Season 3, Episode 6: The Horn Blows at Midnight

Hey everybody!  I’m really looking forward to some good horn-blowing this week.

Inside the basement of the Chicago Chronicle building, we find reason #3 you likely won’t get anything past season 2 on DVD: Balki shakes his ass and sings the Box Tops’s “The Letter”.  See? All we had to do was put Balki in a new situation and on-topic songs would come.

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Shoot, I got too excited and Balki–instead of blowing a horn–throws a bunch of letters onto the table, spilling many onto the floor.

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Larry, no horn visible, comes out of the elevator griping about how the Chronicle pays good money to a “psychic” for its “predictions” (not horoscopes) section.  Harriette, obviously having no other work to do as well as no horn to blow, follows him out of the elevator to add her own two cents: that Claire Hayden “happens to be the world’s greatest psychic”. But Balki’s a huge Claire Hayden fan, so he jumps into the conversation, and now the conversation is all about Balki getting the “funny” lines.  When he finds out Claire Hayden is there, in the building, that very day, he says “get back, funky cat”; when he finds out that Larry is driving her to the airport, he says “Cousin, you are one lucky dude”.  Why did Black Balki have to show up today of all days, when company’s coming over?

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Instead of slapping Balki, Harriette just lets Larry continue with the exposition.  Evidently, Claire Hayden flies to Chicago once a year to make her predictions.

okay okay okay stop

  1. Balki says he reads her predictions every day.  She seriously does a whole years’ work of writing predictions in one day?
  2. Evidently some of the predictions are about celebrities–there’s a timely joke about Sean Penn–so what if a celebrity dies in an accident halfway through the year she just wrote?
  3. Why does she need to be in Chicago to do this? Can she not just send a letter for Balki to handle? Does Chicago have no psychics? Is the city a sacred earth vortex and she needs to be there? Is the Chicago Chronicle really a more powerful paper than the New York Times, to the extent that it has the exclusive predictions of the “world’s greatest psychic”?

Then Larry makes a joke about her predicting the earth revolving around the sun, Balki gets scared, and I remember that I’m not supposed to ask these kinds of questions. On Mypos, according to Balki, they only teach science up through the Bronze Age–and I’m not even touching that one, we’re only three minutes in here.

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Mr. Burns and Claire Hayden come down in the elevator, neither holding a horn. Claire is wearing a large necklace because she is a psychic and psychics are new age and so are big necklaces.  Mr Burns moves three feet away from Claire Hayden so he can talk in a normal voice to Larry about how he can’t stand to be around the woman. Larry leaves to start the car, and Claire pretends to read Mr. Burns’s future.

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The show, predicting its audience’s expectations, throws in a little sci-fi whistling sound effect.  Mr. Burns is better at predictions than anyone, so he runs away from this wreck of a plot as fast as he can.

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While signing an autograph for Balki, Claire does her little seizure-and-sci-fi-noise thing again.

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Claire: I see a terrible storm

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Claire: I see a man

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Claire: …a small man

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*sigh* Balki knows how predictions work, but he also knows he’s on a TV show.  We had a small glimpse of this when Balki said “bummer” a few weeks ago, but there it is, folks, Balki holding out his hand for rain was the exact moment where this show became smug in its assumption that anything Balki does is gold.  Balki can do Balki things whether or not they would make sense for a real person in his situation.  Balki can misunderstand the word “revolve” if it can lead to a couple of jokes.  Balki can love a psychic, but not recognize when she makes a prediction.  Balki is a character. Balki has lost depth.  For season 2, creator Dale McRaven said that people didn’t want to feel guilty. For season 3, people don’t want to think. I guess I should thank my (ahem) lucky stars that Claire’s last name wasn’t Voyant.

Anyway, the prediction: a small man eating a golden ring and sitting on a sheep, a clock striking midnight, a knock at the door, death is at the door. The small man will go away forever.

But–oh no! That pen was Larry’s lucky pen!  Holy shit! Larry’s going to die!

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So, you know, whatever, there’s the setup.  But one thing strikes me as odd.  If this woman is a charlatan, what the heck could her game be? Someone asks for an autograph and she tells them that someone they know is going to die later that day?  Or is she banking on the idea that no one in a building the size of the Chronicle’s offices can ever hold onto their own pen for very long, and that statistically, someone on the staff had a good chance of dying that very day?

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In the next scene, we see that Balki is getting dumber by the second when he tells the person on the phone to read his lips as he tries to order plane tickets to a place with no rain and no sheep. (It’s called a desert, Balki.)

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Larry comes home and hangs his coat. Remember this. This is important.

Balki puts Larry’s coat back on him and tries to shuttle him out the door with a couple of suetcases while Larry complains about Claire Hayden.  In addition to the smugness, another thing stands out to me about this episode: I don’t remember so many up-to-date pop culture references in season 2.  But Larry makes a Witches of Eastwick reference, and there’s a joke about Claire predicting that Anson Williams would win an Oscar in 2025.  (I had to look that one up, but it’s a good joke, and a tidy way of saying that Claire’s full of shit, whistling noise or no.)

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Balki picks up Larry, hoping that a little lovin’ will act as a prophylactic against ill omens (this position is called “the stargazer”).  Balki tells Larry they won a free vacation and gives us reasons #4 and #5 we likely won’t get seasons 3-8 on DVD:  “On the Road Again” and “These Boots are Made for Walkin’”.

boots

We get a bunch of messing around with Balki picking Larry up a few times, and then there’s even more padding where Larry keeps trying to get Balki to say what’s wrong.

Balki says that Larry’s going to die and Larry instantly loses it, pacing around the apartment, talking about how many things he’s never gotten to do (have an apartment to himself, touch a boob, start his own quiverfull).  He even asks if it was the results of his physical, since he’s fully aware of his awful diet and sedentary lifestyle.

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Balki spills the beans, relaying Claire’s prediction. But he also adds that “Mr. Death” will come and take Larry away.

Cousin Larry, because he promised not to laugh at what Balki would say, starts laughing.  Pinchot leaning over to cradle Larry’s hand makes Linn-Baker laugh for real, which makes Pinchot laugh and say “let it out, cousin”.  I’m surprised they left this in, but I do enjoy seeing these two be real people.  I’d prefer Balki breaking character this way than what the show usually gives us.

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Then Larry makes a Jack Nicholson joke.

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Larry points out that there’s no storm.  He even takes Balki over to the window to point out that they’re indoors, and that the city skyline is just a matte painting four feet away.

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Cousin Larry! No! Don’t you remember that two-parter about snow last season?  Satan controls the weather on Earth, not you!  You’ve really done it now, Larry, you’ve insulted the Dark One himself!

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We return from the commercial break to see that it’s raining outside the Caldwell. Yep, that’s a “terrible” storm right there.

Larry says the storm came out of nowhere, but I saw it coming across a span of almost thirty years.

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Larry just keeps making fun of Balki’s fear, expanding on the myth of Mr. Death, asking if there’s a Mrs. Death.  Then the knock at the door happens.

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Larry goes to open the door, but Balki remembers how there’s a rule on this show that the two of them have to dick around and shout at each other for a full 30 seconds before letting anyone in.

It’s Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius), who in their haste to get to the cousins’ apartment, left their horns at home. After Balki left a message on their answering machine, they bought into this bullshit too! Jennifer is sad.

Jennifer: There’s so much we should have talked about… so much we should have done.

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Larry says it’s not quite midnight yet, there’s enough time for him to go to the shop a few blocks down and buy a strap-on, steel wool and raisins, whatever she wants.

Once it’s revealed that Balki’s scared because of a prediction, the women laugh it off.  Balki tries to get the women on his side by shouting, which always worked for him on Mypos.  Mary Anne takes one for the team by telling Balki she believes him just to get him to shut up.

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Larry says he’ll call Paoli’s to order a pizza and they’ll stay up until midnight to wait this thing out.  Hell, why not? If he’s going to die at midnight, he won’t have to worry about taking a shit the next day, or gaining another 7 pounds.

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Soon, we have our tarot laid out. Mary Anne, the Hierophant, informs the group of the sacred knowledge of the motions of the spheres (it’s five until midnight).  The Magician has whipped up a batch of “Myposian death repellant”, flinging it onto the Fool, who laughs, drinks, makes merry with game (gin rummy), laughing in the face of what fate has decided.  Jennifer remains a blank card. But where’s Death?

Then we finally get a scene that really makes this episode shine. Balki’s means of “repelling death” leads to a conversation about why exactly Larry thinks that he won’t die.  There’s mentions of support systems (Jennifer, Mary Anne, Larry’s family), health insurance, Chicago having some of the “world’s greatest doctors”.  They even get into some WHO statistics on mortality rates! But Balki points out that Larry never goes to the doctor, cluing us into this episode’s core: a critique of the accumulated hubris of the industrialized Western world, whose males believe that they are “supermen” who will never die. About how we ship our dying elders off to hospitals and no longer see death as a natural part of life.  Balki, wrongheaded though he may be about the means of death (what can a nonscientific culture assume but that somebody showed up and killed your family members when you weren’t looking), retains an important perspective: no matter what efforts we make against it, death is truly the greatest mystery, and can strike anyone, at any moment.

Really had you going for a moment there, didn’t I? Nope, you get this mess:

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Larry yells towards the window for Mr. Death to come get him, and then Larry is scared of lightning.

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Then Balki puts more crap on his head, and then Jennifer is scared of lightning.

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Larry sits on Dmitri and Balki screams.  (Dmitri is wearing nothing, the lack of horn signifying how we both enter and leave this world possessionless.)

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Larry eats a donut and Balki screams. Larry spits out the donut. Balki shakes Larry again.

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The power goes out right at midnight and everybody screams.  It’s so uncanny how everything’s happening just as predicted! I’m halfway tempted to believe this whole 22 minutes was scripted.

Jennifer’s really glad that Larry’s not dead! But when he tries to hug her, he gets the same reaction I do when I use “I’m not dead” as a pick-up line.

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Balki experiences some legitimate cognitive dissonance after the women leave. Why did an episode not go his way?

The cousins head off to their respective bedrooms, Larry casually checking his watch and saying “it’s almost midnight”.

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We get a scary new camera angle, but still no horns.  Mary Anne’s watch was fast!  She’s so dumb she synced it with an egg timer!

Oh no!  There’s a knock at the door!

Since Mr. Death is obviously just some dude and not a real cause of death, Larry says all they have to do is not open the door.

Larry sobs, and Balki goes to open the door and offer himself as a sacrifice. But 30 seconds have not yet passed, so Larry picks Balki up and swings him around, hoping for one last cuddle before the big sleep.

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OH SHIT JENNIFER IS MR. DEATH! EVERYTHING MAKES SENSE NOW

Oh, no, wait, Jennifer’s just there to awkwardly and hornlessly retrieve her purse. She keeps her comments to herself, inscrutable as always. Is she upset that she didn’t take the opportunity to ride Larry’s rodney? Is she satisfied that all her suspicions were correct – that she and Mary Anne are constantly having to leave so these two can try out positions from the Mypos Sutra?

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Now that we’ve run out the clock on midnight, it’s just a matter of running out the clock on the episode, so the cousins just stay locked in that tangled position until the music comes on.

But it does come on, and here’s what we’re supposed to learn:

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Balki’s fears shouldn’t have been ridiculed, even though they were wrong, because he was willing to give his life when he truly believed Larry would have died.  Larry has to apologize for putting Balki down and laughing at his fears.  That kind of logic can work in tricky legal proceedings (if I believe you have a gun and are threatening me, it doesn’t matter whether you do, I’m justified in defending myself), but it’s not working on me, show.  Larry was right! Balki was wrong!  Balki’s usually the one that has no filter – repeating things that Larry said that were supposed to stay between them, calling executives err-heads. But when Larry has no filter? When he laughs at a grown man’s fears because they’re irrational? He has to apologize. Okay, fine, he’s not tactful about it, and if we’re willing to suspend disbelief and assume that the cousins have only lived together for as many weeks as we’ve seen them, maybe he should be a little more gentle. I will concede that Larry should know by now a little better how to handle Balki’s shit. But there’s not a single line of dialogue where Balki apologizes for making his cousin afraid that he would die, for making everyone stay up until midnight in the middle of the week, or for making Larry smell like a doo-doo pie.

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Anyway, Larry learned his lesson and says “I’m glad you’re my cousin”. Maybe two people in the audience clap and then realize no one else is doing the same and then stop, and that made me have to pause this episode so I could laugh for about a minute straight.

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The cousins decide that they won’t sleep that night after all, so they decide to watch TV. Astoundingly, Larry turns on the TV at exactly midnight, because we hear the very first notes of the Twilight Zone theme, reason #6 there’s little chance of seeing this or any subsequent seasons on DVD.  They go to bed instead.

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See you next week for “The Karate Kids”!

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Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (0)

Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)

Post-mortem (where do I come up with them?): I’m just going to go ahead and assume that Larry got his lucky pen sometime last season while working at Ritz Discount, that the small man who died was Twinkacetti, and that eating golden rings, riding sheep, and playing his saxophone were just his usual manner of winding down in the evenings.

 

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11 thoughts on “Season 3, Episode 6: The Horn Blows at Midnight

  1. I remember this episode! It seems lots of sitcoms have “character will die” plots, usually from psychic predictions or misunderstandings.

    A good example of the former was done on “Going Places” (remember that show?), where a psychic predicted a series of events (including a leg breaking) to a character and ended with “at midnight, death will come”. Well, the things happened, albeit not as the characters expected (for example, a chair leg broke). At midnight, the power went out. There was a knock at the door. They opened it. A scary-looking dude was there. Main character: “Death?” Dude (in a stoner voice): “Yeeeaaahhh…” The twist was the dude went on to explain: “Actually, I’m just part of Death. Rhythm and keyboards. A bunch of us are shooting a music video next door. We accidentally knocked out your power. It should be back on soon.” *power comes back on* “There ya go.”

    An example of the latter is coming up fairly soon in my “Hey Dude” reviews.

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  2. “Larry just keeps making fun of Balki’s fear, expanding on the myth of Mr. Death, asking if there’s a Mrs. Death. Then the knock at the door happens.”

    Is he here about the reaping? I don’t think we need any.

    Also, I think you’re wrong about “The Letter” being on topic. ALF taught me that it’s a wry commentary about neighborhood watch obligations. You need to listen more closely.

    I will say that the bit in which they break character sounds utterly charming. And also that the poor folks clapping alone at the end of the episode still must be the highlight.

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  3. I don’t remember Going Places, but I’ve read about it a few times now (when I was reading up on Miller Boyett shows) and I think it’s worth checking out!

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  4. I’m sorry, I thought it was obvious that neighborhood watch obligations was the major subtext of the episode, so I didn’t mention it.

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  5. So what’s up with the episode title? Do you think it has something to do with the positions that L&B were in at the end of the episode? Like they were gonna blow each other’s horns?

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  6. This season seems to be into referencing movie titles on the slightest intersection of something the title and episode share. This episode involves the word “midnight”, and “The Horn Blows at Midnight” was probably just the only movie the person coming up with episode titles could think of. In a couple of weeks we get “Night School Confidential” simply because Balki goes to a school.

    And to answer your last question, yes, there was a scene cut for syndication where Balki and Larry perform fellatio on each other and then break the fourth wall and say “penises are horns”.

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  7. Perfect Strangers came on right before Head of the Class in Fall 1987, and ABC made the change so people wouldn’t be confused by the HotC episode that was also titled “Horny Blowjobs at Midnight” that aired that same night (synopsis from Wikipedia: “Charlie suspects that the person on the other side of the glory hole is someone in the IHP”).

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  8. Now that I think about it, Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers also did an episode where a character is slated to die, as foretold by a fortune teller.
    Wait – is that an actual trope?

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  9. There’s also the Future Echoes episode of Red Dwarf. Not a fortune teller or anything, but they get visions of the future suggesting that that the main character will die after a series of other events. By trying to prevent those other events from happening, they bring them about.

    Oh, actually, they did basically that same plot much later in Cassandra, which DID have a fortune teller, so pretend I said that one instead.

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