Season 5, Episode 13: Because They’re Cousins

Okay, everyone, back out of the pool. Towel off and get settled for yet another story where Balki tells someone what they did wrong.  What do you think, y’all: will this one be about sports or about family members?  I swear, if this season doesn’t end with an episode of Family Feud, I’ll…

…shit, my threats are toothless by this point, aren’t they? I’ll watch season 6, is what I’ll do.

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We open at the Caldwell Hotel, with the flourishy music that shows up sometimes and seems to indicate energy and excitement for a new day.  You’re on your own there, show.

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Balki calls for Larry to come to the kitchen, as “Cousin Bartok” will soon be here. Balki’s hung produce around the apartment in an effort to make Bartok feel “at home”. Most striking are the three pumpkins sitting prominently on the breakfast bar.  It’s fitting that Balki has chosen a fruit* with the suffix -kin for his cousin’s arrival.  Also “fruit” is a slang term for homosexuals. And sometimes I make the joke about the cousins being homosexuals. So it’s fitting that Balki chose a fruit. Because I can make a joke about them being gay. Because this blog has jokes in it. And gayness is inherently funny. Because I am still twelve and living in the year 1997.

*ahem*

Cousin Bartok is coming!

And has Larry done anything to prepare for Bartok’s arrival?  Has he helped with the cooking, put on a vest to show family solidarity, perhaps learned a few Myposian phrases of welcome and love?

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Larry smells something putrid and identifies it as coming from the the giant sheepskin from which Balki has been cutting out condoms.

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Let’s check in on ol’ Balki this week. Just how dumb is he?

Balki begins to recount how he and Bartok once threw water balloons on Devo the Butcher. Larry finishes the story, leading Balki to think that Larry was there.

Balki pulls a tick off the sheepskin, which we’re supposed to believe has survived for years.

Larry suggests that they take Bartok out on the town so he can get some of that Chicago deep-dish pussy.

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The cousins have a good laugh about boners.

Actually, why does Larry suggest that? Larry gets the shit beat out of him every time he tries to go out.

Balki warns Larry that Bartok’s pretty milquetoast, and that he’s only lived in Los Angeles for a few months.  But Larry, after four years of hearing stories about broken fingers, unsanitary birthing practices, child soldiers, and cross-dressing, is ready for anything.

This whole scene plays out… well, pardon my lack of profundity, but it feels scripted.  As in, “here is the exposition about Bartok, here is a childhood story, here is Larry being the opposite of a wet-behind-the-ears foreigner, and now here is a thing from Mypos with a funny name, and now let’s put them in the best order we can.”

Now here is a thing from Mypos with a funny name: the Babudigabo** wreath, which is made from the beards of unmilked goats.

Why did Balki wait until right before Bartok got there to put up decorations?

Why do these people never go pick anyone up from the airport?

Have the goats never been milked, or is it that–

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AAAHHH

NO

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STOP

me rn:

 
It’s sometimes unsettling when your dreams come true.  For Larry, it was almost too much. Dumbstruck, he stared at that second pair of thick lips. The same, yes, but maybe, perhaps, what they could do might….  It wasn’t as though he hadn’t considered the possibilities, no, the marble composition books under his bed was proof enough of that, no, he knew this scenario, and knew his lines by heart. “Please,” he wanted to, needed to, must say, “please touch–”

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Bartok begins to leave and reality snaps back into place.  Larry grabs Bartok’s arm.  Oh, did I forget to mention? Bartok speaks with your typical TV-Californian accent.  That is, he uses vibrato when he says “dude”.

Then, at completely different times, Balki and Bartok greet each other.  From what I understand, they’re using matte instead of split-screen, which allows one Bronson to walk in front of or behind the other. But… did the audience have to sit through the filming of each scene twice?

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Balki gives Bartok the wreath, and we get two small clues that not all is right with this cousin.  He doesn’t exude happiness about the wreath.  But more importantly, we find that the Myposian diaspora mirrors the earlier Jewish one. Bartok has shortened his name to Bart.  I’d bet that this probably marks the last time on American television that any live-action character was named Bart.

I’m sorry, I’m getting off-track. where are my manners? I really ought to be making incest jokes.  You see, on Mypos is very simple. The woman is working out in the field, she take a break, she have her baby… and then she goes home and cooks dinner for 11 men who all look alike. One of them is her father. Most of them are her brother. Who knows which one the baby belongs to?

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Bartok and Balki act like Larry’s being silly when he points out how alike they look. HAR HAR because it’s the same guy YOK YOK YOK.  Actually, Mark speaks the line with the same kind of explicitly scripted feel that I was noting earlier.  I wonder if it was just weird for him to stand there and pretend to talk to two people who are standing nowhere near each other.

Seriously, Balki is basically hiding behind Larry, I guess to help the matted shorts work better. It’s completely stupid-looking that Balki would want to stand so far away from a family member he hasn’t seen in four years.

Larry offers Bartok the couch to sleep on, but Bartok knows how this show works: he’s getting one of the beds. He claims he has a bad back–

Larry! Buddy!

Tell him you’ve got that twin bed!

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Tch. Balki offers his somewhere better than the couch for Bartok to sleep: a bedroom with most of the walls knocked out.

Bartok tries to get across to Balki that he’s short on cash to pay the taxi, but he uses slang. And since Balki has never, ever, not even ONCE, NEVER used slang, he doesn’t understand.

Balki sings the Patty Duke theme on the way down to the street. Har har yok yok etc.

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Larry says he’s surprised that Bart is not more Myposian.  Bart responds appropriately, displaying his American-ness physically by declaring eminent domain on the couch and giving Larry a slave name.  Where Balki elongates Larry’s name, pronouncing every syllable in a clumsy attempt to respect every part of his cousin’s heritage, Bart decides that “Larry” isn’t already shortened enough from Lawrence: he calls him “Lar”.

Bart tells us the story of how he came to be the cool guy he is now:

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Bart: Like, wow, gnarly, bummed, dude, bodacious, waves, totally, whoa. So really very.

Nah, j/k, Bart met some guy named Frankie Bathgate who told him he looked like a geek and to wear different clothes. And I’m certain you don’t need me to tell you what all the cool dudes in California wear: Larry-style sweaters.

Bart puts down the Myposian decorations and says he wants to get some of that Windy City slit.  Larry is disturbed by this, even though it’s the exact same thing he talked about not five minutes ago.

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Later, at the Chronicle, Carl Lewis walks by with one of those novelty over-sized birthday cards.

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Inside, everybody’s just standing there doing nothing. We’ve finally come full circle to the days of the Ritz Discount store.

Lydia comes out of the elevator, and it’s obvious she’s going to keep walking past Larry, but Larry talks to her and holds her there.  Why does she come to the basement if not for the cousins?

Larry asks what she thought of Bart, and here’s another full circle.  Bartok has gone so far in the other direction from Balki’s Myposian ways that he’s come around to the other side of lacking social graces: he’s called Lydia a “babe” and asked how much money she makes.  We’ve been given to believe that this is precisely what Lydia probably wants to hear, but Bart’s basically bereft when it comes to bon behavior with the beauties.

Nah, j/k, Californians have no respect for hard-working people! They’re inherently bad and a cancer on society! For God’s sake there’s a street in San Francisco called “Hate”!!!

If you needed any more proof that Bart is out-and-out evil, Gorpley likes him.

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Balki runs in wearing sunglasses (that Bart gave him) and says “totally tubular”. Like, really, are we supposed to share in Larry and Lydia’s concern for Balki here just on the basis of a pair of sunglasses and some slang?  Like, fuck, Balki already owns a pair of sunglasses, y’all (season 3, episode 10: “Couch Potato”). Like, they’re good for keeping the sun out of your eyes. Like, whoa. But Larry’s got a look on his face like Bartok and Balki have been engaging in elder abuse.

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Balki invites them all to a party for Bartok that takes place after Bartok is supposed to have gone back home. Bartok plans to start a business, so Balki has agreed to let him stay until he (Balki) can start paying for an apartment for him.

I’m going to take a small detour here and mention something I should have a few weeks back.  I was recently on an 80s-TV-themed podcast called Byropod, led by Byron Hussie, whom I’ve been aware of for a few years solely as “the brother of the guy who did Homestuck”. Anyway, they did a podcast on Perfect Strangers and invited me (okay, I threatened lawsuits if he didn’t let me join) to talk about the show. It was my very first podcast and I had fun!  We primarily discussed the first episode of Perfect Strangers, and one of the things that struck me about the episode was how much potential was there, how many different directions the show could have taken, how many story possibilities were pre-packaged within the characters and situations. One in particular was that Larry initially let Balki live with him on a temporary basis. The agreed-on plan was that Balki would get his own apartment.  But this was never discussed again, which didn’t stick out as a problem when I was reviewing those seasons because it was made clear pretty often that the cousins were broke most of the time thanks to Mr. Twinkacetti.  Anyway, wonder along with me at why Larry never encouraged Balki to get his own place, and check out my mellifluent voice on the Byropod podcast.

Balki keeps saying slang he never would have picked up anywhere else, like “stoked” and “dudes”. Man, California is just so weird, isn’t it? Actually, I’m all for Balki mimicking Bart’s way of shortening words. Fewer syllables means fewer chances to get words wrong.

Gorpley is so inspired by Bartok’s freeloading he goes off to call his mother.  Gorpley just grew a pair!

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That Friday night, at the apartment, here’s party #103 already.

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There’s 8 straight seconds of absolutely nothing happening, other than a woman walking behind Bartok and in front of Balki.  Matte-ing must have been a new(ish) way of having the same actor on screen twice, because ABC was sure fucking proud of it.

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Balki’s obviously taking pigs in blankets out of the oven, but just wait, it’ll actually be pig dicks wrapped in pig foreskins. Mypos and its fucking pigs.

The writers for this show have gone to the trouble of scripting an episode where Bronson Pinchot plays two parts. Balki’s funny when he’s foreign, and he’s also funny when he does “American” voices, so why not have a Balki that only does only an American voice? Unlike how Family Matters, in its later seasons, gave more screentime to Stefan Urquelle than Steve Urkel***, Perfect Strangers refuses to take the spotlight away from Balki.  Gorpley, instead of actually talking to Bartok, asks Balki to explain what Bartok’s business idea is.  Evidently, Bart has the marketing rights to an idea developed by someone named John Greeley (Balki here says “a dude from California named John Greeley”, and someone in the audience laughs at the word “dude” again. Jesus).

Mr. Greeley’s big idea is to sell beach towels which are the same color as sand.

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Gorpley: Well move over, Donald Trump.

I don’t know why I’m so diligently recording every time this show mentions him. I guess I just miss my childhood, when he was just a harmless punchline, mentioned in the same breath as ill-conceived novelty items that no one would actually purchase.

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BALKI WHY ARE YOU WIGGLING LYDIA’S FINGER AROUND WHAT DOES THIS ACCOMPLISH

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Bartok hits on Mary Anne (Sagittarius), and by all rights the first interaction they have together should be her mistaking him for Balki, and becoming increasingly confused when she has to talk to them at the same time. My God, she’s the best possible character to use with identical cousins! Instead, we get Larry saying “gosh, gee, wotta resemblance” and Bartok’s dialogue with Mary Anne serving the purpose of letting Bartok say two more slang words (“obliterated” and “heavy”).

Mary Anne, who is dumb–so dumb, in fact, that she thinks monozygotic twins are a baseball team–deflects Bartok’s come-on.  Man, I could watch her express her genetic code all day, though.

Bartok hits on Jennifer too and uses the same line.  What kind of shitty hosts are these cousins? I mean, already, if you’re having a party, introduce people; but if you’re having a party for one guy in particular, coooooooooooome the fuuuuuuuuuuck oooooooon.

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Larry brings a tray with two tiny pigs in blankets on it as a show of dominance.  Bartok calls himself a babe-tician.

I think it’s been more than established by now that he comes up with them from California. Actually I think it’s good to make fun of catchphrases. Cousins should joke more!

Bartok keeps calling her babe, and Larry, little weenie that he is, doesn’t tell him to stop.

Bartok tells Larry that he got an investor for his business and will be getting his own apartment soon (“pad”, in that impenetrable California-speak of his).

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This is treated as though it’s going to be a surprise, but you already know it’s Balki giving him all his money, right?  God dammit how did the cousins not sell those two Lowell Kelly poems? Also, god dammit why is the lighting completely different for these guys?

Perfect Strangers will return after this screengrab!

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Bartok did not stick around to help clean up, because he left to go bang “Miss Kelly from advertising”.  *sigh* Show, you are really deadset on not introducing other Chronicle employees, aren’t you?

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Larry says they need to talk, and since this isn’t an episode where Larry is evil, Balki now does the thing where he speaks first before listening to what someone else says.  It’s okay when he does it. He says that they always have cheddar puffs at their parties, and he thinks they should switch to sausages.

Those were sausages. Those couldn’t be anything but sausages. I think I’m more angry than I should be at this because the props department usually does such a good job.  I mean, they got three whole pumpkins just for this episode!

Larry tries to warn Balki of the giant risk he’s taking, but Balki says that Myposians trust their family members without question.  And here’s an interesting thesis that I’m really not surprised to see the show advancing: Larry says that LA “did something” to Bartok.

Psychology sidebar: Inoculation theory. I’m a big fan of when psychological effects are explained by way of biological metaphors.  I personally like it because such pattern-making scratches a deep itch for me, but also because I subscribe to a materialist philosophy of mind. Anyway, William J. McGuire advanced something called the “inoculation theory”.  Similar to how vaccines introduce a weak form of a microbe into the human body to allow it (the body) to safely produce antibodies against it (the microbe), inoculation can happen in the mind as well.  When someone is presented with a weak form of an opposing argument, their mind produces antibodies (counterarguments) that can successfully overcome it. This idea has some substantial implications for any given person’s belief system.  For instance, like I said, I’m a materialist when it comes to the brain. Do I believe this so strongly because I actually have good arguments for it? Or have I simply only conversed with people who weren’t able to sell their opposing belief well? Have I only read authors who didn’t take the time to adequately explain counterarguments?  Inoculation theory can be a scary idea to contemplate, and I encourage you all to be scared with it for awhile.

Anyway, Larry, as we have known him, stands as a weak form of the capitalist, opportunist, American spirit.  He constantly tries to use the labor of a foreigner for his own gain, strives to maintain the appearance of a cultural (and toxic) masculine ideal, and ultimately wants to get more out of the system than he puts in, hoping that the imbalance will resolve itself unnoticed in terms of the emotional abuse he subjects others to.  But his flaw is always quickly discovered: Larry is emotionally stunted, allowing Balki to throw the ideological baby out with its bathwater (pardon the mixed metaphor). Bartok did not benefit from Larry’s (heh) booster shot.

Looking at Balki and Bartok in this way, holding a mirror up to Balki, reveals something unexpected in the background: inherent goodness in Larry.  You see, Larry may often be embarrassed at how Balki acts, but (unless I’m forgetting) he’s never told Balki to be embarrassed about who he is. He tells Balki that he doesn’t think the Myposian way will work, but he never tells Balki to get rid of evidence of his heritage the way Frankie Bathgate did to Bartok.

Larry offers the “duck test” as proof that Bartok hasn’t maintained his Myposian self, and Balki doesn’t understand, even though he came from a place where probably 80% of the metaphors and idioms have to do with animals.

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Then the scene ends.  It just ends.

Later, Bart comes by and calls Larry “broheim”.  This is what I learned this week: that where I’ve always heard “broham”, it’s some alternate form of “broheim”, and like many words there’s no agreement where it came from.

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Larry tells Bart he knows what he’s up to and won’t let Balki empty out his Freddie the Frog coin bank.  Bart assumes that Larry wants in on the ground floor and tells him he’ll let him be an investor as well.

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Balki comes in, excited to write out a puppy check. Did he… go somewhere outside the apartment to get his checkbook? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just have him taking a shit during the past couple minutes?

Larry tells Balki that he decided to a little investigating about Bart’s business connections.

Larry: I called the West Coast…

*pauses the show to laugh for a little bit*

Ultimately, the argument isn’t that no one is going to buy the sand-colored beach towel. It’s that Bartok doesn’t have the marketing rights that he earlier claimed, and cannot get them.

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Even though this is supposed to be a painful, emotional scene, the audience keeps laughing whenever Bart says authentic Californian words like “downer”.

Even though it seems clear that Bartok has been revealed for a fraud (he continues to talk about taking others’ ideas), a fuzzy Balki is still writing out the check.  He says that one should help family out no matter what. Bart notes that the check is made out to “Bartok”, but the bank “knows him as Bart”. Did he not have to provide ID when he opened an account??

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Blah blah blah, Balki reminds Bartok who he is, Casey makes a demon exorcism joke, Bart says he has to keep Bartok inside, Casey rewrites the exorcism joke to be a Gollum/Smeagol joke, be yourself, go back to Mypos, blah blah blah.

What strikes me as odd about this whole resolution is that every single person gets to be portrayed as a basically moral person (except for somebody off-screen).  In fact, Balki gets to have the moral high ground twice in a row: once by helping out someone who might be taking advantage of him, and again when he gets to tell his cousin that he’s not being true to himself.  Plus Balki gets to not be dumb this time around, which… okay, you know, I was about to criticize that, but then I’d be giving lip service to the status quo as much as the show. We’ve seen dumb Balki be manipulated by others who don’t care about him. It’s been done.

The problem’s not so much that Balki’s not dumb, but that Balki gets to be the final moral word on the matters at hand.

Is there really no room for growing as a person? I’m all for integrity and loving who you are, but come on, leave some space for self-improvement. Leave some space for trying on new personas and seeing what fits. (Research shows that, in particular with leaders, success comes as a result of being able to shift into and out of different modes/personas as needed.)  But Perfect Strangers is now displaying one of the things I disliked about Family Matters: characters aren’t allowed to try things and fail.  There’s always some character there to tell them how to live their life, who refuses to allow them room to make their own mistakes.

Bartok: Well, how I can get back?

fuckin’ fuck

You see why I don’t trust Bronson to make jokes? Ignoring the slang and the persistent use of “like”, Bartok’s grammar has been impeccable up to this point. I just… fuck.

how i can stand this show for 65 more episodes?

Well, Bartok’s gone now, and I seriously doubt we’ll see him or ever hear about him again.  I’m glad we got to see him–got to see what could have happened to Balki in different circumstances, which is what the script is basically about.  However, it feels like the episode was just as interested in that as it was in showing off the matte technology, and probably a little more interested in just having an excuse for Bronson to do two silly voices in one episode.  But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to see Bartok again, because there is definite potential for what he could add to the show.  Perfect Strangers is already a show built around a wacky neighbor type, but I think at this point it could use its own wacky neighbor.  Bartok could, every few weeks, stop by with another ridiculous invention he’s trying to market.  Hell, it wouldn’t even have to do anything with the plot: Perfect Strangers is sometimes at its best when it takes unnecessary detours.  But I could even see physical comedy bits built around, say, testing a stupid product.  And just think: it would easily set up a dynamic where Balki was trying to be an older-brother type to Bartok.  Balki’s frustrations with him could result in Balki finally appreciating how difficult his antics have been to Larry over the years.  Of course, at this point, Perfect Strangers has given me no indication that it would ever go in this direction or pursue that kind of character growth.  It’s showed no interest in sure-fire comedy neighbors (caustic, sausage-loving Mrs. Schlaegelmilch), little interest in using the neighbors it did retain (the girlfriends), and a strange interest in bringing back characters like Gina and Vince.  But it’s nice to think that, even at this point, even if it didn’t realize it, Perfect Strangers still had potential.

In the final scene, the cousins are at their table, ready to eat cereal without milk, and Balki reads a letter from Bartok. Balki can almost read at normal speed now, and Bartok’s grammar is back.

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Bartok also sent along a business card: he now makes glow-in-the-dark sheep collars.

Larry: Did he say that their main selling point is letting you screw sheep after dark?

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Yeah, fuck up that clock, man!

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Join me next week for “Disorderly Orderlies”!

_________________________________________________

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

Catchphrase count: Balki (let’s say 1.5); Larry (0); Bartok (1)
*I subscribe to the fruit/root division, as opposed to fruit/vegetable.

**Try and tell me that’s not a Pokemon

***someone answer me how the hell Stefan had a different last name

****At the end of the episode, Balki promises Larry to never call him “dude” again. I mention this solely so I can scream about it when Balki does it again.

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