Season 5 Reportage

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Welcome back! I know I’ve picked up some new readers over the past few months, so I’ll explain what I’m doing here. Ever since I found out that Jennifer and Mary Anne were promoted to regular characters on the strength of seeing them on-screen for two whole minutes, I decided that I needed to get serious about educating myself on the context of Perfect Strangers.  So between seasons I now look at whatever interviews and news reporting I can find on the show.  It’s much more work than reviewing an episode, but the benefit is I don’t have to watch an episode to write it. I utilize the information found on the long-running Perfect Strangers fansite, as well as the videos curated on the associated YouTube channel. It’s been a worthwhile endeavor, not only for learning trivia like Larry thinking the original decorations for the apartment set made it look like somebody’s grandma’s house, but also for giving me the chance to break the story about Bronson Pinchot’s shoe fetish.

Being finished with season 5 of Perfect Strangers, I’m finding, doesn’t really feel like any sort of milestone. Completing season 3 felt like an accomplishment, because it proved, if nothing else, that I had far less of a social life than the guys who wrote the other two Perfect Strangers blogs.  Season 4 had its obvious benefits as the (sorta) halfway point. My emotional response to having season 5 behind me is, for the most part, one of buckling down for the rest of it. Accomplishment has come, been recognized, and gone, and now there’s a set amount left to do. I’ll have more to say about this next week, in the season review, but one of the things that struck me with this week’s research is that I found a reflection of this feeling in the interviews with the actors.

So read on as we look at interviews and articles (et a little cetera too) from May 6, 1989, through May 4, 1990, organized so that all the juicy Bronson stuff will be at the end.

The Show itself

I only find two articles talking about the show leading up to the season 5 premiere. A mid-season article in TV Guide overstates the Larry/Balki “investigative team” relationship, but even more distanced from the actual show is an August article in TV Week:

At 9 o’clock, “Perfect Strangers” moves out of the traditional family hour (8-9) and into an area where presumably more adult themes can be explored in a show that has been maturing since its innception…. The comedy during the first few seasons came from the unrelenting conflict generated by Balki’s naivete and the cousins’ romantic entanglements with a pair of flight attendants, one as solid as Larry and the other as off-the-wall as Balki.

Can you imagine writing about a show you’d never watched?

There’s nowhere else good, narratively, to place this Rolling Stone article about sitcom theme songs, so I’ll mention it here.  For one, I never realized how much 80s theme songs read like translated anime theme lyrics, and the article pulls no punches in getting across how meaningless some of them are (like Growing Pains’s “sharing the laughter and love”). These quotes from Jesse Frederick are the most relevant to this blog’s discussion of Perfect Strangers:

Ironically, there’s an intense process to come up with these songs, and they all come out sounding kind of the same.

[ABC] said they wanted the theme to sound contemporary but not too rock & roll.  They wanted something real positive.  They said, ‘It’s about winning.’

Millions of people hear your music every week…. And you’re generously paid.  But somehow you’re not quite as cool as you’d be if you did something else.

Okay, on to the actors.

Melanie Wilson

Melanie did a couple of interviews in the summer of 1989.  One of them was on the Pat Sajak Show. Wikipedia doesn’t make any conjectures as to why Sajak’s talk show got low ratings, but maybe it had to do with the fact that he was only bringing in guests like “the taller blonde from Perfect Strangers”? She trots out the same damn stuff about her dad (Mr. Whipple) and her husband (the closetmaker) and I already regret wasting my time this week.

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And speaking of repeats from last time, she appeared on A.M. Los Angeles again.  The very first thing the male host (in this instance, it looks like someone else was filling in for Steve Edwards) does is talk about her body and obviously think that he’s very charming for doing so. Melanie is still going on about those fucking closets, but she also gives us some actual information about the show. If you’re interested in knowing the turnaround time from taping to air, she mentions that filming for “Father Knows Best???” will begin the following week, meaning that it aired about two months after filming.

For the season opener, “Good Skates”, none of the four actors knew how to rollerskate and someone had to be brought in to train them. (Now how impressed are you at Mark Linn-Baker’s “bad” skating?)  She jokes about calling her agent to ask for a new gig when she first heard about the episode, but I feel like she’s not really joking; the host makes a crack about sitcom writers coming up with plots that don’t play to their actors’ strengths.

*turns head to camera, The Office-style*

It’s long been my complaint that Jennifer’s character is as developed as someone with Kallmann Syndrome. And Melanie’s interviews have so far been the least interesting of the bunch, so it surprised me to find something of interest in the articles.

Friends, Melanie saw her first penis in France, when she was in college.

Also, she has opinions on her role in the show.  For one, she’s a little embarrassed that in three years, she’s only kissed Larry as many times.  Another article (published soon before the season 5 premiere goes much further into depth on what she thinks Jennifer’s personality is. ‘Bout to give y’all a bunch of quotes, because this is worth reading.

“She’s not just polite, she’s very polite.  She’s not just proper, she’s very proper.  She’s not only intelligent, she’s very intelligent.  And she’s not just repressed, she’s very, very repressed,” Melanie says.

Hey, if you say so, Mel. I mean, if you give a character no lines and no agency, what else can you assume about the character other than “she holds herself back”?

Melanie describes [the sitcom-making] process as “…a courtship, really, between actors and writers.  Jennifer and I have some similarities on which the writers have drawn.  For example, like Jennifer, I went abroad to study.  I was quite academic during my school years; I was, and remain, a voracious reader.  I think that as they’ve come to know me, they’ve taken a part of me and given it to her which then gives her, thankfully, another dimension.”

My god, how much of these scripts got cut between Monday and Thursday?

“They’ve allowed her to be different from the typical TV ‘blonde’.  You could say,” Melanie said, “that she’s treated more like the ‘typical TV series’ brunette’ would be.”

Okay, whatever, I mean, jeez, even the actors have headcanon

“What I’m also pleased about is the way the writers have been rounding Jennifer out over the past year.  She has more of a sense of who she is, and what she wants, and more strength as a person.  I suppose you could say she’s coming into her own.”

What the shrinking fuck? Christ, this sounds like me waxing eloquent about my “process” in writing jokes about buttfucking. Let’s review what we’ve learned about Jennifer this season: she rollerskates, she plays tennis, she has a dad, she occasionally gets very mad at her best friend instead of regular mad, and sometimes she’s playful with her boyfriend if there’s an extra 10 seconds the writers need to fill. I find it easier to believe that her role was reduced than that she was making shit up, and if that’s the case, then fuck this show.

Weep for Jennifer, y’all.

Mark Linn-Baker

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Speaking of forgotten actresses, here’s Mark with Rae Dawn Chong. I’ve only seen a couple of her movies (if your tastes run anything near to mine, check out The Borrower; it’s one of my favorite batshit-crazy scifi movies), and seeing her here made me wonder why I don’t see more of her. I found out her career wasn’t short-lived, it’s just never been very prominent. And, here’s this blog’s rare intersection with current events: she recently spoke up about her then-agent’s complicity in a harrassesque (?) encounter with Steven Seagal in the 80s.

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Anyway, back to Mark. Just like with Melanie, the televised stuff is more boring than the written. Just watching the clips, Mark doesn’t seem like he wants to be there. It’s not that his answers are particularly short, he just doesn’t say much in terms of his feelings or thoughts on things. In his appearance on A.M. Los Angeles in March of 1990, it appears that someone had to do research just to have something to ask him questions about. The hosts (in this case, Tawny Little and the same guy filling in for Steve Edwards, unless Steve got a dye job that month)  blow through questions about the physical comedy on the show so fast they end up having to bring out that years-old line about him being the cheapest guy in Hollywood. I mean, look at this guy’s evasion:

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Host: Any new twists and turns in the plotline we should know about Perfect Strangers before we go?

Mark Linn-Baker: Just, uh… same stuff, physical comedy, Balki and I continue to work together, and hopefully it’s funny.

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Well, now we know who the show’s biggest fan was, right? I was so bored by this I ended up focussing on the giant chairs they’re sitting in.  I wonder if that was in any way the inspiration for this Tim & Eric bit?

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Anyway, a couple of interviews do mention his theater company, which I finally found out is the New York Stage & Film Company.  What’s more, he co-founded it before he was ever on Perfect Strangers! I’d expect him to gush about it, but he’s so focussed on his duty of doing interviews that he stays on the topic of Perfect Strangers. You know how last time I talked about behind-the-scenes stories being shortened and streamlined, losing both detail and truth, over the course of four years? Mark makes it sound here like that was the goal all along, which doesn’t jibe with the stories I saw in season 1. It makes me want to interview Mark myself and ask about the show’s course.

Not that I would ever try to interview him, of course…

Back when I reviewed “Father Knows Best???, parts 1-9”, commenter and Christmas-ruiner Philip J Reed asked how they managed to film the flooded basement. In an October 1990 appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show, Mark tells that they used a tank filled with water–one of the same ones that Esther Williams used–for it.  Arsenio brings up Me & Him, which evidently didn’t get released in the US, so it surprised Mark to hear that someone in the audience had seen it.  (Since it was a European-only release, this means that most countries did not hear his voice.)

The interview isn’t exciting, or really worth watching, and I think Mark sums things up pretty nicely when he jokes that he “lives for” interviews.

Luckily, Mark’s a little more talkative in print, and we get some information on the show’s own process. I hinted at a Monday-Thursday schedule above (apparently shortened from five days to four with season 5, and Mark is where this info comes from

According to an article in Nightlife magazine, which no doubt refers to season 4,

Each week, the cast and crew begin their “fun time” with an almost — dare we say? — theatre-like process that lasts five days.  Writers, actors and director discuss motives, characterization and what is funny about the script and what’s not.  “There’s pretty much agreement about what works, when it works,” he says of the workshop method.  “It’s like putting on a playlet every five days.”

So, yes, everyone shares credit for the cousins shaking their butts during the Wedding March in “Wedding Belle Blues”, but that means that everyone is also responsible for the laff riot that was Larry getting his blanket stolen in prison. We learn from an interview in Drama-Logue* that Perfect Strangers was the first of Mark’s roles where he (at the producer’s urging) watched his own performances. “It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just not what you expect.  Miller said I had to get over that and I did.”

This is thrilling stuff, right? Call now and pledge to keep these wonderful blog posts going.

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Rebeca Arthur

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere! Rebeca didn’t do very many interviews, but she did have some other television appearances.

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She appeared on Circus of the Stars in both 1988 and 1989 (I missed the ‘88 one last time, sorry), and now that I’ve watched a little bit of both, I have to wonder: what was the draw? It seems like it’s a lot of work to get actors trained, and for what?  On the one hand, you get to see actors doing things entirely unrelated to their talents, and on the other hand, stunts done by people who aren’t trained professionals. I asked some of my older friends what was so special about these shows, and they reminded me that there wasn’t cable back then. Check the clips out if you want, especially if you want to hear Leslie Nielsen read bad copy that misuses the word “glasnost”.

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As we saw in Opposites Attract, though, Rebeca was in great shape after two years of training. In one of the two interviews I have, she talks to Pat Sajak about the training.  I doubt we’ll see Sajak again during the course of this blog, so I’ll say this about him: I really respect how skilled he is at reading the feeling of a conversation and nudging it in the right direction, I just wish he were funny too.

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Her other interview on–surprise, surprise–A.M. Los Angeles is of note because the hosts (here Steve Edwards and Tawny Little) bring out Victoria Jackson during the segment. Rebeca jokes that she wants Victoria to play Mary Anne’s sister, and never have I made something headcanon so quickly. Instead of anyone having done enough research to ask about the episode they appeared in together, the host derail the whole conversation by trying to get them to say that they get typecast as dumb blonde characters. Neither of them bites, and good for them. Fuck you, Steve Edwards and Tawny Little.

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Rebeca also appeared on the very last week of broadcasts of The New Hollywood Squares, and–

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Mother of fuck, it’s Jim J. Bullock!

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There’s not much to say here, other than I find it delightful to watch Rebeca get some time in the spotlight. There’s a bit in the second clip where a spokesperson for Alberto-Culver (one of the advertisers on the show, I’d imagine) has come in from France, and he goes up to Rebeca’s square and they pretend to make out for most of the episode.

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Bronson Pinchot

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I have–oh god–to watch 17 interviews with Bronson this time around, not to mention read 15 articles. So take off your shoes and let’s tackle these in chronological order.

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I didn’t mean you, Bronson!

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Seen here: Bronson at the tender age of “high school”.

The majority of the interviews during 1989 had Bronson talking much more about Second Sight than Perfect Strangers, and this one (a May 6, 1989, airing of Public People, Private Lives) is no different.  But rather than focus on his work, this show’s focus is on what goes on for actors off-screen.  We get a recap of his story of growing up poor and overweight, with a few new bits of trivia sprinkled throughout (he wanted Balki to be named Apollo). Even after claiming to be on a “girl diet” after tiring of women leaving him after six weeks, the host keeps pressing him to talk about his deep, sexual needs.  After mounting her briefly…

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…Bronson answers that, after growing up in a depressing situation, acting gives him his greatest joy:

I think I was sad because I was just what I still am, which is sensitive. And if you’re sensitive, life makes you sad, and that’s all there is to it…. That little boy wants to be somebody else. It gives me great pleasure, I mean, like, sexual pleasure to, like, change, and just be completely different.

Self-awareness is a slow and fitful thing, as not two weeks later he’s quoted in a newspaper as saying that his role as Balki was “the first time someone had approached me as an actor, not a bubble-gum machine and saying, ‘We want that flavor.'”  Yeah, I suppose vanilla, French vanilla, and vanilla bean do have their subtleties.

In September 1989 on Movietime, baffled honesty from Bronson when asked about the Family Matters spinoff:

[Jo Marie is] going to be a lot happier on her own show, because on our show, you need a soul made of cast iron if you’re not Mark or me, to, like, live from week to week, because there’s–they don’t–there’s nothing for those people to do, and how they make it I don’t know. But there’s often, like, tears and headbanging. I mean, it’s like so focussed, it probably… I don’t know, I don’t know if there is another show where it’s so totally focussed on so few characters.

Holy shit, not only does this (along with Melanie Wilson’s kind-of complaint) confirm so much of what I’ve been suspecting about the show, but it’s also the first time I’ve heard Bronson complain about something in a way that didn’t position him as either hero or victim. And if Jo Marie wasn’t happy on Perfect Strangers because all she got to do was stand around and do crossword puzzles, I can only imagine how difficult it was to have her own show taken away from her by a 13-year-old. I wish I could pick her brain about it, but like I say, no chance in hell I’d ever even consider trying to interview any of these actors.

*ahem*

By the time October of 1989 rolled around, it was all about advertising Second Sight. Most of the interviews feature Bronson talking about how he researched and interviewed real-life psychics for the role of Bobby McGee (and how he got almost nothing funny to use). Aside from the research, Bronson doesn’t have much to say about the movie other than that it’s “hilarious” and that “you have to turn off your brain”. Other trivia: “Murray” was named after the original director, who walked off the picture; Bobby McGee gained psychic powers after being struck by lightning at 15 (I know you were all wondering); Bronson intended the “Freeway of Love” scene in Second Sight to imply Bobby thought he was Aretha Franklin.  Because that’s what psychics do, mistakenly think that they’re the people they hear on the radio.  Good three months of research there, Bronnie.

And lest you thought that his new-found candor meant that he was no longer up to his old antics, Bronson once again grabbed the hosts’ question cards and read through them first thing on his October appearance on Attitudes.  I’m willing to be a little more understanding about this now that I’ve seen so many of his interviews; the ones available can’t possibly be all that he did, and he has to have been bored with the same dull questions over and over again (the host on Movietime asked him did it feel good to be cheered for after a performance). He also uses his new girlfriend Wren, who was in the audience, as a distraction.

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But he also reacts somewhat strongly when the hosts on Attitudes to try put everything he’s said in other interviews (about his early life, being a late-bloomer, and how he developed his eccentric interests) into a narrative. I get the impression that he’s thrown off by the genuine interest that Linda Dano and Dee Kelly have in the questions they have about his real life.

On the other hand, Bronson’s just as uncomfortable in his Geraldo appearance, even though he’s almost completely out of the spotlight. This episode of Geraldo features a number of real-life psychics whose services were used for police cases, and Bronson is there to promote Second Sight. It’s the same kind of almost-synergy feel that Jury Duty had. Geraldo tries to lighten the mood by showing off a production still of Bronson as Jorge Jiminez–

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–but Bronson stumbles through his answers and looks like he wishes he could be somewhere other than on a stage sitting in a row of people he doesn’t know and doesn’t get to talk to. It must have been difficult to go that long in front of an audience without escaping into being someone else. (Bonus: he refers to his catchphrase as “DBR”.)

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If Bronson had little to say about how Second Sight turned out in the week leading up to the premiere, it didn’t stop him from talking up his own abilities. Not only did he help “develop” the script, but it was his whole idea to overload Bobby with psychic abilities. In an article in the New York Post, he talks about Serge → Perfect StrangersSecond Sight as a deliberate (or at the very least fortuitous) set of steps in his career. At the same time, self-awareness rears it head as Bronson says “I think they see me as a comic…. I don’t get other scripts and I don’t know that I’d send them to me, either.”  And just as quickly it’s gone again, as Bronson starts his decades-long habit of throwing shade on better actors:

Eddie Murphy’s funny, but I have yet to see him play a character.  He always winks at you through the character.  I call that the post-‘Saturday Night Live’ thing…. Maybe there is someone in an office somewhere saying ‘Let’s not use Bronson Pinchot — I’m sick of him,’ but I sort of doubt it.

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Most of the televised interviews that week are a grab bag o’Bronson.  In both his appearance on Regis & Kathie Lee, as well as on After Hours, he talks like the character of Balki, accent and all, was birthed straight from his head, Hera-style.** There’s a woman in the audience dressed up, bearing a shepherd’s crook emblazoned with BALKI FAN, who begs to be Bronson’s “Myposian Bo Peep”.

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Bronson gives a signal to Wren, talks about how he met her in a furniture store, and cracks jokes so bad one of the crew off-stage groans loudly a few times. The After Hours host asks Bronson if he wants to do another five years of Perfect Strangers, and Bronson just gives her a look for a few seconds.

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And that same day, on Entertainment Tonight, Bronson wishes he knew what he’d be doing after his two last contract years were over on the show.

Bronson talks about his shoes on his Arsenio Hall appearance (the night before Second Sight’s premiere), but that’s old hat by now. We get some more behind-the-scenes information: Mark had to tell Bronson not to be grabbing asses the first time Melanie and Rebeca were on the show; Bronson peed his pants during the scene where they poured the wine; and Bronson can’t even come up with the name “Rebeca”, referring to his co-star as “the girl sitting next to him”. Most interesting to me is Arsenio asking about the comedy album.  Bronson refers to it as “The Further Adventures of Serge”, and says that the A&M representative forgot asking him to record it; A&M gave him a pity session where they listened to the material, and the recording ultimately ended up at Bronson’s house. (Roadtrip, anyone?) He also mentions appearing with Jan Hooks as host on Friday Night Videos, a show which ran for twenty years and I somehow never once heard of. If anyone has a copy, I’d love to see it, just for curiosity’s sake.

The next morning–

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oh for fuck’s sake it’s A.M. Los Angeles and those fucking awful hosts again.  Bronson complains that the audience on Arsenio were demanding he do the Serge voice, and Steve Edwards’s response to this is to ask for the Serge voice. Fuck you, Steve. Bronson gives us once again the history of him only accepting the Perfect Strangers role after a summer in Europe (financed by his Risky Business royalties). You’re probably tired at this point of me rehashing this story, but it sticks out to me here because which parts he’s being honest about have changed again. He admits to being broke, but instead of being accompanied by his girlfriend, it’s just “a friend”. I’ve been building this narrative that Bronson just puffs himself up, but I’m beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, he’s a real person, and there are certain things he doesn’t want to talk about, or be asked questions about, in certain situations. I mean, Wren probably was watching this show.  Bronson also takes questions from callers, including one who is upset that he’s in a movie about such evil things as psychics, and someone who knew Bronson in 3rd grade (and whom Bronson remembers having a crush on).

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And then Second Sight premiered that night. And that’s when Bronson seems to change.

Here’s the New York Times’s one-star review of Second Sight, written by Janet Maslin, who still does film reviews for them. She blames the lack of humor in the movie on director Joel Zwick, and is only relatively kind to Pinchot and Larroquette.  Part of me wishes I could dig up other contemporary reviews, say from Variety, but I find I don’t need to. A distracted Bronson on the November 4 airing of the Byron Allen Show tells me all I need to know. He seems to be more interested in complimenting Melissa Manchester on whatever song she had just played, and doesn’t seem to pick up how uncomfortable he makes Allen when he sits on top of the guest couch.

Psychology sidebar: we’ve talked about cognitive dissonance before, the phenomenon where people can’t stand to have two conflicting thoughts in mind. If something contradicts a person’s grand narrative or deep-held beliefs, the new information is re-interpreted, re-categorized, or simply rejected.  Most people’s grand narrative includes themselves as a good, competent person. When I am successful, I attribute it to my own talents and effort; if I fail, it was the fault of an external factor. (Likewise, when someone we don’t like is successful, it’s due to external factors; if they fail, it was their own damn fault.) To briefly comment on my own hobby, webcomics, it is rare to see a successful webcomics author admit the sheer amount of luck necessary to make a living off selling T-shirts and self-publishing.

So it’s no surprise that, after a couple of years of Perfect Strangers not doing so hot in the ratings (it went from first to second in the first year of TGIF, and then bumped to the third spot in 1989 when Family Matters debuted), and with Second Sight having bombed, Bronson starts assigning blame.  In an article towards the end of November 1989, it’s the writers’ fault, since rewrites evidently kept being made up “until air time”, and that it took eight writers to solve the show’s problems. “The fact that any of it works is a miracle.”

(Jesse Frederick’s words echo: “there’s an intense process”… “they all come out the same”…)

In a February article in The Daily Bruin, Bronson goes further, doing a 180 on his earlier claims that he developed the Bobby McGee character. “People could spot a mile off that the character was invented around Bronson Pinchot.” Here, the “television industry” is also at fault for “watering down” programs.

But it is a surprise to see Bronson start accepting some of the blame himself.  In the January 11 edition of USA Today, Bronson still refers to Second Sight as a “limp movie” and is still confident that his own talent had not “eroded”.  But, referring to sitcom-making as preparing cookies, Bronson feels that “when I’m allowed to fiddle with the batter, sometimes my ideas aren’t that great.” He appears undaunted, though, joking that he wants his own starring series after Perfect Strangers (“The Bronson Pinchot Chot”); and trying to make sheep into sheep-ade by calling Perfect Strangers “cult” status one that will allow him to “create” other characters.

Can’t wait to see that!  That very same day, Bronson was again a guest on The Arsenio Hall Show, where, when asked what the fuck happened with Second Sight, starts taking off his pants instead of answering. He discusses Jury Duty (which would air three days later) and mentions that he had asked for his role to be enlarged.  Then he takes off his shoes, takes off his pants, and tries to mount Arsenio.

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Bronson went to New York from March through May (?) of 1990, after season 5 filming had wrapped up, to work on a play.  He was in Zoya’s Apartment, which was on Broadway, and worked with a Russian director, who had to direct with the aid of a translator. He talks about this a little on Late Night with David Letterman in March of 1990, saying that he researched his con-man character by watching King of the Gypsies. (I haven’t seen that film, but I’m sure it’s not as good as The Borrower, starring Rae Dawn Chong.) David Letterman does a better job of controlling his physical environment: when Bronson starts messing with the papers on his desk, Letterman takes them back and keeps the conversation moving. He relates a story about a woman coming up to him on the street and giving him her opinion on Perfect Strangers: “That was cute at one time; your character has not evolved”.  In keeping with his newfound honesty/attribution re-assignment, Bronson says he agrees.

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Again, I get the impression that Bronson is willing to talk about some things in certain environments, but not in others.  Previously, Bronson seemed to want to forget about his role in Hot Resort, but here he’s fine talking to Letterman about it. (He reports that it was only released in Fiji, and it doesn’t sound like he meant it as a joke; I’m guessing he would know this, right?) Similarly, Bronson doesn’t mention his girlfriend by name in his April 1990 Playgirl interview, which  makes a lot of sense. Why spoil the mystery?  After all, as Bronson says, Balki is “innocent and untouched – a certain type of woman finds that a real come-on”. Mary Anne and Balki may have kissed more than Larry and Jennifer, but it was much, much longer before any script confirmed their relationship.

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Finally, Bronson appeared on the Joan Rivers Show in April of 1990, where he thankfully manages not to mount the host.  He talks about a lot of the same stuff we’ve covered already (girlfriend, psychics, the origin of the name “Balki”)***. I’m truly surprised that I’ve gotten this much narrative about Bronson’s career, and his own feelings about it.  I’ve never followed a celebrity enough to try to track how they present themselves, and it’s been an interesting trip this week to watch Bronson go from his usual braggart, anticky self to someone going through the emotions of watching their career stumble majorly just when they thought it was picking up speed. If the failure of Second Sight shocked him out of his standard persona enough to get him to criticize both the writing on Perfect Strangers and himself, by the time he talked with Joan Rivers he was trying to look at his own future with a more honest appraisal of his chances. Staying in New York for three months cost him a lot, and he figured he would be out of money by the time season 6 starting filming. And we know from that Entertainment Tonight piece that he knew how soon his Perfect Strangers contract would be finished. Bronson said that 1990 was the year where he would need to be an adult about his finances.

And Bronson was never broke again.

Let’s wrap up our discussion with a longer January 1990 LA Times article about the many shows of Tom Miller and Bob Boyett, and the main question the article sets out to answer is why their shows are so goddam successful. The article offers a token example of criticism towards Miller-Boyett shows (they aren’t “realistic”) which is met with a glib “30 million Uncle Joy fans can’t be wrong” answer. The article even gets a choice quote from Brandon Tartikoff, then president of NBC, who was jealous that he’d come home on Friday night and find his kid watching ABC instead of, um, Baywatch.  The main answer for Bob & Tom’s success seems to be that people want familiarity (and damned if that doesn’t share a linguistic root with “family”):

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“Shows really have to work to make it today,” Boyett says.  “It’s always been tough to have a hit but today it’s a million times more difficult than it was in the 70’s.  It used to be that people would sample a new show just because it was new.  Now, new is bad.  Now, people hear new and they are not interested.  We’ve been lucky that the networks have believed in us and our shows long enough for the audience to become attached to them.  Our track record certainly helps in that respect.”

They also mention how they try to treat each show’s set of actors “like a family”, and how they make sure to include “a certain amount of women and older people”. This “family” treatment no doubt explains why there was so much “tears and headbanging” behind the scenes on Perfect Strangers (by the way, have a good Thanksgiving with your loved ones!). Anyway, Miller-Boyett had found success with a type of formula and were duplicating it as much as the market would allow, kind of like how Hanna-Barbera pumped out endless variations on Scooby-Doo in the 70s.

So is that the note we’re left with this week, heading into the season 5 wrap-up? That Mark Linn-Baker had nothing bad to say about the show, but even more telling, he had nothing good to say about it?  That the actresses were reduced to tears behind the scenes because they were lucky if they got two lines in a single episode? That Bronson would become a has-been as soon as the credits rolled on the series finale? And that, thanks to the reign of Miller-Boyett, that invisible pair dictating orders from a higher floor, Perfect Strangers’s main selling point was that it had been on for five years?

Nah, shit, man, that’s bleak.  Let’s end instead by watching a video of Jo Marie cook liver and onions and Reginal VelJohnson enjoy the hell out of eating it.

Next week we’ll bury this fucking season.  Bring your shovel!

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*The Drama-Logue article claims that Bronson was cut from Annie Hall, easily two years before he even started taking acting classes.  Makes me want to smack the writer for such shitty research.

**Actually it was his makeup person on the set of Hot Resort, per the David Letterman interview also in this post.

***It’s mentioned here that Bronson’s first televised interview was with Joan when she was guest-hosting for Carson. I’d love to see that, if anyone can dig up a copy.

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Intermission: 8 Things

Hey look, yet another interruption! I’m never going to get through this season, am I?

But I figured I needed to do a couple of things I promised.

Thing One

First off, Larryoke!  Remember Larryoke? Now it’s back in blog form haha I’m the first to make this joke.  I think I’ve gotten some new readers since then (hello!) so I should explain.

When I got to the end of season 4 (the “halfway” point), me and my buddies celebrated by watching a handful of Perfect Strangers via a livestream event. The episodes were interspersed with goodies such as:

  • trailers for films that Mark and Bronson were in
  • clips of Bronson in his film roles up through early 1989
  • 3 minutes straight of Bronson flexing his butt
  • haha I guess that’s 3 minutes GAY of Bronson flexing his butt
  • a video reference to Earthbound that probably seemed out place
  • Perfect Strangers-themed song parodies, performed karaoke-style

It’s these last two that I wanted to make sure were available to enjoy for anyone who wasn’t able to make it to the livestream.  Here they are!  My singing voice is terrible, but everyone else’s is great! Many thanks to Adam, Vivian, Sarah, Philip, and Professor D.

And lastly, thank you to the guy who comments on each and every video I post on YouTube.  I can’t possibly imagine you had any idea what these were about, but you liked them all anyway.

Thing Two

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Phil and I went on a roadtrip (planes are roads!) to lovely Parsippany, New Jersey to see the Cousins in the flesh at the Chiller Theatre Expo. The picture above is an artist rendering of the trip. Because we are both bespectacled and bebearded men in our 30s, there’s no telling which of us is which.

Why were Mark Linn-Baker and Bronson Pinchot reuniting at a horror convention in New Jersey, of all places?  Who the hell knows!  I’m guessing that it’s because both of them are on the East Coast, and whoever was in charge of seeking out guests was clever enough to sense some sort of opportunity. (And, hey, I take 100% of the credit for any bump in any recent popularity of the show.)

Let me describe the Chiller Theatre Expo by talking for a moment about comic conventions in general.  My very first convention was DragonCon in 1995, in Atlanta.  It was exactly what you’d expect from a “comic” convention.  My dad took me, and I got a few comics (Disgusting Comics #2, Major Inapak: Space Ace, and MAD Magazine #265 are the ones that instantly come to mind).  In my memory, the con was almost entirely vendors with rows of longboxes full of back issues, comic book artists with their giant sheets of original page art. I’m sure there were attendees in cosplay, but they don’t stick out in my mind.

The last few cons I’ve been to–and what I hear about all the others bears this out–are almost entirely pop-culture conventions.  At the large ones (say, Comicpalooza in Houston, or the New York Comic Con) the big focusses are whatever upcoming movies feature superheroes or pop culture mainstays like Transformers* or whatever. Hell, I went to Comicpalooza in 2015 and saw some of the Rocky Horror Picture Show cast on a panel. You’re far more likely to see someone with a towering wall of their own artwork (depicting characters they don’t own) than you are to meet an independent comics artist like *ahem* yours truly. Rows of longboxes are a rarity. Don’t get me started on those shitty Funko toys, neither.

In fact, Mile High Comics–probably the largest brick-and-mortar comics retailer in the United States, just announced that they won’t be at the San Diego Comic Con, ending their presence there after 44 years. Rising costs of floorspace coupled with the fact that many convention attendees don’t even make it into the convention hall because of all of the events nearby (plus some bad PR on SDCC’s part) have made it unprofitable for Mile High Comics to even make the trip out there.

I say all that to say this: the Chiller Theatre Expo is by far the most focussed convention I’ve been to in terms of fandom.  The vast majority of the vendors there are selling horror memorabilia.  Sure, some of them have general “vintage” movie and TV stuff too, but the focus is clearly horror.  I bought a horror movie for a friend, some horror postcards for myself, and I bought Phil the most terrifying Playboy centerfold ever. I also want to give respect where respect is due. At least from what I can tell, it’s the horror fandom that has birthed a number of efforts to preserve the history of low-budget film. For decades, the majority of 70s and 80s low-budget horror films only got a VHS release, and that was it. Hardcore fans had to track down copies of limited releases of horror titles, hitting up yard sales and going-out-of-business rental stores. (I strongly recommend the documentary Adjust Your Tracking if you want to learn more.) But at the Chiller Theatre Expo there were at least five different booths offering DVD copies (of VHS transfers) of these films, with not much overlap among them.  The Expo was also the first I’d heard of a company called Vinegar Syndrome, whose business is to restore and re-release such films.

Yes, I realize this blog is called Perfect Strangers Reviewed. I’m telling you my experience of the convention. Back off.

So, yeah, there was a weird mix of celebrities there. Again, the general focus was horror, even if the actors had only been in one or two horror movies. They had most of the cast of the film Fright Night, George Hamilton was there, Michael Marona and Danny Tamberelli from The Adventures of Pete & Pete (I didn’t realize until I was talking to them how important it had been for young Casey to see other boys with red hair on television), I forget who all else.  I think the main thing they all had in common was being C-list actors, with a slight trend toward mostly being in media that preceded my birth.

Phil and I went to the Paramus Mall while we were there, and there happened to be a Lego store. Phil had the idea to make custom minifigures of the cousins, and we spent a solid half-hour digging in bins alongside children trying to find the right hair and clothing for the cousins.  Larry got an afro, a splattered jumpsuit (we hoped it might read as being from “Games People Play”), and a camera; Balki a bindle and a vest; Mary Anne (Sagittarius) an exercise outfit. In fact, hold on a sec–

*drives to the mall real quick*

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This is close. No camera for Larry, I think Balki had different hair, and Mary Anne had a bone. Jennifer is on the packaging.

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The first thing I did when we got to Mark and Bronson’s table was to give Mark the minifigures (to help your imagination: the Lego store gives you a plastic box to put them in).  He said something along the lines of “that’s nice” and handed it back.  I realized at that point that this must be his first convention appearance ever, and somehow I was the first fan to give him a gift. (I gave it back to him and clarified.)

Otherwise, I completely forgot everything I was going to say.  I become a shaky baby deer like that at conventions. I managed to get out that I had come to the convention solely to see them, and Mark Linn-Baker shook my hand. I had brought VHS copies of both Me & Him and After Hours (both movies had starred Griffin Dunne), but because of the prices they were asking for signatures, I only got Mark to sign Me & Him.  He commented that it had been a nice month in Munich.  There’s some movie trivia for you, Mark Linn-Baker fans!  He only had to do the voice of Griffin Dunne’s penis, but they actually flew him out for the filming.

I had intended to ask Bronson whatever happened with the comedy album he had recorded, but I forgot. He shook my hand and asked about my ancestry (the red hair, remember), and then he immediately went back to playing, idunno, Angry Birds or whatever.

The cousins had a number of promotional photos there. I didn’t buy any because I wanted to have my photograph taken with them. While in line for the photo, I overheard someone talking about being a member of the Perfect Strangers Facebook group, so I introduced myself (if you’re reading, hi! you’ll see in a minute why I’m not mentioning your name).  Phil was there with me in line, and when it came time for me to get my picture taken, they let him join in (for free! I had to pay money and didn’t even get to touch Bronson). Mark even recognized me: I think he said something like “there he is”, which could just be a catchall way of making people think you recognize them, but I certainly felt loved.

We ended up going back to the Expo the next day to see the cousins again and hang out with our new friend. I gave both Mark and Bronson the address of my review blog and said I would love to interview them some day. I also held our friend’s phone so they could get footage of them talking to the cousins one last time.

I have to tell you two things at this point. One is that, leading up to the Expo, Bronson Pinchot had been posting short videos of him in character as Balki advertising the event.

The second is that our new friend is the most hardcore Perfect Strangers fan I’ve ever met, which is surprising given that they are even younger than I am. Perfect Strangers came into their life at a very trying time, and they’ve seen the whole run of the show multiple times.  They talked to the cousins all three days of the Expo.  By the third day, Mark and Bronson recognized them and greeted them warmly.

When they gave me their phone to record them, they told me that they really hoped that Bronson would do the accent and his catchphrase.  When I could tell that they were almost done talking with the cousins, I got the sense they weren’t going to ask for the catchphrase. So I piped up and asked if he would.  Bronson deflected the question to Mark, who happily rattled off an “Oh my lord”, but refused to do the accent at all. He said he was feeling “grouchy” that day.

I get that doing a convention is its own type of marathon. And I’m guessing Bronson decided for himself beforehand that he wouldn’t do the accent. Because if you do it for one person, you’ll have to do it for another, and another, etc. But…

It was the last day of the Expo. And certainly he could tell that he was with a superfan.  Maybe it was the fact that he was being recorded in a situation where he couldn’t prepare himself, as he’d done on YouTube leading up to the Expo. Couldn’t he have, though, just once? And not look like an ass on video?

Oh, wait. Nevermind.

Things Three through Eight

They’re releasing the rest of the seasons of Perfect Strangers on DVD. That’s right, you heard right, Warner Bros.** is going to release seasons 3-8 through their manufacture-on-demand program.

Oh God, I take it back.  I have nothing to do with any recent upswing in Perfect Strangers‘s popularity.

My first thought was “dammit, there goes one of my five jokes”.  But then again, it’s not a brick-and-mortar release, or even necessarily through sites like Amazon.com, which to me says that this is the only way Warner can maximize their profits. It’s still a possibility that they haven’t gotten the music rights.  In most cases, they could cut out the parts where Balki sings.  There are only two songs I can think of off the top of my head where cutting them would significantly impact a scene: “Proud Mary” from the camping episode and “Never Gonna Give You Up” from the journalism class episode.

*sigh*

Yes, I’m going to buy each season of the DVDs. No, I’m not going to go back and get better screengrabs for what I’ve already reviewed. Not only does this blog review Perfect Strangers, but it’s also a record of a particular point in time where only the first two seasons were on DVD, and where for awhile only the METV recordings were available for everything else, and where for another while original airings could be viewed. My screengrabs will be inconsistent overall, but I’m fine with that.

Also *ahem* if y’all want to buy me the DVDs when they come out, I won’t say no.

In fact, especially if Warner didn’t get all the music rights, I may have to stick with the original airings. I kind of want to keep seeing that filthy rat with the hammer, too. Kind of hope he dies at the end of season 5.

Anyway, I somehow managed to wring 2,200 words out of a post about some YouTube videos, a photograph, and DVDs that aren’t out yet.

Join me next week for “Almost Live from Chicago”!

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Boner count: Casey (0); Phil (1–it was when he was talking to Bronson; bet he thought I wouldn’t notice)

*GoBots came first. Fight me.

**I hope the DVDs say “Warner Cousins” instead, out of respect

Second Sight (1989)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hey, look, it’s an eye, because

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whatever

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

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

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

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

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

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This move’s called the Dipping Bird!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I’m getting bored with this already.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*ahem*

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Wills tries to investigate Bobby’s third eye.

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

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y’know what, movie? WE GET IT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preston spills Goobers all over the road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time spent in churches: 10%

Time spent in restaurants: 20%

Bronson Pinchot spasming/speaking in tongues: 50%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*sigh* There’s one more scene.

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

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

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

Even Murray gets to fuck on the other side.

I did not get to fuck anybody.

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

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

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

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