Season 7, Episode 14: Missing

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I hate to give away my assessment of an episode right away, but this one is just marbled with shit. The very first joke is that Larry and Balki just got back from lunch at a restaurant called Wong Su’s, which is owned and operated by Wong and his wife, Su. Or maybe it’s Sue? Let’s say that it is meant to be “Sue”, meaning that part of the joke is that sometimes identical phonemes show up in different languages. And whether it’s Sue or Su, the joke is… you thought it was one person’s name, but it’s really two people’s names? Or the joke is that the wife is named Sue Su, in brazen ignorance of Chinese surname primacy? They got me again!

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Also this locally-owned restaurant makes its fortune cookies on-site and insults their customers with the fortunes (Larry doesn’t tip). It’s a good thing Larry isn’t a petty person with unfettered control over a medium through which he could publicly criticize a restaurant’s practices! Just imagine how robust a plot that kind of opportunity could lead to!

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RT (米饭和豆腐) Wainwright, like everyone in this world does now, starts talking to people the second he walks through a doorway. He tells the Cousins that the “theme” of the upcoming Sunday magazine is “children”. He wants a Dimitri “cartoon” for the cover, so I suppose he means “strip”.

I made a big fuss in “Dimitri’s World” about why Wainwright needed to replace just one comic strip out of a likely 20 or 30, but I’m realizing I was probably being unfair. Something that has baffled me ever since my first job in a library serials department¹ is why two of the US’s major newspapers don’t run comic strips. I still don’t know, and CEO Mark Thompson hasn’t answered my 30 voicemails yet, so I may never know. But my best guess is that these papers are more likely to be shipped all over the United States as well as internationally, and that a host of licensing and copyright issues are sidestepped by having only editorial comics. So if the Chronicle is going to have a comic strip, it does make more sense to hire someone to make it.

But we’ve been given zero indication how Balki’s weekly comic strip has been received by Chicagoans over the course of four weeks, so either it’s a runaway success or Wainwright is playing a game with himself to see how few steps out of his office he can take each day and still run a newspaper.

Hey, come to think of it, not a single one of you has said anything the strip I’ve been busting my ass doing either, so I’m going to assume that you all love it as much as Wainwright thinks Chicagoans love Balki’s.

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Anyway, Balki’s feeling a thrill he’s never seen: the thrill that’ll getcha when you get your picture on the cover of the Sunday ‘zine.

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RT (Ruminant Terrestrial) mentions on his way into the elevator–completely in passing, nothing to do with the rest of the episode, certainly–that Rob Bob Phillips is suing the paper over his Rongful Termination.

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Myposians have a genetic disposition to acutely-localized osteoporosis, the fingers being the weakest part of their entire bodies, so Balki must do “five-finger pushups”.

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Then Balki just flails his head around for a minute. I guess the joke is that he’s limbering his neck up before sitting down to spend 30 seconds drawing his strip. So I don’t like the overdone physical comedy in this instance–so Su me!

But Dimitri is gone, meaning Balki cannot rub him against the front of his pants for inspiration. Balki notices how much effort went into the ransom note and walks off-stage to shake hands with the props crew.

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Nah, j/k, Balki reads the note, and because it’s in Bronson’s contract for Balki to get 80% of the punchlines, he gets a punchline instead of a basic level of reading comprehension. Larry has to explain that Dimitri’s been kidnapped.*

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GEE I WONDER BY WHOM IT WAS STOLE FROM HIM

Y’all don’t think the robber might be the guy with fucking “Rob” in his name, do you? The guy who’s angry at the Chronicle and used to work in this office?

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After asking their coworkers when the last time they saw the doll was, checking with Lance Dick to see if there was any security camera footage, even calling up Carl Winslow to come by and dust for fingyprints, and most importantly doing a thorough search of his own home, they–

Haha, nah, j/k, Balki didn’t do any of that shit. He put up LOST posters all over the neighborhood, which is nowhere near downtown.

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Larry and Balki try to come up with something else for Balki to do to take his mind off of the theft.

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Larry tries to trick Balki into drawing a Dimitri strip by having him draw a cloud; Balki figures it out and tears up the paper. It’s really too bad no one had figured out a camera angle yet that allowed you to see what someone was drawing.

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No one at all.

Balki says “That’s low, Cousin. That’s low even for you,” and it certainly does read that way, because once again, Larry has absolutely nothing at stake. As an editorial writer for the paper, Cousin Larry is not Balki’s boss. He’s not even Balki’s boss when it comes to the strip. There’s a very narrow window for arguing that Larry had something at stake for the very first strip they had to turn in: that he would have failed in his boss’s eyes in some minor indefinable way. But it was also established there that Larry’s function for Dimitri’s World is to let Balki tell him what the joke is and put it into words. If Balki doesn’t draw, Larry literally cannot do his part of the job.

And… if that’s all his job is, he doesn’t even need Balki for this magazine cover. Wainwright didn’t bother to give any direction other than “do it”, so Larry can just repurpose literally any existing Dimitri art, strip or single image or whatever, do his damnedest to make Balki proud of it, and call it a day. Or since the Chronicle seems to be constantly operate with impossibly short deadlines, couldn’t Wainwright push the children’s issue back a week without really interrupting the regular hectic workflow?

I’m thinking about this way more than the writers did, but that’s the point of these blogs, so get over it.

Cousin Larry ignoring Balki’s emotional pain for the sake of absolute zero benefit to himself is the direct opposite of altruism. There are times this season where the show seems to only understand the Cousins as “people who argue with each other over things”, and this is one of them. It realizes that Larry is heartless, and if it stopped to think that maybe he didn’t need to be, the thought was rejected on the basis of it going against Rule #1.

Also–and I’ll get into this more in a later review because I sure don’t plan to spend any more time on this episode than I have to–the meta-aspect of this is that Larry refuses to let Balki handle failure on his own. The most generous possible reading is that Larry’s trying to save both their asses from unemployment, but he’s not letting Balki face the consequences of his own hangups, however strongly felt they are. If Balki is having trouble growing up, Larry is complicit.

Jennifer comes in with a bunch of shirts which likely say “I’m going to the store, are we out of bread?”, “Not unless you wash it better than last time” and “I miscarried”.

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She hands Larry a plain brown envelope containing a bulky object without question and walks away, like any wife/airline employee would do. Larry, making up for his earlier sin, gives Balki an opportunity to have a punchline about the tape.

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They put the tape in the VCR together. I assume the static built up between them is what powers the unplugged TV.

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A distorted voice tells them they’ll have to pay $10,000 to get Dimitri back. The “oh no!” music comes on.

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Oh no! Evidence which they could hand off to the police was put directly into the mailbox of a house in a community with an active neighborhood watch! It’s obviously this Thieve Steve guy! Oh no!

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Philip J Reed (Denver, age 8½) sent in “Appleton Abbey” as the name of the Cousins’ home. Keep those entries coming in, kids!

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Balki is boxing up valuables to hock to make up the $10,000. He grabs the tapestry that he gave Larry for Christmas and which Larry valued so much he placed it so he’d see it twice a day.

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All Balki needs to raise the money is this lamp. This tapestry and this lamp, and that’s all he needs. Say it with me now: and these earrings and this tapestry and this lamp, and that’s all he needs.

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Mary Anne (Sagittarius) is more upset about losing her hair dryer hahaha! WOMEN

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After being guilted into it, Mary Anne–who is so dumb she thinks that a rap sheet is the liner notes on a Run-DMC album–donates both her hair dryer and her facial sauna. (I had never heard of a facial sauna until I watched this episode. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just stand over the pot while you cook spaghetti?)

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Larry runs in, excitedly implying that he has searched through each and every type of dumpster, and finally located Dimitri in a “trash dumpster”. Balki wants to do the Dance of Joy and Larry says they’ll do the Dance of Joy as soon as he draws the fucking strip.

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Excuse the nitpicking, but we’ve got these beautiful, illegal Hulu siterips** that enable it so well. Maybe, if you’re going to have an episode about a missing sheep doll that’s been present in every season, and especially if you’re going to have a scene where Larry tries to fool Balki with an exquisitely-made replica, maybe don’t have photographic proof that previous seasons used an entirely different doll in the same shot?

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If you were tasked with writing an episode where someone’s favorite MacGuffin is held for ransom by some mysterious figure, would you spend a quarter of your time not telling that story? If you were writing an episode of a show whose original core idea was two men messing up each others’ plans by trying to be helpful, would you create motivation out of thin air just to have one of them not do that? If you knew you had to write in physical comedy, would you do this three times and call it a day?

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I don’t think you would. I don’t think you would air three episodes in a row with villains named Bob either, but that’s a different story.

I think you’d remember discussing “Car Tunes” in the writer’s room, seeing the script and the episode filmed, and ask yourself what you could do to make the episodes be reflections of each other. Balki had no reason to help Larry out, but we could understand–even without him saying so, because at least this aspect of Balki’s personality is clearly intended–that he cares about Cousin Larry’s happiness. To be fair, each episode inverts the other: Balki begs to be included in Larry’s story, while Larry tries to pull Balki away from his own.***

Sure, maybe the writers told themselves that Larry acting the opposite of Balki in a role-reversal story was enough, but it isn’t additive at all. “Car Tunes” filled its downtime with a few jokes that came as close to a “hang-out” feel as Perfect Strangers can; “Missing” can’t come up with anything but Larry taking up two scenes in the first half with the infinitely fertile idea of just plain not doing this story. It may come from whatever fake motivation they’ve given him this week, but it’s just putting off the inevitable.

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Balki finally touches the fake Dimitri**** and realizes TGIF: That Garbage is Faked. I thought I remembered some implication 9 minutes ago about Dimitri being wildly popular, and then another thing about how they needed to quickly make $10,000, and then something about Larry managing to get an exact replica made cheaply and locally in less than 10 hours? I’m probably mixing this up with other shows I’ve watched, let’s move on.

There’s some joke about Jennifer drugging Larry’s applesauce and even some of the audience members don’t like it.

Larry: Now what we have to do is to get him to meet us in a place where we have the advantage.

Ah, yes, a male bathhouse, just what I was thinking, Larry. The phone rings. Balki touches the phone.

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Balki: Don’t break his bone!

The Cousins each trying their own solution to the same problem used to be the whole point, and that’s part of why them both talking on the phone to Pilfer Wilford works better than the rest of the episode. It contrasts the Cousins, and it spawns jokes. Balki begs the guy to scratch behind Dimitri’s ears. Larry thinks he can beat the guy at his own game by talking tough. Balki thinks calling someone “pally” sounds tough.

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Anyway, Larry shouts at Hustle Russell that they’ll meet him in the Chronicle basement at midnight and then hangs up. This wasn’t intended as the joke, but I do love the idea that you can short-circuit a kidnapping story by making your own demands and instantly hanging up the phone.

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Later that night, the Cousins don’t know any cops whose wives are security guards at the Chicago Chronicle, so they have to set up a Home Alone-style ambush themselves.

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That’s right, you heard right, the guy who broke into the Chronicle once already is basically being given permission to walk into an open office building, shoot the Cousins, buy a tampon from the women’s restroom, whatever.

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Balki sticks a bunch of marbles in his mouth and spits them out because on Mypos, they’re very simple. Larry has to explain to him that the real fun will come when they call the cops while a criminal is lying on the floor, screaming, his neck and ankles broken.

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And here we are, once again, come full circle to “The Break In”, two men hiding behind a desk in the dark because their jobs are on the line. The Cousins saved a man this way once: saved him from the psychological weight of the world of crime, saved him from himself. The new Christian may have converted because she finally felt that her victimless crimes were not at all so, that Jesus’s suffering might have been less so had she not sinned. The Cousins faced no consequence for their own crimes—public mockery, breaking & entering—and no compunction, neither, as they were not asked to question their own addition to the psychic load that hourly tugged Frank towards hell.

And so they continued to commit crimes against each other, and any person or government that allowed or invited interaction. Promoted, they now had a bigger mouthpiece to remake the world in their image. The robber bobber recognizes Dimitri as totemic of this power. Whoever this man is, he’s troubled, but the Cousins have no wish to save him, only to shore up their bulwarks against the competition. They lay in wait for their own blood; will they ambush their own lives?

Well… of course they will. Don’t be ridiculous.

Balki hears footsteps!

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Oh, great, let’s squander one of Lydia’s last three appearances on this waste of celluloid. It’s not enough that it write a bad episode, the show now rubs it in our faces by reminding us that there are other characters the Cousins could have legitimately suspected of the theft.

Balki shouts at Lydia for a minute and I’m actually relieved for her sake that she’s spared from knowing what the Cousins are doing on a daily basis these days. She has no idea what they’re talking about and even more confused when–upon slapping Balki–he spits out another marble. She makes that running joke work better than it did the other three times.

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And just like that she’s gone.

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More footsteps, and this time it’s Gorpley. Like I said, I hate to “spoil” things, but coming events cast their shadows before:

This isn’t Sam Gorpley’s final appearance, but it is the last time the show even pretends to try to give him any lines.

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Samuel “Slick Sam” Gorpley: Do you ever think you two spend too much time together?

It’s the last remaining echo off what he once was: a twin to Twinkacetti*****, Gorpley once held promise as a funhouse mirror of what Larry might become without Balki’s influence, a Larry who was established enough in his career and his dodgy ways to almost never be called to the carpet for it. Pure greed and oneupmanship, a man who knew that the best sauce on a dish was the other man paying for it.

And no one had more right to that greed than this one card stud. Cousin Larry had two beautiful holiday seasons as the Christmas Boy, practicing the role of the joyful giver; Gorpley was yearly robbed of any possible Christmas cheer: by nature, by his father, by his wife. Sam Gorpley learned that taking things was what life did, and lived his by that rule.

Seasons 1, 2, and 3 can all be excused to some extent by how uneven they were in using the side characters. ABC, I think, knew it had something different with this show, but not how different it should be from other sitcoms. For whatever reasons–and don’t think I don’t have guesses–Perfect Strangers held back on giving Gorpley and Lydia and Harriette much to do. It waited two years to put Sam Anderson in more than half of a season’s episodes.

You’d be forgiven if you had no clue that Mr. Gorpley was Balki’s boss for four and a half years. It was rarely mentioned, because there were never any stories about it. I’ll give the writers this: they probably knew they couldn’t make Balki’s relationship with his supervisor a story, because even sitcom stories require some semblance of character growth. They chose to have Balki be perfect at his job, meaning there was nothing Gorpley could offer. Gorpley was told to shrug and retreat into his office, and he did. They brought him out briefly to compete with Larry, or to give Larry bad advice, or to frown at Balki; and back in the office he went.

It’s easy for me to imagine that Sam Gorpley’s role approximated Sam Anderson’s experience working on Perfect Strangers, especially in seasons 5 and 6. The main image of Gorpley in my mind from those seasons is snacking on free food lying around and laughing at whatever shit the Cousins had gotten themselves into. If Sam Anderson stuck around on set longer than the two minutes of screentime he had, maybe he did the same.

I’ll never know why Sam Anderson stuck around on Perfect Strangers. It’s not as though he was hurting for work, and it’s not as though this gave him something other work didn’t, unless he was trying to get a complete set of checks from all the different studios. I only had to watch a few episodes of Growing Pains to realize that Anderson was great as an antagonistic foil to the young, pretty-lipped star. I knew instantly that Principal DeWitt and Mike Seaver had a history. I don’t know if he had a lot of interactions with other Seaver children after Mike graduated, but we saw in the last “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” post that those writers were willing to find ways to bring him back just so the two of them could butt heads again. In that episode, Growing Pains brought him back when they didn’t have to. It’s obvious Anderson was meant to be that same antagonist to Balki, but Perfect Strangers seems to only bring him back because a completely empty workplace might be embarrassing even for this show.

Seasons 5, 6 and 7 started to make good on the promise of Sam Gorpley. In “Eyewitless Report” and “Finders Keepers”, he becomes a minor obstacle to the Cousins on their way to solving the week’s problem. It’s an interesting direction they could have taken the character, and I bet that you (you personally) could come up with a few jokes for him for most episodes that way. In “Bachelor Party”, he functions as an emissary from the world of men, far enough removed from both Balki and Larry’s existences that even the hint they’ve stepped outside turns into trouble for them. It’s an interesting direction they could have taken the character. The show used him so little that it was able to finally acknowledge it by having Wainwright point out that Balki’s been doing Gorpley’s job. It’s an interesting direction…

Just from the few things I’ve seen him in, Sam Anderson seems to know exactly the right amount of presence to have. He can blend in as a functional element of a plot or stick out as someone who is mean and petty, but at a level that’s less danger and more annoyance that you can’t avoid. He’s still–at 73–doing plays and getting recognition for it, and I have no doubt he could have gone in any direction the show wanted to take Gorpley.

But the show now has finally struck on the idea of, instead of having the minor characters interact with the Cousins, it can have them pair off with each other. Hey, it’s less they have to worry about working them into a story, right?

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Gorpley goes upstairs. It’s too short to feel like a face-to-face goodbye, more like a letter that reads “by the time you read this, I’ll be fucking Lydia”. No idea why they can’t screw in either of their apartments, but I’m glad they gave Sam Gorpley a happy ending.

More footsteps, another shadow in the doorway.

It’s RT Wainwright wearing assless chaps!

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Nah, j/k, it’s Rob Bob Phillips! Rob Bob is played by Leslie Jordan, the world’s sweetest little gay man! I’m so straight that sometimes I look at pictures of nude women, but damn if I don’t I want to hold Leslie Jordan tight and take care of him.

Balki introduces Cousin Larry to Steal Neil, who reveals that he’s the kidnapper. No, really? etc. He gives Dimitri back.

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Balki apologizes for not having the $10,000, but says he’d probably spend it on something outlandish on a suit of armor anyway, and hands Dimitri back.

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No, Larry! Don’t shake the baby!

Okay, so, the Chicago Chronicle has its own in-house comic strip; and we’ve been led to believe that Balki was hand-delivering every piece of mail every day to every employee. Balki would have known Rob Bob, and would have remembered the name when Wainwright brought it up earlier. Hell, later in this scene Balki reveals himself to have been a huge fan of the Kangaroo Cowboy strip. At this point in his development, I can believe that Balki would have forgotten hearing that Cheat Pete was upset with Wainwright, but not that he’d have experienced absolutely no emotion when he found out a month ago that both man and comic were gone for good.

Swindle Wendell says he thought the newspaper would pay the ransom. Well, that explains him putting the demand tape personally into the Cousins’ mailbox, doesn’t it?

I’ll admit I haven’t seen Leslie Jordan in that many other shows or movies. But I do remember him from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. In that show’s last season there’s an episode (“Mystery”) where Pee-Wee finds that his suit, his cereal bowl, his photo album, and his dots have all been stolen. Guess by whom they were stole from him:

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Pee-Wee catches Busby as Busby is trying to sneak back in and return the items. Busby regrets his actions and admits all he really wanted were as many friends as Pee-Wee has. I can’t imagine a less interesting thing you could steal from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse than a plot synopsis.

Pee-Wee is allowed to have a child’s understanding of criminality because it was explicitly a children’s show. Perfect Strangers put the same understanding into an episode where Larry wants to break someone’s neck and where bosses fire their employees at will and where advice columnists are so mentally unbalanced they can’t reach orgasm anywhere but the 8th-floor breakroom. (Did I really just argue that Perfect Strangers has more sex in it than Pee-Wee’s Playhouse?)

Anyway, Purloin Eoin is now a Sorry Maury and says that Kangaroo Cowboy would never try to get revenge.

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Larry tries to choke Dispossess Wes again and Balki pulls him off. The final Rob Bob punchline is a good one: he had tried to make this apology over the phone, but Larry wouldn’t let him talk.

Before Divest Ernest leaves, Balki asks that he pass on a “real big buckaroo howdy” to Kangaroo Cowboy.

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Rob Bob: Kangaroo Cowboy doesn’t exist anymore. The strip was cancelled. Its cancellation was the event that set off the sequence at whose end we now find ourselves. I’ll have to fall back on spot illustration for magazines, under a pseudonym, essentially starting my career over. I was subsisting on hot dog sandwiches before this; now I must sustain myself with whatever my soon-weakening grip can squeeze from ketchup packets I find in the dumpster behind Bugsy Burger.

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They both do Kangaroo Cowboy’s signature “howdy!” line and lasso-throwing dance, which no one would know because it’s not an animated cartoon. Rob Bob leaves.

Another silhouette appears in the doorway, limned by the light from the parking garage. “It was a dark and stormy night”, the shape says. Charles Schulz steps forward, the butt of an M1 Garand held to his shoulder.

“Suddenly, a shot rang out!”

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Join me next week for “Going Once, Going Twice”!

_____________________________________________________

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

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

Appearances left: Gorpley (1); Lydia (2)

Unused Larryoke Countdown #17:

1. See “The Gazebo”, note 112 sub-note d. Information loss was not a concern with newspapers as, like most academic libraries, the one, that is library, this author worked at was not a state or town library and was not in the practice of retaining pring copies of newspapers for more than 3-6 months (depending on the individual paper). The most current edition of each newspaper was kept in the “current periodicals” section, on newspaper “tables”, each with about 10 wooden dowels from which hung a single issue of a newspaper, each section of the paper hung from a different split section of the dowel. Though 3M-brand Tattle-Tape™ was not wasted on such ephemeral (and, if a thief so desired, granularly (at page level) separable) and relatively inexpensive periodicals, the complication did arise of the number of pages in each section of the newspaper. The reader, if personal experience with the medium is sufficient, envision that one large sheet of newsprint is folded and constitutes four pages of the newspaper, and that a section of a newspaper’s total number of pages should be some multiple of four. If a section had a number of pages divisible by 2 but not by four, this meant that two pages were, when unfolded, half the size of a regular sheet, and susceptible to the risk of–nay, they were certain to be in the situation of–falling out when hung from a dowel. The author must, at those times, use regular, nearly-transparent pressure-sensitive adhesive tape to attach these half-sheets to the full sheets to facilitate a “noisy”-yet-consistent newspaper reading/browsing experience for the library patron.

*Another thing that’s part of my own internal monologue about TV and movie writing: whenever a character says a plot point out loud like that, I assume it’s in the script so someone will have a good pull-quote for a commercial. Am I alone in this?

**Kiss my MP-double-Ass!

***Other points of intersect: Mary Anne gets lines and Jennifer is seen with more than one shirt.

****Dimitreason!

*****Landlord never dies they say. Other steps into his shoes when he gets his notice to quit.

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Season 7, Episode 13: Two Angry Men

I’m just going to call it Cousin House unless someone has a funnier name.

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Larry is on the couch reading about the falling stock prices of Stuffed Bear, Inc. when Balki runs in, shouting “cousin” before he even would have seen Larry. (Switched places from last week, Larry wearing a shirt with a vague plant motif, do you see blah blah blah.)

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Balki is excited to announce that he’s been given his first official duties as an American citizen: to participate in his local community, to stay informed of the issues affecting his community, and most importantly to respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others.

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Haha nah j/k he’s been called for jury duty, and tells Larry that they’ll be serving together. What a great citizen he’s turning out to be, opening other people’s mail! Larry wonders how in the hell they got picked for the same day.

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Psychology sidebar: humans are terrible at probability. We act like outcomes with a set chance of happening–say, a coin flip–are impacted by a series of trials: that is, if we get tails three times, it’s suddenly more likely than 50% that the fourth flip will be heads. Or that it’s wild to find someone who likes exactly the same books and bands as you, casually forgetting that there are 300 million of us in this country and a finite number of books and bands that you were equally likely to have come into contact with. Look, even Spotify’s random setting isn’t truly random, because they found that users felt “true” randomness wasn’t random enough. (Never, ever ask me my opinion on the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.)

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But we’re in a sitcom, so it has to be explained. Balki has been spending his lunch and coffee breaks every day for weeks to harass a public servant at the courthouse about putting his and Larry’s names at the top of “the list”. Balki says that he and Dave are now best buds. Really? Not only is Balki basically telling Larry that they’re not best buds, but also that he didn’t think it was worthwhile to tell him about what he assumed was the blooming of a new friendship in his life. Also, I’ve been in Dave’s place before. When you’re assigned to sit at a reference desk for hours every day, the people who think conversation is a monologue will find you. I’ve lost days of my life to these people. I’ve never hated Balki more than right now.

Dave agreed to be Balki’s accomplice for yet another federal crime in exchange for the promise that Balki would never, ever visit him again. Larry wonders why he never thought of that.

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Balki goes upstairs to decide what to wear to jury duty. Which of his five shirts, three vests, four pants, or two suits will he wear?

Hey, speaking of clotheshorses, here’s Jennifer! She got them a great deal on plane tickets for their upcoming trip to Bermuda.

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Jennifer looks forward to that good weather she’s heard is so nice, and Larry wishes only for three days’ freedom from Balki. It’s a small thing, but it’s a nice trend so late in the game.

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The show is lurching into self-awareness here in its final stretches. After years of the Cousins’ metamorphosis into a flesh-and-blood Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, a breaking point was reached where it was impossible for the outside world not to see how obvious they are. For all that Balki used to serve as a corrective to Larry’s fears about himself–and for all that I joke they’ve switched places–Larry and Balki have swung further and further apart. Balki has finally drifted into wacky neighbor territory, where nobody of any mental capacity really wants him around. It’s an exciting development for Perfect Strangers, and one I had no reason to expect. It would be the equivalent of a ninth season of Full House where the Tanners got barred from every public event in San Francisco because they kept grabbing people’s microphones, Becky divorces Uncle Jesse, and Joey is sued by Laffy Taffy for stealing jokes.

I didn’t really see the relevance of this scene with the plane tickets, so you can imagine the sheer momentum of my jaw as it dropped hard enough to put a dent in my floor when Larry says that jury duty and Bermudy duty land on the same day!

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I’ve got to ask: did jury duty used to work that way? That you couldn’t get out of it, even if you had a prior engagement, like being out of the country? And did it used to be that you’d get assigned to a case, hear it, and decide it all in one day? Either my experience on a jury was vastly different from everyone else’s, or television has gotten away with bad writing for years. Kind of a toss-up, really.

Jennifer says that their hotel room will have a waterbed, and this time it won’t be because there’s a leak in the roof right over it. Speaking of TV things I don’t understand: I’ve been promised for decades now that waterbeds are supposed to lead to the most stellar sex possible. Can someone who had sex in the late 70s chime in on this one?

Larry runs out, buys three car stereos, stashes them in Balki’s closet, and calls the police.

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I’m hoping Sarah Portland will tell me why in the world this building has columns starting halfway up the side.

011

Judge Slin tells us that the jury must decide if Bob Taylor actually did rob Jerry’s Gas and Shop. Slow down, show, this is too many names to keep track of!

Oh man.

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Look at these people.

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They are already so fucking done with the Cousins’ bullshit.

Larry is the jury foreman and, like any responsible person who had previously been thrown in prison on the basis of biased interpretation of the law, starts demagoguing and tells everyone to send this guy to their chair for stealing a whole box of SweeTarts.

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After counting 9 “guilty” votes and 3 “not guilty” votes, Larry is tactful enough to pretend he didn’t recognize Balki’s handwriting–

notguilty

–and asks who the three people were.

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Balki reminds Larry of the magnitude of the decision before him, and I can understand why Balki feels such gravitas. We had it hammered into us early on in this show that a single white lie gets you hellfire and brimstone, so I have to imagine that robbery gets you an eternity trapped in the sudoric folds of Satan’s scrotum.

Whoever the two other “not guilty” votes are, they must not be the ones who got any lines, because no one pipes up to argue their opinion.  Larry starts to recap the case, and since the police care so little about keeping the evidence in any sort of order, it’s all right there in a box.

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Something I’m sure you’re all familiar with from courtroom dramas: when the police arrested L. Bob Burglar, they stripped all his clothes off to keep them as evidence. (It’s a pretty amazing jacket; someone obviously had fun putting those leather patches on the elbows.)

Balki says that the defendant was wearing brown pants, and that no one would wear brown pants with that jacket. I wish I had any idea whether they shaved some words off that line, and Balki meant that the robber was said to have been wearing brown pants the night of the crime, or if Balki just doesn’t understand that sometimes people change their pants on special occasions like going to court. Every single thing that Balki says or does now is some variation on how stupid he is, so I’ve lost all sense of which kinds of stupid he is or isn’t.

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Larry hands Balki gun and then they start fighting over it, so add that to the list of kinds of stupid.

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The last piece of evidence is a piece of paper that says that Bob had $214 on him when he was arrested. Larry says he doesn’t believe it’s a coincidence that the robber stole the same amount.

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Academic-type sidebar: The principle of least effort states that I could end my sentence now because you know how to look it up on Wikipedia. But the principle also suggests you’re going to keep reading because that’s easier than opening another tab. Basically, any time we want something, we’re going to have in mind the minimum acceptable level/type of the thing we want, and we’ll put forth just enough effort to get that thing, and when we get the thing, we stop.

For instance, grass is remarkably inefficient at using the amount of sunlight it receives. It has no idea that cows could get more energy if it weren’t so photosynthetically lazy; it evolved only to the point where it would reliably get eaten and shat out. College students–it pains me to say as a university librarian–search in article databases until they get something that looks like the information they need. Gee, I wonder if maybe this principle could be applied to sitcom writing?

The principle of least effort also explains why we’re so lazy with language. It’s actually very realistic that Larry has described the very definition of coincidence. Whenever I take a shit, about 50 million people around the world are doing the same thing, but that doesn’t make it meaningful. You should all start adding “mere” to “coincidence” in these contexts. Also, yes, correlation does imply causation, otherwise no one would be bringing up the correlation in the first place; say “correlation does not prove causation”. This is the kind of thing I spend my time thinking about because I don’t have a waterbed.

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Look at this, what the hell, they’re acting like schoolchildren! Look, it’s great that the show has realized that Larry and Balki have strayed so far from believable that anyone who meets them immediately feels in danger for their lives, but it shouldn’t have ten people act as one, or what’s the point? Also: I’ve served on a jury, and I bet a lot of you have too. But further than that, I’ve been in plenty of meetings as a university librarian. Even in the most inconsequential of groups–I led an open house committee for a few years, to plan an annual event where we let students play games in the library and gave away prizes–no group of people is this categorically mum. I can’t imagine anyone sitting and listening to these two talk for this long.

Balki gives us the rest of the facts of the case: Bob Taylor claims that the Real Robber, while fleeing Jerry’s Gas & Ass, threw the jacket–money and gun included–at him. Balki is willing to believe that Bob didn’t question this at all and wasted no time in putting the jacket on, not patting the pockets, and standing around until the cops came. I guess on an island where animals regularly come back from the dead and the local salvation myth is based on episodes of Lost in Space, everybody has learned not to question testimony.

Anyway, Balki is laying out the facts for this statistically-eventually-likely group of deaf-mutes who can read lips, and somehow it’s supposed to be more convincing than the actual testimony or argumentation in the courtroom.

Larry tells Balk his mens is so far from sana they might as well go ahead and take it off life support. Balki starts crying.

022

In some alternate universe, maddeningly close to us, Larry learns a lesson about how preponderance of evidence is all well and good in civil cases, but in criminal cases proof beyond a reasonable doubt is required. Larry demands they all vote again so he can get home and (heh) start that course of performance with Jennifer.

Balki votes “not guilty” again.

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After spending all evening making sure Bob Taylor’s lawyer got in a considerable number of billable hours, the Cousins come home and commit juror misconduct by shouting the details of the case at each other. Balki storms off into the kitchen, and Jennifer comes down the stairs.

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Larry assures her that the trial will be over early the next morning, and they can still make the flight to Bermuda, so he can, you know, habeas her corpus. So he can set up a program of enhanced intensive supervision. So he can submit his briefs for review.

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So he can see if her precedent is on all fours. Okay I’m done.

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Jennifer plans to pack only a string bikini, and Larry pops a huge boner at the thought of his wife washing neither her hair nor her vagina for days. Jennifer implies that she plans to not wear the bikini or leave the hotel because she anticipates Larry getting lost in her Bermuda triangle. So why not just go a few blocks down to the Motel 6? Balki and Mary Anne would never know the difference.

Larry comes–

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–sorry, wrong screenshot, Larry comes into the kitchen to find Balki contaminating one whole goddam cheesecake through reforking.

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Larry asks Balki to give his interpretation of the facts. Come on, show! You just proved to me you don’t give a shit about any one of the ten extras you hired getting a single line, why could this scene have not taken place in the deliberation room?

Surprise! The big reveal is that Balki is stupid! He says that Bob blinked 27 times during his testimony and crossed his hands right over left.

Balki then explains that on Mypos, those are the surest indicators of innocence, because criminals blink twice as much and openly masturbate throughout a trial. Larry allows that nonverbal communication is a powerful thing, something that can either confirm or disagree with someone’s words. But he asks Balki whether he would say that Americans share any of the same leaky channels that Myposians do, and more specifically whether he remembers their gesticular miscommunication in “The Ring”. Balki, at a rare loss for words, ponders how to articulate his answer–the universalities of human body language as evidenced by common facial expressions–in a way that Larry can understand. Larry goes on to say that a hung jury will almost certainly result in a new jury which will not include Balki.

Nah, j/k, none of that shit happens.  Larry repeats what Balki said and then calls him stupid. But!

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Balki having a different cultural code of nonverbal tells is the kernel of a pretty good idea that could have let the episode go in some worthwhile directions. What’s interesting to me is that Balki is pointing to proof of innocence, where my pop culture upbringing has led me to believe that people only give themselves away when they lie; that difference itself fits with the Mypos of the early seasons. Any small amount of Larry pressing Balki to elaborate might lead to a joke where Balki has to acknowledge that no one on Mypos lies, so whatever he fixated on the first time he saw someone declared innocent became something he looked for every time after.

Or, hey, psychology sidebar: we’re incredibly bad at reading people we don’t know well. The fundamental attribution error is when we assume what someone does or says has everything to do with who they are, and nothing to do with their circumstance. Being on the stand would be a pretty extreme situation for most of us, and who knows how we might fidget? And we all grew up with different parents, who had different ways of facially (or otherwise) displaying emotions, and someone who displays them often can misinterpret someone who doesn’t. But more than that: if you asked five of your coworkers to tell you how they thought you were feeling, it’s likely you’d get five answers.*

If this show could be bothered to spend as much money on turkeys as it does on talking roles, we could have gotten a scene where Balki’s error becomes the story. Every single juror–even Larry–could be revealed to have based their opinions entirely on different nervous tics, wardrobe choices, or even how Bob reminds them of a kid they didn’t like in elementary school. Then you’d get an actual discussion of facts vs doubts, instead of this facts vs feelings mess that the writers think works as character-driven conflict.

I still believe that, deep down inside most episodes of Perfect Strangers, there’s a good story that could have been realized. Back in the early seasons, there were some stories that I felt must have started out better and suffered from the dual demands of physical comedy and pat lessons that let the Cousins off the hook. This one seems more to be a good story idea that Perfect Strangers stepped on on its way to page 24 and neglected to do more than check the bottom of its shoe.

Perfect Strangers doesn’t understand which things to throw out and which to keep, and the vast but vile landfill it would have to sift through to find one shiny trinket is far too much work. If you want a callback to critical theme, scroll up to the top of this review. I’ve got enough work getting through the next 8 minutes of this episode.

Balki says that all of the evidence was circumcisional, and Larry corrects his error by way of demonstration. Then he takes Balki up in a balloon for 80 days to rule out circumnavigational, pulls out a compass to show him circumscribing, and man I swear that joke sounded better in my head. Anyway this might be the only time that Balki was ever openly hypocritical, enjoy it.

Hey, you know what would be a great direction to go at this point? If you said “have the Cousins re-enact the crime but then stop before they really start”, a career in sitcom writing awaits you.

Larry finally lets slip his real reasons for wanting a swift end to deliberation:

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Larry: All I care about is my balls slapping Jennifer’s asshole!

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Larry: I mean– justice’s asshole!

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Balki finally found a bridge to an emotion other than drooling, and picks Cousin Larry up by his collar, and there’s absolutely no way this revelation could have impacted 10 other people with stakes even vaguely similar to either of their own.

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Larry starts babbling about Jennifer’s itsy bitsy teenie weenie amount of personality and how desperately he wants to see it. Balki shares his own disappointment: that he didn’t get to ride on the Tilt-a-Whirl at whatever carnival operates only in the daytime.

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The next day, at the Cook Covnty Criminal Covrt Hovse, Balki is repeating “27 times” to a tired fellow juror. This, this is where the episode should have gotten to 6 minutes ago.

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We also learn that Balki eats a whole clove of garlic every day and then doesn’t brush his teeth. I had taken those aspects of his personality as given, but it’s still nice that the show confirmed it. This guy calls on the other 9 to help him unleash a little juror furor on Balki.

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It’s really obvious that they only paid two of these extras to talk, so it’s actually pretty scary when a group of silent adults rushes Balki.

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Larry stops them, claiming first right of murder, and sticks up for Balki’s right to be an idiot. Sure, fine, this is an idea I can get behind in the broad sense, but certainly not in the specific. When a potential criminal’s punishment is on the line maybe isn’t the best time to argue that citizens have the right to be completely uninformed about how their country works.

Then, I don’t know, Larry joins the mob in chasing Balki–

041042

–and then one second later tries to stop them again because who fucking cares what order pieces of the plot occur, or where they even take place?

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Balki shushes track 23 from volume 1 of “Sitcom Sounds” (“Subdued but riled mob (mixed sexes)”) and speaks. His listeners held their cigarettes poised to hear, their smoke ascending in frail stalks that flowered with his speech. It was the speech, mark you, of a finished orator, full of courteous haughtiness and pouring in chastened diction.

Nah j/k he talks about sheep what the hell did you think was going to happen?

044

Finally, Bailiff Dick comes in and tases them all. (Ken Thorley, who you likely remember from one of the dozens of similar roles he did back then, has a great shouting-at-mobs voice.) I support the Black Lives Movement, but I still think the funniest part of this episode is this peace officer coming in and not even batting an eye at the obvious imminent murder of a member of a minority group.

045

The real robber–who, you’ll remember, while running away from the scene of the crime threw away his gun and the entirety of the money he stole and likely did not see the arrest, and who couldn’t know that someone else was on trial for his crime–turned himself in. Juror # this guy apologizes to Balki for almost murdering him and Balki forgives him. Perfect Strangers is determined that you believe that lying is the worst sin a person can commit.

046

Larry tells Balki he imagines that being attacked by a mob probably wasn’t the experience he was looking for.

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Balki: No, in my fantasy it was eleven Cousin Larries.

Larry: Well, the important thing is you got everything you wanted.

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Balki: Not… everything, Cousin…

(They kiss)

So, our angelic Balki has gone from saving innocent souls from dog prison to saving them from human prison.  Justice was served, even though no one, individually, served justice. Breaker Morant got nothing on this!

There’s more: Larry gets rewarded for his shitty behavior too. Bailiff Dick tells him that airlines have to honor tickets for flights missed because of jury duty, and goes off to get him the proper paperwork.

Wow, what a great piece of information that literally no other character on this show could possibly have known!

Balki gloats that he and Mary Anne will have the house to themselves.

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The Cousins have a good laugh about how this will give Balki the opportunity to gaslight her about their relationship with absolutely no distractions.

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So, this week’s lessons: you can be annoying to everyone on the basis of no logic whatsoever and pure dumb fucking luck will save your ass. A white man can prize his own interests over those of the American justice system and still be rewarded. You can make a habit out of bringing in 10 extras and only pay one of them to say three lines**. You can write a single draft of a major TV network sitcom and still get it on the air.

051

Join me next week for “Missing”!

____________________________________

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

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

Unused Larryoke countdown #18: “I Fought the Law and For No Apparent Logical Reason I Won” — The Crickets

*see Heidi Grant Halvorson’s No One Understands You and What To Do About It

**see also season 7, episode 1, “Ten Horny Men”

0713dimitri

Season 7, Episode 12: Door to Door

001

We open at Bartokomanor to find Balki ramming his fist into a doll’s orifice.

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Not Dimitri (curiously missing from this scene), but roughly 20 teddy bears.

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At this point, I have to assume that no one locks the doors in this house after they all obliterated their noses running into them.

Larry tells Balki that he has great news, but then stops to let Balki talk about the props, since that’s all they let him do most weeks.

Balki says that Mama’s birthday is coming soon and he wants to buy her something nice–some new phonemes, some prepositions, maybe a second joke for her character–and has taken on a job as a “bear stuffer”. Kudos to whatever toy company figured out how to lower their overhead by making employees work in their own homes.

Also, Balki needs extra money? Really? These fuckers are living in a fully (and differently from their apartments) furnished home not three months after moving out of their apartments. Hey, maybe they stole the tables, curtains, dinnerware, and hatrack on the night they raided Twinkie’s, but we’ve seen them buy a gazebo, a new classic muscle car, four car stereos, a car alarm, 57 turkeys, pave their backyard, have their backyard paved, fly to Mypos, cater a party for foreign nationals, and buy T-shirts instead of notepads, all while living in a house they’re paying 4 times the market value in rent on every month. They both got promotions two weeks ago! Did they not sue Clive Enright? Did Balki lose all ability to cook? All they’d have to do is just sit still for a day and they’d have extra money.

Oh, by the way, Balki left a half-eaten Snickers bar in one of the bears, and didn’t give enough of a shit to try and find it. Bringing capitalism into the home, the fully material approach to gift-giving, the lack of quality assurance, *sniff* sorry I’m tearing up here (*blows nose rather wetly*) Balki’s finally a true American.

Larry wonders briefly if he can turn this plot point into breaking into the neighbors’ house to rip open their plush toys, but then continues with his good news. His plan for turning over more of their free time to capitalist ideals of “productivity” is far better.

004

(Larry jumps on the couch; Balki wears a simple shirt: do you see it?)

Larry had interviewed L. Bob Frederick–president and CEO of Clean for Life, featured in that month’s Biz Whiz magazine*–earlier that day and now has a plan to make them rich. L. Bob saw Larry for the idiot he is and offered him a position at the very bottom of his company’s totem pole: selling cleaning products to whatever percentage of women were still lonely, sexually-frustrated, and housebound in 1991. In case L. Bob’s name weren’t enough for you to figure out that it’s an L. Ron Hubbard reference, Larry claims that this development is “a miracle”.

005006

Larry brings in a dolly loaded with boxes full of the false promise that capitalism cures all ills, for good. It puts the “lean” in clean, he says, the “spark” in sparkle. Balki asks if, when applied to bare asses, if it makes them more lustrous and fuckable.

Psychology sidebar: why do we like shiny things, anyway? A couple of Belgian business researchers (and one from Houston) tested out their hypothesis that this preference originates in an evolutionary drive to locate fresh water. (They found evidence for that hypothesis, otherwise they probably wouldn’t have been published.) That explains why shiny apples look good to eat, and maybe why baby Bronson was always putting his mother’s polished high heels in his mouth, but we like oiled-up bodies, too, right? I can’t speak to what might give men “glowing” skin, but for women it’s estrogen, which they have increased amounts of both during pregnancy and ovulation. In addition to keeping a woman’s skin moisturized, it also prevents skin aging. So a shiny nekkid lady butt means she’s fertile and has access to fresh water, and by extension, so will your offspring.

Anyway, Balki and Larry talk about this bottle of blue soap that L. Bob has storehouses full of after Europe banned pentachlorophenol in household products earlier that year.

Larry sees in the soap money, fame, all the disgusting little cheese dogs you can buy, and Balki misunderstands his figure of speech, since those only exist in English.

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Then Balki says he sees Larry through the not-even-really-translucent bottle and god damn it, is this show just completely unable to either 1) make props to fit the script, 2) throw out lines when the props don’t work for them, or 3) keep Bronson from ad-libbing?

We know that they’re perfectly willing to throw out lines; hell, at this point, you could cobble together a whole episode’s worth of lines from Harriette, Lydia, Jennifer, Mary Anne and RT (Redacted Transcript) Wainwright. And last week we got pull-out stereos and a blow-up doll, so take the wildest guess you can manage.

008

Anyway, Larry has wheelsappletoned in some 1980s-era wet/dry vacuum that he refers to as the “Omnisweep”, which is actually a good thing for a quasi-religious organization to call its product. If you’re expecting some sort of Frank Zappa “First Church of Appliantology” joke, I certainly don’t want to disappoint: once he’s made his money back, Larry’s plan is to whack ‘em and vac ‘em.

Hey, check it out, Balki can’t understand when Larry uses “see” in a figurative sense, but he knows instantly what Larry means by “gravy train”. By the time they got to the “gravy train” line, the writers consulted their Balki checklist and saw that “misunderstand” was already marked off for this scene.

All right, so, we’ve got our plot: the Cousins have decided to be door-to-door salesmen for L. Ron Hoover. In the next scene–

009

–yeah, I completely agree, no possible humor to be had from anything approaching a montage of the Cousins trying to sell items to normal people. We didn’t do it in “Gobble This”, so why start now?

Larry is actively mining the show’s past for this scene: he wants to plan out their front porch pitch, and he claims to have more knowledge than Balki when it comes to sales tactics. Those things are in line with Larry’s character, but excuse the fuck out of me: don’t they both know that each of them sucks at salesmanship, having worked together in that capacity for two years? Well, nevermind, we don’t get to hear how either of them think selling works, here’s a book.

010

That “FIRST EDITION” banner on the cover is the funniest thing in this episode. I get that they needed to have a prop that would read well for the cameras, and there’s some chance they hadn’t settled on what specific L. Ron Hubbard name spoof to use when they made the prop, so I get why the self-important celebrity author’s name and photograph aren’t on the cover. But this sight gag manages to have even more layers than the “Bridge Over Troubled Water” joke last week. It functions not only as a religious reference (Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock”), but the prominent “first edition” text is a tidy gag of the entrepreneur’s promise that getting in on the ground floor will provide the follower with relics whose value will only increase with time.

(The show’s first question answered anew, Larry at the door: do you see it?)

The Cousins fight over the book.

011

It goes on for awhile. But! It’s a way for Larry to feel like he’s in power, and the religious parallels are both very clear and very subtle for Perfect Strangers. L. Bob gave Larry instructions that only he (he Larry) could interpret the text for the common man.

Have you ever been roped into doing some skit for some office “event”, like a holiday party or an annual retreat? And the person writing the skit has this very narrow sensibility that, if a word appears in the text someone’s narrating, or in the song that you’re all pantomiming to (god help you if they think they can write parody lyrics), someone has to be either evoking or holding the item, regardless of whether that has fuckall to do with anything else; this deep fearknowledge that whatever they’ve written is dead on arrival and they need to add more? Please tell me I’ve not suffered in this hell alone.

012

When Larry says there are two rules and one of them is “get the money, get the money, get the money”, Balki counts this as four rules total. This is worse than normalized media violence.

So, Larry was given a book to tell him how to sell, and was told that in it is knowledge that he can distill and give to his unquestioning minions. This leads to There’s a completely separate joke where Larry hands Balki a 4”x6” card that L. Bob wrote containing all he (he Balki) needs to know.

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Now they’re just going back and forth to clarify, verbally, that the card is for Balki and that Balki should read the card and that L. Bob gave Larry the card and that Larry got the card from L. Bob and I don’t know why L. Bob needs more than one person to sit around all weekend and not sell soap, but maybe more importantly: why weren’t they going over this shit Friday night?

Larry sends Balki outside with the card to pretend to be a salesman. Forget bashing his skull in with a baseball bat, Larry, just pretend to never, ever again know who Balki is!

Larry coaches Balki through the door on what to say.

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(Larry says “knock knock” from the wrong side; do you see it?)

015

After obliterating Larry’s nose (thank you, show), the Cousins finally get the order of operations right. Balki rings the doorbell, comes in and plays with Larry’s clothing, just like he would if this had been an actual housewife.

The joke is that Balki is holding the card upside-down while trying to read it out loud. The execution Bronson chooses for this is to make his voice sound like a reversed audio clip, which is two steps removed from what the joke is. I know you’re probably getting tired of me saying how bad Balki’s jokes are, but part of feels like I ought to prove to you, at least once, that 99% of them are terrible.

Credit where credit’s due: Larry has trouble conveying to Balki the idea that he shouldn’t take “no” for an answer from customers. That alone would have let it be placed alongside whatever episode years ago where Larry explained to Balki what American women want. (I cannot for the life of me remember what episode that is from and it feels so good to know that maybe I’ll forget all of them someday.) But Larry is blurring the lines of who he is (do you see it?), switching from a potential mark** to Cousin Larry, so Balki does not understand which one he should take “no” from. They really shouldn’t be spending so much time sitting side-by-side on the couch (call this one “Cheek to Cheek”), but the yes/no bit works. Larry finally clarifies:

Larry: To a salesman, “no” means “yes”.

Balki: Oh, so like with women.

Larry: Right. (double-take)

Larry says that a coward sells at a thousand houses, but a hero at only one: his (oh god) plan is to sell his entire stock to Lenora DuMont, owner of the DuMont hotel chain. Remember kids, this was 1991, when owners of nation-wide companies paid in cash for all cleaning supplies and drove them personally to every location.

By this point in his career, Larry Appleton must know all the big names in Chicago: mob bosses; media moguls for newspapers, television, radio; sports figures; aldermen; innumerable small business owners who have banned him and Balki for life; major players in the photography world. If he can pull together detailed specs on car makes and models and compare them against current stock at used car dealerships across the entire Chicago area, he certainly has access to information breaking down Chicago neighborhoods and subdivisions by median household income.

So who does Larry pick? A woman he just interviewed for the newspaper the previous month. Uncle Shaggy, in season 5’s “Throwing Up the News”, was gentle and had enough faith in his fellow man that he sought Larry out to confront him about lying to get an exclusive photo. But Larry’s blurring even more lines here, between his professional and home lives. If you were to theorize any depth here, you could say that Larry is so certain he’ll strike it rich that he need not worry about his newspaper job. Larry at least was trying to place the blame on Balki for the photograph, but I’m really having trouble understanding why the show would so casually have Larry shrug off any sort of journalistic ethics.

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Later, at DuMontmont, Larry enters a fancy sitting room decked out in all the same beiges and greens Perfect Strangers just can’t get enough of.

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Balki rides the Omnisweep in like a hobby horse (hobby hobby horse!) and Larry tells him no, not now.

18a

Guys–

18b

No, you–

019020

Lenora DuMont, founder, president, CFO, CMO, CIO, comptroller, accounting manager, sales manager, food and beverage director, general manager (and client) of the DuMont hotel chain, comes in and asks who the fuck Larry is. I guess they just wandered deep into this woman’s house without a butler announcing them. Everything I thought I knew about rich people has been shattered!

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Larry reminds Lenora that he had interviewed her before, and that he even met her children (Trust Fund and Capital Gain) when they all had lunch.  She doesn’t recognize him until Balki pipes up to remind her how Cousin Larry spilled gazpacho right onto her crotch.

The show held off on mentioning Ms. DuMont’s art collection until now, and I’ll admit Balki’s line that they’re there to “get the Monet” made me laugh.

022

Then Balki starts hugging and kissing the woman until Larry pulls him off of her. And you probably thought I was being unfair with that fake dialogue earlier.

Last week, I enjoyed the show taking time to let the characters idly stand around and swap punchlines. It felt very true to the times when I’ve been woken up in the middle of the night and am just sort of waiting for someone to tell me they don’t need me awake anymore. Jokes can stray pretty far away from the situation because things get very stream-of-consciousness when you’re trying not to be too awake or too asleep.

But, here’s it’s hard to imagine what story the writers are trying to tell us.  By all appearances, we’re about to get one of those standard salesman scenes where someone deliberately dumps dirt on the floor so they can demonstrate their cleaning product; and the way that setup would play out is for the attempts at cleaning to cause bigger messes. But within that, the show has placed a situation where Lenora DuMont assumes Larry is there to interview her again and wants to show him her newest art piece. But within that, every line she or Larry says leads to a Balki misunderstanding, which then is parlayed into a further Balki punchline. For instance, Lenora’s mention of her newly-acquired portrait becomes, for Balki, a question of whether Ricky Ricardo and Fred Mertz were actually friends. When you’re getting that off-course two or three times in a scene, it starts feeling like the writers don’t know what they’re trying to do.¹

(*Sigh* It’s damage enough to my psyche that I give you weekly analysis of how this show fails on its details; why do I give myself more work by trying to rewrite jokes? When Lenora tells them that Reynaldo Ricardo has painted the royal family, Balki’s punchline should be “what happens when they bathe?”)

Let’s talk about Laverne and Shirley for a minute. I’ve been holding off on bringing this up because I kept hoping I’d find an interview where it’s mentioned; but I think this was probably on a little interstitial behind-the-scenes featurette on TV Land, so I’ll likely never find it again. In this little featurette, one of the show’s writers was talking about how they would deliberately take a standard sitcom trope and tweak aspects of it to see what new jokes they could find. The episode offered as an example was “Guinea Pigs”, where Laverne and Shirley go to a party. The standard setup, said this writer, would be for one to want to go, and one to not want to go; and they took a left-field approach and made Laverne sleepy and Shirley hungry.

All this to say that I get taking your comedy characters, putting them in a stock situation, and going somewhere completely unexpected. What I don’t understand is why they would shoehorn in the scene with Balki practicing how to talk to customers. That should have led to a scene where Balki was at someone’s door, and then the writers could have taken it off in some interesting direction. But Larry already knew he wasn’t going to put Balki in a situation where he could practice what he’d “learned”. There are always bigger problems–and we’ll get to one in a few minutes here–but in the meantime let’s keep moving.

023

Lenora unveils the portrait and claims it will soon hang in the Chicago Art Institute. (ABC’s legal department knew that they’d get sued for libel by the Art Institute of Chicago for suggesting they’d ever house anything from this show.)

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Balki, who has never painted anything in his life, no, NOT EVEN ONCE, NEVER

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EVER

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thinks that this is a paint-by-numbers piece. I’m surprised they don’t just have him try to tongue-kiss the painting. Then the Cousins start fighting.

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Larry finally steers the plot back on course, but we’re 15 minutes in here, can we just skip to the Cousins projectile shitting onto the painting? Larry shakes a bottle and touts the 200+ varieties of Clean for Life products.

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Lenora tells them she doesn’t have time for this shit, she’s got to go hunt immigrants for sport at 3, please leave. Balki starts trying to sidefuck her.

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Larry insists on proclaiming the Clean for Life gospel, knocking a tray of desserts onto the carpet.  Lenora says she’ll have her maid tidy up… and then leaves the room. She doesn’t have a butler throw them out. She doesn’t make sure they’re gone. She just leaves the room.

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Oh god, they’re going to end up dumping Clean for Life down the maid’s throat, aren’t they?

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For some goddam reason, the bottles’ caps are loose inside the briefcase, and the soapshaking Larry gets his sudsy discharge on part of the painting’s periwinkle cloth covering.

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I know I’m belaboring this, I know that if I keep mentioning it, I’ll likely continue mentioning it, but: Balki has no reason to be here. The first time Larry shakes a bottle, Balki tightens the cap before handing it to him. And before Larry shakes the second one, Balki tries to stop him, and they do the thing where they talk over each other. Credit where it’s due, they set up the mini-situation where Larry not listening to Balki got him in trouble; but it’s (a reversal) the tail wagging the dog. Balki has to be there, so Balki has to try to stop Larry because Balki has to be the smart one when Larry is dumb, so they must seed a way for him to correct Larry. Yeah, I’m belaboring this, but let that reflect how clunky and awkward this show is when it refuses to either justify Balki’s presence or acknowledge it makes no sense. Balki’s sole purpose here so far is to add a shade of logic to a bottlecap being loose, and even there it fails, because it still makes no sense.

(Balki is a force for order: do you see it?)

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Rather than just leave right then and there and let the maid get deported, the cousins wait a full five minutes to uncover the painting. Balki notices Ms. DuMont’s mole missing from the painting.

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And nobody bothered to put a mole on the painting in the earlier shot.

And nobody bothered to put a mole on Ms. DuMont either.

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Eagerly this newsman cretin;–author of a script so wheaten

Vainly did he try to neaten–solvent from the host Lenore–

From the rare and radiant CEO whom the writers named Lenore–

Moleless here for evermore.

I guess Reynaldo Waldo Geraldo Faldo Ricardo is off taking a shit since there’s a palette full of freshly pooted paint close to hand.

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While the Cousins are a little too obviously enjoying destroying Lenora’s nose, let’s ask ourselves: what the hell is this episode about?

If the writers were aiming to have each scene be the least likely scenario to follow from the previous, then congratulations are in order, because this is maybe the messiest (ha) episode Perfect Strangers has ever done. Sitcoms make some strange leaps in logic from scene to scene, but this one started with Larry being suckered into joining an explicitly capitalist religion and we’re ending with Larry destroying Lenora: Portrait of a Serial Hotelier. If there’s any sort of connecting thread, it’s that Larry is following a shyster’s lead in tearing down the barriers separating his professional from his financial life. I guess you could say he’s removing a septum, since that’s what he did to the painting; that could be a good joke. Work on that and get back to me, would you?

This is one of those occasions where it’s worthwhile to look at the behind-the-scenes information curated on the fansite. Okay, scroll–no, scroll all the way down. No, the other–the other way. The part where–no, back up. “Script variations”. Okay.

In an earlier draft of this script, Balki is the one who signed up to be a Clean for Life salesman, and Larry determined from his contract that he’d taken in. Cousin Larry, trying to bail Balki out, goes to see L. Bob Frederick and then gets taken in with the promise of being higher up the ladder than Balki. This makes a hell of a lot more sense. I know this is a stupid sitcom and all, but isn’t it a little too convenient that, just as Balki needs extra money, Larry coincidentally found a way?

Even as it is now, those first two scenes set up an interesting direction for the episode. What if the wires got crossed on the heavenly switchboard and some nutso entrepreneur misunderstood a message about purifying the soul, making ones stains white as snow? I’m thinking too big for Perfect Strangers, but the idea–salesmen using coded religious language in their marketing–is a good one. But pursuing that demands basically handing over punchlines to someone who’s not Bronson, so forget that.

That early script was dated one day before filming, so I’m guessing that during a run-through, it ran way too long. Hell, as it is, the exposition is still half of the episode. By indulging in too many of its own tropes, Perfect Strangers has slowed to a crawl and (ahem) painted itself into a corner for what it could accomplish in 22 minutes. The writers either didn’t realize the potential they’d created with the Clean for Life elements, or those parts of the script were simply pitted against the slapstick they’d already come up with and refused to replace with anything else.

Two stories, one an incomplete contemporary critique, the other a misfired slapstick trope, fighting for domination, do you see it? Two selves, each losing their identity to the other, do you see it? Atomizing, dissolving–

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–her head it simply swurls–

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–losing all identity, empty vessels waiting to be filled with whatever it takes to give them the appearance of life, be it stuffing or detoxifying fluids, offered the semblance of physical touch, the guise of family, the sleazy businessman offering community but then occupying their space.

The Cousins have figuratively and literally switched places this week, overwriting each other. It takes seven years for the human body to replace its cells; the human body discards many toxins and cells it doesn’t need through breathing; and the Cousins have been sharing the same air for about that amount of time. Balki must have traveled to America on the Ship of Theseus.

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Moving towards center, now equidistant from their bookend blondes, the Cousins’ approach to women has redheadshifted: an inflatable image of a redhead, brought out only when it benefits Larry, and here, when failing to replace a powerful woman’s fluids with their own, overwriting her attempts to propagate her own image.***

anyway, haha, these gay cousins really “rubbed off” on each other lol do you see deez two nuts doing slapstick

Lenora comes back in, sees she has no mouth, but she must scream.

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I’m sure there were another 10 pages of script before they even got to use the Omnisweep, but it’s time for the final scene.

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The Cousins are co-shining their shoes, which is a nice moment that deserves to be in a much better episode. They’re dressed up because they’re going to be valets for the next six months at Ms. DuMont’s parties, where all the hotel chain owners get together and engage in illegal price fixing for things like bulk orders of cleaning products. I guess you could say it’ll be awhile before the Cousins are…

…wait for it…

solvent again!

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There’s probably some last bit of symbolism I could shake out of them using the addition of layers of polish to their shoes to lend them a clean & new appearance, or how, redshifting, identical, Larry and Balki must now put on their identifying layers, not so much punishment as corrective, fixing them in place and (over)righting the sins of the episode, but I’m really not up to it at this point. You do it.

They sent all the Clean for Life products to Mama. Looks like Worldwide Amalgamated finally got that toxic waste out there after all!

Join me next week for “Two Angry Men”!

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

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

Unused Larryoke countdown #19: “Amway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin

*the December 1991 issue of Biz Whiz also features a rare two-page advertisement from a short-lived campaign for BladGlad urinal cakes with Carl Lewis as their spokesperson

**(ahem)

***their own story, cf. “Almost Lydia in Chicago” and “The Men Who Denude Too Much”

1. I mean, who does that kind of thing?ᵃ

     a. Assholes, that’s who.

dimitristrip