What the hell? Another Hitchcock film title?
Oh, right, I forgot, Larry’s engaged to Jennifer now. Kind of slipped my mind after watching him barely talk to her over the past month.
Anyway, have I got a great review for you this week! There’s a brand-new concept in the psychology sidebar, some good symbolic BS stuff throughout (don’t think that non-standard opening shot on the ring itself was lost on me!), the “Mary Anne is so dumb” gags are fucking off the chain*, and man-o-man, I can’t wait for you to see the gay jokes I’ve got planned. It’s the funniest review I’ve written since “High Society”! Let’s get started!
Larry’s the quintessential hopeless romantic here, waiting a whole month after proposing to buy his fiancée an engagement ring. And even though we just saw him impress the fuck out of RT (Ring-Tailed) Wainwright, he still can only afford a ring from “discount jeweler”. And like any insecure man, he’s managed to convince himself that his choices spring not from his own monetary shortcomings, but from a keen sense of personal finance and business connections.
Balki, who will likely propose to Mary Anne by singing the complete Oklahoma! songbook and offering her a Ring Pop, says he thinks the diamond is too heavy for Jennifer’s hand.
Larry explains that his goal here is to strengthen Jennifer’s wrist for all the handjobs he knows he’s going to have to settle for as a married man.
Larry: In America, the size of a man’s love for his woman is determined by the size of the diamond he buys her.
Psychology sidebar: You may think that Larry’s error is one of direction, one of cause-and-effect, when in actuality he thinks that his ruse is a victimless crime. Cognitive dissonance holds that, when there is a disconnect between two thoughts a person holds, or between two of their actions, or between their thoughts and actions, people will seek to reconcile the two by changing one or the other. As a result of this, people can inaccurately convince themselves of lots of things, even their own motivations. Take, for instance, a study where test subjects were asked to complete boring, tedious tasks; once they were done, they were asked to lie to the next test subject (who wasn’t really another test subject) that the tasks were actually interesting and fun. The actual test subjects were offered either $1 or $20 to lie (most did); and they were later asked how interesting they thought the tasks actually were. Those who accepted $20 rated the task as boring; but those who took the $1 had managed to convince themselves that the task was fun. A dollar, they seemed to have decided, was not enough incentive to lie, so they must have believed what they were saying.** Conversely, one might assume, the more someone pays for something, the stronger they’ll assume their reasons were for parting with the money…
Larry, on the other hand (and what is this ring but Larry on another hand?), paid as little as he could. He thinks that Jennifer will dump him instantly if he gives her something inferior, and… dude? Have you met Jennifer? Have you met you?
Balki tells us that things are precisely the same on Mypos, just with goat size: the happiest brides are those who are given goats that die quickly of cardiomegaly. Larry openly puts down Balki’s culture for some goddam reason because sitcom rhythms demanded a punchline there.
Balki sees the name “Tiffany” on the box and assumes not only that it refers to the singer, but that Larry bought the ring directly from her. If you ever wanted proof that Larry never again let Balki come with him to the grocery store after “Better Shop Around”, that’s it. Anyway, the ring itself came from Harrison Dunn, the “Diamond King”.
Larry: When I give this ring to Jennifer, it will be one of the great moments of my life.
Sure you don’t mean “greatest”, there, Larry?
Evidently, Larry called upstairs and told Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) to come by, but to give him just enough time to do the exposition with Balki.
He made her come downstairs so he could give her the ring! *snff* Sorry, I’m tearing up a little, this is so sweet.
Before Cousin Larry gives Jennifer the ring, Balki interrupts him turning off the lights and lighting candles so bright they cast his shadow in the wrong direction. Then he interrupts him again by turning on the radio, which is already set to WMSO 98.3, the station that plays nothing but “Moonlight Serenade”.
Then Larry gives her that ring.***
Jennifer recognizes in its low value a reflection of her own and calls the ring “gorgeous”.
Jennifer: This is the biggest diamond I’ve ever seen! I have never watched TV or movies or read a magazine or looked at any photographs at all, ever.
The cameraman briefly remembers that Mary Anne is there, Larry puts the ring on Jennifer’s finger, and they kiss (Larry and Jennifer, not Mary Anne and the cameraman).
Then everybody hugs, and it’s played for laughs.
Mary Anne–who is so dumb it’s likely she would score low on an IQ test–espies the Tiffany’s box and suggests that Jennifer get the ring insured. Larry quickly explains that, as he has an insurable interest in the ring, he’s already purchased a policy that covers it; and further, that Jennifer’s ownership of the ring is conditional on their marriage.
Nah, j/k, Larry has no concept of keeping valuable items safe, what the hell was I thinking?
Balki mistakes “appraise” for “praise”, and that’s one of about maybe 100 good Balki misunderstandings that are conceivably left.
Usually, Larry and Balki’s antics are ignored by those around them, or otherwise receive concerned, raised eyebrows; but god damn do I love Mary Anne, who actually looks over and smiles when Larry rushes to keep Balki from saying the actual price of the ring. Jennifer, on the other hand, stares blankly into space when she’s not in a close-up shot.
What’s more is that Mary Anne keeps up with the local news: she reports that Harrison Dunn has been arrested for his phony diamond trade.
Remind me which one of these two is the dumb one. The show gives Jennifer an engagement gift: her second punchline ever.
Man, though, poor Cousin Larry! If only he had ever been in a situation where he interacted with someone who was selling shoddy merchandise to unsuspecting consumers…
…if only he had ever purchased a product that didn’t live up to its claims…
Balki says “oh po po”, which here is meant to indicate “uh-oh”, but originally meant something along the lines of “oh, come on” or “you can’t be right”.
Mary Anne and Balki leave to give Larry and Jennifer some time alone–oh, wait, no–on her way out, Jennifer tells Larry she loves him–oh, wait, no–she says she loves the ring and leaves.
Y’all, this episode feels very different, and I’m trying to put my finger on exactly why. Having Balki say something foreign, even if it doesn’t mean what it should, is par for the course at this point, but I think it’s a good example that stands for the whole. Last year, when I watched through the entirety of Family Matters, I saw that some of the later seasons were missing cast members (Rachel, for instance), and many episodes focussed almost exclusively on Carl and Urkel. I don’t know if the case of Family Matters had any sense of how long their contracts would last, but here on Perfect Strangers, they knew. At this point, Mark and Bronson “knew” that their contracts would last through the end of season 7. So I have to wonder if, mentally, these actors were trying to move on already, if these roles were simply clothes to put on a few more times.
And it’s impossible not to notice how the actors themselves have changed. In late Family Matters, Reginald VelJohnson was getting noticeably older, and sometimes it seemed like his own mellowing out/slowing down showed through anytime Carl was supposed to be the same level of apoplectic in the earlier seasons. Jaleel White had to stand in increasingly awkward positions to try to hide his height and muscle, making Urkel look more and more like an outdated costume. Similarly, here, it’s obvious that Bronson’s been bulking up. It’s obvious (later in the episode) that Mark’s getting a little more buff himself.
Bronson’s Balki voice is deeper than it was five seasons ago. But more than that, this episode has a distinct voice. That the entirety of the Myposian insight this episode was an extended “yeah, us too” almost makes me want to say that we’re getting package without value, structure without content…
…hey, yeah, that’s a good metaphor, I guess I will say it! It should be no surprise that this episode was written by people outside the usual set of names: married couple Harriet & Sandy Helberg, a casting director and an actor, respectively. I have no way of knowing if they were on the regular writing staff and contributed to other episodes, but my gut tells me that they only did this episode, and that it was all them.
Perhaps it took an outsider perspective to get what I think is the most insightful Larry moment we’ve had in a long time. Balki lays into him for lying to Jennifer, saying that this is typical Larry behavior. Larry agrees, and says that he can’t let Jennifer know that he’s back on his bullshit. Most episodes demand that Larry devise a scheme to cover up his own errors, that’s the baseline now. It’s a nice development from Larry at the end of last season, who was willing to rob thousands of children of a TV host just so he could get a story on page 8 of the Culture & Arts section. Larry wants to change, and he’s embarrassed that he hasn’t already. But his words echo those of Augustine of Hippo: “Oh my Lord, make me pure–but not yet.” His plan is to sell his car, buy an actual version of the same ring, and switch it with the fake.
Balki says, fine, fuck it, he doesn’t care, if it’ll get Larry to shut up, he’ll help.
Later, for what must be the 100th time, no one thought to ask Balki what he cooked before eating it. This time, it’s Moulinki loaf, which is made from fresh ox tonsil.
The women walk three feet away to wash the dishes, and Larry reiterates the plan. It’s a good thing he does, too! I would never have been able to put together how the cousins bungle it.
Balki makes the same face I did when I had an infected abdominal wound debrided a couple months ago.
Larry comes up behind Jennifer and tells her that he paid thousands for that ring, so she better not fucking lose it to the disposal.
Meanwhile, Balki just kind of breathes on Mary Anne’s neck (it should be me). The audience “woos” at this, hoping they’ll actually start screwing.
Larry starts shouting at Balki from across the room about where he’s placed the fake ring.
Special note for all you readers who were born in the 90s: American-made men’s pants didn’t have pockets until about 1994.
Balki fucks around awhile before switching the rings while Larry tells the women that a plate he uses regularly is from the 1700s. Balki goes all the way across the room for some goddam reason and the cousins silently shout at one another.
Y’all, if you–
It’s called walking over to Balki! It’s called whispering! It’s called a second draft! Jesus. You know, if you had asked me a year ago how to improve Perfect Strangers, I might have joked “take out the dialogue lol”. But now I see how wrong I would have been. Anyway, to clarify: Balki made a hand gesture that Larry understands to mean he didn’t switch the rings; Larry has Balki throw him the ring.
Even though the women were completely focussed on washing the dishes, Larry throws the plate on the floor as a distraction so he can switch the rings. Larry! Can’t you hear the people in the audience saying “oh, no!”?
Larry gives Jennifer the ring back and quickly shuttles her and Mary Anne out the door, as it’s categorically impossible for Larry to find out that the rings have been double-switched, much less for any comedic escalation or physical comedy to occur, while the women are still there.
Balki says it’s all well and good for the audience to know that Larry has the real ring, but how can we establish that Larry knows?
Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back after I shout silently into the void for a while.
The cousins post-mortem what went wrong, and quickly determine that Balki’s hand gestures meant “okay” instead of “that didn’t work”. Also, on Mypos, a thumbs-up means “you have mistaken that sheep for female; pull out”.
Again, structure vs content: that’s great that Balki does not realize the universality of hand gestures (make that 99 good misunderstandings left), but if you think I’ll just blindly accept that Balki has never seen a thumbs up in the past five years, well, fuck you, show.
Oh no, though! Now they have to switch the rings! How will they ever pull this off after doing it twice with zero obstacles?
Larry decides that, since the women will magically appear in the insurance office the moment they wake up the next day, he and Balki must switch the rings out while Jennifer sleeps.
Since this week’s theme is structure vs content, let me talk about that for a minute. If you take a basic description of each scene, it’s decent plot escalation. Larry buys Jennifer a ring on the cheap only to discover that it’s fake. Larry thinks he’s cleared the easy hurdle of switching out the fake ring with a real one only to find himself in a “we all put the yeast in” moment. Now, Larry must do it again, with the ring in a seemingly-inaccessible location. And, to be fair, trying to take something away from a sleeping person is a promising physical comedy scenario. Sure, you know how those sequences go–the sleeper turns over, the sleeper moves the MacGuffin under the pillow, the sleeper grabs hold of the other person and won’t let go of them. And like I decided for myself a couple of weeks ago, what I need to worry about is not whether Perfect Strangers tops the examples I’ve seen, but whether it does anything interesting or organic within the template. Theoretically, two people trying to not disturb the sleeper should provide some different possibilities for how the scene could play out.
Spoiler: like I said, “should”.
Jeez, they sleep in the same fucking room? As much as they hate each other? And as much as Jennifer had her own room two seasons ago?
I try to take the rare looks into the women’s apartment as opportunities for insight into their personalities. Well, according to all the stuffed animals around the room, they are female.
Larry pretends that Balki has shined the flashlight in his eyes, shouts, and falls to the floor. I didn’t exactly expect this scene to be great, but I sure didn’t expect them to remove every ounce of suspense in the first ten seconds.
At this point, I know we’ve got about six minutes left, most of it without dialogue. Covering this scene would essentially be transcribing stage directions, so I’m tempted to just change–
–oh, there it is, Balki kisses Mary Anne and Larry has to stop him from going any further. Season 6 has given us gags about child molestation and somnophilia, but thank God there’s no jokes about bed-wetting!
That settles it, though: let’s see what’s on NBC instead.
Harry and Mac have been holed up in Harry’s chambers for hours now, and Mac uses his knowledge of psychology to advise Harry on facing the childhood bully who has reappeared in his life.
There’s a nice touch here where we can see the history these two men have. Mac has obviously bragged about his two psychology classes many times in the past, as Harry mouths along as he tells the story. Just from that one moment, I can see that even though these characters’ foibles annoy each other, they still care about each other. Harry thoughtfully and quietly considers Mac’s encouragement–that he’s afraid of memories, not what’s in front of him–and leaves his chambers to go to the restroom.
*sigh* let’s make sure I’m not missing anything–
Balki’s about to stick some tissue paper up Jennifer’s nose. It’s not that we’ve never seen this side of Balki before; even though it doesn’t match up with the Balki who was able to tell a multinational corporation to fuck off, Balki the Kid never really left. It’s just that he obviously doesn’t give a shit about what Larry’s trying to do. Balki is just an obstacle with no self of his own. Fine, fuck it, who cares, he’ll tag along.
Oh man, it’s Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds! After being threatened by Terry, an obviously nervous Harry asks what in the world he could want from him; after all, what happened was 25 years ago.
But we find out that, for Terry, it wasn’t that long ago. He had to go to reform school, permanently knocking the trajectory of his life off course. Terry has a brief moment of self-reflection when Harry tells him that everyone else moved on with their lives, recognizing that he’s been playing out the exact same story for years; but it soon passes and he returns to roughing up Harry.
Alright, hold on, let’s make sure Balki isn’t going at Jennifer’s finger with a hacksaw–
–yeah, no, he’s just got his face buried in Jennifer’s breasts.
Harry decides to not run away from Terry this time, and slugs him. Terry is knocked out, though, by Mac opening a stall door from the inside and smacking him in the face. How in the hell Mac got to the restroom before him, I don’t know, but I realize that it’s for the purposes of scene efficiency. Someone needed to witness that Harry “took down” Terry; and ultimately it’s a minor bit of hand-waving in an otherwise solid character-driven sequence.
*sigh* I’ve put it off long enough, let’s finish talking about “The Ring”.
Oh, good, I made it back just in time to see Larry trying to (heh) get Balki’s “ring” off.
Jennifer and Mary Anne stare off into space until the scene ends. See? I’m doing it again, just transcribing stage directions.
So, look, y’all, I lied to you at the outset. This isn’t a great review, it’s not even a complete review of this Perfect Strangers episode. Sometimes I’ll hit an episode like this and I’ll have nothing to say about it. I mean, you want some sort of symbolic analysis? The quality of the ring is the quality of the show itself at this point in its run, and that’s about it. Sometimes I wonder if it’s my fault that I can barely scrape together insight or jokes for an episode, but then Perfect Strangers throws up a “You Gotta Have Friends” or a “Piano Movers” or a “Bye Bye Birdie” and I remember that it’s always the show’s fault.
Here, the show’s fault is down to two of its own hard-coded rules that even a new pair of writers have no interest in breaking.
One is that the cousins must stay together. There’s absolutely no reason for Balki to even be in this episode past the one line where he acts as Larry’s conscience. Larry could have switched the rings out himself. Shit, he could have even been his own conscious if not for the fact that you have to say every thought process out loud on a sitcom. There was even less reason for Balki to be in the bedroom scene. You and I both know that Mark could pull off that physical comedy on his own, and all Melanie really had to do was keep her eyes closed and move her hand.
The other is that the show refuses to do B-plots. Every time there’s an obvious opportunity for one, it closes it off pretty quickly in favor of whatever physical comedy will take up the last six minutes. And hell, I even have to walk back that generalization. Remember in “Here Comes the Judge”, when Balki hands out grievances like candy, but Lydia’s germ of a story gets swept away just so Larry can shout at Balki on a brand-new office set? The closest we’ve come to a B-plot in the past while was when Larry calls a chimney sweep twice. The show takes whatever’s around and pushes it all to the sidelines, clearing a nice round area in the middle of the floor so the cousins can act out increasingly hollow physical comedy that doesn’t even have cultural disagreement as an excuse anymore.
Listen, show: instead of having the appraiser be a bugbear, why not have Larry accompany Jennifer to the insurance office? Let him interact with the person, try to distract both them and Jennifer at the same time so he can switch the rings, have him try to get the appraiser on his side, have Balki try to get worthless “collectibles” appraised. Anything but Larry not realizing he could put a ring in his pocket.
I mean, if you’re going to include Balki, include him in a bigger way! Separate the couples, have Balki take Mary Anne away to some other location and have Larry get himself into a tighter bind all on his own. Or have Balki try more and more desperate gambits to keep Mary Anne awake and out of her apartment while Larry sneaks in to Jennifer’s room. Anything but putting him in a scene and then giving him nothing to do but play with tissue paper.
Anything but sticking Mary Anne in a scene just so you can make a joke about her being sexually violated.
Blah blah blah, Larry got his car back and bought Jennifer a smaller ring.
Join me next week for “Black Widow”, where the cousins will get spider bites and die.
Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (1)
Boner count: Balki (1); Larry (0)
Cut for syndication: Tess hides razorblades in the Moulinki loaf
*Mary Anne is so dumb she thinks that “off the chain” is meant literally, and gets confused when someone says it in an idiomatic sense.
**I get paid nothing to write this blog.
***gives her dat, gives her dat, gives her, gives her, gives her dat, gives her dat ring, gives her dat, gives her, gives her dat, gives her dat ring, gives her dat, gives her, gives her dat, gives her, gives her, gives her dat ring