Season 4, Episode 13: Games People Play


Ugh. Welcome back, I guess. This fucking show, you guys. Three weeks of various types of shit.  Like, seriously, “Crimebusters” was the attempt to sell audiences on a show about a black family? They barely collect two minutes of screentime amidst Balki’s nonstop verbal tide.


Anyway, here’s another episode of probably the same shit again.  Some old man walks by the Chronicle with a paper bag, which is already better than anything from the last three weeks. Let’s take a moment to wonder what’s in the bag.  A sandwich? Alcohol? Jell-O, the beloved treat of old men everywhere?


Inside, RT (Repetitive Tedium) Wainwright comes in to say that Marshall and Walpole want Larry to go on a gameshow called “Risk it All” and write 2,000 words about it for the “Sunday supplement”.

Larry gets excited about the prospect of researching, and so do I!  Games People Play is one of my favorite works in psychology. It lays out the foundations of transactional analysis, positing that there are three ego states: the child, the adult, and the parent.  Think of what this framework will reveal about the cousins, whose criticisms of each other form a complex arrangement of parent-child/child-parent transactions, often disguised.  And–get this–much of the theory of social games is built on the idea of a “stroke” as the basic unit of social transaction.

*rubs hands together so gleefully smoke begins to rise*

Stroke! Unit! This is going to be a solid review, people, and I just can’t wait–


RT Wainwright: It’s not Watergate.



RT Wainwright: Get going!

*rackin frackin fliparip rattin hittin*

RT’s right, though. This assignment is completely beneath an investigative team.  But this brings up two questions: why were they assigned it (probably assigned it by Wainwright himself) in the first place? And also, they’ve got some damn balls to be telling the publisher of the paper to go delegate it to someone else. That should be beneath Wainwright. Wainwright’s at least a couple of steps above Larry in the hierarchy, but certainly he’s above Marshall and Walpole. We know more about what Marshall and Walpole do (they investigatively report and they eat sandwiches), so why don’t we see them? Why can’t it just be Wainwright giving the assignment, if he’s the one to say it?  And why did actor F.J. O’Neil play better with audiences than Eugene Roche? Wainwright tells him that Balki has to come too for some goddam reason and that they have 30 minutes to get there. So how was all this set up?  Is anyone going to tell someone at “Risk it All” to expect Larry and Balki? Is anyone going to give them press passes?  Why did Marshall and Walpole wait until 30 minutes before they needed to be there to pass on this information?  Is there a restroom back there past the fire extinguisher, and that’s why Wainwright is going back there? Will he pee? Is he a wall man, or a stall man?


Show, usually you’ve got some kind of kernel of illogic at your core, but this? This is a huge, gaping void.  An old white guy whom we’re seeing for the first time this season (and the second time ever in the whole show) runs in, says “You’re going to be on a game show and I mean NOW, pal!” and runs away.  I would have expected you to recap the plot setup for people who tuned in late once they realized The Father Dowling Mysteries wasn’t on that week*.


Larry decides that, even though there are at least three other people who work in the basement, he’s going to take Balki. He’s never had any problems bringing Balki along!

It turns out that it’s not only Balki’s favorite show, but he’s also in love with the hosts: Bink Warmington and Kelly Langston.  There’s an actual good joke about how vapid female game show personalities were in the 1980s: Kelly published a book on “hygiene for teens”.  To me, a child of the late 80s, the joke works because it feels like the kind of book that someone like that would publish. What’s more, though: Vanna White did publish a book in 1987 (Vanna Speaks) which, among other things, did offer beauty tips.



This may have been one of the quickest “plot” setups we’ve seen, not to mention the least logical, but at least I can always count on the person who makes all the signs and graphics to cheer me up. They replaced the S with a $ and everything. (-□-)︵*


For, I think, the third or fourth time ever, both cousins are off-screen at the same time. These two women aren’t crucial to the plot, but I savor such moments. And, oddly enough, these unnamed women are doing what such unnamed women always do in my fantasies: trying to knock apples off each others’ heads with squirt bottles of ketchup.

If Kelly Langston is a straight-up Vanna White-alike, then this is surely meant to be Double Dare.  I mean, right down to the logo having 3D letters against a colored burst.  It wouldn’t surprise me if there were similar shows in local markets, but yeah, it’s Double Dare.

I skipped over this a minute ago, but Balki suggested they call all their friends to come get tickets to the show and see them. Larry told him they didn’t have time, so we were left to assume that they weren’t called.  But here are all four women in the audience!



I mean, maybe it could make sense? Mary Anne (Sagittarius) may be so dumb that she thinks Supermarket Sweep is the janitor’s job, but I’m willing to guess that she telepathically knew the cousins would be playing.

We are given some dark foreshadowing as the women contestants walk off the stage: they are blaming each other for their loss.  A show that forces people to work together has instead torn them apart.


Larry somehow didn’t know that Balki’s favorite show involved stunts and now fears that he will humiliate himself in front of an entire city.

Uh, buddy? Hate to tell you…


Somehow Kelly Langston got the information about Larry and Balki being cousins in time for the show.  She’s a thorough professional, not showing upset at not having known until maybe 15 minutes ago.


Balki runs around the set shouting about the games and weeps openly in front of “Dueling Buckets”.


Kelly does that same arms-out motion that women do anytime I try to hug them.  You know it has to be in her contract that this kind of thing is never supposed to happen.

Okay, this brings up another two questions:  Are there really only two hosts and a few cameramen working on this show? Again, why is it okay that these two guys are able to just show up almost without warning and 10 minutes later get to be on television? Is there no screening process? Why weren’t the cousins coached at all by anyone about what the show would entail? Isn’t there always someone there to tell you what you can and can’t do on air? Like, don’t curse, don’t badmouth the hosts, don’t talk to the audience, don’t talk to the cameras, don’t take your penis out unless you absolutely have to.


I guess not, because Balki talks openly about Kelly’s nude photo scandal (hey, what better way to teach teens about hygiene?) and Bink’s false teeth. Then he puts his face directly into the camera and runs off for a quickie with Mary Anne.


Balki’s second big TV debut makes me kind of sad. After all,


and she’ll never get to see this.

Bink offers them the option to do stunts or answer questions. Oh, good, for a minute there I thought they might get their clothes dirty.  Cousin Larry gets excited because he likes questions.

Balki keeps the focus on himself by trying to do both Bink’s and Kelly’s jobs and explain everything.  Bink is great, because he looks about as ready to hit Balki as I am, but there’s an odd effect going on in this episode.  At this point, the fourth wall falls a little bit, because the ABC studio audience keeps laughing at everything Balki does.  But… we just saw that there is a real audience there to watch Risk it All, so it makes it feel like the studio audience for the game show is laughing at Balki.  Bink may be flustered by Balki, but isn’t this the type of thing that launches careers? Harvey Pekar on Letterman, William Hung on American Idol, Jennifer and Mary Anne on… on second thought, let’s not go down that path.

Bink: Which famous artist cut off his ear?

Larry goes to answer and Balki stops him.

Phew! For a minute there I thought this episode could have been done with any two characters who could stand upright and talk out loud. But I forgot that Larry sees things one way, and Balki sees things another way.  That’s the difference that Perfect Strangers brings to the table. Also I think they work for a discount store?


Bink tells them it’s only a 30-minute show. He knows as well as I do that watching two men argue about which button they’re going to push so that one of them can write for a newspaper is not exciting television.

And what the hell, I’m not feeling particularly kind to this show this month, so I’ll point out that despite Larry arguing that he just wants to answer questions and go home to write his article, he’s going about this the wrong way.  Neither one of them is being cognitively present for the experience of being on a gameshow. Everywhere they go, no matter what’s going on, the only show these two are interested in is each other. Larry will have plenty to write about how Balki is his cousin, but ultimately he’s traded the struggle he should care about–man vs. corporation–for the safe one, the one he’s comfortable with–cousin vs. cousin.


Larry answers the question and Bink has to look at the card to verify it for some goddam reason. Anyway, the next game Larry doesn’t want to do is “Sit On It”, which involves breaking whipped cream-filled balloons by sitting on them.


Balki: We good at this, Cousin! We do this every Wednesday!

Larry answers a question about the Peanuts comic strip.**  Balki gets upset at Larry hitting the question buzzer and tries to explain patiently to him that he wants to do the stunts. He tells Larry that it’s war and they stare at the studio audience for some goddam reason.


This brings up two questions: how does Balki watch a daytime show when he has a fulltime job?

After the commercial (and I assume, the commercial for “Risk it All”?), Larry bashes Balki’s head into the console.


The women cheer even though they have to realize that the cousins are doing their shit again.

Bink comments that they are the only contestants to make it so far without doing a stunt.  You can tell he’s trying to convey to them that they have ratings to maintain, and that old women are changing the channel to Matlock as he speaks, so get with the fucking program.


He offers them “Flying Chickens” and how


did that


become a thing?


Anyway, Larry answers another question and they cut to commercial. Bink loudly demands the head of whoever let the cousins in.  Evidently, the cousins’ presence is so dangerous to this show that he just leaves them there to shout at each other in front of the audience.


Balki wants prizes and Larry inadvertently becomes the mouthpiece for the American Judeo-Christian Tradition. You see, the Judeo-Christian worldview is that people are inherently evil.  That, just as an apple has its seeds inside it, so too was all of humanity*** inside Adam at the Fall, and complicit in the choice to rebel against God. Larry identifies greed as the most basic of all human failings, a root of all kinds of evil. Greed is inside Balki, and Bink is the temptor, sucking Balki in. Bink is false down to his very teeth, “Warmington” a false front for the hellfire inside him, fallen angel calling to fallen man.


Nah, j/k, the Risk it All audience just yuks it up over an Alien reference, not realizing that these are real men in an abusive relationship.

Bink returns and sets the cousins on the pinnacle of the temple and shews them the prizes they could claim if they risk their current winnings of $1,000. The prizes are some of Larry’s main weaknesses:


A phallic symbol! An even taller blonde! A giant swiss cheese prop that’s no doubt bigger than his brother Billy’s giant swiss cheese prop!

Larry may have shooed the demon of greed out of his own house, but now the demon has returned with seven others. He says they’ll risk it all and starts humping Balki.


Lydia starts getting hot for Bink, and Mary Anne voices a practical, real-world concern about the prizes.

Kelly starts to explain Dueling Buckets, but Larry just starts shouting and growling at Bink to give him a question; which he then answers correctly. The car is theirs!


Again, Bink takes the cousins up into an exceeding high mountain and shews them a cruise around the world, and $25,000; and says to them, all these things I will give you, if you’ll just fucking do the games during the bonus round.


That’s not how game shows work. They’d cut to the announcer talking over a static image of a cruise ship.

Psychology sidebar: Social facilitation is an effect where the presence of an audience can magnify someone’s skill, or lack thereof. If someone’s good at a task, performance improves in front of an audience. This is, in some ways, the core of social psychology, and it’s a consistent effect across species. In fact, there’s a fascinating study with cockroaches where the researchers–




Creepy Balki tries to look down Left Banana’s peel while Bink tells them they can answer questions or do all the stunts in a row. I really like Bob Goen; he knows he’s supposed to be playing a tempter type, throwing out the easy question cards with evil glee.


Bink: What land did the Roman emperor Claudius annex in 43 AD?

Larry realizes Bink’s true nature and calls for aid:


Larry hits the STUNTS button (the irony here is that Balki knew the answer).

The cousins have three minutes to make their way through the whole grocery store play all the games, and they also have to travel from game to game on the “Risk It All Commode Cab”.


Kelly:  That’s right, Bink! It’s an American Imperial Whisper Flush with a patent cushion seat, compliments of Cunningham Hardware, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Okay, if you’d told me that this is where the episode was going–that Larry and Balki were going to be haunted by bananademons and forced to shit on live television–I wouldn’t have cared about the shoddy setup at all. Like, RT (Rolling Toilet) Wainwright could have just said “I want you to investigate how Satan himself has taken over daytime television” and I’d have just fast-forwarded to here.

The cousins play “Sit On It”, getting whipped cream all over their asses.


The cousins play “Dueling Buckets”. Larry throws beanbags at targets so that the buckets rain shit on Balki’s head.


Larry just crazily hops up and down on the toilet, but what else is new.

The cousins play “Wheel of Schmutz”, where they have to grab four necklaces and put them around their necks.


The cousins play “Flying Chickens”, where they must catapult a chicken in the air and catch it in a bucket of barbecue sauce. They’ve been practicing for years; social facilitation means they finish this one quickly.


Seen here: physical comedy that’s actually making me laugh. Linn-Baker’s just tiredly waving Balki to keep moving while Balki struggles to push the Commode Cab.

The cousins play “Bobbing for Bananas”.


Here’s the flip side of social facilitation: if you’re not that great at something, your performance goes down. Now that the guys have women to suck their dicks, they haven’t been doing it for each other. They lose everything.


Larry comes home and is happy that he has what he needs for his article. He says he should be proud of himself, but instead he cries again.


This isn’t a good thing you’re doing, show. It was one thing to have Larry worn completely down and reveal his needy inner child, but you’re just abstracting that into “Larry cries at the end”.

Larry: If I’d just had five more seconds, I think I coulda gotten that last banana.

I was going to write some fake Balki dialogue, like “I brought it home with me, cousin”, but that’s barely more of a gay joke than the show makes. Balki’s waggling his eyebrows and everything.


This week’s lesson, as stated by Balki, is that sometimes it’s good to have fun.  Is it a lesson for me for reviewing the show? I don’t know. I had fun watching it. It encapsulates a lot of the goofy late-80s television aesthetic. I’m not saying that it’s impressive for one TV show to look and feel like another, but I’m definitely grooving on the nostalgia aspects here, and there sure were plenty. But…

Is there really any reason for this show to do this story? A booksmart Midwesterner struggling to turn his photography hobby into a career and his eternally naive sheepherder cousin who wants to live the American Dream… go on a gameshow. And now that I’ve typed that out, yes, I think that is a fine story for Perfect Strangers to tell… season 1/2 Perfect Strangers, that is. Balki, swayed by anything the TV says to him, gets them on the gameshow somehow. Season 1/2 Larry is more often a protective Larry, rather than an unswervingly manipulative one. His cautions to his cousin about greed (and maybe how you have to pay taxes on prizes) turn into an opportunity to impress the upstairs blonde.  But here, Larry’s already had his good career move and just wants to win prizes because, hey, it’s more money, and the weather’s great on a cruise. Here, the newspaper job, and Balki’s time in the states, are mere distractions, so just get to the gameshow already so we can whip out all the sure-fire funny words: bananas, chickens, hygiene, commode, buckets, schmutz, sit.

Join me next week for “Come Fly With Me”!


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

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

*I at least get to do some research

**In the real world, early 1989 was about the same time that I started learning to read, which coincided with when that comic strip strangely changed its title from “Snoopy” to “Peanuts”.

***In this view of things, Eve’s not sinful, she’s just dumb. Looking at you, JCT

2 thoughts on “Season 4, Episode 13: Games People Play

  1. “Join me next week for ‘Come Fly With Me’!”

    Oh, I remember this one! It’s the one where RT (Rancid Tilapia) Wainwright eats bad seafood and Balki has to land the plane.

    …whew. I waited like, 10 months for the chance to keep up my running joke. I KNOW YOU ENJOYED IT

    Also, I unironically enjoyed this episode. And I enjoyed it ironically. But I did both, which is the point. It seemed like they genuinely had a lot of fun making it, and that was at least a little bit contagious.

    –Philip Van Reed


  2. It’s possible that they had a half-hour to get to the studio for the pre-show stuff, not that the show went live in a half-hour.

    Still doesn’t explain how the women got there, too.

    However, Marshall and Walpole could have passed this story over to Larry ahead of time (without telling him), and the show was informed and the tickets were bought for their friends ahead of time as well, and then Wainwright would have just been like “Surprise, you’re on a game show!”

    Maybe Balki tapes the show.

    But were game shows done live? Even local ones?


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