Season 4, Episode 11: That Old Gang of Mine

Before I get to this week’s review, I want to plug a couple of things.

Next Saturday, December 17, Phil (the ALF dude) is hosting his fourth annual Xmas Bash!!!! He’ll be streaming 7 old Christmas specials and a bunch of other audiovisual holiday cheer. The event also raises money for the Trevor Project, which provides suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth. Click this sentence to get all the details about the Xmas Bash!!!!

Second plug: I made some art for the event! There’s virtually no Perfect Strangers merchandise, so here’s your chance to get a Christianized version of those little chub-sportin’ cherubs:

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I’m selling this art as prints through Society6, and all of the profits ($10 per print) will go to the Trevor Project. If you click around enough there’s options for having it framed. The art is also available as leggings and as a duvet cover. Please buy the duvet cover. Please have sex underneath it.

And please come watch the Xmas Bash!!!! on the 17th!

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We open at the Caldwell, only to find the absolute quickest exit the women have ever made from the apartment.

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15 seconds in and they’re gone! This season, it’s Mary Anne (Sagittarius) who has a new job. Let’s do some comparison here, shall we?

Last season, Jennifer–who admitted to liking Larry with the same enthusiasm as someone agreeing to, well, like Larry, I guess–spent a third of an episode telling Larry that she wasn’t sure she should take a new job in Los Angeles.  When you spend your life not necessarily liking things because they are good, choosing which is the better intangible (nice weather or Larry’s penis) is a tough choice.  Here, Mary Anne–who has almost always taken the lead in showing affection to Balki–has wasted no time accepting a promotion.  Sure, there’s a difference between being hasty and being thoughtful, but tell me who’s the dumb one again.

Larry says Balki must be feeling pain at her exit.

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But Balki didn’t fully learn his lesson about the stages of grief last season, and is currently in denial.  In the face of his cousin’s protests that Mary Anne’s feelings for him won’t change, and that she’ll stop by when she’s in town, Larry stresses that she’ll be living in London.

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Again, THANK YOU, props department, for the fancy British typeface and the clipart airplanes that also act as proof that Larry and Balki steal office supplies.

Cousin Larry says he had a traumatic experience in 5th grade, when he was in love with Caroline Smeiser. They were the perfect pre-pubescent couple until

Larry: One day, she dropped a bomb on me.

Balki: She was a terrorist?

Holy shit! Not only was his country needlessly bombed during the Vietnam War, Mypos’s army uses child soldiers?

Then Balki just keeps talking about different kinds of bombs, becoming markedly dumber over the course of a minute:

Balki: A water bomb?…. A flea and tick bomb?…. Lip bomb?

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Get a fucking context clue, Balki!  Like, I’m beginning to worry, here.  And not just about Balki, who’s barely even said his catchphrase this season.  I’m worried about the show.  I wondered a long time ago about how this show could keep up the central idea–a sheepherder whose ideas of America didn’t match up with the reality that his cousin knew.  But these guys have been through a lot by now. They’ve interacted with everyone from their neighbors, to criminals, to businessmen, to celebrities. They put people in prison, got a woman fired, put a grocery store out of business, risked the lives of themselves and their loved ones. Balki’s graduated from high school, even!  He can’t be this dumb, and the show shouldn’t keep pushing him in that direction.  If they were still in the discount store, I could accept that any episode I’m watching could happen at any time. But no matter how slowly these guys progress in their lives, they do progress. Every time Balki’s dumb in the same way as he was in season 1, it feels like a step backwards.  I’m worried about you, show. You’re acting like the past isn’t long gone and that audiences will still feel the same way about you and stop by on Friday nights. Anyway, go ahead, Larry, finish your story.

Caroline Smeiser’s father bought a cattle ranch in Texas and she wrote Larry every day, and then every week, and then every Christmas, and then never.  Hey, Larry, don’t give up hope yet! Maybe the pattern is asymptotic, and you’ll hear from her soon!

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Balki said that it sure was a sad story, but it wasn’t long enough to get them to the commercial break, so Larry needs to explicitly tie it into the plot of the episode.

Larry says that Mary Anne may be so dumb that she’ll spend three hours flipping through television channels trying to find King’s Cross station when she gets to London, but there is where she’ll stay.

This makes Balki sad.

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If the top of the episode gave us the quickest setup and quickest women’s exit ever, this scene ramps up the internal/external disconnect.  From the outside, we see two windows, one with the shade drawn, but one with a view to the outside world; between them, a straight, orderly fire escape.  On the inside, everything’s out of order in Balki’s world. He sits in the dark, his posture poor, his head pointing a different direction from his body. He sits in the kitchen, not eating, listening to the refrigerator–sounds that aren’t even meant to be heard. His view of the outside world is incorrect now: the fire escape askew, the only object that we can see worth looking at–which was nowhere to be found without–is out of his field of vision. This last, I should point out, is a deep and layered symbol: this type of window is often called a Catherine window (Catherine and Mary and Anne, all Catholic names, “Mary Anne” doubly so, referencing the matrilineage of Jesus himself), but is also known as a Rose window, a shade that Mary Anne has decided that she wants the world to see her through.  It’s an external symbol for the audience in one more way–Balki has, we could say, taken off the “rose-colored glasses” and faces his despair head-on–but it is also a symbol of Balki’s inner world.  Only he knows that the window is there, but no longer where he can enjoy it. Perhaps he looks at the moon, far away in the sky, a little moon, a lunette, half a circle, a window to nowhere, to empty space where planes don’t fly.

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Poor Balki can’t do anything these days but think about Mary Anne. He makes the same face I did when I typed out the words “I’ve lived alone for 3 and a half years” last week.

Larry tells him to take up a hobby–like how he took up photography and joined a photography club when Caroline Smeiser dumped his gibbous ass.

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Balki ponders whether that actually did any good for Larry.

Larry says there must be something Balki has always dreamed of doing. It turns out to be “sheep vaulting”, which is the #1 spectator sport on Mypos.  Balki tells the story about how a famous sheep vaulter (Tony Tomopolous) landed on a sheep and killed it during a jump.  And, yeah, I believe that. After all, we’ve learned that Myposian child soldiers spend their time off the battlefield watching headless chickens and underfed dogs run around until dead.

What I don’t believe is that, even though it’s been established that there are no cameras on the island–just a guy who draws really well–there’s a Myposian version of “Wide World of Sports”.

Balki: The thrill of victory, the agony of the sheep.

Oh, fuck you, show, with your stupid Manglish.  You can’t–you’re making a rhyme based on–the guy didn’t have a victory if–

*sigh*

Larry mentions Mary Anne and Balki cries some more.

The next day, at the Chronicle, Harriette (dressed here as Ed Grimley) and Lydia run out of the elevator to ask where Poochie Balki is.  Larry explains that he took the day off beginning a new hobby.  Larry suggested things like coin collecting, model building, and historical walks, which is deep cut all the way back from the Vegahhhhhs episode.

Lydia says that Larry’s advice stinks, and yeah, come on: what happened to Balki playing baseball? What happened to Balki liking music? What happened to playing with squeaky toys? What happened to Balki taking in prisoners? Even Harriette agrees with her.

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(and then insults her)

Balki rides a 1988 Harley Springer Softail into the basement office.

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After the commercial break, Balki’s just sitting there, fucking revving the bike.

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The archives is through one of those doors! Think of the smoke damage!  I blanched when they were tearing up those books at the beginning of the season, but this is unforgivable!  The archives of the newspaper of record for the city of Chicago–probably the whole world–is irreplaceable stuff!

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Balki says that he’s joined a club called the “Motor Psychos”. I feel like Balki’s outfit is trying to embrace two almost-discordant things here. Yes, many pop culture objects and trends in the 80s were indeed people working through–and mashing up–the 1960s. I mean, if Peggy Bundy’s animal print outfits weren’t supposed to evoke the popularity of same in the 1960s, then I don’t know what their purpose was.  Similarly, yes, there was some actual overlap between that rockabilly fashion sense and being into motorcycles*, but leather and animal prints diverged paths a long ways back. Thanks for indulging me in talking about something I don’t know much about. All you missed was the cousins repeating the words “Motor Psychos” over and over.

Before I move on, I’d like to point out that this motorcycle gang has given this new initiate into their gang a brand new motorcycle.

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The women in the audience yuk it up at the fact that there’s a hole in the knee of Balki’s jeans.  Larry notices that Balki is stealing his usual bit of pretending to be something he’s not; he knows the dangers.

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Larry comments on Balki’s tattoo, and Balki says that it’s “a loaner”. Larry thinks for a second about how that joke doesn’t make sense, no matter which of two ways you try to interpret it.

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Balki says that Larry should join so they can ride their hogs together, and somehow there’s not a joke about riding real hogs in this, the show about the guy who thinks that every word of American slang has something to do with the agricultural lifestyle he left behind.

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Balki leaves to go to his initiation, and even though the motorcycle is relatively quiet (like, quieter than the cousins whispering about Mrs. Bailey), it’s enough to drown out Larry.

I’m cracking up because that is the absolute stupidest name for a bar I’ve ever seen.

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There’s a story there. Like, somebody opened up a bar called “Wild Bill’s” first, and then somebody opened “Wild Bill’s Saloon”, and then someone was forced to pick “Wild Bill’s Bar”… you’ve all dealt with coming up with a unique username.  There’s a really shitty Yosemite Sam-a-like with the widest possible hat brim on the sign, too. I mean, like, worse than daycare cartoon character ripoff shitty. But I guess we are overdue for a bunch of big men with no sleeves to beat up the cousins, though, so let’s get to it.

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Balki runs into a likely candidate, who is SO BIG that any information traveling from his nerve endings gets tired before it reaches his brain, and he doesn’t notice instantly.

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And there’s that Balki walk again, last seen in “High Society”! Here it’s a symbol of how he fell down.

The giant biker’s name is Cobra; I’m going to assume that he is the younger brother of Snake, whom we met in season 1.

Balki thought he was getting 1000cc, but finds himself faced with a catch-22 instead: he must have an “old lady” to have the initiation.

…wait for it…

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…yep, there’s the joke: Balk tried to kidnap an old woman from a rest home.

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Cobra offers Fran as Balki’s old lady. But no Motorcycle Maiden she: Fran sniffs and puts her leg up on the table.

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Larry shows up to save his cousin and THANK YOU to the wardrobe department for allaying my earlier fears. There’s some decent biker outfits here. I’m grooving in particular on the requisite biker with granny glasses and engineer’s cap. Today’s television and film makers have forgotten about this guy.

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Balki tries to do the Dance of Joy, but Larry knows that the gayest dance you can get away with in a place like this is the one Pee-Wee did.

Can I please, PLEASE get a good shot of the Motor Psychos patch?

Cobra calls Larry a “pocket yuppie”; Larry proves him right by complimenting his Bolo tie. Then we get another clunky joke setup (#45 in a series, collect ‘em all!) that has an actual good punchline.  Let me show you how this plays out so you’ll know what I mean.

Cobra: The kid stays. He makes us laugh.

Larry: Well, you know, if it’s laughs you’re looking for, uhh, I could send you some comedy albums. You like Steve Martin? Robin Williams? What about Jay Leno? He rides a motorcycle!

Cobra: Jay Leno’s funny! But! …he’s no Garry Shandling.

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I laughed out loud at that line, but I kid you not: I had to go back just to remember how they got from point A to point D.

Cobra Patchman has his assistants hang Larry’s jacket–with Larry in it!

Balki says that Cobra’s just a big meanie and that he doesn’t want to be in the Goonies anymore. So they hang Balki.

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Also, THANK YOU 1950s Biker Cap Guy, now I can sell t-shirts!

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A biker runs in saying that a beer truck overturned, so they all run away to… lick it up off the ground?

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guys–

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if you–

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hey–

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Look, guys, what works in the bedroom doesn’t always work in a new setting!

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Reaching for a piece of wood worked when they were in quicksand, so they try it again here, struggling to grab a chair. I’ve probably said it a dozen times by now, but physical comedy on this show seems to work better when the cousins are restrained.  Balki gets the chair, he gets down, and–

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Balki starts saying “do it for me” and Larry protests, knowing exactly what he means.

Balki: Please, Mr. Scarecrow, which way to the Emerald City?

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The setup, the implications, and the payoff are all funny.  Something that funny coming out of left field is rare for this show. And now, back to Gay Joke Theatre:

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Do beer trucks, in addition to carrying cases of branded boxes of canned and bottled beer, also carry kegs? Was it delivering to this very bar?

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And I saw it coming that the bottle would not break in Larry’s hand, but I’m enjoying this. Balki’s dumbass pastiche of biker clothes, the fact that somebody in wardrobe earned their paycheck this week, the Wizard of Oz joke, the quick plot setup. Plus, this episode sets its sights incredibly low: Balki joins a biker gang and Larry says “no, don’t do that”.  This gives us room for visual humor, physical comedy, and funny guest stars like the guy who played Sloth breaking the beer bottle on his head.

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The cousins can just stand there and babble about what Larry was trying to do and I don’t even care that it doesn’t advance anything. This episode is just enjoying where it is at any given moment.

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Gee, I don’t know, sometimes things are funny and sometimes they’re not, I guess. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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The bikers recognize that Larry is Balki’s old lady and proclaim that it’s initiation time. Larry points to the restrooms and says “there’s Elvis”** and even though the tallest guy is standing in the back of the group, they all just stare for awhile as the cousins run away.

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They run into the apartment and verify that they’re safe from the bikers. Balki milks it so that Larry is scared for his life longer than necessary, like the kind shepherd we know him to be.

Larry digs into the alternate meanings of “old lady” and Balki cries, thinking of Mary Anne. How she was so dumb she thought a V-twin was just a W; so dumb she thought a sissy bar was a place where gay guys went to drink; so dumb she thought dual sport meant trying to play baseball and football at the same time; so dumb she thought riceburner was, you know, kind of a racist term…

There’s a knock at the door, and even though Larry was scared that someone would come through it and kill him not 45 seconds ago, he opens it up right away.

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It’s Mary Anne!

She compliments Balki’s outfit while Balki rubs her face. Mary Anne came back because she missed Chicago and Balki.

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Both women have now turned down success in favor of these guys. Successful jobs… guys with jobs in the basement… god damn, do I really have to talk about sexism again? Two weeks in a row?  Well, what the hell, this was basically this season’s Fat Marsha episode, let’s lean into it.

America was once a novelty–the country that reached all the way from one ocean to another.  As early as the 1890s, Frederick Jackson Turner saw the societal potentialities that such a country had open to it; his “frontier thesis” was that America was defined by its frontiers.  Whereas the initial colonization of America had freedom from the Church of England as one of its goals; the frontier promised freedom from church itself.*** Though even Turner wondered at how the dynamic would change one the frontier was lost, it was a promise made anew with the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.  The 50s gave way to the 60s, where the reality of biker gangs was noticeable enough to become fixed in the media through such films as The Wild Angels and Easy Rider.**** However, by the time of the airing of “That Old Gang of Mine”, the Interstate system was three years away from completion.  You could argue that the frontier, and perhaps America itself, was pretty much completed. Perhaps it had already entered a period of decadence, now that biker gangs were off the open roads and had found a new home in the city.

The world had grown smaller; but the world had grown wider.  New opportunities were opening up. Job promotions weren’t limited to one country, or even one continent, or even one gender.

Claiming freedoms often obscures intent, like the aforementioned split from the Church of England.  You can basically assume a silent (men’s) within lots of stuff throughout history; black (men’s) voting rights after the civil war; (men’s) right to protest the Catholic church; the beginning of the (men’s) university system in the Middle Ages.  I’ve never liked the word “herstory” because I am (a guy who is) into etymology and pretty anal retentive to boot, but it’s a valid damn point.  The show is right to reject the outdated and corrupted idea of freedom represented by the bikers; it leads to crime and stupid business names. In one sense, the show is trying to say that civilized society comes down to a nicer type of necktie.  But this show is also staunchly committed to carving out an inoffensive middle ground, and the polar opposite it presents makes the whole message clear: women should not be allowed freedoms.

On the biker side: the bikers are free to dress as they please, talk as they please, take what they please. But they are also so free that Fran belongs to whoever wants or needs her.  Whose old lady was she before? It doesn’t matter, Balki needs one now. Women shouldn’t be allowed these freedoms, whether it’s to reject keeping their knees together as a true lady would…

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…or whether it’s having control over their own bodies, even if they are still part of the capitalist machine…

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…or whether it’s accepting the next stage of global social & labor evolution, sprouting wings and flying halfway around the world. Wild Angels, indeed!

The cousins don’t have specialized skills. Couldn’t Balki sort mail in London? Couldn’t Larry write two sentences a month in California? Jennifer and Mary Anne, we are left to assume, are the Chicago natives, and they were willing to move. Larry and Balki are the newbies to the town and they’re way more tied to the city they never explore.  Larry may have gotten a degree in photography, but Mary Anne (Summa Cum Laude) studied in a field where she had to write a thesis. She’s flown around the globe multiple times; she doesn’t know the meaning of the word “frontier”. Why not support her success?

Best I can tell, no conversations were ever had about whether the men should move to where the women would work. Okay, okay, I’ll grant you this: the show had not clarified Larry and Jennifer’s relationship last season, and that very episode did.  And while it’s never explicitly said what Mary Anne and Balki are to each other

come

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the fuck

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on

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I guess… no matter how serious you are, if the woman leaves, that’s that? And it’s just a rejection of you? Don’t get me wrong, we learn anew each week just how fragile Larry’s ego is, but god DAMN.

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Season 2’s “Get a Job” made the statement that men should fear women controlling them. “That Old Gang of Mine” reinforces that men should be in control of women. A woman owned by everyone is as bad as a woman owned by no one. One man should own one woman.

Join me next week for “Crimebusters”, which will probably turn out to be a subpar remake of the 1982 film “Night Shift”.

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

Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (1)

*That overlap was called “Elvis”; and I feel that its late-80s version is best understood by looking to Nicolas Cage’s performance as Sailor Ripley in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart.

**he was last seen on a toilet, to be fair

***The downside of this thesis, you could argue, is that it pushed all of the criminals westward, resulting in the sinful state of California, where you could *shiver* turn right on a red light. By the way, take a wild guess where the Hells Angels started.

****Disclaimer: I’ve watched neither of those, but I did see Werewolves on Wheels, which I’m sure was essentially the same plot

*****If you can read this, Jennifer didn’t necessarily fall off

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7 thoughts on “Season 4, Episode 11: That Old Gang of Mine

  1. I had completely forgotten about this episode until I read your review. Kinda disappointed that Gorpley didn’t show up while Balki was riding through the basement. Or did Gorpley see him through the office window, consider going out, remember last Christmas, and say “No, too soon. Too soon.”?

    Like

    • I’ll admit I’m building a lot just from the Fran character here to make my argument, and again, the misogyny that I’m reading here may come as much from the context of other episodes as it does from this one alone. Redeeming? I realize I don’t think that way, but I’ll admit it is one of the rare few that I’d watch again for entertainment. ALF needed redemption way more than the Motor Cousins do.

      Like

  2. Uuuugggghhhh, fuck this episode. Fuck it and its mixed bag of stereotypes and messages.
    So Mary Anne is moving to London to take a cool new job, and Balki misses her. That’s the natural progression of life, Balk. Are we really supposed to believe that that girl that Larry wanted a million years ago would have made his life any richer by continuing to be a long-term pen-pal? Hell no. She clearly found other interests, as did he. This is how things go. Sure, Balki could drop everything and follow her, but why would he? This show keeps trying to establish Larry-Jennifer and Balki-Mary Anne as couple buddies, but also seems to have a death grip on the will they-won’t they. You don’t date a guy for years just for kicks. You either enter into a committed, long-term relationship or you establish him as a go-to fuck buddy when you’re between boyfriends. The show wants to stay firmly in the giggly “check yes or no” stage with both couples, which is baffling to say the least, and the reason why Balki should not follow Mary Anne half-way across the world. He hasn’t even seen her fucking placemats. In fact, if she had not rushed back, I might have taken a stab in the dark, and said that she had taken the job partially to escape the crazy Greek(ish) guy with whom she was never able to establish anything. You’re allowed to miss your hometown and that one guy, but was she even there for a week? Did she give the job any kind of chance at all? Or did she rush back because she’s “dumb”? We’ve established that in certain ways, Mary Anne is very book smart…far more so than any other character on this show. Yet they persist with the dumb blonde jokes because, you know, she can’t be toooo smart. That’s emasculating. Larry often tries to come off as the smartest person in the room, yet he’s often shown up by Jennifer, Balki, pretty much anybody, for the sake of a joke. But then it’s written off as Larry being egotistical, or having a terrible idea – anything to ensure that weekly dumb jokes are not made about Larry. Mary Anne isn’t afforded that luxury. Sure, she’s smart as hell, but not so much that you don’t wonder if she went to school to get her MRS degree.

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    • Then we have Lydia. Lydia is smart enough in her own right to have landed a job at a large newspaper – a better fucking job than Larry, to boot. She’s been there longer, so that may have something to do with it, but we don’t know – Lydia may have a journalism degree. Outside of work, she lives on her own, pays her own way, and has an active love life. She’s allowed to make her own choices there, though not so much that it also doesn’t become the butt of a few jokes. Can’t have a woman who enjoys sex, you know. That makes her a slut. Yay, stereotypes.
      Harriet is similarly a strong character, sharp-tongued, and obviously a decent sparring partner, because they often pair her against Lydia. You can tell she has no fucks to give just from her posture and stance – hands on her hips, chest wide open. Unfortunately, she’s a tertiary character, there for laughs, as well as being the stereotype of the Black Lady With Large Personality. Her character is finally given the care and attention it deserves when she gets her own show, and they’re able to make her more subtle.

      Like

      • Lydia starts out as just a successful, neurotic woman. The neurotic aspect was generalized at first, which I found adorable and relatable. But, yeah, they are quickly making her into a “sexually needy” woman. But (*cough* 3 and a half years *cough*) I can still relate. But then they start suggesting that she uses Harriette’s wisdom to write her advice column, which is in keeping with Harriette’s character, but not what we’re supposed to believe of Lydia in some episodes.

        I would so watch a show with Harriette, Lydia, Mary Anne and Fat Marsha.

        Like

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