Season 3, Episode 14: The “Pen” Pal

We open with a new perspective on the Chicago Chronicle, the audience forced into accepting that they are on the ground, at the base level of humanity. The, um, proletariat, if you will (see, I was paying attention last week).

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Harriette gripes about how she never gets to go out anymore because she has a family.

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Lydia comes out of a doorway, exclaiming about how she was reading some of her old advice columns. But she comes from the left here, indicating that she’s been at this gig quite a long time.

Lydia brags about how great she is, and Harriette points out that that greatness often comes from others–like the time she spent a whole week using advice Harriette gave her in her advice column.

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…are you making fun of me, show?

Anyway, despite my earnest hopes that Perfect Strangers is just going to be the Lydia and Harriette show from now on, the phone rings. It was District Attorney Gus calling with the hot tip that Vince Lucas has been paroled.

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First of all, if the idea is that Larry needs the heads-up because he testified against the man, shouldn’t this call have come at least one minute before Lucas was paroled?

And of all the characters to bring back, why Vince Lucas?  We’ve already done two episodes this season so far about Larry facing his own mortality.  Lucas, in case you’re one of those buttholes who hasn’t read all of my earlier reviews, was a guy who was running numbers. He posed a brief threat to the cousins, Larry stood up for what was right, Balki kept buying Spider-Man comics, I made a To Kill a Mockingbird joke, and we moved on.  Why not bring back… um… well. Hm.  Carol? Roger Morgan? Eddie?  Yeah, okay, fine, Lucas.  Anyway, Larry says that it was a year ago that they testified against Vince Lucas.*

The dream sequence music comes on and we get what must have been cut for syndication from the season 2 episode.

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The scene is just Vince basically repeating over and over that “I’ll get you” and damn, show, I could’ve added that to my Catchphrase count! Also, um, would Lucas really have been allowed to openly threaten a witness like that in the courtroom?

Lydia becomes convinced that Balki must be dead by now, it being 3 whole minutes into the episode without him showing up. Harriette offers to beat the shit out of Lydia. Alright, yeah, catfight episode, right on. Had one last season around this time.

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Later, at the Caldwell, we see that the Chronicle’s advertising campaign was short-lived.  Inside, Balki shakes his ass to Reason #15 that the costs to release season 3-8 on DVD far outweigh the benefits: “Not Unusual” by Tom Jones.  Someone knocks at the door and rather than open it promptly, Balki keeps singing and shaking his ass around.

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It’s Vince!

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They hug!

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Ah, yes, of course, the story has to be that the character sleeps over. They forgot to do that story with Vince last season; they also forgot that Balki has learned not to do this about 12,000 times by now.  Anyway, Lucas is going to be staying in Balki’s room, and  Balki got him a MOTU toothbrush, which I’m going to assume looked like this:

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Balki pushes Lucas, and the audience cracks up, because such a sudden move could very well be what makes him snap and kill Balki!

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Larry, in his haste, throws his coat on a table in the background. Remember this. This is important.

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The cousins shout at each other trying to tell their news, and Vince just politely waits in Balki’s room.

Larry tries to move the sofa in front of the door. Dmitri, ungrateful for the full year of free room and board he’s now received, sits in the back and doesn’t help at all. I think Dmitri’s wearing a hat or something.

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We find out that Lucas wasted no time getting nude in the bedroom of his new friend, and comes out wearing a bathrobe.

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Lucas confesses his love for the cousins and their modernized style of physical comedy.

Balki: We really stepped in something good this time.

And I have refused to comment on this Balki-ism every time he’s said it so far, but this is like the 5th time.  Geez, we get it, it’s a shit joke. But it’s also a shit joke! So quit doing it!

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Balki tells Vince he has to wash his hands because somehow Balki knows about hygiene now.

An enraged Larry throws Balki over the counter into the kitchen, jumps over the counter himself, and just fucks the baba out of his cousin.  Spittle flying from his lips, he screams that he retains the right of killing Balki and keeps bashing his head against the wall.

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Balki, compassionate as ever, picks up instantly on Larry’s fears of physical violence and knocks his head into the oven.

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Larry tries to explain to Balki that if they give this man a ride, sweet family will die.  You see, Larry is taking a very Christian view of sin:

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. James 2:10

We were introduced to Vince as a thief, yet Larry from his high seat of judgment has condemned someone for crimes they haven’t committed.  Yep, we had one of those episodes last season around this time.  But Larry’s attempt at high ground has brought the cousins symbolically low, meaning that Balki must now direct Larry’s gaze upward to the heavens with some downhome Myposian wisdom.

It comes as a surprise to me that there’s actually crime on Mypos, and even a prison.  But when the prisoners get out, they are allowed to stay with one of the “nice” families so that they can learn good behavior.  For instance, Balki’s family housed arsonists once, which brought great honor to the Bartokomous household.

Cousin Larry says it just doesn’t work that way in America.  He spends a few minutes walking Balki through the ins-and-outs of the American prison system, and how the shift over the past few years at that time had been towards “tough-on-crime” laws. The 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, Larry says, had been single-handedly bloating the prison population past the point where the Myposian model could be at all scalable to a country of 244 million people.  He then starts to get into recidivism rates, and nah, j/k, Larry just spews vitriol for a minute.

Balki picks his cousin off the floor, and says that he wrote Vince Lucas letters during his prison term. Balki says that Lucas is a changed person because he studied photography in prison. What’s more, he was able to get a job lined up from prison: he’ll be working as a photographer’s assistant.

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LARRY WHAT WAS YOUR PROBLEM LAST SEASON?

Anyway, Lucas will be staying with the cousins for a couple of days, meaning that they’ll have to hide (or maybe eat) the Lucas food and hide the Lucas smell from Twinkacetti.

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The next day at the Chronicle, Balki has stacked the reams of paper for maximum Feng Shui.

Larry suggests they go to some place called McMahon’s, but then backpedals when he finds out Lucas will be joining them.

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Balki makes a joke, and Larry makes an excuse about having to fast for a holiday. And that’s bullcrap. I just looked up the airdate of this episode and all of the Christian holidays for January 27 are feast days.

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They argue some more about trust, but might I pause here to say that the fire extinguisher poised above the fire hazard–in the designated shelter space, no less–is just tempting fate.

Balki is convinced Vince is a changed man, and Larry asks how he’s supposed to trust a man who threatened to make good on the now 2.5 seasons-long tease of his death.

Balki: Cousin, it’s easy. You just, you know… trust him a little bit, and then you trust him a little bit more, and then you trust him a lot more.

Balki, listen to me: the older man who instantly disrobed when he entered your apartment is grooming you.

So we’re supposed to assume that Balki has a big heart, but does he have to be dumb, too? As it is, Balki’s reasoning is “I trust him, and that’s why I trust him”. Like, did Lucas say he found religion? Did he say he regretted doing the bad things he did? Did he realize that crime ultimately doesn’t pay if even weenies like the cousins can put him behind bars, and that he wants to get a legitimate job pursuing a creative passion? That last should be hooking Larry, but as it is, we’re just going the blind faith route again.  Balki’s saying that there exists a core of goodness to every human, despite there being no evidence to that end. Yep, we had one of those episodes last season around this time when Edwina left Donald.

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Lucas comes in and keeps saying stuff that reminds us he’s a prisoner who might kill them at any moment.  Larry says he’ll go, and even offers to let Lucas drive his car. Does Lucas, um, have a license? Do they even let ex-cons drive?

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Back at the apartment, in the middle of the night, Vince Lucas is on the phone with Mr. Finagri. He’s talking through his problem of how he can’t surreptitiously take a photograph of the cousins as a thank-you gift.

The script lets us know that he’s making a legitimate call, but the evil Scooby-Doo tiptoeing music is on, and Larry hears it, so he’s scared. So why is he calling his employer in the middle of the night? Doesn’t he know he’s in a sitcom and nighttime is for illicit activity like cheating on your diet? Doesn’t he know that everything out of his mouth has a double-meaning, referring not only to taking photographs, but also having sex with Jennifer killing the cousins?

Lucas goes back to sleep, so Larry jumps on the couch hoping to smooch some sense into his cousin.

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Balki cites Mypos v. The Two Arsonists, saying that they were perfect guests and that Larry should stop worrying and go back to bed. Come on, Balki, I don’t care if they were 1/100 of the island’s population, that’s way too small a sample size.

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Lucas comes out of Balki’s room and says he’s been up for awhile because he had a nightmare, one he’s had every night since he went to prison.  The dream is about how he murders the cousins in a room with no doors. Oh, good, we know how to solve insomnia due to bad dreams, we had one of those episodes last season around this time.**

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Anyway, now both cousins are scared of Lucas, and Larry keeps repeating the word “well”. Before the cousins can go back to bed, Lucas says there’s something he wants to do now and goes to Balki’s bedroom to retrieve something.

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Balki and Larry are then hoisted by their own petard, as they’ve made the door so that it can never be opened quickly.

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Lucas comes back with a bag, says “this won’t hurt a bit”, and tells the cousins where to stand. Who does this? Who doesn’t say “I want to take your picture, with a camera”?

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The cousins grab Lucas and fight over the camera; the flash goes off in Larry’s face, blinding him. Yep, we had a joke like that last season around this time.

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The camera is finally revealed, and there’s even a nice little joke where Larry compliments Lucas on his equipment. The cousins admit their fears, and Lucas cracks up.

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Vince Lucas: I haven’t laughed this much since the Newhart show! Not the new one, the old one.

That distinction was necessary–ABC couldn’t have people switching the channel, could they? Lucas goes to bed, but not before making the cousins soil their jammies by shouting “booga booga”

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Basically, the lesson here is not to see a pattern from just a few instances.  Sure, Vince Lucas may once have posed a threat to the cousins, but that doesn’t mean he always will.  Just because Balki and Larry once had to share a bed when they housed one of Balki’s friends doesn’t mean they always will. Just because we’ve repeated a few plots, like “Balki invites someone over without permission”, or “Larry distrusts known thieves”, or “someone from night school fools Balki”, or “Larry refuses Balki’s cure for a physical complaint”, it doesn’t mean that every season’s going to be the same thing over and over again. That just because there have been a few pat, easy “lessons” this season, they won’t necessarily all be.

Right?

Has there ever been a more resounding “no” than Balki playing with squeaky toys?

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Lucas sent them one crummy little 5×7 of the photograph he took, but that backdrop tells me it was taken at the Sears Portrait Studio. That bastard kept the rest of the $14.95 package, didn’t he?

The lesson presented here, ultimately, is that you simply have to trust Balki’s way of thinking. Trust him a little, then trust him a little bit more, then you trust him a lot more.

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Larry vows that he will forever be a nice, caring person, ready to receive the honor that comes from reforming criminals.  And then the lesson is instantly undermined by the final joke, which is that Balki has invited Willie the Weasel to stay with them, and that Willie broke out of prison so that he could come right away.

*sigh* It’s okay. I will simply put my trust in Balki that next week’s episode, “Just Desserts”, won’t repeat a single thing from last season.

And hey, even though I’m not some snooty professor with some fancy “degree” that I can hang on a “wall”, I’m still able to give you homework. I want you all to watch the I Love Lucy episode “Job Switching” before the next review. It will be both educational and fun!

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

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

*There’s your timeline!

**Professor M was unreachable for comment on the meaning of the presence/lack of doors in Balki’s and Lucas’s respective dreams.

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11 thoughts on “Season 3, Episode 14: The “Pen” Pal

  1. Lucas randomly taking off his clothes and putting on a bathrobe at a stranger’s place is so weird. Who does that?

    It’s possible that the flashback was newly filmed. I recall a much later episode where Balki AGAIN lets a criminal from their past stay with them without Larry’s permission. This time, it’s a kind of nerdy guy named Marvin Berman. Anyway, when Larry “remembers” the previous episode, the scene and clothing are right, but the lines are slightly off. Either they went through the trouble to refilm it (for whatever reason), or the used an alternate take. Mind you, I’m going off old memories, but I remember, back in the day, comparing my VHS tapings of those two episodes and being confused.

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  2. It’s not obvious from the screengrab, but the film quality changes for the courtroom flashback scene. But the real tell is how Larry didn’t weigh 700lb back then.

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  3. Dear Balki,
    I have been forced to train my roommate to stop allowing randos to sleep on our couch for extended periods of time. Allow me to tell you about the ones she let into the apartment before we lived together:
    – A very amusing dude that only kind of knew her called her up one day and said, “Hey, I’m getting out of rehab today, but they need someone to sign me out, and also, I need someone to live with, because they want my new address. Can you fulfill both of those? A ride and a place to crash?”
    Roommate: “Of course! I am a sweet, naive extrovert who loves people and wants to be the person that helps another person change their live around for the better. Please, live with me for weeks on end without a job or any way of paying me rent of any kind!”
    – A supposedly former heroin addict who would disappear for days at a time, then show up again like nothing had happened. When the roommate came home the final time, it was to find this girl dead on her couch, from an overdose of black tar heroin. Roommate resuscitates her, then kicks her out. Again, no rent is exchanged, even though this time she set it up ahead of time for the girl to give her money.
    – A sociopath who started a three-year relationship with her (after only knowing each other for two weeks), was only ever employed sporadically, never paid any rent, and had everyone and their dog convinced that he was the sweetest guy ever. His scary new sociopath personality only came out after they’d been engaged and were planning a lavish wedding on her dime. He owned an unregistered, loaded firearm that he kept in the bedroom, after I’d requested that he keep the thing (registered to him and unloaded) in the storage shed. He set “traps” for me and gaslighted her. As her maid of honor, I felt that it was my job to point out that he was a fucking abuser, and that she should run away quickly.
    And that, Balki, is why you never invite randos to sleep on your couch. That shit never goes well, even though sitcoms always want us to believe that the naive person who did the inviting is right, and that the rando is harmless, even when they were not harmless previously. Am I saying that people never change? Nope. I’m just saying that that kind of turn-around is far less likely in real life than it is in sitcoms.
    Sincerely,
    Please provide proof of residency elsewhere, or you’re not sleeping on my couch

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  4. Season 4, episode 21 – “Vince and the Revolution”
    Larry covers a strike at Chicago Energy, and accidentally snaps a picture of Vince Lucas dumping the union representative’s body into a cement mixer. Larry testifies against him again, and Vince gets the electric chair.

    Season 6, episode 3 – “Life’s a Switch and then You Fry”
    Hilarity ensues when Balki invites Vince’s ghost to spend Memorial Day weekend.

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  5. Season 7 is often referred to as the “Dark Larry” season, which was an early experiment in season-long sitcom storytelling. Larry is possessed by Vince’s ghost (s7e01, “Fry Baby”), gaining his demonic electrocution powers. The season’s end (s7e24 “Look, Us”) was an emotional high point of the series, culminating in Vince/Larry trying to bring on the apocalypse, stopped only by Balki vowing to never leave his cousin’s side, repeatedly saying “Don’t be ridiculous” until Larry, as always, breaks down and cries and asks if Jennifer will still love him.

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  6. I had a plan that, once I finished this blog, I would serially visit and live with each of the other reviewers. Out of respect for you, I’ll bring an electricity bill.

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