Welcome back! I hope you all got your genitals back in reach of your hands after last week.
We open at the Caldwell to find Bronson counting out his $18 in royalties from VHS sales of The Great American Sex Scandal. On the couch beside him is a box that I guess one of the stagehands forgot to remove before the day’s filming started.
As Balki sorts out the denominations of bill, he calls them by the name of the president featured (“Washington, Washington, Washington…”). Now, you may think that this linguistic oddity serves only to setup Balki singing a snatch of Shirley Ellis’s “The Name Game”, but you probably think that the dollar bill is free of Freemason iconography, too.* But just as Balki stacks cheddar, so too he stacks meaning. The United States, even at its founding, thought it wrong to emblazon its currency with living leaders, and current law demands that two years must pass after a person’s death before they may feature on money. Perhaps the founders were unconsciously re-writing Solon’s words: “call no man valuable until he is dead”, that is, until the full measure of his life can be taken.**
Larry hangs his coat. Remember this. This is important.
And just how much value does this collection of dead men hold? “Around $40,000”, snapping Larry to full attention.
Larry, the show’s constant figure of modern America, is now in direct conversation with the real world’s counterpart (his symbolic cousin, if you will). Keep this in mind as we go forward; alternately, you can forget about it because I’ll bring it up again.
As always, sitcom characters’ true feelings are always barely surface deep, and Larry is no different as he reveals the extent of his reverence:
Here’s something new about Balki: he spends his free time hanging out behind abandoned buildings, which is where he found the box of money.
Balki begins to do the Lambada.
After confirming that there was no ownership information with the money, Larry grabs Balki’s upper love handles and presses his face to his cousin’s, which for them is the equivalent of dry-humping.
Balki says that they must keep themselves pure and that found wealth–the box, Larry’s body–must stay in the hands of their rightful owners.
Larry: It’s not going to be easy.
Larry: Wh– how am I being ridiculous?
Balki: Get out of the city?
Larry: You agreed with me, and then told me I was being ridiculous.
Balki: Well feed me Myposian food and call me Myposian?
Let me be upfront here: I don’t think I’m familiar with the box-full-of-money trope. In fact, after doing some cursory “research”, the closest I can find is the Full House episode “Mad Money”, or Married… With Children’s “Old College Try”. I can think of plenty of episodes of shows where someone lucks into some honest money and has to decide how to spend it, and I think generally those programs deal with family dynamics and responsible prioritizing of need. But finding a box full of money and not knowing who it belongs to feels like a perfect sitcom scenario, one I’m surprised that I haven’t seen more of. And what I mean by that is that it’s a framework that allows the characters’ personalities to take center stage. And god damn is Perfect Strangers in need of that kind of story at this point. You’ve already figured out that Larry’s goal is doing everything he can to keep the money, and Balki’s is trying to return it. But imagine Eddie Winslow and Steve Urkel in this story, or Eddie Winslow and Carl Winslow. Imagine the Simpsons. Taxi. Saved by the Bell. You can imagine how these characters might react to a box full of money.
As much as Perfect Strangers ignores, reduces, or forgets the cousins’ personalities, they still do exist. Balki is still there, and can be turned back on when needed, it’s just this little chromium switch here…
Balki is both foreign, and compassionate, and the interaction of these two elements of his personality produce a good joke: Balki has drafted a classified ad that reads “I found a big box of money. I live at 711 Caldwell, Apartment 209. Please come and get the money.”
Even if by the third act the cousins are tossing cornish hens at bank tellers, I’ll have that joke to cling to.
Larry offers to write the ad for Balki, and the scene ends there. I like to criticize Perfect Strangers for never having good punchlines to end its scenes on, but here it actually improves the scene by respecting the audience’s intelligence. The show generally has Larry explain to himself or a willing female face what he’s going to do. To not tell us what his plan is–to in fact wait a couple of scenes to reveal it–is better story structure than I thought this show was capable of at this point. All Larry has to do is is put on his false grin and sweetly condescending tone for the audience to start thinking ahead.
This plot–this structure–is strong enough that it could focus on just the cousins, but big enough to pull other personalities in. Having him come to the apartment is admittedly clunky–the dialogue has to do the heavy lifting of telling us that Balki mentioned the find to Gorpley at work, and we’re supposed to just assume they waited until just now to have this conversation–but it pits Larry and Gorpley against each other in a way that it rarely does.
Gorpley has fed Balki the lie that he wants to use the money to put out a hit on Krampus. When Larry comes in, he sees the box in Gorpley’s hands and wrests it from him.
Larry tells Balki that Gorpley is lying, prompting Balki to perform the Myposian Blowjob of Truth on him. After trying to negotiate a percentage, Gorpley tries flat-out stealing a stack, and then Larry throws him out.
Twice now we’ve seen Larry and Gorpley compete: at bowling, and at poker. In the former, the two were engaged in an underdog/bully dynamic; in the latter, the two were presented as evenly matched in their skill, and some of the surrounding jokes established that they were both prone to the same self-nicknaming braggadocio. All this time, I had been wanting Lydia to be the one pulling Larry further Larryward; but Larry has finally drifted far enough away from the intelligent/neurotic combination that he’s more like Gorpley than anyone else. Lust for coin is new for Gorpley, but it’s a fair interpolation; and having greed in common with Larry means that their differences must emerge.
After Gorpley is gone, we see a smaller shift: instead of the Greenhorn’s face, Larry now presses greenbacks to his cheeks. The show wants us to see this as Larry’s hypocrisy, but he needs these dead men and their abstracted value for his own comfort. He just doesn’t know why yet.
Balki says he’s going to take the money to the police, because he thinks it would be fun for both him and Larry to spend the next month telling hundreds of people over the phone that they don’t have the money anymore.
But before he can call up Carl Winslow, Larry calmly and quietly explains that the corrupt police will not only seize the money and use it to buy cookies and not share any with him, but they’ll also put him in a holding cell for 24 hours and punch him in the tummy real hard.
Larry tells him that that won’t matter anyway, because if Balki so much as sets foot outside the apartment, he’ll try out the new shredder at work by putting Balki’s H1-B visa through it.
He tells Balki that various aspects of copyright law are still muddy and untried, and that there’s no clear statutory or case law guidance on what constitutes a “substantial number of persons” when determining whether public performance rights must be obtained, and how the police would love to know about how Balki watched The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking on VHS with some of his college buddies.
And here I was praising your plot structure, show. The structure is still good, but in the span of 90 seconds, you’ve undone the good work you’d done with both cousins’ characterization.
There’s still a good progression of decision-making here. Larry says that Gorpley is proof of people’s greed, which prompts Balki to give up on the newspaper ad and put the money in the hands of someone more capable of determining honesty. This puts Larry in the position of having to talk Balki back into his own plan–that’s a good sitcom setup, and should involve Larry having to give lip service to something he doesn’t want. Larry should be in the tough spot of having to guide his cousin down a very narrow path of thought that maximizes his chances for keeping the box of money.
Two minutes ago, Balki knew how the police worked, or else he wouldn’t have come up with the idea. But Larry’s threats–that the police would somehow think that there was originally $100,000 and demand to know where the rest is–are baffling when I think of how many times Balki must have been on both sides of the situation of one shepherd finding another’s stray. If Larry wants to change Balki’s mind about the police, he needs to establish that they think differently from literally everyone else Balki has ever met. Larry jumps straight to terrorizing his best friend of five years. Kudos to Bronson for making me feel bad for Balki.
Am I still supposed to like Larry after this? Ever again? Or is this like Larry and Jennifer’s relationship in “The Break Up” where it could covertly be its own meta-joke about their personalities? Is it fine for Larry to not have any emotion because Balki has no logic?
Larry says that they’ll put the money in a safe deposit box and if no one shows up after 30 days, they’ll keep it.
29 days later, Balki is worried that no one will come to claim the money, worried sick, in fact, at the thought that someone out there in sitcom-land will actually have to face any consequences for their own behavior.
Larry has dropped all pretense that he’s only Balki’s side, and wonders aloud whether he should go on a cruise or buy a 1962 Corvette. The show has dropped all pretense that it takes place in the real world, as Larry has a full-color trifold brochure for a 29-year-old car.
There’s a knock on the door, and Balki opens to find Gorpley dressed as an old man.
Larry recognizes him instantly and proceeds to strip off his wig, mustache, and clothes. He wrestles the naked Gorpley to the floor and crams a fistful of dollar bills into his mouth. “I’m going to get a Pulitzer some day,” he hisses into Gorpley’s ear before picking him up by gullet & gonad and pitching him down the stairs.
Nah, j/k, but he might as well have.
Balki asks if that was Gorpley’s cousin Gorpos. Larry apologizes that they’ll have to keep the money.
Suddenly, the phone rings, the caller a claimant on the box, washing away all of Balki’s anxieties, and making–
Oh, no, wait, Balki perks up and says that someone called earlier about coming by. My mistake; it’s mystifying, the tricks that memory plays on us. I’m glad Balki tells us this, because I’m not sure I would have understood why, immediately after this, someone comes by to claim the money.
It’s some priest named Father Killian. Balki starts shaking his imaginary censer and singing a Patti LaBelle song (“I’ve Got a Beatitude”). Father Killian has–oh god–come in search of his lost box.
Father Killian*** says that he saw the ad in Stockyard and Slaughterhouse Monthly–he gets it for the articles, honest–and that it’s his last, most distant hope for recovering the funds that his parish raised for making the final payment to the bank for an orphanage. Larry, positioned here, where the light above his head still has not brightened,**** turns Doubting Applethomas and grills Killian about the hills of bills.
Larry angrily demands that Killian prove his priesthood. I’d come up with some joke demands, but Larry’s is already funny enough: that Killian say how many books in the Old Testament begin with the letter “S”.*****
Bryan O’Byrne plays Father Killian mostly straight, but I do appreciate his delivery of the story of losing the box. It’s a very shruggy “I guess I’m the one who left the ice cream out to melt”, which works both because of its distance from the amount of money ($50,000+) as well as because he’s a priest without proper contrition.
The interaction between Larry and Father Killian is also a nice, tight joke. Killian describes the box perfectly, the amount of money down to the dollar, the color of the rubber bands, and the color and type of a velvet coin purse; Larry asks for the exact color of the bag.
Father Killian says that “the bank” will foreclose on the orphanage that very day if the payment isn’t made; Larry tells him that he’ll go to “the bank” and get the money to him. Just meet at the sole bank in Chicago, y’all. Sheesh.
On his way out, Father Killian promises Larry that he will be richly rewarded.
Larry, having finally discovered pockets, looks for the suit coat where he stowed the safe deposit box key; but Balki donated it to the Good Neighbor Thrift Shop. Larry chases Balki and Balki grabs Dimitri from his room for some goddam reason for some goddam reason.
The cousins call up Gussy, who works at the thrift shop. She remembers the suit and happens to know that it was purchased to clothe Mr. Wilson for his funeral; she also just so happens to know that the funeral is that very day, and where it is. As weird and unlikely this is, I’m not sure I can complain about it, as it’s far more plausible than, say, Popeye the racehose. But I hope the show doesn’t make a habit out of needing the cousins to talk to someone on the phone to find out what the next scene should be.
(By the way, with all this talk of religion and symbolism and clothing, I wonder what Balki’s vestment?)
Since Mr. Wilson will be at the Beekman Funeral Home, Larry and Balki rush out to buy ashes to cover themselves with, and then painfully put on their formal sackcloths.
Larry–who still owes $140,000 on his house–pays his respects to the Gussied-up Mr. Wilson. Balki grieves for Dennis the Menace’s loss. Before Balki can perform the Myposian Ritual of Reaching Inside the Breast Pocket, Reverend Store-brand Chester Tate from Soap asks everyone to take their seats for the service.
This plot has once again saved the show from its own bad habits, and it actually takes the time to have Balki ask why they don’t inform the family of the problem. Larry explains that that’s not funny enough for a sitcom.
The tallest blonde woman we’ve ever seen on this show walks in and the Reverend forgets to spare his rod and loses his train of thought.
She walks three feet away from the casket to loudly grieve and tell the cousins about how Mr. Wilson’s ex-wife sold all his clothes, leaving him to die naked and alone. And–holy shit!–she’s played by Judy Pioli, who directed this episode, and nearly every episode after this point. And even though I can’t find anything connecting her to Perfect Strangers before this season, I suspect she’s been there in some role for quite some time. She was a writer on Laverne & Shirley and Valerie/The Hogan Family, both Miller-Boyett shows, before showing up in the credits for Perfect Strangers. Pioli’s Pizza has to be named for her, right? Anyway, her turn here as Mr. Wilson’s masseuse, paralegal, and financial advisor is a welcome one; she has presence, her lines are largely unnecessary but add a lot of flavor to the episode, and her relationship to Mr. Wilson is funny no matter which direction I try to take it in. Is she a dumb blonde and this is why he had no money left? Did he leave his wife for her? Her presence here is enough to communicate that the cousins have walked in on a whole different story, which is a refreshing change from the cousins interacting with insert shots of crowds.
And when Balki comforts her, his monogram reads “BBB”. We learned a couple of seasons ago that Balki’s canonical middle name is “Bini”, and I’m pleasantly surprised to see that someone cared about continuity. It’s almost like I’m watching a real sitcom this week!
When no one takes the reverend up on his invitation to offer a eulogy for Fred Wilson, Larry realizes that the room will quickly clear out after the service, and that he can just wait–
–wait, no, he goes up to the casket and speaks, deadpanegyrically, of Mr. Wilson. The finder, keeping up his ruse, pretends to share a loss with those weeping at the tomb of the Unbeknownst Holder.
And here, finally, is the crux of the biscuit, the culmination of Larry’s emotional journey over the past 13 weeks.
You see, Larry Appleton wants to die; or more to the point, Larry Appleton needs reassurance that he can.
We started this season with the image of a torn, mangled chair unsuccessfully stitched back together. Larry’s attempts to preserve the completeness of his environment through increased security met with failure, and ended with a booming, sourceless voice mocking him that his fatal fear was fair unfounded, a feint for fooling the faint-hearted; he was not dead. Where downfall had dogged his every dodge, suddenly success beset him. To have the hand of a golden-haired her was unlikely enough, but seeing Balki enact equine equilibrium with such ease broke something in the man. Where Frank let murder murder him, Cousin Larry made death his life’s end. He agreed to *ahem* swordplay with a bloodlusting islander. He suffered bed terrors in which Balki’s pure culture prevented his end. After witnessing a man murdered, he raced against time to recover the footage and in so doing set himself up to win: either by owning proof of death, or receiving it himself. When he could not kill himself one layer of skin at a time, and when he could not kill himself two limbs at a time, when he could not be a complete literal or figurative human, when he could never win assurance that his life would, someday, be measured, he believed in little green men of valued pallor.
Larry has ever been keyless, but here finally he uncuffs himself from his cousin. Larry’s willingness to return the money does enrich his soul by Father Graveyard’s promised reward: finder of key per corpus, salvation in the body of a dead man. The third week is the charm, and do over:repeat, do over:repeat, do over:repeat. Larry larrylying too long in a sun box, Larry lying too larrylong in a sundered box, and now Larry facing a true dead face in his own larryclothing, a man who has left his tall blonde, in a box open on the correct side, a box Larry can get into and out of as he pleases, life and death both restored.
Larry grabs for the key too fast and his hand breaks through Mr. Wilson’s chest cavity.
Larry tells everybody to pray so they won’t see (or hear) him walking three feet over to Balki and shouting that it’s time to leave.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this week’s episode. “Finders Keepers” features a solid sitcom situation with its own twist that leads to a number of good jokes and allows the cousins to approach a problem from their points of view. I’m happy to see the show actually using a side character in a way that utilizes his personality. Just like in “Eyewitless Report”, Gorpley (you remember, the guy whose house burned down on Christmas when he was 8) has become comic relief, but it doesn’t break his character. And the left-field addition to the situation halfway through turned out to be rewarding this week.
Finally, back at the Caldwell, Father Killian is reunited with his box, and Balki gives him a bag of cookies that are probably made out of mule anus or whatever. Father Killian leaves.
Balki asks if Larry is happy to have helped out some orphans.
Larry: Yeah, I guess.
Gorpley comes by dressed as Emo Philips and Larry makes out with him to teach him a lesson.
Can the show manage three good episodes in a row? Join me next week for “Grandpa” and we’ll find out!
Catchphrase count: Balki (1); Larry (1)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0); Reverend S.C.T.f. Soap (1)
Cut for syndication: Tess sprays Larry’s toothbrush with Raid
Appearances left: Lydia (9); Gorpley (9)
*Note also how the foreigner turns the playfulness of African-American culture on the symbols of white male power.
**Note also that Balki correctly pronounces Lincoln’s name, not enunciating the second L; compare with his pronunciation of Appleton.
***Note the name meaning here: Killian, from the Irish cillín, a graveyard for souls of uncertain destination; one can see already that the “dead” of undecided valuation are his
****Note how there’s so much exegetical bullshit this week that it’s overflowing into the footnotes
*****ɔᴉɐɯɐɹ∀ puɐ ʍǝɹqǝH uᴉ uǝʇʇᴉɹʍ sɐʍ ʇuǝɯɐʇsǝ┴ plO ǝɥ┴ ¡ǝuou :ɹǝʍsu∀