Season 3, Episode 7: Karate Kids

Hey, everybody.  I’m still pretty down about how there weren’t any horns last week.  I mean, the show usually does a solid job of figuring out the worst possible reference that includes something in the episode.  “Knock Knock Who’s There” had somebody knocking on a door, “Hello Elaine” had Balki saying hello to Elaine, so I’m not even certain that there’s going to be any kara–wait. wait. Is this it? Will we have actual proof that women were willing to be seen in public with these dodos?

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HOLY SHIT

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Balki is happy because it’s his first Happy Hour, so he makes the same face I do when I’m trying my damnedest to get one of those little slivers of cocktail toothpick out from between my top molars with just my tongue.

Balki wonders out loud how lounges like Edward’s make any money giving away food. Larry starts to explain, but rather than a discussion between two adults, Balki mistakes “inducement” and “illusion”. You’re giving me whiplash, show! But then Balki points out that Larry is a thieving scoundrel because he doesn’t buy any drinks.

In fact, there’s a lot going on in this first minute, with a lot of background noise to boot, and it feels kind of disorienting for this show, since most extras aren’t paid to talk. Also nothing’s being repeated or anything. Weird.

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Jennifer asks if Mary Anne (Sagittarius) is coming to the table, and the joke is… she loaded up on food? Mary Anne is so dumb… she’s hungry?  I don’t know.

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Then Chuck “the Love Machine” Vestman starts hitting on Jennifer, so Larry comes up and tries to gently put him down. He uses a pun to do so (pull the plug), and Balki loves puns, so here comes Balki thinking it’s all part of the fun and games of Happy Hour.

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But Chuck keeps hitting on Jennifer, Larry keeps putting him down, and…

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Yep, Larry knows what he’s after when he goes out–gettin’ hisself thrashed by big guys at the bar.  Loyal cousin Balki stands up for Larry, resulting in him getting thrown over the bar too. Somehow, the scene doesn’t end with Chuck clubbing Jennifer and dragging her by the hair back to his denim-clad apartment.

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Later, Larry is humiliated, but Balki is upset because this was his first Happy Hour and it was RUINED.  Okay, we’ve got a couple of character-driven things going on in this scene, but the show is not handling them the way I know it can.  On the one hand, the idea of “Happy Hour” is the perfect kind of thing for Balki to focus in on and inflate the importance of–but we don’t go anywhere with it.  And yes, I could have told you Larry has been bullied his whole life; there was probably only a small reduction in college, when he learned that taped “kick me” signs don’t stick as well to high pile sweaters.  But can we have some friggin’ details? Could we have 10 seconds of dialogue about how football players picked on the chorus kids and stole Larry’s girlfriend?  But Larry folds his arm in a really overdone manner, so at least Linn-Baker’s bringing some childhood upset to the dialogue, even if it is horribly nonspecific.  Larry says there’s nothing guys like he and Balki can do about it.

So… the lesson this week is going to be that the American viewpoint of eminent domain is reinforced not only at the level of mating, but also as a promise dangled before the eyes of the consumer, that they can get a free lunch, that something is there for the taking.  Even those savvy to the catch that you must pay for drinks–someone like Larry who goes to Happy Hour and orders ice water–respond to cheating with cheating, perpetuating evil.  Beating someone at their own game means playing it better. Being American, ultimately, is becoming part of a societal tug-of-war for luxury resources; while being Myposian, on the other hand, means getting excited at the promise of one solid hour of happiness, a break from the drudgery and boredom of the 9-to-5.  That’s going to be the lesson, right?

Balki: What about David and Goliath? What about Jack and the Beanstalk? What about the Captain & Tennille?

Oh, that’s right, last week’s lesson was not to trust predictions.

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Balki does some sort of goddam bird pose and says he’s the Karate Kid.

No, go back to Balki listing pairs of things for the next 18 minutes. Turn back the world.

Larry says that learning Karate takes years, and we get an actual subtle line from Balki:

Balki: I saw that movie. I went back for popcorn, and when I got back, that kid was kicking everything he could get his feet on.  

This is a much more honest way for Balki to be dumb than to have him think that the shrimp he’s eating are holographic.

Larry: I don’t know… Larry Appleton, Fists of Fury, it just doesn’t sound right.

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don’t you tempt me, show

Balki: Cousin, your fists can be just as furry as the next guy.

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DON’T YOU TEMPT ME, SHOW

Balki’s all like “This is America” and reminds Larry that you can do anything  and then we get reason #7 seasons 3-8 are bound to collect dust in an offsite storage facility: Balki sings “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)”.

“Larry gets inspired” was seen early in Season 2 when Larry pumped himself up thinking about Eisenhower, but it’s kind of weird that Larry’s getting inspired by a song.  Damn, I really wasn’t far off with that undercurrent of those in power selling ideas and dreams of conquest to the idiot masses.

Now they’re both singing.

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Larry take your damn feet off the couch.

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But we go to commercial before we see Balki unzip Larry’s pants, though.  Stupid syndication cuts.

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Welcome, everyone, to “Karate Studio”!

Balki hugs Sensei Pete Nakima and asks him if he knows about Happy Hour.

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Larry spins his visit into a tale about how he’s writing a news story, even saying it’s a story about the “urban male ego”, without a trace of self-awareness.

Karate Pete’s all like, yeah, I’ve heard that one before.  Then he shouts and keeps saying “uhhhh” at the end of sentences just like a real Japanese Karateman would!

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Pete: Bartokomous-san, I want you to attack Goldstein-san from the back.

Balki, sensing that Goldstein’s butt must be hiding a secret Karate weapon, fearfully asks “Why?”

We’ve already established that some things are funny just because Balki says them, and Balki talks funny, so Pete Nakima, being WAY MORE FOREIGN because he’s from further away, just dials that up to 10 and basically the audience laughs at whatever the last word of each sentence is simply because he puts emphasis on it.

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For instance, that shot there? Pete said the word “different”, but he emphasized it and made a face. I’ll pause so you can all get over your laughing fit.

The scene ends with the cousins cowering in fear from the Asian and the Jew.

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And for the second or third time ever in this show, we are given an indication of how much time has passed.  Three weeks! Holy shit!  Think what kind of lessons we must have missed!  Larry learning not to lie!  Balki scolding Larry for taking two newspapers from the coin-operated box, but only paying for one! Larry learning not to lie!

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Larry comes in the apartment acting like he’s really stealthy and calls out to Balki. He then shuts the door, wheeling around and kicking toward it as he does so.  Part of this is the writing, part of this is Linn-Baker’s acting.  You can see the honest worry on his face, and you know that Larry has been through this at least 10 times by now. I don’t care if they spend the next three minutes explaining every aspect of the joke, this was Linn-Baker selling one half of the joke, and Bronson just sitting there to sell the other.

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Why the fuck was I worried they’d explain the joke, this show’s got shittier fish to fry. I knew this was coming at some point, that time-efficient scene at Edward’s should have tipped me off they were saving room for physical comedy.

Guess what kind of noises they make

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HWWWWAAAAH

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HYOOOOOOH

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HUUUUUUUGH

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WHOA

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HOYYYYT

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HAAAHHHHHH

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Then Larry whips out a sausage nunchuck and geez, there’s most of 6 seasons left to go and I’m already almost out of gay jokes.

I guess, okay, I guess it slipped out of his hands. Um. Because he oiled it. Whatever, 10 minutes left, let’s just keep going.

The phone rings, okay, phew, time to trot out my joke about hot tips from Gus, that’s always a good standby to–HOLY SHIT it’s Mrs. Schlaegelmilch!

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She’s calling to complain about the noise! (BTW, I count this as a clue they’re still in the Caldwell Hotel.) Larry promises they’ll keep it down, then they scream some more.

Larry and Balki start talking about how great their reflexes and skills are, and Balki, here in perhaps his happiest hour, reminds Larry about how they’re not supposed to want to fight, and how sensei says that the most powerful weapon is the voice of love.  I hate that kind of explaining shit.  If I were Larry I’d be all like, yeah, look man, I was in that class too, Pete emphasized the word love, it was funny, but I got it.

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Larry opens the window to shout at some lady. *Sigh* He’s not even working at Ritz Discount anymore, but he’s still making sure nobody goes in. Hey, look, Raisin Puffs.

Then, without any dialogue that they’re going to the restaurant again, they go to the restaurant! There’s hardly any gags being stepped on this week. Who wrote this? Huh. Two of the producers stepped in to write this one. How does that work, do you figure?  I mean, I get that there’s a room full of writers, and they all work on the show, probably most of the episodes to some extent, and sometimes they get the credit, I guess if they did most of the work.  But this, as well as a later episode, are the only writing credits for James O’Keefe and Alan Plotkin.  Like, not just for this show–for their careers, according to IMDB.

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Mary Anne doesn’t want to be there, because the lighting makes her skin look “sallow”.  Try and tell me again that Mary Anne’s so dumb that she thinks karate is a type of artery.

Turns out that Larry lied to the women about Balki wanting to come to Edward’s.  The roof caves in, burying everyone in 50 feet of hard-packed snow, the end.

Nah, j/k, Larry slips Freudian, saying he’ll pick up the “Chuck”.  I guess if there’s one thing I can count on, it’s this show confirming every joke I’ve made about these guys being gay.

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So Larry picks a fight with Chuck “The Love Machine” Vestman despite Balki speaking the voice of love to him.

Chuck, having spent the past three weeks in a coke-fueled tryst with Olivia Crawford and Claire Hayden, doesn’t remember beating up Larry and Balki.

Larry: Are ya chicken, Chuck?

But the way he says Chuck comes out “CHERK” but they didn’t have enough extra film that week to reshoot.

Larry actually does a fucking chicken sound, then he starts doing this Sylvester J. Cat “ffffine ffffeathered ffffriend” bit.  Stop, Cousin Larry, mixing up stuff like that only works when Count Floyd does it.

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Balki comes in and tries to defuse the situation by saying that the chicken is the Myposian national bird, that it’s a symbol of bravery, and that if they’re going to touch weiners in the parking lot, he wants to come too.

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So, Chuck comes at Larry, Larry flips him, Chuck slides him down the bar and chokes him.  I think I get now why we don’t usually see it when Larry gets maimed. It’s customary to do the artful cutaway for sex scenes, the camera pans to the flowers on the nighttable, or the curtains billow in.  Seeing Larry beaten twice in one episode is downright pornographic!

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Jennifer and Mary Anne walk the cousins to their apartment, solemnly deliver a joke about how Larry’s a weenie, and then leave.  So… the lesson is that if you want to impress a woman, she needs to be on screen long enough to figure out what her interests are? That’s the lesson, right? Can I go to bed now?

Larry talks out loud about his various wounds… getting beaten up, getting humiliated, both of those happening in front of Jennifer… and Balki pours salt in every one by repeating the word “again” (there’s a joke in there somewhere… quoth the Dale McRaven?)

Larry bemoans how he’s changed from peacenik to beatnik (as in… beatings…? sorry, it’s late), that he’s no longer the nice guy he was.  Balki draws out the joke of hesitating to agree with Larry on that one, but backs off when it’s obvious Larry is about to cry.

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Balki points out that Larry always goes too far — that he takes a good thing and pounds it into the ground.  I mean, I guess? There was that time when he took being a parent too far and incorrectly scolded the surrogate son character for stealing a bike?  Or when making dinner for women turned into a pissing match because they didn’t plan the meal until three minutes before they came over? I dunno, okay, sure, whatever, Larry’s a ground-pounder. Being a ground-pounder gets you pounded.

Balki mentions that Karate Pete thinks Larry’s a natural at Karate.

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Anyway, Larry says he’ll keep taking Karate because he enjoys the classes.  Oh, cool, so we’ll have another Karate episode next w–

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oh, no, wait, Larry tries to get Balki to do some karate with him and Balki punches him in the gut.

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So, okay, let me talk a little bit more about this one.  I think there’s a solid season 1 episode somewhere hiding inside The Karate Kids. It’s essentially a message about the American male trying to dominate.  It begins with a nondescript tough guy trying to hit on Jennifer, and Larry trying to communicate his ownership. (Somewhat important to this is how Chuck didn’t even care whether he got Jennifer or not, as well as how he didn’t even remember Larry.  But, being American, Larry just plays whatever game is offered to him.  That characteristic is introduced immediately by Larry stealing shrimp, and followed through by him assuming that he must play the game of winning fights.  And if it weren’t enough that his foreign cousin is there to remind him of “the voice of love”, the star student at the Japanese-run karate school is Jewish.  That’s laying it on pretty thick for signifying that Karate is a symbol for all those that the American spirit has trodden underfoot, replete with a warning that the truer strength is being able to fight that way–or better–but choosing not to.  But Larry takes on the fighting style without its philosophy. He tries to be the best American he can be, and tries to use karate as loaded dice.  But this is season 3, and since Dale McRaven has staunchly refused to make his audience feel guilty, we get “Balki chases Larry around but this time they make karate noises”.  The whole of the karate philosophy is boiled down to “the voice of love”, and while there’s a nice parallel between the organic and the industrial (“The Love Machine”), the lesson we end up with rings false.  In season 3, not only is Larry’s past nondescript, but so is his present.  The lesson is not “karate teaches you not to seek things out”, the lesson is “Larry takes things too far”.  And damn if that doesn’t sound exactly like every single time that someone has told me I “think too much”.  As if thinking too much isn’t why medicine advanced enough for me to have working kidneys again. As if thinking too much isn’t the solution to half of the (good) courtroom dramas I’ve ever watched.  Besides, you have to take things too far to take things all the way, and isn’t that what every philosophy demands?  The problem is that the show picked a philosophy and turned it into a McGuffin for Larry to be wrong about.  This episode could have been great–I mean, look at how many subtle jokes there were. And I could seriously have done more with Balki grappling with the idea of Happy Hour and what he assumed it would involve. Ultimately, though, Balki walked out during the “hard work” portion of the movie: popcorn over perseverance.

There’s a concept in psychology of the “simulation heuristic” that comes up often in the context of regret.  Basically, the human mind tries to imagine how easy certain actions can be done, and how likely certain outcomes are.  How often have you heard a grieving person talk about how things would have been different “if only I’d been there”–been there to stop the deceased from driving, been there to save someone from a fire, been there at home more than at the office?  And the easier it is to imagine undoing something you regret, the harder it is to deal with. This episode is frustrating because it came so close to having some depth. But I couldn’t say where the blame should be placed.  Was the initial concept of this episode “Larry swings sausage nunchuks around” or was the episode written first and ABC (ahem) forced the sausage in?

Anyway, what the fuck, who cares, tune in next week to see what kind of noises Balki and Larry make in “Night School Confidential”!

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Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (0); Karate Pete Nakima (everything Pete says is a catchphrase)

Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0); Chuck (1); Goldstein (?)

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8 thoughts on “Season 3, Episode 7: Karate Kids

  1. “Larry says that learning Karate takes years”.
    Remember this. This is important.
    This is the thing that this show does right.
    Maybe it’s because I’m regularly reading reviews of ALF, Fuller House and Perfect Strangers every week, but for a sitcom about following your dreams, this show has a lot of realism going for it. If this same situation had come up on Fuller House, then the person in question would find themselves as a black belt after that three-week break. If it was ALF, then ALF would be seen in a Karate uniform, yelling “judo chop!” as he takes down a lamp. (Anne Schedeen: “You fucking asshole, ALF.”) Here, Larry explains to Balki that it takes years to learn Karate, and after three weeks, they’re just kind of dorkily dancing around the apartment, and when Larry picks a fight with Chuck, it’s obvious that he still hasn’t learned enough to hold his own. He still hasn’t learned what Balki has, which is that Karate is not about picking fights. (Interestingly, I have a Jewish friend who is also a black belt. His friends call him Ninjew. He was asked to “supervise” a break-up between his female friend and her abusive ex, and while he agreed, it gave him pangs of doubt. “Am I using my powers for good or evil here?”)
    To use a possibly-awkward literary comparison here, Fuller House is to Veruca Salt (“I want it fucking NOW”) as ALF is to Violet Beauregard (“Yeah, gimme that experimental gum!”) as Perfect Strangers is to Mike Teevee: next to the first two, Mike seems reasonable. While he never waits for Wonka to finish his answer, he at least asks a thought-provoking question – “Do you think it’s possible to send someone by television?” and then gets the first half of the answer (“Yes, I’m sure it would be possible…”) before diving head-first into the machine. While you know it’s not going to end well for Mike/ Perfect Strangers, it’s a damn sight better than being that dumb bitch who gets shot down the garbage chute, or the equally dumb bitch who now has to have her ass juiced.
    While I’m sure it has it’s short-comings, at least this show seems to remain consistent about it’s overlying theme: you’re not getting anything unless you put the work in. You can’t leave to get popcorn and return as a miniature Pat Morita. In the end, Larry decides to continue with the lessons, and Balki encourages him, saying that the teacher thought he was making progress. Will this ever come up again? Nope. This is Sitcom-Land. All things must be resolved and go away after 22-25 minutes. But saying he’ll continue is a damn sight better than Veruca Salt (“That was fun, but all of my friends are doing dance now, so I’ll quit and do dance too.”) and Violet Beauregard (“Well, I’ve done this long enough to break every piece of furniture in the house and put in enough time in this little tunic that we can effectively sell Karate Master ALF dolls, so I’ll put this away so I can become a cosmetics salesman again.”) It would be nice if, in the future, the Karate lessons DID cycle back again, if only to talk about putting in the work and getting the rewards, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

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  2. Man, that screencapture where Larry is talking to The Schlaegelmilch – that’s a pretty tender embrace for Applemousse. “Darling, the neighbors want to let us know that we were a bit too loud last night in our amorous encounter.”

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  3. Your comments are making me appreciate this episode even more, because it’s very close to being a great balance between what the show originally tried to be and what it seems like it’s becoming. Central to this is the fact that neither Larry’s nor Balki’s approach worked in the second confrontation with Chuck.

    Also, we should collaborate on a pop psychology book that divides personalities into Charlies, Verucas, Violets, Mikes, Augustuses, and Willy Wonkas. It’ll be the next Myers-Briggs!

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  4. Larry does bring up knowing Karate again in a later episode – and then proceeds to demonstrate he’s no more effective at it than he was in this episode (granted, in the latter, he was going up against a tough escaped prisoner).

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