It’s a busy day outside the Caldwell Hotel, and the establishing shot is ever-so-slightly wider, letting us see that there is a business a few doors down from Paoli’s called “BOUTIQUE”. Not only this location likely where Mrs. Falby constantly buys new dresses*, its presence is also a bit of foreshadowing. Two years/seasons ago, we had businesses like “Seoul Corp”, “Two Brothers Trade, Inc.”, and “Constant Imports”. For one thing, business endeavors often fail, sometimes from lack of demand, or because they don’t convey what need they serve well enough. I mean, if I walk into Two Brothers, am I just going to see Tommy and Terry Johnson trading each other baseball cards? The shift here is also one of audience–pizza parlors and clothing stores serve families–and of beautification.
Anyway, I wonder where this episode takes place…
Oh, of course, on the third floor, where the cousins live in apartment 207 and/or 209. We find that both the cousins and their apartment are in a state of disarray, in serious need of beautification. Their dirty dishes have covered most of the available surfaces, and Larry claims to be out of clean clothes, save for a green shirt and red tie. I’ll never understand fashion. Why did the opposite (red shirt and green tie) work last week?
Larry, you were able to hide that massive gut better when you wore sweaters. Go back to season 1, do not pass season 2, do not collect $50, and get your old style back.
Cousin Larry takes off his tie when Balki says it’s stylish. Aha, speaking of endeavors that have failed… the cousins and this show have been trying to create situations where Balki and Larry might “accidentally” touch or see each others’ bodies. Faking back injuries, bringing guests over and offering them beds to necessitate sleeping on the couch, “helping” each other get out of quicksand, shooing their girlfriends out of the room, going all the way to a rich guy’s house under false pretenses so they can find an empty room and wrestle wearing expensive clothes. We see now that they’ve each been not doing, as Balki calls it, the louwndree, trying to see who’ll just give up and start walking around the apartment nude first. They’ve also been doing their best to run out of clean dishware–cooking thousands of pastries, cooking 6 or 7 pots of pig snout at a time, buying hundreds of boxes of cereal just to see if they could get all the bowls dirty at once–in the hopes that the stars will align and they’ll just be forced to eat cream filling off of each others’ bodies.
But Larry finally accepts that timing is everything. Balki has been too caught up in studying history to pick up on the crunch they’ve gotten themselves into; he also claims that he doesn’t want to repeat history. I’d argue ABC didn’t either: this show has been making slow steps in the direction of being a family comedy, and the chance for two cohabiting bachelors being misunderstood by their neighbors and bosses has long passed.
Larry’s efforts have turned back on himself: he takes off the tie for his own sake and eats food off his own body. Larry gives in on both levels of this dumb metaphor I’ll stop doing here in a second, suggesting they hire a maid to serve as a matronly presence on the show.
(Larry Appleton, if you remember, grew up with 8 brothers and sisters. Having eaten his meals out of a shared trough for most of his life, and then living with a cousin who does all the cleaning, he has no idea that washing a single bowl and spoon takes roughly one minute.)
Because Balki is somehow a complete idiot who has also never watched a single minute of any classic television show, and certainly not the Brady Bunch, the opening theme song of which he’s never, EVER sung, not even ONCE, NEVER…
…he doesn’t know what a maid is.
The next day (?), Larry comes home and hangs his coat. Remember this. This is important.
Larry is upset that he can’t find someone who will work for $35 a day to clean their apartment. Balki found one who will work for $35 per week***, and Larry, who’s seen what kinds of people Balki finds, is wary. You didn’t hire the homeless guy from season 1, did you?
I guess I never thought until now about the fact that Balki bringing people home all the time keeps Larry in a position of dealing with “perfect strangers”, but here we are again. Larry’s mad at Balki for not discussing something with him first, but, dude. You’re not willing to sit down with your cousin and work out a schedule of chores. However this episode chooses to say you’re wrong this week, that’s your mistake, Larry.
Anyway, Balki has a “good feeling” about their new maid, Larry shits on his feelings.
Hey, their maid is Doris Roberts! Hi, Doris! You all know Doris. She’s one of those actresses who’s been in everything, and you’ve probably forgotten half of what you’ve seen her in. I forgot until just now I first saw her on Soap as Father Flotsky’s mom. Her presence clarifies something for me, though. When Ted McGinley showed up last season, it felt like it came out of nowhere, that all of a sudden a “real” actor was on the show. But Eugene Roche’s role didn’t do that for me, and neither did Sam Anderson’s. Here’s the difference: Doris Roberts and Ted McGinley were on other shows that were new when I was a kid. Perfect Strangers’ first two seasons often felt like they existed in a vacuum, and if they had any ties, it was to the tone of older shows that its creators had worked on.
And so are many aspects of this show’s first two seasons. But Dmitri’s still here, and I guess he’s got a washrag in front of him.
Anyway, I’m talking way too damn much about stuff that’s not the episode. I’m barely four minutes in and my thoughts are all over the damn place. I’ve got setups for metaphors, running jokes… I should really get a guest reviewer to come in this season and tidy up…
Mrs. Bailey comes in and the first thing she says to Larry is to brag how she can get rid of the semen smell in his room. Larry begins to voice his concerns about her mental health.
Mrs. Bailey: I know you’re worried that I’m going to hit on one of you like the last old woman on this show. I don’t need the sex… it’s the work that makes me happy.
She asks them if they have an 8-inch springform cake pan, but the cousins only understood the 8-inch part. In the span of a minute, we see her working on groceries, cooking (a chocolate cake, Larry’s favorite), and the louwndree:
Mrs. Bailey: Your job is to get these clothes dirty, and from the looks of things… you’re the best.
Balki starts demanding thanks for his good job finding a maid, just like any humble shepherd would do; Larry asks what a cake pan is, just like any college-educated American would.
Later, it’s raining at the Chronicle.
Larry comes out of what I assume is the bathroom, giving us one more entrance/exit to fucking deal with. He and Harriette have a conversation that sounds like it would be more at home in a commercial for a cleaning product.
But, as STOP before it, Maid© has left Larry unhappy. To wit: she’s getting on his nerves.
Balki comes running out of Gorpley’s office to tell us about how, because Balki’s never once shown love to him…
…and because Balki has never once encouraged others to love him…
…Mr. Gorpley made Balki hold a dart board while he threw darts at it. This is a feint on the part of the show. The audience sees an unharmed Balki. But puncture wounds don’t have to run deep with our humble shepherd: a note from Mrs. Bailey to remind him to take his vitamins has pierced his signature Myposian mish-mash of clothing.**** Larry, on the other hand, has rejected this extra assistance.
Want some more symbolism? The note on Balki’s breast has a cartoon of a heart with an arrow through it.
Still not satisfied? Baileys are part of a castle’s defenses, meaning that this one–removed from its original, internal source–has become a type of overactive defense mechanism. What once was protective and helpful has become harmful; Mrs. Bailey’s coming at this from the wrong side of the battlements.
I can do this all day, people! Look, I can even make it into a callback of a deep cut joke of my own!
Anyway, here she is. Despite the fact that these guys most likely go from apartment, to garage, to car, to garage, to work, she brought them their galoshes.
Gorpley comes out of his office with three jobs for Balki, but Mrs. Bailey jumps to action:
Mrs. Bailey: You didn’t say the magic words.
Mrs. Bailey: And you should smile more.
Mrs. Bailey: Say you’re sorry.
We know from last week that Gorpley’s got some serious mother issues, and this shuts him down to the point of forgetting where he was going.
Mrs. Bailey brought Balki some pig snout puffs.
Balki: Just like mama used to make.
Wwwwait, doesn’t Mama still make them? I mean,
but that doesn’t mean Mama Bartokomous is.
Balki and Mrs. Bailey go off in search of Lance Dick, leaving Harriette to finally say out loud what the conflict is. Thank God, I had no idea.
Let’s breach these walls and see what’s going on tonight…
The guys come back from a George Michael concert with their girlfriends. Mary Anne (Sagittarius) keys in on a deep philosophical aspect of human attraction: we tend to like others to the extent that they reflect ourselves.
Mary Anne: I think it’s so sexy when someone has two first names.
Jennifer says that she melted when he sang “Careless Whisper”.
Look, I cream my pants over a good saxophone solo*****, same as the next guy, but Jennifer melted over a song about a guy losing his lover because he cheated?
Does this mean she knows about Balki and Larry? You know, fucking?
Larry says if that’s the case, let’s put on some Sylvester and get to feeling mighty real.
Larry makes a plan to get Balki out of there so he can have sex with Jennifer, now that he knows for sure the 3-year pile of tissues has finally been cleaned out of his room. Part of the plan is that Balki will express interest in Mary Anne’s “Great Cities of the World” placemat collection, which is my favorite joke of the episode. Show, even with all the stuff I criticize you for, you do a good job with Mary Anne, and you also do a good job when it comes to funny names you can repeat.
Larry told Jennifer to put on some romantic music, and wouldn’t you know it, she went straight for the nondescript royalty-free synth stuff!
The two couples dance, but Larry can’t even go 10 seconds without touching his cousin. He smacks Balki really loudly on the arm, and Balki thinks Mary Anne did it, and that that is hot for some fucking reason. Larry starts snapping his fingers, and Balki does the same.
Larry smacks Balki on the head, and evidently Balki thinks Mary Anne has figured out the Myposian courtship rituals all on her own.
Jennifer tells Mary Anne to take a fucking hike already, she’s glazing her panties. Mary Anne agrees to take Balki upstairs and show him her collection.
Placemat is my new favorite euphemism, you guys. Don’t know what it means yet, but I like it.
It feels like only a month ago that Jennifer first expressed a desire for something, but we’re moving quick now. The defenses are down, and that means it’s time for some night maneuvers, let’s see what Larry’s siege tower can do, maybe get–
Whoops! One more springform lost. Sorry, Larry.
STOP ENCOURAGING HER
Mrs. Bailey could swear that she remembers something about Jennifer liking a little tummy on a man, so she insists on making chocolate chip cookies for them all.
Larry tells her to take a fucking hike because it’s late.
The girlfriends decide that this must be this week’s “thing” for the cousins and leave. Cousin Larry says he’s still got a boner, but Jennifer has “lost the mood”. Larry pushes for just screwing in front of the old lady, it could be fun.
Mary Anne’s upset that no one is going to come “look at her placemats”. I have it now. The placemats are her labia majora.
Mrs. Bailey says she hopes she didn’t ruin the evening.
Balki: No, they always leave around this time.
Well, that’s one less joke I have to make this week.
Mrs. Bailey takes the laundry to fold before making the batch of cookies.
Look, I’ve lived alone for 3 and a half years now. It’s already, what, midnight? You get those cookies in the oven, then you fold the laundry while they bake and cool. Mrs. Bailey really does like to make more work for herself, doesn’t she?
They shout about Mrs. Bailey, who is in the next room, weeping into Larry’s BVDs.
Psychology sidebar: the “psychological contract” describes the ideas held by employers and employees regarding an employee’s role. There’s the written contract, containing job duties, expectations, promotion requirements, that weaselly little part about “other duties as assigned”. But then there’s the one that exists in the minds of the employer and the employee. Ideally these two contracts are identical, but sometimes one party realizes the other does not have the same language in their psychological contract. A retail job will explicitly mention “customer service skills” in the written job description; the employee may understand this to mean eye contact, smiling, welcoming someone into the store, while the employer needs someone who can handle customers who are upset about a product they are returning. When these disagreements happen, they break the contract and are referred to as “pinch” points; the course of action is to address them and make sure that one or more of the parties involved makes some notes in the margins of their psychological contract. Too many tiny breaches of contract, and you get a crunch point, which can often result in termination of employment from either side. Let’s back up a minute here so I can show you exactly where the pinch point happened:
Larry: What are you doing here?
Mrs. Bailey: I work here!
Sitcoms have their own built-in defenses: here the ones against recurring characters and nuanced resolution are on full display. Cousin Larry’s treating a pinch point like a crunch point. He talks for three minutes straight about the problem, Balki asks him what he’s getting at, meaning that Larry gets to talk for another minute while Mrs. Bailey comes from the back of the apartment to overhear him.
Larry says he’s going to fire her; Balki says she’ll stay. Larry looks at things one way, Balki looks at things another way.
Mrs. Bailey says she’ll leave, citing “things just didn’t work out” as her reason. Nobody’s willing to argue for anything on this show, are they? They just say: this is what I want, give me it. Larry didn’t get what he wanted? He tells someone to leave. Mrs. Bailey didn’t get what she wanted? She’s told to leave. Balki didn’t get what he wanted? He leaves.
What’s a patriarchy to do?
Three nights later, Larry is vacuuming and Balki still isn’t talking to him. Balki grabs food from the kitchen and heads directly to his bedroom, which is a succinctly wounded, defeatist resolution to the problem posed at the beginning of the episode. Can’t maintain shared space? Instead of making it work, don’t share it at all.
And it’s usually at this point in the better episodes that I realize the good structure built out of the raw material of this show. This one was written by Tom DeVanney, who went on to write for, among other things, Family Guy. Some of the good plot ideas involve Larry the Dad and Balki the Kid; some of them involve Larry and Balki on the same level; this one involves Larry and Balki exactly as they are. Balki’s just about to start college, and hasn’t seen his mother in almost three years; Larry’s independent to the point that a full-on mother is a stumbling block to his adult pursuits, like making love to “Royalty-Free Classics v. 5”. Balki shows his Kid by saying that he’s going to be mad at Larry “forever”, which is too abstract of a concept at this point.
Mrs. Bailey comes by with another chocolate cake and comments on how clean the apartment has managed to remain in her absence.
Balki hears this and excitedly puts his feet on the couch.
Larry says he’s found a family to take care of Mrs. Bailey, the Coopers, they’re really nice, they have a farm–
Haha, gotcha, nah, Larry got her a job cleaning at a sorority house at Northwestern University. Balki tries to say that he needs her, but the college girls–those in between Larry and Balki’s states–need her more. But we don’t see those college girls, and it’s not really their need this story is concerned with, ultimately. And it’s usually at this point in the better episodes–
–where there’s still some tiny problematic piece that I have to deal with. Here, it’s how the show treats older women. Mrs. Bailey’s own children likely left home at the same age that Balki is now. We’ve historically not done a very good job in this country with letting women take on new roles as they age. Many 20th-century women were told that their ideal role–their duty–was to be a mother, wife, homemaker. But these roles have expiration dates, leaving women with virtually no role later on in life, except for that of grandmother. And then the media tell us that their sexuality is to be avoided. And the media tell us that grandmothers are annoying (indulging the kids, buying them the loud and annoying presents their parents won’t). Old women are frail; old women are sad; old women are grouchy; old women smell; old women are vain and can’t stand the thought of giving up their youth. Well, what else are you letting them have?
At least, this is what I was taught in my “psychology of women” course; maybe cleaning underwear “forever” is what she really grooves on, and more power to her for finding fulfillment. I’m just pointing out one piece of many from the media world I grew up in. It’s (I hope) inadvertent on the part of the writer, and emerges somewhat from the condensed structure of sitcom resolution. Larry’s the good guy for a change, but his choice of finding more children for Mrs. Bailey to be a mom for shows that lack of willingness to have an employer/employee conversation runs deeper, all the way down to a lack of willingness to question that basic duality to begin with. A smarter show could have had each player realize how their own extreme take on the situation was making things bad for the others; it could even have them part ways and make it okay. Here, we’ve got smart for this show, and I’m guessing probably par for the course for 80s sitcoms as well.
Anyway, Mrs. Bailey’s parting suggestion is for the cousins to try out sedentary urination.
Balki says he’s grateful for what Larry did, so Larry starts demanding an apology and acting like an asshole, even after Balki offers one.
I can’t help but remember all the times when Balki pulled this same shit. At least the show maintains its weird logic: Balki gives Larry saint status and abases himself.
Balki starts crawling towards Larry and Larry’s all like “my dicks up here, dude”.
The cousins go off to eat their cake, and Balki decides that, since it’s his turn to do the dishes, they’ll use paper plates. Not only does he not want to work, he wants to create more waste.
Join me next week for “That Old Gang of Mine”!
Boner count: Larry (1); Balki (1); Jennifer (1!!!)
Catchphrase count: Balki (1)
*poop stains are notoriously hard to wash out**
**so I’ve heard
***a week’s worth of grocery money for the cousins, we are told
****for a fuller discussion of Balki as a wholly external being, see Season 3, Episode 5: Your Feather-Touch Heart
*****as long as there’s egg rolls, that is *winkacetti*