Welcome back! I hope you all avoided putting your foot in your mouth about historically black genres of music this past week.
It’s fitting that we once again open with a shot of the top of the Chicago Chronicle building. The cousins have a history with rooftops. Tall buildings, symbols of priapic capitalism, are something the cousins have never been comfortable with, finding shattered psyches, divine judgment, profit maximization or, as we explored last week, the double meaning of the term facade. The cousins travel briefly up buildings, long enough to choose whether to uplift a failing spirit or to cast down scoundrels.
From a simulated rooftop, to the basement are we again sent, underground, amongst the grass roots.
Balki shows Lydia the poster he has created for his campaign for student body president at Dial College. Balki, who has known how to write his own name for two decades now, couldn’t figure out how to fucking turn a piece of posterboard 90 degrees.
Or so I thought at first glance! But look closer, my friends: the episode may be giving away its own resolution here. Consider the dichotomy of portrait vs landscape. A portrait typically limits the focus of the viewer onto an individual, and fittingly within the realm of political races, begs the viewer to consider them as an icon. (I know that you all have already picked up on the aspects of vertical orientation signifying hierarchy, as well as the religious implications, so I won’t go into them here.) Balki, however, comes from the idyllic fields of Mypos–a landscape orientation that decidedly does not fit neatly into the American cult of political personality. We sense already a suggestion that Balki will need to cut away some aspects of himself, that a foreign name alone is bar enough to success in America.
Anyway, look at that shitty drawing of Dimitri. Am I really supposed to believe that the man who painted this
And look at Dimitri’s head, facing away from the viewer. I assume Balki’s slogan is “A chicken’s cloaca in every pot, and a dick in every sheep”.
Lydia tell Balki that perhaps he should get some help from a character that they actually bother to write dialogue for, like Larry.
Balki says that he’s been trying his damnedest to keep his campaign a secret from Larry, using effective tactics like working on it five yards from Larry’s desk, and telling Larry’s other coworkers about it. Seriously? We know that Larry probably goes to Jennifer’s apartment once or twice a year; that would be the perfect place for Balki to be working on this. Especially since there’s no reason for him to be doing this at work, other than for Larry to find out about it! Lydia adds nothing to the scene; she was brought on just so she could say “I don’t want to be in this story”.
On her way out, Lydia says she wants to fuck some cowboys.
Anyway, Balki doesn’t want Larry to take over the campaign because he’s afraid Larry will ruin it, and suddenly I’m interested to see what Balki might do on his own! We haven’t had an episode in two whole seasons (see “That Old Gangbang of Mine”) where Balki’s approach to something went over the top and disturbed Cousin Larry’s life.
Cousin Larry walks out of the entirely empty room that everybody still pretends houses the archives and, when he sees Balki’s campaign poster, wishes him luck.
Balki has an emotional-allergic reaction simply to Cousin Larry’s presence, shouting at him to butt the fuck out, true revolution must come from the people, don’t bread on me, no taxation without dentation, liberté, fraternité, enola gay!
Balki is so shocked at Larry not giving a shit that he lets slip one of his fantasies:
Balki: Well bang my bongos and call me Desi!
Larry tells us that he lost every single student body race that he ran in, and that he understands Balki’s fear that he will try to live vicariously through him. Balki asks him if it’s really true, that finally, after all these years, that Perfect Strangers will not only feature a Balki college story, but also that it will make an attempt to comment on—perhaps even rise above—its own patterns, pushing everyone’s overall character arc forward?
Dear reader, the show is deeper than you ever hoped for. Larry explains that he has been listening to self-help tapes—120 hours’ worth, roughly correspondent with the current number of episodes—in order to repair his own failings.
We started this season with the image of a torn, mangled chair unsuccessfully taped back together, and three weeks ago Larry turned himself to face Larry, re-discovering his memories, only to find a damaged person. Do you see it? He has been trying to tape himself back together using his own memories (perhaps with Memorex?), and this season has already told us how well this is likely to pan out.
Larry goes on to tell us that tapes 1-43 have taught him how to be at peace with his body, which he pictures now as a hollow reed through which troubles blow like the wind, that he—
Yeah, okay, I’m going to stop the symbolism stuff at this point, because it sounds like these tapes just told Larry how to finally gain control of his bowel movements.
Balki tells Larry that his platform consists of one issue: reinstating the foreign-language requirement at Dial College. Larry agrees with Balki, saying that higher education is one of the final self-selecting processes of success in America, whereby the true edge is given, not in dedicated focus to one discipline, but in rounding out social science knowledge with the hard sciences and a soupçon of humanities, that such a broad landscape of knowledge will eventually give someone the edge, likely in the workplace, but certainly in the social spheres.
Nah, j/k, Larry says it’s a shit platform and Balki Ricardo comes out, saying much the same thing as he did in “Speak, Memory”:
Balki: Oh, popopo, bolingo moniki, desporiki yoogi App-le-toniki babasticky Bartokomouki challabalouki….
Here, it translates to “I’m foreign.” When he learns that Balki is going to hand-out spleen-chip cookies to prospective votes, he finally can’t keep himself from taking over Balki’s campaign.
Larry: The writers aren’t really going to push us—or themselves—outside of our respective comfort zones this week, are they?
So we got a promising setup taken away from us; but as consolation, the show gives us a goat scrotum.
If you ever needed proof that Larry isn’t getting laid, look no further:
Larry—who is still making payments on a $140,000 house—has purchased banners, extra phone lines, posters, strawboater hats, and disposable miniature flags for the disposable miniature personages whose votes Balki needs.
You’d think, perhaps, that Larry has recruited Balki’s friends from Dial College. But Balki doesn’t say hello to a single one of these people, so I assume that they’re all students who just don’t know what to do with all that free time between their full-time jobs and their full-time course loads.
Or maybe that old woman is Mrs. Falby, silently filling her Go-Aheads brand diapers while she stuffs envelopes.
The show, I believe, is finding its way back to some variation on the theme of “Balki encounters America”, and I’ll get to that in a second, but I feel that a little more could have been done to establish why Larry is doing what he is doing. Is this any different from his tactics in the student elections he lost throughout his life? Or is it the same tactics, but more of it? Does Larry simply think that he can now afford to win an election? Hold that last thought, I’ll come back to it in a minute.
Cousin Larry has recruited Jennifer and Mary Anne (Suffragist) to help with the women’s vote, knowing that Balki’s approach would have been to offer oral footrubs.
Jennifer is so excited to get some lines in another episode that doesn’t need her at all!
Somehow this rinky-dink city college has both a football team and cheerleaders, so Mary Anne starts doing a cheer to spell out Balki’s name.
The joke is that she knows “their language”, so I guess you can just spell out a word to a cheerleader and they’ll do it? I can honestly no longer tell if Mary Anne is so dumb she thinks stump speeches are only given by amputees.
Larry asks Balki if he can come up with a terrible campaign slogan.
So let’s talk some more about Larry’s Error of the Week. Larry putting all this together serves as a punchline to Balki telling him not to go “overboard” with the campaign. But up until this point in the episode, Larry seems like the perfect person to do it: he’s financed the campaign and gotten a number of people to throw their support behind a candidate. This narrows the space for what he can do “wrong”.
Balki asks Larry what he should wear to the debate that his opponent challenged him to. Larry explains that under no circumstances should Bronson Pinchot be allowed to improvise and moves on to Press Junket Balki B’s appearances to speak with college groups, such as athletes, the science club, and the fraternities which this city college somegoddamhow has. Larry’s error, we find out, is that he is pushing Balki to give these groups conflicting messages about his platform priorities.
Going back to the possibility that Larry believes he can buy an election, let’s put it together with the underlying idea here that an American electoral process is different from what you’d get on Mypos. We can assume that Balki’s assumption would be that he could talk to every single voter to accurately convey his position on the issues. Larry appears to hold the assumption that there are simply too many people; and he almost-explicitly says that you have to make tradeoffs to reach your important goals, a lesson that Balki has never learned, no, not even once, NEVER.
If this kind of multilayered statement was something that the writers had in mind for this episode, it’s as close to brilliant as this show ever comes. I’d put it right up there next to “Karate Kids” in terms of having a solid implicit intellectual conversation.
As aside: in terms of explicit conversation, Balki’s accent and pronunciation have gotten fucking weird this season. He keeps saying something close to “mweepwos” and is over-enunciating the “h” every time he says “dishonest”. However you’re imagining him saying “dishonest”, trust me, it’s worse.
Balki says he wants to do the debate, but Larry shouts in front of all of the campaign workers how little trust he has in Balki to speak publicly.
Jennifer says that she has the results of their poll: Balki is trailing by 15 points.
Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back after I brace myself for just how hard this show is going to un-earn that comparison to “Karate Kids”.
Why the sudden need to put a timeline on everything, show?
An angry Cousin Larry is thrown out of Balki’s room, shouting that Balki’s not going to wear a hat, they’ve done like fifty hats by now, and he already did four food jokes this week, no fucking hat.
Larry throws the demon pope hat in the closet and, when Balki tries to retrieve it, barks at Balki. It makes me laugh every time I watch it, so here, you can laugh too.
Larry has staged a mock debate in the living room. The only things set up by this scene are that Larry has instructed Balki to smile, to not mess with his necktie, and to not rest his arms on the podium.
All of this could have been covered in maybe 20 seconds right before Balki went on stage.
It’s a pointless scene, and they don’t even try to do anything funny with Balki forgetting Larry’s directions.
Aren’t you glad we got a scene with Balki needlessly spasming, though? Bronson is taking an incredibly scattershot approach to Balki here, and it’s downright jarring. I don’t even know how to describe this:
Dial College: Pick up! Your Future is on the Line
Before the debate begins, Jennifer warns Larry that she had news that might upset him. Look, honey, there is no combination of syllables that wouldn’t upset Larry Appleton, quit padding your part.
Jennifer says that “the athletes” found out about Balki plan to reinstate a language requirement
Oh no! They’re going to vote for Opponent!
Larry and Jennifer kiss in a careful way that makes sure that only two or three atoms touch.
Larry tells Balki they need the Athletes’ votes back to win the—
you see, if—
You were already losing when you had their votes! What group were you trying to sway with the debate, and are they a bigger portion of the student body than the Athletes? Anyway, what the fuck, this show doesn’t care, Larry tells Balki to drop the language platform. Balki says he’s going to stick with it, as though he alone was going to have the power to change the intricate course curriculum that was the product of heated, meandering, years-long debate in faculty senate meetings.
Here’s one of two shots you’re going to get of Balki’s competition. Trust me, this isn’t a spoiler.
Remember how this was going to be a debate? Nah, fuck that, Maria Grandmantessori or whoever comes out and says that each candidate will make a statement and take questions from the audience.
In a role-reversal from “Speak, Memory”, now it’s Larry visibly giving Balki prompts from three feet away, instead of from the audience. After having watched so many episodes of The Honeymooners last month, I can say that both this and “Speak, Memory” have the same kind of setup that the other program’s “Better Living Through Television” had: poor practice followed by worse execution. The difference is that The Honeymooners wanted the leads’ in-world audience in the forefront of your mind. Perfect Strangers asks you to forget it every 10 seconds.
While Balki’s rattling off whatever bullshit he’s rattling off, there’s the other shot of Opponent (it’s the woman; kudos to whomever chose a taller Larry for her campaign manager).
Lisa Morgan* calls Balki out on his conflicting messages to various groups, and then calls him out again when his answer doesn’t make any sense.
Arthur A. Athlete: I don’t want to learn a foreign language because it would disturb my long-held belief that Americans are better than everyone else.
The cousins touch each others’ lips and then Balki tells the audience the truth about his single-issue platform.
At least one of these people was in the earlier scene in the apartment. I’m not going to back to check how many, just trust me.
This is either a total mess, or not at all a mess.
Ultimately, Larry’s approach was not what kept Balki from winning. It almost certainly played a part, but I’d also guess that college students (many of them of “non-traditional” age) have come to expect a portion of double-talk from politicians. And if we’re going to ascribe real-world characteristics to them, certainly George Bush’s recently-broken promise of “no new taxes” was fresh in their minds. What set them off was Balki’s goal to force them into something they didn’t want to do (as though colleges didn’t only hold students to the graduation requirements in the course catalog being used when they enrolled, but whatever).
Goddam it this is so close to a good lesson for Balki! Shit, a lesson for both of them! The lesson, as it reads to me, is this: America is a representative democracy. Larry understands that people will vote for what they want, but that they must be tricked into voting for what they don’t want. I mean, hell, you could say that’s a practice even at the top levels of government, what with unrelated riders on legislative measures. Balki wants a higher-level goal of a melting pot country: that all its people can communicate with each other. On the one hand, America itself occupies the middle ground here, too smart for Larry and not yet on Balki’s level. On the other, Balki has not taken the time to find out what the predominant, or even most urgent, desires and needs of the people are.
I’d like to think that at least part of all this was intentional on the part of the writers; at the very least, what they put together supports that reading. The problem is, though, what the problem so often is with Perfect Strangers: I’m having to do all of the assumptive work, and I’m having to look past every poor choice the show makes.
Why the fuck did we not get to
the fireworks factory the debate after so much of the episode was spent worrying about how Balki would do? Why did we bother to have (I ASSUME) a school newspaper reporter call Balki out on something and he wasn’t taken down by the press, a story that could have naturally put Larry in the wrong? Why have Balki agree to give conflicting messages to campus groups, to lie, or if we compare it to last week’s episode, to be more upset about a different voice than different words being put in his mouth?
“See How They Run” is a great episode of Perfect Strangers that got ruined by the show’s habits. It saves a few bucks by having its women characters say lines that could have been handed to anybody. It asks us to believe that nobody sees Larry and Balki interacting with each other. It promises a variety of ways that Balki and Larry could fuck up Balki’s campaign, and then doesn’t deliver on any of them.
And just as we pondered in “The Break Up”, was that actually the idea? That these two men will go to crazy lengths only to find that none of it went anywhere because none of it really mattered? (Is that the lesson waiting for me at the end of this blog?)
If that’s the case, the final scene sure doesn’t admit to it.
Back at the Caldwell, we find that—just as he wanted to claim a win for himself—Cousin Larry claims the loss.
Balki tells Larry that he’s taking the loss in stride, because Opponent told him after the “debate” that she liked the foreign language requirement and is “going to push for it”. What? After she saw that everybody hated it? Also, show, you can’t ignore how college curriculums work and then suddenly understand them at the last minute. Also, jeez, Balki was wrong to give promises in private to different interest groups, but it’s okay when she does it?
Before I give this episode one final “fuck you”, Larry starts crying about how he’s now lost 13 elections. Show of hands: how many of y’all had a student body president in 5th grade?
Fuck you, show.
Catchphrase count: Balki (2); Larry (0)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Appearances left: Gorpley (7); Lydia (7)
Cut for syndication: Tess spraypaints “Go back to Mypos” on prominent campus buildings
N.b. Over the credits, Rick Dees entices you to ignore your bedtime to watch The Wonder Years and Into the Night.
*Roger Morgan’s daughter, perhaps?