Season 5, Episode 9: Hello, Ball

Check it out, y’all–it’s been 54 episodes since we had a title with the word “Hello”.  In “Hello, Baby” we met a baby; in “Hello, Elaine” we met Elaine; now we’re going to…

…meet a ball? The hell?

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Anyway, it’s nighttime at the Caldwell Hotel. Larry and Balki run in and head to the kitchen to get some ice.

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Larry’s in a hurry to get his exposition out before any of the other characters come in.

Jennifer’s father has come to visit and Larry has slammed his hand in a car door, spilled wine on him, and set his necktie on fire. Looks like Larry has developed quite a specific pyromania since last week.  At any rate, Larry fucking up in a restaurant is usually the physical comedy setpiece (see “The One With the Handcuffs”, “The One With Carl Winslow”, and “The One With Karate”). Since all that is happening off-screen, we’re certainly in store for something that would top even that!

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Mary Anne (Sagittarius) comes in to report that Jennifer’s dad tripped over Larry’s bike on the way in.  Okay, if Dad can’t see a bicycle in his path, that’s on him.

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Mr. Lyons arrives, complaining that he doesn’t want to stop to see where his future son-in-law masturbates. Larry apologizes, but it’s really not his fault.  Anyone entering the sphere of influence of the cousins risks getting arrested, fired, or having their fingy broken. Mr. Lyons is not given a first name here; as you’ll remember, Larry’s dad has two first names, so it balances out.

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Balki brings over dessert: stooki wooki pingpong (stewed prunes with Lucky Charms).  *sigh*  The Myposian dish names have gone from effort on the part of the writers to make it sound like there’s an actual language to them sounding like my jokes from season 2.  I’ll admit that season 5 has been doing a better job including more Myposian elements than season 4, but they seem to be getting lazier at the same time.

At this point, Mr. Lyons retires, since he’ll be playing golf tomorrow.  Turns out that Mr. Lyons likes to sleep so that he can be awake the next day.  Like father, like daughter!  Larry claims to be great at golf, evoking skepticism from Balki and Jennifer.

Another thing I’ve noticed about season 5 so far is that it’s been taking two different–almost opposing–approaches to what kind of stories it tells. On the one hand, we’re getting plots that feel more like “classic” (or perhaps the better word is “prototypical”) episodes. Balki’s misunderstandings of language and social codes result in him overstepping polite boundaries in “The Newsletter”. Larry’s opportunism in “Lie-Ability” is challenged by Myposian tradition. Balki goes to the dentist for the first time.  Many of these so far depend on the viewer being willing to ignore that the cousins have been together long enough to qualify for common law marriage in most states.

But now, we have an episode where those previous seasons are necessary for a twist to work.  Larry lies about his abilities constantly: rollerskating, weightlifting, plumbing, filling out a dress.  The viewer has to be familiar with these for the fact that he’s actually good at golf to have the comedic impact it’s supposed to.

Mr. Lyons barely hides his disgust with being in the cousins’ apartment, so he and the women leave.  Mary Anne takes the whole tray of stooki wooki ping pong. See? I keep saying that she and Larry would be a better match. (For you new readers, “Larry can’t poop” is a long-running joke on this blog.)

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The next day, Balki comes home from school and Larry has set up some contraption in the living room.

Larry: What do you think?

Balki: I love it. Absolutely love it. Which hole does it go into?

Larry explains that the “Swing Doctor” calculates your golf swing in terms of range and direction. He swings, and a voice tells him how he did.

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Balki is surprised that it can talk, having never encountered a computer that could do that, not even once, EVER

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Balki takes a turn with the Swing Doctor, but not before talking about a similar sport on Mypos.  Bangbongpokinokiwakayahoo is played with fence posts and jagged rocks.

I’d make a joke about, I dunno, why are the angelic children of Mypos vandalizing fences, or why are they using jagged rocks since all the bombing must have resulted in a variety of rock shapes, or even how the woman go out in the field and get brained with a rock, but I’m a little too bored by this Myposian sport to do any of those, much less try to come up with a new joke here.  I mean, we all see where this is going.  Balki was perfect at baseball, a brand new sport to him, because he played it on Mypos.  Balki was perfect at bowling, a brand new sport to him, because they played it on Mypos.  At the very least, unlike those two, someone wrote a foreign-sounding name for the sport.

Oh, wait, no, I do have a new joke for this: Balki fucks sheep after playing bangbongpokinokiwakayahoo.  Nailed it!

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Anyway, here’s where the culture-clash symbolism comes in.  It was a very deliberate choice to use golf in this episode.  You see, Larry wants to marry Jennifer, meaning he must first get approval from her father.  He must prove his ability to provide for her.  He must prove, if you will, his success on “the green”, a stand-in for money.  The symbolism’s a bit obvious, but effective nonetheless.  On the other hand, we have Balki, who comes from a barter economy, where interaction is with materials themselves (wood, stone).  In the American system of capitalism, the average person is removed from those, and must use a standardized form of equipment that serves in the place of those materials.  Different sheets of paper, though similar in size and color, represent different amounts of money: 1 dollar, 10 dollars, 100 dollars.  So to, do the golf clubs take on values of the original materials: 3 wood, 5 wood, 8 iron. Exchange rates in a Myposian economy will vary wildly from town to town*, as wildly as Balki’s swing. The American economy is rule-based, and it is mastery of those rules that–

Nah, j/k, that’s not the symbolism in this scene.  The fact that Larry coaches his cousin on how to handle a phallic symbol is. Also the balls symbolize balls.  In a poor imitation of probably four or five different Looney Tunes cartoons you saw as a kid, Larry tries to teach Balki about golfing stance. He tells Balki to “stay loose”, then tells him to “lock” all his body parts, and then “take a swing”. You know what I’m talking about.

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The Swing Doctor gets the best line of the episode.

Swing Doctor: You could throw it further.

(In America we have become so enslaved to machines that we accept their critiques blah blah blah…)

Here’s the second beat in the “Balki’s secretly great at a sport” plot: Larry doesn’t want Balki to play on his team when he plays doubles with the Lyons.

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Jennifer comes over to talk to Larry about the game on Saturday. She’s surprised to learn that Larry was being honest about his golf skills, given how he usually (har) lands in the “sand trap”. She makes the same face women do when I tell them what the doctor said about my balls.

Larry swears he’s being truthful.  He’s learned his lesson: he’d better not lie if he wants to get the right (heh) “angle of approach” with Jennifer.  If he wants to (ha) stay in the “short grass”. If he’s to get a (ho) “juicy lie”.

Okay, okay, I’ll stop.

Larry wants to (hee) “ground his clubhead”.

Anyway, Jennifer is now worried, because her father is a terrible golfer, and she wants Larry to play bad to spare his ego.

oh, wait, no–

she wants to STROKE his ego!!!

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So Larry offers his only begotten cousin as a sacrifice to appease the Father.

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Saturday morning. The camera zooms in on the only part of a golf course ABC had money to recreate: a fence.

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An observation: Balki told us that Myposian golf is played with fence posts.  And here we have a fence.  In this scene, I would have had Balki start trying to pry a fence post off, but what happens is that Balki just dumps all of his clubs out of the bag.

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Jennifer tells Larry to make his failure look genuine, and here’s this week’s line I don’t have to make a joke about:

In total defiance of physics, Larry hits the ball directly upwards, and catches it when it comes back down.  Mr. Lyons comes over and just exudes disgust at him for a bit.

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Psychology sidebar: self-serving bias.  Most people like to feel good about themselves, right?  But everyone is going to face a variety of successes and failures over the course of their lifetimes. When someone with a high self-esteem meets with failure, it causes cognitive dissonance**. This mental discomfort must be mitigated, but accepting the failure as one’s own results in a hit to self-esteem. So this person decides that the failure was caused by something external. As a complement to this, all successes are considered to be from internal causes.  That is, if I get a promotion, it’s due to my own hard work.  If I don’t get a promotion, it’s because those in charge don’t like me.  (The astute reader may ask why Larry ascribes all his failures to himself; that’s a story for another day.)

We see self-serving bias on display here as Mr. Lyons hits the ball off a tree and into a sand trap, and then blames it on the tee.

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Balki yells out some “waka yahoo” shit and hits the ball so hard he knocks it out of the studio and into an on-location shot. Jennifer starts acting like she’s going to have to stop dating Larry because Balki plays golf well.  I’ve heard of people doing what their parents want well into their adult years, but this seems a bit much.

Mr. Lyons asks Balki what his handicap is, Balki replies “the accent”.  Bronson got a good, solid joke and didn’t mess it up!

Larry asks why Balki’s so good, Balki says he just does what’s natural. Ah! That explains why he’s been pissing in every hole after he sinks a putt.

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I complain a lot about how often this show has “Larry lies” as its main driving force, but I will say this: most of the time when Larry lies it’s because the truth would reflect badly on him.  But this week we’ve got the worse form: Larry treats Balki like he’s a child.  I don’t mean Larry humors Balki, or phrases an insult so Balki will think it’s a compliment.  Here, Larry assumes that Balki won’t understand a different social code. Instead of explaining that Jennifer has asked him to whiff his shots to prop up an old asshole’s ego, Larry tells Balki that it’s “against the rules” to do better than a guest, and that Balki is “cheating” by playing well. This episode had an opportunity to put Balki in a position of learning something, but Larry’s explanation is reductive to the point of being dishonest.  Yes, Larry playing well would break an unspoken rule (respect your elders by letting them feel superior; sometimes it’s better to butter up an egotist rather than ruin everyone’s fun by making them upset), but the predominating context here means that Balki is going to take him to mean that it’s a rule of American golf.

This could have been a good cultural exchange. Balki could have learned about American culture and still critiqued it.  And hell, Larry’s really in the right here.  But this is a sitcom, so here are the real rules that can’t be broken:

  1. Family comedies must have lessons
  2. Someone must do something wrong in order to learn a lesson
  3. Balki cannot do wrong

Are y’all familiar with the Idiot Ball? It’s shorthand for when a character acts dumber than they should just so the plot can move along.  Well, because of sitcom rules, Larry is forced to carry the Asshole Ball. Hello, Ball.

Anyway back to the gay jokes: Larry tells Balki to keep his “ball” away from the “hole” because he needs Jennifer as a beard.

In true Perfect Strangers fashion, the callback retroactively makes the original joke work: Balki’s short game involves swinging the club around in a constrained double cone.

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Mr. Lyons reveals himself to be self-delusional about his own intimidation skills. And how like late-stage capitalism are this old man’s blinders, which–

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huh?

I already…?

okay

Jennifer thanks the cousins for “cheating” and playing Balki and walks off to talk to dad.  While she’s gone (about five feet away), Balki shouts at Larry. To add insult to injury, Balki tells Larry that the plan was stupid in the first place.  There’s your cultural exchange, folks!

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Balki foretells a future where Larry has to constantly lie to stay in Mr. Lyons’s good graces.  Cousin Larry makes it pretty clear that’s a small price to pay for continued access to Jennifer’s (hyuck) “inner nine”.

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Even though Larry should have been playing worse than Mr. Lyons the whole time, everything comes down to this last putt on the 18th hole.  Since there’s five minutes left in the episode, Balki tells us the story of Devo the Butcher.

Devo used to give soup bones to all the widows every Friday (haha yeah I BET he did). Balki’s Uncle Thriftos started dressing up as a woman to get free bones. The plan worked smoothly until Devo decided that Thriftos was just the girl, was just the girl, the girl he wanted. Thriftos split town. This all leads to a stupid moral: “sooner or later you have to dance with the butcher” that the audience absolutely loves.

Whatever. Is there still more to this episode?

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Larry chooses that moment to be honest and sinks the putt.  Mr. Lyons walks up and throws his club down. What a fucking baby!

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Later, at the apartment, Jennifer and Dad come by so he can apologize.

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Then Larry does that thing where he wants to say what he has to say first, not letting Mr. Lyons speak.  Balki and Jennifer try to stop him, so he shouts at them.  I’ve made so many jokes at this point about Balki being in an abusive relationship that it’s easy to forget just how much of a jerk Larry is when he does this kind of stuff.  It’s bad enough that Larry does this to Balki regularly, but it’s a different kind of bad when he does it in public. It’s even worse that he does it in front of the girl he’s constantly trying to convince he’s a perfect man.  But now, not only is he doing it to his girlfriend, not only is he doing it in front of a guest, he’s doing it in front of his girlfriend’s father, the very man he set out to impress!

At this point, Mr. Lyons should say that this behavior is far worse than having his tie set on fire.  Dad would even have a sort of moral high ground–others only obey his implicit “wishes”, but Larry is explicitly bending others to his will.

Structurally, it really sucks that Larry’s being this kind of asshole right now, because what he’s trying to do (speak his mind to Mr. Lyons) is a fairly upright and brave thing to do.  And it’s a situation with true comic potential–Balki knows his advice put Larry on this path, but now he has to dissuade him.

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Larry says he wanted Mr. Lyons to like him, but knows that what Jennifer thinks of him is more important, since she’s the one with a vagina.  But then Larry’s holding the Asshole Ball again and insults the guy.  Once Dad apologizes, Larry instantly shifts the blame onto Balki and Jennifer.

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Here’s a rarity for this show: Mr. Lyons reacts like a reasonable person who learned their own lesson would.  He says he deserves the insult and hopes to play golf for real with Larry in the future.

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Then Jennifer kisses Larry and Balki averts his eyes for some goddam reason?

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So there you go: Cousin Larry shouts at his best friend and his girlfriend, proceeds to insult her father, and then she kisses him for it at the end.  I feel like looking away, too.

Fuck you, show!

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___________________________________________

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

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

*see Chapter 33 of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court for further such discussion

**see Season 2, Episode 5, “The One With the Velvet Nude”

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6 thoughts on “Season 5, Episode 9: Hello, Ball

  1. Mr. Lyons was lyin’. Clever way of riffing on the established surname, or coincidence? Either way, I like it. (Proof: It wasn’t. I still like it.)

    “The accent” is a solid punchline.

    I remember seeing this in a recent stream and…not loving it, really, but certainly not disliking it. You bring up a good point about Larry failing to explain the rules of respect and instead rewriting the rules of golf, and how that’s kinda dumb on his part.

    BUT! We know we’re supposed to remember that Larry always lies about his abilities. The fact that he doesn’t here is a big part of the joke.

    What if we and Larry are ALSO supposed to remember that Balki is a goody-two-shoes who never, ever misleads under any circumstances? That’s fueled a lot of heartwarming resolutions in the past, but here, Balki’s commitment to honesty would just fuck Larry out of his relationship. Larry knows Balki won’t lie — no matter how Larry frames it — so he tricks him instead, knowing he can count on his cousin’s idiocy as a way of trumping his good nature.

    Like lyin’ Lyons, that probably wasn’t intentional, but I think you CAN read it that way, if you like.

    I’m definitely not a fan of the times Larry tells Jennifer to STFU, though. I know it’s always part of a joke that makes Larry look foolish in the end, but that’s not the Larry we know. Our Larry makes an ass out of himself, but he’s not the kind of guy with that shitty “a man is talking” attitude they give him every so often.

    Whatever. On the whole, the second good story (in a row!) about meeting a character’s father.

    …speaking of which, why are they in a row? If these dads were visiting on back to back weeks (the default passage of time between sitcom episodes), wouldn’t the kids coordinate instead? Maybe just get dinner once with the whole group instead of doing a party for one and a golfing tour for the other?

    Space out these episodes, fuckers.

    Like

    • Even with the assumption that Larry knows Balki would never “lie” in this way (which is logical, and I like it, thank you), why the heck does Larry care how well Balki plays? Larry’s the only one who needs to stay in Jennifer’s dad’s good graces.

      I’m also curious to hear from anyone whose parents are still together: do they visit you separately like this?

      Bonus best golf joke ever: play it where it Lyons

      Like

      • I assume Larry cares because they’re playing doubles golf? As in, Jennifer and Jennifer Sr. add their scores together, Larry and Balki add theirs together, and the team with the lowest total wins. If Balki plays too well, they could end up winning the game even if Larry tries to tank it.

        That might just be a guess, though. I remember it, but that doesn’t mean the episode made it clear in any way. I also know almost nothing about golf that I didn’t learn from Super Mario sports games, so “doubles golf” may not even exist.

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  2. You’re right–they probably said they were playing doubles in the episode and it didn’t register because, as an only child, I played a lot of Putt-Putt alone.

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  3. Another “they didn’t intend it but it worked out nicely anyway” bit about this episode: Jennifer is going to marry her father. Seeing Mr. Lyons overstate his abilities helps to explain why Jennifer ends up with someone who does the same thing. (It may also explain why she knows how to manage it.)

    Like

    • This makes me pissed that we’ll never get an episode where Larry’s mom tells Jennifer lots of embarrassing stuff about Larry’s childhood (and Balki finishing the stories for her).

      Like

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