Voiceover: Last on Perfect Strangers…
I’m trying. I promise you I’m trying so damn hard to last on Perfect Strangers. Just six more episodes.
Balki and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) got married last time. Remember how they got married last time? Still the case that they’re married. I just want to make this clear in case the 1,000 bits of information-laden visuals, music, and Reverend SbCTfS pronouncing them statutorily immune from each other as far as rape lawsuits go isn’t enough for you.
Also Larry’s penis turned out to be long enough to reach from his body to inside Jennifer’s.
There’s a quote from the 2008 Dark Knight film that comes to mind as I make my last journey on this Ecstasy cruise into the past.
Harvey Dent: You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
It’s simply the most recent viral variation on ages-old warnings against power corrupting and/or not realizing one’s limited place in the grand scheme of (at least Western Society’s) continual thesis + antithesis = synthesis, synthesis + time = thesis cycle; the difference being that people aren’t getting quotes from Buckminster Fuller or Ernest Goes to School tattooed on their lower backs.
Perhaps a broader way of capturing the idea is to say that the elements of success can eventually become liabilities. It’s true of everything from religious beliefs to political systems , from laws to personal habits. And it’s certainly the case for sitcoms.
From the get-go, the farther-looking television critics recognized that Balki’s charm and innocence were a baked-in liability. And they turned out to be exactly that, even if only to Balki’s characterization or what plots the writers felt they could do. I’m sure you can think of other sitcoms that fit that longitudinal hero/villain idea, as well as those that don’t; and we’ll almost definitely be returning to that discussion over the next few weeks.
I personally prefer building arguments in a linear, accumulative fashion, rather than stating a thesis at the outset. But Season 8’s failure is a foregone conclusion. After the Season 7 writers made their final statements about what Perfect Strangers was, and what the most important aspects of the Balki/Larry relationship were, someone saw fit to bring it back. They revived the corpse, only to almost instantly regret it, murder it, and bury it. But just like in that Stephen King story, “Sometimes They Simply Ignore All Admonitions and Noisily and Violently Refuse to Stop Coming Back”, Season 8 managed to return from its grave.
As Balki might say: Bad panties always ride up.
Or as the Joker might say: Whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you…
We open at the house. This House. Baby House. Who gives a fuck. It’s just a house, I’m not doing season-long quests for the perfect joke, it’s just the goddam house they rent.
Larry shows off his fluffing skills (with the pillow, you sicko) and tells Jennifer to quit wasting time and get in the living room so they can reveal her new status as a sight gag.
Fifteen months and this woman still hasn’t given birth. Either the little one knows there’s a sitcom outside, or it’s waiting to make sure the obstetrician likes it before it comes out.
Jennifer and Larry’s conversation is your typical sitcom upset-pregnant-wife fare where the husband can’t win because the wife’s complaints and need for reassurance are all-encompassing. Complain if you like that it’s simply not interaction between the Cousins, but what’s worse is that it’s not unique. And I’m not talking base specifics, like what large mammal she compares herself to (whale), or what food she’s craving, or what specific public activities (restaurant, movies) she doesn’t want to do because of her appearance. It’s that the tables are turned and the show either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.
Jennifer has lived through six years of Larry’s constant need for reassurance that his body’s shortcomings don’t disqualify him from love. Jennifer rarely hesitates to tell Larry that she likes a little tummy on a man, or that she loves him for his other qualities*. We’ve never been given any reason to dislike her, or really feel anything approaching emotion towards her at all. So Larry’s scramble to find something nice to say about her looks falls flat, even without taking into account that Jennifer looks like she just stuffed a pillow down her overalls on a whim that morning. Who cares how long the season was originally supposed to be, every moment for a resurrected show ought to have some impact to argue its existence.
I may be jumping the gun here, but since Balki’s not here yet, this may be the very last moment these two get alone together, and the writers aren’t the least bit interested in what’s unique to this couple. We don’t get Larry coming to any sort of realization that he’s paying back with interest every time Jennifer told him she didn’t necessarily like other guys who lifted anything heavier than a gallon of milk.
Instead, we get Larry going from promising Jennifer that she’s beautiful and radiant (like a cobalt explosion seen from a distance) to voicing passive aggression about how his bloated, cramping, exhausted wife won’t put out. Show, look, you’ve got possibilities to mine left and right. So Larry and Jennifer still don’t know how to talk about anything, maybe moreso when their friends aren’t around. Do a story about that!
Anyway, Larry clarifies that Balki and Mary Anne’s three-week trip to Mypos became a five-month trip. I can’t wait to hear what funny Mypos things they did! Larry tries to convince Jennifer to be excited that they can all catch up soon.
Yeah, that wouldn’t work on me, either.
(I have no idea how to read Jennifer eating pizza. It’s not your typical weird-cravings joke, unless eating pizza in the middle of the day read as out of the ordinary in 1992. I watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid, so I honestly don’t know.)
(Also, Jennifer throwing the pizza directly onto the coffee table was a simple but good gag.)
(Also, you’re going to wish later on you were back here in this great scene.)
Luckily, Larry won’t have to worry about his hollow reed going untouched, because Balki’s back! In fact–
Balki: Balki’s back and he’s better than ever!
Well, at least Season 8’s making me laugh. What better line is there to reintroduce a character in an episode that ultimately wasn’t good enough to air until the absolute ass-end of the 1992/1993 season?
Balki demonstrates to the Appletons and the audience the benefits of getting an order for a whole 24 episodes by packing every single thing that Balki does into 5 seconds.
He hugs people, he runs up the stairs, he shouts, he has an accent, jumps on the couch, he can do any number of fast, scary motions certain to upset the balance of hormones coursing through Jennifer’s body.
Balki says that the letter he received from Larry described Jennifer as fat–almost as fat as Larry, and then runs outside to get introduce Mary Anne’s new role as a sight gag.
She’s got a bun in the oven radio in the shop!
So let’s see if I have all the facts now. Balki and Mary Anne both just up and abandoned their jobs for five months. Jennifer hasn’t been working for at least, say, three months. Larry is still paying four times what the house is worth in rent, and just when he thinks he can add two more incomes to the household, Balki rolls up with $360K in long-term costs.
Oh, and Larry is the only one of these assholes actually trying to stay in touch, since Mary Anne didn’t share her life-changing new with her lifelong best friend.
Balki says that his “spud muffin” is having a “tater tot”. If you’ve ever wondered what it sounds like when Bronson improvises, there’s an example. It’s like when African-American language develops to the point of 2520 meaning “whitey”, except there it’s borne of actual culture and maybe even survival needs, whereas here Bronson just has no idea that you have to let people in on the steps your joke takes.
Larry and Balki share the move that symbolizes grabbing the hymen right out of a woman and throwing it away.
Ha! You get it? They can’t hug because they’re fat!
Mary Anne says that Jennifer looks just like Larry’s drawing:
We get the beginnings of some actual story potential here when Jennifer needs Larry’s help to sit on the couch, and Mary Anne plops right down. It’s too bad Jennifer’s never once been to a gym so she could keep up with a woman who’s in fine fettle after working the fields and cooking for eleven men.
Or maybe it’s that Balki’s sperm is made from pure ambrosia, and Larry’s just feeding Jennifer 1/9th the protein she needs so the bad won’t have any physical advantage over him.
At this point, I have more callbacks than I know what to do with. It could have to do with burnt offerings to Mypos’s newest god Carllewisiki for all I know.
Anyway Jennifer says Mary Anne should join her for the baby shower the next day and that since this episode title’s explicitly about the baby shower, they should leave the room.
Later that evening, Larry is babying Jennifer while Mary Anne makes decorations for the party. She’s a trooper, that Mary Anne. I don’t know about you, I’d want nothing more than a hot shower after 5 months of getting sloppy seconds after my husband had been out on the hillside. Jennifer asks Larry for a swift, messy death where her viscera will get on everyone she loves.
To contrast this, Balki and Mary Anne begin loudly fucking while explicitly stating how problem free their pregnancy is.
Can you believe that this is the third time in 145 episodes that we’ve gotten anything like a window into these women’s differences? Well, of course you can, you’ve read this blog, I should stop being ridiculous. Jennifer and Larry interrogate Mary Anne, going down the whole list of stock jokes about what pregnant women go through: sore back, swollen ankles, mood swings. But Mary Anne’s so dumb she thinks only Martin Yan and Justin Wilson make stock jokes.
Balki says he has just the thing for Jennifer’s ailments, and comes back out of the pantry** with what looks like a stick of monkey deodorant.
It’s the Midolcrampabloatolus root (Larry repeats it), grown at the foot of Mount PMSkolos.
What in the menstruating fuck? You don’t fucking have a period when you’re pregnant. Yes, progesterone is present during both PMS and pregnancy, but if you’re bleeding that much? It’s a problem. Balki tells us that when goats eat it, they explode. Oh fuck this.
Balki says there are side effects, but that this isn’t the right place to discuss them. I mean, he’s technically right–this is a sitcom, so the best time to say a side effect is after someone has swallowed–but really there’s no better time to discuss a side effect than when you’re forcing a medicine on a person.
Larry presses him, and Balki admits that it makes women real hornylike so they want to touch your peepee. (You know, by the way, “root” can be a euphemism for penis; just letting you in on this joke in case I want to try out some variations on it.)
Anyway, please take this opportunity to let it sink in that Balki has zero scruples with secretly hijacking a woman’s sex drive, and that Larry is wrong for giving Jennifer a choice in the matter. Welcome to Season 8, everybody!
Mary Anne breaks the tension between Jennifer and a now gung-ho Larry to say that it’s time to go read fairy tales to their gestating cousins.
So, we’re a third of the way in here, so this has to be the story, right? That Jennifer needs chemical assistance with her pregnancy, and Mary Anne doesn’t. That Larry doesn’t believe in the medical efficacy of plants that haven’t gone through clinical trials. That Larry and Jennifer have to deal with these kinds of choices in their marriage but Balki and Mary Anne don’t. That Larry is unwilling to take a risk, but Jennifer is, so she can not be shown up by Mary Anne.
At this moment, it has the potential to be a solid four-person story, almost no matter what they decide to explore. So what path does the show decide on?
Just as soon as he’s left alone with another man, Larry decides to eat the plant that makes you horny.
I’m actually all for this as a plot point! I absolutely love stories that introduce rules just to see what the most interesting way of breaking them is. I think of this as a sci-fi/fantasy trope, and Philip K. Dick’s The Game-Players of Titan comes most readily to mind.
But because Balki’s back (and he’s bitterroot than ever), trying out a potentially dangerous drug so that both you and your wife can have some peace is a sin on the order of putting a used condom in the collection plate. And goddammit, even if we don’t see Jennifer and Mary Anne again this episode, there’s your damn story: Balki can’t understand Larry’s stress because Mary Anne is having an easy pregnancy.
And underlying this, I think, are some elements of machismo in Balki’s reprehensions. Sure, Larry’s tired of rubbing out a quick one in the elevator on his way to work, and the rules of the sitcom format are that his eagerness needs to be self-serving. But we started the episode with him trying to generate ideas for how to make Jennifer happy. The way scene played out, it’s simply that Larry hasn’t thought to ask Jennifer what she wants, and that sex is just a very sore point. Now that Balki’s here, Larry daring to express and act on his negative emotions is wrong. And, come on: an unstressed Larry can do more for Jennifer.
What kind of Myposian deity is telling these people that they’ll go to hell even if they so much as think of giving a baby a pacifier just so they don’t have to listen to it for a minute? Doktorspockos? Nippliki?
So anyway Larry sticks Balki’s root in his mouth and he eats it raw.
Balki: You cannot just eat the Midolcrampabloatolus root like that. What do you think this is, some raw American jicama crudités?
Words the audience won’t know? Subverting Balki’s uncultured characterization to the point of removing it completely? Not even bothering to come up with an American dish? Three more clues the line is improvised by Bronson Pinchot.
Even the root knows it’s on a sitcom: it waits until Larry says it doesn’t work to kick in.
Larry starts tripping fast and hard, talking a mile a minute and free-associating. He somehow manages to make Balki bite, eat, and swallow a piece of the root.
It’s really too bad vomiting wouldn’t be discovered*** for another three years. They drag it out so you can be “surprised” by Balki’s transformation.
Now they are so high they do the Dance of Joy!
I was going to say that the show had run out of organic ways to lead to physical comedy, but… 😎
So what happened to the women this week in one of the most meaningful, transformative times in their lives? To these two women who have known each other for over two decades and now get to experience the same thing at the same time and compare notes? Their husbands hooted and hollered while they popped massive boners, just like every week, only slightly faster.
THE NEXT DAY, Jennifer and Mary Anne get an understated sight gag where they’re supposed to be preparing snacks for their guests, but Jennifer eats them as Mary Anne prepares them. It could have been staged a little better–say, having them in the kitchen with other trays of food–but I’ll take it.
Jennifer says that she barely got any sleep all night because Larry and Balki were making too much noise. And we know that they took heavy doses of an aphrodisiac.
I’ve never felt so baited by this show into making a gay joke.
*deep breath in*
*deep breath out*
Balki’s bareback and he’s better than ever!
They bumped uglies. In fact, they baby bumped.
So, if the root is supposed to make them hyperactive****, why are they standing still in one spot talking at the women about how they turned the baby’s room into one big electrical hazard by upping the wattage?
Of all the coked-up behavior her husband is displaying, Jennifer asks why Larry isn’t blinking. She tells them to quit fucking around because her friends are about to show up for the baby shower.
What the crowning fuck? Who throws their own damn baby shower? Jennifer! These are not your friends!
On their way out of the living room, we get more of the running joke of Mary Anne not having the same leg pains as Jennifer. It’s the structure where Mary Anne describes a pain, and asks if Jennifer gets it. Jennifer’s relief that she’s not alone is the best thing in this whole episode, and Mary Anne’s unreadable delivery when she says she doesn’t get that pain the most intriguing.
So let me get this straight. Jennifer couldn’t fart without Larry there to pull her cheeks apart but she’s been getting around just fine as soon as Larry disappeared. Okay.
I could save my rewrite for the end of the review. But why wait? We’re really only going to see the Cousins from here on out. I would really love to see the original script for this one, because Mary Anne and Jennifer fighting has to have been the original idea here.
For whatever reason, they have to have the baby shower at their own house. Fine. But the stated premise was that they’re experiencing their pregnancy differently. The obvious arc would be that they resolve this by the end, over the course of a bitchfest. Who cares how you end it, really: I personally would go for Jennifer and Mary Anne finding that they’re going through different negative aspects of pregnancy. Jennifer’s are physical, so Mary Anne’s would be emotional. Maybe she felt something was wrong because it was going so perfectly. Maybe she wishes she could have to deal with some things on her own instead of having a perfect husband. And finally, they both realize that, as tiring as their husbands running around screaming and railroading each other is, it’s one less annoyance for them.
You’d be right if you said that I’ve been making this joke from day one–but this episode would be improved 100% by taking Larry and Balki out of the picture almost entirely. They’ve got endless energy and are running around the house trying to fix things, so really they just need to pop in every couple of minutes, describe the dangerous thing they’re doing, and keep moving. The guys rewired the whole house? Great, they don’t need to stand and talk about it for two minutes. The Cousins mess something up, the women roll their eyes, but it’s familiar: they’re finally a family again after all those months apart.
Or go the Married… With Children or late-stage Roseanne route: get all the women at the baby shower together and talking about their men and Jennifer and Mary Anne realize that all husbands are idiots.
All the pieces are there, and the show could still do as much of that story as can fit into 7 minutes.
Anyway Larry and Balki strip out of their clothes as soon as the women leave the room.
I swear, this is gay-joke entrapment.
Larry and Balki start dancing because why the hell not, they got renewed. Eat your heart out Baby Talk, Johnny Carson, Superboy, The Royal Family, Night Court, Dear John, Who’s the Boss?, and Growing Pains!
Suck a withered prepuce, Jake and the Fatman! Woops!? More like Poops!
I don’t think I’ve ever once in my life seen any produce that re-grows its skin as you shave off pieces of it. Were they worried it would read as crack cocaine if there was no brown on it?
I get that there are people who think that there is humor to be had in dramatizing even the tiniest bit of emotion in a situation. As in, they think that some moment they had that day where, idunno, a piece of software glitches, or they have to drive somewhere for a thing, but they didn’t want to, deserves expansion to where they not only describe it, but they need to try to dramatize what’s going on emotionally for everyone involved. Like, I just heard a radio commercial along the lines of “whether you’re a morning person or a sleepyhead, choke down some oil at McDonald’s” with soundbytes of a woman greeting the sun and a guy yawning thrown in. I’ve watched these people make video game reviews. I’ve worked with these people. They’re the ones you’ll see on social media who appear to rely exclusively on structures like these:
ABC writers: Let’s have the Cousins talk about wanting more plants
Mark & Bronson: OK but only if it takes too much time
I’m not going to say it’s the easiest type of humor, but it’s certainly one of the less interesting ones I’ve come across. Lest I make some claim that I’m funny enough to write my own sitcom, or that I could do anything groundbreaking, let me clarify: I watch a hell of a lot of TV, good and bad, and I’ve spent plenty of time on this blog trying not to make jokes the same way every week. Maybe I’m being a snob? I’ll try to be generous and say that I’m willing to believe people actually derive humor from that kind of thing, and most of them probably know how to wipe their own ass.
All that to say: fuck this bit where the Cousins depict plants under grow lights.
Then pull out, and fuck it again.
Just before Larry gets a running start to jump and break Balki’s leg, Jennifer walks in with some snacks. She asks them what they’re doing, and they admit to eating the root.
Aren’t you glad hundreds of people were hired back for six wasted weeks just so you could enjoy all these funny faces?
When Jennifer walks in on them, and when she gets her answer, she’s not in the least bit worried. I like the idea that the Cousins’ behavior doesn’t register as terribly abnormal to her, and ramps up to the reveal of them having eaten the root. I don’t mind being in the know that they ate it, but Balki’s line that they plan to tear down the house to grow more root would have landed so much better if we only heard it the same time Jennifer does.
Jennifer says Larry looks taller and his erection bursts through his zipper with a güiro sound effect.
The moment she leaves, Larry shoves his little brown root into Balki’s mouth. They slap each other and then they eat the snacks, which are just one pie and one bowl of cherries. Are only zero women coming to this party?
What the fuck did you expect to happen, really?
Call it Chekhov’s Cake: if a dessert is present on a sitcom, it will end up on someone’s face. It’s been the Perfect Strangers tradition to destroy snacks and keep partygoers out since Season 1.
If there was some shared sense among the writers or actors that Perfect Strangers needed to make the case for its return after what looked and felt like a natural end to the series, they’ve more than done their job. They’ve proven that there’s no lack of story potential here, and up until about the 13-minute mark, they could have changed gears and explored any of them. But every step of the way, every time some interesting presented itself, the shows veers away to the only option it thinks it has.
Hell, even now, at the 18-minute mark, you could still salvage this one with a reveal that Jennifer and Mary Anne set up the living room as a fake decoy baby shower so the guys wouldn’t ruin the real one.
I’ve more than made my point about potential being trashed, so let’s talk about what we actually get in this episode. I feel like I have to make a pretty narrow argument for why the Cousins’ physical comedy doesn’t work here. After all, their mania here isn’t terribly different in intensity from Season 7’s “Stress Test”. And in one sense, it’s an inversion of that episode: Balki and Larry are doomed to disagree and fight about everything if you make them worried, but dear god can you imagine how dangerous they’d be if they agreed with each other?
But “Stress Test” linked the physical comedy to recognizable psychological tests. Here, Balki and Larry eat a potato and do the Neutron Dance. The setpiece manages to be both less creative than the one in “Fright Night” and less uniquely moronic than the one in “Bachelor Party”. The best I can say about this episode is that it’s not “Duck Soup”.
Golden Girls only lasted seven seasons. I think it’s obvious why this show ran longer.
I’ll admit that, even with the often-precarious balance of story and physical comedy in most seasons of Perfect Strangers, it’s the latter that kept that it afloat in the ratings. But now that same saving grace is systematically acknowledging and shitting on every last story element. Either everyone thought this was what viewers wanted, or they knew cancellation was imminent and stopped giving a fuck.
They both do some voice that’s probably supposed to be Julia Child and fuuuuck this shiiiiiit.
THE NEXT MORNING, Jennifer and Mary Anne are writing apology cards to the three friends they had left. Really? This is a funnier and more necessary scene than showing Larry and Balki scare a bunch of women? Anyway the Cousins apologize and promise that the comedown is far worse than whatever punishment the women could offer.
Balki: I feel like the Myposian army just marched across my face.
And I feel like any reference to Mypos should be required to make a joke about how it’s a weird, backwards island.
Balki and Larry apologize for eating the root and mention nothing else. So what the hell are the women sending cards for? Did they try to fuck the guests? All we know is that Larry and Balki ate two pies! What savages you women are to make pariahs of your best friends for having slightly fewer snacks at a party!
Balki asks Mary Anne for forgiveness and she grants it instantly. Larry asks Jennifer and she gouges out his eyes with her erasable pen.
He explains that he ate the root so she could stop whining. How dare he give a shit!
Balki says he has another cure, but lest we worry, it’s an American and a capitalist one: he gives them twenty bucks so Larry can take Jennifer to the movies.
So… the solution is the exact same fucking things that Larry suggested at the beginning of the episode. Take her to Encino Man and exchange handjobs in the back row. It’s really only valid when Balki says it.
oh come on
The climax of the episode–a group of women being greeted by men with blood, ejaculate, and shit all over their faces–is shoved under the credits.
Perfect Strangers is back and it’s beggared as ever.
Join me next week for “After Hours”!
Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Boner count: Balki (1, continuous); Larry (1, continuous)
Dance of Joy running total: 24
Unused Larryoke Countdown #6: “These Roots are Made for Gobblin’” – Nancy Sinatra
*Her inability to name any in “The Wedding” excepted, because it felt like an unnecessarily mean misstep.
**Mary Anne doesn’t even change clothes, but the first thing Balki does is make sure this prop gets into the pantry?
***by Mr. Emmett S. Pew of Weehawken, NJ
****I guess you could say they’re undergoing a “quickening”!