Season 4, Episode 20: Seven Card Studs

Hey!

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Here we are at the Caldwell Hotel, with a panning shot and bold, energetic music. It’s a new day in Chicago!

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Larry calmly sips his brown liquid, from which we can infer that he’s had time to floss, chose an outfit all by himself, knows where his keys are, and will no doubt be prepared for his work day with a sharp mind.

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Bakli sneaks into the well-lit living room and tries to tiptoe back to his bedroom.

Cousin Larry drags it out of Balki that he was playing poker all night, and it’s obvious that Balki is embarrassed about it. I may have to try to sneak out of this review later on when this turns to shit and the cousins start a tug-of-war over a poker chip and Balki says “one-eyed bandit”, but right now, this is a good start to the episode.  When have we ever seen Balki embarrassed? He’s doing something he knows goes against his Myposian values but just can’t stop because he’s enjoying it so much.

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Here I thought that only Larry ever called in Balki as a pinch hitter any time he couldn’t touch a boob, but that now seems to be a refrain in Balki’s life: Gorpley asked him to sit in on the poker game at the last minute. But doing so lost Balki $100, completely reversing the cousins’ newfound fortune they won in at the beginning of the season.

Larry, who has evidently never once looked up from the desk in the room where he works with Balki and Mr. Gorpley, is shocked and appalled that Gorpley would take advantage of Balki in such a way.

Larry says that they have to beat Gorpley at his own game, not, you know, just never play poker with him and let the $100 loss be a lesson to Balki

But Balki’s been sucked into a den of vice which, according to him, includes “male bondage”.

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Cousin Larry decides then and there that he must win back Balki’s $100 no matter what the *ahem* personal cost.

That night, still at their apartment, Balki comes out of his room wearing a hat and cape, because, hey, after all, this is an episode about playing poker with Gorpley at the Chronicle.

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After the audience laughs at the funny hat for a couple of minutes, Larry gets the best line of the episode: “did I catch you at a bad time?”.

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Balki wants to take a job as a human cannonball to make up the money. That’s some deep guilt there! The Reverend Dimmesdale flagellating himself to atone for the sin of adultery got nothing on this!

Larry offers his thesis: they’re going to play poker that night to win the $100 back from Gorpley.

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But Balki offers a subtle counter-thesis to this, exaggerating his linguistic shortcomings, hoping that it will give Larry pause to think about his own competitive limitations:

Balki: You’ve got to be careful; Mr. Gorpley is quite the aardvark.

Larry, seeing Balki’s meaning, reminds his cousin that taking on a new persona can bring untold benefits to performance. And I’m not just talking about when the cousins roleplay as “Immigration Officer” and “Boy Who Lost His Papers on the Train”. Unlike disappearing into an alter, adopting a persona is a much healthier and proactive way to handle uncomfortable situations. You’re modeling behavior, you’re practicing a mode. You become “Date Mike” when you put on the Kangol hat; you don’t step into a negotiation without wearing your leopard print speedos.

Nah, j/k, Larry just says he was known as “Smooth Larry Appleton” in the poker world. Also, Balki was known as “Cool Hand Balki” in the goat-milking world.

You know what? Make your own jokes about those names. There’s simply too many.

Then Balki squeezes some imaginary teats for awhile.

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You know, this show has changed a lot over its first four years: Balki graduated, they both got new jobs, Larry’s all but stopped wearing sweaters. But it’s heartening to see that some things are unchanging, like this show padding the hell out of its first act.  We’ve spent five minutes now discussing people who aren’t there and activities that no one is seen doing. The show makes a subtle pun about pads:

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Larry has written down all possible poker hands for Balki’s convenience.

Balki says that learning the actual rules of a game he needs to play well is just too confusing, so Larry shows him how to do a pokerface*

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Larry tells Balki to look at his face and Balki gets hungry for it, mentioning food as an excuse to put his tongue on his cousin.

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Then Balki makes some joke about pokerfaces that rests on understanding multiple meanings for some goddam reason because Balki is funny when he’s smart because he’s dumb I don’t care anymore. He makes the same face I do when my foot cramps in the middle of the night and wakes me up.

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Larry yells at Balki to pay attention, and to look at his cards, but not give away anything about what he has.  Shouldn’t they have spent a lot more time on what the different winning hands were, and how to weigh your options regarding discarding and replacing? The misunderstanding Balki should be making is that he shouldn’t specifically let his cousin know the face values of the cards, right?

Instead, Balki makes a face like he’s had a stroke.**

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To his credit, Balki does pull the notepad with the winning hands closer to him, and then has increasing difficulty in hiding his excitement.

Dining room table chairs aided in the discovery of orgasms for both me and Balki, it seems.

Larry does that whole reverse psychology thing again and Balki starts crying that he wants to play Smooth Appleton Pokejob.

Now Larry has a plan. They’ll play badly to begin with, and then win all the money back after Gorpley’s guard is down. This plan rests fully on the assumption that Gorpley has never once paid attention to the fact that Larry does this kind of shit almost weekly after having worked near him for a year and a half.

Balki, for some goddam reason, is completely down with this snowjob plan.

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Then Larry sprays the cards everywhere, because it’s the end of the scene and I really can’t come up with a better joke either, so.

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The poker game happens at the Chronicle, since Gorpley’s house burned down for the 20th Christmas in a row while he was celebrating with the cousins.

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Hey, wait!  I only count five card studs!

Hey, it’s Paul! Hey Paul!

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But… they refer to Paul as Andre, because hey, honestly, Andre’s a much blacker name no one was paying attention to their shirts in the bowling episode.

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Also this guy is named Walt. Who the hell are you, Walt, and why do you get to talk when my boy PaulAndre doesn’t?

There’s a scene in one of the later Sherlock Holmes stories where Holmes criticizes Watson’s writing for making it look like Holmes was a genius. Holmes accuses Watson of withholding all of the important details from the reader until Holmes himself mentions them; the audience could figure the crimes out at the same pace if such details were made available to them.  I say this to explain that what you see as my cutting sense of humor is simply my selection of what to show you. Here, when Gorpley asks if Balki’s in, Balki looks at the hand dealt him and starts gasping and yelling “Am I in???”. If you were actually watching these episodes you really wouldn’t need me here to tell you about the constant homoerotic undertones.

Larry plays a pair of threes and Gorpley beats him.  Also Gorpley has a better hand.

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Okay, credit where credit’s due: Bronson starts delivering a line about how he and Cousin Larry are the worst card players in the world, and it actually reads as the TV version of someone doing a bad job of lying. I mean, it’s nothing you won’t find on some other show, but I do like to mention when Bronson actually does something that doesn’t make me hate him.

Larry offers his plan to play for both of them, and I’ll credit Linn-Baker with sounding ever-so-slightly less fake.  When you get right down to it, though, if Gorpley’s been paying any attention, he already knows that they sound like this half the time anyway.

Walt tries to defend the cousins, but Gorpley shuts him down fast.

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Gorpley: You want fair, go coach little league.

Sam Gorpley, as always, knows exactly where everyone’s scars are. Gorpley had spent his life collecting miseries as one might collect bubble gum cards, or stories, or, yes, even placemats.  His serially-ruined Christmasses were notable simply by virtue of having happened on the same day of the year.  By the time he was 13, little Sam Gorpley had lost everything from pets (two dogs, a cat, countless goldfish) to friends to grandparents (all four) to his birth home (and with it, all his possessions).  He had learned to befriend trauma, or, if not befriend, to respect it, the kind of respect one has for a surgeon, or an interest rate. Gorpley knew that misery was a punishing god, but even the meanest gods need priesthoods, and he knew that if you can’t beat ‘em, worship ‘em, and he knew about Walt.  About how Walt used to be alcoholic. Gorpley could read scars like roadmaps, which are no help when the away game’s called on account of rain but the coach started celebrating the win too early.

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And even though they did fuckall to plan this thing, the cousins babble over each other while they pretend to pick which of them will play.  Bronson again does well by continuing to talk after Larry does, and it’s obvious he was in the middle of some entirely unrelated story about cupping a dog’s balls.

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Looks like Larry got his spring form back!

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God do I love when they zoom in on the wrong part of the building.

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You can see by everyone’s body language that it’s been a tough night. PaulAndre’s given up, Walt’s trying not to sit on a hemorrhoid, and Balki is distraught because Larry’s been losing.

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Gorpley wins another hand, so the cousins walk three feet away and talk loudly about their secret plan.

Larry says that he’s in total control and asks for Balki’s money. And we see that the roles have now been completely reversed since the beginning of the season. Balki, having in the end successfully negotiated his way through a new relationship with money in “The King and I”, now understands that the (assigned or, if you will, face) value of a $20 bill is higher than that of the yellow pad of paper on which Larry wrote poker hands.  One can buy you four trips to the top of the Sears Tower; the other is only buying him a lousy night.

The cousins return to the table, where Gorpley gives us a good capper to an actual running joke: he used to be known as “Slick Sam Gorpley”.

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Jennifer comes in and

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okay, I’m sorry, before I make a joke about how Larry wants to play his bottom pair, or how she’s going to help him limp-reraise, or even how this daughter of the Earth is going to (heh) play the river card, I’ve got to ask: how the hell is every part of this building so easy to get into in the middle of the night?

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Anyway, Jennifer comes in and Walt wants to know who she is.  Fuck you Walt, we’re never going to see you again. Make like a Tina and leave!

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They step right behind Gorpley and whisper loudly about Larry having gotten the “fever”, but that it was all for Balki.

Larry, after betting his last 20, then bets Jennifer, driving Balki to take swift action.

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Walt makes a joke about fucking Jennifer, but not every joke can be sexist, and luckily the next one isn’t. Larry demands that Balki put him down, and I don’t have to you tell you the punchline.  It works, mostly because Balki cries.

The stakes are further raised: Larry bets his next paycheck and his car.

Balki: Cousin, you don’t have a pair of anything!

I swear I had a joke written for that line, but now I can’t find it. Sorry.

Gorpley bets his car and calls.

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Gorpley has a Full House, Friday nights on ABC!

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Balki begs Larry to stop talking in metaphors, and I absolutely love that line. I think I’ll frame this screenshot and hang it over my bed.

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Walt talks about fucking Jennifer again. Shut up, Walt.

Turns out that Jennifer was in on it! Suddenly Larry sounding not-so-fake earlier makes sense, because he was playing a snowjob on both Balki and Gorpley.  But here’s another doubly impressive thing.  Jennifer had to come in and fool Balki into thinking that Larry was struggling against *ahem* never-before mentioned gambling problems. Whenever someone on TV lies, but it’s supposed to be funny, you can always hear the fakeness in their voices.  Jennifer, as a character, was able to carry this out.  The second part here is that they finally gave Melanie Wilson something to do that impacted the plot!  It’s a surprise to me on two levels!

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Gorpley knows scars, but Larry knows toilets: he wins with a royal flush.

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And then Larry accidentally gives Gorpley his own car keys because that’s the end of the scene and, hell, you try to come up with a better joke to end the scene (actually, please do).

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Finally, at the apartment, Balki wonders why Larry didn’t let him in on the whole plan.  Larry admits that it’s because Balki isn’t good at deception and–

oh my lord

–we’ve achieved harmony with the top of the episode where Balki failed to come home late in secret!

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Larry gives Balki his $100 back (but not the rest of the money he just lost and won back that evening…?).

Balki realizes that he’s easily fooled. And, uh, you think?  With the exception of “Dog Gone Blues”, “The Defiant Guys”, and “Bye Bye Biki”, every episode where–

oh, wait, hold on, almost forgot that

biki

About half the times that Balki has learned a lesson, it’s about people fooling him.  Twinkacetti, Carol, Vince, Leon, and now three people in one episode. Can we have other lessons for Balki to learn?  What would it take for a story about Balki learning about employee’s rights? About him learning that sharing his earnings with anyone else in their building is not reciprocated like it would have been in a lower socioeconomic setting like Mypos?  That the blackface comedy routines*** popular on Mypos don’t play well at the office?

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*sigh*  I guess if Cousin Larry the show is able to pull the “what’s that on your shirt” gag five times in a row, I shouldn’t expect too much.

Overall, though, I feel like this was a decent episode. It’s actually the type of setup that the show should be doing more often. Balki gets into trouble, Larry knows better and tries to help, but his incomplete view gets them into further trouble, and they both learn lessons from each other and/or the world. If that were the general formula, it would be a surprising thing every once in a while if either one of them out-and-out solved the whole problem.  On the other hand, the fact that Larry was actually “right”, not to mention thoroughly smart, comes across that much stronger because usually the pre-credits scene involves Balki changing his diapers.

See you next week for “Teacher’s Pest”!

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

Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0); Walt (1); Gorpley (lost his penis in a Christmas boating accident when he was 14)

*pokerface? I hardly know ‘er face!

**strokerface

***ochreface

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3 thoughts on “Season 4, Episode 20: Seven Card Studs

  1. This is one of the episodes I remember best. It might be THE episode I remember best. I definitely watched it during its original run, and I remember later on being home from school because I was sick, and I saw this episode again in syndication. Before it came on I was watching some other show, and they kept showing promos for this episode with the “Put me down” bit. “Okay, you’re short, you walk like a duck, and you talk funny!” is etched into my memory as a result.

    In fact, I think that was the first time I heard “short” as an insult. I feel like that must be wrong, because cartoons and such would have made similar jokes a thousand times over, but maybe this was the first time it *registered* to me as an insult. I was short (and still am!) and never actually realized it was something that somebody might make fun of.

    I’ve been an anxious wreck ever since. Probably not coincidental. I gazed into Larry’s abyss and it gazed back into me.

    Like

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