If this is your first time visiting this blog, I should let you know that this is not the first episode. Go to the bottom of the site and click on the button that says “older posts”. Do that again another 35 times and it will load the very first post.
We find ourselves once again at the Caldwell Hotel, and the camera angle chosen is apt. Take note of the lights in this scene: headlights, taillights, lampposts, fluorescents in the old-fashioned ice cream parlor, neon for the Pioli’s Pizza sign, a thousand points of light, stretching endless into the black oblivion of 1990 Chicago, all to various extents in service of business and pollution. But as for the residential part of this tableaux vivant? Only one light shines; an inner glow from apartment 209, the last bastion of hope in this dark world. But even here, a voice calls out in need…
Jennifer has come by asking Larry for notepads, and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) follows close behind in need of a ruler. For the first time in his life, Larry satisfies two women simultaneously: he happens to have dozens of notepads and a box full of rulers.
Mary Anne quickly notes the notches on the ruler where Larry has been recording his diminishing penis length, and asks for a different one. Larry brags that he can get whatever they want from the Chronicle.
For those of you out there who may be thinking at this point, “gee, this is kind of a stupid way to set up a plot about about Larry stealing office supplies, which itself is kind of lame in and of itself. Why couldn’t we get something funnier than two dialogues in a row where someone asks Larry ‘do you have a thing?’ and Larry replying ‘yes, I have more than one of that thing’? Wouldn’t it be funnier to have, say, Balki unable to find what he needs amongst drawers full of rulers, notepads in the bathroom, boxes of staples piled up on the kitchen table, reams of paper in the fridge, unable to find space to sit on the couch between two typewriters? Besides, is the show going to even consider the fact that Larry often has to do his research at home, late into the evening, and that if the job requires this, the administration must have a high tolerance for supply costs? Will anyone even remember that Larry works on his very own typewriter and that certainly this more than offsets the cost of a box full of rulers?”, I simply ask you for two things. One, that you write a guest review for me; and two, that you observe the subtle theme work going on in this introductory scene. Cousin Larry is often made the fool, and his hubris–here taking the form of being over-prepared to record and measure–rivals that of Oedipus. Certainly he’s headed for a fall.
If this is your first time visiting this blog: yes, I do tend to write 500 words for the first 30 seconds of an episode. Strap in.
Balki comes in crying, having been named head of the Chronicle’s “grieving” committee. You already see his misunderstanding, but the show takes a whole minute for Balki to set up the joke (Bronson overacts beautifully here, stopping just short of tearing his clothes and sitting in ashes) and for Larry to explain it.
Since there’s four people here, it’s only fair to split up the dialogue, so someone was nice enough to give Jennifer the line explaining what grievances are.
You know, I really do criticize the show a lot for not developing most of its female characters past their recurring roles as exposition receptors. (Mary Anne is so dumb, by the way, that she thinks exposition is a chapter in the Kama Sutra.) but I will give the show credit that it finally figured out ways–not necessarily funnier, or better ways–of having the girlfriends leave a scene. In seasons 3 and 4, Perfect Strangers actually gave screentime to Lydia and Harriette bickering; and, as is often the case with this show, the less that verbal sparring has to do with advancing the plot, the better. The fighting worked with Lydia and Harriette because it hinted at a long working relationship, perhaps even a tentative friendship. Here, the blondes leave fighting about how Mary Anne filed a grievance against Jennifer for her recent promotion to flight crew manager*.
With Lydia and Harriette, the tension worked because each was a distinct character with built-in differences of race, personal life, and intelligences. With Jennifer and Mary Anne, the show steals my joke about their only difference: Jennifer points out that Mary Anne is shorter as they leave.
Balki asks Larry what the head of the grievance committee is supposed to do. Didn’t we just do an episode where Balki was promoted to a position of power without anyone explaining his responsibilities to him?
We get a hint at progress in Balki’s reading comprehension skills as he opens the envelope he came in with and quickly summarizes its contents. Someone has reported Lydia for taking up more than one space with her car. Balki misunderstands the word “Beemer” and I fucking KNEW he’d said that word before, but I just looked and was in Larry’s dream in the “Aliens” episode. Larry should have been tipped off that that was a dream as soon as Balki got slang correct.
Later, at the Chronicle, there’s a new woman working in the basement. I guess the maybe-Latina really did get fired. 😦
Lydia is sorting Balki’s mail, and you know how I was coming very close to praising this show for a couple of indicators of progress? Well, forget all that, Larry’s back to doing his whole thing where he asks someone what they’re doing, and then asking why. Lydia gets in a nice Snappy Answers-style dig at Larry’s Stupid Question.
And here’s another bit of regression: Balki keeps getting dumber. He sees Lydia sorting his mail, he asks her why she’s sorting his mail, and she responds:
Lydia: I’ve noticed you’ve been overworked lately and I want to do what I can for someone that I care about very much.
Balki: Who is that?
Fuck! Look, I love dumb characters, but again, this is not the kind of cluelessness that you originally gave Balki. Have him misunderstand words, have him miss social cues, but please, for God’s sake, let him understand how two parts of a sentence connect.
Lydia, knowing that Balki likes plush animal likenesses with pre-made holes, has gifted him with a pair of bunny slippers.
Larry explains that Lydia is trying to bribe Balki, but since no one has ever tried to bribe Balki before, certainly not Larry himself, the message has trouble sinking in. Before he can continue, this guy shows up again with a fruit basket delivery for Balki.
I’m really glad that Balki is finally getting a taste of his own medicine, as this guy–shit, if he’s going to be around from now on, I ought to give him a name; let’s go with Doug MailKenzie–keeps mispronouncing Balki’s first and last names.
Balki reads the card on the fruit basket.
Later… what the hell? I don’t know these buildings. Where is thi–
Oh! There’s the Chronicle. You got me good, show.
Balki and Lydia come in at the top of the stairs, arguing. She claims she’s been relegated to Parking Lot X** and starts throwing mail everywhere and reclaiming the bunny slippers and fruit basket.
If for whatever reason the gif of Michael Jackson eating popcorn wasn’t doing it for you, here you go:
Balki is confused. He tells his cousin that on Mypos is very simple: people are usually grateful when someone points out their faults. Larry then proceeds to tell Balki that he always says “Appleton” incorrectly, explains the germ theory of disease, how every sentence needs both a subject and a predicate, that opposite does not cure opposite, nor does like cure like, American women don’t like you to read the labels on the ass of their jeans, the toilet bowl is not that kind of bowl, not everyone he meets on the street is his friend, and to stop calling the black people “sons of Ham”.
Nah, just kidding, Larry doesn’t do any of that shit. He says that Balki did the right thing by being honest and serving justice.
Do you all like to watch football? I’ll admit I never was interested in it. Even when I was in the high school marching band, I never paid attention to the games. And later on, when I was living with a woman who was a fan, I tried watching it but found that I couldn’t get into its rhythm. You’d get short bursts of play, followed immediately by either a set of commercials or officials trying to figure out what just happened. But I have gotten good at learning the rhythms of Perfect Strangers over the past two years, so I was able to check out until the catchphrase timer went off:
(Hey! Look! In the background! She didn’t get fired after all! I’m so relieved.)
Larry has been accused of stealing $328 worth of office supplies.
Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back after this commercial message.
[An aside: I’m in a few different Facebook groups which are–to varying extents–Perfect Strangers-related. One of these groups, and this blog, recently were attacked by white guy with a podcast #383,170, Shawn Green. You ever heard of him? Yeah, me neither, but he took issue with the fact that not only do I dare say anything negative about Perfect Strangers, but that I do it intelligently.
him: Perfect Strangers is great!
me, an intellectual: No piece of media can be considered unequivocally good. Television shows are products, created by multiple stakeholders, each with their own (sometimes conflicting) agendas, faults, and blind spots. Any piece of media can be judged critically in multiple ways, whether on its own merits, against other media, through ideological lenses, or by societal standards, to name but a few. Audiences, too, can be critiqued, as not all individuals share the same background, understanding, tastes, or purposes. In fact, the very act of unequivocally assigning a value to a piece of media is simply the result of blah blah Foucault blah blah media as a form of social control ad infinitum I’m so smart
But Shawn’s a fan of Perfect Strangers and he disagrees with me, two qualities I’ve long hoped for in a reader. And Balki says I should be grateful when someone criticizes me, so. Shawn was kind of enough to give me an opportunity to answer questions on his podcast, so I’m happy to link to the site for his podcast, “halfwayokay”. I mean, I do research for my posts, and he just sits on his butt and talks at a microphone, but maybe some of you like that populist pap.]
Later, at the Caldwell, Larry has bought Balki the exact same pair of bunny slippers.
Larry hangs his coat. Remember this. This is important.
Larry hangs his jacket. Remember this. This is important.
Larry says he gave Balki bad advice, and now worries that Balki may now turn “harsh, insensitive…
totally devoid of all human emotion”.
Anyway, we’ve seen this part of the scenario play out dozens of times by now, so I won’t insult your intelligence by giving you a play-by-play*** of Cousin Larry sweet-talking Balki. Only the specifics are different: “mercy day”, soda, Balki finally calls Larry out on over-using the whole “I took you in” bit to get favors, Larry takes back the bunny slippers.
The next day, in a new, nice room of the Chronicle building, we come in at the tail end of some old man’s grievance hearing. Most likely he was accused of interrupting the cousins when they were hitting each other with full mailbags.
Balki calls Larry to the stand and immediately demands sexual favors as a way for him to get out of it:
Balki: How do you please?
So, I’ve never worked in a large office building of any sort, and the only grievance meetings I’ve been a part of included me, a boss or two, and the other parties involved. Is it weird that the whole group of people being charged with minor work drama are here, watching other people defend themselves and receive punitive measures? Is it weird that, given how much time RT Wainwright finds in his day to tell Larry what a useless shit he is, he can’t spend ten seconds telling Larry to quit stealing? This whole thing just strikes me as odd. The two grievance situations we know of aren’t even arguments of fact: there’s definitive proof in both Lydia’s and Larry’s cases, and there ought to already be punishments laid out for these types of things. I don’t know. Anybody who’s ever worked somewhere that they do it like this, please chime in in the comments and let me know if this method has its benefits.
Anyway, what the fuck, who cares, the grievance committee is made up of Balki, Ms. Wiggans, and Walt from the poker game episode****, and Larry says out loud, where Balki can hear it, that he bought the other two fruit baskets.
Larry says he can prove that the charges are false. Ms. Wiggans rejoins that the basement uses more supplies than the entire “city room” because Larry requisitions them all the damn time. So here’s a question for you: why the scissoring fuck is Larry the only reporter working in a basement where there are no supplies for reporters?
Walt says he needs to get to the Bulls game. Fuck you, Walt.
guess what happens next
can you guess
*sigh* do you give up he calls balki as a witness
Balki delivers another iteration of his new, content-variable catchphrase template: “feed me garlic and call me stinky”. And here’s a joke that was definitely made for the home audience, and I’m doubtful that the live audience picked up on it: a short cut to the woman taking minutes as she records Balki’s line.
Larry spends some time making the case that Balki is the most honest person at the Chronicle, which both Walt and Ms. Wiggans agree with. And yeah, blah blah blah, there’s going to be a big reveal that Balki took home a pencil from work, because that’s the worst possible thing he could ever do, Balki is an angel. God damn does this show love to suck Balki’s dick.
Larry pulls out three blown-up versions of a photo of Balki reading a letter from his Mama and keeps smacking the photos with his extended pointer, everybody’s favorite Cousin Larry bit from season 4.
Larry shouts questions at Balki until Balki cries, confessing to his theft.
And… it’s not often that the show ends up having a message for me, but I’m feeling very seen this week. And Balki’s subtle message at the top of the episode that any criticism should be embraced with gratitude has been getting to me. I… I need to confess.
I portray myself on this blog like I’m an honest, intelligent, progressive man. Every week I act like I’m the single light still burning high above the capitalist fray. But I…
…I paid money for a Facebook ad. I spent $15 to utilize the data Facebook has collected on you so that they would push this blog on you. Where did I go wrong? How did it get to the point that I was willing to use–to pay!!!–the systems I hate? That I was willing to treat people I don’t know, who have never wronged me, as though their attention was a mere commodity I could buy? I’m so ashamed. You should go read whatever measly 1,000 words the AV Club posted about Curb Your Enthusiasm today, at least they’re honest capitalists.
For those of you out there who may be thinking at this point, “Why has Larry spent like, $20 apiece on fruit baskets, and likely $30 apiece on three poster-size versions of of a photo of Balki? Why did he take a photograph of Balki reading a letter, for Christ’s sake? Larry’s got all the shit at home, obviously not using it–couldn’t he just bring it back in the dead of night and kind of hide it poorly enough for someone to find it and exonerate him? Is the show really choosing to bring up Larry taking photographs only once this whole fucking season, and completely outside the context of him trying to be a photojournalist? Why are the other members of the grievance committee letting them do this whole thing? Isn’t it kind of fucked up that Larry does this shit to Balki almost every week and Balki puts up with it?” I can tell you two things. One is that you’re the perfect reader for this blog, and two is that the show gives us a nice little detail that no one calls attention to: during his questioning, Larry admits to having used Chronicle resources to blow up the photograph.
Walt says they all do it, and that Larry’s not guilty. I agree with you, but still, fuck you, Walt.
Ms. Wiggans votes guilty, and even though Walt says he wants to change his vote, it still comes down to Balki having the deciding vote. After humiliating and berating his cousin in front of a group of their coworkers, in a forum whose proceedings are transcribed and filed for later reference, Larry is surprised when Balki votes “guilty”. And here I had been calling Balki the dumb one.
Later, at the Caldwell, Cousin Larry is boxing up all of the office supplies he’s brought home over the past three years; after returning them, he’ll still owe $85. Like, for what, though, exactly? Larry brought home $328 worth of supplies, he returns $243; isn’t the remainder what he used for his work? Whatever, who gives a shit, I’m almost done with this sorry episode. What started out as a lame-sounding plot was developed through mind-boggling setup (who filed the grievance against Larry? And why? If someone was upset that they could never get their hands on a bottle of Liquid Paper, why not request it themselves? What kind of asshole would watch Larry bring home a stapler here, or a notepad there, for months, and not say anything to him? We seriously don’t get to meet the person who set this story in motion?), and then turned to all be for the sake of Larry playing lawyer in the climax of the episode. Two weeks ago, Perfect Strangers made a successful foray into cartooniness by having three men blunder their way through scaring themselves. It was an us vs them scenario, the punchline being there was no them after all. But here, someone’s idea of funny was for man #1 (the lying one) to put man #2 (the honest one) on trial and prove a falsehood through sophistry. And that’s fine when the men are cartoons (and even better when the cartoons are animals), but these men have to go back home and co-exist together. As much as the show wants there to be, there’s no natural reset button for the live-action sitcom. So it forces it by having Balki act like what Larry did was no big deal.
The music comes on, Larry apologizes for stripping Balki of his dignity, and the audience laughs.
If Perfect Strangers was already straining credulity that Balki is the most honest man in the world, it breaks it by having him also be the most forgiving.
Or, perhaps he’s simply the dumbest.
Join me next week for “This Old House”!
Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (1)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
*See season 5, episode 5 “Dog Day Mid-Afternoon”. Continuity sure is easier when you barely have the characters do anything!
**she refers to it as a dirt lot, which I find kind of unlikely in such a dense part of the city, but okay
***there are other, more fun ways
****here listed as “Mr. Hughes”. Fuck you, Mr. Hughes.
Special note: yes, Perfect Strangers is on Hulu now, and the episode quality is much higher. But the work involved in taking screengrabs–and I do love to get those very specific facial expressions–is far, far greater when we’re talking about video in a browser than in VLC Media Player. Besides, I decided years ago that I don’t have to watch commercials.