Before we start: Tonight! One night only! It’s the 5th Annual Noiseless Chatter Dot Com Xmas Bash!
I’ll be there in the chat making the same three jokes over and over again. Click that picture or this link to attend! I won’t tell you again!
By Fall 1990, the TGIF programming block had proven to be a golden goose for ABC’s ratings. The Miller-Boyett style of sitcom was enjoying, perhaps, its finest hour, having taken over a full two hours on Friday nights. Full House was beginning its fourth season, Family Matters its second, and for one brief moment, it seemed like Going Places just might be. If you wanted kid-friendly comedy on a Friday evening and couldn’t afford the $20 to take your family to see DuckTales the Movie, well, then TGIF: These Gags’re Intended F’you!
Shit, ABC even got rid of the rat in favor of a simplified Thalia and Melpomene motif (you know, TGIF: Two Girls, Inverse Faces).
TGIF was up against such shows as Evening Shade, America’s Most Wanted, and Uncle Buck: The One Season. Perfect Strangers itself was up against Over My Dead Body, DEA, and a long-in-the-tooth Night Court. But maybe don’t get too excited for the idea that Perfect Strangers had helped give ABC this power, because TGIF: The Gain is Frationary. The 1990 TGIF season began on September 21, 1990…
…but Perfect Strangers began its sixth season on September 28. Its spot the week previous was taken by the second half a of a two-episode season premiere for Family Matters. And consider this: in the season 5 reportage we learned that, as far as Bronson Pinchot knew, he was only going to be playing Balki Bartokomous for another two years (TGIF: This Gantlet’s Imminent Finale).
Perfect Strangers had never been the kind of show to get a double premiere. No one was clamoring for it they way they were for the hyponasal foibles of peripubescent stalker Steve Urkel. Nor did Perfect Strangers need to prove itself.
Cousin Larry makes up for the delay by rushing Balki, Jennifer, and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) into the apartment, where tiny mixtures of old and new abound. Chekhov’s fire extinguisher lingers in the hallway, but we see some new art on the walls. Balki’s wearing a blue version of a shirt we’ve seen before. But what balance do we get? The show says that it has surprises for us, but it decides when our eyes will open.
As I begin this season, I’m reminded of something I (read? heard?) not too long ago about the waning quality of some creator’s output in their later years, long after their seminal works. Should they quit? Or should we give them a pass and let them coast on the strength of their past successes? In other words, should I go easier on Perfect Strangers after this point because of the hard work it’s put in up to this point?
haha oh god fuck no I mean would you all do that for me? The show can slack off all it wants to, but you’re here for new jokes about two men who after four years of dating still haven’t learned that women have pubic hair too. Jokes about the cousins inadvertently causing the deaths of their coworkers and friends. Jokes about Balki making the same face I did a few weeks ago when I had a staph-infected wound debrided.
HAHA YEAH see if your girlfriends can identify anal queefs by sound alone!
Larry brings them all stage left so he can show them the gaping hole materialism has left in his soul. Larry has learned long ago not to discuss major purchases with Balki, knowing that they’d end up with $600 worth of Bugs Bunny t-shirts.
Cousin Larry–who is still paying off a $140,000 house–has bought a stereo chair, which he promises they’ll all get to use. These four sure will have fun when they get together and listen to “King of Wishful Thinking” one at a time while the other three wait silently!
Before opening his eyes, Balki guesses that it’s a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Dream House” so, yeah, there you go, Balki still has the same interests I did when this aired; and Balki’s jokes are still written by people who like to reference other television shows without actually watching them.
Jennifer and Mary Anne turning to him with their eyes covered is a good joke, though. Larry proudly presents the back of the chair to them.
Larry gets in the chair, and the show covers up its lack of a budget to acquire both music and lyrics by having everybody stand around and explain that one has to be in the chair to listen.
Larry starts singing “The Gambler”, and Balki is so moved by Kenny Rogers’s story about having to sleep right next to a dead man on a train that he climbs in Larry’s lap to be held close against his inevitable fate.
Another admixture: the women’s lines are still relegated to exposition and setup, but they’ve been promoted to offering it rather than just receiving. They suggest that, since Larry owns so many expensive things, and since there have been three robberies that week, he ought to get some sort of burglar alarm that notifies the police of a break-in.
Since this suggestion came directly from his girlfriend, Larry does his best to pack as much derision as he can into a single sentence.
Even if the majority of episodes have nothing to do with Balki being from a foreign country anymore, you can at least count on Balki to say the word “Mypos” in a season premiere. He talks about burglars travelling to Mypos from the island of Klepto. And somehow the actual Greek word for thief–which is used in English to refer to a type of thief–is supposed to be funny. Balki, you’re batting zero for two here; I think it’s unlikely that you’ll end up…
wait for it
…safe at home!
The show has retained a faint memory that characters arguing on their way out of a room can be funny, so it sends Jennifer and Mary Anne away repeating the same joke with a few words changed three or four times.
When do you think was the first time someone told Stevie Wonder that people made fun of how he enjoyed music? Do you think it hurt his feelings?
Larry, whose apartment has never once been burgled, no, not even ONCE, NEVER
says that the women are fragile for wanting to protect their belongings and lives.
Now, the reader may think that Larry’s thesis here, that his “maleness”–not their own bodies, nor their choice of belongings, nor even their position in society–simply the fact that he is a man, and that a man has an inalienable right to own, will deter any burglars… the reader may think that this will quickly be ditched in favor of, say, the cousins arguing about whether 1983’s Eyes That See In the Dark could really be compared to Kenny’s other albums.
Ah, but, the scene that follows is Balki’s subtle way of telling his cousin that white American maleness is nothing but armor made entirely of soft spots. Observe:
The next day, Balki is popping ice cubes out of a tray one by one and giggling to himself as he dumps them into a bowl. Larry, having just finished masturbating to photographs of slain kittens, comes out of the bedroom and tells Balki’s it’s time to collect their girlfriends and head to Antoine’s Cajun Kitchen.
Balki reminds Larry that he always gets the streaming hot shits from the shrimp and that he ought to take a preventative dose of Maalox* before heading out. Balki laughs, lost in reverie about how similar Larry’s cries of pain are to the mating call of the Crete spiny mouse. Larry grabs for the bottle in the cabinet, but–
Larry: Do you want to break my fingers to make me an honorary Myposian or some shit?
I actually like Prankster Balki! He says he’s put a number of “Myposian crimestoppers” around the apartment.
Balki starts telling a whole story** about a burglar coming into the apartment, complete with the same “New Yorker” accent he used for “Murray” in Second Sight. Larry’s cousin and best friend is going out of his way to help him protect his most recent self-centered purchase, and Larry responds by telling him to get the fuck on with it already.
Balki throws a bag of golf clubs onto a rug, triggering a snare trap. You’ve got to remember, this was 1990, when all urban burglars were blind, and would not notice a rope hanging from the ceiling.
Larry says a sentence that includes the word “Kleptos-catcher” because Perfect Strangers has the same standards for scene-ending punchlines as Fred Bassett.
Later, back from Antoine’s, Larry is shocked to find that a robber has caused less damage to the apartment than he has multiple times over. We get our first indication of Larry’s realization that male pride is a middle finger to God:
And, despite the many valuable things that Larry is supposed to own, all they took was the stupid chair.
Even after spending much of the past two days talking about being robbed, Cousin Larry has to explain to Balki what’s happened. Larry says he’s going to call the police, but on the way to the way to the phone, he gets caught in the snare trap.
I’m not completely sure, because of the editing, but I think they may actually have pulled off that stunt live? Big if true.
You know, I talk a lot of shit about this show alternately forgetting or ignoring that Balki comes from an entirely different culture, but it earns it. Mypos used to be a distinctive, oftentimes Wackyland version of Greece, Balki’s broken English the 1980s culturally-insensitive equivalent of “bobs and vegana”. But here, Balki’s cultural background is brought to bear by having him first use a 19th-Century American invention, and then taking a page from the Wile E. Coyote playbook. Scott McCloud, in Understanding Comics, makes this point better than I can:
“Another [important part of the special power of comics] is the universality of cartoon imagery. The more cartoony a face is, for instance, the more people it could be said to describe.”
Balki was a very unique boy. He used to watch the sheep eat the grass. But now his mind is totally destroyed by writing.
In the next scene, Larry calls the police.
Haha, nah, j/k, in the next scene Larry is struggling, arms a-wobblin’, to keep a bear trap from closing on him.
Haha, nah, j/k, in the next scene Larry has hired a guy from Safe At Home Home Safeness Business Company LLC LTD named Joe.
Raye Birk (Pahpshmir from The Naked Gun) plays Joe McNulty and brings some much needed character to this episode. I have no idea if the script called for McNulty to oversell and laugh at his own terrible jokes (“Rome may have been built in a day, but it took them a month to secure it”), but given Perfect Strangers’s tendency to not realize how bad its jokes were, I’m going to give the credit to Birk here. I think he saw that the script simply called for a man who wasn’t aware of his unfunniness, and cranked the dial on it.
The audience has politely waited until Balki opens the door to laugh at the giant sight gag they’ve been looking at for 10 minutes by now.
Balki comes in and instantly layers the thesis of this episode by commenting that he didn’t expect this as a consequence of “home banking”. Not only is Cousin Larry trying to quickly cover up his newly-discovered fragility with capitalism-approved armor that lets him feel economically superior, but Balki has made a wry comment on the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and 90s. Not only are our assets not safe when tied up in material goods, neither are they secure when held by a financial institution. Balki is subtly letting us know that the vault door is no protection against loss, and hinting at the ending: that ultimately the risk of putting valuables into a vault is that they may never come back out.
Deeper still: let’s look at the season premieres and finales as windows into the subconscious of the show itself. Season 2 is a commentary on Season 1: the initial six episodes were a (re)producing couple’s hope, an idea, and its viability was celebrated with a birth. Season 3 had the cousins barely squeaking into new positions, but only because warm bodies were so desperately needed; of course, with a House Full of them just next door, the season ended with uncertainty about the future. Season 4 began with the hangover from the gamble and ended by symbolically letting a woman (Harriette, figured as “Kiki”) be married off to a man (“Verbos”/Family Matters). Season 5 began with fear that another, more attractive personage could upstage it, which was proven true by December of 1989 when Urkel appeared. A psychological hangup on not being held accountable for past mistakes weighed heavy on the Season 5 finale, which culminated in a coded plea not to be taken off the air.
And Season 6 is now determined to never lose its personal property again Harriette wasn’t cared for, and her departure was one of the worst things that ever happened to Perfect Strangers.
Jeez I’m full of shit, ain’t I?
On the surface, though, we get a Balki joke that doesn’t make me want to strangle the man. The mere words of Balki’s comment about “home banking” read as him actually believing the fantastical, but whether it’s his delivery or the fact that he’s talking to himself (it sure as fuck ain’t the fact that he’s been here long enough to know better), but it feels like Balki’s just making a joke to himself.
The episode seems to be on a roll at this point, as Joe McNulty and Balki both scare each other because neither realized the other was there.
But then the feeling deflates because a stunted Balki is only funny twice a day. Joe greets Balki with the Safe At Home motto, and Balki responds with the one for Zest soap. It reminds me of the time when my brother was about two years old and I had a little bit of a cough that wouldn’t go away, and he tried communicating with me by coughing.
Joe refers to the security devices as a “doomsday system” and rattles off a bunch of the sitcom version of technical mumbo-jumbo (in other words, polysyllabic words). Larry takes Balki aside to show him that he has purchased another stereo chair, and explains that they are no longer dealing with the Real Burglars of the 1980s. Instead, they have to contend with the Real Tech-Savvy Burglars of 1990, who have beepers and laptops.
Joe McNulty leaves, but not before telling Larry to set an alarm code and handing him a giant manual.
And three times in one episode Balki does something that I like. Remember how I griped in season 3’s “My Brother, Myself” that the show denied itself an opportunity to see what kinds of silly ideas might spring from the head of Balki? It makes up for it here by having Balki misunderstand start spouting ideas for coded speech and secret passwords for entry into the apartment (“the clumsy giant plays hopscotch in the moonlight” etc.).
After Larry corrects him, Balki says that numbers will be easier than words for Jennifer and Mary Anne to remember. You know, he’s right, Melanie and Rebeca really haven’t had much practice reciting memorized phrases. 😦
Seasons 4 and 5 made sure to re-introduce us to the (majority of the) other characters in their world, as well as their dual home and work lives. This episode promises a continuation of season 5’s status quo by having Larry mention that Lydia exists, and that Balki shouldn’t give the door code to her. Larry decides to not even give it to Balki, because Larry is 100% certain that he will never have sex, since it would require being separated from Balki for longer than three minutes.
Larry enters his birth year (1960***), which Balki instantly guesses. While Cousin Larry starts doing some sitcom-version-of-complicated math, Balki checks to see whether Larry has also put his stereo cherries behind a locked door.
Larry explains his process out loud, and the writers couldn’t even take two minutes to get that fucking right.
Larry: I’ll use the middle four digits of my driver’s license number… divide that by my inseam… subtract my shoe size…
Let’s break this shit down. Shoe size can’t be more than 9, as shoe size correlates to height*****. So, 5,291+9=5,300. Inseam can’t be less than 28, so 5,300×28=a number with more than four digits, come the fuck on.
Then Larry puts in 1945 and we learn that it was his mother’s birth year. And… what the ovulating fuck? Larry’s mom was 15 when she gave birth to him?
*actually takes 5 minutes to do some sitcom-version-of-complicated math to see if this information jibes with both the original opening sequence as well as the Christmas Boy shit from season 2 since I’ve got fucking nothing better to do on a Thursday night, you probably don’t believe me, but I did it*
It checks out.
Later, Larry gets up in the middle of the night to grab an icepack for his swollen, abused member. In a beautiful callback to season 2’s “Beautiful Dreamer”, psychological baggage has resulted in new furniture arrangements that trip Larry up. His clatter triggers a system of sweeping lasers, which I guess is so hi-tech that it works unlike any actual laser system and can differentiate people from other objects.
Balki answers Larry’s cries for help, and the lasers miraculously get out of Balki’s way. Larry throws Balki to the floor.
Balki: What are you doing?
Larry: LASER BEAMS
Wouldn’t you just want a system that’s triggered at points of ingress/egress? Are the lasers for people coming up through the shower drain? And what happens when the alarm is triggered? Does it alert the police? The cousins are acting like the lasers are going to circumcise them, but the show hasn’t given any indication of what the stakes are for them setting off the alarm themselves. What the fuck are you doing, show?
LASER BEAMS, that’s what the fuck
The cousins get under the table and Larry says that the siren will go off if they break the beams. Okay, fine. Set off the alarm, and then put in the code five seconds later, like every single person who has ever owned an alarm system. When they get to the door, Balki is so stupid he try do the Dance of Joy!
I feel bad for Mary Anne if they ever get married. Every time they have sex, I bet he’ll finish first and do the Dance of Joy.
Larry can’t remember the code, so he just pulls the panel out of the wall.
Larry must have been taking his annual dump when Joe installed his “Doomsday System”, as he somehow missed the fact that Joe had installed red floodlights and speakers around the apartment. Balki asks if Larry wants to do a comedy bit with the instruction “manuel”, but he’s just as tired as I am of this week’s story. Balki, could you please just hook the Doomsday System up to the stereo chair and sell it to a black man so I can finish this review?
The voice on the speaker system threatens to release poison gas, so everybody cross your fingers, this could be the surprise series finale we’ve all been hoping for!
Balki tries to rip the code right out of Larry’s head, and then when that doesn’t work, Larry cries into Balki’s chest.
They run to the window and try to open it without turning the little lock on it, and then Larry throws a toaster at it. When that doesn’t work, Balki wastes precious oxygen by talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It turns out that the fire extinguisher was a red herring. Instead of referring to the stereo chair as a Chekhov’s Gun, it might be more appropriate to call it a Joey’s Car. I’ve noticed a distinct genre of 1980s/90s sitcoms that looks not to comedy, but to disappointment as a means of bringing people closer to the family values they give lip service to. They don’t get the Christmas they want; they don’t get to the wedding on time; they can’t have nice things. If thy possession offend middle class purchasing power, chuck it out: it is better to enter into the kingdom of syndication with no chairs, than having one chair and be forgotten.
Anyway, the cousins forget that they have bedroom windows, a telephone, girlfriends, or even numerous tables and throw the chair through the window. It should have fallen on their fire escape, but the cousins are now repeat offenders when it comes to throwing furniture into traffic. And Jesus Christ why the fuck am I still writing about this show these fuckers just sit there in the window holding their breath and waiting for the gas to kill them.
The Doomsday System tells them that the robbers have now been scared off and deactivates itself.
Which means that there’s a good chance a real robber would have broken their window.
Balki is so happy to be alive that he does the Romance of Boy.
Anyway, Larry taped the chair back together for some goddam reason.
It’s tradition that I look at the last line of dialogue in the season premiere to give me an idea of what the show thinks it’s about.
Larry: I worked a small miracle putting it back together. I even surprised myself.
Larry’s hubris reflects the show’s own. Perfect Strangers has been gathering valuable aspects to itself–side characters, relationships, and settings for potential stories–and ended up damaged in the process of jettisoning them. It’s reassembled these pieces one more time, but they no longer fit together perfectly.
Things fall apart; the sitcom cannot hold. Season 6 is loosed upon the world.
Join me next week for “New Kid on the Block”!
Catchphrase count: Balki (1); Larry (1)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
*That’s right, you heard right, after years of drinking Eckerd brand antacid, Larry can finally afford the name-brand stuff.
**Balki says the word “fingerprint” in the story! College is paying off!
***The very first episode says that Larry turned 24 in 1986. But the show can’t even keep these guys’ address consistent, so who fucking cares?****
****Not me, that’s who.
*****And height to penis size, but shoe size does not correlate to penis size. Go figure!