Welcome back! What the hell was last week about? Making you feel bad about watching television? Psssh.
We open at the Caldwell Hotel, where the Vitner’s Snacks truck goes by once again. I don’t have a different joke for the Vitner’s truck this week, sorry. Let’s go inside.
Balki is cooking and singing a song. The show doesn’t have a different joke for opening an episode this week, sorry.
Ah, but look! Balki also appears to be a casual fan of his city’s sports team*. So glad they’re finding new aspects of Balki’s personality to explore after 100 episodes. But now the song makes sense, though; what basketball fan hasn’t sung “Who’s Got the Pain” from Damn Yankees to encourage their team?
Then he starts shaking sugar all over the damn place and fuck you, show.
Larry comes in and Balki offers him the fresh bongbong binki dinki bakalava. For, feasibly, the fourth (fifth?) time, our fine friends frolic fluidly, that is, the cousins (coming from country and cay) converse in the call-and-response custom of constant consonants, summoning statements starting with similar sounds, frustrating this forbearant freelancer who fears they’ll fucking do it all goddam episode.
Anyway, Larry comes in and turns down the food. So what was the point here?
Let’s pretend I took classes in comparative literature so I can talk about why this kind of thing bugs me. In the Full House episode that ran this same week, there’s a scene where Jesse is cooking something and drops it on the floor where the dog can eat it. There’s also a bit where Michelle learns all about self-harm as a way of getting one of those fun Sesame Street Band-Aids. (Either one of those could have worked on its own as a gag, but I understand the impulse to put both a dog and a baby front and center.)
In Family Matters, Little Richie wants a story read to him a dozen times before bed, there are two escalating jokes about Carl’s poor skill at solitaire, Carl threatens Urkel with bodily harm, and goddam I wish I wasn’t reviewing Perfect Strangers.
None of these pre-credits gags form any sort of story, but the Family Matters sequence in particular has a flow to it that I never see at the beginning of Perfect Strangers. Most importantly, though, it has loose setups and punchlines. Lest I let this turn into a TGIF (Treatise on Gag Implementation Fluctuations), let me wrap this up: none of these three examples have anything to do with the rest of the respective episodes, but Perfect Strangers decided at some point to not put the throwaway gags before the credits. I thought things couldn’t get worse than the MC** Larry and MC** Balki singing “U Can’t Touch This”, but at least (I cannot believe I’m typing this) it was something that I could reasonably tie it in to Balki’s previously-established penchant for forcing Larry to do fun bits with him. But once the Perfect Strangers found out that the first scene can have fuckall do with anything, they just reuse whatever shit they remember from last season until it’s time for Larry to introduce the story. Who’s on first, what it was was football, three seconds of Bill Cosby at the dentist, and please enjoy the feature presentation.
Larry has once again gotten risked his feet slipping into unflushed shit to find out that his next reporting assignment is to do a “where are they now?” piece on Alvin “Ace” Atkins. Larry tells us that “Ace” was a pilot in the Korean War, and then lists off everything “Ace” has done since then, which indicates to me nobody ever really lost track of him.
Balki asks whatever happened to Mr. T, saying “I pity the fool” over and over and I think I may have found the birth of referential humor (in an episode written by none other than Family Guy writer and producer Tom Devanney!). Forget about killing Hitler, go back in time and stop this episode from being made. Anyway, I didn’t realize that nostalgia for 1980s personages started before 1990 had even ended. Really makes you think!***
Larry says he’ll get to that in season 9, but for right now what he needs is a first-hand account of someone riding in a plane with “Ace”. A decidedly un-jealous Balki says he’s happy for his cousin and wishes him not only a successful and well-received article, but a good time up in the air. He mentions his plans for the next day, which he has and which take place outside, and which involve interests that he has developed independently of his cousin.
Oh, wait, no, Balki begs to go. Now that Larry has gotten engaged, he can no longer risk his fiancée walking in on him and Balki, limbs entangled on the couch. He can only dangle carrots symbolically now, knowing that by offering gifts like these, he’ll get a brief hug, a memory of touches past, a moment to wonder if–to hope, even–that wasn’t a roll of Certs in Balki’s pocket.
Larry: I don’t have to experience something to write about it.
Whoa, holy shit! All fucking right! The rest of the episode is the cousins in the plane. Balki says that on Mypos, planes are flown backwards or some shit, and Larry says “this is America” and, I dunno, breaks the wings off, they push “Ace” out of the plane accidentally, Balki says “up your nose with a rubber hose”, and then their plane collides with Mr. Casselman’s helicopter and they all die, and then they all eat some capers and come back to life.
Larry says he wrote a comprehensive piece on the sexual revolution, and Balki thanks him for not naming him in the article. Nah, j/k, Balki misunderstands Larry and makes a joke about sex that last a whole solar day, prompting Larry to say “revolution” ten times straight while Balki looks into his mouth. Nah, j/k, I actually paused the video right after whatever Balki’s line was and I’m not going to go back to find out what it was. It doesn’t matter.
Larry says that small planes “tend to fall out of the sky”, which actually appears to be true. Larry actually basing his behavior on real-world knowledge makes me wish that this were more a part of his character. Larry has always been the type to avoid stepping outside his comfort zone. Early on, that was because he had convinced himself that he was approaching his life in a systematic, intellectual way, which didn’t leave room for risks. But now that he’s worked for a newspaper for a few years, I’d fully believe that he was full of these little factoids. Having Larry be a walking USA Today graphic, but using those facts as a means of keeping his life exactly the way it was, would be a good development.
Anyway, Balki shames Cousin Larry, telling him that Ted Koppel and Sam Donaldson would go up in a plane, which is a perfect, 100% apples-to-apples comparison. Larry says that there’s nothing Balki can say to get him in the airplane.
Balki: I saw Jennifer kiss an airplane.
Then there’s a plane!
There it is again!
Not sure, but they might be in that plane!
Whoa, it’s Kenneth Mars, whom you likely know as Franz Liebkind from The Producers, and if you don’t, just fuck on off! He brings a perfect near-manic energy to the role, creating a carefree-yet-no-nonsense character, both telling off the people in the control tower and effortlessly cutting through both Balki’s inane misunderstandings and Larry’s spineless protests. Mars makes me believe that “Ace” falls on some jovial end of the PTSD spectrum. You might also recognize Mars from his voice work as Triton from The Little Mermaid, or Grandpa Longneck in The Land Before Time, and if you don’t, seriously, dude. Fuck yourself off of this blog.
Balki, who has never been on a commercial flight and who sure as hell doesn’t date a stewardess or anything like that, asks “Ace” why the white zone is for loading and unloading only.
“Ace” offers to let Balki fly the plane because, after all, “if a man wants to fly, let him fly”.**** But the offer seems to exist solely to set up a Balkian misunderstanding, because a few lines of dialogue later, it’s completely forgotten. I’d like to blame the writers (and here I am doing it: I blame the writers), but I also want to point out that this is the first time a performance has excused the writing: “Ace” is so convincingly teasing us with the loss of mental faculty that of course he’d forget. And what vet doesn’t want to?
Useless hope. The recalcitrant wart, the coin under the cushion, the riptidegreen forearm dangling hemp bracelet pierces the stratocumulus in accusation, too many feet away from the bantam girl with the crackleblare DIVE the black hair the black mass in her mouth HOOAH the black mass swaddled in the remaining arm, eyes twin anti-stars six feet deep DIVE the riptide finger points down and he can already see rice straw roofs blossom orangeblack HOOAH her mother under her fingernail down DIVE swallowed by the riptide down salvation is down DIVE
During the dive, Balki and “Ace” trade low-budget ways to get high, like shooting chemicals up your butt or asphyxiating yourself in a bowl of Jell-O. When “Ace” can’t pull the plane out of the dive, Larry passes out.
Balki slaps him back awake and “Ace” tells the cousins where the spare parachutes are stowed. He jumps out of the plane, promising to sell them ice cream later, and the cousins find that the parachutes are gone.
Quick question for y’all: has it been helpful when I point out to you the last good moment in an episode? I only ask because this is it.
Now that “Ace” has left, Balki being a moron fills the vacuum. And of course, since he’s such a moron that he can’t remember what happened 10 seconds in conversation, of course he’s able to remember everything that “Ace” had done with the plane controls up to that point. Larry hopes that maybe at a higher altitude God can hear them better.
For a brief moment I dared to hope that the plane would crash into the apartment.
Larry is so grateful to be alive that he kisses the floor, the couch, and his ex-girlfriend.
Balki mentions that Larry made out with a policeman on the way home (sounds like it’s time to update that sexual revolution article!).
Larry broaches the subject of divine intervention and Balki says that he can’t see the forest through his knees and I tried for like 2 whole minutes to cleverly “read” some religious meaning into that phrase but I can’t and I’m sorry.
Balki falls to his knees and praises Teflonos, the god of protection, who will shield the cousins for one phase of the moon.
Mark Linn-Baker looks off-stage at the writers, silently asking if they’re fucking with him. It seems to have been the case that the island of Mypos, simultaneous with it being bombed during the Korean War*****, was still in its cargo cult stage of receiving American imports.
The Myposian pantheon also includes Goatse, the god of prolapse.
Okay, now that I managed to wring three lousy jokes out of one lousier joke, let’s get serious. How is this different from every other time the cousins have emerged unscathed from every situation? How is this episode coming right after the horse and the duel stories? If I weren’t seeing death avoided on a near-weekly basis, this episode might have some special impact. This is the equivalent of the cousins being favored by the God of Not Losing Their Girlfriends No Matter How Much They Neglect Them, or the God Of Endless Disposable Income Even Though They Still Owe $140,000 On a House.
Balki says that now is their chance to try out all of the dangerous stunts they’ve always dreamed of. Larry says that Teflonos doesn’t exist and goes upstairs to see how high up her leg Jennifer will let him touch.
Balki breaks a vase over his head and I’m half-surprised he doesn’t sprout a bald cartoony lump.
Later, at the same location, Larry is making his favorite drink, hot water.
Balki drinks it, and Larry asks if the writers even spent a minute thinking about how the women might factor into the story.
Jesus, I’m sorry, but did no one at any point show the set designers the external shots? Also, is it even typical to have two different fire escapes?
Look, it doesn’t even go up to the next floor, the women will die in the very next fire. Anyway, what the fuck, who cares, the cousins screw around with some bungee cord shit.
It goes on for a while.
Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back after I 1) try to estimate how long that rope was versus how high up the cousins are supposed to be and then 2) realize that the writers have stopped caring and so should I.
Yeah, show it again, who gives a shit.
I mentioned earlier that Kenneth Mars’s performance excused the writing. Here, the converse happens, as Larry comes back into the apartment just so he can make faces for a minute.
Mark’s doing the best he can with the material, and for me, the sequence is saved only by Bronson’s entrance, his foot sliding on the floor as his leg strains against the bungee cord. It’s cartoony as all hell (made moreso by a “bwoip” sound effect), but it’s a logical gag that follows from what we just saw.
(I’d also like to mention briefly that this is another of those weird moments where Perfect Strangers prefigured other, greater pop culture works. Tess Holland predated the film Problem Child just as this episode preceded Groundhog Day by a few years. I am 100% certain that these types of stories and tropes did not exist before 1990.)
Larry unties the cord from Balki’s leg and it springs away, smacking neighbors, the homeless, and a cruller vendor on its return to the railing, finally hurling itself through the open window and–
What? No? Okay.
Having a whole world of possibilities at its disposal, the episode opts to have the cousins just stand there and talk about the world of possibilities at their disposal. Can I just move on to the next scene, Balki?
For their next death-defying stunt, the cousins recreate the end credits from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
Between the motorcycle and the plane, is anyone else thinking of the Full House two-parter where Uncle Jesse and Becky get married?
This sequence just goes on for a while. I can’t really intersperse gags amidst what happens in the scene, because the most that happens is that the cousins change places and pass a warning sign that the cameraman didn’t bother to film the front of. The only dialogue of note is when one of them rattles off a list of other stunts that would have been too expensive to do. So in no particular order, here’s some jokes about this scene:
- In the next scene, the cousins join an underground fight club and Gorpley refuses to bet on them.
- In the next scene, the cousins go back to that black nightclub from season 2 and sing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”.
- The cousins make thorough and repeated reference to the season 4 episode “That Old Gang of Mine”.
- The cousins have sex while riding the motorcycle.
And here we are back on the plane again, stuck in a dive. Family Matters, in its later years, started hemorrhaging actors as its budget decreased. What’s your excuse, Perfect Strangers?
For the past three weeks, Perfect Strangers has flatly refused to come up with clever endings for its stories. Recitation of the words “I love you” is passed off like it’s some grand gesture, some major turning point of Larry’s growth as a person; a horse turns into Popeye; and Balki just says “maybe on second thought let’s just not duel”. The resolution of now “Safe at Home” looks brilliant in retrospect. We’ve had three terrible resolutions and two “good” ones this season. Place your bets, folks.
The cousins debate the finer points of Myposian theology and decide that gods are bound by mathematical laws and that they’ve used up almost all of one person’s 28 days of protection in just a week. Balki prays for Larry’s health and exits the plane.
Aahhhh fuck you, show. You got me good! Fuck you.
How considerate of Larry to make sure that his dream ended up with the cousins back in the plane!
“Ace” says that Larry’s a bigger pussy than the “tough butts at NASA”, which looks like more proof that maybe four words of dialogue were cut either from here or an earlier scene.
And, just like everyone who has ever woken up from a dream, Larry asks if all of the things really happened or not (you know you do it, too, don’t pretend otherwise).
Okay, now that we know it was all a dream, does it enhance any of what came before? I think so, at least a little. It excuses the “bwoip” sound effect. It recasts the name “Teflonos” as a glimpse into Larry’s true feelings about Balki’s “primitive” origins (and, consequently, makes an argument for Larry’s intelligence; my dreams aren’t that clever). And I’d argue it adds a layer of humor to the multiple times during the dream where the cousins discuss what other stunts they might like to do. And it’s in keeping with Larry’s character: that, despite his intelligence, he would decide not to take risks because he almost died in a dream.
Ultimately, though, the ending still feels like an asspull; and I wonder if I wouldn’t have cared if we didn’t just have three straight weeks of asspulls.
Anyway, when they get home, Larry says that “sometimes a little fear is a good thing” and says he’ll do something safe next time, like pee sitting down.
Join me next week for “The Men Who Knew Too Much, Part 1”!
Catchphrase count: Balki (2); Larry (1)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (1)
Cut for syndication: In between the motorcycle and the plane scenes, Tess places a loaded gun to Larry’s right temple and fires it
*Someone probably thought they were really clever by figuring out that this episode would air the same day as the “kickoff” for the 1990-1991 basketball season. Well, joke’s on you, lady in wardrobe, the Bulls fucking lost to the 76ers that game.
**Madison Cousin; Mail Clerk
****woman say: eat your eggs
*****Not shitting you, new reader; see season 3, episode 18, “The Defiant Guys”
More on why I felt the ending was an asspull.
That the whole thing was a dream came as a complete surprise to me, and that’s because of what happened in “A Horse is a Horse”. Once you’ve essentially replaced science with magic, anything is possible. I’m not saying I believed that there might be a Teflonos in the world of the show; but I did believe that the cousins could enjoy an unbroken run of extraordinary luck while trying out dangerous new activities. I didn’t think that a Myposian deity would be dethroned by the end of the episode, but I did expect some noncommittal or hedging explanation that let both cousins continue believing whatever they wanted. Or, a good ending might have been some acknowledgment that even Teflonos couldn’t stop their girlfriends losing sleep over their stunts, but I know better than to hope for something like that. Anyway, it seemed like an asspull because, right up until the dream reveal, it was entirely believable that the show would do this kind of story.