We open at the Chronicle, where a Brinks truck full of financial capital is quickly speeding away.
Inside, Larry is totalling bowling score averages.
Carl “Calvin” Lewis: 195
And for the first time this season, a writer actually watched the opening credits:
Larry: Nothing’s gonna stop us.
Larry pumps up his team about winning the championshhheeeeeit
Season 4’s been slowly turning into a horror movie, so it looks like the black guy’s going to die first.
I’m beginning to feel bad for the cousins. We’re meant to assume that Balki becomes fast friends with everyone he meets, but we never see him with his school chums (all arrested, I assume), and we haven’t seen the other apartment dwellers since Eddie hopped on Larry’s bike and didn’t stop until he got to Mexico. But aside from Miss Thing 1 and Miss Thing 2, we’ve only seen these two consistently socialize with their coworkers. I’m in my early 30s, and that’s already the case for me, but these guys are supposed to be in their mid-20s, so shouldn’t they be seeking out activities with people their own age?
And yeah, that tells us what’s going on for Larry, or even the women, but for Balki… has he not invited a single person home that either he or Larry would be friends with? Maybe there’s an explanation, though. You see,
And think about it: the grandmotherly Mrs. Bailey was the only person whom Balki has invited to “stay” this season.
And just as corporate interests have been disrupting U.S. financial capital by hoarding wealth, so too have they been leaching social capital away from the average American in multifarious ways. Robert D. Putnam’s Bowling Alone tracks the drastic drop in basically all forms of social capital (reductive definition: the “good(s)” that come from networking) over the last half of the 20th Century in the United States. In short, Putnam describes how pretty much anyone younger than a baby boomer is less likely to be active in religious groups, civic groups, sports groups, less likely to volunteer, less likely to give to charity, less likely to be politically active, less likely to go on a fucking picnic. The reasons Putnam points are the rise in individualism and use of individualistic forms of technology; both of which, if you ask me, are symptoms of capitalism. I mean, hell, I grew up with advertisements telling me I could be the “first on my block” for whatever; how many companies push products that only one person on the block has to buy?*
This episode is a bit of a time capsule of the late 80s. The fact that employees of the Chicago Chronicle are friends and are part of a bowling league was going against the national trend.
Ah, who am I kidding: Larry just goes bowling so he can stroke his ego and pig out on pizza and beer; Lydia only rents bowling shoes so she can try to fuck the guy who works at the alley; they’ve already contracted Jo Marie Payton to be in 19 episodes; and there has to be a fourth moveable piece so it can be A SURPRISE when Balki has to fill in for him. They’re all pawns of the capitalist machine. But is Balki also falling prey to this sickness?
We learn that Balki may miss seeing the game because he has to go to the doctor.
Anyway, once again I’m giving too much attention and thought to the first damn minute of the show, so let’s get some plot points out of the way so we can get rolling (lol because bowling). Calvin works under Gorpley, Gorpley is head of the other team, Larry wants to win so he can rub Gorpley’s face in it, Balki is funny because English idioms are 100% impenetrable even with context clues.
Bye, Calvin! Nice knowing you.
They are at the “Bowl 48 Lanes Panorama Cocktails” Bowling Alley to practice for the big game. Just like any real business, even though the league championship game is tonight, they haven’t changed their sign in weeks.
Lydia knocks down 8 pins and there’s a weird moment with the sound where you hear the first part of her line, and then it gets quieter while Balki talks. Plus you can tell that a few words into Lydia’s line, it switches to ADR for some goddam reason. I assume there was a joke there, and certainly there was room for two more seconds. Harriette’s making a face at Lydia, so I assume it was a gag line. I assume that Bronson came in and said his line too soon.
Balki says that this isn’t like an alley between buildings. At this point, it’s obvious that Balki’s language failures are almost completely Larry’s fault. He refuses to teach Balki to bowl because he needs to concentrate.**
Gorpley’s squad comes in looking fresh AF and Gorp brags about flagrantly flouting conflict-of-interest ethics. Calvin’s off washing out the Davros cup, or stabbing Gorpley’s dad, or dead or whatever. Who cares, he’s gone. The year previous, Gorpley won the championship by locking Lance Dick in a restroom.
Harriette: Look, baby, I can smell a practice scene coming on, so we’re getting the fuck up out of here.
Balki tells Larry that the eigenstates of this episode’s possibilities are coalescing towards Balki being funny with a bowling ball. Larry tries to distract him with the promise of sugar, but they’re being observed by a studio audience, causing collapse.
I was really hoping Larry would hit Balki in the crotch.
And here’s homosexually-coded scene #223 in a series (collect them all!):
Larry tells Balki to grab a ball while lying on the floor.
Larry: When everything comes together, you start your stride.
Larry’s being a smarmy about his skills, but it’s earned here. In “the Unnatural”, Larry was the manager of the baseball team. Managing is a different set of skills from that of playing baseball. But bowling is bowling is bowling. I’m glad that, for once, after 64 episodes, we finally have something that Larry can be good at, and there’s absolutely no question about it.
Balki says that this is just like a game on Mypos
the game is called “knockknock rollarock”
Balki: You have to feel at one with your rock.
Larry, like any college student who felt like they learned all they needed to know their first semester, cites the Industrial Revolution as the ur-reason why sports in America are more sophisticated. Please, dear cousin, tell us how
Larry: It takes years to become a good bowler.
Balki gets his fingers stuck for some goddam reason because that is a physical comedy thing you can do with a bowling ball.
Look, I’m not buying this, you two. Larry’s a tense guy, so I’m 90% sure that his hole is tighter than any bowling ball’s.
Without any KY, Larry does the only other thing he knows that works in this kind of situation: he bites Balki.
Larry gives Balki another ball and tells Balki to relax and get comfortable, so Balki lies on the floor and wriggles around.
I like to make jokes, but… look, show, this is too much insight into the cousins’ bedroom behavior.
Balki starts acting like he’s trying to seduce the fucking pins or something.
Balki asks to try it the Myposian way, and Cousin Larry tells him to try out his “stone-age techniques”.
Balki tries to find a ball that he’s “at one with”.
Balki touches a giant black ball and moans, then he starts swinging his crotch around.
He screams and rolls the ball just like I did as a kid, and he gets a strike.
oh fuck this show
After the commercial break, we learn that Balki bowled a 285 in his first game.
Lydia: oh fuck this show
Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) show up because someone has to ask where Balki is.
The team names are “Strike Force” and the “High Rollers”. Robert D. Putnam overlooked the real reason bowling leagues have all but disappeared: there are only so many possible team names. You can barely see it, but the black guy finally gets a name! His name is Paul, and the guy Balki tried to kiss is Bill. Paul is carrying their trophy from last year around for some goddam reason.
Balki has had his eyes removed, thinking that Oedipus the King was prescriptive.
Even though the more important question is HOW THE HELL DID HE GET THERE, Larry asks why he didn’t mention it was the eye doctor.
Cousin Larry finally realizes that he is trapped in hell, that there is no way to win when you live with Balki.
Larry: I can’t think of everything he doesn’t know.
And I see that this blindness is a minor one when it comes to Balki’s character. There is no difference between his exterior and interior selves, and thus his eyes are his brain. He mistakes the feel of flesh for that of urethane for some goddam reason because mistaking one thing for another is a joke that writers can put in a sitcom.
Is this a statement that Balki really does become one with the ball? That once he finds a ball, he doesn’t know where he ends and it begins? Is this a statement that Lydia’s had some major facial reconstruction done? Would Balki bowl 300 with a severed head?
I don’t care because it’s not funny. Well, okay, the fact that Balki has Lydia’s boogers on his fingers is funny.
Balki keeps throwing his head around wildly for some goddam reason because that is what you do when you pretend to be like one of the only two blind people that have ever existed.
Some weeks these reviews write themselves: Larry places Balki’s hand on a ball and Balki gasps with delight.
Mary Anne, like the devoted friend she is, wishes Balki good luck, making Balki turn around.
Everybody ducks because they think Balki’s going to throw the ball at them. Evidently Balki can’t tell when he has turned halfway around because he can only see things very blurrily sitcoms are hilarious!
We get a montage, and they reuse the shot of Balki screaming (which, other than the exterior shots, is a first for this show).
And then we finally see him bowl. He throws the ball sideways onto the next lane for some goddam reason because it is a funny way to bowl wrong.
Gorpley tells Larry to give up because Balki needs a strike and a spare to win the game. So let’s see if we can tease out what’s going on with the scores.
Social facilitation theory says that the patrons of Bowl 48 Lanes Panorama Cocktails have pushed Larry’s and Harriette’s scores above their averages, and Lydia’s below hers. Balki, we must assume, is doing far worse than Lydia. It’s not said that Balki has bowled a perfect zero, so let’s assume he’s hit some pins.
So I have to wonder about the abilities of Gorpley’s team. Gorpley’s the ostensible leader of the High Rollers, so let’s assume on par with Larry’s performance, maybe a little better. Together, the scores of the rest of the High Rollers are either equal or slightly above those of Harriette, Lydia , and Balki. Gorpley knew that Larry had a good player on his team (what was his name again? Curtis?), so why didn’t Gorpley change out whoever is the worst member of his team?
And… what did Larry do last year when Lance Dick got locked in the men’s room? Forfeit? If that’s the case, why does the other team have a trophy?
Balki stated upon arrival that the doctor told him his eyes would return to normal after a couple of hours. And let’s say it takes 45 minutes to play a game of bowling with 4 people. We’re dealing with two lanes of 4 each, though, so maybe an hour and a half? And they’re taking time for restroom breaks (Larry certainly had to help Balki pee), everybody’s taking time between each turn to trash-talk the other team, it took Balki some amount of time to get from the doctor’s to the bowling alley, even if by bus or taxi. But Balki could already see well enough to know where the pins were roughly an hour ago! This show is telling us that, for some goddam reason–
You know what? Fuck it. I’m thinking too hard about this. Balki’s having to bowl blind, because that is a thing that can risk something Larry wants. Winning a trophy. Touching a boob. Having cable television. Having a quiet night in front of the television drinking beer and eating potato chips.
Balki says he has a good feeling about this, just like he had at the ‘81 Rollarock Fall Classic; he didn’t win back then, because that is a joke to heighten the stakes.
He takes off the glasses and his eyes are crossed, because that is a funny thing that can happen to eyes even when all that happened is that a doctor used phenylephrine to dilate them.
I feel you, Lydia.
Larry tells Balki to follow his nose, because… whatever.
Always, always watch what Sam Anderson is doing. Gorpley gets frantic and starts turning around multiple times to see his teammates’ reactions to Balki’s bowling, and there’s a brief moment where he rechecks the scores before Balki makes his (perhaps) final roll.
They all start shouting at Balki, who is supposed to relax or concentrate or be one with the ball or be a nose or something, let’s just get this over with already.
He gets a 7-10 split. Balki tells us that this never happens in Knockknock Rollarock, which is played with at least 58 gourds.
Larry has just become my voice this season, it seems:
Larry: Why do you tell me these stories?
Mary Anne uses a metaphor about winning that is supposed to make her dumb because it is a baseball metaphor. Slightly out-of-context statements are a funny thing that can be said.
Blah blah blah, slow motion shot, Balki wins, a bunch of people come over and cheer and touch the Strike Force team members. The editor didn’t end the scene soon enough, because one woman stops putting enthusiasm into it and looks to the director and the camera crew for the cue to stop cheering. This kind of thing makes me laugh far more than anything the show ever comes up with on its own.
Back at the apartment, Larry says he can’t wait to (oh my) lord his win over Gorpley.
Balki asks his cousin to do some perspective-taking and realize that the bad feelings he (Larry) felt will be felt by Gorpley now. Larry’s like, yeah, that’s the point, welcome to sophisticated American sports. Industrial revolution, etc.
The lesson is that the trophy should be enough of a symbol of Larry’s triumph, and that Gorpley will feel bad enough on his own.
Larry says he still needs something, though, like nailing 95 theses on Gorpley’s office door, or putting a dead reindeer in his house next Christmas.
The motions Larry makes with his fingers are about penises touching, because competitive masculinity in sports is ultimately the practice of homosexual desire in a socially-sanctioned setting because that is a simultaneously dumb and smart thing that I can say to make this review funny.
See you next week for “The King and I”!
Catchphrase count: Balki (1); Larry (0)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
*A seemingly counter-intuitive component of this is the fact that we are more and more part of a larger community. The larger a community (just… think really abstractly when I say “community”) is, the fewer people in a community have to be innovators for new ideas; everyone else can be an imitator. The past: a group of doctors in country A come up with a new procedure to save lives; so do doctors in country B; today: country A’s doctor’s can benefit from country B’s idea. Or think retweets/shares. The point is: a global world where capitalism reigns supreme results in a higher percentage of people being only individuals passively receiving whatever is offered.
**Me mentioning this is meant as a subtle cue that I’m going to go deep with some concentrate/relax callbacks. “Deep” here is meant as subtle cue that I’m going to make jokes about the cousins being gay.
***I hope you all appreciate my liberal use of the deprecated HTML “strike” element in this episode about bowling