Bad news, everyone. This post is going to be relatively short, so you’ll actually have to put in close to a full eight hours of work today. Or, hey, maybe it’s a good thing that Perfect Strangers seems to have had a net negative impact on its actors’ careers, because knowing you, you probably took the whole day off and I’m cutting into your LEGO Disney Pixar The Incredibles gaming time.
So let me just clear my throat–
–and we’ll get started.
Actually, lest I make it look like she was just living a life of leisure thanks to those royalty checks from Opposites Attract, let me put Rebeca’s Circus of the Stars appearance from November 1990 here.
That’s it, though. I really can’t make myself care about that show any more than I did before. I was nearly six years old when that year’s Circus of the Stars aired, and I honestly have no memory even of advertisements for it. I don’t think I would have even been up that late to see it. The range of stuff I watched back then was–as I’m sure yours was–pretty damn narrow. It was mostly cartoons, many of them on commercial VHS, stuff like Little Golden Books tapes, or See & Learn.
We had a fixed antenna, meaning we got the about six stations out of Atlanta; I mostly watched Saturday morning cartoons like The Real Ghostbusters, Police Academy, or Beetlejuice. For prime time, I know I watched TGIF, and The Wonder Years, and…
…and the fuck’s that got to do with anything, you’re probably asking. As we’re quickly approaching the end of this blog, I should circle back to my original stated reasons for this blog. Lest you think this whole endeavor is some unquestionably altruistic act (thanks for the compliment, though), let me re-establish that Perfect Strangers Reviewed is as much for me as it is for you. It’s been salutary for me to do research on my own past and figure out what made me the way I am; this blog is an outgrowth of that larger conversation between me and my past. I can’t fault you if you’re not interested in the rest of it, but give me a break, because this time around, even
Give him a break, too, though. He’s licking his wounds after Second Sight and Jury Duty. He’ll be back soon to amaze us all with his immense (and growing!) comedic talents in Blame it On the Bellboy (and I’ll be ready with some Quadrophenia references)!
Ol’ Rooster Teeth was in the film Guilty by Suspicion playing an advertising agency executive. The role called for someone who was old, wore clothes, and could talk. The film itself is essentially Woody Allen’s The Front without the jokes; Robert De Niro plays a director who–because of his willingness to stand up to McCarthyism, the bravery we all like to believe we would have had in the face of slavery, Nazism, Civil Rights, or the decision to make a second Flintstones movie–gets blackballed by the House Un-American Activities Committee unless he turns in his friends for attending Communist Party meetings, meaning…
….yeah, it’s boring. Gailard Sartain was in Guilty by Suspicion, though, and my reason for mentioning that will be clear in about 8 months.
In addition to another episode of Uncle Buck that I can’t find (man, you’d think after six months, someone would have uploaded it), Sam was on a show called Married People. The show was about multigenerational swingers or something and I don’t know any of the actors in it so who cares.
Sam also was on three episodes of L.A. Law as D.D.A (Disk Drive Assembly) Graphia.
Anyway, Sam was the deputy district attorney and, as such, ended up playing the hardass foil to the L.A. Law Buddies (I swear that’s what they call themselves, like, 10 times per episode).
As you may have been expecting, Sam was also on a couple of episodes of Growing Pains, and it pains me to see his role growing there HAR HAR HAR and not on Perfect Strangers. It’s interesting to me to have dipped into a different sitcom that virtually kept pace with mine for most of its run. Species falling generally within the Poaceae family may tend to appear a more verdant hue when considered across great distances–and I suspect that this has a lot to do with Rayleigh scattering–but I can’t help but notice the things I notice because of my current set of thought predispositions. I’ll get into this further in two weeks, but one thing I’ve noticed about sitcoms getting long in the tooth is that they have, after five or six years, chipped away everything that isn’t the angel, leaving you with the one-dimensional characters that the audience has come to expect.
So in that sense it’s interesting to me that both of the episodes of Growing Pains I watched were a head-on approach to addressing Ben Seaver being written as a “dumb” character. I’m assuming that this was some long-standing characterization of the character, anyway. And Ben’s academic life lead, naturally, to Principal Willis DeWitt having something to say on the matter. In one episode (“Homeschooling”), it’s “Ben has been skipping class for three months”:
And in the other (these episodes were in two different seasons), his part is to be surprised that Ben wants to apply for an advanced placement program. And even if DeWitt were limited to just one scene in each episode to establish only what I’ve told you, that’s far and away better than having him show up at the end of “Duck Soup” to say “Hey, I heard that episode just happened”. But what’s more, his lines are (relatively) loaded with jokes. Many of them are along the lines of getting to laugh at the miserable life of someone who is remotely “mean” to the main characters (isn’t it hilarious when a man in his 40s has failed so hard at humanity that a woman no longer wants to share a last name with him?), but that’s more than we’ve gotten out of Gorpley in a couple of seasons now. But what’s more is that he shows up later on in each of these episodes to make the Parent Seavers (I swear that’s how everyone refers to them in the episodes) to make them question their actions and move the plot towards conclusion. I’d argue Willis DeWitt specifically wasn’t crucial to make this happen in either case–it could as easily have been Parent talking to Parent about his/her choices–but in the second of these episodes (“B=MC2”), his bright yellow cycling outfit more than make up for any plot questions.
I’m going to guess that Kirk Cameron’s character had increasingly less reason to show up every week after season 5 or so (it’s obvious he’s no longer living at home in these episodes), but he’s there, he gets good lines, and they even continue his and DeWitt’s antagonistic relationship. I don’t think I’ll have a reason to watch Growing Pains after this blog is finished, so now’s as good a time as any to say I’m also jealous it has a better theme song.
Hey, look! It’s Fido Dido! Remember Fido Dido?
Look, I’ve established by now we’re all exactly the same as me, I especially so; so you do remember Fido Dido on 7 Up commercials, or maybe on somebody’s T-shirt somewhere. But outside of sampling that pellucid ambrosia, can you tell me anything that Fido Dido did?
For that matter, can you tell me anything the Burger King Kids Club kids did? I’m not going to dip into any psychological terminology or developmental guidelines this week, as some of this feels self-evident, but I think it’s safe to say that one-dimensional characterization is some sort of baseline for children’s properties. Fido Dido, to me, was some version of beach “hip” (and with an adult’s eyes, he appears to be emblematic of self-absorption, fashion as personal statement, I’m getting way off track now). I didn’t get to watch The Simpsons in its first few years, but I knew exactly who Bart and Homer were. Whenever I look at the “family portrait” image that was ubiquitous then–
–I still see potential, because there was an attitude, a sensibility there in that structure of personalities. (And saying that, I realize that the disappointment inherent in a review blog of this sort is the near-complete removal of those feelings of possibility.) But the point I’m getting at here is that it didn’t take much for Casey the Kid to accept a character as a character. When my brother was four or so, I drew him a picture of Dora the Explorer; he asked me to “make it move” and I finally realized he made no distinction between paper and screen. Dora was Dora was Dora. Or to put it another way: remember how Season 1 Balki had no frame of reference for placing pop culture into any sort of quality hierarchy, and embraced it all as Americana?
Belita Moreno appeared briefly–it’s always too briefly when it comes to these actors–in a made-for-TV movie called Crazy From the Heart. CFtH, as it’s referred to in numerous internet forums, starred Rubén Blades, and if that’s a cool enough name to make you want to know more about him, listen to his music instead of watching this movie. I promise that’s more worth your while than watching a woman (played by Christine Lahti) risk her social and professional ties for love for the 10,000th time. Belita plays a Texan, and believably; her character is upset about something that happens. I wish I could tell you any more about Belita’s role without having to bother with the movie’s boring-ass plot, but I can’t.
Crazy From the Heart aired on TNT, but hell, we didn’t even get Fox back in 1991. So there’s one quarter of Saturday morning cartoons I didn’t even learn about until I was a teenager (I almost missed out entirely on Animaniacs but didn’t care for its brand of rights-holder-sanctioned “subversion” anyway, so). But that’s maybe beside the point, because we’re talking Summer 1991, between Kindergarten and first grade for me. I was only child, we lived far enough off the road I had no kid neighbors, and most likely I was watching a shit-ton of PBS that summer.
We all watched Reading Rainbow and we all watched Sesame Street and we all watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and my what cherished shows those were and goodness how they gave us a love of reading and learning and loving each other and yeah, and? I say this at the risk of being legitimately exclusionary, but I feel like those three shows are as close to a baseline of early TV exposure for a large segment of my general demographic as you can get, so we really have to move past those for me to tell you how I spent my summer vacation.
Maybe it’s easier to give you a list?
Zoobilee Zoo, The Secret City Adventures, Shining Time Station, Square One Television, 3-2-1 Contact—
–and now I have to stop the list because it’s too impermeable to capture what may very well have been some sort of inborn preferences on my part. I only watched Shining Time Station for the Jukebox Band; I’d watch the opening of Mystery! and change the channel once the program started. I never watched 3-2-1 Contact. I watched the intro, sure, because that’s some solid music and graphic design on those logos.
Almost everything else in that intro makes me lose interest instantly (I’ll admit the skeleton on the bike seemed pretty cool), and I think that’s because it’s real world stuff. I could never get into any explicitly educational children’s programming, and that fed into a larger disinterest throughout my childhood for that strain of educational product. Something about the marketing turned me completely off, and I’m trying to put into words here why that was. I can’t come up with any specific complaint, though, other than perhaps that it was all so dry without, say, the personality of a Fred Rogers or a Grover to stand in your place and ask questions, or that it was all so bland, made, I could only assume then, by people who had academic passion but no sense of artful presentation, or assume now, that they were products signed off on by executives with neither. There are examples of both, I’m sure, and maybe it’s more meaningful to say that I could tell who thought like me and who didn’t. I loved Beakman’s World and I hated Bill Nye the Science Guy. The part of my brain that contains politeness theory is centimeters away from all the boogers I currently own, so let’s not pretend that’s not ridiculous. The parts of my brain that can understand science and art and music and language and comedy are functionally even closer, and why not use them together?
All that to say Square One Television was probably the best television synthesis of those five things that a kid graduating from Sesame Street had access to in 1991, and god damn was I excited any time I got to watch it. Square One utilized spoofs of cultural touchstones like gameshows, Dudley Do-Right, talkshows, Dragnet, and videogames to teach mathematics concepts; not only was it one of my first introductions to subversion*, it was likely the very first time I saw “Weird Al” Yankovic.
1991 also gave us the premieres of both Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? as well as all the Nicktoons shows**, but first grade was basically starting for me at that point. I’ll have more reason to talk about some of that in a future post, and anyway I’m an adult now and I know about sex and I can watch sex and I’ve even had sex so let’s talk about Cousin Larry putting his penis inside people.
At this point, we know that Mark spent his summers doing theater in New York, so really it’s almost surprising to see him in something else at all.
Going to the Chapel was the worst wedding movie I’ve seen, Me & Him was the worst talking penis movie I’ve ever seen, and Bare Essentials (Tuesday, January 8, CBS) is the worst “take stock of your life while getting laid a lot on a beach” movie I’ve ever seen. But yawny movies and Mark Linn-Baker complemented each others’ supply and demand, so here we are once again.
Mark plays some guy named Gordon who, I dunno, does business so much that he can’t relax long enough to pour the coals to his fiancée Sydney (Lisa Hartman) as often as she’d like. They go on an island vacation, their sailboat gets knocked off course, and they’re soon stranded on an island where Bill (Gregory Harrison) has been living, Swiss Family Robinson-style.
Gordon unsuccessfully tries to enlist Bill in building a raft to get back to the other island–are you bored yet?–and throws out his back chopping trees. While he’s out of commission, Sydney discovers that Bill is more laid-back than Gordon. You’d think that with all that cleavage on the cover of the VHS box that there’d be some heavy fucking, or at least a minute or two of Gordon being forced to slow down and enjoy life, but a full 50 minutes go by with neither.
Finally, like an hour in, Tarita (Third Actor I Didn’t Know), Bill’s girlfriend, shows up, and then the four of them spend 6 full minutes on a game of Monopoly so the remainder of the kids watching would fall asleep.
Then the characters finally have sex.
It causes conflict, and it’s quickly resolved, and if there were anything else of note to say about this, I would have. The only reason I spent this much time on Bare Essentials at all is because I want you to experience a fraction of the boredom involved in watching it. I mean, unless the entirety of pornography on the internet isn’t enough for you, and you specifically need to see more of Charlotte Lewis’s skin than I thought they’d show on network TV; or unless you’re a hardcore Mark-Linn Baker fan; I can’t see any reason for anyone to watch this movie ever again.
I thought I believed in full preservation of the entirety of American pop culture; but now I’ve watched Bare Essentials.
Oh, also Mark directed an episode of Family Man, which thankfully I can’t watch.
Join me next week for another reportage post!
Patrika Darbo count: 0
*along with MAD Magazine, You Can’t Do That On Television, and the 1991 series of Topps Wacky Packages stickers
**all the ones that matter, anyway
Susan Campbell, RN
I don’t care what Bill Maher has to do with it.
Come home, Susan. Please.