Welcome back! To misquote Blaise Pascal, “I made this blog post shorter only because I have not had the leisure to make it longer.” In other words, this week has been very busy for me because I’m getting ready for a new job in a new city (not the ones mentioned a few weeks back; these are a newer new job and city). So when an opportunity presented itself to thematically put in a little less work, I jumped all over it. This week’s episode is the Perfect Strangers version of Rashōmon, so I am happy to present to you: three different takes on an episode about three different takes! Ain’t I clever! Anyway, joining us this week are Sarah Portland of Warp Speed to Nonsense and Shawn Green of halfwayokay, friend and enemy of this blog, respectively. (The reviews are in this order: Shawn’s, mine, and Sarah’s. This is deliberate.)
The Testimony of some Rando with a Podcast Questioned by a High Police Commissioner
Hello readers and true believers. Before we get started you should know that Casey Roberson and I have a history. Perfect Strangers is my favorite sitcom of all time. Casey’s life’s work is tearing it down and pissing on it. I was forced to use my wildly successful podcast, halfwayokay as a platform to publicly attack Casey and his gross internet friends for making a mockery of Perfect Strangers.
So you can imagine that when Casey invited me to review an episode of Perfect Strangers I was taken aback. After months of enduring my slings and arrows he came to me ready to bury the hatchet. Or did he? Please read on.
Please note the beautiful, crisp HD screen grabs that I provide while Casey Rainsbottom continues to give you SD trash.
The episode opens on the rustic beauty of the Big Piney National Forest backed by some sick season 5 saxophone. Larry and Balki are on a Chicago Chronicle corporate retreat for team building. However, Larry explains that he strategically booked a cabin located far away from the rest of the group so he and Balki could enjoy some quality time with Jennifer and Mary Ann. Pretty smooth, Appleton.
Perfect Strangers typically has a pretty innocent, family-friendly attitude towards sex. Usually when sex is brought up it’s in code, and if Balki is part of the conversation he’ll pretend to understand. Then he’ll reveal that he is actually clueless because he’s childlike and sweet. Sometimes, however, Balki does understand and will even add something to the conversation which always feels weird. Casey Robinson would say that the writers are subverting the expectations of the viewer and then something about how many books he’s read, but I’m not gonna do that because I’m not a nerd. The subject of sex is always weird in family shows, but the way they handle it here is fine for Perfect Strangers.
Jennifer and Mary Anne arrive and Larry sets up that there isn’t anyone for miles, and not even a TV or telephone to distract them from their relaxing getaway. But there is a radio, which Balki is pumped to find.
While Balki and Mary Anne attempt to tune in WANE (all Wayne Newton, all the time), Mr. Gorpley enters from the hallway complaining that the toilet is backed up. Oh brother! He explains that he was kicked out of his cabin (probably for being a jerk) and he just decided to let himself in.
Before Larry can protest the radio breaks in with an important news bulletin: The infamous killer Howard ‘Mad Dog’ Krause is on the loose and has last been seen in the Big Piney National Forest! Now pay special close attention here, sweet readers. Mad Dog Krause is described as 6’4” and completely bald and extremely dangerous. Please make a note of this.
Naturally everyone is a bit freaked out by this news and everyone starts frantically gathering their belongings so they can bolt. However, Balki’s optimism and Myposian wisdom convinces the gang plus Gorpley to stay put and enjoy their well-deserved vacation.
But before Larry can get the steaks on the grill the towering shape of Mad Dog Krause fills the window! Holy smokes!!
Mad Dog Krause and I share a few physical similarities. I am 5’10” not 6’4” and I don’t shave my head completely bald, but Krause and I are both larger gentlemen with facial hair and expressive faces.
This is where Casey’s little scheme comes into focus. Casey Reliford invited me to review this episode NOT in the spirit of friendship. Quite the opposite. His wants me to unwittingly recount a representation of the attack I waged against Casey’s awful blog using the very characters I love so dearly. We wants to play the victim while making me seem like an unhinged ogre! All the while snickering and snorting to with his goober internet pals about how dumb Shawn Green is. Masturbating fiercely no doubt. Well I’m onto you, Casey! I am the victim here not you!!
That all being said, I did agree to review this episode in full, so let’s get back to it. That’s called integrity.
The women are instructed to hide the closet while the men take on the vicious killer. It was the ’80s. Gorpley wants the join them, because he is a coward, but is pressured into staying.
Mad Dog bursts through the door, advances towards our the camera and they do this transition thing that goes from the front Mad Dog’s shirt to the back of one of Big Piney’s finest’s uniforms who is hauling Mad Dog Krause away in cuffs! So something happened in between. But what??
The gang plus Gorpley is sitting in the common area of the cabin joined by a police officer who explains that the last time they had to take on ‘Mad Dog’ Krause it took half the National Guard. This seems like a stretch, but the officer isn’t laughing so I guess it’s true. The police officer asks Sam Gorpley for a recount of what happened and Mr. Gorpley complies.
Through the Eyes of Gorpley:
Everything here is what you’d expect from Sam Gorpley’s version of the truth. He’s super brave and respected and everyone else is either an idiot or warm for his form. I like Gorpley’s simpleton versions of Larry and Balki. Their childish scheme of tricking Jennifer into kissing Larry is innocent enough for the ’80s, but kinda rapey now. But whatever.
Then Jennifer and Mary Anne enter the scene with giant, I guess you’d call them “hooters”? Much larger than IRL and complete with erect nipples. Fine for ‘Married With Children’, but this show, and even this episode has handled sex in a family friendly way up to this point. But I guess all bets are off when Sam Gorpley is behind the wheel.
Balki’s repetitive use of the Myposian term “Bingy bingy” annoying almost immediately which I don’t think was intentional. His accent also degrades into pure silliness while Gorpley’s just becomes more and more like John Wayne’s.
Mad Dog breaks through the door, Larry and Balki run and hide and Sam Gorpley knocks him out with one punch! Kablamo! Sam’s the hero, everyone wants to bone Sam.
The police officer isn’t buyin’ what Gorpley’s sellin’ so Larry offers an objective, unbiased account of the happenings that only a investigative reporter from the Chicago Chronicle can provide. We all know what’s coming.
Through the Eyes of Larry:
Larry’s story also what you expect. Larry is calm, cool, and collected and everyone thinks he’s the best. There are some very funny parts in this one though that genuinely made me laugh out loud. And I’ve seen this episode several times!
Namely when Mad Dog Krause politely agrees to hold off his attack so Balki can literally kiss sections of the ground that Cousin Larry has walked on.
Mad Dog attacks Balki with a strange behind-the-back bear hug and Larry threatens him with karate. Mad Dog scoffs at the warning and Larry is forced to perform a pretty good Bruce Lee impression which thoroughly thwarts the thundering thug.
The girls and Gorpley come out of hiding to congratulate the conquering hero and Jennifer is all like “Take me”.
Once again the cop is skeptical and it’s up to Balki Bartokomous to set the record straight.
Through the Eyes of Balki:
So Balki’s take is supposed to be the absolute truth, but I feel like the writers went for yuk yuks rather that what Balki would have actually done in this situation.
Case in point, Larry is being strangled by Mad Dog and Balki tries to subdue him by clobbering him with a loaf of bread to no avail. Okay, funny, but c’mon. Then he tries a ceramic cookie jar. Good plan! However he spends a good 12 seconds munching on cookies before he smashes it over Mad Dog’s head but doesn’t faze the beast. I’d like to think that Balki just really wanted to eat some of those cookies and it worked its way into his story but he didn’t actually do it. But I guess it’s funny though so whatever.
Finally Balki finds a frying pan, bashes Mad Dog on the noggin and saves the day!
The officer thanks Balki and exits, leaving Larry confused and ashamed that he account of things was so skewed. Which shows that Larry was actually trying to be honest which is nice.
Then the audience is rewarded for their viewership by finally seeing what “Bingy bingy” is which is just the Myposian hokey pokey. Credits!
So there you go. Shawn Green, a Perfect Strangers super fan, looked at an episode of my favorite sitcom critically just like Casey “The Brain” Rubbins does every week. I adore this show and all of its missed marks and rough spots. I give this episode an 88% out of 100%, which is a very good score. And I give Casey Rothersnberg a hard F which is a poor score. I would instruct him to see me after class, but he has no class. He’s a bag of scum.
The Testimony of a University Librarian Questioned by a High Police Commissioner
We open on a cabin to find Balki asking what the hell they’re doing there.
Balki wonders why they’re not joining the other Chicago Chronicle employees in the cabins two miles away. Larry reveals that he booked a different cabin so they could have very loud sex while the other employees on vacation play volleyball. As a writer, I try to avoid this style of in-the-moment expository dialogue, but here it’s saved by the context of four years of relationship between the cousins. Larry has finally learned a real lesson: don’t tell Balki what you plan to do if you want to do it.
The cousins have a good laugh about boners.
Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) were, for some goddam reason, about a minute behind. Jennifer says she loves getting back to nature. They’re sure getting some mileage out of that one unique line of dialogue somebody wrote for her back in season 4.
Balki evinces his commitment to real, intimate human contact by turning on the radio. The writers pretend it takes two people to find a station so that Larry and Jennifer can talk privately. But before Larry can even get that chub going, Gorpley comes into the living and announces that he broke the toilet.
Gorpley explains how he was thrown out of another cabin, and Mary Anne tells everybody to shut up because the rest of exposition is coming on the radio.
The group hears that convicted killer “Mad Dog” Krause has busted out of jail and decides to leave. Gorpley bemoans the fact that he just made his alimony payment, meaning that the costly directive in his will–for his ashes to be scattered on a hooker–is now not feasible.
While roughly 1,000 people are torn limb from limb on the volleyball court, Balki pleads with the others to stay. Balki, who has never, EVER clung to fear in the face of reason, no, not even ONCE, NEVER–
–tells everyone that they’re letting fear get the best of them. Balki starts in on a story about Neksnapolos, the village murderer on Mypos, but Gorpley shuts him up. Cousin Larry backs Balki up, having heard the story before. I like this format for Mypos stories!
Balki: Once upon time in Mypos, man name Vasilis–
Everyone else: You’re right.
Larry says that the odds are in their favor that Mad Dog will sate his bloodlust at another cabin. But then Mad Dog shows up! Remember how I called Larry smart a second ago? Haha, joke’s on me, he misunderstands people screaming in mortal fear. I guess Balki’s been (heh) rubbing off on him.
Balki realizes that both women have been on-screen for almost three minutes, so he sends them to the closet.
Mad Dog breaks in and–
–and park rangers take Mad Dog away in cuffs.
One park ranger stays behind to ask for statements. Gorpley gives his first.
I’ve given myself a word limit this week, so I won’t do a full play-by-play of the rest of the episode. On the other hand, I won’t go to the other extreme and just give you some vapid summary along the lines of “Hrm… I liked it. I thought it was funny!” But Gorpley’s story is a tour de force of parody, something I feel that the show has been aching to do for a while now.
It begins with the cousins acting and speaking unbelievably dumb (Larry’s plan is to trick Jennifer into kissing him).
Evidently Gorpley is sitting there telling the ranger that these women’s breasts have shrunk over the course of the evening.
Balki has adopted this desperately idiotic way of speaking, which I love; the rising tide of comedy has even floated Bronson’s boat. Balki mistakes the radio for a toaster, and even Linn-Baker laughs for a split-second. Further, Balki refers to every other noun as a “bingi bingi”. At one point in the story, Balki’s accent creeps all the way into Latka Gravas territory. Gorpley even criticizes Balki for his shitty language capabilities after four years in America!
Psychology sidebar: confirmation bias gets used mostly in discussions of interpreting information to match existing beliefs. But it also has an effect on what information you favor. So, yes, I am aware that I like this episode because it makes the same jokes I do. Being smart enough to be self-aware excuses any faults I may have, and I’m sure the other two reviewers will agree with me.
The cousins start to cry about how they’ll die not knowing what color their girlfriends’ nipples are, and Gorpley slaps them.
Guys, Fat Marsha is still my true love, but this is the most I’ve ever laughed at an episode. Mark Linn-Baker gets the biggest laugh out of me*:
I assume the women are sitting quietly while Gorpley tells the park ranger how he planned to have sex with them after Mad Dog was dispatched. Anyway, Gorpley knocks out Mad Dog with one punch.
Park Ranger: So you spent six minutes just to tell me that you punched him?
More praise for the structure: each retelling starts a little closer to Mad Dog’s arrival. Larry’s starts right before Mad Dog busts in, and features not only a calm Larry, but a Balki who is constantly showering him with praise in a silky-smooth voice. (Yes, it’s what Larry would want; but I have trouble believing a man with such low self-esteem remembers people talking to him this way. Whatever.)
The second-worst “joke” of this episode is thanks to Bronson, who thought he should try to extrapolate from smooth voice to screaming in fear.
Larry slaps Gorpley and there’s a beautiful, format-breaking moment when he says he’s getting Gorpley back for slapping him in the previous story.
And here’s proof that Larry pines for Balki**: Mad Dog pauses to allow Balki to express his cousinly love.
While Mad Dog strangles Balki, Larry strikes a karate pose. Ha! It’s funny because Larry must be lying! He’s never studied karate, much less had a karate teacher tell him that he was good at it!
For the sake of space: Larry wins.
The park ranger, realizing he’s on a sitcom, asks the women which character is allowed to always have the final say. “Balki,” they say.
Balki starts to talk about the first time enchiladas wrecked his bowels, but the park ranger tells him to shut up.
Balki’s story starts with Mad Dog coming in. Balki’s supposed to be the most honest person here, and we can assume that what he says while narrating is true. But! His narration is undercut by the action: Balki verbally assigns good intention to Gorpley, who runs away shrieking to the closet. Balki couldn’t possibly have been telling the story both ways, so what on the surface is a cheap joke for the studio audience reveals him as an unreliable narrator because of how he sees others.
Nothing reaches the fever pitch of Gorpley’s story, but this section doesn’t disappoint either. Mad Dog turns down the offer of a Mypos tale; a good callback enhanced by knowing that this story is the true one. We learn that Larry was mostly honest: he uses karate, but hurts his hand.
Balki unsuccessfully tries to fell Mad Dog with a loaf of bread and a ceramic cookie jar (Balki pauses to eat an entire cookie). Since Perfect Strangers is a cartoon now, Balki gets him with a frying pan.
The most interesting part to me is how Larry is proven to be honest through use of the set: he was too busy–and at the wrong angle–to see Balki save the day.
The women come out of the closet and slap Gorpley, which is a perfect cap to that runner. But the scene ends on a stupid gag. I don’t have enough space because there’s stupider stuff in a minute, so just know it was stupid and I didn’t like it.
In the 30 minutes it took the park rangers to get there, Larry somehow never saw the mess in the kitchen.
Larry So all that really happened? Me getting strangled and hurting my hand?
The park ranger take the frying pan for… idunno, DNA purposes?
True story: this episode was great. It’s subversion all the way down. Self-parody isn’t a well that a show like Perfect Strangers can go to often and retain its personality. And here at the end of the season, the writers wrote like they may never get another chance at it. The format-breaking jokes are asides to the audience, but on the whole they work because the show is playing fast and loose with everything. Even most of Bronson’s impulses paid off. We don’t get a true Rashōmon structure, but I think the episode would never have worked without Gorpley’s Busty Blondes 7: Cabin Beaver.
The episode ends with Balki and Mary Anne doing the “Bingi Bingi”, which turns out to be the Hokey Pokey. “Bingi” is revealed to be the word “body”, and “Body Body” is a dumb name. The use of “bingi bingi” in Gorpley’s story worked well on its own, but here, it needs more setup: it should have been mentioned in the first act. This is a terrible callback to a perfectly good joke.
Lest I end on a sour note, I’ll say this about the dance:
Mary Anne’s hips don’t lie.
*I swear Larry is doing a specific voice, but I can’t place it
**get it?? They’re in the woods!
The Testimony of a Picard Fanwoman Questioned by a High Police Commissioner
Where do I begin with this episode?
“It’s kind of a mess”?
Sure, let’s start there.
Our basic premise is this: our intrepid heroes Larry and Balki are on a work-sponsored trip, presumably one of those garbage hang-out-with-your-coworkers-as-a-team-building-exercise things, only this time they get to take their (maybe?) girlfriends. Larry tells Balki that he has secretly picked a cabin far away from the rest of the group, not because he doesn’t want to do trust falls with his coworkers, but because he wants to put the moves on Jennifer. You know, like he tries to do every week. Balki is super into this idea, because he also would like to put the moves on Mary Anne (Sagittarius). I guess we’ve learned nothing from our last work-sponsored trip into the wilderness (Up a Lazy River, pts 1 and 2) or the time we tried to impress the ladies with a cabin (Snow Way to Treat a Lady, pts 1 and 2). The girls come in, ready for a good time, and they’ve also noticed that they’re some ways away from anyone else, but that’s okay because Sexy Times.
But oh gee, who’s that coming out of the bathroom? It’s Gorpley, who complains that the other groups have kicked him out of their cabins, so he’s going to be rooming with Larry & Co.
Everyone else looks thrilled. Balki finds a radio, and soon, a PSA comes on about how a murderer has escaped from a nearby prison, and is literally in the same neck of the woods as our heroes. The others are mildly concerned, but Larry puts on his Cool as a Cucumber persona, and tells them that they probably won’t encounter this guy “Mad Dog” because these woods are so big.
But oops – Mad Dog’s at the window, and Larry shrieks and slams the shutters closed. They rush to the door to run out, but Mad Dog pounds on the door. This blogger suspects Mad Dog of being on PCP. Everyone screams in response because that drug is scary AF, and we go to commercial.
When we come back, Balki comes up with a plan: the girls should hide in the closet, and the guys should let Mad Dog kill them. Then he’ll get tired, lie down to rest, and the girls can then escape. How chivalrous of you, Balki. Anyway, the girls go hide in the closet, because the writers don’t know what to do with them in the meantime, and girls are just there to be pretty.
Mad Dog breaks in the door and comes at them, having no actual reason to come after them or hurt them, but telling them menacingly that “this is gonna be fun.” The picture fades out, and when it fades in again, everyone is sitting on the couch while some local cops haul Mad Dog off in cuffs.
“So how’d you do it?” asks the cop who remains behind to get their witness reports.
Gorpley goes first. His version includes the cousins being a bit demented; Larry attempting to trick Jennifer into kissing him; the girls not being interested in getting with the cousins at all; the girls being interested in Gorpley instead; the cousins panicking and Gorpley slapping them; Balki’s excessive use of the phrase “bingi bingi”; and Gorpley himself acting like some kind of puffed-up peacock who takes Mad Dog down with one punch while the cousins cower in the back. Everyone praises Gorpley afterward, and he kisses each of the girls after Jennifer begs, “Sam, take me!”
I vomit copiously. Especially at the huge prosthetic breasts the girls are wearing.
Fade to commercial.
When we return…
“You’re full of shit,” says Balki.
No, okay. He should have said that. Instead, he makes a grammar joke which I actually enjoyed.
“You know that I never, under any circumstances, would use bingi bingi in a dependent clause.”
Larry tells the cop that he’s a reporter for the Chicago Chronicle, and can give an unbiased account.
We get the wavy dream sequence/memory lines on the screen. Cool Larry tells them all to be calm. Balki has this weird, new persona, like the blissed-out sidekick for some new-age guru. The others scream when Mad Dog appears at the window, but Larry just closes the shutters and locks them. Cool Larry plans to beat down Mad Dog with his sweet karate skills. Like with Gorpley’s segment, Larry is calm while everyone else panics. Larry slaps Gorpley.
Another joke that I liked:
Balki: “Why’d you do that, cousin?”
Larry: “I’m just getting him back for that story he told.”
So Larry does the karate thing while Mad Dog beats up Balki, but then he saves the day, and Mad Dog hits the floor. Everyone runs out to fawn over him, and Jennifer says “Larry, take me,” before he kisses her.
Wavy memory lines.
“You guys are both full of shit,” says the cop. “Can anyone here give me a correct turn of events?”
The girls both indicate Balki.
So Balki tells the cop that when Mad Dog came in, Gorpley rushed to the closet to hide. Mad Dog immediately starts to beat the hell out of Balki, and Larry tries his karate schtick, which just pisses Mad Dog off. He lets go of Balki while Larry fake-chops at him. Balki takes the opportunity to climb onto the kitchen island and start breaking things over Mad Dog’s head… first a loaf of French bread, then a cookie jar. Each time he tries it, he turns Mad Dog’s head around to check if that did the trick.
And before he tries the cookie jar, he takes out the one remaining cookie and eats it with relish. (Firstly: gross. How long has that cookie been in there? Also, he sure is enjoying that cookie a lot, seeing as how his cousin and BFF is getting the shit kicked out of him.) Finally, he tries a frying pan, braining Mad Dog with it. Larry steps back, and Mad Dog falls to the floor. Gorpley exits the closet. Each of the girls steps out and slaps him, and Jennifer rushes to Larry’s side.
“Larry… take me home.”
The broken stuff on the kitchen island confirms Balki’s version of events, and Larry is upset because he thought he was a hero, beating up Mad Dog. Balki points out that Larry distracting Mad Dog gave Balki enough time to find the frying pan and hit Mad Dog with it. Both girls say they’re proud of their men, and the episode ends with Mary Anne and Balki doing the Hokey Pokey, but replacing some of the words with “bingi,” because this show hates you.
So there we have it: a thing happens, and the story changes slightly depending on who is doing the retelling. This is nothing new. People have been giving differing eyewitness accounts of things since the dawn of communication. In each case, the storyteller makes himself out to be the hero, and the others become cowards. Balki makes himself the least hero-like, despite the fact that he was the one who subdued the killer long enough to be arrested. But with the first two of these cases, the storyteller’s style and how he wishes to be seen by others comes out. Gorpley plays up his sex appeal and preferences, and takes down Mad Dog with his fists. Larry comes across as cool and collected, and uses karate skills he acquired so long ago, to great effect. In his version, Jennifer is also crazy about him.
The comedy here comes from the fact that not one of these men could take down a large killer on his own, and the physical comedy was fairly successful at times. Larry’s karate moves against a much larger foe brings to mind Loony Tunes cartoons featuring a very small opponent versus a much larger opponent, the latter of whom barely notices the smaller foe. Balki’s breaking objects over Mad Dog’s head also brings to mind those same kinds of cartoons, where a very large person is being repeatedly beat over the head by various objects, none of which seem to faze him.
But the thing that’s really dissatisfying about this episode is that there are six main characters involved in the story, and a full third of them disappear before the action starts. Jennifer and Mary Anne are banished to the closet shortly before Mad Dog comes in, and are therefore not asked for their version of events. That probably solves the problem of having too many accounts to retell, and running out of time, but why were Larry, Balki and Gorpley chosen over either of the girls? Because they’re props. They served as a reason for Larry to choose the cabin two miles away from the others, and an extra reason to not want Gorpley there. Then they served as props again for Gorpley’s mad sexcapade, and a cheap laugh over their enormous fake breasts. But when we actually look at the story, Jennifer and Mary Anne’s presence didn’t change the story at all. When things got interesting, they were relegated to the closet, only to come out at the very end. This is a shame. This show seems to want to be a fun physical comedy in the same vein as I Love Lucy or The Dick Van Dyke Show, but often conveniently forgets that neither of those shows forgot to include their female stars.
Catchphrase count: Balki (1); Larry (0)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (1)
Join me next week for “Bye Bye Birdie”!
P.S. For those of you who don’t get the “questioned by a high police commissioner” thing, it’s from a book.
N.b. I realize that some sources list this episode as 23rd in the season, but from this point on I will adhere to the Hulu order for simplicity’s sake.