So, I have a theory; and the fact that you, dear Cousins, have made it this far with this blog is, if nothing else, proof that you’re willing to ride out any tangent I set out on because of the guarantee that there’ll be a joke at the end.
I think the writers fully expected Perfect Strangers to not last a whole seventh season. I’ve heard of sitcoms that lasted only 13 episodes; some where all 13 made it to air, some only 6 or 7. Even others only filmed that few.
Has it occurred to you that it’s a bit strange that Larry and Jennifer got engaged so early in Season 6? And even–AHEM–stranger that they’ve gotten married even earlier in Season 7? This week’s episode–moving into a new house–feels like it would have made a decent season opener; and last week’s would have made for a good closer. Actually, so would this episode, which I don’t mind saying up front since I’ve been leaning hard into this “reverse” bit all season long. The fansite has dutifully recorded the vast majority of filming dates and airdates, and these show an odd pattern. For most of both of these seasons, the episodes are filmed a mere week before airing. But also for both, the first eight episodes were filmed in advance of the season premiere, and they (generally) didn’t start filming again until they needed more, weeks after the season began airing.
This is purely conjecture on my part. I want to emphasize that. It’s the pattern-making part of my brain at work here, and I’m biased by the fact that the fansite doesn’t have filming dates for the earlier seasons. Maybe ABC did this with all their shows. Maybe Perfect Strangers could be trusted to get in and get out during the quiet summer months and leave the studio free in early fall so Family Matters could put the necessary time into crafting the perfect Urkelbot episode (season 3, episode 7: “I’m Sorry Steve, I’m Afraid You Did Do That”). Or maybe Perfect Strangers, now in its waning years, and perhaps with a fussy star, needed to prove its worth before getting a final season. If literally anyone else involved with the making of the show ever responds to my dick pic snaps and I can get an interview, I’ll ask and let you know. But I think the writers were trying to give the show two or three conclusions early this season. Why tie so many things up so early otherwise?
Oh yeah, that joke I promised.
What do you call a mediocre pile of refuse?
A middlin’ heap! yuk yuk yuk
We open at the house they bought two seas–
–haha, nah, j/k, that never happened, we open at Caldwell Hotel, where we find that, once again, the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof are not giving their light, even and the moon is not causing her light to shine. Only man’s lights, offering no warmth; the American moth circling the neon (from the Ancient Greek νέος, “new”), never knowing the difference. Feet of clay may be too much of a (seventh season hee hee) stretch, but faulty gods feast and fashion the Caldwell’s foundation, the house of worship always across the street, out of sight, the shades always drawn.
Yeah, it’s the same shitty old Caldwell, and I’m the same shitty old Casey here with yours, mine, and everybody’s favorite schtick, exegesis.
Here’s more, because sometimes this show just fucking hands it to me: Balki explicitly tries to woo our moonchild, Mary Anne (Sagittarius), by playing Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade”. She causes no light to shine, distracted.
She turns her head away when Balki tries to kiss her, lost in thoughts of how many more times she’ll have to listen to Bronson talk about how her alabaster orbs affect his tides.
She tells Balki that she was thinking of how happy Larry must have been on his honeymoon with Jennifer to (watch and) learn that she had no lips to speak of, either; and how they’ll come back that very evening to their new apartment and have their first fight about which way up the silverware should go in the dishwasher.
Balki comments that Jennifer is too fat for Larry to carry her over the threshold. Oh, I think he’ll do alright, Balki–he’s carried this show for years!
Remember how like thirty seconds ago Balki was trying to kiss Mary Anne because it was a romantic scene? Yeah well now Mary Anne wants to kiss so Balki gets up and walks away, letting her fall flat on her face. Serves her right for wanting it, the wanton whore!
I’m not sure what Bronson’s goal with the line reading is here; Mary Anne was leaning directly into his face, her lips pursed, when he suggests they play shadow animals. The line and the stage direction suggest that Balki is either scared or playful; but Bronson is neither. I don’t know.
Balki, who has never been alone with a woman in his life, and certainly never counseled couples to help them with their love lives, is beckoned back to the couch. They make out in a state of rigor amoris.
The newlyweds were forced to return to the Caldwell, and Jennifer rushes into the unlocked; but don’t worry, the Motel 6 was only fifteen blocks west, so it’s not like they went out of their way. All couples eventually take on aspects of each other. Someday Larry may come to have vague, positive feelings about trees; but for right now, he’s high-pressure and she’s a vacuum, so Jennifer has adapted one of his traits almost instantly: not having a key.
She takes Mary Anne’s key from her purse, and Larry rushes in behind her, apologizing for his “one little mistake” (drenching his drawers as soon as they walked in the motel lobby). They shout their exposition to no one in particular: that Larry forgot to put a deposit down on their new apartment, and that rather than face this as a couple and get a different hotel room to regroup, Jennifer has decided to impose on her best friend’s first full week of respite from constant insult in twenty years. Exit Larry and Jennifer.
Mary Anne–who is so dumb she thinks rigor mortis was that guy from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids–asks if Balki heard anything. Seems pretty evolutionarily unsound for your ears to not work while getting it on, but my bare flesh crisps under indirect sunlight, so I really don’t have room to talk.
Aww yiss, we’re finally getting decade-contemporary stock footage of a Victorian row house, just like the real sitcoms!
Mr. Dexter concludes his tour of the house by telling Larry and Jennifer that without that fourth wall, they’ll be getting plenty of southern exposure.
Sitcoms operate on mimicry of patterns of experience, whether real or in the viewer’s mind. Transgression, anger; hurt feelings, apology; despair, uplift; funny hat, someone says the hat looks funny. Mass repetition breeds greater, spontaneous order, emergent behavior: termite cathedrals, snowflakes, grammar, and the rules of sitcoms. We all have learned these: guest stars won’t stick around unless you see them in the first episode of a season; hand ALF a watch and he’ll break it; Nice Red Cars May Not Be Kept.
Without knowing that this new house was built on a soundstage, or even that sitcoms have finite budgets—hell, even being able to see, briefly, that the next room hasn’t been built yet—I already know that this will be Larry and Jennifer’s house. The dread feeling, generally crafted for use in horror films, has hit me multiple times across Perfect Strangers. The first catchphrase, the first appearance by the blondes, the first look at the Chronicle basement: all points of no return.
In other words, we all know that by the end of the episode Balki will also prove his worth to Mr. Dexter and land himself a job sleeping with Jennifer, right alongside his Cousin. We know this.
So, from a basic structural standpoint, why the fuck is Balki here?
But from an even more basic human standpoint, why the fuck did they bring Balki along?
Anyway, Jennifer says she loves the house—the unfurnished rooms, the cold open spaces, the open wall sockets, the empty closets—it’s just so her, you know?
Jennifer asks Mr. Dexter to show her which part of the house is best to disappear to whenever the cousins are talking, and he leads her upstairs.
It turns out that Larry invited Balki so he’d have a warm body to insert his exposition into: Larry and Jennifer cannot afford the house. Isn’t that… what the banks want? Did money really work that logically a quarter-century ago? I’d complain that Larry and Jennifer haven’t talked about how much they can afford to spend, but it would be like complaining that a public restroom smells like shit. What did I expect these people to do here? It’s simply another bolt thrown from the chassis.
For the sake of any viewer unlucky enough to start watching Perfect Strangers with this season, we’re reminded that Balki is foreign by him “messing up” idioms by transposing words like “pumpkin” and “goat”. Cousin Larry doesn’t want Jennifer to place blame on him for not them not being able to afford more than “a dump”, and he lays out his plan: that he’ll play up how great the house is so that Jennifer will be the one who has to turn it down. I love this! I’ll admit that part of this reaction is because writing about that fucking jacket bit two weeks ago had me wondering what the inside of my basilic vein looks like, and this doesn’t. But I think it is legitimately good writing that understands both of Larry’s main modes (weenie and asshole). He’s playing chicken with his own wife!
And it’s good setup for the kind of bit this show should have been doing more of for years: the cousins making things worse by trying to help each other. I’m so glad that the show finally let go of its obsession with Balki telling Larry not to lie, because he’s willing to go along with the plan here. Next week he’ll probably revert back to having strong opinions about which incantations Larry is supposed to say over Jennifer’s vagina to expel its demons, but for right now he’s being a good friend.
Now that I’ve established how great this whole setup is, I should mention it’s also completely stupid at its core. Somehow Larry and Jennifer’s combined incomes can’t get them a decent place to live, but the two stupid characters are each able to afford two-bedroom apartments.
Economics sidebar: opportunity cost is one of the few economics concepts I remember from college (the other is the Big Mac Index, and who the hell knows what that’s supposed to refer to). The idea is that goods have their own value, but they also have value in terms of what we have to give up to get them. I value my leisure time; but I also value having a nice trim lawn. It costs me an hour of time to mow the lawn, that cost measured in how much money I could be making if I were working. I make $30/hour; the bored preteen down the street asks $10 to mow my lawn, and our opportunity costs are complementary. We must give up one thing to get another, and the goal is always to get more than you give. But when you start comparing the costs of competing goods (with the same or different values), the optimal outlay of capital can be determined with an indifference curve.
It’s revealing that both Jennifer and Larry are willing to work overtime to afford the rent for this house at the cost of the leisure time they’d get to spend together. I guess you could say that Larry’s indifferent to her curves 😎
Also how the fuck does overtime for a reporter work? For instance, do y’all think I just write a set number of hours and stop?
Anyway, Bronson gets to show off his knowledge of houses by listing various parts of them, and the plan works too well. I can understand Jennifer embracing the opportunity to not be there when the Cousins grunt around the house to test out the new acoustics. Balki is so happy about Larry’s new house that he makes the same face I did when the first time I lived all on my own and got my very first summertime electricity bill.
One week later, Laura Winslow and Maxine Waters walk by, cheeseless.
Hey, got a question here for you: what’s the best way to indicate that characters are miserable because they have no money to spend on anything but the basic necessities?
It certainly must be to pretend they never had any possessions in the first place!
Jennifer apologizes that she could only get leftover meals from coach. Man, I forgot how between 1989 and 1991, airlines slashed their food budgets so severely that they went from serving whole potatoes, White Russians, steaks, brownies and cake with mousse to every passenger to half a plate of chickpeas and gummy bears. How will Larry ever maintain those 300 pounds of his? Then Jennifer gives Larry a bag of peanuts because saying you have very little food and then having more food is some solid joke escalation.
(Does Balki still have his catering business? Is he still buying the most expensive cuts of beaked whale in bulk?)
One thing I’m glad I had the opportunity to do in my twenties was live on my own before living with someone else. It let me establish who I was, and how I liked my space, and just what types of Freiheit the Stadtluft offered me. I’ve also been in a situation where I did live with someone and, by chance and other reasons, we suffered setbacks and accreted stressors. But I had something to compare that to, and so did she. We knew what we wanted; maybe that made it worse, but it also gave us something to work towards. We know that Larry got at most a few months of living on his own in his entire life; he may be used to sharing space, and he may be used to having little he can call his own. I can’t say whether Larry’s situation or mine is the conceptually harder to bear, but: he was so close to setting his own terms on what levels were acceptable that this current setback is a tender new wound for him. And Mark Linn-Baker plays Larry like he hasn’t before: slow, quiet, trying his damnedest not to complain because… well, to whom, exactly?
He shouts at Jennifer when she tries to turn on the heat, and Jennifer fires back that some fluids have temperature-dependent viscosity. Oooh, the audience says, because she’s talking about wieners and whatever it is that women have.
There’s a knock on the door, and I had a joke ready that it was Balki with a jar of menstrual blood to aid conception, but it’s actually the remains of a ferret he put in a blender.
(I’d also like to say that someone on the staff really cares about the detail involved; while the door is open, there are bird sound effects and someone probably fanned their copy of the script at the fake tree to make the branches sway.)
Here’s a joke that I really hope was intentional continuity from “Bachelor Party”: Jennifer leaves for the kitchen to wash their single glass.
Larry wasn’t sure how to handle the situation, but now that Balki’s back, he returns to his former self. Couples eventually take on each others’ traits, and Larry wasn’t done with his program of cultural exchange.
Bronson starts doing a voice like he’s just breathed helium even though Larry’s pulling his lapels away from his throat and that’s not how you sound when you’re being choked anyway. It’s not a good choked voice and he wouldn’t do it anyway, that’s what I’m trying to say. Bronson thinks that all comedy boils down to swinging your arms and funny voices, and that he’s good at funny voices, and thus good at comedy, when really he isn’t, and that’s the main point I want to convey here.
Balki tells him to choke him some more and he does.
Larry tries to convey to Balki that he can’t make his penis hard enough to penetrate Jennifer’s —. Remember how Balki was a marriage counselor and has himself made jokes about watching the sheep fuck?
Haha nahhhh he doesn’t know what the hell Cousin Larry is talking about. Balki refers to “husbandly duties” as “taking out the garbage”, so maybe he does know, because that’s exactly what every woman has called it when I whip it out.
Jennifer returns, having broken their only glass. Longtime readers like yourself have already seen the golden thread connecting this moment to that of the overloud radio in the first episode, shattering glassware and plunging the Cousins into their first shared debt (echoed, if you’ll excuse the pun, in “Beautiful Dreamer”).
No high-pitched phonics here, but the weight of televised couplehood falls again, the reverberations all internal, her own breaking point reached: they must leave the house.
Larry says that he’s sorry he played games in their relationship and—haha man I can’t even keep a straight face with that one, I’m joking. Larry says “maybe my night job at the slaughterhouse will come through”, and I have no idea what the fuck that’s supposed to mean. Come through on hiring him? Actually paying him?
Jennifer has been watching and learning herself and tries to see if she really can reach orgasm the way Larry does.
(I don’t understand the staging sensibility this season. Balki runs from behind Larry to behind Jennifer to tell her to quit choking Larry. And we sometimes get scenes like now, where one character talks while the others clump together, separated by about three feet. Is it a way to focus the studio audience’s attention on one character? Is it to punctuate important dialogue? Some theater thing? Was it always this way?)
Anyway. Balki counsels Larry to tell the truth, and Larry actually takes the advice, going against all evidence that landlords might be sensitive to sob stories.
I’ve mostly given up on transcribing the things Balki says wrong, because my insurance doesn’t have good mental health coverage, but this one is noteworthy. “Paint me green and call me Gumby” (from Season 6’s “Out of Sync”) worked, but this:
Balki: Well feed me nails and call me rusty.
…I dare you to make sense of that one. But the nonsense sparks inspiration:
(Casey felt a new, startling feeling he had never experienced before, and he started praying for the growth of Jennifer and her friends.)
Later, at the Caldwell, they run into the apartment that Balki left unlocked with all the lights on.
There’s a whole lot to love about the first half of this scene. To begin with, it took Balki until right then to puzzle out what Jennifer’s plan is, which is a tidy way of resolving the constant sitcomical issue of characters holding their breath, as if no oxygen exists between doors.
Sure, Jennifer’s plan to pretend to be someone else calling and offering more money to rent the house will entice Mr. Dexter to let Larry break the lease. But it’s a Larry idea, and Jennifer manipulates Balki into it in the most Larry way possible with the “looking into the future” bit.
Jennifer: Who’s that digging through the trash for food?
Bronson has a brief glimpse of his own future, circa 2015, but guesses Schlaegelmilch. Balki cries at the thought of Cousins Larry and Jennifer dying of starvation, their sunken bodies cartoonishly ripped to shreds by the roaming herd of strays, its ranks now swelled to the thousands.
Joking aside, we’ve had brief hints of Jennifer sharing traits with Larry over the years, mostly in terms of them both making faces when one of the other two characters says a punchline. I wish she had a personality of her own—for instance, she likes nail polish, but they should really tell us what her favorite brand or color is—but Jennifer acting like Larry feels like a reveal. It might not have this impact if she hadn’t been a cipher for five years, but it’s a promise of three-person situational antics. Perfect Strangers will never be Ruthless People or A Fish Called Wanda, but it proves that it can at least figure out ways for multiple characters’ motivations and plans to collide.
It’s almost enough to forget that there’s no reason Jennifer needs Balki for this plan. The show stumbled into a way to use Jennifer as a slightly taller Larry, but hasn’t decided what role Balki might play in their marriage.
Guessing that Larry is still meeting with Mr. Dexter, Jennifer forces Balki to call him and disguise his voice.
He picks Robin Leach.
Here are two good things about this: it utilizes Bronson’s natural talent for shitty accents and Balki’s lack of cultural depth. It’s also the cause of Larry’s next chess move that makes the problem worse.
Here are six bad things about this: you have to listen to the whole thing. It’s too tinny, not a round enough or deep enough voice; it’s like if Eric Idle were trying to politely shout. Bronson seems to think that how Leach says “now” is the most distinctive part of the voice. Balki’s syntax and semantics problems disappear.
And it goes on for awhile.
Anyway, he tells the landlord that he’s invited Diana, Charles, Liz and the rest for an orgy, and if he wants, they’ll bend him dexter too. He offers three times the rent Larry is paying. You have to remember, kids, this was only 1991, and prank phone calls were invented by The Simpsons, so most adults had no concept of the trick.
Another nice detail: Jennifer gives him the number of Pioli’s Pizza, which she couldn’t help but memorize since Larry always shouts it at the moment of orgasm.
The audience whoops it up for Bronson successfully keeping up an accent for so long. I’m reminded of this ventriloquist bit:
By the way, why didn’t Larry have to break the lease on THIS fucking apartment? Twinkacetti would never carry the risk of Balki living alone!! He would have Mary Anne’s dog on a lease if he could HAR HAR HAR
Larry runs in to tell Balki he has great news for Jennifer. Why the fuck would he come there? Balki says that Jennifer’s upstairs, but they didn’t rebuild that set, and to just tell him the news instead.
The episode could end here, and it would be a nice Charlie Brown conclusion for Larry to find out that he wasn’t the one who actually solved the problem. But there’s minutes left yet, so we learn that Larry offered four times the rent on the house so he could sublet rooms to Robin Leach. And once he added in an offer to lie to Mr. Dextercetti’s wife so he can slip out to a poker game, it was a done deal. Balki does the Robin Leach voice, and Larry reacts the same way I wanted to.
Some indeterminate amount of time later, at Perfect House, we get the worst possible re-telling of the Gift of the Magi: Jennifer has invited Balki to live with them, and Larry has invited Mary Anne to live with them too.
Somehow four times what Jennifer and Larry together couldn’t afford is doable once you add in help from the lower-paid characters. Also, the fuck was Balki doing upstairs with an apron and a ladle?
Balki gets excited about how they’ll be calling this show Perfect Swingers by the end of the season.
Later, at our final zoom-in on the Caldwell, none of the outside features signify. Now empty of life, the façade becomes once more brick and mortar; the room a box full of memories. Because the room is the past–though it has no history of its own–sealed against the present.
The cousins left one box worth of stuff apiece to carry out last just so they could pretend they were in a poignant scene. Larry his trophy for salami-swinging in the shipping box for his Wellington 4000 typewriter (with feather-touch control); Balki his imaginary nipple tassels and—gasp!—the horn! Wistful, with their fists full, the Cousins reflect on the two-way forces, shaped and shaping, they and the apartment had on each other.
It’s too late now, the plaintive voices seem to call, the fat bald man long gone, it’s too late now…
…too late for Balki to invite an actual demon to sleep over without Larry’s permission…
…too late for an episode where the Cousins struggle to stanch the high-pressure flow from Mrs. Falby’s ass…
…too late to try scrubbing the layers of scorched snow leopard blood off the stove top elements…
…too late to try to find every last place Larry stashed the high-fructose snack foods…
…too late for Balki to make a final dinner from the mold growing in the socks he found under Larry’s bed…
…too late to use that fire extinguisher in the hallway…
…too late for one final party with the local indigents and Mafia members…
Then Larry runs back in and tears at Balki’s mural until his fingers bleed.
Join me next week for “Weekend at Ferdinand’s”!
Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Unreleased Larryoke Countdown #28: “Gurning Round the House” – Talking Heads