Season 7, Episode 11: Car Tunes

We open at the Chicago Chronicle, where RT Wainwright is introducing Larry and Balki to their new co-workers on the top fl–

001

Oh, no, wait, we’re at the house again. It was easy before, when I could just call the apartment building “the Caldwell”; but what should I even call this? Chateau Cousin? 1313 Throwingbird Lane? Duntryin?

I’m sure I’ll Get to Name This Dump In Time, but for right now let’s all think about how moldy and infested those white plastic deck chairs on the balcony must be by now.

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Ah, you know, I was worried there for a few episodes that this season wouldn’t try to do anything to explore how the dynamic among these four adults has changed now that they are sharing space, two of them involved in an intimate relationship*. But hey, it took us a while in season 3 before we saw Lydia, so it was well worth the wait to learn that they’re finally able to get through whole meals without the women shouting about each other’s personal habits or Larry getting beaten up. Boy, when the four of them get together, they sure do have brunch, don’t they?

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But Larry is in too big of a rush to eat, not even the toast that Balki steals from Jennifer’s plate. The more things change, the more they stay the same: Balki has never learned to stop offering other people’s belongings without asking first. I look forward to the episode where the four of them are out at the mall and Balki overhears a teenager talk about being horny.

Larry tells Balki to hurry the fuck up so they can be consummate products of capitalism, optimizing the amount of time they unthinkingly consume popular media on their way to the location where they unthinkingly create it.

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Mary Anne (Sagittarius)–who is so dumb she wonders if, in addition to IDs, stations have egos and superegos too–talks exactly like a radio commercial when she comments that Larry always takes the long way to work since he got his new car stereo.

Larry refers to it as a “vehicular sound system”, and oh goddammit, we’re doing “Safe at Home” again? Anything to not write for the women, huh, show?

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I spoke too soon when I said we’re not getting any new dynamic here, because Jennifer asks Larry how much the stereo cost. I mean, Larry doesn’t answer, but that’s one more line than she got in the other episode. Haha, though! Aren’t women absolute shrews once you let your guard down?

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Larry also moves the tapes around enough to make it obvious he just recorded stuff off the radio. I’d like to believe this is the same Larry who took Jennifer to happy hour at Edward’s House O’ Cocktail Shrimp, but the next joke precludes it. Larry mentions that he’s eager to listen to the “extended version of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’”, which is the most layers a joke on this show has had since that “mob mentality” line in season 1.

What he’s referring to doesn’t exist, of course, so it must be a joke about how album re-releases in 1991 were including B-sides and alternate mixes. Some of that old sacred music is splendid, but it’s easy to see that particular choice being the result of writers asking themselves “what’s the worst possible song that could have an extended cut?” because 4:52 is already way too long for anything that dirgy. On that level, it counts as brilliant for such a throwaway line. But isn’t it just depressing that that’s Larry’s favorite song?

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All joking aside, fuck the effort the writers have put into shared space changing the dynamic among these characters because it’s just Balki telling Mary Anne he doesn’t want to marry her every time she brings it up. Balki can suck the extended version of my dick.

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Larry comes back in to say his car stereo has been stolen.  Oh come on, show, you’ve got to at least introduce us to a new character before you get rid of them! I’m so glad that Jennifer lets us know that this is actually the second time Larry’s stereo has been stolen. Burglaries like heart attacks: it’s really not worth getting upset about unless it happens twice.

Larry swears he’ll see the fucker who stole his stereo behind bars and I really wish he owned a Chevrolet instead of a Ford so I could make an “El Camino Real Burglar” joke. Jennifer, her marriage to Larry proof that she has no concept of the sunk cost fallacy, encourages him to get a third stereo as well as a car alarm.

The night is punctured by the blare of the car alarm. Where’s Carl Winslow when you need him?

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Last week, disgraced legal professional Philip J Reed commented that Larry’s drawing of Dimitri was the most he’d laughed at a gag from TGIF (The Guffaws’re InFrequent).  Well, you can stuff your Richard Bachman novels, this is the only Running Man I’ll ever need:

At this point, yeah, I won’t try to deny that I don’t care for the lines they give Balki; nor do I really find funny the stuff that Bronson comes up with on his own and demands he get five minutes every other episode to subject us to. I’ll say that Bronson is (mostly) consistent with Balki, and that he shoots for a comedy style that doesn’t feel like it ever was in vogue–and that he achieves it. I’ll admit that at this point, inasmuch as it’s bias to dislike invading women’s personal space, I’m biased against the guy. But I think it says something that, after 130 episodes, the biggest laugh this sitcom vehicle for Bronson Pinchot ever got out of me intentionally–ever–is Mark Linn-Baker running down the stairs and across the room.

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Mary Anne and Jennifer follow. Mary Anne is wearing her eyemask with fake eyelashes on it so she can fool the Angel of Death (it’s worked so far); Jennifer has learned that she can communicate even less with her husband by purchasing novelty T-shirts from the stores in the airport. The show is stealing my joke with that one.

Larry’s car alarm has gone off 17 times over the past two nights. The stolen stereo/car alarm plot dates this episode more than most in season 7, but it’s interesting to me that just a few weeks ago I was reading an article about someone’s experience using a Nest Cam and how over-sensitive it was in the first couple of weeks; they’d get a notification for unimportant stuff like a bird flying by, the newspaper landing on the porch, or a heroin addict pausing to re-tie their rubber hose. Protip: don’t be an early adopter with new technologies; you’re paying to do someone else’s beta testing.

Balki, who has given up on sleep this week, has been painting his room some combination of umber and two different blues, and managed to get almost no paint on anything but his overalls.

Premise: Balki has been painting rooms

Setup: Mary Anne asks if Balki has suggestions for painting her room

Punchline: Balki has paint color samples.

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No, show! No. Bad. Of course he has those, he just picked out colors earlier that day. When Mary Anne asks if Balki has suggestions for how to paint her room, he should say “Use paint”.

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Since it was only a false alarm, Jennifer begs Larry to turn off the alarm for the rest of the night. Larry admits it’s thrown off their routine–he and Balki usually only use the bat when the women are working a flight.

Balki and Mary Anne enter–continuing the same joke because it was so hilarious the first time–and Balki asks why they don’t join the neighborhood watch. Well, I don’t know, maybe because they would have to introduce actual neighbor characters haven’t done a damn thing to protect Larry’s property? Larry says it’s pointless to turn to them, as the thief likely lives in the neighborhood and knows his schedule. Balki, perhaps having internalized the neoconservative rhetoric about foreigners, or perhaps because he couldn’t fix every radio problem he encountered, or perhaps because a neighborhood watch story would have actually utilized his character, breaks into tears, believing he himself was the thief.

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This is another Tom Devanney episode, by the way, and he’s brought a variation on the same sensibility he showed us in “Wild Turkey”.  When the Cousins are in front of others, the others should respond realistically. When they’re by themselves, one has to respond. I can excuse Balki reaching a new level of idiocy here, but only because Larry briefly considers finishing off the rest of Balki’s brain with the baseball bat.

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The women don’t react, but you knew that. As competent a writer as Tom is, I guess he couldn’t figure out a way to make them wink out of existence until it was time for their next lines.

You may find this nitpicky, but it’s something I’ve made reference to a number of times and never really tried to quantify: the pauses for laughter. This isn’t a knock on Perfect Strangers in particular, but shows with a live audience in general. There’s a decent joke here–a reference to some incident that happened off-screen–but between the pauses and Bronson’s delivery, the joke takes a whopping 40 seconds to tell.

When the alarm goes off again, Balki gives a strange, tortured monologue about thieves on Mypos whose punchline involves the Keating 5 (the “S&L gang”). It’s so dated that it read to me like anti-humor until he got to the punchline, which Bronson delivers in the vocal equivalent of a giant arrow-shaped neon sign.

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We’re a third of the way into this episode now, and barely anything’s happened, but you know what? There are far worse ways for Perfect Strangers to spend its time than having the characters stand around and deliver punchlines about nothing directly related to the plot. It’s a rare treat when the show gives us space to see how the characters interact when the Cousins aren’t using sedated Jenny Craig customers for a logrolling contest or getting JOI from a ghost. I liked it when we got that way back in “Dog Gone Blues” and… well, I enjoy the effort here.

Larry was too slow, and it’s too late now, too late now: his stereo was stolen again. Maybe he should try locking his car doors? Larry declares war on as many as three different people he’ll never meet.

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I don’t know who was responsible for “Larry hits his own foot with the bat and Balki responds by kissing Mary Anne” as a scene-ending joke, but statistically they’re either dead or soon will be, so I’m not too upset about it.

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What? What the fuck kind of food did Balki feed the gazebo to make it turn into a car?¹ Also, why does Larry have an LTD instead of a Mustang now? If he’s going to buy a different classic car every few months, I think he can stand the loss of a stereo or two.

Instead of, you know, putting up a security camera, or hiding in the bushes wearing war paint, or electrifying the stereo, Larry’s plan is to hide in the car trunk with Balki. Larry thinks Mr. Finley, who lives 30 yards away, is the thief, so he relays his plan in the backyard with a bullhorn.

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This audience is so easy, I doubt it mattered what Larry says through the bullhorn, it guarantees a laugh. Larry says when the thief comes in the night, he’ll jump out, yell “Don’t you ever, ever do that again” and Balki will tie him up.

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Aren’t you so glad we got these high-definition copies so you can see that Bronson wears briefs?

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Larry: Gee, I hope no one sees us doing this and assumes that we’re going to have sex in the trunk of this car.

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Balki keeps stealing the bullhorn and saying they’re in the trunk, and Larry keeps letting him. Shit, this is a better deterrent than any car alarm.

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(Casey thought he somehow heard Twinkacetti’s voice, and prayed sincerely for the suffocation of Larry and Balki.)

Is the whole Applemousse thing played out after 130 episodes? Well, reader, this has weighed heavy on my mind as we’ve approached the end of this blog. I’ve done some soul-searching, thrown chicken bones, consulted the I Ching. I prayed at Oscar Wilde’s grave for guidance. I climbed treacherous peaks in Outer Mongolia to seek the wisdom of enlightened Zen masters. I consulted priests, philosophers, physicists, aldermen, generals, Satanists, patent clerks, a Ouija board owned by Edgar Cayce himself. Friends, I’m not ashamed to say I even posted on AskReddit. So please understand how serious I am when I tell you: yeah they’re still completely gay.

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They’ve snuck out of the house, away from their women, to do their usual love scrimmage in the back of a car. They even brought rope! Larry tells Balki to relax and be quiet! At this point, I ought to just call this kind of comedy slipstick.

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While Balki systematically fucks around with every last remaining prop in this scene, let’s talk about stakes. Way back at the beginning of this show, the cousins were at the same point in their lives and faced situations that impacted them both: dating, standing up to their boss, handling family and intimate relationships, making sure Larry’s anal canal was free and open.  I’d say season 5 was the tipping point for when the show was less and less able to integrate one cousin into another’s story. Larry’s followed a linear (enough) career path, and Balki has become some sort of magical elf who keeps lucking into fame and fortune everywhere he turns. He’s been a pop star, head of editorial services for the US’s biggest newspaper, had his own catering business, been on television five times, can predict football games, and he can bowl 300 while completely blind. It’s too bad we didn’t get a full season 8 so we could see Balki sitting at the right hand of God and separating the sheep from the goats.

The cousins used to help each other out; but in episodes like this, their lives have diverged so much it’s hard to see why they both need to be here.

Last week, there was really nothing at stake for Larry when he was given the task of making sure that Balki’s comic strip actually used vowels and verbs, and no reason for him to want to change the tone of the strip. His only stated reason is that Jennifer might somehow not be impressed that he was likely bringing in a few hundred extra every week for five minutes of work.

And now, quite a lot is at stake for Larry. Most of the awful things we’ve seen happen to Larry Appleton are a combination of shit other people pull on him and his own choices making the situation worse. And when it comes to his past, the inconsistent writing for his siblings’ history has the effect of making us wonder how reliable a narrator Larry has been. This is the kind of thing I personally get hung up on on a regular basis: I post-mortem everything that went any level of imperfectly, unable to determine for myself how much was my fault, and thus how much I have to change. I have to imagine that some cross-section of humanity has the same concern, given the lasting popularity of the Serenity Prayer. But here, tossing aside the minor point that Larry keeps buying the fucking stereos, this is a clear-cut case of someone else making Larry’s life hell. Catching the thief would be proof to Larry that he’s psychologically sound. And he’s being damn near responsible about it, too. His first solution made things worse for others, so he ditched the alarm and tries to deal with the problem directly.

The stakes are present for Larry, but why is Balki here? To tie up the thief, sure, and to lock them in the trunk, too. But mainly he’s there to argue over who gets to hold the bullhorn, play with the flashlight, and argue over which side of the trunk he lies in.  But he’s not bringing much character-driven to the situation.

And I’m torn, because I think Tom Devanney knows this, but knows he has to put the cousins together anyway. I’ve read that it’s good practice as a writer to know what questions your audience has, and exactly when they’re going to ask them–and to answer them right then as recognition that they’re not idiots. And, right after I unpaused the episode after writing about stakes, Larry tells Balki to get his plump lips and pert ass back in the house.

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Balki: Please, please, please let me stay in the trunk!

And in that sense, it’s a perfect line, and maybe the best answer to my complaint there could be. Balki is a child and all he knows is that if he goes to sleep, he’s going to miss whatever exciting thing might happen.

The Cousins hear the footsteps of two people (covering their entire yard in three-feet-deep concrete paid off!) and Balki shuts the trunk.  Balki, did you shut the trunk so you could get a spotlight for a few minutes?

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Balki starts monologuing about a non-existent episode of Star Trek (thanks to Sarah Portland for confirming) where the crew of the Enterprise were running out of oxygen. Balki does a Captain Kirk voice. Balki does a Scotty voice. Balki does a Bones voice. I know this because he announces each voice before he does it.

029

There are documents I wish I could wipe from the face of the earth: angry emails, dopey love letters, a considerable percentage of young adult novels. Balki’s rendition of “Get Out of the City on the Edge of Forever” is second only to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion on my list.

Larry tells him to shut up. The car starts and the thieves take off.

030

This is kind of a better version of “Night Ghoul Confidential”. The structure is the same–some unseen phantom creeps through the night causing trouble to the Cousins’ property, and they end up trapped and forced to contend with something they can neither see nor touch. Being trapped while the thieves drive around town, identifying that the thieves stopped at Bugsy’s Burgers** based on the smell of the low-grade oil used on the fries, criticizing their poor turn signal habits, guessing at location based on time and turns… it’s a nice break from the usual loamy shit Perfect Strangers likes to throw at me by the handful.

031

And just like the box of money, it feels like a familiar sitcom scenario, or at least one that should be. I just wish we didn’t have to spend this time with a lead actor who thought the best part of his repertoire were his silly voices.

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Larry tells Balki to find the jack, and Balki hilariously misunderstands and unzips Larry’s fly. Nah, j/k, Balki thinks there is another person in the trunk, which is understandable because this is the biggest damn trunk I’ve ever seen.

The last time they were in the car together, Larry told Balki to switch places with him, and it landed them in prison. Balki, perhaps because of this, or perhaps because he resists the full metempsychosis this season demands, resists Larry’s current demand for the same.

Larry asks Balki how many trunks he’s opened from the inside. And god damn, Tom Devanney is impressing the plook out of me this week by topping the “how many x have you ever y?”/”none” joke: he has Balki turn it back on Larry. Larry responds before Balki can get the question out.

033

The answer is four. Larry has only ever seen four nipples: his own and Balki’s. Larry deploys the jack in the wrong location (I GUESS YA COULD SAY HIS JACKIN’ WAS OFF) and sends it right through the trunk lid.

034

Balki opens a box, and damn, this almost makes the Star Dreck mess worth it.

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I have no doubt the writers wanted an actual sex doll and I’m surprised ABC even let them do this. Anyway, Balki sees the Artificial Lydia (with the plastic pie) for what it is, and calls Larry out on his practice of “blow ‘em & stow ‘em”.

Larry hastily explains that he uses the doll for the carpool lane on days when Balki doesn’t exist. The car finally comes to a stop.

What perfume does your Dutch wife use, Larry? Whatever it is, it makes Balki sneeze, which makes Larry shout louder than the sneeze.

As the thieves approach the trunk, Larry begs them to shoot Balki first. Tom Devanney really is a writer after my own heart.

038

Surprise! The women are the real thieves–they’ve been making Larry pay more for gas than they do! Mary Anne wasn’t using the turn signals because she thought that lever was for driving sideways.

Jennifer asks whose side of the family this new cousin is from.

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So, ultimately, the question of who ruins Larry’s life is twofold: other people start it, Larry’s reactions make it worse, and you can go back and forth to each step a few times. This is the the type of story that the show was trying to tell in “The Sunshine Boys”, and I’m downright amazed that a season 7 episode outdid a season 6 episode. I kind of guessed that by this point the show would have devolved into the cousins sitting around and shitting into diapers. This episode didn’t shy away from addressing the fact that Balki doesn’t have much logical reason to tag along on Larry’s misadventure, and took the opportunity to re-establish that there’s still life left in the simple concept of two guys fucking up a plan, even without sappy lessons and synth music at the end.

Later, at the Inflatable Castle, Balki asks Larry to settle a bet between him and Mary Anne as to whether any of the Ninja Turtles is gay.

042

Larry: Don’ ask, don’a tell-o.

Jennifer comes in with a wrapped present for Larry (that paper design ties the S&L reference for most dated thing this week), and he asks what the special occasion is.

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Jennifer: Well, there was only $200 left in our bank account, and I figured why not just use it instead of have to talk about whether we’ll eat or bathe this month.

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It’s Larry’s fourth car stereo, and this time it’s a pullout! Just like his sex life HAR HAR HAR

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Aww, look, isn’t that sweet? Mary Anne has found a new verbal abuser to be a clone of. Punish her, please.

Larry says that Balki was right that they should have joined the neighborhood watch. What the hell? Everything I know about neighborhood watches I’ve learned from sitcoms, and I’ve never before heard it indicated that they operate on a tit-for-tat basis. Balki says that he signed all four of them up for the neighborhood watch, something which I can assure you will never once come up again. I remember ABC being into that whole responsible social message thing***, and that Balki has to be the moral mouthpiece, so it’s weird to see that be not only a throwaway line, but also a callback to something that had absolutely zero impact on the story whatsoever.

046

Quit stealing my jokes, show.

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Balki stops Larry on his (his Larry’s) way up the stairs by saying that they have to watch the neighborhood that very night, and that he (he Balki) was “assigned” the exact same bullhorn Larry owns. “Horn”, phallic shape, cockblock, gay cousins, I trust y’all can put that joke together yourselves.

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Larry, whom you can always count on to be carrying half the contents of a landfill in his pocket, whips out the (heh) double Ds. Larry and Jennifer go upstairs to throw the little switch on Artificial Lydia’s battery pack.

Join me next week for “Door to Door”!

_________________________________________

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

Boner count: Balki (0, don’t try and tell me he popped a high one while he was rejecting Mary Anne); Larry (1)

Unused Larryoke Countdown #20: “Greased Cousin” – John Travolta

*And also Larry and Jennifer are married, don’t forget that part

**a Family restaurant

***cf. DJ Tanner visiting an old man in a rest home and Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue spring to mind

1. No, no no no, I am not writing another 500 words about how the disappearance of the gazebo, not to mention the increased expanse of poured concrete in the backyard, which, that is the increased expanse, symbolizes the unnecessaryᵃ encroachment of the industrialized world into the natural one (its next victim will be the tree, it seems), or perhaps that, in convincing ourselves that we need synthetic rubber tires on our vehicles and thus need them to always, always have surfaces optimized for friction of same (the tires) under them, we have become the dog that the industrial tail wags, not only symbolizes (I’m back to talking about the disappearance of the gazebo now) the disappearance of any hope of Lawrence Gunther Appleton’s to find rest from his labor or spend quality and/or quantity time with his intimates or even to find that balance of interior and exterior the gazebo offered or that he has chosen being restless in a mobile gazeboᵇ, not only this but also reopens the question from the prior analysis as to what Jennifer saw or imagined, as well as the question of how many layers were in operation in the episodeᶜ and whether, perhaps, Jennifer felt that she was ultimately in control of whether Larry Appleton would even be allowed the chance to seek the aforementioned rest. Not going to do it.

      a. We may assume, after all, that Larry would not build a gazebo in space where he needed to park his car, and also that there are at least two other cars generally parked at this residence.

      b. Whose windows offer, the reader should note, adjustable levels of interior/exterior divide or merging, per the driver’s immediate fleeting perceived comfort needs.

      c. And–the reader’s anticipation is correct–this increases the potential number of informations available to be placed in conversation with one another; the author no longer has a firm enough grasp of mathematics to state whether this would be exponentially or by an order of magnitude or some other descriptor, and for this the author can only offer embarrassment and apology.

dimitrigif0711

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4 thoughts on “Season 7, Episode 11: Car Tunes

  1. That moment where Larry considers finishing off Balki with the baseball bat was perfect. Mark Linn-Baker is so good in these moments of indignation and exasperation that it really does almost make Balki’s getting dumber by the episode worthwhile. It feels a bit like a zero sum game. If you were to improve Balki, you’d take away from what makes Larry so enjoyable. But that probably excuses far more of Balki’s behavior than is necessary. There’s just no justification for the cringeworthy accents, sexualized bird calls, etc.

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  2. A few months ago, someone parked a once-grand car of late ’80s vintage in the parking lot at work. Damn thing would blare a klaxon if anything got within 3 feet of it.

    Which seems like a dick move when you’re parking in a lot where the spaces are all sized for subcompacts but half the workforce drives F-150s. Also, I work on a damn army base. Who does he think is going to steal his 30-year-old Mazda?

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  3. You know, if the show allowed for multiple plot lines in an episode, they could have combined “Dimitri’s World” with this episode and it would have made “Car Tunes” a pretty clever title! (On second thought, let’s not ruin a pretty decent episode)

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  4. There’s another episode this season in which Larry regrets that he didn’t kill Balki when he had the chance. Reviewing ALF has led me to assume that jokes like this are the product of writers venting their frustrations, but I have no idea if that’s true here.

    Anyway, I liked this one. In fact, with a few glaring exceptions, I think season seven was actually pretty funny. I’m particularly looking forward to your writeup on Stress Test, which seems like the Caseyest episode imaginable.

    I will say this about car alarms: I wonder how many actual thefts they’ve deterred. I’ve heard them go off hundreds of times in my life and it always seems to be because a butterfly farted.

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