I welcome you, after one Weeke,
Faithful readers who humour seek;
But first I note—
Sorry! I promise to lay out the cons of this episode in prose.
First, I should note that the theme song is shorter. If this were, say, The Simpsons, I’d know that this meant solely that the episode itself was a few seconds longer. Here, though, it’s a jarring difference, and a frightening premonition: we no longer have the origin scenes.
At the Caldwell, to the sounds of a new overture, we zoom in and enter, to find Larry readying the apartment for his father’s arrival. He sets a scrapbook on the coffee table and arranges his tiny—but hard-won—trophies on the mantle. The astute viewer realizes, of course, that these are not only symbols of achievement—they are symbolic of continuity itself. These totems of memory will allow Larry to offer his father an unbroken chain of events from his departure from Madison to the present moment.
Gone are the lies we saw Larry try to pass off on his brother in season 3. Larry, after 70+ episodes of misfortune brought on by his own lies, is being honest. And, in true Cousin Larry form, he practices greeting his father.
Then Balki comes in and watches Larry talk to no one. Since he’s never seen Larry practice anything before, he has no idea what’s going on.
Larry picks up one of the trophies, explaining that it represents Larry’s managerial success of a softball team during the Park District Softball Championship. Has too much time passed since “The Unnatural” for us to retain details? Is the show too old to remember? Has even the silver cord been loosed, the golden bowl broken, the relief pitcher forgotten at the commercial break?
Balki tells us that Daddy Appleton is going to be there any minute. That practice scene was evidently so important to the exposition of this episode that Dad was forced to figure out parking in a new city and search out the damn apartment on his own.
Balki, ever the loving cousin, seems to have known that Larry would be preparing to brag about his trophies, as he drags out a cheese wheel. Certainly this can only function as a painful reminder of the wheel’s wooden simulacrum which featured prominently in the trophy war between Larry and Brother Billy.
Balki makes the same face that I do when reminded of my failures.
Balki shows off his college learning: he wants to cut the cheese wheel into various geometric shapes (“recatangle” among them).
Larry asks Balki how many cheese wheel’s he’s ever cut in his lifetime.
What kind of knife did you use?
What’s the best flavor of cheese to eat off a woman’s nipple?
Cousin Larry really rubs it in that Balki hasn’t cut the cheese before (I am funny).
Larry insists that the cheese is always cut in triangular wedges. Shows how much you know, Cousin Larry: the shape you’re referring to is called a circular sector.
Larry’s sudden anger over the cheese concerns Balki. Larry explains that he is tense about the meeting with his father.
Sometimes, memory is so painful that it never fades. Larry never once got approval from his father, at least not in the form of the phrase “well done, son”. Evidently, this is Larry’s big chance to try to get that out of his father. So… what? He hasn’t been telling his dad anything at all for the past four years? And what about how Larry had been lying to his brother about his job for two years straight? Perhaps Larry was safe to assume that Billy wouldn’t tell Dad about it, given that Larry seems not to have spoken to his father at all in four years.
Miniboss Appleton shows up wearing a suit. When Larry goes in for the hug, Dad offers a handshake. This businesslike action is a subtle power play, signalling to his son that they meet each other as competitors. One gets the impression that Larry subconsciously expected this. Note that he too is wearing a necktie—the phallic symbol of the capitalist world.
Balki acts like it’s the first time he’s ever seen the guy! He gives Dad a hug and calls him Walter. I, uh, actually went back and watched a couple of minutes of the very first episode again. One: god damn has the accent changed. Two: Larry’s dad was called George. Three: Balki found the Appletons in Madison on his quest to find Larry.
The father/son competition continues as George Oscar Walter Appleton gifts Larry a cheese wheel, precluding the same from his son.
Larry asks what Dad thinks of the apartment, and Dad just up and insults it.
Later, Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) are there, and everyone is setting up decorations for a party. Is it just me, or is it weird to have waited until Dad was there to decorate for a party for him?
Dad further proves himself to be anal-retentive by being pushy about where finger foods go. He then offers to show the women the “Appleton method” of folding napkins. Masculine battle is now on full display, as these are obvious—and might I say, crude—references to skill with manipulating the female anatomy.
Five feet away from Dad, the cousins have a conversation about Larry’s chances of getting a “well done, son”. Balki’s concerned about Dad’s condescension, but Larry takes it and likes it, says that he’ll get one when he deserves one. Balki notes that Larry’s relationship with his father mirrors his relationship with Larry, insofar as Larry is constantly correcting Balki. And now the show has me questioning my own memory. Doesn’t Larry usually let Balki stay dumb while every week Balki tries to correct Larry’s moral course?
Jennifer talks up Larry, fishing for compliments for Larry being part of an investigative team. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but Walter notes that microphones have more girth than pens: television, he says, is the better news medium.
There’s a Balki joke here that’s actually a new kind of misunderstanding for him. Walter, referring to giving advice, says “that’s what fathers are for”, and Balki mentions his father (possibly for the first time, but I dare not trust my own memory at this point) being “for higher mutton prices”. It’s decently funny, and I’m always appreciative of that.
Jennifer talks about her own father, who used to take her “everywhere”: other rooms of the house, outside, sometimes to entirely different buildings altogether.
The conversation turns to baseball games. When Larry was a child, Walter took him to a game, and they sat directly behind the Yankees dugout. Larry remembers it perfectly, because he still has the baseball bat that was signed by Mickey Mantle.
Walter disagrees, claiming that Roger Maris was the signator. This third struggle, in front of women, over a phallic proxy crystallizes the stakes of this storyline: memory itself. Shows may come to seventy episodes, or even eighty, if their strength endures. Perfect Strangers, here at the ripe old age of 79 episodes, is getting long in the tooth (the cartoon rodent should have tipped me off to this weeks ago). The question is not so much “was it well done?” as it is “was it done?”
Both sides here—father and son—myself and the show—are locked in battle over memory, neither willing to cede fallibility.
Larry should by all rights be the one who has the correct recollection. After all, he’s held onto the bat over the years. Or, wait, he had his things shipped to him three years ago, right?
Is that one box big enough to have held a bat?
Anyway, Larry has certainly spent years holding and caressing the bat, exulting in the happy and immortall memorie of the baseball game. But then even this is cast into doubt as Larry finds that the bat is not where he thought it was, where so much of Larry’s life has been spent: in the closet.
The show is overloading me now with symbolism! Was there ever anything in the closet?
Weren’t the cousins in there once?
Larry claims that Walter always taught him the importance of being right, so the men set off to the basement to find the bat. I, too, look for answers, but the only character who can be counted on to provide sound reason isn’t talking. Mary Anne (who is so dumb she thinks psychosexual means being attracted to Anthony Perkins) has remained quiet through this entire exchange.
As they come down the stairs, dad won’t shut up about how right he is. Shut up, dad! I’m working on an argument about the symbolism of basements here and I need to think.
Larry opens up a storage locker and pulls out the bat and ball from that fateful childhood day.
They were both signed by Joey Dolan — the bat boy.
Balki says that he thought that bat boy was Batman’s son. Shows how much you know, Balki: even by 1989, the histories of most DC superheroes were convoluted, riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions. In 1965, a pair of characters were introduced in World’s Finest #154, collectively named the Super-Sons: Clark Kent, Jr., and Bruce Wayne, Jr. Their superhero names were, of course, Superman, Jr., and Batman, Jr., names certain to strike fear into evildoers everywhere. The stories featuring these characters were, at the time, considered “imaginary stories”; in later years they would be brought into the canonical fold as “alternate universe” stories (there’s an inside joke here for true comics fanatics that Jrs. Clark and Bruce are from Earth-154).
In 1987, a graphic novel titled Batman: Son of the Demon was published; one of the plot points there was that Batman sires a son with Talia al Ghul, daughter of supervillain Ra’s al Ghul. (A philosophical question arises: must Batman be wearing the batsuit while making love for the child to be considered Batman’s son?) The reader is welcome to consider Batman: Son of the Demon non-canon, as it was a standalone graphic novel and not published as individual issues of Batman.
Given that Balki also mentions Batman in “Dog Day Mid-Afternoon”, we can assume that it was heavily on his mind that year, given the Tim Burton-directed Batman film had come out the summer of 1989. Film versions of comic books often attract new readers, even those who are more or less loyal to another company’s set of characters (see various episodes making reference to Balki being a fan of Spider-Man as a clue to his loyalties). However, even if we make the assumption that Balki has been reading Batman during the summer and fall of 1989, we find that the title was then featuring the “Year Three” storyline, which–
Or wait. Perhaps Balki knew all this? Perhaps his statement about Batman’s confused lineage was meant to throw doubt on Walter’s parentage. Did Walter really beget Laurence? Or has Balki broken through Lydia’s conditioning and now remembers George?*
Balki starts swinging the bat around, saying that his Cousin Larry taught him everything he knows. My God! Did he? I’m so confused now. Balki’s shaking his ass around. Focus on that. That’s real and unchanging.
Larry takes the bat, and takes a stance. Larry says that Walter taught him the stance, but Walter denies it.
Cousin Larry and Cousin Dad take their places to play baseball with each other, Walter sure that he can get a ball past his son.
Balki does that thing where he keeps trying to tell Larry something but Larry won’t listen. At this point, and as many times as Balki has done this, Larry ought to listen.
Larry swings the bat and bursts open a water pipe. It’s settled: the pipe has won the pissing contest.
Dad says it’s a simple repair and I’m remembering now how “Pipe Dreams” told us that Dad set the Appleton house on fire while trying to do some rewiring work.
Larry says they should go tell the janitor, and the three head up the stairs. Balki Ricardo shows up babbling in barely-disguised English (quote: “App-letoniki plumbing oxymoroniki”).
They try to leave, but guard locked the door. The “oh no” music comes on. Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back!
The cousins are banging on the basement door yelling for help. There’s a highly cartoony moment where Larry keeps yelling after Balki stops, hurting Balki’s ears.
Dad says they should just turn off the valve. Cool how he waited five minutes to say that.
After Larry fails at turning the handle, Dad suggests they hit it with a hammer to knock the rust off.
Balki does not like this idea, and Dad starts asking Balki how many leaks he’s ever fixed.
How’d you fix it?
Was it a leaky faucet? Leaky ship? Leaky nipple? Huh?
I actually love that dad does this same shit to Balki, because it’s the first half of a one-two punch confirming that Larry really is Walter’s son: Dad knocks off the handle entirely.
First we had Perfect Strangers trying to do its versions of shows like I Love Lucy or The Dick Van Dyke show, and then a straight ripoff of Laurel & Hardy. Now it’s just redoing its own episodes! Someone evidently thought “Pipe Dreams” would work better with three people, in the basement, as a two-parter. Assuming “Pipe Dreams” even happened…
Meanwhile, upstairs, Jennifer talks shit about Dad’s anal-retentive habits. Gorpley and Lydia join in the fun insulting the Appletons. Jennifer explains that the cousins are in the basement. Then:
Mary Anne: Where are they?
Finally, after 71 episodes, the writers succeeded in giving Mary Anne a dumb line! Jennifer says she’ll go downstairs so it will make sense when she shows up in the next scene.
Downstairs, the water’s already knee deep while Dad thinks aloud about what they should do.
Dad says they should find the drain. Let’s be frank here: Balki splashes around like a complete asshole while singing Reason #32 you’re never, ever going to get a complete Collector’s Edition DVD set with Balki’s nose sticking out of the front of the box: “Singin’ in the Rain”.
They’re having to feel around for the drain rather than just look, which leads me to assume that the water pouring out of the pipe is shit water.
Larry catches his hand on a rat trap. Balki, the loving, concerned shepherd, waits a full eight seconds to help him.
Jennifer comes in and…
…someone finally used one of the damn fire extinguishers!
Then Mary Anne comes in almost immediately after and removes it. Congratulations, John B. Collins, for successfully showing us what the show has been telling us this whole time. It’s really not that hard to make this woman dumb!
The episode gives us one more convulsion of memory, this time relayed through Jennifer: in his brief time living in the Caldwell, Carl Winslow spilled cement in the basement, sealing the drain.
Then, because Gorpley and Lydia are in this episode, Gorpley and Lydia come in and close the door behind them.
Larry says that the other guests to the party will come down and let them out soon. Gorpley pipes up to point out that ABC never took the time to develop Larry or Balki’s social or working lives. There aren’t any other characters.
For the sake of the audience members who have never interacted with water before, Lydia says that the basement is going to fill up with it.
Dad says they’re all going to be electrocuted well before they drown because of the fusebox.
Either way, these 7 castamembers are stranded upon the tossing waters of memory.
Commenters, speak! What will be forgotten next week? What will be remembered?
See you next week for part 2!
Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0); Batman (0-2, depending on your definition of Batman and your canonical proclivities)
P.S. In that penultimate screenshot, Bronson Pinchot doesn’t even try to look scared—in fact he smiles at Larry when the camera pans out for the final shot. I just wanted to point out yet another example of Pinchot thinking he’s being funny without it making any sense at all.