perfect Strangers traditionalist.

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Here’s a picture of a truck passing in front of the camera, because to be honest, I’m tired of looking at that damn storefront after 22 episodes. The episode opens with Larry getting a bunch of boxes, but we’ll get to that in a second, because Balki has to make a joke.

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That’s the same face I make when I get sand in my eyes. Hey, I recognize that kid (checks IMDB); it’s Bobby Jacoby! Okay, fine I only recognized his resemblance to his older brother Billy; it just so happens I watched Dr. Alien recently, but if the face looks familiar to you, it’s probably because you know Billy Jacoby from Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. Anyway, the kid wants to know where the T-shirts are, so back to the boxes.

Evidently Larry’s family shipped him all of his childhood belongings (marbles, a slingshot, and a test from 3rd grade are the contents of one mostly empty box). I get that you’d have them shipped to the store, Larry, but why are you going through this junk now, on the one day all month when you’ve got potential customers around?

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The kid throws his apple away in one of the open boxes, mistaking their contents for trash, and it’s supposed to establish him as a seriously rude dude, but I think I’d agree with him. We’ve long established that Larry barely had any possessions of his own to speak of. So, like, aside from the marbles and slingshot, what are we talking here? Plastic arms from his older brother’s G.I. Joes? Vintage dental plaque-disclosing tablets? More-symmetrical-than-normal pea gravel?

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Balki pulls out Larry’s pogo stick, asking if it’s a crutch. Larry explains that it’s a pogo stick.

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Larry pogos.

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Balki: What else does it do?

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Ooh! Get Larry to the burn ward! Balki, who likes fingyprints, puppies, balloons, and Vegahhhssss, thinks your toy is shit, Cousin Larry.

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The delivery guy then brings in Larry’s bike, “Black Beauty”. We have here our second example of Larry owning vehicles that are in absolutely perfect condition. We’ve seen his cherry Mustang, and now we see his cherry bike. There’s consistency there, but only between the two items, not between them and everything else we know about Larry. At the beginning of this season, commenter Sarah Portland made a thorough case for why Larry wouldn’t have anything as nice as a classic Mustang in perfect shape. Maybe the bike is sliiiiightly more believable, but come on, how did Larry not get beaten up constantly by biggers guys stealing his bike? Also, given the rough treatment those boxes have been through on the truck from Madison, how did this bike get here unscuffed? Larry introduces Balki to “Black Beauty” and Balki grabs the handlebar tassels and shakes them.

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Okay, you got me, show, that’s cute.

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The kid gripes about these losers yapping and only ever facing one direction in a room that has four of them, and asks if he can buy something. Telling the employees to do their job… I love this kid already!

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But, oh no, he’s trying to steal something, as evidenced by the price tag hanging out of his coat pocket. If this were a modern show and Larry stuck his hand in a kid’s pocket, we’d get an entirely different story out of this. But I’m completely stymied as to where they might go with this. I mean, a kid who steals? Larry all of a sudden getting his beautiful childhood bicycle back? Two lead characters, both of whom approach trusting others in diametrically opposed ways? These are very disparate elements which I see no way to build a story from. I hope the show hasn’t painted itself into a corner here.

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The kid was trying to steal a pocket calculator and when Larry threatens to call his mother, we find out through the kid’s school notebook that he’s Eddie Harris. And he lives in their building. I want to gripe about how fucking convenient that is, but at least the show’s telling us right away about it. The show tries to further stem the tide of my ire by letting us know that he just moved in. Okay, fine, I’ll let it pass. This time.

(Sidebar: the address of the building is 315 Lincoln Ave., for anyone who cares.)

Balki intercedes with Larry on Eddie’s behalf, begging him not to kill the child for his minor infraction. Larry relents, Eddie leaves. Larry then puts on his Parent ego state and starts talking about how Eddie is bound for prison by the time he’s 15. If only someone would do something, spend some time with the kid, be a good role model!

I’m happy to say that the show has surprised me this time around, because Larry doesn’t even try to get out of spending time with Eddie! He cites his history of having multiple brothers and sisters and agrees to the plan instantly! Only five minutes in and we’re just trucking!

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Next is a scene where two unmarried men who live together call up a woman and say they want to spend the day with her son. Didn’t we just establish that they live in the same building? Couldn’t they… go to her apartment? We’d better get a great third location out of this.

Cousin Larry relays the information he received from Eddie’s mom, because fuck you if you think a woman’s going to get any lines on this show if she doesn’t have to. Mom refers to her son as “Fast Eddie”, who has been arrested twice for shoplifting, and got the family kicked out of the state of Florida. I know we have this whole meme nowadays about “Florida Man” and all the wacky stupid crimes he gets up to; did Florida have the same reputation back then? How apt was the joke? Write your answer on the back of a 4×6 postcard and send it in to

The Perfect Strangers Throwaway “Florida” Joke Sweepstakes
4601 E. Nasa Parkway
Apt. 312D
Seabrook, Texas 77586

Balki is saddened by the story of Eddie’s delinquency, but not as saddened, he says, as he was by the story in a tabloid about the woman with feet the size of watermelons. Balki reads tabloids! This is a perfect character detail! Remember how I gushed way back in Season 1 about Balki not being able to differentiate between high and low quality cultural artifacts? Please, please do an episode about Balki and tabloids!

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Larry promises Balki that they can turn Eddie into a stand-up young man by using the three Ps: patience, perseverance, and pride. Balki complains that vague, open-to-interpretation concepts like “pride” are often hard to translate into actions, and says they should just play with the kid. He suggests “Boochi tag”.

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Larry: No. Fuck Boochi tag, fuck everything about Mypos, and most importantly, fuck you.

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Balki: Boochi boochi boochi, motherfucker!

Then they just play tag for a while.

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Like, for a while. But it leads to this wonderful moment where Mark Linn-Baker just cracks up because of the way Balki walks towards him. He can’t stop laughing, and even looks towards a couple of the cameras to see if the director is going to say “cut”. But good for you, director, for knowing what’s funny and going with this take. I enjoyed seeing this grown man express uncontrollable delight; it’s an accident that works well for the character. You can’t tell me that Larry Appleton had this kind of fun as a kid; he’s needed that release for years.

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Then they keep playing Boochi tag for another while.

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You cannot be it if you are holding the “Boochi”, which in this case is Dmitri. Okay, we just spent 3 and a half minutes on Boochi tag, and even with Mark Linn-Baker both breaking and deepening character at the same time, should we have been doing this, I dunno, WITH THE KID THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO BE PLAYING WITH?

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Fast Eddie: Yeah, what the hell, you guys?

Larry wants to go to the museum to see the Patience, Perseverance, and Pride exhibit, which Eddie understandably objects to, but Balki suggests they all go play arcade games and eat junk food. All right! Third location, here we come!

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What?

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Come on.

Larry congratulates himself on what a good job he did of fixing a kid’s whole life in just two hours of eating hot dogs, and Balki pours out a whole box of “Puff” cereal looking for “Monster Man” tattoos.

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(Casey’s Art Corner: the back of the Puff box was designed by Mark Rothko.)

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I would love… repeat… LOVE to know if this was an actual cereal premium and what cereal it was actually from. If you know, please write it on the back of a 4×6 postcard and send it to

Perfect Strangers Throwaway “Monster Man Tattoos” Joke Sweepstakes
4601 E. NASA Parkway
Apt. 312D
Seabrook, TX 77586

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Larry goes out to get the newspaper, and uh-oh! Black Beauty is gone! And just like Thomas Jefferson tended to subscribe to the philosophy of whatever author he had just read, Cousin Larry assumes that anything that happens can only have been done by the last person he saw; so he accuses Fast Eddie.

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Balki wants to give Eddie the benefit of the doubt (or “doubit”, as he calls it), but Larry asks if Balki has an explanation for why the bike is gone.

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Balki actually doesn’t, making this the second time this show has shoved his catchphrase in sideways. Larry is hot to go upstairs and beat the snot out of both Eddie and the mom he rode in… with… but Balki demands that Larry promise to give Eddie a chance, reminding him of the three Ps. Larry’s all like “screw the three Ps! That was just a thing that my dad always said!” and Balki’s all like

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Larry relents. Eddie shows up and Larry whips out yet another P, calling Eddie a punk. Eddie claims not to know anything about the bike, but Larry sees that he’s holding one of the bike’s “streamer strands”.

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Larry, that’s not clear and convincing evidence… that’s not even a preponderance. But Cousin Larry just lays into him, so Eddie says “forget this noise” and gets out of there.

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Larry gets so angry that he tries to call Eddie’s mom; then he breaks Balki’s finger and shouts a bunch. We’ve now gone through the tension building and the acute battering phases. Balki, please, you’re in an abusive relationship. When the music comes on at the end, don’t trust it. It’s just a honeymoon phase. Next week he’ll find another reason to shout. (Here’s my piercing insight for this episode, everybody: the bicycle symbolizes the CYCLE of abuse.)

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But look who’s at the door! No, it’s not the police responding to a domestic disturbance, it’s Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius)!

Larry: Jennifer! Black Beauty!

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Mary Anne: Oh, thank you! I’ve been working on my tan.

what the fucking shit

I can’t even process that one. Turns out that Jennifer just borrowed the bike. The studio audience all start going “aww, aww” like in that Baseketball supercut. Man oh man, Cousin Larry, you messed up. Balki tells the women the whole massacree, with four-part harmony and feeling, and Mary Anne says they’d better get out of there, dropping some serious psychology.

Mary Anne: I think it’s obvious that Larry’s suffering from severe separation anxiety caused by the temporary loss of his childhood bicycle.

I’m in love. I say dumb shit, too, sometimes. Oh, no wait, she picked it up from fellow black beauty Oprah. Nevermind.

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Larry tries to apologize to Balki for how he didn’t trust him, and Balki’s all like “uh-uh, boy”, so they call up Eddie.

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Cousin Larry gives Eddie the bike (now he can be “Faster Eddie”, heehee, ain’t I good at jokes), saying that he doesn’t have time to ride it. Shouldn’t the reason be that it was his childhood bike and his legs are now too long for him to ride it?

Larry: What are you going to call it?

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Fast Eddie: I’m going to call it “my bike”, because I’m from a different generation whose options for individual activities have been widened, perhaps even improved, by technological advances like arcade games, blockbuster films, and home video. The bike is simply one aspect of a suite of entertainments available to me, and thus has less singular importance.

The music comes on and Balki tells Cousin Larry how well he did at righting his own wrongs in the end. Guess how the episode ends!

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So, other than the lesson, what kind of statement was this show trying to make by having the plot of the show center on a kid who’s only on the screen for less than a third of the running time? And by having the main adult characters do all of the kid things? Was it thumbing its nose at its own premise? It’s certainly not trying to make comparisons amongst their different upbringings, or to make a statement about what children need in terms of adult role models. It doesn’t even seem to be saying that one has to be a child at heart to relate to children. The child seems to only be there to provide a backdrop against which, once again, Larry can launch into one of his two modes (scared or angry; though I’ve heard the argument made that anger is secondary and stems from fear, the episode doesn’t get into that here). Already, here late in the second season, I feel that I’ve fully measured the dimensions of the show’s formulae. The problem with formula is that sometimes, once you see it, it instantly feels tired. I stopped watching Matlock once I could guess the ending.

But I have to keep watching this show: the other sitcom reviewers held me upside-down and made me promise. Will the show keep its current set of formula variants, killing me slowly? Or will further seasons bring new types of stories? Write your answer on the back of a 4×6 postcard and send it to:

Perfect Strangers “Throwaway Running Jokes that Casey is Nonetheless Committed to Capping With a Third Instance, Even at the Risk of Revealing His Own Tired Formula” Sweepstakes
4601 E. NASA Parkway
Apt. 312D
Seabrook, TX 77586

See you next week for “Snow Way to Treat a Lady, Part 1”!

_____________________________

Catchphrase Count: Balki (2); Larry (0)
Boner Count: Balki (0); Larry (0)

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4 thoughts on “Season 2, Episode 17: Ten Speed and a Soft Touch

  1. Actually, I was interested in the address for this building! Thanks! Yeah, they definitely move and even mention their new address later on, but there’s absolutely no mention of the move itself. Weird.

    Like

  2. I… may have also been interested in that address.

    “Casey’s Art Corner: the back of the Puff box was designed by Mark Rothko.”
    Mmmm, Rothko joke. Them’s good eatin.’

    Casey, which to which perfect stranger on NASA Parkway are we sending Perfect Stranger sweepstakes postcards? Because I imagine it to be somewhat like the BNL song “Another Postcard,” and that’s delightful.

    Like

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