Season 5, Episode 24: Digging Up the News


As I sit here brooding on this old, unloved sitcom, I think of Balki’s wonder when he first pushed on the yellow button at the door of Harriette’s elevator. He had come a long way to this green basement, and his American dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to fondle its face. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond season 3, where the dark Jacks of Chicago scammed on at night school. Balki believed in the mail, the symbolic flock that year by year receded before him…. And one fine morning–


Speaking of futures past, I ought to just drop my “reason #” schtick every time Balki sings a song. I truly believed when I started that joke that this show would never be released on DVD, much less through a streaming platform*. I figured it would reach about 100 and I’d get to reuse a joke every week. But it’s time to let it go, time to give in, just as Larry does when Balki forces him to sing “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” from Hello, Dolly!.


It goes on for awhile.

As if the Myposian Water Torture of Balki having to say something dumb after every line wasn’t bad enough, the unchecked growth of his singing has metastasized and obliterated any hope of an opening gag. At least, Larry muses, it’s not as bad as trying to fuck a cat.

Cousin Larry introduces the plot this way:

Larry: My name was mentioned in the weekly editor’s meeting. I’m not sure, but I think they’re going to give me a big assignment.

Now, I read that and I assume that someone told Larry, but then again I’m a real person.  Balki’s assumption is that Larry was in the meeting. It’s a stupid response, but it’s the first in a series of dialogue beats getting us to the joke that Larry was listening through a vent in an adjoining bathroom. And that’s an okay joke! What’s more, that’s a good joke about Cousin Larry: he’s so eager for any news that he’s doing well (and/or a chance to prove himself) that he’ll spend an hour huffing Marshall & Walpole’s spilled piss just to get the inside scoop on his own job.  And, sure every episode gets a soft reset, so the show may be “forgetting” that Larry has had plenty of journalistic accomplishments this season. For me, though, having seen all of that in past weeks, just supports the idea that Larry doesn’t give himself enough credit and still thinks his future as a journalist is uncertain. But we could have gotten that same joke without the illogical path the show took.  Here, I’ll fix it:

Larry: My name was mentioned in the weekly editor’s meeting. I’m not sure, but I think they’re going to give me a big assignment.

Balki: Did you bribe their secretaries again to tell you?

Larry: Nnnno, I… heard it myself this time…


RT (Righty Tighty) Wainwright comes into the basement and tells Larry that his big assignment is to interview local kids’ TV host Uncle Shaggy for his show’s 10th anniversary. Because Balki talks during this scene, Wainwright sends him along with Larry. Wainwright tells them they’re “expected there” in 2 hours. See, show? All it took was a few words to smooth over all those logistical questions like tickets and time that I had in “Games People Play”!

Can I nitpick for a minute, though?  Yeah, well, fuck you, gonna nitpick anyway.

It’s great that we solved the big mystery of “will Larry get to write an article?” (“Who shot JR?” got nothing on this), but it really does seem that the show introduced a question just so it could badly tell one joke.  If you can only one joke for a situation, maybe don’t use that situation?  Why not a whole episode of Larry trying to find out whether he’ll get a good assignment? Why not an episode where Larry can’t enjoy his big assignment because of some other news he heard (or quite possibly misheard) through the vent?

Why not just stop asking questions like this? I already know that Perfect Strangers wouldn’t do a good job with those, even if it was interested in exploring the greater Chronicle work environment.


While I’m here picking at scabs against my better judgment, let’s do this one again: Balki’s pronunciation problems.  I’ll see if I can get this completely out of my system so I’ll never have to mention it again. Balki refers to Uncle Shaggy as “Unc-le Shaggy”.

Psychology sidebar: little kids make mistakes when they talk. Calling a puppy a kitty because they’re the same size and walk on four legs (overextension).  “Foots” instead of “feet”; “teached” instead of “taught” (overregularization); only the child’s cat is a “kitty”, but not other cats (underextension); “nana” instead of “banana” (that one’s more to do with emphasis patterns in English). Hell, some of these aren’t even limited to kids: I referred to skirts as dresses until I got corrected as a teenager.

Now, I’m not saying that Balki’s error fits into any of these categories.  Balki is Bronson’s character through and through, there’s no doubt of that. But Bronson is himself making an error of overregularization in terms of where to apply Balki’s errors.  In the very first episode, Balki refers to his cousin as “Larry App-le-ton”, and it was effective: Balki was an intermediate learner of English, and it was obvious he and his Myposian family had only ever seen the name written in some family tree.  Sure, if you think about it too much, it requires that Larry’s dad didn’t tell him the correct pronunciation when sending Balki off to Chicago, but whatever. Balki made the mistake, and it was one of hundreds of silly things you’d expect out of the mouth of a wet-behind-the-ears foreigner. For him to continue the mistake for five straight years is already ludricous. For him to start applying it to other words that he most likely heard before seeing them written is insane. I wish I knew where exactly to place the blame. Most of it is certainly on Bronson; it’s not as though the writers are even trying to write in words that Balki would mispronounce at this point.  But on the other hand, they’re certainly not writing for a character who takes college classes.

So what do you do when a character’s creator misunderstands that character? According to Perfect Strangers, the answer is to say “fuck it” and let him put on a two-man production of West Side Story.

Anyway, back to the episode: Wainwright should know by now that Balki doesn’t know shit, but it’s a decent setup, just as decent as it was last season when it was called “Games People Play”. The research I did this week was on Bozo the Clown, and I was not aware that Bozo was somewhat of a franchise.  Evidently, the Chicago Bozo the Clown was far and away the most famous of them, and WGN-TV’s The Bozo Show lasted a honkin’ 40 years. (What’s more, the WGN-TV Bozo, or more specifically, Bozo as played by Bob Bell from 1960 to 1984, was the inspiration for Krusty the Clown.) The Bozo Show’s 30th anniversary was in 1990, and I’d wager a guess that that milestone was part of the inspiration for this episode. And I wouldn’t mind seeing Balki interrupt Larry’s serious questions because he thinks the show’s animal characters are real; I wouldn’t mind Balki retread Simpsons ground and have his worldview shattered when he sees Uncle Shaggy up close and/or knocking back whiskey off-camera. I wouldn’t mind seeing Larry blow his chance for bigger assignments because he half-asses a story he think is beneath him. Shoot, part of the fun of live television was that anything could happen, and children’s shows were no exception**; I woulnd’t mind watching how the cousins’ antics inadvertently become part of the fun.

I wouldn’t mind watching any of those things; but instead I watched “Digging Up the News”.


I don’t know enough about how local television is made to know whether to gripe about a 10-year Chicago institution would be taped in a small theater, but here we are again at the (heh) Phister, with the same two men who attended Lydia Live! buying tickets.


And… fucker doesn’t even have an audience full of kids there?

One of Uncle Shaggy’s bits is running on a treadmill in front of a stationary background. Also his catchphrase seems to be howling.


Another is reading letters from children, which somehow made it all the way into an oversized mailbox without Uncle Shaggy terrorizing a mailman. As he reads it, we cut to Balki and Larry off-stage. In a beautiful thematic transition, we’ve gone from questions from children to questions from adults: Cousin Larry is finishing up the list of discussion points he wants to ask Uncle Shaggy.


Oh, wait, no, Larry wants to run potential article titles by Balki before he’s written the damn thing.  He even bemoans not being able to find a good angle for the article. Why not fucking talk to the guy first?


Balki starts howling and you’re seriously like 10 yards from Uncle Shaggy, shut up.


Uncle Shaggy jumps up on the Big Comfy Couch and his friends Frenchie and Hot Dog come in and start jumping around. They howl and say goodbye.  (The actress playing Frenchie rolls the “r” on her “rrrrruff!”, which is the biggest effort-to-role-size ratio I’ve seen on this show.)


Uncle Shaggy hears Balki howling and shoots him a dirty look.  Our “real person” count on this show has reached double-digits, folks!


As soon as they’re off the air, the producer tells Frenchie that she looks fat. I’m glad that she does it with a nasty tone, so that we can differentiate this from the entirety of the episode “Disorderly Orderlies” and understand that producer is a bad person for saying it.

Balki is overwhelmed at meeting Uncle Shaggy, so he nuzzles with him for a minute. Shaggy realizes he’s dealing with a person with intellectual disabilities and stays in character for a minute.


Balki tells Larry what he just did with Uncle Shaggy and does that “where do I come up with them” move.

Larry tells Balki to go damage stuff on the other end of the set so he can talk to Uncle Shaggy. Uncle Shaggy asks for a few minutes to get out of his costume before Larry interviews him, and tells him not to bring his camera. Uncle Shaggy doesn’t let himself be photographed without his makeup on.


Uncle Shaggy: Besides, five years in is a little late to try to make headway on that “Larry wants to be a photojournalist” arc, I bet nobody even remembers that was ever even a thing.

They spend like a minute agreeing that Larry won’t take any pictures, so I guess Larry’s going to take a picture.

And, just like every time the cousins are left alone in a room, they head straight to the couch so they can *ahem* bury their bones.

Cousin Larry has decided that his angle for the story is getting a picture.  Wait, is it that easy?  My angle this week was going to be about effort, but shit, here’s photos of Bronson and Linn-Baker, I’m fucking done with this review.


I really wish I could have ended it there, because here we are once again with Larry convincing Balki to be dishonest and take the picture for him.


But, as these scenes go, this one is a standout.  Larry manages to get Balki to beg to do his dirty work for him, not by framing it as a game, but by gaslighting Balki.  Larry actually convinces Balki that he has forgotten coming up with the idea himself. Balki is convinced of his own idiocy and goes along with it. Like Esau before him, Larry has given up his own dream for a bowl of dog food.

Balki plays with the camera because 1) you have to have a joke at the end of every scene in a sitcom and 2) Perfect Strangers doesn’t know how to write jokes that involve words anymore.

Later, at the Caldwell, the cousins hold up Larry’s article for their television to see.


Then Uncle Shaggy comes by and tears their throats out with his fake doggy teeth.


Nah, we all wish, though, right? Balki, once again projecting his own desires onto others, wastes no time offering his shoe to Uncle Shaggy. And, yes, after not only interviewing him, but also using his civilian identity as the angle for the article, they’re both still calling him Uncle Shaggy.

Buried at the heart of this episode is yet another story where the cousins interact with a criminal. Uncle Shaggy got fired because someone recognized him from the photo, called up the television station, and told them of Shaggy’s shady past. Uncle Shaggy did time in jail for writing a few bad checks 20 years ago. I’m guessing that Uncle Shaggy is going by an assumed name now, otherwise he would have been found out years ago.  But the show’s reticence at mentioning Uncle Shaggy’s real name is, I think, the keystone in this season’s overall thesis. Season five spent what at first seemed like an inordinate amount of time on *ahem* family matters; and as always, Perfect Strangers regularly features plots about criminals. It’s no mistake that we essentially got 2 two-parters in season 5: one with Larry’s dad, and one with Marvin Berman. Perfect Strangers was asking me all this time to compare criminals and family! Both Marvin stories were filled with false threats: Marvin himself, Marvin’s bomb, the stick of dynamite, the “goons” surrounding the building. But when Larry’s dad came to visit, almost every recurring character came inches away from a painful death. We learned that George Walter Appleton never gave his son the praise he needed, and now that same son stands on a toilet, desperately trying to listen to meetings over the noise of Gorpley taking a shit. And what is an incompetent parent but someone who wrote you a bad check decades ago? Perfect Strangers makes itself clear: our family members will commit more crimes against us than the most hardened felon. What presented itself as a show about overcoming culture clashes has become a story of family dysfunction to rival anything Jonathan Franzen could write. Cousin Larry took Balki in five seasons ago, and has been taking him in on a weekly basis ever since.

Perfect Strangers Reviewed will return right after I steel myself for talking about the next dumb shit out of Balki’s hole.


When Uncle Shaggy mentions his “criminal record”, Balki thinks he’s referring to “Jailhouse Rock”; somehow Balki assumes that this man was in prison for recording music (or possibly just owning a copy?).

Sitcom logic is the real reason that Uncle Shaggy has come the cousins’ apartment, but it also makes him a gentle man who is uninterested in revenge. He just lost 10 years of hard work he put into making a better life for himself and others, and his instinct isn’t to march straight into the Chicago Chronicle and demand that reporters be fired for dishonest practice.  He comes straight to the source of the error and, in his soft voice, says “I’m disappointed in you”.


Larry says he didn’t know that’s why Uncle Shaggy didn’t want to have his picture taken, as though that matters, Larry, you piece of shit.

Uncle Shaggy: I thought I could trust you. This is the second time we’ve met.

Larry says there’s nothing they can do; Balki says they’ll go talk to the producer. Balki says she’ll fire Shaggy over “my dumb body”, and then looks confused at what he just said. No, you got it right, Balki.


Later, at the Phister (hoho), those same two men are walking in AGAIN! Somebody went all the way to this location to get a fucking three seconds of footage.


Balki and Larry come in and identify the woman who’ll be this season’s ceremonial Tina.  Red hair, red dress, age lines on her face, position of power–could she be anymore coded as an evil woman? Could the props department not rustle up a scarlet “A” for her to wear?

Balki, will you jump at any opportunity to use your catchphrase, no matter if it’s really appropriate to the topic at hand?


Bronson runs over and grabs the producer’s shoes. She refuses to hear the cousins’ plea, as she’s already hired another actor to take on the Uncle Shaggy role. It’s really quite masterful how they do this whole scene without ever mentioning Uncle Shaggy’s real name.


Balki argues that Uncle Shaggy can’t be replaced by grabbing the woman’s face and is about to grab her ass when Larry stops him. When she leaves, the audience “ooooh”s like it’s some big threat.  Ooooh, are you going to let a woman talk like that? Are you going to let a woman make a decision you don’t like?

Actually… that whole scene didn’t matter anyway, because the cousins decide that they’ll go on the air during Uncle Shaggy’s last show. Their plan is to manipulate the emotions of thousands of children by revealing the firing.  We get one realistic Balki misunderstanding when Larry says that the network is 86-ing Uncle Shaggy. Hooray for that, I guess.


Hot Dog and Frenchie walk by, Frenchie eating a giant candy bar, which is the best joke in this episode.

Since the cousins are trying to avoid a situation where children have to be disappointed that a new actor is playing a television character, the cousins put on the outfits of television characters. The cousins share a glance, silently communicating to each other their promise to never, ever speak of the murders.


Uncle Shaggy welcomes the children back after having watched a cartoon, and then he calls Frenchie and Hot Dog to come play.


Given the way this episode started, is it any surprise to find that Balki and Larry have practiced Frenchie and Hot Dog’s routine to perfection?  Uncle Shaggy makes a bunch of confused faces, as the idea of actors being replaced is foreign to him.


Uncle Shaggy escapes to the treadmill, but the cousins follow.  He runs even farther stage left and quickly advertises swimming pools, and then the show goes to commercial.  I’m glad this show doesn’t have a producer who would use this opportunity to have the cousins removed from the building!  Uncle Shaggy offers a forecast for anyone starring in a 1990s ABC sitcom:

Uncle Shaggy: You make a mistake, you pay for it the rest of your life.


Larry starts to make a speech to the kids and Shaggy hits him over the head with a rolled-up newspaper. Yes, yes!


But then the cousins do manage to broadcast to the nation Shaggy’s crimes, which to this point were only known to the producer of the show.


Later, at the apartment, I assume that Uncle Shaggy is going to come by and forgive them.

Uncle Shaggy strides in, pauses for effect…


Uncle Shaggy: Deus ex machina, boys!

Children called in by the hundreds, sent telegrams, and even braved Chicago’s roving pack of lost, crazed pets to come picket at the Phister Theater, all to insist that Uncle Shaggy continue to be played by Uncle Shaggy.


Uncle Shaggy hands the cousins dog noses and Balki says “I love this country”!



So, this episode’s done. Why then here does this review continue?—Because I survived this wreck, and I’ve got something more to say.

If you’ve ever spent much time on the Perfect Strangers fansite, you may have come across its episode guide.  Many of the entries will just tell you what happened in the episode, with much of the dialogue transcribed; some will give you a shorter version of guest actors’ IMDB pages and explain many of the 80s/90s-specific references.  But for some episodes, Linda Kay managed to get ahold of earlier versions of the scripts.

Every now and then I’ll read some of the tidbits that didn’t make it into the show.  Many times I’ve found jokes that are better than what made it into the show (sometimes they’re worse), and other times I’ve seen that some of the secondary characters got a few more lines (such as when Wainwright was at Lydia’s party in “Just a Gigolo”, but ended up not saying anything in the recorded episode).

I’ve never seen reason to bring this up until now, where it really does shed some light on why Perfect Strangers has become such a showcase of illogic.  A couple of parts dropped from an earlier version of the script clear up a couple of the tiny complaints I mentioned above.

For one, Larry complains to Balki that he had to be the French poodle even though it was his $50 that paid off Frenchie and Hot Dog. Not only did we miss out on a late-game $50 reference, we’re left to assume that Larry brained the two actors and left them naked and tied up in a dressing room.

The other involves Balki bringing up “Jailhouse Rock” when Uncle Shaggy confronts the cousins about being fired. After Balki makes his guess in the original script, he continues by saying “I know it’s a little controversial but it hardly seems ground for dismissal.” My god! They robbed Balki of the chance to simply be a person who thinks out loud. But instead of letting him realize how silly his own guess sounded, the show has reduced him to a machine that pumps out “Mary Anne is so dumb” jokes.

It only took two words (“you’re expected”) for RT to convey that all the logistics of getting the cousins access to a television show have been covered.  In the other two scenes, all it took was an extra sentence to achieve internal logic. But Perfect Strangers opted against that. Instead, it spent a minute on the cousins singing, a minute to raise a question and answer it, and another minute to offer an obstacle and discard it.

Perfect Strangers has become rife with these types of problems, problems I feel that it didn’t always have in such high amounts. And the effort it would take to fix them is so incredibly small.

But evidently this show, too, had the equivalent of child fans sending in telegrams to voice their demands to see these two men in their costumes for another year, no matter what poor choices had been made in the past.


I love this country! God bless America, folks, and I hope you enjoyed this season’s reviews! Remember to buy U.S. Bonds, and never, ever drive Japanese cars!



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

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

*Mary Anne is so dumb she thinks a dock is a streaming platform.

**cf. the time someone on the crew pranked Soupy Sales with a stripper

2 thoughts on “Season 5, Episode 24: Digging Up the News

  1. OK. I just got done watching this. And…just…I don’t know if I can go on for 55 more episodes. For one thing, THIS is a season finale? Where’s the drama? Where’s the tension? Why the why would I want to come back next year for more? (I don’t think I did. None of these plots seem even vaguely familiar.)

    And…the Uncle Shaggy show marquee said “taping today.” But Uncle Shaggy is apparently shown live. With no live studio audience? That’s how little kid shows *worked* back when they existed. Kids went on the show with their Girl Scout troop or whatever and met Duane Ellett and Floppy (this may only apply to kids from Central Iowa). I fully expected a horde of little kids to clamber onto the set at the end of that episode, demanding they return *redacted* as Uncle Shaggy.

    And kids in 1990 did not send TELEGRAMS. What, they rode their bike down to Western Union? In 1942?

    I’m so disappointed in you, show.


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