Here we go, everybody!
The event: Season 3 of Perfect Strangers
The context: 8PM, Wednesday, Sep. 23, mere days after both the release of Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the announcement of Pat Robertson’s intent to run for president, and a radiation leak in Goiânia.
The competition: Highway to Heaven on NBC and The Oldest Rookie on CBS – both cancelled by Summer ‘88
Perfect Strangers was poised to be the best thing to come out of September ‘87. Nothing – I repeat – nothing was going to stop it now.
I’ve picked up a serious second wind here, so I’m raring to go! Let’s get ready to see what’s the same, what’s changed, and whatever other surprises season 3 has to offer! Are you excited? I’m excited!
What you see here is still actually the exterior of the Caldwell Hotel.* The double X wiped clean from the facade, a storefront seen vaguely down on the corner. It’s different. It’s the same. It’s familiar, but with a new gleam.
It’s like when your aunt got that facelift and boobjob.
…ah shit. Balki’s sad, everybody. It’s conveyed in less than a second that Balki’s sad because Larry either didn’t go along, or take him to, a Blackhawks game. I think I got whiplash.
Larry, jubilant, enters stage left, bragging about having had coffee with the mayor. And then he spends forever gradually revising the story downwards to what actually happened, and I liked it better when Garry Shandling used to do this same kind of joke, because it was actually funny when he’d do it. Larry gives us the sweet, sweet continuity we all crave by saying that just the previous week, he was working at the Ritz Discount. He then claims to be the “city editor’s right-hand man” at the Chicago Chronicle; but then he dials that back too, saying that he just runs errands. Essentially, Larry Appleton is a gofer; he got the kind of position that comes open when the boss ends up doing too much of the grunt work. He’s another pair of hands, and that’s fine! It’s perfectly in keeping with what we know about Larry–and about season openers in general–that he wouldn’t have the success he’s looking for instantly. And part of me wants to knock Larry (or the writing staff) for not having Larry just take this shitty kind of job half a season ago. BUT I’m willing to overlook it for two reasons: I can’t think of a sitcom that changed settings mid-season, and both season 1 and 2 ended with Larry learning important lessons about not being a perfectionist.
Larry asks “is that a hockey puck”, bringing us back to the real concern — Balki’s sad — as well as putting a needed check on progress by assuring us that the show still didn’t trust its audience to see what people on the set are holding. Turns out that Balki went to a game alone, and the puck landed in Larry’s seat. Balki lays the guilt on thick, having even brought home an Italian beef sandwich for his Cousin. Balki then expresses his feelings in Old Testament poetic style:
Balki: I’m just lonely… and I guess a little hurt. I’m just lonely, and hurt, and… I guess a little disappointed. I’m just lonely, and hurt, and disappointed, and… I guess… a little angry.
Balki says that he has no life. He’s jealous of Larry’s success, and feels that his existence working for Mr. Twinkacetti pales in comparison. Balki still has no frame of reference for what “real” success would look like; success is success is success. When you’re from Mypos, every success is a small success, thus every success is a large success. For instance: you had a good potato crop this season. Your grandmother didn’t break more than one finger this month. You didn’t get maimed by a ram when you took one of his ewes from behind.
Larry, now a willing tool of the corporate world, suggests that Balki find a new life by finding a new job in the newspaper! Arbeit macht frei!
Larry tells Balki to come by the Chronicle office and they’ll work on Balki’s job search. Balki apologizes for being angry, but then fucking waits until Larry takes a bite of his sandwich** to tell him that he stuffed it full of peppers, which Larry is allergic to. And, uh, Balki’s just out to straight up kill Larry this season, isn’t he? He was pretty damn sad that Larry wasn’t at the game to get killed by the flying hockey puck.
Oh, also, Dmitri reflects Balki’s situation here by also not having a life.
And here it is, folks, the Chicago Chronicle. We’ve traded dilapidated, forgotten storefront for the dreary functionality of Ionic columns. I studied abroad in Germany about a decade ago and there were cheerier buildings in East Berlin.
Our first glimpse of the interior of the Chronicle is of elderly Mr. Feldman who, as he shuffles by Larry’s desk, tells us that he is “not dead”.
Then we are introduced to Harriette Winslow! She lets us know that Larry works in the basement of the building, which also includes the mailroom, storage, archives, and the garage. Well, there’s a change for you! Harriette delivers the exposition instead of receiving it from a male! Boy, those black women just don’t know their place, do they?
Then we meet Larry’s new boss, E. Ronald Mallu. Sorry, I meant to say Bill Parker. Christ, this fucking autocorrect! Larry’s new boss is Harry Burns. Mr. Burns gets Larry’s last name wrong, gripes about how the mail has piled up, and then leaves. We then complete our view of Larry’s workspace with Balki’s entrance at the top of the stairs.
I instantly see the physical comedy possibilities of having a space accessible by both elevator and stairs, but I’m just going to have to let myself down now if I think this show is ever going to get as wacky as Fawlty Towers, or even one of those hallway chase scenes***. Anyway, who the hell puts a single desk in the middle of a large open space, facing neither of the entrances to said space? Larry should have listened to his older brother Thufir Appleton more.
Even after learning that Larry does not oversee the whole space, Balki is still very happy for him. I can’t tell what face he’s making because the quality on this episode is too poor.
Cousin Larry has gotten a copy of the prepublication want ads, but that doesn’t matter because we all fucking know where this is going, right?
Burns returns, still griping about the mail. And who’s that with him?
It’s Sam Anderson, whom we’ve seen before as the guy at the bank! I guess he did such a good job of rolling his eyes at how stupid Balki is that they hired him back. Then, he was (checks IMDB) Harrison Harper; here, he’s Sam Gorpley, head of the mailroom. Gorpley has evidently been dragging his feet on hiring someone for the mailroom, but Mr. Burns needs this mail sorted TODAY!
Balki starts clapping with one hand, trying desperately to signal that his philosophical pedigree qualifies him for this task. Mr. Burns tells him where the restroom is, and I laughed at that.
Four more lines of dialogue are all it takes to get Balki a job. You’ve got to be efficient when you’re introducing a lot at once.
Someone named Lance comes out of the elevator and Mr. Burns starts chasing him, asking if he’s “finished that column”. Exeunt Lance & Mr. Burns.
Saltant gaudens Balki and Larry, except Larry doesn’t do it. They instead shake hands, which is how cousins are supposed to express their happiness in official-type buildings.
Gorpley instantly cries nepotism and, like, okay, but isn’t it a bigger no-no to hire without an interview or any sort of papertrail? Nepotism’s the least of Mr. Burns’s worries.
We get a one-two punch of character development for Mr. Gorpley when he refuses to tell Balki a single thing about what his job entails; and then when Harriette Winslow returns with a hot tip that Gorpley wanted to give his nephew the job.
I take it the mail has been piling up for days. Why the hell couldn’t Gorpley have brought him in if all it takes to get a job there is talking to your boss for 8 seconds? Anyway, I want to point out the reassignment of character roles here. Last season, Twinkacetti could be both antagonistic towards the cousins, as well as completely indifferent to their concerns. Here, those traits are split between Gorpley and Burns, respectively. I anticipate that Harriette Winslow may be intended to take on some aspects of Mrs. Twinkacetti–speaking her mind, brooking no nonsense with those antagonistic to the cousins–as well as the speaking-truth-to-power aspects of Susan that I get the impression were lost in syndication, or at least from the original scripts. Now all we need is a little kid for Larry and Balki not to play with, and we’ll be set for personality types!
Anyway, Gorpley will fire Balki for a single mistake (big surprise there), but Balki doesn’t seem to care yet, because he’s too busy making the same face I used to, back when I had a Wal-Mart-bought chair whose metal frame suffered a tiny bit of “flashing” which was placed perfectly for it to scratch my finger any time I needed to readjust the chair’s position. Then he plays with the elevator button, and, um… isn’t this the basement?
A new day at the Chronicle finds Balki singing “Return to Sender”, reason #1 why we’ll never get DVDs of Seasons 3-8 of this show. He plays around with shit, and usually I’d complain about him being an overgrown child. But here, at least, there’s a reason for it. Whenever I haven’t had much stimulation in a while, and then I do, I get a little too excited by it. Like, if I haven’t been out to eat with friends for a long time, I end up talking too much, making too many dumb jokes, by the end of the evening. It’s like a sugar high!
Balki carries two mailbags from point A to point B.
Balki dumps out the mailbags at point B.
He then picks it up to carry it to some point C, just so he can walk funny. Fuck you, show.
Gorpley gives Balki another job–addressing 400 Christmas cards by hand, months early. Pat Callahan comes in and–fucking fuck this autocorrect–Mr. Burns comes in and gives Larry an assignment to cover some kids protesting their ballpark being paved over. Larry tries to turn the assignment into a photo job, but Mr. Burns hands him a pencil. Then he leaves to chase Lance, shouting that he “needs that column”.
Larry leaves, but not before he fucks up the who-what-when-where-why thing. I’m a little disappointed the joke wasn’t that he put “fff” in front of each of them like back in “Snow Way to Treat a Lady”.
Cousin Larry is surrounded by crumpled paper. God damn, how long is this episode? Has Balki fixed the radio yet? Can I go to sleep, please?
Balki uncrumples a piece of paper, declaring the writing “pretty good”; but much like the second half of Brazil, Larry’s holding on so hard to that dream of being great! Balki hands off his Christmas card assignment, so Gorpley gives him another: making 100 copies of a flyer in 10 minutes. But the copy machine is broken, so Balki has to use the mimeograph machine.
I have never, ever identified so much with Balki as I do now. This is how I feel week after week after week with this show. I make my final boner joke, and then I have to write “see you next week…” after every one.
Larry has five minutes to turn in his article, but Balki doesn’t know how to use a mimeograph machine.
WHAT TIME IT IS COUSIN
PHYSICAL COMEDY TIME
Instead of suing for workman’s compensation as well as getting Gorpley fired in one fell swoop, Balki gives Mr. Burns one of Larry’s article drafts. Burns thinks it’s “pretty good”.
Gorpley comes in and tries so hard to achieve his dream of firing Balki. Larry’s having none of it, but who cares about that–Harriette’s upset.
She threatens to tell his wife what he was doing with Ms. Passarelli in the elevator at the previous Christmas party. Let it sink in just how gross it is that he did that in front of her, and how messed up it is she didn’t stop him. Gorpley relents, but what the hell kind of lesson are we supposed to be learning here? You can only fight corruption with juicier corruption?
Larry: Congratulations, Balki, you’re gonna be here next week!
Balki: We’ll both be here next week!
Harriette: I was here last week. Wudn’t no big deal.
And now I identify the most with Harriette Winslow. So, see you next week for–
jeez louise end already willya
Okay, the show pulls it out by having the cousins do this bit where they gasp excitedly each time Larry turns a page of the newspaper while looking for his article. Plus there’s a bit where, when they find it, Balki struggles to read it out loud. Again, the main thrust of this show is supposed to be having, following, and achieving one’s dreams, so my ears perk up at any indication of how far the characters have progressed.
Dmitri delivers mail to no one. Larry just totally creams his trousers after reading his two-sentence article out loud. They scrapbook the newspaper article, and there’s another good visual gag about how short the article is; Larry keeps cutting the piece of paper smaller and smaller.
I’m doing this partially because I guess it’s a tradition now, but also because the show is now in a completely different setting; but I want to look at the last line of the episode and see if it’s indicating where we’re headed, and what this show is about.
Balki: You’re going to have to buy a bigger scrapbook… but not for a long, long time.
And to follow su-it with this episode, that’s “pretty good”! Progress is often slow and incremental, and there are numerous reinforcements of this idea sprinkled throughout the episode. Balki slowly adding adjectives to his spiel about how he felt going to the hockey game alone. Mr. Burns taking all episode to get Larry’s last name correct. What I’m assuming will be a running joke with Mr. Burns chasing Lance. Harriette mentioning that she had been saving the Christmas party story for something big. Larry literally working in the basement of his dream workplace. The knowledge that I have 121 episodes left to review.
Hey, you know what? If Larry can find success writing two sentences and be proud of himself, I’ll try it out:
Balki instantly gets a job two minutes after entering a building. Harriette Winslow watched Mr. Gorpley chow some mound in an elevator.
Yeah, I think that covers it.
Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Burns’s misnomers: Applegate, Applebaum, Appleby, Appleman
*IMHO anyway. Same *basic* layout, even if there’s a couple of different layouts you’ll see this season alone. Plus, do we really think that not only the cousins, but Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) moved to the same building and unpacked everything within one week?
**The USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline recommends that leftovers be refrigerated within 2 hours of cooking.
***You know it from Scooby-Doo, but if I remember correctly, I think Moliere invented it? Maybe one of his contemporaries. Or maybe it was during the Commedia dell’arte period. It was fully 15 years ago that I took a theatre class my freshman year of college.
n.b. These episodes were recorded off of MeTV, which by coincidence I’ve only ever heard of from a friend who watched the channel in Chicago. Look forward to fuzzy screengrabs, as well as shots where somebody’s face is blurry because PowerDVD no longer lets me advance frame by frame. I’ll try VLC next week. Also, probably not many gifs unless it’s something I can make a boner joke out of.