Season 5, Episode 5: Dog Day Mid-Afternoon

There’s a real fancy flourish to the music as we visit the Caldwell Hotel in the late evening, signalling something new and exciting.

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Jennifer, Larry, Balki, and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) all come running into the apartment.

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Jennifer is exclaiming about something! I have to pause this here, three seconds in, to collect my thoughts. She doesn’t necessarily like muscles, she hasn’t necessarily ever worked somewhere where she might see them on display, she buys nail polish, she likes to sleep when she’s tired, she likes hot water when she showers, she likes a little tummy on a man, she likes the musical stylings of George Michael, it was implied she’s eaten pizza twice now, she wanted to have sex with Larry all of one time, she likes the outdoors, and she can skate and play tennis. Oh and she’s a stewardess with a possible fondness for good jobs and nice weather. But do we really know who she is yet?

I mean, I could tell you that I like to eat chicken, sing in the shower, dislike rude drivers, think that Six Sigma never did me any wrong, and think birdsong is nice *ahem* in theory, but does that mean anything?  Does she have a personality yet? We’ve so far only had Jennifer’s likes and… well, shit, dislikes, let’s see… oh yeah, she doesn’t like Larry talking rudely to her, or Mary Anne being so dumb she thinks nature vs. nurture was a Supreme Court case. But all we’ve got is a mishmash of slight preferences and “not really minding”. But getting excited, well, that’s another story!

So what’s she excited about?

Larry did research for an article on money laundering that is now on the front page of the Chicago Chronicle. Hey, wait a second…

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…that’s one of the multitude of assignments that Larry was working on two weeks ago!

You know what? We’ve got a couple of good things going on here.  A tiny story-arc between two episodes, and Jennifer acting like a person.

Anyway, Larry’s deflecting the praise and minimizing his effort while Balki’s over there misunderstanding (GUESS WHICH WORD HUH), but this makes it all the more genuine.  For all that Larry keeps lying to try to impress his girlfriend, his role at his job has never been one that he’s tried to hide from her.  He did lie to his brother Billy, but I’m sure even Larry knows he couldn’t get away with that with a girlfriend who’s going to hear him through the floor at night, weeping into a copy of Artforum. She knows the real struggles–and the real progress–that he’s made at the Chronicle. If only she’d known about how much effort he put into learning to skate for charity to begin with, she’d have been just as impressed, if not more.

I’m sorry, I know we’re only 30 seconds in, but let me have this. Let me believe that Jennifer has a personality trait other than being 1 standard deviation above the average height for Caucasian women in their mid-to-late 20s.

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See? She also wears a hair clip!  She’s a three-dimensional person now!

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Larry explains money laundering to Balki, and here’s a twist: Balki says “Oh, I get it now” and then asks a second question about laundry. Larry’s responds as though it really does have to do with laundry, so there’s your answer about why Balk’s mind stays as white as t-shirts washed with Tide®!

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Balki makes the same face I do every time I… shit, I don’t have a painful experience to share this week. Sorry, guys. Life’s been good lately.

Of course, those fine fellows Marshall and Walpole did not name Larry in the (five-page!)* article for doing the lion’s share of the research (such naming is mentioned here as standard practice for the paper).  Everyone tries to cheer Larry up, even Jennifer (see?), by saying that after five years working as a stewardess

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she only just got a raise to flight crew manager

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and now Mary Anne is upset because she’s only ever been promoted to beverages manager

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Oh, no, wait, there it is. Earlier, Balki made the same face I just did while listening to that exchange!

This seems to be the show’s approach to continuity now.  I’m tempted to say that the show is only concerned with maintaining the canonicity of things that happened within the same season.  But then again, there’s the issue of Larry’s relationship to athletics doing an about-face between episodes 1 and 2 of this season.  It does appear that the show is taking the “let’s count the seasons as years” approach that I’ve seen occur on many long-running shows.  The show is in its fifth season, so whatever has been happening has happened for that number of years, nevermind the fact that this show hasn’t finished its fifth “year” yet.  Jennifer and Mary Anne are mere stewardesses now, the show is on season 5, ergo they have been stewardesses five years.  It’s logic you only get on sitcoms.

We have always lived in the Caldwell.

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At the very least, their fight leads to an organic exit.

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Balki tells his cousin that everyone who matters to him at work will know what he did and offer him praise.  Larry says all he really wants is a pat on the back and, heh, guess which word Balki misunderstands.

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Later, at the Chronicle, we see a bunch of people leave for the day and Larry’s upset that no one commented on his article. I see the problem, though: those are all non-speaking roles!  Get it straight, Larry.

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Larry retreats to the archives, yet another forgotten name buried in the stacks.

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But look, coming in from the parking garage–

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It’s Jeffrey Tambor!

This guy’s name is Marvin Berman and wants to talk to Marshall and Walpole, because they wrote the money laundering article.

And finally, we’ve run into a small problem that’s arisen because Harriette’s gone: why did Marvin come in through the parking garage?  Why wouldn’t someone looking for newspaper writers come in through the main entrance?** We know that the Chronicle has one security guard–Lance Dick–who seems to only show up when it’s time to make a joke about lax security.  But at the current moment, Perfect Strangers and Family Matters are connected, so it should be the case that there are at least two security guards in the building. Not that we’d get to see Harriette in that role, and obviously reminding the audience that Lance Dick even exists would complicate the episode, but, still, damn. It’s way too easy to get into all parts of this building at any time of day.  Speaking of, why did dude wait until 5PM to come in and try to find somebody?

Anyway, Messrs. M & W are off to appear on Nightline (Monday nights on ABC!), but Balki is happy to report that his Cousin Larry was actually responsible for the article.

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Rather than getting the praise that he knows he deserves, Larry is met with scorn and aspersions.

Blah blah blah, Larry defends himself, Marvin is strapped with explosives, Balki keeps demanding that his pat on the back be counted…

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hey wait a second

that’s not Jeffrey Tambor

THAT’S NOT JEFFREY TAMBOR

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Later, at the same place, Marvin Berman is tying the cousins up.

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Little does he know that this is where the cousins feel most at home…

Balki: Bred’n bawn in bondage, Br’er Marvin! Bred’n bawn!

I’ll admit I’m a little worried now.  This show has a terrible track record when it comes to stories about crime; one might even say that when the show does this, it IS a crime (it’s fun to make jokes online, isn’t it?). “Crimebusters” featured messy plotting, “Prose and Cons” had one of the poorest immediate threats to the cousins, and “Can I Get a Witness?” was kind of pushing it for what kind of wacky antics discount store employees would get up to.  Here, the story up to this point has me worried that we’ve got another “The Break In”, an episode which, if it were a person, I would not speak very civilly to.

Again, we have a fellow whose problem outsizes Larry’s: Marvin was not given credit for his role in the money laundering scheme. Again, this fellow shows an utter disregard for his own life: if he can’t get what he wants or needs, there’s no reason in living any longer.

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Where once Larry truthfully minimized his effort out of actual humility, he is now dishonestly doing so in an attempt to escape danger.

Cousin Larry also makes the best suggestion I’ve heard yet in these 77 episodes: taping Balki’s mouth shut.

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Gorpley comes out of the office and, somehow oblivious that it’s after hours***, repeats one of the three lines the writers wrote for him: telling Balki to get to work on the mail. Anyway, the purpose he serves here is so that someone can very briefly show up and then leave to inform the cops of the situation.  And, of course, it had to be Gorpley for this role. If Lydia were here she’d probably have sex with Marvin.

It’s been at least a few weeks since I’ve talked about what idiots the audience members are, so let’s do that here.  A full three and a half minutes after the reveal that Marvin is strapped with explosives, the audience members gasp when Marvin says he’ll blow up the Chronicle if he doesn’t get what he wants.

I mean, what did they think he was going to do with the explosives? Stick them one by one up the cous–

Ah. Right.

For once in his miserable life, Gorpley actually managed to care for another human being’s welfare, and called the cops.  (The reader is welcome to assume that Carl Winslow is among them.)

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Inside the basement, Marvin talks to Lieutenant Gus on the phone, demanding to see the publisher. He makes to set his bomb for 10 minutes, exactly how much time is left in this episode.

Cousin Larry has gauged the audience’s intellect, and does them a favor by asking Marvin what he wants. Just in case you’re an idiot, too, I’ll write it for you: Marvin wants a retraction printed.

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Balki reminds him to set the timer, knowing that otherwise I’d catch the oversight and write 300 words about it.

*SPOILER* As I’m sure you can guess, the whole time goes by without a bomb going off.  But at least the show finds some ways of having fun until the end of the scene.  The conversation keeps going off on various character-driven tangents.  Balki gives Marvin advice on what knots to use, they talk about Marvin picking out the office furniture, where Marvin bought his timer, Larry encourages Marvin to develop a plan before the publisher calls.  Every time someone goes off topic it actually serves to heighten the tension a little.

Plus you get the cousins tied up, which not only means their keisters are kissing, but also allows for the type of physical comedy this show does best. Another great thing here is Mark Linn-Baker’s scared-for-his-life spitting-out-the-lines delivery.****

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Larry convinces Marvin to go to Gorpley’s office to write his demands down; then the cousins make for the loading dock.

When Marvin comes back too soon, Balki suggests he turn states’ evidence, words he learned from the All-New Columbo (Saturday nights on ABC!).

Larry latches onto Balki’s idea and tells Marvin that he’d be a hero. Finally, Larry’s habit of appealing to people’s greed pays off!

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Marvin unties the cousins. But then–UH-OH–Marvin can’t turn the timer off!

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Marvin threatens to faint, so Balki touches his face, his main way of communicating.  Marvin faints anyway.

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Larry tries to run to the parking garage–

LARRY

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If you–

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just

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It’s called a bomb shelter! The basement has one!

Balki refuses to leave this poor man to his doom, however, so Larry comes back.

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But then–UH-OH–we’re subjected to that stupid “should I cut the red wire?” trope!

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Instead of making an effort to provide some sort of twist on the trope, the show opts for Larry just shouting at an unconscious Marvin.  If you ask me, it was the right choice.

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Balki, knowing the end is near, embraces his cousin one last time.

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Nah, j/k, Balki pulls the correct wire because this is a sitcom.

Later, at the apartment, Larry reads his first front-page story and Jennifer kisses him.

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Mary Anne kisses Balki real hard until he faints.  I guess his bomb was about to go off!

Let’s tie this one up, shall we?  The women leave; Larry gives credit to Balki in his article; there’s a reveal that Marshall and Walpole plan to do a tell-all book with Marvin, cutting Larry out; Larry is upset.

What interests me is that, where “The Break In” failed finally to contrast Larry’s troubles with those of Frank, “Dog Day Mid-Afternoon” succeeds.  Balki tells Larry that he that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor he that loveth Bismol with mint flavor. Cousin Larry is cautioned to be happy with what credit he receives, lest he end up like Marvin.

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Balki says that his mother will be proud to see his name in the paper, and because there is a pause after he says it, the audience laughs.

Here’s that nasty-looking mouse again:

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Join me next week for a special edition of Perfect Strangers Reviewed!

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

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

 

*between this and the 1,000 words of background on the Burgess Meredith murder trial, the Chronicle’s readers must have very long attention spans

**okay, fine, it’s a problem because Harriette’s gone and we’ve never seen any part of this building but the basement and a couple of offices

***time lost all meaning after Christmas Day 1983, when Gorpley’s niece died in his arms on the way to the hospital

****There’s a little touch of Daws Butler in there, I think.

Season 5, Episode 4: Tooth or Consequences

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Whoa, a crash-zoom from a brand new angle of the Caldwell exterior!

Balki is eating and he screams every time he bites. He acts like nothing’s wrong.

This show never ceases to surprise me with new ways for Balki to be an idiot: he’s not even trying to eat out of the other side of his mouth!

Larry tells him it’s time to go to work, and Balki screams.  When Cousin Larry asks what’s wrong, Balki admits to a small pain like unto that of nails in his head.

If Cousin Larry knows about anything, it’s cavities (hey, he had to share a toothpaste tube with 8 brothers and sisters, after all), and says they’ll get Balki an appointment at the dentist.

Balki refuses the very idea of seeing a dentist.  He… he doesn’t even give a reason, which I think the show tries to cover up by having him be funny in the way he refuses.

Larry sells Balki on the dentist by saying that the chair goes up and down and how they spray water in your mouth.

*tugs on collar*

gimme a second here, folks

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After the hard sell, Balki begs to play Appleton Mouthjob.  End scene.  This episode’s really trucking!

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Like always, Balki has already finished all his work at the Chronicle by the time we see him. He exclaims to Mr. Gorpley about his trip to the dentist. The audience is laughing, but the funniest thing I see here is the fact that Balki is wearing blue socks.

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Gorpley lays some reality on Balki, telling him that a dentist’s office is a place of true horrors.

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Gorpley tells him about the drill, but Balki’s all like, whoa, whoa, watersports are fine, but you’re talking equipment now.

*sigh*

Sometimes I think I overdo it on these reviews. Here I’ve been making all these sex jokes, and all I really need to do is just tell you what’s happening:

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Balki shows Gorpley his cavity.

I’ve referred to Balki as an exterior being 30 or 40 times before, right?  Well, now that a symbolic window has opened up to his interior, Gorpley seizes the moment and digs in with both hands.

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What the fuck? Gorpley’s just torturing him!

We find out that Gorpley went to dental college. I assume that what he lost on Christmas Day 1973 must have been a patient.

Balki’s interior now exposed, emotion comes out: he is now mad at his cousin for not telling him about the drill, which really begs the question of what the hell Balki was afraid of about the dentist in the first place.  He’s acting very much like a child this week. Sure, Balki’s still breaking the social code most episodes, like children do.  But last week we saw Balki having a child-type misunderstanding that he could still have this far out in his American Odyssey, simply because it hinged on double meanings in English.  It felt classic and necessary and not like it was treading over old ground, and the show pulled it off without having Balki be unbelievably dumb or childish. This week, sure, you can go until you’re 25 without cavities, even without going to the dentist. That’s fine. But why is he so non-specifically scared?

I think for many of us, going to the dentist is a type of test of how well we’ve been taking care of ourselves.  Even if the show doesn’t seem to care about it much most of the time, I think we can still assume his overarching goal is to be American–or at least, to experience America.  But we’ve seen how much sugary cereal he consumes…

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…how he can be distracted from his work with dessert (that isn’t even for him!)…

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…and that car episode I didn’t review established that the Sears Tower Sundae is a particular weakness of his.  He has unfortunately been following Carl Lewis’s high-glycemic example, and now he’s going to be brought to task for it. As much as he tries to look inside Larry’s mouth to learn, a look inside his will show how little learning he’s really achieved.

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Of note here also, I think, is the fact that both Gorpley and Larry are responding to Balki’s child.  Gorpley becomes a child himself, confident that he can have power over others.  Larry, on the other hand, just straight up starts talking to Balki like he’s a baby, just like back in the first couple of seasons; an adult without confidence that the child will listen to reason.

Balki hides his fear, saying he can live with the pain.

Like Larry found out two seasons ago, we can’t see others’ interiors sometimes, and Larry’s just jaded enough to believe that legitimately happy people must have no depth, no sense of the world, no knowledge of the emptiness that leads to evil. But Balki, always seeming to be an exterior being, in the longer reading has a mind in harmony with body. And having been always so, he assumes he will always be so. What has happened here, though, is that both mind and body can follow different paths, eventually leading to one rebelling against another.  This is surely what Larry is trying to convey when he violently jabs his finger into Balki’s cheek, causing him to writhe in pain: that Balki is currently not a harmonius being, and must leverage the weight of his rational mind to fix his faulty body.

Geez, I’m laying on the analysis really thick here, aren’t I?  Forget that last paragraph and pretend I said “Larry touches Balki’s hole” or something like that.

Larry finally gives a rational reason for Balki to go to the dentist: it’ll hurt worse if he doesn’t get it fixed.  This straightforwardness finally gets through to Balki and he weeps softly into Larry’s summer peach Arrow dress shirt, admitting his fears.

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And my god–here’s another thing fixed that I was bitching about in my season 4 review–Larry makes reference to something that the audience has never seen.  Balki once was afraid to have his picture taken because he thought it would steal his soul. Balki was also afraid to get in the elevator because he thought it went all the way to the center of the Earth.  Lastly, he was afraid to try a ball gag, but it’s his favorite thing now.

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Then Larry calls him stupid.

Soon, the Cousins are at the dentist and Balki orgasms when the chair is raised, freaking out the nurse.

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There’s a decent bit where Balki has something in his mouth, but the nurse can understand everything he says. He’s scared of X-rays now, thinking that they’ll leave a hole in his head. (Seriously, had X-rays not come up at all in the comic books he reads?)  The nurse leaves…

GUESS WHAT

GUESS WHAT GONNA HAPPEN NEXT

THEY GONNA PLAY WITH THE  TOYS

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The air blower! It’s like having a ghost cum on you!

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The water sprayer! It’s like being peed on even faster than normal!

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The saliva sucker! It’s like someone giving you a tiny–but exciting–blowjob inside your mouth!

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Then Balki picks up the drill and here’s where we reach the extent of Larry’s knowledge of dental practice.  If he had had a dentist use a drill on him, he would have said so at this point, being a rational, caring adult…

oh

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Then Balki finds out about needle-delivered anaesthetics.

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Balki threatens the dentist upon meeting him, which is funny because Balki has never had a single karate lesson in his life.

Larry offers to get in the chair to show Balki it’s not painful.  But–UH-OH– it turns out Larry lost a filling!

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Five seasons in and it’s still so satisfying to see Larry in pain.

So Dr. Teeth basically just doesn’t care about how he’s paid, or how his patients are billed, or the other 20+ people in the waiting room, and says that he absolutely has to fix Larry’s teeth in the next 8 minutes.

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By the way, a special shout-out to Tim Caldwell for providing ABC airings from season 5 on.  And Gaboogies bless you, unknown Angeleno who taped these back in the day.

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There the show goes again, zooming into a random window in a building. Like I give a fuck what floor the dentist is on.

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The dentist pulls out a much larger needle than necessary to numb Larry’s mouth. Larry refuses.

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So Dr. Teeth gives Larry some nitrous oxide instead.

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Larry tries to leave, but Balki touches his face. You may think I’m ignoring the fact that he’s trying to hold the nosepiece on his cousin, but this is a definite power play, and a deliberate callback to Larry poking Balki earlier: a way to make Larry take a dose of his own rational-thought medicine.

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Larry throws the clownish nosepiece away and knocks the nozzle off the nitrous oxide tank.

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The cousins get goofy as Larry breaks the handle off.

Balki says he’s going to fix it and Larry jabs a needle in his arm.

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Okay, so it’s just going to make it so his arm feels no pain for a little while, right? Certainly this can only lead to Larry tearing into Balki’s arm with picks and scrapers.

One piece of feedback I’ve gotten about this blog is that I don’t actually review the show, I just ask a bunch of annoying questions about the show’s logic*.  So let me actually review here and say that the episode’s path to this point has been pretty damn boring, but it was worth it just to get to this scene of the cousins laughing and thinking that everything they say and do is funny (I can relate).

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While Dr. Teeth is off banging Nurse Muffle or whatever, Larry and Balki try to (heh) raise the chair.

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Balki starts towards Larry’s mouth (with the drill, folks, with the drill), the dentist runs in, and Balki deliberately makes a Balki-ism for laughs.

Back at the apartment, Balki comes in with balloons and nitrile gloves.

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Larry hangs both their coats. Remember this. This is important.

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Again, Amber Alert on the little girl wearing a leather mask.  Where are you, sweetie?

In the end, what lessons have we learned? To be adults? To be rational? To not be afraid?

The stated lesson is that sometimes you have to do stuff you’re afraid of, a great lesson for grown men.  But you know I’m going to talk for a few paragraphs about capitalism instead, right? That’s why you read this blog!

Capitalism fosters technological improvements, but dentists have to buy them, and then charge lots to pay for the instruments, ultimately meaning that the common man tells himself a narrative in which it makes sense for a service to become a commodity, and all the money gets saliva-sucked to somewhere above you.

Balki probably grew up where they’d just yank the tooth out, meaning that for him, the entire practice of dentistry has already been subsumed by the capitalist machine, meaning that the solution** is creating a problem he never really thought he had.  I personally believe in good dental health, as well as in progress for the sake of perfect tools, but the message here seems to be that technology and special skills–within a capitalist system–are simply anaesthetic circuses to take the pain of living away. Once fixing a problem becomes possible, not fixing it is no longer an option. You are a bad steward of your body if you don’t fix it, even if you were the cause of the problem to begin with. Everything will be fine if you’ll go to sleep; and if not that, everything will be fine if you can have a good laugh about it. Telling yourself that you’re doing the rational thing ultimately becomes another way of turning your mind off.

In this land of milk and honey***, this country of abundance, it’s okay if the masses are just drooling idiots.

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Nah, j/k, y’all should really see the dentist every six months.

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Then there’s a weird bumper with a mouse and a clock, because “Hickory, Dickory, Dock” is what you think of when you watch this show, right?

Join me next week for “Dog Day Midafternoon”!

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

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

*I’d argue that my writing features far more annoying aspects than just that

**drilling; is there a more industrial term?

***look at me, I’m so cute, nailing it with an idiom composed of things beneficial to, and harmful to, teeth

Season 5, Episode 3: The Newsletter

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The camera pans from the top floor of the Chronicle down to the ground: a symbol of returning to its foundations.  This is a good sign.

Parallel to this is Lydia’s descent into the basement, Lydia being herself symbolically loaded.  The brains of the show–yet her own brain is troubled.  A symbol of familiarity, the former Edwina; her hair a novelty, evoking a phoenix, rising from the black ashes of the past.  These are good signs.

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Twinkaquerent, she stands ready to receive information on Larry’s condition.

The former teacher is now beset with assignments.  Where once he only typed two-sentence summaries of minor affairs, Cousin Larry now must interview an Alderman*; research a series of articles on money laundering; and is evidently in charge of the obituaries.

It proves to be too much for his Wellington 4000 typewriter, which has lost its feather-touch control, tearing Larry’s articles as he pulls them out.

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Lydia offers relaxation advice: go to the Bahamas and rerun old columns (shit, if only I’d known I could do that two weeks ago…).  She calls it “The Best of Lydia”, which leads to a solid joke about “The Best of the Obituaries”.

Anyway, Lydia tells Larry that he’s whipped, so Larry swears to fuck up the next person who tries to give him an assignment.

Immediately he’s tested on this, as RT (Resistance Training) Wainwright comes in.

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Larry comes correct when Wainwright demands 1,000 words of background on the Burgess murder trial.

Larry makes an attempt to manage his time by giving Wainwright an estimate on when he can have it to him, so Wainwright tells him to manage his time.  I think many of us have had that boss before.

So, before Balki comes in and derails everything… think for a second on where this episode seems to be going. Think back to around this time last season when Larry took on assertiveness training.  Think back to four seasons ago when Larry tried to tell Balki how to say no to people taking advantage of him.  Pretty obvious what this one’s about, right?  But after last week, I don’t think I can trust the show anymore.

That’s not a good thing or a bad thing.

Just sayin’.

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Balki runs in shouting at his cousin that he’s going to be working on the Chronicle Chatter newsletter.

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Balki keeps yelling at Larry, and it turns out it was just a ruse to make everyone leave so that they could spend some quantity time** together.

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Larry lets slip that he doesn’t want Balki in the basement anymore, and encourages Balki, saying that maybe this is a way he can become a real reporter.

Well, I just filled my quota of asking “how the fuck does the hierarchy work here?” once a month.

There’s a nice little confusing conversation about how Larry can’t help him with the newsletter, even with Balki making a dumb joke about acronyms.  It’s nice because it’s confusing for the characters without being badly written, but also because it’s a tidy bit of character work for Larry, and the type of small change that we should have been seeing more of by now.

Last season Phil (AKA “ALF Man” from Mega Man 16) commented on “Come Fly With Me” by saying that the show could do with changing the dynamic of Larry-helps-Balki by having Balki be confident about something, only to then get out of his depth.  This episode sure isn’t that, but it is changing the dynamic. After all this time of being a father/cool big brother with sunglasses surrogate, Larry automatically makes the assumption that Balki is going to ask for help.  Even though he honestly doesn’t have time or energy to spare to help Balki, you can tell he gets off a little on the idea that he’s needed.

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At the apartment, Balki prepares the newsletter the old fashioned way of pasting articles to sheets of paper to ready them for copying. Dmitri’s just hanging out until Balki starts bashing him on the newsletter repeatedly.  Also Dmitri squeaks, meaning that Balki doesn’t even have to put a sock on the doorknob.

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When Cousin Larry arrives home, they do the Dance of Joy to celebrate the completed newsletter.

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We last saw the Dance of Joy at the end of “Wedding Belle Blues” where the cousins celebrated not being separated; I anticipate the next time will be for Balki finishing a box of cereal and a carton of milk at the same time. Does the Dance of Joy have any meaning anymore?

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Balki says he’s developed his own unique style: “some may liken it to Hemingway, while others cite Kafka, but you decide.”

I better damn not see another time–ever–when Balki reads something out loud slowly.

And here we get a better version of “Larry grades Balki’s paper”.  In “Teacher’s Pest” we were given no indication what Balki’s writing style was like, and even vaguer recommendations from Larry (“fundamental problems”).  Here, Larry reads Balki’s articles aloud, meaning the audience gets to come to the exact same conclusion as Larry. You could argue that in the other episode it needed to be vague so that Larry could be easily written off as a jerk, but this improvement is really impacting me here.  This episode has basically accomplished in a couple of minutes what the other managed not to in 10. This…

This is a very good sign.

At any rate, Balki’s articles are “fluff” pieces: one or two sentences apiece about Lydia’s vacation and Gorpley’s wardrobe.

Larry: Where is the real story?

Yeah, and where’s the results of Balki’s journalism class? On the other hand, y’know what? Cover up “Teacher’s Pest” with Liquid Paper and let’s move on.  This story’s worth it.

Unfortunately, Balki’s aren’t, according to Larry.  Balki says he’s writing them exactly as he was told.

Ah, now we see that Larry’s trying to remove the splinter from Balki’s eye, ignoring the crossbeam in his own.

What is Larry’s stake in Balki writing more than fluff? Balki’s doing what he was asked, he’s having fun with it, he’s a little kid getting to make his own newspaper.  The Chronicle Chatter is pretty obviously something like People Magazine, and Lydia even said so earlier, that she gets to read about people she’d never interact with unless she absolutely had to.

Larry usually wants to use Balki, and I think that’s the missing key*** to understanding here.  He wants to feel needed, so he can say no, but now, he’s demanding to be needed. He’s creating a need–this guy should be in advertising.

But what’s more… there’s more than a little, I think, of Larry wanting to be able to stick it to their superiors.  We started out with a cornered Larry wishing to buck the system and have freedom to say yes or no to the assignments he’s given.

Cousin Larry encourages Balki to tell the story behind the story, to dig deeper–

Balki: you mean like when I stick my finger in your–

Larry: No, no. Sort of.

Larry says Balki should answer why, citing the basic five Ws of journalism, which of course he didn’t get to in the journalism class.

They do a “Who’s on First” bit that works. It’s a pretty damn organic conversation that you could expect an English learner to get completely frustrated by. Balki keeps misunderstanding Larry’s statements as questions, and Larry is misunderstanding Balki’s the meaning of Balki’s questions.  The situation is enough to make Larry’s misinterpretation of questions okay because there’s two ways that Balki could be getting confused; the situation is enough for Larry–in teacher mode–to forget that Balki can get confused on a more basic level sometimes.

Also, hey, it’s not the first time one of them has had a problem with (heh) a high rising terminal.

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Even Balki getting upset and fanning himself works.

And that previous scene–Balki being taught about asking questions–is followed up by Balki trying to interview Gorpley and misunderstanding the phrase “that’s for me to know and you to find out”.  Somebody took the two extra minutes this week to come up with good immigrant misunderstandings!

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But Gorpley is on his way to a four-hour lunch (in itself newsworthy!) and doesn’t want to answer Balki’s question about his clothes.

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Larry comes in and says Balki will have to change his tactics if he wants to get the truth out of people. You know, thumbscrews, water torture, steel wool and raisins.

Nah, j/k, that’s stuff from my Perfect Strangers fanfic. Larry tells him to snoop around, get juicy gossip (where’s Harriette when you need her?), talk to friends, wives, ex-wives…

Completely forgetting that everyone knows that Gorpley is divorced, Balki just says “what if he don’t have friends”.

*sigh*

Larry tells Balki to go incognito. Can we go for three good language mixups here? Please?

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Balki: I don’t care much for Mexican food.

Yes!

Balki: It always gives me Monty Hall’s revenge.

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*shoulders slump* Oh. Anyway, Balki worries that he’d be snooping.

Larry: It’s not snooping if you’re writing it down; then it’s journalism!

Larry and Balki have a good laugh about misnomers.

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Before Larry leaves, Balki doesn’t understand quote fingers, which is also perfectly understandable, so long as you forget “Teacher’s Pest” again.

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Lydia asks Larry about his workload and Larry questions RT Wainwright’s mental health (“not playing with a full deck”) and

UH-OH

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I guess you could say Larry was “hoisted by his own petard”. I guess you could say that he “put his foot in his mouth”. That he “fucks Balki”.

But man, wasn’t this story exactly what I was asking for during the season 4 review?

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The next day (?), Balki comes in the basement and look who’s wearing a funny hat again! It’s our Balki!

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But before Cousin Larry can even read the newsletter, Gorpley (no longer dressed so snazzy), comes out of his office laughing.

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Let’s just zip through this part, because I’m sure you can kind of guess.  Balki reported that Lydia went to Milwaukee to have an eyelid tuck****, but then Lydia comes in and reveals that Gorpley’s antics were outed in the paper as well.  Evidently the Gorpster has been shtupping somebody named Maggie Minor, who happens to be the wife of the sports writer. And obviously, if you’re a sportswriter, you’re built like a linebacker, so this is reason enough for Gorpley to be scared for his life.

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(There is also, we learn, a “Dmitri the Sheep” cartoon in the Chronicle Chatter, though it is not shown. It’s a nice additive detail.)

Okay, now here’s the pinch point. A distracted Cousin Larry gave Balki some incomplete good advice: no examples, no boundaries on what should be kept personal out of decent respect for others. Balki has become Anonymous without any ill intent, and Larry’s desire to be a smart big brother (something he never got to be, but always thought he deserved to be) is on full display. This is, believe it or not, the good episode I’ve been looking for for quite some time. Balki honestly misunderstood an idiomatic phrase, which becomes… well, not a great gag, but simply the equivalent of the result of a chemical reaction.  It plays out exactly as it’s supposed to, and the neatness of the plot raises the level of the joke. (Balki wrote that people should be Wainwright some playing cards for Christmas.)

*counts on fingers*

We’re on episode 75 now, precisely the halfway point of this whole series.  Let’s celebrate with a

Psychology sidebar: Put simply, operant conditioning describes the process by which we learn to repeat–or discontinue–certain behaviors/responses.  The idea is that we (humans, cats, dogs, mice, etc.) will repeat behaviors that lead to successful outcomes and cease those that don’t.  Further, those behaviors can be refined as well through processes of differentiation.  I’m somewhat surprised I haven’t thought to talk about this before, because it’s a decent framework through which to view the show’s choices in what it focusses on and how it tells its stories.  I’ll skip over a lot of the theory so I can talk for a minute about reinforcement/reward schedules.  Imagine a lab rat is pressing a lever to get a food pellet, but the food only comes out according to a schedule. There are two schedule aspects; “interval” refers to the amount of time between responses and “ratio” refers to the number of responses. Each of these can be fixed: a food pellet only comes out every 60 seconds, regardless of how many lever presses; or a food pellet only comes out after every 10th lever press, regardless of how much time has passed.  Or, the schedules can be variable: it could be 1 minute between food pellets one time, and then 3 minutes the next, or 10; it could take 2 presses to get a pellet, or it could take 100.

The schedule that’s most addictive is that very last one, variable ratio.  You could certainly argue that Perfect Strangers follows a variable interval schedule, but damn if it doesn’t feel like a variable ratio sometimes.  At any rate, here we are, halfway through, and the show has given me a reward for these millions of times I’ve pressed tiny lever-surrogates in hopes of something worthwhile. *sigh* Looks like I’ll do the next 75 episodes…

Meanwhile, back in the basement, the cousins already cornered by Lydia and Sam, RT (Raging, tetchy) Wainwright comes in and tells Larry he’s got some splainin’ to do.

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Larry blubbers.

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It goes on for a while.

(Also, Wainwright only seems to come in from the bomb shelter part of the basement.  Does he live there?)

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Then Matt Minor, Maggie’s husband, comes in looking for Gorpley.

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Gorpley points at Larry, and Balki just stands there, realizing that he can turn others’ misery into his own journalistic success. The 2014 Academy Award-nominated film Nightcrawler, starring Jake Gyllenhall, got nothing on this!

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Later on, Larry is talking to Wainwright on the phone, apologizing for what he “did”. Him not doing this in person, in Wainwright’s office, is one more thing I’ll ignore because this was a good episode.

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And then Balki comes out of his room wearing something foreign and looking pained, much like I did when I had to wear a tie for elementary school functions.

He refers to it as the Myposian Mantle of 1,000 Itches. So we’ve now returned to the theme of Balki being only exterior, claiming others’ minds with his vest, having to wear outfits to tap into his former culture, understanding only the literal meaning of words (he made liberal use of the words Who/What/Where/Why/When in his articles), causing problems when forced to go beyond “fluff” writing and dig deeper. Light in the loafers, dating an airhead, turning his 3D sheep into a 2D cartoon, gliding on the surface of days… and now wearing a punishment designed solely for the skin. Balki says he must wear it one year for every person he offended, and I laughed out loud at the 7-year-itch joke.

(Also we learn that there are Boxer Shorts of Eternal Chafing. I’m proud of you for making a dick joke, show. Mighty proud.)

Larry tells his cousin to just apologize to everyone so he can take Balki’s shirt off.

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Balki says he’ll resign from the newsletter, but Larry tells him his first effort was pretty good. NOT THE FIRST TIME, AMIRITE?

Ah, such a good episode, and now we’re in the final seconds, lessons learned, tying everything up, I bet this is even going to end on a good joke…

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The final joke is that Balki went in disguise as a waiter at the restaurant where Gorpley and Maggie Minor hesitantly touched each other’s pee-pees under the table.

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*sigh*

Join me next week for “Tooth or Consequences”!

___________________________________________

Catchphrase Count: Balki (1); Larry (0)

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

Dance of Joy Running Total: 15

*Let’s hope it’s not Alderman Zittrell, whom we last completely forgot about right after “Crimebusters”.

**Psychology sidebar here: I’m not up on the research about quantity vs quality time, but I will make a detour just to say that quantity/quality is a good framework through which to say that this show sucks.

***It’s called a MOTIF, y’all.

****The reader may wish to refer to “Just a Gigolo” for insight on this.