So what was I doing the night of Friday, August 6, 1993 at 9PM? If my dad had visitation with me that weekend, I was at the Rockridge Skating Rink, pulling myself forward by the painted cast iron railing. If he was working, then I was at my grandparents, searching for the bottom of a bright green Cheetos Paws bag, watching Nick at Nite.
I certainly wasn’t at home watching ABC, who had not only decided to burn off Perfect Strangers’s final few episodes at the ass end of the 1992-1993 season, but stuck them after reruns of Family Matters and Step by Step.
During the filming, Bronson was desperate to be doing anything else at all. Rebeca was on edge. In her dressing room, Melanie was being consoled by her producer husband that he’d pull some strings and get her on Step by Step. The writers were spitballing funny pseudonyms to put on their spec scripts. Linda was crying into her “Dimitri’s Diner” apron. Most everyone wanted to just be done.
And after putting off airing them for a year, now ABC couldn’t wipe this show off its hands quickly enough. Both parts of “Up, Up and Away” were aired back to back that Friday night.
I knew that Perfect Strangers had come back for just a few weeks, and I missed the finale, and then it quickly ceased to matter. But I find that I regret that now, because all the TV finales I ever saw as a kid were huge disappointments at the time. Some because they were depressing, like Dinosaurs, which featured the entirety of the cast facing their impending deaths. I’ve never gone back to watch it, but my memory of the final shot was Earl Sinclair, looking out the door of his home, seeing the blasted wasteland he’d caused.
Some were just let-downs, like Full House’s, offering an abrupt tonal shift and no indication that it was a finale. It was a very special episode for virtually no one–how many people have ever had to deal with a loved one’s head-trauma amnesia? Roseanne’s was a legendary mismatch of concept and audience expectations. The Critic’s was depressing simply because it never should have ended.
I can think of a just a few broad categories for series finales (of episodic shows) that knew they were finales. There’s looking back–the clip show, the death, or characters dealing in any way with their own pasts. There’s looking forward–the marriage, the baby, the move. There’s the mindfuck–the dream, the novel, the show-within-a-show. And there’s the promise that things will go on the same forever.
Perfect Strangers already got a perfectly good finale in “Get Me To the Dump On Time”, which was a combination of #s 2 and 4. Season 8 may have had something left to say about Larry and Balki’s lives and relationship, but the show barely got to clear its throat before it could say it. The season is so short that its options for finale-ing are limited.
We open at Cousin House to some absolutely squealing saxophone. Donald Twinkacetti lives.
Time changes a man, doesn’t it? Larry comes in and does not immediately look to his right, missing the fact that his wife lies acouch.
He throws his coat onto Jennifer’s face.
This is important.
Jennifer–who is blonde–waves at Larry to catch his attention, and he stumbles over himself trying to make sure she doesn’t think that he thinks that she’s fat.
I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to point out that Jennifer has given in and is providing (symbolically, of course) the gestational environment any Appleton child needs: a sweater. But the child, like both its parents, is reticent to emerge; like Season 8 itself, a long time in reaching delivery.
Jennifer–who is relatively tall–predicts that the child will simply grow for years until it finally sheds her like so much snakeskin.
Balki and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) run down the stairs playing Boochi tag (without the Boochi itself), and then demand that Larry and Jennifer play too.
(I can’t think of anyone else… …Someone, anyone… …please help me.)
I didn’t expect much going into Season 8; and each episode has lowered my expectations even further. If all the Cousins did this episode was say “You do?”/”I do” for 20 minutes, it would be a runaway success compared to “Lethal Weapon”.
What’s been a welcome surprise is that Jennifer and Mary Anne have gotten any sort of arc at all. That story potential has been clear, even if not fully acted on.
What’s even more surprising, though, is that Balki has been fully transformed into what I always suspected he was: a cackling demon who enjoys nothing more than tormenting you. The text of the episode tells us that the Bartokomouses and the Appletons are still having vastly different pregnancy experiences. But Rebeca and Bronson have turned up the dials on their “joy” so high that the whole bit becomes one of their characters not being able to see how blindly insufferable they are to those around them.
Balki getting to be a gameshow host, or have multiple one-man-show spotlights, are so out of step with the character that it’s easy to dismiss them. But here, Balki is being aggressively fun, suggesting the fair, mini-golfing, hiking, not taking no for an answer, and then turning haughty when Larry refuses to ask his wife to be any more active than she expresses a desire to be. The Bartokomouses leave.
That Balki was holier-than-thou was the easy joke to make for years, even though back then Larry could have used a little more adventure in his life. I never expected the show to agree with me here at the end, and give Larry every justification for telling Balki to fuck off.
There’s even a different potential reading here: Balki’s incessant fun-seeking mirrors his behavior in “Bye Bye Biki”. Whose death is he going through the stages of grief over? Whose indeed.
Jennifer–whom we know has eaten shrimp, pizza, Pop Tarts, and eggs in the past–now asks Larry to prepare fruit, salad, cheese, pot roast, and potatoes. She then thinks she’s going into labor and starts doing her breathing exercises. Larry joins her and manages to make himself sound like he’s wheezing, with a stopped-up nose besides. It’s funnier by far than any of Bronson’s Frenchman-deep-throating-some-rock-candy voices.
Larry revs up his freakout, going from worried to shouting in 0.4, beating his record from “Hello, Baby”. Like Buridan’s ass, he cannot move, needing all three of his spiritual totems (keys, coat, Maalox) equally. He calms down just enough to deliver the exposition to Jennifer…
…and for once–finally–it’s written well. It’s amazing when you consider that women-as-exposition-receptacles is Perfect Strangers’s house style. The information that they have rushed off to the hospital numerous times is mentioned so that Larry can say he’s going to have a heart attack if he has to do it again after this. Angry, nervous, weak, in physical pain… man, this episode’s hitting all the right notes for Larry.
This episode setup is only possible by ignoring the fact that labor begins with the amniotic sac rupturing, though.
Balki and Mary Anne return with the furry they picked up at the fair, ready for their threesome.
–the prophecy is coming true!
Mary Anne–who is so dumb she thinks Grizzly Adams was Pugsley’s pet bear–thanks Balki for winning her the giant “Bobo” doll. Balki does a Smokey Bear voice. What the hell is this episode about? Is Larry going to come home and mistake the doll for Balki’s spawn?
Mary Anne picks up the note Jennifer left, and can’t neither one of them figure out who it’s from. They draw the joke out long enough for the audience to get it.
On their way out the door, they meet Jennifer and Larry, back from the hospital.
Balki thinks that Jennifer has already had her child, and congratulates her on her stamina.
(Casey’s call was absorbed by the darkness.)
Mary Anne is confused when Jennifer says she hasn’t had her baby. What the dilating fuck? What does she think the hospital does with the babies? She thinks postpartum means they’ll mail you the kid in a few weeks, doesn’t she?
Mary Anne (who is so dumb she thinks stillbirth is a type of painting) starts giggling. Balki literally says that if she’s laughing, it must be about something he did, and starts making faces and grabbing at an imaginary butt.
Mary Anne finally decides that she must be having her baby. Being on that quiz show a week ago must make a whole lot more sense now! She says she’s going into labor because she feels “all funny inside”. I was going to register a complaint here, but I went on the Mayo Clinic’s website, and that’s the same words they use.
Jennifer–who uses nail polish–gets flustered, saying that Mary Anne can’t have her baby first, that it’s “her turn”. Hoo! Somebody’s been keeping track of shit for decades! She demands that Larry put his palm up against Mary Anne’s belly and do that STOP thing.
I still do a lot of research on these posts (*buffs fingernails on shoulder*), and I’ve got about 10 tabs open about post-term labor induction, what happens when water breaks, Braxton Hicks contractions, checking one’s own cervical dilation, plus one tab that’s a Google search for “time travel prevent sitcom”. We really shouldn’t just be fucking around the house here aimlessly for half the episode just to have the two smart characters not know a damn thing about how pregnancy works. If Jennifer’s been to the hospital five times now for false alarms, the doctor would have sent her home with some sort of “when you X, you’ll know it’s real labor”; and if she’s actually risking being two weeks late, they’d want to monitor her anyway.
And if–as Larry relates–Jennifer was pulling nurses’ hair, then what the fuck happened at the hospital? In this world, all you have to do is tell the hospital you’re in labor, and they’ll bypass checking your vitals so they can get you into the stirrups and tell you to strain the hell out of your abdomen pushing. Mary Anne may be the one saying out loud that she feels “all funny inside”, but that’s exactly the way Jennifer is treating it.
Balki starts handing out roles for everyone to get Mary Anne to the hospital. He tells Larry to grab the pig snout pacifiers. Right. As if Mypitots didn’t just suckle on the pig itself. Jennifer–who likes the outdoors–tells Mary Anne about her violent behavior at the hospital as they walk to the car.
We get a long scene where Balki calls the hospital to let them know baby coming. It’s meant to contrast with Larry’s freakout earlier, and I like that. And even though Balki has been an entirely different person in each scene so far, the script at least is consistent that Balki is untroubled by his wife’s pregnancy.
(Someone… can you hear me?! Please, give me strength!)
And now that we’re halfway through the episode, the show finally decides to get off its ass and say what kind of disagreement the Cousins might have about this. Before leaving for the hospital, Larry tries to restore his own self-image by saying that Balki is covering up how nervous he is about Mary Anne’s delivery (and in denial about it to boot).
It’s almost impressive how this episode makes a slight detachment from its central premise into something else entirely. Perfect Strangers, at its best, was about how these two guys approached every situation differently, and how neither approach was perfect. We know that Larry’s stomach lining has been eaten completely away by worry, and that Balki has cruised through life more than a dedicated sex addict.
But their approaches in this episode have everything to do with the situations they’re facing. Larry has every reason to risk a hypertensive stroke, but Balki has none. (After all, on Mypos is very simple: the woman she work in the field, have baby, ten men, etc.) The episode is actually delivering (HA) on what “The Baby Quiz” should have given itself over to completely. It’s unfair that the Appletons have to struggle; and the only thing worse than a sore loser is a bad winner.
And that idea is conveyed so perfectly through Balki’s utter lack of compassion for Larry and Jennifer that it feels like a tossup as to whether Bronson (or director Judy Pioli) saw this and deliberately played it up, or if it stems from Bronson’s resentment over having to play sweet and innocent for 7 years straight.
I wonder if this is the finale we would have gotten with 13 episodes, and how much those extra seven stories would have contributed to the thesis. (And whether we would have gotten another scenario like “Lethal Weapon” to prove that Mary Anne and Balki’s pregnancy woes were of an entirely different nature.) Or are the women’s stories only getting this much prominence because of the compressed episode order that has confirming the Cousins’ sperm viability as its only goal? Either way, there’s at least an intent in the scripts for “The Baby Quiz” and “Up, Up and Away” to tell stories about four people.
I mean, it’s not that much, but it’s about the only good thing in a season full of Bronson giving the finger to everything about the show.
Well, almost everything. Larry, somehow totally missing the fact that none of this happened to him during five previous flights to the hospital, begs Balki brood about the barrage of bothers that could beset him, like running out of gas or the transmission dropping out of the car.
Balki–now convinced he’s in denial about his own worries–starts coming up with problems.
Balki: What if I hit a cow and have to bury it and comfort the other cows?
Which is a perfectly good line on its own, so Bronson tries to riff on it for awhile.
Jennifer–who plays tennis–rushes in and tells them something amazing just happened. I perked up, hoping that the show’s cancellation was moved up another episode, but no, Mary Anne gave birth in the car. Balki has a son, she says.
Balki runs to get some Tupperware for the afterbirth. Nah, j/k, he faints.
THE NEXT DAY, Jennifer–who went to college–evinces a deep need to manage her feelings of powerlessness in this situation, attempting to shift to an internal locus of control. She asks Balki for a rundown of everything Mary Anne did the previous day. I’d make fun of her for believing that all women’s bodies are the same, but she is essentially the same person as Mary Anne.
The locus-of-control thing actually puts her closer to Larry, psychologically, even if he does disagree with her here. She sends him away to fetch her a Pop Tart so she can pump Balki for information.
He keeps ignoring or “misunderstanding” her questions, shoving photographs in her face and repeating his son’s name: Robespierre Boinki Bartokomous. He says if you flip through them, it’s like a little movie, and then just flails them around–actually breaking the prop–instead of flipping through them. Jennifer stops him.
Jennifer: Bronson, we’ve literally only got 27 minutes left in this entire show. We have to at least look like the plot is moving.
I’ve never been bedside to a new mother, so I have no idea whether immediate family are even allowed near one or her baby. But this show refuses to even acknowledge amniotic rupture, so I don’t see why Jennifer can’t be trying to get this information out of Mary Anne. They could be in the hospital, Jennifer could be trying to ask her, Balki keeps butting in, and Larry removes them both. But this show can’t even remember that a minute ago this was a story about whether being constantly on edge came with the territory of fatherhood.
Or–and I can’t believe I’m saying this–even not seeing Jennifer and Mary Anne for this setup could work. The camera could stay with Larry and Balki on the same principle that I talked about in “The Baby Shower”. This whole thing is leading to Jennifer resorting to some desperate measure, and her being deadset on it can come across to Larry (and the audience) as crazy if we don’t observe the steps she took to get there.
I hate to spoil things, but: Mary Anne won’t show up again until late (late!) in the next episode. We have Bronson on record about how he treated Rebeca Arthur, from his 2009 AV Club interview:
And then toward the end of the show, you know, just being really brittle… The girl that played my girlfriend came in one day and was in a snotty mood, and I stopped and said, “You can get a stand-in to rehearse her scenes, and she can come in later.” I regret that, but there was crap like that.
Plus we’ve seen Bronson carve out bigger and bigger chunks of the episode for himself. If he can do that, could he have decreased someone else’s screentime?
Maybe I’m making too much of it. Balki merely mentioning that there was a bearded lady at the fair is just such ground-breaking comedy that it’s easy to see why 65% of this episode is people sitting on the couch.
(Casey’s’ calls touched the heart of —–)
By the way, thank God Hulu remastered these episodes so I can see that the photographs look like Polaroids of victims like you’d find in the murderer’s apartment on a crime procedural show.
Jennifer can’t get Balki to listen at all until she says “help me have this baby”, and Balki acts like she just suggested having sex. Balki says that Mary Anne went up in a hot air balloon, and Jennifer has her plan.
Larry re-enters (the room, the room, you perv) and Jennifer says she believes the air-pressure change is what did it. And… well, the show’s not wrong. A 2007 study in Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics (Akutagawa, Nishi, Isaka) found that a change in barometric pressure does have statistically-significant correlation with a sudden onset of labor. It could very well have been the cause of Mary Anne’s (Spontaneous) delivery.
Balki tells us that it happens all the time with Myposian astronauts, and then negates the possibility of it supporting Jennifer’s theory by telling us that all Myposian shuttles are thrown manually into the air. Oh fuck you. I wish it meant anything to say that anymore. But fuck you. One more chance to tell us something about Mypos other than “pigs”, and you settle on “they make pregnant women fall from great heights”.
Larry tries one more time to dissuade Jennifer, berating and whining by turns. He demands she not go, and then meekly asks for her approval of his demand.
You know, they do say that sexual activity can help induce labor, thanks to the oxytocins and prostaglandins involved. Since we know how much Larry likes Jennifer to play the strict schoolmarm, it looks like he’s been paying more attention to those pregnancy books than we thought.
And Balki… goes with them. The hell? Doesn’t he have a wife to be there for? For all that he acted shocked when he thought Jennifer was coming onto him, he sure does want to see her vagina when it opens up all the way.
Here we are at Balloon Ride, which the rest of the fair seems to be built around, since Carl and Urkel took off from this exact same spot in Chicago two years previous in the 1991 episode “High Hopes”.
But Howard, the Balloon Ride Operator, is nowhere to be found. I’m guessing a circus midget tipped him off that Balki was coming back. Balki gives us all sorts of information about Howard, whom we’ll never meet.
Balki continues to shout to the wings of the stage to other “characters”. If you’ve got better suggestions for how a sitcom can do some tidy worldbuilding, I’d sure like to hear them!
Larry doesn’t want to operate a balloon, but this is the last day of the fair. Jennifer–who is scared of lightning–bewails her plight, cries to any god that will listen that she’ll never have the baby. Yo, do they not have C-sections in this world?
Balki offers to take Jennifer up in the balloon, and when Larry calls her crazy, she agrees.
I beg you, reader, understand what’s at play here. I offered you four types of sitcom series finales at the outset, but that kind of categorization ignores the fact that this show is unlike any other. If anything, Perfect Strangers is best understood in terms of the philosophical novel, Thus Spake Zarathustra and No Exit its progenitors.
The show has always had the nature of America as its central debate: is it a wholly new thing (aggregate) or is it only understood as the collection of thousands of external influences (conglomerate)? Is it built on the creation of new information (science) or must it rely on handed-down tradition (wisdom)? Shall its people be wise as serpents or harmless as doves?
How can I be so confident in this reading? Look no further than Jennifer’s clothing for this episode’s philosophical underpinnings. Her sweater shows designs at war with each other, perhaps at war with themselves. The knit material to match her husband’s clothes (container), the floral motifs to match the foreigner’s (content). The Easter-type basket (this symbol is maybe too on the nose, but sitcoms do operate in broad strokes) is not yet centered, but a series of purple and yellow daisies in various stages of bloom shows that equilibrium is almost reached. (The spring basket does double duty with a snowflake on her other side; death and rebirth, usw.)
So, Season 8 is the crucial final chapter without which the entire work cannot be understood. Jennifer will deliver forth America, and Baby Appleton cannot emerge until the argument of what America is has been worked out through the Cousins.
Balki, are you confident that, from thesis and antithesis, synthesis may be reached?
In the middle of Larry and Balki lifting Jennifer into the hot air balloon’s basket, Balki starts talking about his baby photos again. Jeez, it’s not bad enough there was fuckall happening in this episode, he has to hammer home that fact by repeating this joke.
Seriously, though, this episode keeps stumbling into ways for these characters to react to their situations and to play off each other; but veers away from them as soon as a music sting happens. And while that’s true of every episode this season, what this one lacks is something that defines the episode. We’ve had “the one with the root”, “the one with the store”, “the one with the suit”, and “the one with the gameshow”. This episode is… what? The one with the story about running over a cow? The one with the baby pictures you don’t get to see?
I’d say it’s the one where Mary Anne gives birth, but the show goes out of its way to be about anything but. Has there ever been another sitcom that didn’t show a baby in a birth episode?
Balki struggling to help Jennifer intot he basket might read funnier if he hadn’t been throwing Larry around like they were figure skaters for years.
Yeah, it goes on for awhile.
That was it, that was your physical comedy for this episode.
The Cousins argue over which rope to untie, and end up untying both. (It would have been the shorter one, right? If you’re to go any height at all?)
Jennifer takes to the sky, her sometime habitat, to get a better perspective on the big picture. A child–symbol of the moral children of America–waves goodbye. The parallels to Moses’s ascent of Mt. Sinai are obvious.
Balki quotes from The Wizard of Oz, which is just his little way of telling you about the times his dad went on a violent bender.
Under the credits, Rebeca can’t get a line right.
Join me next week…
…you know what? No, we’re doing part 2 now. No damn way I’m letting this show take up one more week of my life. It’s about time I started having normal nightmares, like being naked in public, or my teeth disintegrating, instead of Larry and Balki as Laurel and Hardy failing to put my detached limbs back on.
Besides, Larryoke 2 is tomorrow and you’re all likely to make better jokes than mine about this one. Don’t forget about Larryoke 2, y’all.
Announcer: Last on Perfect Strangers…
Yeah, I guess I have lasted. There’s some dumbass synth tuba playing over the recap of the previous episode.
The world is in flux. The balloon rises on the wings of dreams. The Chicago area has transformed into Southern California.
Jennifer–who is a stewardess–has sought out her preferred atmosphere, balanced perfectly between Americas.
Larry lays with–ha, sorry. Force of habit. Larry lays into Balki, blaming him for their present circumstance. Balki starts talking about Mother Earth and how rainclouds are Father Sky’s ejaculate or something. Then he starts actively endangering their lives, convincing them planes are coming and rocking the basket violently.
Psychology sidebar: Balki’s “child” ego state has returned with such a vengeance that it calls Larry’s “parent” ego state out of hiding, eliciting his erstwhile catchphrase.
Balki starts grabbing at Larry’s pants and yelling “woosh” and “whee” while Jennifer’s off-screen. I’m treasuring these last few jokes about the Cousins being gay. Each one could be the last.
Jennifer–who once worked at Reuben’s Perfect Body–butts in to say she’s in labor.
A contraction grips her, and she clutches Larry’s arm. As Larry’s only source of calcium as a child was the eggshells left over from his siblings’ breakfast, his arm breaks.
(-a— talked for Casey, having never even met him before. 3468 HP of damage to Perfect Strangers!)
Balki: Well toss my greens and call me Caesar.
You can say whatever you want about me calling Larry and Balki the gayest couple on TGIF, but you still have to account for the fact that Perfect Strangers’s final statement to the world includes Balki openly asking Larry to tongue his dumper.
Jennifer has another contraction and starts in on Larry’s arm again. This is good stakes-raising! Larry needs that hand to masturbate with for the next four to six weeks while Jennifer’s perineum heals.
Another clue to Jennifer’s birth-of-America subtext: she didn’t learn the breathing exercises, as she fully expected to have a nurse shoot drugs right into her spinal cord. But now she must decide what value traditional relaxation techniques have.
Has she resolved the show’s central question yet, Balki?
And now that Balki’s got their attention, he does everything he can to keep it. First, he shifts gears from Jennifer and Larry’s conversation to talking about the balloon’s patches, which must have been sewn on sometime in the last three minutes. Then, when Larry encourages Jennifer to think of some pleasant stories, Balki throws a tantrum when Larry won’t let him tell an anti-Semitic joke. And then he starts trying to tell it anyway.
Larry finally learns the last and most important lesson the show has for him: this is the end result of seven years of bad parenting,of giving into the child’s every whim, of not telling the child that conversation involves letting the other person talk sometimes, that not everyone finds endless repetition of the same phrase amusing or endearing. Larry has spared the rod (hee) and spoiled his child.
I’m so counting this as a last-minute catchphrase:
And then Balki whips out “mishagosticky” as a Myposian word. Why all the Jewish stuff all of a sudden? Is this all setup for the Myposian tradition of biting off the foreskin?
Larry says to Balki he doesn’t have a clue about helping a woman through labor, which is just setup for Balki going off on a story about midwifing livestock. Bronson runs out of punchlines well before Mark has finished making vomit faces behind him. Now that we know Bronson is averse to practice, you really don’t have to go very far into an episode to find an example of it. You can tell that, at some point, Balki’s line did include something repulsive; as it is here, Larry’s showing disgust over the mere mention that sheep also give birth. Bronson has forgotten the punchlines the Muse favored him with in rehearsal the day before.
Larry begins to throw Balki over the side of the basket.
I think maybe I can quit transcribing everything Balki does by saying that the above example is the rhythm of this entire episode. Jennifer states how the stakes have raised, Larry expresses worry, Balki makes statement, Balki drifts into joke, Larry tells Balki to stop/tries to kill Balki, Balki deliberately/accidentally raises stakes.
It’s in essence the same pattern Perfect Strangers has always followed, but “Up, Up and Away” lays it bare to its very skeleton. If you ever wanted an inadvertent meta-commentary on the dead-end nature of sitcom formula, or the mutually antagonistic nature of stories and wacky characters, look no further.
Balki started out as a character who had no perspective on “civilized” mores or what was “proper” conversation, who liked to tell nonsense jokes, who liked to play with whatever new things America had to offer. But there was always a story, a context for that character to butt up against. We’ve removed almost the entire earth now, but he’s still the same.
His traits aren’t being played against any situation in particular; they’re being played against the idea of situation itself. Larry no longer wants Balki to change so that a story can play out differently, he wants Balki to STOP so that a story can happen at all.
Jennifer–who hates bargaining–notes that the balloon is again rising: she has registered that discord between the cousins is tied to increased danger to herself.
Balki sees that one of the sandbags has sprung a leak, likely due to abrasion against the basket when he shook it around. He tells them that if they go high enough, the balloon will explode when the atmosphere replaces the helium in the balloon.
And… no. There’s a lot more at work there, like air pressure and temperature and the fact that there’s no visible burner mechanism for this balloon, but I don’t know enough about the interplay of all of it to say more than: no. The balloon would eventually start descending on its own, reach a point where it won’t drop any faster, and serve as a parachute to some extent besides. Just like rushing to the hospital every time Jennifer felt weird, the show is just bullshitting its way through science because there’s no logical way to raise the stakes.
Larry tells Balki to shut up, and it’s never been more deserved.
Balki: I can shut up… I think.
Somehow the solution is that Balki has to climb down the side of the basket instead of just pulling the bag up so it’s upside-down with the hole at the top. Balki gets incredibly snippy about it and tries to come up with some more punchlines. (This could have become a moment where Balki has to realize how much stress he’s actually feeling.)
Balki lowers himself down, and Larry tries to coach Jennifer through a breathing exercise.
Jennifer: It was your hollow reed that got me into this in the first place.
(Ba— kept talking. 6525 HP of damage to Perfect Strangers!)
Balki has stopped up the bag’s hole with a handkerchief when the obvious, more lasting solution would be to eat the sand. He shouts a joke that no one is listening to.
Because his classic “Where do I come up with them?” line requires throwing his hands in the air, he lets go of the basket.
Show, you’ve never given me such analytically-fecund material to work with, on so silver a platter, as this.
Balki was the raison d’être for Perfect Strangers. He now poses a mortal risk to himself. And… doesn’t everything that we’ve seen this season show he posed that same risk to Perfect Strangers?
It’s difficult not to see the blame for this lying squarely with Bronson.
Difficult for me, anyway. I’ve pored over Bronson’s relationship to himself and this show so much that this episode appears as the culmination of everything we’ve learned.
Bronson wanted to be anything but Balki by the summer of 1992, when these were filmed. He says he begged ABC for something different. And they–Judy–someone–let him do just that, becoming any character he wanted to be. He treats sitcoms like jazz, riffing wherever he thinks best, whether or not it makes a cohesive whole, or has any connection to what we knew about Balki.
Balki has become the polar opposite of everything he started out as. Where previously he didn’t understand why everyone didn’t want to have fun the same way he does, now he puts others down for it. He only grudgingly agreed to solve the sandbag problem. Instead of showing any compassion or awareness of what’s going on for other people, his goal is simply to do the most talking, to get the most “jokes”.
And how can I be so sure these jokes are Bronson’s, and Bronson’s alone?
Balki: My arches are fallen and I can’t get up.
He’s going to fall, and he’s hanging by his feet. It’s the same type of free association we saw in The Trouble with Larry and Meego.
So is Bronson just blindly wrecking a show, or is it deliberate?
Given that Bronson likes to work in Wizard of Oz references anywhere he can–even while flogging busboys with breadsticks–and given that he had enough clout still that he could order Rebeca off the set, I think it’s a damned safe bet that he dictated the show ending with a hot air balloon.
It appears to have been already decided by the filming of “The Baby Shower”; note the decorations on the fireplace mantel.
But does that mean that the show teasing you with the possibility of Balki dying–and giving you every reason to want it–was Bronson’s intent? Was it the writers’ intent? Did they all want Balki to just fucking go away as much as I do?
Self-awareness isn’t Bronson’s strong suit, though; which leaves us with writers, who Bronson is unrepentantly on record as condescending to. Paula Roth has the writing credit for this episode. She’s been there since almost the beginning, so it’s both very easy and very hard to see her having negative feelings about how this show ended up.
I think the answer is somewhere in-between, that these interpretive elements exist in the negative space between the script and Bronson. His ego-driven performance is doing more than it ever has to deepen a work and give it meaning, but the message is the utter incompatibility of that ego with the achievement of that very same thing. All without him knowing!
If that’s not at least two types of irony, then Georgia’s public schools really are as bad as everyone says.
When Larry says he needs to excuse himself to go do one last physical comedy bit with Balki, Jennifer–who likes a little tummy on a man–begs him not to go. But she finally accepts, on some level, that this is necessary. She needs to know: does the modern American capitalist man have any compassion? Will he protect the underclass no matter what existential and conceptual threats they pose? Is he utilitarian, shooting for the best outcome for the most people? Will the foreigner kill them all? Are both of them necessary? Is he physically capable to carry out the choice?
Larry bends over the rim of the basket, tells Balki to grab his hand–and who knows what the fuck happens, he just falls over the side.
The previous episode had no central idea or physical comedy sequence; and this episode is its inversion. This one has nothing going for it but the physical comedy, and its own status as the final episode. There’s almost no frame or structure other than the (heehee) biological clock counting down as Jennifer’s contractions occur more frequently.
Even though I saw it coming from 50 episodes away, that the show found a way to push Jennifer and Mary Anne out of the story about their own labor is astonishing. That kind of exclusion would be more palatable if the Cousins’ slapstick actually had some argument playing out. A hot air balloon sequence isn’t so sensational that it demands to be done; Larry and Balki could be in the hospital, slipsliding around on spilled saline and tossing transplant organs back and forth and it would have just as much to do with the scenario.
But now that Jennifer’s up in the air, she just needs to be in labor until Perfect Strangers has exhausted the comedy this setting offers.
Unfortunately, a hot-air balloon is about as pregnant with comic potential as I’ll ever be with a real baby.
If you’ve seen the season 2 Family Matters episode “High Hopes”, you’ve essentially watched “Up, Up and Away” at 10x speed. Characters go up in a balloon, can’t control getting down, one freaks out, they almost fall but don’t. Family Matters dipped into the two-man physical comedy well for Carl & Urkel fairly often, but it never became the show’s sole focus, and didn’t come anywhere near erasing the rest of the characters.
Perfect Strangers rises and falls (ahem) on the strength of the physical comedy. It’s offered numerous impressive bits over the years, from Balki picking Larry up bodily and spinning him around, to the entirety of the gameshow sequence in “Games People Play”, to last season’s wine-bottle-throwing scene. Add to this the facts that they were in front of a live audience, and that Bronson treated practice the way most people treat eating horseshit, and it’s downright amazing.
So it’s a disappointment that this episode keeps cheating. And I’m not talking about how well the remastered copies show the flesh-colored gloves or the straps around the actors’ wrists when they hang from the basket.
This is admittedly minor, but Bronson kept acting like the basket only exists in two dimensions, staying very close to Jennifer as he moves behind her to change positions. He hasn’t stopped to think what angle the cameras have on the basket itself, and director Judy Askins wasn’t paying attention. He certainly wasn’t availing himself of his final opportunity to frott Melanie’s ass in front of her producer husband. Why would you even think such a thing?
The big problem here is lies in getting the Cousins to where they’re hanging from the bottom of the basket. I don’t need to see Balki catch him by his hair, but I do need to see how in the hell an upside-down Balki managed to pull him out of the basket. (And when Larry grabs onto Balki’s hair, Bronson keeps his head pointed down relative to his body, not even thinking about what might be going on with his neck.) And, after Larry scrambles up Balki’s body (just as he’d always dreamed), he helps Balki get right-side up, but we don’t see that either.
This position’s called the “flotation device”, by the way.
They don’t know how to stage these things so they simply don’t. Thank God they had the option to cut to Jennifer to show she hadn’t bled to death from uterine tears.
I get it: neither one of these guys is an acrobat. And Bronson can’t be upside down forever. But Perfect Strangers doesn’t have a history of cutting away from the physical comedy at key moments like this. When the characters suffer actual injury, it’s either off-screen entirely to let you fill in the gaps between scenes, or it’s done through the use of a stunt double. You’re always able to picture how, f’rinstance, Jerseyman dragged Larry’s face along a brick wall.
Maybe there wasn’t a practical way to make all this happen, and I’m not going to try to solve it myself. But it’s interesting to me that the show would choose–for its final episode–a bit whose nature demands so many cheats. Season 7 showed off a lot of pride at what Bronson and Mark could do physically on their own when they worked together. “Up, Up and Away” is literally held together by string.
You know, I’ve never in my life wanted so much for Balki to ask us, just one more time, to ponder where he comes up with them.
Also, where do I get one of these jackets that lets you open unzip holes at the armpits so’s you don’t get stinky?
Jennifer–who likes to shower after a long trip–now has the answer to her question. The balloon rose Larry’s baby, letting her see the Cousins’ purest forms. Their duality responds to threat with compassion, to stress with joy, to science with wisdom and vice-versa. When someone struggles to achieve, it responds with support; when someone succeeds without trying, it responds with support. These men are in each other’s eternal debts; and as Balki once noted, debt is what makes you a true American.
But even with all that, it’s not enough. The symbolic interplay hangs up (haha): both figurative Cousins are still in need of saving.
So what’s the final piece of the puzzle? What ensures this baby’s viability?
If you didn’t answer “television”, I suspect you haven’t been paying attention this whole time. A TV news traffic helicopter appears.
(Ba-k- kept talking. 13100 HP of damage to Perfect Strangers!)
Balki shouts to Captain Fred, mispronouncing Appleton one last time.
Captain Fred tells them–since he’s in the world’s only news helicopter outfitted with a police-grade public address system–to smile, they’re on the evening news! Just fucking help them, man, I don’t care what your voice sounds like.
Balki is so happy he makes the same face I do when I accidentally slice my finger while chopping jalapeños.
Jennifer–who doesn’t necessarily like muscles–waves to Captain Fred, and we hear a baby cry seconds before we see it thrown over the side to act as more ballast.
Nah, j/k. Jennifer reports that the baby has a penis.
The Cousins are so happy, they swing their legs around to ensure Jennifer doesn’t get a single moment of calm.
And then they start trying to screw for Captain Fred’s traffic cam.
I’m glad I didn’t see this as a kid. It’s one of the emptiest series finales I’ve ever seen.
I’m glad I saw it as an adult. It’s one of the deepest series finales I’ve ever seen.
TWO MONTHS LATER, Larry and Balki watch the taped news report for the umpteenth time.
Balki tells a long, meandering story about how, on Mypos, they climb up into a tree to give the traffic report.
Larry gives him a look that says “That’s the monologue you chose to go out on, huh?”
Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) come downstairs with the babies. Mary Anne says that the babies said they want to spend time with Balki and Larry. A moment of silence, please, for passive-aggressive Mary Anne, taken from us before her time.
Perhaps this series finale falls into the ad infinitum category, because Perfect Strangers makes sure to clarify one more time that the woman’s role is to be dumb, care for the children, and cook; and that the man’s place is to eschew helping with either duty:
1. Mary Anne clarifies that verbal skills begin to emerge around nine months, and they all stare at her in disbelief. Get a load of this moron! Actually reading up on child development after having one.
2. Larry asks if Jennifer shouldn’t be resting instead of cooking. Fuck you, guys. If either of you gave half a shit, dinner would be done already.
3. Larry and Balki refuse to so much as touch their babies.
Cousin Larry asks Balki if they ought to go get a closeup on Tucker Appleton and Robespierre Boinki Bartokomous to make it look like the show cares about this story at all.
Balki sings “The Itsy Bitsy Scorpion”. It’s stupid and not even worth me mentioning his earlier horror at the lyrics of “Rock-a-bye Baby”.
Before he can follow it up with “This Live-In Piggy” or “On Top of Old Smokiki” or “Fresh Young Balki B Nimble” or “Froggy Went Into My Souffle” or “Mary Wed a Little Lamb” or “There Was an Old Woman Who Gave Me Her Shoes”, Larry says he’ll be in charge of nursery rhymes. It’s too bad we’ll never get to hear him sing “I’m a Little Fusspot”, “The Maalox Man”, “Where O Where Has My Solitude Gone”, “Little Miss Muffet Wouldn’t Give Me the Time of Day in High School, The Slut”.
And… then they go sit back down and have a sappy montage of memories. I’m including it here because it really is sweet.
Mary Anne: It would be nice if you spent some time with your sons.
Larry and Balki: You’re right.
Larry and Balki: *sit and think about themselves dancing for five minutes*
It’s the most I’ve laughed this whole finale.
Balki: Cousin, when I came to America six years ago, I came looking for my cousin…
Now he comes in his cousin! Where do I come up with them?
Larry: If I had to do it all over again…
…he’d do it all over you! Sorry *sniff* I’m just getting sentimental over here. Just trying to (ha) get it all in here at the end.
The women re-enter and check to make sure Larry and Balki haven’t taken the babies for collagen injections so they can have a better shot at getting them on Pampers commercials. Mary Anne is so dumb she thinks colostrum was a statue in Greece.
Larry asks Balki if they’ll all have long and fruitful television and movie careers after this.
(Balki keeps talking. 25000 HP of damage to Perfect Strangers!)
Under the credits, the actors come out and take their final bows.
According to Bronson, during the final question-and-answer session, someone asked him and Mark to do the Dance of Joy one last time, and he broke down crying. He didn’t know that this was cut from the aired version.
Join me tomorrow for Larryoke! I’ll post the links here tomorrow around noon.
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Catchphrase count: Balki (3); Larry (2)
Dance of Joy running total: 26
Unused Larryoke countdown #2: “A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Contraction” – Toby Keith
Unused Larryoke countdown #1: “I Need a Cousin” – Bonnie Tyler
(The war with Perfect Strangers is over…)