Welcome back to Perfect Strangers Reviewed!
Since Hulu just today started offering episodes of Perfect Strangers, I’m assuming that at least, oh, 500 of you are new readers looking for some easy-to-digest listicle about the show. So, without further ado, here are
11 Easter Eggs Even Die-Hard Perfect Strangers Fans Aren’t Likely to Have Ever Noticed In The Perfect Strangers Opening (Number 12 Will Surprise You Since I Said There Were Only 11!)
1. The boat that Balki and Larry are on in the opening shot is called “Ecstasy”, which was an in-joke amongst the crew, who did tons of E before every taping.
2. “Stereo where available” was something you’d see on 90s television shows all the time back in the 90s. Stereo was not available everywhere until 1993, when the humorously-named “Speaker of the House” bill became law.
3. “Perfect” and “Strangers” are in two different fonts, a luxury most sitcoms of the period could not afford.
4. To help him get into character, ABC had Bronson Pinchot sail from the island of Folegandros to New York. I can tell this just from the type of wear seen on the railing of the boat.
5. Larry Appleton lived two houses down from a Chevron gas station, which honestly kind of messes up that whole “dude came from a small town” vibe a little bit.
6. The “Welcome to Chicago” sign was made by ABC’s props department. Chicago always has, and always will be, militantly against outsiders of any kind setting foot in the city.
7. It took years to film the shot of Larry and Balki running, because they kept falling and breaking their legs.
8. Seriously, even this horse was out of its mind on molly.
9. When Larry opens the newspaper, he is smiling at an article reporting on the recent extinction of Ammodramus maritimus nigrescens, the dusky seaside sparrow.
10. Blink and you’ll miss it! The Wrigley Field sign says “TICKET INFO LEY FIELD MONDA”
11. After the revolving door sequence was filmed, a security guard came out and boxed the ears of both Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker for “screwing about”.
12. In the final shot, the cousins are heading towards the Chicago Theater to see a production of The Odd Couple. The 1987 production of the play featured Tim Conway and Pat Harrington, both of whom are dead now.
The downside of Perfect Strangers being readily available, though, is that I can’t get away with making stuff up anymore. This is probably as good an opportunity as any to come clean: I completely made up the character of Harriette Winslow.
We get a brand new shot of the Chicago Chronicle building, from all the way across the river, signalling distance. But the fact that the nearby bridge is cropped out of the shot makes this an artificial–or perhaps even a forced–distance.
Inside the building, we find Balki in reverie, picturing himself as ruler over an epistolary domain, changing the lyrics to Reason #37 it took them this damn long to release seasons 3-8 in any format: “The Candy Man” from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Who can take a mailbag
Dump it on his desk?
Stamp each letter twice before he has to take a rest?
The Balki Man
The Balki Man can
The Balki Man can ‘cause he wets it with his tongue to make the stamps stay on
Larry and Lydia sing back-up for him, but when Gorpley comes out of his office to try to get the plot moving, he can’t, because Balki keeps singing. 30 seconds into the episode and it’s already established that Balki is the boss.
But hey, we haven’t seen Lydia or Gorpley for six weeks now! Gorpley makes his small appearance here count by giving us exposition and making me wish I worked with him. It appears that someone walked in off the street at the same time that the Chronicle was short an Executive Vice President, so there’s a new one of those now. Gorpley plans to welcome his new exec overlord by buying him a prostitute.
The new EVP is named Glover, which–well, I should take a moment to explain something for any of you who are brand-new to this show. Perfect Strangers was a thoroughly intelligent sitcom featuring multiple levels of meaning in any given scene. And, just as Shakespeare used names to indicate character (e.g. “Falstaff” hinting at a lack of uprightness), so too did Perfect Strangers. In season 3, episode 8, “Night School Confidential”, Balki’s schoolmate Gary Poorstudy talks Balki into letting him copy his test answers; in season 4, episode 5, “High Society”, Larry tries to impress Bobo Richman, who turned out to have made his fortune through clown trafficking. And here, we have someone in power named “Glover”… need I say more about how this episode is likely to end?
Since Balki spends all his time singing about how easily a computer will eventually replace him, he’s generally not aware of anything else going on in the office, so Larry and Lydia have to give him the rest of the exposition. Larry says that Wainwright has given Glover carte blanche to reorganize the newspaper*. Haha I bet he put the comics on page 1 heehee and the obituaries in the sports section hoho what a fun time I have making jokes about this show!
Balki hears “carte” and thinks credit cards. To be fair, it turns out there was a credit card called Carte Blanche (which used to be in competition with the Diners Club card until it was bought out by them), but just think, if Balki had grown up on a small island with an agricultural economy, he might have thought Larry said “cart”.
Larry, five seasons in, maintains his role as the jaded cynic, seeing the capitalist system for what it is–a machine fueled by human bodies–and correctly reduces carte blanche to the power to choose which bodies are employed. Lydia boasts her unassailable position, as she’s syndicated in 800 newspapers.
RT (Reorganization=Termination) Wainwright and Mr. Glover come out of the elevator, the latter bragging about rightsizing the advertising department and giving a column to a promising writer. What a monster, this guy! Say, his hands look kind of small…
Wainwright says that he will be happy if Glover can replicate his successes at the St. Louis Examiner; in the meantime, he’s going off to a publisher conference. Hey, screw you, Wainwright! Leaving while Glover does all the dirty work so you don’t have to listen to people beg for their jobs. Asshole.
Larry smooches some serious ass to try to secure his own. Glover advances on the cousins, he and Wainwright both saying “Appleton” over and over, giving Balki no reason to ever mispronounce the name again. Glover compliments Larry on a recent article uncovering corruption in the sanitation department, another bad portent: when even those who clean up the city are dirty, what hope is there?
It’s times like these I’m glad I don’t live in a sitcom and can actually control what emotions show up on my face.
Lydia tells Wainwright to pass on a greeting to Rupert Murdoch.
*waits with bated breath for the inevitable joke about where Murdoch used to–ahem–bury his lede*
Then Glover walks up and tells her she’s old, her fans are old, even her byline sags, and to get her shit together. Lydia starts freaking out, and Balki rushes to comfort her. Now, normally I brace myself for any time that Balki talks, but here, it’s just setup lines for more Lydia, making this the best Balki dialogue ever. Lydia leaves, yelling about “pimples, petting, and puberty”. God damn do I love Lydia. (Sure wouldn’t mind seeing her in a pink slip, if you know what I mean….)
Glover is gone just long enough for Cousin Larry to talk about how sure he is he’s getting a promotion soon. Balki says that Larry’s “ship has hit the fan”, which he previously said in “Crimebusters” (where policeman Carl Blackcop made a cameo); that’s what happens when you never correct him, Larry.
See the rhythm of the sitcom: if a character says something out loud, the opposite happens, because–get this–that’s funny. Lydia is confident her job is secure; her job is now not secure. Larry is sure he will get a promotion; Balki gets a promotion to be head of “editorial services”.
Glover doesn’t even have the communication skill to call people by name–he just points and says “you” when two people are standing near him, and while the person he is addressing is looking away from him completely.
He fires the possibly-Hispanic woman on his way out:
Glover: You, you’re fired!
Where have I heard that before? Hmm…
Later, at the apartment, the women have–
*oops, I forgot to let out that breath, phew!*
Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) have come by to celebrate Balki’s (heh) new position, and their conversation consists solely of the items in Balki’s office: chair, desk, carpet, windows. (These four sure do have fun when they get together, don’t they?) But this is apt, and only fitting in a capitalist society: what is power, but the appearance of an abundance of material possessions?
Larry asks if anyone wants more brown liquid as an excuse to get out of the room; Jennifer follows. I’m proud of Cousin Larry for admitting to Jennifer that he’s jealous; he hasn’t lied for eight episodes now! Here’s your 60-day chip, pal. Larry says that it’s more important for him to be happy for his friend than to anger the capitalist machine.
When they return to the couch, Mary Anne is telling Balki that power gets her wet. No wonder she’s been trying to tank her own career! They lean in to kiss, but Larry quickly reminds his cousin that the hierarchy in the apartment has not changed by slapping Balki’s thigh.
Balki promises that the new job will not change their friendship. Larry offers to take him to lunch, but, haha, get this, the, hahaha, the punchline is that Balki has a meeting! Whoa haha man executives be having meetings, am I right?
A new day brings another new shot of the Chronicle building. New readers, I must direct your attention: notice how the camera has panned up to show you the upper windows of the building? This is because Balki now has an office on a higher floor. I’m telling you, this show is deep.
Balki’s ethnic secretary Maria** announces that Mr. Appleton is there to see him, giving Balki no reason to ever mispronounce the name again.
Balki is wearing some brand-new Myposian clothes, which Larry stares at like he didn’t see them that morning. Balki says that he’s dressing for “excess”, which you all probably thought was just him getting a word wrong. Aren’t you glad you’ve got me around to point out the underlying capitalist commentary in this show?
Balki shows his cousin the reason he can no longer meet for lunch: he spends his time boiling water and then freezing it.
Then there’s some fucking bit where Balki puts a head of lettuce into a paper shredder. It takes up a whole damn minute. Whatever, who cares, moving on.
Glover has decided that the best use of Larry’s investigative skills is to have him interview Balki about his new promotion. Balki reads from his schedule, which is wall-to-wall photo ops. The more astute of you are already picking up on a unifying thread with photos here. Again, the show presents us with the idea that power forces distance. Note the framed photograph of Dmitri on the wall: friends preserved, kept in place, commemorated, but no longer held. Or rather, held close–enough.
But does Balki see the irony?
Mr. Glover comes in and Balki hugs him… gee, that guy’s sure got some swoopy hair…. Mr. Glover sends Balki off to have his picture taken.
While he’s gone, Larry asks Glover what Balki’s job entails. Glover spouts a bunch of bafflegab, but who cares about that, look at that newspaper on the wall. Certainly it was the Chicago Chronicle’s boldness in using hammer headlines like WALK ON MOON–with no smaller headline underneath it–which made them the #1 newspaper in the United States.
Larry calls out Glover on his bullshit, and Glover asks Larry if he’s ever heard of the American Dream program.***
Larry: Well, sure, it’s a training program for immigrants. It helps them acquire the skills necessary to advance in the business community. I’ve known about this for years and never once suggested that my cousin–who is an immigrant–apply for it, much less let him know that it exists at all.
Glover explains to Larry that he wants an article that will make it look as though he’s training Balki as part of the American Dream program, as that’s cheaper than actually providing the training. Larry Appleton, an upright citizen who has never once tried to get something he didn’t deserve by making himself appear to be something he wasn’t, oh no, not Larry, he objects to Glover’s tactic. Me, on the other hand, I object to the fact that Glover didn’t explain any of this to Larry when he assigned him the interview.
Mr. Glover tells Larry that he’ll fire him if he won’t write the article. The “oh no” music comes on. Oh no! Larry might have to try to find work at one of Chicago’s six other daily newspapers while Balki’s higher paycheck covers the rent for a month!
Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back after I go take a whiz real quick.
Speaking of people’s talents being utilized, Jennifer sits quietly while Larry recaps the first half of the episode. He doesn’t want to ruin Balki’s happiness, which is immediately shown by Balki cart(blanche)wheeling into the apartment.
Balki strokes Jennifer’s hand while he asks her to lunch, which manages to be even creepier than the time he almost stuck a plunger on her ass.
For all of you new readers, the fact that Jennifer only stays on-screen for 30 seconds at a time is also a coded part of the show’s structure: it symbolizes how the writers haven’t developed Jennifer’s personality beyond “she eats lunch”.
Then Balki breaks down crying, wondering why he’s not happy with his new position, which he admits comes with everything a Mypiot could wish for (which up to this point I had assumed was a pig snout in every pot and a penis in every sheep). I give Bronson a lot of shit every week for how he messes up perfectly good subpar jokes, but I’ll give him some credit here: he does a bit where his crying keeps Larry from understanding what he’s saying, until he suddenly, calmly, and clearly repeats himself.
I’ve been in a job before where I was promoted to a position that didn’t come with any of the duties suggested by the title, so I can understand Balki’s emotional state here. Every time he asks Mr. Glover what his job is, he gets his picture taken, proving that story we like to tell ourselves about the beliefs of any given indigenous group: that the camera steals one’s soul.
Cousin Larry explains the situation to Balki, and with this new knowledge, his immediate reaction is to cover, his body**** to protect it from the machinations of the capitalist system.
Balki decides to quit his job, and immediately launches into a solo Dance of Joy. Larry stops him, saying that Glover will put another immigrant in the position. What they must do, he says, is take down Glover himself.
At this point, I’m legitimately intrigued to see what the cousins will do. In any normal business setting, the solution would be to carry the issue up the hierarchy and have administration look into the issue. But by having Wainwright gone to a publisher’s conference, the show has deliberately painted itself into a corner. And the fact that Larry is not the bad guy this week means that we may actually see Larry come up with a creative way to fix the problem.
Arise ye cousins from your slumbers
Arise ye prisoners of want
For reason in revolt now thunders
And at last ends the age of cant.
Away with all your petty slapfights
Servile masses arise, arise
We’ll oust henceforth the RT Wainwrights
And spurn the dust to win the prize!
Oh, wait, no, here we are with RT (Return Trip) Wainwright having just returned to the Chronicle right after landing. Wainwright what the hell is so important that they grabbed him as he was entering the basement from the parking garage, and then refused to tell him about while they rode up in the elevator. He’s initially worried that Balki’s in a position of responsibility, but then restates his faith in Glover.
They ask Wainwright to hide under Balki’s desk so that he can hear what Glover is doing. It was perfectly fine for the cousins to try to record criminals (or people they mistook for criminals), but not an option here, no, here, we need to set things up so that Glover mistakenly thinks Wainwright is giving Balki a blowjob.
The secretary abruptly opens the door to an executive office multiple times to let them know that Mr. Glover is coming, and then that he has arrived. No kidding about him putting immigrants into positions and then providing zero training.
Glover enters, shouting “Appleton”, giving Balki no reason to ever mispronounce the name again. He’s furious because Larry wrote an article telling the truth. Dude, you complimented him on uncovering corruption, what the fuck did you think was going to happen? And while I’m at it, Wainwright, come on, you pay Larry to tell the truth to millions of readers. Since when do you start doubting your investigative journalists?
Balki confronts Glover (that symbolic name’s making a lot of sense now, huh?) about whether he ever intended for the position to do any work. After insulting Balki’s intelligence, Glover starts in with the whole “you won’t replace us” bullshit about how Balki’s taking a job from a real American who deserves it.***** How much easier to frame Balki and hang him somewhere high, out of the way, where he can’t do any more harm.
Larry calls Glover un-American. I’ll admit I didn’t expect such a strong, real message from you, show, certainly not a mere week after Larry did Tex Avery-style reactions to a cartoon stick of dynamite. The lessons Perfect Strangers has given us recently, when it gives them at all, have been targeted mainly at a child’s level of moral understanding: be willing to admit when you’re wrong, don’t use others for gain, don’t talk behind others’ backs. And even the one previous time where a new Chronicle employee has threatened one of the cousins’ jobs–Olivia Gropedick from season 3’s “Sexual Harrassment in Chicago”–the show chose broad farce for most of its 22 minutes. But here the show takes a clear stand on inclusion, work ethic, racism, and what it means to be an American; and the fact that it doesn’t belabor its point, or try to lay out the argument in more basic terms, is to its credit. That said, it still saddens me to watch this play out. Not because it’s a bad episode; no, the show’s seriousness here in the final act certainly puts it a notch above most other episodes; but because it’s a message that not everyone’s on board with yet, 27 years after this episode’s airing. Larry and Balki fought–and beat–a Mr. Glover in 1990, but we’re still dealing with his senescent ilk today in our families, the business world, and in our government; and we’re likely to be dealing with this shit for generations to come.
Glover tries to fire Larry; Wainwright fires Glover; Wainwright commends the cousins; Bakli starts talking about the details of making goat chitterlings.
Lastly, Wainwright tells Larry to train Balki how to be investigative journalist. This is the second time we’ve been threatened with the idea of the cousins as an investigative team. Watch out, Marshall and Walpole! ABC might just casually forget that you ever kind of existed!
And now, the potential plots for season 6 have been so well seeded, they do the Dance of Joy!
Join me next week for “Here Comes the Judge”!
Catchphrase count: Balki (1); Larry (0)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0); Glover (as if)
Dance of Joy Running Total: 17
*Here, the show gives us a pun. Glover has been given carte blanche (figuratively “a blank slate”) for a carte blanche (literally “white paper”, that is, a newspaper)
**pronounced in the ethnic fashion
***My compliments to the props department, who have set the clock to the same time that Balki’s planner says he has an appointment with Larry
****cf. Genesis 3:7
*****But then they went and left the clock at the exact same time for this scene. *sigh*
P.S. Nowhere else good to put this, but Balki mentions that Miss Mypos has a mustache; a positive sign that the islanders do value political acumen over beauty. Or just that foreign women are fuck-ugly! Who knows.
“While the forces of repression need to win every time, the progressive elements need only triumph once.” – Friedrat Engels, “Mousefesto of the Communist Party”, 1990