The Trouble with Larry, part 1

If you’ve made it through the past few weeks’ episodes, it’s a testament to how much we’ve all been desensitized to images of carnage and death in the media.

“The Baby Quiz” resembled nothing so much as the flaming wreck of an 80s sitcom called ALF, whose premise suffered at the hands of a creator unwilling to give up an ounce of control.

I decided it was best to call in ALF exterminator Philip J Reed for a couple weeks to help exorcise the ego of Bronson Pinchot from the utter massacre that was The Trouble with Larry. See you on the other side.

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Three Glorious Weeks of The Trouble with Larry
By Philip J Reed, noiselesschatter.com

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The Trouble with Larry was a sitcom vehicle for Bronson Pinchot, his followup to eight seasons of Perfect Strangers.  While the latter hasn’t shared the enduring popular fondness of other TGIF sitcoms, such as Full House, Family Matters, or Boy Meets World, it certainly made an impression on its audience.  I was a member of that audience.

Perfect Strangers has fallen out of the cultural conversation, but during the time it ran I was far from alone in adoring it, in talking about it, in impersonating Balki with friends.  In truth, I liked Larry quite a lot more; he was perhaps my earliest exposure to a truly neurotic central character, and I could relate to that.  Perfect Strangers began when I was five years old and ended when I was twelve.  That was the entirety of my grade-school experience.  When the show ended, I moved on to middle school.  It represented, perfectly, a long and important stretch of my early development.

I grew up with it.  It was what I watched and one of my favorite shows as I started to understand who I was and how my mind worked.  Larry helped me, though in a clearly exaggerated sense, to understand my anxiety, and how letting it run unchecked would make me look to others.  Balki was the funny one, but Larry was the one I cared about.

I don’t mean to retroactively diminish Balki’s appeal.  We loved him.  He made funny faces and had a funny voice and did funny things.  I tuned in week after week to see what nonsense the cousins would get up to, and I even looked forward to reruns…something I honestly can’t say about many other shows.  Perfect Strangers didn’t get old.  Even if I knew how a story panned out, I could still enjoy the jokes a second time, and catch the ones I missed the first time through.  I’d watch Full House if I caught it in reruns as well, but it was never a show that rewarded rewatching; it was just something to fill half an hour.  Perfect Strangers got my attention as many times as I saw it.

I was aware that the show was ending, but I’m not sure I caught much of the final season.  I do remember that it aired in the summertime, which was odd; that was a time for reruns.  New episodes didn’t typically air until September, the same time school was back in session.  In the summer, I paid far less attention to television.  I had other things to do.  I’m pretty sure I missed most of the show’s final season, though I know I caught the finale.

All of this is to say that when The Trouble with Larry debuted, a mere three weeks after Perfect Strangers ended, I never managed to catch it.

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I wasn’t disappointed.

Maybe if it had been Mark Linn-Baker who popped up in another show immediately, I’d have watched it.  Maybe not.  But Bronson Pinchot, as much as I did love Balki, didn’t excite me.  I saw commercials for it now and then, well before Perfect Strangers even ended, if I remember correctly.

It was coming.  I knew about it.  I’m sure I was told again and again when to tune in.  I’m sure I would have been able to do so had I cared.

But I didn’t.  And after only three episodes, CBS said, “That’s quite enough, thank you,” and ripped the show out of the schedule.  I don’t know what CBS replaced it with, but now that I’ve seen every episode of The Trouble with Larry, I’m positive that 30 minutes of loud static would have been better received.

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The Trouble with Larry was intended to be part of CBS’s 1993 television season, but it debuted and died before that season technically began.

I’ll back up a bit.  My lack of excitement about The Trouble with Larry was likely due to one factor:  I didn’t know what in the name of shit it was about.  I had seen commercials, but nothing really helped me understand what it was supposed to be.  It was a comedy, Bronson Pinchot was in it, and…that’s about it, really.

Typically, sitcom premises are easily communicated.  This is by design.  Whatever may happen on a week-to-week basis, the overall concept needs to be quickly understood by viewers who are just dropping in to see if something makes them laugh.

Some examples: Seven people are stranded on an island after a freak storm.  A shaggy alien crash-lands on Earth and moves in with a family.  A progressive young woman and her new husband clash with her bigoted father and traditional mother.  A man with three boys marries a woman with three girls.  You can continue the list yourself, and probably pretty easily.  “Here’s what’s happening” needs to be so quickly and easily digested that someone can understand it in the space of a single commercial or theme song.

I didn’t know what The Trouble with Larry was about.  I don’t think anyone did.  The commercials featured a man looking up the word “trouble” to find a picture of Bronson, which then came to life and said, “You were expecting, maybe, X?” where X is Gandhi, Robert Stack, or Mother Teresa.  (They aired at least these three versions, and maybe more.  You know what they say; if your joke sucks dick, tell it three times to promote your new show!)

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Going on no info from the commercials, I somehow assumed Bronson Pinchot played some kind of inventor.  Not a single episode is about him inventing things, so that goes to show just how clearly the show (or at least its marketing) articulated its premise.

It was also strange to me that Bronson Pinchot played a guy named Larry.  It seemed even then like a creative choice that could only confuse people.  Of every possible name in the history of humanity, Bronson’s character in his second show had to be named after the deuteragonist of his first?

I understand that the title is a riff on Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry (1955), but even that’s not an excuse; they could have just as easily called Bronson’s character Barry, or Gary.

The confused marketing for the show stems, I think, from a confused production.

Initially greenlit, scripted, and shot as My First Husband, the show went through a few changes.  What are they?  At this stage, long after The Trouble with Larry has sunk without a trace and doesn’t even exist in the cultural memory as a punchline, it’s impossible to say.  But the original title along with some existing stills of a scene taking place in jail suggest notable rewrites before the first episode made it to television.

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Here’s why that’s interesting to me.  My First Husband, as a title, suggests a different central character.  Both titles of course refer to Larry, but My First Husband suggests that the show was originally about the wife, Sally.  It’s not The First Husband, or Husband Larry.  It’s my first husband, and this is my story.

This is about as far from the finished product as possible, with Sally being the least important character.  She’s even listed dead last in the press release and in the opening credits, after her first husband, second husband, daughter, and sister.  Far from being her story, Sally is barely a background character in The Trouble with Larry.

Even the premise doesn’t lend itself well to Larry being the central character.  In maybe the only truly clever joke the show had, The Trouble with Larry’s wink to Hitchcock’s film goes deeper than its title.  The trouble with Harry was that he was dead.  The trouble with Larry is that he’s alive.

Sally and Larry get married in Africa at some point in the past, and immediately afterward Larry is mortally beaten by a pack of baboons.  (See why commercials might have had a difficult time making this sound like it was worth watching?)  Sally assumes Larry is dead, but he eventually recovers and returns to her to find that she’s started another family.

As the press release has it, Larry then “turns the lives of his wife and her new family upside-down with his tall tales, bizarre impersonations and madcap escapades.”  If this were Sally’s story, that could be fine; she has a new life that is intermittently interrupted by someone she thought was gone forever.  He can pop in, mess things up, sort things out, whatever, but basically he’d come and go as necessary, the way a force of chaos in entertainment must.

Making it Larry’s story, though, means the force of chaos is always at the center, which at best doesn’t lend itself to structure and at worst becomes tiresome and grating within minutes.  Guess where The Trouble with Larry lands on that spectrum.

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My assumption is that My First Husband was pitched in one form to CBS, who purchased it.  It went through some amount of preproduction, maybe even started casting.  Bronson Pinchot was already in talks with CBS for a children’s show, now that Perfect Strangers was ending and he needed a new job.  Either CBS or Bronson puts two and two together:  he’s just finished eight seasons of a popular sitcom, and they have a new sitcom sitting around waiting to get made.  Sticking him in there benefits everyone.  CBS gets to market the show as the next project from a sitcom star, and Bronson gets to slip right into another regular gig.

Of course, it’s not that simple.  As we’ve seen, Bronson has been getting more and more of the spotlight on Perfect Strangers, literally always to its detriment.  Balki and Larry were costars, until Balki became the star.  Bronson got to improvise and create one-man spotlights that existed independently from any other character.  He wanted and was given the spotlight.

My First Husband likely didn’t have Larry in the spotlight.  He was intended to be an amusing character, but doesn’t seem to have been intended to be the central one.  He’d barge through the door when someone’s careful planning had to be upended, wreak his ostensibly funny mischief, and cast the family into disorder.  That was the role that would have suited the title, the premise, and the character.

But it wouldn’t have suited Bronson.  Whether it was him or CBS, someone insisted on the restructuring.  Sally’s story became Larry’s.  Bronson got the spotlight.  The show crushed its own flimsy premise.

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It’s possible My First Husband would have been fantastic.  I wouldn’t bet on it, but who knows.  More than likely it would have been just like any number of bland family sitcoms with a wacky neighbor figure who just happened, this time, to have once been married to the main character.  Bronson could have worked well in that supporting role.  I suspect that was the arrangement in the original, unseen pilot, before adjustments were made, the show transformed into The Trouble with Larry, and the episode transformed into “The Homecoming.”

Instead, he flounders – like so many one-note Saturday Night Live characters the moment they’re given a movie – because Larry shouldn’t be driving every scene.  He should do his thing, say his catchphrase, and leave a Bronson-shaped cloud of dust as he zips away.

Andy, one of my best friends in grade school, loved Perfect Strangers as much as I did.  I know he watched the final season, as well.  And he watched The Trouble with Larry.  He didn’t like it.

There was one commercial for the show in which Bronson says, “Airbag underwear!”  Then he inflates his underpants.  I remember it running a lot, trying desperately to get people to watch.  Andy watched that episode, and I asked him if the airbag underwear was funny.  He said, “Not really.”

If funny underpants aren’t making a 12-year-old boy laugh, something has gone seriously wrong with your sitcom.  Already fascinated by terrible TV shows and movies, this made me want to watch The Trouble with Larry more than any commercial ever could, but, alas, it was already cancelled.

It’s only now, as an adult still fascinated by this bizarre footnote in sitcom history, that I can finally see what I missed.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at every episode of The Trouble with Larry that made it to air.  All fuckin’ three of ‘em.

If you hate yourself, you can watch along.

“The Homecoming,” August 25, 1993

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This reworked, Bronson-centric version of episode one opens with stock footage of a ship and the loosest use of the word “starring” in history.

A good opening scene would establish the characters, the dynamic, and the setting at the very least.  Ideally it would also establish the show’s comic sensibilities, but since shows evolve over time, a pilot misfiring in that regard isn’t really a sign of failure.

Anyone who switched on The Trouble with Larry to see if the show would be worth watching is greeted with a strange, extended opening sequence set on a ship we’ll never return to with a character we’ll never see again.  This is a technique that can be employed by shows that do it with a purpose, such as the pilot episodes of Red Dwarf and Futurama, but here, as you might guess, it’s done solely to give Bronson an extended spotlight.

We haven’t met a single recurring character other than Larry yet, and already all attention is taken away from them.  See why the “my” in My First Husband didn’t fit anymore?

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Bronson even gets a canned audience response the first time we see his face.  Who else is in this show?  Doesn’t matter.  What’s it about?  Doesn’t matter.  What’s even the basic setup?  Doesn’t matter; look, everyone!  It’s Bronson Pinchot!

I do know that at least one episode (the original pilot of My First Husband) was filmed before an actual studio audience.  Maybe the rest did, too, but the enthusiastic whooping we hear when we first see Bronson is clearly pre-recorded.  It fades in and back out like somebody turning the volume knob on a speaker.

Okay, fine, point made.  Surely once the characters start talking we’ll get somewhere, right?

Haha wrong ass hole

Larry spends the first four minutes of a twenty-three minute episode spitting fat jokes at the ship’s captain, played by character actor Marianne Muellerleile.  That is the first impression The Trouble with Larry went with.  If the jokes were funny, maybe viewers at home would have still been amused through their confusion about what they were watching, but they really aren’t funny.  At all.  And so we open with Bronson’s one-man “Yo Mama” act, exhausting a whopping seventeen percent of the episode’s runtime.

Holy mother of shit.

The entire conversation is the captain delivering a series of disconnected setups so that Bronson can get punchlines.

Q: There aren’t many women sea captains, sailor.  Do you know why?
A: You ate them all!

Q: Do you know what this world lost the day I stepped on this ship?
A: About eight feet of beach!

This isn’t sitcom writing.  This is a 25-cent junior joke book.

After a joke about her being fat, a joke about her being fat, a joke about her being fat, a joke about her being fat, and a joke about her being fat, Larry explains the premise of the show.  It takes him so long to explain what the fuck this dumbass show is about that you can’t help but wonder why they’re wasting all this time on a fucking ship if there’s that much story to tell.

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To condense it, Larry is on a ship from Africa to New York.  He married Sally 10 years ago at Victoria Falls, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.  The two are ambushed after the ceremony by a pack of crazed monkeys, the males of which drag Larry away, force him to wear a banana-skin wig, and, Larry humorously suggests, violently rape him for hours on end.

Sally, I guess, doesn’t bother looking for him very hard or file any kind of missing-persons report, making her the most relatable character on the show already.  She goes home and Larry, I guess, just sits on his ass eating giraffe meat for a full fucking decade, making no attempt whatsoever to return to his home country.

Then, a month before this interminable opening scene – yes, the setup is still being unwound – Larry meets a “Serengeti nomad” who has a piece of a newspaper in his shoe, and on that newspaper is a photograph of Sally.  It turns out that she owns an art gallery in Syracuse, and she wasn’t sexually violated until death by baboons as he suspected she was.

So the captain brought a crew to Africa for whatever fucking reason and Jesus Christ almighty I swear this is all just still backstory my god.

The scene ends with Larry kissing the fat woman, because it’s funny when fat women get kissed.

And that was the world’s first impression of The Trouble with Larry.  What have we learned about our protagonist?  Well, that he never shuts up and dislikes fat people.  Aren’t you glad you followed Bronson to CBS?

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After the commercial break, Larry walks into the art gallery and kisses a pre-Friends Courteney Cox, who looks nothing like Shanna Reed who plays Sally, because he assumes she’s Sally.  The audience laughs because he thought he was kissing Sally, who neither we nor they have seen yet, but it wasn’t Sally.  Ha ha

There’s a lot we could talk about here, but there’s one thing in particular I can’t get over.  There’s nothing wrong with beginning the show with Larry returning, in whatever capacity, to America.  We are absolutely allowed to skip over his journey.  But we didn’t skip over all of his journey.  There was certainly plenty of story to be told in the ten years between Larry rinsing blood and monkey cum out of his anus and returning TEN YEARS LATER to his home country, but the one part they showed us was the four minutes he spent telling a fat lady that she’s unfuckable.

What the actual hell is this show?

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Anyway, this scene is four minutes of Larry telling an attractive lady that she’s fuckable.

He tells Courteney Cox that he’s actively picturing her getting her brains fucked out by lucky men, and also mud wrestling, and, you know, accidentally kissing her is one thing, but it’s probably worth remembering that he spent six fucking weeks at sea just because he saw his wife’s picture in a newspaper, and now that he sees a pretty girl he’s immediately trying to drill her IN THE GALLERY THAT HE KNOWS HIS WIFE OWNS.

After she says no I do not want you to ejaculate into me onto me or around me he walks over to some piece of art or something and does whatever the fuck this is.

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Admittedly, maybe I can’t tell what’s going on because of the recording quality.  The Trouble with Larry was shot with one of those Flintstones cameras, where the little green bird inside drew what it saw on a wet napkin.

Eventually, after he makes multiple references to his name being Larry, the ten years he’s just spent in Africa, and the fact that he’s looking for his wife Sally, Courteney Cox figures out that he is Larry, the man who married her sister Sally ten years ago in Africa!

Typing it out like that, it could have been a decent joke that it took her so long to put the pieces together, but it’s not a joke at all.  I know because jokes in this show are limited to Bronson singing Puccini and Bronson talking about sitting on his testicles.

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So, yeah, this is Sally’s little sister Gabriella.  He doesn’t feel foolish and she doesn’t feel repulsed by the fact that this asshole just spent his first few minutes back in his home country trying to fuck his wife’s sister.

Again, the actual premise of the show – according to the fucking thing’s own press release – has yet to be established.  We’re a third of the way into the episode before we even meet the rest of the main characters, let alone watch Larry turn their lives upside-down.  Instead we’ve been given two Bronson monologues, one about how he’d never stick his dick into someone, and the other about how much he’d love to stick his dick into whatever part of someone he could reach.

Folks tuning in to see what The Trouble with Larry is like still don’t know.

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We see Sally and her new family in their living room, and get a sense of exactly the kinds of lives Larry will turn upside-down.  For instance, Sally is…a person, I guess?  Her husband Boyd wears glasses.  Their daughter Lindsay is…young.  Such a powder keg, waiting for Larry’s spark!

The family talks about going on vacation, but they don’t think they can afford it.  Sally evidently borrowed a lot of money to set up her art gallery, and now a really mean guy is going to shut the place down just because she didn’t repay any of it.  It’s…kind of her own fault, but it’s supposed to register as conflict, I assume.

It’s also, I feel obligated to add, not the fucking premise of the show, which means we are approaching the halfway mark and still haven’t seen The Trouble with Larry’s central conceit.  It’s almost impressive how little interest this show has in itself.

It’s no spoiler to tell you that these characters suck dick, but forgive me if I gloss over Sally, Boyd, and Lindsay for now.  I’ll discuss what little there is to say about their personalities in the next episodes.

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Anyway, Gabriella shows up at the house with Larry in tow.  Larry tears into the living room, says, “Sorry I’m late!” and sits down, reading a magazine or something he picks up off the table.

Look at how he’s turned their lives upside-down.  A minute ago, Lindsay was sitting in that chair!

Boyd faints.  I have no idea why.  He’s never met Larry before, but he recognizes him more quickly than Gabriella did?

Anyway, that’s our act break.  Hilarious.  I never thought I’d live to see the day Bronson sits down and reads something.  My aching sides.

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They go over the situation again after the break, because the elevator pitch for The Trouble with Larry would only work during a power failure.  Sally tells him that after she watched the monkeys rape him she moved back to Utah and then to Syracuse and met Boyd on the plane and married him three weeks later and together they had Lindsay and Boyd is a curator at the museum and fucking lord above how much backstory does a Bronson Pinchot show need?

Larry weeps because the woman he loved so much he didn’t try to search for, ask about, or contact her for ten years has started fresh without him.  Then he stops weeping and asks Sally if she’d mind if he fucked her sister.

Man, he really turned their lives upside-down.  Upon learning that Sally started a new family, he declared that he had no interest in interfering with it.

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In the next scene it’s three o’clock in the morning, and Sally and Boyd can’t sleep because Larry is using a typewriter in some other room.  They say Larry’s name three times, causing him to appear and put his bare feet on their kitchen table, making sure they’re visible in every shot.  If you doubted that Bronson had undue creative control in The Trouble with Larry, here’s your evidence you were wrong.

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He eats Boyd’s food and uses Boyd’s napkin.  Then he says that he’s been typing for six hours and hasn’t gotten any further than the title:  Larry’s Africa.  He then reveals that he put his dirty socks in Boyd’s water pitcher.  He sure turned their lives upside-down.  Now they have to drive to Dollar Tree for another one.

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Larry slowly pulls the wet socks over his feet while he makes orgasm noises and orgasm faces.

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Larry says he put his underwear in the butter compartment so Boyd spits out the butter he was eating and there’s a ding and Larry goes to a toaster oven or something and takes his pants out of it and slowly pulls them on with more orgasm sounds and then he says, “Hot dog and baked beans,” and anyone who tuned in to see what The Trouble with Larry was like is already long gone, I assure you.

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Larry dances.

Boyd leaves and Sally tells Larry that Lindsay is actually his kid, but he shouldn’t tell anyone.  He says fine, who gives a shit anyway.

The next day, the writers remember they still need to tell a story, so we see the art gallery stuff getting hauled off by people in boiler suits.  We meet the guy we’re supposed to see as a villain because Sally defaulted on her loan and he’s here to collect the collateral that is now legally his.

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Larry comes in dressed as a waiter at Oktoberfest for no reason.  He also has fake facial hair for no reason and speaks in a shitty German accent for no reason.

Why?  He’s been presumed dead for 10 years and has never met this guy before.  Why does he need any kind of disguise?  He could just say, “I’m Peter McGoo” or whatever and this guy would have no reason to doubt him.  Shit, he can just give his real name.  What’s even going on here?

Well, what’s going on is that Bronson is getting yet another spotlight at the expense of the show.  He makes fun of a fat lady, he tries to fuck his wife’s sister, he produces foot fetish pornography in the kitchen, and now he’s doing voices.  None of these things have advanced to plot, informed character, or established tone.  They’re just things that eat up minutes on end while the other characters sit quietly in the background.

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He slaps the banker guy with some gloves and then he wraps his arms and legs around him and then he lets go and makes fun of Boyd and then he wraps his arms and legs around the banker guy again, speaking effeminate quasi-German gibberish the entire time.

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He puts sauerkraut down the guy’s shirt and fucks up his hair and gives him moose ears and Jesus I am actually starting to wish the foot pornography went on longer.

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The banker guy leaves because he thinks Larry owns the deli next door or some shit.  I don’t know.  I’m assuming Larry said something to that effect, but Bronson was more concerned with his funny voice than he was about enunciating so I’ll have to take the banker’s word for it.

The banker leaves and Larry says the art gallery is saved, because the banker won’t want to repossess it?  I don’t fucking know.  Wouldn’t he keep all the art he hauled off as payment anyway?  And so what if Larry owns the deli next door?  I get that the point of this whole performance is to appear as annoying as possible so that nobody would want to own the property next to him, but why would this guy care?  He could just sell the retail space to someone outright rather than lease it and never worry about it again.

Oh, who cares.  Larry saved the day (that’s a funny way of turning their lives upside-down, no?) and they all hug.  Larry grabs Gabriella by the hips and positions the tip of his penis so that it’s at most four layers of fabric away from her rectum.  She tries to push him off but he refuses to let go and the whole family watches him pretend to buttfuck Aunt Gabby against her will.

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Sally agrees to let Larry live with them until he finishes his memoirs.  So I guess the show is actually about Larry writing?  Is he striking anyone at all as an author?  He’s striking me more as the guy nobody wants to sit next to on the subway.  Whatever.  It’s one more thing the show’s about, I guess, because we don’t have a scattered enough focus as it is.

The episode ends with everyone leaving the room apart from Larry and Lindsay.  She says something he said earlier in the episode (“Cute, and almost funny.”) and Bronson acts like he’s having some kind of epiphany before he says, “She’s mine!”  It feels like a leftover from an earlier version of the script that didn’t, you know, make the fact that she’s his daughter explicit in a previous scene.

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People who tuned in to see what The Trouble with Larry was like never came back.

“The Vigilantes,” September 1, 1993

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I’ve already written more about The Trouble with Larry than any other human being has or ever will, and I’ve still got two episodes left.  Anyway, Bronson’s website (by default the largest and most thorough The Trouble with Larry fansite on the internet) has this episode listed third.  In fact, the episode sequence on his site is different from the one I’ve seen everywhere else, so I don’t know if he’s going by production order or an original intended airing order that got reshuffled.  It doesn’t matter, I promise you, but in case you’re following along and you click on episode two to find yourself in a heap of shit that sounds somewhat different than the heap of shit I’m describing, that’s why.

This episode opens with, like, two seconds of stock footage from the Running of the Bulls.  It turns out Larry is describing his experience with a Russian hooker, though, and I guess Sally and Boyd were only imagining he was talking about bulls?  Who gives a shit.

Anyway, there’s a bird in the kitchen this week.  It says, “Shut up stupid,” and squawks.  I think the bird is supposed to be saying it to Boyd, but I can’t tell.  Sally says the bird misses her mother.  I DO NOT CARE ABOUT THIS BIRD.

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Larry lays on the table feeding himself grapes and he talks about the time he ate a parrot.  If this show is about him turning the family’s lives upside-down, he’s sure taking his sweet ass time.  The first episode suggested that the main thrust of the show could also have to do with him secretly being Lindsay’s dad or with him writing his memoirs, but something tells me it’s just going to be Bronson with a funny costume and half-assed accent every week.

Suddenly remembering who he is, Bronson sits in a chair and props his feet up for the camera man to enjoy.

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This show is basically “The family has a conversation while Larry sits near them and spouts non sequiturs,” broken up by Bronson’s vaudeville routines.

What’s the family talking about?  It doesn’t matter.  Nothing matters.  I’m not even sure why Larry had to spend 10 years stranded in Africa if it hasn’t affected his behavior or familiarity with American culture.  That belabored piece of backstory exists literally only so Larry can periodically say shit like “I ate a parrot.”  Man, if only someone had thought to put Bronson in a sitcom about culture clash.

Boyd realizes there’s supposed to be a plot in shows like this, so he scans the newspaper for ideas.  He sees that there was a burglary in the neighborhood.  This somehow leads to Larry explaining he hooked up a Clapper to the bird cage for some reason, and he claps to prove it for some reason, and the bird cage opens and the bird flies out the back door which was open for some reason, and Larry says it’s hunting season and we hear a bunch of people shoot at it for some reason, even though it’s a fucking dove or something and not a game bird and people don’t fucking hunt in neighborhood yards.

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In the next scene the bird is fine, so I bet you’re really happy we went on that little adventure.  Larry has turned the family’s lives upside-down by joining them for a game of Trivial Pursuit.  He makes a joke about two mailmen having sex with each other.  Then he makes a joke about Boyd being bad at sex.  Then he makes a joke about ordering a woman from the Franklin Mint and pretends to orgasm while he gropes her.

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You’re probably noticing how raunchy the humor is in this show.  It’s pretty strange to me that Bronson insisted that both of the main characters in Perfect Strangers were virgins, but here he can’t stop talking about fucking.

034

Gabriella comes over to announce that her house has been robbed.  Sally sends Lindsay out of the room to get Aunt Gabby some water, and when Lindsay comes back she says she’s sad because her bike was at Aunt Gabby’s house so it’s gone now.  It’s a weird bit of business to send the only character who has something to contribute to this conversation out of the room just to have her walk back in and say her line.

In any other show, this would be where the plot ramps up.  In The Trouble with Larry, it’s a Bronson monologue.  The other four people in the room sit quietly, blinking, while he recites each line with the cadence of a joke.  The audience laughs after each one, the other characters still say nothing, and then Bronson begins his delivery over with the next line.  It’s really bizarre.  It’s one long story, but it doesn’t build.  It’s like each sentence is its own little story, and it never fucking stops.

You know, all we could afford when I was a kid was a bike with no wheels.  I carried that bike everywhere.  It really slowed me down on my paper route.  I was devastated when it was stolen, along with my bagpipes.  Which were a birthday present the year my parents found out I had asthma.  They held my birthday party at the top of the Statue of Liberty.  The climb almost killed me.  But I could see right down her top from up there.

That is a long-ass time for a family dealing with a break in—when they haven’t even called the police yet—to do nothing while someone layers shitty jokes on top of shitty jokes.

If you read that sequence and came up with some comedians who could successfully deliver that story, getting bigger laughs with each line, great.  You’re right.  There are and were and will be plenty of people who can get successful comic mileage out of that.

Now remind yourself that it was actually delivered by Bronson Pinchot.

035

Lindsay is a pretty shitty actor so irritation is pretty much all I feel when we cut to a closeup of her making a sad face and saying to tell the police the bike is pink.  She’s trying to sound like she’s crying but she sounds more like she’s faking illness to stay home from school and watch game shows.

There’s a whole boring scene establishing that Gabriella is going to be staying at the house but her room is near Larry’s so she borrowed a chair from Lindsay so that she could wedge her bedroom door shut so Larry can’t sneak in and cum in her hair while she sleeps and what the actual fuck is this show.

036

What the actual fuck is this show.

Larry and Boyd decide to patrol the streets or something, which means they also have to dress like this for sitcom purposes.  Sally tells them they look like The Village People, which is a well-chosen reference as The Village People indeed consisted of two guys dressed like soldiers.  It’s followed by an even less logical joke.  Larry says, “We lay down our lives and you mock us?  We could well be killed.  Then we’d be mock-us well-be!”

For those of you who don’t know, that’s a reference to the title character of Marcus Welby, M.D., who was neither dead nor a soldier.  Like, wordplay only works when it actually refers to something, right?  You can’t just say something that sounds sort of like something else and call it a day, can you?  Is comedy writing really that easy?

Here’s my great Trouble with Larry joke:  The Abominable Showman.  Get it?  Because it almost sounds like The Abominable Snowman but it’s a little different.  Is that a joke?  Who laughs at this shit?  For bonus points, pretend I said it not about a snowman or a showman but about a gardener or something.

Some family friend calls and says the art gallery is being robbed.  I, too, would call Sally at home instead of the police.

Larry and Gabriella go check it out, instead of the woman who owns the art gallery and her husband, and still nobody thinks to call the fucking police instead.  Larry makes a joke about holding Gabriella down and fucking her.

037

We cut to the art gallery where the robbery is in progress.  Hopefully all this shit was still boxed up from the landlord last week.

One of the robbers is Marianne Muellerleile, that fat lady from the ship in the previous episode, but she’s playing a different character here.  Wonderful.  I was afraid they’d used up all their fat jokes.

The burglars already caught Larry and Gabriella by the time we get here, and they’re tied up back to back.

038

We get the same shitty call-and-response yo mama dialogue we got last week.

Q:  Anything I can do for you before I throw you both in the lake?
A:  Could you show me the first spot where Neil Armstrong first stepped on you!

For some reason Bronson trips over the line and places undue emphasis on the word “first.”  It’s that perfect storm of bad writing and worse performance that really gives The Trouble with Larry its charm.

039

The fat lady slaps him and leaves, I guess.  Larry lays his face on Gabriella’s and then tricks her into grinding against him as part of their escape and then tears her bra off.  I’m not joking.  It honestly feels like I’m watching Bronson Pinchot slash fiction as written by Bronson Pinchot.

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Larry unties himself somehow but instead of untying Gabriella he squirms on top of her, tickles her, and forces her to sit on his lap while she tells him to stop and struggles to get away.

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Then the fat lady comes back in and that qualifies as a genuine relief.

Larry attempts to seduce her.  This episode was called “The Vigilantes” for fuck’s sake.  Do some vigilante stuff!  Why is this just Bronson’s Dry-Hump Daydream Fiesta?

042

Larry says, “Oreos,” and the fat lady cums.

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Sally and Boyd get to cameo on the show that was so nearly about them when Larry convinces the fat lady he wants to join her gang of bandits or whatever my god this show.  They go to the house to rob the family.  We are three robberies deep and still nobody has called a single cop.

Bronson does a long monologue in a loose Southern accent for no reason.  He’s talking about how he loves being a thief or some shit.

044

I get that Larry is only pretending to be evil, but he’s sure taking his sweet time catching the fucking crook.  And he’s actively smashing the family’s stuff while he does this little routine so who knows.

This is the longest 24 minutes of my life.  And I really hate to belabor the point, but we’re at the end of episode two and do we have any idea what this show is supposed to be yet?

045

END you piece of shit show for fuck’s sake

Larry tricks the fat lady into clapping and the door opens and knocks her unconscious because Larry put the Clapper on it.  Boyd and Sally make him explain all of this because even the characters in this show don’t know what’s going on anymore.

046

At the very end Larry gives Lindsay her bike back and claps and the Clapper makes the toilet seat fall on Boyd’s penis.

“My Science Fair Lady,” September 8, 1993

047

Well, this is the final episode that aired so I guess I’ll at last get to see what all that “airbag underwear” fuss was about.

In total honesty, I’d guess The Trouble with Larry’s fate was already sealed the previous week.  The fact that a third episode aired is likely less due to CBS giving it another week to find an audience than the fact that the network needed another week to find a replacement.  It’s very common for a show to take a few episodes to find its groove, but very rare for a show to begin so far from any potential groove as The Trouble with Larry did.

This one begins with Larry in the kitchen with Lindsay.  He’s telling her a story about rafting, and if you wondered if this show would explore his relationship with the daughter he just learned he had, you’re set quickly straight by his deserting her mid-story to go try to fuck her aunt.

048

Bronson gets on the table to ensure the last remaining dregs of the show’s audience get a good look at his bare feet.

Lindsay mentions something about a science fair before leaving the room.  Nobody cares, within the show or without.

049

Gabriella wants cream cheese so Larry goes to the fridge and brings her a petri dish.  They’re both fucking idiots so she eats the contents of the petri dish.

050

Oh no the science fair thing is the plot of the episode!  Gabriella ate all of Lindsay’s foot fungus.

Lindsay sulks and Gabriella barfs.

051

Larry has a box full of moldy avocadoes for reasons he never explains.  Okay.  Lindsay says there’s not enough mold.  I don’t give a shit.

Sally and Boyd pop into the room briefly to remind everyone—themselves included—that they are in this show.

Further evidence that My First Husband was significantly retooled is, well, the existence of Sally and Boyd at all.  The only dynamic (and it’s the least dynamic dynamic I’ve ever seen) we’ve explored at all has been between Larry and Gabriella.  Lindsay is an understandable addition to the cast (and potential anchor for keeping Larry in America) but Sally and Boyd can’t possibly exist for any reason except that they were cast when the show was something very different.

Any writer putting The Trouble with Larry together without an existing framework would have made Gabriella his ex-wife or lost love or whatever, and Lindsay her (and possibly his) daughter.  Sally and Boyd don’t have a place in this show.  They’re frequently off camera entirely, even when Larry and Gabriella are in their art gallery or their home.  They serve no purpose, pose no threat, and represent no complication.  Larry—who spent the past decade masturbating to his memories of Sally—hasn’t given shit one about her since he returned, and while he and Boyd dislike each other, Larry’s complete lack of connection to or interest in Sally means neither of them actually have a reason to interact.

It’s massively inefficient and a complete waste of two actors’ salaries, especially Shanna Reed (4.02 out of 5 on wikifeet based on a total of 18 votes), who was almost certainly cast in a version of this show that was about her.

052

Boyd and Sally wish Lindsay luck at the science fair and make it clear that they hope she wins.  Which, duh, she’s their fucking daughter; I don’t think pride in her accomplishments needs to be verbally established.

Neither Larry nor Lindsay think to mention that the project is ruined and help with a replacement would be appreciated.

Of course, now that there’s a plot to be resolved, they are shuffled off screen so that Larry and Gabriella can resolve it without them.

053

Bronson picks up Courteney Cox (4.94 out of 5 on wikifeet based on a total of 2,573 votes) and steals his own joke from the “Seven Card Studs” episode of Perfect Strangers.  Gabriella says, “Put me down!” and Larry replies, “Okay, I’ve seen bigger butts in ash trays!”

And, honestly, I think that’s the trouble with Larry right there.  When Balki responded to the same request in a similar way, it made sense.  Balki is from Mypos, has a loose (at best) grasp of English idioms, and often doesn’t know when things should be taken figuratively as opposed to literally…or literally as opposed to figuratively in this instance.

Fine.  Like it or not, the joke makes sense and stems from who Balki is.

Who is Larry?  He knows what Gabriella means; he’s not misunderstanding anything.  So I guess he’s just some guy who tells jokes sometimes.  And that’s fine, but the jokes are never especially funny.  Balki’s putdown doesn’t have to be funny, because it’s the fact that he responds that way at all that’s humorous.  The content of his putdown is irrelevant; we’re laughing at his misunderstanding.

In this case, the content of the putdown needs to be funny, because that’s the only layer to the comedy.  But it isn’t funny.  It feels like a placeholder line, to be replaced when the writers come up with something (anything…) better, but it ends the scene as though it’s a huge punchline.

If you didn’t know anything about Perfect Strangers, the simple fact that Balki has a thick accent would give you an idea of the concept when you saw a commercial.  Whatever he is, Balki isn’t American.  The curly-haired guy next to him is.  Before you even get to a joke, you understand the kind of conflict that the show might explore.

I didn’t know what the hell to expect from The Trouble with Larry, because nothing the character says or does provides any illumination of who he is.  It’s just Bronson flailing around and talking in silly voices.

I’m positive I’ve done a poor job of explaining just how exhausting it is to watch him in this show, because it can’t really be explained.  It needs to be experienced.  Screengrabs can never show how often he flings himself around the room or over the furniture in the middle of a sentence.  Transcripts can never convey how upsettingly poor his vocal performance is.  He fancies himself to be something like a cross between Jim Carrey and Woody Woodpecker, with just a hint of Robin Williams, but it’s almost sad to watch, because he’s actually only Bronson Pinchot.

054

Larry and Gabriella go to Lindsay’s school, where they bump into her briefly.  Yes, this should be her story, but the writers couldn’t think of any jokes for Alex McKenna (4.97 out of 5 on wikifeet based on a total of 77 votes) so she leaves her own classroom to let Bronson have the spotlight.

He pleads with the teacher for clemency by making fun of him for being bald over and over and over again.  It’s basically the same thing we had with the Marianne Muellerleile (2.75 out of 5 on wikifeet based on a total of 16 votes) scenes, right down to the fact that he says almost nothing aside from joke-book setups for Bronson to respond to.

Q:  What do I look like to you?
A:  A large roll-on deodorant with arms!

If The Trouble with Larry makes anything crystal clear, it’s that Bronson absolutely needed someone like Mark Linn-Baker to bounce off of.  For whatever reason, he respected Mark.  Maybe it came naturally, maybe Mark earned it.  I have no insight there, and that’s okay.

What I do know is that Mark both kept pace with Bronson and throttled him when necessary.  He rose to Bronson’s lunacy and then sobered him up.  It’s telling that the same things we’re seeing sink The Trouble with Larry—the extended Bronson spotlights at the expense of other characters and story—are what sunk the final season of Perfect Strangers.  Mark, for whatever reason, was no longer in his way.  Left to his own devices…this is what we get.

055

Larry calls the guy bald about 20 more times.  Then he puts his finger in his ear.

At midnight (because now it is midnight) Larry takes Gabriella and Lindsay to a bus terminal so he can make a face.

056

He says that mold grows in the most disgusting conditions, but they don’t have time to get Jerry Lewis’s pocket comb.  Trust me, I wish I didn’t share that joke with you either, but I mention it because the name “Jerry Lewis” is spoken at a different volume than the rest of the sentence and doesn’t match Bronson’s beautiful lips, meaning it was clearly an ADR.  I wonder what the original celebrity name was.  Hopefully it was one known for being in any way unhygienic, otherwise I’ll have to start doubting The Trouble with Larry’s comedic chops.

057

Bronson dresses as a giant booger and buttfucks Gabriella.

058

Sally comes into the kitchen to find Larry with a bunch of shit spread all around.  He tells her that Lindsay stayed up late trying to figure out a new science fair project, and it’s pretty strange to me that Larry knows this, but Sally doesn’t.  Is bed time on a school night just handled on the honor system around here?  Who the hell goes to bed without putting the kids to bed first?  Does she just let her kid dick around in the kitchen all night unsupervised?  It’s almost like this character doesn’t have a place in this version of the show.

Larry reminds Sally that he’s Lindsay’s real father, reinforcing the fact that Boyd doesn’t have a place in this version of the show, either.  Then Boyd comes in and Bronson puts his head in a microwave.

059

The next day at the science fair, Lindsay has a shitty baking soda volcano.  She makes it erupt and the audience laughs for some reason.  Then some bratty kid in her class shows her his project on Africa.

060

Oh, hey, look, it’s something Larry could have helped her do if he hadn’t spent all his time chasing people around in a booger costume.

The teacher comes around and gives the Africa kid the grand prize, so Sally gets all pissy and yells at him.

061

I mean, okay.  The Africa kid is the teacher’s son, which could obviously signify a violation of ethics, but the kid actually did a project whereas Lindsay slapped together the most basic bullshit imaginable, so you really need to pick your battles, lady.  I’m not related to either of these kids (as far as I know) and I’d have given him the trophy, too.

A better version of this story would have had Lindsay and Larry staying up all night to create a new project, which actually was something good and something the whole family was proud of, but then the teacher gives his son the award for something that’s clearly less impressive.

This version of the story has…

062

No

063

No

064

No

065

No

066

No

067

Larry acts like a robot for four fucking minutes.  He’s trying to pretend Lindsay built him out of household shit, and he’s doing an Arnold Schwarzenegger impression that keeps drifting into his gay deli owner voice from episode one and holy god is it impossible to convey just how painful this is to watch.

This is the big money shot the episode was building toward.  It’s not an effective bonding sequence between Larry and Lindsay.  It’s not this motherfucker working on his memoirs.  It’s not the family banding together to help Lindsay out.  Instead, it’s Bronson painted silver with dryer duct on his arms.

He points out that the Africa project is inaccurate which makes the teacher run away crying and then he leans on Lindsay’s baking soda volcano which causes part of his costume to explode and then Larry spits out popcorn.

068

Fuck you, that’s the end.

069070071

Back at the house Larry says, “Airbag underwear!” and pulls a string and that happens.

Oh, right.  I forgot about that.  The one thing the commercials thought was worth showing is literally in the last 30 seconds of the episode and has nothing to do with the rest of it.  I almost wish I had tuned in to watch this fucking thing just so I could spend another twelve paragraphs reliving the anger I would have felt.

Anyway, that’s it.  That is the last anyone ever saw of The Trouble with Larry.

I admit, three episodes isn’t all that much.  Maybe The Trouble with Larry needed a few more to find its voice.  Maybe it needed some extra stories to flesh out its characters.  Maybe it’s been secretly brilliant all along but never got to build to what an audience needed to see in order to understand it.

Sadly, we’ll never know.

Until next week, when we’ll take a look at the three unaired episodes and one completely unproduced one.

The nightmare is only just beginning, assholes!

___________________________________________________

The nightmare is only j… oh. *ahem*

Join us next week when Philip J Reed exhumes the remainder of the corpses from this tomb!

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6 thoughts on “The Trouble with Larry, part 1

  1. There was a period of time during which the funniest thing on TV was, not kidding, “Wings.” Magazines that like to make declarations about such things declared the sitcom as dead. Stuff like this must have gotten greenlit because network executives said “why the hell not.”

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  2. I can not prove this, but I feel like sitcoms started falling apart when the dominant style stopped being “Parents in nontraditional roles tending to precocious mouthy kids,” and switched to “Sexually precocious toddler has somehow been body-swapped with an adult white man.”

    Possibly this means that Bronson Pinchot deserves the blame for sitcoms dying.

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  3. I’m convinced Sally was working directly with the baboons to kill off Bronson in Africa so she could buy a new house in Syracuse with the life insurance.

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  4. There’s a bit of a pattern that I am probably only half imagining, with actors from highly successful, popular sitcoms going on to bland, broad, generally not-good sitcoms almost directly after but I’m struggling to think of examples other than Becker. I guess Last Man Standing counts but there was a helluva chunk of time between it starting and Home Improvement’s end. I’m not wrong though, right? This is a thing that happens? Charlie Sheen’s last couple of seasons of Spin City were entirely superior to all of Two And a Half Men combined (even if 2-and-a-half was tremendously popular so maybe that’s not a good example).

    I will vouch for them on the choice of “Larry” though, as Gary is far too soft a name and Barry is more buffoonish? Harry is actually the best option but was taken by the very thing they were referencing. Damn you, Hitchcock!

    I think I said this about nine million times during the Alf’ reviews but dammit I’m ~SURE~ someone could make a decent go of this premise if the remade it now. Hey wait, isn’t Big Bang Theory finishing? Jim Parsons is probably looking for a new gig… Dammit, where is CBS’s phone number?!

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