Season 6, Episode 23: Great Balls of Fire

Welcome back!

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We open at the Chicago Chronicle, where once again the Brinks armored truck drives by, and I’m struck by the sense of deja vu I had near the end of season 2, of avenues we’ll never explore, parts of the world cut off to us.

The Brinks truck, for instance. What a weird object! There must be some way to tackle this obstacle… ah, yes: the vehicles on this show have often served as symbols. They exist right outside the cousins’ world. At home, they signify the individual fame (Carl Lewis on the single-person bike) and mass marketability (the Vitner’s Snacks truck); here, we see a separation between the cousins’ workplace and financial viability. The astute reader will note that it never stops at the Chronicle, and that the armored door from the beginning of the season is no more. Larry’s Fortune, after all, nearly died in captivity; why lock up something that no one would steal?

The even more astute reader learned back in season 3 what great and utter bullshit all this symbolism talk is.

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We open in the basement, which is almost certainly right underneath the Burger King, to find that Balki has been keeping one of Larry’s Fortune’s horseappletons on the floor as a keepsake.

They’ve run out of money for music rights at this point in the season, there’s nothing for him to cook, and no one has said anything for him to misunderstand. Balki, desperate for some way to be annoying, jumps up on Larry’s desk and hovers like a gargoyle.

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Larry was typing away at an article on a tiny table*, strangely without any books around for research.  I wonder what he was working on?

We don’t find out.

Balki: If you were me, and you wanted to get you to do something that was really hard, long hours, and no pay… how you would get you to do it?

Larry: Depends on whether this is an even- or odd-numbered episode, Balki. The former, I’d misstate. The latter, I’d obfuscate.

Nah, j/k, Larry says he’s willing to listen to facts and statistics in order to make his decision, but makes it clear that his answer is going to be no in this particular instance. It’s a good tactic for Larry, though his style is a bit rude.

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Balki storms off, upset that Larry won’t even fight with him about—as he lets slip—being a volunteer fireman.  The show once again trots out one of its favorite dialogue structures: Larry keeps agreeing to it while Balki gripes about Larry saying no to it.

Balki says that Larry should feel, after six years of knowing fewer than a dozen people in Chicago, some commitment to the community. We’re led to assume this is Balki’s reason for volunteering.

Larry says RT (Red Truck) Wainwright wants a human interest story, but this reason isn’t good enough for Balki. I’ve had this happen to me before, where I was given an ultimatum and the giver was not prepared for both contingencies. But this is different: Balki is now actively protesting what he was obviously prepared to wheedle Larry about for days. And when Larry states his commitment to the community completely straight-faced, Balki starts crying. I sense something different, something deeper going on here. That’s right, y’all heard right, I done sniffed out one a’them

Psychology sidebars: Eric Berne’s Games People Play has come up a few times over the course of these 119 episodes, and so has the game called “Uproar”. Games are tactics people will use to get some social or personal benefit without putting the proper effort in. Uproar is the game where couples (or any two people) make up and escalate fights to avoid the intimacy they’re afraid of (or repulsed by); each gets to tell themselves their avoidance is justified because the other has acted so objectionably.

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What’s key here is that Larry has stopped playing. At least, I assume that Uproar is what’s going on. Otherwise, what kind of fucking joke is Balki crying supposed to be?

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Later, at the Noparking Community Fire Department, the audience cracks up at the promise that this episode will end with the cousins throwing a dead, burnt baby around while bouncing on a life net.

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Balki is so delighted by the fireman’s helmet that he makes the same face I did when I grabbed a cookie sheet right out of the oven and decided to keep going until I set it down on some other surface. On Mypos, he tells us, is very simple: they use watermelon rinds as fireman helmets.

Suddenly, Fire Chief Newton slides down the firepole and introduces himself to the cousins. Was he busy taking a shit? Can anyone just wander into the fire station and steal equipment?

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This is as good a time as any to tell you my theory about wacky characters: if you must position one as a main character, they work better when the world around them is slightly off as well. Someday I’d like to write about the Ernest films to unpack this a little more, but suffice it to say that there is a sharp tonal divide between the first four Ernest movies and the six that followed. In the earlier films, Ernest isn’t the only wacky guy. Chuck and Bobby are (almost) always there to illustrate that Ernest comes from an entire off-kilter stratum of the world; and much of the comedy revolves around Ernest trying to ascend from that layer of society to a more respectable one. He never does, and it’s his own cartoon world that becomes his refuge (Miak, f’rinstance). In the later movies, he’s no longer a representative of some strange subset of humanity.  Sure, in Ernest Goes to Africa he puts on brownface, and that was far past excusable by 1997; but that’s not as severe a breaking of that world as the fact that he had no excuse for being as cartoony as he was. He was a lone man constantly ignoring the rules of society, and that turned him into an annoying asshole. Conversely, in Ernest Goes to School, Ernest gets hit in the head with a fire extinguisher; that’s all well and good for Ernest, but what about the normal high school boy who threw it?

Balki is our only true window into Mypos, and even though he’s built a world through individual jokes about the island, his approach to situations borders on the assholish, or at least the very childish.  Here, though, it’s saved by Fire Chief Newton commenting that all new volunteers are into having a neat hat.  Suddenly—like when I found out that many guys my age start losing the hair on the back of their calves—Balki is a normal person again.

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But then Balki won’t give up the damn hat, so fucking nevermind my attempts to rehabilitate his image. God damn this place must be hard up for volunteers for this guy not to instantly throw him out.

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Larry, who has been writing articles for four (or three? who fucking cares) years now, thinks he’s going to do an unscheduled interview with a Fire Chief and whips out his notepad.  Balki then tries to do a bit where he messes up something that Fire Chief Newton said. FCN responds the way most people would if these two guys rolled up and started in on their respective bullshits:

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After years of doing the same thing every week, sometimes you want to refine your craft, try something different, break new ground. So it’s understandable that this far in, Bronson is finding new ways to overdo how dumb Balki is by acting like he was just hit in the head:

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Mr. Sam Scorchley shows the cousins all of the props they’ll use to add minutes to the episode, (fire) chief among them a prop from the old Batman show that they dug out of storage.

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Mr. Twinkasetonfire loads the cousins up with gear and refers to the hose as a “water delivery apparatus” which is by far the smartest writing this whole season. The pry bars—this week’s overt phallic symbol—prove too heavy for the cousins to pick up. Keep that in mind going forward.

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Because Balki seriously cannot stand to have any joke be funny on its own, and not about him, he now says that the outfit is exactly what he wore to his elementary school graduation. It’s been since I was in middle school that I’ve heard anyone that unable to be funny that they’ll just say “yeah, uh, me too” when someone else cracks a joke. I look forward to season 7, where I’m sure we’ll get some form of similar revelations:

Destitute naked man wearing a barrel with straps – Myposian lingerie

Pagliacci costume – Myposian prom dress

Hollywood Blvd Uncle Fester impersonator – Myposian social worker

Plague doctor outfit – Myposian pop star

Hazmat suit – Myposian cassock

FC Flamewright demands the cousins run up and down a “flight” of stairs, ignoring their requests to practice with a piano.

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Back at the Scaldwell Hotel, Balki makes a joke about something that Fire Chief Newton would never have said.

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Larry, succumbing finally to equine lung disease, lies prone on the couch they’ve always had; prone, as ever, to failure, and now choosing it before it finds him.  Balki asks “what about your commitment to the community?”

Larry calmly, pronely, explains that he is doing his community a greater good by expediting the quasi-evolutionary process whereby only those suited to firefighting remain in those positions. After all, he asks, would Balki put his life in Larry’s hands? If the Chicago Chronicle ever, oh, idunno, blew up or something, would Balki trust Larry to save the lives of that maybe-Latino woman, or Walt?

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Oh, wait, no, Larry says he’ll write about something else and Balki yanks Larry’s hair because he lied. Balki says that he’s going to keep volunteering so he can try to sneak his penis into the hat when Fire Chief Newton isn’t looking.

Balki goes off to the bedroom because some other reason for Larry to break that big red machine is about to show up, and if Balki knew about it right that minute it would mess up the rest of the episode.

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Jennifer comes by to confirm the rumors floating all around O’Hare International Airport that Larry has become a volunteer fireman.  Larry says he was going to tell her during their scheduled phone call three months from then, but Jennifer is too excited to wait for that.

Jennifer’s obviously embarrassed about what’s on her mind, and Larry assures her that they’re on at 9:30 now, everyone at home has switched over to NBC to see if there was a new Wings episode that night, she could say whatever she needed to.

For some goddam reason, Jennifer forgets that the most Larry and Balki are ever separated is when they’re in different sections of a revolving door and launches right into talking about how often she drenches her bedsheets fantasizing about firemen.

The fantasy involves being saved by an axe-wielding fireman who then sets her down beside a firetruck, where “the rungs of his ladder pressing against my back” bring her to orgasm. I’d go into lengthy description of what all those symbols might mean, but let’s cut to the chase: girl has only the vaguest notion of what a penis is or how it’s connected to a person.

This being the first time since Mrs. Bailey stole his springform that Cousin Larry has gotten anything close to an erection in Jennifer’s presence and he begs her go on.

Jennifer says that up until just then, the fireman had always been faceless (jesus, she dreams in “—“!); and, as luck would have it, that describes Larry perfectly, so it’s all coming together for her.

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Jennifer lunges with her rubbin’ perfect body, but before Larry can uncoil his delivery apparatus, she has a short, quiet orgasm and leaves.**

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They did it! They put some effort into giving Jennifer a personality and it led to an organic way for her to leave a scene after one minute!

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Balki comes back out with a list of firefighting “prose and cons” for Larry***, and after Bronson remembers the second part of his line, Larry agrees to return. There’s no building comedy on how Balki once again didn’t get the argument he wanted, not even a joke to close out the scene.

Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back so you can see how the cousins add minutes to this episode.

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Two days later, Larry’s used to more liberally-greased poles and takes forever to slide down.

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Jesus, look at this, Balki no longer understands physical space or the relative permanence of solid objects.  What the hell is going to be left for him to misunderstand in the next two seasons?

Before Fire Chief Newton can tell Balki to shut up about the fucking hat again, an alarm goes off.

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Fire Chief Newton has to physically pull Balki off the truck as Balki shouts about how badly he wants to ride. But the remarkably self-aware “it’s been my dream since yesterday” can’t hide the fact that this show wants to have things both ways.  It wants to maintain Balki as the self-righteous corrective to Larry’s self-centered schemes and as a eternally-youthful free spirit. I’d call it a double standard if it weren’t for how utterly evil Larry’s plan—to put in physical effort and time that might save actual human lives and property—is.

Instead of sticking around for what would have been a perfect teachable moment, Fire Chief Newton and the only three firefighters in the city leave.

Larry leaves to make coffee in the next room, and then Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) show up.

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Larry doesn’t even make it over to the coffee pot before seeing them, and runs off to put on his gear. He starts making fire-related sex puns (“towering inferno”, etc.), which saves me a lot of work this week.

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You know, I give Melanie Wilson a lot of shit, but really it comes down to what the writers actually let her do.  Here, we see them playing to her natural talent of standing slack-jawed and silent.

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Even though we’ve watched Balki ignore every other command from Fire Chief Newton, he’s following his most recent one—“sit”—assiduously. (Ass-sit-uously! Get it? Do you get it?)

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Jennifer’s sprinklers have come on, and after readying his battering ram, Larry recites the Postal Service motto, promising swift completion. I was going to rip on the show for portraying hyper-sexuality as kissing someone for longer than a millisecond, but that actually fits for Jennifer. I shouldn’t complain; it’s really nice that the show took some time to establish physical attraction between these people three episodes before they get married.

Since I have some extra time not making sex jokes out of jargon, let’s talk about bad grammar for a minute.

Larry: [The fire pole] may look deceptively simple, but….

But what? It’s not deceptive at all and is actually simple? I make a point of never, ever letting my own pet peeves about anything come up on this blog, but I decided to make an exception just this once. Larry, knowing that Jennifer’s into inert columns of metal, brags that he now can offer her the biggest one in the city.

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The episode spends an inordinate amount of time on the fire pole, and then the women leave. On their way out, Mary Anne remarks on Larry’s abnormal head shape and Jennifer ponders the impending ruination of her vagina.

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Larry boasts to Balki about how he’s going to be Jennifer’s pipeman (how he’s going to use his redline, that he’s not afraid of a backdraft, maybe it’ll escalate to a three-decker, if nothing else he’ll save her basement, sorry, I couldn’t help myself). and Balki comments that it smells like smoke.  Oh no! The director forgot to let Larry get all the way over to the coffee machine to turn it on, meaning it’s been on for too long now!

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Oh no! A normal, everyday kind of household mishap that at least one of these men must have encountered before, and right next to a sink!

The cousins, positioned here equidistant from both a water cooler and a fire extinguisher, are nearly faced with a Buridan’s ass-type dilemma. Larry makes sure this isn’t a burning-bush scenario.

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They decide that, since nothing’s on fire yet, they’ll add minutes in the other room. Larry dials 911 and–

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Balki, buddy, careful with the set—and Balki answers the other phone, so maybe it wasn’t 911 after all the show wants us to ignore the rest of the city once again.

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Larry grabs a water delivery apparatus and runs back to the coffee pot, which is now putting out less smoke. When the cousins realize they’re both holding the end of a limp hose, Balki puts the tips together, which really sets me up nicely for some symbolism analysis in a minute here.

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The rest of the sequence is the cousins repeatedly thinking they’ve put out the fire to find that it’s grown in size (rinse and reheat, as Balki might say). On paper, it sounds like the scene would work in much the same way as season 3’s “Pipe Dreams”. To revisit the discussion from there briefly, these man-against-appliances bits follow this escalation: something breaks or poses an obstacle, but when the hapless hero figures out a rule and fixes it, the rules change; and they keep changing no matter what the guy does.

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But with water pipes, even if it’s any sort of simplification, they’re all connected somehow, somewhere. It’s easy for the viewer to understand the physics at play: that the water has such force it will come out however it can. Unfortunately fire doesn’t work that way; it’s not waiting on the other side of reality looking for ways to break through. It simply doesn’t get so hot inside a cabinet that it would combust, and fire can’t magically leap through solid matter like so many (fire chief) neutrinos.

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It’s a good thing that anytime something doesn’t make real-world sense on this show I can be a clever asshole and say “it’s symbolic”, because otherwise I’d just spend my time describing the taste of my tears.

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Season 6 has been a succession of Balki’s attempts to trap Cousin Larry in the life they’ve been living for the past six (or five? who fucking cares) years, luring him into rabbit snares, magician’s boxes, or the dim, locked room of his own mind. Despite hating every decision Larry makes, Balki refuses to not accompany him; ultimately rejecting singleness in any professional, social, religious, or political endeavor he might try out.

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Balki’s repeated complaint—that Larry’s reasons are not good enough—rings hollow here, and for good reason: it’s Larry’s reasons for leaving their union that Balki cannot accept. Seeing the small fire of Larry’s love affection relationship lines of dialogue alternating with Jennifer’s in the script more often, he’s tried now to pull Larry back into the world of men, the world of the physically heroic, of poles and hoses, of seeing their colleagues pose half-nude for a fundraising calendar.

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But quashing it there caused fire to erupt even stronger in Jennifer’s vagina. After that point, the symbolism began to escalate. Hose ends touching to a household fire extinguisher to, finally, giant novelty glandes penis spewing jizz.

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Look, you might be tired of the gay jokes at this point in the blog, and maybe even the tongue-in-cheek analysis, but Balki’s spraying directly onto Larry’s back, so what the hell else can I do?

Larry calmy, conely, returns Balki’s gesture, subtly letting him know that their love will—as it always has, as it always must—stay at the symbolic level.

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Anyway, these flamers stand something like 20 feet away from the fire until the scene ends.

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While Larry and Balki slip into reverie about how the firemen will come back and be so proud that they’ll give them honest, callused handjobs, here’s something that sitcoms do every once in a while that bugs me.  It’s common knowledge that ABC sitcoms were filmed in front of studio audiences, yeah? So when they don’t laugh until the camera pans out for the home audience, it makes me think about them instead of the story. Did they politely wait to hoot and holler until they knew I could see the reveal?

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Actually, the more I think about it, the more the possibility suggests itself that the majority of this episode may not have been filmed in front of an audience.  There’s a giant divider in the middle of what appears to be a larger set than the apartment or the Chronicle basement, and I can think of reasons why they might not have wanted to mess around with fire in the regular studio (for instance, fire burns things). Point is if you want me to believe that there’s a live audience, don’t make me think about them.

Anyway, two days later, Mary Anne consoles Balki for being thrown out of the volunteer program. Balki won’t shut the fuck up about the hat.

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I guess Larry is holding the newspaper to indicate that he did manage to get an article out of the experience because this audience wouldn’t remember what his job is otherwise.

These four decide to continue the fun they sure do have when they get together at a restaurant. Even though I’m supposed to assume that every time they go out to eat, Balki pulls some dumb shit, and Larry apologizes for him constantly and makes things worse, Larry picks that very moment to whip out a fucking fireman’s hat he missed a payment on his $140,000 house to buy from Fire Chief Newton.

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Join me next week for “See You in September”!

__________________________________________________

Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (1)

Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (2); Jennifer (2)****

Cut for syndication: Tess sneaks into the Chronicle building and introduces numerous spelling errors into the typesetting for Larry’s article

*Look what technological advances the 90s brought to the movable typewriter field! And if you don’t get that callback, hey, fuck you!

**This being the best shot we’ve ever gotten of Jennifer’s butt, and given that many of you have also read Full House Reviewed, you may have some expectations for me to engage in some comparative criticism here in regards to Lori Loughlin. Unfortunately, Jennifer barely appears to have a butt, so it’s a moot topic. Seriously, more jeans than butt there.

***I forget how much fun these callback jokes can be, I should do more of these!

****I usually refer to these as “coners”, but that would needlessly complicate the cone symbols

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