Season 5, Episode 22: Eyewitless Report

Welcome back! To misquote Blaise Pascal, “I made this blog post shorter only because I have not had the leisure to make it longer.” In other words, this week has been very busy for me because I’m getting ready for a new job in a new city (not the ones mentioned a few weeks back; these are a newer new job and city). So when an opportunity presented itself to thematically put in a little less work, I jumped all over it. This week’s episode is the Perfect Strangers version of Rashōmon, so I am happy to present to you: three different takes on an episode about three different takes! Ain’t I clever! Anyway, joining us this week are Sarah Portland of Warp Speed to Nonsense and Shawn Green of halfwayokay, friend and enemy of this blog, respectively. (The reviews are in this order: Shawn’s, mine, and Sarah’s. This is deliberate.)

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The Testimony of some Rando with a Podcast Questioned by a High Police Commissioner

Hello readers and true believers. Before we get started you should know that Casey Roberson and I have a history. Perfect Strangers is my favorite sitcom of all time. Casey’s life’s work is tearing it down and pissing on it. I was forced to use my wildly successful podcast, halfwayokay as a platform to publicly attack Casey and his gross internet friends for making a mockery of Perfect Strangers.

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So you can imagine that when Casey invited me to review an episode of Perfect Strangers I was taken aback. After months of enduring my slings and arrows he came to me ready to bury the hatchet. Or did he? Please read on.

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Please note the beautiful, crisp HD screen grabs that I provide while Casey Rainsbottom continues to give you SD trash.

The episode opens on the rustic beauty of the Big Piney National Forest backed by some sick season 5 saxophone. Larry and Balki are on a Chicago Chronicle corporate retreat for team building. However, Larry explains that he strategically booked a cabin located far away from the rest of the group so he and Balki could enjoy some quality time with Jennifer and Mary Ann. Pretty smooth, Appleton.

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Perfect Strangers typically has a pretty innocent, family-friendly attitude towards sex. Usually when sex is brought up it’s in code, and if Balki is part of the conversation he’ll pretend to understand. Then he’ll reveal that he is actually clueless because he’s childlike and sweet. Sometimes, however, Balki does understand and will even add something to the conversation which always feels weird. Casey Robinson would say that the writers are subverting the expectations of the viewer and then something about how many books he’s read, but I’m not gonna do that because I’m not a nerd. The subject of sex is always weird in family shows, but the way they handle it here is fine for Perfect Strangers.

Jennifer and Mary Anne arrive and Larry sets up that there isn’t anyone for miles, and not even a TV or telephone to distract them from their relaxing getaway. But there is a radio, which Balki is pumped to find.

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While Balki and Mary Anne attempt to tune in WANE (all Wayne Newton, all the time), Mr. Gorpley enters from the hallway complaining that the toilet is backed up. Oh brother! He explains that he was kicked out of his cabin (probably for being a jerk) and he just decided to let himself in.

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Before Larry can protest the radio breaks in with an important news bulletin: The infamous killer Howard ‘Mad Dog’ Krause is on the loose and has last been seen in the Big Piney National Forest! Now pay special close attention here, sweet readers. Mad Dog Krause is described as 6’4” and completely bald and extremely dangerous. Please make a note of this.

Naturally everyone is a bit freaked out by this news and everyone starts frantically gathering their belongings so they can bolt. However, Balki’s optimism and Myposian wisdom convinces the gang plus Gorpley to stay put and enjoy their well-deserved vacation.

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But before Larry can get the steaks on the grill the towering shape of Mad Dog Krause fills the window! Holy smokes!!

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Mad Dog Krause and I share a few physical similarities. I am 5’10” not 6’4” and I don’t shave my head completely bald, but Krause and I are both larger gentlemen with facial hair and expressive faces.

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This is where Casey’s little scheme comes into focus. Casey Reliford invited me to review this episode NOT in the spirit of friendship. Quite the opposite. His wants me to unwittingly recount a representation of the attack I waged against Casey’s awful blog using the very characters I love so dearly. We wants to play the victim while making me seem like an unhinged ogre! All the while snickering and snorting to with his goober internet pals about how dumb Shawn Green is. Masturbating fiercely no doubt. Well I’m onto you, Casey! I am the victim here not you!!

That all being said, I did agree to review this episode in full, so let’s get back to it. That’s called integrity.

The women are instructed to hide the closet while the men take on the vicious killer. It was the ’80s. Gorpley wants the join them, because he is a coward, but is pressured into staying.

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Mad Dog bursts through the door, advances towards our the camera and they do this transition thing that goes from the front Mad Dog’s shirt to the back of one of Big Piney’s finest’s uniforms who is hauling Mad Dog Krause away in cuffs! So something happened in between. But what??

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The gang plus Gorpley is sitting in the common area of the cabin joined by a police officer who explains that the last time they had to take on ‘Mad Dog’ Krause it took half the National Guard. This seems like a stretch, but the officer isn’t laughing so I guess it’s true. The police officer asks Sam Gorpley for a recount of what happened and Mr. Gorpley complies.

Through the Eyes of Gorpley:

Everything here is what you’d expect from Sam Gorpley’s version of the truth. He’s super brave and respected and everyone else is either an idiot or warm for his form. I like Gorpley’s simpleton versions of Larry and Balki. Their childish scheme of tricking Jennifer into kissing Larry is innocent enough for the ’80s, but kinda rapey now. But whatever.

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Then Jennifer and Mary Anne enter the scene with giant, I guess you’d call them “hooters”? Much larger than IRL and complete with erect nipples. Fine for ‘Married With Children’, but this show, and even this episode has handled sex in a family friendly way up to this point. But I guess all bets are off when Sam Gorpley is behind the wheel.

Balki’s repetitive use of the Myposian term “Bingy bingy” annoying almost immediately which I don’t think was intentional. His accent also degrades into pure silliness while Gorpley’s just becomes more and more like John Wayne’s.

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Mad Dog breaks through the door, Larry and Balki run and hide and Sam Gorpley knocks him out with one punch! Kablamo! Sam’s the hero, everyone wants to bone Sam.

The police officer isn’t buyin’ what Gorpley’s sellin’ so Larry offers an objective, unbiased account of the happenings that only a investigative reporter from the Chicago Chronicle can provide. We all know what’s coming.

Through the Eyes of Larry:

Larry’s story also what you expect. Larry is calm, cool, and collected and everyone thinks he’s the best. There are some very funny parts in this one though that genuinely made me laugh out loud. And I’ve seen this episode several times!

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Namely when Mad Dog Krause politely agrees to hold off his attack so Balki can literally kiss sections of the ground that Cousin Larry has walked on.

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Mad Dog attacks Balki with a strange behind-the-back bear hug and Larry threatens him with karate. Mad Dog scoffs at the warning and Larry is forced to perform a pretty good Bruce Lee impression which thoroughly thwarts the thundering thug.

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The girls and Gorpley come out of hiding to congratulate the conquering hero and Jennifer is all like “Take me”.

Once again the cop is skeptical and it’s up to Balki Bartokomous to set the record straight.

Through the Eyes of Balki:

So Balki’s take is supposed to be the absolute truth, but I feel like the writers went for yuk yuks rather that what Balki would have actually done in this situation.

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Case in point, Larry is being strangled by Mad Dog and Balki tries to subdue him by clobbering him with a loaf of bread to no avail. Okay, funny, but c’mon. Then he tries a ceramic cookie jar. Good plan! However he spends a good 12 seconds munching on cookies before he smashes it over Mad Dog’s head but doesn’t faze the beast. I’d like to think that Balki just really wanted to eat some of those cookies and it worked its way into his story but he didn’t actually do it. But I guess it’s funny though so whatever.

Finally Balki finds a frying pan, bashes Mad Dog on the noggin and saves the day!

The officer thanks Balki and exits, leaving Larry confused and ashamed that he account of things was so skewed. Which shows that Larry was actually trying to be honest which is nice.

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Then the audience is rewarded for their viewership by finally seeing what “Bingy bingy” is which is just the Myposian hokey pokey. Credits!

So there you go. Shawn Green, a Perfect Strangers super fan, looked at an episode of my favorite sitcom critically just like Casey “The Brain” Rubbins does every week. I adore this show and all of its missed marks and rough spots. I give this episode an 88% out of 100%, which is a very good score. And I give Casey Rothersnberg a hard F which is a poor score. I would instruct him to see me after class, but he has no class. He’s a bag of scum.
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The Testimony of a University Librarian Questioned by a High Police Commissioner

We open on a cabin to find Balki asking what the hell they’re doing there.

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Balki wonders why they’re not joining the other Chicago Chronicle employees in the cabins two miles away. Larry reveals that he booked a different cabin so they could have very loud sex while the other employees on vacation play volleyball. As a writer, I try to avoid this style of in-the-moment expository dialogue, but here it’s saved by the context of four years of relationship between the cousins. Larry has finally learned a real lesson: don’t tell Balki what you plan to do if you want to do it.

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The cousins have a good laugh about boners.

Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) were, for some goddam reason, about a minute behind. Jennifer says she loves getting back to nature. They’re sure getting some mileage out of that one unique line of dialogue somebody wrote for her back in season 4.

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Balki evinces his commitment to real, intimate human contact by turning on the radio. The writers pretend it takes two people to find a station so that Larry and Jennifer can talk privately. But before Larry can even get that chub going, Gorpley comes into the living and announces that he broke the toilet.

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Gorpley explains how he was thrown out of another cabin, and Mary Anne tells everybody to shut up because the rest of exposition is coming on the radio.

The group hears that convicted killer “Mad Dog” Krause has busted out of jail and decides to leave. Gorpley bemoans the fact that he just made his alimony payment, meaning that the costly directive in his will–for his ashes to be scattered on a hooker–is now not feasible.

While roughly 1,000 people are torn limb from limb on the volleyball court, Balki pleads with the others to stay. Balki, who has never, EVER clung to fear in the face of reason, no, not even ONCE, NEVER–

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–tells everyone that they’re letting fear get the best of them. Balki starts in on a story about Neksnapolos, the village murderer on Mypos, but Gorpley shuts him up. Cousin Larry backs Balki up, having heard the story before. I like this format for Mypos stories!

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Balki: Once upon time in Mypos, man name Vasilis–

Everyone else: You’re right.

Larry says that the odds are in their favor that Mad Dog will sate his bloodlust at another cabin. But then Mad Dog shows up! Remember how I called Larry smart a second ago? Haha, joke’s on me, he misunderstands people screaming in mortal fear. I guess Balki’s been (heh) rubbing off on him.

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Balki realizes that both women have been on-screen for almost three minutes, so he sends them to the closet.

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Mad Dog breaks in and–

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–and park rangers take Mad Dog away in cuffs.

One park ranger stays behind to ask for statements. Gorpley gives his first.

I’ve given myself a word limit this week, so I won’t do a full play-by-play of the rest of the episode. On the other hand, I won’t go to the other extreme and just give you some vapid summary along the lines of “Hrm… I liked it. I thought it was funny!”  But Gorpley’s story is a tour de force of parody, something I feel that the show has been aching to do for a while now.

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It begins with the cousins acting and speaking unbelievably dumb (Larry’s plan is to trick Jennifer into kissing him).

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Evidently Gorpley is sitting there telling the ranger that these women’s breasts have shrunk over the course of the evening.

Balki has adopted this desperately idiotic way of speaking, which I love; the rising tide of comedy has even floated Bronson’s boat.  Balki mistakes the radio for a toaster, and even Linn-Baker laughs for a split-second. Further, Balki refers to every other noun as a “bingi bingi”. At one point in the story, Balki’s accent creeps all the way into Latka Gravas territory. Gorpley even criticizes Balki for his shitty language capabilities after four years in America!

Psychology sidebar: confirmation bias gets used mostly in discussions of interpreting information to match existing beliefs. But it also has an effect on what information you favor. So, yes, I am aware that I like this episode because it makes the same jokes I do. Being smart enough to be self-aware excuses any faults I may have, and I’m sure the other two reviewers will agree with me.

The cousins start to cry about how they’ll die not knowing what color their girlfriends’ nipples are, and Gorpley slaps them.

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Guys, Fat Marsha is still my true love, but this is the most I’ve ever laughed at an episode. Mark Linn-Baker gets the biggest laugh out of me*:

I assume the women are sitting quietly while Gorpley tells the park ranger how he planned to have sex with them after Mad Dog was dispatched. Anyway, Gorpley knocks out Mad Dog with one punch.

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Park Ranger: So you spent six minutes just to tell me that you punched him?

More praise for the structure: each retelling starts a little closer to Mad Dog’s arrival. Larry’s starts right before Mad Dog busts in, and features not only a calm Larry, but a Balki who is constantly showering him with praise in a silky-smooth voice. (Yes, it’s what Larry would want; but I have trouble believing a man with such low self-esteem remembers people talking to him this way. Whatever.)

The second-worst “joke” of this episode is thanks to Bronson, who thought he should try to extrapolate from smooth voice to screaming in fear.

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Larry slaps Gorpley and there’s a beautiful, format-breaking moment when he says he’s getting Gorpley back for slapping him in the previous story.

And here’s proof that Larry pines for Balki**: Mad Dog pauses to allow Balki to express his cousinly love.

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While Mad Dog strangles Balki, Larry strikes a karate pose. Ha! It’s funny because Larry must be lying! He’s never studied karate, much less had a karate teacher tell him that he was good at it!

For the sake of space: Larry wins.

The park ranger, realizing he’s on a sitcom, asks the women which character is allowed to always have the final say. “Balki,” they say.

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Balki starts to talk about the first time enchiladas wrecked his bowels, but the park ranger tells him to shut up.

Balki’s story starts with Mad Dog coming in. Balki’s supposed to be the most honest person here, and we can assume that what he says while narrating is true. But! His narration is undercut by the action: Balki verbally assigns good intention to Gorpley, who runs away shrieking to the closet. Balki couldn’t possibly have been telling the story both ways, so what on the surface is a cheap joke for the studio audience reveals him as an unreliable narrator because of how he sees others.

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Nothing reaches the fever pitch of Gorpley’s story, but this section doesn’t disappoint either. Mad Dog turns down the offer of a Mypos tale; a good callback enhanced by knowing that this story is the true one. We learn that Larry was mostly honest: he uses karate, but hurts his hand.

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Balki unsuccessfully tries to fell Mad Dog with a loaf of bread and a ceramic cookie jar (Balki pauses to eat an entire cookie). Since Perfect Strangers is a cartoon now, Balki gets him with a frying pan.

The most interesting part to me is how Larry is proven to be honest through use of the set: he was too busy–and at the wrong angle–to see Balki save the day.

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The women come out of the closet and slap Gorpley, which is a perfect cap to that runner. But the scene ends on a stupid gag.  I don’t have enough space because there’s stupider stuff in a minute, so just know it was stupid and I didn’t like it.

In the 30 minutes it took the park rangers to get there, Larry somehow never saw the mess in the kitchen.

Larry So all that really happened? Me getting strangled and hurting my hand?

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The park ranger take the frying pan for… idunno, DNA purposes?

True story: this episode was great. It’s subversion all the way down. Self-parody isn’t a well that a show like Perfect Strangers can go to often and retain its personality. And here at the end of the season, the writers wrote like they may never get another chance at it. The format-breaking jokes are asides to the audience, but on the whole they work because the show is playing fast and loose with everything. Even most of Bronson’s impulses paid off. We don’t get a true Rashōmon structure, but I think the episode would never have worked without Gorpley’s Busty Blondes 7: Cabin Beaver.

The episode ends with Balki and Mary Anne doing the “Bingi Bingi”, which turns out to be the Hokey Pokey. “Bingi” is revealed to be the word “body”, and “Body Body” is a dumb name. The use of “bingi bingi” in Gorpley’s story worked well on its own, but here, it needs more setup: it should have been mentioned in the first act. This is a terrible callback to a perfectly good joke.

Lest I end on a sour note, I’ll say this about the dance:

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Mary Anne’s hips don’t lie.
*I swear Larry is doing a specific voice, but I can’t place it

**get it?? They’re in the woods!

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The Testimony of a Picard Fanwoman Questioned by a High Police Commissioner

Where do I begin with this episode?

“It’s kind of a mess”?

Sure, let’s start there.

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Our basic premise is this: our intrepid heroes Larry and Balki are on a work-sponsored trip, presumably one of those garbage hang-out-with-your-coworkers-as-a-team-building-exercise things, only this time they get to take their (maybe?) girlfriends. Larry tells Balki that he has secretly picked a cabin far away from the rest of the group, not because he doesn’t want to do trust falls with his coworkers, but because he wants to put the moves on Jennifer. You know, like he tries to do every week. Balki is super into this idea, because he also would like to put the moves on Mary Anne (Sagittarius). I guess we’ve learned nothing from our last work-sponsored trip into the wilderness (Up a Lazy River, pts 1 and 2) or the time we tried to impress the ladies with a cabin (Snow Way to Treat a Lady, pts 1 and 2). The girls come in, ready for a good time, and they’ve also noticed that they’re some ways away from anyone else, but that’s okay because Sexy Times.

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But oh gee, who’s that coming out of the bathroom? It’s Gorpley, who complains that the other groups have kicked him out of their cabins, so he’s going to be rooming with Larry & Co.

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Everyone else looks thrilled. Balki finds a radio, and soon, a PSA comes on about how a murderer has escaped from a nearby prison, and is literally in the same neck of the woods as our heroes. The others are mildly concerned, but Larry puts on his Cool as a Cucumber persona, and tells them that they probably won’t encounter this guy “Mad Dog” because these woods are so big.

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But oops – Mad Dog’s at the window, and Larry shrieks and slams the shutters closed. They rush to the door to run out, but Mad Dog pounds on the door. This blogger suspects Mad Dog of being on PCP. Everyone screams in response because that drug is scary AF, and we go to commercial.

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When we come back, Balki comes up with a plan: the girls should hide in the closet, and the guys should let Mad Dog kill them. Then he’ll get tired, lie down to rest, and the girls can then escape. How chivalrous of you, Balki. Anyway, the girls go hide in the closet, because the writers don’t know what to do with them in the meantime, and girls are just there to be pretty.

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Mad Dog breaks in the door and comes at them, having no actual reason to come after them or hurt them, but telling them menacingly that “this is gonna be fun.” The picture fades out, and when it fades in again, everyone is sitting on the couch while some local cops haul Mad Dog off in cuffs.

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“So how’d you do it?” asks the cop who remains behind to get their witness reports.

Gorpley goes first. His version includes the cousins being a bit demented; Larry attempting to trick Jennifer into kissing him; the girls not being interested in getting with the cousins at all; the girls being interested in Gorpley instead; the cousins panicking and Gorpley slapping them; Balki’s excessive use of the phrase “bingi bingi”; and Gorpley himself acting like some kind of puffed-up peacock who takes Mad Dog down with one punch while the cousins cower in the back. Everyone praises Gorpley afterward, and he kisses each of the girls after Jennifer begs, “Sam, take me!”

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I vomit copiously. Especially at the huge prosthetic breasts the girls are wearing.

Fade to commercial.

When we return…

“You’re full of shit,” says Balki.

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No, okay. He should have said that. Instead, he makes a grammar joke which I actually enjoyed.

“You know that I never, under any circumstances, would use bingi bingi in a dependent clause.”

Larry tells the cop that he’s a reporter for the Chicago Chronicle, and can give an unbiased account.

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We get the wavy dream sequence/memory lines on the screen. Cool Larry tells them all to be calm. Balki has this weird, new persona, like the blissed-out sidekick for some new-age guru. The others scream when Mad Dog appears at the window, but Larry just closes the shutters and locks them. Cool Larry plans to beat down Mad Dog with his sweet karate skills. Like with Gorpley’s segment, Larry is calm while everyone else panics. Larry slaps Gorpley.

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Another joke that I liked:

Balki: “Why’d you do that, cousin?”

Larry: “I’m just getting him back for that story he told.”

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So Larry does the karate thing while Mad Dog beats up Balki, but then he saves the day, and Mad Dog hits the floor. Everyone runs out to fawn over him, and Jennifer says “Larry, take me,” before he kisses her.

Wavy memory lines.

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“You guys are both full of shit,” says the cop. “Can anyone here give me a correct turn of events?”

The girls both indicate Balki.

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So Balki tells the cop that when Mad Dog came in, Gorpley rushed to the closet to hide. Mad Dog immediately starts to beat the hell out of Balki, and Larry tries his karate schtick, which just pisses Mad Dog off. He lets go of Balki while Larry fake-chops at him. Balki takes the opportunity to climb onto the kitchen island and start breaking things over Mad Dog’s head… first a loaf of French bread, then a cookie jar. Each time he tries it, he turns Mad Dog’s head around to check if that did the trick.

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And before he tries the cookie jar, he takes out the one remaining cookie and eats it with relish. (Firstly: gross. How long has that cookie been in there? Also, he sure is enjoying that cookie a lot, seeing as how his cousin and BFF is getting the shit kicked out of him.) Finally, he tries a frying pan, braining Mad Dog with it. Larry steps back, and Mad Dog falls to the floor. Gorpley exits the closet. Each of the girls steps out and slaps him, and Jennifer rushes to Larry’s side.

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“Larry… take me home.”

Wavy lines.

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The broken stuff on the kitchen island confirms Balki’s version of events, and Larry is upset because he thought he was a hero, beating up Mad Dog. Balki points out that Larry distracting Mad Dog gave Balki enough time to find the frying pan and hit Mad Dog with it. Both girls say they’re proud of their men, and the episode ends with Mary Anne and Balki doing the Hokey Pokey, but replacing some of the words with “bingi,” because this show hates you.

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So there we have it: a thing happens, and the story changes slightly depending on who is doing the retelling. This is nothing new. People have been giving differing eyewitness accounts of things since the dawn of communication. In each case, the storyteller makes himself out to be the hero, and the others become cowards. Balki makes himself the least hero-like, despite the fact that he was the one who subdued the killer long enough to be arrested. But with the first two of these cases, the storyteller’s style and how he wishes to be seen by others comes out. Gorpley plays up his sex appeal and preferences, and takes down Mad Dog with his fists. Larry comes across as cool and collected, and uses karate skills he acquired so long ago, to great effect. In his version, Jennifer is also crazy about him.

The comedy here comes from the fact that not one of these men could take down a large killer on his own, and the physical comedy was fairly successful at times. Larry’s karate moves against a much larger foe brings to mind Loony Tunes cartoons featuring a very small opponent versus a much larger opponent, the latter of whom barely notices the smaller foe. Balki’s breaking objects over Mad Dog’s head also brings to mind those same kinds of cartoons, where a very large person is being repeatedly beat over the head by various objects, none of which seem to faze him.

But the thing that’s really dissatisfying about this episode is that there are six main characters involved in the story, and a full third of them disappear before the action starts. Jennifer and Mary Anne are banished to the closet shortly before Mad Dog comes in, and are therefore not asked for their version of events. That probably solves the problem of having too many accounts to retell, and running out of time, but why were Larry, Balki and Gorpley chosen over either of the girls? Because they’re props. They served as a reason for Larry to choose the cabin two miles away from the others, and an extra reason to not want Gorpley there. Then they served as props again for Gorpley’s mad sexcapade, and a cheap laugh over their enormous fake breasts. But when we actually look at the story, Jennifer and Mary Anne’s presence didn’t change the story at all. When things got interesting, they were relegated to the closet, only to come out at the very end. This is a shame. This show seems to want to be a fun physical comedy in the same vein as I Love Lucy or The Dick Van Dyke Show, but often conveniently forgets that neither of those shows forgot to include their female stars.

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Catchphrase count: Balki (1); Larry (0)

Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (1)

Join me next week for “Bye Bye Birdie”!

P.S. For those of you who don’t get the “questioned by a high police commissioner” thing, it’s from a book.

N.b. I realize that some sources list this episode as 23rd in the season, but from this point on I will adhere to the Hulu order for simplicity’s sake.

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Season 5, Episode 21: This Old House

Welcome back!  If this is your first time visiting, this blog features weekly in-depth reviews of the 80s/90s sitcom Perfect Strangers. I know they just released the entirety of the show on Hulu, but why spend $8 a month? I offer 100% accurate recaps of the show, plus you get my stunning and unique insight, all without commercials or having to actually listen to Balki talk!

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Here we are again at the Caldwell Hotel, where we find Balki cleaning Dmitri.  Longtime readers know that it’s usually the opening scene where I cleverly tease out some aspect of the situation to lay the thematic groundwork for the criticism I plan to ultimately give.  I mean, the episode’s title is “This Old House”, so I’m likely going to talk about how aging sitcoms perform maintenance on themselves. Or maybe you’ve read an episode synopsis and already know that the cousins are selling a house, so maybe Dmitri’s “bath” here is a heads-up that this episode is about presentation for potential buyers.  I’ll masterfully critique the show on its own terms, all while humbly and introspectively using those same themes to comment on my own writing, right?

Nah, haha, not this time. Balki’s cleaning Dmitri because how else you gonna get those cum stains out?

Balki accuses Dmitri of crawling behind the refrigerator, and god damn, there’s a Halloween episode we’ll never get!

Remember how, once upon a time, this show used to be a clone of Taxi?  How two men toiled away in a dirty workplace, one of them from a foreign country of unknown location, both of them with the hots for a redhead, all overseen by a short, angry, balding man, doing whatever they could in their spare time to try to achieve their dreams? Yeah, well, fuck all that; as often happens once a person gets a decent, steady job, security becomes the goal, and the complex mental stress involved with goals ambition and risk are replaced by the easier mental stress of seeking more money to perpetuate that security.  Am I saying this because we’re approaching the end of the season?

MAYBE I MEAN YOU DON’T KNOW ALL MY WRITING TRICKS

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Anyway, Larry says as much about the shifting nature of dreams when he runs in and tells Balki that they can get rich by house-flipping.  Before he can get all that out, though, Balki assumes that the good news is that Suzanne Somers is getting a new prime time show.  Sometimes I work so hard to draw out stuff about how Perfect Strangers acts as an unwitting criticism of its own place in the capitalist, consumer-driven society that is Modern America; sometimes it just hands it to me like this.

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Anyway, Balki is so happy he makes the same face I’m sure I will when Netflix announces Perfecter Strangers.*

Cousin Larry has taken another seminar course, this time one called “Dare to Make a Fortune!”  How it works is, anytime someone is trying to take advantage of you, you yell “Dare to Make a Fortune!” at them. Larry has become so emboldened by this seminar that he busts out his new catchphrase a mere minute into the episode.

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Balki whips out a giant ass book in which he claims to have been recording the results of Larry’s previous plans.  He makes a big show of paging through to different parts of the book, describing not only Larry’s plans, but how they went wrong and what consequences Balki suffered. It’s actually quite a boastful exercise for this show–offering roughly half a dozen perfectly good plots only to throw them away in an expository scene can only mean that this episode outdoes them all.

Nah, j/k, Balki doesn’t do any of that shit.  Someone in the props department bought a giant diary just so Balki could read a numerical summary from the first page. The point is, Balki has every right to be upset at Larry.  I mean, after all, Larry keeps trying to improve their socioeconomic status, when what he should be doing is constantly inviting criminals over, or cooking food with rotten ingredients, or throwing around heavy objects in public spaces right after coming back from the doctor. What a piece of shit, this guy, actually taking the time to try to convince Balki to work with him, rather than just signing him up for it.

Larry starts in on his “American way of life” shit, and Balki says “sure, whatever” just to shut him up.  Look, Balki, I haven’t seen you trying to be an active part of an episode for what, six weeks now? Your life is so boring you’ve been throwing your toys behind the fridge just so you can clean them. Get a girlfriend!

The plan, as Larry lays it out, is overly complex, but it’s basically that they’d be doing all the work of selling a house to prospective buyers. The risk is that, if the cousins haven’t sold it in a certain amount of time, they end up becoming the buyers, but he sells it to Balki on the idea that they’re “buying” a house for no upfront cost.  In the meantime, however, they can make some improvements to the house to increase its value.  It’s like a cross between flipping and short-selling, I guess? Whatever, what the fuck, who cares, I’m 100% certain it’s a plot that is perfect for a show about two friends from wildly different cultures, and couldn’t be done with just any show featuring two characters.

Now that the exposition’s out of the way, Balki starts talking about eating bugs with little kids. And while he’s doing that, let’s talk about what function this episode serves.  I mean, obviously it’s so the show can finally get the damn Three Stooges turning-around-quickly-while-holding-a-ladder bit onto an eventual best-of reel, but there’s another, broader reason Perfect Strangers is making efforts to retool itself (TGIF: Testing Gathers Important Feedback), cycling through different versions of itself in hopeful preparation for a sixth season.**  I plan on talking more about this in my season review, but this episode is demanding I discuss a little bit of it here.

The cousins have now been in the same situation–same girlfriends, same jobs, same abusive relationship–for years now, and it’s natural that the show would want to push their story forward.  Now that the couples are well established, a likely ending point will be their marriages. Now that the cousins have both had some successes at work, a potential avenue for development would be promotions. And if the cousins were ever separated for more than five minutes, the heavens would fall, the rivers turn to blood, and their penises stop working, so we know they’re going to end up living in a house together. Just like we knew that they would date the blondes upon their second appearance. Just like we knew what Balki’s catchphrase would be as soon as he first said it.  And I say this even with the fact that I knew these things going into this review blog; Perfect Strangers has all the mystery of a first date at a nudist colony.

Something like once per season on Full House, an entire episode would be dedicated to figuring out the living arrangements. When I binge-watched the show a few years back, it seemed like a waste of an episode, just something I had to make it through to get to the next “actual” story.  But in retrospect, those episodes functioned well on a number of levels, addressing the aging of the children characters, whether any of the uncle Jesse would move out after getting married, and precisely how far away from minors Joey would be while he masturbated to Popeye cartoons. What’s more, even though I don’t think it ended up being interesting television, those episodes were opportunities for a showcase of the different personalities involved. You could even argue they were the most related to the core premise of the show: there are too many people in one house.

Perfect Strangers, on the other hand, flat-out refuses to explore the personalities or dynamics of its characters: Dmitri gets more screen time here than Lydia did last week.*** So we can only hope that, whenever the cousins do move into a house, they’ll be able to forge a new dynamic and develop new story directions.

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Hey, look, the creators of the show think they’re being real fucking clever, because here’s some old footage they had lying around of the house from Mork and Mindy!

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And why not try to re-create the success of that program?  Maybe the cousins could even live on the second floor, right above a cantankerous old man!

Oh, wait.

Anyway, sorry if I’m spending too much time not talking about the episode, but (surprise!) not a hell of a lot happens.

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Larry, looking at paint colors, calls out to Balki to ask his opinion.  Balki, whose skill at milking cows earned him a motherfucking nickname, and who is skilled at baking snack foods, misunderstands the word “cream”… twice. And he doesn’t even think Larry’s talking about food. Fucking twice.

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Anyway, Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) come down the stairs so the cousins can talk to each other facing the same direction for a minute. I’m down on the writers of this show pretty often, and maybe that’s unfair, especially at times like these where they really earn their paychecks.  Faced with the dilemma of having to write for two actresses being contracted for 18 and 19 episodes, respectively, but having absolutely zero interest in doing the hard work of thinking about how they feel or what they want, the writers are struck with inspiration. Use them to take up a minute in a completely uneventful episode! As Balki might say, you kill two birds with one Rolling Stone! Masterful!

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By the way, damn, look at that completely natural love between Larry and Jennifer. One soul in two bodies there. By the way, the King of Mypos’s palace has a waterslide in it. I’m sure you cared.

Mary Anne, who’s so dumb she thinks an acceleration clause is when Santa tells Rudolph to go faster, predicts certain doom for the cousins’ efforts to fix up the house.  The women leave.

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Yep, there it is.

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Look at ‘em go.

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A steal at only 8 smackers a month on Hulu, folks.

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Two weeks and one floating superimposed “For Sale” sign later, the inside of the house still doesn’t match up with the outside. Also the cousins painted the walls. Makes sense to skip that part. Painting has never once in the history of film lent itself well to physical comedy.

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I fucking swear, Balki has done more cleaning in five seasons than Danny Tanner did in eight…. He sings a parody of reason #38 someone at ABC spent a few minutes issuing a check to MGM last month: “The Merry Old Land of Oz”.  And lest anyone accuse me of taking a nasty tone on this blog, I will point out something Balki’s singing: years ago, he’d sing a song that was relevant to what he was doing. For a while, though, he would just sing a song that had fuckall to do with anything. I guess someone decided that Balki singing “Stairway to Heaven” while taking a shit (season 4, episode 9, “Deck the Stalls”) was just too ridiculous. Writing parody lyrics is fun, and actually take some effort to write.

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A married couple come in to look at the house. Their names are Elliot and Hope which, from what I read, were characters on thirtysomething; what’s more, these actors resemble those characters. (The audience got it right away; as always, I have to read up on jokes to get them.) This is slightly better than that aborted Doogie Howser, M.D. gag from three weeks ago; you’ll get it right someday, show!

Phil pointed out last week that “Here Comes the Judge” chose the least interesting story to tell about grievances and hurt feelings in the workplace. Here, we’re getting more of the same.

ABC exec: Have the cousins accidentally end up owning a house. We may need it for season 6.

PS writer: A house! Yeah, we could do some home-repair physical comedy, have Larry excited about selling the house and try to get too much money for it, maybe we could even–

ABC exec: Whoa, hold on, that’s plenty! This isn’t a two-parter.

It’s fine to have the cousins interact with a house, but the writers put in such a weak effort that the biggest laugh of the episode is for a reference to another show. And, yes, I’ve given away the ending. Who cares? Fucking nothing is happening. Those Full House episodes are looking better by the minute.

Remember how, once upon a time, this show used to be a clone of The Odd Couple?  Two men with wildly different personalities living together and taking on situations in their own ways, often to the embarrassment and frustration of each other, sometimes even ruining the other’s plans? Yeah, well, fuck all that.  Balki could be asking this couple questions to determine if they would be good homeowners, stuff that would make more sense on Mypos. Larry could be trying to cover up that there were repairs they didn’t get around to. Shit, Gorpley could have discovered the cousins had a big empty house and invited all his mean friends over for a party.  Jennifer could have… you know, I don’t know why I started that sentence. The point is, you could come up with far better story ideas than “Larry and Balki stand around and don’t sell a house”, and I invite you to do so in the comments.

Let’s just zip through this shit… Larry asks $150,000 for the house, Larry doesn’t give them a tour, they take all of 30 seconds to look at one other room and and decide they want to buy the house without any price negotiation, and Balki tries to do the Dance of Joy.  I’ll stop here because there’s a joke good enough to excuse the continuity flub: Balki’s mama warned him that he’d go blind if he did the Dance of Joy alone.

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Because Larry has overheard the couple saying that another house is more expensive because it has a chandelier, he tells them that he’s decided not to sell the house, and damn near pushes the couple out. Cue catchphrase:
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Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back in the very next sentence, let’s just get through this already.

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Later, the cousins are hooking up a chandelier that Larry stole from a condemned hotel. You’ve got to remember, kids, this was 1990, when property law was a brand-new idea, its principles unargued and its parameters untried. Upon hearing this, Balki just stares off into the distance for a few seconds, about the same amount of time it would have taken for him to verbally censure his cousin.

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Guys, look–

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Larry, if you–

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Wait, j–

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It’s called a self-locking pulley! Jeez, if you’re going to steal physical comedy bits from the 1930s, at least try to update them by keeping up with existing tools. Later:

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Larry: Well, Balki, we’re in the home stretch.

Ha!  Do you guys get it? “Home” stretch! You know, because, it’s a house!  Man I love this show.

We’re only 13 minutes in, so the episode takes a moment to breathe, and the cousins wonder aloud at what it would be like to live in a house. Larry talks about how, for most of his life, he’d wanted to have his own big home, but how he now knows he’d be far too lonely all by himself. Balki tells his cousin how having a house on Mypos is not only a source of pride for the owner, but also a responsibility, a promise of charity to the community, and that the bigger the home, the more guest rooms it had. The King’s palace, in fact, was nothing but guest rooms; and in a heartwarming surprise, we find that the waterslide was installed for all the children of Mypos.  The cousins share silly memories of their childhood homes; how Larry found a place to hide his candy from his siblings, only to find out it was a mousehole; how Mama would mark both Balki’s and the sheeps’ heights on the doorway of the barn. It’s a perfect example of why this show is still so beloved almost 30 years later.

Nah, j/k, it’s more of this.

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Balki accidentally kicks the ladder away, which is kind of what happens when you’re dumb enough to put a ladder on a big rolling wooden platform.

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If you act right now, Hulu’s offering plans starting at only $5.99/month for the first year.

Two weeks later or whatever, they’re still up there. Man, how lucky were they that there was already a spot on the ceiling to hang a chandelier?

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In case you’re thinking that this is not the most dire situation to be in, consider this: Cousin Larry can’t get away from Balki’s stupid jokes.

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Larry: Who had time to hire professional help?

Audience member pro tip: any time characters explicitly discuss why they’re not doing something that normal people would do, it’s the writing equivalent of when you can see where a vase was repaired because no one thought to wipe off the excess glue. If a set of characters decides to not call the police in a horror movie, it’s typically not for any good reason other than the writers really wish they didn’t have to address such concerns (bonus laziness points if they try and the phone lines are cut/cell phone reception is awful).  Someone really wanted this episode to culminate in the cousins being stuck in a chandelier.  Any other directions this episode could have taken would have involved actually thinking up some kind of conflict. (And I hate to say it, but even the camera/staging work is a little lazy this week: who cares whether the studio audience saw it, but I should never have known that the ladder was on a rolling platform.)

Anyway, Larry finally reveals to Balki that they’re going to owe the entire cost of the house to the original owner if they can’t sell the house in 10 days. The women come back, stand around in only one room of a large house and wonder where in the world the cousins could be. The cousins wait a full minute to tell them where they are, and then the women respond in kind by waiting a whole minute to offer any sort of help.

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Welp, there you go, that was that scene, you got to see the women in two different outfits this week.

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10 days later, we see a married couple all but running out the door away from Larry. Why haven’t they been able to sell the house? Fuck you is why. All you need to know is the cousins are about to owe $140,000 all at once. Aren’t there ways to just mortgage that after the fact? Don’t banks love to buy debt?

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A married couple and his wife come down the stairs and reveal their names to be Skitch and Florence Henderson. Geez, we get it! You’re a TV show! You want to be like other TV shows and get their approval! You’re surrounded by family sitcoms and you’re worried you won’t measure up! Look, you’re the one who let Bronson dictate that the cousins are virgins!

Larry lies to this couple about how many offers they’ve received and Balki, paragon of virtue, lets this slide. Then Larry slaps Balki on the back until Balki also lies. The Hendersons make a lowball offer. In response to this, Larry pinches Balki’s arm and tells them that Balki would have to flog himself out of shame at such a low offer.  Then Larry and Skitch proceed to whip Balki with a chain and a length of pipe, respectively, and Florence jumps up and down on him with her hobnailed boots.

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Oh, wait, no, they just haggle about the price while the chandelier starts to fall.

The cousins walk three feet away to loudly discuss theology.

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Florence: I was promised more screen time!

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Balki: Not on this show!

Mr. Henderson withdraws his offer immediately upon seeing cousins manhandle his wife.  Nah, haha, the cousins crawl around on the floor looking for Florence’s contact lens.

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www.hulu.com

You get to see the chandelier falling and breaking in slow motion, because nothing fucking happens in this episode.

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Later, at the Caldwell, they still haven’t sold the house.  Understandable. I mean, only two-thirds of the couples who looked at it made offers on it.

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Balki has calculated that they’ll have to pay $42/month on the house for the rest of their lives, so now we know that the average Myposian lives to be about 160. Larry starts talking about greed hormones, and…

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…did I accidentally watch an episode from an alternate dimension where biology is completely different?

Anyway, for as empty as this episode was, I do like the fact that it ends with the cousins not having sold the house.  It’s too often the case that sitcom characters “learn their lesson” and still get whatever it is they wanted. This ending also makes the episode feel like it fits in with earlier seasons, where the cousins were constantly struggling to make ends meet and always two steps behind where they thought they should be.  And perhaps, for once, the show did intend a greater meaning to its own plot: that Perfect Strangers would fail at being itself if it tried to take on the trappings of its TGIF neighbors. And looking at it through that lens–that the episode may have been taking a deliberate tongue-in-cheek approach to seeing if audiences wanted the cousins to have a house–improves my opinion of it just a little bit.  (Again, there were still better ways to fill those 21 minutes to achieve that same goal.)  The show will likely never truly recapture the glory days where the title of the show was still true–hell, the only reference to Mypos this week is that things are so different there that they also have waterslides–but at the very least it still has a chance to maintain a focus on overcoming the setbacks that arise when pursuing one’s dreams.

But if the dream is getting renewed for another season, this episode is the setback.

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Join us next week for “Eyewitless Report”!

_____________________________________________

Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (2)

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

*Other potential titles under discussion for the inevitable reboot: Future Perfect Strangers, Balki’s Hit Talk Show, Perfect Strangers Ninja Storm, Babasticky Galactica, American Horror Story: Larry, The New Woody Woodpecker Show

**Speaking of testing things out: Step by Step would debut in the fall of 1991.  Given the two-year development of Perfect Strangers, I have to wonder if Balki’s reference to Suzanne Somers getting a prime-time show was an inside joke or even–and I admit this is a stretch–a way to gauge audience reaction to the idea.

***so not fucking kidding

048

Season 5, Episode 20: Here Comes the Judge

Welcome back!

If this is your first time visiting this blog, I should let you know that this is not the first episode.  Go to the bottom of the site and click on the button that says “older posts”.  Do that again another 35 times and it will load the very first post.

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We find ourselves once again at the Caldwell Hotel, and the camera angle chosen is apt.  Take note of the lights in this scene: headlights, taillights, lampposts, fluorescents in the old-fashioned ice cream parlor, neon for the Pioli’s Pizza sign, a thousand points of light, stretching endless into the black oblivion of 1990 Chicago, all to various extents in service of business and pollution.  But as for the residential part of this tableaux vivant? Only one light shines; an inner glow from apartment 209, the last bastion of hope in this dark world.  But even here, a voice calls out in need…

002

Jennifer has come by asking Larry for notepads, and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) follows close behind in need of a ruler.  For the first time in his life, Larry satisfies two women simultaneously: he happens to have dozens of notepads and a box full of rulers.

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Mary Anne quickly notes the notches on the ruler where Larry has been recording his diminishing penis length, and asks for a different one. Larry brags that he can get whatever they want from the Chronicle.

For those of you out there who may be thinking at this point, “gee, this is kind of a stupid way to set up a plot about about Larry stealing office supplies, which itself is kind of lame in and of itself. Why couldn’t we get something funnier than two dialogues in a row where someone asks Larry ‘do you have a thing?’ and Larry replying ‘yes, I have more than one of that thing’? Wouldn’t it be funnier to have, say, Balki unable to find what he needs amongst drawers full of rulers, notepads in the bathroom, boxes of staples piled up on the kitchen table, reams of paper in the fridge, unable to find space to sit on the couch between two typewriters? Besides, is the show going to even consider the fact that Larry often has to do his research at home, late into the evening, and that if the job requires this, the administration must have a high tolerance for supply costs? Will anyone even remember that Larry works on his very own typewriter and that certainly this more than offsets the cost of a box full of rulers?”, I simply ask you for two things.  One, that you write a guest review for me; and two, that you observe the subtle theme work going on in this introductory scene.  Cousin Larry is often made the fool, and his hubris–here taking the form of being over-prepared to record and measure–rivals that of Oedipus. Certainly he’s headed for a fall.

If this is your first time visiting this blog: yes, I do tend to write 500 words for the first 30 seconds of an episode. Strap in.

005

Balki comes in crying, having been named head of the Chronicle’s “grieving” committee.  You already see his misunderstanding, but the show takes a whole minute for Balki to set up the joke (Bronson overacts beautifully here, stopping just short of tearing his clothes and sitting in ashes) and for Larry to explain it.

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Since there’s four people here, it’s only fair to split up the dialogue, so someone was nice enough to give Jennifer the line explaining what grievances are.

You know, I really do criticize the show a lot for not developing most of its female characters past their recurring roles as exposition receptors. (Mary Anne is so dumb, by the way, that she thinks exposition is a chapter in the Kama Sutra.)  but I will give the show credit that it finally figured out ways–not necessarily funnier, or better ways–of having the girlfriends leave a scene.  In seasons 3 and 4, Perfect Strangers actually gave screentime to Lydia and Harriette bickering; and, as is often the case with this show, the less that verbal sparring has to do with advancing the plot, the better. The fighting worked with Lydia and Harriette because it hinted at a long working relationship, perhaps even a tentative friendship.  Here, the blondes leave fighting about how Mary Anne filed a grievance against Jennifer for her recent promotion to flight crew manager*.

With Lydia and Harriette, the tension worked because each was a distinct character with built-in differences of race, personal life, and intelligences.  With Jennifer and Mary Anne, the show steals my joke about their only difference: Jennifer points out that Mary Anne is shorter as they leave.

007

Balki asks Larry what the head of the grievance committee is supposed to do.  Didn’t we just do an episode where Balki was promoted to a position of power without anyone explaining his responsibilities to him?

We get a hint at progress in Balki’s reading comprehension skills as he opens the envelope he came in with and quickly summarizes its contents. Someone has reported Lydia for taking up more than one space with her car.  Balki misunderstands the word “Beemer” and I fucking KNEW he’d said that word before, but I just looked and was in Larry’s dream in the “Aliens” episode.  Larry should have been tipped off that that was a dream as soon as Balki got slang correct.

008

Later, at the Chronicle, there’s a new woman working in the basement.  I guess the maybe-Latina really did get fired. 😦

009

Lydia is sorting Balki’s mail, and you know how I was coming very close to praising this show for a couple of indicators of progress? Well, forget all that, Larry’s back to doing his whole thing where he asks someone what they’re doing, and then asking why. Lydia gets in a nice Snappy Answers-style dig at Larry’s Stupid Question.

010

And here’s another bit of regression: Balki keeps getting dumber.  He sees Lydia sorting his mail, he asks her why she’s sorting his mail, and she responds:

Lydia: I’ve noticed you’ve been overworked lately and I want to do what I can for someone that I care about very much.

Balki: Who is that?

011

Fuck! Look, I love dumb characters, but again, this is not the kind of cluelessness that you originally gave Balki.  Have him misunderstand words, have him miss social cues, but please, for God’s sake, let him understand how two parts of a sentence connect.

Lydia, knowing that Balki likes plush animal likenesses with pre-made holes, has gifted him with a pair of bunny slippers.

012

Larry explains that Lydia is trying to bribe Balki, but since no one has ever tried to bribe Balki before, certainly not Larry himself, the message has trouble sinking in. Before he can continue, this guy shows up again with a fruit basket delivery for Balki.

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I’m really glad that Balki is finally getting a taste of his own medicine, as this guy–shit, if he’s going to be around from now on, I ought to give him a name; let’s go with Doug MailKenzie–keeps mispronouncing Balki’s first and last names.

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Balki reads the card on the fruit basket.

lydiasnote

Later… what the hell? I don’t know these buildings. Where is thi–

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Oh! There’s the Chronicle. You got me good, show.

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Balki and Lydia come in at the top of the stairs, arguing.  She claims she’s been relegated to Parking Lot X** and starts throwing mail everywhere and reclaiming the bunny slippers and fruit basket.

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If for whatever reason the gif of Michael Jackson eating popcorn wasn’t doing it for you, here you go:

grapely

Balki is confused. He tells his cousin that on Mypos is very simple: people are usually grateful when someone points out their faults.  Larry then proceeds to tell Balki that he always says “Appleton” incorrectly, explains the germ theory of disease, how every sentence needs both a subject and a predicate, that opposite does not cure opposite, nor does like cure like, American women don’t like you to read the labels on the ass of their jeans, the toilet bowl is not that kind of bowl, not everyone he meets on the street is his friend, and to stop calling the black people “sons of Ham”.

Nah, just kidding, Larry doesn’t do any of that shit. He says that Balki did the right thing by being honest and serving justice.

Do you all like to watch football?  I’ll admit I never was interested in it.  Even when I was in the high school marching band, I never paid attention to the games. And later on, when I was living with a woman who was a fan, I tried watching it but found that I couldn’t get into its rhythm.  You’d get short bursts of play, followed immediately by either a set of commercials or officials trying to figure out what just happened.  But I have gotten good at learning the rhythms of Perfect Strangers over the past two years, so I was able to check out until the catchphrase timer went off:

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(Hey! Look! In the background! She didn’t get fired after all!  I’m so relieved.)

Larry has been accused of stealing $328 worth of office supplies.

Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back after this commercial message.

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[An aside: I’m in a few different Facebook groups which are–to varying extents–Perfect Strangers-related. One of these groups, and this blog, recently were attacked by white guy with a podcast #383,170, Shawn Green. You ever heard of him? Yeah, me neither, but he took issue with the fact that not only do I dare say anything negative about Perfect Strangers, but that I do it intelligently.

him: Perfect Strangers is great!

me, an intellectual: No piece of media can be considered unequivocally good. Television shows are products, created by multiple stakeholders, each with their own (sometimes conflicting) agendas, faults, and blind spots. Any piece of media can be judged critically in multiple ways, whether on its own merits, against other media, through ideological lenses, or by societal standards, to name but a few. Audiences, too, can be critiqued, as not all individuals share the same background, understanding, tastes, or purposes. In fact, the very act of unequivocally assigning a value to a piece of media is simply the result of blah blah Foucault blah blah media as a form of social control ad infinitum I’m so smart

But Shawn’s a fan of Perfect Strangers and he disagrees with me, two qualities I’ve long hoped for in a reader. And Balki says I should be grateful when someone criticizes me, so. Shawn was kind of enough to give me an opportunity to answer questions on his podcast, so I’m happy to link to the site for his podcast, “halfwayokay”.  I mean, I do research for my posts, and he just sits on his butt and talks at a microphone, but maybe some of you like that populist pap.]

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Later, at the Caldwell, Larry has bought Balki the exact same pair of bunny slippers.

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Larry hangs his coat. Remember this. This is important.

025

Larry hangs his jacket. Remember this. This is important.

Larry says he gave Balki bad advice, and now worries that Balki may now turn “harsh, insensitive…

balkismile

…uncaring…

balkilydia

totally devoid of all human emotion”.

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Anyway, we’ve seen this part of the scenario play out dozens of times by now, so I won’t insult your intelligence by giving you a play-by-play*** of Cousin Larry sweet-talking Balki.  Only the specifics are different: “mercy day”, soda, Balki finally calls Larry out on over-using the whole “I took you in” bit to get favors, Larry takes back the bunny slippers.

027

The next day, in a new, nice room of the Chronicle building, we come in at the tail end of some old man’s grievance hearing. Most likely he was accused of interrupting the cousins when they were hitting each other with full mailbags.

028

Balki calls Larry to the stand and immediately demands sexual favors as a way for him to get out of it:

Balki: How do you please?

So, I’ve never worked in a large office building of any sort, and the only grievance meetings I’ve been a part of included me, a boss or two, and the other parties involved.  Is it weird that the whole group of people being charged with minor work drama are here, watching other people defend themselves and receive punitive measures? Is it weird that, given how much time RT Wainwright finds in his day to tell Larry what a useless shit he is, he can’t spend ten seconds telling Larry to quit stealing?  This whole thing just strikes me as odd.  The two grievance situations we know of aren’t even arguments of fact: there’s definitive proof in both Lydia’s and Larry’s cases, and there ought to already be punishments laid out for these types of things.  I don’t know.  Anybody who’s ever worked somewhere that they do it like this, please chime in in the comments and let me know if this method has its benefits.

Anyway, what the fuck, who cares, the grievance committee is made up of Balki, Ms. Wiggans, and Walt from the poker game episode****, and Larry says out loud, where Balki can hear it, that he bought the other two fruit baskets.

Larry says he can prove that the charges are false. Ms. Wiggans rejoins that the basement uses more supplies than the entire “city room” because Larry requisitions them all the damn time. So here’s a question for you: why the scissoring fuck is Larry the only reporter working in a basement where there are no supplies for reporters?

029

Walt says he needs to get to the Bulls game. Fuck you, Walt.

*sigh*

guess what happens next

can you guess

*sigh* do you give up he calls balki as a witness

Balki delivers another iteration of his new, content-variable catchphrase template: “feed me garlic and call me stinky”. And here’s a joke that was definitely made for the home audience, and I’m doubtful that the live audience picked up on it: a short cut to the woman taking minutes as she records Balki’s line.

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Larry spends some time making the case that Balki is the most honest person at the Chronicle, which both Walt and Ms. Wiggans agree with.  And yeah, blah blah blah, there’s going to be a big reveal that Balki took home a pencil from work, because that’s the worst possible thing he could ever do, Balki is an angel. God damn does this show love to suck Balki’s dick.

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Larry pulls out three blown-up versions of a photo of Balki reading a letter from his Mama and keeps smacking the photos with his extended pointer, everybody’s favorite Cousin Larry bit from season 4.

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Larry shouts questions at Balki until Balki cries, confessing to his theft.

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And… it’s not often that the show ends up having a message for me, but I’m feeling very seen this week.  And Balki’s subtle message at the top of the episode that any criticism should be embraced with gratitude has been getting to me.  I… I need to confess.

*tears up*

I portray myself on this blog like I’m an honest, intelligent, progressive man.  Every week I act like I’m the single light still burning high above the capitalist fray.  But I…

*bawls*

…I paid money for a Facebook ad. I spent $15 to utilize the data Facebook has collected on you so that they would push this blog on you.  Where did I go wrong? How did it get to the point that I was willing to use–to pay!!!–the systems I hate? That I was willing to treat people I don’t know, who have never wronged me, as though their attention was a mere commodity I could buy?  I’m so ashamed. You should go read whatever measly 1,000 words the AV Club posted about Curb Your Enthusiasm today, at least they’re honest capitalists.

*sniff*

For those of you out there who may be thinking at this point, “Why has Larry spent like, $20 apiece on fruit baskets, and likely $30 apiece on three poster-size versions of of a photo of Balki? Why did he take a photograph of Balki reading a letter, for Christ’s sake? Larry’s got all the shit at home, obviously not using it–couldn’t he just bring it back in the dead of night and kind of hide it poorly enough for someone to find it and exonerate him? Is the show really choosing to bring up Larry taking photographs only once this whole fucking season, and completely outside the context of him trying to be a photojournalist? Why are the other members of the grievance committee letting them do this whole thing? Isn’t it kind of fucked up that Larry does this shit to Balki almost every week and Balki puts up with it?” I can tell you two things.  One is that you’re the perfect reader for this blog, and two is that the show gives us a nice little detail that no one calls attention to: during his questioning, Larry admits to having used Chronicle resources to blow up the photograph.

Walt says they all do it, and that Larry’s not guilty. I agree with you, but still, fuck you, Walt.

Ms. Wiggans votes guilty, and even though Walt says he wants to change his vote, it still comes down to Balki having the deciding vote. After humiliating and berating his cousin in front of a group of their coworkers, in a forum whose proceedings are transcribed and filed for later reference, Larry is surprised when Balki votes “guilty”. And here I had been calling Balki the dumb one.

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Later, at the Caldwell, Cousin Larry is boxing up all of the office supplies he’s brought home over the past three years; after returning them, he’ll still owe $85. Like, for what, though, exactly?  Larry brought home $328 worth of supplies, he returns $243; isn’t the remainder what he used for his work? Whatever, who gives a shit, I’m almost done with this sorry episode. What started out as a lame-sounding plot was developed through mind-boggling setup (who filed the grievance against Larry? And why? If someone was upset that they could never get their hands on a bottle of Liquid Paper, why not request it themselves? What kind of asshole would watch Larry bring home a stapler here, or a notepad there, for months, and not say anything to him? We seriously don’t get to meet the person who set this story in motion?), and then turned to all be for the sake of Larry playing lawyer in the climax of the episode.  Two weeks ago, Perfect Strangers made a successful foray into cartooniness by having three men blunder their way through scaring themselves. It was an us vs them scenario, the punchline being there was no them after all.  But here, someone’s idea of funny was for man #1 (the lying one) to put man #2 (the honest one) on trial and prove a falsehood through sophistry.  And that’s fine when the men are cartoons (and even better when the cartoons are animals), but these men have to go back home and co-exist together.  As much as the show wants there to be, there’s no natural reset button for the live-action sitcom. So it forces it by having Balki act like what Larry did was no big deal.

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The music comes on, Larry apologizes for stripping Balki of his dignity, and the audience laughs.

If Perfect Strangers was already straining credulity that Balki is the most honest man in the world, it breaks it by having him also be the most forgiving.

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Or, perhaps he’s simply the dumbest.

Join me next week for “This Old House”!

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Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (1)

Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
*See season 5, episode 5 “Dog Day Mid-Afternoon”.  Continuity sure is easier when you barely have the characters do anything!

**she refers to it as a dirt lot, which I find kind of unlikely in such a dense part of the city, but okay

***there are other, more fun ways

****here listed as “Mr. Hughes”. Fuck you, Mr. Hughes.

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Special note: yes, Perfect Strangers is on Hulu now, and the episode quality is much higher.  But the work involved in taking screengrabs–and I do love to get those very specific facial expressions–is far, far greater when we’re talking about video in a browser than in VLC Media Player.  Besides, I decided years ago that I don’t have to watch commercials.