Welcome back! I hope everyone had sweet dreams this past week.
We open on a beachside neighborhood to find a car chase already in progress.
Oh man! That one car took that turn so fast that one of the hubcaps flew off!
In the second car, pop sensation Psy leans out the window, firing a gun.
Ah, but look at that license plate: we’re in California, land of the Dude, where–according to the frontier thesis–all the outlaws ended up. So this is probably just your typical day-to-day inter-gang disagreement. Who’s in the lead car, though? Crips? Bloods? An errant paperboy?
Balki advises Larry that he should drive the car fast. Larry lets Balki know that the men following them are trying to kill him. And I’m glad he clarified! I’m not embarrassed to say that I was having a little trouble following this so far.
You can always tell when people are in mortal danger because they let their respect and consideration of the local sanitary engineers lapse.
When the shooting stops, Balki says that maybe they’ve run out of bullets, a phrase that magically makes more bullets appear.
The show is so completely committed to no one but the cousins getting more than two lines each week that there’s not even a narrator to stoke out interest in what brought the cousins to this point. Larry asks Balki what happened, and Balki tells him.
Kurt Vonnegut famously recommended that writers start their stories as close to the ending as possible, but he didn’t say nothing about making the rest of the story a flashback!
Balki–who is still paying off a $140,000 house–has bought a videocamera. Balki has never owned a camera before, and you’re wrong (perhaps even stupid) to think otherwise; he most certainly did not, when he first owned a camera the first time, take pride in having remembered to take off the lens cap before filming.
Larry announces an out-of-town assignment and refers to it as a “perq”. Balki says he once had a “perq” on his neck, and I haven’t been this baffled by a Balki-ism since he mixed up “sushi” and “tennis” about 300 episodes back. Anyway, RT (Rapid Transit) Wainwright is sending Larry to Los Angeles to cover the national corrupt alderman convention.
Nah, j/k, he’s covering a wedding between Ed Albrecht (Chicago’s “civic affairs commissioner”) and Marcie Eden, the actress who portrays “Darla Wayne” on the soap opera El Segundo.
Something that stands out to me here is the unnatural dialogue that the show uses to stretch this exposition out to allow for gaps where Balki can deliver punchlines. Larry starts out by just saying he’s going to cover a story and, yeah, why the fuck else would the newspaper buy your sorry ass a plane ticket? And when he explains who the bride is, we get the clunky sentence: “[he’s] marrying the actress who plays Darla Wayne on that TV soap opera, El Segundo.” Balki knows who this is, but he only gets excited at the end of Larry’s sentence, once he knows that Larry isn’t talking about the Darla Wayne from real life, from General Hospital, or from As the World Turns, or any of the radio and film soap operas which were so popular in 1990.
Since Balki has never met the real actors behind any television character, much less been involved in a plot that involved such actors and reporting on them, not even ONCE, NEVER
…he keeps referring to Darla Wayne as though she is a real person. I wish I could believably launch into some analysis of how capitalist America has once again forced distance between Balki and real life, and he, like the captive housewife, must rely on fabricated drama to replace that which he used to experience first-hand, but goddam it show do you even see what season this is?
Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) enter the basement to pick the cousins up for lunch. Larry brags about his assignment and his first-class seat*, a luxury completely out of reach for someone engaged to a stewardess. Everyone congratulates Larry on his increased responsibility and wishes him a good weekend in LA, and they all enjoy their lunch at Tony’s Mambo Room.
Oh, wait, no, Jennifer says that she and Mary Anne can somegoddamhow switch their flight assignments at will and come to LA; remember kids, 1990 was a simpler time, when there was only one airline and only one flight to LA every week.
Mary Anne reveals herself to be a fan of Darla Wayne, mentioning a single event in the character’s past. Jennifer starts to try to tell her that Darla Wayne isn’t a real person, and I invite you again, dear reader, to remind me which of these characters is the dumb one. She then proceeds to say–within earshot of Balki–that Larry should trade in his ticket for two seats in coach. My god, the look he gives her is sublime:
Balki gets excited about going to Disneyland and getting his picture taken with Mickey “Shortsman” Mouse and then pouts until Larry agrees to a weekend of disappointing his friends by doing his job.
Actually, I’m excited, believe it or not! It may come as a shock to some of you to find out that I watched quite a bit of TGIF in my youth. I can’t really speak to other networks, but I associate ABC with sending their sitcoms off to remote locations for two-parters every once in a while. Sure, I can only give you a handful of examples, like Full House, Family Matters, and Step by Step. But damned if Scrubs didn’t do a two-parter in the Bahamas after it got picked up by ABC.** Rewatching some of these episodes as an adult, I find myself guessing that one of the purposes was to give the cast a working vacation. The stories were generally inconsequential (I seem to remember Joey thinking he was going to bone some Hawaiian chick and even within the episode the story went nowhere) but managed to still be fun. And I say that as both a child and as an adult: even as much as I hate Disney’s growing monopoly on pop culture, I won’t deny enjoying watching Myra Monkhouse hang out on the Disney World Bang Bus.
On-location episodes are cross-promotional comfort food, and I’m genuinely interested to see what Perfect Strangers does with the subgenre. It has so far resisted every attempt to make it more like the other TGIF mainstays, but maybe a trip to LA will–and here’s my clever Disney reference for you–turn it into a real show.
Anyway, Balki starts singing “I Love L.A”, which segues into Randy Newman singing “I Love L.A.”! I’m as surprised as you would be if you’d been writing this blog and had the same catalogic memory of it as I do! We haven’t gotten an actual song clip since, what? “Baby Love” in “Night School Constipational”?
Okay, show, I get it
I know where you are now
It’s LA, yeah, I–
Step by Step got to go to the beaches of Hawaii; Perfect Strangers gets to hang out on a hotel’s back patio.
Larry tells Balki that blondes have never factored into the plot and to film something that will matter later on instead.
Somehow, despite a growing contemporary narrative about celebrity enmity towards police officers and reporters***, everyone at this party is just completely okay with some guy filming without a press pass. Cousin Larry figured he would have enough to write his story by then, and so he tells Balki for what is certainly the second time how his interview with Marcie Eden went. All she wanted to talk about was her perfume, which is strangely named “Suddenly Darla”.
Sure, I mean, yeah, Susan Lucci sells perfume, but ladies, seriously: have you ever actually wanted to smell like a soap opera character? Secondly, there’s no way this actress has the rights to the name “Darla”, and I can only imagine that perfume distributed by a television network is actually overstock purchased wholesale from Rainbow Vacuum.
And since it’s common knowledge that “covering a wedding” means, quite strictly, interviewing the bride, Larry is stuck without a story. He and Balki stand around and film all the people Larry should be interviewing to get flavor and gossip.
Larry sees Marco Madison and–
The camera zooms in and–!!!!
He’s really ugly! Jeez, it’s like somebody shrunk Harris Yulin’s head.
Larry says Marco is “big in the underworld”.
We flew all the way out to Los Angeles just to do another damn crime story?
Just like in season 4’s “Games People Play”, there are often aspects of Perfect Strangers I enjoy simply because they’re products of the time period. Here, it’s the fact that hired goons were a more diverse lot, and could still find work without perfect grooming or looking like a personal trainer. Marco and co. cart some guy off into the hotel and the cousins follow.
Full House got to go to Hawaii and Disneyland; Perfect Strangers takes you to exotic locales like a hotel parking garage.
Larry and Balki park themselves behind a car and start recording.
Oh no! They got Adam West!
Perfect Strangers Reviewed will return after I decide whether to go with a gag about the cousins feeding the guy parsley or about the cousins sending the tape in to America’s Funniest Home Videos.
Larry pretends that Balki is a hotel valet, which is a pristine little joke about Balki’s outfit, but longtime readers know just how serious a mistake it is for Larry to give Balki his keys.
Vincent Schiavelli’s uncle sends his goons (it’s just so fun to say goons) after the cousins.
While two of the goons chase the cousins, this poor guy got stuck with corpse-dragging duty
This hotel staff guy doesn’t get paid enough to give a shit when obvious mercenaries are digging through cum-stained sheets that close to the kitchen.
The cousins decide to hide under the wedding cake table, where they find the corpse.
I haven’t been to any weddings myself, ever, so I have to look to all of you for information on stuff like this: it’s completely typical to, after the wedding ceremony, make your guests mill around for about an hour before bringing the cake out, right?
Marcie Eden makes a speech, and no one seems to be dressed up enough to be the groom, but whatever. This is California, remember? She’s probably already divorced Ed for half his income!
The cousins come out from under the cart and Larry yanks the unbloodied knife out of the guy’s back. It’s clear Larry will be accused of murder, and from a certain point of view, it’s not an unfair claim: it’s better to leave a knife until the person can be treated by a professional.
The storebrand Adam West hangs on long enough to say “rosebud”.
Everyone waits a couple of seconds for the cue from the director before they run away screaming. Before running away himself, Larry throws the knife into the cake to make sure no one eats it.
Wherever the wedding guests ran, it certainly wasn’t back into the hotel to alert the front desk, because here are Jennifer and Mary Anne. Sometimes I complain about how we hardly ever see what they do on their own, but I see now it’s just sit around waiting for the cousins to show up.
Here’s another bit of unnatural dialogue:
Jennifer: We wouldn’t have been late at all if you hadn’t have spent so much time talking to that guy.
Mary Anne: He was a movie producer.
Jennifer: He was driving an ice cream truck!
What kind of asshole deliberately leaves descriptors out of the first thing they say in hopes that they can deliver a put-down?
The cousins run through an obstacle course of luggage that the director forgot to shoot from the right angle, past the women, and out the door.
We’re in chase-scene territory now, and I’ll admit that I inwardly groaned when I saw that there was going to be another 8 minutes before we got back to the beginning of the episode, where the cousins are in the car.
It’s rare that Perfect Strangers even meets, much less rises above, the standards of the genres of comedy it tries to take on, so I’ll admit my hopes weren’t high. But I realize this probably says more about me and my pop culture history than it does about this episode (spoiler: these two episodes) of Perfect Strangers. If I ask you to name the tropes of car chases from film and TV, your shortlist probably won’t differ much from mine: upsetting the carts of street vendors, through stacks of caged chickens (alternately: through a barn), switching vehicles at least once, seemingly-impassable objects in the road, two guys carrying a giant sheet of glass, fancy maneuvering that causes the pursuers to crash into each other. I’ve seen these enough times by now that I’ve mistaken my own scope of experience for an assumption that bringing something new to the table can’t be done.****
Even though I feel I’ve seen the same zany comedy car chase dozens of times in my life, I’d be hard-pressed to name anywhere near all of them. In fact, the ones I remember most clearly are predominantly from more serious films. In Mad Max, and especially in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, not only are the car chases central parts of the plot themselves, but they manage not to be McGuffin chases because the stakes existed, for all we knew, for the whole world of the movies; because 80s audiences had likely lived through at least one oil crisis, the stakes were something they might have fretted about themselves; and because there was no guarantee that anyone was going to make it out alive. Here, on the other hand, the cousins just need to get their video evidence to the cops; even if I had watched the first airing of this episode, I’d already know that Balki and Larry would be back to juggling cornish hens in a couple of weeks.
On the comedy side, The Blues Brothers is the only one I think I can name without looking up some listicles. Here, to me, the comedy comes from a pretty linear escalation of the tropes. Instead of a few police cars, there are sixty. Instead of barrelling through a fruit cart, they wreck numerous shopping mall storefronts. I mean, where the hell do you even go from there? Have a car crash through corporate media itself?
Oh. Anyway. The point is, I think what I should do is try to judge Perfect Strangers: Tokyo Drift on what it does within the existing tropes. The cousins’ first vehicle is a luggage cart, and you know what? That’s not a bad start!
The show also serves up a trope that I had kind of forgotten existed. Herb and Sheila–probably the closest Perfect Strangers will ever come to its own set of Ochmoneks–are on vacation in California and are the type of couple where the wife’s bottomless excitement about trying out the newest trends she’s read about is forever met with her husband’s grousing at being pushed out of his routine into something he pretends to not understand. The cousins steal their bike, and I do love that Herb bought the cheapest “Hollywood” hat he could find.
The cousins ride through the park.
The cousins ride down some steps.
The cousins ride on an overpass.
The cousins ride down a street.
The cousins ride on a boardwalk.
You know, you guys have to tell me if I pack too many jokes into my descriptions of these sequences, I can always back off.
Larry falls off the bike and they run on foot, leaving the camera behind.
PHEW! Balki came back for it! Give me just a minute so I can let my heart rate go back down.
The cousins jump off the pier. Bronson’s stunt double lands on a platform; Larry’s lands in the water.
I’m glad that the show got to go out into the real world, because look at these goofy 1990 business names: Viva Donuts, Turkey Basket, and Subway.
Larry says they can’t go to the police because people saw him holding the body and the knife. So is his plan to just hide out in South America and write that novel he never got around to? Anyway, the cousins’ hope now rests on finding out if Balki actually got the murder on tape.
Not only did Family Matters go to Walt Disney World, but Harriette Motherfucking Winslow teleported to Paris. Perfect Strangers goes on a field trip to Radio Shack.
oh shit they’re going to go in there and play a snuff film on one of those walls of TV monitors aren’t they
Hey, look! The guy from the pilot turned that $500 stereo system into a whole business! He tries to tell them about a sale and then ignores Larry fucking around with a VCR.
In the background, the TVs feature a store-brand Connie Chung.***** After she finishes a piece on the Magellan spacecraft, she reports on the murder at the wedding. She gets Balki’s last name wrong! AHAHA fuck you Balki. The name of the corpse from earlier (you can scroll back up if you need to refresh yourself) was narcotics agent Richard Tracy. Knowing that Dick Tracy was involved explains why the bad guy’s so ugly, that’s for sure.
Okay, this isn’t necessarily a joke but I love that the wedding photographer got a perfect shot of the cousins holding the corpse and sold it to the news. Lemons into lemonade, y’all.
Some woman in the store recognizes the cousins and starts shouting, prompting everyone else in the store to stand around and look at the cousins, another damning commentary on modern media consumption for those with eyes to see.
The tape gets jammed, so Larry steals the VCR and they run out. The salesman chases after them…
…and then stops when he gets to the door, I guess.
I’m so happy to see Herb and Sheila again! It’s funny because they keep getting shit on by the cousins!
Well, this is a two-parter, so I can’t give any final thoughts on the story or its execution so far, but I will say this: it’s at least a story that should take up two episodes. “Snow Way to Treat a Lady” and “Up a Lazy River” could both have been reduced to 21 minutes; “Father Knows Best???” did a little better, though it was maybe 30 minutes of story at most. From my experience growing up with other ABC sitcoms, I would have expected this to feature some phoned-in “story” because some resort hotel paid for a half-hour prime-time advertisement.
In some ways, I wanted to see the cousins and the girlfriends fuck around on the beach or, if not Disneyland, at least the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. Any disappointment I’m feeling, though, is at least mitigated by the fact that Perfect Strangers is trying something different. It’s a welcome break from the Top 20 Video Countdown and non-stop Balki-isms. It’s making efforts to step outside of its own decaying formulas, and that’s not a bad thing.
Will Larry and Balki get the VCR to the cops before Marco Madison’s goons catch them? Will they be alive… or is it Memorex?
Will Casey turn Marco’s last name into a tortured metaphor about Larry’s hometown? Will you even give a shit?
Will Perfect Strangers find new ways to advance the car chase genre? Or will it be stuck in first gear?
Is RT Wainwright currently contemplating suicide now that his youngest reporter has run afoul of the law twice? Will he make the evening noose?
These questions, and many others, will be answered on the next review of
Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (2)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Cut for syndication: Tess hides a brick of cocaine in Larry’s luggage
*he didn’t mention this detail to Balki, who has appreciated Larry’s first-class seat for years
**a cursory search turns up Boy Meets World and Roseanne; tell me all the others you know!
***If you’re my age, you have vague memories of Sean Penn punching photographers and Zsa Zsa Gabor slapping a cop
****I would like to submit The Last Jedi as a candidate for most boring car chase ever.
*****The newsanchor is played by Dale Harimoto. Go check out her IMDB page and tell me if you’ve ever seen another actor so consistently play the same role for their entire career.
goddammit, show, DARLA WAYNE IS NOT A REAL PERSON