Intermission: LAFFS trading cards (Impel 1991)

Between seasons 5 and 6 I spent 10,000 words telling you about how little Perfect Strangers merchandise there was in relation to that of sister properties Full House and Family Matters. I promised a post talking about the trading card series, and this is that post. I said; now I’m doing. (I showed you my virtue please comment.)

I grew up a collector, and much like mathematics, the question of whether this was invented or discovered will never truly be settled. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say I was spoiled in this direction; but to guess at a full list of potential parent-funded spoiling directions is impossible. My dad wanted me to be a car and motorcycle nut, and I can at least say that never took root.

I had a lot of trading cards as a kid, right? Probably the earliest ones I owned were the four Tang Trio (I know, I know) cards that came with the PVC figurines in Hardee’s kids meals in 1989.

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But the earliest cards I remember opening packs of were the 1990 Topps The Simpsons set. I wasn’t able to watch The Simpsons yet then, but I was fascinated all the same.

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I have vivid memories of getting 1991 Topps Wacky Packages stickers (I might have mentioned these two or three hundred times on this blog) at the Drug World pharmacy at 1201 Turner McCall Boulevard in Rome, GA. They were the wildest fucking things I had ever seen.

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I was aware of other trading card brands, but Topps consistently managed to catch my eye in the grocery store. With a history as long as theirs, they had the star power to consistently get the licensing for blockbuster movies and television shows. And from 1983 up until 1992 or so, Topps had a great team of artists and writers, and a consistent aesthetic and sense of humor in their novelty cards (and candy) thanks to art director Mark Newgarden. Garbage Pail Kids, Toxic High School, maybe even the art on the ALF Bouillabaseball cards would not exist if not for Newgarden.

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I’m obviously not here to go on at length about Topps, I just want to show you what was the gold standard when it came to non-sports cards around this time. Other baseball card companies would throw their hats into the humor ring occasionally, but their offerings were generally so few or so inferior that to call them any of them second to Topps would be too generous by far (seen below, Pacific’s Rad-Dudes from 1990).

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Was there something special about 1991? Maybe. I think it was the point were Topps began their switch from cardboard to cardstock, and from wax paper to plastic for the wrappers. It was also when they started getting some heavy competition from Impel, who were landing major licensing deals left and right: Star Trek, Mickey Mouse, G.I. Joe, Terminator II, Marvel and DC. They’d soon switch their name to Skybox (and even later to Inkworks) and release two series of Simpsons cards, which I believe were the last perfect trading card sets.

I’ve been wanting for a couple of years now to write a series on the worst trading card series I’ve ever seen, because what’s the use in being a fan if you don’t gatekeep?

Impel’s 1991 LAFFS™ series is definitely on the list. Fuck, any series with Bob Saget as card #1 would make the list.

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Bad trading cards are bad in a variety of ways, and I’ve been slowly putting together some considerations for “good” and “bad” when it comes to trading cards. Here’s my rough draft at the moment:

1. Would I have asked my parents to buy them?

2. Are the images fun to look at?

3. Is this the only way to get these images?

4. Is this the best format for these images?

5. Is there added value on the reverse of the cards, such as text, comics, puzzles, flipbook-style animations, etc.?

6. If there are “chase” (forced rarity) cards, are they worth chasing? Can I get them all with just two or three boxes’ worth?

7. Are images reused?

8. Was creative effort put into the series?

9. Would I want to keep the wrapper?

10. Who, if anyone, was the audience for the series?

Another thing I’m not sure of is how much writing I could actually squeeze out of a post about bad trading cards. Because for LAFFS™, I could just say No, No, Yes (then), No, Kind of, N/A, No, Not really, Fuck No, and Fuck If I Know.

LAFF™ing yet? Yeah. Sometimes brain cells fuck up and cause cancer, and sometimes they make people buy Impel LAFFS™ trading cards off eBay; perhaps I can cure one of these by digitizing all of the cards in this set. (Show this post to a cancer patient and let me know what happens, would you?)

Let’s look at the box first:

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The bright yellow would certainly have stood out on the shelves, but if the bored teenager putting these out didn’t want to punch out the box top along the perforation and carefully fold it to achieve the suggested display aesthetic, and instead ripped it off, showing only the packs, you’ve lost the portion of kids who can’t read:

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I would have guessed that Urkel trading cards in 1991 would be the equivalent of printing money. They couldn’t slap his face on the wrapper?

Speaking of faces you’d want to slap, here’s Uncle Joey.

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I guess this information is illuminating. I’ll watch an episode of Full House if you trick me into it, but I have as much interest in reading Dave Coulier’s Wikipedia page as I do in eating my own earwax. So I would otherwise never have known that there was a hockey episode of Full House solely because Dave got them a good deal filming at his regular rink.

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John Stamos gets two cards in a row for himself and for Jesse. Uncle Vanity Plate probably paid Impel just so he could have his own trading cards in addition to his own doll and his own Beach Boys. Also, “hair combs”? Have clemency!

05

Rad was one of those films that existed just to cash in on interest in BMX bikes, but Lori Loughlin was super-cute in 1986 and Sam Walton flips people off a few times and… actually, you know what, just watch this “dance” scene from it:

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Hey, maybe 1991 was special, because it was the last year Candace Cameron’s acting talents were “in demand”.

07

Please do tell me about the times when it’s easy to have a dead mom!

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Ahh, there’s the Hogan’s Family connection we were missing. And there’s the backstory we all never knew we needed about Jodie playing Bug’s Bunny’s Rectal Blowout on NES in that Warner Bros. catalog.

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Huh. Kids go to school, and babies are younger than adults and older kids. Educational!

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Did you know their mom died?

13

Did you know their mom died?

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Crimes and Michelle’s Demeanor: Joey is hired to make a documentary of Jesse’s life and work, and Michelle hires a hitman to kill her Kindergarten rival for milk monitor. The murder is pinned on a drifter.

15

Working Girl: Kimmy Gibbler pimps D.J. out to Bay Area Raggedy Ann fetishists.

16

Why does each card have the LAFFS™ logo? Is this the equivalent of a laugh track?

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“One Last Kiss”: Jesse finds out from an old lover that he has syphilis, and has to hide the fact that he transmitted it to Comet before Comet’s birthday party.

18

Why does it look like Poopy Smurf wiped his ass on every other card?

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A lot of the boys in the crew love leather.

21

Did you know their mom died?

22

I’ve always felt that the grammar rule of placing possessives before gerunds failed to understand the shades of meaning it prohibited.

23

They couldn’t get the rights to put Frankie and Annette on trading cards.

24

Okay, this is the first card in the whole set that I actually enjoy owning. Now I want a set of all the worst moments from Full House.

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“Wild idea”? Does this writer know how grief works?

27

It’s well-established now that Jaleel White will likely no longer brag about sharing a Pudding Pop with Bill Cosby, but why is there no information online about what commercial he was in when he 3 years old?

28

I started wearing suspenders when I was on peritoneal dialysis because a belt would have been right where the catheter came out of my gut. In one of the libraries where I worked, the director floated the idea of having the librarians wear polo shirts to identify us to the students, and I told her that the only guy I ever knew of to wear one with suspenders was Urkel.

29

“Real soon” turned out to be 25 years.

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Jaimee Foxworth, I think, was in the same position as Melanie Wilson: it’s impossible to know whether she was a good actress because a focus on the “star” of the show raised the bar for being noticeable with what little material the writers would throw you.

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Man, I still can’t get over Jo Marie keeping in touch with crew members. She’s an amazing woman.

36

Mother Winslow got so much dick on Family Matters.

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Yeah, right after he got Leroy’s off the ground by burning it down!

38

I watched this whole show a little over a year ago and I can’t remember anything about Little Richie except he danced a few times and made friends with 3J.

39

“You’d think their marriage was doomed with nothing but constant stress. They both manage to stay very happy because that’s what the script says.”

40

Can you tell Urkel was not in this promotional image originally?

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I’m so glad Perfect Strangers would never stoop to having Balki wear a dress instead of paying an actress for a new role. Ha.

Ha ha ha. Ha.

42

“The Good, The Bad & The Urkel”: Ah, yes, I do remember fondly the scene where “All the other Winslow family members appear”.

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Up until this point, I was going to credit the set for 1) giving you promotional stills from these shows that you really couldn’t get anywhere else, for episodes that you had no guarantee of ever getting to see again, and 2) offering you the actors’ CVs years before someone thought of adding such information to their webpage full of actresses they liked to jerk it to. But was there not a photograph of the casino scene? They’re also getting a little loose with their descriptions, too, because the “Urkel Touch” was about how Urkel would Touch Laura while she was sleeping.

44

Half these cards for Family Matters basically tell you “The Winslows exist… and URKEL”. This show had five Christmas episodes per season, so I can’t remember if this was the one where Urkel broke a priceless red ornament or a priceless green ornament.

45

“Torn Between Two Lovers”: Carl and Little Richie vie for the affections of the Vice Squad’s new undercover prostitute.

46

Once Steve become a common fixture, many of the physical comedy setpieces could have been Balki and Larry doing them for all that they mattered to the story. How the fuck does Family Matters get better use of Balki-style prank props than fucking “Duck Soup”?

47

Jeez, both of these shows did a “kid drives car into house” story within months of each other?

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Why didn’t he just “Urkel Touch” the bully?

50

Seriously, there was a scene where Steve finds Laura asleep, and talks out loud about how he’s going to kiss her. He doesn’t do it but still.

51

No fucking “Do the Urkel” cards? The fuck? I don’t care about Eddie hearing the story of Harriette’s episiotomy and how she’d have weaker orgasms for the rest of her life, lemme see that Urkel dance!

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You might have seen Bronson in movies. You might have seen Bronson on TV. Hell, you might have seen him in your nightmares. I can’t speak for you, really.

54

The silent story Mark Linn-Baker is acting out here is that he is wearing a purple plaid shirt and coming as close to smiling without actually doing so.

55

Here I’ve been telling myself there were no good jokes left to tell about Perfect Strangers, and this card comes along and hands me “American stream”. Now there are no good jokes left.

56

“Larry rarely gets very mad at his funny cousin”. Okay.

57

No. No. No! No child of trading card age in 1991 watched Simon & Simon. I also take serious issue with this card’s endorsement of a Lamarckian view of evolution.

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What kind of information were they handing this copywriter? It sure doesn’t match up with the show. Larry not taking any guff, and now he likes Jennifer because she’s “beautiful and sensible”? Ha! Any fan knows that Larry likes Jennifer because she… well you see in the episode where… Larry has always said that… it was something about nail polish. Balki likes Mary Anne (Sagittarius) because she’s the other one.

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SCREAMING

So I ended up with plenty of shitty trading cards across the course of my youth, some of them by my own misguided choice, and some that the comic shop owner* threw in for free with every purchase. There were plenty of trading cards even then that virtually no kid would have had a remote interest in, including I Love Lucy and The Andy Griffith Show sets also released in 1991. There are plenty of series that I feel had absolutely no reason to exist at all, like McDonaldland 500 and Where’s Waldo?, but usually any given trading card belongs in its set. Whether or not you think a Perfect Strangers card set was welcomed by any share of the market, there was no reason outside of everyone-gets-a-trophy-style thinking for Sam Gorpley–Sam Gorpley the adulterer, Sam Gorpley the guy who hates Christmas, disgruntled, Sam Gorpley who is second-most likely to blow up the Chronicle–to get his own trading card.

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Think about this: we’re dealing with characters across a season’s worth of three sitcoms. Sam Anderson was in only 6 of those episodes. The chance that any child got this card and didn’t automatically assume it actually came from another Impel set (“Perkins Day Shift Manager All Stars 1991”) was next to zero.

62

Oh, shit, I need to go back and edit my review for this episode, somehow I thought the Bulls were a basketball team.

63

Topps owned the licensing for both Margaret Thatcher’s name and image back then.  Also, even if you hadn’t seen this episode, would that summary make any sense? Is Larry afraid of the big-wig?

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“A Horse is a Horse”: A misremembered Myposian ritual turns Larry into a horse and Balki ponders whether he can still be the top without getting kicked.

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Topps writers added value to their TV card series with word balloons featuring jokey dialogue that wasn’t actually in the show itself. Impel hired a guy who wrote up these card backs while he was grunting out some toughies on the can. It’s impossible to rate these cards outside of the context of their competition. Topps writers would have had a field day with these.

66

“Out of Sync”: Balki and Larry travel to rooftops all around Chicago to rap about not committing suicide.

67

The fuck? The fuck? What?

68

Like I said, it’s been a long time now since I watched Family Matters and Full House, but at least those cards’ synopses sounded like what I remember happening.

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Even the blind chicken finds a kernel of corn sometimes, and this Impel writer has bungled his way into improving both “Climb Every Billboard” and “Good Skates”.

71

Balki: Larry, I think those mobsters are upset with us.

Larry: Why would they be upset with us? We’re Larry and Balki.

Mobsters: Larry, Balki, we are upset with you.

Larry: Zoinks! *bongo running-in-place sound effect*

72

“The dream works”? What? I don’t

73

“Safe at Home”: Larry gets to fourth base with Jennifer and Mary Anne, protected by the makeshift condom he makes from the plastic bag his new chair was shipped in.

74

Okay, this and the Gorpley card. No fucking reason to exist. The kid holding this card has already decided that the act of purchasing it has proven their parent to be an unreliable caregiver, and thus will not bother to ask about the Honeymooners.

75

“See How They Run”: The Cousins enter the high-stakes world of midget-racing and disagree over which performance-enhancing drugs to give them.

76

“The Sunshine Boys”: Jennifer and Mary Anne help the Cousins try to impress Larry’s high school friend who always brags about how much he gets jizzed on.

77

Cut for syndication: an actual image of Tess

78

That’s not popcorn, those are fried dugong duodena.

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Lots of trading card collectors are into rare pieces, and mint examples of cards of any rarity**, so the rarest, most valuable card of all time would have to be a LAFFS™ checklist that someone actually used.

I don’t have any particular rating system in mind for trading cards, and the list of questions up there doesn’t translate into any rubric. But even though I’ll acknowledge that Bronson’s mom and maybe two kids in Kansas bought these in 1991, and that this was basically the only way you were going to get some of these images back then, the set still fails to pass any sort of fun “test”.

Impel was still a baby in 1991, and I think their goals were simply to lure the rightsholders of high-profile properties with quality cardstock. You might have seen some early Impel cards around Halloween that year if someone in your neighborhood didn’t want to give out candy but also didn’t want to get egged for giving out toothbrushes. They put out a number of “Trading Card Treats” sets, which instantly lost any “cool” factor they might have otherwise had (spoiler: strictly non-zero) by promoting the National Safe Kids Campaign to the kids themselves. The Garbage Pail Kids would have thrown me in front of a speeding schoolbus for a laugh; what was this bullshit?

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Each of those “Trading Cards Treats” sets consisted of six cards across two packs. Always the same three cards in each pack, in the same order. I got a whole bag of packs of Inspector Gadget cards that year, and my utter disbelief that this could be how the set was designed led me to open every single pack. I was left with 20 duplicate sets that, by that point, I no longer wanted. “Trading Card Treats” broke some central rules of the format; a small set I could have dealt with, but no checklist (and no card numbers) to confirm that size, and no variation among the packs really stretches the idea of collecting something. If you got two packs on Halloween, there was only a 50% chance they met the bare minimum for facilitating a single, mechanical trade, assuming your brother or sister hadn’t already thrown theirs away.

Impel made a slick product, but had no one on staff who knew how to make something that would appeal to kids on a fun level. Any added value you could attribute to LAFFS™ is more than undone by the evidence that, when the CEO’s unemployable nephew wrote up the text for the cardbacks, he was either provided bad information or didn’t give shit one. I’m not saying that Topps writers actually watched these TV shows, but at least they would have known to give you a goddam sticker with Urkel saying “Got any cheese???” and to not bother at all with the other two shows.

That’s not to say that even Topps’s humor card output didn’t eventually become almost entirely devoid of artistic merit, but that’s another story for another blog.

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And that’s it, folks. Aside from the DVDs and some pinback buttons, we’ve covered the entirety of official Perfect Strangers merchandise (before you ask: no). If you want a Balki dakimakura, you’ll have to make it yourself.

Join me next week when I chop season 6 into tiny little pieces!

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*Who went to court twice for charges of distributing smut, and all I ever got were free trading cards. There’s no justice in the world.

**Like, not only is there more than one business offering card grading/slabbing/registry services so that you can prove you have a “perfect” trading card and get more money for it, but more than one of these businesses has been accused of inconsistency and corruption. I mean, trading cards came packaged with bubble gum for more decades than not; why aren’t cards with gum stains seen as exemplary of the object?

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Season 6 Reportage

Hello, imaginary new reader who is starting this blog with this very post, let me explain to your non-linear ass what’s going on here. I found it so important that both you and I understand some of the greater context of Perfect Strangers that I was willing to extend the length of this review blog by more than a month so we could explore the extant articles and interviews about the show. This post covers May 5, 1990 through May-ish, 1991. As usual, all of these pieces were curated by Linda Kay of the fansite.

To those of you who have been here longer, you’ll understand why I say that, this time around, I find myself hyper-vigilant for emotions, for buried truths, for certain themes and threads that have revealed themselves over the course of the last three of these posts. We’ve seen a Bronson who waffled and contradicted himself on his own reasons for gracefully agreeing to beg for his chance to settle on being the star of Perfect Strangers, a Bronson who saw his own star rising until everyone else saw Second Sight and informed him which way up was, and a Bronson who wanted to cover his insecurities by claiming to be more cultured than his own pratfalls (like Chevy Chase, whom I’m certain Bronson would swear to be unfamiliar with).

That’s more Bronsons than you can shake a shoe at!  And we’ll get to Bronson–we’ll climax with Bronson–but let’s cover some other ground first.

There’s a tool in the project management world called a triangle. It functions just like any other triangle you’ve seen, except it has words on the vertices.

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Anyway, you’ve got these three aspects of any project: scope, time, and cost.  If you want to increase one or more of them, the sum of its angles still must equal 180°. You want to cut costs? Be prepared for it to take longer. Want to widen that scope and keep the time the same? Be prepared for the quality to get squished unless you raise those costs. Anyway, I think this model goes a long way towards explaining how More Stories! More Listings! More Pages! results in having to re-use a promotional image from four years ago.

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You could certainly make the case that ratings for the show had dropped, but it was certainly true that the person who did this write-up for Modern Screen in Summer 1991 was able to find someone in the staff lounge to tell him all about Perfect Strangers while he hastily scribbled notes on a coffee filter. This article makes it seem like Larry and Jennifer got engaged maybe a few months after Larry quit working at Ritz Discount.  I’d love to read a whole issue of Modern Screen just to learn how wonderful every single show on the air was. “Melanie Wilson and Rebeca Arthur are wonderful as the boys’ upstairs neighbors….” “Mark Linn-Baker and Bronson Pichot [sic] are wonderful together.” I dunno, maybe I just don’t “get it” because I’m not a true fan.

And really, we ought not forget that fan was once short for fanatic. So could there be a truer fan than Perfect Strangers doyenne Linda Kay, who attended tapings, created a newsletter, and ? Here’s a truth that I discovered entirely on my own this past week: no amount of adherence to non-fiction guarantees an absence of authorial bias, of creative choice of presentation. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Linda Kay reveal herself with the equivalent of trigger warnings for articles that were remotely negative about Perfect Strangers. Telefilm magazine ran an article on the Season 6 premiere “Safe at Home”, and Linda prefaces it by saying “[This article] illustrated how reviewers often just didn’t ‘get’ the show… particularly telling is the review’s assertion that the comedy is based partly off of Balki’s ‘innate stupidity.’ ?????”

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Half the show is shit like Larry saying “I’m going to hit the sack” and Balki fearfully covering up his crotch. What is there to get? Was there really some deeper meaning to “Cousin Larry got a perversion”?

I’d encourage you to read that article; it renews my faith in humanity when it says “’Perfect Strangers’ is unafraid to aim low”, or when it points out that the episode used the exterior establishing shot six times in a single-location episode. It aptly refers to Pinchot as having become “slick” and Linn-Baker “delighted at his own cuteness”.  I hadn’t paid this much mind until Judy Pioli took over, but this article did alert me to a revolving door of directors at the beginning of Season 6, which perhaps explains why the quality tanked so quickly in those first few episodes.  The Bob and Tom show their appreciation for how Rich Correll was willing to be overworked by spending potential bonus money on a full page in The Hollywood Reporter.

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Speaking of credit, one spatiotemporal locus where it’s due is Linda’s personal attendance at Perfect Strangers filmings in later seasons. Anywhere corroboration is possible increases the value of an information source, and a short piece from what Linda terms a “rag mag” is one such example. The article describes Pinchot as a powder keg, lashing out at his co-stars and even drawing Linn-Baker into a “screaming match” (likely over whether Jeff Lynne was singing “sweet talkin’ Lola” or “sweet talkin’ lover”). Mention is made of a filming where Bronson had an audience member thrown out for sneezing.  Linda claims to have been there (let’s assume she was there for every episode) and says that Bronson simply left the stage for a few minutes to get back into character after that person’s “disruptive noise”. Her blind spot here, though, is that this article claims to have an “insider” source, who would have been placed to hear Bronson say he wanted the audience member thrown out. I’ll agree with Linda that there are likely exaggerations there, but I have to wonder why someone would make this up out of whole cloth. I have no frame of reference here: was it standard practice for these magazines to slander such minor actors? The size of the article seems to be commensurate with Bronson’s stature, and I’d at the very least believe someone who had a beef with him offered the information.

So we have Linda corroborating that there was indeed a noise in the audience, and that it affected Bronson.  On the other hand, we have a second source giving a reason why Bronson might be testy (again Linda gives us her full blessing to ignore it): that Bronson finally realized they weren’t giving Balki any independent stories and that the impending marriage storyline would sideline him.  According to Star Magazine, Bronson was worried that Balki’s role would be reduced to watching Larry and Jennifer fuck, as if that wouldn’t improve the show. Has it come up yet that Melanie Wilson is now married to William Bickley, one of the show’s producers? And that we have a first-hand source calling Wilson a diva? It would be wildly irresponsible of me to actually try to put anything together from that (Melanie was still married to her aforementioned husband), but I won’t judge you if you do.

Corroborating stories is a tricky thing, and unfortunately the Information Age has both eased and exacerbated the problem.  Consider Philip Roth having to publish an article about his life because Wikipedia wouldn’t allow him to add information to his own entry because it couldn’t be cited. And thanks to mindless copying and link rot, the bullshit mountain often proves unscalable and it’s often impossible to determine where online information even originated. But consider this: a TV Guide piece on “not everyone [being] happy about” Jennifer getting 100% more lines on the show was published before the one in Star Magazine. On the other hand, the idea that Bronson would be unhappy about this doesn’t jibe with his previous discomfort with the behind-the-scenes female tooth-gnashing.

But we can be certain ABC will do what’s best for the show and its actors, right? Haha nah j/k they totally realized that getting kids to watch meant that eventually the family members with wallets would watch too. By the way, turns out Perfect Strangers had also gotten a little bump in the ratings from viewers who stuck around after Full House.

I’m a firm believer in people being the authoritative source on their own lives, even if they lie to you about them, because even the lies disclose something.  So I find this Q&A with Rebeca Arthur in Kidsday to be particularly revealing:

Q: Do you like your part?

A: I love it…. Somebody has to play her and I’ll do it.

Other tidbits of note: Rebeca claims that many of Mary Anne’s lines don’t make it to the final edits, that she and Melanie would hang out outside of work and hit up the miniatures stores, and when asked what her family thinks of her career, Rebeca informs the interview that her mother is dead.

But this quote is going to come in handy later in this post: “[Bronson] is sort of like a big kid, and he gets in trouble when he is so naughty.”

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Rebeca appeared on Into the Night with Rick Dees, which aired (I think) after TGIF back then.  Dees introduces her by saying to the guys in the audience that he bets they stare at her tits when they watch Perfect Strangers. They discuss her Circus of the Stars appeances (Rebeca had to withstand suspicions while carrying the “noose” we saw last week through customs) and Rick asks her if being into doing acrobatic stunts is sexual and fuck you, dude. When Rebeca goes home to Maryland for Christmas, she becomes the major attraction at the mall. Oh, and how could I forget Rebeca’s great story about how Melanie almost called in a Milli Vanilli song request to Rick Dees’s radio show?

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Rebeca Arthur (Pisces) also was on Mother Love, hosted by comedian Mother Love. I want to say she looks familiar, but I also don’t want to be that white guy. They talk about a Star Magazine article about Rebeca’s diet (somehow it’s not a “rag mag” for Linda when it’s not negative), and how Rebeca hates surprise parties because she doesn’t enjoy “performing” emotion, which further convinces me she and I should get married.  Mother Love asks her other guest, Eric somebody*, whether he prefers “tiny” or “voluptuous” women, and he tries to duck the question by saying that everybody tends to lower their own standards when it’s getting late at the club.

Hmmm you may be thinking perhaps there is an underlying theme that Casey is hinting at.

HMMMM

Before we move on to that, there is one New York Daily News article by Patricia O’Haire about Mark Linn-Baker. Turns out he does theatre shit during the summer!

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Patty O. (hi Patty) also gives us an article about Bronson’s theatre work. Remember how last time we learned that Bronson was in a Broadway production of Zoya’s Apartment? Well, the reviews are in: Bronson was in it.

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In May 1990, right where we left off last time, Bronson sounds weary of being Balki for so long. Let’s face it: having to do one accent exclusively must be pretty painful when you can do three of them. He expresses surprise to Patty that that would be how he’d get typecast, even though we saw him (years ago now) claim to not want the Balki role to avoid that very consequence. It appears that Bronson networked his way into the play since he was going to be in New York for a Letterman appearance. Bronson tells us that he “can spot a good director or a good antique… anywhere.” But what, to Bronson, is a good director? Some unvisionary paycheck-casher who’ll let him do what he wants?

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A further revelation here–or rather, here, in a New York Newsday review of the play by Linda Winer–is that Bronson’s New York Connection was owed a favor by the director of Zoya’s Apartment, a 3-hour play which originally premiered in 1926 Russia. It’s tempting to believe that TGIF lent its actors a particular brand of smugness–Winer here refers to Bronson “[taking] the stage with his familiar exhilarated sense of his own delight”–but I think it simply fostered That Genetic Imperious Feeling in Bronson’s case. Linda Kay must not have caught the nuance of that quote, but she certainly feels the need to distance herself from Daily News theatre critic Howard Kissel’s statement that “Pinchot does nothing beyond cute, tiresome shtick”. The work this woman has done to overcome cognitive dissonance in the face of the opinions of people who have them for a living.

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My own sense made explicit: Bronson claims in a May 1990 CNN “Showbiz Today” interview that being “fed up” with his life led him to the play. And let’s give Bronson as much credit as is due: he was engaging in some self-improvement during this period. He mentions his personal trainer and gymnastics instructor in a few different interviews, and he was definitely no slouch with his work. The director for Zoya did try to push Bronson in a different direction, calling him out any time he saw Bronson do something he had done in Perfect Strangers. Almost a year later, when he again appeared on Letterman, Bronson relates one accident that occurred during one night’s performance.  He and lead actress Linda Thorson played lovers and had, over the course of rehearsals and performances, developed their interactions.

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Bronson misread Thorson’s readiness and tried a bit of physical comedy they had discussed; but because it was unpracticed he ended up “handstanding” on her face and falling over.  I want so bad to credit him for trying to grow as an actor, but “Honeymooners This” proved that the only lesson he learned was that there are no lasting repercussions for falling on your–or someone else’s–face. And he claims elsewhere that he still uses his downtime to research the role of Balki. Really? Was that for the episode where Balki does a shitty California accent? Or the one where he does a shitty New Yorker accent?

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Mark Linn-Baker shows up to mumble about plays, but god damn look at those lapels.

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We communicate with one another through various channels, the main two categories being verbal and physical. Some are “leakier” than others, and part of the surreality of sitcoms lies, I think, in reordering the hierarchy. Speech and facial expressions tend to be far leakier for sitcom characters; where bodily movements are more likely to give us away. So maybe that’s why I think I’m picking up on Bronson’s emotions when he’s on talkshows. He seems more relaxed in general, at least for a few months after doing Zoya’s Apartment.

But Season 6 started and Bronson was back on his bullshit again.  It’s going to be difficult to give you these interviews chronologically, so I’m going to group these by theme.

Bronson is better than you

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Bronson was a cut-up, I’m sure, but I doubt he was a capable class clown; I sense a frustrated teenager more than anything. “I was smart-mouthed and precocious and made teachers feel threatened.”  I felt the same way too when I was in high school. But then I went and made a career out of staying in college indefinitely and it’s been easy to see my own transition from teen-in-the-80s-teen-movie to adult-in-the-80s-teen-movie.  I think Bronson wanted article writers to play up his Yale credentials, and he certainly wants you to know that he found stardom by ignoring his professors’ encouragement to pursue illustration. There’s also a surprisingly elderly quote about Bronson thinking kids have too many toys because he used to play with weeds. I don’t think it merits a psychology sidebar to say that we’re prickliest about not achieving our most prized goals. Bronson’s appears to be status when he expresses upset over a woman heckling him during a commercial shoot at a mall (for Pepsi, perhaps?).

“Hey, Bronson, easy money, isn’t it?”

If you’re out there, oh anti-Linda, marry me.

Bronson wants control

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Or maybe what I mean is somewhere between that and “Bronson wants to know what’s going on” and “Bronson gets distracted when he doesn’t”.  In an interview from sometime in 1990 on Northwest Afternoon, Bronson starts the interview trying to ask about some freight cranes he saw on his way in that morning and the (female) host subtly lets him know that he’s not in control of the interview. But soon after that, he’s distracted by a kilt-wearing crewperson getting audience soundtrack. We get insight into themes #1 and #2 combining here when Bronson talks about getting pouty on set when the writers won’t let him do what he wants; but also that, on that rare week where there’s no new issue of Puss & Boots, Cleats In Heat, or Tongue Kiss and he actually watches Perfect Strangers, he’s able to see that the show works better that way. Even so, he still puts it down in general. A woman in the audience took the time to memorize an alliterative question about Bronson’s favorite episode; and Bronson responds by calling the show “boring”. The woman’s face falls briefly before the awareness that everyone else is laughing–and that she should too–catches up to her.

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All these poor Lindas!

A slight tangent here: Bronson tells Arsenio in Feb. 1991 that it’s hard for him to know how well he does on Perfect Strangers because no one will tell him if he’s done a bad job, so please send him a link to this blog, I know he’ll appreciate it.

A couple more tidbits from rather long Northwest Afternoon interview: thank God Louie Anderson didn’t stay on the show, because hearing “Cousin Lowie” 8 million times would be its own special hell; Bronson expects that newer, better sitcoms will make Season 7 his last; and Bronson makes a joke I actually like! He claims that Mypos is south of Rhodes, but that it floats around.

As I was saying, Bronson has trouble letting someone else drive. He’ll stop the interview to ask a host about the micro-nods they’ll make to the crew who are also sending signals he’s trying to figure out. After 6 years of being a celebrity he’ll be surprised when the hosts announce that they’re cutting a commercial and ask “oh, are we done?”

Bronson chases a chicken around with a net

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Bronson does not have his finger on the pulse of pop culture

And this makes it impossible for him to make good off-the-cuff jokes about celebrities. And when you combine this with the fact that

Bronson has no tact

…well, he “gets in trouble when he is so naughty”. He claims to prefer classical art and to have watched The Wizard of Oz hundreds of times (Regis quizzes him on the film and Bronson tells them that some of the answers their staff provided were wrong).  It’s re-established in that same Arsenio interview that Mama Pinchot wanted her children to be exposed to greater art than pop culture, and Bronson continues to mention elsewhere not being familiar with the Beatles as a result.

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Matter of fact, Young MC was in the audience during Bronson’s October 1990 Arsenio interview, and Bronson admits to “liking” rap but having no idea who the main people or trends are. Again, Bronson is at his most relaxed when he’s around Arsenio, and maybe at his most vulnerable. In October, Bronson mentions being upset at the directing/editing choice of not showing his and Linn-Baker’s feet during their stirring rendition of a rap song he couldn’t give less of a shit about; but in the February 1991 interview, Bronson apologizes for having said so because it made the editor and associate producer “miserable”. I can appreciate that.

But what goes unaddressed in that first interview is, right off the bat, Bronson jokes on national television that his gymnastic instructor’s daughter was recovering from herpes. He even manages to elicit an “aww” from the audience when he tells her to “feel better”, which has got to be the worst way to wish someone improved health.

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Something equally difficult to take is when he starts tossing off insults that don’t appear to have any shared public support.

In the second half of that 1991 Arsenio appearance, Bronson repeats a story about another interview he was on. I think this came up before, but: Bronson took a female host’s questions to him and Mark Linn-Baker as being an attempt to prove that men were scum.  In the audience, however, were a group of women using *ahem* their leaky channels to make clear they would fuck the two of them in alley outside if the desire was mutually shared. Who cares if he was misrepresenting, exaggerating, or misinterpreting; that’s an interesting story.

You heard that “but” coming and look at the size of it: he then immediately comments on Madonna having fucked her way to stardom. When the audience gets upset with him, he stands up on the ottomen and scolds them:

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Bronson: Come on! Come on! What is the problem? Wait. If you want people to talk nice, then just go home and meet your friends.

Do I have to make a fuss every time somebody sighs? I’m looking for clues, and Arsenio does hang his head at this. But then Arsenio backs him up on it, throws the audience under the bus, and then asks them all to compliment Bronson on his suit. Hall & Goats combine their voices to protect the criticism of the rich girl, but I can’t go for that because some things are better left unsaid maneater private eyes. It’s kind of surreal when you see this chauvinist shit play out in real time.

Was it a common insult that Madonna was so untalented that she had to sleep with producers to get record deals? I’m not finding much evidence for it, though I am interested to hear if that was the case, because it would at least give some context. I think that Bronson simply thinks that you’re supposed to shit-talk others when you’re on television (“if you want people to talk nice…”), but pulling stuff out of your ass doesn’t make you cheeky, man. And don’t take that explanation of why he decided he was going to get a laugh as my way of trying to excuse him. Hell no, I think it’s doubly bad that he sexslandered a celebrity whose work he’s made damn sure we know he doesn’t give a shit about.

Thankfully, David Letterman doesn’t protect Bronson the same way in their February 1991 interview. Bronson’s last time there was when he was promoting Zoya’s Apartment; and here, while telling the story of landing on her face, he calls co-star Linda Thorson ugly. (These poor Lindas!)

First of all, fuck you on principle!

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Second of all, fuck you on accuracy!

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The audience boos Bronson and he scolds them.

There’s a handful of other factoids in all these interviews: they taped Perfect Strangers on Friday nights, it took between 3 and 4 hours to get one episode done, Bronson collects 1905 Danish phones, Bronson doesn’t believe the humanities’ ideal of consideration for its own sake has a place in higher education, he was in a Thanksgiving Day parade in Houston in 1990 that also included a float-sized version of the Kenner Real Ghostbusters Bug-Eye Ghost toy, which even the online Ghostbusters fan community was not aware of–

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–Bronson really wanted to be the star of Richard Attenborough’s Charlie Chaplin biopic, he wanted to have his own Saturday morning cartoon show, he somehow both idolized Art Carney as a child and hated when The Honeymooners would come on because it was “too loud”, and he bought a house that used to be owned by Liberace.

But *sigh* there’s some more thematic overlap as we get into the last, and worst theme

Bronson’s a fucking creep to women

Multiple times in my life I’ve picked up the idea that it’s better for me–that social rewards await me–if I simply keep my mouth shut about being anyhow better than others. The Lord Chesterfield quote about wearing your learning like a pocketwatch; Proverbs 17:28; and probably most impactfully, the ending of Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats, where millions of boasting cats devour each other in their vain attempt to gain an elderly couple’s adoptive favor, and the only survivor–the humble cat who neither boasted nor fought–is adopted.

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My teenage stint as a Christian, among other influences, instilled in me the idea that doing is worth a lot more than saying; and seeing so many examples of imbalance towards the latter convinced me to put nothing on that side of the scale. I’ll admit to being put off when some media I consume become preachy (read: present a morally authoritative viewpoint), because that’s not what I came for in the first place.** I’ll always prefer nuance in the art I consume and make, but ultimately saying and doing are a false dichotomy.

All that to say I don’t, you know, call out sexism a lot; but I need to here since, as I’m told, silence tends to uphold the status quo. And I wish I could say that I wasn’t basically forced to do this in order to even talk about some of the shit Bronson pulls in his interviews this time around.

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In an October 1990 appearance on Regis & Kathie Lee, he begins the interview by plucking at the crotch of his pants and talking about how big his dick is; for which Kathie Lee apologizes to a woman in the audience. One of the defenses of the bullied is to beat others to the punch and make fun of yourself, but it’s a bad look once you’re powerful.  At one point in the interview, Bronson walks behind Kathie Lee Gifford and gives her a massage, joking that he’s seen that same face on other women.

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With mild self-deprecation, Bronson created a situation where Kathie Lee would be the bad guy if she voiced any real complaint. He gets away with being cute, but she probably went home and took a few scalding showers.

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In a November 1990 interview on Into the Night, Rick Dees is just as much to blame when he tells Bronson that the musical guest that night–Tiffany–is now old enough that Bronson can hit on her. If you feel you need some symbolism that Rick Dees is cut from the same cloth as Bronson, he brings Bronson’s shoes into the conversation. Dees allows Bronson access to the audience, where lays across two women after signalling that he was just going in for a hug.

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Bronson is surprised when Rick goes to commercial, but he’s allowed to stick around after Tiffany’s performance and talk about touching her genitals.

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Rick joins in, making damn sure Bronson knows that Tiffany is of legal fucking age. I’m glad the host was cancelled before the show, because Dees’s nuts.

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I’m surprised Attitudes kept bringing this guy back. Linda Dano calls Bronson out on wanting to just wander into the audience and fuck around instead of answering her questions (these poor, poor Lindas), and the conversation turns to Bronson’s girlfriend Wren Maloney.

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She’s off-stage, and Bronson gets her to come out and have to be on camera and tell the muliebrous crowd that Bronson is “excellent” (she shakes her head while saying it instead of nodding; does this signify anything or am I too on qui vive?).

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What’s more is that he uses this national television platform to acknowledge he and Wren had agreed to keep their planned marriage (which he himself brings up) a secret. Jesus Christ I’m trying to decide whether wondering aloud if Tiffany actually felt “New Inside” or publicly shitting on your intimate partner’s trust is worse and I hope I never come up with an answer.

One more thing from the Letterman interview: Bronson mentions wearing a button reading “Can I Fuck You?”.

I’m breaking chronology and putting Bronson’s May 1990 Regis & Kathie Lee appearance last because I had to do some soul-searching.

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Regis Philbin–who, by the way, is what you’d get if Mark Linn-Baker snorted coke–has on hand a promotional image from “A Christmas Story” and Bronson almost immediately starts in talking about Melanie’s breasts, barrelling over some off-camera protest.

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And… I said the same thing when I reviewed the episode. Bronson literally says “Look at the breasts on Melanie”, and I simply said the same thing with more words:

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Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) come by, and damn, whatever happened to that style of overalls? I’m not into blondes, nor am I into female characters who barely have the one personality trait, but Jennifer’s doing a lot with a little thanks to 80s fashions.

And I said that mere sentences away from my criticism of mistletoe’s pop-culture portrayal of mistletoe as a tool of the patriarchy! Blind spots suck.

Obviously, Bronson’s openly being a letch, and the fact that his and my audience differ by orders of magnitude doesn’t mean a damn thing. I find myself scrambling for reasons to excuse my behavior, and I’m not sure that there are.

Let’s test out one: it’s okay because I don’t have to interact with her, the implication being she’ll never know. Bronson may have had to talk to her later; I won’t. And you could argue I’m not harming Melanie Wilson directly; but I may have harmed your view of her by saying that I didn’t consider her fuckable until she used an outfit to accentuate her breasts.

The other main one: it’s just a joke. And the more complex version of this is: this blog is for humor and shouldn’t be taken seriously. I have a little trouble believing that Billy Superstar would talk to you in person the same way he wrote Full House Reviewed (his spelling and punctuation improved vastly any time he had to talk about something more serious); and you could argue he had developed a character to go along with the screen name. If I’m writing as a character, it’s maybe just an extremity of an inner voice that I only let out on paper or in front of close friends. I try to apply the same set of morals to everything I do; but perhaps I let Billy’s focus on Aunt Becky’s posterior permit me to continue commenting on Anterior Jennifer’s. And taking others’ leads–including the show’s tendency to see Jennifer as nothing but eye candy–isn’t the self I tell myself I am.

I was making jokes, yes. But they’re jokes that functioned only for those sharing my male gaze. My comment about breasts was unfiltered “hey, I kind of like those this week”. To say that the latter butt joke was less bad would miss the point, and the inner voice coming out there was allowing itself comments similar to those made by a past partner of mine. I even asked her about the jokes, and she laughed; but she knows enough of the greater context of Casey that it didn’t trouble her view of me. You don’t get to see all that context because, as I say, I don’t make a point of talking about how *ahem* virtuous my beliefs are. Hell, down here I’m God, right? I’m in a position where I get to explore the greater context of Perfect Strangers and even heap criticism on a Linda of my own, and keep my own faults as hidden as I can.

I owe an apology to the female portion of my audience because I–to whatever extent, it doesn’t matter–made it clear I was willing to unthinkingly consider Melanie Wilson in terms of whether I’d want to fuck her, making me less of a person you’d feel safe around. Doing is greater than saying, so my goal is holding me to never, ever doing that again. If you share that goal, thank you.

Kathie Lee offers Bronson some politer language–”nice figure”–which he agrees to. But then they surprise him by bringing out Rebeca Arthur and–

Bronson: Oh, Rebeca!

Rebeca: What is this stuff? [in reference to Bronson’s beard]

Bronson: Thanks! And you have big breasts!

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She came all the way to New York to see him in Zoya’s Apartment.

_____________________________________________________________________

*Eric Carle Lewis

**Later Groo comics; Leslie Hall’s fifth album Destination Friendship

I think I need a week away from Bronson before doing the season review, so join me next week for a bonus post!

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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