Last week on Perfect Strangers Reviewed…
Larry said and/or did some shit!
Balki said and/or did some shit!
The same could be said, more or less, for every other character in that episode, give or take a girlfriend!
I already wrote 3,000 words on that episode, why the fuck would you think I’m going to recap it?
When last we left the cousins, they were about to go under a truck.
This week, they go under the truck.
The episode makes up for lost time by having Larry lay out the plan–and quite the American plan, at that–for he and his cousin to escape death:
Larry: Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas. To relax, as it were, in the…
But he trails off as he sees Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) on the curb and figures hey, what the hell, let’s all get shot together, and demands they get in the car. He says he’s in such a hurry that he’ll have to explain what’s going on while they drive…
…and then keeps it at a sober 35 MPH throughout the rest of the scene.
I would say that this is a nice, organic way to recap last week’s episode, except for the fact that we did that already. This scene doesn’t even add any jokey banter between the cousins. The show could have just played that “I Love L.A.” segment again and ended with Larry saying “…and that’s why we have to find a television first”.
As we saw last week, the cousins blew their shot at using a television in Los Angeles’s only electronics store, but luckily Balki a set in the window of Roy’s Tattoo Parlor.
I honestly hope that these two episodes have been using canned laughter, because they laugh both when Larry puts the car in reverse to pull alongside the tattoo parlor, and then again when the shot zooms in on a small business owner’s embrace of modern technology as an advertising tool.
In all seriousness, though, $500 to the first person who gets that exact tattoo.
When a large biker and his (yours, mine, and everybody’s) old lady come out of the tattoo parlor, Larry recoils out of fear that he’ll have to have another discussion about late-night hosts.
Larry tells Jennifer and Mary Anne to pull the car around to the side of the building, take off the license plates, and to honk three times if she sees either the cops or toughs with glasses pull up.
Oh, wait, no, he leaves them in the backseat, where there are no other one-off characters that they might interact with.
Anyway, that’s a nice scene transition! I get the feeling this may have been shot in the studio, though, as the film quality isn’t the same as when we were in Audio Video City.
Whoa, Roy is a woman??!!?!!?!? I’m getting some definite Fat Marsha vibes, even if this is the only tattoo parlor in history that looked like somebody converted their grandmother’s den into a car insurance office.
Larry asks to use Roy’s television, and Roy doesn’t even question this, which is intended, I think, as a follow-up to the multi-part thesis we delved into in “The Men Who Rode Motorcycles Too Much”. Whereas the bikers in the vast (though bounded) middle of America had been turned back in on themselves, frontierless, wandering in the desert of urban America for years, developing a motor-psycho-tic consumption; here, we learn what became of all those who actually rode that frontier all the way out to the sea. Freedom from, yes, but freedom to, as well; and in America our most important freedom is that of the open market.
Roy asks if Balki wants a tattoo, and Balki asks “what’s a tattoo?”
GODDAM IT BALKI I’M TRYING TO DO A CLOSE READING HERE
Roy answers Balki’s question by presenting Silent Hog. Aha! What a prettily-wrapped package of symbolism this is! Capitalism at its finest: Roy doesn’t sell pictures, she sells a lifestyle. I sometimes feel that the most elegant capitalism makes plain some private, evil joke, one that makes no effort to hide that the consumer is the butt:
And what better way to call a consumer superficial than by winking and assuring them that they can become part of a social group by putting on skin-deep imagery? Home of the “whopper” indeed! In this case of mistaken identity, this detour to Roy’s is a subtle (you see it, now, how the “male” name builds the theme?) yet crucial part of this tale.
Okay, I actually laughed at the idea of picking your tattoo off a guy who has hundreds. That one of them featured Regis and Katie Lee is even better.
Meanwhile, Larry has change the brand and make of the television in the window, unplugged whatever VCR was connected to it, and hooked up the one he stole.
I really do love Roy. Balki tells her he wants a Muppet Babies tattoo.*
One thing that’s long been a pet peeve of mine in the media I grew up with is how video recordings are generally treated. Many times, when someone watches a video–be it security camera footage, or something someone taped, like here–it shows the exact same footage that the audience had already seen; requiring that the camera have been at impossible angles and possessing editing capabilities. I’ve seen it often enough that when someone does it right, it stands out to. So, kudos to you, Perfect Strangers.
But we’re right back to laziness as usual when the cousins come outside to see, across the street, one of the goons running through the park that must be at least a mile away by then (Run Lola Run got nothing on this!). Larry tells the women to call the police and he and Balki run away.
The goon stops briefly by the car. She’s familiar, he thinks. The cafe off Wilshire. Out here for an interview. Travel agent? Pilot? Spark of recognition in her eyes. We talked about the weather. Two three years back.
—, Jennifer thinks.
The goon rounds the corner right after the cousins, and then stands still for a minute pretending to look around so he won’t see them getting under a large box in a dumpster.
The audience waits until Larry is visible to laugh. I mean, hey, it could have been the Incredible Hulk or somebody, who knows, right?
Larry: There’s something about this whole thing that smells rotten.
Gee, Larry, do you mean something specific past what has transpired?
Larry: Why would a respectable politician invite a gangster to his wedding?
This is a perfectly logical question, since women don’t have friends or agency, especially when it comes to having any say in their wedding guests.
Just then a Real Mugger comes up and, pointing his gun at the cousins, demands their money. The cousins comply, but the Real Mugger demands more, more, more. (How do you like that? A reference, perhaps, to Ecclesiastes 5:10.)
Balki tries to offer a locket his Mama gave him, which the Real Mugger considers for a long moment–Larry even offers Balki’s person–but ultimately the Real Mugger asks Balki to hold his gun while he wrests the VCR from Larry’s grip.
Balki, who has never once used a weapon to gain the upper hand on a crook, not even ONCE, NEVER
…gives it back. And I think, at this point, the show is trying to build some statement on capitalism, and commerce. To guess that this is mere moralizing–he who lives by the sword dies by the sword–is to insult the writers. This goes deeper, I think. Stay tuned.
Larry, seeing a future filled with cellmates stealing his blanket, weeps. Balki joyfully predicts their imminent death.
Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back after we all take a moment to wonder how this episode was received in Los Angeles.
While Larry recaps for the tenth time, Bronson thought it would be funny to have Balki not walk straight and keep running into him. He finally quits.
The cousins see the Real Mugger selling the VCR to Herb and Sheila.
When the cousins ask for it back, Sheila is upset to learn that the VCR was stolen. But Herb refuses, having spent $50 on it. If that price is setting off bells in your head, it’s because it’s long stood as a symbol of the constant toll modern American life has taken on the cousins. It should come as no surprise that Herb and Sheila hail from Danville, Illinois. For those of you scratching your heads at why a man who has been robbed of two vacation experiences decides that he’s just going to buy electronics instead, I beg you hold on just a little longer. That hot exegesis is so close I can almost taste it.
Larry tells them that he just needs the tape inside, which they agree to, and then five lines of dialogue later the scene resets and Larry and Herb fight over the box. It flies from their hands–
–and “Also Sprach Zarathustra” plays–
OKAY I GET IT GUYS TECHNOLOGY IS VIOLENCE
Cousin Larry once again tells Balki the plan, and after the past two seasons, yeah, I guess he needs to. Larry promises that trip to Disneyland, but the Dance of Joy is undercut this time by its constant refrain of “die, die, die, die….”
Sure, let’s have some more chasing. The cousins run through Beany’s Video. No idea why they included this sequence. Who knows? Search me! Your guess is as good as mine! There must be a bad case of deforestation going around, because I’m stumped!
Psychology sidebar: you may have heard of Kitty Genovese, and how she was murdered within eyeshot of 30+ people who didn’t lift a finger to assist her or even call the police. Details of the story were found to have been exaggerated, but it was still launched investigation into the real psychological phenomenon of the bystander effect and its underlying mechanism, diffusion of responsibility. Beyond any paralysis that some persons may experience when witnessing something frightening–like a crime–the bystander effect posits that, because they are aware of others witnessing the event, it’s not up to them personally to do anything about it. They may excuse their behavior by shifting responsibility to some other individual, or even find some justification to let the crime occur. (For instance, bystanders were more likely to intervene if they heard an upset woman say “I don’t know you!” to a male aggressor than if they heard her say “I don’t know why I married you!”) The photographer at the wedding likely felt a personal responsibility to turn the photo over to the television station; but the people along the boardwalk looked around, saw each other all doing nothing when three armed men cornered the cousins, and no one called the police.
Nah, j/k, this is California, everyone’s blasé about murder, they’ve rejected God, I mean, look at any map, the state’s just a raised middle finger towards the Pacific (peaceful) Ocean.
The goons take the cousins to the abandoned Varnishes & Sons factory. Jeez, even when you’re about to be knifed by a mob boss, you’ve got to sit in a waiting room.
Larry tells Balki they should find a way out.
Balki: I found something better, cousin. This the last piece of the plot that the viewers could have already guessed since they already said last week that the dead guy was a narcotics detective.
What a big reveal! The guy who’s big in the underworld sells drugs! I toppled over in my chair when I heard it.
Marco congratulates Larry, and then threatens them with metaphors (“sleeping with the fishes”), and it’s the first in a long while that Balki misunderstanding someone is a welcome joke. I’d delve into why that is, but hey, you know, sometimes jokes are funny and sometimes they’re not. Verbal metaphor having failed him, Marco switches to the visual kind.
I’ve mentioned recently that the show often opts for making the audience directly in front of them laugh, and there’s a particular brand of that here. Larry tries to convince Marco that he’s good at staying silent, citing a secret about a teacher he’s never told anyone. Balki reveals that Larry told him that secret before, which is all well and good for you and me, but mightn’t Marco–if he gave a shit–just assume that these guys went to the same school together? Whatever, I’m thinking way too much about this detail when I really should be focussing on my moist, sexy textual analysis.
I (and more importantly, you) should have been tipped off from the get-go that the actress was in on the crime. After all, what is acting but living a double life? A separation of distinct personalities, reflected in her “real” name, a tension between war (Marcie – Marcius – Mars) and peace (Eden), using a clothing-deep character to sell a skin-deep product. Perfume can be used to attract, but it can also be used to cover up; just smell any teenage boy at a school dance.
The cousins, we are told, “know too much”, but what have they learned? It seems to me that–in terms of Marco’s crime–they know just enough to put him away. But consider: the cousins have been on a road trip through the highs and lows of West-coast capitalist food chain. And capitalism here is caught up entirely in the business of buying and selling images. The upwardly-hopeful customer who “lucks out” on finding a “midday sale” on televisions at the electronics store that just happens to fall at the same time as their lunch break. The mugger who prefers a VCR, or a cameo (*ahem*) locket, to the offer of an actual person. The abrasive husband who, cut off from the actual experience of a new place, settles for buying the chance to watch it from home. The tattoo artist who has reduced her colleague to a walking advertisement.
Static images customized just for you! Spray yourself with toilet water and “Suddenly” you, too, are Darla! Cover your deadly drugs with roses. Seen through this lens, the show becomes its own MacGuffin, the cousins fighting for control of their own image, control over their story and how it can be sold. It’s a power Larry never won for himself, but still thought he had intellectual mastery over. Balki, in his naïveté, had it right to begin with: leave the lens cap on.
But, you may ask, who has that ultimate control over these images that we refer to as Perfect Strangers? The title gives it away! Who are these “men who knew too much” but the writers themselves? The constant hum of the cousins’ desire to prove that they didn’t do it reflects the writers’ preoccupation of where this story is taking the show. We weren’t supposed to be here, this is all a big mistake, let us go back indoors. Don’t make us give promotional consideration to an airline; don’t ask us to interact with a man in a Captain Hook costume.
Perfect Strangers confronts this level of reality through on-location shooting, and ultimately rejects it. Instead of the television news, where even false images speak directly to the viewer, it favors the written construction of narrative with all its authorial biases, as being able to get at some deeper truth.** Rather than a tattoo of human celebrities, Balki requests one of a cartoon character. It rejects, even, the high-drama reality of the soap opera. I stated last week that Balki may be watching soaps to replace the more communal life he left behind; but I see now that he is fine considering that “real life” because, after all, he’s more comfortable being detached from reality.
The writers (and thus the cousins) have exited Plato’s cave and found out who is casting (*ahem*) the shadows on the wall. Rather than become the puppet masters, Perfect Strangers chooses to re-enter the cave, but selects a better viewing angle. Just as we saw the show keep classic television shows at arm’s length in season 3’s “Couch Potato”; here it chooses honest fabrication over superficial reality.
Television has served as both the damnation and the salvation of the cousins throughout this story, but look, please, and see: it was a photo that cursed them and a tattoo–a cartoon–that blessed them.
So anyway, like I was saying Darla shows up and somehow she knows about the tape, and then wait, what? She leaves? The hell’d she show up for, then?
Instead of, idunno, DESTROYING the tape, Marco decides to watch it.
And here you go, loyalty to the true owners reaffirmed:
I honestly enjoy that we’re getting to see a new side of Balki: when his own life is threatened, he gets jokily nervous. Larry once again tries to trade Balki for his own freedom, but when he tries to force Balki to tell where the real (“real”) tape is, Balki gives him a titty twister.
Balki, having learned better than Larry the value of images, says he’ll give them the tape in exchange for their freedom. Marco agrees, and they head back to the boardwalk; though Balki has “a plan”.
When they arrive, Balki whispers to Larry that he should “remember King Ferdinand’s favorite party game”.
And, sure, whatever, that’s King Ferdinand’s favorite game. Forget I ever told you otherwise.
Here we go again, more chase scene.
Look, I don’t why the goons don’t just station themselves at opposite ends of the carousel, don’t ask.
Balki ties one guy’s shoes together and then they get off the carousel.
This is kind of wearing me out, honestly.
Finally the police show up, and the girlfriends don’t hesitate to rush towards where bullets might suddenly start flying.
ARRGGHH showwwww Darla Wayne is not a perrrssoonnn
RT (Resolution Two-parter) Wainwright congratulates the cousins on scooping every other paper in the world. Larry says that the police had Marco under surveillance the whole time. So, uh, wasn’t none of that other stuff like killing a guy or running around a public park with guns or kidnapping men cause for alarm. Got it.
The music comes on, and Larry starts to act like this is the start of a dangerous new life for him. He says he got a hard-on from being threatened by so many man at once, that they were lucky the police came before (heh) he did, that he’s going to choose “Lock-em-up Appleton” as his new bondage handle. I guess the joke I’m trying to make here is that Larry’s gay.
Before the credits roll, Balki gives Larry a close-up look at his tattoo.
Join me next week for “The Ring”!
Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Dance of Joy running total: 18
Cut for syndication: Various shots of Tess pointing the goons in the right direction
*A rarity for Perfect Strangers: normalizing viewership of programs on CBS
**The perfect argument for reading this blog instead of actually watching the show.
N.b. Thanks to Shawn Green of halfwayokay for helping me get the high-quality screengrabs.
P.S. Lest you think I’m completely unaware of the Hitchcock references and similarities: Philip J Reed tipped me off to the plot similarities between this and North by Northwest, as well as the borrowed title. Also, at Beany’s Video, there are at least a couple of Hitchcock films in his selection.