Season 7 Reviewed

For most of Season 7 of Perfect Strangers, as far as anyone knew, it was the very last one.


Everyone’s five-year contract was going to be up. The two principal actors were talking in interviews as though the show were ending, or at least expressing doubts about it. Mark that the show would have ever lasted that long, for him a strong enough admission that I think it’s safe to say he was no longer worried what impact candor would have on his career; Bronson that nothing else they could do could lower viewership further, much less bring it back.

Whether real or exaggerated in tabloids, there were definite tensions on set. Bronson refers to feelings at that time being “brittle”. The show was getting tossed around on the schedule–and what’s more to Saturday night–a double death knell. The time it took to tape an episode may have as much as doubled* by this point, as director Judy Pioli would insist on multiple takes of scenes.** Perfect Strangers was Pioli’s first regular directing gig, and who knows, maybe she wanted the opportunity to try out things she couldn’t when she had done a handful of episodes for other shows. Can you imagine, though, your last year or two of working on a show and suddenly it takes twice as long to do? The actresses facing losing a steady paycheck? Bronson, rising diva, seeing every one of his feature films fail and not having anything solid in place, other than some vague hopes from CBS? No damn wonder feelings were brittle!

For the writers, too, this was the last season. Nothing says series finale like a multi-part story ending with a wedding and a baby. They thought this season was Perfect Strangers’s last chance.


The last chance to define who Balki was as an immigrant from Wackyland. The last chance to define who Larry Appleton was as a friend, a husband, a striver. The last chance to establish what changes they had gone through over the years. The last chance to show what their relationships with their girlfriends and coworkers meant to them. The last chance to integrate the dual settings of work and home. The last chance to showcase the physical comedy prowess of its lead actors.

On the whole, Perfect Strangers failed at every single one of these things.

But that doesn’t mean it was a thoroughly terrible season. Whenever Season 7 tried to tackle any of those aspects of Perfect Strangers, we got some of the most dreadful episodes we’ve seen.*** Luckily, the show gave itself some new things to explore, and scattered around this season are some surprisingly worthwhile concepts. I can only point to two or three episodes that I’d single out as “great”–but how many other seasons have I been able to say that for?


The comment I see most often in Linda’s Facebook fan group (Perfect Strangers Online – P.S. I Love You) about Season 7, even from staunch fans, is that Perfect Strangers no longer felt like Perfect Strangers. It’s even come up in the comments here once or twice, but I’d have to expose myself to screenshots of Larry and Balki sharing a sleeve or sitting in their own meconium to find them, so I can’t remember who said it. Compared to any other season, though, Perfect Strangers was almost unrecognizable, visually. They were in a house, their office space had changed, all four main characters were on screen together a lot more often, Judy Pioli had some weird idea that actors had to stand in a line, and that movement during dialogue-heavy scenes needed to approximate that of a Newton’s Cradle, where one character would stand apart from the other three, and then who was singled out would switch.

And that’s just the broadest visual strokes. On a hunch (after watching 11 seasons of Married… with Children over the course of a few months and noticing this) I looked back at a few season 2 episodes to see whether the makeup was different. It was: whoever was doing makeup in season 2 used more blush on Mark and Bronson. Though it had been true for a few seasons at this point that Balki’s clothing choices were less and less rustic, now they weren’t even eccentric: he’s wearing sweaters or t-shirts in numerous episodes. If that was a deliberate choice to show Balki’s assimilation, bravo–but the fact remains that Balki was strikingly different, visually.


If I had to guess, none of those visual aspects are what made Season 7 so different to most fans. Let’s chip away at what’s not that issue and see what’s left. Some concessions have to be made for the fact that Perfect Strangers wanted to tell its last necessary story: Balki and Larry getting married. (Somehow it failed even at that, pairing them off separately with two blondes #ApplemousForever.) And as suicide-affirming as they were, “The Gazebo” and “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” are fantasy episodes. Just like the one time you pulled up the nastiest shit you could find on Pornhub just to see what all the fuss was about****, they’re so far out there they don’t factor into this analysis. So that’s almost a third of the season gone right there.

What we’re left with is two major changes, both equally impactful.

The first is that Season 7 had absolutely no interest in the Cousins’ jobs. “Dimitri’s World” established for us that each Cousin got promoted to something entirely outside of what they had been doing up to that point. In Seasons 3 and 4, Larry Appleton was sent out on reporting assignments–sometimes fluff pieces like dog shows, or the city’s elderly, or inner-city groups. He kept hoping for a big break on exposing the criminal element of the city. Those are the kinds of assignments that could have led to an editorial position; he’d learned the city inside and out, and now had years of opinions built up. Season 5 had him working as lackey to an investigative team, but even then he seemed to be stuck doing background research. He seemed to be demoted back to fluff pieces by “Digging Up the News”, and the biggest assignment Wainwright gave him in Season 6 was to get the fuck out of the building for a few days during the basketball season. Can you believe the last time we saw Larry chasing down a lead on a story was in Season 4’s “Crimebusters”?


If Larry’s trajectory was messy, and its endpoint confusing, at least it consisted of moves back and forth on the line of a reporter’s career. Balki… well, let’s just say TGIF: This Guy Is Flighty. He career was all over the place up to this point. He was an administrator, he was a caterer, he was going to be the head of the mailroom at another building. Why not head of the mailroom at the Chicago Chronicle, really? When Balki gets his new dual gig as editor of the “Children’s Page” and artist of the “Dimitri’s World” strip, Wainwright tells Gorpley off for not doing his job as head of the mailroom. If that was really the case, that had been the case for years. Gorpley avoided actual punishment for doing fuckall, and Balki got rewarded by being given entirely different responsibilities. (Made doubly weird by the fact that the last time he got promoted to a job whose responsibilities he wasn’t cut out for, that was half the point of the episode.) I wish I could say that’s not how workplaces function in the real world, but I expect sitcoms to be more simplistic than real life, not internally inconsistent.

Anyway, as soon as the new jobs were established they basically ceased to matter; so again, why did it have to be non-sequitur promotions? The other episodes that do take place at the Chronicle barely use it for plot purposes. The very next one there (“Missing”) doesn’t even occur in the new office, and has no reason not to other than the basement had a big floor and a doorway they could backlight. “Stress Test” just needed the setting as connective tissue for introducing a psychologist, and “The Elevator” had an elevator and some dumbass thought they needed an episode with an elevator.

Losing a setting wouldn’t be so bad if three of the five recurring characters weren’t tied to it. Surprisingly, the minorest of these historically–RT (Rough’n Tumble) Wainwright–was the most prominent one in Season 7. Since there were barely any Chronicle stories, it’s baffling to me why Sam Anderson and Belita Moreno were brought back at all. I mean, I guess it’s nice to have someone in the audience in a wedding episode, and it made sense to have Gorpley lead the Cousins into temptation for “Bachelor Party”, but past that, Perfect Strangers struggled to put them anywhere. Lydia’s biggest role this season was as the manager/owner of a community theatre, even though in Season 6 an entirely different character filled that role. The only joke that I can even recall about Lydia this season was that she got fingered by a corpse. I don’t know if the five-year-contract stuff applied to Sam and Belita too, but I can think of no reason for putting them in this season other than ABC avoiding a lawsuit. The writers weren’t even willing to flip to Lydia and Sam’s bio pages in the show bible, much less work them into a story, so they just walled them off with each other. As far as we know, they’re still fucking in a handicap stall to this very day.


Losing half of a setting and premise I’m sure would be a major blow to any show, and a giant obstacle to overcome in re-establishing what it was about. And if you’re thinking that there wasn’t that much less Chronicle in Season 7 than 6–you’re absolutely right, but that’s just the end result of the path Perfect Strangers had been taking for years. If the Cousins’ jobs had taken up as much space in 7 as in 6, I would have said the writers found the balance they wanted; but after five years it was inescapable that they had stopped giving a shit about it.

The other “major change” that I think makes this season not feel like Perfect Strangers is the challenges the Cousins faced, and how they faced them. I used the metaphor a few times this season of Perfect Strangers as a car losing bolts and springs and carburetors; but this was the equivalent of all four engine mounts breaking. Where Larry and Balki had tackled problems together, suddenly the situations they faced were split apart. Larry was suffering relationship problems with Jennifer, and Balki was causing them for Mary Anne, but Perfect Strangers never thought to put those two things into contact with each other. I’m glad Season 2’s “Trouble in Paradise” offered an example of “two different pairs of people can experience the same problems” that I can point to, proving that the concept wasn’t just something I hallucinated after a heavy night of drinking. Perfect Strangers was exploring new territory, and it’s unfortunate that it didn’t stop to think whether Larry and Balki might compare notes on their women. That’s partially because of Standards & Practices–they couldn’t suggest Balki was sleeping with Mary Anne–but they could have explored literally any other aspect of intimate relationships.


And that’s the bigger problem, more than the specific situations themselves: the show wasn’t having the Cousins tackle them the same way anymore. Let’s say that there are four types of “classic” Perfect Strangers stories:

  • The Cousins share a goal or problem, and have culturally-conflicting ways of approaching/solving it (“First Date”, “Can I Get a Witness?”, “The Rent Strike”, “Since I Lost My Baby”, “The Defiant Guys”, “Maid to Order”)
  • Larry has a get-rich/famous/appreciated-quick scheme and enlists others (“Just Desserts”, “My Brother, Myself”, “Better Shop Around”, “High Society”)
  • One Cousin gets into a situation/pursues a goal and the other Cousin makes it worse (“See How They Run”, “Up on a Roof”, “Night School Confidential”, “To Be Or Not to Be”, “Blind Alley”)
  • Balki isn’t as crazy as he sounds, and even if he is you’re an asshole for pointing it out (“Ladies and Germs”, “You Gotta Have Friends”, “The Horn Blows at Midnight”)

Those examples aren’t comprehensive, and two more categories (“Larry’s An Asshole” and “Let’s Break Shit”) are later additions. Season 7 featured only four episodes that could have fallen into any of those four categories. “Weekend at Ferdinand’s” had a very brief discussion of whether to let Larry be king or to pretend Ferdinand was dead, and even then we only got to see one Cousin’s method play out. “Two Angry Men” falls most neatly into a category by having Balki make Larry’s jury duty worse at every step along the way. Buried under the 15 minutes of setup, “Door to Door” is essentially a get-rich-quick episode. And “Get Me to the Dump On Time” felt the most like a classic episode by having Larry fuck up Balki’s goal without being an absolute shit about it.


(It’s not always a bad thing to ditch templates: I cannot express how grateful I am that Perfect Strangers finally moved past having Larry drive Balki to tears in service of getting him on board with a plan.)

It’s not that the Cousins didn’t disagree on anything anymore, but it was bullshit like whether they should be nice to a ghost who wanted to murder them, or who got to hold a bullhorn, or who sat in which chair, or… you know what, I was going for the most ridiculous arguments from the season, and then I ran out of examples completely.

I’m exaggerating a little; I’m sure you all remember the episode where Balki argued over which side of the car trunk he got to be in. But that very trend is one of the worst things that happened to Perfect Strangers. The character of Balki, the cultural differences, was the driving force of the original premise. The same character is now just a wellspring of annoyance. He’ll derail a scene by doing different voices or accents. He’ll argue over seating arrangements. He’ll make sure to grab at–and improv a joke for–every prop.


In Season 6, we saw a few episodes where space seemed to be left in the story for Mark and Bronson to expand on physical comedy as they saw fit. That makes a kind of sense in terms of expediency of process; if that’s the way it tends to happen, write the best episode you can around it. But then we saw in “Duck Soup” that crucial expository dialogue got cut so Bronson could moan through a duck call. And this season’s “Door to Door” cut out an entire scene and switched the Cousins’ roles just so Balki could pretend to look through soap bottles. So he could try to grab a book of out Larry’s hands. So he could play finger paints. Not a bit of it added to the episode.

How the fuck did it reach that point?  It’s not as though there weren’t opportunities to draw story from Balki’s character, but it’s hard for me to imagine a roomful of writers brainstorming and striking on the idea of “Balki grabs at the prop” over and over again. I can think of two explanations.


One is that Perfect Strangers did have a new director, one who was still new to the field, had some other focusses, and perhaps had less clout or respect in the eyes of the actors than longtime director Joel Zwick did. There is certainly evidence for this. I was lucky enough to get ahold of Joel Zwick’s and Rosario J. Roveto, Jr.’s 2016 book Directing the Sitcom: Joel Zwick’s Steps for Success less than 12 hours before this post went live. It’s very illuminating. He confirms something we heard many times in other interviews:

We’re reshooting the pilot [for Perfect Strangers] …and now we’ve brought Mark Linn-Baker in to play opposite Bronson Pinchot for the reshoot. We’re doing a scene and the scene is over and I’m in a break. I look over there and there is Bronson and Mark doing all kinds of stupid stuff. They’re slapping each other, they’re grabbing ties. They had this whole physical vocabulary that just came naturally to them…. And they turned it from a verbal comedy into a physical comedy.

I wish I had known about this book sooner, because that confirms the tone that I suspected was supposed to be there originally. Production on those first six episodes was under a tight deadline, and there wasn’t time to retool the show to build it around that core; I’d say it took until about halfway through the third season for Perfect Strangers to hit the sweet spots of balance of physical comedy and story elements. The sweet spot, that is, if you’re trying to build the show around it. Reading about the creation of Full House (briefly: the original concept of three comedians living together got three kids shoved in sideways so it could be sold to broader audience tastes) had led me into thinking that all Miller-Boyett shows began fully-formed, and any changes after that were errors introduced into the formula. Season 1 just didn’t have time to adjust to what Zwick convinced producers Bickley and Warren the show could be. Here’s Zwick on knowing what staging he wants before rehearsing:

I’m a “stage firster,” always have been. That’s what I do. I believe in it. It works in most situations. Actors really don’t want to spend time staging themselves. These guys do one show a week. They’re not interested in inventing. Once in a while, you have a Bronson Pinchot, who was an inventor on Perfect Strangers. He was always trying to find something new and something different and something… outrageously something or other in everything we were doing. But Mark and I used to keep him under control. It took both of us working him to keep him under control. The great classic thing about Bronson was, we’re about to do a scene, and he comes storming in. He says, “Okay, I’m going to come in from the door. I’m going to cross to the kitchen. I will grab myself a drink. I will sit at the bar. I would do that, that, that. Then I would cross to the couch.” I said, “Bronson, that’s terrific staging. However, as your director, I need to inform you that, at that moment, all the cameras will be pointed at the couch.” He went, “Oh, in that case I’ll come in. I’ll sit on the couch and we’ll do the scene.”

I said, “That’s an excellent choice, Bronson.” [Laughs]

Here’s the signature Casey snark you’ve come to love and expect: note how he uses a contextually-value-devoid term like “inventor”. One last Zwick quote, on directing Robin Williams:

I directed one of the first couple of Mork and Mindys [season 1, episodes 3, 6, & 7 in 1978 – Casey]. Robin Williams was insanely funny. I finally went to him like I did with Bronson Pinchot and I said, “Robin. I’ve got to tell you something. If you want some of this stuff to wind up in the show, you better hit your mark and stay put. Then do anything you want that comes to your little brain, it’s fine, but if you think you can wander around this set without hitting your marks, none of it will make it into the show because the cameras can’t adjust to you wandering about.” He took that to heart and, boy oh boy, he became really good at that. He knew that he wanted his best work in the show, he had a plan.

Note the value-laden terms for Robin Williams, etc., says the snarky Casey.


Thank God Bronson hit his mark in the car trunk so we could get that stellar one-man Star Trek showcase. (Is hitting their marks the reason why everyone runs into rooms this season? Is having four people stand in a line an easy way to not have to think about marks when you’ve got four actors? Paging commenter Sharon.) At least one-half of the force reining Bronson’s “inventions” in was gone, and it shows. The first thing that comes to mind with “wandering” is the beginning of the bedroom scene in “Fright Night” where it’s not enough for Bronson to point out his Wayne Newton poster, he has to carry it across the damn room so he can funnel more dialogue to himself, refusing to ditch the joke even after knowing that he’d be pretending to hang it on a fucking door instead of a wall. If Bronson wants to writhe around with his tuxedo pants around his ankles for a full minute or stomp around in a suit of armor, well, they can always cut out a few more of Rebeca or Melanie’s lines.

But I can’t believe that Bronson was just completely without guidance from the directors or writers–or at the very least that that’s all that was going on. As much as Linda derided tabloids as “rag mags”, dismissing whatever they had to say, I think those are the key to a lot of what we’re seeing with Bronson’s performance in Season 7. As we’ve seen in the reportage posts, all of the actors seemed to have their regular haunts up until the end (A.M. Los Angeles, Regis & Kathie Lee, Attitudes, Arsenio Hall). But it’s also true that there was less and less coverage of the show, in print or on television. The idea that someone would try to make up juicy gossip about a show that wasn’t even that popular anymore is a strange one.***** So when a rag mag says that, leading into Season 7, Bronson was worried that he would be muscled out of stories because of Melanie Wilson’s increased role, it puts some of these episodes into a new light.


“The Wedding” gave us basically two Balki showcases one after another when he follows up getting the regular wedding script wrong by then doing the Myposian wedding script. “Fright Night” tried to make an inroad into giving Jennifer the role of switching cousinsides when she needed to, backing Balki up on the authority of the *ahem* ghostwriter; which was followed immediately by Balki playing with a Wayne Newton poster. Simply because I’ve seen other shows do it, it’s easy for me to see how Jennifer’s upset over being cast as Larry’s mom in “The Play’s the Thing” could have been the major part of the episode; instead Balki wanders on stage eating a bagel and we get to see him Hulk out twenty times. I guess we can throw “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” into this group as an example of Bronson demanding to play with props at the expense of Jennifer’s time on screen.

The most telling examples, though, are the ones where the writers succeeded in actually giving Jennifer more lines and an actual role in a story. In “…Or Get Off the Pot”, there’s the scene where Bronson improvs tangent after tangent on his own lines with diminishing returns, determined to make Melanie break and laugh, and then not allowing her to be the one to get the scene back on track. And “This New House” featured a very promising direction for Jennifer’s character, namely that she was more like Larry than anyone had guessed, or potentially that she had watched and learned how to handle Balki. And immediately after this is revealed, Bronson does a three-minute strictly-okay Robin Leach impression.

I gave the guy a lot of credit for the sobering moment he had when he realized his fellow actors were crying backstage because of their lines being cut. But again: when something turns out good, thank your skills; when it turns out bad, blame the writers. The most generous explanation I can come up with is that Bronson demanded the spotlight because he was the only one who would seriously keep pursuing a TV/film career, and forgot to care.******


But even then, there’s that scene in “It Had to Be You” where he nudges Rebeca to get her to look at him. It’s obvious that she forgot a tiny bit of staging, but he just refused to let it go because goddammit he needed to make that face. One more quote from Joel Zwick:

All buddy comedy has somebody who reacts while somebody is being funny, and that’s what you need. I think that Bronson Pinchot loved Mark Linn-Baker because he knew that whatever stupidity he came up with, when he turned around, there would be Mark Linn-Baker staring at him. He always knew that Mark would be there.

We got all the reminder we needed last week that Bronson wants control and has seemingly infinite confidence in his own abilities as a solo comedian. The most generous I can be is that not everyone is Mark Linn-Baker. I would say that Bronson maybe hadn’t had the stage time with just Melanie or just Rebeca to build up a rapport, but his energy with Mark was evidently instantaneous. Certainly neither actress had the chops that Mark did, but Bronson seems to have not put in any time and effort to work on bits with them. Like he did in Zoya’s Apartment, a lack of communication resulted in him risking their performances.


I wish I could be nicer, Bronson the Diva is the theory that fits the most pieces.

At least he was comedy’s last (and greatest) Renaissance Man, and even half an episode was too little time spent with his shining wit, right?


Ha ha.



Speaking of comedy greats, let’s talk briefly about the fantasy episodes again. I was so convinced that “The Gazebo” was going to be the all-time worst episode that I ended up overpreparing ammunition for it. Really, “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” is a stronger contender for absolute worst Perfect Strangers episode.*** There’s no more analysis of the show’s entries in that sad category that I can offer. They represent the height of misguided attempts at variety or homage. But I ask you to consider one last thing about them.

Last week, we saw Mark Linn-Baker offer rare praise for Perfect Strangers’s uniqueness in delivering physical comedy at a time when no one else was. And it’s always been Mark that I’ve praised for the physical touches he adds. When he says that he and Bronson come up with the physical stuff, I believe him. The way he rushes down the stairs to grab a baseball bat and murder a burglar in “Car Tunes” likely wasn’t in the script, or at the direction of Judy Pioli. On the other hand, I’d believe that bit where they throw around a wine bottle in “Going Once, Going Twice” wasn’t designed entirely by them; but Mark gave that sequence his all. Anyone would have had to to make it work.


But finding a shit to give about the fantasy episodes was more than Mark could do. I’ll allow that he studied some of Jackie Gleason’s mannerisms and voice for Season 6’s “I Saw This On TV”, even if he didn’t nail it or have the same larger-than-life presence. And I’m sure he watched a few old Laurel & Hardy films in preparation for “The Gazebo”. In both cases, Bronson’s performance outshone Mark’s. You’re welcome to just close this tab and delete the site from your history; I can’t believe I said that either. The both-hands-thumping-the-chest-fingers-splayed-to-indicate-his-own-importance thing that Oliver Hardy does seems to be such a central part of the character that it’s unbelievable that Mark didn’t incorporate it into his interpretation. Neither there, nor in “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” does it appear that Mark had polished up any of the physical comedy. I’m probably making too much of minor details again, but it is rare to call Mark’s performance the less-committed.

Luckily for us, we only got two entirely useless episodes, story-wise. On the other hand, Perfect Strangers was trying to tell us more, and longer, stories. Some (“This New House”, “Dimitri’s World”) are just bare piece-moving; I would have included “The Wedding”, but it moved pieces and gave us a decent “what antics are they up to this week” plot. Season 7 offered both a two-parter and a three-parter.  Philip pointed out that “Weekend at Ferdinand’s” would have made more logistical sense taking place on Mypos; I agree, and I think a three-parter that early in the season would have been too much to ask of viewers (as well as my suspicion that ABC wasn’t certain this season would make it all the way to April, plus maybe budget concerns). Especially if you subscribe to that theory, Perfect Strangers had more story than it could tell successfully, even if turning over four minutes to The Bronson Show every week hadn’t been the norm.


I want to applaud Perfect Strangers for taking Balki back to Mypos; and nothing makes my therapist as concerned as the fact that I actually appreciated some aspects of Mama. But the show simply didn’t give itself time to explore long-established aspects of the Bartokomous clan, like their rising wealth thanks to electric shears, or what I assumed was Balki’s status as something of a folk hero thanks to tales of his adventures spurning the advances of horny old women, meeting a black man, buzzing the Kellogg’s building. We get the very loaded image of him literally unable to sell his own packaging as an American, but that’s it.

Which, by the way, could be explained by his forced exile from the island (“…Or Get Off the Pot”) because he spurned the advances of a horny old woman. Did his reputation preclude any possibility of a career there? Are you really just not allowed to herd sheep anymore? Again, Perfect Strangers had more ideas than it knew what to do with, or even put into conversation with each other. I’m glad we got to see just how Larry would (and wouldn’t) function in paradise, but between the smell of Balki’s imported little cheese dogs and Mama’s 16-pound breasts, the story needed room to breathe.


Having more story than time is disappointing, but ultimately forgivable. Meeting the hitherto-unseen Mama and going to Mypos are exciting ideas to explore, but I’d stop short of calling them necessary. Balki’s relationship with Mary Anne, especially after a full season of him treating her like shit, was downright urgent. Setting aside three episodes to deal with that issue was a good choice, but just about every other choice they made was either wrong or incompletely considered. I fail to see the logic in spending one-third of a three-parter just getting across to Balki that his girlfriend’s upset; but if they had to do that, couldn’t they have made it a story instead of a series of $25,000 Pyramid questions? The show spent that time revealing things about Balki that had nothing to do with the issue at hand, and then spent the next two episodes also not dealing with the issue at hand. The following two episodes each had decent concepts, but they both started from the same point: Balki will gravitate to someone who’s the same as Mary Anne. With as much conceptual repetition and padding and Woody Woodpecker laughs as we got, I have to praise Season 6’s “The Break Up” for its economy.

I’ve made it sound up to this point like Season 7 of Perfect Strangers was a thoroughly bad season of television. Amazingly, with everything that I’ve discussed here, I can’t say that. It discovered a few new tricks that led to some definite successes.


I mentioned in the last season review that Newhart was flagging in its sixth season. Moreover that around years 5-7 many shows, even great ones, can run out of steam or even unless they find something new to do. I’m just going to talk about Newhart this time (you’re welcome). After Newhart decided it couldn’t–or wouldn’t–change its characters in its sixth season, it found a new direction. If it couldn’t expand them forward, backward, or laterally, it could still shoot them directly through the roof. Starting in its seventh year, and breaking completely loose in its final one, Newhart became a lampoon not only of itself, but of that generation of sitcom. (The lampoon became explicit in the February 1990 episode “Seeing Double”.) Every supporting character’s tics were turned all the way up to 10. Michael Harris’s slick Hollywood patter became an onslaught of deliberate alliteration, Spoonerisms, and mixed-up idioms. The earlier sparsely-used “reveal” that Larry, Darryl, and Darryl knew famous people became their defining quality. In its final year, a baby was running a television network via giggles and gas, a whole episode was dedicated to a one-off character’s giant ass, and a Japanese corporation buys the town and turns it into a golf course.

I think the writers on Newhart felt that the quieter comedy of Bob Newhart was a dying breed, and that newer, perhaps brasher sitcoms (Murphy Brown, Roseanne, Married… with Children) were about to have their day. A caveat: I’m basing this on nothing more than the energy and common threads of sensibility behind Newhart’s choices in its last two years. But there was an eventness to it, a feeling that there was nothing left to do but blow up the whole concept of a sleepy sitcom. At the very least, I think those writers asked themselves questions about what the show was, what it represented, and what they could do with it as a structure.

When it wasn’t failing to hammer out story sequences, or jerking off to its own physical comedy forebears, Perfect Strangers was asking those same questions.


A minor question this season put to itself was what it meant for the Cousins to live in a house. I joked in Season 5’s “This Old House” that it was trying on elements of your standard family sitcom. But the joke there–that all the interested buyers were named after other television characters–carried over into Season 7. The Cousins visited the auction for the estate of “Howell Thurston” and imposed on Howard, Marion, Richie, and Joanie. Perhaps there’s a reason the rich neighbor who owned a whole network of hotels was named Dumont? Dead Mr. Wilson in last season’s “Finders Keepers” may also be an entry here; and Farmer McGregor in “Wild Turkey” is the oddball (butterball?) for being from a book. Thurston Howell and the Cunninghams are the only clearly deliberate ones, but those and the ones in “This Old House” are enough to say that the Cousins moving into the “real” world of sitcoms was the intended joke. It’s one I wish the show had leaned into more forcefully.

Season 6 was best represented by a trashed chair whose pieces didn’t fit perfectly together anymore. Season 7 loudly asks us to look long and hard at this stupid-ass chair. Look at this, it’s Chairnobyl over here! What dumb fucker would put this in their house? Of all the chairs in the world, this is the craziest-looking one, I gotta show this to my friends!


And Tom Devanney & Co. dragged that stupid chair to every audience they could find. I realize I’ve been thinking of Devanney as the head writer, and maybe that’s because I like his scripts best, but even the shittiest Season 7 episodes were getting in on this sensibility. Starting in Season 6, he writers seemed to be deliberately asking themselves what various groups would think of Larry and Balki: children (“Hocus Pocus”), news/Californians (“The Men Who Knew Too Much”), ghosts (“Fright Night”), their girlfriends (“The Gazebo”), a typical American family (“Wild Turkey”), a jury of their peers (“Two Angry Men”), celebrities (“Wayne Man”), a psychologist (“Stress Test”). (I suspect that “Door to Door” would originally have featured a montage of sales pitches if it hadn’t overworked its plot to death.) And for each audience the Cousins found themselves in front of, a different aspect of their dynamic was revealed. They’re inadvertently hilarious, a threat to society, maddening, familiar, unhinged lunatics, endlessly frustrating, confusing but ultimately caring, and ultimately a functionally volatile pair.

If Perfect Strangers had spent its first couple of years casting for ways to build a show around two actors’ natural rapport and instant physical vocabulary, Season 7 finally found a perfect way to do it. The writers finally understood the Cousins as a machine that could be turned on at will: set it down in a situation, press a few buttons, give it a nudge, and watch it go. It’s partially luck that “Stress Test” ran out of order as the last non-story episode, but it was the best illustration of how the writers and actors knew the machine called Larry and Balki inside and out.


These directions, both major and minor, offered a far more cohesive feel to Season 7 than any of the multi-part stories, or even having the women around more did. If the TV-family names, and spinning the wheel to see what audience the Cousins are performing in front of that week, had been the entire season, it would have made up for the fact that the Chicago Chronicle was an afterthought.

It was very nearly a great season of an ABC sitcom. It had some truly horrid misfires on both the physical and story levels, but even with so many things stacked against the show–the loss of a veteran director, backstage emotions, Bronson’s self-importance, a rapidly-decreasing resemblance to its former self–it was the best final season Perfect Strangers could hope for.

But most shows, one way or another, kill themselves.


Here’s that list thing I guess

Best episode: “Stress Test” (“Wild Turkey” runs a close second)

Worst episode: Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thee against the stones, “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby”

Best one-off character: Rob Bob for personality, Dr. Michael Aldridge for functionality

Worst treatment of a one-off character: Chester Bainbridge

Best Balki Moment: the sad Woody Woodpecker laugh in “Chicago Suite”

Worst Balki Moment: I’m spoiled for choice. Four-way tie between throwing Melanie off, the season-long dismissal of Mary Anne as a person, the Robin Leach impression, and the damn Star Trek voices.

Season 7 catchphrase count: Balki (12); Larry (10)

Season 7 boner count: Balki (2); Larry (5)

Cumulative catchphrase count: Balki (115); Larry (66)

Cumulative boner count: Balki (22); Larry (25.5)

Dance of Joy running total: 23


What selfinvolved enigma did Casey, finishing the season, gathering multivarious multiarmed multitudinous arguments, voluntarily apprehending, not comprehend?

Who was Doug?


*Per private communication with Linda Kay of the fansite, who attended many tapings in the show’s last few years, but who skipped a number of Season 7 episodes because of the increased taping times. She says that episodes directed by Joel Zwick took ~2.5 hours to tape, and episodes directed by Judy Pioli took 5 hours.

**Per my interview with Jo Marie Payton: “…we would get in and out, and Joel Zwick is the fastest-directing director I know. He studies, he knows exactly what shots he wants to get, he knows, he allows you the space to do what you want to do in the short time that you have to do it because that show was, what, 22, 23 minutes long, something like that. He allows you the creative space to do what it is you feel like you need to do because he’s already done his homework, so he knows where the camera shots are.”


****”The Gapezebo”, “Yes Sir, That’s My Stepmom”

*****Let’s continue last week’s discussion of citations for a minute. Without the full picture of, say, the scope and depth and breadth and tone of a particular tabloid’s coverage; and without the full picture of whether there were real or fake things being reported for shows with more (and less) prominent actors; this kind of analysis is unfortunately pretty limited. But still, it’s what we have.

******Potential philosophical discussion of human morality/integrity: we are at our most evil when we section off our thoughts and our feelings one from another. (I offer you every single viral tweet or Facebook post pointing out gross inconsistencies in conservative/Republican arguments/values at the individual, pundit, or politician level as grist for this topic.) That, perhaps, the worst thing we can do for our own minds/souls is to not put our internal informations in contact with each other.

P.S. Nowhere else to put this, but does anyone else think Rob Bob kind of functions as a Larry-Balki hybrid?

Season 7 & 8 Reportage

I’m not going to be doing many posts after we hit the final episode. Conceptually, if I did a standalone Season 8 reportage post, where’s the stopping point? We could easily go on until the current day, and I just don’t have the time to do that deep a dive into Google and YouTube.


Which, by the way, from a librarian’s perspective, have both fucked so much with the algorithms determining which results they return that any effort towards completion of coverage is abortive. You honestly can’t trust Google or YouTube to take your search terms and search parameters exactly as you’ve set them any longer.

Perfect Strangers in the cultural memory is a bit outside the scope of the blog anyway, and a bit too overwhelmingly amorphous at this point. I think the pop-culture mining of shows like Family Guy, Robot Chicken, and The Simpsons are largely responsible for part of this. I remember an early Family Guy episode that, to me, was the beginning of pop-culture-mastery boasting. It was a scene in “Death is a Bitch” (March 2000), where Peter scolds some teens for not having seen Airport ‘75. The joke was on Peter for not keeping up with the times, but there was a second layer: the writers, by playing with the age gap between themselves and their demographic, were establishing a precedent. Being able to get every joke on Family Guy meant being as familiar with a wide breadth of pop culture as they were. The follow-up punchline (another character cites more entries from actress Karen Black’s film career) was a clear statement that the show would be unrepentant in these kinds of jokes. If viewers couldn’t keep up, it was their own fault. Knowing more than someone else about obscure media wasn’t nerdy: it was cool.

So for the next twenty years, lots of people (including me*, I’m doing better now, thanks) rose to the challenge of being pop-culture completists. And when a show runs twenty or thirty years, it eventually will run out of jokes to make about high-profile retro touchstones like Kool-Aid Man or Bill Cosby or Sonic the Hedgehog, and it will start grabbing whatever else it can find. Lest this become a full-blown essay, I’ll cite three examples to make the point. 2011/2018’s Ready Player One features a futuristic game that can only be won through mastery of (*cough* male-dominated *cough*) pop culture knowledge. Guillermo del Toro’s “couch gag” sequence for a 2013 episode of The Simpsons really could have been written by any serious horror fan. It’s just three minutes of drawing as many horror characters as possible in the Simpsons style. I mean–


–congratulations, you named all the Phantoms. By the end, it’s not even trying for jokes. “Here’s all the ones we didn’t have time to show killing Homer one by one.”


Media have moved from poking fun at the stupider aspects of our shared consumerist history to being worthy of derision themselves. One last f’rinstance: a 1990s-themed Garbage Pail Kids card series–released just over a week ago–has one card featuring Madballs.


Which were released in the 1980s, the 2000s, and the 2010s. The completionist drive has finally outpaced the knowledge drive.

Not to say that pop culture itself is the final word on the legacy of its earlier generations, but I’d argue it does heavily influence people’s thinking.

Anyway, before I go off on any more tangents, the point is that it’s no longer the case that just the cream of the past gets saved and brought back. When everything merits a reference, nothing is more important than anything else. It’s a short-circuiting of nostalgia. Who cares how good these things are, or whether anyone enjoyed them, or what impact they’ve had?

It very nearly approximates Season 1 Balki’s approach to American popular culture.

In information science, there’s a method of sussing out which published academic literature is most important. Citation analysis looks at just that: who has cited a book or article, how many times it has been cited, and over what time period. Rather than necessarily telling you the quality of any published work, it at the very least shows what impact it had. (Even bad articles–think Andrew Wakefield’s retracted vaccine/autism study–get cited like crazy.) If something from the 1960s is still being cited today, it’s seminal. If something was published only a year ago and has hundreds of citations, it’s groundbreaking or controversial. I inherited my dad’s 1960s/1970s MAD Magazine collection as a kid, and it was pretty clear to me what was popular to a wide audience. Parodies of Peanuts, or shows like The Mod Squad; nothing for Big Ben Bolt, or Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp. I suspect we may have hit a point where pop culture citation analysis would be less useful.

So what impact has Perfect Strangers had? How fondly is it remembered? Well, I’m writing this and maybe 50 of you are reading it; but past that we’d have to hack into Hulu’s computers to find out how it compares to Cheers or Golden Girls. Which, speaking of Hulu, here’s a wonderful illustration of how everything’s available, with very few road signs to guide today’s young emigrants to the past:


I’ll finally bring it back around to this week’s actual topic: whether audiences thought Perfect Strangers was ending with season 7 or season 8, there doesn’t seem to be a wealth of extant reporting on either. Some of that must come down to season 8 being announced and then shelved for a year, but I have to guess that other shows got a little more promotional buzz when they were ending. Not only that, but our actors are particularly reticent about something they likely had every reason to believe was ending very soon.

As always, my source for these articles and videos is Linda Kay’s Perfect Strangers website, which I’m honestly considering offering to take over for her and keep paying the rent to keep it live. And not even for the purposes of this blog. Even though a completed document–like this blog will soon be–invites deep-diving and pick-and-choosing, I doubt sitcom review blogs get that many people doing that after their completion. There’s a kind of “momentness” about the whole effort that I decided finally to embrace, and which let me be as experimental as I wanted. Just like mine probably will be, her site is a time capsule not only of a show, but of a period of Internet history and a period of fandom where those efforts were being made.

Anyway since that’s been my source so far, and endlessly worthwhile, I’m just going to give you my sense of the articles & videos she curated. It’s bound to be incomplete, but it’s far more than I would find anywhere else. Wherever they end, I end. If they go too far ahead and talk about Mark’s or Bronson’s other work, I’ll probably leave them out.

So, let’s start with Summer 1991 (after the end of Season 6) and see what we get.


Rebeca Arthur/Melanie Wilson

Rebeca and Melanie appeared separately on The Chuck Woolery Show, which lasted less than four months in late 1991. There’s another aspect of citation analysis for you: something’s importance can be determined by who is citing it. If I mention Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp, who the fuck cares? But if Family Guy mentions it (they haven’t), then more than one person okayed the joke. That Melanie and Rebeca–during a season of Perfect Strangers where they were both getting married and enjoyed marginally-increased roles–were no longer landing spots on A.M. Los Angeles might be indicative of something.


In Melanie’s appearance in October 1991, it’s the exact same stories about her dad’s acting career and her marriage to Joe the contractor. The only extra piece of the story we get here is that Ernie Sabella introduced them. The extent of Melanie talking about Perfect Strangers is that even though she’s blonde, they don’t give her dumb lines, making her “by television standards… the smart one… the TV brunette.”

Rebeca’s apperance in December 1991 is just as short, if more enjoyable. Someone (an audience member?) asks her if blonde is her natural color, and Rebeca is more graceful than the person deserved. She laughs the question off with a quick “Of course it is. I paid for it.”


There’s a bit of the interview missing, but we get the tail end of an exchange about Melanie’s husband Joe:

Rebeca: We have a deal: if she dies, I get him and her line on the show.

Chuck: Her line?

It’s always nice to have my jokes validated, but it’s even better that viewers got such nice continuity across episodes of The Chuck Woolery Show.


When Rebeca was one of the hosts for a 1992 United Cerebral Palsy telethon, the main host asks her how Perfect Strangers is going and Rebeca just says “wonderful”. I’m making too much of this, right? She wasn’t there to talk about the show. But still.


Did any of you ever have celebrities come to your school to talk about their work? Melanie–per this article from Lansdale, Pennsylvania–did quite a bit of it, to talk about acting in general and answer kids’ questions. When I was in middle school, a local radio DJ came on career day to talk about how he had to train to lose his accent so he could do silly voices. I found it so interesting I went on to become a university librarian! Celebrities really do make a difference, folks.

Rebeca’s appearance on Attitudes in February 1992 (the link will tell you March, but even Lindas make mistakes) is much more substantial, and really the only discussion of the show we get from either actress this time around.


When asked to talk about Mary Anne being a dumb blonde, Rebeca makes the distinction that Mary Anne is a naive blonde. It’s something she’s brought up before, but here she claims that any nuance to her character gets cut out in post, leaving only confusing scenes of others giving her “long takes” when she says something smart. (They also not only ask her whether she’s a real blonde, but to tell some dumb blonde jokes**.)

When asked what it’s like to work with Mark Linn-Baker:

Oh, he’s adorable. He’ll just be standing there, so sweet and quiet, and he’ll watch Bronson bouncing all around, cause Bronson’ll be off on something, and making us all laugh. And then all of the sudden, Mark will just come in with something hysterical. It’s sort of like working in a kindergarten.

And lastly, Rebeca offers some interesting behind-the-scenes intel. The signature Mary Anne/Balki kiss where she–in Rebeca’s words–”whips him over” was criticized by Bronson’s girlfriend Wren. Not because they were actually kissing and Wren was jealous; Wren was giving them notes on their acting, claiming that it was too overdone. Christ, where do people who don’t act get off on thinking they have anything to say?


The show

And it’s the charming Bobbye from Canoga Park up next in her bid to argue the Cousins’ legacy:


Fun fact: they got that giant kitchen for stories about Balki cooking (can someone remind me which episodes those were in?), and Bronson and Mark demanded the bar counter so they could choke and pull each other over it.


I can’t find any narrative to pull out of articles on Perfect Strangers in general other than to reiterate that it simply wasn’t being talked about as much. A lot of what Linda has saved are pieces from Entertainment Tonight. I was going to put this down to ABC doing cross-promotion, but the little bit of searching I’m doing for ET indicates it was aired on each of the Big 3 (in different regions of the country?). But then, that show’s coverage was going to be more complete than others’ (they cite everything). They got soundbites for Wayne Newton (“I was on it”, essentially), and from Mark and Bronson for the taping of the final episode. Mark puts a good spin on it, that it’s good to know when they’ll end, and equal time is given to mentioning what they’ll be doing in the future. Mark was working on a movie (Me and Veronica), Bronson on The Trouble With Larry.

The eighth season was filmed in July and August of 1992, and was supposed to be aired during the 1992/1993 season. At some point its episode order was reduced from 13 to 6. There’s a week lapse between the tapings of the third and fourth episodes of season 8, so if I had to guess, and I did sign up for this blog, so I do have to guess, I’d say that ABC execs looked at those three episodes and told everybody to end it. It would make sense that moving an ending up would slow things down by a week.

The stated reason for the reduced order, per a USA Today article was to give Camp Wilder a chance in its timeslot. Unfortunately that explanantion doesn’t completely hold water, because Camp Wilder was airing on Friday nights in 1992. That had been Perfect Strangers’s timeslot, but not since January of 1992; perhaps it was to move back to Friday nights? But if that USA Today article can be trusted, season 8 was supposed to start airing April 9, 1993.

Linda, there for each of the tapings right up until the end, started a letter-writing campaign during that seven-week period. She claims the episodes were being held onto as a mid-season replacement. Season 8 episode 3 “Lethal Weapon” was taped July 29, episode 4 “The Baby Quiz” August 12. Linda’s campaign flyers are dated August 10.


Firefly it wudn’t.

So let’s track the timeline here:

July 1992: Perfect Strangers has either a 13- or 6-episode order, films three episodes

? 1992: Episode order is shortened to 6

August 1992: Final three episodes taped

September 1992: Camp Wilder premieres

February 1993: Camp Wilder is cancelled before airing all episodes, Where I Live and Getting By brought in as late-season replacements for Friday night.

April 1993: Perfect Strangers slated to air, pushed back again.

July 1993: Season 8 premieres

Other than Entertainment Weekly making the first nationally-published Perfect Strangers gay joke, the only other relevant reporting at this level is on the Miller-Boyett team. They disagreed on whether Perfect Strangers or The Hogan Family is the quintessential MB sitcom. Bad news, boys: you’re both wrong! A 1991 blurb in The Hollywood Reporter, which reads as though every word was hand-selected by Miller-Boyett’s PR team, implies that other shows were cheating when they did stories on controversial topics:

“They don’t always get the press given to producers intent on ‘crossing the line,’ but America loves their work.”

I have to go to the restroom. Have fun with this puzzle while I’m gone.



Bronson Pinchot

So let me admit to a little bit of sloppiness: when I write the “how I spent” posts, I look at IMDB; when I write the reportage posts, I look at Linda’s site. I *should* have covered Bronson co-hosting the 1991 Houston Thanksgiving Day Parade there, but it actually fits in well here.

Remember Rebeca commenting on Bronson making them (the actors) laugh? I don’t know what you’d call this–ability? fault?–but Bronson has a habit to turn on a dime and switch which audience he’s playing to.

We don’t even have to dig that far back into Perfect Strangers to find an example. In “…Or Get Off the Pot”, Bronson improvs a little too long, makes Melanie nearly break, makes Melanie lose the moment where her scripted line would have gone, and then doesn’t let her finish her attempt at getting things back on track. There have been plenty of times when he would do it to Mark, and they had established a tight enough rapport (read: had more than just two scenes with just the two of them per season) that Mark could give as well as he got. It wasn’t intrusive there, because the two of them fucking around is what drew an audience.


In this Thanksgiving Day Parade, Bronson is making jokes to his co-hosts (Lisa Trapani and Don Nelson) that he never lets the audience in on. He repeatedly (and I’m talking like five callbacks over an hour) brings up that his hair isn’t moving. I can fill in the blanks that he and the other two got some heavy hairspray since they would be out in the wind for a couple of hours, but jeez, at least say hairspray once and leave it alone after one callback. He also refers to a Cabbage Patch Kid doll as reminding him of Mark Linn-Baker. How many of you knew him by name back then?


I’m all for people asking questions to learn something they don’t know (DID I MENTION I’M A LIBRARIAN?). But I guess I expect celebrities to do this out of sight, and not into a live microphone while someone is about to sing a song? Maybe three seconds into the instrumental intro to Aaron Neville’s cover of “Everybody Plays the Fool”, Bronson thinks Neville isn’t going to sing, and makes sure viewers all across SE Texas knew this.

I’m being just a tetch unfair to someone who simply didn’t keep up with pop music (Bronson also, when a dance group performs to “2 Legit to Quit”, misrecognizes the song: “Oh, ‘Do the Jerk’!”), but this is part of a pattern. Bear with me.

Bronson did a few appearances to promote Blame it on the Bellboy. Man, thank God this is the last time I have to watch an A.M. Los Angeles interview (this from from July 1991).


Steve Edwards and Tawny Little (Bronson goes straight for grabbing her thighs) have the energy of used motel towels. Bronson kind of rotely refers to the film as a “big hit comedy”, which Edwards immediately calls him out on, the movie’s release still eight months off. Bronson (seeming a little turned off, here) lets slip some cynicism:

Bronson: Well, they’re all big hit comedies (laughing) they’re all big hit comedies until they come out. And then, you know… then some of them are huge, and some of them are… are not huge.

It’s not long before he’s casting his line out into the audience, looking for receptive persons to play to. He calls out a shy woman who doesn’t want any attention on her, which results in her discomfort being saved for us to look at now, and for you to show your grandkids when this blog becomes part of our shared popular mythology.


He mentions preparing for a stage show called Love Letters, which he was doing with Amanda Plummer. Look at those CVs!


I’m really mean, aren’t I?


Bronson appeared on Attitudes to promote Bellboy, maybe a month after Rebeca was on. At the end of the A.M. Los Angeles interview, and at the beginning of this one, he admits to things making him nervous or frightened (like being interviewed, or some new bit of physical comedy on PS); so I have to imagine that’s what’s driving his behavior here. They barely mention the film before he starts playing with the gaffer’s tape he brought out to make a joke; and before the hosts can ask him any questions he wants to launch directly into the Q&A portion with the audience.


And even then he can’t pay attention to what’s going on. Maybe he was just having an off day, but he gets off track quickly while answering questions. He gets distracted by people in the audience, listening to their questions without putting the microphone near their faces. The hosts have to bump him back on track to answer the actual mic’ed questions he’s being asked, and to physically guide him to audience members. The host who’s more on top of shepherding him gets rewarded by him trying to tickle her ear with the felt-tipped microphone.

Which is worse, y’all: scolding the audience or trying to play to every single audience member one by one?

It’s not an exaggeration to say he cannot focus for more than four seconds in this interview. I mean, acting off-script is the type of bit he chose, but you’d kind of expect him to get good at it, right? Robin Williams will likely be our model for a comedian who could go off on wild flights of association and build a manic, frenzied show all on his own–will likely be this for decades before someone fills his shoes. I have to imagine Bronson had this type of personality as a goal, but I’m not convinced “admirable” and “impossible” are interchangeable. At least he’s not taking off his sh–






Again, all for asking questions, but Bronson had been doing TV interviews for almost 8 years at this point. It strains belief that he doesn’t know what it means when a crewperson flashes a WRAP sign at the Attitude hosts. Maybe he hasn’t seen that particular signal that it’s time to go to commercial, but Bronson drawing attention to it reads as him wanting control, wanting to decide when the segment ends.


Psychology sidebar: And that’s the other side of the constantly-seeking-an-audience coin. Bronson assumes he has the skills to run the show. This is some variant of the Dunning-Kruger effect.  Bronson deserves the success he’s had (I mean that in both ways), but he overreaches when estimating his own skills. Early on in this series of posts, we learned that Mark would work on the details of the physical comedy they’d do on the show; and them claiming authorship of lots of it has been regular enough, and fully believable. But Mark Linn-Baker’s career at this point was being a stage director. I have to wonder if Bronson thought he could do it too.

In the Season 6 Reportage post, the “rag mags” treated Bronson like a diva. They may have more truth to them than Linda would like to think. Here’s Bronson in a 2009 AV Club interview (thanks commenter Justin for sending this one my way):

And then toward the end of the show, you know, just being really brittle… The girl that played my girlfriend came in one day and was in a snotty mood, and I stopped and said, “You can get a stand-in to rehearse her scenes, and she can come in later.” I regret that, but there was crap like that.

So maybe Bronson felt like he could–or should?–run things. But hell, even his still-photographer girlfriend was qualified enough to have her performance notes for a nationally-televised sitcom taken seriously, so who am I to comment?

By the way, critics hated Blame it on the Bellboy. They really hated it. Even one that liked it still admitted it was dumb and obvious and featured muted performances.

Bob McCabe of Academy Magazine is my new hero: “Laugh? Well, someone did, but he was promptly stoned to death by the rest of the audience.”

Speaking of things enjoyed better while stoned, guess who’s back.


There was a five-hour process to get Bronson in the makeup and outfit, which included a vest that had chilled water running through tubes so he wouldn’t pass out under the 16lb-breasts.

The five-hour process is only one part of what makes his appearance as Mama on The Arsenio Hall Show impressive. Mama’s characterization on Perfect Strangers was just VERY NICE a repeated VERY NICE blow VERY NICE to the head, but here, Bronson’s actually trying to be in disguise.


It was timed very well, as “Citizenship Part 1” had not aired yet, meaning the studio and home audiences had not seem him dressed as Mama yet. Mama (here “Bibi”***) came along with two other old lady “friends”, Didi and Gigi. She has a full conversation with Arsenio, talking about how she watches him every night, criticizing him for making dirty jokes, doing a poor imitation of Arsenio’s signature “woof woof”, handing him random food out of her purse. She makes reference to Bronson’s previous appearance on Rick Dees alongside Tiffany, but that’s really the only misstep.**** On the whole, it’s the most thought-out and well-executed bit I’ve seen Bronson do outside of Perfect Strangers; and I’d be willing to believe Bronson came up with every joke. Bronson’s just playing cute old ethnic woman, and it works. He’s playing directly to Arsenio, but within parameters of a bit that was designed for the audience.


When he later sits down with Arsenio, out of his makeup, he’s again a little tone deaf, a little cynical. He cracks a joke about Perfect Strangers only having three viewers left, and a guy in the audience calls out a single syllable that signifies “oh come on, that’s mean”. Bronson says he was trying to be humble, and I’ll partially buy that. He knows from the inside that the show’s golden years are behind him and that the audience was shrinking–but made the honest mistake of forgetting that his fans–the ones who “get it”–would follow him here and maybe feel insulted.


One last article about Bronson, just to note that he was actively trying to find other things to do after Perfect Strangers. A June 1991 article in The Hollywood Reporter discusses his success in commercials for Domino’s, Videotel, Pepsi, and Maxwell House, and implies that his positive testing with young audiences made it a foregone conclusion that a planned children’s show for CBS would be a hit.


Mark Linn-Baker

Mark Linn-Baker has been the toughest nut to crack in these reportage posts. He regularly limited himself to a set number of talking points. Melanie does the same thing, but with her, some of it is that she likely resigned herself long ago to having always to go through the whole story about her dad. With Mark, I sometimes got the sense he was just uncomfortable being there. He’d mumble and evade, giving a particular brand of non-answer. In the Season 5 Reportage post, we got this exchange on A.M. Los Angeles:

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.


But here towards the end, he opens up just a little bit to tell us what he thought about the series in its early days. On a March 1992 appearance on The Dennis Miller Show, he admits to not having a sense that the show would last so long until they’d done it for about three years. In a Los Angeles TV Times article in July 1992, he’s even more candid. For both Season 1 and 2, he didn’t believe that they would be picked up again. (Put this together with how, when we looked at reportage in the wake of Season 2, many critics cited Mark as the true-but-understated comedic draw of the show. This is the other side of the Dunning-Kruger effect: moderately-competent people sometimes don’t realize how much more competent than others they are.)

Lest we read too much into Mark’s doubts, in that same article (published right before they began taping Season 8), Mark argues that critics missed the point of the show. He argues that its success stemmed from the fact that no one else then was doing “major physical comedy”, and that they were doing it as well as I Love Lucy or The Honeymooners. I’d argue the same for certain episodes; “Games People Play” and “Going Once, Going Twice” come instantly to mind.

Would you believe that doing armchair psychology across a quarter-century, with no psychology degree, based on like maybe 2 hours total of one man’s life in highly-visible the-network-and-let’s-not-forget-your-career-are-depending-on-you situations, is really difficult?

Based on everything we’ve seen of Mark in this series of posts–which sure isn’t much–it would be a real stretch to make some conclusion on how Mark felt about Perfect Strangers.

But he damn sure seems to feel differently about it than he does about his theater work. He’s relatively animated on Dennis Miller, more so when he talks about a restaurant he bought than about Perfect Strangers.

With the caveat that people grow, shed their insecurities, and deepen relationships with others over time, Mark seems almost a completely different person in Regis & Kathie Lee appearances in 1994 and 1996.


In the former, he’s plugging the play Laughter on the 23rd Floor, which he did with Nathan Lane; in the latter, the play A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, alongside Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella. He’s actively joking with them, sharing stories, doing voices, obviously excited to be helping his close friend Lewis Black with the pilot for Harvey Berger.


Mark would demur when asked about stories from the Perfect Strangers set, saying simply that no backstage conflict made the topic too boring for talkshows. Seeing Mark talk about his theater work, it’s hard not to wonder if that also meant that there were no happy or amusing stories from the show either.

I’m left with resonance with my opening points about untangling the complexities of citations. What impact did Perfect Strangers have on contemporary and current audiences? You tell me.


What impact did Perfect Strangers have on its actors?

For Rebeca, enjoying watching Bronson and Mark goof around. For Melanie, finding love and marriage (twice!) through connections with her colleagues. For Bronson, some stress and disappointment, but some fun too. For Mark, feelings of accomplishment and mastery, a lack of stress.

I refuse to believe that’s all. But it’s what got saved, filtered through Linda’s abilities to capture it, and then through my sense of relevancy and–let’s be honest–my humor agenda.

Join me next week for–probably–a review of Season 7.


*In my going-on-two-years-hiatused webcomic, I had planned a type of pop-culture-character apocalypse; in the time between my initial idea (circa 2006) and now, it’s been done several times. *sigh*

**The context indicates that dumb blonde jokes were a newish thing then. Does that hold up for anyone’s memory?

***Bronson refers to “Bibi” later in the appearance as Mama Bartokomous’s maiden name (???)

****It puts me in mind of Alan Partridge in I’m Alan Partridge thinking that farmers who get up at 4 in the morning watched (and remember) a catchphrase from his previous celebrity talkshow. Thanks for visiting the endnotes once again for reference to things you haven’t seen.

Season 7, Episode 24: Get Me to the Dump On Time

Beginnings and endings are never clear, are they?

When does a moment end? When causes cause causes, can it? (Fun game for you: estimate how many years it will take before “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” becomes unplayable.) Any unit of time, any unit of matter, remains divisible. Every moment–say, Balki introducing a new girlfriend, Jennifer and Larry disagreeing about how to handle it–can be cut up finer and finer and still leave questions unasked.

Mark Twain famously said that novels about adults have marriage as their natural end, and Perfect Strangers aimed for the former to coincide with the latter. I think it’s safe to say that Tom Devanney & Co. had no idea whether Perfect Strangers would be picked up for another season, and the news evidence we’ve looked at indicated everyone’s contract was up at the end of season 7 anyway. But even if they had gotten word about renewal before this episode was filmed, this was the point they were shooting for as the end of the show.

I didn’t see this episode as a child. There’s a chance I was following Perfect Strangers until its move to Saturdays in February of 1992: I remember plenty of Family Matters episodes from that year, and I know I was watching Step by Step as well. I had no concept of television shows moving from one night to another, and… well, I was about to say I’m embarrassed that I was seven years old and didn’t know this, but I’m 34 and I’ve written the equivalent of a 1,000-page novel about two men sharing a coat. It’s far too late now (too late now) to redeem myself.

Anyway, all that to say: this wasn’t the end, but they thought it was, and I and other fans assumed it was too. I think it’s fair to treat this episode as though it were a series finale.


Here we are at Houseleasin’ West/Biltspoor Estate/Balkicello/Fortress of Platitude/House of the Seven Seasons/Sheepshank/Stately Wayne Newton/Fallingfrank, where Balki gets the ADR over the establishing shot.


And in this case, I can’t make a complaint out of it. Every other instance felt like the result of not reshooting, or time constraints, but in this case, the episode picks up exactly where the previous left off. On the one hand, that’s a nice thing; “It Had to Be You” and “Get Me to the Dump On Time” aired back to back and spared viewers the “last time” spiel. But the previous episode ended with Balki announcing the marriage, and then going right back to kissing Mary Anne (Sagittarius). We’re left with the impression that Balki made Larry and Jennifer stand there through two sets of credits and a commercial break while he finished checking if Mary Anne had the same number of teeth as the original Dimitri.


Some woman in the audience loses it when Mary Anne says how happy she is to be marrying Balki. What a fucking moron, right?

Balki tells us that Mary Anne is what he’s been looking for his entire life–


There I was in gym help Cousin Larry get buffed for date  I as him Cousin Larry why we not ust go to the car wash? It cheaper and they give you a free air freshener! Anyway he ta e me to gym and I thin  the machines they loo li e machines my Uncle DaVincios ma e to shear sheep faster I was having fun doing the exercees when I see her She is the girl of Bal i’s dreams! Not only is she have teeth but they are in her head too  Bal i can see it she have hips for baby and also can stitch her own clothes She have a woman voice too so Bal i now he not getting tric ed li e by man wearing a wig and selling isses in alleway


–which is a very sweet and romantic thing to say if you follow it up with a story about how you realized that was the case. But Balki’s talking about how it was a mistake for them to have broken up, as though it were an agreement they came to. I’ve never been reunited with any of the exes who left me; can anyone who has tell me how it went when you insulted them the very next time you saw them?


Larry and Jennifer say they’ll start planning everything and shoot for a July wedding. Turns out I can complain about there being no time gap between episodes. In the 20 infinitely-divisible seconds the camera cut away from Balki and Mary Anne between last episode and this, not only did they express their undying love for each other, agree to marriage, and make out, they also decided that they’re going to get married the very next day and Balki has apprised Mary Anne of the entirety of Myposian marriage customs.*


And Balki magnanimously gives his bride lines of dialogue by prompting her to explain these Myposian customs. An engaged couple must marry within twenty-four hours or else be subjected to a battery of tests to see if they’re a good couple however long it takes to fly from Pathos to Chicago the bride will have to bear a goat’s children. I understand not having the budget to call in all the parent and sibling actors for Larry and Jennifer’s wedding, but come on, show, half of Mypos is just Bronson wearing a wig. Do you really need to establish that they can’t make it out there?

Lar?y, still not fully healed from his tumble down the steps and forgetting vast swathes of season 4, asks Balki if funny wedding customs involve a funny list; Balki says that all they need is one funny word. He lets Mary Anne explain this week’s funny word, the bititatoutitaratatatouille (Larry repeats it), which is a necklace that every Myposian boy gets upon reaching majority and never takes off except to shower.


Balki and Mary Anne share a laugh over this because lol Myposians don’t bathe.** Seriously, though, calling on someone to recite something instead of doing it yourself is some bullshit. I’ve had teachers, Sunday school leaders, coworkers and therapists pull that on me. It’s a really bad look.


My most cherished Goatclench,

I had penned a draft of a message to you a few weeks prior, delayed unfortunately by my own round-the-clock efforts enticing my set of writers to prematurely give up on belief in their abilities to construct a solid story. Now that you are enjoying a brief respite from labor, I hope you can pause your celebratory feast long enough to turn some small attention on my efforts. I’ve succeeded in duplicating my show’s most despicable aspect–the celebration of genetic misfire and unreasonable persistence as human ideal–with a mechanical simulacrum, as well as convincing my writers to indulge in that geriatric disease called the “fantasy” episode in a sitcom’s third year. I’m veritably priapic with delight.

But I digress. I had originally drafted a letter to you advising restraint in your efforts to add artistic flourishes to the final year of your show, lest you lose Our Father’s current agenda of priorities amidst embedding a shaky sense of cohesion and consistency across episodes. It was touch and go there for a bit, but I see I needn’t have worried. A constant pulling of the rug out from under the viewer, following half-decent sequences with weeks of hollow fantasies.

But the most beautiful aspects are what you achieve in regards to telling the young sacks of meat with their dripping probosces pressed up against their televisions what to expect from a relationship. To the boys, you promise that following a woman’s rules is the only way to marital bliss, and forecast for them a life of struggle puzzling them out, with the result that they self-flagellate for not being as brainless as the foreigner. To the women, you prescribe an abdication of mental engagement and vesselhood for their husband’s thoughts.

Nice trick, that, hiding in plain sight that the writers felt no need to situate their efforts from the ditz’s perspective. If the show is renewed, have them remind themselves how well they depicted her.

Your affectionate cousin,



Balki pops a boner about having a honeymoon on Mypos (don’t ask about the Magic Fingers beds). Larry starts thinking out loud about all the planning they’ll have to do to pull this off by tomorrow and runs over to the other side of the room to grab his Ameritech PAGESPLUS phonebook.


Which he keeps on a side table, away from the phone, evidently for leisure reading. There’s an extended bit with the same punchline three times in a row where Mary Anne says a thing she’ll need, Larry flips through the phonebook, and Jennifer exclaims she knows who to call. Within seconds, Mary Anne has a dressmaker who thrives on working through the night on rush orders, a reverend who loves last-minute additions to his schedule for people who worship troll dolls, and a venue: Chapel by the Shore.*** And while they’re pretending that this event is going to be attended by more than the three people they know, why not throw in a reception hall (the Beekman Hotel) and a band we won’t see?


Jennifer and Mary Anne excuse themselves for most of the rest of the episode, and Balki snuggles up nice and close and bacheloric to Larry one last time.


You may want to put on a diaper, or at least sit in your bathtub for when I say: getting the women off-screen makes perfect sense for this episode. This is another Tom Devanney script, and he finds an interesting way for Balki’s wedding to impact the cousins’ relationship. It can’t be that Larry is in danger of losing touch with Balki: these two will be buried next to each other (not because they’re good friends, but because Balki accidentally locks them in a casket). If you had asked me during Season 2 or 3 what would have been the ideal emotional arc for Larry upon Balki getting married, I might have suggested a father struggling with the loss of his role as caregiver and teacher. That Larry would be trying to instill in Balki every last bit of misguided know-how and outdated booksmarts and having to be happy with what he did accomplish, and what he got out of it.

But the long-term change for Balki has been from wacky uneducated sheepherder to braindead eccentric child. Some weak form of “we sure helped each other out, haven’t we, cousin?” is still possible but would feel like an uninspired repeat of “College Bound”. What Devanney settles on here is an actual reversal of something we’ve seen a lot of the past two seasons. Where Balki begs or demands to be included in Larry’s stories, Larry resigns himself to the fact there’s no place for him in Balki’s.

Well, except maybe calling all the guests, getting the rings, arranging catering, asking Balki who he wants as groomsmen, renting tuxedos for them, procuring plane tickets for the honeymoon, and offering to talk with RT (Reception Toast) Wainwright about Balki taking some time off, but you know what I mean.


You want subversion? You want a Season 2 Larry? This episode delivers. Instead of faking its way into a reason for Larry to take over wedding planning, the show gives Larry one more tragic childhood story. He guilts Balki a little, but it’s mostly self-directed bitterness. When he was 7 years old, no one woke him up on Christmas morning. He had only ever been important as the Christmas Boy the previous year, a delivery mechanism for everyone else’s pleasure. Larry starts pouting and crying his way through “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, prompting Balki to start making up fake Myposian traditions so Larry can feel needed.


It’s such a good idea that it excuses everyone forgetting Balki’s first wedding. It’s not only a correction to the lack of focus on the Cousins’ dynamic over the past few episodes, it’s a return to the glory days of when that dynamic was a relationship, back before Perfect Strangers settled on “Larry is mean and lies and Balki doesn’t like it”. This role reversal is maybe the sweetest, smartest, most show-history-encompassing idea that we could have gotten from a series finale for this show.

I mean, the next season would go back to being so odious that it got virtually cancelled before it even aired, but for a moment it’s easy to believe that Perfect Strangers could have a good future ahead of it.


Retrieved from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, snapshot of taken Wed 28 Sept. 2008 01:43:38 GMT

Return to Part 1          View on single page

Enright: Who the fuck cares what happened to him? There were, what, 900 murders a year in Chicago in the 90s, right? Call him #732. Probably tried to hug a mugger. Fresh corpse Balki B. Who gives a shit about some fucking newspaper? Hand me that mirror.

Cameron: You’re not going to believe this, but, well, the scene was changing, right? What Enright was doing was nothing compared to what came after. Not going to name any names, but the genre had proved itself as marketable and new groups were popping up left and right. What’s the bigger crime, putting talent and good looks together and paying them both? Or signing on any group of angry inner-city guys without either? Dig through endless albums of singers who didn’t realize they ran out of stuff to say halfway through. Anyway, you’re not going to believe this, but I was there at the Chicago Chronicle that day, I had headed into town with my portfolio. I wanted to get a little more serious. I wasr across the street, I saw it go up.

Appleton: Sure, sometimes I still see him. Not… I… well, you see. We usually would come to work together, but that morning I had walked in on him and his beautiful… He was there, that day, drawing his cartoons. I had stepped out to interview an alderman. Real interviewing. Not this mess you’re doing. Huh. Worrying how many “likes” you get. Has anyone ever put you in jail for writing about, about Madonna kissing someone? Huh. Anyway so but everyone got out. Everyone, even that ass in spo–we–they–all got out. Good signage. Good staircases. I see him sometimes. I tell myself I see him sometimes. I think he traveled back to Mypos. That’s certainly–I flew there once. He was–I’m sure. Sure of it.

Rap N Roll was unable to reach Mary Anne Bartokomous, Balki’s (former?) wife, for comment.


Balki offers Larry the role of Piggliwiggliki. Cousin Larry starts listing off the things he needs to do, but when Balki tells him all the Piggliwiggliki does is walk the groom to the altar, Larry cries again. It reads as silly, but it’s also a moment where the actors show through a little. I wouldn’t say that Mark Linn-Baker is phoning it in, but it doesn’t read as though Larry is having an actual reaction here, and Bronson smiles for a split-second. For a brief moment, it’s just two old colleagues enjoying doing silly things in front of each other.


Goddammit, said Devanney, he spent a whole hour on the toilet coming up with that word, so Balki gives Larry the honor of guarding the bititatoutitaratatatouille until the wedding. David Rose’s “The Stripper” begins to play as Balki removes layer after layer of clothing–


Nah, j/k, he doesn’t keep it on him, silly, you always did have memory problems. Balki grabs it from a box inside a piece of furniture they never had before, and explains its import: the placing of the bititatoutitaratatatouille around the bride and groom symbolizes their unity, their oneness, and the impending hot’n’heavy fuckinnnnnnnn.


I’m just going to keep gushing about how much I like this sequence, because it might be the last good one we ever get: all the times that Larry fooled Balki pay off with Balki obviously stumbling over his words and making silent supplication to Wishniki as he hands off the priceless necklace to the guy most likely to lose it. Balki hastily makes up a ritual, speaking gibberish to the tune of the Hokey Pokey and manipulating Larry’s limbs.


It’s really baffling how just flapping someone’s hands arounds works when it’s the best Balki can come up with, and not when it’s the best a room full of writers can come up with for a physical comedy setpiece. I guess sometimes things are funny, and sometimes they aren’t.

Later, the audience hoots when they see Larry in a tuxedo with an undamaged dermis, and again when Balki comes down the stairs dressed like Aladdin.


In another bit of retrocausality, the disappearance of the necklace results in Larry being super-smug about how well he protected it over the past 15 hours. Balki makes Larry a true Myposian best man by slamming the box lid on his fingers.




O Cousin! my Cousin! the necklace dear is lost,

We’ve search’d in every sofa crack, the cushions we have tossed,

The wedding near, the bells I hear, your trust in me resulting

In sorrow’d cries of grim appeal: your wrath you would be sparing;

But O fuck! fuck! fuck!

O the wife will have my head,

Where in the fuck’s that necklace gone?

Find it, or love dead.


O Cousin! my Cousin! does this count as a bit?

I throw—and each falls on your foot—you yell with every hit,

For you bouquets and marriage oaths—in store for you, some humping,

For me your full and braying wrath, you give my face a drubbing;

Here Cousin! look Bronson!

This prop inside the door!

An albatross around your neck?

Your movie career dead?


My Cousin does not answer, unhangs my coats but still

My Balki does not find his chain, his cries turn hoarse and shrill,

His grip encircl’d my throat ‘round, the irony so grand,

His gems erased but in their place, a necklace from a hand;

Exult O audience, and soar O Nielsens!

But I avert with dread,

To miss the rage in Cousin eyes,

Wishing I were dead.



Larry says that someday we’ll all look back on this and laugh, and you know what, it’s been a quarter-century, I think we can call that one.

Larry retraces his steps, and recalls how he was engaged in the consumption of his annual one piece of fruit simultaneous with carrying the necklace. He was on his way to throw out the orange peel, but could not manually tell the difference in weight between a handful of hollow vegetable matter and an eight foot metal chain. He placed the orange peels in some bowl by the kitchen door, and the necklace in the trash.


If you’re wondering why he didn’t just find the orange peels in the box, or how he didn’t remember never putting anything in that box in the first place, how dare you. How fucking dare you trample roughshod over the sweet childhood memories of literally thousands of fans! If you hate this show so much, why waste so much of your time every week trying to push your agenda to get the rest of us to hate it? It’s better than all the sex and violence they show on TV these days. I can barely turn on the television without seeing someone making crude jokes. These men care about making good, family-friendly tributes to the comedy teams of yesteryore. How dare you.

That Larry, though, always EATING, right?

Anyway, the garbage was taken out that morning, the dump happens to be on the way to the chapel, which mirrors how Jesus traveled to Sheol after his death and preached to the prisoners before ascending to heaven to await his bride. I mean, probably.



SCENE 3. A junkyard.

Enter two Clowns, with spades, & c

First Clown

Is there to be found that a junkhouse attaches to this junkyard?

Second Clown

I tell thee again: and therefore get it straight: the city hath set aside this land that junk may find burial away from any house, in this landfill.

First Clown

How can it fill land, unless we stand in a pit?

Second Clown

Why, this stench cudgels me: ‘tis an armed pit.

First Clown

It must be ‘a landfull’; it cannot be else. And here is another question: if but one hue of rose grow in my garden, it argues their commonality: escargot, they are garden variety: a pair of ducks.

Second Clown

Nay, but hear you, cousin renderer,–

First Clown

Give me leave. Here lies the junkyard; good: there stands the graveyard; good; here the farmyard, the shipyard, the vineyard; good: there the schoolyard, the switchyard, the courtyard. What fails?

Second Clown

My understanding.

First Clown

Ay, marry, as well mine own: are there not nine yards in the whole?

Second Clown

Will you ha’ the third duck on’t? If we descend not enough down in the dumps, it shall be our situation eternal.

First Clown

And the more wonder that we should countenance no others here. Marry, ‘tis a happy city, more so than Disneyland. Come, my cousin. Know’st thou, there is no ancient garbageman but that Samson of Israel?

Second Clown

Was he a garbageman?

First Clown

He was the first that ever threw away his own life.

Second Clown

Yet I jaw with the ass.

First Clown

I’ll put another question to thee: state the difference betwixt a junkyard and an all-witch theatre troupe.

Second Clown

The one hath ripe smells; the other hath rhymed spells.

First Clown

I like thy wit well, in good faith: but be not ridiculous. When you are asked this question next, say ‘the one a hill of bags–’

Enter a GHOST, on a boat of cardboard; he steers with a shower curtain rod; the boat is laden with broken radios: he sings along to their music


Aye, marry, what shall be American dreams tonight?

Ho! You clowns!

First Clown

Cousin, what cheer! ‘Tis our master of yore, from yesterstore!

Second Clown

‘Uds me, has this spirit no feeling of his business, that he a haunting melody sings?

First Clown

Bogey music must it be. Don Twinkacetti, how come you in this landfull?


I’ faith, ‘tis a fool land! And what abortive, rooting hog see I behind you?

Second Clown

‘Twas for your death I rooted.


My lord, the man I know. A land with its fill of fools, and its sovereign the chief of losers, in this paradise of the lost!

First Clown

Why, there thou say’st: Cousin Larry lost my necklace. Tell us true, have you too cordless come this long distance to call at junkhouse?


I’ll not tell’t phony: I call collecting. Master of yore you name me, and master of store I remain. This yard connects to my house, yet this reception grieves me. I am accursed to rob in thieves’ company! Would ye deplete my stock? Erst apprentice, now opponent.

First Clown

A prentice? We are two–

Second Clown

A pair of ducks–

First Clown

–and ponent lieth yon.

He points west

Second Clown

–and this Donald a quacker from the Ritz. What was your end? Wert thou hanged up?


Ye turnip, ye turned-down suitor, how discount ye my presence? Thou throw’st me away as a dead duck and rob my line, but I be call’d well receiver! The dead line is thine own! 500 pounds you owe me!

Second Clown

These lies are like their father that begets them; gross as a mountain, bald, palpable. Why, thou clay-brained guts, thou must obtain a suit to add another 500 pounds to your person.

First Clown

I can tell thee of a good tailor.

Second Clown

Did I ever call for thee to pay thy part of my wages, thou spooksack?

First Clown

It galls to curb a wage, a good man in his time pays many parts.


No; I’ll give thee thy due.

Second Clown

My due! You do?


I do. Thou hast paid all there. We have traveled full circle to find we are square. Give me mine angle. I’ll to th’ river in my ship afull. There, my music playing, I will betray rust-finned fishes. My bended hook shall pierce their slimy jaws, and as I draw them up I’ll think them every one a Balki or a Larry, and say, “Aha! You’re caught.”

Exit GHOST, singing


And, in the end, the cash I make is equal to the junk I take.


I’ll admit Oscar the Grouch was my second-favorite Muppet as a kid, so I have an affinity for trash in media, but this is one of the best simple and captivating juxtapositions of visuals the show has ever offered.


After the pigglikiwiggliki has wallowed in the garbage for a few moments, he apologizes to Balki for losing the necklace. Balki apologizes for making up traditions, and that’s got to be, what, the fourth time ever they’ve both been equally at fault and admitted it? (Lest I heap too much praise, why the fuck didn’t they change clothes, &c.)

Larry starts mis-singing the song from earlier (by singing “hoingi boingi”, no less!) and Balki admits to just making up lyrics to the Hokey Pokey.**** Larry expresses how much he wanted to play a big role in Balki’s wedding; I’d say ruining it qualifies, Larry.

Balki: Who else would be sitting next to me in garbage dressed in a tuxedo?

He’s got a good point, the show never did establish any other characters.


Balki finds a catalog from a clothing store called “Step Up Here, Little Man”, and since in 1992 every postal worker just carried a massive book detailing who got each piece of mail, and thus there was no address on the catalog itself, he makes the intuitive leap that it must be their garbage.

Then they open up a trash bag and out comes a clip show yuk yuk yuk.


They verify that it’s their garbage with a few other items, like the bag Balki used for his baboon menstrual blood marinade, and a sweater Larry gave Jennifer for her birthday–


–and finally they pull the cord out of the garbage. Then they do the Dance of Joy and then jump feet first down into the hill of bags.

I was going to question why they didn’t just do the regular Dance of Joy, but… I think this is just the actors showing through again. On paper, the joke might have been that they slipped and fell while dancing, but this is just two guys giving into the childish impulse to throw themselves into the haphazard accumulation of the past because risks are exciting.


Later, at Our Lady of the Perfect Stranger, the Right Reverend Store-brand Chester Tate from Soap tells the gathered extras from the play episode that there’s a delay. No shit, man, the delay is that you’re talking instead of just showing us that the Cousins have arrived.


Then the Cousins arrive, chased by track 1 from volume 2 of the “Sitcom Sounds” series — “Baying hounds (curious)”.


The organist starts playing and the Cousins hop, skip and rump their way to the altar almost like they did in Season 4.


Then Little Frankie enters as the ringbearer, and Tess as the flower girl and haha nahhhh but Tess did stick a few Mucuna pruriens cuttings in Jennifer’s bouquet.


Mary Anne (Escortless) enters to the strains of Wagner’s “Treulich geführt” as well as the strains of wondering why her dress’s train comes after her caboose.

Larry tells Jennifer they’re going to have some words about that sweater.





Balki asks for the bititatoutitaratatatouille, which Larry and Jennifer drape around Balki and Mary Anne’s shoulders.


While Balki quotes the spoken intro of Days of Our Lives at Mary Anne, I’d like to make sure it doesn’t go unsaid that, even though this week’s MacGuffin was a necklace, this was essentially our third episode about losing a wedding ring.

I did get a good laugh, though, when Balki asked for the ring and Larry hands him the pull-tab from a soda can.


Mary Anne tells Balki that she knew–sorry, y’all, I’m really tearing up here–she knew from the moment she first met him–most emotional moment in the whole series–that they’d be together. She hopes he’ll wear the wedding ring forever, unless the writers run out of ideas in season 9 and Balki bumps into the Pope and all their rings fall off and they mix up whose are whose, or like one of the kids at Balki’s kid’s daycare swallows the ring or something.

Balki breaks down crying, says he can’t go through with it, pulls the necklace from Mary Anne’s neck, lassoos Larry with it, and they ████ ████ ███████.

Nah. Just kidding.


Found during a recent excavation of the lot that once was home to the Chicago Chronicle, the remaining few pages of a diary

know I’m not really supposed to have them because one squirt and it’s another lecture from Dr. Blepho. I can afford another tuck or salves (balms? emollients? ointment?) or whatever but not losing this figure, thus, you know, the grapefruit breakfast. Which is This Week’s Mystery, why did I catch myself stuffing money in an envelope? $250 is enough to buy some really I mean REALLY nice boys out on East Garfield. Had my hand poised over the envelope before I realized 1 I didn’t have know what address I was going to write down and 2 there wasn’t a pen in my hand.

(Scratched into the margins with an evidently empty ball-point pen is the word “UNGUENTS”)

April 1, 1992

Taking my own advice today and put his picture above the disposal. Face your fears!

April 10, 1992

Lesson learned: the disposal doesn’t care how fun the imagery is, it will not grind walnuts.


im so bored here so BORED can you believe the curve on that mans head relative to its like someone drove by and batted a mailbox it’s like hes got a receding dickline somehow

April 12, 1992

Who’s Francine, Gorpley asks asks? Who’s Francine? Who’s Francine? Who’s Francine?

April 14 like at mindigt please

Manny and Doreen if you can read this my beautiful childrn please know Mommmy loves you and that she daddy still have pillow talk hes screaming right now say hello to the childs dondy hes here and Jack is here and Chuck is heer an Elvis and dadald Dondaddy woke up me in the bed to bring me my wig and francines wig and some walnuts nd all the pictures even on the pillow and tell me it was amlost time and maybe next year for

(The next two pages face each other and have one word – “SCREAMING” – across them, with cartoon anthropomorphic pills dancing in the negative spaces of the letters)

April 16, 1992

Found my pill bottle, would you believe this, IN the disposal? Lydia I swear you should be seeing better without those eyelids in your way.

April 17, 1992

theyre are geting marred tomrorow i was okay with the sad one (Lari doing it) because you can count on his blodne to not talk about it but the Mari one she

need to talk to Vinnycey because who cares if thestupid one (Blackie) can unerstand the pilow talk he the Lary one like probably hears her say it through the wall nuts he was in the men’s room yesterday when Sam pork it to me on the men’s room yesterdoor with his (his Lari) ear up the vent ad apologize so he what I worry ABOUT it ALL comes out on the PILLOW TALK

April 18, 1992

Had to let Francine go. Such a sweet girl. But what could I do? She didn’t

(numerous pages missing, and in their place an envelope addressed to Ruth Stallings, containing ashes)

December 31, 1993

Donald suggested we do our 23rd anniversary next week at Tony’s Mambo Room. He remembered, he finally remembered!


Tony’s Mambo BOOM


Lydia does get one final line, becoming teary-eyed that Mary Anne was able to write complete sentences and remember them.


I knew this was coming, and I still hate to see Lydia go. “The Play’s the Thing” was so miserable an episode I was willing to pass up my chance to talk about what was essentially her last real appearance there.

More than any other side character on this show, every time Belita showed up, she promised potential. Jo Marie Payton was the more obvious of the two when it came to obvious potential for adding punchline humor to an episode. You knew what you’d be getting the first time she spoke: a sassy, hard-working Greek chorus for whatever was going on. But Belita Moreno was nuanced. She could be many things, and she was many things; but Perfect Strangers was less and less willing over the years to actualize that potential.

Her first appearance, five episodes into the six-episode first season, as Edwina Twinkacetti was a game-changer. After establishing that Larry and Balki had sold their souls to the company store, Edwina showed up and punctured the rough hide of their boss, Donald. Edwina Twinkacetti may have been meant as a broad comic shrew, but suddenly the Cousins had a person in their corner. Or, at least, an enemy of their enemy.

And Season 2 made good on that promise: she made sure Larry and Balki got paid. She made sure they kept their jobs. There was always that hint of violence behind how she kept Donald in line, but she also made him happy. If you want to make some more Bosom Buddies comparisons, and hey, I do, all you’d have to do is take Donald out of the picture and you’ve recreated Ruth Dunbar (played–magnificently–by Holland Taylor).

Look, I’ve never developed a sitcom, and I’m certain I never will, but I have to imagine that, when you’re crafting something that might need to go on for awhile, potential has to be written into characters and situations long before any stories are decided on. (I did a deep-dive into Doonesbury once and the point where Trudeau dedicated himself to social and political commentary was pretty obvious when he made one character a newspaper reporter, one a TV reporter, one an advertising pitchman, one a soldier, one a political campaigner, etc.) Lydia Markham hit the ground running like I’ve never seen a sitcom character do. Lydia’s character–advice columnist whose life is an emotional and functional shambles–could fill a sitcom all on its own. But put into contact with a sparring set of related employees with their own dualities, potential unfolded by the second. She was smart–she could take Larry’s side. She was troubled–she could relate to Larry. She had a psychological background–she could take on their viewpoints and offer explanations or even solutions.

I could list out my story ideas for Lydia Markham–and so could you–but suffice it to say Perfect Strangers seemed frustratingly overcautious about giving castmembers equal representation in plots. Suffice it to say the show didn’t give her much of a chance to pay off her story potential. When the show utilized her for a story, her role was often by accident (her psychologist boyfriend unintentionally hypnotizes Balki) or for minor aspects of her personality (she has a party, or her wealth attracts a conman suitor) or for roles outside of her actual job (hosting a television show, leading/funding a theatre group). But otherwise she was just a character to hang a single joke on during the first act, and far too often the joke was that she slept around.

Let’s not even get into the implication that Lydia’s endless series of boyfriends was one aspect of her set of neuroses. But still, an unlucky-in-love character brings its own potential stories.

Perfect Strangers squandered that too, but at every step along the way, whatever direction the show wanted to take Lydia, Belita was there to sell it. She breathed life into unironic dismissal of the real advice needs around her, devastation and dismay when things fell down around her, fear of being judged by thousands–or only dozens–of viewers and found lacking, smitten focus on a beau leading to her not realizing what was happening to others.

And her greatest moments were when they let her play off Jo Marie Payton. They fought, they played, they sought comfort from each other, and even that had story potential as a mirror to the cousins. Speaking with Jo Marie last year deepened my understanding of what I saw their characters do: there was a friendship that extended past the stage, and that improved things like Lydia and Harriette singing in “To Be or Not To Be”. Instead of an awkward “punchline” to a scene, it was just two friends, leaning into what was fun at that moment.

Goodbye, Edwina. Goodbye, Lydia. I’m glad we got too see as much of you as we did.

Unused Larryoke countdown #7: “Her Majesetti”

Gorpley and Wainwright stare at Lydia in what has to be the laziest comic-strip-variety looks-like-a-punchline reaction shot the show’s ever offered. Are they confused because they’ve interacted the least with Mary Anne? Are they scandalized she’d openly question the intelligence of a bride? Are they upset she got paid more for this episode than they did? We’ll never know, because Gorpley doesn’t get a line and Wainwright Remains Taciturn.


Dropping every last layer of joking here to say I’m finding myself actually sad to never see these three characters again.


Balki: Mary Anne, the day that I come to America was the happiest day of my life, but now that I know that I’ll be spending the rest of my life with you, this is the new happiest day of my life.

Larry: You said the same thing at the circus last week!


But O Reader! My Reader!

Though long it’s not been said:

While all this talk of life goes on,



Instead of an actual vow, Balki recites the lyrics to “Pretty Woman”, Reason #144 It Took Nearly 30 Years to Watch This Episode in High Enough Quality to Briefly Pick Out Basement Linda In The Very Back Pew.


Reverend SbCTfS jumps in to make sure Mary Anne doesn’t get a vow–

*rips a bridal veil in half*

–and tells them they’re married already.


Mary Anne kisses Balki, dipping him in her (signature) style, tasting the soiled Goobers he fished out of the Finleys’ trash, thinking about the chicken stock at home, anticipating the moment when they’ll consommé their marriage.


That ceremony was sweet and all, but I do feel bad for all these other people waiting for their great-granddad’s funeral to start.

Later, at the Laff House on the Left, Larry finally gets five minutes alone with his wife.



Over what duration of time, and under what psychically emotional regime, had Larry endured?

For seven years Larry suffered potty training Balki, overhearing the distinct sounds of Balki trying to drink shampoo, tasting each organ of each animal on the endangered species list, seeing Balki reject every opportunity to strike it rich, having days go by, months sometimes, where he got used to the smell and the noise only to find Balki assault him anew, seeing his own professional efforts hamstrung through association with Balki, seeing his own romantic efforts hamstrung through Balki’s trenchant and entrenched censure of the minorest of untruths and dissimulations, meeting Balki’s mother.


List the methods of verbal grievance by which the younger cousin afflicted the elder.

Errors taking the form of and/or introduced in attempts at: analogy, anthimeria, apophosis, apostrophe, all forms of catachresis (including errors of grammatical case, double subject, double negative, double copula, wrong copula, improper empty complementizer), Chernomyrdinki, Colemanballs, congeries, eggcorn, enallage, all forms of epenthesis (including prothesis, paragoge, excrescence, anaptyxis), epicrisis, Goldwynisms, hypallage, innuendo, irony, malapropism, metaphor, mondegreen, non sequitur, paradiastole, paraprosdokian, paradox, parody, paroemion, paronomasia, parrhesia, par’hyponoian, phrasal template, proverb, pun, reverse mondegreen, simile, spoonerism, synchysis, synecdoche, synesthesia, tautology, Yogi-isms.

Which of these bothered Larry the most?

Mumpsimus in epenthetical anaptyxis in regards to Larry’s family name.


That Myposian was closer than English, linguistically, to the root words of many of the labels for these forms of error.


What can a ski resort owner do to solicit reservations?


What do you call a police officer who wants to drink your blood?


We’re here all week, folks! Don’t forget to tip your waitress!


So anyway like this is the first time in seven years Larry has gotten a free moment to himself. Time to crack a beer, eat some potato chips, watch TV and get his Wisconsinian rocks off.


Oh, wait, no, they’re still talking about Balki. Balki and Mary Anne (née Sagittarius) are going to Mypos for their honeymoon.***** They then briefly discuss various hard-to-believe things, like how they finally have free time, how Melanie and Rebeca turned a single appearance in to a six-year contract, how the show waited long after most little girls who saw him and his lips as a safe (and equally importantly as a youthful and single) target for their burgeoning romantic feelings stopped watching to actually marry Balki off, how even with the paucity of genetic material he had to offer, Larry’s seed managed to establish residence in Jennifer’s womb.

Endings become beginnings: hello, baby.

I haven’t seen very many series finales of long-running sitcoms from this time period, but I think Perfect Strangers was hitting all the notes you’d think it would want to: a major life-changing event or two, some minor conflict, and tender moments between each pair of main characters (Jennifer and Mary Anne did hug for a whole second). I’m the wrong guy to ask about how well this episode pulls off its saccharine elements; I’ve been dead inside ever since Susan left.

But for me, “Get Me to the Dump On Time” works well as a series finale not because I cared whether Balki got married, or what it meant for his relationship to Larry. It works because, instead of turning over three pages of the script to let Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker fuck around with impressions or throwing wrenches of increasing size at each other, it’s an actual story that considers the emotions these characters might experience. Maybe it was the presence of story, maybe the actors dialed it back because this was important, but Bronson and Mark pick a few moments to have their own fun and leave it at that.

Sure, the story itself is sweet, but what got my respect was that it treated the Cousins like the people they started out as, instead of the cartoons they had become. So much of the middle seasons of this show had me asking what the hell had happened that led to Larry being a demon and Balki a three-year-old; but if I had watched this episode right after finishing season 2, I don’t think it would have felt jarring. Instead of taking turns being assholes to each other, the cousins take turns being adults for each other, which was kind of the whole point.

“Get Me to the Dump On Time” functions as a satisfying ending to a too-often disappointing series. It’s a good thing the show was risk-averse and stopped right here, huh?


She put her arms around him no and drew him to her so he could feel her shoulderblades all bone no and his mouth was spitting like mad and no I said no I don’t want another season No.



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

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

Dance of Joy Running Total: 23

*Balki evidently started mystagoguing off-screen.

**Fun game for you: where’s the bititatoutitaratatatouille in this shot?


***They have an All Star Mass

****I half-suspect that “Piggly Wiggly” arose from a writer’s room session of trying to replace the words “Hokey Pokey”.

*****Honey was not a participant in the Battle Glutale

1. The author begs the reader grant him, that is the author, some grammatic license in presenting a sentence fragment containing only the subject as an entire sentence in an attempt, that is the author’s, attempt to render the text transhylomorphically in regards to not only Jennifer’s portrayal, but also Jennifer’s being. That–and the author here invites the reader join him in a private bit of humor in seeing this giving-away-the-game through this revelation as a wedding gift–that the use of endnotes, and their swollen size comparative to the text itself mirrors Jennifer’s habit of keeping her own counsel; and that her unutterances bespeak not weakness of mind, but strength and size of thought under her surface not unlike the shape of a glacier.ᵃ ᵇ

a. The reader may utilize various informations at their disposal from other episodes of Perfect Strangers to craft a joke about Jennifer’s frigidity.

b. This imagery both suggested and enhanced by Jennifer’s color choice for this event. Blue ice is the phenomenon by which snow falls onto a glacier, becomes compacted from its own accumulated weight and is subsumed by the glacier itself.ⁱ The symbolic implication, then–if the author may be so adventurous as to dive in to such explanations, sullying himself with potentially relationship-jeopardising behavior, that is the relationship between author and reader, jeopardising of the reader’s relationship to the author insofar as there may lie insult to the reader’s own capabilities regarding knowledge creation, and insofar as such relationships can be jeopardised by feelings resulting from perceived slight, though the author pleads with the reader to understand this, that is the potentially relationship-jeopardising behavior, as the author’s sincere attempt to save the reader time–the implication, then, is one of what Jennifer does not wish to make part of herself. To wit, the rejection of her husband Larry’s sweater symbolizes Larry’s habit of wearing sweaters, or more to the point, an established and recognizable aspect of Larry himself.ⁱⁱ

i. The reader is entreated to refer to note 136 in the author’s review of “The Gazebo” for a discussion of constructivism vs. associationism.

ii. Rejection of the permeable barriers between nature of self provided by the gazebo, provided by a knit sweater, the author appeals to the reader to consider also such attenuated branches of symbology attendant to the metal barriers between Jennifer and rarefied air in her career as a stewardess vs. the too-easily sundered membranes separating her husband from the refuse he recently encountered, the blue ice¹ metaphor’s suggestion of pure garbage underpinning a landfill, &c &c.

1. Don’t you eat that yellow snow.

(Suddenly, Casey recalled Balki’s pained young face, and began to pray diligently for the safety of his own mind over the next six episodes.)