Season 6, Episode 2: New Kid on the Block

Welcome back! Let’s go!

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Ooh-hoo, looks like we’ve got a new character this week!

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We open at the Caldwell to find a Vitner’s Snacks truck driving by. Once inside the apartment, we find Balki using a wall-mounted soda can crusher. And oh man I forgot those even existed; we had one when I was a kid, and I loved the shit out of it, too. But pairing two symbols of junk food consumption so close together means that we have already discovered this week’s theme.

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Balki slam dunks the can into a laundry basket and congratulates himself on saving the environment, and sheesh is there a lot to unpack with that. Recycling is too often simply a way to tell ourselves that we are forgiven for our sins of consumption. Waste is a product of how much one uses, but the can crusher–as well as using a “trash can” you can see to the inside of–turns the act of consumption into a product of how much one has “saved”. Not only that but the mechanism depends on selling the consumer yet another product. It’s a cultural antacid that allows the consumer to wallow in self-centeredness: Balki has to run to answer the phone because he has moved it away from the counter to make more space for his rotating display of trash.

Balki answers the phone with his standard sex hotline greeting:

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Balki: Thank you for reaching out and touching me.

…but quickly changes tack when he realizes that it’s a friend.  Gina has called to ask Balki to babysit Little Frankie, who is now four years old.

Nah, j/k, the Morellis all died because Gina was trying to “smoke” Steve’s “brakes” while he was navigating the turns on a mountain pass. She was trying to “blow his doors off”. Trying to “mash his motor”. Sorry, I’ll stop.

Caldwell resident Mrs. Holland (no first name) has called to ask Balki to babysit her daughter Tess. Balki quickly agrees, though the wooden paddle sitting next to Dimitri hints that there are not age-appropriate toys for the child to play with.

Cousin Larry runs in trying to get Balki’s attention and starts pulling paper out of his pockets. First recycle, and now re-use: Larry has evidently grabbed paperwork out of the garbage in an attempt to expose yet another criminal.

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Larry was at the Department of Public Works, covering a meeting, and he saw “Big Jim” Morris there talking with some city aldermen.  And even though we’ve had 30 episodes about aldermen at this point, Balki has to look at Larry’s mouth to understand the word.

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Ha! That Balki, never learning! And when Larry says that “Big Jim” Morris is a shady contractor who has been barred from doing business with the city, Balki makes a joke about “Dirty Dancing” and dances, shaking his imaginary nuts at Larry.

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Heehee, that Balki! Always misunderstanding in the most delightful ways! He also makes a joke about child rape.

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Hoho! What better time to make a joke about pedophiles than when you’re introducing a new child character?

You know, now that I’m watching this through a second time, Larry doesn’t even say what the pieces of paper are.  He makes reference to them being “notes” and evidence he’s “dug up”, so I don’t know if it’s trash or stuff he wrote down and jammed into his pockets. Perhaps after “Here Comes the Judge” they don’t let him have full pads of paper anymore.

But it’s likely that the dialogue that contained the answers was cut in favor of Larry dragging out the scene by shouting and slowly saying everything he says to Balki, much of it twice . It’s a totally understandable move, because it means that they can put off showing the new character.

Cousin Larry helps Balki achieve his lifelong dream of developing a perichondrial hematoma and tells him that he can’t have any distractions while he’s working on the article.

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It should be obvious that whoever this kid is will be a troublemaker. You know, I could keep nitpicking all of the little bits of illogic here, you know, how Larry’s supposed to be doing any sort of substantive work with only twenty crumpled sheets of looseleaf, or how it’s too bad that Larry doesn’t have a bedroom with a movable, shuttable, lockable door, or how it’s too bad he doesn’t have a girlfriend with an apartment that he could go use for a couple of hours, or how it’s too bad he doesn’t have an office to work at, much less an office that can be accessed at all times of day or night, but I don’t think I’ll get into that.  I’m… actually happy that we’re getting a “classic” Perfect Strangers plot where Balki invites someone over without asking permission, so I’ll just accept that Larry will have to deal with a noisy child while he’s working. What the hell happened to me?

Hey, look! It’s Cousin Oliver 3J Luke Brower Nicky and Alex Cousin Olivia Joey Donovan Seven Sam McKinney Kennedy Russo Lilly Lambert Tess Holland!

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Larry’s rapid decline into the biggest asshole in the world is shown this week by having him slam the door in the face of his neighbors. Has anyone ever seen this happen–opening and then immediately closing the door on someone–outside of a sitcom?

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Oh my Lord, two weeks in a row where the show fixes problems from previous episodes. Last week it was actually getting to see Balki’s imagination at work.  This week it’s having a child character actually play with one of the cousins, something I bemoaned the lack of way back in season 2’s “Ten Speed and a Soft Touch on My Hole”.

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The show displays its mastery of symbols once again by inverting Michelangelos’ Pietà. And like any good symbol, this one has layers, both hinting at Tess’s purpose and her fate.

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Larry, consummate piece of shit that he is, demands Balki introduce him to Mrs. Holland instead of doing it his own damn self. During the introduction, Balki tries to explain the news story Larry’s trying to break to Mrs. Holland–but he gets all the details wrong.  In the span of two minutes Balki has lost all of the corrections that Larry screamed at him. It stinks as a joke within the narrow scope of the episode, but works on the broader level of explaining why Larry still has to cut Balki’s disgusting cheese dogs into little pieces every night.  Anyway, Larry inquires as to where Mrs. Holland moved from, what she does for a living, who her husband is, how old Tess is, and then welcomes her to the Caldwell Hotel, and Tess to his apartment, saying that he has years of experience babysitting his younger siblings.

Oh, wait, no, Larry doesn’t do any of that shit. He says “Hi” to Mrs. Holland and that’s it.  Mrs. Holland’s onus now shifted onto others, she leaves to go back upstairs and have a noisy threeway with her husband and Mrs. Schlaegelmilch.

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Larry hangs Tess’s coat. Remember this. This is important.

And I somehow didn’t see this coming, but as soon as Mrs. Holland’s gone, Tess wants to make noise?

Instead of going into his room, locking the door and plugging his ears with chair stuffing, Larry tells Tess that it’s “quiet night” and just sits on the couch and thinks he’s going to do work.

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Inside, someone throws one of those giant inflated bouncy balls that you’d find in the 10-foot-tall bins at K-Mart at Larry.  Then Balki runs in and–

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HEY NO NOT IN FRONT OF THE KID COME ON GUYS

Larry–who is still paying off a $140,000 house–forced Balki to babysit outside in the cold, dark night, where a 10-year-old held him up at gunpoint and stole his shoes.

Tess turns the stereo on to a radio station and cranks the volume all the way up; a hard rock song starts playing:

    She’s wicked, nasty and mean as a girl could be

     She made me weep, she’s gonna cry

It’s not that I find the lyrics interesting; but I do notice that the show is more willing to write its own songs than play the actual music for existing ones.

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Tess pulls the volume knob off the stereo and Balki fixes it (ha! that Balki). Meanwhile, Larry starts hulking out.

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Larry shoves some headphones onto Tess’s head and tells her to keep the fuck quiet. Balki drags Larry into the kitchen so they can argue.

Psychology sidebar: the obedience studies conducted by Stanley Milgram in the 1960s are some of the most well-known in social psychology.  I’ll leave it to you to read up on them if you’re not familiar, but the main takeaway from the research is just how easy it is for authority figures–even if just a professor in a lab coat–to elicit obedience from others, even if that obedience involves harming others. Obedience can be often easy to achieve; but it’s also easy to counteract. Seeing someone else disobey decreases compliance; losing the trappings of authority (university vs. office building) decreases compliance; and so does seeing authority figures argue. Ever see someone reject diet advice because they’re sure that, no matter what the food, there are articles alternately saying it’s good and bad? Larry is telling Balki to discipline Tess, but arguing in front of her about it all but ensures that she won’t behave.

Anyway, what the fuck, who cares, Balki says a song lyric and the audience yuks it up.  When Larry suggests that Balki lay down some boundaries for Tess, Balki tells us that “on Mypos we never say no”. Then he crosses his face once he realizes he said it.

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Then we get this bullshit:

Balki’s trying to make a clone of himself, shut it down, Larry!

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Larry leaves for the Chronicle (finally!) and Balki holds up Tess, demanding the audience’s obeisance to its new ruler.

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Later, Cousin Larry comes back home to find a cliffhanger.

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Oh no! What could possibly have happened? I couldn’t in a million years guess! If only there were any comedy tropes from the past 50 years I could look to for some clue to decode this puzzle!

Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back after I contemplate my life choices.

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Larry: Is it bondage night already?

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Balki says that Tess did it. So why the fuck did they separate the first three seconds of this scene and try to make it into a cliffhanger? All the questions brought up in those first three seconds were answered in the first three seconds. What does this scene add?

Larry: You should discipline her.

Balki: No. I need to pee.

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No discussion, no handing the kid back to her mother, no fucking mention of the mother; as far as I can tell, Tess tied Balki up and went to Larry’s room to quietly read The Things They Carried. Anything else would require another character, interaction that progresses the plot, or action that would mess up the sacred third act. We take about a minute and a half total to establish that Tess tied Balki up, and that Balki is mere seconds away from befouling his pants.

In “Two Men and a Cradle”, Larry and Balki had to take care of Little Frankie because she was going on a road trip to be with her husband for a few days. Here, Mrs. Holland… just leaves. And then she doesn’t come back for her daughter.

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See, look, here we are at the Chicago Chronicle. We’re here, and the episode’s only halfway done, so we know Tess will be here.

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Oh, and fuck you, show! I was being cute with all that stuff about you loading the first few scenes with symbols and hints, but here you are being fucking sloppy with it. For Christ’s sake, putting a guy from a sprinkler company in this scene. The episode’s going to end with the sprinklers being turned on, folks! You can stop reading now if you want. I guess. Fuck.

RT (Recurrence: Tenth) Wainwright tells Larry that his story is great and he’ll put it on the front page. So all that mess about Larry not getting any work done had nothing to do with the rest of the episode. Cool.

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Wainwright made a special trip downstairs just to tell Larry that he needs to shave 100 words from the story so it will be first-page material. But he’s only got 10 minutes!

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Larry starts freaking out and counting down the remaining seconds out loud, just like I usually do about this far into an episode.

Hey, it’s Gorpley! He didn’t even rate a mention in the season premiere but he’s here now!

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He storms out of his office and, spittle flying from his lips, all but growls as he…

…tells Larry to ask Balki to investigate a series of minor inconveniences he’s experienced that day. Whoa, watch out for this guy! Gorpley leaves, because his presence would mess up the next few lines of dialogue.

It’s obvious that Tess is behind all of the goings-on at the Chronicle, but what’s not obvious to me is how in the scheduling fuck the cousins remain completely unaware of what the other is doing on a day-to-day basis. The cousins both live and work together, so it seems unlikely they wouldn’t carpool.

Balki and Tess come in from the Hyrule exit, Luke/Yoda-style, Tess throwing mail everywhere.  Larry had to work hard to emotionally manipulate Balki into shirking his sacred duty as a mailboy back in “My Lips Are Sealed”, but now he’s letting Tess just throw it everywhere.

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Larry sends Tess three feet away so he can scream at Balki. Balki says that on Mypos, is very simple: the woman go out in the field to work, and she bring the child with her. Larry says that that’s not how things work in America, and god damn they shoved the whole of that culture clash into two sentences, didn’t they?

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Tess sends Larry’s watch up the pneumatic tube, and Balki puts his mailbag over his head. Is this just how the rest of episode is going to play out? Two-minute scenes where Balki and Larry disagree, Tess acts out, and the plot stands perfectly still?

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Later that day, Balki runs down the stairs with the pieces of Larry’s watch. And here I was, worried that this episode wouldn’t have a complete story. Larry starts to talk about how that day’s paper will be distributed in an hour, but since Poochie is not on screen, he quickly shifts to asking “Where’s Poochie?”

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Lydia knows from experience that this show likes to ditch its female characters for newer models, so it’s understandable that her response is to try to kill Tess.  Does it matter what Tess did to Lydia? She did a thing, that’s all you need to know.

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Hey, look: Tess did another thing.

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Hey, look: Tess did another thing.

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Tess does things.

But hey, RT was finally included in a story beyond telling Larry what to do! I guess that’s… whoa, wait a second, I was about to say it was good. Glad I caught myself.

Tess, who has walked up the stairs, shouts down to the gathered characters.

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Tess: What you think of as pain is only a shadow. Pain has a face. Allow me to show it to you. Gentlemen, I am pain.

Then she turns on the sprinklers. The water rises to the fusebox and kills them all.

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Later, at the Caldwell, Larry throws his wet shirt into a blue laundry basket. This second use of a laundry basket is a deliberate choice by the show, as it ties this scene to the one at the top of the episode.  Balki is used to only dealing with natural resources. He approached babysitting the same way he did on Mypos, assuming that all children were alike in their natures regardless of environment.  But the natural resource of childhood functions differently in America. The episode began with Balki exulting in his unwitting partnership in the waste of goods many steps removed from their natural-world counterparts. One remembers Balki’s fearful jump away from the first soda can he encountered. Soda is magic; its origin and final destination are both mythologized. It has taken the mass waste of water–a resource whose comings and goings Balki is more intimately familiar with–to clue him in to his error.

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For the first time in 75 years, the Chronicle didn’t publish. For those of your scratching your heads as to why this happened, have you seriously not been paying attention? In darn near every episode, someone will say something like “Speak up! I can’t hear you over the printing press!” or they’ll say “Boy, I sure wish I worked on a higher floor, and not stuck here in this basement office with the printing press!” or someone points in the direction of the audience and says “Over there is the printing press for the Chicago Chronicle. It is right there and it is the printing press.”

Larry calls Tess “Tess the Terrible” like it was supposed to catch on or some shit.

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Tess comes by–alone–to tell Balki sorry for “making it rain on your paper”, which is a phrase I might expect from a three-year-old, but not a nine-year-old. Why the fuck is this scene here?  Balki and Tess are apologizing to each other, but they should both be apologizing to Mrs. Holland. No discussion with the mother about what happened, no inquiry into what kind of boundaries Mrs. Holland sets for Tess, no expectations for anyone’s behavior going forward, here’s some cookies we bought from the store and dumped out on a plate for you. Cookies didn’t save old Mrs. Bailey, and they ain’t gonna save you, kid.

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And oh my god the music! They’ve layered violins and French horn over the usual clarinet, and it’s the most saccharine this show has ever gotten, like I’m supposed to be brought to tears by Balki having to say “no” to a child.

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Balki weeps for joy at Tess’s acceptance of this new rule. That’s showing her who’s boss, Balki.

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Somebody buy me new teeth for Christmas. I just ground mine down to the roots.

Before the episode ends, we get a decent bit of directing. Tess has to apologize to Larry to make things right in sitcom terms, but someone was aware enough to seize on an opportunity to hint that Tess and Cousin Larry have more in common than they originally thought, and that they could eventually hammer out a workable friendship.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, it begins and ends with them both stubbornly crossing their arms. Sorry if I seemed to indicate that “New Kid on the Block” had made any efforts outside of this specific 30 seconds to give Tess a personality that extended past “unruly child”. But someone was alert that day and we get a peek at a better version of the episode.

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Well, Tess leaves, so that’s done, and then they drag out the ending. Larry tries to make a joke by beginning a question with “was it me, or…” which becomes this drawn-out thing with Balki misunderstanding the meaning of the question.  It’s actually funny, and I’m glad to see Balki reasonably misunderstanding a language construction. If it weren’t for the fact that the standard way to phrase the question is “was it just me, or…”, I would say it’s the best one yet.

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The cousins hear Tess’s voice from the direction of the window; Balki relays the message that Tess is calling for Larry. Larry doesn’t want to go to the window, so Balki employs a position called “The Chestnut”.

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Larry sticks his head out the window, and we learn that Tess is in the apartment directly above.

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When I began this blog, I did my best to avoid any knowledge of future plots or characters.  But at this point, I’ve interacted with Perfect Strangers and its associated online fandom enough that it would be dishonest to pretend that I didn’t know this is Tess’s only episode. By all appearances, she was intended to be a recurring character; heck, they put her name in the opening credits!

“By all appearances”, of course, assumes that Perfect Strangers and any other sitcom are varieties of apple. Perfect Strangers has honed its skill at disposing secondary characters to perfection, meaning that it can introduce a cute child character and dump her in the span of one episode without breaking stride. Non-cousins aren’t there to be developed; here, they exist solely to deliver multiple, near-identical punchlines to a single set-up. When the show is done with them, it throws them away. And it will, eventually, throw them all away.

The episode opened with Balki crushing cans in order to facilitate them being recycled. Ultimately, you can make your trash smaller, and find a narrative that allows you to pat yourself on the back for consuming, but it’s still waste.

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Join me next week for “The Break Up”!

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Catchphrase count: Balki (0.5); Larry (1)

Boner count: This was an episode about a kid! You sicko.

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Season 6, Episode 1: Safe at Home

Before we start: Tonight! One night only! It’s the 5th Annual Noiseless Chatter Dot Com Xmas Bash!

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I’ll be there in the chat making the same three jokes over and over again. Click that picture or this link to attend! I won’t tell you again!

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By Fall 1990, the TGIF programming block had proven to be a golden goose for ABC’s ratings.  The Miller-Boyett style of sitcom was enjoying, perhaps, its finest hour, having taken over a full two hours on Friday nights.  Full House was beginning its fourth season, Family Matters its second, and for one brief moment, it seemed like Going Places just might be. If you wanted kid-friendly comedy on a Friday evening and couldn’t afford the $20 to take your family to see DuckTales the Movie, well, then TGIF: These Gags’re Intended F’you!

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Shit, ABC even got rid of the rat in favor of a simplified Thalia and Melpomene motif (you know, TGIF: Two Girls, Inverse Faces).

TGIF was up against such shows as Evening Shade, America’s Most Wanted, and Uncle Buck: The One Season.  Perfect Strangers itself was up against Over My Dead Body, DEA, and a long-in-the-tooth Night Court. But maybe don’t get too excited for the idea that Perfect Strangers had helped give ABC this power, because TGIF: The Gain is Frationary. The 1990 TGIF season began on September 21, 1990…

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…but Perfect Strangers began its sixth season on September 28.  Its spot the week previous was taken by the second half a of a two-episode season premiere for Family Matters.  And consider this: in the season 5 reportage we learned that, as far as Bronson Pinchot knew, he was only going to be playing Balki Bartokomous for another two years (TGIF: This Gantlet’s Imminent Finale).

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Perfect Strangers had never been the kind of show to get a double premiere.  No one was clamoring for it they way they were for the hyponasal foibles of peripubescent stalker Steve Urkel. Nor did Perfect Strangers need to prove itself.

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Cousin Larry makes up for the delay by rushing Balki, Jennifer, and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) into the apartment, where tiny mixtures of old and new abound.  Chekhov’s fire extinguisher lingers in the hallway, but we see some new art on the walls.  Balki’s wearing a blue version of a shirt we’ve seen before. But what balance do we get? The show says that it has surprises for us, but it decides when our eyes will open.

As I begin this season, I’m reminded of something I (read? heard?) not too long ago about the waning quality of some creator’s output in their later years, long after their seminal works.  Should they quit? Or should we give them a pass and let them coast on the strength of their past successes? In other words, should I go easier on Perfect Strangers after this point because of the hard work it’s put in up to this point?

haha oh god fuck no I mean would you all do that for me? The show can slack off all it wants to, but you’re here for new jokes about two men who after four years of dating still haven’t learned that women have pubic hair too. Jokes about the cousins inadvertently causing the deaths of their coworkers and friends. Jokes about Balki making the same face I did a few weeks ago when I had a staph-infected wound debrided.

Jokes about–

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HAHA YEAH see if your girlfriends can identify anal queefs by sound alone!

Larry brings them all stage left so he can show them the gaping hole materialism has left in his soul. Larry has learned long ago not to discuss major purchases with Balki, knowing that they’d end up with $600 worth of Bugs Bunny t-shirts.

Cousin Larry–who is still paying off a $140,000 house–has bought a stereo chair, which he promises they’ll all get to use.  These four sure will have fun when they get together and listen to “King of Wishful Thinking” one at a time while the other three wait silently!

Before opening his eyes, Balki guesses that it’s a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Dream House” so, yeah, there you go, Balki still has the same interests I did when this aired; and Balki’s jokes are still written by people who like to reference other television shows without actually watching them.

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Jennifer and Mary Anne turning to him with their eyes covered is a good joke, though. Larry proudly presents the back of the chair to them.

Larry gets in the chair, and the show covers up its lack of a budget to acquire both music and lyrics by having everybody stand around and explain that one has to be in the chair to listen.

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Larry starts singing “The Gambler”, and Balki is so moved by Kenny Rogers’s story about having to sleep right next to a dead man on a train that he climbs in Larry’s lap to be held close against his inevitable fate.

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Another admixture: the women’s lines are still relegated to exposition and setup, but they’ve been promoted to offering it rather than just receiving.  They suggest that, since Larry owns so many expensive things, and since there have been three robberies that week, he ought to get some sort of burglar alarm that notifies the police of a break-in.

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Since this suggestion came directly from his girlfriend, Larry does his best to pack as much derision as he can into a single sentence.

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Even if the majority of episodes have nothing to do with Balki being from a foreign country anymore, you can at least count on Balki to say the word “Mypos” in a season premiere.  He talks about burglars travelling to Mypos from the island of Klepto. And somehow the actual Greek word for thief–which is used in English to refer to a type of thief–is supposed to be funny. Balki, you’re batting zero for two here; I think it’s unlikely that you’ll end up…

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…safe at home!

The show has retained a faint memory that characters arguing on their way out of a room can be funny, so it sends Jennifer and Mary Anne away repeating the same joke with a few words changed three or four times.

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When do you think was the first time someone told Stevie Wonder that people made fun of how he enjoyed music? Do you think it hurt his feelings?

Larry, whose apartment has never once been burgled, no, not even ONCE, NEVER

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says that the women are fragile for wanting to protect their belongings and lives.

Now, the reader may think that Larry’s thesis here, that his “maleness”–not their own bodies, nor their choice of belongings, nor even their position in society–simply the fact that he is a man, and that a man has an inalienable right to own, will deter any burglars… the reader may think that this will quickly be ditched in favor of, say, the cousins arguing about whether 1983’s Eyes That See In the Dark could really be compared to Kenny’s other albums.

Ah, but, the scene that follows is Balki’s subtle way of telling his cousin that white American maleness is nothing but armor made entirely of soft spots. Observe:

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The next day, Balki is popping ice cubes out of a tray one by one and giggling to himself as he dumps them into a bowl. Larry, having just finished masturbating to photographs of slain kittens, comes out of the bedroom and tells Balki’s it’s time to collect their girlfriends and head to Antoine’s Cajun Kitchen.

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Balki reminds Larry that he always gets the streaming hot shits from the shrimp and that he ought to take a preventative dose of Maalox* before heading out. Balki laughs, lost in reverie about how similar Larry’s cries of pain are to the mating call of the Crete spiny mouse.  Larry grabs for the bottle in the cabinet, but–

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Larry: Do you want to break my fingers to make me an honorary Myposian or some shit?

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I actually like Prankster Balki! He says he’s put a number of “Myposian crimestoppers” around the apartment.

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Balki starts telling a whole story** about a burglar coming into the apartment, complete with the same “New Yorker” accent he used for “Murray” in Second Sight. Larry’s cousin and best friend is going out of his way to help him protect his most recent self-centered purchase, and Larry responds by telling him to get the fuck on with it already.

Balki throws a bag of golf clubs onto a rug, triggering a snare trap. You’ve got to remember, this was 1990, when all urban burglars were blind, and would not notice a rope hanging from the ceiling.

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Larry says a sentence that includes the word “Kleptos-catcher” because Perfect Strangers has the same standards for scene-ending punchlines as Fred Bassett.

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Later, back from Antoine’s, Larry is shocked to find that a robber has caused less damage to the apartment than he has multiple times over. We get our first indication of Larry’s realization that male pride is a middle finger to God:

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And, despite the many valuable things that Larry is supposed to own, all they took was the stupid chair.

Even after spending much of the past two days talking about being robbed, Cousin Larry has to explain to Balki what’s happened. Larry says he’s going to call the police, but on the way to the way to the phone, he gets caught in the snare trap.

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I’m not completely sure, because of the editing, but I think they may actually have pulled off that stunt live? Big if true.

You know, I talk a lot of shit about this show alternately forgetting or ignoring that Balki comes from an entirely different culture, but it earns it.  Mypos used to be a distinctive, oftentimes Wackyland version of Greece, Balki’s broken English the 1980s culturally-insensitive equivalent of “bobs and vegana”. But here, Balki’s cultural background is brought to bear by having him first use a 19th-Century American invention, and then taking a page from the Wile E. Coyote playbook. Scott McCloud, in Understanding Comics, makes this point better than I can:

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“Another [important part of the special power of comics] is the universality of cartoon imagery. The more cartoony a face is, for instance, the more people it could be said to describe.”

Balki was a very unique boy. He used to watch the sheep eat the grass. But now his mind is totally destroyed by writing.

In the next scene, Larry calls the police.

Haha, nah, j/k, in the next scene Larry is struggling, arms a-wobblin’, to keep a bear trap from closing on him.

Haha, nah, j/k, in the next scene Larry has hired a guy from Safe At Home Home Safeness Business Company LLC LTD named Joe.

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Raye Birk (Pahpshmir from The Naked Gun) plays Joe McNulty and brings some much needed character to this episode. I have no idea if the script called for McNulty to oversell and laugh at his own terrible jokes (“Rome may have been built in a day, but it took them a month to secure it”), but given Perfect Strangers’s tendency to not realize how bad its jokes were, I’m going to give the credit to Birk here.  I think he saw that the script simply called for a man who wasn’t aware of his unfunniness, and cranked the dial on it.

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The audience has politely waited until Balki opens the door to laugh at the giant sight gag they’ve been looking at for 10 minutes by now.

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Balki comes in and instantly layers the thesis of this episode by commenting that he didn’t expect this as a consequence of “home banking”. Not only is Cousin Larry trying to quickly cover up his newly-discovered fragility with capitalism-approved armor that lets him feel economically superior, but Balki has made a wry comment on the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and 90s. Not only are our assets not safe when tied up in material goods, neither are they secure when held by a financial institution.  Balki is subtly letting us know that the vault door is no protection against loss, and hinting at the ending: that ultimately the risk of putting valuables into a vault is that they may never come back out.

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Deeper still: let’s look at the season premieres and finales as windows into the subconscious of the show itself.  Season 2 is a commentary on Season 1: the initial six episodes were a (re)producing couple’s hope, an idea, and its viability was celebrated with a birth.  Season 3 had the cousins barely squeaking into new positions, but only because warm bodies were so desperately needed; of course, with a House Full of them just next door, the season ended with uncertainty about the future. Season 4 began with the hangover from the gamble and ended by symbolically letting a woman (Harriette, figured as “Kiki”) be married off to a man (“Verbos”/Family Matters).  Season 5 began with fear that another, more attractive personage could upstage it, which was proven true by December of 1989 when Urkel appeared. A psychological hangup on not being held accountable for past mistakes weighed heavy on the Season 5 finale, which culminated in a coded plea not to be taken off the air.

And Season 6 is now determined to never lose its personal property again  Harriette wasn’t cared for, and her departure was one of the worst things that ever happened to Perfect Strangers.

Jeez I’m full of shit, ain’t I?

On the surface, though, we get a Balki joke that doesn’t make me want to strangle the man. The mere words of Balki’s comment about “home banking” read as him actually believing the fantastical, but whether it’s his delivery or the fact that he’s talking to himself (it sure as fuck ain’t the fact that he’s been here long enough to know better), but it feels like Balki’s just making a joke to himself.

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The episode seems to be on a roll at this point, as Joe McNulty and Balki both scare each other because neither realized the other was there.

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But then the feeling deflates because a stunted Balki is only funny twice a day. Joe greets Balki with the Safe At Home motto, and Balki responds with the one for Zest soap. It reminds me of the time when my brother was about two years old and I had a little bit of a cough that wouldn’t go away, and he tried communicating with me by coughing.

Joe refers to the security devices as a “doomsday system” and rattles off a bunch of the sitcom version of technical mumbo-jumbo (in other words, polysyllabic words).  Larry takes Balki aside to show him that he has purchased another stereo chair, and explains that they are no longer dealing with the Real Burglars of the 1980s. Instead, they have to contend with the Real Tech-Savvy Burglars of 1990, who have beepers and laptops.

Joe McNulty leaves, but not before telling Larry to set an alarm code and handing him a giant manual.

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And three times in one episode Balki does something that I like. Remember how I griped in season 3’s “My Brother, Myself” that the show denied itself an opportunity to see what kinds of silly ideas might spring from the head of Balki? It makes up for it here by having Balki misunderstand start spouting ideas for coded speech and secret passwords for entry into the apartment (“the clumsy giant plays hopscotch in the moonlight” etc.).

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After Larry corrects him, Balki says that numbers will be easier than words for Jennifer and Mary Anne to remember.  You know, he’s right, Melanie and Rebeca really haven’t had much practice reciting memorized phrases. 😦

Seasons 4 and 5 made sure to re-introduce us to the (majority of the) other characters in their world, as well as their dual home and work lives.  This episode promises a continuation of season 5’s status quo by having Larry mention that Lydia exists, and that Balki shouldn’t give the door code to her. Larry decides to not even give it to Balki, because Larry is 100% certain that he will never have sex, since it would require being separated from Balki for longer than three minutes.

Larry enters his birth year (1960***), which Balki instantly guesses.  While Cousin Larry starts doing some sitcom-version-of-complicated math, Balki checks to see whether Larry has also put his stereo cherries behind a locked door.

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Larry explains his process out loud, and the writers couldn’t even take two minutes to get that fucking right.

Larry: I’ll use the middle four digits of my driver’s license number… divide that by my inseam… subtract my shoe size…

Balki: 5,291

Let’s break this shit down.  Shoe size can’t be more than 9, as shoe size correlates to height*****.  So, 5,291+9=5,300. Inseam can’t be less than 28, so 5,300×28=a number with more than four digits, come the fuck on.

Then Larry puts in 1945 and we learn that it was his mother’s birth year. And… what the ovulating fuck? Larry’s mom was 15 when she gave birth to him?

*actually takes 5 minutes to do some sitcom-version-of-complicated math to see if this information jibes with both the original opening sequence as well as the Christmas Boy shit from season 2 since I’ve got fucking nothing better to do on a Thursday night, you probably don’t believe me, but I did it*

It checks out.

Later, Larry gets up in the middle of the night to grab an icepack for his swollen, abused member. In a beautiful callback to season 2’s “Beautiful Dreamer”, psychological baggage has resulted in new furniture arrangements that trip Larry up.  His clatter triggers a system of sweeping lasers, which I guess is so hi-tech that it works unlike any actual laser system and can differentiate people from other objects.

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Balki answers Larry’s cries for help, and the lasers miraculously get out of Balki’s way. Larry throws Balki to the floor.

Balki: What are you doing?

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Larry: LASER BEAMS

Wouldn’t you just want a system that’s triggered at points of ingress/egress? Are the lasers for people coming up through the shower drain? And what happens when the alarm is triggered? Does it alert the police? The cousins are acting like the lasers are going to circumcise them, but the show hasn’t given any indication of what the stakes are for them setting off the alarm themselves. What the fuck are you doing, show?

LASER BEAMS, that’s what the fuck

The cousins get under the table and Larry says that the siren will go off if they break the beams.  Okay, fine. Set off the alarm, and then put in the code five seconds later, like every single person who has ever owned an alarm system. When they get to the door, Balki is so stupid he try do the Dance of Joy!

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I feel bad for Mary Anne if they ever get married. Every time they have sex, I bet he’ll finish first and do the Dance of Joy.

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Larry can’t remember the code, so he just pulls the panel out of the wall.

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Larry must have been taking his annual dump when Joe installed his “Doomsday System”, as he somehow missed the fact that Joe had installed red floodlights and speakers around the apartment.  Balki asks if Larry wants to do a comedy bit with the instruction “manuel”, but he’s just as tired as I am of this week’s story.  Balki, could you please just hook the Doomsday System up to the stereo chair and sell it to a black man so I can finish this review?

The voice on the speaker system threatens to release poison gas, so everybody cross your fingers, this could be the surprise series finale we’ve all been hoping for!

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Balki tries to rip the code right out of Larry’s head, and then when that doesn’t work, Larry cries into Balki’s chest.

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They run to the window and try to open it without turning the little lock on it, and then Larry throws a toaster at it. When that doesn’t work, Balki wastes precious oxygen by talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It turns out that the fire extinguisher was a red herring.  Instead of referring to the stereo chair as a Chekhov’s Gun, it might be more appropriate to call it a Joey’s Car. I’ve noticed a distinct genre of 1980s/90s sitcoms that looks not to comedy, but to disappointment as a means of bringing people closer to the family values they give lip service to. They don’t get the Christmas they want; they don’t get to the wedding on time; they can’t have nice things. If thy possession offend middle class purchasing power, chuck it out: it is better to enter into the kingdom of syndication with no chairs, than having one chair and be forgotten.

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Anyway, the cousins forget that they have bedroom windows, a telephone, girlfriends, or even numerous tables and throw the chair through the window. It should have fallen on their fire escape, but the cousins are now repeat offenders when it comes to throwing furniture into traffic. And Jesus Christ why the fuck am I still writing about this show these fuckers just sit there in the window holding their breath and waiting for the gas to kill them.

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The Doomsday System tells them that the robbers have now been scared off and deactivates itself.

Which means that there’s a good chance a real robber would have broken their window.

Balki is so happy to be alive that he does the Romance of Boy.

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Anyway, Larry taped the chair back together for some goddam reason.

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It’s tradition that I look at the last line of dialogue in the season premiere to give me an idea of what the show thinks it’s about.

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Larry: I worked a small miracle putting it back together. I even surprised myself.

Larry’s hubris reflects the show’s own. has been gathering valuable aspects to itself–side characters, relationships, and settings for potential stories–and ended up damaged in the process of jettisoning them. It’s reassembled these pieces one more time, but they no longer fit together perfectly.

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Things fall apart; the sitcom cannot hold. Season 6 is loosed upon the world.

Join me next week for “New Kid on the Block”!

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Catchphrase count: Balki (1); Larry (1)

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

 

*That’s right, you heard right, after years of drinking Eckerd brand antacid, Larry can finally afford the name-brand stuff.

**Balki says the word “fingerprint” in the story!  College is paying off!

***The very first episode says that Larry turned 24 in 1986. But the show can’t even keep these guys’ address consistent, so who fucking cares?****

****Not me, that’s who.

*****And height to penis size, but shoe size does not correlate to penis size. Go figure!

Intermission: 1990 Warner Bros. Collection Catalogs

I concluded last week that Perfect Strangers, in its attempts to recapture the feeling of an I Love Lucy highlight reel, was constantly being pulled in two directions as it tried to navigate a successful path through the media landscape.

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*ahem*

It was gearing its stories increasingly towards children, but didn’t have the benefit of any child characters. And at this point, I think its star was waning in comparison to other TGIF programs. I’m basing this entirely on programming changes, by the way. Perfect Strangers started out at the beginning of the TGIF programming block, was soon placed after Full House, and most recently wound up in the third spot, after Family Matters.

Both of those shows were wildly successful with children–and both had plenty of merchandise. Just a quick glance at Google Images shows me that Full House had dolls, a board game, a Tiger handheld game, and book tie-ins. I remember seeing the Michelle books in Wal-Mart for a few years after the show had gone off the air, but god damn god damn that series lasted until 2001, a full six years after the series finale!

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And if you’re near my age (32), I’m guessing there’s a 75% you had some piece of Urkel merchandise. Steve Urkel was a hot commodity then (the kid had his own logo!), and what I can find on eBay backs that up. I myself owned a talking doll and a “novelization” of a couple of episodes, but kids could also beg their parents for Urkel cereal, an Urkel Colorforms set, an Urkel lunchbox, and Urkel Magic Slate… hell, if you ever need proof of merchandising overreach, look no further than Urkel Fashion Plates:

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I think it’s fair to say that not only were these individual shows popular, but that TGIF itself was a powerhouse of programming. It sure felt like it at the time, anyway.

But what about Perfect Strangers? From what we learned in the season 5 reportage a couple of weeks ago, it sounds like ABC had decided that the show would run for only two more seasons. In the meantime, though, it was surely still popular with some percentage of the audience that showed up for Full House and Family Matters.

Whether because of that percentage being too much smaller, Perfect Strangers not having child characters, or maybe just due to the fact that it cost too much to repaint old Bert & Ernie toys, Perfect Strangers merchandise is almost non-existent. Try searching for it on eBay, and once you’ve sifted through the numerous record albums, romance novels, and movies with the same title, you’ll find the season 1 & 2 DVDs, some promotional photos, the occasional TV Guide, maybe some buttons, and if you’re lucky, an authentic copy of a script. (Now, there were also TGIF trading cards, and I do plan to review those between seasons 6 and 7 since they came out in 1991. But I also need a good easy filler post this week since I start my new job today.)

And it’s not like it would be terribly hard to come up with ideas for products. I can imagine that, with a little more popularity, we might have seen a talking Balki doll; though whether a tiny tape could have held his 68 catchphrases is another question. Perhaps a compilation album of Balki singing full versions (or parodies) of the songs featured on the show.* Or a board game for four players, but designed so that Jennifer and Mary Anne lose in the first few turns. I even asked the members of the Perfect Strangers Facebook group what Perfect Strangers merchandise they wished existed, and the most common answer was a Dmitri doll. And yeah, why the fuck didn’t that exist? I mean, what child wouldn’t want a featureless, dull, grey plush toy to end up buried in the toybox underneath Teddy Ruxpin?

One of the other things that came up in the Facebook group discussion was the Warner Bros. Store catalogs. From what I understand, there were three different catalogs featuring Perfect Strangers merchandise. I purchased two from sellers on eBay; I don’t think I’ll bother with the third since a lot of the stuff is repeated between the two catalogs.  I’m not going to differentiate which pages are from which catalog, because fuck you, it’s too much trouble. Let’s just hit the highlights. Here are the covers for the Summer 1990 and Fall 1990 Warner Bros Collection catalogs:

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There appear to be different covers for each of these editions. I bought that specific Fall 1990 copy because of the Nothing But Trouble photos on the cover, and I can’t express just how disappointed I was that there wasn’t any corresponding merchandise inside. I love that movie and I will personally kick the groin of anyone who feels differently.

These catalogs are strange cultural artifacts in and of themselves.  When I think of Warner Bros, I think primarily of their movies and Looney Tunes.  And, no doubt, much of what these catalogs sell is memorabilia related to whatever new movies they’d just released.  Batman, Beetlejuice, Gremlins 2: The New Batch all show up here, as well as posters for other, non-blockbuster films. And for someone like me who grew up with these films, these catalog pages are not only a fun way to nostalgize, but also allow me to get the scoop on these Gremlins 2 shirts before Dinosaur Dracula does.

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Jesus, even Beetlejuice, a character who says “fuck” and “shit”, got his own talking doll! Since these catalogs are pushing 30 years old, the pricing information was only so much white noise until I hit the Beetlejuice pages. I had all of these Beetlejuice action figures, and I promise you they would not have cost $8 at Kmart (it was probably more like $4).

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And much of both catalogs is given over to Looney Tunes merchandise.  1990 was the 50th anniversary of the creation of Bugs Bunny, so there are plenty of items related to that. In fact, the weirdest thing you could buy from either one of these catalogs was an actual carrot cake. Even if there weren’t a chocolate bar on top of it that you’d have to remove before you cut it, the logistics of this baffle me. Would Warner Bros. coordinate with a local bakery? What if you lived 100 miles from the nearest one? Who thought that people would want to eat Bugs’s favorite cake in honor of his 50th “birthday”? And, most importantly: what the fuck?

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I said that these were strange artifacts, and once you get past the overpriced movie memorabilia and the Bug Bunny adult diapers, you can see why.  Many of the products are simply clothes or household items with the WB logo slapped on it. Sure, I mean, if you want to get a Warner Bros director’s chair to make yourself look important and official or whatever, I guess I get it.  But a WB robe? a WB rhinestone pin? Who is this for? We’re all products of the society we live in, and unless your mother was like Bronson’s and shielded you from the Beatles, popular culture is a major part of your experience. I wore shirts featuring South Park characters when I was in middle school.  Some people relate personally to television characters, or to the philosophy of a movie, or may wear a t-shirt to signal membership in the fanbase to other fans. But who’s burning a candle for motherfucking Warner Bros.? That’s like being a fan of the novel Fight Club, but instead of getting a tattoo that says “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything”, you get one that says “W. W. Norton & Company”.

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Oh, by the way, that’s Brooke Theiss from Just the Ten of Us, another TGIF show that I’ve barely mentioned on this blog.  An interesting part of these catalogs is that they feature actors who were in recent Warner Bros. productions. I’m sure Warner Bros. had fuckall to do with his book Winters’ Tales, but the best I can figure is that they got him to do drag because he had done some voices for Tiny Toon Adventures.

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And I have to assume that “Weird Al” Yankovic and his then-girlfriend Victoria Jackson are here because they were in UHF the previous year (Warner Bros. appears to have had a stake in Orion Pictures), because otherwise it feels like a stretch.

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Many of the other “models” in these catalogs are sitcom personalities. Some of them are from Warner Bros. shows like Night Court and China Beach and how in the fuck did Bull get a doll and not Balki?

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I know, I know, I’m 1400 words in and I still haven’t shown you any Perfect Strangers merchandise. I’m just wanting to savor what an incredibly odd mix of properties these catalogs feature. Who could resist sharing the ad copy for this 6-foot inflatable Gumby? “America’s favorite pliable playmate grows up–when you blow him….”

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And how can I miss an opportunity to point out a company not even getting its own properties correct? The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour stopped airing in 1978; we saw in the Saturday Morning Preview that it was The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show by then.

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By the time the first season of Family Matters was finished, Urkel was already the biggest star, eclipsing the four main children. Jaleel White shows up a couple of times, but Darius McCreary only once and I was going to joke about how they didn’t get Darius to look in quite the right direction but my fucking god a clapperboard calculator???

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You know how, in The Fountainhead, Steven Mallory shoots Ellsworth Monkton Toohey after reading his writing? In a very similar way, that clapperboard calculator makes me want to shoot myself.

But yes, finally we’re getting to the TGIF shows. Lorimar, which produced Family Matters, Full House, and Perfect Strangers, was a subsidiary of Warner Bros.  In some cases, the actors are again shilling Warner Bros. clothes that are guaranteed to have been stitched by genuine Asian children’s hands…

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…or in others, staring off into various distances pretending that they’re interacting with something…

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…or in others, trying to hide creeping unease of being one step away from physically branded by the show they star in.

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I posted the above page to Billy Superstar’s Facebook wall, and his response was, simply, “Ugh!”. The two Full House designs are obvious hack jobs that look like someone just traced over some photographs. As hideous as they are, though, I bet that fanny pack could bring at least $100 on eBay and holy fucking shit Michelle’s fucking pig doll got made and not Dmitri? Shit.

Anyway, here’s John Stamos’s butt doing its best George Michael impersonation.

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And there’s Melanie Wilson in an outfit with as much personality as Jennifer. The ad copy on these is ridiculous, but I am willing to believe that Melanie has time to change “between takes of ‘Perfect Strangers'” since for her, they were generally a week apart.

Here’s Uncle Jesse’s butt again:

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One thing I didn’t anticipate when I started this blog was that I’d develop a huge crush on one of the actors. Rebeca Arthur can make anything look cute. Also, haha, Mary Anne is so dumb she thought XL was short for “excellent” but oh my godddd that dumbass lamp it should be a projector for chrissakes jesus god shitcakes

Here she is not quite looking at Daffy Duck:

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Mark Linn-Baker looks like he feels a little shy showing off his butt, trying to read your eyes because he wants so bad for you to like it. Anyway, here we are, finally, at the actual Perfect Strangers merchandise.

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I like to think that I’m a decent person who owns up to his mistakes when they’re called out.  I’m also the kind of person who likes to blow my own Mypos sheep horn when I do it so everyone will know what a decent person I am. Thanks to these catalogs, I now know that the official spelling of Balki’s sheep doll is Dimitri.  And I’ll put aside my complaint that the Dimitri on these outfits looks nothing like the doll on the show because–unlike the aforementioned Full House shit–someone spent some time on the art.

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I’ve got to say, though, these products make sense from a certain standpoint. Whoever was in charge of choosing these items appears to have made their decisions on the basis that Perfect Strangers had only adult actors, and must have adult fans.  Full House got a backpack and a plush pig, Perfect Strangers gets mugs. And for this type of catalog, where most of the items were clothing or household items already, these seem logical enough. Virtually everyone drinks coffee or tea and wears a t-shirt; and Perfect Strangers was coming on at 9 back then, so nightshirts make sense as well.  I’ll give the “Club Mypos” jackets and sweats some credit for being a clever play on–I assume–a trend in fashion back then to show off what “club” you were a member of. And fandom is a kind of club already. But that’s about as far as I think you could stretch the property. “Dimitri’s Cafe”, though, is stretching Perfect Strangers to goatse levels. I mean, Balki cooks, like, three times a season or something? And the show has never associated Dimitri with cooking.  And, with so many items in this catalog, I have to wonder at who the apron and oven mitt were for.

I’m working without a lot of the context here–like what the distribution of Warner Bros. Collection catalogs was, or how you’d even find out it existed and get on their mailing list, or whether these items were advertised/sold at tapings of Perfect Strangers and other shows. But it certainly seems to be one of those types of catalogs for people with lots of money to throw around who’s probably to busy being rich to set foot in a Wal-Mart; or at the very least for major Looney Tunes fanatics, but again, that assumes some level of expendable income. And the Warner Bros. Studio Stores wouldn’t open up until 1991.  I’m guessing that there was only a tiny, likely self-selected group of consumers being exposed to these items to begin with, and then one of them would just coincidentally have to be a big enough Perfect Strangers fan to buy the stuff.

A lot of brands try to sell a lifestyle, even if they don’t sell the accoutrements for it. I mean, imagine how a Playboy reader (say, circa 1977) was supposed to drink and dress and drive. Marlboro sells the idea of being a rugged cowboy, even if they don’t produce leather chaps. I don’t think the Warner Bros. Collection catalog, as a whole, is selling a lifestyle, but the apron kind of feels like it’s trying to.  Somehow an apron feels like a much more major commitment to being a fan than just a coffee mug.  From what I understand, the “Kiss the Cook” aprons first appeared in the 1950s, and then became more widespread in the 80s. I think it’s safe to say that a person’s choice of cooking apron is not only a statement that they think they’re a regular enough or good enough cook to get use out of one, but also an indicator of the sense of humor they’d like to project.  But the problem I have with Dimitri’s Diner is that–in my opinion, at least–funny aprons ought to be pretty accessible to a wide array of people that will see you in it.  I could imagine a young adult couple being big enough Perfect Strangers fans that the apron could be one of those little relationship in-jokes (I’ve heard those exist, anyway). But at a party or a cookout? The person wearing this apron would have to explain to every single person individually what the hell the apron is supposed to be about.

I think what I’m trying to say here is that probably only three people bought one of these damn things, and only one of those three ever used it, at one cookout, and then shamefully shoved it deep into a closet behind their embarrassing skin mags.

But seriously, though, if that “I Spent the Night With Perfect Strangers” shirt shows up on eBay, I’m buying it. Not because I love this show, but because I want to imply to women that I have had sex with Bronson and Mark.

I hope you enjoyed this look at a very niche, very 1990 catalog which had almost nothing to do with Perfect Strangers.

Join me next week when we’ll start Season 6!

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You thought I was done? I ain’t never done. Time for cross-promotion!

I made vague mention of having had a shitty year last week. You may have as well. Other than starting a new job, the Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash! is the event I’ve been most anticipating all year long.  A bunch of us get together on Livestream and watch some shitty old TV Christmas specials and curse at them (and each other) in the chat. It’s been the best night of the year for me for three years running now.  This year the Bash! is happening on December 8, one week from now! You can get all the details about the event at Noiseless Chatter. Come join us!

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