No post today, sorry, HOWEVER

A confluence of events has left me without a review for this week, and it’s put me in the position of having to leave you without a review this week. I could just post a bunch of screengrabs and say “it sucked”; and it would probably be the most accurate and respectful review I’ve ever written! But I’m really trying to save that joke for whenever there’s an episode about, oh, idunno, everybody getting shipwrecked so they can make Gilligan’s island jokes and casually forget that Balki knows how to get off an island. Or one where the cousins enter the local raw-poultry-throwing contest and end up poisoning a woman on live television. Or one where he and Balki become undercover prostitutes.

Anyway, you dutifully navigated your browser to this blog this week, and I shouldn’t reward that behavior with just a post that says “tough titty”. Instead, I’m here to announce the

LAST ANNUAL

PERFECT STRANGERS REVIEWED

CAPTION CONTEST

That’s right, you heard right, a caption contest!  Here’s how it works: I’ll put up a screengrab, and you caption it with some silly turn(s) of phrase in the comments. If I think yours is the funniest, you win!  If I don’t think yours is the funniest, I’ll write you a personalized message telling you the bad news.

What do you win, you ask? Would you just wait a fucking minute? Did you seriously think I wasn’t going to mention the prize? You people.

For some goddam reason, I own some Perfect Strangers slides that were part of a press release kit for the show. I guess they served the same kind of role for TV executives that signing letters to the families of deceased veterans does for the president: having to consider briefly the havoc that they wreak on others’ lives.  They’re from 1991 and a couple of them even feature images from Season 6 episodes. One of them features Mark and Bronson doing a move called the “totem pole”. And then there’s one that features the Perfect Strangers logo because everybody but maybe eight kids had stopped watching this show by 1991.

I don’t want these furshlugginer things. The one with the cousins dressed up like Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton chases me through my dreams like a cancer diagnosis.

There are five of them and this is what they look like:

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They’re not actually blue, but white; blame the eBay seller for being considerate enough to actually photograph them in a way that captures the tiny frames of film.

Tuck them away in your hope chest! Project them on the wall during your next shitty party! Grind them into dust and cut your cocaine with them! Sell them on eBay! I don’t give a shit, I just want them out of my damn house!

All you have to do to win is write the caption for this image that makes me laugh more than the ones other people write. You can submit only ONE caption, though, so you’d better get it right the first time. I’m looking at you; you know who you are.

One more rule: you may not exploit any loopholes that I’m not thinking of. Also, you’ll have to give me your address if you want these things sent to you, but you don’t have to put that in the comments.

Here’s the screengrab! Go nuts! I’ll announce the winner when I feel like it!

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Intermission: 1990 Warner Bros. Collection Catalogs

I concluded last week that Perfect Strangers, in its attempts to recapture the feeling of an I Love Lucy highlight reel, was constantly being pulled in two directions as it tried to navigate a successful path through the media landscape.

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*ahem*

It was gearing its stories increasingly towards children, but didn’t have the benefit of any child characters. And at this point, I think its star was waning in comparison to other TGIF programs. I’m basing this entirely on programming changes, by the way. Perfect Strangers started out at the beginning of the TGIF programming block, was soon placed after Full House, and most recently wound up in the third spot, after Family Matters.

Both of those shows were wildly successful with children–and both had plenty of merchandise. Just a quick glance at Google Images shows me that Full House had dolls, a board game, a Tiger handheld game, and book tie-ins. I remember seeing the Michelle books in Wal-Mart for a few years after the show had gone off the air, but god damn god damn that series lasted until 2001, a full six years after the series finale!

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And if you’re near my age (32), I’m guessing there’s a 75% you had some piece of Urkel merchandise. Steve Urkel was a hot commodity then (the kid had his own logo!), and what I can find on eBay backs that up. I myself owned a talking doll and a “novelization” of a couple of episodes, but kids could also beg their parents for Urkel cereal, an Urkel Colorforms set, an Urkel lunchbox, and Urkel Magic Slate… hell, if you ever need proof of merchandising overreach, look no further than Urkel Fashion Plates:

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I think it’s fair to say that not only were these individual shows popular, but that TGIF itself was a powerhouse of programming. It sure felt like it at the time, anyway.

But what about Perfect Strangers? From what we learned in the season 5 reportage a couple of weeks ago, it sounds like ABC had decided that the show would run for only two more seasons. In the meantime, though, it was surely still popular with some percentage of the audience that showed up for Full House and Family Matters.

Whether because of that percentage being too much smaller, Perfect Strangers not having child characters, or maybe just due to the fact that it cost too much to repaint old Bert & Ernie toys, Perfect Strangers merchandise is almost non-existent. Try searching for it on eBay, and once you’ve sifted through the numerous record albums, romance novels, and movies with the same title, you’ll find the season 1 & 2 DVDs, some promotional photos, the occasional TV Guide, maybe some buttons, and if you’re lucky, an authentic copy of a script. (Now, there were also TGIF trading cards, and I do plan to review those between seasons 6 and 7 since they came out in 1991. But I also need a good easy filler post this week since I start my new job today.)

And it’s not like it would be terribly hard to come up with ideas for products. I can imagine that, with a little more popularity, we might have seen a talking Balki doll; though whether a tiny tape could have held his 68 catchphrases is another question. Perhaps a compilation album of Balki singing full versions (or parodies) of the songs featured on the show.* Or a board game for four players, but designed so that Jennifer and Mary Anne lose in the first few turns. I even asked the members of the Perfect Strangers Facebook group what Perfect Strangers merchandise they wished existed, and the most common answer was a Dmitri doll. And yeah, why the fuck didn’t that exist? I mean, what child wouldn’t want a featureless, dull, grey plush toy to end up buried in the toybox underneath Teddy Ruxpin?

One of the other things that came up in the Facebook group discussion was the Warner Bros. Store catalogs. From what I understand, there were three different catalogs featuring Perfect Strangers merchandise. I purchased two from sellers on eBay; I don’t think I’ll bother with the third since a lot of the stuff is repeated between the two catalogs.  I’m not going to differentiate which pages are from which catalog, because fuck you, it’s too much trouble. Let’s just hit the highlights. Here are the covers for the Summer 1990 and Fall 1990 Warner Bros Collection catalogs:

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There appear to be different covers for each of these editions. I bought that specific Fall 1990 copy because of the Nothing But Trouble photos on the cover, and I can’t express just how disappointed I was that there wasn’t any corresponding merchandise inside. I love that movie and I will personally kick the groin of anyone who feels differently.

These catalogs are strange cultural artifacts in and of themselves.  When I think of Warner Bros, I think primarily of their movies and Looney Tunes.  And, no doubt, much of what these catalogs sell is memorabilia related to whatever new movies they’d just released.  Batman, Beetlejuice, Gremlins 2: The New Batch all show up here, as well as posters for other, non-blockbuster films. And for someone like me who grew up with these films, these catalog pages are not only a fun way to nostalgize, but also allow me to get the scoop on these Gremlins 2 shirts before Dinosaur Dracula does.

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Jesus, even Beetlejuice, a character who says “fuck” and “shit”, got his own talking doll! Since these catalogs are pushing 30 years old, the pricing information was only so much white noise until I hit the Beetlejuice pages. I had all of these Beetlejuice action figures, and I promise you they would not have cost $8 at Kmart (it was probably more like $4).

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And much of both catalogs is given over to Looney Tunes merchandise.  1990 was the 50th anniversary of the creation of Bugs Bunny, so there are plenty of items related to that. In fact, the weirdest thing you could buy from either one of these catalogs was an actual carrot cake. Even if there weren’t a chocolate bar on top of it that you’d have to remove before you cut it, the logistics of this baffle me. Would Warner Bros. coordinate with a local bakery? What if you lived 100 miles from the nearest one? Who thought that people would want to eat Bugs’s favorite cake in honor of his 50th “birthday”? And, most importantly: what the fuck?

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I said that these were strange artifacts, and once you get past the overpriced movie memorabilia and the Bug Bunny adult diapers, you can see why.  Many of the products are simply clothes or household items with the WB logo slapped on it. Sure, I mean, if you want to get a Warner Bros director’s chair to make yourself look important and official or whatever, I guess I get it.  But a WB robe? a WB rhinestone pin? Who is this for? We’re all products of the society we live in, and unless your mother was like Bronson’s and shielded you from the Beatles, popular culture is a major part of your experience. I wore shirts featuring South Park characters when I was in middle school.  Some people relate personally to television characters, or to the philosophy of a movie, or may wear a t-shirt to signal membership in the fanbase to other fans. But who’s burning a candle for motherfucking Warner Bros.? That’s like being a fan of the novel Fight Club, but instead of getting a tattoo that says “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything”, you get one that says “W. W. Norton & Company”.

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Oh, by the way, that’s Brooke Theiss from Just the Ten of Us, another TGIF show that I’ve barely mentioned on this blog.  An interesting part of these catalogs is that they feature actors who were in recent Warner Bros. productions. I’m sure Warner Bros. had fuckall to do with his book Winters’ Tales, but the best I can figure is that they got him to do drag because he had done some voices for Tiny Toon Adventures.

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And I have to assume that “Weird Al” Yankovic and his then-girlfriend Victoria Jackson are here because they were in UHF the previous year (Warner Bros. appears to have had a stake in Orion Pictures), because otherwise it feels like a stretch.

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Many of the other “models” in these catalogs are sitcom personalities. Some of them are from Warner Bros. shows like Night Court and China Beach and how in the fuck did Bull get a doll and not Balki?

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I know, I know, I’m 1400 words in and I still haven’t shown you any Perfect Strangers merchandise. I’m just wanting to savor what an incredibly odd mix of properties these catalogs feature. Who could resist sharing the ad copy for this 6-foot inflatable Gumby? “America’s favorite pliable playmate grows up–when you blow him….”

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And how can I miss an opportunity to point out a company not even getting its own properties correct? The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour stopped airing in 1978; we saw in the Saturday Morning Preview that it was The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show by then.

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By the time the first season of Family Matters was finished, Urkel was already the biggest star, eclipsing the four main children. Jaleel White shows up a couple of times, but Darius McCreary only once and I was going to joke about how they didn’t get Darius to look in quite the right direction but my fucking god a clapperboard calculator???

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You know how, in The Fountainhead, Steven Mallory shoots Ellsworth Monkton Toohey after reading his writing? In a very similar way, that clapperboard calculator makes me want to shoot myself.

But yes, finally we’re getting to the TGIF shows. Lorimar, which produced Family Matters, Full House, and Perfect Strangers, was a subsidiary of Warner Bros.  In some cases, the actors are again shilling Warner Bros. clothes that are guaranteed to have been stitched by genuine Asian children’s hands…

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…or in others, staring off into various distances pretending that they’re interacting with something…

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…or in others, trying to hide creeping unease of being one step away from physically branded by the show they star in.

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I posted the above page to Billy Superstar’s Facebook wall, and his response was, simply, “Ugh!”. The two Full House designs are obvious hack jobs that look like someone just traced over some photographs. As hideous as they are, though, I bet that fanny pack could bring at least $100 on eBay and holy fucking shit Michelle’s fucking pig doll got made and not Dmitri? Shit.

Anyway, here’s John Stamos’s butt doing its best George Michael impersonation.

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And there’s Melanie Wilson in an outfit with as much personality as Jennifer. The ad copy on these is ridiculous, but I am willing to believe that Melanie has time to change “between takes of ‘Perfect Strangers'” since for her, they were generally a week apart.

Here’s Uncle Jesse’s butt again:

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One thing I didn’t anticipate when I started this blog was that I’d develop a huge crush on one of the actors. Rebeca Arthur can make anything look cute. Also, haha, Mary Anne is so dumb she thought XL was short for “excellent” but oh my godddd that dumbass lamp it should be a projector for chrissakes jesus god shitcakes

Here she is not quite looking at Daffy Duck:

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Mark Linn-Baker looks like he feels a little shy showing off his butt, trying to read your eyes because he wants so bad for you to like it. Anyway, here we are, finally, at the actual Perfect Strangers merchandise.

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I like to think that I’m a decent person who owns up to his mistakes when they’re called out.  I’m also the kind of person who likes to blow my own Mypos sheep horn when I do it so everyone will know what a decent person I am. Thanks to these catalogs, I now know that the official spelling of Balki’s sheep doll is Dimitri.  And I’ll put aside my complaint that the Dimitri on these outfits looks nothing like the doll on the show because–unlike the aforementioned Full House shit–someone spent some time on the art.

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I’ve got to say, though, these products make sense from a certain standpoint. Whoever was in charge of choosing these items appears to have made their decisions on the basis that Perfect Strangers had only adult actors, and must have adult fans.  Full House got a backpack and a plush pig, Perfect Strangers gets mugs. And for this type of catalog, where most of the items were clothing or household items already, these seem logical enough. Virtually everyone drinks coffee or tea and wears a t-shirt; and Perfect Strangers was coming on at 9 back then, so nightshirts make sense as well.  I’ll give the “Club Mypos” jackets and sweats some credit for being a clever play on–I assume–a trend in fashion back then to show off what “club” you were a member of. And fandom is a kind of club already. But that’s about as far as I think you could stretch the property. “Dimitri’s Cafe”, though, is stretching Perfect Strangers to goatse levels. I mean, Balki cooks, like, three times a season or something? And the show has never associated Dimitri with cooking.  And, with so many items in this catalog, I have to wonder at who the apron and oven mitt were for.

I’m working without a lot of the context here–like what the distribution of Warner Bros. Collection catalogs was, or how you’d even find out it existed and get on their mailing list, or whether these items were advertised/sold at tapings of Perfect Strangers and other shows. But it certainly seems to be one of those types of catalogs for people with lots of money to throw around who’s probably to busy being rich to set foot in a Wal-Mart; or at the very least for major Looney Tunes fanatics, but again, that assumes some level of expendable income. And the Warner Bros. Studio Stores wouldn’t open up until 1991.  I’m guessing that there was only a tiny, likely self-selected group of consumers being exposed to these items to begin with, and then one of them would just coincidentally have to be a big enough Perfect Strangers fan to buy the stuff.

A lot of brands try to sell a lifestyle, even if they don’t sell the accoutrements for it. I mean, imagine how a Playboy reader (say, circa 1977) was supposed to drink and dress and drive. Marlboro sells the idea of being a rugged cowboy, even if they don’t produce leather chaps. I don’t think the Warner Bros. Collection catalog, as a whole, is selling a lifestyle, but the apron kind of feels like it’s trying to.  Somehow an apron feels like a much more major commitment to being a fan than just a coffee mug.  From what I understand, the “Kiss the Cook” aprons first appeared in the 1950s, and then became more widespread in the 80s. I think it’s safe to say that a person’s choice of cooking apron is not only a statement that they think they’re a regular enough or good enough cook to get use out of one, but also an indicator of the sense of humor they’d like to project.  But the problem I have with Dimitri’s Diner is that–in my opinion, at least–funny aprons ought to be pretty accessible to a wide array of people that will see you in it.  I could imagine a young adult couple being big enough Perfect Strangers fans that the apron could be one of those little relationship in-jokes (I’ve heard those exist, anyway). But at a party or a cookout? The person wearing this apron would have to explain to every single person individually what the hell the apron is supposed to be about.

I think what I’m trying to say here is that probably only three people bought one of these damn things, and only one of those three ever used it, at one cookout, and then shamefully shoved it deep into a closet behind their embarrassing skin mags.

But seriously, though, if that “I Spent the Night With Perfect Strangers” shirt shows up on eBay, I’m buying it. Not because I love this show, but because I want to imply to women that I have had sex with Bronson and Mark.

I hope you enjoyed this look at a very niche, very 1990 catalog which had almost nothing to do with Perfect Strangers.

Join me next week when we’ll start Season 6!

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You thought I was done? I ain’t never done. Time for cross-promotion!

I made vague mention of having had a shitty year last week. You may have as well. Other than starting a new job, the Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash! is the event I’ve been most anticipating all year long.  A bunch of us get together on Livestream and watch some shitty old TV Christmas specials and curse at them (and each other) in the chat. It’s been the best night of the year for me for three years running now.  This year the Bash! is happening on December 8, one week from now! You can get all the details about the event at Noiseless Chatter. Come join us!

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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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