Season 4, Episode 12: Crimebusters

Before I review Carl Winslow’s first appearance:

Tomorrow night at 7PM EST, Noiseless Chatter (Phil) (you know Phil) is hosting his fourth annual Xmas Bash!!!! He’s streaming hours of Christmas mess like TV specials, commercials, and music videos. The event 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!!!!

I made some art for the event! Perfect Strangers merchandise doesn’t really exist, unless you count the pair of Bronson Pinchot’s y-fronts that I bought on eBay last month, so here’s your chance to immortalize the non-kissin’ cousins on your wall:

nativityfinal

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 leggings. Please wear them to your place of employ.

And please come watch the Xmas Bash!!!! tomorrow night!

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Look, show. I know this is the episode where you introduce Carl Winslow. Can we please not have an episode that’s racist? And can we please not have an episode that’s misogynist? Please?

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oh shit here comes Harriette don’t you fuck this up

Harriette: Can I use your phone?

Larry: Don’t touch that phone!

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*sits on edge of seat grinding teeth audibly, my fingers’ strain on the keyboard creating hairline cracks in the plastic, fearing that Larry’s next line could be the end of me and this show*

Harriette: You want to rephrase that, baby?

Thank god. Balki says that Larry’s waiting on a call–

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Balki: Cousin Larry’s on the verge of a very big perversion.

I don’t want to pass up this opportunity to say that I long for the simple days of season 1, when Balki would make what I’d call a thesaurus mistake.  Back in “Baby You Can Drive My Car”, Balki swaps out “excited” in favor of “aroused”.  I ran into the same problem when I would tutor people studying German: I’d read their papers, and see that they had used an online dictionary to translate a single word, and picked out the first translation that came up. Sure, erwecken comes up when you search excite; but go the other way and you see the full spectrum of what erwecken means: inspire, awaken, arouse, suggest. That’s a legitimate language acquisition mistake.  But since then, we’ve moved on to Balki getting things wrong in a homophonic sense*; this is a new low, where Balki has only gotten the first letter and the word ending correct.

Anyway, Larry is waiting on a phone call about a promotion to the investigative team headed by Marshall and Walpole**, the same team that Larry was behind the creation of back in “High Society”. Remember, kids, this was the 80s, where no one working in any business ever scheduled meetings to discuss things.

Harriette, on the other hand, needs to use the phone because she moved into the Caldwell Hotel and hasn’t had phone service hooked up.  Remember, kids, THIS WAS THE 80s, when there was only one phone per office building, and they kept it in the basement, on an employee’s desk.

Now that we’ve gotten the exposition out of the way, Marshall and Walpole (bundled together in their own sleeping bag, I assume) call and Larry excitedly scampers up the stairs to find out if he got the job. (Would they have called him up there to tell him no…?)

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Harriette makes fun of Larry’s height, but who cares about that, because Carl’s here!

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It’s Carl! Hey Carrrrrl!

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Carl has brought Balki some wanted posters, which Balki treats as trading cards.  It’s a nice joke, and it’s good world-building for once.  Balki and Carl have met many times before, and they’re legitimately excited to see each other.  I don’t think Carl would indulge this hobby if he knew that Balki was just picking out new criminals to invite to the apartment.

Given this show’s rap sheet on making shitty jokes about cops and criminals, I’m surprised that there’s another good one here. Harriette comments that there’s powdered sugar on Carl’s mustache, and he hurriedly comes up with the excuse that it’s cocaine.

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Hold on, Balki’s been off-screen for more than 10 seconds, here he comes to step on the joke.

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Harriette tells him that “this is a family matter” (wink wink) and Balki leaves, because he knows how tricky the “backdoor pilot” move can be (WINK WINK).

Harriette yells at Carl until he yells back that he ate 9 donuts and he’s “paying the price”.

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Full disclosure: I watched Family Matters a hell of a lot more than I watched Perfect Strangers as a kid.  Sure, like many white kids, I was into Urkel; and I stopped watching somewhere around when Stefan Urquelle kept showing up.  But Carl Winslow is a familiar presence, and now that I’m an adult, I can see why. Reginald VelJohnson brings a lot of things to the role: excitement, the ability to become serious at the drop of a hat, and believable humility and thoughtfulness. Any time he tries to pull one over on Harriette, it’s clear he knows it’s not going to work, just like it didn’t work the last hundred times. But look: in the span of a couple of minutes, he’s gone from excited, to scared, to weaselly, to upset (at himself), to serious.

Carl came over to let Harriette know that he’s going on stakeout that night, because evidently the phones don’t work at the police station, either.  He leaves, telling Balki that Joey the Fish is “going to be big” and Balki shivers with excitement.

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That’s fucked up. I was going to say that I yearn for the idyllic days of season 1, when Balki was just really into whatever idiosyncratic stuff had reached Mypos and appealed to him. But here we see that Balki is already more American than we could ever imagine.  True crime programming was in vogue: Unsolved Mysteries, America’s Most Wanted, and Rescue 911 all began in the 1987-1989 period. Tabloids have been around for about a century now, but note that sharp rise around 1987.

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Crime reporting, once a noble job, had become commercialized, the masses yearning for more and juicier details. Frank knows what I’m talking about.

Anyway, Carl and Harriette leave on another joke about Carl being fat (black and fat, how’s that for 80s sitcom intersectionality). He’s so fat, in fact, that his absence creates a void similar to that of a balloon popping: air rushes in, bringing with it Cousin Larry.

Larry: You are looking at Larry Appleton, investigative reporter!

Balki: Your ship has finally hit the fan.

*sigh* Balki already said that the “spit’s gonna hit the fan” back in “The Break In”. So either that episode didn’t happen, or Balki’s got memory problems.  The cousins spend a while getting out the details about Larry’s job: he doesn’t get a raise and still works in the basement. His new title is “assistant research liaison to the investigative reporting team of Marshall and Walpole”, which basically boils down to getting them lunch.

It may be that we’ve spent all of the first act on setup, but it’s pretty snappy dialogue so far, with Balki going down from excited to less excited twice just to hammer it home that the paper finally decided that work in the basement is caught up and upper levels need a gofer as well. But let’s not meet the new bosses, or anything.

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Later, at the apartment, Balki tries to boost Larry’s spirits by saying that the team must have started out small as well and calls them Mushmouth and Polevault.  There’s not a reveal that Balki meant it as a joke; he’s just dumb.

Balki: The rest, as they say, is hysterectomy.

013

This fucker who aced his history final sure is a dumb motherfucker. Am I supposed to believe that he can read the mail and get it to the right people?  Larry says he wants a great story to break that will make him famous all at once.

Carl comes over to use their phone, because he’s expecting an important call from the police station.  So… he’s supposed to be on a stakeout tonight, right? Couldn’t he have… I dunno, stayed at the police station to get this important intel before going to the stakeout?

Larry starts to go to bed, but then stays up when Carl says they’re going to bust a politician. Larry stays, having gotten his “second wind”, so Balki goes off to get the antacid.

Isn’t that something Larry takes when he’s sad? Does Balki have no emotional sense anymore?  This is why I generally don’t talk about Balki’s jokes, everybody. (There is a nice touch that Larry keeps both original and mint antacid on hand.)

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Carl tells Larry that he’s planning to catch a politician and a crime kingpin together, but he can’t give any more information, because he knows Larry’s a journalist.  So… why not make friends with other neighbors in the building you moved into?

Balki: Balki and Larry’s Waterworks, which drip do you want to talk to?

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*comes very close to throwing my own bottle of antacid at Balki, stopping when I remember that I am looking at a screen*

While Carl talks to Lieutenant Gus, Balki reads “child proof cap” with no difficulties and then just puts his damn mouth on the cap. Only one Winslow child has been mentioned to this point (Eddie), but Carl opens the bottle for Balki like it’s second nature. Bronson Pinchot then fucking murders VelJohnson’s good acting moment by pretending to still not be able to open the bottle.

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Carl uses a pad of paper to write down the address of–you guessed it–a restaurant, and then he just can’t leave quickly enough.  The only things keeping him from just phasing out of the room are 1) no Myposian vest and 2) the fact that he has to say he trusts the cousins to keep a secret.

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Larry *snicker* rubs his pencil across the pad of paper, so Balki takes the pad from him and the “oh no” music comes on. Do we really need a fucking act break just to come back to see the cousins fight? Can’t Balki just tear it up, throw it in the toilet, eat it?

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Yep, here we are, now Larry’s just shouting while Balki doesn’t tear up the top sheet on the pad.

Larry takes the pad because it’s his ticket to stardom.

Balki steals the sheet and then fucking stands there with some sort of chimney sweep instead of tearing up the paper.

Look, I’m going to save us all some time here and try to blow through the rest of this second act, which turned out to also be mostly exposition.  Cousin Larry turns into an asshole and tries to convince Balki that Carl wants them to know the secret, and wants them to report it in the newspaper. He tries semantic trickery when it’s obvious whoever wrote this was trying to have Larry say it’s like they pass information in spy movies. You know, the kind of movies where people rub pencils over impressions on paper, which Larry even mentions.

But… couldn’t Larry just follow Carl? Just say “You win, Balki, I’m sorry. I’m going to go get a burger” and walk out the door? But no, this is just the show now. Larry is an asshole, Balki is an idiot.

I pine*** for the halcyon days of Season 1, when Balki’s “let me get this straight” routine took a minute at most, because it’s funny when you can succinctly point out the flaws in American logic. Remember in “Check This” when Balki summed up the incoherency of the American system of banking in about 30 seconds, flummoxing the proto-Gorpley?

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But this shit’s going on forever because Balki won’t tear up a piece of paper

Just like the kid in school your mom didn’t want you hanging around because they were a bad influence on you, I really feel like this show should quit trying to have any plotlines dealing with crime. Balki gets too excited–hell, let’s be frank–he gets aroused at the thought of criminals and the worst of him–and the show–come out. You end up with bad setups, bad jokes, an idiotic version of Balki, terrible handling of serious issues like suicide, and now we’re spending half an episode setting up some sort of comedy setpiece at a restaurant. I’m beginning to wonder if we got two black characters because this show assumes that plot holes won’t be as noticeable against a dark background.

See, here’s another one: Balki says the address of the restaurant, and Larry takes him along.

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JUST LEAVE HIM THERE

026

Okay, if “Side Show” as the restaurant’s name isn’t an inside joke about Family Matters, then it better be circus-themed on the inside.

Alderman Zittrell (they pronounce it zigh-trell) comes in and the other restaurant patrons say hello, Cheers-style. Zittrell says he wouldn’t miss Sergeant Brigetti’s party.

027

Ah, okay, see? I was just making too big of a deal!  It’s a surprise party! The cops had to get Carl on a fake assignment with Brigetti so that they could surprise him with a party! Everything I thought was a plot hole makes sense now, right?

Part of me wants to question why Carl wasn’t let in on the secret about the party; but what I had assumed was just character work earlier did let us know that Carl’s not a good liar.  So Carl’s in the dark as well. So the fact remains that I have trouble believing that a police officer is going to believe that his bosses will call him not only at home, but at a neighbor’s home, about where to go to make a huge crime bust involving a corrupt politician.  I’m fine with Carl not realizing his own limitations for keeping a poker face, but this whole plot depends on Carl not being a smart cop.  Anyway, these two guys call Carl fat.

And even though we just saw that everyone recognized the Alderman when he came in, leading me to believe that the restaurant was reserved for this very party, these two guys don’t stick out.

028

Larry posits that all of the people in the restaurant are criminals, and that they shouldn’t draw attention to themselves, so they start fucking against a potted plant.

029

Larry, like any well-informed citizen, recognizes the alderman, as well as the chief of police. He says his catchphrase twice, once for each politician.

030030

Here’s one of the few well-written parts of this episode: it’s pretty over-the-top how dumb Larry’s plan to record a conversation plays out (putting a tape recorder in a bread basket), and Linn-Baker even puts a pretty bow on the sequence by catching himself before he runs into the plant again.

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Then the cousins start arguing again about whether the guard locked the door what “secrets” are. Balki calls Larry out on lying and Larry admits it. They fight all the way over to the tape recorder.

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My favorite part of this whole scene is how the thought crosses neither of their minds that any action they take at this point could result in Carl’s murder.

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They turn on the tape recorder, at which point “Baby Love” starts playing we hear the conversation louder than the guys could possibly have been talking.  The way the conversation is worded, Larry now believes that Jennifer is going to sleep with both men that Carl will be killed the instant he steps through the door.

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To their credit, the cousins do stage a last-ditch effort to save Carl’s life.

038

please

039

PLEASE

041

Later, at the apartment building that follows European floor numbering for some goddam reason.

042

Larry apologizes to Carl, but Carl says it made him laugh, so it’s all right. He leaves, but not before making a joke about how he and Harriette use toys in the bedroom.

043

Haha, the blacks sure do have sex!

So… I gotta ask as this point: why have the Winslows moved into this apartment building? For one thing, it feels like what happened with Jennifer and Mary Anne.  They were “popular” and, rather than every now and then have a scene at the gym where one or both of them worked, they were hastily retconned as stewardesses who lived upstairs. The show has ongoing problems with being a workplace comedy.  The women who had their own lives were pulled into orbit just so they could be nearby when it was necessary for someone to *ahem* leave the room. Harriette had her own existence at the Chronicle–a job that she’d had long enough to have secrets about, and antagonistic relationships with, other employees. But now she’s forced into the same building with the cousins. Is it too much trouble to bring back Mrs. Schlaegelmilch?

Or was the Winslows’ move simply in service of the plot of this episode?  This feels like someone worked backwards from “Larry fucks up an undercover investigative assignment” and then decided they couldn’t do that without Larry finding out about a bust, and they couldn’t do that without a cop being overheard on the phone, and gee, we’ve only got two phones, one at the Chronicle and one at the apartment. I guess the Winslows have to move in!

Let me rewrite it for you: Harriette takes the cousins to Carl’s place of work at Balki’s insistence (you keep the wanted poster and Carl-hides-food gags) and the cousins overhear something about Carl’s stakeout; he shoos them out because it’s police business; at the Chronicle, Larry finds out about his promotion and decides to investigate the bust; Larry and Balki “go undercover” and nearly mess up what turns out to be a surprise party anyway.  I’m leaving out how they discover where to go, but I guess the paper pad could be from the police station, having been used for some other purpose, which would just make it more of a surprise when Larry thinks of the spy-movie trick. But this could leave Carl intelligent and in on the secret, avoid an unnecessary move for a whole family, and there might even be more time for physical comedy at the restaurant.

As it is, though, Balki’s idiocy is an infection. I never thought I’d say this, but I yearn for the early part of season 3, back when Balki would say something wrong just to get a rise out of Larry.  He may have graduated high school, but it’s been downhill since then.  Maybe Mary Anne is a bad influence on him; maybe the microfilm in the office has started off-gassing, and he’s breathed in too many fumes; maybe it’s the fact that

biki

but Idiot Balki has taken over: the poor choices, the mispronounced names. He’s forcing others to be their worst: eating donuts with Carl, pushing antacid on Larry. The promise–the threat–of this episode is that the unchecked faults of a catchphrase character have grown to the point that telephone moon phase Telly Savalas telophase is now inevitable and a new show will split off, with its own cancerous nucleus.

Weep for Family Matters, y’all.

Anyway, this episode’s trying to end and it’s in my best interests to let it.

Larry starts to list legitimate criticisms of his behavior to this point, but Balki keeps that from happening, too. He tells Larry that he’s a good writer (how would he know) and that he’s a hard worker (he knows he’s not) and then he says Maytag and Whirlpool

BALKI DO YOU EVEN

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RRRRRNNNGGG

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Balki: Patience is a virgin.

GGGGRRAAAAAAGH

_____________________________

Catchphrase count: Balki (1); Larry (2)

Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0); Carl (1)

*congratulations, you thought of the same joke I thought of. Gold starch for everybody this week.

**or possibly Walpool? Different characters pronounce it different ways. I don’t know if sitcoms ever have someone on the crew that’s there to make sure everyone pronounces things the same way; but if this show did, that person quit out of frustration long, long ago

***…sol?

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5 thoughts on “Season 4, Episode 12: Crimebusters

  1. Oh, yeah, I definitely remember this episode. It was one of a few that I recorded on an audio cassette (by holding my tape recorder up to the TV speaker). It was definitely a different experience listening to it instead of watching it, almost like a radio show – except there was audience laughter, and sometimes it wasn’t clear why they were laughing.

    The movie into the apartment must have been a temporary one. “Family Matters” later established they’d just moved into the house and hadn’t finished unpacking when Eddie was born.

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  2. Right? This is a huge continuity problem. All of the promos for Family Matters were filmed in the living room of the Winslow house, which means that if they were already filming episodes, they were aware that it was strange to have the Winslows move into the Caldwell.There’s a time difference of nine months between the airing of this episode and the airing of the pilot for Family Matters, but it seems like for pilots, they film a number of months ahead of time, and run them by test audiences before being added to the fall line-up. Frankly, having the Winslows move into the Caldwell made far less sense than Casey’s suggestion for how to do the show. My only guess is that it saved them money by having it done this way, as Casey’s way would have included building a police station set.

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  3. I’ll have more (and less) to say about Family Matters after the season’s over, but in its pilot episode (which did end up being its first episode) there’s a hallway (foyer?) outside their door. For everything after that, it goes directly outside. Though, they still had a staircase and a kitchen in the pilot episode, so, that probably wasn’t intended as an apartment, really.

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  4. Man, Carl opening the bottle is a perfectly observed little moment that you should find in a much better sitcom. I wonder if Balki still struggling with it afterward was Bronson’s improv. I strongly suspect it was. It reeks of ALF being unable to let someone else have the laugh.

    “Reginald VelJohnson brings a lot of things to the role: […] the ability to become serious at the drop of a hat […]”

    I think this is precisely what made him legitimately great. I never would have articulated it that way, but seeing it spelled out makes me picture it instantly, and realize how important it was.

    And he really was great. The show wasn’t, and God knows Carl as a character was involved in all manner of stupid shit (like when he teamed up with the Urkel bot to fight crime), but I think we can acquit the actor of being responsible for any of that. He deserved better and, to his credit, he seemed pretty game to engage with even the worst material.

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