Season 8, Episode 4: The Baby Quiz

God damn was last week’s episode rough. So rough that I’d really just like a couple of weeks off, followed by a month off, and then however long it takes for someone in the Ukraine to hack WordPress’s accounts and this site get turned into a multilevel-marketing homeopathy blog. I even thought about marrying and having a kid, which seems to be how everyone else gets out of doing their Perfect Strangers review blog.

But I keep going because damn it someone has to finish this show. I don’t care if tomorrow some 3-6 dads somewhere high-income start a podcast called Getting Some Perfect Strange, this thing has to be finished this way. I keep going because I need you to know.

I need you to know just how terrible this episode is. If the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again (i.e. reviewing a TGIF* sitcom), “The Baby Quiz” is the end result, the broken mind. But sunshine is the best disinheritance. There’s a light at the end of the funnel.

Whether or not my theory from last week (that “Lethal Weapon” caused Perfect Strangers to have its scheduled execution moved up because the bit wouldn’t end) is true, “The Baby Quiz” is the show’s very last opportunity to tell a one-off story about the Cousins. Whether or not the writers etc. knew at the outset of this season that they’d have only 6 episodes, or thought they’d have 13 and scrambled to rearrange things, “The Baby Quiz” was the best of the ideas they had left. Series finales can get taken over by emotion and wrapping up, by a checklist of moments and catchphrases.

This is one last chance to have fun, unburdened by most of the remaining restraints of what the show could or couldn’t be and do. Perfect Strangers could just spin its wheels at this point and offer up a nothing script, a fantasy episode, a clipshow, some reheated domestic story that felt old by the time Bewitched did it. Or it could make one last attempt to explore the dynamic that this specific group of characters has through application of some standard story.

Given that we just spent three weeks watching the show turn real family problems (the smugness of those who have it easy, the body horror of pregnancy, that your significant other is a ticking time bomb of surprise, physically and mentally and culturally) into Larry and Balki rolling up unused script pages to snort coke, which of those two do directions do you figure “The Baby Quiz” goes in?

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I haven’t talked about the music cues lately. This episode begins with what I’d call the aspirational one, involving a flute trill that brings to mind a bird swooping down to catch an air current and then soaring majestically. It promises success, new beginnings… or maybe just says that the soundtrack guy was going for maximum irony for a show that he knew was almost too terrible to subject Americans to watch.

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Mary Anne (Sagittarius) is idly stirring some eggs around, thinking through which luxuries she’ll have to give up soon because it’s too late to audition for the new Fall 1992 sitcoms.

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Balki runs in from the living room, pissing himself over the fact that the mailman is three blocks away with the letter they’ve been awaiting. And–fine, Balki bugs the mailman. I like that. It’s a very Season 1/2 (and also Season 7) Balki thing. But here’s a question that I’m only thinking to ask because I’ve overturned every last leaf about this show: why not show the mailman?

I mean, to begin with, why not explore that if it’s good enough to joke about? Have Balki bring him in the house while they exposit about whatever letters are coming. But what’s more: the actor who played Doug MailKenzie/Brad the waiter, Robert G. Lee, was a regular warm-up comic for ABC sitcoms back then. He was there that night right before this scene. I’m so glad I learned enough about the making of this show to know that clunky exposition like this isn’t only due to lack of budget or lack of creativity, it’s also because nobody there gave a shit about thanking a years-long part of the show with one more chance to be on stage with the stars.

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Balki runs out, so Larry and Jennifer enter to drag out the exposition as long as they can. Larry asks if Balki’s excited for Mud Day** celebrations. Really, is that it? All we know about Myposians now is that they celebrate their own abject poverty? Without its previously stable government, it’s just a barren wasteland, devoid of anything but root vegetables and insects, because anything bigger than that gets raped by the prehistoric demons circling in the skies.

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That mailman sure did blow through those three blocks quick. Balki and Mary Anne pretend to be surprised that both couples got letters from the television show The Baby Quiz. That’s a nice touch, that someone remembered that Balki’s so innocent he doesn’t know how to lie.

Balki drags it out, though, nervously building a whole bit out of how much attention and scrutiny he thinks he has on him while Larry and Jennifer pay no attention. Welp, there we go, got my grand metaphor for Season 8 Perfect Strangers and American viewers, I can take it easy for the rest of this review.

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Larry realizes Balki was behind this because it’s addressed to “Cousin Larry Appleton”. Balki claims he and Mary Anne “found out” that The Baby Quiz*** was looking for new contestants and signed them all up. What? Were Chicagoan viewers getting tired of the old contestants?

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Balki and Mary Anne filled out 800 applications for the show. They flex their hands to indicate that, yes, doing something hundreds of times causes you pain (AHEM), and I only mention this to point that they’re both left-handed. I’m left-handed. I’ve always liked that fact about me, but now…

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Jennifer and Larry have just been hanging out over there, having an actual coffee break until Bronson runs down. Jennifer opens the envelope and disinterestedly notes they got accepted. Mary Anne (so dumb she thinks bulk rate refers to bodybuilding) opens hers to learn that she and Balki were rejected. Mary Anne starts crying because the $300 they spent on young Elvis stamps could have paid for medicine for their baby.

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Nah, j/k, Mary Anne has no emotions separate from Balki’s anymore. So, after insincerely congratulating the Appletons, they both mope their way to the table and have a nice long guilt-tripping cry. I kind of question how 801 applications from the same address didn’t just get thrown out; the one with different names would have looked like an attempt at fraud, and that one gets rewarded?

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Larry explains that since he never gave shit one about The Baby Quiz, he’s not going. He already spends 40 hours a week accepting less than the actual value of his work for a social good, and he’s not about to let commercial advertisers make money off of his and his wife’s discomfort and ridicule. The audience yuks it up when they hear the phrase “baby wipes” mentioned as a consolation prize. How is that a joke? Babies shit a lot.

You know, here I was, depressed that “Lethal Weapon” signalled the beginning of a four-episode run of Bronson’s takeover of Perfect Strangers, only ending when the stage crew resort to tranquilizers and a Freeman cage net. But this is promising.

To begin with, this scene gives us a setup for at least a three-person story. There’s a chance for Mary Anne and Jennifer to actually complicate the Cousins’ standard roles. Larry doesn’t want to be embarrassed on television, and is already risking insulting Jennifer by saying she’s afraid of it.

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Jennifer wants to go, Larry doesn’t–until he hears that the grand prize is a college scholarship for your (viable) fetus. Larry raises the possibility of letting Balki pretend he’s Larry, and then takes it back. We’ll either end up with a fun-if-incomplete exploration of one couple’s easy success vs. one’s hardworking failure; or Jennifer taking on Balki’s old role of encouraging Larry to have fun or even get as bloodthirsty as Larry does when it becomes a competition. Or, shit, the best case scenario for this would be exploring everything they’ve set up the past three weeks. You’ve got the muliebral fight brewing, you’ve got Mary Anne mimicking Balki’s every move: have Mary Anne and Balki discover they’re not on the same page and let’s find out whether Jennifer rubs it in.

But we don’t even need all that. We’re promised a gameshow episode. I don’t expect lightning to strike twice and give me bananademons again, but we’ll get an overacting host, a vapid cohost, giant props, and embarrassment for everybody. Bartokomouses and Appletons being on the gameshow together is a foregone conclusion, and you’re already thinking how that would play out. We’ve already been told it’s a quiz show, and we all have a general idea of what to expect when each of these (well, three of these) characters are asked what they “know” about childrearing. I think we can expect at least two or three solid minutes of gameshow scene, something along the lines of the playful trope handling in “Hocus Pocus”.

It’ll either be a good episode by Perfect Strangers standards, or it will simply be inoffensive. How can it fail? Man, maybe that aspirational music was right. I’m going to quit wasting time talking about problems, let’s just get to this.

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THE NEXT SCENE, Larry expresses how little he wants to practice for the gameshow, and Jennifer says it will make the others happy. You want to know how much of a shit I’ve given any time someone appealed to their own happiness when they asked for a favor? Find 0 on a number line and then head left awhile.

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Mary Anne comes in with a boombox and announces that host “Lance Edwards” is coming out.

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Oh God. Oh Jesus Christ.

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Hope was a nice feeling while it lasted, wasn’t it?

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Of course this happens the same week I send my nooses to the cleaners.

Again, Balki and Bronson are collapsing into one. This has very thin ties to the Balki we started out with, the Balki in “The Unnatural” who pretended to stand on the pitcher’s mound, the Balki who sings and shakes his imaginary Dolly Partons, the Balki who might wander far enough into American idiom to say “bummer”.

Unless under hypnotic suggestion, Balki has never been the type to inhabit a character for more than a sentence or two. It was all the power of television, that certain phrases or voices were just how you communicated certain ideas, that televised event was some “realer” type of life he was trying to experience. But we’ve seen enough Bronson–god help me, we’ve seen enough Bronson–to know that Bronson does want to play different characters. People kept paying him for it, so it must be what he’s good at.

Here’s where I think Bronson’s own background hampers him. When we looked into all the television and magazine interviews with Bronson, we learned that his mother–Rosina Pinchot–raised her children at a remove from pop culture. Bronson came by his appreciation of  an older, more refined type of culture (early American houses, theater, music, classic literature) and probably did miss out 100% on phenomena like Mork and Mindy through a combination of disinterest and disdain. Beverly Hills Cop launched him to stardom because he played a send-up of what California arty homosexuals were at that very point in time. But outside of that, he’s missing huge chunks of pop culture history that the rest of us either lived through or at least can reverse-engineer.

People my age lucked out by being among the first to benefit from the window home video–and then cable networks like Nick at Nite and TV Land–offered into the forebears of what was on other channels. I lucked out further by inheriting my dad’s unbroken run of MAD Magazine from 1969 through 1977. One of my first thoughts when this scene started (the first being whether my gas oven was big enough for me to just crawl right in) was that Bronson’s gameshow host schtick was at least a decade old by 1992.

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I don’t have the time to do justice to the history of the joke that the slick, put-together gameshow host is secretly-openly a condescending snake, or when the recognizable winking, fake-chummy vocal patterns got attached to it. But I did do a little bit of searching to see what the hell it was supposed to be based on. I watched a few clips of Bob Barker and Bill Cullen from the 1950s, some Chuck Barris on Gong Show, Richard Dawson on Family Feud, and Monty Hall on Let’s Make a Deal, and… it’s not based on any of them. The joke host “voice” (you know the voice, there’s no need to watch this episode to hear the voice, please don’t watch this episode) was fully-formed by 1970 in a segment on the Firesign Theatre’s album Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers. In both it and “Let’s Make a Dope Deal” from Cheech and Chong’s Big Bambu, the punchline is that the host has played a trick on the contestant: they win a bag of shit and get arrested, respectively.

According to TV Tropes, the gameshow host parody that Bronson’s doing here is a “dead unicorn” trope, or in the academic terms I fetishize, a simulacra. The thing they’re meant to represent never actually existed. My best guess is that the smarmy host character evolved as part of the 60s/70s counterculture narrative that TV and religion and politics and advertising are just various faces of The Man out to screw you over, and got projected onto the over-excited Guy Smiley template.

So what I’m getting at here is that by the time Bronson was stealing multiple pages from later in the script, this bit was already a pastiche of pastiches. Bronson probably watched a commercial for Mr. Gameshow and figured he’d learned everything there was to know.

You’d think that Balki and Bronson both having missed decades of pop culture would converge nicely here. Just like last week’s ant farm holocaust, Bronson thinks he’s stumbled onto something new and fresh by making fun of TV personalities. And if you’re willing to revert Balki to his factory settings and say that gameshow patter is still revelatory to him, fine.

The difference is that Balki wouldn’t be acting like an out-and-out asshole to his family. He’s constantly insulting Jennifer, shaming her for the most stressful aspects of her pregnancy, exposing Larry’s deepest fears of a wholly patriclinous baby. Even Mary Anne gets in on it.

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Jesus Christ he’s still going. Hey, uh, y’all, let’s do another caption contest. Caption this image and the winner comes out here and euthanizes me:

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I find myself working overtime to try to fix this season, to try to cut it some slack by saying maybe every decision it’s making isn’t the worst possible one. I feel like even this scene could be saved with a little bit of self-awareness. Balki and Mary Anne are sticking knives in all the weak spots their friends revealed to them–but to what end? Is this really the way The Baby Quiz television show plays out? I guess Lance Edwards–the actual host of The Baby Quiz–and his lovely assistant Tiana must have a well-established patter of insulting contestants.

I have to guess; Perfect Strangers really doesn’t care if I know. That’s impressive! Balki’s bit here is a riff on something that barely exists within the episode itself: the ‘pataphysical tail that, when cut off, grows a new lizard.

We could stop at literally any point in Balki’s four-minute spiel–

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(Did I mention that it’s only Balki talking for four minutes, with maybe two lines apiece for the other three characters? He’s even doing the announcer’s voice. Him saying “App-le-ton” just draws attention to how detached from Balki this whole thing is.)

–and have Larry or Jennifer call the whole thing off and confront the Bartokomouses for their behavior. We’ve established that the former have never watched the show, or they’d know what kind of questions to expect. Balki could 1) say he’s being tough on them because the real Lance Edwards will be meaner or 2) not realize he’s actually hurting them because he thinks everybody’s in on the joke, or because he lost himself in playing a character. Without seeing Balki as his “normal” self, we’re left with the impression that getting to openly demoralize his best friends makes him “happy”.

The most we get in that story direction is Larry standing up, clearly intent on seeing what voice Balki will do with a vase shoved up his ass, before Jennifer pulls him back. (The look on Mark’s face is exquisite here.)

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Then Larry answers a question wrong–which part of Jennifer’s body hurts the most–and the scene ends. It’s useless for me to wish that the show had explored the implications of this scene–useless for me to work overtime–because I have trouble believing that letting Bronson do a barrel-scraping one-man Saturday Night Live skit was in the original script. I think he asked for it to be put there without concern for what it was doing to the rest of the episode. Just like Balki had no concern for whether Larry wanted to spend his time that way. Collapsing into one.

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Oh it’s finally over. No need to kill me in my sleep, y’all, we made it through that scene. But, man, isn’t it sad to know that Uncle Shaggy’s show finally did get cancelled?

Hey, it’s the set from last season’s “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby”! That was nice of Satan to let ABC keep it that long.

This is actually some nice staging here:

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But why are they just allowed to wander all over the set before the show starts? Balki and Mary Anne aren’t even contestants! What the hell is with television writers depicting the world of daytime TV as an unsupervised shambles? Show, this is your fourth time with a TV plot and you’ve never made this little sense!

Jennifer expresses worry that they’ll embarrass themselves because after two hours of “practice”, they only got one question right. So… they spent two hours learning things about each other? Isn’t that… the point?

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Lance Edwards shows up sporting a flashy suit and declarative laugh. His gregariousness isn’t so much fake or condescending as it is autopilot, which makes it anticlimactic. If anything, he should be either exactly like Balki’s portrayal, or dialed up further. But Bronson’s theft of the previous scene robs a whole character of his ability to surprise us. Seriously fuck this show.

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Lance assumes that all four of them are contestants. Is this how this works? I can just break into a studio and get a spot on Deal or No Deal? Anyway, in the span of like three lines, Balki and Mary Anne get to be on the show because the other couple’s wife went into labor (the stagehand says “the other gameshow contestants”, so maybe Lance is on autopilot). The acknowledgment of that possibility for such a gameshow is the most thought that was put into this episode, but it’s still not logical. What television program would put itself at risk by not screening contestants at all before showtime? If, as Lance says, it happens all the time, fix it by only taking contestants no more than 7 months pregnant.

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Balki gives Lance his camera to “capture the moment”, and he and Mary Anne pose their surprise at the turn of events. I put in so much effort trying to build metaphors out of nothing and the show’s just throwing them at me now: Balki’s no longer interested in merely being a consumer at American pop culture’s snack bar, he now actively seeks out opportunities to fake his way into crafting something that looks very much like the experience itself.

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THE NEXT DAY, or whenever the hell, Lance Edwards tells us the rules as Tiana**** herds the Cousins off to the soundproof booth.

Balki says Lance’s lines and laugh along with him, and that should have been the entirety of the joke. It probably was, just like in “Games People Play”. Balki even comments on the book Tiana wrote, which is the exact same joke we got in that episode too.

The guy who wrote this episode, Scott Spencer Gorden, was the executive story editor (essentially showrunner, if I understand it correctly) for this season, and the responsibilities for everything in the scripts making sense, and being ready to translate to visuals, rested with him. In case the past three episodes weren’t enough to convince you that the man was no good at his job, he also wrote four episodes of ALF. Is it any surprise that the one he personally grunted out through his typewriter is the absolute worst of the season? I almost feel bad for the guy, having two divas in five years take shits all over his scripts.

I don’t expect new writers on a show to sit through every episode that precedes their script. But wouldn’t you at least watch the other game show episode before you sat down here? If he didn’t watch “Games People Play”, it’s a testament to just how low the fruit of “vapid hostess writes a book” really hangs. And if he did watch it, he’s just plain lazy for not trying to improve on it.

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Or, hell, maybe the chapter titles of Tiana’s book are all lines Bronson wrote himself. He’s certainly confident in how funny they must be, because he doesn’t put a lick of character into his delivery of them. I guess he forgot that Balki’s supposed to be excited about being there and meeting his favorite hosts. It’s easy to forget these kinds of things if you don’t write the script yourself.¹ Anyway they’re in the soundproof booth now.

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God damn it I hate Season 8.

Larry is–for some goddam reason–surprised when Balki tells him that there are multiple cameras used for television shows, and that one of them is pointed at them in the booth. Were we seeing everything in real time? Did Larry just show up three minutes before taping started and not sign any documentation or anything? Can he not see the camera pointing directly at him? I’m left with the impression that Scott Spencer Gorden was the world’s first Artificial Intelligence, understanding only that cameras can capture and transmit visuals, but with no sense that they need to be in some proximity to those visuals. The “special booth camera” is so that audiences can see the dads making fools of themselves, which brings up another question. Is this show live? Was there a chance you could tune in and catch some dads giving each other blowies?

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Larry does something–I honestly can’t tell what–to Balki’s cheeks and hurts him.

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Then Balki screams “Mary Anne” directly into Larry’s ear to test whether the booth really is soundproof. It’s entirely possible that we wouldn’t have even heard Lance Edwards ask Mary Anne a question if Balki’s gag hadn’t called for a transition to a wider shot, because as soon as he’s (he’s Lance’s) done asking, we go straight back into the booth for more screaming.

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Balki is delighted–or, well, he’s supposed to sound delighted–by his discovery that he can “say anything you want” and proceeds to scream “Mary Anne” again. Here, reader, please take this meta-joke about how neither Bronson nor Balki can come up with anything original or interesting, much less a second word, on their own. I made it just for you.

We’re only 13 minutes into the episode here, and we’ll be in this scene for another seven. That’s a fucking affluence of time. There’s enough time for almost anything to happen.

Remember in the first scene, how Larry said he wasn’t about to let Jennifer be embarrassed on television? He could be hypervigilant, watching her to see if Lance really is unleashing a barrage of derision like Balki promised us he would. Remember in the first scene, how Balki and Mary Anne cried the very first time that effort didn’t translate into success for them, while Larry felt no remorse for them because that’s been his whole life? Balki could be surprised when he doesn’t know, say, what children’s books she’ll plan to read to Balki II. Remember in every one of Season 8’s episodes, Mary Anne could be interpreted at trying to hide behind her idiocy so she can get in digs at Jennifer’s suffering?

I’m not saying Perfect Strangers has a great track record of exploring the story possibilities it sets up. Or even a good one. Middling would be too generous, and poor might indicate that it actually pulled it off sometimes. Let’s say impoverished. Impoverished track record. But for the most part, Perfect Strangers works to get the story to the location where interesting physical comedy can happen (“Door to Door” being a major exception).

We’re here for another seven minutes, and we get one line apiece from Jennifer and Mary Anne. I might be impressed if I could feel anything at all after watching this scene.

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This is the first gameshow episode of a sitcom I’ve ever seen that flat-out refuses to show you the gameshow. Did Scott Spencer Gorden think he was following in the footsteps of Seinfeld, writing the next “The Chinese Restaurant” or “The Parking Garage”? Was the original concept for a 13-episode prolonged-pregnancy season that the babies taking forever to come was mirrored by how the plots could never fucking get to the points they set up? That having a baby at all means giving up all other story possibilities for how your own life could have gone?

That having to put up with Balki repeat the same thing over and over again for years, clean up his messes, watch the stupid shows he puts on in the living room, to put up with all this and not smother him to death with a Pillow People doll was the best training Larry could ever have for raising a baby?

I wish I could believe any of that, but I feel like I’m watching a community theater production of Waiting for Godot where the mayor demanded his nephew get a solo song & dance number in every scene.

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Just like in “The Baby Shower”, “The Baby Quiz” could be improved simply by cutting the camera away from the Cousins for any substantial length of time at all, the more the better. The script has literally walled them off from the rest of what’s going on, but somebody thought it was funnier that we get to see Balki complain about how bright the stage lights are. The episode is no longer concerned with story, so I’m no longer concerned with linearity: the whole sequence ends with the Cousins fighting in the booth, and we’re told later on that they knocked the whole thing over and had to be removed with a Jaws of Life brand hydraulic rescue tool. I said that “Baby Shower” only needed to show us the end result of the Cousins’ psychedelic journey so that we saw exactly what the guests saw, right when they saw it. The same principle applies here. After 147 episodes, can’t they trust the audience to fill in the gaps? Don’t the Cousins have a large enough reputation that you can be sure they’re doing something funny even when you’re not looking?

This episode explicitly told us that half of this show’s appeal is watching dads end up doing crazy shit in a soundproof booth, but it somehow doesn’t realize that very same aspect could work in its own favor.

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Trust me, whatever shenanigans you can come up that would result in the Cousins knocking over an 8-foot-tall booth are miles better than Balki delivering a monologue about how uncomfortable his chair is. I can understand the reticence to not let the viewer hear what the Cousins are doing for a whole seven minutes, but why not take the risk and really make the studio audience think that the booth is soundproof? Let the fight simmer in the background while Mary Anne and Jennifer play out their own verbal battle. You’d even tap into that whole physical-versus-verbal gender divide when it comes to fighting. Other than the few advertising dollars from whatever third-tier companies were still willing to waste money on this timeslot, what could the show possibly lose at this point by showing us the gameplay it promised?

Hell, keep the silent argument about the chair, but make it take the whole seven minutes, and only towards the end does it catch the women’s or Lance’s attention. (This episode is at least smart enough to show the women notice when Larry’s upside-down.) It would be far funnier afterwards to have the Cousins realize how dumb the argument sounded by saying it out loud.

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In my world (academia, in case you’ve never read a single other post on this blog), and plenty of others, everyone talks a good game about user-centered design. But I see very few of us in universities actually try to use tools or services as a user. For instance, in one of the classroom buildings where I work, there are giant computer monitors at every instructor’s station; whoever ordered these had never stood in a classroom behind one, or else they’d see that you can’t see half the students. “Hocus Pocus” and “Wild Turkey” and “Stress Test” were user-centered, and made the audience do some perspective-taking. But Scott Spencer Gorden doesn’t bother to think about the gameshow audience’s experience. It may very well have been a coping mechanism; certainly thinking too long about how an audience would receive an episode of ALF would drive any man insane.

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This whole sequence is so depressing that I can’t even work up the energy to make a joke about Balki pinching Larry’s asscheek. I’m really sorry. Maybe next episode.

I have very few options other than to believe that this script underwent major reworking at Bronson’s behest. There are too many elements of a better episode scattered across this seven minutes to believe someone wrote this pile. The one time (the ONE TIME) it cuts to Jennifer answering a question (“what animal would your husband say best describes you?”), she shames herself for being ugly and fat. What that on its own might have turned into, I can’t say; perhaps that she was crueler on herself than any host could be, that Balki primed her for insult? But taken together with the question Mary Anne gets (“If your husband were a tree, what kind of tree would he be?”*****), we’ve got a solid indication that the questions are very different from what Balki said they would be, meaning everyone gets thrown for a loop. Maybe they all lose but realize that the practice gained them the real prize: more intimate knowledge of their spouses.

There’s even a tiny bit of story involving Balki and Larry in the booth, a few lines of which feel like they’re from a better episode. Larry, evidently, has a plan to cheat, having abused his position as a reporter to ask for the questions as part of research for an article; and he’s written the answers on the bottom of his shoe.

It’s got to be the shittiest cheating strategy I’ve ever heard of. It’s the exact same thing Balki had them do for practice. If he already knows the factoids about Jennifer, or fuck, even if he got the questions soon enough to ask Jennifer what type of tree he’d be, he’ll still know them a few minutes later when Lance asks him. Jesus Christ who sets out to plot a “Larry cheats” story and has it take place on a gameshow where it’s impossible to cheat all by oneself?

Oh, right. An ALF writer.

Also fucking hell if he was using his Chronicle clout when he called up The Baby Quiz he used his own name, right? The same name they knew would be on the show the next day?

What kind of person needs crib notes for their wife’s favorite food JESUS

*rips an antique baby carriage in half* ******

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But the good lines come out around that. There’s a moment after the cheating tactic is revealed, and Balki wants to rat him out, that Larry tries to guilt Balki for taking away Larry, Jr.’s chance of a good college education. It’s the same kind of “looking off into the future” stuff you’ve seen Larry do dozens of times before, but Mark makes it sing. He’s been doing it for years, and he pushes this one over the top. (Though, again, think how great it would be to see Larry silently doing a bit and then realize you know exactly what he’s doing.)

And Balki’s line (and Bronson’s delivery of it) are equally wonderful. We’ve spent years–more years than believable–watching Balki believe he could see something metaphorical that someone referred to. That’s Mypos thinking for you. But the payoff is on a couple of levels here:

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Balki: You know what? There’s nothing out there. There’s just nothing out there. You always point. I always look. There’s nothing out there. I’ve just realized: this is a sick game you’ve been playing with Balki for six years, and I’m tired of it.

This doesn’t salvage the rest of the episode, not by a long shot. But it did get me to take this bottle of drain cleaner away from my lips. It’s written like it’s a true turning point for Balki as a character, an unexpected payoff for coming back for another season. It’s a point along a character arc that we simply didn’t get to see because Bronson thought Balki frotting some plexiglass was funnier.

The lines really belong at the top of the episode, right after Larry finds out that the grand prize is a college scholarship. It’s what should give Larry and Balki a reason to fight throughout the rest of the story, to each find their own ways of getting an edge over the other couple. Balki’s never lost before, and the rejected application has him experiencing feelings he doesn’t understand. He could do things he’d never considered before.

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Instead we’re left with Balki threatening to tell on Larry, and the scene ending abruptly with absolutely no resolution or punchline. Just Larry’s body bent at the one angle we hadn’t seen yet this episode.

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If we’re basing this on how long that felt, THE NEXT MILLENNIUM everyone is finally home.

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Balki and Mary Anne, wearing BABY QUIZ CHAMPION shirts (available in Man and Pregnant sizes, only $50), come in singing something very close to the Family Feud theme. They’re dancing. They beat the Appletons. They beat this episode.

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Jennifer and Larry come in. Larry’s maimed, and I think it’s the first time I’ve ever been unhappy to see it.

Jennifer says that Balki was right to turn Larry in, and Balki corrects her, explaining all of the Jaws-of-Life stuff that Jennifer would have seen because she was there. I love to make the joke about how nondescript she is, but RIP the “Jennifer’s there too” joke, because the show’s doing my work for me. The episode has forgotten she was on the gameshow at all.

The Bartokomouses won the scholarship to the college of their choice. Just think: in 2010, Harvard accepted a student so dumb they thought enrollment was how you make pigs in a blanket.

044b.jpg

Mary Anne wants to eat, but Jennifer ate all the food, that’s right, you heard right, the women leave repeating the same joke three times. If only Linda had included that dialogue example in her “save Perfect Strangers” campaign, the world would be a better place today. The women leave.

045

Balki gets a kick out of shaming Larry for trying to provide for his child. Balki says he got the gameshow to give Larry a “parting gift”, and–

046

Oh fuck no, I’m turning this off. I could be missing a scene under the credits where they tear off their clothes and get in the piditaka position, but if I watch another second of Balki doing a voice I won’t be able to resist this bathtub full of vitriol I drew earlier.

I honestly think Scott Spencer Gorden tried to give us a good episode of Perfect Strangers. And it has to have been the best script they had left before the two-part finale. But it landed in exactly the wrong moment. Bronson’s been improvising since the beginning, rubbing his nipples on Susan’s shoes, but all of the old restraints have fallen away.

The story never had a chance.

The elements of that story are sparse, but it’s enough to see what the episode could have been. If you’re thinking that makes “The Baby Quiz” no different from most other Perfect Strangers episodes, sure. In essence. But it’s the magnitude and method of the story’s sidelining that really make me wonder which IKEA furniture I could easily turn into a self-controlled guillotine. The story hanging around the edges of this episode feels downright erased by Bronson’s demands to get at least two spotlights per episode.

Season 8 has already virtually eliminated the Chicago Chronicle; last week’s and this week’s mentions were it. It finally shook itself free of those darn side characters. It’s been dangling plot threads about Mary Anne and Jennifer just to cruelly snatch them away again.

Why did this episode even bother to cut away to Lance and the women a few times at all? If Bronson contorting himself around in a chair and talking about how bewitched he is by the stagelights is so funny, why do we even need Larry Appleton?

Why not… just give him his own show on CBS?

Tune in next week for the first of a two-part series on just that, where Philip J Reed will prise open the door of Hell’s only chemical toilet to show us The Trouble With Larry.

THAT’S RIGHT MOTHERFUCKERS!!!! It’s about to get so much worse!

__________________________________________

Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (0)

Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)

Unused Larryoke Countdown #3: “Blame it on the Balki” – The Jacksons

*(Per Freud, traumatische Geistinnerefaulung)

**Mary Anne confirms Mud Day involves hats

***I’m being a real pedant here, but doesn’t “found out” kind of connote non-general knowledge? Like there was effort involved or they’re special to know it?

****The closest we’ll get to a Tina callback this season. RIP the Tina/eyeshadow joke, 2015-2019

*****Isn’t it obvious? He’d be an ALDER MAN!!! RIP the alderman joke, 2016-2019.

******RIP the rip joke, 2017-2019

1. Fuck yeah man callbacks to “The Gazebo” will never die. The reader is entreated, exhorted, enjoined, like fucking beseeched upon to toss an eye on note 136 for some straight up deep-dish discussion on constructivism. Thanks for letting me play matchmaker with your informations.

13 thoughts on “Season 8, Episode 4: The Baby Quiz

  1. Would it make you feel better if watched the blooper reels? I know it makes me (temporarily) forget the train-wreck that is the last few seasons. 😉 It’s just nice to see Mark and Bronson smile and have fun.

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  2. I even thought about marrying and having a kid, which seems to be how everyone else gets out of doing their Perfect Strangers review blog.

    Got me out of writing Captain Power reviews for three years.

    . I lucked out further by inheriting my dad’s unbroken run of MAD Magazine from 1969 through 1977.

    Aw man. All my dad had was an unbroken run of Playboy from 1970-1988.

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  3. I’m pretty sure you’re too old to marry a kid… For a published author, you need some lessons. “I even thought about marrying and having a kid”. Like… who does that? Amateur. Read real (researched and confirmed) journalism please. This shit is a joke.

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  4. Hi Danny. I never studied journalism. In the few minutes I just spent on Google scanning articles on types of journalism, it appears that there are aspects of this blog that can be described as opinion journalism. Sure, I’m an amateur: nobody paid me to do this self-published blog, and I have no formal training in “snarky sitcom reviewing”.

    I was able to do some research, in terms of the contemporary reporting and interviews with the cast that have been curated by a diehard Perfect Strangers fan. I tried to do more. I reached out to every cast member I could find any sort of contact information for. If Scott Spencer Gorden had still been alive, I would have loved to pick his brain on what, by season 8, would happen to a script between its birth in the writers’ room and its realization on television.

    I’m always open to learning more. I’m sure when it comes to journalism, most of what I don’t know fall into the category of “unknown unknowns”. But I do have a “known unknown” that I’ll ask you. For this episode, “The Baby Quiz”, what research and confirmation would you recommend I have done before putting down my thoughts on it?

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  5. The show didn’t show any more of Jennifer and Mary Ann in the baby quiz cos it’s blantently obvious the gameshow doesn’t make any sense. That wud never be a show asking heavily pregnant women what animals their husbands think they look like and sh*t.

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