Welcome back! I hope you all gave a priest some money this past week.
We open at the Caldwell, where there’s people and cars and stuff outside. Look, not everything’s a metaphor, okay?
Larry walks over to the kitchen and starts sniffing the air, which probably means there’s something that smells nearby.
Larry: Boy, you can really smell how much we masturbate, even all the way out here, huh?
I don’t understand the cousins’ relationship sometimes. Whenever we see them, they’re nailed together at the hip(s), but it would be easy to get the impression that they never talk otherwise. Balki has cooked food for Grandpa Appleton’s visit, but this is the absolute first that Larry knew of it. Let’s see if we can understand this through a philosophical proof:
- Balki drives all over the city to find rare and visceral animal parts to cook
- Larry knows that Balki cooks these
- Larry has often been surprised by Balki’s choice of food to serve
- Larry does not like these foods
- Larry is a neurotic who so wants to minimize his failure and suffering that he will plan out minor details of his life
- Larry is an overweight man and must open the fridge 30 times a day
- Balki is aware of Larry’s dislike for these foods
- Balki does not like it when Larry gripes at him
- Thus, Balki does not share beforehand what he’s doing so he can avoid that situation
- Hence, Larry never asks Balki what the food in the fridge is and whether he’s going to have to eat it
Sounds pretty solid to me! Anyway, Larry has spent the afternoon stuffing incontinence pads under his bedsheets in preparation for his Grandpa’s visit and only just finished a mere minute before he arrives. Balki says that the smell is from the “hot and spicy goat lips”.
The show has Larry repeat the punchline in the form of a question so that Balki can
Balki says that this is the traditional Myposian grandparent-welcoming dish, which is why he cooked them when Yaya Biki was coming, right? I swear, sometimes I think you were born without a memory.
Balki is frightened by the eggtimer and was I really complaining the other week that they give Balki nothing to do?
Balki has waited until one minute before Grandpa arrives to suggest they take him to the Lithuanian circus. This isn’t a hard line to rewrite.
Hey, so it turns out that lips is euphemistic in Myposian as well:
Larry talks while Balki removes the hot lips from the pan, making him lose count. Balki cannot remember how many he purchased and cooked and did I really think this show could be decent for more than two weeks in a row?
Larry has waited until right before Grandpa arrives to convey to Balki that Grandpa is an old, frail man and that spicy food will just add insult to injury by making the man’s loose stools burn on the way out. Grandpa is so old and frail, in fact, that Larry doesn’t even go down to make sure that he can make it up three flights of steps.
(By the way, which of the cousins do you figure grazes in the grass while listening to Hendrix’s Axis: Bold as Love on vinyl?)
Anyway, Grandpa is a white man and thus not relegated to appearing in the last three minutes of the episode, so I’ll quit lolling around in the opening hoping to seed punchlines later in the review. All you really need to know is that Grandpa’s old and shouldn’t experience anything more exciting than uncooked oatmeal and the closing credits for The Andy Griffith Show.
Grandpa comes in hollering his hellos, picks up Larry, and when he recognizes the foreigner, he hits him hard enough to knock him backwards.
Grandpa: It’s not Grandpa anymore… it’s Buzz.
Buzz proves his youth by showing off his purchase of black athleticism in the form of Reebok Pumps that the show can’t actually call by name.
Somebody was paying attention that day and told John Anderson to mimic the way Larry sniffs the air. He tells Balki to bring on the food and Balki says that on Mypos they cohabitate with pigs.
When Balki offers up a steaming plate of roast vagina, Buzz declines and says he wants pizza and to go to the Lithuanian circus. Jesus! Carbohydrates and sitting down for a couple of hours! Has this man no respect for the temple that is his body?
Balki: Well feed me a specific food and call me a thing that might eat that food!
Grandson Larry, tears in his voice, asks Grandpa what happened to the man who didn’t do these three or four very specific things before. I feel like it would have helped if the show had laid out what kind of relationship Larry had had with his grandfather when he was a child, or what activities he used to engage in, or even that he had experienced some decline in health or activity after his wife passed on. Fuck, I’d at least like to know when’s the last time he saw the man. But Larry just says that Grandpa is old and thus is a set of qualities you associate with old men. Spoiler: Larry’s approach to this scenario doesn’t get any deeper than that for the rest of the episode. I’m left to fill in the gaps by wondering if Larry was excited to get to a stage in his life where he could just eat Jell-O and cultivate bedsores until he dies of pneumonia.
Buzz says that he needs to balance out the sex-to-years-lived ratio in the time he’s got left; he even made a new friend on a recent cruise—Sam—and they’re going to meet up there in Chicago. Larry is too concerned with maintaining his own ideas to even notice that Grandpa has stopped by just for free lodging, and tells Grandpa that they really shouldn’t do two corpse-handling episodes back-to-back, and could he kindly slow his roll.
Grandpa says that he’s only got half the time, and thus must go twice as fast. He hurries off to Larry’s bedroom so he can jerk off twice as fast to the copy of Hustler he picked up at a gas station.
Balki spends about two minutes cataloging every single joke up to that point about how Grandpapa App-le-ton is not like Larry described. There’s a joke about how the prune juice Larry bought was actually for him and god damn it show, that’s my joke! You can’t have my joke! Now I only have three left!
Later, Larry–who is still paying off a $140,000 house–limps in and Balki and Grandpa rush to the couch, fresh from their trip to Theme Park, where they rode Log Ride.
As a guest, Buzz is doing his best to follow the customs of his hosts, and sits down long enough to recap the scene we didn’t see. He runs off to the bedroom to “pump up his shoes” before his date with Sam. Look, we’re 110 episodes in, just make the weird sex joke yourself.
Larry tells Balki that all he can come up with for his side of this episode is repeating his opinion that Grandpa is old, and that Balki should just do what he tells him to do, just like he’s blindly done the past three weeks.
Balki counters that on Mypos, everyone gets to act as old as they feel. He also says that they treat the old like they’re young and vice-versa, and I’m sure those two things never contradict each other in practice.
Larry responds by reminding Balki that Myposians fuck pigs as entertainment for the sheep and that things are different in America.
Larry doesn’t expand on this other than to say that people know their age and act it. So here, then, is about all I can offer for any sort of thoughtful commentary on this episode: Larry, for all that he’s one-note on how old people should behave, seems to be more tied to “tradition” than Balki for once.
Balki comes from a culture where things have stayed mostly the same for the past dozen centuries, resisting, it seems, darn near every major cultural and political change on both the European mainland, or the colonies. We’re supposed to intuit from Balki’s mores that, over this time period, without any sort of modernization to distract them from real life, they are more in touch with the deeper, more compassionate little-t truths about humans and their needs and interactions. (Of course, yes, advancements in tools are what allow people to even get that old in the first place—pots and spoons made soup possible, which in turn let the toothless not die—but we’re dealing with a romanticized Rousseauan idea of the “state of nature” here, so don’t bring that up, thanks.) They’ve seen powers and trends rise and fall and yet people stay the same.
Cousin Larry, on the other hand, grew up in a world in which mass media images and their effects cannot keep pace with advances in technology and medicine. The people who were 76 years old when Larry was a child were depicted a particular way in television and movies and books (and those images were likely informed by those creators’ concepts of old age from their childhoods*). Media images become an ideal against which the real world is judged: for years, I felt that something was wrong with my childhood because I didn’t ride a school bus. I’m not going to go do any research on this, but I’m going to hazard a guess here and say that by 1991, thanks to increased medical access, and a larger variety of leisure activities and products to consume, Grandpa Appleton’s behavior probably was no longer that extraordinary. Larry has been sold one set of images, Grandpa another: a world where age barriers have been lifted and all ages have access to the same fun.
Perhaps what doesn’t sit well with Grandson Larry is that Buzz is partaking in something that, when Larry was a child, was the exclusive domain of his age group, the ever important 18-34 white male demographic.
Anyway, commuters really do have a socially-deprived experience of college campuses, because Balki says that Buzz is his new best friend and Larry ought to be happy that it’s not a serial killer this time.
They argue alliteratively awhile, Balki actually holding his own and not getting shouted down.
There’s a knock on the door and they’re both so angry at each other that they decide to both answer the door after waiting 30 seconds, which makes no fucking sense to me.
Show of hands: did anyone else here just assume that the “Sam” who Buzz mentioned would be Sam Gorpley?
Yeah, well, it’s not. I guess I’d feel comfortable criticizing this choice if there were any other one-syllable name that could refer to both sexes.
Bronson gets a little flustered and can’t take his eyes off of Sam’s high heels.
Buzz says that they’re going to go paint the town whatever color Sam’s nipples are, and they leave.
Balki informs a confused Larry that Buzz and Sam are going to fuck.
Later that night, Larry is waiting impatiently so he can give Grandpa an earful. I laughed when he pulls out a golf club, bangs on Balki’s door, and hides it so he can say “couldn’t sleep either?” when Balki emerges.
Balki quickly falls asleep on the couch and makes Popeye noises in his sleep. That that, Uncle Joey!
Larry can’t imagine where Grandpa is and Balki reiterates that they’re out fucking. We learned before that it was Bronson who insisted that the cousins be virgins, but really, Balki being familiar enough with sex to not even be bothered when it happens fits far more into the Myposian laissez-faire** attitude that he brings to so many other situations.
Buzz comes in and says that Sam dumped him. Advances in healthcare got Grandpa this far, but Viagra wouldn’t come on the market for another five years.
Larry misinterprets Grandpa’s admission that he’s been acting foolish as an acceptance of death and tries to smother him with Chekov’s blanket.
Grandpa goes to bed, and Larry beams about having put an old man in his place.
Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back after I call my dad and tell him just how old he is and to stop eating potato chips.
You know, Larry…
…if you’d buy more than one cookie at a time you wouldn’t have this problem.
Balki and Larry sit around saying variations on the same shit they’ve said five times already this episode until Grandpa lurches, zombie-like, out of the bedroom. Grandpa Appleton has dropped his newfound moniker, reverting to Beaumont. He has, in fact, dropped every aspect of personality and vigor that he’s shown up to this point. Perfect Strangers has quickly shrugged almost every effort it has made to include side characters. The cousins’ co-workers show up long enough for ABC to fulfill its contract terms. When Jennifer and Mary Anne fought last season, we spent much of the episode seeing neither one of them. Perfect Strangers prefers to have characters asleep, off-screen, standing silently off to the side, or made powerless, just so the cousins can fight about how to handle them. So of course it wants to take this story in a direction where Grandpa falls in line with Larry’s opinions and basically shuts off, a shuffling slack-jawed shell ready to be pointed in the direction of each cousins’ desires by turns.
But! Grandpa’s lines—and John Anderson’s performance—bring the whole sequence to a level of farce, enough so that I suspected that Grandpa and Balki had conspired to make Larry feel awful about what he’d “done”. When he asks for some weak tea, he has Balki dunk the teabag once***; he hands Larry a copy of his will; and says he’s going to put on his burial suit and “wait it out”.
It lasts maybe a minute, really, but it’s the best part of the episode. It’s still the case that Grandpa has no more agency than a woman does on this show, but the simple act of giving him a few funny lines goes a small way towards distracting you from it.
Larry realizes his error and pleads with Balki to… well, to do exactly what Balki has been doing all episode. Balki says that they’ll take him to a restaurant called Yurgos’s, and then has Larry stand on one foot and cluck because the writers were probably spent after coming up with three whole jokes for another character.
Later, at White Orchid Yurgos’s, Yurgo personally greets the cousins and Grandpa. Yurgo himself being an energetic older man, and Balki speaking perfect Greek to him, are nice touches.
Balki, can this show go more than a few weeks without a restaurant scene?
Balki clarifies that this not a Myposian restaurant, because Myposians fuck pigs. And if you needed any more proof that it’s a Greek restaurant, two guys run out and shout “Opa!” repeatedly.
Balki gets thrown in to the lap of a squealing woman and I guess the joke is that Balki has to touch a fat person.
When they’re finally seated by the Flying Didymo Brothers, Balki offers Grandpa some fried goat testes.
Larry takes a bite and pretends to like it so that Larry’s Forebear will try some too. Grandpa tries it, comes immediately back to life, and then the episode basically devolves into chaos.
A guitar player shows up and starts playing, Balki shoves a goat ball down Larry’s throat and Athena forces him to do a lap dance, Yurgos and his twin sons dance through the dining area, grabbing diners as they go.
On the one hand, I think the show has no idea what Larry should be doing at this point, because even after he reflected that he had gone too far in pushing his opinions on Grandpa, he’s not modifying his behavior in any way at all, here chasing after the dancers with worries of slippery floors…
…there dancing with Balki and worrying about heart attacks. I mentioned last week that “Finders Keepers” felt like a perfect sitcom plot in that you could put lots of different sets of characters into it and get different results back. “Grandpa”, on the other hand, feels the same; but I think it’s misplaced here where two men close in age are handling an older relative, rather than a parent and child. You can picture that, right? Son is excited to go to the theme park with grandpa, but dad knows that grandpa’s already had a hip replacement; grandpa is excited to risk his own health just for the opportunity to be a part of his grandson’s life; dad and grandpa argue, and then finally talk when they realize what it is going on for the other person; and some middle ground is struck. I’d have to imagine that Who’s the Boss? went to this well in some form multiple times. But here, in Perfect Strangers, what’s at stake for Larry? Certainly not his relationship with Balki or Grandpa. No matter which direction he goes in, Grandpa’s physical or mental health is in danger. He’s not coming up with any sort of happy medium, nor is he apologizing to Grandpa and asking him what he wants out of this portion of his life.
On the other hand, this scene is fine, and is its own reasonably realistic conclusion. There’s a lot going on in this scene, which is disorienting and frightening for Larry.
All he needs is for someone to show him that Grandpa is having fun, and for him to realize that someone else’s life is out of his control, no matter how much they change over time. I’d like to imagine that that’s what someone had in mind when they wrote this—Balki does point out to Larry that Buzz found an age-appropriate fuckbuddy named Sofia…
…so it’s a nice realization for me to start off critiquing this scene and then see the underlying structure working just well enough to be noticeable. Going backward from this point, it’s the earlier scene—where Larry admits his error—that sticks out. If Larry’s going to be doing the exact same thing here as in the rest of the episode, it would have made more sense to me for Balki to convince Larry that the restaurant was fun but not dangerous, even if he knew how Larry would react when he found out he’d been misled. In another sense, this story ends up with a completely opposite lesson of that in “Hello, Elaine”, and I appreciate that Larry would need to learn different lessons with different family members.
So, this is a fine place for the episode to end up, but even now, Grandpa’s story plays out in the background, while Larry once again has to get over—not controlling others—but being himself repressed when it comes to having fun. Here we are again where Balki is right, and everyone should be like Balki. I’m much more of a Cousin Larry myself, and I’m a little disappointed that the show can’t let Larry be mature enough to say that it’s great that Grandpa has found something new and exciting he can enjoy before he’s done, but that it’s just not his thing right then. No, Larry must be more like Balki, and meet instant failure when he tries.
Ultimately, the lesson this episode was leading to is that everyone ought to be allowed to be the main character in their own story; Balki and Larry may have learned this back in season 2’s “Since I Lost My Baby”, but Perfect Strangers has a bad memory these days.
“Grandpa” has a good sitcom episode hiding within it, and could have been a great episode of Perfect Strangers. It’s easily better than what we usually get, thanks to its un(der)stated lesson and John Anderson’s just-under-over-the-top performance; it’s also the best that the show has been able to hide the fact that it isolates a third character’s interactions with the cousins to them coming out, saying a few lines, and scooting off multiple times in the episode. And this may actually be a useful episode to point to in discussions of how Perfect Strangers’s bad habits—overreliance on easy “Balki cooks an animal” jokes, joke repetition, Balki’s superiority, recap scenes, cutting out a handful of lines****, and refusing to let a story be about anyone else for very long—held it back.
The cousins do a version of the Dance of Joy under the credits.
Join me next week for “Little Apartment of Horrors”!
Catchphrase count: Balki (2); Larry (1)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0); Buzz (1)
Dance of Joy running total: 19
Cut for syndication: Tess switches out Grandpa’s heart medication with baby aspirin
*tangent: I’d argue that many movies and television shows are prime examples of creators working out/paying homage to how media impacted them as children. Pee-Wee’s Playhouse is nothing if not a celebration and reworking of various 1950s and 1960s aesthetics that Paul Reubens (and Gary Panter and Wayne White and…) grew up with. Many of the Firesign Theatre’s albums in the 1960s and 1970s are spoofs of the radio plays and the media landscape of the 1940s. Is it any surprise that a 1980s/1990s sitcom wanted to pay tribute to Laurel & Hardey, I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show?
***The Porky Pig mug can be found on p. 44 of the Summer 1990 Warner Bros. Collection catalog. Only $12.95 plus S+H while supplies last!
****Noticeable when they meet Yurgos