Season 5, Episode 7: Father Knows Best??? Part 1

I welcome you, after one Weeke,

Faithful readers who humour seek;

But first I note—

*ahem*

Sorry!  I promise to lay out the cons of this episode in prose.

First, I should note that the theme song is shorter.  If this were, say, The Simpsons, I’d know that this meant solely that the episode itself was a few seconds longer.  Here, though, it’s a jarring difference, and a frightening premonition: we no longer have the origin scenes.

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At the Caldwell, to the sounds of a new overture, we zoom in and enter, to find Larry readying the apartment for his father’s arrival.  He sets a scrapbook on the coffee table and arranges his tiny—but hard-won—trophies on the mantle.  The astute viewer realizes, of course, that these are not only symbols of achievement—they are symbolic of continuity itself.  These totems of memory will allow Larry to offer his father an unbroken chain of events from his departure from Madison to the present moment.

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Gone are the lies we saw Larry try to pass off on his brother in season 3.  Larry, after 70+ episodes of misfortune brought on by his own lies, is being honest.  And, in true Cousin Larry form, he practices greeting his father.

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Then Balki comes in and watches Larry talk to no one. Since he’s never seen Larry practice anything before, he has no idea what’s going on.

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Larry picks up one of the trophies, explaining that it represents Larry’s managerial success of a softball team during the Park District Softball Championship.  Has too much time passed since “The Unnatural” for us to retain details?  Is the show too old to remember? Has even the silver cord been loosed, the golden bowl broken, the relief pitcher forgotten at the commercial break?

Balki tells us that Daddy Appleton is going to be there any minute. That practice scene was evidently so important to the exposition of this episode that Dad was forced to figure out parking in a new city and search out the damn apartment on his own.

Balki, ever the loving cousin, seems to have known that Larry would be preparing to brag about his trophies, as he drags out a cheese wheel.  Certainly this can only function as a painful reminder of the wheel’s wooden simulacrum which featured prominently in the trophy war between Larry and Brother Billy.

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Balki makes the same face that I do when reminded of my failures.

Balki shows off his college learning: he wants to cut the cheese wheel into various geometric shapes (“recatangle” among them).

Larry asks Balki how many cheese wheel’s he’s ever cut in his lifetime.

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Huh, Balki?

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What kind of knife did you use?

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What’s the best flavor of cheese to eat off a woman’s nipple?

Cousin Larry really rubs it in that Balki hasn’t cut the cheese before (I am funny).

Larry insists that the cheese is always cut in triangular wedges.  Shows how much you know, Cousin Larry: the shape you’re referring to is called a circular sector.

Larry’s sudden anger over the cheese concerns Balki.  Larry explains that he is tense about the meeting with his father.

Sometimes, memory is so painful that it never fades.  Larry never once got approval from his father, at least not in the form of the phrase “well done, son”.  Evidently, this is Larry’s big chance to try to get that out of his father.  So… what? He hasn’t been telling his dad anything at all for the past four years? And what about how Larry had been lying to his brother about his job for two years straight?  Perhaps Larry was safe to assume that Billy wouldn’t tell Dad about it, given that Larry seems not to have spoken to his father at all in four years.

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Miniboss Appleton shows up wearing a suit. When Larry goes in for the hug, Dad offers a handshake.  This businesslike action is a subtle power play, signalling to his son that they meet each other as competitors.  One gets the impression that Larry subconsciously expected this.  Note that he too is wearing a necktie—the phallic symbol of the capitalist world.

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Balki acts like it’s the first time he’s ever seen the guy!  He gives Dad a hug and calls him Walter. I, uh, actually went back and watched a couple of minutes of the very first episode again.  One: god damn has the accent changed. Two: Larry’s dad was called George.  Three: Balki found the Appletons in Madison on his quest to find Larry.

The father/son competition continues as George Oscar Walter Appleton gifts Larry a cheese wheel, precluding the same from his son.

Larry asks what Dad thinks of the apartment, and Dad just up and insults it.

Later, Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) are there, and everyone is setting up decorations for a party.  Is it just me, or is it weird to have waited until Dad was there to decorate for a party for him?

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Dad further proves himself to be anal-retentive by being pushy about where finger foods go.  He then offers to show the women the “Appleton method” of folding napkins. Masculine battle is now on full display, as these are obvious—and might I say, crude—references to skill with manipulating the female anatomy.

Five feet away from Dad, the cousins have a conversation about Larry’s chances of getting a “well done, son”. Balki’s concerned about Dad’s condescension, but Larry takes it and likes it, says that he’ll get one when he deserves one. Balki notes that Larry’s relationship with his father mirrors his relationship with Larry, insofar as Larry is constantly correcting Balki.  And now the show has me questioning my own memory.  Doesn’t Larry usually let Balki stay dumb while every week Balki tries to correct Larry’s moral course?

Jennifer talks up Larry, fishing for compliments for Larry being part of an investigative team.  The pen may be mightier than the sword, but Walter notes that microphones have more girth than pens: television, he says, is the better news medium.

There’s a Balki joke here that’s actually a new kind of misunderstanding for him. Walter, referring to giving advice, says “that’s what fathers are for”, and Balki mentions his father (possibly for the first time, but I dare not trust my own memory at this point) being “for higher mutton prices”. It’s decently funny, and I’m always appreciative of that.

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Jennifer talks about her own father, who used to take her “everywhere”: other rooms of the house, outside, sometimes to entirely different buildings altogether.

The conversation turns to baseball games.  When Larry was a child, Walter took him to a game, and they sat directly behind the Yankees dugout.  Larry remembers it perfectly, because he still has the baseball bat that was signed by Mickey Mantle.

Walter disagrees, claiming that Roger Maris was the signator.  This third struggle, in front of women, over a phallic proxy crystallizes the stakes of this storyline: memory itself.  Shows may come to seventy episodes, or even eighty, if their strength endures.  Perfect Strangers, here at the ripe old age of 79 episodes, is getting long in the tooth (the cartoon rodent should have tipped me off to this weeks ago).  The question is not so much “was it well done?” as it is “was it done?”

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Both sides here—father and son—myself and the show—are locked in battle over memory, neither willing to cede fallibility.

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Larry should by all rights be the one who has the correct recollection. After all, he’s held onto the bat over the years.  Or, wait, he had his things shipped to him three years ago, right?

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Is that one box big enough to have held a bat?

Anyway, Larry has certainly spent years holding and caressing the bat, exulting in the happy and immortall memorie of the baseball game.  But then even this is cast into doubt as Larry finds that the bat is not where he thought it was, where so much of Larry’s life has been spent: in the closet.

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The show is overloading me now with symbolism!  Was there ever anything in the closet?

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Weren’t the cousins in there once?

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Larry claims that Walter always taught him the importance of being right, so the men set off to the basement to find the bat.  I, too, look for answers, but the only character who can be counted on to provide sound reason isn’t talking. Mary Anne (who is so dumb she thinks psychosexual means being attracted to Anthony Perkins) has remained quiet through this entire exchange.

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As they come down the stairs, dad won’t shut up about how right he is.  Shut up, dad!  I’m working on an argument about the symbolism of basements here and I need to think.

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Larry opens up a storage locker and pulls out the bat and ball from that fateful childhood day.

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They were both signed by Joey Dolan — the bat boy.

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Balki says that he thought that bat boy was Batman’s son.  Shows how much you know, Balki: even by 1989, the histories of most DC superheroes were convoluted, riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions.  In 1965, a pair of characters were introduced in World’s Finest #154, collectively named the Super-Sons: Clark Kent, Jr., and Bruce Wayne, Jr.  Their superhero names were, of course, Superman, Jr., and Batman, Jr., names certain to strike fear into evildoers everywhere.  The stories featuring these characters were, at the time, considered “imaginary stories”; in later years they would be brought into the canonical fold as “alternate universe” stories (there’s an inside joke here for true comics fanatics that Jrs. Clark and Bruce are from Earth-154).

In 1987, a graphic novel titled Batman: Son of the Demon was published; one of the plot points there was that Batman sires a son with Talia al Ghul, daughter of supervillain Ra’s al Ghul. (A philosophical question arises: must Batman be wearing the batsuit while making love for the child to be considered Batman’s son?) The reader is welcome to consider Batman: Son of the Demon non-canon, as it was a standalone graphic novel and not published as individual issues of Batman.

Given that Balki also mentions Batman in “Dog Day Mid-Afternoon”, we can assume that it was heavily on his mind that year, given the Tim Burton-directed Batman film had come out the summer of 1989.  Film versions of comic books often attract new readers, even those who are more or less loyal to another company’s set of characters (see various episodes making reference to Balki being a fan of Spider-Man as a clue to his loyalties).  However, even if we make the assumption that Balki has been reading Batman during the summer and fall of 1989, we find that the title was then featuring the “Year Three” storyline, which–

Or wait. Perhaps Balki knew all this? Perhaps his statement about Batman’s confused lineage was meant to throw doubt on Walter’s parentage.  Did Walter really beget Laurence?  Or has Balki broken through Lydia’s conditioning and now remembers George?*

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Balki starts swinging the bat around, saying that his Cousin Larry taught him everything he knows. My God! Did he? I’m so confused now. Balki’s shaking his ass around. Focus on that. That’s real and unchanging.

Larry takes the bat, and takes a stance.  Larry says that Walter taught him the stance, but Walter denies it.

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Cousin Larry and Cousin Dad take their places to play baseball with each other, Walter sure that he can get a ball past his son.

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Balki does that thing where he keeps trying to tell Larry something but Larry won’t listen.  At this point, and as many times as Balki has done this, Larry ought to listen.

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Larry swings the bat and bursts open a water pipe. It’s settled: the pipe has won the pissing contest.

Dad says it’s a simple repair and I’m remembering now how “Pipe Dreams” told us that Dad set the Appleton house on fire while trying to do some rewiring work.

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Larry says they should go tell the janitor, and the three head up the stairs.  Balki Ricardo shows up babbling in barely-disguised English (quote: “App-letoniki plumbing oxymoroniki”).

They try to leave, but guard locked the door. The “oh no” music comes on.  Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back!

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The cousins are banging on the basement door yelling for help.  There’s a highly cartoony moment where Larry keeps yelling after Balki stops, hurting Balki’s ears.

Dad says they should just turn off the valve.  Cool how he waited five minutes to say that.

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After Larry fails at turning the handle, Dad suggests they hit it with a hammer to knock the rust off.

Balki does not like this idea, and Dad starts asking Balki how many leaks he’s ever fixed.

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Huh, Balki?

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How’d you fix it?

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Was it a leaky faucet? Leaky ship? Leaky nipple? Huh?

I actually love that dad does this same shit to Balki, because it’s the first half of a one-two punch confirming that Larry really is Walter’s son: Dad knocks off the handle entirely.

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First we had Perfect Strangers trying to do its versions of shows like I Love Lucy or The Dick Van Dyke show, and then a straight ripoff of Laurel & Hardy.  Now it’s just redoing its own episodes! Someone evidently thought “Pipe Dreams” would work better with three people, in the basement, as a two-parter. Assuming “Pipe Dreams” even happened…

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Meanwhile, upstairs, Jennifer talks shit about Dad’s anal-retentive habits.  Gorpley and Lydia join in the fun insulting the Appletons. Jennifer explains that the cousins are in the basement. Then:

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Mary Anne: Where are they?

Finally, after 71 episodes, the writers succeeded in giving Mary Anne a dumb line! Jennifer says she’ll go downstairs so it will make sense when she shows up in the next scene.

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Downstairs, the water’s already knee deep while Dad thinks aloud about what they should do.

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Dad says they should find the drain. Let’s be frank here: Balki splashes around like a complete asshole while singing Reason #32 you’re never, ever going to get a complete Collector’s Edition DVD set with Balki’s nose sticking out of the front of the box: “Singin’ in the Rain”.

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They’re having to feel around for the drain rather than just look, which leads me to assume that the water pouring out of the pipe is shit water.

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Larry catches his hand on a rat trap.  Balki, the loving, concerned shepherd, waits a full eight seconds to help him.

Jennifer comes in and…

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*gasp*

…someone finally used one of the damn fire extinguishers!

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Then Mary Anne comes in almost immediately after and removes it. Congratulations, John B. Collins, for successfully showing us what the show has been telling us this whole time. It’s really not that hard to make this woman dumb!

The episode gives us one more convulsion of memory, this time relayed through Jennifer: in his brief time living in the Caldwell, Carl Winslow spilled cement in the basement, sealing the drain.

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Then, because Gorpley and Lydia are in this episode, Gorpley and Lydia come in and close the door behind them.

Larry says that the other guests to the party will come down and let them out soon.  Gorpley pipes up to point out that ABC never took the time to develop Larry or Balki’s social or working lives. There aren’t any other characters.

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For the sake of the audience members who have never interacted with water before, Lydia says that the basement is going to fill up with it.

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Dad says they’re all going to be electrocuted well before they drown because of the fusebox.

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Either way, these 7 castamembers are stranded upon the tossing waters of memory.

Commenters, speak!  What will be forgotten next week?  What will be remembered?

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See you next week for part 2!

_____________________________________

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

Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0); Batman (0-2, depending on your definition of Batman and your canonical proclivities)

P.S. In that penultimate screenshot, Bronson Pinchot doesn’t even try to look scared—in fact he smiles at Larry when the camera pans out for the final shot.  I just wanted to point out yet another example of Pinchot thinking he’s being funny without it making any sense at all.

Season 5, Episode 6: Poetry in Motion

To the Immortall Memorie, and Friendship of That Noble Paire of Cousins, Sir Larry Appleton, and Sir B. Bartokomous

 

The Turne

Brave Infant of Myposium, cleare

Thy comming forth in that great yeare,

When the Prodigious bombardiers did sate

Their rage, with razing your ancestrall Ait.

Thou, looking then about,

E’re thou were half got out,

Wise child, did’st hastily trade Shore,

And mad’st thy wool poupee thine whore

How redden’d a circle didst thou leave behind

Sheep by the score, could we your Hillside find!

 

The Counter-turne

Did Cousin Larry take thee in,

From horrours united, stately Sinne,

Where shame, faith, Whoppers, and regard of right

Lay trampled on; portents of death, and night,

Snacks, hurried forth, and spoild

Upon unperfect toild:

Loss, ire, and anguish have the cousins met;

And all on utmost ruine set;

As, could they but lifes miseries fore-see,

Would change the channel, and watch NBC?

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The Stand

For, what does Balki, in Chronicle basement place,

But research fact

Of famous poets, for Larry’s article space,

In this first act?

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Lowell Kelly out-did his Peeres,

Took value fourfolde across the yeares;

He hid his poemes, but increased their Rate;

Doubled value, if name append’d;

But before he were ended:

What did this Lowell, but write late?

At 209 Caldwell had he falne, his ink’d hoard–

Worth five and twentie thousands–

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The Turne

They searched well, in various spots,

Tore up books, strew’d cooking pots:

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Larry procur’d plans apartmental, and studies them,

Balki frets that hard labour befalls but him:

But weary of prints lined blue,

Larry stoopes in chimney flue

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To pursue black verse, fortune untold,

But Balki, so caring, does Towelle with-hold

Because–Cousin Larry, THIS IS FULLE NOT OKAY;

IT IS EVEN NOW 2017 TODAY

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The Counter-turne

Alas, but Appleton in blackface:

Upon him fell, thou fall’st, tin case.

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Inside, a Poeme from departed friend,

Describ’d a maze, twiste, turne, and bend,

To room of island Sonne

After paces were done.

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From him, so ample, fulle, and rounde,

A catching phrase did there resound,

In rhyme with Kelly’s line does appeare.

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The Play-goers delight in what they heare!

 

The Stand

Goe now, and search out verse hidden so well,

That thou may sell;

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Produce thy messe and miseries on the Stage,

To swell thy wage;

Remove of sculpts a throng–

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Such caring hands take long–

But more; from wood and oilpaints and inkwell,

Three ways here arte is wrought

In seasons, one soe brought

To light: her measure; are, how well

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Each cousin answer’d, and was form’d, how faire;

These make the lines of life, upon the Ayre.

 

The Turne

It maketh not much sense to me,

In this, a tale of poesie,

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Of standing long to gaze upon a Walle:

How merge these plottes, I cannot guess at all!

To college? Balki: Nay,

Is fairer farre, to stay,

Although class fall upon that night;

The poeme’s yet not brought to light.

Larry coaxes (sidebarre psychologies:

Negative reinforcement); Balki flees.

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The Counter-turne

See! Noble Larry seeks behind

(Heh) the walls, with chain’d saw to find.

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Accept this premise: the apartment’s owned,

And thinke, nay know, Twinkacetti’s flown.

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B. enters left the stage,

Possest with holy rage,

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To see his Cousin lust for Coine:

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Striveth with his Frame to enjoin;

Beggeth Larry STOP his unhappy plan:

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Preserve for love of fam’ly, thou Newsman!

 

The Stand

Larry, who swung hammer round e’re this scene,

Himselfe does rest,

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To taste of that cousinly joy he’s keen

To have exprest,

In this bright Asterisme:

Where it were friendships schisme,

(Were not his Balki long with us to tarry)

To separate these twi-

Lights, the Dioscuri;

And keepe the one halfe from his Larry.

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But fate such a joyful aftermath chose,

Whilst in living room, to a poeme expose.

 

The Turne

And more directions stand thereon;

To Vancouver–hie and be gone!:

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The cousins name this but rude Goose-chase:

Imagine Kelly with broad laughing Face,

The endeavor corrupt:

No treasures, but–hold up.

It rhymes, right? It’s a poeme, guys!

How is this not your hunted Prize?

I must needs rolle eyes, Tongue here I do cluck;

Shake my damned head and ask “What the fuck?”

 

The Counter-turne

Music beginnes, the lesson’s learned–

Cousin Larry has his Greed spurned.

Again Cousins approach so one the tother,

Till either grew a portion of the other:

Each stiled by his end,

The Copie of his friend.

You liv’d to be the great surnames,

And titles, by which all made claimes

Unto the Vertue. Nothing perfect done,

But as a Balki, or an App-le-ton.

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The Stand

And such a force the faire example had,

Viewers that saw

The good, and changed not channels, were glad

That such a Showe

Was left yet to Man-kind;

Where they might espy, and find

Friendship, in deed, was written, not in words:

But on the screen, not page,

Of two so young in age,

Whose lines her rowles were, and records.

Who, e’re they off the sound stage strolle,

Make learning plaine, and bid the Credittes rolle.

____________________________________________________

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

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

Join me next week for “Father Knows Best??? Part 1”!

Many thanks to Professor M for suggestion of source poem; insincere apologies to Ben Jonson.

Second Sight (1989)

secondsightposter

Well, here it finally is, folks: Second Sight, ostensibly a vehicle for Bronson Pinchot.  It was his first feature film appearance since After Hours, when he played a character who didn’t know how to use a computer.  As we’ve seen already by looking at reportage on Perfect Strangers, this film was meant to have come out well before its release date of November 3, 1989.  Wikipedia cites the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike as the reason for a delay in the film’s production (it also mentions the strike “led to problems with… the cast” and, uh, citation needed, guys).  Wikipedia also mentions that when Bronson interviewed psychics for his role, he was focussed on one guy’s shoes, which I’m 100% sure is true.

To recap what we’ve heard before about it: it was directed by Joel Zwick, who had directed all but one PS episode at that point; it had a small enough budget that they couldn’t afford extra ice cream; and that the actors saved the script.  Given that credit for the script goes (partially) to Tom Schulman, I think it’s worth spending a moment thinking about the writing.  Tom Schulman (I’ve just learned) also wrote the scripts for Dead Poets Society and What About Bob? and is responsible for turning the original script for Honey, I Shrunk the Kids into a comedy.  So guy had some chops.  Second Sight has two credited writers, however.  Looking at Tom Schulman’s Wikipedia page, it’s mentioned that he sold his scripts for both Second Sight and Dead Poets Society on the same day, indicating that he wrote the original draft of the script alone.  The Writers Guild strike occurred during the spring and summer of 1988–in fact, the two pieces of television coverage of Second Sight that I looked at aired during that time period.  It probably is safe to say that if anyone changed some dialogue then, it was likely the actors.  Where the second writer of Second Sight–Patricia Resnick–comes in, I don’t know.  For what it’s worth, she co-wrote 9 to 5.

So why am I dedicating a whole blog post to what is almost certainly going to be a trainwreck?  Why not just dump this into a “How I spent my summer vacation” post?  Mainly it’s because this has been hyped up to now as a vehicle for Bronson.  I want to see how much our boy has learned from doing the work of television acting for years.  But partially it’s the buildup that was a result of the prolonged production schedule. It feels like we’ve been seeing mentions of its imminent arrival forever now.  Plus, it was released on November 3, the same night as the episode “Poetry in Motion”, so now seems like as good a time as any.  Lastly, spoiler: it is a trainwreck. Like, what, did you think that something Bronson Pinchot starred in was going to be good? The hell’s wrong with you?

Also, special note: the poster lies. There is no dog in this movie.

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The movie starts out with Bronson coming out of the sewer, and you think he’s floating, and then the joke is that he’s not floating.  Make your own career/back alley abortion joke here, y’all.

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And then they go back in the sewer. This scene has no impact on the rest of the movie.

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Hey, look, it’s an eye, because

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whatever

Opening song: “Do You Believe in Magic?” which is absolutely and 100% a song about the type of magic in this movie, and not at ALL a song about how the effect of music on the human psyche often seems delightfully inexplicable if you don’t know neuroscience.  It’s not even the original by The Lovin’ Spoonful, so who cares.

Anyway, here we are at a crime scene, a perfect opportunity to introduce us to the main characters of the movie.  And here they are, crawling out of an air vent!

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No explanation whatsoever is given for this.  Evidently, some piece of art has been stolen from this swank place, and the insurance company called in the Second Sight Detective Agency.  Why an insurance company would do this, or how they got here as quickly as the police, is also not explained.  Anyway, Wills (John Larroquette) introduces Lieutenant Manoogian to Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D. (Stuart Pankin) and Bobby McGee (Bronson Pinchot).  Just to give you a benchmark for humor in this movie: the writers think that naming a character Bobby McGee is funny.

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Bobby clambers up on the plinth that the sculpture was stolen from.  We learn that Bobby must contact his spiritual guide–Murray–who will tell him what happened to the sculpture.  Bobby does something never before seen on TV or Film, and begins speaking in Myposian tongues, which summons Murray, who does not speak in tongues.  Murray is an old dead New Yorker, which allows Bronson a chance to show off how “good” he is at doing “characters”.  Murray says that the thief is in the room.

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There’s a decent bit here where most of the characters are standing in a semi-circle and Bobby leans and pivots as though, through some magnetism, he’s going to land on the thief.  Or, well, it would have been a decent bit if it wasn’t interrupted by Bronson shake-walking around the room for a minute, and then going back to leaning before picking the thief.

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This move’s called the Dipping Bird!

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Then Bobby runs around launching other sculptures from their podia, making everyone run around and catch them. Wills doesn’t catch one. For those of you still acclimating to this brand of humor, that’s a joke. Bobby finds the missing statue.

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Later, In a diner, Bobby plays with the table jukebox, in front of about 8 empty plates.  When he points at the jukebox, it makes robot noises. I really have to wonder how Bronson–formerly a self-conscious overweight teenager–felt about jokes about overeating.  Also, jeez, what was it with 80s movies and organic lifeforms evincing technological abilities? LOOKIN’ AT  YOU, ET.

We’re tidily given some exposition and characterization here.  Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D. functions as Bobby’s caretaker/handler; Bobby gets physically drained from doing psychic stuff; Wills has a habit of trying to use Bobby for personal gain, which Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D. does not approve of. (Here, Wills gets Bobby to tell him personal details of a woman in the diner so that he can hit on her.)  And lastly, that the Second Sight Detective Agency are down on their luck, having made only $11.35 from the previous night’s exploits.  Okay, great!  Now that that’s out of the way, we can get to telling the story of whatever big case they’re supposed to solve.

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Later, at somewhere else, I guess it’s their office, Bobby is running around in some sort of metal helmet with a bunch of wires attached.  I’ve never seen one of these before

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so I’m not sure if it has a proper name. Bobby is running from Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D., who is trying to put a clamp on his nipple. Then Bobby begs to have a clamp put on his nipple, so what the fuck.

Wills and Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D. talk about how Bobby needs small cases because that’s all he can “handle” right now. Meanwhile, out in the lobby, Bobby is putting on dark clothes to block out being able to sense what they are talking about. As it turns out, there is more to learn about Bobby’s powers.  He’s highly receptive, meaning he can overhear thoughts and feel when someone pretends to choke him.  And because of this, he gets worn out easily.  Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D., mentions that there’s a small case–a car being dented by another car–that would be perfect for Bobby.

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I’m getting bored with this already.

Those of you who have seen Ghostbusters may be wondering where the female receptionist or the working-class black person are. They’ve been combined into one character, who you see for maybe 20 seconds:

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Later, at the home of Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D., and his wife, Mrs. Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D., they and Wills watch a news report about the Pope’s funeral.  What we learn from this scene is that the Picketts are Bobby’s caretakers (he lives with them); that both Wills and Priscilla Pickett use Bobby for personal gain (baseball scores, contests, the lottery); and that Bobby eats a lot.

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Then a sleeping Bobby tries to have sex with Priscilla. Why? Scenes have to end on “jokes”, remember?

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The next day at the office, Sister Elizabeth and a woman named Maria Soledad come in. Bobby comes in and explains what happened: Maria’s car got rear-ended and the cost of repair–$3,000–is more than she can afford.  I would take some time to talk about how a Catholic would likely never seek out the advice of a psychic, and maybe even surmise that it’s excused through “Maria Soledad”, an obvious cipher representing the mix of traditional spiritual practices and Catholicism in Latino cultures.  But hey, the Pope just died, and it’s common knowledge that “anything goes” in the small period of time between popes.

Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D. explains to us here the full extent of Bobby’s powers.

Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D.: Bobby combines the talents of a deep trans-channeler, an empath, and a psychometrist.

I hate to spoil things for you, but that line just about sums up Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D.’s character.  There are a lot of character actors who, for me, are special treats whenever they show up.  Guys like Joe Flaherty, Russ Tamblyn, Paul Wilson, and here, Stuart Pankin.  There’s a good chance you’ve seen him before, or at least heard his voice: he played Earl Sinclair on Dinosaurs.  Pankin’s a funny guy!  But here, his only purpose is to explain and apologize for Bobby McGee, and sometimes to give Bobby McGee candy (but we’ll get to that). We don’t get any sort of story about how he discovered Bobby, or what he means to Bobby, or even an argument with his wife about her abuse of Bobby’s powers.  His character–much like Mark Linn-Baker’s Larry, at times–is meant to blend into the background until it’s time to explain why Bobby’s acting weird in any given scene.

It’s unfortunate that Pankin is underused in this movie, because there is a decent core dynamic between our three male leads.  Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D. is the character dedicated to parascience (*cough* Egon *cough*), and is protective of his new object of study. Wills deeply hates being in this business at all (he’s a former police detective), and is impatient with everything except money and a second sight at women’s underwear.  Bobby is alternately too overwhelmed or out of it to really comprehend that the other two are both using him.  And if you’re hoping that the movie explores that last part, NOPE.

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Instead, the women leave (Joel Zwick’s signature style on display), and Bobby has convulsions and starts talking as Murray, telling Wills to leave the nun alone. The height of snappy dialogue for this movie is reached when Bobby/Murray says “None of that nun!”

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Then Murray zaps Wills, resulting in a trip to the hospital.

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(Useless scene with a “joke” about Bobby being an empath on the wrong side of the body.)

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Then we meet the group of three criminals who were behind denting Maria’s car. They make some vague comments about another dry run past the church, and how they’re going to kidnap someone.  What makes this scene really not work is how we only see these guys from behind until there’s a terrible joke. The “joke” is that anytime anyone says “queen”, no matter what the context is (here, playing cards), someone will assume they are having their sexuality questioned. I want to make sure you realize that I’m not overstating this. In most 80s movies, there’s at least, say, a line of dialogue that could logically be followed by “Who’re you calling a queen?” Here, they’re playing cards.

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Then the They-Really-Want-You-to-Think-They’re-Like-The-Ghostbusters drive by in a Checker Marathon*.  While on the way to the church, we learn that Wills has problems with commitment because the police chief (his former boss) fucked his wife.  Speaking of sex… we’re told that Bobby has not developed the romantic or physical aspects of his person, much less integrated them into his whole self… so he’s sexless… and he’s not up on social codes or mores… Bronson sure has range, huh?

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At the church, Bobby has a vision about Cardinal O’Hara’s hemorrhoids.  Then he tackles the Cardinal and lies on his back.  Movie… *tch*… you don’t really want me making gay jokes here, do you?

Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D. explains what Bobby is doing and gives him candy to make him stop.

Wwwwwhat the fuck was the point of that scene? They go to the church and meet the Cardinal and nothing else is said other than to enforce the fact that Bobby’s psychic abilities are erratic.  Wwwwwhy did they need to meet the Cardinal to solve the case of who hit Maria’s car? Wwwwwwhy did they even go outside?

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Here’s another one of those types of scenes I talked about way back in “Babes in Babylon”, where a movie/show tries to compare itself to earlier, funnier media.  This time it’s the Three Stooges that Wills watches while Bobby sleeps.  Bobby, asleep, changes the channels whenever he turns over.

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Oh my Lord, Wills changes the channel to a Perfect Strangers re-run, the one where they snowplowed their girlfriends or whatever. Wills moves Bobby around until he gets the baseball game.

Alright movie, I guess you do want me to make sex jokes.

*ahem*

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Wills tries to investigate Bobby’s third eye.

Back in the office, Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D. updates Wills on Bobby’s condition and

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y’know what, movie? WE GET IT

Bobby can’t control his shit. He can’t contact Murray. Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D. can’t predict it. We’re 28 minutes into an 84-minute film and rather than explain anything about the crime they’re supposed to be solving, we’ve spent 20 minutes on discussion of how Bobby has no psychic off switch and how Wills is an asshole to Bobby and bets on baseball games.

Seriously, there’s a bit of dialogue that goes almost like this: “I can’t predict what Bobby might do, and if we work him too hard, there’s no telling what could he could do!”

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Hey, look, another scene where Mrs. Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D. exploits Bobby’s skill to get lottery numbers.  (Another turkey of a scene, that’s the best I can do for a “joke” now, please send help.) She confesses her addiction to her husband, Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D.  Then Bobby wakes up and runs out of the room gibbering.  Perhaps in his quest to find the right numbers, his mind decided on #2.

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Bobby wakes up Wills and says that Murray–that’s right, you heard right, the same Murray who a few scenes back said to stay away from the nun–tells them to go out right now and they’ll catch the car-denters.  Do any of these guys realize the police can do analysis on paint left behind from the other car?

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And then someone hits Wills’s car! No one takes the license plate number down.  I *guess* what’s supposed to have happened here is that Bobby’s premonition that they would run into the criminals was actually a premonition that they would get run into. I shouldn’t have to guess.

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Now they’re in a restaurant and Bobby talks some probably-Chinese to a waiter.

One of the two writers–or maybe an actor–realized that the movie was going nowhere at this point tries an experiment.  I’ve seen this kind of experiment handled well, and I’ve seen it collapse catastrophically.  It’s a huge gamble but I’m proud to see the ambition here: the woman talks.

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She asks about Murray, the one named male not there, because what else is there to talk about if they’re not going to pursue the story about the criminals?

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Murray shows up and we learn that Sister Elizabeth used to be Murray’s girlfriend before he died.  He got hit by a truck (one of three types of crime that happen in this city) while going out to get her some rum raisin ice cream.

Murray is upset and picks up the table and sets it down, and Wills tells Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D., to give him some Goobers. When I was a kid, “goober” was a slang word for penis that my dad used.

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Bronson lives out his dream part: an appearance on The Flying Nun. He psychically summons a big pot of ice cream from the restaurant’s kitchen while Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D. shoves goobers in his mouth (heh).

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Let me pause here and check in on how the movie is doing.  The first third has been fairly unbalanced.  We’ve gotten repeated explanations of Bobby’s powers, coupled with multiple warnings about how unpredictable he is. On the other hand, some parts of the plot (Wills’s former life as a police officer; an imminent kidnapping) are only barely established.  I don’t mind when stories are constructed this way.  You have to have a great memory if you’re going to read any comics written by Grant Morrison; and when it comes to television, I’d have to cite fourth-season Farscape for representing the end of the spectrum where plot points get one whole sentence at most.  But that kind of writing in a feature film, one that’s marketed towards… let’s say families, is less excusable.

The middle third, I think, is where the effects of the Writers Guild Strike really start to show. Instead of doing anything to advance the main plot, the movie is suddenly taken over with a romance story. It seems that Wills and Sister Elizabeth have been secretly falling in love with each other. Not that we’d know this from their interactions–we’re simply told by Bobby, who of course is never wrong.  It’s reiterated that Sister Elizabeth previously had a relationship with Murray, but Murray’s jealousy prevents the detectives from using him to find the criminals.

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There almost seems to be an awareness of the problems of storytelling and audience engagement, because Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D., explains what’s going on to a black guy and the black guy doesn’t care.

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But then, suddenly, forget that, because now they’re with Maria (remember Maria? This is a story about Maria) trying to recreate the circumstances of the accident.

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Bobby starts talking in a blaccent and takes over driving the car while Wills is on the hood for some reason I cannot remember and refuse to care about.   Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D. pops out of the window to tell Wills that he has to feed Bobby Goobers and it literally feels like he’s talking directly to the audience because certainly Wills knows this, right?

Preston spills Goobers all over the road.

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Bobby drives the car with his mind while Wills lies on the hood and Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love” plays.  Meanwhile, off-camera, Joel Zwick experiences multiple orgasms because this would have been the ultimate Perfect Strangers scene.

Bobby snaps out of his psychic state, freaks out because he doesn’t know how to drive, and then crashes into the criminals’ hideout. You can’t even make the case that that’s where Bobby (Murray?) was leading them. It’s simply use of spectacle, motion and sound to cover up that the plot is accidentally being moved along.  The seams are showing here.

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After a brief psychokinetic scuffle, the three guys who have done nothing worse than cause a fender bender run away in their car.

In a brief but crucial scene, they all walk on a bridge and Bobby heals Wills’s hip. Believe in the power of re-writes, folks.

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Then the discount Bob Saget shows up as an FBI special investigator and tells the chief of police and Manoogian (remember Manoogian?) he’s taking over the O’Hara case.

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The O’Hara case, by the way, is that Cardinal O’Hara and Maria Soledad were kidnapped.  It’s perfectly okay to wait until the halfway point of a story to reveal what the real stakes are, and Second Sight does a decent job of dropping hints in the first act (the Pope died, and O’Hara could be in the running). But Second Sight handles this plot switch in the worst way possible: two characters we’ve never seen before talk about the kidnapping of two other characters we’ve barely seen.

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Then the Second Sight guys are back in the diner a third time.  This sure is a movie about three guys who solve crimes through psychic power!  Manoogian shows up to enlist their help, and I can only assume that he does this out of a former working friendship with Wills, because otherwise, why??? It’s certainly not because Manoogian knows that they’ve been in contact with O’Hara. Why do people keep enlisting these fuckwits?

Bobby makes a noise and the little jukebox at the table breaks. Nice to see that there was, at least, one clear story arc for Bobby.

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In the next inside-the-car scene, there’s a bunch of useless dialogue while Bobby plays with a cigarette lighter. What the hell were Bobby’s circumstances before these guys found him? Was he just living on the streets, alternately levitating and eating stray cats?  Anyway, the point of this scene seems to be simply to convey that 1) Wills is happy about the prospect of getting into the newspaper as a hero and 2) BOBBY IS UNPREDICTABLE OKAY

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Also, how long have they been working with Bobby?  It’s only just now that they’re in a clothing store to buy him something other than pajamas.  Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D. reminds us that dark clothes will dampen Bobby’s psychic abilities, whatever those are needed to be in the next scene. But as a comics writer myself, I have to praise the inclusion of this scene. I know from hard-won experience that stuff like this is crucial. If, in the next scene, the Second Sight guys show up with Bobby already in a suit, there’s absolutely no way–that is, no time–to convey why he’s in a suit.

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Somehow the FBI special investigator is totally cool with them going into the church. Inside, the Almostbusters are introduced to Bishop O’Linn. He leaves immediately, and then they talk to Father Dominic.

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Bobby takes off his clothes and runs around the church in his boxer shorts.  By the way, where do movie studios find fly-less boxer shorts?

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Well, here’s further proof that the actors saved this script: Bobby, wearing a dress, fondles Cardinal O’Hara’s shoe to find out where he is. He makes orgasm sounds while he holds it.

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Bobby becomes the black guy again. So the Second Sight boys determine that the criminals were “casing the joint” in their first drive by. Like you’d need to case a church.  You just walk in, put a gun in the priest’s back, and walk back out.  Priests are real compliant. Just, you know, trust me on this one.

Bobby says they should head to the chief’s office to look at a ransom note the kidnappers (will) have left.  They want $1,000,000, which was the standard market rate for a popeful (pope hopeful; I am funny) back in 1989.

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Bobby starts acting like he needs to whiz, which Dr. Preston Pickett, Ph.D. describes as Bobby being empathic with the chief needing to whiz.  It’s a funny joke in theory–that a psychic who becomes physically empathic when reading minds would eventually drop in on someone using a toilet. But this is like the guy you hate at work making a decent joke: you’re more likely to practice unlaughter out of habit.

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While Bronson is off-screen, Wills pretends to be Bobby and throws a giant prop fish out of a window. This is because he hates the chief, who fucked his wife and fired him, but of course you remember those well-established details and don’t need me to remind you.

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Wills talks to a doorman named Brian and asks his opinion on the kidnapping. (The doorman is played by Leonard Jackson–whom you might remember from Shining Time Station–and puts more personality into his few lines than Bronson does in the whole running time.)  The magical negro suggests that politics is at play in this kidnapping.  In a matter of seconds, Wills has done “some snooping” and learned that Cardinal O’Hara had been trying to get Bishop O’Linn (fired?) out of the archdiocese.  What was this amazing detective work he did that the police couldn’t have gotten by just questioning Father Dominic and Sister Elizabeth?

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Michael Lombard, who plays O’Linn, actually got the message that this movie was supposed to be a comedy, so he makes the best of his two seconds on screen alone by being bad at golf while Wills questions him.

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blah blah blah they’re in the car again blah blah blah Bobby takes over driving and makes the car swerve

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Then Bobby starts using “psychic sonar” and determines that the bad guys are in the building right next to the car.  That’s convenient. Bobby runs around and makes flashing lights inside a building. Then Bobby says that they weren’t in that building. Like, half their special effects budget was used on this scene, just for Bobby to be wrong. Thank God the actors did so much work to save the script!

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Meanwhile, the bad guys get word from O’Linn that things are getting “too hot” so they decide to bring the Cardinal and Maria to the main bad guy’s mom’s house in Pittsburgh. At the same time, Bobby is empathic with the Cardinal, so he walks like he’s being led somewhere. He also says “Murray says they’re moving them”.

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There’s about fifteen minutes left in the movie, so let’s stop here for a minute. The movie seems to be breaking down completely.  Up until this point, sure, Bobby’s had a lot of powers–and the constant explanations in the first third only served to muddle them for me rather than clarify what all he could do.  But here, they seem to be operating in direct contradiction to each other.  If Murray can tell Bobby that the Cardinal is being moved to Pittsburgh, why does Bobby need to be physically empathic?  Is Murray’s purpose to explain to Bobby what he’s undergoing?  Because up until now Murray’s just been around to be crotchety and yell at a nun.  Does Murray direct whom Bobby makes connections with, or is it just whomever somebody near him is thinking about?  There seems to be little enough rhyme or reason to some of this that I feel that Bobby should by all rights be suddenly empathic with random people who have nothing to do with the story.   By the way, why, when Sister Elizabeth was younger, did she date an old man?

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Anyway, Bobby, Preston, and Sister Elizabeth catch a plane to Pittsburgh while Wills stays behind trying to trail the bad guys. Somehow Bobby & Co. got to the airport and on the plane before the bad guys even made it out of the building we just saw them in (???!).  Wills approaches the building where the bad guys are, which makes Bobby freak out.  He uses the rest of the special FX budget to make the plane drive away from the airport and through a tunnel, breaking the wings off.  Again, this feels like two puzzle pieces that kind of look like they match being jammed together.

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By the way, here’s some running percentage totals:

Time spent in churches: 10%

Time spent in restaurants: 20%

Bronson Pinchot spasming/speaking in tongues: 50%

Bronson Pinchot making a vehicle go in a different direction: 15%

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Wills gets into a shootout with the bad guys. Look, I hate using that phrase over and over again, but only one of them was verbally named in the movie. According to IMDB, the main bad guy is named Mike, the tiny guy is named Elmore… and are any of you surprised at all to find out that the black guy’s name is Carl?

Anyways, not a single damn one of them manages to shoot Wills, and then the plane arrives.

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Our heroes escape into a strip club and Bobby has a psychosexual overload.  The bad guys catch up and not a single damn one of the patrons of this strip club gets scared when they all pull their guns out.

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Everybody scatters, and Bobby keeps making his sonar noise** and goes kind of comatose.

You know what? There’s like 7 minutes left and I have no shits left to give.  I’ve watched this movie twice now. The first time was just to take notes, but I’ve spent the second viewing trying to figure out whether the story holds together, whether Bobby’s powers constitute a coherent whole, and what the minor characters’ names are.*** I’m tired of trying to make sense of this thing.

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Look, the cops are here.  Let’s hope they can arrest this plot so I can work on a real review for next week.

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All the characters run around until they’re in the same room and then Bobby stops a bullet in midair so it doesn’t kill Wills.

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The music comes on and Balki and Cousin Larroquette share the lesson they’ve learned: get a better agent.

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Once outside, Bobby just straight up asks Maria if she wants to fuck.

I guess I’ve neglected to talk about Larroquette’s and Bronson’s performances in this movie.  So let’s do that now.  The reviews I’ve read about the movie seem to agree that Larroquette is essentially playing his Dan Fielding character from Night Court.  I’ve not seen enough of that show to say whether or not that’s the case.  What I can say is that he’s one of only three actors in this movie who has any presence.  The other two are Bess Armstrong (Sister Elizabeth) and Stuart Pankin (but only when it’s needed; he’s good, I tell you).  Given, Larroquette spends most of his time on screen cursing and smiling that pained smile of his, but he’s got presence.  It’s also fair to say that he and Armstrong were given the most material to work with, even though their romance arc took a backseat to… well, not to the story so much as to the other scenes.

And Bronson… well, he sure did make a movie!  But for all that this movie looks like it was quasi-meant as a vehicle for him, he sure doesn’t make a lasting impression.  He shakes, he talks in voices, he runs around half-naked, he does broad physical comedy.  If you like Bronson as Balki, you’ll like Bronson as Bobby, because he’s almost exactly the same thing, minus the mispronunciations. Bronson does the same things he’s been doing, with the same director, so it’s hard to imagine that he learned much from the experience. Bobby has no real character (history, motives, personal traits), every time he does anything it has to be explained, and plotwise he seems to exist just to keep telling the other characters “go here” over and over again.  For all that he’s supposed to be the key aspect of this detective agency, it was twice the case that the detectives crossed paths with the criminals by accident. I halfway suspect that Bobby’s psychic hunches ended up wrong most of the time because there wasn’t a better way to stitch some of these scenes together.

I wish I knew enough about directing to say whether Joel Zwick did a good job.  Probably not, though, right?

*sigh* There’s one more scene.

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The gang hangs out in a park and the big reveal is that Elizabeth is none more nun.  She kisses Wills.

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Well, gets kissed by Wills, anyway. Murray takes over Bobby and gives them permission to fuck.

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There’s your happy ending: all three guys get to fuck.

Even Murray gets to fuck on the other side.

I did not get to fuck anybody.

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See you next week for “Poetry in Motion”. Join me about a year from now for my review of the film Blame it on the Bellboy.

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*my dad confirms that it’s a 1980s model, but he’s unsure of the year

**it’s a noise you’re familiar with from one of those tiny toy noisemakers that had eight different sounds

***no joke: when I proofread this review I found a couple more plot holes