Between seasons 5 and 6 I spent 10,000 words telling you about how little Perfect Strangers merchandise there was in relation to that of sister properties Full House and Family Matters. I promised a post talking about the trading card series, and this is that post. I said; now I’m doing. (I showed you my virtue please comment.)
I grew up a collector, and much like mathematics, the question of whether this was invented or discovered will never truly be settled. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say I was spoiled in this direction; but to guess at a full list of potential parent-funded spoiling directions is impossible. My dad wanted me to be a car and motorcycle nut, and I can at least say that never took root.
I had a lot of trading cards as a kid, right? Probably the earliest ones I owned were the four Tang Trio (I know, I know) cards that came with the PVC figurines in Hardee’s kids meals in 1989.
But the earliest cards I remember opening packs of were the 1990 Topps The Simpsons set. I wasn’t able to watch The Simpsons yet then, but I was fascinated all the same.
I have vivid memories of getting 1991 Topps Wacky Packages stickers (I might have mentioned these two or three hundred times on this blog) at the Drug World pharmacy at 1201 Turner McCall Boulevard in Rome, GA. They were the wildest fucking things I had ever seen.
I was aware of other trading card brands, but Topps consistently managed to catch my eye in the grocery store. With a history as long as theirs, they had the star power to consistently get the licensing for blockbuster movies and television shows. And from 1983 up until 1992 or so, Topps had a great team of artists and writers, and a consistent aesthetic and sense of humor in their novelty cards (and candy) thanks to art director Mark Newgarden. Garbage Pail Kids, Toxic High School, maybe even the art on the ALF Bouillabaseball cards would not exist if not for Newgarden.
I’m obviously not here to go on at length about Topps, I just want to show you what was the gold standard when it came to non-sports cards around this time. Other baseball card companies would throw their hats into the humor ring occasionally, but their offerings were generally so few or so inferior that to call them any of them second to Topps would be too generous by far (seen below, Pacific’s Rad-Dudes from 1990).
Was there something special about 1991? Maybe. I think it was the point were Topps began their switch from cardboard to cardstock, and from wax paper to plastic for the wrappers. It was also when they started getting some heavy competition from Impel, who were landing major licensing deals left and right: Star Trek, Mickey Mouse, G.I. Joe, Terminator II, Marvel and DC. They’d soon switch their name to Skybox (and even later to Inkworks) and release two series of Simpsons cards, which I believe were the last perfect trading card sets.
I’ve been wanting for a couple of years now to write a series on the worst trading card series I’ve ever seen, because what’s the use in being a fan if you don’t gatekeep?
Impel’s 1991 LAFFS™ series is definitely on the list. Fuck, any series with Bob Saget as card #1 would make the list.
Bad trading cards are bad in a variety of ways, and I’ve been slowly putting together some considerations for “good” and “bad” when it comes to trading cards. Here’s my rough draft at the moment:
1. Would I have asked my parents to buy them?
2. Are the images fun to look at?
3. Is this the only way to get these images?
4. Is this the best format for these images?
5. Is there added value on the reverse of the cards, such as text, comics, puzzles, flipbook-style animations, etc.?
6. If there are “chase” (forced rarity) cards, are they worth chasing? Can I get them all with just two or three boxes’ worth?
7. Are images reused?
8. Was creative effort put into the series?
9. Would I want to keep the wrapper?
10. Who, if anyone, was the audience for the series?
Another thing I’m not sure of is how much writing I could actually squeeze out of a post about bad trading cards. Because for LAFFS™, I could just say No, No, Yes (then), No, Kind of, N/A, No, Not really, Fuck No, and Fuck If I Know.
LAFF™ing yet? Yeah. Sometimes brain cells fuck up and cause cancer, and sometimes they make people buy Impel LAFFS™ trading cards off eBay; perhaps I can cure one of these by digitizing all of the cards in this set. (Show this post to a cancer patient and let me know what happens, would you?)
Let’s look at the box first:
The bright yellow would certainly have stood out on the shelves, but if the bored teenager putting these out didn’t want to punch out the box top along the perforation and carefully fold it to achieve the suggested display aesthetic, and instead ripped it off, showing only the packs, you’ve lost the portion of kids who can’t read:
I would have guessed that Urkel trading cards in 1991 would be the equivalent of printing money. They couldn’t slap his face on the wrapper?
Speaking of faces you’d want to slap, here’s Uncle Joey.
I guess this information is illuminating. I’ll watch an episode of Full House if you trick me into it, but I have as much interest in reading Dave Coulier’s Wikipedia page as I do in eating my own earwax. So I would otherwise never have known that there was a hockey episode of Full House solely because Dave got them a good deal filming at his regular rink.
John Stamos gets two cards in a row for himself and for Jesse. Uncle Vanity Plate probably paid Impel just so he could have his own trading cards in addition to his own doll and his own Beach Boys. Also, “hair combs”? Have clemency!
Rad was one of those films that existed just to cash in on interest in BMX bikes, but Lori Loughlin was super-cute in 1986 and Sam Walton flips people off a few times and… actually, you know what, just watch this “dance” scene from it:
Hey, maybe 1991 was special, because it was the last year Candace Cameron’s acting talents were “in demand”.
Please do tell me about the times when it’s easy to have a dead mom!
Ahh, there’s the Hogan’s Family connection we were missing. And there’s the backstory we all never knew we needed about Jodie playing Bug’s Bunny’s Rectal Blowout on NES in that Warner Bros. catalog.
Huh. Kids go to school, and babies are younger than adults and older kids. Educational!
Did you know their mom died?
Did you know their mom died?
Crimes and Michelle’s Demeanor: Joey is hired to make a documentary of Jesse’s life and work, and Michelle hires a hitman to kill her Kindergarten rival for milk monitor. The murder is pinned on a drifter.
Working Girl: Kimmy Gibbler pimps D.J. out to Bay Area Raggedy Ann fetishists.
Why does each card have the LAFFS™ logo? Is this the equivalent of a laugh track?
“One Last Kiss”: Jesse finds out from an old lover that he has syphilis, and has to hide the fact that he transmitted it to Comet before Comet’s birthday party.
Why does it look like Poopy Smurf wiped his ass on every other card?
A lot of the boys in the crew love leather.
Did you know their mom died?
I’ve always felt that the grammar rule of placing possessives before gerunds failed to understand the shades of meaning it prohibited.
They couldn’t get the rights to put Frankie and Annette on trading cards.
Okay, this is the first card in the whole set that I actually enjoy owning. Now I want a set of all the worst moments from Full House.
“Wild idea”? Does this writer know how grief works?
It’s well-established now that Jaleel White will likely no longer brag about sharing a Pudding Pop with Bill Cosby, but why is there no information online about what commercial he was in when he 3 years old?
I started wearing suspenders when I was on peritoneal dialysis because a belt would have been right where the catheter came out of my gut. In one of the libraries where I worked, the director floated the idea of having the librarians wear polo shirts to identify us to the students, and I told her that the only guy I ever knew of to wear one with suspenders was Urkel.
“Real soon” turned out to be 25 years.
Jaimee Foxworth, I think, was in the same position as Melanie Wilson: it’s impossible to know whether she was a good actress because a focus on the “star” of the show raised the bar for being noticeable with what little material the writers would throw you.
Man, I still can’t get over Jo Marie keeping in touch with crew members. She’s an amazing woman.
Mother Winslow got so much dick on Family Matters.
Yeah, right after he got Leroy’s off the ground by burning it down!
I watched this whole show a little over a year ago and I can’t remember anything about Little Richie except he danced a few times and made friends with 3J.
“You’d think their marriage was doomed with nothing but constant stress. They both manage to stay very happy because that’s what the script says.”
Can you tell Urkel was not in this promotional image originally?
I’m so glad Perfect Strangers would never stoop to having Balki wear a dress instead of paying an actress for a new role. Ha.
Ha ha ha. Ha.
“The Good, The Bad & The Urkel”: Ah, yes, I do remember fondly the scene where “All the other Winslow family members appear”.
Up until this point, I was going to credit the set for 1) giving you promotional stills from these shows that you really couldn’t get anywhere else, for episodes that you had no guarantee of ever getting to see again, and 2) offering you the actors’ CVs years before someone thought of adding such information to their webpage full of actresses they liked to jerk it to. But was there not a photograph of the casino scene? They’re also getting a little loose with their descriptions, too, because the “Urkel Touch” was about how Urkel would Touch Laura while she was sleeping.
Half these cards for Family Matters basically tell you “The Winslows exist… and URKEL”. This show had five Christmas episodes per season, so I can’t remember if this was the one where Urkel broke a priceless red ornament or a priceless green ornament.
“Torn Between Two Lovers”: Carl and Little Richie vie for the affections of the Vice Squad’s new undercover prostitute.
Once Steve become a common fixture, many of the physical comedy setpieces could have been Balki and Larry doing them for all that they mattered to the story. How the fuck does Family Matters get better use of Balki-style prank props than fucking “Duck Soup”?
Jeez, both of these shows did a “kid drives car into house” story within months of each other?
Why didn’t he just “Urkel Touch” the bully?
Seriously, there was a scene where Steve finds Laura asleep, and talks out loud about how he’s going to kiss her. He doesn’t do it but still.
No fucking “Do the Urkel” cards? The fuck? I don’t care about Eddie hearing the story of Harriette’s episiotomy and how she’d have weaker orgasms for the rest of her life, lemme see that Urkel dance!
You might have seen Bronson in movies. You might have seen Bronson on TV. Hell, you might have seen him in your nightmares. I can’t speak for you, really.
The silent story Mark Linn-Baker is acting out here is that he is wearing a purple plaid shirt and coming as close to smiling without actually doing so.
Here I’ve been telling myself there were no good jokes left to tell about Perfect Strangers, and this card comes along and hands me “American stream”. Now there are no good jokes left.
“Larry rarely gets very mad at his funny cousin”. Okay.
No. No. No! No child of trading card age in 1991 watched Simon & Simon. I also take serious issue with this card’s endorsement of a Lamarckian view of evolution.
What kind of information were they handing this copywriter? It sure doesn’t match up with the show. Larry not taking any guff, and now he likes Jennifer because she’s “beautiful and sensible”? Ha! Any fan knows that Larry likes Jennifer because she… well you see in the episode where… Larry has always said that… it was something about nail polish. Balki likes Mary Anne (Sagittarius) because she’s the other one.
So I ended up with plenty of shitty trading cards across the course of my youth, some of them by my own misguided choice, and some that the comic shop owner* threw in for free with every purchase. There were plenty of trading cards even then that virtually no kid would have had a remote interest in, including I Love Lucy and The Andy Griffith Show sets also released in 1991. There are plenty of series that I feel had absolutely no reason to exist at all, like McDonaldland 500 and Where’s Waldo?, but usually any given trading card belongs in its set. Whether or not you think a Perfect Strangers card set was welcomed by any share of the market, there was no reason outside of everyone-gets-a-trophy-style thinking for Sam Gorpley–Sam Gorpley the adulterer, Sam Gorpley the guy who hates Christmas, disgruntled, Sam Gorpley who is second-most likely to blow up the Chronicle–to get his own trading card.
Think about this: we’re dealing with characters across a season’s worth of three sitcoms. Sam Anderson was in only 6 of those episodes. The chance that any child got this card and didn’t automatically assume it actually came from another Impel set (“Perkins Day Shift Manager All Stars 1991”) was next to zero.
Oh, shit, I need to go back and edit my review for this episode, somehow I thought the Bulls were a basketball team.
Topps owned the licensing for both Margaret Thatcher’s name and image back then. Also, even if you hadn’t seen this episode, would that summary make any sense? Is Larry afraid of the big-wig?
“A Horse is a Horse”: A misremembered Myposian ritual turns Larry into a horse and Balki ponders whether he can still be the top without getting kicked.
Topps writers added value to their TV card series with word balloons featuring jokey dialogue that wasn’t actually in the show itself. Impel hired a guy who wrote up these card backs while he was grunting out some toughies on the can. It’s impossible to rate these cards outside of the context of their competition. Topps writers would have had a field day with these.
“Out of Sync”: Balki and Larry travel to rooftops all around Chicago to rap about not committing suicide.
The fuck? The fuck? What?
Like I said, it’s been a long time now since I watched Family Matters and Full House, but at least those cards’ synopses sounded like what I remember happening.
Even the blind chicken finds a kernel of corn sometimes, and this Impel writer has bungled his way into improving both “Climb Every Billboard” and “Good Skates”.
Balki: Larry, I think those mobsters are upset with us.
Larry: Why would they be upset with us? We’re Larry and Balki.
Mobsters: Larry, Balki, we are upset with you.
Larry: Zoinks! *bongo running-in-place sound effect*
“The dream works”? What? I don’t
“Safe at Home”: Larry gets to fourth base with Jennifer and Mary Anne, protected by the makeshift condom he makes from the plastic bag his new chair was shipped in.
Okay, this and the Gorpley card. No fucking reason to exist. The kid holding this card has already decided that the act of purchasing it has proven their parent to be an unreliable caregiver, and thus will not bother to ask about the Honeymooners.
“See How They Run”: The Cousins enter the high-stakes world of midget-racing and disagree over which performance-enhancing drugs to give them.
“The Sunshine Boys”: Jennifer and Mary Anne help the Cousins try to impress Larry’s high school friend who always brags about how much he gets jizzed on.
Cut for syndication: an actual image of Tess
That’s not popcorn, those are fried dugong duodena.
Lots of trading card collectors are into rare pieces, and mint examples of cards of any rarity**, so the rarest, most valuable card of all time would have to be a LAFFS™ checklist that someone actually used.
I don’t have any particular rating system in mind for trading cards, and the list of questions up there doesn’t translate into any rubric. But even though I’ll acknowledge that Bronson’s mom and maybe two kids in Kansas bought these in 1991, and that this was basically the only way you were going to get some of these images back then, the set still fails to pass any sort of fun “test”.
Impel was still a baby in 1991, and I think their goals were simply to lure the rightsholders of high-profile properties with quality cardstock. You might have seen some early Impel cards around Halloween that year if someone in your neighborhood didn’t want to give out candy but also didn’t want to get egged for giving out toothbrushes. They put out a number of “Trading Card Treats” sets, which instantly lost any “cool” factor they might have otherwise had (spoiler: strictly non-zero) by promoting the National Safe Kids Campaign to the kids themselves. The Garbage Pail Kids would have thrown me in front of a speeding schoolbus for a laugh; what was this bullshit?
Each of those “Trading Cards Treats” sets consisted of six cards across two packs. Always the same three cards in each pack, in the same order. I got a whole bag of packs of Inspector Gadget cards that year, and my utter disbelief that this could be how the set was designed led me to open every single pack. I was left with 20 duplicate sets that, by that point, I no longer wanted. “Trading Card Treats” broke some central rules of the format; a small set I could have dealt with, but no checklist (and no card numbers) to confirm that size, and no variation among the packs really stretches the idea of collecting something. If you got two packs on Halloween, there was only a 50% chance they met the bare minimum for facilitating a single, mechanical trade, assuming your brother or sister hadn’t already thrown theirs away.
Impel made a slick product, but had no one on staff who knew how to make something that would appeal to kids on a fun level. Any added value you could attribute to LAFFS™ is more than undone by the evidence that, when the CEO’s unemployable nephew wrote up the text for the cardbacks, he was either provided bad information or didn’t give shit one. I’m not saying that Topps writers actually watched these TV shows, but at least they would have known to give you a goddam sticker with Urkel saying “Got any cheese???” and to not bother at all with the other two shows.
That’s not to say that even Topps’s humor card output didn’t eventually become almost entirely devoid of artistic merit, but that’s another story for another blog.
And that’s it, folks. Aside from the DVDs and some pinback buttons, we’ve covered the entirety of official Perfect Strangers merchandise (before you ask: no). If you want a Balki dakimakura, you’ll have to make it yourself.
Join me next week when I chop season 6 into tiny little pieces!
*Who went to court twice for charges of distributing smut, and all I ever got were free trading cards. There’s no justice in the world.
**Like, not only is there more than one business offering card grading/slabbing/registry services so that you can prove you have a “perfect” trading card and get more money for it, but more than one of these businesses has been accused of inconsistency and corruption. I mean, trading cards came packaged with bubble gum for more decades than not; why aren’t cards with gum stains seen as exemplary of the object?