Season 8 Reviewed

So, I owe y’all a couple of apologies.

One is that I kind of skimped on the analysis in the final episode’s review.

It’s a bad habit of mine, across a few reviews: I get tired. In many cases, it was the result of my own poor time management or deciding that hey, what the hell, let’s do a weekly comic strip with two different scripts. Why not slow things down by reviewing two feature films? No, that’s not enough, I’ll watch 30 more! Why not do two reviews plus a livestream in the same week while we’re at it? It turns out I’m very much a Bronson: if I get an idea to do something, and it seems remotely viable, I’ll do it and give myself no opportunity to second-guess. The difference being that when I fall flat on my face, it’s not as obvious.

By the time I got to that final montage in “Up, Up and They’re Gay Part 2”, I couldn’t stand thinking of Bronson Pinchot a single second more lest it drive me bonkers. I am, in fact, being monitored closely by a team of physicians and psychiatrists just so I can write this post.

I wanted to be done with Perfect Strangers. Season 8 seems to have that effect on people. The audience (minus the scrawled crayon signatures on Linda’s petition), the actors, and the network itself were more than happy to euthanize the show. It wasn’t itself anymore. They put it out of its misery. So maybe me cutting out before the end was an appropriate way to review it.

However you want to say it–Bronson’s career wore me out, psychoanalyzing Bronson wore me out, I turned into a Bronson–I think we can all agree it was his fault.

But there’s always more to say. Let’s talk about that christing montage.


Its need–maybe even its right–to exist is shaky at best. It’s a mere three minutes, obvious padding for a story already stretched out beyond all recognizable shape. The Cousins sitting in a hospital waiting room talking their way through a clip show would have been better. Hell, the worst possible dad-passes-out-cigars joke, say, Myposian cigars are made with goat hair instead of tobacco, would have been worlds better than Jennifer taking a labor shit at 2,000 feet.


Its placement is baffling. After having both his and his wife’s lives directly threatened by Balki’s insistence on making a joke every 10 seconds, and then spending a couple of weeks in the pokey because Balki talked his wife into stealing a $20,000 balloon, is Larry really going to sit there and reminisce about how great the guy is?


Its aspirations are laughable. After nearly an hour of the worst deliberate series finale, no audience could be expected to look at clips from other seasons and recognize them as being from the same show at all.


Its content–jesus there’s always more to say–its content appears to have been chosen by someone entirely unfamiliar with the show at all. There are at least three clips that weren’t in the aired versions of episodes. Balki in the oven mitt suit:


Balki shaking Larry’s head around:


And Balki and Larry doing some weird pointing thing in the “Piano Movers” episode:


Don’t even get me started on how in the hell Balki or Larry remembered Jennifer’s reverie about them as Laurel and Hardy. I think we’re all tired of the footnote gag.¹


And evidently Larry telling Balki about the dream he had where they rode a motorcycle rates right up there with Balki’s sudden heartbreaking departure to Mypos.


Would any of the clips rate in your personal list of best moments? Larry and Balki standing beside a piano? Larry and Balki looking at Balki’s arm? Larry and Balki looking at the rain?


I’ll grant you the dancing and singing, sure. If we can believe Bronson, those aspects of Perfect Strangers having such a regular place are thanks to him pushing the show in that direction. But…


Balki: Oh Cousin, you ever remember about the time Mr. Gorpley he tell the police about us look around a doorjamb?

Larry: Everyday, Balki. Everyday.


My second apology: I take back every nasty thing I’ve said about episodes in earlier seasons, because Season 8 is the absolute worst.

“The Unnatural”? A masterpiece.

“The Break In”? A misunderstood gem.

“Disorderly Orderlies”? A pioneer in progressive casting of overweight actors.

“Call Me Indestructible”? David Lynch wishes he could write dream sequences half so mindbending.

“Yes Sir, That’s My Baby”?

…yeah actually continue to fuck that one.


When I started reviewing Season 6, I felt that it was a huge drop in quality over the previous one. Season 7 started out the same way. Many fans agree, especially about Season 7. That fact and The Big Bang Theory ending are the only things keeping my faith in humanity going right now.

But when I look back on those seasons now, they were front-loaded with awful episodes. They really didn’t do much worthwhile until they’d gotten through a quarter of the episode order. Both seasons proved that there was still some magic left–mostly in the pairing of Mark Linn-Baker and Bronson Pinchot, but also in the premise itself. There are episodes in both seasons that have a good shot at being in my top 10, whenever I sit down to figure that out.

Am I saying that Season 8 deserved a few more chances, you ask? Fuck no, what is wrong with you, why would you even say that? It hurts me when you say things like that. I thought we were friends.

Some claim that Mt. Everest is the tallest mountain because its peak is farthest from sea level. Some that Chimborazo is, citing its peaks greater distance from the center of the Earth. But if you’re climbing, well, the tallest mountain would be Mauna Kea, which boasts the greatest distance from base to peak.


Season 8 is the worst of all Perfect Strangers season no matter which mountain you’d like to inversely analogize. Worst all around, biggest drop in quality over previous season, and I sure would love for it to be as far from the center of the Earth as possible. I’ll have to cite its 6 episodes as a group to even do a bottom 10 list. No amount of additional episodes could have saved it.

Season 6 and 7, every few episodes, transcended the threadbare premise and characterizations, finding new stories that worked with Larry and Balki, or creating ways to recontextualize them. Though the writers regularly phoned it in with episode premises–what if ghost say boo? what if Balki draw picture? what if they babies?–and though you could almost hear the screech and scrape as they did the necessary piece-moving to get the Cousins married, they kept things worthwhile enough that you’d want to come back. And “Get Me To the Dump on Time”, which has to have been intended as a series finale, transcended the rest of the season’s faults by softening Larry back to his Seasons 1-3 self, earning a lot of the emotion it asked its audience to feel.

Season 8 comes across like everyone gave up entirely on Perfect Strangers being anything at all. If anyone was asking anything of the audience, it was Bronson inviting them to bask in his genius.

There’s very little to summarize of what the season did. The best thing I can say about Season 8 is that there were some very grounded ideas of what could happen in a four-person household where each couple was a funhouse mirror version of the other. What if one couple’s marriage and pregnancy went swimmingly, while the other’s hit roadblock after roadblock, neither for any discernible reason?


It’s a solid enough premise that it could have been its own television show. Labor of Love, perhaps. The Baby Lottery. Name the families the Breeches and the Bradleys. Episodes titled “Doula Banjos” and “Auntie Partum” and “Cervix Station” and “Embryo’ the Irish”.

That idea drove the scenarios of each episode, and if you squint real hard, turn down the volume, and then turn your television off, plenty of vestiges remain. Season 8 of Perfect Strangers always seemed to be on the verge of turning into that show. But, given that Melanie and Rebeca getting any sort of prominence was about as likely as, say, the Beach Boys ever getting their first black fan, that better show remained latent.

“Lethal Weapon” and “The Baby Quiz” come closest to being that show. Amazingly, given that it ceded so much of its screentime to Bronson that it had to cut out a crucial sense-making scene, “Lethal Weapon” is the only episode of the six that managed to follow most of the beats of the actual story someone wrote. And “Baby Quiz” started out with an explicit promise that it was going to be about that overarching story.

On the plus side, Perfect Strangers managed to add a complication to an already fertile (haha) premise: what if the couple who had everything easy were the ones who deserved it least? To analyze how Bronson’s performance accomplishes this is nearly futile: it’s impossible to tell whether this was any sort of deliberate choice, since he proceeded to do the exact same thing to two other sitcoms which assuredly did not intend for their leads to be total jackasses. Rebeca Arthur’s performance–the cold readings of Mary Anne’s put-downs-veiled-as-mental-deficiencies–are the only real indication we have that there was some intentional complexity in what Perfect Strangers was trying to achieve.

I wonder if–for those who haven’t spent the past four years spending every moment of their free time thinking about how ridiculous Larry be–that framework for Season 8 even comes across clearly. (I’m sure that sounds like a humblebrag, but I do have some serious concerns about my ability to re-integrate into society in a few weeks.) As it is, all the two-couple conflict is largely relegated to the women’s sole running joke, played out as they leave the room so we can get on with Larry and Balki playing with *AHEM* watersports equipment at the mall.


But that framework being there at least comforts me that someone, at some point in this season’s creation, gave a shit. Unfortunately that’s about as far as the craftsmanship went. Actually, I’ll qualify that a little. Season 8 is, in some ways, a battle between story and stand-up act.

I’ve made a big stink about about how much story and characterization suffered to make way for the Cousins fucking around with the props; about how lines and scenes were axed, and even characters were pushed to the periphery. By the time Season 7 came around, I was used to it, and treasured any time an episode rose above that baseline. Though, at that same point, the promise of Melanie Wilson getting prominence in stories looked like it was taken as a personal threat to Bronson. We first heard about it from “rag mags”, though darn if Bronson didn’t back up every tabloid claim. When Melanie threatened to get more lines of dialogue, Bronson would whip out a three-minute Robin Leach impression, or a set of Star Trek impressions, or improvise until she’d try to get the scene back on track, and then refuse to let her have even that.

And now, in Season 8, Bronson really showed his ass. That baseline–of the show hurrying through the necessary plot-establishing lines–was at its most severe here. I wouldn’t be surprised if Balki was given dialogue to express his motivations in any given script’s first draft, but for the final versions of the episodes (with the exception of “Lethal Weapon”), Larry is the only one of the two whose ends, means, and ways are clearly stated. It’s amazing to me now that there are any scenes where the Cousins verbally disagree about the story happening, and I’m sure I can thank director Judy Askins for keeping Bronson that much on track.

Each episode this season has two divergences from story. One: that it hurries through the plot to get to the physical comedy. That’s SOP for Perfect Strangers. But Two: that, once there, it becomes the Bronson Show. Season 7 had the good sense to suggest that Balki had undiagnosed ADHD; but Season 8 makes you wonder whether he can focus long enough to swallow food more than halfway. With one exception–”The Baby Shower”–if there are props around, it’s Bronson and Bronson alone who gets to play with them. If there’s room for one funny voice, Bronson will do three. If the story explicitly demands Jennifer and Mary Anne talk for longer than a minute, Bronson gets to hump the inside of a glass box.


I’ll credit Bronson with making Balki the type of character who’s expressive in a number of ways–song, dance, wordplay, physical playfulnesss–but Bronson confused sizzle with steak and makes that the entirety of Balki… and then finally ditched even that when it wasn’t good enough for him. Bronson decided that not just the character, but the whole show, are his. His spoor is all over Season 8.

There’s a choice quote from the interview Chris Mann did with Bronson that I left out of my review of his career. I’m not going to apologize for the omission. YOU try writing 80,000 words about an insufferable asshole and see how many quotes you end up not finding space for. For those of you who didn’t read the “How I Spent the Rest of My Career” series, well, first of all, bravo. Send me your other self-care tips, I know I need them. But the interview Bronson did with Chris Mann in early 2012 for Mann’s Retroality.TV site, though mostly serving the purpose of promoting The Bronson Pinchot Project, also served the purpose of portraying Bronson as someone who had matured, who had found meaning outside of acting, and who had finally made some headway through his own childhood trauma. When asked how he infused Perfect Strangers with meaning for himself in contrast to other roles with actual depth:

I made it resonant for myself by finding… first of all the physical comedy was never on the page, never ever was that on the page. And I naturally gravitated toward that because that was a way to give a dimension, another dimension. I mean, you know, the text would sometimes be, I don’t know, Balki and Larry, they get up and they get stranded on the roof. And I thought “Okay, well that’s… that’s a situation, it’s not really a story. But I found ways to give color to it, and then people responded to that, and then they would (?) this magical–magical–secret between me and the audience….

And then he gets into his whole thing about psychically conveying his traumatic childhood to others who went through similar things. He continues:

I remember one of the writers–who later became a good friend, but at the time he was an adversary–and he said, he said “Well, we had a great line for your entrance, but oh, excuse me, the audience was so busy applauding they couldn’t even hear it.” And I… and I said to him at the time “You should thank your lucky stars they feel so deeply, that they do that just cause I walk on. It’s not me they’re doing it for, it’s the connection!” And, you know, it it was so harsh, and later we became close, years afterwards, and he said “Gee, I, I didn’t…” I said, they said, I said “No problem”, cause I never look back….

Just me, or did Bronson remember by the time he got to the end of that story that the writer hadn’t actually vindicated him?


If Bronson treated one writer this way, might he have treated others the same? If you’re told explicitly, or overhear a colleague being told, that in no uncertain terms you are on the very bottom of the totem pole, and then saw that actor go off your script every chance they got, would you have much motivation left to make him look good? I’m not saying all of the writers throughout Perfect Strangers’s later seasons gave up, and I certainly can’t know if they phoned it in for that reason; and one third of Season 8’s credited writers appear to have been new to the show. But it sure does sound like fertile ground for a vicious cycle to grow and eventually result in stories as checked-out as “The Baby Shower” or “Up, Up and Away”.

It should really be no surprise that Season 8 of Perfect Strangers is the end result of every trend we’ve seen so far. No supporting characters, no cultural conflict, complete abandonment of story, conflict, and the female leads (strange how those last three are essentially the same thing this time around, huh?), and no real focus on Balki as a foreigner.*

And “Up, Up and Away” is the culmination of every behind-the-scenes power struggle that–by all evidence–the tabloids may well have gotten right. Rebeca Arthur is pushed out of the story for most of the runtime. Jennifer is punished with no support during her labor. Bronson gets every monologue and nearly every punchline. The babies–the whole goal of the season–are seen for maybe a minute total. And the final montage was put together by whichever editor got the short straw. I’d bet good money that Bronson dictated the show ending with a hot air balloon so he could scratch his Wizard of Oz itch.


Speaking of analysis I dropped the ball on (there’s always more to say), how did it take me this long to put that together with Bronson’s shoe fetish?

His stomping (see what I did there? with shoes?) all over the final six episodes of the sitcom that gave him the most stardom he’d ever have ensured that Perfect Strangers went out on a sour note. Whether anyone intended it, the finale asked us neither to look back on eight years of meaningful memories, nor to look ahead to a promising future in blissful domesticity, but to hate the character of Balki Bartokomous. For the die-hard Perfect Strangers fans who showed up for five weeks in July and August of 1993 to watch these episodes, I can’t imagine that any of them (sit down, Linda) felt that it had been worth coming back at all, unless all they had ever cared about was fantasizing about Bronson Pinchot’s lips.


Bronson got everything he wanted; and everyone stepped back and let him have it.

And he had the gall to be angry during the taping of “Up, Up and Away, part 2”! I feel for Rebeca Arthur, who was ordered off the set when Bronson got upset with her. I feel for the audience member who, according to a tabloid, Bronson had ordered out of the studio for sneezing. I feel for Melanie Wilson, whom Bronson once sexually assaulted and who he repeatedly forced out of scenes. I feel for Mark Linn-Baker, who continued to show up even when his co-star no longer saw any pressing need for them to work up physical comedy bits together.

And, hey, I feel for Bronson, too. When I got to the credits of “Up, Up and Away, part 2”, where the cast were saying goodbye, I forgot that I had actually seen Mark and Bronson do the Dance of Joy that last time. Even though Perfect Strangers didn’t show it, Entertainment Tonight did during its segment on the episode’s taping. Bronson says he broke down crying when an audience member asked him and Mark to dance one final time, and you can hear the water in his voice in the ET clip. Both Perfect Strangers and Entertainment Tonight were kind enough to not use the footage of him crying, the latter simply mentioning that the request “shook Pinchot up”.

But–per his 2013 reddit “Ask Me Anything” thread–Bronson thought that his breakdown aired. For 20 years, Bronson Pinchot thought that the world saw him angry and crying and at an overall low point, emotionally. I can’t imagine what kind of skin it would take to think that was broadcast to the world and not simply refuse to ever show my face in public again. That’s a lot to carry around.


I know I’m painting you a bleak picture, but… that’s where the evidence points.


The first six episodes of Perfect Strangers was ABC taking a chance on a premise they weren’t too sure of, and discovering that viewers wanted it.

The final six episodes of Perfect Strangers was ABC taking one final chance on a show they weren’t too sure of, and discovering that no one at all wanted it.

Its first season allowed Bronson Pinchot room to experiment with the character of Balki, taking it (so he says) in directions not originally in the script.

Its last season allowed Bronson Pinchot room to do what he liked with the character of Balki, taking it in directions no one would ever write.

Perfect Strangers began life as a Balki: full of potential, well-meaning missteps, and high hopes. In its attempt to fit into the contemporary (sitcom) world, it “quoted” pop culture (Taxi, Mork & Mindy, Bosom Buddies) out of context to try to fit in.

But it ended as a Cousin Larry, full of anxiety, bitterness, and devoid of hope. It finally boiled down to a man who felt he’d been so overlooked that he’d dive into any get-rich-quick scheme (monologue, funny voice, pulled face) that would prove his worth and superiority.


I’d love to hear a rosier take on it, from anyone who was at all close to the action. I’d love to know–if Bronson’s co-stars did have a rough time of things–that they’ve since matured in the same ways as Jo Marie Payton, that they’ve decided to be happy they got the success they did, and to not begrudge others the spotlight.

There are so many unanswered questions, still, about Season 8 of Perfect Strangers. Why did it come back? Why was it going to be a 13-episode season and not a full 24? When did it get shortened to six? And by whom? And for what reasons? At what point did the actors know it would be only 6? Did they think it would be 13 at some point? What other stories did the writers have planned? Was “Up, Up and Away” the intended season midpoint? Why did it get made at all, with all these problems? Why did it air at all, with the episodes as terrible as they were?

I can’t know, at least not with the information that’s out there right now.

There will always be more to say.

But I think I’ll stop here.


Best episode: Haha nope

Worst episode: “The Baby Quiz”

Best one-off character: Baby shower guest #3

Worst one-off character: Baby shower guest #1

Best Balki moment: Balki almost dies

Worst Balki moment: Balki doesn’t die

Final Dance of Joy total: 26

Season 8 boner count: Balki (3); Larry (1)

Season 8 catchphrase count: Balki (4); Larry (3)

Final cumulative boner count: Balki (25); Larry (26.5)

Larry wins the boner count by a tip lol

Final cumulative catchphrase count: Balki (119); Larry (69)

Balki wins the catchphrase count

Larry got 69 though LOL


Join me next week for an interview with Ross Brown, creator of Meego!


*You’re thinking of the root and the oven mitt suit, and you’re right, but only the suit–not the belief in being cursed, nor the belief in organic cures–unequivocally reads as foreign.

1. Footnotes.


May a Myposian laxative kick in during an interview with the mayor. Footnotes.

What kind of love letters does Bronson Pinchot write?

Season 8, Episode 5: Up, Up and Away, part 1

So what was I doing the night of Friday, August 6, 1993 at 9PM? If my dad had visitation with me that weekend, I was at the Rockridge Skating Rink, pulling myself forward by the painted cast iron railing. If he was working, then I was at my grandparents, searching for the bottom of a bright green Cheetos Paws bag, watching Nick at Nite.

I certainly wasn’t at home watching ABC, who had not only decided to burn off Perfect Strangers’s final few episodes at the ass end of the 1992-1993 season, but stuck them after reruns of Family Matters and Step by Step.

During the filming, Bronson was desperate to be doing anything else at all. Rebeca was on edge. In her dressing room, Melanie was being consoled by her producer husband that he’d pull some strings and get her on Step by Step. The writers were spitballing funny pseudonyms to put on their spec scripts. Linda was crying into her “Dimitri’s Diner” apron. Most everyone wanted to just be done.

And after putting off airing them for a year, now ABC couldn’t wipe this show off its hands quickly enough. Both parts of “Up, Up and Away” were aired back to back that Friday night.


I knew that Perfect Strangers had come back for just a few weeks, and I missed the finale, and then it quickly ceased to matter. But I find that I regret that now, because all the TV finales I ever saw as a kid were huge disappointments at the time. Some because they were depressing, like Dinosaurs, which featured the entirety of the cast facing their impending deaths. I’ve never gone back to watch it, but my memory of the final shot was Earl Sinclair, looking out the door of his home, seeing the blasted wasteland he’d caused.

Some were just let-downs, like Full House’s, offering an abrupt tonal shift and no indication that it was a finale. It was a very special episode for virtually no one–how many people have ever had to deal with a loved one’s head-trauma amnesia? Roseanne’s was a legendary mismatch of concept and audience expectations. The Critic’s was depressing simply because it never should have ended.

I can think of a just a few broad categories for series finales (of episodic shows) that knew they were finales. There’s looking back–the clip show, the death, or characters dealing in any way with their own pasts. There’s looking forward–the marriage, the baby, the move. There’s the mindfuck–the dream, the novel, the show-within-a-show. And there’s the promise that things will go on the same forever.

Perfect Strangers already got a perfectly good finale in “Get Me To the Dump On Time”, which was a combination of #s 2 and 4. Season 8 may have had something left to say about Larry and Balki’s lives and relationship, but the show barely got to clear its throat before it could say it. The season is so short that its options for finale-ing are limited.


We open at Cousin House to some absolutely squealing saxophone. Donald Twinkacetti lives.


Time changes a man, doesn’t it? Larry comes in and does not immediately look to his right, missing the fact that his wife lies acouch.

He throws his coat onto Jennifer’s face.


Remember this.

This is important.


Jennifer–who is blonde–waves at Larry to catch his attention, and he stumbles over himself trying to make sure she doesn’t think that he thinks that she’s fat.


I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to point out that Jennifer has given in and is providing (symbolically, of course) the gestational environment any Appleton child needs: a sweater. But the child, like both its parents, is reticent to emerge; like Season 8 itself, a long time in reaching delivery.


Jennifer–who is relatively tall–predicts that the child will simply grow for years until it finally sheds her like so much snakeskin.


Balki and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) run down the stairs playing Boochi tag (without the Boochi itself), and then demand that Larry and Jennifer play too.

(I can’t think of anyone else… …Someone, anyone… …please help me.)

I didn’t expect much going into Season 8; and each episode has lowered my expectations even further. If all the Cousins did this episode was say “You do?”/”I do” for 20 minutes, it would be a runaway success compared to “Lethal Weapon”.

What’s been a welcome surprise is that Jennifer and Mary Anne have gotten any sort of arc at all. That story potential has been clear, even if not fully acted on.


What’s even more surprising, though, is that Balki has been fully transformed into what I always suspected he was: a cackling demon who enjoys nothing more than tormenting you. The text of the episode tells us that the Bartokomouses and the Appletons are still having vastly different pregnancy experiences. But Rebeca and Bronson have turned up the dials on their “joy” so high that the whole bit becomes one of their characters not being able to see how blindly insufferable they are to those around them.

Balki getting to be a gameshow host, or have multiple one-man-show spotlights, are so out of step with the character that it’s easy to dismiss them. But here, Balki is being aggressively fun, suggesting the fair, mini-golfing, hiking, not taking no for an answer, and then turning haughty when Larry refuses to ask his wife to be any more active than she expresses a desire to be. The Bartokomouses leave.


That Balki was holier-than-thou was the easy joke to make for years, even though back then Larry could have used a little more adventure in his life. I never expected the show to agree with me here at the end, and give Larry every justification for telling Balki to fuck off.

There’s even a different potential reading here: Balki’s incessant fun-seeking mirrors his behavior in “Bye Bye Biki”. Whose death is he going through the stages of grief over? Whose indeed.


Jennifer–whom we know has eaten shrimp, pizza, Pop Tarts, and eggs in the past–now asks Larry to prepare fruit, salad, cheese, pot roast, and potatoes. She then thinks she’s going into labor and starts doing her breathing exercises. Larry joins her and manages to make himself sound like he’s wheezing, with a stopped-up nose besides. It’s funnier by far than any of Bronson’s Frenchman-deep-throating-some-rock-candy voices.


Larry revs up his freakout, going from worried to shouting in 0.4, beating his record from “Hello, Baby”. Like Buridan’s ass, he cannot move, needing all three of his spiritual totems (keys, coat, Maalox) equally. He calms down just enough to deliver the exposition to Jennifer…

…and for once–finally–it’s written well. It’s amazing when you consider that women-as-exposition-receptacles is Perfect Strangers’s house style. The information that they have rushed off to the hospital numerous times is mentioned so that Larry can say he’s going to have a heart attack if he has to do it again after this. Angry, nervous, weak, in physical pain… man, this episode’s hitting all the right notes for Larry.


This episode setup is only possible by ignoring the fact that labor begins with the amniotic sac rupturing, though.


Balki and Mary Anne return with the furry they picked up at the fair, ready for their threesome.


Actually, wait–


–the prophecy is coming true!

Mary Anne–who is so dumb she thinks Grizzly Adams was Pugsley’s pet bear–thanks Balki for winning her the giant “Bobo” doll. Balki does a Smokey Bear voice. What the hell is this episode about? Is Larry going to come home and mistake the doll for Balki’s spawn?


Mary Anne picks up the note Jennifer left, and can’t neither one of them figure out who it’s from. They draw the joke out long enough for the audience to get it.

On their way out the door, they meet Jennifer and Larry, back from the hospital.


Balki thinks that Jennifer has already had her child, and congratulates her on her stamina.

(Casey’s call was absorbed by the darkness.)

Mary Anne is confused when Jennifer says she hasn’t had her baby. What the dilating fuck? What does she think the hospital does with the babies? She thinks postpartum means they’ll mail you the kid in a few weeks, doesn’t she?

Mary Anne (who is so dumb she thinks stillbirth is a type of painting) starts giggling. Balki literally says that if she’s laughing, it must be about something he did, and starts making faces and grabbing at an imaginary butt.


Mary Anne finally decides that she must be having her baby. Being on that quiz show a week ago must make a whole lot more sense now! She says she’s going into labor because she feels “all funny inside”. I was going to register a complaint here, but I went on the Mayo Clinic’s website, and that’s the same words they use.


Jennifer–who uses nail polish–gets flustered, saying that Mary Anne can’t have her baby first, that it’s “her turn”. Hoo! Somebody’s been keeping track of shit for decades! She demands that Larry put his palm up against Mary Anne’s belly and do that STOP thing.


I still do a lot of research on these posts (*buffs fingernails on shoulder*), and I’ve got about 10 tabs open about post-term labor induction, what happens when water breaks, Braxton Hicks contractions, checking one’s own cervical dilation, plus one tab that’s a Google search for “time travel prevent sitcom”. We really shouldn’t just be fucking around the house here aimlessly for half the episode just to have the two smart characters not know a damn thing about how pregnancy works. If Jennifer’s been to the hospital five times now for false alarms, the doctor would have sent her home with some sort of “when you X, you’ll know it’s real labor”; and if she’s actually risking being two weeks late, they’d want to monitor her anyway.

And if–as Larry relates–Jennifer was pulling nurses’ hair, then what the fuck happened at the hospital? In this world, all you have to do is tell the hospital you’re in labor, and they’ll bypass checking your vitals so they can get you into the stirrups and tell you to strain the hell out of your abdomen pushing. Mary Anne may be the one saying out loud that she feels “all funny inside”, but that’s exactly the way Jennifer is treating it.

Balki starts handing out roles for everyone to get Mary Anne to the hospital. He tells Larry to grab the pig snout pacifiers. Right. As if Mypitots didn’t just suckle on the pig itself. Jennifer–who likes the outdoors–tells Mary Anne about her violent behavior at the hospital as they walk to the car.

We get a long scene where Balki calls the hospital to let them know baby coming. It’s meant to contrast with Larry’s freakout earlier, and I like that. And even though Balki has been an entirely different person in each scene so far, the script at least is consistent that Balki is untroubled by his wife’s pregnancy.

(Someone… can you hear me?! Please, give me strength!)


And now that we’re halfway through the episode, the show finally decides to get off its ass and say what kind of disagreement the Cousins might have about this. Before leaving for the hospital, Larry tries to restore his own self-image by saying that Balki is covering up how nervous he is about Mary Anne’s delivery (and in denial about it to boot).

It’s almost impressive how this episode makes a slight detachment from its central premise into something else entirely. Perfect Strangers, at its best, was about how these two guys approached every situation differently, and how neither approach was perfect. We know that Larry’s stomach lining has been eaten completely away by worry, and that Balki has cruised through life more than a dedicated sex addict.

But their approaches in this episode have everything to do with the situations they’re facing. Larry has every reason to risk a hypertensive stroke, but Balki has none. (After all, on Mypos is very simple: the woman she work in the field, have baby, ten men, etc.) The episode is actually delivering (HA) on what “The Baby Quiz” should have given itself over to completely. It’s unfair that the Appletons have to struggle; and the only thing worse than a sore loser is a bad winner.

And that idea is conveyed so perfectly through Balki’s utter lack of compassion for Larry and Jennifer that it feels like a tossup as to whether Bronson (or director Judy Pioli) saw this and deliberately played it up, or if it stems from Bronson’s resentment over having to play sweet and innocent for 7 years straight.

I wonder if this is the finale we would have gotten with 13 episodes, and how much those extra seven stories would have contributed to the thesis. (And whether we would have gotten another scenario like “Lethal Weapon” to prove that Mary Anne and Balki’s pregnancy woes were of an entirely different nature.) Or are the women’s stories only getting this much prominence because of the compressed episode order that has confirming the Cousins’ sperm viability as its only goal? Either way, there’s at least an intent in the scripts for “The Baby Quiz” and “Up, Up and Away” to tell stories about four people.

I mean, it’s not that much, but it’s about the only good thing in a season full of Bronson giving the finger to everything about the show.

Well, almost everything. Larry, somehow totally missing the fact that none of this happened to him during five previous flights to the hospital, begs Balki brood about the barrage of bothers that could beset him, like running out of gas or the transmission dropping out of the car.

Balki–now convinced he’s in denial about his own worries–starts coming up with problems.


Balki: What if I hit a cow and have to bury it and comfort the other cows?

Which is a perfectly good line on its own, so Bronson tries to riff on it for awhile.


Jennifer–who plays tennis–rushes in and tells them something amazing just happened. I perked up, hoping that the show’s cancellation was moved up another episode, but no, Mary Anne gave birth in the car. Balki has a son, she says.

Balki runs to get some Tupperware for the afterbirth. Nah, j/k, he faints.


THE NEXT DAY, Jennifer–who went to college–evinces a deep need to manage her feelings of powerlessness in this situation, attempting to shift to an internal locus of control. She asks Balki for a rundown of everything Mary Anne did the previous day. I’d make fun of her for believing that all women’s bodies are the same, but she is essentially the same person as Mary Anne.


The locus-of-control thing actually puts her closer to Larry, psychologically, even if he does disagree with her here. She sends him away to fetch her a Pop Tart so she can pump Balki for information.

He keeps ignoring or “misunderstanding” her questions, shoving photographs in her face and repeating his son’s name: Robespierre Boinki Bartokomous. He says if you flip through them, it’s like a little movie, and then just flails them around–actually breaking the prop–instead of flipping through them. Jennifer stops him.


Jennifer: Bronson, we’ve literally only got 27 minutes left in this entire show. We have to at least look like the plot is moving.

I’ve never been bedside to a new mother, so I have no idea whether immediate family are even allowed near one or her baby. But this show refuses to even acknowledge amniotic rupture, so I don’t see why Jennifer can’t be trying to get this information out of Mary Anne. They could be in the hospital, Jennifer could be trying to ask her, Balki keeps butting in, and Larry removes them both. But this show can’t even remember that a minute ago this was a story about whether being constantly on edge came with the territory of fatherhood.

Or–and I can’t believe I’m saying this–even not seeing Jennifer and Mary Anne for this setup could work. The camera could stay with Larry and Balki on the same principle that I talked about in “The Baby Shower”. This whole thing is leading to Jennifer resorting to some desperate measure, and her being deadset on it can come across to Larry (and the audience) as crazy if we don’t observe the steps she took to get there.

I hate to spoil things, but: Mary Anne won’t show up again until late (late!) in the next episode. We have Bronson on record about how he treated Rebeca Arthur, from his 2009 AV Club interview:

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.

Plus we’ve seen Bronson carve out bigger and bigger chunks of the episode for himself. If he can do that, could he have decreased someone else’s screentime?

Maybe I’m making too much of it. Balki merely mentioning that there was a bearded lady at the fair is just such ground-breaking comedy that it’s easy to see why 65% of this episode is people sitting on the couch.

(Casey’s’ calls touched the heart of —–)

By the way, thank God Hulu remastered these episodes so I can see that the photographs look like Polaroids of victims like you’d find in the murderer’s apartment on a crime procedural show.


Jennifer can’t get Balki to listen at all until she says “help me have this baby”, and Balki acts like she just suggested having sex. Balki says that Mary Anne went up in a hot air balloon, and Jennifer has her plan.

Larry re-enters (the room, the room, you perv) and Jennifer says she believes the air-pressure change is what did it. And… well, the show’s not wrong. A 2007 study in Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics (Akutagawa, Nishi, Isaka) found that a change in barometric pressure does have statistically-significant correlation with a sudden onset of labor. It could very well have been the cause of Mary Anne’s (Spontaneous) delivery.

Balki tells us that it happens all the time with Myposian astronauts, and then negates the possibility of it supporting Jennifer’s theory by telling us that all Myposian shuttles are thrown manually into the air. Oh fuck you. I wish it meant anything to say that anymore. But fuck you. One more chance to tell us something about Mypos other than “pigs”, and you settle on “they make pregnant women fall from great heights”.


Larry tries one more time to dissuade Jennifer, berating and whining by turns. He demands she not go, and then meekly asks for her approval of his demand.


You know, they do say that sexual activity can help induce labor, thanks to the oxytocins and prostaglandins involved. Since we know how much Larry likes Jennifer to play the strict schoolmarm, it looks like he’s been paying more attention to those pregnancy books than we thought.


And Balki… goes with them. The hell? Doesn’t he have a wife to be there for? For all that he acted shocked when he thought Jennifer was coming onto him, he sure does want to see her vagina when it opens up all the way.


Here we are at Balloon Ride, which the rest of the fair seems to be built around, since Carl and Urkel took off from this exact same spot in Chicago two years previous in the 1991 episode “High Hopes”.


But Howard, the Balloon Ride Operator, is nowhere to be found. I’m guessing a circus midget tipped him off that Balki was coming back. Balki gives us all sorts of information about Howard, whom we’ll never meet.


Balki continues to shout to the wings of the stage to other “characters”. If you’ve got better suggestions for how a sitcom can do some tidy worldbuilding, I’d sure like to hear them!

Larry doesn’t want to operate a balloon, but this is the last day of the fair. Jennifer–who is scared of lightning–bewails her plight, cries to any god that will listen that she’ll never have the baby. Yo, do they not have C-sections in this world?

Balki offers to take Jennifer up in the balloon, and when Larry calls her crazy, she agrees.

I beg you, reader, understand what’s at play here. I offered you four types of sitcom series finales at the outset, but that kind of categorization ignores the fact that this show is unlike any other. If anything, Perfect Strangers is best understood in terms of the philosophical novel, Thus Spake Zarathustra and No Exit its progenitors.

The show has always had the nature of America as its central debate: is it a wholly new thing (aggregate) or is it only understood as the collection of thousands of external influences (conglomerate)? Is it built on the creation of new information (science) or must it rely on handed-down tradition (wisdom)? Shall its people be wise as serpents or harmless as doves?


How can I be so confident in this reading? Look no further than Jennifer’s clothing for this episode’s philosophical underpinnings. Her sweater shows designs at war with each other, perhaps at war with themselves. The knit material to match her husband’s clothes (container), the floral motifs to match the foreigner’s (content). The Easter-type basket (this symbol is maybe too on the nose, but sitcoms do operate in broad strokes) is not yet centered, but a series of purple and yellow daisies in various stages of bloom shows that equilibrium is almost reached. (The spring basket does double duty with a snowflake on her other side; death and rebirth, usw.)

So, Season 8 is the crucial final chapter without which the entire work cannot be understood. Jennifer will deliver forth America, and Baby Appleton cannot emerge until the argument of what America is has been worked out through the Cousins.

Balki, are you confident that, from thesis and antithesis, synthesis may be reached?


In the middle of Larry and Balki lifting Jennifer into the hot air balloon’s basket, Balki starts talking about his baby photos again. Jeez, it’s not bad enough there was fuckall happening in this episode, he has to hammer home that fact by repeating this joke.

Seriously, though, this episode keeps stumbling into ways for these characters to react to their situations and to play off each other; but veers away from them as soon as a music sting happens. And while that’s true of every episode this season, what this one lacks is something that defines the episode. We’ve had “the one with the root”, “the one with the store”, “the one with the suit”, and “the one with the gameshow”. This episode is… what? The one with the story about running over a cow? The one with the baby pictures you don’t get to see?

I’d say it’s the one where Mary Anne gives birth, but the show goes out of its way to be about anything but. Has there ever been another sitcom that didn’t show a baby in a birth episode?


Balki struggling to help Jennifer intot he basket might read funnier if he hadn’t been throwing Larry around like they were figure skaters for years.


Yeah, it goes on for awhile.


That was it, that was your physical comedy for this episode.

The Cousins argue over which rope to untie, and end up untying both. (It would have been the shorter one, right? If you’re to go any height at all?)


Jennifer takes to the sky, her sometime habitat, to get a better perspective on the big picture. A child–symbol of the moral children of America–waves goodbye. The parallels to Moses’s ascent of Mt. Sinai are obvious.


Balki quotes from The Wizard of Oz, which is just his little way of telling you about the times his dad went on a violent bender.


Under the credits, Rebeca can’t get a line right.


Join me next week…

…you know what? No, we’re doing part 2 now. No damn way I’m letting this show take up one more week of my life. It’s about time I started having normal nightmares, like being naked in public, or my teeth disintegrating, instead of Larry and Balki as Laurel and Hardy failing to put my detached limbs back on.

Besides, Larryoke 2 is tomorrow and you’re all likely to make better jokes than mine about this one. Don’t forget about Larryoke 2, y’all.


Announcer: Last on Perfect Strangers…

Yeah, I guess I have lasted. There’s some dumbass synth tuba playing over the recap of the previous episode.


The world is in flux. The balloon rises on the wings of dreams. The Chicago area has transformed into Southern California.


Jennifer–who is a stewardess–has sought out her preferred atmosphere, balanced perfectly between Americas.


Larry lays with–ha, sorry. Force of habit. Larry lays into Balki, blaming him for their present circumstance. Balki starts talking about Mother Earth and how rainclouds are Father Sky’s ejaculate or something. Then he starts actively endangering their lives, convincing them planes are coming and rocking the basket violently.


Psychology sidebar: Balki’s “child” ego state has returned with such a vengeance that it calls Larry’s “parent” ego state out of hiding, eliciting his erstwhile catchphrase.


Balki starts grabbing at Larry’s pants and yelling “woosh” and “whee” while Jennifer’s off-screen. I’m treasuring these last few jokes about the Cousins being gay. Each one could be the last.


Jennifer–who once worked at Reuben’s Perfect Body–butts in to say she’s in labor.


A contraction grips her, and she clutches Larry’s arm. As Larry’s only source of calcium as a child was the eggshells left over from his siblings’ breakfast, his arm breaks.

(-a— talked for Casey, having never even met him before. 3468 HP of damage to Perfect Strangers!)

Balki: Well toss my greens and call me Caesar.

You can say whatever you want about me calling Larry and Balki the gayest couple on TGIF, but you still have to account for the fact that Perfect Strangers’s final statement to the world includes Balki openly asking Larry to tongue his dumper.


Jennifer has another contraction and starts in on Larry’s arm again. This is good stakes-raising! Larry needs that hand to masturbate with for the next four to six weeks while Jennifer’s perineum heals.

Another clue to Jennifer’s birth-of-America subtext: she didn’t learn the breathing exercises, as she fully expected to have a nurse shoot drugs right into her spinal cord. But now she must decide what value traditional relaxation techniques have.

Has she resolved the show’s central question yet, Balki?


And now that Balki’s got their attention, he does everything he can to keep it. First, he shifts gears from Jennifer and Larry’s conversation to talking about the balloon’s patches, which must have been sewn on sometime in the last three minutes. Then, when Larry encourages Jennifer to think of some pleasant stories, Balki throws a tantrum when Larry won’t let him tell an anti-Semitic joke. And then he starts trying to tell it anyway.


Larry finally learns the last and most important lesson the show has for him: this is the end result of seven years of bad parenting,of giving into the child’s every whim, of not telling the child that conversation involves letting the other person talk sometimes, that not everyone finds endless repetition of the same phrase amusing or endearing. Larry has spared the rod (hee) and spoiled his child.

I’m so counting this as a last-minute catchphrase:


And then Balki whips out “mishagosticky” as a Myposian word. Why all the Jewish stuff all of a sudden? Is this all setup for the Myposian tradition of biting off the foreskin?

Larry says to Balki he doesn’t have a clue about helping a woman through labor, which is just setup for Balki going off on a story about midwifing livestock. Bronson runs out of punchlines well before Mark has finished making vomit faces behind him. Now that we know Bronson is averse to practice, you really don’t have to go very far into an episode to find an example of it. You can tell that, at some point, Balki’s line did include something repulsive; as it is here, Larry’s showing disgust over the mere mention that sheep also give birth. Bronson has forgotten the punchlines the Muse favored him with in rehearsal the day before.

Larry begins to throw Balki over the side of the basket.


I think maybe I can quit transcribing everything Balki does by saying that the above example is the rhythm of this entire episode. Jennifer states how the stakes have raised, Larry expresses worry, Balki makes statement, Balki drifts into joke, Larry tells Balki to stop/tries to kill Balki, Balki deliberately/accidentally raises stakes.

It’s in essence the same pattern Perfect Strangers has always followed, but “Up, Up and Away” lays it bare to its very skeleton.  If you ever wanted an inadvertent meta-commentary on the dead-end nature of sitcom formula, or the mutually antagonistic nature of stories and wacky characters, look no further.

Balki started out as a character who had no perspective on “civilized” mores or what was “proper” conversation, who liked to tell nonsense jokes, who liked to play with whatever new things America had to offer. But there was always a story, a context for that character to butt up against. We’ve removed almost the entire earth now, but he’s still the same.

His traits aren’t being played against any situation in particular; they’re being played against the idea of situation itself. Larry no longer wants Balki to change so that a story can play out differently, he wants Balki to STOP so that a story can happen at all.

Jennifer–who hates bargaining–notes that the balloon is again rising: she has registered that discord between the cousins is tied to increased danger to herself.


Balki sees that one of the sandbags has sprung a leak, likely due to abrasion against the basket when he shook it around. He tells them that if they go high enough, the balloon will explode when the atmosphere replaces the helium in the balloon.

And… no. There’s a lot more at work there, like air pressure and temperature and the fact that there’s no visible burner mechanism for this balloon, but I don’t know enough about the interplay of all of it to say more than: no. The balloon would eventually start descending on its own, reach a point where it won’t drop any faster, and serve as a parachute to some extent besides. Just like rushing to the hospital every time Jennifer felt weird, the show is just bullshitting its way through science because there’s no logical way to raise the stakes.

Larry tells Balki to shut up, and it’s never been more deserved.


Balki: I can shut up… I think.

Somehow the solution is that Balki has to climb down the side of the basket instead of just pulling the bag up so it’s upside-down with the hole at the top. Balki gets incredibly snippy about it and tries to come up with some more punchlines. (This could have become a moment where Balki has to realize how much stress he’s actually feeling.)


Balki lowers himself down, and Larry tries to coach Jennifer through a breathing exercise.


Jennifer: It was your hollow reed that got me into this in the first place.

(Ba— kept talking. 6525 HP of damage to Perfect Strangers!)


Balki has stopped up the bag’s hole with a handkerchief when the obvious, more lasting solution would be to eat the sand. He shouts a joke that no one is listening to.


Because his classic “Where do I come up with them?” line requires throwing his hands in the air, he lets go of the basket.

Show, you’ve never given me such analytically-fecund material to work with, on so silver a platter, as this.

Balki was the raison d’être for Perfect Strangers. He now poses a mortal risk to himself. And… doesn’t everything that we’ve seen this season show he posed that same risk to Perfect Strangers?


It’s difficult not to see the blame for this lying squarely with Bronson.

Difficult for me, anyway. I’ve pored over Bronson’s relationship to himself and this show so much that this episode appears as the culmination of everything we’ve learned.

Bronson wanted to be anything but Balki by the summer of 1992, when these were filmed. He says he begged ABC for something different. And they–Judy–someone–let him do just that, becoming any character he wanted to be. He treats sitcoms like jazz, riffing wherever he thinks best, whether or not it makes a cohesive whole, or has any connection to what we knew about Balki.

Balki has become the polar opposite of everything he started out as. Where previously he didn’t understand why everyone didn’t want to have fun the same way he does, now he puts others down for it. He only grudgingly agreed to solve the sandbag problem. Instead of showing any compassion or awareness of what’s going on for other people, his goal is simply to do the most talking, to get the most “jokes”.

And how can I be so sure these jokes are Bronson’s, and Bronson’s alone?

Balki: My arches are fallen and I can’t get up.

He’s going to fall, and he’s hanging by his feet. It’s the same type of free association we saw in The Trouble with Larry and Meego.

So is Bronson just blindly wrecking a show, or is it deliberate?

Given that Bronson likes to work in Wizard of Oz references anywhere he can–even while flogging busboys with breadsticks–and given that he had enough clout still that he could order Rebeca off the set, I think it’s a damned safe bet that he dictated the show ending with a hot air balloon.


It appears to have been already decided by the filming of “The Baby Shower”; note the decorations on the fireplace mantel.


But does that mean that the show teasing you with the possibility of Balki dying–and giving you every reason to want it–was Bronson’s intent? Was it the writers’ intent? Did they all want Balki to just fucking go away as much as I do?

Self-awareness isn’t Bronson’s strong suit, though; which leaves us with writers, who Bronson is unrepentantly on record as condescending to. Paula Roth has the writing credit for this episode. She’s been there since almost the beginning, so it’s both very easy and very hard to see her having negative feelings about how this show ended up.

I think the answer is somewhere in-between, that these interpretive elements exist in the negative space between the script and Bronson. His ego-driven performance is doing more than it ever has to deepen a work and give it meaning, but the message is the utter incompatibility of that ego with the achievement of that very same thing. All without him knowing!

If that’s not at least two types of irony, then Georgia’s public schools really are as bad as everyone says.


When Larry says he needs to excuse himself to go do one last physical comedy bit with Balki, Jennifer–who likes a little tummy on a man–begs him not to go. But she finally accepts, on some level, that this is necessary. She needs to know: does the modern American capitalist man have any compassion? Will he protect the underclass no matter what existential and conceptual threats they pose? Is he utilitarian, shooting for the best outcome for the most people? Will the foreigner kill them all? Are both of them necessary? Is he physically capable to carry out the choice?

Larry bends over the rim of the basket, tells Balki to grab his hand–and who knows what the fuck happens, he just falls over the side.


The previous episode had no central idea or physical comedy sequence; and this episode is its inversion. This one has nothing going for it but the physical comedy, and its own status as the final episode. There’s almost no frame or structure other than the (heehee) biological clock  counting down as Jennifer’s contractions occur more frequently.


Even though I saw it coming from 50 episodes away, that the show found a way to push Jennifer and Mary Anne out of the story about their own labor is astonishing. That kind of exclusion would be more palatable if the Cousins’ slapstick actually had some argument playing out. A hot air balloon sequence isn’t so sensational that it demands to be done; Larry and Balki could be in the hospital, slipsliding around on spilled saline and tossing transplant organs back and forth and it would have just as much to do with the scenario.

But now that Jennifer’s up in the air, she just needs to be in labor until Perfect Strangers has exhausted the comedy this setting offers.

Unfortunately, a hot-air balloon is about as pregnant with comic potential as I’ll ever be with a real baby.

If you’ve seen the season 2 Family Matters episode “High Hopes”, you’ve essentially watched “Up, Up and Away” at 10x speed. Characters go up in a balloon, can’t control getting down, one freaks out, they almost fall but don’t. Family Matters dipped into the two-man physical comedy well for Carl & Urkel fairly often, but it never became the show’s sole focus, and didn’t come anywhere near erasing the rest of the characters.


Perfect Strangers rises and falls (ahem) on the strength of the physical comedy. It’s offered numerous impressive bits over the years, from Balki picking Larry up bodily and spinning him around, to the entirety of the gameshow sequence in “Games People Play”, to last season’s wine-bottle-throwing scene. Add to this the facts that they were in front of a live audience, and that Bronson treated practice the way most people treat eating horseshit, and it’s downright amazing.


So it’s a disappointment that this episode keeps cheating. And I’m not talking about how well the remastered copies show the flesh-colored gloves or the straps around the actors’ wrists when they hang from the basket.

This is admittedly minor, but Bronson kept acting like the basket only exists in two dimensions, staying very close to Jennifer as he moves behind her to change positions. He hasn’t stopped to think what angle the cameras have on the basket itself, and director Judy Askins wasn’t paying attention. He certainly wasn’t availing himself of his final opportunity to frott Melanie’s ass in front of her producer husband. Why would you even think such a thing?


The big problem here is lies in getting the Cousins to where they’re hanging from the bottom of the basket. I don’t need to see Balki catch him by his hair, but I do need to see how in the hell an upside-down Balki managed to pull him out of the basket. (And when Larry grabs onto Balki’s hair, Bronson keeps his head pointed down relative to his body, not even thinking about what might be going on with his neck.) And, after Larry scrambles up Balki’s body (just as he’d always dreamed), he helps Balki get right-side up, but we don’t see that either.


This position’s called the “flotation device”, by the way.

They don’t know how to stage these things so they simply don’t. Thank God they had the option to cut to Jennifer to show she hadn’t bled to death from uterine tears.


I get it: neither one of these guys is an acrobat. And Bronson can’t be upside down forever. But Perfect Strangers doesn’t have a history of cutting away from the physical comedy at key moments like this. When the characters suffer actual injury, it’s either off-screen entirely to let you fill in the gaps between scenes, or it’s done through the use of a stunt double. You’re always able to picture how, f’rinstance, Jerseyman dragged Larry’s face along a brick wall.

Maybe there wasn’t a practical way to make all this happen, and I’m not going to try to solve it myself. But it’s interesting to me that the show would choose–for its final episode–a bit whose nature demands so many cheats. Season 7 showed off a lot of pride at what Bronson and Mark could do physically on their own when they worked together. “Up, Up and Away” is literally held together by string.

You know, I’ve never in my life wanted so much for Balki to ask us, just one more time, to ponder where he comes up with them.


Also, where do I get one of these jackets that lets you open unzip holes at the armpits so’s you don’t get stinky?


Jennifer–who likes to shower after a long trip–now has the answer to her question. The balloon rose Larry’s baby, letting her see the Cousins’ purest forms. Their duality responds to threat with compassion, to stress with joy, to science with wisdom and vice-versa. When someone struggles to achieve, it responds with support; when someone succeeds without trying, it responds with support. These men are in each other’s eternal debts; and as Balki once noted, debt is what makes you a true American.

But even with all that, it’s not enough. The symbolic interplay hangs up (haha): both figurative Cousins are still in need of saving.

So what’s the final piece of the puzzle? What ensures this baby’s viability?


If you didn’t answer “television”, I suspect you haven’t been paying attention this whole time. A TV news traffic helicopter appears.

(Ba-k- kept talking. 13100 HP of damage to Perfect Strangers!)

Balki shouts to Captain Fred, mispronouncing Appleton one last time.

Captain Fred tells them–since he’s in the world’s only news helicopter outfitted with a police-grade public address system–to smile, they’re on the evening news! Just fucking help them, man, I don’t care what your voice sounds like.


Balki is so happy he makes the same face I do when I accidentally slice my finger while chopping jalapeños.


Jennifer–who doesn’t necessarily like muscles–waves to Captain Fred, and we hear a baby cry seconds before we see it thrown over the side to act as more ballast.

Nah, j/k. Jennifer reports that the baby has a penis.


The Cousins are so happy, they swing their legs around to ensure Jennifer doesn’t get a single moment of calm.


And then they start trying to screw for Captain Fred’s traffic cam.

I’m glad I didn’t see this as a kid. It’s one of the emptiest series finales I’ve ever seen.

I’m glad I saw it as an adult. It’s one of the deepest series finales I’ve ever seen.


TWO MONTHS LATER, Larry and Balki watch the taped news report for the umpteenth time.


Balki tells a long, meandering story about how, on Mypos, they climb up into a tree to give the traffic report.


Larry gives him a look that says “That’s the monologue you chose to go out on, huh?”


Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) come downstairs with the babies. Mary Anne says that the babies said they want to spend time with Balki and Larry. A moment of silence, please, for passive-aggressive Mary Anne, taken from us before her time.

Perhaps this series finale falls into the ad infinitum category, because Perfect Strangers makes sure to clarify one more time that the woman’s role is to be dumb, care for the children, and cook; and that the man’s place is to eschew helping with either duty:


1. Mary Anne clarifies that verbal skills begin to emerge around nine months, and they all stare at her in disbelief. Get a load of this moron! Actually reading up on child development after having one.

2. Larry asks if Jennifer shouldn’t be resting instead of cooking. Fuck you, guys. If either of you gave half a shit, dinner would be done already.


3. Larry and Balki refuse to so much as touch their babies.


Cousin Larry asks Balki if they ought to go get a closeup on Tucker Appleton and Robespierre Boinki Bartokomous to make it look like the show cares about this story at all.


Balki sings “The Itsy Bitsy Scorpion”. It’s stupid and not even worth me mentioning his earlier horror at the lyrics of “Rock-a-bye Baby”.


Before he can follow it up with “This Live-In Piggy” or “On Top of Old Smokiki” or “Fresh Young Balki B Nimble” or “Froggy Went Into My Souffle” or “Mary Wed a Little Lamb” or “There Was an Old Woman Who Gave Me Her Shoes”, Larry says he’ll be in charge of nursery rhymes. It’s too bad we’ll never get to hear him sing “I’m a Little Fusspot”, “The Maalox Man”, “Where O Where Has My Solitude Gone”, “Little Miss Muffet Wouldn’t Give Me the Time of Day in High School, The Slut”.

And… then they go sit back down and have a sappy montage of memories. I’m including it here because it really is sweet.




Mary Anne: It would be nice if you spent some time with your sons.

Larry and Balki: You’re right.

Larry and Balki: *sit and think about themselves dancing for five minutes*

It’s the most I’ve laughed this whole finale.

Balki: Cousin, when I came to America six years ago, I came looking for my cousin…


Now he comes in his cousin! Where do I come up with them?

Larry: If I had to do it all over again…

…he’d do it all over you! Sorry *sniff* I’m just getting sentimental over here. Just trying to (ha) get it all in here at the end.


The women re-enter and check to make sure Larry and Balki haven’t taken the babies for collagen injections so they can have a better shot at getting them on Pampers commercials. Mary Anne is so dumb she thinks colostrum was a statue in Greece.


Larry asks Balki if they’ll all have long and fruitful television and movie careers after this.


(Balki keeps talking. 25000 HP of damage to Perfect Strangers!)


Under the credits, the actors come out and take their final bows.


According to Bronson, during the final question-and-answer session, someone asked him and Mark to do the Dance of Joy one last time, and he broke down crying. He didn’t know that this was cut from the aired version.


Join me tomorrow for Larryoke! I’ll post the links here tomorrow around noon.


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

Catchphrase count: Balki (3); Larry (2)

Dance of Joy running total: 26

Unused Larryoke countdown #2: “A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Contraction” – Toby Keith

Unused Larryoke countdown #1: “I Need a Cousin” – Bonnie Tyler

(The war with Perfect Strangers is over…)

Season 8, Episode 4: The Baby Quiz

God damn was last week’s episode rough. So rough that I’d really just like a couple of weeks off, followed by a month off, and then however long it takes for someone in the Ukraine to hack WordPress’s accounts and this site get turned into a multilevel-marketing homeopathy blog. I even thought about marrying and having a kid, which seems to be how everyone else gets out of doing their Perfect Strangers review blog.

But I keep going because damn it someone has to finish this show. I don’t care if tomorrow some 3-6 dads somewhere high-income start a podcast called Getting Some Perfect Strange, this thing has to be finished this way. I keep going because I need you to know.

I need you to know just how terrible this episode is. If the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again (i.e. reviewing a TGIF* sitcom), “The Baby Quiz” is the end result, the broken mind. But sunshine is the best disinheritance. There’s a light at the end of the funnel.

Whether or not my theory from last week (that “Lethal Weapon” caused Perfect Strangers to have its scheduled execution moved up because the bit wouldn’t end) is true, “The Baby Quiz” is the show’s very last opportunity to tell a one-off story about the Cousins. Whether or not the writers etc. knew at the outset of this season that they’d have only 6 episodes, or thought they’d have 13 and scrambled to rearrange things, “The Baby Quiz” was the best of the ideas they had left. Series finales can get taken over by emotion and wrapping up, by a checklist of moments and catchphrases.

This is one last chance to have fun, unburdened by most of the remaining restraints of what the show could or couldn’t be and do. Perfect Strangers could just spin its wheels at this point and offer up a nothing script, a fantasy episode, a clipshow, some reheated domestic story that felt old by the time Bewitched did it. Or it could make one last attempt to explore the dynamic that this specific group of characters has through application of some standard story.

Given that we just spent three weeks watching the show turn real family problems (the smugness of those who have it easy, the body horror of pregnancy, that your significant other is a ticking time bomb of surprise, physically and mentally and culturally) into Larry and Balki rolling up unused script pages to snort coke, which of those two do directions do you figure “The Baby Quiz” goes in?


I haven’t talked about the music cues lately. This episode begins with what I’d call the aspirational one, involving a flute trill that brings to mind a bird swooping down to catch an air current and then soaring majestically. It promises success, new beginnings… or maybe just says that the soundtrack guy was going for maximum irony for a show that he knew was almost too terrible to subject Americans to watch.


Mary Anne (Sagittarius) is idly stirring some eggs around, thinking through which luxuries she’ll have to give up soon because it’s too late to audition for the new Fall 1992 sitcoms.


Balki runs in from the living room, pissing himself over the fact that the mailman is three blocks away with the letter they’ve been awaiting. And–fine, Balki bugs the mailman. I like that. It’s a very Season 1/2 (and also Season 7) Balki thing. But here’s a question that I’m only thinking to ask because I’ve overturned every last leaf about this show: why not show the mailman?

I mean, to begin with, why not explore that if it’s good enough to joke about? Have Balki bring him in the house while they exposit about whatever letters are coming. But what’s more: the actor who played Doug MailKenzie/Brad the waiter, Robert G. Lee, was a regular warm-up comic for ABC sitcoms back then. He was there that night right before this scene. I’m so glad I learned enough about the making of this show to know that clunky exposition like this isn’t only due to lack of budget or lack of creativity, it’s also because nobody there gave a shit about thanking a years-long part of the show with one more chance to be on stage with the stars.


Balki runs out, so Larry and Jennifer enter to drag out the exposition as long as they can. Larry asks if Balki’s excited for Mud Day** celebrations. Really, is that it? All we know about Myposians now is that they celebrate their own abject poverty? Without its previously stable government, it’s just a barren wasteland, devoid of anything but root vegetables and insects, because anything bigger than that gets raped by the prehistoric demons circling in the skies.


That mailman sure did blow through those three blocks quick. Balki and Mary Anne pretend to be surprised that both couples got letters from the television show The Baby Quiz. That’s a nice touch, that someone remembered that Balki’s so innocent he doesn’t know how to lie.

Balki drags it out, though, nervously building a whole bit out of how much attention and scrutiny he thinks he has on him while Larry and Jennifer pay no attention. Welp, there we go, got my grand metaphor for Season 8 Perfect Strangers and American viewers, I can take it easy for the rest of this review.


Larry realizes Balki was behind this because it’s addressed to “Cousin Larry Appleton”. Balki claims he and Mary Anne “found out” that The Baby Quiz*** was looking for new contestants and signed them all up. What? Were Chicagoan viewers getting tired of the old contestants?


Balki and Mary Anne filled out 800 applications for the show. They flex their hands to indicate that, yes, doing something hundreds of times causes you pain (AHEM), and I only mention this to point that they’re both left-handed. I’m left-handed. I’ve always liked that fact about me, but now…


Jennifer and Larry have just been hanging out over there, having an actual coffee break until Bronson runs down. Jennifer opens the envelope and disinterestedly notes they got accepted. Mary Anne (so dumb she thinks bulk rate refers to bodybuilding) opens hers to learn that she and Balki were rejected. Mary Anne starts crying because the $300 they spent on young Elvis stamps could have paid for medicine for their baby.


Nah, j/k, Mary Anne has no emotions separate from Balki’s anymore. So, after insincerely congratulating the Appletons, they both mope their way to the table and have a nice long guilt-tripping cry. I kind of question how 801 applications from the same address didn’t just get thrown out; the one with different names would have looked like an attempt at fraud, and that one gets rewarded?


Larry explains that since he never gave shit one about The Baby Quiz, he’s not going. He already spends 40 hours a week accepting less than the actual value of his work for a social good, and he’s not about to let commercial advertisers make money off of his and his wife’s discomfort and ridicule. The audience yuks it up when they hear the phrase “baby wipes” mentioned as a consolation prize. How is that a joke? Babies shit a lot.

You know, here I was, depressed that “Lethal Weapon” signalled the beginning of a four-episode run of Bronson’s takeover of Perfect Strangers, only ending when the stage crew resort to tranquilizers and a Freeman cage net. But this is promising.

To begin with, this scene gives us a setup for at least a three-person story. There’s a chance for Mary Anne and Jennifer to actually complicate the Cousins’ standard roles. Larry doesn’t want to be embarrassed on television, and is already risking insulting Jennifer by saying she’s afraid of it.


Jennifer wants to go, Larry doesn’t–until he hears that the grand prize is a college scholarship for your (viable) fetus. Larry raises the possibility of letting Balki pretend he’s Larry, and then takes it back. We’ll either end up with a fun-if-incomplete exploration of one couple’s easy success vs. one’s hardworking failure; or Jennifer taking on Balki’s old role of encouraging Larry to have fun or even get as bloodthirsty as Larry does when it becomes a competition. Or, shit, the best case scenario for this would be exploring everything they’ve set up the past three weeks. You’ve got the muliebral fight brewing, you’ve got Mary Anne mimicking Balki’s every move: have Mary Anne and Balki discover they’re not on the same page and let’s find out whether Jennifer rubs it in.

But we don’t even need all that. We’re promised a gameshow episode. I don’t expect lightning to strike twice and give me bananademons again, but we’ll get an overacting host, a vapid cohost, giant props, and embarrassment for everybody. Bartokomouses and Appletons being on the gameshow together is a foregone conclusion, and you’re already thinking how that would play out. We’ve already been told it’s a quiz show, and we all have a general idea of what to expect when each of these (well, three of these) characters are asked what they “know” about childrearing. I think we can expect at least two or three solid minutes of gameshow scene, something along the lines of the playful trope handling in “Hocus Pocus”.

It’ll either be a good episode by Perfect Strangers standards, or it will simply be inoffensive. How can it fail? Man, maybe that aspirational music was right. I’m going to quit wasting time talking about problems, let’s just get to this.


THE NEXT SCENE, Larry expresses how little he wants to practice for the gameshow, and Jennifer says it will make the others happy. You want to know how much of a shit I’ve given any time someone appealed to their own happiness when they asked for a favor? Find 0 on a number line and then head left awhile.


Mary Anne comes in with a boombox and announces that host “Lance Edwards” is coming out.


Oh God. Oh Jesus Christ.


Hope was a nice feeling while it lasted, wasn’t it?


Of course this happens the same week I send my nooses to the cleaners.

Again, Balki and Bronson are collapsing into one. This has very thin ties to the Balki we started out with, the Balki in “The Unnatural” who pretended to stand on the pitcher’s mound, the Balki who sings and shakes his imaginary Dolly Partons, the Balki who might wander far enough into American idiom to say “bummer”.

Unless under hypnotic suggestion, Balki has never been the type to inhabit a character for more than a sentence or two. It was all the power of television, that certain phrases or voices were just how you communicated certain ideas, that televised event was some “realer” type of life he was trying to experience. But we’ve seen enough Bronson–god help me, we’ve seen enough Bronson–to know that Bronson does want to play different characters. People kept paying him for it, so it must be what he’s good at.

Here’s where I think Bronson’s own background hampers him. When we looked into all the television and magazine interviews with Bronson, we learned that his mother–Rosina Pinchot–raised her children at a remove from pop culture. Bronson came by his appreciation of  an older, more refined type of culture (early American houses, theater, music, classic literature) and probably did miss out 100% on phenomena like Mork and Mindy through a combination of disinterest and disdain. Beverly Hills Cop launched him to stardom because he played a send-up of what California arty homosexuals were at that very point in time. But outside of that, he’s missing huge chunks of pop culture history that the rest of us either lived through or at least can reverse-engineer.

People my age lucked out by being among the first to benefit from the window home video–and then cable networks like Nick at Nite and TV Land–offered into the forebears of what was on other channels. I lucked out further by inheriting my dad’s unbroken run of MAD Magazine from 1969 through 1977. One of my first thoughts when this scene started (the first being whether my gas oven was big enough for me to just crawl right in) was that Bronson’s gameshow host schtick was at least a decade old by 1992.


I don’t have the time to do justice to the history of the joke that the slick, put-together gameshow host is secretly-openly a condescending snake, or when the recognizable winking, fake-chummy vocal patterns got attached to it. But I did do a little bit of searching to see what the hell it was supposed to be based on. I watched a few clips of Bob Barker and Bill Cullen from the 1950s, some Chuck Barris on Gong Show, Richard Dawson on Family Feud, and Monty Hall on Let’s Make a Deal, and… it’s not based on any of them. The joke host “voice” (you know the voice, there’s no need to watch this episode to hear the voice, please don’t watch this episode) was fully-formed by 1970 in a segment on the Firesign Theatre’s album Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers. In both it and “Let’s Make a Dope Deal” from Cheech and Chong’s Big Bambu, the punchline is that the host has played a trick on the contestant: they win a bag of shit and get arrested, respectively.

According to TV Tropes, the gameshow host parody that Bronson’s doing here is a “dead unicorn” trope, or in the academic terms I fetishize, a simulacra. The thing they’re meant to represent never actually existed. My best guess is that the smarmy host character evolved as part of the 60s/70s counterculture narrative that TV and religion and politics and advertising are just various faces of The Man out to screw you over, and got projected onto the over-excited Guy Smiley template.

So what I’m getting at here is that by the time Bronson was stealing multiple pages from later in the script, this bit was already a pastiche of pastiches. Bronson probably watched a commercial for Mr. Gameshow and figured he’d learned everything there was to know.

You’d think that Balki and Bronson both having missed decades of pop culture would converge nicely here. Just like last week’s ant farm holocaust, Bronson thinks he’s stumbled onto something new and fresh by making fun of TV personalities. And if you’re willing to revert Balki to his factory settings and say that gameshow patter is still revelatory to him, fine.

The difference is that Balki wouldn’t be acting like an out-and-out asshole to his family. He’s constantly insulting Jennifer, shaming her for the most stressful aspects of her pregnancy, exposing Larry’s deepest fears of a wholly patriclinous baby. Even Mary Anne gets in on it.


Jesus Christ he’s still going. Hey, uh, y’all, let’s do another caption contest. Caption this image and the winner comes out here and euthanizes me:


I find myself working overtime to try to fix this season, to try to cut it some slack by saying maybe every decision it’s making isn’t the worst possible one. I feel like even this scene could be saved with a little bit of self-awareness. Balki and Mary Anne are sticking knives in all the weak spots their friends revealed to them–but to what end? Is this really the way The Baby Quiz television show plays out? I guess Lance Edwards–the actual host of The Baby Quiz–and his lovely assistant Tiana must have a well-established patter of insulting contestants.

I have to guess; Perfect Strangers really doesn’t care if I know. That’s impressive! Balki’s bit here is a riff on something that barely exists within the episode itself: the ‘pataphysical tail that, when cut off, grows a new lizard.

We could stop at literally any point in Balki’s four-minute spiel–


(Did I mention that it’s only Balki talking for four minutes, with maybe two lines apiece for the other three characters? He’s even doing the announcer’s voice. Him saying “App-le-ton” just draws attention to how detached from Balki this whole thing is.)

–and have Larry or Jennifer call the whole thing off and confront the Bartokomouses for their behavior. We’ve established that the former have never watched the show, or they’d know what kind of questions to expect. Balki could 1) say he’s being tough on them because the real Lance Edwards will be meaner or 2) not realize he’s actually hurting them because he thinks everybody’s in on the joke, or because he lost himself in playing a character. Without seeing Balki as his “normal” self, we’re left with the impression that getting to openly demoralize his best friends makes him “happy”.

The most we get in that story direction is Larry standing up, clearly intent on seeing what voice Balki will do with a vase shoved up his ass, before Jennifer pulls him back. (The look on Mark’s face is exquisite here.)


Then Larry answers a question wrong–which part of Jennifer’s body hurts the most–and the scene ends. It’s useless for me to wish that the show had explored the implications of this scene–useless for me to work overtime–because I have trouble believing that letting Bronson do a barrel-scraping one-man Saturday Night Live skit was in the original script. I think he asked for it to be put there without concern for what it was doing to the rest of the episode. Just like Balki had no concern for whether Larry wanted to spend his time that way. Collapsing into one.


Oh it’s finally over. No need to kill me in my sleep, y’all, we made it through that scene. But, man, isn’t it sad to know that Uncle Shaggy’s show finally did get cancelled?

Hey, it’s the set from last season’s “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby”! That was nice of Satan to let ABC keep it that long.

This is actually some nice staging here:


But why are they just allowed to wander all over the set before the show starts? Balki and Mary Anne aren’t even contestants! What the hell is with television writers depicting the world of daytime TV as an unsupervised shambles? Show, this is your fourth time with a TV plot and you’ve never made this little sense!

Jennifer expresses worry that they’ll embarrass themselves because after two hours of “practice”, they only got one question right. So… they spent two hours learning things about each other? Isn’t that… the point?


Lance Edwards shows up sporting a flashy suit and declarative laugh. His gregariousness isn’t so much fake or condescending as it is autopilot, which makes it anticlimactic. If anything, he should be either exactly like Balki’s portrayal, or dialed up further. But Bronson’s theft of the previous scene robs a whole character of his ability to surprise us. Seriously fuck this show.


Lance assumes that all four of them are contestants. Is this how this works? I can just break into a studio and get a spot on Deal or No Deal? Anyway, in the span of like three lines, Balki and Mary Anne get to be on the show because the other couple’s wife went into labor (the stagehand says “the other gameshow contestants”, so maybe Lance is on autopilot). The acknowledgment of that possibility for such a gameshow is the most thought that was put into this episode, but it’s still not logical. What television program would put itself at risk by not screening contestants at all before showtime? If, as Lance says, it happens all the time, fix it by only taking contestants no more than 7 months pregnant.


Balki gives Lance his camera to “capture the moment”, and he and Mary Anne pose their surprise at the turn of events. I put in so much effort trying to build metaphors out of nothing and the show’s just throwing them at me now: Balki’s no longer interested in merely being a consumer at American pop culture’s snack bar, he now actively seeks out opportunities to fake his way into crafting something that looks very much like the experience itself.


THE NEXT DAY, or whenever the hell, Lance Edwards tells us the rules as Tiana**** herds the Cousins off to the soundproof booth.

Balki says Lance’s lines and laugh along with him, and that should have been the entirety of the joke. It probably was, just like in “Games People Play”. Balki even comments on the book Tiana wrote, which is the exact same joke we got in that episode too.

The guy who wrote this episode, Scott Spencer Gorden, was the executive story editor (essentially showrunner, if I understand it correctly) for this season, and the responsibilities for everything in the scripts making sense, and being ready to translate to visuals, rested with him. In case the past three episodes weren’t enough to convince you that the man was no good at his job, he also wrote four episodes of ALF. Is it any surprise that the one he personally grunted out through his typewriter is the absolute worst of the season? I almost feel bad for the guy, having two divas in five years take shits all over his scripts.

I don’t expect new writers on a show to sit through every episode that precedes their script. But wouldn’t you at least watch the other game show episode before you sat down here? If he didn’t watch “Games People Play”, it’s a testament to just how low the fruit of “vapid hostess writes a book” really hangs. And if he did watch it, he’s just plain lazy for not trying to improve on it.


Or, hell, maybe the chapter titles of Tiana’s book are all lines Bronson wrote himself. He’s certainly confident in how funny they must be, because he doesn’t put a lick of character into his delivery of them. I guess he forgot that Balki’s supposed to be excited about being there and meeting his favorite hosts. It’s easy to forget these kinds of things if you don’t write the script yourself.¹ Anyway they’re in the soundproof booth now.


God damn it I hate Season 8.

Larry is–for some goddam reason–surprised when Balki tells him that there are multiple cameras used for television shows, and that one of them is pointed at them in the booth. Were we seeing everything in real time? Did Larry just show up three minutes before taping started and not sign any documentation or anything? Can he not see the camera pointing directly at him? I’m left with the impression that Scott Spencer Gorden was the world’s first Artificial Intelligence, understanding only that cameras can capture and transmit visuals, but with no sense that they need to be in some proximity to those visuals. The “special booth camera” is so that audiences can see the dads making fools of themselves, which brings up another question. Is this show live? Was there a chance you could tune in and catch some dads giving each other blowies?


Larry does something–I honestly can’t tell what–to Balki’s cheeks and hurts him.


Then Balki screams “Mary Anne” directly into Larry’s ear to test whether the booth really is soundproof. It’s entirely possible that we wouldn’t have even heard Lance Edwards ask Mary Anne a question if Balki’s gag hadn’t called for a transition to a wider shot, because as soon as he’s (he’s Lance’s) done asking, we go straight back into the booth for more screaming.


Balki is delighted–or, well, he’s supposed to sound delighted–by his discovery that he can “say anything you want” and proceeds to scream “Mary Anne” again. Here, reader, please take this meta-joke about how neither Bronson nor Balki can come up with anything original or interesting, much less a second word, on their own. I made it just for you.

We’re only 13 minutes into the episode here, and we’ll be in this scene for another seven. That’s a fucking affluence of time. There’s enough time for almost anything to happen.

Remember in the first scene, how Larry said he wasn’t about to let Jennifer be embarrassed on television? He could be hypervigilant, watching her to see if Lance really is unleashing a barrage of derision like Balki promised us he would. Remember in the first scene, how Balki and Mary Anne cried the very first time that effort didn’t translate into success for them, while Larry felt no remorse for them because that’s been his whole life? Balki could be surprised when he doesn’t know, say, what children’s books she’ll plan to read to Balki II. Remember in every one of Season 8’s episodes, Mary Anne could be interpreted at trying to hide behind her idiocy so she can get in digs at Jennifer’s suffering?

I’m not saying Perfect Strangers has a great track record of exploring the story possibilities it sets up. Or even a good one. Middling would be too generous, and poor might indicate that it actually pulled it off sometimes. Let’s say impoverished. Impoverished track record. But for the most part, Perfect Strangers works to get the story to the location where interesting physical comedy can happen (“Door to Door” being a major exception).

We’re here for another seven minutes, and we get one line apiece from Jennifer and Mary Anne. I might be impressed if I could feel anything at all after watching this scene.


This is the first gameshow episode of a sitcom I’ve ever seen that flat-out refuses to show you the gameshow. Did Scott Spencer Gorden think he was following in the footsteps of Seinfeld, writing the next “The Chinese Restaurant” or “The Parking Garage”? Was the original concept for a 13-episode prolonged-pregnancy season that the babies taking forever to come was mirrored by how the plots could never fucking get to the points they set up? That having a baby at all means giving up all other story possibilities for how your own life could have gone?

That having to put up with Balki repeat the same thing over and over again for years, clean up his messes, watch the stupid shows he puts on in the living room, to put up with all this and not smother him to death with a Pillow People doll was the best training Larry could ever have for raising a baby?

I wish I could believe any of that, but I feel like I’m watching a community theater production of Waiting for Godot where the mayor demanded his nephew get a solo song & dance number in every scene.


Just like in “The Baby Shower”, “The Baby Quiz” could be improved simply by cutting the camera away from the Cousins for any substantial length of time at all, the more the better. The script has literally walled them off from the rest of what’s going on, but somebody thought it was funnier that we get to see Balki complain about how bright the stage lights are. The episode is no longer concerned with story, so I’m no longer concerned with linearity: the whole sequence ends with the Cousins fighting in the booth, and we’re told later on that they knocked the whole thing over and had to be removed with a Jaws of Life brand hydraulic rescue tool. I said that “Baby Shower” only needed to show us the end result of the Cousins’ psychedelic journey so that we saw exactly what the guests saw, right when they saw it. The same principle applies here. After 147 episodes, can’t they trust the audience to fill in the gaps? Don’t the Cousins have a large enough reputation that you can be sure they’re doing something funny even when you’re not looking?

This episode explicitly told us that half of this show’s appeal is watching dads end up doing crazy shit in a soundproof booth, but it somehow doesn’t realize that very same aspect could work in its own favor.


Trust me, whatever shenanigans you can come up that would result in the Cousins knocking over an 8-foot-tall booth are miles better than Balki delivering a monologue about how uncomfortable his chair is. I can understand the reticence to not let the viewer hear what the Cousins are doing for a whole seven minutes, but why not take the risk and really make the studio audience think that the booth is soundproof? Let the fight simmer in the background while Mary Anne and Jennifer play out their own verbal battle. You’d even tap into that whole physical-versus-verbal gender divide when it comes to fighting. Other than the few advertising dollars from whatever third-tier companies were still willing to waste money on this timeslot, what could the show possibly lose at this point by showing us the gameplay it promised?

Hell, keep the silent argument about the chair, but make it take the whole seven minutes, and only towards the end does it catch the women’s or Lance’s attention. (This episode is at least smart enough to show the women notice when Larry’s upside-down.) It would be far funnier afterwards to have the Cousins realize how dumb the argument sounded by saying it out loud.


In my world (academia, in case you’ve never read a single other post on this blog), and plenty of others, everyone talks a good game about user-centered design. But I see very few of us in universities actually try to use tools or services as a user. For instance, in one of the classroom buildings where I work, there are giant computer monitors at every instructor’s station; whoever ordered these had never stood in a classroom behind one, or else they’d see that you can’t see half the students. “Hocus Pocus” and “Wild Turkey” and “Stress Test” were user-centered, and made the audience do some perspective-taking. But Scott Spencer Gorden doesn’t bother to think about the gameshow audience’s experience. It may very well have been a coping mechanism; certainly thinking too long about how an audience would receive an episode of ALF would drive any man insane.


This whole sequence is so depressing that I can’t even work up the energy to make a joke about Balki pinching Larry’s asscheek. I’m really sorry. Maybe next episode.

I have very few options other than to believe that this script underwent major reworking at Bronson’s behest. There are too many elements of a better episode scattered across this seven minutes to believe someone wrote this pile. The one time (the ONE TIME) it cuts to Jennifer answering a question (“what animal would your husband say best describes you?”), she shames herself for being ugly and fat. What that on its own might have turned into, I can’t say; perhaps that she was crueler on herself than any host could be, that Balki primed her for insult? But taken together with the question Mary Anne gets (“If your husband were a tree, what kind of tree would he be?”*****), we’ve got a solid indication that the questions are very different from what Balki said they would be, meaning everyone gets thrown for a loop. Maybe they all lose but realize that the practice gained them the real prize: more intimate knowledge of their spouses.

There’s even a tiny bit of story involving Balki and Larry in the booth, a few lines of which feel like they’re from a better episode. Larry, evidently, has a plan to cheat, having abused his position as a reporter to ask for the questions as part of research for an article; and he’s written the answers on the bottom of his shoe.

It’s got to be the shittiest cheating strategy I’ve ever heard of. It’s the exact same thing Balki had them do for practice. If he already knows the factoids about Jennifer, or fuck, even if he got the questions soon enough to ask Jennifer what type of tree he’d be, he’ll still know them a few minutes later when Lance asks him. Jesus Christ who sets out to plot a “Larry cheats” story and has it take place on a gameshow where it’s impossible to cheat all by oneself?

Oh, right. An ALF writer.

Also fucking hell if he was using his Chronicle clout when he called up The Baby Quiz he used his own name, right? The same name they knew would be on the show the next day?

What kind of person needs crib notes for their wife’s favorite food JESUS

*rips an antique baby carriage in half* ******


But the good lines come out around that. There’s a moment after the cheating tactic is revealed, and Balki wants to rat him out, that Larry tries to guilt Balki for taking away Larry, Jr.’s chance of a good college education. It’s the same kind of “looking off into the future” stuff you’ve seen Larry do dozens of times before, but Mark makes it sing. He’s been doing it for years, and he pushes this one over the top. (Though, again, think how great it would be to see Larry silently doing a bit and then realize you know exactly what he’s doing.)

And Balki’s line (and Bronson’s delivery of it) are equally wonderful. We’ve spent years–more years than believable–watching Balki believe he could see something metaphorical that someone referred to. That’s Mypos thinking for you. But the payoff is on a couple of levels here:


Balki: You know what? There’s nothing out there. There’s just nothing out there. You always point. I always look. There’s nothing out there. I’ve just realized: this is a sick game you’ve been playing with Balki for six years, and I’m tired of it.

This doesn’t salvage the rest of the episode, not by a long shot. But it did get me to take this bottle of drain cleaner away from my lips. It’s written like it’s a true turning point for Balki as a character, an unexpected payoff for coming back for another season. It’s a point along a character arc that we simply didn’t get to see because Bronson thought Balki frotting some plexiglass was funnier.

The lines really belong at the top of the episode, right after Larry finds out that the grand prize is a college scholarship. It’s what should give Larry and Balki a reason to fight throughout the rest of the story, to each find their own ways of getting an edge over the other couple. Balki’s never lost before, and the rejected application has him experiencing feelings he doesn’t understand. He could do things he’d never considered before.


Instead we’re left with Balki threatening to tell on Larry, and the scene ending abruptly with absolutely no resolution or punchline. Just Larry’s body bent at the one angle we hadn’t seen yet this episode.


If we’re basing this on how long that felt, THE NEXT MILLENNIUM everyone is finally home.


Balki and Mary Anne, wearing BABY QUIZ CHAMPION shirts (available in Man and Pregnant sizes, only $50), come in singing something very close to the Family Feud theme. They’re dancing. They beat the Appletons. They beat this episode.


Jennifer and Larry come in. Larry’s maimed, and I think it’s the first time I’ve ever been unhappy to see it.

Jennifer says that Balki was right to turn Larry in, and Balki corrects her, explaining all of the Jaws-of-Life stuff that Jennifer would have seen because she was there. I love to make the joke about how nondescript she is, but RIP the “Jennifer’s there too” joke, because the show’s doing my work for me. The episode has forgotten she was on the gameshow at all.

The Bartokomouses won the scholarship to the college of their choice. Just think: in 2010, Harvard accepted a student so dumb they thought enrollment was how you make pigs in a blanket.


Mary Anne wants to eat, but Jennifer ate all the food, that’s right, you heard right, the women leave repeating the same joke three times. If only Linda had included that dialogue example in her “save Perfect Strangers” campaign, the world would be a better place today. The women leave.


Balki gets a kick out of shaming Larry for trying to provide for his child. Balki says he got the gameshow to give Larry a “parting gift”, and–


Oh fuck no, I’m turning this off. I could be missing a scene under the credits where they tear off their clothes and get in the piditaka position, but if I watch another second of Balki doing a voice I won’t be able to resist this bathtub full of vitriol I drew earlier.

I honestly think Scott Spencer Gorden tried to give us a good episode of Perfect Strangers. And it has to have been the best script they had left before the two-part finale. But it landed in exactly the wrong moment. Bronson’s been improvising since the beginning, rubbing his nipples on Susan’s shoes, but all of the old restraints have fallen away.

The story never had a chance.

The elements of that story are sparse, but it’s enough to see what the episode could have been. If you’re thinking that makes “The Baby Quiz” no different from most other Perfect Strangers episodes, sure. In essence. But it’s the magnitude and method of the story’s sidelining that really make me wonder which IKEA furniture I could easily turn into a self-controlled guillotine. The story hanging around the edges of this episode feels downright erased by Bronson’s demands to get at least two spotlights per episode.

Season 8 has already virtually eliminated the Chicago Chronicle; last week’s and this week’s mentions were it. It finally shook itself free of those darn side characters. It’s been dangling plot threads about Mary Anne and Jennifer just to cruelly snatch them away again.

Why did this episode even bother to cut away to Lance and the women a few times at all? If Bronson contorting himself around in a chair and talking about how bewitched he is by the stagelights is so funny, why do we even need Larry Appleton?

Why not… just give him his own show on CBS?

Tune in next week for the first of a two-part series on just that, where Philip J Reed will prise open the door of Hell’s only chemical toilet to show us The Trouble With Larry.

THAT’S RIGHT MOTHERFUCKERS!!!! It’s about to get so much worse!


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

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

Unused Larryoke Countdown #3: “Blame it on the Balki” – The Jacksons

*(Per Freud, traumatische Geistinnerefaulung)

**Mary Anne confirms Mud Day involves hats

***I’m being a real pedant here, but doesn’t “found out” kind of connote non-general knowledge? Like there was effort involved or they’re special to know it?

****The closest we’ll get to a Tina callback this season. RIP the Tina/eyeshadow joke, 2015-2019

*****Isn’t it obvious? He’d be an ALDER MAN!!! RIP the alderman joke, 2016-2019.

******RIP the rip joke, 2017-2019

1. Fuck yeah man callbacks to “The Gazebo” will never die. The reader is entreated, exhorted, enjoined, like fucking beseeched upon to toss an eye on note 136 for some straight up deep-dish discussion on constructivism. Thanks for letting me play matchmaker with your informations.