Tomorrow night at 7PM Eastern is the 6th Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash! We’ll be making fun of old TV Christmas specials for five hours and I’ll be eating a pizza! Perhaps you also could eat a pizza!
(Casey woke from a dream in which a theatre-themed episode failed to set up its own “break a leg” joke, and he began to pray for the well-being of Larry and his friends.)
The show, here in its semi-final season, has been exploring the idea that the Cousins have an audience. What does Larry’s wife think of them? What does the American nuclear family think of them? What does a 10-person cross-section of Chicago think of them? What do the dead think of them? And, when faced with the prospect of their spilled seed growing legs and wauling, what do the Cousins think of themselves?
It’s such a consistent part of the season that it shows up in the good and the bad episodes. The other consistent part of the season has been to turn up the dials on what Perfect Strangers considers comedy, which makes the good episodes exceptional, and makes the bad episodes* lead to me look up exactly what type of metal the brooch pin Oedipus used would have been made from.
Perfect Strangers has been saving the remainder of its story for the four episodes following this one, so “Stress Test” is its last shot at a “done-in-one” story for Season 7. I don’t mean this in any literal sense; ABC had been so desperately trying to salvage the show’s move to Saturday night by airing episodes out of order and ███████ the Wayne Newton episode earlier in a likely attempt to boost ratings. This one was filmed earlier in the episode order.
Placed where it is, though, “Stress Test” is one final gift from Perfect Strangers to me personally, before devolving–literally–into garbage the rest of this season, and before whatever horrors Season 8 conceals. The Cousins are dysfunctional, playing out the same patterns over and over, and “Stress Test” asks the ultimate observational question: can these dysfunctions be explained by an audience of psychologists?
That’s right, you heard right, I had fuckall to say about last week’s episode other than “Newhart did it better”, but this week the Cousins take a trip down to Psychologyland, and, well
We open at the Chronicle, where TGIF (These Graphics Impart Figuration): in the left background, a Chicago Police meatwagon of similar design to the Brinks truck; on the right, the commodification of concepts of royalty in order to sell pressed beef. Government and capitalism are both forms of power, ain’t I the deepest.
Larry enters his workspace. Finally, an episode about their new jobs, right?
No, *chortles*, I jest merely.
Larry: Well, this is the biggest joke in the world.
Larry explains that Wainwright has brought in psychiatrists to observe the printers, and Balki is so amused he makes the same face I will if this show ever gets a revival.
Larry, not understanding that the printers used to take pride in their work before his articles started appearing in the paper, thinks they can’t possibly be stressed. Sorry for focusing so much on the background details here, but look closely, young reader: those of us who were children in the 90s remember when computer monitors had enough space you could put a bumper sticker on the side.
RT (Random Testing) Wainwright strides out and tells the Cousins he needs a Dimitri’s World strip a day early as they’re trying out a new format for the Sunday edition. Except for something like Doonesbury, I’m 100% certain it was standard practice for cartoonists to have a few weeks’ work built up as a buffer. Balki’s whole damn job is doing one strip per week and editing the page it appears on, and we’ve seen that he can crank out a strip in less than a minute. Can’t Wainwright just wait 10 seconds and get it now?
Psychology sidebar: Putting him in the role of delivering exposition (or, Revealing Thesis, if you like), at least when you’re as stingy as Perfect Strangers is with it, pushes Wainwright’s leadership style in a single direction. In previous seasons, Wainwright has exhibited a mix of both task-oriented and relationship-oriented leadership styles. In earlier seasons, we sometimes saw the latter, when he would compliment Larry and Balki on their work. Here, he doesn’t even say hello before assigning tasks, but
Psychology sidebar: Social penetration theory suggests that–barring the obvious counterexamples–people become more open with each other the longer they know each other. Either Wainwright doesn’t care, or the Cousins don’t let others in.
Yes Man Sr. tells Wainwright he’s correct to study those stressed printers, and the Yes Man Jr. starts laughing hysterically.
Wainwright, on his way out via the Repaired Transport, says he’s sending those Roving Therapists upstairs to check out the “nerve center” of the paper.
Larry is upset that he signed up the “city room” for testing, and Balki admits to problems with
Psychology sidebar: Meta-cognition. There are a lot of types of meta-cognition, and since there’s going to be like 100 sidebars this week I’ll try keep this brief. It’s thinking about thinking; about how well we think, about what types of thinking we’ll need to do for tasks, and thinking about how we learn. It has some scary implications, like: people who are good at a type of thinking and people who don’t know what that type of thinking entail both think they’re good at it. From an evolutionary psychology standpoint, it emerged as a survival mechanism, and in some highly-tenuous sense maybe it never emerged on an island where nobody dies, and if they do they’re just ghosts, and where they turn every English word they don’t understand into a god. But Balki knowing that he is bad at metacognition is a type of metacognition, making that a more satisfying gag than the writers intended.
Larry explains to Balki that all tests and measures reflect the values of the culture in which they were created, and moreover that
Psychology sidebar: Campbell’s Law is a more thorough exploration of the idea of surrogation. Surrogation is when a measure (test scores as indicator of student performance) become a target (test scores are student performance). Once this happens in the eyes of administrators, the measure becomes subject to corruption and being gamed by participants in a system, but nah, j/k, Larry doesn’t say any of that.
You can tell he senses it though, because Larry breaks down crying about Dad and Brother Billy, the emotion forced out on the crest of a wave, a veritable pile-up of
Attachment: Larry says that dad always gave Billy more attention, which here stands as the reason for Larry’s personality. Larry must have developed an anxious-ambivalent attachment as a child (I assume Mother Appleton typically had two or three other babies hanging off her tits at any given time during Larry’s childhood), and is now anxious-preoccupied as an adult.
Self-verification theory: Larry says dad would have liked him better if he’d ever gotten the chance to show him who he was. This isn’t entirely negative: even at the age of 31, Larry still wants someone to recognize that he is good; the alternative would be to seek out people who confirm his negative views of himself. So here’s the scariest thing we’ve learned about Larry: he picked out the most reticent woman in a city of 1.4 million of ‘em so he could have himself a purty little father surrogate to keep playing out this pattern
Additionally, Larry has gotten some bad psychological help in the past, or was unreceptive to it, thinking that they were telling him it was either his fault that he’s neurotic and bitter, or that it’s unsolvable.
Sorry, y’all, it’s like I pulled out a stopper here. I’m just excited. Hopefully I’ve penetrated you well enough by now, socially, that you’ll stick with me on this one.
Balki says he’s not worried because he’ll just be his own self, and shakes his imaginary tits to remind us who that self is. Larry says he knows that Wainwright could pick Balki’s test results out of a lineup and wants to coach him on what to say. For instance, Larry says he shouldn’t speak Myposian:
You can all relax now; I’m officially done with this season’s theme of the Cousins switching places, at least until next week.
Holy shit, though! It’s Marvin Berman! Or… is it?
Well, it’s George Wyner, at any rate. It’s fascinating that they would call him back for a third episode, for an entirely different character from his first two appearances. This isn’t in the same category as Belita Moreno, because she was, and came back as, a regular. Season 5 was mostly forgettable, but his episodes were two of the high points of the season (name a more memorable episode. I’ll wait). George Wyner is a better cameo than whatever animated mound of painter’s putty played mean Mr. Glover, because he’s recognizable, and he’s recognizable because he’s good.
I mean, go back and look at either one of Wyner’s earlier appearances, and compare his body language between the two: he’s inhabiting different characters. As Marvin Berman, Wyner takes up more space. A lot of that’s the trenchcoat, but it’s also in Wyner’s posture.
As Berman, he looms, he gets into others’ personal space. As Dr. Michael Aldritch, he hunches, he crosses his legs to keep others out of his. He’s a threat in both cases, a bear there, a coiled snake here. I don’t have any reason to believe that they wrote this part for Wyner, but I’m more than willing to believe they brought him back because–as we learned from Jo Marie–the producers really did care about establishing relationships with actors.
Anyway, Dr. Michael Aldritch (whomarvin) makes a weird face when he sees Larry speaking Myposian, which indicates he’s fallen prey to the
Psychology sidebar: Fundamental attribution error, that is, that he’s attributing behavior to personality rather than situation. The irony is that it tells him something’s wrong with Larry, but not the right wrong.
Anyway Balki hugs him and the audience laughs because that’s the kind of shit gets you put in a straitjacket in the real world.
Dr. Michael Aldritch, accepting that the Cousins are the only two people who matter on the whole floor, says the next scenes will have inkblots and word associations.
Psychology sidebar: We’ve gone from mirrors revealing Larry’s true self to Larry becoming the mirror to ambiguous imagery. Even Hermann Rorschach didn’t like the idea of his test being used to assess personality: he had intended it to be a diagnostic tool for schizophrenia. Perhaps it is the case that any object, intensely regarded, may be a gate of access to the human soul, but I’d question the validity (does it actually test what it says it tests) and reliability (how well does it test it) of image interpretation alone. But what therapists are really looking at at is response time, facial expressions, whether the subject rotates the images, did they ask permission to do so, etc. Also I read that they’re not used as much as in previous decades because–thanks to television–people think they know how the test works and have seen the images besides. (The ones here are not from the original test.)
Larry’s lines are the funniest I’ve ever seen in any Rorshach scene.
Larry: Man’s relentless quest to return to–and liberate–the child within, as I have.
I would have guessed “what a cow’s head looks like when you open it with a rock” for Balki’s line, but he says “butterfly”.
Larry: Man in turmoil, uh, struggling to reach the… level of inner peace I have.
Psychology sidebar: but already, Larry is trying to game the results. For one, Larry thinks that the testing will risk Balki’s–and thus somehow his–something at the Chronicle and has changed his behavior to project what he thinks Wainwright wants to hear. The demand characteristics of the experiment are impacting Larry’s responses, which aren’t even as concealing as he hopes.
Psychology sidebar: Why, after all, is Larry talking about turmoil, or his inner child? By claiming he’s overcome these things, he’s creating a Streisand effect which would lead even lay persons to think something’s there.
Or since we know him well enough to know these are his fears, read his lines as him actually letting slip what the blots make him think of, and quickly scrambling to claim mastery.
Psychology sidebar: Dr. Marvin Aldritch moves on to word association. The joke you usually see is that, like, “boy” → “girl” is healthy association**, and strange words, or repeated words are indications of a problem area; that’s the route Perfect Strangers took in Season 2’s “Beautiful Dreamer”. Being slow to offer an associated word can indicate repression, the subject thinking that their response is not appropriate, or reveals too much about them; but it could also mean that they have too many words coming at once, which limits the test.
But you know what? I still like them better than Myers-Briggs or Enneagrams, because they don’t pretend to be some super-tool of psychological insight.
Psychology sidebar: Fuck Myers-Briggs and Enneagrams or whatever test built from a theoretical model instead of experimental evidence that your boss bought for the office retreat so they can be lazy in understanding any of your individuality from then on. Fuck any test that tells you what you already know about yourself. It’s astrology for college graduates.
Anyway, I’m not put off by 80% of women’s dating profiles, you are. The rapid switching back and forth between Balki’s and Larry’s answers is a new structure for this show, and is miles away better than hearing them disagree every day over who gets to sit on which side of the couch, which slice of Pioli’s Pizza each gets, or whether they use the red or the black bück dich paddle. It’s a condensed way of showing their differences, and they similarities. When Dr. Aldritch asks Larry and Balki why he–he Larry married, he Balki bachelor–still live with their cousin,
Psychology sidebar: each say that the other is helpless without them. There’s a little bit of downward social comparison there, but I’d put this one more in the category of illusion of asymmetric insight: “I know more about you than you know about me”.
Perfect Strangers, thinking it’s at the end of its run, knows these characters, and their relationship with each other, are fixed completely. There’s literally no time left for anyone but Balki to grow just enough to get married. The show presents the ironies before story takes back over, and it found a way to do so in a fairly pure form. And it’s piling up ironies faster than a Casey can write up a
Psychology sidebar: Dr. Michael Berman pulls another face at the end of the scene, which in any other situation would create an observer-expectancy effect. It’s incredibly hard to create controlled conditions, and when it comes to face-to-face testing, it would seem researchers need the ultimate poker face to not influence a subject’s response. The irony, of course, is that it won’t register with a Balki whose mind–sorry I forgot this at the beginning of the episode–wanders quickly.***
We come back to the Chronicle later that day, Balki at drawing table, Larry obviously trying to squeeze a fart through his obstructed bowels. Enter Wainwright, who says that he’s going to use the data from Dr. Michael Aldritch to Rethink some of the office Traditions. That’s… unbelievably quick to be instituting changes to procedure or workplace paradigm, unless Wainwright is the most open-minded manager in Chicago and has no trustees or human resources department to answer to. I mean, unless their current practices were leading people to jump off the b…
Wainwright says that the Cousins have to report to Dr. Aldritch’s clinic the next morning at 9 o’clock. Forget the Dimitri strip Balki was working on, I guess. Balki is so excited he does the traditional Myposian butter-churning dance.
THEY’RE ALL LOOKING AT YOU, BALKI.
Larry starts worrying that Wainwright’s looking to fire people who can’t stand up to stress on the job. Come on, Larry. Your job is to write your own opinion, sound smart, and keep Balki from picking his nose so hard it bleeds. Besides, you shot Wainwright in the ass. He would have fired you ages ago if he weren’t worried about a Wainlawsuitin’.
The “oh no” music comes on. Oh no! Larry might actually get the professional help he needs!
Here we are at the Dr. Michael M.B. Aldritch Clinic for Inverted Cousins.
Balki runs into the room (can no one walk?) and is so excited that I wonder if the joke is supposed to be he’s excited at finally seeing what a “clinic” is.
Balki starts cataloguing, but only gets as far as formica and simulated wood before Larry comes in, considering whether he should take up his uncle’s profession as door-to-door Meat for Life salesman.
Psychology sidebar: you may have heard that there’s a huge reproducibility/replicability crisis in psychology, that long-held “knowledge” comes from experiments which, when run again, don’t give the same results. If knowledge is the end goal, I fail to see why anyone would feel it’s a crisis: getting to throw out bad theories in favor of new ones is how I want every science to work. We’ve already dipped into how experimenters can create demand expectations in their subjects, how subjects can second-guess experimenters, and the linear aspects of tests (like inkblots) becoming public. Lots of psych. experiments take place at colleges, and college students tend to change with their culture (and, hey, they’re not adults, and many of them historically American and white). Aside from the whole lab-setting-vs-real-life problem, aspects of where you test can come into play. Temperature, paint colors, windows, mirrors, something that looks like an eye, which questions come before others in an inventory–all of these can have unwanted impacts.
All that to say it’s really damn weird to have this take place in what’s obviously a medical doctor’s office. How many of you have been to a psychiatrist’s office where they had tongue depressors? Balki, are the writers desperate for good jokes, or are they just really proud of this one?
Nevermind. It’s thankfully the only major misstep in this episode. I’ve been trying to stay out of the psychiatric ward myself, so I’m not going to sweat some mismatched props.
Balki hugs “Dr. Mike” and–
–yeah y’all can make your own joke about Balki sticking six inches of wood into someone’s mouth, because I’ve got a
Psychology sidebar: It’s the woman who works in the basement, the one whom, thanks to the poor quality of the VHS copies I had in previous seasons, I had assumed might be Latina. What springs to mind here is change blindness: that we will ignore (or not even notice) a change in what we’re perceiving. One of my favorite studies is from 1998****, where one experimenter would approach a variety of people on a college campus asking for directions. While talking to these people, two men would rudely walk between carrying a door; the first experimenter would grab the door and keep walking, while the other experimenter took their place asking directions. Only 50% of the people they approached noticed the change, and even some of those who did notice continued the conversation without remark. What’s more–in the debriefing, when asked if they noticed anything unusual, some still didn’t say they had noticed it, only admitting to it when the experimenter asked specifically about the change of person.
This is kind of an inversion of that (for inverted cousins), so call it role change blindness, I guess. Either it’s not registering to the Cousins, or Balki’s forgotten these people and
Psychology sidebar: Larry’s not willing to question authority, or any part of what’s going on, for fear of a “bad score”. See Milgram’s obedience studies.
More on role change blindness later. Larry takes Balki three feet away (psychology sidebar: lack of object permanence?) and whips him.
For now, Dr. Aldritch says the devices around Larry and Balki’s necks will monitor their “stress” levels. Balki argues briefly over who sits where.
Dr. Aldritch and–well, let’s call her Linda–depart into the next room. Balki is overwhelmed by the possibilities of the colors and shapes on the table before him.
Cousin Larry tells Balki that Dr. Aldritchhorror can see them through the two-way glass, so Balki starts doing a Richard Simmons impression in front of the mirror.
Okay, two major missteps for this episode. But, again, the ironies on display here are great. Cousin Larry screams at Balki and pulls him away, and then immediately warns that they could be revealing the depth of their thoughts. And–the funny voice and the controlling behavior–that’s it, that’s as deep as these guys go anymore. Even Mary Anne–who’s so dumb she thinks cerebellum refers to the period after the Civil War, pons Varolii was a Star Trek character, and kids afraid of Santa are claustrophobic–has moments of profound insight.
Larry flips out over Balki putting bunny ears on him (doing this to people was my constant goal from ages 6-10), and the camera switches briefly to the observation room, where Dr. Aldritch is laughing.
I’m sure you held no worries about Larry’s continued employment at the Chronicle, and I doubt the show thought you would either; but this hint comes at the perfect moment. The show tells us we don’t have to worry, but it also tells us not to expect Larry to worry like a normal person would. The hint that Dr. Aldritch is not a serious professional is a promise that the Cousins are about to be even less so. It also puts the audience on Aldritch’s side.
Larry’s Mother Box starts going off, and blame it on that electronic bell, boy, but it stresses him out even more.
This episode is so good it even remembers details from past seasons: Balki encourages Larry to practice the breathing exercises from the Think and Grow Calm tapes from Season 6’s “See How They Run”.
Balki: I am a Halloween.
I’m really amazed that the writers are putting forth this much effort. Taking the time to ask themselves whether the subject matter had been treated in a previous episode is a rarity for any 90s sitcom, not just Perfect Strangers.
Dr. Aldritch tells them they have one minute to assemble the United States. And, gosh, folks, ain’t they already done that? Don’t the Cousins’ relationship just about resemble that ol’ melting pot itself? Shucks.
Larry wants to have a plan to put together the mostly-already-done (puzzle? tangrams? Unclesamgrams?) and Balki wants to make a game out of it. Larry screams and cries, curiously not setting off his monitor.
Together, Larry and Balki sing their way through the United States. Psychology of personality is something I’m not well-read on, but
Psychology sidebar: while they hum a few bars I’ll fake it. So, I fall more on the side of social psychology: moment to moment, our behaviors are determined by what or who is around us. But at the far end of this kind of thinking is B.F. Skinner’s claim that he could take any kid and make a doctor, lawyer, whatever he wanted, out of them. The nature side–assigning personality types to people–always strikes me as deterministic and hopeless, but, sure, if you want to divide people up along various axes, go for it. Various typing models divide people into groups based on their values, their manner of relating to themselves, to each other, their locus of control, their drives, their focusses. I think my head spins (it simply swurls) because a) the vocabulary we use about personality seems pretty straightforward until you try to systematize it and b) I don’t know enough to grasp the applications of typing people. (Also the models are super culture-bound.) Even the middle-ground of debates of nature vs. nurture seem to focus on childhood, when both aspects will change across a lifespan. I basically just wrote 200 words to shrug, but it’s too complex for me right now.
Balki somehow knows the 1924 Al Jolson song “California Here I Come”.
P.S.: But where I’m more comfortable is talking about personality disorders. Per the DSM-5, Cousin Larry has an avoidant personality disorder. He exhibits “low self-esteem associated with self-appraisal” and “excessive feelings of shame and inadequacy”. He has intense “preoccupation with criticism or rejection” as well as “reluctance to get involved with people unless… certain of being liked”; emotional and experiential detachment, and constant “negative affectivity”, marked by “worry about the negative effects of past unpleasant experiences and future negative possibilities”.
Larry also could be diagnosed with a paranoid personality disorder, as he meets five out of the seven criteria: doubts about the trustworthiness of others; holding grudges; believes his reputation is under attack (without objective evidence); suspects intimate partners of being unfaithful; will not confide in others for fear of being betrayed.
Balki sings “The Yellow Rose of Texas”.
P.S.: Balki presents with some elements of a schizotypal personality disorder. He has incoherent goals; “pronounced difficulty understanding impact of [his] own behaviors on others” (treatment of Mary Anne); as well as misunderstanding others’ motivations; says unusual and inappropriate things; odd thought process; engages in magical thinking and ideas of reference (random events have personal significance). If it weren’t for the qualifying statement in the DSM-5 that the behavior can’t be caused by head trauma, it would be an easy diagnosis.
Cousin Larry starts getting into it and sings “My Old Kentucky Home”.
P.S.: Jennifer Lyons-Corn-Appleton meets four of the seven criteria (all you need for a diagnosis) for schizoid personality disorder: she takes pleasure in few activities; has little interest in sex; lacks close friends; and has a flat affect (—).
Balki and Larry join together on “Oh! Susanna”, and then “My Old Virginny Home”. America: co-opting black language and experience for the white man’s entertainment since 1848!
P.S.: Mary Anne’s fine.
The Cousins end by singing “Theme from New York, New York”.
P.S.: Of course, a general criterion for any personality disorder is that it significantly impair the individual’s functioning in their daily life. Larry could advocate assassinating heads of state in his column, and Balki could draw Dimitri mounting his sheep buddy Giorgos, and neither would get fired. Also, these constellations of personality traits are not considered disordered if they’re normative for the person’s sociocultural environment. They’re in a sitcom (whom borderline personality disorder: unstable self-image, frequent mood changes, dissociative states, impulsivity; and narcissistic personality disorder: exaggerated self-appraisal, intimate relationships forged for personal gain, attention-seeking), so they’re doing all right.
Dr. Aldritch: Wonderful, boys! You just got renewed for another season!
The Cousins are so excited that they do that move they do sometimes where they pretend to rip the testicles off God Himself.
The final test that Prof. Herr. Dr. Dr. Michael Aldritch, LCSW, Psy.D., M.D., M.B., T.G.I.F., gives them is to sort and count colored sheets of paper. While they do this, he has Linda raise the temperature to 100 degrees; he all but drools over how fun it is to do this to people. Someone, in between writing Aldritch’s lines and Larry & Balki’s lines, forgot what the test was supposed to be, but that’s okay, it can work on a different level: Balki would easily misunderstand and Larry’s stressed enough to forget.
And at this point, it’s clear that Dr. Aldritch is just plain fucking with the cousins. He starts asking them questions to disturb their task (what is your phone number, are you jealous of your wife working with attractive pilots, if Mary Anne is your girlfriend what color are her nipples).
Eventually Balki turns on the fan, blowing the paper all over the place. Man, they got lucky getting this shot:
And the scene ends with Dr. Aldritch telling Balki that Larry is going to Disneyland without him; and Larry realizing that the whole thing was a setup to pit them against each other. Jeez, they were really gunning for a two-parter at Disney next season, weren’t they?
The show doesn’t have a good punchline to end the scene, but that’s okay. Not every joke has to have a good punchline. If I was going to improve it at all, it would be to end the scene with the both of them crying. But it all still works.
Actually, things working on different levels, and a combination of good writing and luck are how I would describe this whole episode.
Psychology sidebar: Let’s talk Solomon Asch and social norms/conformity. His famous studies from the early 1950s***** involved a test being part of a group (of 7 to 9 others who were secretly working for Asch), seated in two rows, being asked to look at successive images of a lines and say which one of three other lines (a, b, and c) was equal to it in length. For the first four images shown, all secret experimenters gave the correct answer; but after that unanimously gave the wrong answer for the rest of the images. The question is: would the test subjects go along with what they knew were incorrect answers? Yes, about 75% of them would. Very few went with the group every time, but most would part of the time.
The text of the episode is good enough on its own. It’s another example of this season’s answer to the source of Larry’s problems: it’s both internal and external. Others pick on Larry, and then he does the rest to himself. “The Sunshine Boys” failed by only hinting at this, but “Stress Test” marries the two together beautifully. You could pick basically any Perfect Strangers episode up to this point at random and accuse it of (psychology sidebar: “social trap”, a tragedy-of-the-commons style effect where individual impact affects a whole, like power outages caused by everyone turning on their air conditioners; see also law of triviality, where more effort is put into easily-grasped aspects of developing something complex) going for physical comedy at the expense of character and story, but this one draws the former directly out of the latter.
And Larry “passing” the test by seeing through its facade is a better single-episode character arc than most sitcoms have. It’s not Uncle Jesse promising Michelle he’ll spend more time with her fifty times over; it’s Larry having an epiphany that doesn’t necessarily need to carry over into other episodes. If it does, we can’t say what form it would take: he might stop worrying about perceived external threats because they’re hollow; or he could be even more paranoid.
But the different levels at play here, and the luck, and the Asch stuff, and the “role change” blindness, comes from the possibly-inadvertent use of George Wyner and Basement Linda. It turns a sequence about an unethical psychiatrist into a test of whether Larry’s willing to call out what’s going on. First he’s one of only two people on his floor being tested; and by a man whom he’s interacted with twice before; and in the face of shortened deadlines, is asked to ignore his work for a day; and finds that the psychiatrist’s assistant is a person he saw daily for almost five years. The Prisoner got nothing on this!
Balki will protest Larry’s lies, but finally go along with them; Larry will swallow bullshit like it’s Maalox all day long.
After the weary weary while both for patients and doctor, we finally return to The Chronicle, where Larry is on the phone with Alice******, Wainwright’s secretary, who tells them he’ll be there soon. After 140 episodes, do you really think I’d question the Cousins just knowing on their own that Wainwright will soon be in his office at the beginning of a workday, show? No, what’s weird is that Larry and Balki say “Alice” together like it’s some long-running catchphrase, and even more weird that they couldn’t walk the five yards downstage to Wainwright’s office to talk to her.
The Cousins apologize to each other until RT (Rigged Trials) Wainwright comes in. He tells the Cousins that, per Aldritch, they’re the perfect team because each personality corrects the other. He reveals that he watched the tape of their clinic test, and he’s planned a viewing party for it that very night.
And here’s the luck part again: this episode was filmed before “The Elevator”, but aired here, it’s F.J. O’Neill’s final speaking episode. His role over the past five seasons has mostly been to introduce the plot of the week, set the Cousins on their way to physical comedy, and Retreat Tacitly until the final scene. But the suggestion that he’s a Ringleader, Troublemaker, that he employed people from the Cousins’ lives to gaslight them (ahem) elevates his character. I mean, isn’t that all it would take? Scare Larry with the mere thought of psychologists studying employees, and two seconds later he’s begging to be studied. You couldn’t ask for a higher level of reliability in an employee. It’s as though Wainwright has embraced his role on a meta-level, and it’s a great send-off for the character.
“Stress Test” is easily my favorite episode of season 7, and maybe even the second half of Perfect Strangers. For all that I complain that the characters don’t respond to situations like real people would, or that there’s never a focus on real-life concerns like giving a shit what your wife or girlfriend think or feel, “Stress Test” is a good argument that completely fabricated situations can be fruitful sources of character-driven comedy. Really the only thing that could have brought my opinion of this episode down would be if there was a psychology expert character that the show forg–
The music comes on, obliterating any chance that Larry might consider suing Wainwright. Larry and Cousin Balki take on each other’s voices and catchphrases again, missing their deadline for the Sunday edition, staunch in their misunderstanding of each other, de-natured boy and un-nurtured man, piers undisappointed, aware of the dangers of “Bridge”, fighting their way to the credits, fine on their islands, no longer needing to compare themselves to Gilligan and the Skipper, filling each others’ holes.
Join me next week for “…Or Get Off the Pot”!
*Just in case you’re wondering, I think “The Play’s the Thing” was a very, very bad episode.
**Larry: young, well adjusted urban warrior with a desire to help others on his way toward adulthood.
I laughed so fucking hard.
***Psychology sidebar: I’d hate to skip over a possible diagnosis of ADHD–or worse–anterograde amnesia. The implication that Balki can’t form short- or long-term memories makes this the only time I’ve ever seen a sitcom provide a reason for why the dumb character is so dumb, and even more–why characters can’t remember lessons they’ve learned.
****Simons, D.J., & Levin, D.T. (1998). Failure to detect changes to people during a real-world interaction. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 5(4), 644-649.
*****Asch, S.E. (1956). Studies of independence and conformity: I. A minority of one against a unanimous majority. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied, 70(9), 1-70.
******Alice? Who the fuck is Alice?
P.S. P.S. for P.S.: Nowhere this really fits, but for extra credit watch these 1960s kids take a hammer to an inflatable Bobo doll: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmBqwWlJg8U Try and tell me that’s not Larry-as-a-Boy.
Catchphrase count: Balki (1); Larry (0)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Unused Larryoke Countdown 11: “No More Mr. Wainwright” – Alice Cooper
3 thoughts on “Season 7, Episode 20: Stress Test”
“Season 5 was mostly forgettable, but his episodes were two of the high points of the season (name a more memorable episode. I’ll wait)”
Tooth or Consequences? That one I remembered from it’s original airing (along with the Father Knows Best). But yeah, a pretty forgettable season.
And agreed. Stress Test is the last good episode of the series (in fact, would probably be in my top 5 overall). I don’t remember much of the next four episodes, so here’s hoping there’s a few good moments that surprise me. Tom Devanney wrote the season finale, so maybe it’s half way decent? Not holding my breath.
I’ll grant you Tooth or Consequences had a good comedy sequence once they finally got there.
Psychology sidebar: Freud might classify both cousins as having an oral-stage fixation: Larry from getting too little breastfeeding (sharing his mother’s nipples with 8 brothers and sisters); Balki too much (although in his case, it’s less “too much breastfeeding” and more “too much breast, feeding”). Both shows signs of oral-stage fixation adult consequence. Larry is manipulative to get his needs filled; Balki remains a child so that others will provide for him. Also they both stick stuff in their mouths this week (Larry larryhand and Balki balsasticky).
If knowledge is the end goal, I fail to see why anyone would feel it’s a crisis: getting to throw out bad theories in favor of new ones is how I want every science to work.
While that’s true, a reproducability crisis seems to imply “Not only is everything we know wrong, we don’t even know how to science.” It suggests not only are the results wrong, not only is the methodology is wrong, but the basic foundational principles that underwrite the metholdology is wrong as well, which is worse than back-to-step-one – it’s back-to-step-on-reflection-what-are-numbers-anyway.