Interview with Rebeca Golden

I told y’all I would come back if there was anything important!

If it had been a reboot you’d be reading my fake obituary while I boarded a plane to Argentina to live out my days as Sr. John Smith, Subway cashier. Luckily it’s not that!

This blog has clogged up Google image search results for Perfect Strangers and its actors to such an extent that, when Rebeca Golden was searching for herself last Fall, she stumbled onto this eternal testament to my second-rate jokes.

She commented on the blog, I reached out with some questions, and she wrote me back with answers. Plus I talked to her on the phone! This makes me more special than you, but I won’t let that get in the way of our friendship.


How did you get into acting?

I always knew growing up that I would be on television and I have no idea why but from my earliest memory I believed that was where I was going.

What was your first television role?

Lindsey Laupher, Movie Starlet, on Search for Tomorrow which was a soap opera that ran for 30+ years on NBC in New York.


How did you get the part of Mary Anne?

I was sent for the audition for a guest spot on this show that hadn’t aired yet and the role was for Jennifer. I wasn’t given a script just the sides (pages) that I was to read. On the last page was this role of Rachel who says, “Hi, I’m Rachel, I’m a Sagittarius.”


And Balki says, “Hi I’m Balki, I’m a Bartokomous. Would you like to go out with me?” To which she says yes. So I told the casting director I liked this role better and I want to read for it but she told me they were casting both girls from the readings of Jennifer. So, I read for Jennifer. The part was just for one episode which was “Hunks Like Us”. They did not cast Melanie as Jennifer right away. But Bronson wasn’t thrilled with the actress that was at the first read through so they went back into casting sessions and brought Melanie back in.

The scripts usually depict Mary Anne as a ditzy character, but you didn’t always play her that way. What kind of a woman is Mary Anne Spencer?

I preferred to think of her as naive and marching to beat of her own drum. Early on the writers would write in her brilliant moments but my character was always the first one cut for time so the character became one dimensional.

What was it like doing the first episode, where you meet Balki at a gym?

The first episode was such a fun and amazing time. Both of the guys were so much fun then and Melanie and I became fast friends. We just felt like at the end of that week that it wasn’t really over.

How did you find out ABC wanted you as a recurring character?

Melanie and I were actually on the phone with each other when her agent rang through and then so did mine. We both got the news that the producers wanted to bring us back for some more episodes. So we came back for several episodes still as guest stars until they made us an offer.

What was your relationship with the other actors on Perfect Strangers?


Melanie and I were, and still are, very close. She is one of my dearest friends. We leaned on each other through those years of standing behind a door waiting to knock and we are still leaning on each other in life!


Mark is the consummate professional and just a doll. He’s a man of very few words but very quick to laugh and a pure delight to work with. If you can’t tell, I just love him.


Sam Anderson is the sweetest guy and so funny! He could take anything and make pure comic gold out of it. I love when I see him pop up in films or TV.


Belita Moreno is also hysterically funny and such a great gal. She got pregnant during season 3 or 4 and I remember they just kept hiding her behind stuff and she was a riot.


Jo Marie was also a hoot to work with could pull down a laugh with just a look. It’s really too bad they weren’t utilized more in the show because they always delivered brilliantly.


What was your favorite episode to perform?

That’s a tough one. The earlier seasons were so much more fun but I suppose I really enjoyed The Honeymooners episode because it was so different and we shot it live making it very exciting. Loved “Hunks Like Us” for obvious reasons. “Snow Way to Treat a Lady, Part I & II” was fun also.


Perfect Strangers was known for how quickly it would shoot episodes. What was a typical week like on the show, from getting the script to filming the episode?

It started with a network read through on Monday and usually we’d get sent home while the writers tweaked. Then the network read through got moved to Tuesday mornings and we had Monday off. Eventually we did the network read through during the week before while we were rehearsing the current script and then had two days off only working 3 days. Our shoot days also kept changing as they added other sitcoms around us.


Perfect Strangers is one of the few sitcoms I’ve ever seen that did not give B-plots to its other characters. Do you have any insight into why there was such a focus on just Larry and Balki?

It was how Bronson wanted it.

Were there ever scenes or lines of yours that did not make it into the final cuts of  episodes?

Tons! One time I literally had one word to say in the entire script, which was “Vanilla” and although it got a huge laugh in run through, they cut it! I was the one cut first whenever they were running over time wise. I believe it was Melanie who got them to put “Vanilla” back in. I always joked that my role consisted of knocking on the door, entering and saying, “Hi guys.”, then a scene would take place, and then we would exit as I would say, “Bye Balki.”.


In its last couple of years, Perfect Strangers saw a change of directors, from Joel Zwick to Judy Askins. Did that change affect the direction you received for playing Mary Anne?

Joel is a dear friend of mine and an incredible director. I think he just wanted a fresh view and decided to go over to Full House.

No, Judy never gave me any direction. She was basically just directing traffic when she came on. It was a well oiled machine by then.

There were some tabloid reports–and also from an interview Bronson Pinchot gave awhile back–that there was some behind-the-scenes stress during the last couple of seasons. Was there any truth to those reports? What was the atmosphere in that last year and a half?

Yes, it did get very unpleasant. I don’t know what the reports you’re referring to were but there were grownups behaving badly.

Why was Perfect Strangers cancelled?

It really wasn’t cancelled. Bronson and Mark’s contracts were up and they decided they wanted to move on. So they agreed to do the last 13 episodes without contracts to kind of wrap things up but after we all came back, the network decided to do only 6. I’m sure they didn’t want to put any more money into it since the guys wouldn’t be returning.

I’ve read that there were initially supposed to be 13 episodes for the final season. Do you remember what direction Perfect Strangers might have gone in had it continued, or any individual stories that were dropped?

Oh well, I just covered that! I’m sure it would’ve just been more of the same.

What are Mary Anne and Balki doing these days, do you think?

Living in the burbs with 6 kids.


What was it like to leave the show and say goodbye to your costars?


It was sad to leave all the people who I had spent a chunk of my life with at the point. I was glad we weren’t just cancelled and that we went out still pulling down decent ratings. But I was ready to go.


Do you keep in touch with any of them?

I see Melanie all the time. She is married to Bill Bickley who was one of our executive producers. Bill and my husband get along great so the four of us get together frequently. My girls have grown up knowing them. We just celebrated my oldest daughter’s birthday at their house. Our golden doodle had puppies nine years ago and Melanie and Bill have one (who they dote on like crazy) so I guess that makes us related?

I see Mark when he comes in town and stays with Melanie. He has a daughter and our girls met a long time ago when they were little. I think they still stay in touch on social media. Now that my youngest is in New York, I get back there more often and look up Mark when I do. When he’s on Broadway, I go see him because he’s incredibly talented whatever he does

According to IMDB, you were still acting as of 2000. What got you out of acting?

Really? I don’t remember doing anything in 2000 because I spent that year pregnant.

[this turned out to be a different actress in a James Spader movie – Casey]


After Perfect Strangers ended, I still worked but I really had lost my love for it. I got married in 1996 and in 1997 had my first daughter. I did tons of voiceover work while pregnant and for a while after having Stella. Then I went out of town for work and had to leave her. She was a little over a year old and trying to assure her I would come home soon over the phone was devastating. With acting, it was all about me but with motherhood, it was all about them so I chose them.

I went from pampered actress to slave and wouldn’t have it any other way!

I never actually told my daughters what I used to do and then one day when they were little, we were in Costco and this young man approached me and said he was a huge fan. We chatted a little and then he asked for an autograph. After he walked away both of the girls were staring at me and demanded to know what that man was talking about. (They understood the autograph thing because of getting the princesses’ autographs in Disneyland.) I realized that I had never told them or shown them any of our shows. It’s funny the way that whole thing works. You go from obscurity, to “where do I know you from?”, to “you’re that girl!”, to everyone knowing your name and what you do. Then it reverses! I just thought they knew but of course, how would they? They went home and watched every episode then told everyone their mom was a movie star.


What have you been doing lately?

Well, I raised two humans to adulthood. Quite a run that was. I became a professional volunteer at their schools serving as president of the parent/faculty first at the elementary, then middle school and finished it all up at the high school. I have a clothing business which I really enjoy.

My oldest daughter is at Art Center College of Design studying Entertainment Design and my youngest just started her sophomore year at NYU which happens to be my alma mater.

Have you been contacted about any sort of reboot of Perfect Strangers?

There was an opportunity dangled in 2013 about a national tour with the guys doing the Odd Couple. They sent us contracts but somewhere the negotiations broke down and it never happened.


If you have wondered why I haven’t said anything about Bronson, it’s because I adhere to the old adage that if you can’t say anything nice about someone then don’t say  anything at all.

But the truth is there are some nice things I can say about him.

He was a true Jekyll/Hyde. In the beginning, he was so sweet and fun to work with but as we got further into the success of the show, he morphed into a monster. I was the one member of the cast that seemed to draw his wrath. It was quite the paradox living my dream of being on a sitcom but subjected to being sexually assaulted by him regularly. At the time, there was nothing I or anyone else could do about it. He held all the cards.


[Rebeca offered to answer any other questions I had over the phone, and there was no way I was passing up an opportunity to talk to Mary Anne over the phone. Below is our conversation from October 2019.]

One kind of bigger question that I’m really surprised I’ve never seen anyone ask in an interview about Perfect Strangers–and I figure you might know since you were there almost from the beginning–why did they switch from a discount store setting and an apartment setting to the newspaper?

Oh, because they felt that the guys couldn’t be seen as just staying in one place. They had to advance in their lives. As opposed to just staying working in the Ritz Discount shop. They wanted them to be more successful, so it was more uplifting. So they weren’t just two loser guys. They did follow their dreams and try to have a career, that sort of thing. Because we knew that, we were like “Why are we moving to a newspaper? What happened?”

And then, when they got rid of Ernie Sabella as Mr. Twinkacetti, that was kind of sad.


I enjoyed having Belita and Sam added to the cast, but I hated to see Ernie go. 

Yeah, I know, and Belita was originally Mrs. Twinkacetti. And so she had to go through, all those–it was quite a lot of makeup and stuff to turn her into a redhead. (laughing) It was just funny. She had to be two different characters.

Right. I mean, it was a very drastic change, I thought. Because, you know, I would see her, I’ve seen her in other shows from the same time, and she looks very different. I mean, just from the hair color alone.

Yeah. Oh, she’s a hoot. Funny lady.


Another question about behind the scenes. This was–I had heard stories from other Perfect Strangers fans who had interacted with, I think had talked with some of the actors at different times online. But it was always things I couldn’t report on my blog, because it was kind of unsourced. But I really have only ever heard great things about Mark. Someone was telling me that they had heard through word-of-mouth that any time there was an actress who was on the show for maybe just one episode, it was always his dressing room that they felt comfortable leaving their purses in, things like that.

(laughing) That’s funny. Yeah, Mark is just a teddy bear. He’s the sweetest guy. He just is a really, really nice man.

All I can tell you is I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like him. He’s just always just super, super sweet.  He’s quiet, though. He’s not a big talker. It’s just not his thing.

Well, that was another question. Because I guess I still have hopes I might get to, you know, interview him and some of the other actors, even though I’ve finished the review blog. But if I ever do get the chance to interview him, what’s the best way to get him talking? Because he’s always so quiet in interviews. 

(laughing) You know what? You just have to wait til he has something to tell you. Then he talks! He’s not one for small talk. He’ll listen to small talk and laugh, but he’s just not chitty-chatty.

He’s so funny, he loved my little dog Emmy. And Emmy had known him since she was a tiny puppy. And so every time he would see her, he would go “Emmy Emmy Emmy Emmy” in a really high, squeaky little voice. And she would pee. (laughing) She would just get so excited to see him.


But he tended to do this on shoot nights. Because we’d be coming back from the commissary, and he’d be in his wardrobe. And it used to drive the wardrobe guys crazy because then Emmy would tinkle on him. And they’d have to change his costume. (laughing) And I would be like “Mark, no!”

And one time he went to Venice Beach, and he came back, he was so excited. He bought this little pink hat for Emmy. I mean, he was so excited about this little pink hat that he bought for my dog. So my dog had a total aversion to wearing clothes. If you put anything on her, she just sat down and looked at you like “You’re kidding, right? I am not wearing this.” And even in the show, when she played my dog, she was supposed to wear this little outfit that looked just like what I was wearing. And we put it on her. She was only 10 months old at the time, and she sat down and she just looked at us like “Yeah. It’s not happening. I’m not walking, I’m not moving, I’m doing nothing until you get this off of me.”

They ended up just putting a collar of the same material that I was wearing. Because she would have none of it. You couldn’t dress her up. So she would not wear the hat. I still have it, though. Because he brought it to me on a little stuffed dog, so that I could see how it worked. It was so funny. We put it on her. But she wasn’t going anywhere in that hat.


And he’s so incredibly funny.

I remember when we did that episode, the “Black Widow”, where he thought I was going to kill Balki. (laughing) I think it was the first time ever we had a scene together alone. And it was just so funny because he was supposed to be tying me up. And just to mess with him–he tells me to hold the piece of rope, and then he’s going to go around me in circles and tie me up. And I just started turning with him. And it just cracked him up. He started howling. I was like “What?” And he goes “Do that! Do that!” “Sure…”

But I had so much fun with him.

He brought his daughter to Melanie’s, and we had this quasi-reunion. Because of course Bronson showed up the night before, he didn’t come on the right day.


But we had the kids, the girls were all in Melanie’s pool. And Mark (laughing) Mark only has the one daughter, and it was so funny, because every time they would scream, he would jump up and start to run over there. And look at me like “They’re screaming!” And I would just look at him and go “Yeah? Well do you see blood? If you don’t see blood we’re good.” He was such a nervous Nellie about it, “Is she okay? Are they okay? Okay then why are they screaming?” And I’m like “They scream all the time. Don’t worry about it.” But he was cute.

He’s a cute daddy just as well as he was a cute everything else.

I got the sense just watching him and reading a little bit of reporting from the time of the show, that a lot of the little touches for jokes were his. And so what you were saying about “Black Widow”, that makes a lot of sense. That fits with what I’ve read about him. 

(laughing) Yeah, I always envied Melanie getting to work with him. Because he’s just such a doll.

You had mentioned in the responses you had given me that the earlier seasons were different from the later ones. So, you were on the show for six and a half years? Did you feel it was, like it was changing from year to year with the writing, or the sensibility? 


Well, our writers changed. Because basically we kept the core group, but… towards the end we didn’t. Well, I guess we did. We would get a couple of new ones here and there. I don’t know. I think attention got split. There were other shows in the making. So they got the attention. When we first started, our show got all the attention. And then as the producers were adding more shows, it started to change a bit.

And it was really a collaboration, because we would sit for hours in notes with the writers at the end of a day. Trying to find our way through some of these scripts, towards the end.

I think it was a little smoother in the beginning. Not really sure why.


I had read something about that, that in the early years the process, maybe at least the filming, was quicker, but then towards the end it got a little longer? 

Oh, well, the filming, with Joel Zwick, yeah. I mean, that was like doing theatre. You were just doing live theatre and you were done. I mean, occasionally he would have maybe a pick-up shot here or there. But he could usually get the entire show while we were doing it in front of the audience.


Now, if we had special effects or crazy stuff that could go a little longer. I think the plumbing episode, we had to shoot from the one scene with the shower going crazy, that wasn’t done in front of an audience. But the part where the whole ceiling caved in, and the water falls on us, that was in front of an audience. But, yeah, we never went very late at all. If we went to 10 o’clock that was unusual.


We were always really quick with our shoot night. And then after Joel left, it got longer. A bit.

Because he was doing other shows at that point, correct?

Yeah, he decided to go do Full House. I don’t know how long he was over there, but yeah, that’s when he left us. I think it was after five years he went over to Full House. And then we had some guest directors that were all just pretty nice. And then Judy Pioli got the regular director.

[The call is dropped, when we reconnect we commisserate about technology woes. – Casey]


I didn’t even know what it meant when you said that I had left you “on seen”. I had to ask one of my daughters. (laughing) I said “What does that mean?”

I think sometimes Facebook acts like the other person has seen the message, when they really haven’t.

Facebook keeps on notifying me that I have messages, and I don’t! So I just turned it off, I was like “stop notifying me!” So now, of course, I miss stuff… because I got a message, and who knew?

Anyway we were talking about Joel. Joel is a dollbaby. Love Joel. He’s just the sweetest guy, funny, hysterical. And it was like having three crazy men to work with when he was on the show. I’m surprised he doesn’t talk about it more, but… I don’t know.

He had a biography book, it was kind of in the form of a long-form interview. He only mentions Perfect Strangers in passing a couple times. Mostly in terms of reining Bronson in.

(laughing) Yeah… well, that was the issue. “Who could wrangle Bronson?” But he did a pretty good job. He was able to somehow balance it. It wasn’t easy, but he was able to… I just think Bronson, in the beginning… Bronson was like a big overgrown kid, and you needed to rein him in or he’d go crazy. Fortunately, that job fell to Joel. And Joel’s like kind of reining him in. Joel’s famous line is “Well, it’s not in my movie!” (laughing) That was the best.

Going back to talking about the writers, and hammering out the scripts with the writers, I’m curious to know: were there ever any scripts or stories something that existed in script form that never made it to the screen, that y’all never filmed?

Oh, tons of stuff. I mean, sometimes (laughing) the way it was originally written and the way it ended up in the end would be like two totally different things. Because things are different on paper than they are on their feet. And then sometimes it just didn’t whatever was written didn’t ring true with the characters, or something had to be changed, but… I don’t know. I remember the two writers who wrote “Snow Way to Treat a Lady”–that was way back in the beginning–I think it was their spec script? And it was so good that they–the producers–made it a two-parter.


It was originally one script, but it was so good, and they just got us so well. And then they got hired on. And they were just wonderful guys.

It looks like that’s Howard Adler and Robert Griffard.

Yeah. Howard and Bob. Yeah, they were so young then too! Well, we all were. (laughing) But… we were all young then. Their script was so good, and it ended up being stretched into a two-parter.

Also the baseball one, that Paula Roth wrote. That was another really good script. I think she wrote the Honeymooners one also.


Right, she was with the show the whole time, correct?

Yes. Yes. She was there from the very beginning. And of course there was Bill Bickley and Michael Warren, and… oh my god, I have no memory anymore, Casey.


Speaking of people who were there at that time… there was an actress who, she was in the background, and she was in–anytime that an episode was at the newspaper set, she was always working in the background. And even some of the people who are the Perfect Strangers superfans have never figured out who she is. I was just curious if you happen to know. She had dark hair.




Yeah, Janet. Just one of our stand-ins. Janet and Corey. They were our stand-ins, and they would also frequently be in the background. They were actually–Janet and Corey were stand-ins for Mark or Bronson. And they were there since the beginning, we always had them.

Funny thing is Corey now works at my Costco. That Costco is the weirdest place. It’s like it keeps trying to take me back to Perfect Strangers. (laughing) Because that’s where my kids first found out that I had done the show. I hadn’t seen Melanie in several years. We had lost contact for whatever reason. We moved out here to the boondocks, and (laughing) I’m in Costco on Christmas Eve, it had to be 2004. And I look over, and I was in the wine section and I’m like “That’s Melanie. And look, there’s Bill.” And I was just like… I’m in a large, cavernous place, like a soundstage, and there they are! It was just so weird. And so Bill said the same thing, he’s looking at the two of us standing there together, he goes “I feel like I’m back on the set!” It was just so weird. And then come along here’s Corey. Corey’s always the guy at the door who checks off your receipt. (laughing) I know people think it’s weird that every time I go by him I have to hug him. And it’s just so funny that’s how we keep up with Corey. And he’ll say “Oh yeah, Mel was in last week.” It’s just funny, my Costco is my Perfect Strangers meeting grounds.

I’m trying to remember, just from the background actors, was Corey, was that the African-American gentleman? 

No. No, Corey’s not very tall, probably about as tall as Mark. Just a little Caucasian guy. Quiet. Very quiet.

I think I can think of his face. Was he in… because there were a lot of people that came to, you know, the Cousins’ apartment in the Christmas episode, I feel like he was in that one. 

Probably! I’m sure they were, yeah. Whenever we needed a crowd, they’d be in there. They would be our friends.

That brings up another question for me. I know we’ve talked a little bit about some of the secondary characters not being used very much, because there’s so much of a focus on the Cousins. There were some episodes where I got the suspicion that some of the actors–like Belita and Sam especially–were maybe brought in for just one line, just to fulfill the contracts. Because they didn’t really have anything else to do with the story. And I know nothing about contracts, so I’m curious–is that how it would work? That it would be a contract for a certain number of episodes, or would they figure that out after doing the scripts?

Yeah, everybody gets a guarantee. So it’s either pay them or play them. So it’s one or the other. It was unfortunate that they didn’t use their supporting cast more, because I think… I mean, look at the talent they had. With Sam, and Belita… that’s some serious talent that they just kind of… let… lay there. (laughing) In my opinion I think that they are very, very accomplished actors, and I felt that I would have liked to… I just really enjoyed working with them. I think that they’re extremely talented, it just was unfortunate, we had 22 minutes, and I think they–the producers–felt that the objective was to keep Balki and Larry front and center the whole time.


But as you see on any of these other sitcoms that even would start out with one major character, they’d still… it turns ensemble. Because that’s what keeps the interest. It keeps it fresh. And I think that also was the reason why we started to get stale. There’s only so much, you know, (laughing) you can put these two guys through! You’ve got to have something on the outside, it has to have more stuff, more input from the outside, than just…

It was a strange show. In my experience of working on sitcoms, I’d never seen a show that was so hyper-focused just on two characters.

Especially when you compare it against the other shows that ABC was running. Because Full House… it was always an ensemble, and it’s been a long time since I’ve watched that show, but I’m sure that every character had something to do in those episodes.

Yeah, and then they would put somebody else in. As the years went by, they would even add in another supporting character. And that’s the whole point, you have supporting characters to hold the show up and keep it going. And when you don’t use your supporting cast, you just kind of let it languish there. It’s not going to improve your show. And I think that’s part of why it was getting kind of stale.

Yeah, and I think Family Matters is also an interesting case, because it started out with a strong ensemble cast, but in some of the later seasons it focused mainly on Jaleel White and Reginald VelJohnson.

Right! (laughing) They kind of did the flip of what we did. That’s true.

I never actually got a chance to really watch Family Matters and Full House. I was still young and going out then. (laughing) I didn’t stay home on Friday night and watch our lineup.

You see, I was still just a kid, so that was the big thing for my Friday night. 

Had to watch that Friday night lineup. I know when I was a little kid we had a Friday night lineup, that I used to love, so I get it. But, yeah, no, I didn’t stay home and watch them.

You had talked about losing your love for acting, or for that business, after Perfect Strangers. And I’m sorry to hear that because, of all of the actors on the show, you seemed to be doing the most outside of it. Because you were appearing on talk shows, on a lot of game shows, you were on Circus of the Stars.


Do you know that I did Circus of the Stars for four years? (laughing) I loved doing Circus of the Stars. And you might go “Why?” because that’s kind of weird. First, I truly believed that they were trying to kill me for four years. But they weren’t successful, so I just kept going back for more. But it was an incredible experience. And the funny thing is, is Bronson did it first. He did it the year before me. I think it was the year before me, and maybe two years before I did. He did the trapeze.

And I was so taken with it because I had been a gymnast. So to this day, if I can just get upside down, I’m happy. But I really wanted to do Circus, and then I went (laughing) I went there… oh my god, what a nightmare! I was so terrified. And it’s three months of grueling training. Six days a week. Even if you’re working, you have to go there, and still train every day. And, with LA traffic, it’s just a nightmare. Trying to get there, you know, home from work, get there, learn something. It was just–it was brutal, but I loved it. So I was like a repeat offender on Circus of the Stars.


I loved working with the Circus people, because obviously the only ones that could train you were people who really knew how to do it. And they were fascinating. And three months of the year, I would get in great shape, and I’d be like “Yeah, I want to do that again!”

I remember the last year, we did a bungee jump. It was (laughing) I was not supposed to be doing Circus of the Stars that year. And the producer called me, and he was a friend of mine, and he said “They’re going to call you and ask you to do this because so-and-so chickened out.” And he said “Make sure they pay you this amount of money, because that’s what they were going to pay her.” And I’m like “Okay!”


So I ended up saying “yes” to this bungee jump. So that is one time when Mark was not short on words. All day long at work, he’s like “Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure you want to do this?” Now, because I had done all this stuff with Circus, I wasn’t afraid anymore of heights. But this was a whole different animal, because they were taking me up on a crane 200 feet to bungee jump to concrete, basically. Because there was nothing under me. And I’d never done it before. So, Mark was (laughing) I just remember him on the soundstage going “You see the top of that rafter right there?” And I say “Yeah” and he goes “That’s only 40 feet.” I was like “Oh.” He goes “Yeah. You’re going up 200 feet. Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure?” (laughing) I said “Well, yeah, Mark, I’m sure it’s safe.”


I got the worst case of whiplash.

Because the person that they tested the camera shots with weighed about 10 pounds heavier than me. So I ended up coming down and then ricocheting like I was on a rubber band. Oh my god. I got thrown all over the place. It made for good TV, but ow.

And then the next night we had to do a scene. That was on a Thursday. I think we were still shooting on Friday then. The next day was our shoot night, and I had to stand with Bronson and I had to do these takes back and forth between Melanie and Mark while they were arguing about something. And I couldn’t move my neck, my head. So I had to move my whole body. These takes back and forth because I had such bad whiplash from my Circus of the Stars.

I would do anything, like a gameshow, or a show, because I figured it was all fun. To me, it was fascinating. All the opportunities. But everyone else on the cast were very reticent. They wouldn’t go out and do all this stuff.


I remember Disney World flew me down there, paid me $10,000, flew in my friends and family. I flew down my mom and her boyfriend. And we had a whole week, and all I had to do was a question-and-answer on a stage here, and every day be in the Mickey Mouse parade, or at the MGM studios. That was it. And they’re like “Would you please ask Bronson if he’ll come?” And I’m like “Yeah! I don’t know why he wouldn’t.” I mean, it was amazing. I had what I called the “Disney Secret Service”, because they stayed with me all the time. And they were in their their little grey suits, and they took us everywhere. Just took us everywhere. I knew more about Disney World… They filled it full of facts, took us through back doors and showed us all kinds of stuff. It was incredible!

And so when somebody would call up and say “Would you like to do this?” I’d go “Sure!” Why not? Why wouldn’t I say yes?

I said “yes” to the Azalea Queen in North Carolina. No idea what I had said yes to. It was the most bizarre thing I had ever heard of. Because I had never heard about the North Carolina Azalea Queen before. So I get this call from my manager, saying, you know, “They had another Azalea Queen, but they had to replace her. So they want to know if you’ll do it.” And I’m like “…I guess so. What do I have to do?” And they said “Oh, you just have to ride in a parade.”

Well, there’s a lot more to it than that.

But, anyway, that’s what they said. “You just have to ride in a parade.” Like, “Okay. I can do that.” So then they sent me a list of all the actresses who had been the Azalea Queen before. And it was kind of a… interesting list. So but it turns out that was the year that Julie McCullough from Growing Pains, she had been their original choice for Azalea Queen. And then Kirk Cameron was making a big stink about her having posed for Playboy.


And they ended up, I guess, I don’t know what happened. But they ended up cancelling her as Azalea Queen, and that’s when they came and asked me to do it. But I didn’t know all the backstory. And that night, on Entertainment Tonight, was this whole thing about poor Julie McCullough being booted off of being the Azalea Queen. And I’m sitting there going “Wait. Is that that thing I said yes to?”

And then they were speculating about “who would be the next Azalea Queen? Would it be Vanna White?” And I’m like “Huh?”

So anyway… that was totally strange. Anyway I went to North Carolina, and I was their Azalea Queen, and it was lovely. And it was interesting, because they took me everywhere in a police escorted motorcade. And I kept thinking we were getting pulled over, because of the sirens and the lights. And I’d be in this limousine going “Oh my god! Are we getting pulled over?” (laughing) No.

And then I would be in the hotel room with my mom, and we would turn on the TV, just to catch up with what was the news. And it would be me! I was the news in North Carolina. We were cracking up. We’re like “I have no idea what’s going on in the world. I just know that I’m here being the Azalea Queen.”


And then, that summer, I was doing Circus of the Stars, and that was my first year on Circus of the Stars, on the trapeze. And Julie McCullough was doing the highwire. And I was so nervous that she would find out that I had replaced her. Because she’s so nice. So sweet, so nice. And so I thought “Oh, she’s going to hate me. She’s going to hate me.”

And so we had started to kind of become friends, and I was really, really cautious, because I thought “This girl’s going to hate me.” And finally I said to her one day “Do you know who replaced you?” She goes “Oh, yeah, I know it was you.” And I was like “You did? You knew all this time?” She said “Yeah! It’s okay.” So sweet. She’s the sweetest girl in the world.

So there are lots of really awesome actors that you never… but he did a disservice to his show by getting rid of her. I think. But she was a doll. She still is a doll.

So, my last question. There is still a very committed Perfect Strangers fanbase. There is a fan group on Facebook, it was started by a woman named Linda Kay, who was there for many of the tapings. I think starting with season 3 or season 4 of Perfect Strangers. So there’s still a lot of very committed fans who still watch the show pretty regularly. And whenever I get this interview ready to go on the blog, I’ll post it there so I know a lot of them will see it. Do you have any message you’d like to send on to Mary Anne fans?

I think it’s awesome that people still enjoy the show. Because I don’t know a lot of people who do still remember it. They’ll say “That’s the one with Tom Hanks?” (laughing)


And it’s understandable they mix us up. We had the same director, and it was a buddy comedy. But yeah, I think it’s great if people are still loving the show. You know, often times I always wondered how it translates in other countries. Because it was all about Balki trying to learn the customs and the languages, the language here. And then it was dubbed into another language. I kind of go “How does that work?” I’d only ever seen it in Mandarin, which was fascinating.

Oh, do you speak Mandarin?

No, but on the show I do! (laughing) They had dubbed me and I was like “Oh, look at me go!” Who knew?

So somebody got a tape of one of our episodes. I can’t remember which show it was, but it was funny. I don’t remember what episode it was, but it was us speaking Mandarin.

It must have been a trip.

It is! There’s one point where I do a take, and I’m–the person dubbing me–made a noise. (laughing)-Balki says something, and I kind of do one of those “What…?” looks, and she went “Uh?” (laughing)

Like, oh, okay! I never thought she made that little sound!

Some of those things don’t translate as well as you’d like them to. I lived in Germany for a few months years ago, and I saw Full House on television there, with Dave Coulier, he would do Bullwinkle and Popeye. And the German voice actor did not do the voices. So a lot of that did not carry over at all.

Yeah, because you do wonder how will that translate.

So how did you get into doing this blog?



That’s it! Or… that’s all I’m going to share here. Rebeca and I spoke for another 15 minutes or so.

Just… chatting.

She was curious to hear more about me, this blog, and the work I do at a university. And just like every other person who’s seen this blog, she asked would I be doing another sitcom. And I’m just as grateful for that chat as for her willingness to answer my questions.

It’s heartwarming to hear that–by and large–the actors on Perfect Strangers were great people who enjoyed working with each other. (For further proof of this, see my earlier interview with Jo Marie Payton.)

We should all be so lucky to have colleagues we love so much.

So, Mark, Melanie, Belita, Sam, Ernie, Tom, Joel, Judy, Janet, Corey… if you’re reading, I’d still love to interview you and hear all the great memories you have of Perfect Strangers.

Until then, thanks again for reading.


Perfect Strangers has been Reviewed

Goodbye, everybody.


It’s been a long trip, longer than I had guessed when I set out to review this 150-episode sitcom, but I’m finally home. Time to turn off the chrome-plated megaphone, remove inelastic clothing, drink something to settle my stomach, maybe enjoy television again.


I’ve been writing about Perfect Strangers for almost four years now; is there anything more I could possibly say about it?

Obviously. I mean, you can see there’s a post here. What a dumb question. Moving on.


Like many sitcoms, Perfect Strangers was created with good intentions. I mean, it ended with its lead ordering the other actors off the set, but it began well enough. Its concept: hope for better international relations on the individual level.


The United States was at the tail end of the “Second Cold War”, and there was a very real fear that Ronald Reagan would get the country nuked before the end of his first term. Thomas L. Miller and Robert L. Boyett, inspired by the global atmosphere at the 1984 Summer Olympics, wanted to get a foreigner-focussed sitcom going while the feeling was fresh. Bronson Pinchot, certain he was the next comedy superstar, held out until he realized no better offers were coming in.

And Bronson added to the formula; and when Mark Linn-Baker came on board, the sitcom changed further.


Perfect Strangers seemed to be constantly undergoing changes. It changed first–and quickly–from a talky, intellectual-for-sitcoms-at-least show to one focussed on slapstick. It changed from one workplace to another. When it was well-placed to tell stories about crazy retail customers, and again when it was primed to offer workplace dynamics, it chose again and again to place cousins Balki Bartokomous and Larry Appleton into every possible other setting where two men could slap each other. Towards its end, it shifted settings again, to a four-person home, but again rarely asked what might happen there that couldn’t elsewhere. And, finally, it changed from a sitcom to a one-man showcase for an actor who, feeling trapped, demanded the show give him more.


It’s a happy accident that ABC stumbled into, getting two actors who were willing to try out physical comedy, albeit each for their own reason. Leaning heavily in that direction resonated with some not inconsiderable share of television audiences, and wasn’t a bad choice. But the show could never quite find the right packaging for a 1980s version of Laurel & Hardy. It’s possible that this–a sitcom that regularly had no interest in its setting or side characters–is the best packaging that physical comedy conceit could ever get.


I’ve been reading about the social model of disability lately. The idea is that–for those persons we would identify as having disabilities–the problem lies not with the person with a disability, but with the society around them. If everyone had a visual impairment, the world would function perfectly for those with visual impairments. If every sitcom were like Perfect Strangers, there would be nothing wrong with it.


Doing critical analysis of a sitcom like this assumes, if not some perfect form, then a package of criteria to judge it against. Does it tell a story well? Does it have a unique voice? Does it provide a practical lesson? Does it know who its characters are? Does it do something surprising with those dynamics? Does it live up to prevailing mores? Is it progressive? Are the people involved in its production jerks or nice people? Is it funny?


Perfect Strangers has some pervasive critical flaws, sins of both omission and commission. It had successes and failures for every one of those criteria. An interesting side effect of this type of reviewing endeavor, by the way, is how impressive those successes feel once the failures have been mapped out.

Hell, this type of review blog wouldn’t be half so interesting if those types of flaws weren’t so deeply embedded. Nor would it be interesting if it had the exact same flaws as all the others.


Full House’s and ALF’s problems were from different directions. The former underwent network tinkering and became the whitest upper-middle-class sitcom ever. The latter existed under the tyranny of a puppeteer who thought the process of sitcom creation should revolve around his every whim. Perfect Strangers had both of those issues at different points in its lifespan; but mainly it could never find the balance between slapstick and story. Oh and also it refused to give the actresses any lines. And three minutes of every episode was spent pausing for the audience to laugh. And…


I’ve said all that already.

What these sitcoms share, though, is that they were often–maybe entirely–the diametrical opposite of what they wanted audiences to think they were. Full House wanted to portray a loving family that talked their way through tricky family dynamics, but couldn’t see how little that family cared for anyone else’s feelings. ALF theorized that a space alien would be most able to critique American culture, overlooking how poorly that might read when the alien spends most of his time terrorizing a family.


Perfect Strangers, at the end of every episode, told us that it was about two mismatched people helping each other to do their best. Two men overcoming their disagreements through the power of family and friendship. From my perspective, either cousin would have been justified in throwing the other out, if not having them arrested, for how terrible they were to each other. The more the show became a cartoon–where reality might contain curing a horse with parsley, or Larry barking at Balki in front of their wives–the more incongruent those final synth-clarinet-scored lesson scenes became.


But… Perfect Strangers did have another focus, and this is where it came closest to a worthwhile message. For all that Balki Bartokomous got most of the laughs for mispronouncing “laundry” every week, more often than not the stories were about Larry Appleton. Larry Appleton believed in the strength of his own ambition. He likely sensed that no one at his high school or college was as intelligent as he was, and saw the big city as his next step. But once he got there… he fretted. He hesitated. He lied about his abilities. He wondered would the pretty girls be just as dismissive as they were in Chicago. He needed constant reassurance and didn’t know how to get it.


Over and over, Larry had to be told by his friends and bosses that he was fine, that he was lovable, that he was valued, that he was skillful.

And those final-scene conversations–doing a post-mortem on how something went, or coming clean to someone else about how you were feeling, making amends for wrongs done–are important. They’ve been immensely crucial to my well-being over the years. Perfect Strangers wasn’t in the best position to show us how, exactly, those types of conversations might go (cf. “The Break In” and “The Break Up” for bad examples vs. “The Defiant Guys” for a good one), but it never once questioned that they were necessary.


And today, when both (some) conservatives and (some) progressives are willing to ditch civil conversation in an attempt to win the “culture wars”, it’s a message that still has some relevance.


When I started this blog, I was still hanging onto the joke about how sitcom characters seemed to have to learn the same lesson over and over, forever, or at least for eight seasons. But I’ve lived just long enough to get some little perspective on my own negative patterns, enough to see how so many of them can be drifted back to without work. Larry Appleton is more realistic in retrospect than I gave the show credit for while I was in the midst of reviewing it.

And Balki… *sigh* Maybe it was better after all that the writers gave up on trying to write a nuanced immigrant character, given how often that meant infantilizing him or trafficking in stereotypes of the sleazy Greek male. Bronson left that largely behind, too, the “foreign” aspects becoming shorthand (mispronounce, misinterpret any homonym to be about livestock, speak gibberish) while he put his attention on more important things like Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions. Bronson Pinchot deserves a share of the credit for creating Balki Bartokomous, the happy-go-lucky, sanctimonious dodo who sang and danced and cried and misunderstood and didn’t misunderstand after all. I can’t imagine there have been many viably long-term live-action roles for a character who shifts gears so constantly. Balki was the best thing that ever happened to Bronson’s career, and–speaking of the indomitability of personality–something that he tried to recreate again and again without regard to whether it was appropriate to the context. Perfect Strangers was a good enough container for it, though it was 8 years after the show’s end that Bronson found another role–Shakespeare’s Autolycus–that deliberately called for something like that type of character. If he was any more famous, he’d likely be doing the same shtick today.


It’s also fair to say that the #MeToo movement would have outed Bronson’s sexual behavior if he was any more famous. Let’s not forget that.


So I guess I’m the third person to finish one of these retrospective long-form critical-analysis-and-weiner-jokes sitcom review blogs? (If there’s a completed one I’m not aware of, link me to it, please.) Judging by the other two–Billy Superstar’s Full House Reviewed and Philip J Reed’s ALF Reviews–the final post is a place to reflect on the project itself. To talk about the inspiration, the process, and how much it has transformed my life for the better.

The first is easy: Philip’s ALF reviews put me at serious risk of splitting my sides (no shit: I was healing from a kidney transplant and had more staples on my abdomen than a year of Playboy bunnies), and I, with my Larrylike, with my Bronsonlike ego, decided I was up to the challenge. As his project was inspired by Full House Reviewed, I guess I’m Billy Superstar’s spiritual grandchild.

The second is easy, too, but it’s bound up with the third, which I’m not sure I can attest to in quite the same way.


You see, I’m very much a Larry Appleton. I hesitate. I wonder if my creative work will go unseen as always. Does it have a unique voice? Does it do something surprising? Is it progressive? Am I a jerk? Is it funny? I need constant reassurance and don’t know how to get it.


My situation has changed over the course of this blog. I’ve gone from a bad job, to being unemployed, to being in a better job with less pay. I’ve gained friends, I’ve lost friends. Lots of things in my life are better now than they were in 2015. Some feel worse.


I feel like I’m the same old Larry Appleton… but I know I’m not. Every experience is transformative, and I very much believe that most experiences are preparatory for our next ones, if we let them be. I’ve also learned not to take my immediate feelings on something as the final word. Remember how much Bronson hated Perfect Strangers towards the end, but later felt more warmly about it?


I–meaning me right this minute–may not be the best person to tell you all of what this blog has done for me. You see, there’s this thing called

Psychology sidebar: the arrival fallacy. Journey towards any goal, and–unless that goal is, like, building a machine that pumps endless endorphins through your system–when you get there, you’re likely to feel a little let down if you told yourself along the way that it would make you happy, get you a mate, a raise, fame, or clear up your acne.  Like it or not, we are very emotional creatures, and we are prone to let our emotions tell us what we think. No endorphin rush = “I must not be happy”. (Ever hear stories where someone–usually elderly–starts believing that their spouse has been replaced by an impostor? It’s not that they don’t recognize the spouse–it’s that the neuro-level links between that recognition and the emotions tied to the person have degraded. They don’t feel positive emotions when they see their spouse, thus it must not be that person.) Let’s posit for the moment that happiness is the result of assessment, and not an endorphin rush.


A blog like this is a lot of work, especially if you push yourself to be funny. Many times, I feared that the next week, the next post, the next scene, would finally be the one where I realized the joke well had run dry. I mean, how many different ways can you describe an overgrown Jewish cherub and a shaved Yakov Smirnoff? But every time, I found my way through the thickets of episodes I thought I had nothing to say about. It was a practice (aren’t I so open, so vulnerable, so progressive to tell you all this) in overcoming the fears about my own abilities. Like young King David, I’ve killed the lion, and I’ve killed the bear; the next Philistine of a project I take on is surmountable too.

Did I worry that those achievements would still go unseen, or undeciphered? Sure, all the damn time. Today, even. It’s on my schedule for tomorrow at 2.


But if I’m looking for endorphins, here’s the thing: I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun writing as I have making this blog. When I went off on the Daisyworld tangent in “The Gift of the Mypiot”, when I was pasting STOP over Balki’s face, when Mary Anne was so dumb she thought a postlude was a drugs-by-mail service, when footnotes, when Larryoke countdown #41: “Now I’m Peeling” (Irene Cara), when I NAME DIMITRI I TIME CROSS IT STREET, when (Sagittarius), when —, when Frank jumped…

I never questioned it then. I was immersed. I was in Csikszentmihalyi’s state of flow, and all my itches were being scratched.


When it was difficult, it was character-building; when it was easy it was sublime.


This is the first large creative project I’ve finished. And, having learned the terrain of my own psyche, its pitfalls and peaks, I’m more prepared for the next one. Any success is sweeter with those pitfalls mapped out. Expecting a finished product to clear my complexion etc., may be a trap; but lucky for me the process is so much fun. It’s worth some level of stress.


While we’re on the subject of emotions, I feel a huge sense of loss now. There’s something to be said, I believe, for choosing a constant in your life, and making a religious practice out of it, even if everything else is in flux.  When I was on dialysis for three and a half years, my webcomic provided that constant.

When I started this blog, I had hopes that rewatching Perfect Strangers could, as Proust’s madeleine, transport me back to the feelings of my childhood. It didn’t, but in the meantime the show became meaningful to me in different ways. It became that constant.

And now it’s gone.


When I finished my Season 8 Reviewed post, it hit me hard: I will never, ever do this again. For almost four years, there was always another episode. I’ll never get to see Larry and Balki do anything else, and I’ll never get to make fun of them for it. I can watch any of the episodes, at any time (spoiler: I won’t), but I can never write about them like this again. “Game Brain” was a momentary salve on the wound, one last hit, but… we’re done now. We’ll never talk again.

And I’m sad. I miss you already, show.


But for a good long while, you–you reading–and I had this. We both showed up week after week to find out what I thought about this show. We were both dedicated to seeing this thing through. Your comments illuminated aspects of episodes I had never considered. You cracked jokes with me at Larryoke. But even if we were never in two-way communication about it, Perfect Strangers connected us. There were some weeks where having an audience kept me writing. If I made this blog for you, you made this blog for me as well.

I hope that you enjoyed it, and more than that–

As I hang my sitcom-reviewing coat–

That you’ll remember this.

This was important.