How I Spent My Summer Vacation 1992/1993

These intermission posts have proven to be kind of a cool-down cycle for the blog. I don’t think we’ve uncovered anything terribly informational or insightful about these actors’ careers. I had some vague notion when I first decided to try this type of post out that there was some joke buried in it that this seemingly-great show didn’t do much for anyone outside of the paychecks and stardom they got for ~8 years. But I was making a bad assumption. Having a regular career, ongoing recognition, and never having anything happen along the way to make fans stop liking you is–I’m 100% confident in saying–a rarity for actors. And that conceptual Venn diagram has more circles than just those three.

Spoiler: about half of these people faded into obscurity as far as mainstream Hollywood/television goes. The actors on Perfect Strangers were just TV actors and got as much work as any TV actors did. It would be a statistical aberration otherwise. I got kind of sucked into Bronson’s apparent sense of himself of having an upward career trajectory and had this crazy notion that this was a bit misguided of him. *ahem*

We’ve never learned that any of these people wound up homeless and starving, so we can assume they must have figured out some way to have an income, either through theatre, marriage, or through some other skills they had. The inverse of that is that perhaps Bronson–who’s had the longest and most visible career of any of them–doesn’t know anything but acting. But other than Bronson, none of them seemed to be trying to turn their role on Perfect Strangers into anything more.*

We’ve got the end of Perfect Strangers in sight, and there’s something to be said for not getting in the way of momentum. But it’s also just a familiar feeling to say

Melanie Wilson

Nuthin’

one more time, isn’t it? Obviously she did do more after Perfect Strangers, and you can read more about it on IMDB. Of minor note is that she showed up on both Family Matters and Step by Step, playing multiple one-off characters in the latter. The only reason it’s at all of note is that these three sitcoms are in what we’d now consider a “shared universe”.

Back around when I finished season 4 and wrote up my “Family Matters Recused” post, I was thinking that one type of fun “bonus” post I could write was all of the doppelgängers that exist across ABC/Miller-Boyett/Bickley-Warren programs, specifically in the Full House/Family Matters/Perfect Strangers/Step by Step tetrad.

You can go lookup whatever speculative bullshit you want about further connections and how shaky they might be–but I’ll say this: actors playing their characters and called by that character’s name without any hint of wink to the audience, on a separate program, counts as a crossover and puts those two shows in the same universe. And even Step by Step fucking broke that by having someone refer to watching Full House. Perfect Strangers making reference to Happy Days in “Games People Play” doesn’t count because Happy Days was in no position to consent to a “crossover”.

Just like in season 6’s “Out of Sync”, where Mr. Enright has a rooftop set an exact duplicate to the one Steve did the Urkel on the week previous, the weirdness comes in when exact doppelgängers start showing up.

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Mark Linn-Baker appearing on Full House as Dick Donaldson (Aunt Becky’s cousin**), for those of you who demand logical consistency in any piece of media you watch, just means that Larry has an exact doppelgänger wandering around Nebraska somewhere. Or maybe not exact. Dick Donaldson could have polyorchidism or something. But Melanie Wilson appears as a talkshow host on Family Matters, which means that Harriette at some point saw her. Mark Linn-Baker also showed up as Harriette’s new boss at one point, and it makes even less sense she’d be thrown by that.

I had thought about exploring all these things, and what it might mean that, say, Bartok looked just like Balki. But I could never come up with a good angle or even a point to it, and I’m not in the business of writing stuff that even Mental Floss would turn down, so that’s why you’re getting this meandering mess. There’s a sci-fi story lurking in there somewhere, but the Edwina/Lydia stuff gave me more than enough to work with.

 

Bronson Pinchot

He was in some Eek! the Cat cartoon or whatever that I’m not going to watch. Hot tip: if you’re watching Eek! the Cat and there’s a French chef, it’s probably Bronson. I’m not going to talk about his career after Perfect Strangers in this post. Like I said, this is a cool-down stretch.

I sure am spilling a lot of words on what I’m not doing, aren’t I? Let’s get back to the actual content.

 

Rebeca Arthur

A Dangerous Woman (December 1993)

Completely outside the timeframe of Perfect Strangers but I love Rebeca so I watched it.

A Dangerous Woman is a novel-adaptation movie starring Debra Winger as a woman with “intellectual impairments” (which kind of reads like an autism spectrum disorder but which in the novel evidently had some form of sexual humiliation as its root) who gets assaulted, mistreated, disbelieved, verbally shat on by damn near every other character, winding up pregnant by an irresponsible advantage-taking alcoholic and in jail because she killed a guy who was repeatedly threatening and physically aggressive to her.

All that and it still manages to not be the most depressing movie I’ve watched for this blog.

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Rebeca plays a checkout girl at a grocery store. Turns out all you have to do is put her in a K-Mart sweater, apply a little less makeup, tousle her hair, and she becomes “Hollywood poor”.

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Rebeca also did her fourth (and final? IMDB doesn’t even list this one) appearance on Circus of the Stars in 1991, doing a bungee jump. I love Rebeca Arthur. We haven’t gotten many opportunities to see these actors as real people. Melanie tells the exact same story in every interview, Mark plays a game to see how few syllables he can say in five minutes, and Bronson just goofs off. Rebeca took an opportunity to do something challenging and we get to see her as a real person, nervous as heck before doing a bungee jump for the very first time.

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Also, could there be a more 1991 outfit than what she’s wearing? Show of hands for who else had that Trapper Keeper. Hard to see how this stunt really fits into the circus theme, but I love Rebeca. She’s great.

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Mark Linn-Baker

Mark was in some short thing called Mickey’s Audition for Disney/MGM Studios and if you have a time machine and can take me back there, drop me off right back here and I’ll edit this post to talk about it.

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He was also on one episode of Ghostwriter, as a cop.

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Ghostwriter premiered in 1992 on PBS, and I had absolutely zero interest in it based on the advertising. In the last one of these posts, I was trying to figure out what did and didn’t appeal to me as a kid. Explicitly educational things didn’t. I convinced my mom to get me a subscription to the Wildlife Fact File: every month or so, the company would send you a set of pieces of paper to put into a 3-ring binder. Each sheet had a photo of an animal and some facts about its habitat and diet on the back…

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…I assume that’s what was on them, anyway. I would look at the pictures once, maybe twice, wonder about how two different things in the world came to be known as “boobies”, and never look at them again. In retrospect, it was the collecting aspect that appealed to me.

Ghostwriter wasn’t explicitly educational, so what was it that didn’t appeal to me? What was I watching from 1991-1993 (age 6-8)?

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Well, as far as the networks went, a fuckload of cartoons. I was still watching Garfield and Friends and Slimer! and the Real Ghostbusters, even if the latter was losing its appeal. Camp Candy and Bobby’s World, and Back to the Future appealed to me on the basis of recognition. Chip & Pepper’s Cartoon Madness was one of those shows where the hosts and some kids would just goof around and tell corny jokes in between cartoons, and “wacky world” (Chip & Pepper were, according to the show’s lore, surfboarding bulldogs who came to our dimension, evidently for the sole purpose of watching Captain Caveman) shit is my shit.

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I think I mentioned before we didn’t cable (or even Fox) when I was a kid. Many of you likely remember that, back then, if all you had was a rooftop antenna, you were at the mercy of whatever special programming a network might like to show. I only had ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS, but CBS would hand over its Saturday mornings to college football, and I was lucky if I could catch the end credits of The Amazing Live Sea Monkeys. Looking back at old schedules, this also explains why I never once saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles anywhere but on the tapes I had from Burger King.

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(Is this boring you? I really do apologize for all of this navel-gazing, but I’m the kind of person who can get their thoughts and emotions in order by writing them out. Suffice it to say I’m trying to access the Casey that was eager to see Season 8 of Perfect Strangers. If it helps at all, I am curious to know your viewing experience as a kid. Especially if you had siblings: I didn’t have to fight over a remote. Ever.)

Not that I would have necessarily liked a lot of what CBS or Fox were offering anyway. This time period gave us not only Batman: the Animated Series (less complicated art somehow signalled a step backwards to my young brain; I read the comics until I realized there was far less talking than in regular Batman comics), but a ton of Disney cartoons. I was “too old” for Winnie the Pooh by then, and I’m sure I was aware of a Little Mermaid cartoon long enough to dismiss it. But the other major shows–Goof Troop, Marsupilami, Bonkers–by that point I associated Disney art with blandness. Shit, throw Sonic the Hedgehog in there too. Just looked bland to me. An anthropomorphic hedgehog eating chili dogs wasn’t as cool as an anthropomorphic turtle, which in turn wasn’t as funny as a cat eating lasagna. It all made perfect sense back then, I promise you. I’m told that Darkwing Duck holds up pretty well, and Batman too; but I missed the moment.

I think the point is I had begun to make judgments about the age-appropriateness of media based on its art style. Art was important to me. I watched Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego entirely for the little cartoons of the criminals (and Rockapella).

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Seriously, if the new Carmen Sandiego cartoon doesn’t have a racially-diverse pair of Mac Tonights in it, turn it off.

In case it never came up before: I grew up an only child. The house I lived in was set well off the road, about as opposite to the experience of living in a neighborhood where there’s other kids as it got. School (and the after-school program) were all I had for making friends. Television and video games and books–and certainly not the board games my parents would buy me–were my refuge. And this was even more the case when my parents divorced during the time period under discussion, because the parent who left (and whom I saw on the weekends) also moved to a place without many other kids around. It’s not like they had the money to be choosy.

In that peri-divorce period, both parents were either working jobs that took them away from town, or required them to be on-call at their place of work. In retrospect I suspect they would both just disappear for a day or two. That sounds more dire than it was, because what I  do remember is spending a lot of time on the weekends with grandparents who had cable.

At the same time that Step by Step and Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper premiered, I suddenly had unsupervised and access to Fox, MTV, TBS, and Nickelodeon. Even just a few weeks ago, I was scratching my head at why I hadn’t followed Perfect Strangers to Saturday nights in 1992, but now I remember: it was because I was watching Nick @ Nite.

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Once I had the choice between Ren & Stimpy and Biker Mice from Mars, it was absolutely no contest. As far as I was concerned, nothing important was happening anymore on the networks unless it was a cartoon that appeared to be for adults (The Simpsons, Family Dog, later The Critic). I was there for the beginning of Beavis & Butt-head and The State, and I knew how wide swathes of adults felt about them. My own experience biases me, but I think there’s something to be said for letting kids consume media targeted to people older than them.

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And that something, I’d argue, is puncturing the shitty versions of “truth” that insecure adults peddle to their kids, often because they’re embarrassed for buying into it themselves. That was one of the driving theses of The Adventures of Pete and Pete, another show that was transformative to my experience when it premiered. Pete and Pete featured a kid winning the bedtime argument by staying awake for 11 days straight; meanwhile Yogi the Bear was a decade late to New Wave fashion and Slimer was, idunno, in a prank war with a cat or something. That mess was extremely worn out.

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I have a personal theory that television–and then even moreso the internet–have contributed to the opioid epidemic in the United States. Not so much that images/glorification of drug use in the media are too normalized, but that getting to see some condensation of what’s considered the average/“real” human experience around the country can engender negative feelings toward what your hometown has. (Another truth I picked up from a porno comic I read on the sly when I was about 12: “You’re only bored if you’re boring”.)

Whether it was my situation, or my own tendencies, that meant I watched a lot of TV and read a lot of books instead of becoming a delinquent, is beside the point. I turned to books and television, and my experience, tastes, and what I was ready for/needed informed the choices I made. I felt a lot of envy watching real kids on television: I never waited for the bus on some suburban street, and I certainly never was part of some group of kids (and city kids, at that!) like on Ghostwriter.

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Somehow my life wasn’t “real”, and maybe I just didn’t feel any kinship with kids working together to solve something.

Or maybe it was the fact that the best they could do for a damn cartoon ghost was a dot and a few lines. Come the fuck on.

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So anyway I watched this episode of Ghostwriter, which is part 5 of a 5-part story. It starts out by telling me that it took these idiot children four episodes to not even decode a whole sentence.

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The only show I’ve seen move any more slowly than this was Teletubbies. The story is some shit about this gang of four kids who call themselves “Thabtos”. They put on masks, steal backpacks, leave coded clues all over the place, and have club meetings in a warehouse…

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…all for the purpose of getting quarters from said backpacks so they can play at the arcade. We’re supposed to believe these kids are badass, but their meetings start out with them mimicking the school system (the same one, we assume, that couldn’t reach them) and taking roll. I guess people will develop a religion for anything, huh?

Anyway there’s some ghost who pulls letters off their NKOTB posters or whatever else is lying around and makes those letters float in the air to help the kids solve word puzzles. Remember last time around we talked about Square One Television? It had a segment called Mathnet each episode, and five segments across one week was one story. Ghostwriter is like 30 times that length for the same amount of story. Why can’t Ghostwriter just follow the bad guys, come back, and rearrange the letters from a stock market page of the newspaper to speed things up?

And what’s supposed to happen when these kids get old enough to masturbate, will Ghostwriter rearrange the letters in “Dear Penthouse, I never thought it could happen to me?”

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Anyway like I said Mark’s a cop in this. It’s curious given his CV that he would be in a children’s program. I do wonder if the first week of shows for something like this functioned as a pilot, testing out relationships, personalities, and side characters. Kids solving mysteries and crimes need a cop in their environment to provide story closure, so it may have seemed like something that would become a recurring role. And maybe he wanted something regular but simple after Perfect Strangers. Who knows?

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He was also on an installment of the General Motors Playwrights Theater for A&E, in a production of “The Whole Shebang”. That makes more sense than a kid’s show. No, I can’t find it. Yes, there’s a clip available online. No, I won’t watch it. I’d watch the whole thing, but not just a clip. Don’t send me the whole thing if you have it. The moment’s passed.

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There is a clip of him talking about it, though. Mark always seems pretty guarded in interviews, but here, I wonder if he’s just plain far less comfortable talking about acting than he is doing it. Here’s an actual quote about doing a play for TV:

“It’s like doing a play very quickly, or doing a sitcom very slowly. It’s in the middle ground. You have rehearsal time to flesh things out, and to examine, but at the same time, it ends up in a process of shooting it and getting it on tape or film.”

Wait, don’t tell me, Mark–I bet they use a camera to film it, don’t they?

Noises Off

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I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Mark was in a film version of a play called Noises Off, about a production of a play that goes off the rails for every conceivable reason.*** The actors can’t remember their lines, what to do with crucial props, they show up drunk, they seem unable to grasp the internal logic of their characters’ actions. Then the play goes well for a while, and then it goes badly because the actors have all been sleeping with/around on each other, and finally it goes badly for everything happening at once.

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It was just hard enough to follow that a play-by-play review wouldn’t be worth it and would take longer than just watching the thing. It’s an impressive hour and a half of tight piece-moving. It reminds me of a piece I played in high school band called “Country Band March”.

But knowing that Noises Off had been a successful play for the decade preceding this movie makes the movie less impressive. On stage, sure, the actors could get away with making actual mistakes, and the movie becomes like the studio album of your favorite live band. But on stage, they have to get everything wrong the right way at the right time, every time. I’d actually be interested in seeing how the play is staged, since the movie has some camera cuts between the stage and the backstage during some of the complex parts.

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Mark’s in it. He plays the stage manager’s assistant who quietly bumbles, runs around, and looks nervous. Also there’s a scene where he touches Michael Caine’s butt.

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He had what I’m sure was a long and rewarding acting career after that, but I don’t have to care and you can’t make me! He said the f-word in The Leftovers and that’s all you’re getting out of me about Mark post-1993!

 

Susan

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I saw you the other day

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You didn’t see me, or at least you didn’t show it

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I couldn’t tell if you were happy or sad

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I was surprised to find I didn’t care

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About your cowboys

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I held on so long to you

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That you didn’t exist anymore

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But you were living

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And I was living

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_____________________________________________

*Contrast with, say, Darius McCrary from Family Matters, for whom at least one or two episodes seemed to be given over to attempts to launching his music career.

**”I have…” “Oh God.” “…mercy.”

***Every trope that Catie mentioned in “The Play’s the Thing” happens here, with the exception of a homosexual character.

N.b. Lise Cutter declined to be interviewed for Perfect Strangers Reviewed.

Join me next week for our very last reportage post. Or maybe something else! Who knows, these days?

5 thoughts on “How I Spent My Summer Vacation 1992/1993

  1. Ok, first of all–get yourself to a theater showing “Noises Off.” It’s a fantastic play (if done well, which hopefully your local theater does). It works like this: the first half of the play is the “backstage,” so the set is showing you the back of the theater flat, and all the backstage shenanigans. Then in act 2 the entire set rotates around–so you won’t be seeing this one in a church basement–and you’re now looking at the set, so a 2 story house. And you get the payoff from all the setups in Act 1. I mean, really, go see it. I bet it’s showing right now. “Noises Off” and Neil Simon plays are perpetual money makers for theaters.

    Second, how TV works with siblings, at least in my case, was “my mom and my sister all liked the same stuff like ‘MacGyver’ and ‘Airwolf’ and I had to watch whatever on the little black and white TV in the kitchen.” We also didn’t have cable.

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  2. Wait, i have been informed I got “Noises Off” backwards by my husband, who was in it several years ago. ” First act is in front of set in rehearsal. Second act is backstage during a performance, and third act is front of set during a performance.”

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  3. I had two siblings, and we all watched the TGIF lineup together. I’m not sure when exactly we started, but it must have been Season 5 or 6. I remember Going Places being on afterward. My favorite show prior to Perfect Strangers was The Muppet Show, which I saw in reruns on Saturday morning if I remember correctly. And since you mentioned it, I really liked Garfield and Friends too. Watched a few episodes recently, and the humor held up better than I expected – seemed like they were writing almost as much for the adults in the room.

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    • Would you believe that the majority of Garfield and Friends (as well as the more recent series) was written by one guy? Mark Evanier is one of my favorite writers, in comics, cartoons, and for thoughtful discussion of those and other social/political topics. He started out working for Jack Kirby and has collaborated with Sergio Aragonés on Groo the Wanderer for 30 years now. He’s been blogging at newsfromme.com since 2000.

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