Welcome back! I hope you all helped a grandparent get laid this past week.
We open at 711 Caldwell, lucky enough once again to catch the Vitner’s Snacks truck on its circuit of that windy city, the Windy City.
Like any good product, Vitner’s packaging sends multiple messages: that one man is willing to stake his reputation on the quality of the product, that they lend the consumer that elusive “coolness”, and—just maybe—that they might have their rightful place in an active, healthy lifestyle. So, too, does the Vitner’s truck serve multiple symbolic needs over the course of a season. The show has given away its own unconscious thinking previously by associating the snack foods with patterns of consumption and disposal; and here, what’s on display? Why, perhaps that snack foods are cheap imitations of real foods, enlarged to show texture, sliced paper-thin so that everyone can have a bite, or perhaps that the businessmen have conspired to reverse-engineer nutrition, and like alchemists seek the magical mixture of elements that will transmute baser metals into gold.
Man, I miss Lydia, we haven’t seen her for four weeks now, she better be in this one.
Balki cuts out a newspaper photograph not taken by Larry, about yet another of his close friends going to court for murder one.
I suddenly see more symbolism, because look, Balki is removing elements from some whole object for reuse, and ends up damaging his own audience experience in the meantime. But it allows for a cheap joke! Seriously, you could just go watch the whole episode yourself, come back and read this paragraph, and I’d have done my work for the week.
Cousin Larry comes a-shufflin’ in from the bedroom, weakwheezing and nasalvoiced, interrupting Balki raisin’ Puffs bowl to mouth. He says he hasn’t been able to breathe for a week, so now we officially know how often the cousins check in with each other (it’s once a week).
From time immemorial, man has checked his effluences and excretions; according to Aesop this is so that we may reassure ourselves that we have not exerted ourselves to the extent that we have expelled our brains.
Larry comments that everyone in Chicago has a cold but Balki, and Balki says that this is because he never sticks his face directly in front of sneezing children and doesn’t marinate his rare meats in unfamiliar toilet bowls. Larry’s confusion is well-placed, though: European settlers found the indigenous North Americans easy to defeat in part through communicating germs and diseases that the latter had not built up any immunity to. Hell, every time I travel past the 40th parallel north, I get a chest cold and my snot turns the color of the tan M&Ms they discontinued in 1995. Realistically, Balki should have been hit by the common cold and the flu and/or Larry should have picked up toxoplasmosis from Balki during their first year living together.
Balki chides Larry for not having taken preventive doses of pig spleen, because the show has decided that if it can’t reasonably have Balki misunderstand every fifth word, then it will use its only other joke about Balki for the next 39 episodes.
Larry takes a handful of Cold Medicine and Balki tells him that Mama is sending a Myposian cure via carrier blue-footed booby. I take it back, they’ve added a joke: Mypos is Bedrock now.
Ah, god dammit, though. Even if I ignore the fact that a 3-pound bird native to tropical Pacific Ocean regions is somehow able to carry a package clean across the Atlantic Ocean—and trust me, I won’t—we’ve already (do over:repeat) had this episode! Larry has had both the flue—
–and the common cold before!
And Balki cured it with fish parts! And it was terrible then!
When Larry sneezes again, Balki grabs the base of a tissue so he can pull off just a corner to put in front of Larry’s nose and mouth.
Look, if you have to have your saint character come off looking like an asshole, it should at least be in service of a good joke. Perfect Strangers’s writers have never even sneezed, though, and have no idea that what you’d get on your hand is your own saliva, not snot.
I can blame the writers, and maybe the director, for holding onto the tissue joke, but should I blame the writers for re-using a plot? I certainly haven’t gotten the impression that they bothered to watch older episodes; and by this point we’ve traded out directors on the show; but the actors, at least, should know if they’ve done a story already. I rarely feel like I need to criticize Mark Linn-Baker, but I kind of do here. I don’t know what kinds of philosophies actors have about their work, especially when it’s high-profile work that pays for you to follow your own more important projects, but I have to wonder if Mark, at least, had no interest in bringing up when a joke made no sense, or when a plot had already been done. From watching interviews with Bronson, I could easily believe he had completely forgotten “Ladies and Germs” and wouldn’t care. But… come on, Mark. Come on.
There’s a light knock on the door and Larry makes sure to delay opening it by trying to tell Balki about how there’s no cure for the common cold.
It’s Doug MailKenzie, with a package for Lar. Y Apelytoon. Instead of, oh, idunno, incorrectly correcting the man, Balki just stands there with a blank look on his face.
Balki grabs the package rushes it over to the couch and opens it to find that Mama has sent a script rewrite!
Nah, j/k, it’s a plant, and Balki rubs it in Larry’s face. Coughin’ Larry tells Balki to shove the plant where the sun don’t shine (a little photosynthesis humor for ya there) and Balki is offended because his serene-miened mother from his birthplace had gone gladly up Mt. Mypos to get the plant.*
Balki tells us that the plant blooms only once per century and that it’s called the Popopiloupolopoppitypoo plant.
The cousins waste the next five minutes by having Larry call it the “Popopiloupolobippityboppityboo” plant, despite his stellar track record of getting Myposian words right on the first try. From what I read on the fansite, it looks like the original script had Balki saying “pippitypoppitypoo”, which is a more realistic misunderstanding and flows (sorry) from Larry’s stopped up nose, but I can see it’s harder to clarify audibly between b and p, and some of Balki’s corrective dialogue—that would fit with that earlier form of the joke—appears to be retained**. But the writers decided to fill up a whole scene with the joke and when it didn’t transfer from paper very well, they had nothing to replace it with. Keeping the joke changed it from being about Larry’s stopped up nose to Larry not even trying to say a word correctly. Welcome to season 6, y’all.
I will say I’m happy that Balki finally gets fed up with Larry over something entirely mundane, like normal people do, but the moment is quickly gone as Larry eats the pod and stops mid-sneeze, reporting that his symptoms are gone. Also the pod freshened his breath because fuck you.
I hope you all enjoyed the part at the end of “A Horse is a Horse” where a piece of parsley immediately cured a lung disease, because it’s the whole fucking premise of this episode! You do enjoy that as a premise, don’t you?
Larry chooses to place his blind faith in that of the pharmaceutical companies to not mass-produce pills that prolong his role as their purchaser, and says that the time-release capsules (that I guess he hadn’t been taking all week) finally kicked in after four minutes.
Balki says “there are none so blind as those who will not ski” and what the fuck can he possibly mean by that in this world, with what he knows and has experienced? “See” is the goddam operative word in that sentence, it should be the one word he gets right fuuuuuck
They go downtown—perhaps they commute—they go downtown—where they still dispute—they go downtown—if a fruit can mute nasal flow. Larry says “no”.
Gorpley comes out of his office and says that he was masturbating to their argument, but he’s done now and they can quit. There’s a joke about how the sheep on Mypos won the right to vote, so Mypos is a very progressive version of Bedrock.
Lydia comes out of the elevator sneezing, Gorpley sneezes an echo, the mating call of the lonely.
Lydia says she hates cold season, wow, all that personality on display, it’s hard to capture with mere words. Balki persists on pushing his pods on her, but she says the last time she tried a new drug, she got so high she signed a 5-year contract with ABC.
Cousin Larry points out that to prove a hypothesis, what you really have to do is test the null hypothesis, and begs her eat the pod. She tries it, without even swallowing the centigram she bit off, and her cold disappears.
Gorpley then tries the pod—bless you, Sam Anderson, for the half-apologetic, half-daring look you give Cousin Larry, I can tell you care—and again, unswallowing, is cured.
Gorpley is so pleased that he leaves to fire someone. Oh no! I hope he doesn’t fire… um… whomever that would be.
Gee, aren’t you glad we came all the way to the Chicago Chronicle just for that? Anyway, Larry has finally swallowed the truth that Balki’s plant works.
You’ve got no alternative, Larry, old boy, though it means you’ll spend time with your cousin, annoyed, it’s the only good plotline: a scheme you’ll deploy, to sell vegetables to hoi polloi.
Later, on Carl Lewis street…
The cousins—who still owe $140,000 on a house—have bought aprons rather than buy a new blender with a damn lid.*** Balki is mixing up some purple drank in a blender and Larry asks if what Balki must have told him an hour ago—that this will make the plant bigger—is true.
I hope someone out there in comment-land will take a shot at identifying all the ingredients here.
There’s some bullshit joke with a Tootsie Pop, I’m not going to mention it. Instead, here’s a couple facts about Mypos: “inki binki twop” appears to be “one two three” and they name their plants (this one is “Marge”).
When Larry learns that three drops will equal two inches of growth over six months, he takes a cutting from the plant and contacts a biology professor at Dial College.
Oh, no, wait, Balki—making a face like he’s tweaking the nipples of Mother Nature herself—tells him not to disturb the delicate balance of nature, so Larry cuts some corners and finishes the batch of 2,000 bibibabkas overnight.
Cousin Larry makes a solid point here, and one I don’t think gets heard often enough: almost nothing we do anymore can be considered “natural”. Food products; clothing; even giving the plant three drops of Mythical Gro isn’t natural.
Larry tries to shuttle Balki off to bed, and when Balki evinces knowledge of how clocks work, Larry yawns and Balki yawns and you’re yawning too and even science doesn’t really know why that is yet and Balki goes to bed.
Larry pours the whole pitcher into the plant, and after night—you remember, night? that time of day when the sun isn’t visible?—the plant has now covered the kitchen and living room.
Balki planted the seed, and Appleton watered it, but
made it grow. Just in case you forgot what Larry’s plan with the plant was, he reiterates it.
Don’t forget to watch the ABC Sports, here on ABC!
Balki emerges, wearing the hat he pumps into, speechless that there was so much mass in just two cups of dirt and that three drops of Purplesaurus Rex could duplicate 100 years of nutrient buildup.
Balki thrusts the blender jar at Larry accusingly, saying that the people of Mypos must have good reason not to ever grow the plant so big.
Not-quite-psychology sidebar: I see this story mostly get repeated with a ham, but it looks like the “Pot Roast Principle” has been gaining traction as a name for this thought-process illustration. A girl asks her mother why she always cuts the ends off the ham before putting into the oven; mother doesn’t know, asks grandma, grandma says it’s because the only pan she had was too small for a whole ham. The point is to be willing to question tradition and understand the historical context of decision-making before adopting a strategy that may not fit for you. So maybe Myposians of centuries past couldn’t afford the means to whip up the growth formula, or maybe there was a passing superstition about having plants in the house, maybe large plants were a sign of opulence, maybe it killed the stud goats.
Or, gee, idunno, maybe because it was impossible to get to, bloomed once every century, and they don’t get colds anyway? Anyway, what the fuck, who cares, Balki says that something bad will happen, not what, but he promises there’ll be a punchline by the end of the episode.
Larry tells Balki about all the children who will die off that year because they caught the cold, and that there’s nature for you, cruel, unrepentant nature, the meek shall not inherit, the weakest will die off but the next generation will be stronger.
Nah, j/k, but that would have worked better than them talking about how Balki’s third grade class did an episode of Bonanza for the school play.
After Larry puts Balki back in his bedroom, he answers the door to find Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius). They both sneeze, but Jennifer’s sneeze is slightly taller.
Mary Anne senses something’s different about the apartment, and notices that the couch has changed at some point this season.**** We can tell by this that she’s dumb.
Larry starts talking about the plant and Jennifer says they don’t want to hear about the fucking plant, they just came by to ask for cold medicine. Remember, kids, this was the 90s, when there were no stores in airports, which wouldn’t have sold cold medicine during cold season even if they did exist.
Larry hands them pods, they bite them and don’t swallow, and their colds disappear. Can we please learn that this was a dream so I can make a joke about how we already did a Pod People episode?
On their way out, Jennifer tells Mary Anne that the couch has always been exactly that couch and I guess I do have to blame the actors because why the reupholstering fuck would they not tell an adult that the joke doesn’t work?
Two weeks later, Larry is searching Jennifer’s corpse for the keys to her apartment.
Nah, j/k, the plant has grown further, and Larry is getting ready for a meeting with CEO Chef Robert of Danforth Pharmaceuticals.
Balki has been trying to call Mama to find out the side effect of the enlarged pods, but cannot reach her, as she has accumulated enough wealth to afford a satellite dish and a phone, and spends her midnights buying fancy clothes for her younger pig boyfriend.***** What the fuck is natural about all that, Balki?
For once this season, two of Balki’s misunderstandings work: he thinks that Larry’s talking to farmers, and then that he’s addicted to meth when Larry uses the word “drugs”.
And then, believe it or not, we get a third good joke in a row when Larry brags that his new wealth will allow him to “hire a man full-time just to explain things to” Balki. That is a goddam perfect joke, I cackled at that one.
I guess Larry didn’t mention selling the plant over the past two weeks, because Balki starts claiming ownership of the plant.
Larry has an ace in his hole, though: the plant was sent to him.
But when he tries to convince Balki that he’s going to jail for opening someone else’s mail:
It’s obvious to me that Terry Hart—the credited writer for this episode—probably didn’t watch earlier episodes, or he didn’t care; and given the fact that this was likely written very close in time to “Finders Keepers”, maybe there’s a chance he didn’t, at the time, get to compare this scene to Larry mentally abusing Balki about how the police would lock him up over a box of money. Or maybe he did. If this joke is meant as a progression of Balki’s responses to Larry’s gambits, it works. Even if it isn’t meant that way, it still works! It’s a much more realistic response from someone who has lived with Larry for five years and has seen how hundreds of real people disregard postal law on a daily basis.
I’m finding myself leaning more towards the idea that Terry Hart wasn’t terribly concerned with continuity while writing this episode. And “Little Apartment of Horrors”, I think, is an interesting collection of the various successes and failures that such an approach can include. It’s a do over:repeat of at least four previous episodes (“Ladies and Germs”, “Just Desserts”, “Come Fly With Me”, “A Horse is a Horse”), but it does a little more with the central concept—that something great from Mypos could turn sour when used incorrectly—than the others have. On the one hand, it’s insulting to be asked to believe that touching a plant to your tongue will cure a cold; but on the other, bioaccumulation/biomagnification is a real thing that can happen with plant-animal interactions. Pastries exploding because Larry used store-brand heavy cream isn’t.
With the exception of the “two weeks later” bullshit—spoiler: we won’t be given a good rationale for this choice—this episode has a good structure and is a logical progression of steps. On the other hand, Larry trying to get rich off of Balki’s culture is well-trodden ground at this point. Lydia, Gorpley, Jennifer, and Mary Anne (Sternutatious) served their purposes for this specific plot, but couldn’t they—shouldn’t they—have done more than just say “thanks, bye”? I’m tired of this show not wanting to introduce more than one plot twist, and we could have gotten one from any one of four different people. There seems to be this sense that the writers can just leave portions of an episode unwritten, to be filled by the cousins’ antics. As we’ve seen this week, though, there doesn’t seem to be any backup material when those “jokes” *ahem* stop working correctly when enlarged from the script to the stage.
I don’t think “Larry tries to exploit Balki’s homeland” is an uninteresting direction to take the episode, but I think it’s the easiest, and lazy when it’s the only direction. Speaking of easy and lazy, it looks like it’s time for that punchline about what side effect the priapic pods have:
That’s right, you heard right, the women just let their facial hair grow for two weeks straight. Or they’ve been shaving it every day and it just grows fast. It’s not explained. This is shit.
Subsequent to the events you have just witnessed, Balki is on the phone with Mama. Terry Hart forgot that two weeks passed and Mama says that the facial hair disappears a few days after eating the oversized pods.
Larry, Jennifer, and Mary Anne all sneeze, and god damn it Larry shouldn’t have sneezed and Larry even asks why he sneezed and everyone basically just shrugs except for Mary Anne who says something that isn’t really that dumb and why would you write in something that you didn’t know what to do with and had no good jokes for fuck you fuck you fuck youuuuu
Mama, who understands the pacing of American sitcoms, waited until everyone was done delivering their punchlines to tell Balki that in 1307 they grew the pods big, and women on Mypos have had mustaches to that very day. And you probably thought that only a few of them did, as was said explicitly in “High Society”; but don’t worry, I’ve scheduled you an appointment in a couple of weeks to see a doctor about your bad memory.
Balki tells Mary Anne that her mustache engorged his pod, and they almost kiss before Mama interrupts them so they don’t go over their seasonal allowance.
Jennifer and Larry kiss and sneeze into each other’s mouths and then Balki sneezes and the episode ends.
Join me next week for “I Saw This on TV”!
Catchphrase count: Balki (1); Larry (1)
Boner count: Balki (1); Larry (0)
Cut for syndication: The original opening scene featured Tess launching a snot rocket into a sleeping Larry’s mouth.
Appearances left: Lydia (8); Gorpley (8)
*Here’s some math for you: Balki says that Mama is 82, which means she had Balki when she was around 56. This also means that Yaya Biki (who is still dead, and died at the age of 106) would have given birth to Mama at the age of 26, and if Myposian tradition actually goes back farther than the advent of lounge music, Yaya Biki got pregnant shortly after marrying on her 25th birthday. Also, remember how Balki, a Myposian a third her age, had been unable to scale a mountain face? Haha fuck youuuu
**Balki even uses the word “plosives” here and haha fuck youuuu
***It may be the case that Larry stole his from the airline Jennifer and Mary Anne work for
****Between “A Horse is a Horse” and “Family Feud”
*****He’s just a pigolo