Season 6 Reportage

Hello, imaginary new reader who is starting this blog with this very post, let me explain to your non-linear ass what’s going on here. I found it so important that both you and I understand some of the greater context of Perfect Strangers that I was willing to extend the length of this review blog by more than a month so we could explore the extant articles and interviews about the show. This post covers May 5, 1990 through May-ish, 1991. As usual, all of these pieces were curated by Linda Kay of the fansite.

To those of you who have been here longer, you’ll understand why I say that, this time around, I find myself hyper-vigilant for emotions, for buried truths, for certain themes and threads that have revealed themselves over the course of the last three of these posts. We’ve seen a Bronson who waffled and contradicted himself on his own reasons for gracefully agreeing to beg for his chance to settle on being the star of Perfect Strangers, a Bronson who saw his own star rising until everyone else saw Second Sight and informed him which way up was, and a Bronson who wanted to cover his insecurities by claiming to be more cultured than his own pratfalls (like Chevy Chase, whom I’m certain Bronson would swear to be unfamiliar with).

That’s more Bronsons than you can shake a shoe at!  And we’ll get to Bronson–we’ll climax with Bronson–but let’s cover some other ground first.

There’s a tool in the project management world called a triangle. It functions just like any other triangle you’ve seen, except it has words on the vertices.

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Anyway, you’ve got these three aspects of any project: scope, time, and cost.  If you want to increase one or more of them, the sum of its angles still must equal 180°. You want to cut costs? Be prepared for it to take longer. Want to widen that scope and keep the time the same? Be prepared for the quality to get squished unless you raise those costs. Anyway, I think this model goes a long way towards explaining how More Stories! More Listings! More Pages! results in having to re-use a promotional image from four years ago.

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You could certainly make the case that ratings for the show had dropped, but it was certainly true that the person who did this write-up for Modern Screen in Summer 1991 was able to find someone in the staff lounge to tell him all about Perfect Strangers while he hastily scribbled notes on a coffee filter. This article makes it seem like Larry and Jennifer got engaged maybe a few months after Larry quit working at Ritz Discount.  I’d love to read a whole issue of Modern Screen just to learn how wonderful every single show on the air was. “Melanie Wilson and Rebeca Arthur are wonderful as the boys’ upstairs neighbors….” “Mark Linn-Baker and Bronson Pichot [sic] are wonderful together.” I dunno, maybe I just don’t “get it” because I’m not a true fan.

And really, we ought not forget that fan was once short for fanatic. So could there be a truer fan than Perfect Strangers doyenne Linda Kay, who attended tapings, created a newsletter, and ? Here’s a truth that I discovered entirely on my own this past week: no amount of adherence to non-fiction guarantees an absence of authorial bias, of creative choice of presentation. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Linda Kay reveal herself with the equivalent of trigger warnings for articles that were remotely negative about Perfect Strangers. Telefilm magazine ran an article on the Season 6 premiere “Safe at Home”, and Linda prefaces it by saying “[This article] illustrated how reviewers often just didn’t ‘get’ the show… particularly telling is the review’s assertion that the comedy is based partly off of Balki’s ‘innate stupidity.’ ?????”

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Half the show is shit like Larry saying “I’m going to hit the sack” and Balki fearfully covering up his crotch. What is there to get? Was there really some deeper meaning to “Cousin Larry got a perversion”?

I’d encourage you to read that article; it renews my faith in humanity when it says “’Perfect Strangers’ is unafraid to aim low”, or when it points out that the episode used the exterior establishing shot six times in a single-location episode. It aptly refers to Pinchot as having become “slick” and Linn-Baker “delighted at his own cuteness”.  I hadn’t paid this much mind until Judy Pioli took over, but this article did alert me to a revolving door of directors at the beginning of Season 6, which perhaps explains why the quality tanked so quickly in those first few episodes.  The Bob and Tom show their appreciation for how Rich Correll was willing to be overworked by spending potential bonus money on a full page in The Hollywood Reporter.

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Speaking of credit, one spatiotemporal locus where it’s due is Linda’s personal attendance at Perfect Strangers filmings in later seasons. Anywhere corroboration is possible increases the value of an information source, and a short piece from what Linda terms a “rag mag” is one such example. The article describes Pinchot as a powder keg, lashing out at his co-stars and even drawing Linn-Baker into a “screaming match” (likely over whether Jeff Lynne was singing “sweet talkin’ Lola” or “sweet talkin’ lover”). Mention is made of a filming where Bronson had an audience member thrown out for sneezing.  Linda claims to have been there (let’s assume she was there for every episode) and says that Bronson simply left the stage for a few minutes to get back into character after that person’s “disruptive noise”. Her blind spot here, though, is that this article claims to have an “insider” source, who would have been placed to hear Bronson say he wanted the audience member thrown out. I’ll agree with Linda that there are likely exaggerations there, but I have to wonder why someone would make this up out of whole cloth. I have no frame of reference here: was it standard practice for these magazines to slander such minor actors? The size of the article seems to be commensurate with Bronson’s stature, and I’d at the very least believe someone who had a beef with him offered the information.

So we have Linda corroborating that there was indeed a noise in the audience, and that it affected Bronson.  On the other hand, we have a second source giving a reason why Bronson might be testy (again Linda gives us her full blessing to ignore it): that Bronson finally realized they weren’t giving Balki any independent stories and that the impending marriage storyline would sideline him.  According to Star Magazine, Bronson was worried that Balki’s role would be reduced to watching Larry and Jennifer fuck, as if that wouldn’t improve the show. Has it come up yet that Melanie Wilson is now married to William Bickley, one of the show’s producers? And that we have a first-hand source calling Wilson a diva? It would be wildly irresponsible of me to actually try to put anything together from that (Melanie was still married to her aforementioned husband), but I won’t judge you if you do.

Corroborating stories is a tricky thing, and unfortunately the Information Age has both eased and exacerbated the problem.  Consider Philip Roth having to publish an article about his life because Wikipedia wouldn’t allow him to add information to his own entry because it couldn’t be cited. And thanks to mindless copying and link rot, the bullshit mountain often proves unscalable and it’s often impossible to determine where online information even originated. But consider this: a TV Guide piece on “not everyone [being] happy about” Jennifer getting 100% more lines on the show was published before the one in Star Magazine. On the other hand, the idea that Bronson would be unhappy about this doesn’t jibe with his previous discomfort with the behind-the-scenes female tooth-gnashing.

But we can be certain ABC will do what’s best for the show and its actors, right? Haha nah j/k they totally realized that getting kids to watch meant that eventually the family members with wallets would watch too. By the way, turns out Perfect Strangers had also gotten a little bump in the ratings from viewers who stuck around after Full House.

I’m a firm believer in people being the authoritative source on their own lives, even if they lie to you about them, because even the lies disclose something.  So I find this Q&A with Rebeca Arthur in Kidsday to be particularly revealing:

Q: Do you like your part?

A: I love it…. Somebody has to play her and I’ll do it.

Other tidbits of note: Rebeca claims that many of Mary Anne’s lines don’t make it to the final edits, that she and Melanie would hang out outside of work and hit up the miniatures stores, and when asked what her family thinks of her career, Rebeca informs the interview that her mother is dead.

But this quote is going to come in handy later in this post: “[Bronson] is sort of like a big kid, and he gets in trouble when he is so naughty.”

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Rebeca appeared on Into the Night with Rick Dees, which aired (I think) after TGIF back then.  Dees introduces her by saying to the guys in the audience that he bets they stare at her tits when they watch Perfect Strangers. They discuss her Circus of the Stars appeances (Rebeca had to withstand suspicions while carrying the “noose” we saw last week through customs) and Rick asks her if being into doing acrobatic stunts is sexual and fuck you, dude. When Rebeca goes home to Maryland for Christmas, she becomes the major attraction at the mall. Oh, and how could I forget Rebeca’s great story about how Melanie almost called in a Milli Vanilli song request to Rick Dees’s radio show?

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Rebeca Arthur (Pisces) also was on Mother Love, hosted by comedian Mother Love. I want to say she looks familiar, but I also don’t want to be that white guy. They talk about a Star Magazine article about Rebeca’s diet (somehow it’s not a “rag mag” for Linda when it’s not negative), and how Rebeca hates surprise parties because she doesn’t enjoy “performing” emotion, which further convinces me she and I should get married.  Mother Love asks her other guest, Eric somebody*, whether he prefers “tiny” or “voluptuous” women, and he tries to duck the question by saying that everybody tends to lower their own standards when it’s getting late at the club.

Hmmm you may be thinking perhaps there is an underlying theme that Casey is hinting at.

HMMMM

Before we move on to that, there is one New York Daily News article by Patricia O’Haire about Mark Linn-Baker. Turns out he does theatre shit during the summer!

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Patty O. (hi Patty) also gives us an article about Bronson’s theatre work. Remember how last time we learned that Bronson was in a Broadway production of Zoya’s Apartment? Well, the reviews are in: Bronson was in it.

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In May 1990, right where we left off last time, Bronson sounds weary of being Balki for so long. Let’s face it: having to do one accent exclusively must be pretty painful when you can do three of them. He expresses surprise to Patty that that would be how he’d get typecast, even though we saw him (years ago now) claim to not want the Balki role to avoid that very consequence. It appears that Bronson networked his way into the play since he was going to be in New York for a Letterman appearance. Bronson tells us that he “can spot a good director or a good antique… anywhere.” But what, to Bronson, is a good director? Some unvisionary paycheck-casher who’ll let him do what he wants?

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A further revelation here–or rather, here, in a New York Newsday review of the play by Linda Winer–is that Bronson’s New York Connection was owed a favor by the director of Zoya’s Apartment, a 3-hour play which originally premiered in 1926 Russia. It’s tempting to believe that TGIF lent its actors a particular brand of smugness–Winer here refers to Bronson “[taking] the stage with his familiar exhilarated sense of his own delight”–but I think it simply fostered That Genetic Imperious Feeling in Bronson’s case. Linda Kay must not have caught the nuance of that quote, but she certainly feels the need to distance herself from Daily News theatre critic Howard Kissel’s statement that “Pinchot does nothing beyond cute, tiresome shtick”. The work this woman has done to overcome cognitive dissonance in the face of the opinions of people who have them for a living.

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My own sense made explicit: Bronson claims in a May 1990 CNN “Showbiz Today” interview that being “fed up” with his life led him to the play. And let’s give Bronson as much credit as is due: he was engaging in some self-improvement during this period. He mentions his personal trainer and gymnastics instructor in a few different interviews, and he was definitely no slouch with his work. The director for Zoya did try to push Bronson in a different direction, calling him out any time he saw Bronson do something he had done in Perfect Strangers. Almost a year later, when he again appeared on Letterman, Bronson relates one accident that occurred during one night’s performance.  He and lead actress Linda Thorson played lovers and had, over the course of rehearsals and performances, developed their interactions.

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Bronson misread Thorson’s readiness and tried a bit of physical comedy they had discussed; but because it was unpracticed he ended up “handstanding” on her face and falling over.  I want so bad to credit him for trying to grow as an actor, but “Honeymooners This” proved that the only lesson he learned was that there are no lasting repercussions for falling on your–or someone else’s–face. And he claims elsewhere that he still uses his downtime to research the role of Balki. Really? Was that for the episode where Balki does a shitty California accent? Or the one where he does a shitty New Yorker accent?

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Mark Linn-Baker shows up to mumble about plays, but god damn look at those lapels.

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We communicate with one another through various channels, the main two categories being verbal and physical. Some are “leakier” than others, and part of the surreality of sitcoms lies, I think, in reordering the hierarchy. Speech and facial expressions tend to be far leakier for sitcom characters; where bodily movements are more likely to give us away. So maybe that’s why I think I’m picking up on Bronson’s emotions when he’s on talkshows. He seems more relaxed in general, at least for a few months after doing Zoya’s Apartment.

But Season 6 started and Bronson was back on his bullshit again.  It’s going to be difficult to give you these interviews chronologically, so I’m going to group these by theme.

Bronson is better than you

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Bronson was a cut-up, I’m sure, but I doubt he was a capable class clown; I sense a frustrated teenager more than anything. “I was smart-mouthed and precocious and made teachers feel threatened.”  I felt the same way too when I was in high school. But then I went and made a career out of staying in college indefinitely and it’s been easy to see my own transition from teen-in-the-80s-teen-movie to adult-in-the-80s-teen-movie.  I think Bronson wanted article writers to play up his Yale credentials, and he certainly wants you to know that he found stardom by ignoring his professors’ encouragement to pursue illustration. There’s also a surprisingly elderly quote about Bronson thinking kids have too many toys because he used to play with weeds. I don’t think it merits a psychology sidebar to say that we’re prickliest about not achieving our most prized goals. Bronson’s appears to be status when he expresses upset over a woman heckling him during a commercial shoot at a mall (for Pepsi, perhaps?).

“Hey, Bronson, easy money, isn’t it?”

If you’re out there, oh anti-Linda, marry me.

Bronson wants control

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Or maybe what I mean is somewhere between that and “Bronson wants to know what’s going on” and “Bronson gets distracted when he doesn’t”.  In an interview from sometime in 1990 on Northwest Afternoon, Bronson starts the interview trying to ask about some freight cranes he saw on his way in that morning and the (female) host subtly lets him know that he’s not in control of the interview. But soon after that, he’s distracted by a kilt-wearing crewperson getting audience soundtrack. We get insight into themes #1 and #2 combining here when Bronson talks about getting pouty on set when the writers won’t let him do what he wants; but also that, on that rare week where there’s no new issue of Puss & Boots, Cleats In Heat, or Tongue Kiss and he actually watches Perfect Strangers, he’s able to see that the show works better that way. Even so, he still puts it down in general. A woman in the audience took the time to memorize an alliterative question about Bronson’s favorite episode; and Bronson responds by calling the show “boring”. The woman’s face falls briefly before the awareness that everyone else is laughing–and that she should too–catches up to her.

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All these poor Lindas!

A slight tangent here: Bronson tells Arsenio in Feb. 1991 that it’s hard for him to know how well he does on Perfect Strangers because no one will tell him if he’s done a bad job, so please send him a link to this blog, I know he’ll appreciate it.

A couple more tidbits from rather long Northwest Afternoon interview: thank God Louie Anderson didn’t stay on the show, because hearing “Cousin Lowie” 8 million times would be its own special hell; Bronson expects that newer, better sitcoms will make Season 7 his last; and Bronson makes a joke I actually like! He claims that Mypos is south of Rhodes, but that it floats around.

As I was saying, Bronson has trouble letting someone else drive. He’ll stop the interview to ask a host about the micro-nods they’ll make to the crew who are also sending signals he’s trying to figure out. After 6 years of being a celebrity he’ll be surprised when the hosts announce that they’re cutting a commercial and ask “oh, are we done?”

Bronson chases a chicken around with a net

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Bronson does not have his finger on the pulse of pop culture

And this makes it impossible for him to make good off-the-cuff jokes about celebrities. And when you combine this with the fact that

Bronson has no tact

…well, he “gets in trouble when he is so naughty”. He claims to prefer classical art and to have watched The Wizard of Oz hundreds of times (Regis quizzes him on the film and Bronson tells them that some of the answers their staff provided were wrong).  It’s re-established in that same Arsenio interview that Mama Pinchot wanted her children to be exposed to greater art than pop culture, and Bronson continues to mention elsewhere not being familiar with the Beatles as a result.

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Matter of fact, Young MC was in the audience during Bronson’s October 1990 Arsenio interview, and Bronson admits to “liking” rap but having no idea who the main people or trends are. Again, Bronson is at his most relaxed when he’s around Arsenio, and maybe at his most vulnerable. In October, Bronson mentions being upset at the directing/editing choice of not showing his and Linn-Baker’s feet during their stirring rendition of a rap song he couldn’t give less of a shit about; but in the February 1991 interview, Bronson apologizes for having said so because it made the editor and associate producer “miserable”. I can appreciate that.

But what goes unaddressed in that first interview is, right off the bat, Bronson jokes on national television that his gymnastic instructor’s daughter was recovering from herpes. He even manages to elicit an “aww” from the audience when he tells her to “feel better”, which has got to be the worst way to wish someone improved health.

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Something equally difficult to take is when he starts tossing off insults that don’t appear to have any shared public support.

In the second half of that 1991 Arsenio appearance, Bronson repeats a story about another interview he was on. I think this came up before, but: Bronson took a female host’s questions to him and Mark Linn-Baker as being an attempt to prove that men were scum.  In the audience, however, were a group of women using *ahem* their leaky channels to make clear they would fuck the two of them in alley outside if the desire was mutually shared. Who cares if he was misrepresenting, exaggerating, or misinterpreting; that’s an interesting story.

You heard that “but” coming and look at the size of it: he then immediately comments on Madonna having fucked her way to stardom. When the audience gets upset with him, he stands up on the ottomen and scolds them:

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Bronson: Come on! Come on! What is the problem? Wait. If you want people to talk nice, then just go home and meet your friends.

Do I have to make a fuss every time somebody sighs? I’m looking for clues, and Arsenio does hang his head at this. But then Arsenio backs him up on it, throws the audience under the bus, and then asks them all to compliment Bronson on his suit. Hall & Goats combine their voices to protect the criticism of the rich girl, but I can’t go for that because some things are better left unsaid maneater private eyes. It’s kind of surreal when you see this chauvinist shit play out in real time.

Was it a common insult that Madonna was so untalented that she had to sleep with producers to get record deals? I’m not finding much evidence for it, though I am interested to hear if that was the case, because it would at least give some context. I think that Bronson simply thinks that you’re supposed to shit-talk others when you’re on television (“if you want people to talk nice…”), but pulling stuff out of your ass doesn’t make you cheeky, man. And don’t take that explanation of why he decided he was going to get a laugh as my way of trying to excuse him. Hell no, I think it’s doubly bad that he sexslandered a celebrity whose work he’s made damn sure we know he doesn’t give a shit about.

Thankfully, David Letterman doesn’t protect Bronson the same way in their February 1991 interview. Bronson’s last time there was when he was promoting Zoya’s Apartment; and here, while telling the story of landing on her face, he calls co-star Linda Thorson ugly. (These poor Lindas!)

First of all, fuck you on principle!

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Second of all, fuck you on accuracy!

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The audience boos Bronson and he scolds them.

There’s a handful of other factoids in all these interviews: they taped Perfect Strangers on Friday nights, it took between 3 and 4 hours to get one episode done, Bronson collects 1905 Danish phones, Bronson doesn’t believe the humanities’ ideal of consideration for its own sake has a place in higher education, he was in a Thanksgiving Day parade in Houston in 1990 that also included a float-sized version of the Kenner Real Ghostbusters Bug-Eye Ghost toy, which even the online Ghostbusters fan community was not aware of–

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–Bronson really wanted to be the star of Richard Attenborough’s Charlie Chaplin biopic, he wanted to have his own Saturday morning cartoon show, he somehow both idolized Art Carney as a child and hated when The Honeymooners would come on because it was “too loud”, and he bought a house that used to be owned by Liberace.

But *sigh* there’s some more thematic overlap as we get into the last, and worst theme

Bronson’s a fucking creep to women

Multiple times in my life I’ve picked up the idea that it’s better for me–that social rewards await me–if I simply keep my mouth shut about being anyhow better than others. The Lord Chesterfield quote about wearing your learning like a pocketwatch; Proverbs 17:28; and probably most impactfully, the ending of Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats, where millions of boasting cats devour each other in their vain attempt to gain an elderly couple’s adoptive favor, and the only survivor–the humble cat who neither boasted nor fought–is adopted.

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My teenage stint as a Christian, among other influences, instilled in me the idea that doing is worth a lot more than saying; and seeing so many examples of imbalance towards the latter convinced me to put nothing on that side of the scale. I’ll admit to being put off when some media I consume become preachy (read: present a morally authoritative viewpoint), because that’s not what I came for in the first place.** I’ll always prefer nuance in the art I consume and make, but ultimately saying and doing are a false dichotomy.

All that to say I don’t, you know, call out sexism a lot; but I need to here since, as I’m told, silence tends to uphold the status quo. And I wish I could say that I wasn’t basically forced to do this in order to even talk about some of the shit Bronson pulls in his interviews this time around.

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In an October 1990 appearance on Regis & Kathie Lee, he begins the interview by plucking at the crotch of his pants and talking about how big his dick is; for which Kathie Lee apologizes to a woman in the audience. One of the defenses of the bullied is to beat others to the punch and make fun of yourself, but it’s a bad look once you’re powerful.  At one point in the interview, Bronson walks behind Kathie Lee Gifford and gives her a massage, joking that he’s seen that same face on other women.

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With mild self-deprecation, Bronson created a situation where Kathie Lee would be the bad guy if she voiced any real complaint. He gets away with being cute, but she probably went home and took a few scalding showers.

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In a November 1990 interview on Into the Night, Rick Dees is just as much to blame when he tells Bronson that the musical guest that night–Tiffany–is now old enough that Bronson can hit on her. If you feel you need some symbolism that Rick Dees is cut from the same cloth as Bronson, he brings Bronson’s shoes into the conversation. Dees allows Bronson access to the audience, where lays across two women after signalling that he was just going in for a hug.

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Bronson is surprised when Rick goes to commercial, but he’s allowed to stick around after Tiffany’s performance and talk about touching her genitals.

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Rick joins in, making damn sure Bronson knows that Tiffany is of legal fucking age. I’m glad the host was cancelled before the show, because Dees’s nuts.

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I’m surprised Attitudes kept bringing this guy back. Linda Dano calls Bronson out on wanting to just wander into the audience and fuck around instead of answering her questions (these poor, poor Lindas), and the conversation turns to Bronson’s girlfriend Wren Maloney.

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She’s off-stage, and Bronson gets her to come out and have to be on camera and tell the muliebrous crowd that Bronson is “excellent” (she shakes her head while saying it instead of nodding; does this signify anything or am I too on qui vive?).

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What’s more is that he uses this national television platform to acknowledge he and Wren had agreed to keep their planned marriage (which he himself brings up) a secret. Jesus Christ I’m trying to decide whether wondering aloud if Tiffany actually felt “New Inside” or publicly shitting on your intimate partner’s trust is worse and I hope I never come up with an answer.

One more thing from the Letterman interview: Bronson mentions wearing a button reading “Can I Fuck You?”.

I’m breaking chronology and putting Bronson’s May 1990 Regis & Kathie Lee appearance last because I had to do some soul-searching.

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Regis Philbin–who, by the way, is what you’d get if Mark Linn-Baker snorted coke–has on hand a promotional image from “A Christmas Story” and Bronson almost immediately starts in talking about Melanie’s breasts, barrelling over some off-camera protest.

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And… I said the same thing when I reviewed the episode. Bronson literally says “Look at the breasts on Melanie”, and I simply said the same thing with more words:

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Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) come by, and damn, whatever happened to that style of overalls? I’m not into blondes, nor am I into female characters who barely have the one personality trait, but Jennifer’s doing a lot with a little thanks to 80s fashions.

And I said that mere sentences away from my criticism of mistletoe’s pop-culture portrayal of mistletoe as a tool of the patriarchy! Blind spots suck.

Obviously, Bronson’s openly being a letch, and the fact that his and my audience differ by orders of magnitude doesn’t mean a damn thing. I find myself scrambling for reasons to excuse my behavior, and I’m not sure that there are.

Let’s test out one: it’s okay because I don’t have to interact with her, the implication being she’ll never know. Bronson may have had to talk to her later; I won’t. And you could argue I’m not harming Melanie Wilson directly; but I may have harmed your view of her by saying that I didn’t consider her fuckable until she used an outfit to accentuate her breasts.

The other main one: it’s just a joke. And the more complex version of this is: this blog is for humor and shouldn’t be taken seriously. I have a little trouble believing that Billy Superstar would talk to you in person the same way he wrote Full House Reviewed (his spelling and punctuation improved vastly any time he had to talk about something more serious); and you could argue he had developed a character to go along with the screen name. If I’m writing as a character, it’s maybe just an extremity of an inner voice that I only let out on paper or in front of close friends. I try to apply the same set of morals to everything I do; but perhaps I let Billy’s focus on Aunt Becky’s posterior permit me to continue commenting on Anterior Jennifer’s. And taking others’ leads–including the show’s tendency to see Jennifer as nothing but eye candy–isn’t the self I tell myself I am.

I was making jokes, yes. But they’re jokes that functioned only for those sharing my male gaze. My comment about breasts was unfiltered “hey, I kind of like those this week”. To say that the latter butt joke was less bad would miss the point, and the inner voice coming out there was allowing itself comments similar to those made by a past partner of mine. I even asked her about the jokes, and she laughed; but she knows enough of the greater context of Casey that it didn’t trouble her view of me. You don’t get to see all that context because, as I say, I don’t make a point of talking about how *ahem* virtuous my beliefs are. Hell, down here I’m God, right? I’m in a position where I get to explore the greater context of Perfect Strangers and even heap criticism on a Linda of my own, and keep my own faults as hidden as I can.

I owe an apology to the female portion of my audience because I–to whatever extent, it doesn’t matter–made it clear I was willing to unthinkingly consider Melanie Wilson in terms of whether I’d want to fuck her, making me less of a person you’d feel safe around. Doing is greater than saying, so my goal is holding me to never, ever doing that again. If you share that goal, thank you.

Kathie Lee offers Bronson some politer language–”nice figure”–which he agrees to. But then they surprise him by bringing out Rebeca Arthur and–

Bronson: Oh, Rebeca!

Rebeca: What is this stuff? [in reference to Bronson’s beard]

Bronson: Thanks! And you have big breasts!

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She came all the way to New York to see him in Zoya’s Apartment.

_____________________________________________________________________

*Eric Carle Lewis

**Later Groo comics; Leslie Hall’s fifth album Destination Friendship

I think I need a week away from Bronson before doing the season review, so join me next week for a bonus post!

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation: 1991

Bad news, everyone. This post is going to be relatively short, so you’ll actually have to put in close to a full eight hours of work today. Or, hey, maybe it’s a good thing that Perfect Strangers seems to have had a net negative impact on its actors’ careers, because knowing you, you probably took the whole day off and I’m cutting into your LEGO Disney Pixar The Incredibles gaming time.

So let me just clear my throat–

Melanie Wilson

nuthin’

–and we’ll get started.

Rebeca Arthur

nuthin’

Actually, lest I make it look like she was just living a life of leisure thanks to those royalty checks from Opposites Attract, let me put Rebeca’s Circus of the Stars appearance from November 1990 here.

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That’s it, though. I really can’t make myself care about that show any more than I did before. I was nearly six years old when that year’s Circus of the Stars aired, and I honestly have no memory even of advertisements for it. I don’t think I would have even been up that late to see it. The range of stuff I watched back then was–as I’m sure yours was–pretty damn narrow. It was mostly cartoons, many of them on commercial VHS, stuff like Little Golden Books tapes, or See & Learn.

We had a fixed antenna, meaning we got the about six stations out of Atlanta; I mostly watched Saturday morning cartoons like The Real Ghostbusters, Police Academy, or Beetlejuice. For prime time, I know I watched TGIF, and The Wonder Years, and…

…and the fuck’s that got to do with anything, you’re probably asking. As we’re quickly approaching the end of this blog, I should circle back to my original stated reasons for this blog. Lest you think this whole endeavor is some unquestionably altruistic act (thanks for the compliment, though), let me re-establish that Perfect Strangers Reviewed is as much for me as it is for you. It’s been salutary for me to do research on my own past and figure out what made me the way I am; this blog is an outgrowth of that larger conversation between me and my past. I can’t fault you if you’re not interested in the rest of it, but give me a break, because this time around, even

Bronson Pinchot

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Give him a break, too, though. He’s licking his wounds after Second Sight and Jury Duty. He’ll be back soon to amaze us all with his immense (and growing!) comedic talents in Blame it On the Bellboy (and I’ll be ready with some Quadrophenia references)!

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F.J. O’Neil

Ol’ Rooster Teeth was in the film Guilty by Suspicion playing an advertising agency executive.  The role called for someone who was old, wore clothes, and could talk. The film itself is essentially Woody Allen’s The Front without the jokes; Robert De Niro plays a director who–because of his willingness to stand up to McCarthyism, the bravery we all like to believe we would have had in the face of slavery, Nazism, Civil Rights, or the decision to make a second Flintstones movie–gets blackballed by the House Un-American Activities Committee unless he turns in his friends for attending Communist Party meetings, meaning…

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….yeah, it’s boring. Gailard Sartain was in Guilty by Suspicion, though, and my reason for mentioning that will be clear in about 8 months.

Sam Anderson

In addition to another episode of Uncle Buck that I can’t find (man, you’d think after six months, someone would have uploaded it), Sam was on a show called Married People. The show was about multigenerational swingers or something and I don’t know any of the actors in it so who cares.

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Sam also was on three episodes of L.A. Law as D.D.A (Disk Drive Assembly) Graphia.

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Anyway, Sam was the deputy district attorney and, as such, ended up playing the hardass foil to the L.A. Law Buddies (I swear that’s what they call themselves, like, 10 times per episode).

As you may have been expecting, Sam was also on a couple of episodes of Growing Pains, and it pains me to see his role growing there HAR HAR HAR and not on Perfect Strangers.  It’s interesting to me to have dipped into a different sitcom that virtually kept pace with mine for most of its run. Species falling generally within the Poaceae family may tend to appear a more verdant hue when considered across great distances–and I suspect that this has a lot to do with Rayleigh scattering–but I can’t help but notice the things I notice because of my current set of thought predispositions.  I’ll get into this further in two weeks, but one thing I’ve noticed about sitcoms getting long in the tooth is that they have, after five or six years, chipped away everything that isn’t the angel, leaving you with the one-dimensional characters that the audience has come to expect.

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So in that sense it’s interesting to me that both of the episodes of Growing Pains I watched were a head-on approach to addressing Ben Seaver being written as a “dumb” character. I’m assuming that this was some long-standing characterization of the character, anyway. And Ben’s academic life lead, naturally, to Principal Willis DeWitt having something to say on the matter. In one episode (“Homeschooling”), it’s “Ben has been skipping class for three months”:

And in the other (these episodes were in two different seasons), his part is to be surprised that Ben wants to apply for an advanced placement program. And even if DeWitt were limited to just one scene in each episode to establish only what I’ve told you, that’s far and away better than having him show up at the end of “Duck Soup” to say “Hey, I heard that episode just happened”.  But what’s more, his lines are (relatively) loaded with jokes. Many of them are along the lines of getting to laugh at the miserable life of someone who is remotely “mean” to the main characters (isn’t it hilarious when a man in his 40s has failed so hard at humanity that a woman no longer wants to share a last name with him?), but that’s more than we’ve gotten out of Gorpley in a couple of seasons now.  But what’s more is that he shows up later on in each of these episodes to make the Parent Seavers (I swear that’s how everyone refers to them in the episodes) to make them question their actions and move the plot towards conclusion. I’d argue Willis DeWitt specifically wasn’t crucial to make this happen in either case–it could as easily have been Parent talking to Parent about his/her choices–but in the second of these episodes (“B=MC2”), his bright yellow cycling outfit more than make up for any plot questions.

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I’m going to guess that Kirk Cameron’s character had increasingly less reason to show up every week after season 5 or so (it’s obvious he’s no longer living at home in these episodes), but he’s there, he gets good lines, and they even continue his and DeWitt’s antagonistic relationship. I don’t think I’ll have a reason to watch Growing Pains after this blog is finished, so now’s as good a time as any to say I’m also jealous it has a better theme song.

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Hey, look! It’s Fido Dido! Remember Fido Dido?

Look, I’ve established by now we’re all exactly the same as me, I especially so; so you do remember Fido Dido on 7 Up commercials, or maybe on somebody’s T-shirt somewhere. But outside of sampling that pellucid ambrosia, can you tell me anything that Fido Dido did?

For that matter, can you tell me anything the Burger King Kids Club kids did? I’m not going to dip into any psychological terminology or developmental guidelines this week, as some of this feels self-evident, but I think it’s safe to say that one-dimensional characterization is some sort of baseline for children’s properties. Fido Dido, to me, was some version of beach “hip” (and with an adult’s eyes, he appears to be emblematic of self-absorption, fashion as personal statement, I’m getting way off track now). I didn’t get to watch The Simpsons in its first few years, but I knew exactly who Bart and Homer were. Whenever I look at the “family portrait” image that was ubiquitous then–

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–I still see potential, because there was an attitude, a sensibility there in that structure of personalities. (And saying that, I realize that the disappointment inherent in a review blog of this sort is the near-complete removal of those feelings of possibility.) But the point I’m getting at here is that it didn’t take much for Casey the Kid to accept a character as a character. When my brother was four or so, I drew him a picture of Dora the Explorer; he asked me to “make it move” and I finally realized he made no distinction between paper and screen. Dora was Dora was Dora. Or to put it another way: remember how Season 1 Balki had no frame of reference for placing pop culture into any sort of quality hierarchy, and embraced it all as Americana?

Belita Moreno

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Belita Moreno appeared briefly–it’s always too briefly when it comes to these actors–in a made-for-TV movie called Crazy From the Heart.  CFtH, as it’s referred to in numerous internet forums, starred Rubén Blades, and if that’s a cool enough name to make you want to know more about him, listen to his music instead of watching this movie. I promise that’s more worth your while than watching a woman (played by Christine Lahti) risk her social and professional ties for love for the 10,000th time. Belita plays a Texan, and believably; her character is upset about something that happens. I wish I could tell you any more about Belita’s role without having to bother with the movie’s boring-ass plot, but I can’t.

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Crazy From the Heart aired on TNT, but hell, we didn’t even get Fox back in 1991. So there’s one quarter of Saturday morning cartoons I didn’t even learn about until I was a teenager (I almost missed out entirely on Animaniacs but didn’t care for its brand of rights-holder-sanctioned “subversion” anyway, so). But that’s maybe beside the point, because we’re talking Summer 1991, between Kindergarten and first grade for me. I was only child, we lived far enough off the road I had no kid neighbors, and most likely I was watching a shit-ton of PBS that summer.

We all watched Reading Rainbow and we all watched Sesame Street and we all watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and my what cherished shows those were and goodness how they gave us a love of reading and learning and loving each other and yeah, and? I say this at the risk of being legitimately exclusionary, but I feel like those three shows are as close to a baseline of early TV exposure for a large segment of my general demographic as you can get, so we really have to move past those for me to tell you how I spent my summer vacation.

Maybe it’s easier to give you a list?

Zoobilee Zoo, The Secret City Adventures, Shining Time Station, Square One Television, 3-2-1 Contact

–and now I have to stop the list because it’s too impermeable to capture what may very well have been some sort of inborn preferences on my part. I only watched Shining Time Station for the Jukebox Band; I’d watch the opening of Mystery! and change the channel once the program started. I never watched 3-2-1 Contact. I watched the intro, sure, because that’s some solid music and graphic design on those logos.

Almost everything else in that intro makes me lose interest instantly (I’ll admit the skeleton on the bike seemed pretty cool), and I think that’s because it’s real world stuff. I could never get into any explicitly educational children’s programming, and that fed into a larger disinterest throughout my childhood for that strain of educational product. Something about the marketing turned me completely off, and I’m trying to put into words here why that was. I can’t come up with any specific complaint, though, other than perhaps that it was all so dry without, say, the personality of a Fred Rogers or a Grover to stand in your place and ask questions, or that it was all so bland, made, I could only assume then, by people who had academic passion but no sense of artful presentation, or assume now, that they were products signed off on by executives with neither. There are examples of both, I’m sure, and maybe it’s more meaningful to say that I could tell who thought like me and who didn’t. I loved Beakman’s World and I hated Bill Nye the Science Guy. The part of my brain that contains politeness theory is centimeters away from all the boogers I currently own, so let’s not pretend that’s not ridiculous. The parts of my brain that can understand science and art and music and language and comedy are functionally even closer, and why not use them together?

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All that to say Square One Television was probably the best television synthesis of those five things that a kid graduating from Sesame Street had access to in 1991, and god damn was I excited any time I got to watch it. Square One utilized spoofs of cultural touchstones like gameshows, Dudley Do-Right, talkshows, Dragnet, and videogames to teach mathematics concepts; not only was it one of my first introductions to subversion*, it was likely the very first time I saw “Weird Al” Yankovic.

1991 also gave us the premieres of both Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? as well as all the Nicktoons shows**, but first grade was basically starting for me at that point. I’ll have more reason to talk about some of that in a future post, and anyway I’m an adult now and I know about sex and I can watch sex and I’ve even had sex so let’s talk about Cousin Larry putting his penis inside people.

Mark Linn-Baker

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At this point, we know that Mark spent his summers doing theater in New York, so really it’s almost surprising to see him in something else at all.

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Going to the Chapel was the worst wedding movie I’ve seen, Me & Him was the worst talking penis movie I’ve ever seen, and Bare Essentials (Tuesday, January 8, CBS) is the worst “take stock of your life while getting laid a lot on a beach” movie I’ve ever seen. But yawny movies and Mark Linn-Baker complemented each others’ supply and demand, so here we are once again.

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Mark plays some guy named Gordon who, I dunno, does business so much that he can’t relax long enough to pour the coals to his fiancée Sydney (Lisa Hartman) as often as she’d like. They go on an island vacation, their sailboat gets knocked off course, and they’re soon stranded on an island where Bill (Gregory Harrison) has been living, Swiss Family Robinson-style.

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Gordon unsuccessfully tries to enlist Bill in building a raft to get back to the other island–are you bored yet?–and throws out his back chopping trees. While he’s out of commission, Sydney discovers that Bill is more laid-back than Gordon. You’d think that with all that cleavage on the cover of the VHS box that there’d be some heavy fucking, or at least a minute or two of Gordon being forced to slow down and enjoy life, but a full 50 minutes go by with neither.

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Finally, like an hour in, Tarita (Third Actor I Didn’t Know), Bill’s girlfriend, shows up, and then the four of them spend 6 full minutes on a game of Monopoly so the remainder of the kids watching would fall asleep.

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Then the characters finally have sex.

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It causes conflict, and it’s quickly resolved, and if there were anything else of note to say about this, I would have. The only reason I spent this much time on Bare Essentials at all is because I want you to experience a fraction of the boredom involved in watching it. I mean, unless the entirety of pornography on the internet isn’t enough for you, and you specifically need to see more of Charlotte Lewis’s skin than I thought they’d show on network TV; or unless you’re a hardcore Mark-Linn Baker fan; I can’t see any reason for anyone to watch this movie ever again.

I thought I believed in full preservation of the entirety of American pop culture; but now I’ve watched Bare Essentials.

Oh, also Mark directed an episode of Family Man, which thankfully I can’t watch.

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Join me next week for another reportage post!

Patrika Darbo count: 0

*along with MAD Magazine, You Can’t Do That On Television, and the 1991 series of Topps Wacky Packages stickers

**all the ones that matter, anyway

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Susan Campbell, RN

Susan, please.

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I don’t care what Bill Maher has to do with it.

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Come home, Susan. Please.

Season 6, Episode 24: See You in September

Jeez, show, I know I have to keep reviewing through the summer, you don’t have to rub it in with the episode titles!

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As always over the past five (or was it six? this damn memory) seasons, we find ourselves at the Caldwell for our closing episode, wandering through the streets of this town, always silent and alone, seeking meaning in mute facades.

What clues to interpretation can we find here? Perhaps that our window into the cousins’ lives is shutting? That this particular window exists in neither positional state, and further is itself liminal, obscuring boundaries of out and in? That finales on this show have ever been a misnomer, involving more the actions which don’t occur than those which do? The ironic juxtaposition of sliced time and human continuity; the uncrossable chasm between rooftops; this again between between generations; and then laterally, across nations, genders and time itself. Windows, it occurs to me, go both ways, and we have indication now, if not of a reversal, then perhaps a looking through the other way, a closing rather than an opening–

Our most recent season finale has finally made good on the show’s promise of bridges. There, one intrapersonally, between selves (and, it amuses me to note, across man and man’s best friend); and here the show predicts one or more interpersonal joinings at a different liminal point, which you’ll note has softened since the beginning of the season.*

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I could go on, but I think really what the windows say to us is that these men have owned a god damn house for a year and have never once made mention of the $140,000 they owe on it.

Balki and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) also look for clues as to the arrival of their counterparts, having festooned the apartment with foliage, garlic and toilet paper folded into bows.

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Jennifer and Larry enter, and Balki confronts Larry with a Polaroid camera, the symbol of the path he didn’t take, indicating… well let’s just say it’s really deep and leave it at that.

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Larry asks why Balki put all the leftover props from past seasons on the walls.

Balki: Does the word “six phases of the moon” mean anything to you?

Does it mean you have no grasp of English or astronomy?

Mary Anne says that–according to Myposian custom–Larry and Jennifer have to set a wedding date because they’ve been engaged for six phases of the moon now.

Oh for fuck’s sake! This season has gone out of its way to make sure we understand how much time has passed within so many different episodes. Looking briefly through my screencaps since “The Break Up”, I count 17 different night shots, an additional 58 days having passed according to on-screen, plus let’s be super generous and say they went to LA and got back to Chicago all within a single day. At the very least, they’ve been engaged 2 and a half months.

Also, oh for fuck’s sake! This is the first time that Larry and Jennifer have ever gotten to be by themselves since the engagement, and they come home to this pressure?

Balki tells him that, by the one-drop rule, Cousin Larry is Myposian** and thus must follow marriage customs (and somehow no others).

Larry says that they had planned on waiting at least another year before putting their hands in each other’s back pockets. Jennifer backs him up, saying that she and Larry will “follow American custom”, which involves viewing marriage not as a formal acknowledgment of a deeper bond, but as a status symbol; and that she’s willing to drag her feet through courtship a little longer to see exactly how high up through the professional (ahem) rungs Larry rises to ensure her own economic security.

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Mary Anne counters that America led the way in adopting formalized timezones, setting the stage for an increasingly scheduled world, and that Jennifer better fucking pick a date because she’s tired of seeing smears of someone else’s poop in the toilet bowl.

Nah, j/k, they don’t say any of that shit. Jennifer has turned down congressmen and football players in her quest to find a man disaster-prone enough to accidentally set their house on fire; and Mary Anne is so dumb she thinks only cowboys have bridal parties.

Balki asks Larry whether he’ll be doing a bunch of other Myposian customs which he (he Balki) didn’t do during his own wedding and which Larry had no way of hearing about other than from him until this very moment: walking down the aisle on one’s hands, singing Snap!’s “The Power” while flinging spoonfuls of rat-milk custard at the guests, and then double-teaming a sheep with the best man.

Larry fumbles around for a bit about agreeing to set a wedding date, finally passing the excuse ball to Jennifer, daring her to admit right then and there that they won’t be happy together.

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This has to be the most contrived way I’ve ever seen a show come up with to destroy a cake prop: Balki uses a piping bag to write a month on the cake, only for Larry to finish his sentence about how that month won’t work.

Even in just these few lines, there’s loads of potential story. We’ve seen numerous examples by now of good episodes buried under bad layers of comedy.  “Karate Kids” is the first that comes to my mind, and you don’t even have to go back that far this season to find an example. Philip pointed out that “The Sunshine Boys” had a perfectly good Larry story that placed his motivations in completely the wrong place. Even if it weren’t the case that we in 2018 know that Jennifer and Larry get married and (*hastily scans Wikipedia*) throw their newborn child from a hot-air balloon, I think that ending had to have been pretty damn clear to viewers then.

Unfortunately, what we have here are two people who are in no way fit to be part of a married couple, and who for all we know have not even established a strong personal connection with each other, physically or emotionally.  I mean, they were supposed to have played tennis together once, but even that managed not to happen. All we’ve ever seen them bond over is the fact that they’re smarter than the only two other people they bother to interact with more than once a month. Interpret, if you like, their panicked indecision here as an indication that their personalities are similar, but it’s no stronger an indication of that than anything else we’ve seen for the past five years. Hell, maybe Larry’s about to say that he also likes being outdoors and likes to use nail polish, and that will change my mind. But look at the wild desperate hope on this woman’s face when she comes up with “my birthday is in April” as a way to exclude a whole month.

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They don’t belong together, and they know it. Getting them to admit to that would be a great story. Getting them to talk through their fears would be the okay version of that story. But like always, we only get the briefest of glimpses into that better show.***

Anyway, after Larry and Jennifer have collectively said 11 month names, Balki proves he was paying attention in college and writes “June” on the cake. He tells the couple that they must each eat a piece, and once they’ve each passed it, eat the other’s piece.

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If the reasons above weren’t enough to make me wish this story didn’t end with Larry and Jennifer promising in their wedding vows to discuss kissing with tongues someday, Melanie Wilson is absolutely selling her fear. Sure, yes, the fear is there to get her and Mary Anne out of the scene, but even that would have supported the story we don’t get.

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On their way out, Mary Anne is so dumb that she’s willing to try real-world approaches to battling anxiety, like giving the human brain the resources it needs for decision-making through a balanced diet.

Just like I always do any time I have to fill those dreadful hours between sunsight and sunclipse, Larry starts stress-eating, tapping his foot and laughing weird.

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Balki says he knows Larry like the back of his colon, and says out loud all the nervous tics that Larry did in the past 10 seconds.

Larry does over/repeats those repetitions back to Balki, an obvious obsessive-compulsive ritual meant to magically remove the distressing thoughts brought about by actual plot possibilities.

Larry briefly does some meta-thinking–doing the job Balki ought to be doing–telling himself the reasons he has to get married and envisioning a good future, before descending once more to the cake. He’s so upset he even keeps Balki from saying his signature catchphrase (“Let’s do physical comedy now instead”).

Larry is worried that Jennifer “thinks she’s marrying a handsome, sophisticated, charming man” but that when they go on their honeymoon, she’s bound to see the purple stretchmarks grooving his inner thighs, the sporadic hair on his shoulders, the recurring folliculitis on his knees, that his butt has developed in a manner which can only be described through comparison to a double chin, and how the pinched toe box of his bargain-bin dress shoes have turned the undersides of his pinky toes into blades; hear him crying over the low water-pressure in the motel bathroom; and ultimately be enveloped by the natural perfume–equal parts ammonia and cheeseburger–he emits during any level of physical exertion.

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The leg-shaking goes on for a damn long while, but before Larry can “accidentally” gouge out his eyes, Balki takes Larry’s Forkin’ away.

Balki calmly explains to Larry that sometimes vaginas give new meaning to the phrase (strike) word Frito pie; but warns that their ratings haven’t dropped quite so low that they’ll need to call their agents immediately after the set is struck, so Larry needs to get his shit together.

We find again that the grand traditions of Mypos only go back about 50 years when Balki suggests that Larry and Jennifer take the Nupitiki-SATiki. Also, I try my damnedest not to mention most malabronsisms, but this one stands out as particularly odious:

Balki: This test can determine whether or not a marryage should take place beyond a shadow of a snout.

You can’t– the operative word is– you own a fucking house– how did you even–

What the fuck does Balki think he was trying to say?

Speaking of nervous tics: I’ve debated a few times whether to even bring this up, but this is the third time Bronson has done it this season. I don’t even know what you’d call this, but Bronson will move his mouth sometimes right after a line like he’s either trying to communicate slyly with Mark or he’s developed some case of self-echolalia. He did it to Fire Chief Wayne Newton last week. It’s not the only time he does it in this episode. It’s weird.

Anyway, what the fuck, I officially don’t care, Cousin Larry says that most pop psychology tests are bad enough, and one that doesn’t even rest on any sort of sound, researched scientific principles or methodology would be even worse.

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Mythos having failed him, Balki eschews pathos, ethos, and logos in favor of pothos, pulling his cousin into the kitchen with the cake.

Balki gives Larry some good advice: call Jennifer and ask how she feels.

Oh, wait, no, there were four more words: about taking the test.

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Larry calls Jennifer and he barely gets out the plot synopsis before she hangs up on him. I’d knock Mark Linn-Baker for saying both “Hello? Hello?” and “She hung up” (as if we all didn’t grow up with the disconnect tone), but we found out from Jo Marie Payton that they would do Q&A with the audience after filming, so he knew he needed to.

Jennifer runs into the apartment, begging for the test, and wouldn’t you know it, these two are perfect for each other because her leg is shaking like mad.

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Balki reaches for her leg and Larry slaps his hand away. Fuck yeah, Larry! Male characters getting away with groping women by pretending to be clueless is pretty fucked up and no doubt left a lasting impression on my psyche and, as we’ve learned over the past year, that of every other man in America.

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Two days later, we learn that the test takes not only its name, but also its values, from mid-20th Century America.  Balki asks if Jennifer would get upset if she had cooked dinner and Larry didn’t call to let her know he was coming home late.

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Balki did the same– there’s like one phone on– the $140,000 house– Jennifer’s out of town like half the–

God damn do I hate these kind of questions; they’re the pop psych equivalent of asking a kid which one is gay: him or his boyfriend.

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Psychology sidebar: one of the core ideas of social psychology is that people’s behavior is heavily impacted by the presence of others. This means that, until consummate artificial intelligence can devise perfect survey questions and beam them directly into people’s minds, there’s the risk that the person administering the tool will case a “response bias” in the test subjects. If all questions on a measure are worded negatively (“not”, “won’t”, “disagree”), will the subjects answer “no” most of the time? Will they try to idealize themselves and give socially desirable answers (or, at least, the answers they think the researches want)? And can you propagate value systems with the questions? Unfortunately, yes. Kenneth B. and Mamie P. Clark’s study investigating “racial identification” by asking African-American children about dolls was published way back in 1947****, but I see some form of the test still get used today as “proof” of some level of self-loathing among that population. Here’s how it worked: the researchers would show black children aged 3-7 a white and a “colored” doll and ask them questions: “Give me the doll that you like to play with”, “Give me the doll that is a nice doll”, “Give me the doll that looks bad”, “Give me the doll that is a nice color”.  Do you see the message that the researchers didn’t realize they were giving the children? Only one doll could be nice, look bad, or have a nice color. The majority of the children, at every age group, identified the black doll as bad; and the final question on the test (“Give me the doll that looks like you”) reduced a few of the children to convulsive tears when put in the cornered position of having to refer to themselves as bad.

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Okay, this review is getting dense, so let me give you the plot essentials so you’ll know you’re really not missing much. Balki asks Jennifer questions, and gives Cousin Larry physical tasks. Cousin Larry keeps complaining along the lines of “You had me see how many of my own toenails I could rip off before fainting and Jennifer just gets a question?” or “You had me jerk off beside the mailboxes while singing ‘Dancing Queen’ and Jennifer just gets a question?” We only get to actually see one of each question and task, which is fine, because escalation of a concept really has no place in comedy.

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I hate to say this, but there has been enough good physical comedy on this show that Larry playing Simon Says feels like the show bought a shovel for the express purpose of setting the bar lower.

I’m going to assume you see where these ridiculous questions–and Balki deliberately giving them a bad score–are going. I’ll admit that forcing a couple to say “fuck this, I love you anyway” is clever enough for this show even if I did see it coming a mile away.

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The problem, though, is that this episode forgets who Larry is. Used to, we’d get a progression where Larry’s theory-based claims of mastery over adult life buckle under their own weight, leaving him no option but to beg for the Myposian way. Here, the show has forgotten that that was once Larry’s whole character. He and Jennifer are desperate for any sort of affirmation that they’re doing well, stating answers as questions, asking if they answered right. When Larry expresses discomfort with the test, Balki makes it clear Larry’s fate rests in his hands. He lays it on thicker than a Casey in an opening shot.

Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back after I send an email to OKCupid letting them know how they should change their matching questions.

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Later, some guy points at the Caldwell, and the camera follows his arm. Just think, if he’d pointed any other direction, I wouldn’t have to watch the rest of this.

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I complained that we only get to see one question and one feat of manly strength, but honestly there’s simply no time for it. Bronson decided this scene called for a suddenly pompous demeanor and that dragging out his lines makes him sound smart and condescending. Exactly what viewers tuned in for, right? Balki seems to oscillate more wildly these days between “incredibly competent” and “wears a hat”, and these past two weeks might be the furthest sweeps of this phenomenon. He’s neither talking nor acting like the Balki we first met; is this the same guy transfixed by a shaking leg five minutes ago? You can argue that Balki is acting this way to play on the mood of the scared couple, but come on. This whole test would still work with a playful, loving Balki at the wheel, holding his cards close to his chest and matter-of-factly dismissing any skepticism.

Balki is bordering on smug, which makes it feel like Bronson is also smug for thinking this is the right direction to take Balki.

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I’ll give him this: the plot does allow it to be clear, albeit after the fact, that Balki is playing a role. But the script breaks Balki in a different way when it tries to establish his credentials as a “Nupitiki Dr. Ruthiki”.

The fucking fuck? Why is it never enough that Balki did something on Mypos, but that he also must be the best at it? Balki was supposed to be 21 years old when he arrived in America (at MOST he was 22 if you want to fold season 1 into season 2) and he was a pre-marriage counselor, even though brides are a birthday gift when you turn 25? Don’t get me wrong, I love math (my credentials: I got highest individual score in a middle school intermural math team competition), but god damn I hate having to waste it on this shit. Further, I have to imagine that Balki’s dad is never once going to be mentioned on the show, and I suspect that Bronson wanting nothing to do with his own father had a lot to do with that. Most of the audience wouldn’t have known that, but in addition to Balki not mentioning any authority other than a title, I’m left wondering how in the fuck a teenage Myposian wouldn’t get soundly ridiculed by people even a few years older for trying to act like an expert when he doesn’t even get to observe his own parents’ relationship. I mean, I don’t care how constantly babies shit, I sure wouldn’t trust one to advise me on purchasing the best toilet.

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Larry repeats Balki’s title, and then repeats Balki’s clarification of same, which is the type of stellar writing you only get when you give a room full of writers ten whole months to come up with good jokes.

And now they’re just talking about sheep and pigs happily fucking and–

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AAAHHH! Sorry, the way Jennifer just jumped up like that startled me. Completely forgot she was there.

Jennifer: Just because the test has never been wrong before doesn’t mean it can’t be wrong now.

Poor thing, they really don’t let her on stage enough or she’d know that Balki is Never Wrong™.

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Luckily, irony isn’t a total blind spot for this show, as Larry says he’ll still marry Jennifer… after a couple of years of intense study.  For all this episode’s faults, that one line still lands beautifully. Since the quick escalation to five years’ postponement is misplaced from the better version of this episode, it only functions here as padding. (And why the fuck did the show wait until now to even bother to remember these people have parents?) But that split-second of hope that Larry figured out the lesson before reverting back to avoidance was the only part of the episode that actually had a positive emotional effect on me.

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Balki tells them that their last hope is to take the “Nupitiki Spic ‘n’ Spanakopita” (Larry repeats it), the “marriage cleansing ritual”. In case you didn’t catch the joke, Balki then all but turns towards the audience and tells them that Spic ‘n’ Span is a cleaning product.

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It was obviously night outside the windows in the previous scene, which means that Jennifer and Larry did not take any time to talk to each other about this on their own. Fine, whatever, this makes them the perfect couple, I guess! Let their house be full of the blandest furniture, let them always give up on food discussions and order pizza, let them pass up every career opportunity, let them forever be scrambling to guess what the other doesn’t necessarily like or dislike, let them not name their child until it turns eight. I don’t care.

Balki, in Exidorean robe, has bid the couple stand in a plastic kiddie pool.

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Jennifer: Balki, it looks like the prop department really dropped the ball this week to the extent that I have to take a wildly improbable yet correct guess at the shape of your pendant which, by the way, the script has me, a woman, refer to as a medallion.

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Balki: You’re right Jennifer, it is in the shape of a lambchop, which coincidentally is also the shape of the island of Mypos. It’s enough to give you an overactive theory of mind, huh?

Balki points out his hometown of Podunki and fuck you and there’s a Six Flags over Mypos and fuck you and the blue part is a mood stone based on the state of Jennifer and Larry’s relationship and

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YOU OWN A HOUSE GOD DAMMIT

Balki dumps brown liquid over Larry and Jennifer’s heads. What does it symbolize? Reader, if you don’t know, I haven’t taught you anything.

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Balki declares the test a failure, that New Tina was doomed from the get-go, and that Larry and Jennifer should resign themselves to lives of solitary masturbation. Larry and Jennifer start blaming each other, and Balki encourages the discussion of their emotions.

Larry admits he’s afraid Jennifer will realize he’s not sophisticated; and Jennifer admits she’s afraid that Larry will learn she doesn’t necessarily have a personality.

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They affirm their mutual tepid feelings for each other, decide to marry in September, and tell Balki to shove his test.

Balki tells them they’ve passed the test, which is probably the only time I’ve seen the “learn your lesson and still get your reward” trope work. But then Balki reveals that he–he Balki, the man who never lies, not even once, no never–made up the part about drenching them in Ex-Lax’s final form because they were more neurotic than any couple he’d ever tested on Mypos. So, what, were the 100 other Myposians that Balki has told Larry stories about to illustrate Larry’s errors all made up too?

What if both of them had personalities that led them to believe in the power of tradition/organized religion, or just didn’t want to rock the boat? If they both back out of the marriage on that basis, wouldn’t that suggest a good match? You can’t set up traditions or parts of your state religion that you reveal to be false and admit that you were using it to get a certain emotional response. You give the whole game away, and this tactic makes it even more jarring that Balki was a marriage counselor years before he could even get married.

We started this season with the image of a torn, mangled chair unsuccessfully stitched back together, and it turns out to have been an apt metaphor. “See You in September” is simply the latest in a series of examples of the writers putting the available parts of the show in different ways from what came before. They hold together well enough within the episode, but try to place the weight of the show’s memory on them, and pieces fall off. Perfect Strangers is no longer quite the same show.

But you, O my readers, remember sometimes thy little Balki that was.

Cousin Larry pours the shit on Balki.

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Join me next week, when I’ll take a look at what these actors did between seasons!

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

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

Cut for syndication: At the very end of the episode, Tess walks in, pulls a lever, and a 16-ton weight drops on Balki, Larry, and Jennifer. Ain’t she a stinker?

*Which, as you may remember from Professor M’s review of “Beautiful Dreamer”, began as a symbol of fear

**Balki claims Larry is 1/64 Myposian

***The Man in the Tight Cousin

****Clark, K. B., & Clark, M. P. (1947). Racial identification and preference in Negro children. In E. E. Maccoby, T. M. Newcomb, & E. L. Hartley (Eds.), Readings in Social Psychology (3rd ed., pp. 602-611). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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