Welcome back! If this is your first time visiting, this blog features weekly in-depth reviews of the 80s/90s sitcom Perfect Strangers. I know they just released the entirety of the show on Hulu, but why spend $8 a month? I offer 100% accurate recaps of the show, plus you get my stunning and unique insight, all without commercials or having to actually listen to Balki talk!
Here we are again at the Caldwell Hotel, where we find Balki cleaning Dmitri. Longtime readers know that it’s usually the opening scene where I cleverly tease out some aspect of the situation to lay the thematic groundwork for the criticism I plan to ultimately give. I mean, the episode’s title is “This Old House”, so I’m likely going to talk about how aging sitcoms perform maintenance on themselves. Or maybe you’ve read an episode synopsis and already know that the cousins are selling a house, so maybe Dmitri’s “bath” here is a heads-up that this episode is about presentation for potential buyers. I’ll masterfully critique the show on its own terms, all while humbly and introspectively using those same themes to comment on my own writing, right?
Nah, haha, not this time. Balki’s cleaning Dmitri because how else you gonna get those cum stains out?
Balki accuses Dmitri of crawling behind the refrigerator, and god damn, there’s a Halloween episode we’ll never get!
Remember how, once upon a time, this show used to be a clone of Taxi? How two men toiled away in a dirty workplace, one of them from a foreign country of unknown location, both of them with the hots for a redhead, all overseen by a short, angry, balding man, doing whatever they could in their spare time to try to achieve their dreams? Yeah, well, fuck all that; as often happens once a person gets a decent, steady job, security becomes the goal, and the complex mental stress involved with goals ambition and risk are replaced by the easier mental stress of seeking more money to perpetuate that security. Am I saying this because we’re approaching the end of the season?
MAYBE I MEAN YOU DON’T KNOW ALL MY WRITING TRICKS
Anyway, Larry says as much about the shifting nature of dreams when he runs in and tells Balki that they can get rich by house-flipping. Before he can get all that out, though, Balki assumes that the good news is that Suzanne Somers is getting a new prime time show. Sometimes I work so hard to draw out stuff about how Perfect Strangers acts as an unwitting criticism of its own place in the capitalist, consumer-driven society that is Modern America; sometimes it just hands it to me like this.
Anyway, Balki is so happy he makes the same face I’m sure I will when Netflix announces Perfecter Strangers.*
Cousin Larry has taken another seminar course, this time one called “Dare to Make a Fortune!” How it works is, anytime someone is trying to take advantage of you, you yell “Dare to Make a Fortune!” at them. Larry has become so emboldened by this seminar that he busts out his new catchphrase a mere minute into the episode.
Balki whips out a giant ass book in which he claims to have been recording the results of Larry’s previous plans. He makes a big show of paging through to different parts of the book, describing not only Larry’s plans, but how they went wrong and what consequences Balki suffered. It’s actually quite a boastful exercise for this show–offering roughly half a dozen perfectly good plots only to throw them away in an expository scene can only mean that this episode outdoes them all.
Nah, j/k, Balki doesn’t do any of that shit. Someone in the props department bought a giant diary just so Balki could read a numerical summary from the first page. The point is, Balki has every right to be upset at Larry. I mean, after all, Larry keeps trying to improve their socioeconomic status, when what he should be doing is constantly inviting criminals over, or cooking food with rotten ingredients, or throwing around heavy objects in public spaces right after coming back from the doctor. What a piece of shit, this guy, actually taking the time to try to convince Balki to work with him, rather than just signing him up for it.
Larry starts in on his “American way of life” shit, and Balki says “sure, whatever” just to shut him up. Look, Balki, I haven’t seen you trying to be an active part of an episode for what, six weeks now? Your life is so boring you’ve been throwing your toys behind the fridge just so you can clean them. Get a girlfriend!
The plan, as Larry lays it out, is overly complex, but it’s basically that they’d be doing all the work of selling a house to prospective buyers. The risk is that, if the cousins haven’t sold it in a certain amount of time, they end up becoming the buyers, but he sells it to Balki on the idea that they’re “buying” a house for no upfront cost. In the meantime, however, they can make some improvements to the house to increase its value. It’s like a cross between flipping and short-selling, I guess? Whatever, what the fuck, who cares, I’m 100% certain it’s a plot that is perfect for a show about two friends from wildly different cultures, and couldn’t be done with just any show featuring two characters.
Now that the exposition’s out of the way, Balki starts talking about eating bugs with little kids. And while he’s doing that, let’s talk about what function this episode serves. I mean, obviously it’s so the show can finally get the damn Three Stooges turning-around-quickly-while-holding-a-ladder bit onto an eventual best-of reel, but there’s another, broader reason Perfect Strangers is making efforts to retool itself (TGIF: Testing Gathers Important Feedback), cycling through different versions of itself in hopeful preparation for a sixth season.** I plan on talking more about this in my season review, but this episode is demanding I discuss a little bit of it here.
The cousins have now been in the same situation–same girlfriends, same jobs, same abusive relationship–for years now, and it’s natural that the show would want to push their story forward. Now that the couples are well established, a likely ending point will be their marriages. Now that the cousins have both had some successes at work, a potential avenue for development would be promotions. And if the cousins were ever separated for more than five minutes, the heavens would fall, the rivers turn to blood, and their penises stop working, so we know they’re going to end up living in a house together. Just like we knew that they would date the blondes upon their second appearance. Just like we knew what Balki’s catchphrase would be as soon as he first said it. And I say this even with the fact that I knew these things going into this review blog; Perfect Strangers has all the mystery of a first date at a nudist colony.
Something like once per season on Full House, an entire episode would be dedicated to figuring out the living arrangements. When I binge-watched the show a few years back, it seemed like a waste of an episode, just something I had to make it through to get to the next “actual” story. But in retrospect, those episodes functioned well on a number of levels, addressing the aging of the children characters, whether any of the uncle Jesse would move out after getting married, and precisely how far away from minors Joey would be while he masturbated to Popeye cartoons. What’s more, even though I don’t think it ended up being interesting television, those episodes were opportunities for a showcase of the different personalities involved. You could even argue they were the most related to the core premise of the show: there are too many people in one house.
Perfect Strangers, on the other hand, flat-out refuses to explore the personalities or dynamics of its characters: Dmitri gets more screen time here than Lydia did last week.*** So we can only hope that, whenever the cousins do move into a house, they’ll be able to forge a new dynamic and develop new story directions.
Hey, look, the creators of the show think they’re being real fucking clever, because here’s some old footage they had lying around of the house from Mork and Mindy!
And why not try to re-create the success of that program? Maybe the cousins could even live on the second floor, right above a cantankerous old man!
Anyway, sorry if I’m spending too much time not talking about the episode, but (surprise!) not a hell of a lot happens.
Larry, looking at paint colors, calls out to Balki to ask his opinion. Balki, whose skill at milking cows earned him a motherfucking nickname, and who is skilled at baking snack foods, misunderstands the word “cream”… twice. And he doesn’t even think Larry’s talking about food. Fucking twice.
Anyway, Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) come down the stairs so the cousins can talk to each other facing the same direction for a minute. I’m down on the writers of this show pretty often, and maybe that’s unfair, especially at times like these where they really earn their paychecks. Faced with the dilemma of having to write for two actresses being contracted for 18 and 19 episodes, respectively, but having absolutely zero interest in doing the hard work of thinking about how they feel or what they want, the writers are struck with inspiration. Use them to take up a minute in a completely uneventful episode! As Balki might say, you kill two birds with one Rolling Stone! Masterful!
By the way, damn, look at that completely natural love between Larry and Jennifer. One soul in two bodies there. By the way, the King of Mypos’s palace has a waterslide in it. I’m sure you cared.
Mary Anne, who’s so dumb she thinks an acceleration clause is when Santa tells Rudolph to go faster, predicts certain doom for the cousins’ efforts to fix up the house. The women leave.
Yep, there it is.
Look at ‘em go.
A steal at only 8 smackers a month on Hulu, folks.
Two weeks and one floating superimposed “For Sale” sign later, the inside of the house still doesn’t match up with the outside. Also the cousins painted the walls. Makes sense to skip that part. Painting has never once in the history of film lent itself well to physical comedy.
I fucking swear, Balki has done more cleaning in five seasons than Danny Tanner did in eight…. He sings a parody of reason #38 someone at ABC spent a few minutes issuing a check to MGM last month: “The Merry Old Land of Oz”. And lest anyone accuse me of taking a nasty tone on this blog, I will point out something Balki’s singing: years ago, he’d sing a song that was relevant to what he was doing. For a while, though, he would just sing a song that had fuckall to do with anything. I guess someone decided that Balki singing “Stairway to Heaven” while taking a shit (season 4, episode 9, “Deck the Stalls”) was just too ridiculous. Writing parody lyrics is fun, and actually take some effort to write.
A married couple come in to look at the house. Their names are Elliot and Hope which, from what I read, were characters on thirtysomething; what’s more, these actors resemble those characters. (The audience got it right away; as always, I have to read up on jokes to get them.) This is slightly better than that aborted Doogie Howser, M.D. gag from three weeks ago; you’ll get it right someday, show!
Phil pointed out last week that “Here Comes the Judge” chose the least interesting story to tell about grievances and hurt feelings in the workplace. Here, we’re getting more of the same.
ABC exec: Have the cousins accidentally end up owning a house. We may need it for season 6.
PS writer: A house! Yeah, we could do some home-repair physical comedy, have Larry excited about selling the house and try to get too much money for it, maybe we could even–
ABC exec: Whoa, hold on, that’s plenty! This isn’t a two-parter.
It’s fine to have the cousins interact with a house, but the writers put in such a weak effort that the biggest laugh of the episode is for a reference to another show. And, yes, I’ve given away the ending. Who cares? Fucking nothing is happening. Those Full House episodes are looking better by the minute.
Remember how, once upon a time, this show used to be a clone of The Odd Couple? Two men with wildly different personalities living together and taking on situations in their own ways, often to the embarrassment and frustration of each other, sometimes even ruining the other’s plans? Yeah, well, fuck all that. Balki could be asking this couple questions to determine if they would be good homeowners, stuff that would make more sense on Mypos. Larry could be trying to cover up that there were repairs they didn’t get around to. Shit, Gorpley could have discovered the cousins had a big empty house and invited all his mean friends over for a party. Jennifer could have… you know, I don’t know why I started that sentence. The point is, you could come up with far better story ideas than “Larry and Balki stand around and don’t sell a house”, and I invite you to do so in the comments.
Let’s just zip through this shit… Larry asks $150,000 for the house, Larry doesn’t give them a tour, they take all of 30 seconds to look at one other room and and decide they want to buy the house without any price negotiation, and Balki tries to do the Dance of Joy. I’ll stop here because there’s a joke good enough to excuse the continuity flub: Balki’s mama warned him that he’d go blind if he did the Dance of Joy alone.
Because Larry has overheard the couple saying that another house is more expensive because it has a chandelier, he tells them that he’s decided not to sell the house, and damn near pushes the couple out. Cue catchphrase:
Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back in the very next sentence, let’s just get through this already.
Later, the cousins are hooking up a chandelier that Larry stole from a condemned hotel. You’ve got to remember, kids, this was 1990, when property law was a brand-new idea, its principles unargued and its parameters untried. Upon hearing this, Balki just stares off into the distance for a few seconds, about the same amount of time it would have taken for him to verbally censure his cousin.
Larry, if you–
It’s called a self-locking pulley! Jeez, if you’re going to steal physical comedy bits from the 1930s, at least try to update them by keeping up with existing tools. Later:
Larry: Well, Balki, we’re in the home stretch.
Ha! Do you guys get it? “Home” stretch! You know, because, it’s a house! Man I love this show.
We’re only 13 minutes in, so the episode takes a moment to breathe, and the cousins wonder aloud at what it would be like to live in a house. Larry talks about how, for most of his life, he’d wanted to have his own big home, but how he now knows he’d be far too lonely all by himself. Balki tells his cousin how having a house on Mypos is not only a source of pride for the owner, but also a responsibility, a promise of charity to the community, and that the bigger the home, the more guest rooms it had. The King’s palace, in fact, was nothing but guest rooms; and in a heartwarming surprise, we find that the waterslide was installed for all the children of Mypos. The cousins share silly memories of their childhood homes; how Larry found a place to hide his candy from his siblings, only to find out it was a mousehole; how Mama would mark both Balki’s and the sheeps’ heights on the doorway of the barn. It’s a perfect example of why this show is still so beloved almost 30 years later.
Nah, j/k, it’s more of this.
Balki accidentally kicks the ladder away, which is kind of what happens when you’re dumb enough to put a ladder on a big rolling wooden platform.
If you act right now, Hulu’s offering plans starting at only $5.99/month for the first year.
Two weeks later or whatever, they’re still up there. Man, how lucky were they that there was already a spot on the ceiling to hang a chandelier?
In case you’re thinking that this is not the most dire situation to be in, consider this: Cousin Larry can’t get away from Balki’s stupid jokes.
Larry: Who had time to hire professional help?
Audience member pro tip: any time characters explicitly discuss why they’re not doing something that normal people would do, it’s the writing equivalent of when you can see where a vase was repaired because no one thought to wipe off the excess glue. If a set of characters decides to not call the police in a horror movie, it’s typically not for any good reason other than the writers really wish they didn’t have to address such concerns (bonus laziness points if they try and the phone lines are cut/cell phone reception is awful). Someone really wanted this episode to culminate in the cousins being stuck in a chandelier. Any other directions this episode could have taken would have involved actually thinking up some kind of conflict. (And I hate to say it, but even the camera/staging work is a little lazy this week: who cares whether the studio audience saw it, but I should never have known that the ladder was on a rolling platform.)
Anyway, Larry finally reveals to Balki that they’re going to owe the entire cost of the house to the original owner if they can’t sell the house in 10 days. The women come back, stand around in only one room of a large house and wonder where in the world the cousins could be. The cousins wait a full minute to tell them where they are, and then the women respond in kind by waiting a whole minute to offer any sort of help.
Welp, there you go, that was that scene, you got to see the women in two different outfits this week.
10 days later, we see a married couple all but running out the door away from Larry. Why haven’t they been able to sell the house? Fuck you is why. All you need to know is the cousins are about to owe $140,000 all at once. Aren’t there ways to just mortgage that after the fact? Don’t banks love to buy debt?
A married couple and his wife come down the stairs and reveal their names to be Skitch and Florence Henderson. Geez, we get it! You’re a TV show! You want to be like other TV shows and get their approval! You’re surrounded by family sitcoms and you’re worried you won’t measure up! Look, you’re the one who let Bronson dictate that the cousins are virgins!
Larry lies to this couple about how many offers they’ve received and Balki, paragon of virtue, lets this slide. Then Larry slaps Balki on the back until Balki also lies. The Hendersons make a lowball offer. In response to this, Larry pinches Balki’s arm and tells them that Balki would have to flog himself out of shame at such a low offer. Then Larry and Skitch proceed to whip Balki with a chain and a length of pipe, respectively, and Florence jumps up and down on him with her hobnailed boots.
Oh, wait, no, they just haggle about the price while the chandelier starts to fall.
The cousins walk three feet away to loudly discuss theology.
Florence: I was promised more screen time!
Balki: Not on this show!
Mr. Henderson withdraws his offer immediately upon seeing cousins manhandle his wife. Nah, haha, the cousins crawl around on the floor looking for Florence’s contact lens.
You get to see the chandelier falling and breaking in slow motion, because nothing fucking happens in this episode.
Later, at the Caldwell, they still haven’t sold the house. Understandable. I mean, only two-thirds of the couples who looked at it made offers on it.
Balki has calculated that they’ll have to pay $42/month on the house for the rest of their lives, so now we know that the average Myposian lives to be about 160. Larry starts talking about greed hormones, and…
…did I accidentally watch an episode from an alternate dimension where biology is completely different?
Anyway, for as empty as this episode was, I do like the fact that it ends with the cousins not having sold the house. It’s too often the case that sitcom characters “learn their lesson” and still get whatever it is they wanted. This ending also makes the episode feel like it fits in with earlier seasons, where the cousins were constantly struggling to make ends meet and always two steps behind where they thought they should be. And perhaps, for once, the show did intend a greater meaning to its own plot: that Perfect Strangers would fail at being itself if it tried to take on the trappings of its TGIF neighbors. And looking at it through that lens–that the episode may have been taking a deliberate tongue-in-cheek approach to seeing if audiences wanted the cousins to have a house–improves my opinion of it just a little bit. (Again, there were still better ways to fill those 21 minutes to achieve that same goal.) The show will likely never truly recapture the glory days where the title of the show was still true–hell, the only reference to Mypos this week is that things are so different there that they also have waterslides–but at the very least it still has a chance to maintain a focus on overcoming the setbacks that arise when pursuing one’s dreams.
But if the dream is getting renewed for another season, this episode is the setback.
Join us next week for “Eyewitless Report”!
Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (2)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
*Other potential titles under discussion for the inevitable reboot: Future Perfect Strangers, Balki’s Hit Talk Show, Perfect Strangers Ninja Storm, Babasticky Galactica, American Horror Story: Larry, The New Woody Woodpecker Show
**Speaking of testing things out: Step by Step would debut in the fall of 1991. Given the two-year development of Perfect Strangers, I have to wonder if Balki’s reference to Suzanne Somers getting a prime-time show was an inside joke or even–and I admit this is a stretch–a way to gauge audience reaction to the idea.
***so not fucking kidding