Season 4, Episode 21: Teacher’s Pest

We open at the Chronicle, where Harriette’s just hanging out. And hey, you know what? I can put a psychology sidebar in the first paragraph. It’s my dream and my blog, so deal with it. A couple of years ago, some researchers found that people would turn into liars and cheats when presented with ample opportunity, so long as they thought their choices were coming at the end of a series (here, it was reporting coin flips; read the study if you want, but keep in mind psychology papers are supposed to be boring).  But you know how it is when you’re about to leave a job, or a school, or a relationship.  You hang out talking with your colleagues more. You go off your SO’s diet, or start literally cheating on them. You moon the audience at your graduation.

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Or maybe Harriette’s got the Itis? That’s a black thing, right? I saw it on Boondocks.

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RT (Rank Taskboy) Wainwright comes in to give Larry another assignment from Mario & Wario (or whatever their names are).  This time they’ve volunteered Cousin Larry to teach a journalism class at Chicago Community College.

And holy psychological contract, Batman! Sufferin’ scholastics!  Leapin’, um, liberal arts! Teach a whole course to people with a lower socioeconomic status–people who are paying for the ability to even have a lesser-valued chance at the American Dream–when you didn’t study the field, nor do you even truly do the job yet!  I’ll admit I have zero idea how newspapers were actually run in the late 1980s, but I’m sure I know even less now after watching this episode.

Larry started out as a gofer, and so did Balki, because there was just too much work to be done and not enough nephews Gorpley to do it. Larry was still hoping to do photography for the newspaper.  But one day, Harry Burns comes down the stairs and picks the first guy he sees to write an article. Larry lucked out because his desk is closest to the stairs. Just think if PaulAndre had passed by at that moment, or that other guy, or the woman?* Larry continues to write articles of greater length, and then gets notions above his station. He sneaks into a party and tries to sell Bumbles and Mumbles on the idea of an investigative reporting team.  Bauble Sr. forces his son Bauble Jr. to create one, but we know that he (Jr.) saw it as a way to get sued and lose money.  So what does Bimba do? He puts Marshall and Walpole at the top of the whole damn foodchain.  And now Larry is being asked to do something that can’t possibly be in his job description, and that I’m damn sure he wasn’t told about when he initially took on the job of running errands, or when he got promoted to the job of running errands for fewer people.

Larry expresses gratitude at the assignment and Wainwright acts like Larry’s a tiresome asshole.  Since I take this show to task pretty often for all the characters forgetting every week the kind of shenanigans the cousins get up to, I will credit it here with having Wainwright fairly openly say he thinks Larry’s a giant screwup. This man sure does love the new pecking order!  Larry asks whether he’ll also receive pay from the community college, whether he will be allowed to park in faculty parking, whether he’ll get his mileage reimbursed, and most importantly, whether he’ll need to receive any training, or at least an orientation.

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Nah, j/k, Larry doesn’t do any of that shit. He starts running over to Harriette but then realizes if he does he’ll stand there in front of her for most of his line and kind of runs slowly.

Harriette is about as impressed as most women are when I tell them about my job, which involves “bibliographic instruction” and “resource selection” and “telling students where the restrooms are”. Sister has checked out.

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Larry starts throwing out syllabus ideas, such as having the students create their own newspaper.  Harriette says if he does that, I’ll make this week’s review into a bunch of Mormon jokes where Larry’s, like, becoming a god over his own planet and, like, the sports section will be called the “telestial section”, all the coupons are in the “outer darkness” and crap like that. Harriette says it will be really dumb and to not do that.

Balki comes in singing reason #31 that you’re never…

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ah shit

The show rickrolled me.

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Upon hearing that his Cousin Larry will be a journalism teacher, Balki also acts like it’s a horrible idea.  He dials it back once the distinction between television news and newspapers is made, but can no one on voice any confidence in Larry?  Larry wants to lead everybody out of the woods so they don’t starve; everybody tells Larry he’ll fuck it up; he fucks it up.  Everybody gets together to talk about the cousins’ past and four out of five people say that Larry has never done anything for Balki.

Stay tuned, folks, Larry’s going to fuck this up!

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Later, at the Chicago Community College’s Adult Evening Classes High School Satellite Campus (aka Dial College)**, Larry comes in and introduces himself to the nine people there for Journalism 101.

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Then he falls down because not only did nothing important happen in the United States between November 1988 and April 1989, there’s really not humor to be derived from news, or from teaching, in general.  I’d give you a bingo card, but it would be a 2×2 grid.

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Then he breaks the chalk and misspells his own name. OH, I get it, it’s funny if he embarrasses himself when he’s trying to appear competent.  Heidi Grant Halvorson, in her book No One Understands You and What to Do About It, offers a piece of advice for those who try to make a first impression solely on the basis of competence:

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It must also be balanced with warmth.

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Balki tries to do the Dance of Joy but Larry tells him there are strict rules about professor/student relationships.

Guess what, everybody, Balki’s taking the class.  I wanted to see what college life is like for Balki. But not like this.

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Student #1: Do you guys fuck?

Larry tries to introduce himself to the class. Since Balki is only here to make Larry seem less competent, he basically starts in making the same jokes I do about Larry’s job.

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Larry tells Balki that this is strictly a lecture-based class, and that “group work”, “flipped classroom”, and “think/pair/share” will stay in the bedroom where they belong.***

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Student #1: No seriously, though, you were really touching his face a lot there.

Larry gives the students their first assignment: reading a 47-page document he wrote for them to help them write an article.

*facepalms*

Dude. There’s another real moment for you: this is a completely believable way that someone could get on a class’s bad side.  There are better ways of phrasing that information to students, and I’m sure you can come up with ones that are just as good as mine.

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The next day, at the apartment, Balki runs in proposing that his article be about how sometimes clouds look like animals.  I actually like that joke!

Balki: How about one that looks like Cybil Sheepherder?

*rips an entire Sunday newspaper in half*

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Balki then asks for help along the lines of a “hint” and oh my Lord have I seen that behavior before.  With some students, you give them an assignment that requires their interpretation, their own thinking at all, and they’ll try to find out what the “correct” answer is.  I don’t see this in the classroom because I never spend more than a couple of hours with any class during an entire semester, but I’ve seen it when I’ve tutored people.  That one line of dialogue is the realest this episode has felt.

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God damn it, everytime I look away for a paragraph one of you is touching the other’s face.  Balki, if you want some grade inflation (heh), it’s going to take more than this.

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Then Jennifer and Mary Anne (Summa Cum Laude) come by, having just arrived home from their flight.  They tell the cousins about a fight that happened on the plane.

Mary Anne: And food was flying everywhere!

Cousin Larry is shocked that such a thing could ever

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even once

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happen in such a setting.

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Larry tries for a whole minute to get Balki to realize that this is a story he could use, and then puts him down when he gets it.  Jennifer and Larry bond for a moment over insulting their best friends.

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Later, we’re shown the exterior of the building again, and I’m confused. Am I supposed to be paying attention to the cars? Or–

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OH I get it, there’s people inside the building. Nevermind. Nevermind!

The cousins have returned from class, and Balki begs to have his paper graded.  Larry accedes.

Here I go again with another psychology sidebar: Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. Erik Erikson identified eight stages that children progress through (or, should progress through, if adults don’t screw ‘em up).  I won’t get into all of them here, but I’ll talk about the first four.  You’ve got trust vs. mistrust (will mom feed me? will I be protected?); autonomy vs. shame (how much can I do? am I doing it right?); initiative vs. guilt (can I try this new thing I came up with? or will I get whupped for it?).  We see that Cousin Larry has done a decent job as a surrogate parent, because Balki is now in the midst of stage four: industry vs. inferiority (am I good at a thing the adults like? or do they demand things I cannot do?).

Sorry, I get lost in theory sometimes. The joke is that Balki’s eight years old.

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Balki’s assignment is wearing coin belts and tassels. Ooh la la!  I’ve seen women wearing that same outfit that haven’t looked half as sexy!****

Balki hints that it ought to get him some extra credit and Larry tells him to buzz off. Also, while we’re here, most of the time I either ridicule or just ignore the stuff that comes out of Balki’s mouth.  But he says here that Larry doesn’t “have to paint him a photograph”.  It’s as funny as anything else he says, but I have the benefit (disadvantage?) of remembering that Mypos has a capable artist who serves as their camera sometimes. So, to me, that reads more like a cultural hiccup than a linguistic one. Balki starts dusting.

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Boy, this sure is an episode about Larry teaching a class full of students about journalism!

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Did they really have extendo-dusters back then or was this prop specially-made?

Balki says he really wants an A+. He doesn’t get an A+, or an A; he doesn’t even get the D (heh).  Balki gets an F.

Gee, I wonder why? Is it because he can’t read? Is it because he can’t write?  Who knows, Larry just says there are “fundamental problems” with Balki’s article and that he has “high standards”.

That scene took forever!

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At the school, Larry tells everyone that semicolons are crucial to making it big as a journalist. I could tie Larry’s use of an extending pointer to Balki’s use of the extending duster to make some point about how neither is doing what they say they’re doing, but the show has set me up for a joke about Larry’s bowel health.

*ahem*

Larry has bowel problems to the point where a joke hinging on a dual meaning of semi-colon would be funny here. Thank you, show.

Larry has Balki hand back the papers because

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and Larry knows this will boost Balki’s spirits.

Larry: I see a lot of potential in these papers; I also see a lot of room for improvement.

…isn’t that the same damn thing?

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This big boy got an F. She got an F! You get an F!  Everybody gets an F!

Larry takes the time to go over some of the common mistakes he sees in the students’ papers, such as run-on sentences, purple prose, writing at a reading level well above that of the Average Joe, and encourages them to not only look over the comments he’s made on their papers and to see him individually if they have questions about what to do on their next assignment.

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Nah, j/k, Larry doesn’t do that. He tells them failure will put hair on their chests and they all leave, insulting him on their way out.

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Then, Larry gives Balki another paper back, one that he found on the kitchen table and graded.  And because this is an episode all about Larry’s interactions with a class full of students, it turns out that it’s a paper Mr. Wainwright himself wrote in college back in the day.  He got an A on it then from Edward R. Murrow, which is a journalism name you recognize. Balki asks what grade Larry gave it.

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They fight over the paper.

So Cousin Larry gave his boss a C-. Did, uh, did all the references to the early 1960s–not to mention the full grasp of the English language–not tip him off?

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Larry, finally realizing that there is no power but of God, and that the powers that be are ordained of God, begs forgiveness for his sin against the hierarchy. Exit Balki.

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Larry makes to leave, but–UH-OH–sleeveless malcontent #13 is there, threatening violence.  The knife fight scene from Blackboard Jungle’s got nothing on this! Knowing that he’ll have to continue a teacher-student relationship with this youth over the course of the semester, Larry invites him in, using some de-escalation strategies, and proceeds to find out what the student’s goals are for his academic career, finally explaining how the skills acquired in this class will transfer to other domains in his career and, moreover, his whole life.

Nah, j/k, Larry locks the door, letting the student know he’s an absolute spineless weenie.*****

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Four hours later, Larry comes home. The security guards let him out (thank God Jennifer wasn’t there to see it!). He says he’s learned his lesson, so Balki takes the opportunity to teach him this week’s lesson.

Evidently there’s a Great Wall of Mypos and shepherds teach sheep to jump over fences by teaching them to first jump over feet.  Blah blah zone of proximal development blah blah scaffolding blah blah education just isn’t funny, okay?

Anyway, Larry took the time to re-grade the papers (that’s right, you heard right, all the papers that he already handed back to the class) and Balki got an A-.

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Come back next week for the season finale “Wedding Belle Blues”.

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

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

*fuck you, Walt, keep scrubbing caked shit from the johns

**Family Matters High School during the day

***see, what did I tell you? Jokes about teaching just aren’t funny.

****please recommend me some better porn sites

*****I always did get points off for mixing metaphors

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4 thoughts on “Season 4, Episode 21: Teacher’s Pest

  1. This had everything I loved about “Get a Job,” with the only difference being that it all happens to Larry alone as opposed to both cousins.

    We force Larry out of his comfort zone, give him a seemingly simple job that turns out to be much more involved and complex than he imagined, pit him against a group of people who expect something other than what he expects to provide…

    Actually, wait, there’s a second difference: this one sucks.

    But I think it’s fair to say that it sucks harder for all the potential it had to actually be funny, even if it never aspired to being intelligent.

    Larry’s the perfect character to slot into this situation; he’s not as smart as he thinks he is, but he DOES aspire to a level of professionalism and expects respect from others. He’s also, I imagine, not half the journalist he thinks he is. Yes, you point out in the review that he’s essentially a gofer, but I’d be willing to bet that in his mind he believes he’s either a) a solid journalist who just hasn’t been given the chance to shine or b) a gofer who strongly believes he’d be a solid journalist if only he’d be given the chance to shine.

    This is a great way to slap the character around a bit for his delusions. Absolutely perfect context, too. These are students coming to him to learn about journalism…but what if all they do is reveal how little he knows? Maybe they have more of a mastery of the subject than he does, since they’re actively studying it and all he’s done for the past four years is sell old lamps and get his pubes caught in the mimeograph machine.

    Instead Larry gives some Fs and then gives some As and the episode ends.

    Come. The fuck. On.

    A+ to whomever pitched the concept of this episode. F to whomever wrote it.

    “Come back next week for the season finale ‘Wedding Belle Blues’.”

    Oh, I remember this one! It’s where Balki finds out he was born in wedlock so he becomes a monk. (And that, I’m afraid, may be the last time I can do this joke. So good luck with the rest of the blog!)

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  2. “keep in mind psychology papers are supposed to be boring”
    Seriously, this is my biggest problem with psychology. I have no idea how they can take a fascinating subject like psychology, and then write the worst papers ever about it. I almost made a painting called “Jung Headache” because all Jung’s writing ever gave me was a mild addiction to Excedrine.
    “But he says here that Larry doesn’t “have to paint him a photograph”.”
    Did Balki just make a joke about the late-nineteenth century art industry? Intellectual!
    “With some students, you give them an assignment that requires their interpretation, their own thinking at all, and they’ll try to find out what the “correct” answer is.”
    Have encountered this recently. She claimed that she didn’t understand the concept, but three people had explained it to her. Pretty sure she wanted us to just do the work for her. “I’m not doing your homework, kid. You can do it. I have faith in you.” Feels like some days, my teaching style devolves into, “No, but YOU can.”
    Overall, I have to agree with Phil – good concept, poor execution. And did Larry really just give everyone an F for funsies? Because that’s really shitty teaching.

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  3. This is one of those episodes that’s so thoroughly restricted by the Perfect Strangers formula that it’s almost surprising that there *was* the possibility of it being a decent episode in the right hands. As it is, the most developed part of the episode is Larry’s approach to teaching. An “I know everything, so I’ll give you everything” kind of approach that leads to him writing them 47 pages on how to write 5, and using Shakespeare to teach about semi-colons. I’ve made small forays into showing my students the connections behind the scenes, but we’ll never know if Larry’s giving them too much because the students just have to be there to prove that it’s a classroom setting.

    And I do appreciate both of you pointing out that I didn’t look at this one through the lens of concept vs. execution since I was too busy making jokes about how Larry gave Balki too big of a cognitive “load”. I’ll have more to say about this in the season review, but I think an argument *could* be made at this point that for most episodes, the execution is the concept.

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  4. Just popping up to say I’ll also go to bat for Larry spelling his name wrong on the board. They probably didn’t put much thought into it, but I still think it works as a pretty nice observation about how simple tasks become difficult when you have an unexpected audience…not to mention the fact that Larry inadvertently comes across as a boob in what’s obviously a very important first impression for him. It’s an efficient stroke.

    This one should have been good!

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