I hate to give away my assessment of an episode right away, but this one is just marbled with shit. The very first joke is that Larry and Balki just got back from lunch at a restaurant called Wong Su’s, which is owned and operated by Wong and his wife, Su. Or maybe it’s Sue? Let’s say that it is meant to be “Sue”, meaning that part of the joke is that sometimes identical phonemes show up in different languages. And whether it’s Sue or Su, the joke is… you thought it was one person’s name, but it’s really two people’s names? Or the joke is that the wife is named Sue Su, in brazen ignorance of Chinese surname primacy? They got me again!
Also this locally-owned restaurant makes its fortune cookies on-site and insults their customers with the fortunes (Larry doesn’t tip). It’s a good thing Larry isn’t a petty person with unfettered control over a medium through which he could publicly criticize a restaurant’s practices! Just imagine how robust a plot that kind of opportunity could lead to!
RT (米饭和豆腐) Wainwright, like everyone in this world does now, starts talking to people the second he walks through a doorway. He tells the Cousins that the “theme” of the upcoming Sunday magazine is “children”. He wants a Dimitri “cartoon” for the cover, so I suppose he means “strip”.
I made a big fuss in “Dimitri’s World” about why Wainwright needed to replace just one comic strip out of a likely 20 or 30, but I’m realizing I was probably being unfair. Something that has baffled me ever since my first job in a library serials department¹ is why two of the US’s major newspapers don’t run comic strips. I still don’t know, and CEO Mark Thompson hasn’t answered my 30 voicemails yet, so I may never know. But my best guess is that these papers are more likely to be shipped all over the United States as well as internationally, and that a host of licensing and copyright issues are sidestepped by having only editorial comics. So if the Chronicle is going to have a comic strip, it does make more sense to hire someone to make it.
But we’ve been given zero indication how Balki’s weekly comic strip has been received by Chicagoans over the course of four weeks, so either it’s a runaway success or Wainwright is playing a game with himself to see how few steps out of his office he can take each day and still run a newspaper.
Hey, come to think of it, not a single one of you has said anything the strip I’ve been busting my ass doing either, so I’m going to assume that you all love it as much as Wainwright thinks Chicagoans love Balki’s.
Anyway, Balki’s feeling a thrill he’s never seen: the thrill that’ll getcha when you get your picture on the cover of the Sunday ‘zine.
RT (Ruminant Terrestrial) mentions on his way into the elevator–completely in passing, nothing to do with the rest of the episode, certainly–that Rob Bob Phillips is suing the paper over his Rongful Termination.
Myposians have a genetic disposition to acutely-localized osteoporosis, the fingers being the weakest part of their entire bodies, so Balki must do “five-finger pushups”.
Then Balki just flails his head around for a minute. I guess the joke is that he’s limbering his neck up before sitting down to spend 30 seconds drawing his strip. So I don’t like the overdone physical comedy in this instance–so Su me!
But Dimitri is gone, meaning Balki cannot rub him against the front of his pants for inspiration. Balki notices how much effort went into the ransom note and walks off-stage to shake hands with the props crew.
Nah, j/k, Balki reads the note, and because it’s in Bronson’s contract for Balki to get 80% of the punchlines, he gets a punchline instead of a basic level of reading comprehension. Larry has to explain that Dimitri’s been kidnapped.*
GEE I WONDER BY WHOM IT WAS STOLE FROM HIM
Y’all don’t think the robber might be the guy with fucking “Rob” in his name, do you? The guy who’s angry at the Chronicle and used to work in this office?
After asking their coworkers when the last time they saw the doll was, checking with Lance Dick to see if there was any security camera footage, even calling up Carl Winslow to come by and dust for fingyprints, and most importantly doing a thorough search of his own home, they–
Haha, nah, j/k, Balki didn’t do any of that shit. He put up LOST posters all over the neighborhood, which is nowhere near downtown.
Larry and Balki try to come up with something else for Balki to do to take his mind off of the theft.
Larry tries to trick Balki into drawing a Dimitri strip by having him draw a cloud; Balki figures it out and tears up the paper. It’s really too bad no one had figured out a camera angle yet that allowed you to see what someone was drawing.
No one at all.
Balki says “That’s low, Cousin. That’s low even for you,” and it certainly does read that way, because once again, Larry has absolutely nothing at stake. As an editorial writer for the paper, Cousin Larry is not Balki’s boss. He’s not even Balki’s boss when it comes to the strip. There’s a very narrow window for arguing that Larry had something at stake for the very first strip they had to turn in: that he would have failed in his boss’s eyes in some minor indefinable way. But it was also established there that Larry’s function for Dimitri’s World is to let Balki tell him what the joke is and put it into words. If Balki doesn’t draw, Larry literally cannot do his part of the job.
And… if that’s all his job is, he doesn’t even need Balki for this magazine cover. Wainwright didn’t bother to give any direction other than “do it”, so Larry can just repurpose literally any existing Dimitri art, strip or single image or whatever, do his damnedest to make Balki proud of it, and call it a day. Or since the Chronicle seems to be constantly operate with impossibly short deadlines, couldn’t Wainwright push the children’s issue back a week without really interrupting the regular hectic workflow?
I’m thinking about this way more than the writers did, but that’s the point of these blogs, so get over it.
Cousin Larry ignoring Balki’s emotional pain for the sake of absolute zero benefit to himself is the direct opposite of altruism. There are times this season where the show seems to only understand the Cousins as “people who argue with each other over things”, and this is one of them. It realizes that Larry is heartless, and if it stopped to think that maybe he didn’t need to be, the thought was rejected on the basis of it going against Rule #1.
Also–and I’ll get into this more in a later review because I sure don’t plan to spend any more time on this episode than I have to–the meta-aspect of this is that Larry refuses to let Balki handle failure on his own. The most generous possible reading is that Larry’s trying to save both their asses from unemployment, but he’s not letting Balki face the consequences of his own hangups, however strongly felt they are. If Balki is having trouble growing up, Larry is complicit.
Jennifer comes in with a bunch of shirts which likely say “I’m going to the store, are we out of bread?”, “Not unless you wash it better than last time” and “I miscarried”.
She hands Larry a plain brown envelope containing a bulky object without question and walks away, like any wife/airline employee would do. Larry, making up for his earlier sin, gives Balki an opportunity to have a punchline about the tape.
They put the tape in the VCR together. I assume the static built up between them is what powers the unplugged TV.
A distorted voice tells them they’ll have to pay $10,000 to get Dimitri back. The “oh no!” music comes on.
Oh no! Evidence which they could hand off to the police was put directly into the mailbox of a house in a community with an active neighborhood watch! It’s obviously this Thieve Steve guy! Oh no!
Philip J Reed (Denver, age 8½) sent in “Appleton Abbey” as the name of the Cousins’ home. Keep those entries coming in, kids!
Balki is boxing up valuables to hock to make up the $10,000. He grabs the tapestry that he gave Larry for Christmas and which Larry valued so much he placed it so he’d see it twice a day.
All Balki needs to raise the money is this lamp. This tapestry and this lamp, and that’s all he needs. Say it with me now: and these earrings and this tapestry and this lamp, and that’s all he needs.
Mary Anne (Sagittarius) is more upset about losing her hair dryer hahaha! WOMEN
After being guilted into it, Mary Anne–who is so dumb she thinks that a rap sheet is the liner notes on a Run-DMC album–donates both her hair dryer and her facial sauna. (I had never heard of a facial sauna until I watched this episode. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just stand over the pot while you cook spaghetti?)
Larry runs in, excitedly implying that he has searched through each and every type of dumpster, and finally located Dimitri in a “trash dumpster”. Balki wants to do the Dance of Joy and Larry says they’ll do the Dance of Joy as soon as he draws the fucking strip.
Excuse the nitpicking, but we’ve got these beautiful, illegal Hulu siterips** that enable it so well. Maybe, if you’re going to have an episode about a missing sheep doll that’s been present in every season, and especially if you’re going to have a scene where Larry tries to fool Balki with an exquisitely-made replica, maybe don’t have photographic proof that previous seasons used an entirely different doll in the same shot?
If you were tasked with writing an episode where someone’s favorite MacGuffin is held for ransom by some mysterious figure, would you spend a quarter of your time not telling that story? If you were writing an episode of a show whose original core idea was two men messing up each others’ plans by trying to be helpful, would you create motivation out of thin air just to have one of them not do that? If you knew you had to write in physical comedy, would you do this three times and call it a day?
I don’t think you would. I don’t think you would air three episodes in a row with villains named Bob either, but that’s a different story.
I think you’d remember discussing “Car Tunes” in the writer’s room, seeing the script and the episode filmed, and ask yourself what you could do to make the episodes be reflections of each other. Balki had no reason to help Larry out, but we could understand–even without him saying so, because at least this aspect of Balki’s personality is clearly intended–that he cares about Cousin Larry’s happiness. To be fair, each episode inverts the other: Balki begs to be included in Larry’s story, while Larry tries to pull Balki away from his own.***
Sure, maybe the writers told themselves that Larry acting the opposite of Balki in a role-reversal story was enough, but it isn’t additive at all. “Car Tunes” filled its downtime with a few jokes that came as close to a “hang-out” feel as Perfect Strangers can; “Missing” can’t come up with anything but Larry taking up two scenes in the first half with the infinitely fertile idea of just plain not doing this story. It may come from whatever fake motivation they’ve given him this week, but it’s just putting off the inevitable.
Balki finally touches the fake Dimitri**** and realizes TGIF: That Garbage is Faked. I thought I remembered some implication 9 minutes ago about Dimitri being wildly popular, and then another thing about how they needed to quickly make $10,000, and then something about Larry managing to get an exact replica made cheaply and locally in less than 10 hours? I’m probably mixing this up with other shows I’ve watched, let’s move on.
There’s some joke about Jennifer drugging Larry’s applesauce and even some of the audience members don’t like it.
Larry: Now what we have to do is to get him to meet us in a place where we have the advantage.
Ah, yes, a male bathhouse, just what I was thinking, Larry. The phone rings. Balki touches the phone.
Balki: Don’t break his bone!
The Cousins each trying their own solution to the same problem used to be the whole point, and that’s part of why them both talking on the phone to Pilfer Wilford works better than the rest of the episode. It contrasts the Cousins, and it spawns jokes. Balki begs the guy to scratch behind Dimitri’s ears. Larry thinks he can beat the guy at his own game by talking tough. Balki thinks calling someone “pally” sounds tough.
Anyway, Larry shouts at Hustle Russell that they’ll meet him in the Chronicle basement at midnight and then hangs up. This wasn’t intended as the joke, but I do love the idea that you can short-circuit a kidnapping story by making your own demands and instantly hanging up the phone.
Later that night, the Cousins don’t know any cops whose wives are security guards at the Chicago Chronicle, so they have to set up a Home Alone-style ambush themselves.
That’s right, you heard right, the guy who broke into the Chronicle once already is basically being given permission to walk into an open office building, shoot the Cousins, buy a tampon from the women’s restroom, whatever.
Balki sticks a bunch of marbles in his mouth and spits them out because on Mypos, they’re very simple. Larry has to explain to him that the real fun will come when they call the cops while a criminal is lying on the floor, screaming, his neck and ankles broken.
And here we are, once again, come full circle to “The Break In”, two men hiding behind a desk in the dark because their jobs are on the line. The Cousins saved a man this way once: saved him from the psychological weight of the world of crime, saved him from himself. The new Christian may have converted because she finally felt that her victimless crimes were not at all so, that Jesus’s suffering might have been less so had she not sinned. The Cousins faced no consequence for their own crimes—public mockery, breaking & entering—and no compunction, neither, as they were not asked to question their own addition to the psychic load that hourly tugged Frank towards hell.
And so they continued to commit crimes against each other, and any person or government that allowed or invited interaction. Promoted, they now had a bigger mouthpiece to remake the world in their image. The robber bobber recognizes Dimitri as totemic of this power. Whoever this man is, he’s troubled, but the Cousins have no wish to save him, only to shore up their bulwarks against the competition. They lay in wait for their own blood; will they ambush their own lives?
Well… of course they will. Don’t be ridiculous.
Balki hears footsteps!
Oh, great, let’s squander one of Lydia’s last three appearances on this waste of celluloid. It’s not enough that it write a bad episode, the show now rubs it in our faces by reminding us that there are other characters the Cousins could have legitimately suspected of the theft.
Balki shouts at Lydia for a minute and I’m actually relieved for her sake that she’s spared from knowing what the Cousins are doing on a daily basis these days. She has no idea what they’re talking about and even more confused when–upon slapping Balki–he spits out another marble. She makes that running joke work better than it did the other three times.
And just like that she’s gone.
More footsteps, and this time it’s Gorpley. Like I said, I hate to “spoil” things, but coming events cast their shadows before:
This isn’t Sam Gorpley’s final appearance, but it is the last time the show even pretends to try to give him any lines.
Samuel “Slick Sam” Gorpley: Do you ever think you two spend too much time together?
It’s the last remaining echo off what he once was: a twin to Twinkacetti*****, Gorpley once held promise as a funhouse mirror of what Larry might become without Balki’s influence, a Larry who was established enough in his career and his dodgy ways to almost never be called to the carpet for it. Pure greed and oneupmanship, a man who knew that the best sauce on a dish was the other man paying for it.
And no one had more right to that greed than this one card stud. Cousin Larry had two beautiful holiday seasons as the Christmas Boy, practicing the role of the joyful giver; Gorpley was yearly robbed of any possible Christmas cheer: by nature, by his father, by his wife. Sam Gorpley learned that taking things was what life did, and lived his by that rule.
Seasons 1, 2, and 3 can all be excused to some extent by how uneven they were in using the side characters. ABC, I think, knew it had something different with this show, but not how different it should be from other sitcoms. For whatever reasons–and don’t think I don’t have guesses–Perfect Strangers held back on giving Gorpley and Lydia and Harriette much to do. It waited two years to put Sam Anderson in more than half of a season’s episodes.
You’d be forgiven if you had no clue that Mr. Gorpley was Balki’s boss for four and a half years. It was rarely mentioned, because there were never any stories about it. I’ll give the writers this: they probably knew they couldn’t make Balki’s relationship with his supervisor a story, because even sitcom stories require some semblance of character growth. They chose to have Balki be perfect at his job, meaning there was nothing Gorpley could offer. Gorpley was told to shrug and retreat into his office, and he did. They brought him out briefly to compete with Larry, or to give Larry bad advice, or to frown at Balki; and back in the office he went.
It’s easy for me to imagine that Sam Gorpley’s role approximated Sam Anderson’s experience working on Perfect Strangers, especially in seasons 5 and 6. The main image of Gorpley in my mind from those seasons is snacking on free food lying around and laughing at whatever shit the Cousins had gotten themselves into. If Sam Anderson stuck around on set longer than the two minutes of screentime he had, maybe he did the same.
I’ll never know why Sam Anderson stuck around on Perfect Strangers. It’s not as though he was hurting for work, and it’s not as though this gave him something other work didn’t, unless he was trying to get a complete set of checks from all the different studios. I only had to watch a few episodes of Growing Pains to realize that Anderson was great as an antagonistic foil to the young, pretty-lipped star. I knew instantly that Principal DeWitt and Mike Seaver had a history. I don’t know if he had a lot of interactions with other Seaver children after Mike graduated, but we saw in the last “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” post that those writers were willing to find ways to bring him back just so the two of them could butt heads again. In that episode, Growing Pains brought him back when they didn’t have to. It’s obvious Anderson was meant to be that same antagonist to Balki, but Perfect Strangers seems to only bring him back because a completely empty workplace might be embarrassing even for this show.
Seasons 5, 6 and 7 started to make good on the promise of Sam Gorpley. In “Eyewitless Report” and “Finders Keepers”, he becomes a minor obstacle to the Cousins on their way to solving the week’s problem. It’s an interesting direction they could have taken the character, and I bet that you (you personally) could come up with a few jokes for him for most episodes that way. In “Bachelor Party”, he functions as an emissary from the world of men, far enough removed from both Balki and Larry’s existences that even the hint they’ve stepped outside turns into trouble for them. It’s an interesting direction they could have taken the character. The show used him so little that it was able to finally acknowledge it by having Wainwright point out that Balki’s been doing Gorpley’s job. It’s an interesting direction…
Just from the few things I’ve seen him in, Sam Anderson seems to know exactly the right amount of presence to have. He can blend in as a functional element of a plot or stick out as someone who is mean and petty, but at a level that’s less danger and more annoyance that you can’t avoid. He’s still–at 73–doing plays and getting recognition for it, and I have no doubt he could have gone in any direction the show wanted to take Gorpley.
But the show now has finally struck on the idea of, instead of having the minor characters interact with the Cousins, it can have them pair off with each other. Hey, it’s less they have to worry about working them into a story, right?
Gorpley goes upstairs. It’s too short to feel like a face-to-face goodbye, more like a letter that reads “by the time you read this, I’ll be fucking Lydia”. No idea why they can’t screw in either of their apartments, but I’m glad they gave Sam Gorpley a happy ending.
More footsteps, another shadow in the doorway.
It’s RT Wainwright wearing assless chaps!
Nah, j/k, it’s Rob Bob Phillips! Rob Bob is played by Leslie Jordan, the world’s sweetest little gay man! I’m so straight that sometimes I look at pictures of nude women, but damn if I don’t I want to hold Leslie Jordan tight and take care of him.
Balki introduces Cousin Larry to Steal Neil, who reveals that he’s the kidnapper. No, really? etc. He gives Dimitri back.
Balki apologizes for not having the $10,000, but says he’d probably spend it on something outlandish on a suit of armor anyway, and hands Dimitri back.
No, Larry! Don’t shake the baby!
Okay, so, the Chicago Chronicle has its own in-house comic strip; and we’ve been led to believe that Balki was hand-delivering every piece of mail every day to every employee. Balki would have known Rob Bob, and would have remembered the name when Wainwright brought it up earlier. Hell, later in this scene Balki reveals himself to have been a huge fan of the Kangaroo Cowboy strip. At this point in his development, I can believe that Balki would have forgotten hearing that Cheat Pete was upset with Wainwright, but not that he’d have experienced absolutely no emotion when he found out a month ago that both man and comic were gone for good.
Swindle Wendell says he thought the newspaper would pay the ransom. Well, that explains him putting the demand tape personally into the Cousins’ mailbox, doesn’t it?
I’ll admit I haven’t seen Leslie Jordan in that many other shows or movies. But I do remember him from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. In that show’s last season there’s an episode (“Mystery”) where Pee-Wee finds that his suit, his cereal bowl, his photo album, and his dots have all been stolen. Guess by whom they were stole from him:
Pee-Wee catches Busby as Busby is trying to sneak back in and return the items. Busby regrets his actions and admits all he really wanted were as many friends as Pee-Wee has. I can’t imagine a less interesting thing you could steal from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse than a plot synopsis.
Pee-Wee is allowed to have a child’s understanding of criminality because it was explicitly a children’s show. Perfect Strangers put the same understanding into an episode where Larry wants to break someone’s neck and where bosses fire their employees at will and where advice columnists are so mentally unbalanced they can’t reach orgasm anywhere but the 8th-floor breakroom. (Did I really just argue that Perfect Strangers has more sex in it than Pee-Wee’s Playhouse?)
Anyway, Purloin Eoin is now a Sorry Maury and says that Kangaroo Cowboy would never try to get revenge.
Larry tries to choke Dispossess Wes again and Balki pulls him off. The final Rob Bob punchline is a good one: he had tried to make this apology over the phone, but Larry wouldn’t let him talk.
Before Divest Ernest leaves, Balki asks that he pass on a “real big buckaroo howdy” to Kangaroo Cowboy.
Rob Bob: Kangaroo Cowboy doesn’t exist anymore. The strip was cancelled. Its cancellation was the event that set off the sequence at whose end we now find ourselves. I’ll have to fall back on spot illustration for magazines, under a pseudonym, essentially starting my career over. I was subsisting on hot dog sandwiches before this; now I must sustain myself with whatever my soon-weakening grip can squeeze from ketchup packets I find in the dumpster behind Bugsy Burger.
They both do Kangaroo Cowboy’s signature “howdy!” line and lasso-throwing dance, which no one would know because it’s not an animated cartoon. Rob Bob leaves.
Another silhouette appears in the doorway, limned by the light from the parking garage. “It was a dark and stormy night”, the shape says. Charles Schulz steps forward, the butt of an M1 Garand held to his shoulder.
“Suddenly, a shot rang out!”
Join me next week for “Going Once, Going Twice”!
Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Appearances left: Gorpley (1); Lydia (2)
Unused Larryoke Countdown #17:
1. See “The Gazebo”, note 112 sub-note d. Information loss was not a concern with newspapers as, like most academic libraries, the one, that is library, this author worked at was not a state or town library and was not in the practice of retaining print copies of newspapers for more than 3-6 months (depending on the individual paper). The most current edition of each newspaper was kept in the “current periodicals” section, on newspaper “tables”, each with about 10 wooden dowels from which hung a single issue of a newspaper, each section of the paper hung from a different split section of the dowel. Though 3M-brand Tattle-Tape™ was not wasted on such ephemeral (and, if a thief so desired, granularly (at page level) separable) and relatively inexpensive periodicals, the complication did arise of the number of pages in each section of the newspaper. The reader, if personal experience with the medium is sufficient, envision that one large sheet of newsprint is folded and constitutes four pages of the newspaper, and that a section of a newspaper’s total number of pages should be some multiple of four. If a section had a number of pages divisible by 2 but not by four, this meant that two pages were, when unfolded, half the size of a regular sheet, and susceptible to the risk of–nay, they were certain to be in the situation of–falling out when hung from a dowel. The author must, at those times, use regular, nearly-transparent pressure-sensitive adhesive tape to attach these half-sheets to the full sheets to facilitate a “noisy”-yet-consistent newspaper reading/browsing experience for the library patron.
*Another thing that’s part of my own internal monologue about TV and movie writing: whenever a character says a plot point out loud like that, I assume it’s in the script so someone will have a good pull-quote for a commercial. Am I alone in this?
**Kiss my MP-double-Ass!
***Other points of intersect: Mary Anne gets lines and Jennifer is seen with more than one shirt.
*****Landlord never dies they say. Other steps into his shoes when he gets his notice to quit.