Game Brain – an unproduced Season 1 script

We’re one week away from this blog’s scheduled demolition, and it dawned on me that I should probably write about this before that so I don’t confuse anyone. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to share with you something that I discovered earlier this year. I come to you as a prophet: the Sitcom Gods have revealed to me an actual unproduced Season 1 Perfect Strangers script titled “Game Brain”.

This is too good to be true, right? This must be Casey’s idea of a joke on us, you’re thinking.

No. If I wrote a fake “found” script, it would be about how Larry and Balki catch an alderman offering to disappear the local chicken processing plant’s health code violations in return for sexual favors. Gorpley and Twinkacetti would mudwrestle. Lydia would shoot Wainwright. Steve Urkel would ascend to godhead and bring Yaya Biki back to life. Be grateful I found a real script instead.

There were no doubt plenty of story ideas that went unused over the course of eight seasons. And since garbage like “Duck Soup” made it to air, there’s a former ABC executive story editor out there who deserves a rigorous handjob for sparing us from anything worse. But this one got fleshed out into a full script.

Unproduced scripts aren’t unheard of. In many cases, if the show keeps going and the script is good enough, it will get used in a subsequent season. In others, they might get the axe if the story is deemed too much for popular tastes (see Seinfeld’s nixed second season episode “The Gun” which, by the way, would have cast Ernie Sabella as a gun salesman). It’s impossible to know how rare something like this script is, because those involved in the production of media don’t always see the historical value in documentary materials (or have the authority to do anything about it if they did). For all we know, there are a dozen unused Small Wonder scripts in a nuclear fallout shelter. But it’s pretty damned rare!

“Game Brain” has gone virtually unseen the past 30 years, languishing in… well, somewhere.

I’m not the only person to try reviewing every episode of Perfect Strangers; in fact I wasn’t even the first. But if I had ever needed proof that I’m the first person to research it, it’s the fact that no one else has to discovered this. I won’t tell you where I got it, but it comes from the same place Philip J Reed & I got the unproduced Trouble with Larry script written by Charlie Kaufman. If you’re as smart as I am* and know where to look, you can find it too. The only provenance information I can give you for its legitimacy is the giant LORIMAR logo on the first page.

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I unfortunately can’t simply reproduce the script here; as a librarian, I’m all too familiar with the current state of copyright law. I’ve even met the people Disney sends to daycare centers to garotte the staff who paint off-model Buzz Lightyears and Maters on the walls. I can reproduce up to 10% of the script, and it’s 44 pages, so it shouldn’t be an issue.

It’s certainly not a final draft: it’s too long by far to fit into 21 and a half minutes, rough around the edges, and had some obvious issues that would need to be overcome to film it. But it’s one of the funner stories Perfect Strangers ever told. No idea who Gary Clemente is, and he’s got no credits on IMDB. He wrote at least two other scripts for other sitcoms, all unproduced. If they’re anything as fun as this one, it’s a shame he never got a bigger chance. I tried to find him, but I think he’s already passed on.

(I enlisted the help of fellow comics artist Adam Lore (http://www.adamlore.com) to bring the episode’s scenes to life. Hire him for a project of your own!)

The episode opens at the Caldwell, and is a direct continuation of one of the first scenes in “Knock Knock Who’s There?”. We saw Balki fascinated by color television and junk food, and within almost no time he’s made them part of his daily routine.

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We’re told right off the bat what kinds of differences to expect from the Cousins. Balki Bartokomous greets the new day with a smile, but Larry’s doubtful it holds anything worthwhile for him.

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I’ve noted before that Perfect Strangers worked in plenty of recurring gags and lines: here Larry can’t open a package of barbecued donuts, though Balki can.

The personalities are largely in line with Seasons 1 and 2, though they lack a little definition. There’s a strong element here of the father/son dynamic, or maybe older and younger brothers. Larry Appleton can’t function even if he sleeps in, cluing us in that he’s been engaging in some unhealthy habits.  There’s a token attempt to clarify that Balki’s Myposian–he’s somehow gotten ahold of mass-produced “pig chins”–but what signifies here is that Balki’s favorite television shows are lowest-common-denominator fare.

And our recent college graduate Larry is far too good for “Trixie’s Fun Factory” or the game show “Let’s Make ‘Em Squeal!”

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This is pretty solidly the Larry we recognize, but another aspect of his dialogue that was essentially lost by the end of Season 2 is that he was constantly delivering punchlines. As Balki informs Larry that he’s been trying to get on “Let’s Make ‘Em Squeal!”, and has gone so far as to mail in an application, Larry lets him know exactly how he feels.

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Some Larry lines don’t exactly land, but they’re consistently colorful.

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Balki’s dialogue, on the other hand, is fairly straightforward. The writers hadn’t started relying on homonyms or misapplied words, and the humor derives almost entirely from Balki misunderstanding sarcasm or idiom.

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I’m 95% certain the joke here is that the person answering the mail for the game show is telling Balki that he’s too crazy for their program and they’re sending the men in white suits with big nets. Its vagueness keeps it from reading well, but it’s a good way of promising the audience a conceptual battle of “weirdness”.

We’re not told exactly what to expect from the game show yet, just that the contestants are crazy.

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But then… this is a story written for audiences in 1986. They would have known exactly what was intended with a parody of Let’s Make a Deal (or, perhaps more specifically, the 1984-1986 iteration, The All New Let’s Make a Deal). Monty Hall would pick members from the audience at random to offer something they brought with them in trade for some smallish item Monty offered (say, a stand mixer, or $50; the “trader” could then trade the new item for mystery prizes that were behind curtains on stage. A curtain might hide a goat, or a brand new car.

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Monty would play head games with the trader at this point, offering them an increasing amount of cash to not choose what’s behind curtain #1, or letting them change their choice of curtain. The episode embedded below even has some Price is Right-style games involving guessing the prices of common household products.

Evidently, at some point in the gameshow’s broadcast history, potential contestants started dressing up–or being remarkable in their personality or mannerisms–to try to get Monty’s attention. By 1986, that’s almost 20 years worth of audience one-upmanship.

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Of course Balki wants to be on “Let’s Make ‘Em Squeal!”. And so do we: Perfect Strangers has already told us that Larry and Balki are strange bedfellows (ha), but now we’re offered the chance to see if they’re as weird as the rest of us.

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Season 1 is about the only season I’d be willing to watch whatever Bronson Pinchot turned this stage direction into. Bronson didn’t know everything about Balki yet. Neither did Gary Clemente, though he prefigured Balki eventually having less and less patience with Cousin Larry’s high-falutin’ bullshit.

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I honestly wish that kind of back-and-forth had become a recurring bit.

It’s at this point that the story diverges from the typical Perfect Strangers story. Most episodes would push Larry and Balki towards one plot, and Season 4’s “Games People Play” would explore Larry’s internal struggle between strategy and naked greed. But Larry is so disgusted with Balki’s goal–winning prizes with no effort–that he gains a bit of self-awareness of his own unhealthy habits, vowing to give Balki an example of clean American living.

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Check it out, y’all, Balki says his catchphrase. I told you this was a real script.

As if the Cousins’ stories actually diverging for once weren’t intriguing enough, the next scene is at Ritz Discount, where:

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SUSAN IS BROWSING, Y’ALL.

I’ve gone three years thinking I’d never see her again.

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She even gets punchlines. I realize that half of Susan and Larry’s three pages of dialogue would have been cut if this got made, but knowing that there would have been a ninth Susan episode is almost too much for me to take. I may weep openly.

Susan’s presence here is what has me convinced that this was one of the initial batch of scripts developed for Perfect Strangers’s sample season. Lise Cutter appeared as Susan Campbell, RN in two Season 2 episodes–”Lifesavers” and “The Rent Strike”–and in retrospect, I think those were leftover Season 1 scripts too. Given how quickly the show dumped the character of Susan in favor of Jennifer and Mary Anne, it’s hard to imagine someone getting tasked with working her into an episode by the time Season 2 got the go-ahead.

So why keep her in Season 2 at all? I think that’s explainable.  “Lifesavers” was the first episode filmed for Season 2; the girlfriends hadn’t been introduced yet, but Larry still needed someone to recap the plot at. And “The Rent Strike” needed lots of apartment residents. So there’s your first possible reason why “Game Brain” wasn’t filmed: Lise Cutter was gone too quickly.

Further, those two episodes would, by the end of the second season, feel tonally off-brand. Can you imagine Balki brandishing a gun at another human being? Can you  imagine a version of the show that cared about the Cousins’ neighbors? “Game Brain” is similarly outside the show’s comfort zone in terms of zaniness by putting Balki in a “7-foot tall” green bean costume.

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You know, maybe they threw this script out because it’s too good. No other episode went to the trouble of making one storyline work as a visual pun on the other.

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This is a perfect line.

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This is funny, y’all.

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God damn is this funny. Gary Clemente was having so much fun playing with the show’s established elements. And Twinkacetti is delighted to have fodder for future ridicule–a rare sight–rushing out the door to find a notary public to witness Balki’s outfit. Seriously, what asshole shoved this in a file cabinet and forgot about it?

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By the way,  here’s the catchphrase again. He says it. I’m kind of over it at this point but here you go.

I said at the outset the script has some problems, and we’re hitting one now. The Discount store scene ends with Balki asking Larry for a ride to the studio…

…and cuts directly back to the Caldwell Hotel apartment ONE WEEK LATER. Balki is looking through the junkmail–

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God, I would have written 300 words on that rubber clothing line alone.

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Anyway Balki believes the copywriting on a sample bar of deodorant that he’s “won” two million dollars. It’s a nice variation on the episode’s topic of the relationship between success and hard work, and it’s the kind of scene that it’s hard to believe didn’t make it into any Season 1 episode.

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But I still have to imagine it would get cut, because it’s straying a little too far from the story. It’s four pages of script until Balki even clarifies that he didn’t get picked as a contestant on “Let’s Make ‘Em Squeal!”.

Or that he didn’t get picked to be in the audience? Balki answers in the negative when Larry asks if he’s heard back from the show, and even mentions that he swung from the studio lights. Between “hearing back” and the earlier misfired joke about the show sending a car, it’s beginning to feel less clear by the moment how one gets to be a contestant. Maybe Gary Clemente didn’t know, but I find it far more likely he just needed time for his B-plot to, um, take root.

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You see, Larry has been eating nothing but carrots the past week. He’s lost weight and his skin has turned orange. His eyesight has improved so drastically he has to wear sunglasses. I would have written 300 words on his improved bowel health alone if this had been a real episode.

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Guys I’m not kidding Gary was dedicated to this story about food. It’s honestly great.

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Well, okay, one potentially racist line, but overall it’s still really good.

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Larry moralizing before it’s time for the sappy synth music angers the Sitcom Gods, who reward Balki with an acceptance letter from “Let’s Make ‘Em Squeal!”.

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There’s always room in every script for improvement, let me punch that one up.

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And that’s the end of Act 1. Act 2 begins–on page 25–back at the Ritz Discount, before Balki’s television debut.

In other words, we’re more than halfway through the episode and still not at the gameshow. It’s occurring to me there’s another major element here which strongly suggests it was in the very first batch of scripts written: it’s incredibly dialogue-heavy. Aside from Balki pretending briefly to be a gameshow hostess, and the Dance of Joy, there’s no real mention of physical comedy (spoiler: Larry gets shoved later).

I’m not complaining! We’re getting a lot of insight into how Cousin Larry thinks and talks. Larry not knowing as much as he thinks he does is still present in Seasons 1 and 2, but we’re seeing a little more of the thought process he goes through before making some decision that will backfire on him.

And even here, in this scene, we’re shown a side of Balki that I don’t remember** seeing before: he’s not willing to put in the work required to be prepared. He’s bought a giant trivia encyclopedia and enlists Larry to quiz him with it. But at the very first question Larry asks, Balki gives up:

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It’s a very Perfect Strangers scene. It’s thematically and situationally something worth exploring, but suffers a little in the execution. One of the questions is about haboobs, which are called “habobs” on Mypos. It’s a tidy way of showing how damned frustrating Balki can be, but I’m guessing there’s an even chance you had to go look up what a haboob is.

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If I were going to cut a scene, though, it’s this one. It does advance the “hard work” theme by showing us Balki’s not up to it, and by revealing that Larry is just as susceptible to the promise of money. Hell, it’s even got some great Twinkacetti lines:

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…and even directly refutes Larry’s umbrella philosophy of America as a civilized (and civilizing) nation:

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But unfortunately, it dials back the nuttiness that had been ramping up pretty steadily at this point. And, most importantly, there are zero trivia questions in the gameshow scene later on. I’m pretty sure The All New Let’s Make a Deal didn’t involve trivia questions. At least, the ten minutes of an episode I watched didn’t.

So anyway this scene does some nuanced work on the thesis level, which I really appreciate. The presence of the scene makes “Game Brain” the clearest window into the mature sitcom Tom Miller and Bob Boyett originally had in mind. I’d toss it… and I suspect those in control of the show would have as well. The points it wanted to make–modern American culture left behind the ideals of honest work for honest pay, but darn if things aren’t more interesting now–have already been made. We know that Balki is going to be in a green bean suit, and Larry’s inadvertant ochreface has inadvertently made him even likelier to stand out from the crowd. It’s all set up and there’s really no reason to delay the fun scene we’ve been promised.

Here we are finally on the set of “Let’s Make ‘Em Squeal!”.

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We can only dream that the two-headed person was played by the Cousins’ guardian angels, PaulAndre and Basement Linda. But… how the hell did Larry get in without three weeks’ worth of multiple types of application?

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Let us take a moment to mourn “Game Brain”, the only Season 1 script depicting actual violence against Larry Appleton, taken from us before its time.

We’re introduced to Art French, “AN ABRASIVE HUCKSTER”.

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That’s such a perfect name, isn’t it, commenting (so I’d like to think) on the erosion of culture and honesty in modern American pop culture? “I’m rich, but hey, we’re pals! You can have money, too… if you can outwit me.” (Also: just how old a phrase is “party people”?)

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If you watched any of the episode of The All New Let’s Make a Deal earlier in this post, you probably saw how Monty Hall would engage in some introductory patter with the contestants before they played the game. It’s a chance to humanize the contestants–and give the host fodder for callback jokes.

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Art talks with Balki and Larry; Balk misunderstands Art’s questions, and both Cousins embarrass Larry. It’s… fine.

I’m not knocking it. It’s just not terribly exciting on the page. For one, it’s the part of the script that most jumps out at me as needing the process of the cast doing a table read. Some lines read a little clunky to me:

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And many of them would benefit from the actors’ interpretations. Yes, I’m actually saying this: this scene could have been improved by the nascent comic sense of Bronson Pinchot. Gary Clemente knows what Balki would do, but Bronson knows how Balki would do it.

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You can easily imagine what Bronson would have done with those, can’t you?

Compared to Larry’s funny lines in earlier scenes, Art’s dialogue is simply okay. And I can see how the actor playing Art could transform these lines–exactly as they are–into something more interesting. He could think he’s saying the funniest shit anyone’s ever come up with, he could draw out the meanness present. He could even play it cool and collected like Monty Hall himself. It would work, I think.

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The gameplay is a series of reveals that Larry has chosen incorrectly. He chooses the money (two $20 bills paperclipped together); he trades it for a box; the money Larry was holding turned out to be worth more than he thought (a $500 bill in between the twenties); the box contains one slice of deli meat.

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At each point, our normally self-assured Larry is gripped with indecision. The crowd is shouting at him, Balki is shouting at him, he tried to stay out of this, but now that he’s here, on live television, holding up his pants with an orange hand, and Art keeps giving him last chances, and Larry keeps falling for it. And of course his prize is a non-vegetable food; the joke is on Larry Appleton, both for going overboard on his dietary goals, and then for deviating from his commitment.

It’s another part of the scene that needs the audio and visual aspects to make it work; and as someone who has only ever written comics, I’m impressed at the ability to write a scene that will come alive once both aspects are there.

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The focus shifts to Balki. He gets to choose between the $500 Larry lost to him and one of the “three cheaply simulated bank vaults”. Of course Balki gets to make the signature choice, because even here he’s a very special boy.

And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales; and he received sight forthwith:

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I’ve forgotten so much of this show at this point–thank God for small favors–but I think this would have been the first time that America didn’t live up to Balki’s idea of it. It’s a very quick moment–even quicker, perhaps, when you’re reading a script–but it’s crucial to what Perfect Strangers once wanted to be about.

It was once very deliberately a show about two men figuring out how little they really knew about how the world works. About adjusting expectations of one’s own skills–as well as of what could be achieved. About how the existence of a whole wide world of potential doesn’t equal the ability to take it on. Larry learns that not all celebrities have lurid affairs. Balki learns he has the right to demand better of his superiors, but can’t control them. Larry learns a woman’s smile is no guarantee, but that he can have–can be–fun wherever he goes. Balki learns that checks don’t bring endless wealth, but he can buy nice things for his friends sometimes. They couldn’t conquer America right off the bat, but normal human challenges–helping deliver a baby, having a nice chat with a woman, sticking up for oneself and others–were easier than they thought.

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Oh and it was also about violence towards immigrants when they step out of line.

The transition from the gameshow scene back to the apartment could use some work. Balki isn’t forced right then and there to choose one of the simulated vaults: he chooses to come back the next day to do that. And when we see them again in the apartment, Balki has already made his second appearance on the show, which the Cousins watch.

There’s nothing wrong with skipping over action so you can reveal what happened; Perfect Strangers did that all the time. But it’s too bumpy here. I certainly wasn’t watching gameshows in 1986***, though I’m sure there were times when a contestant ran out of time and had to come back the next day. Or “next day”, I should say. Some gameshows film multiple episodes in a day, which would save them a lot on production costs.

But the final scene makes it clear that Balki did go back the very next day. I’m not going to quibble about the fact that this means the entire episode of “Let’s Make ‘Em Squeal!” lasted about five minutes total. I simply don’t see the need for Balki to come back. The script could have gotten away with Art telling us Balki would choose between the vaults right after a commercial break. I understand that Balki needs to be able to tell Larry in the final scene what happened (can you believe it? a Perfect Strangers writer who refuses to have characters tell each other about something they were both there for) but, hell, Larry passed out. Leave him passed out so he misses Balki’s big moment!

So anyway we’re back at the Caldwell now.

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If I ever meet the former ABC employee who scrapped this story, I’m going to knee them in the groin.

I’m going to knee them in the groin for Gary.

There’s a nice exchange where Balki drags out the moment of refusing to tell Larry what happened.

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And when Balki finally turns on the TV–

–hey, wait, that’s pretty damn fast turnaround time to get a TV show on the air–

–anyway Balki turns on the TV, and Larry’s curiosity is once again brutally and needlessly stymied.

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I can only remember one instance where Perfect Strangers had crucial audio coming from a television set the audience doesn’t get to see. It wouldn’t pose a problem for home audiences, though I do wonder how that would have been handled for a show filmed in front of a live audience in 1986.

Gary Clemente really wrings as much humor out of Balki’s inability to choose a vault as he can. Cousin Larry can’t take it, the “Let’s Make ‘Em Squeal!” audience can’t take it (a woman dressed as a geranium attacks Balki), and finally Art’s patience has run out too.

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Balki’s prize?

A year’s supply of Shecter’s pre-fried barbecued donuts.

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What a perfect capper! The very thing Larry had tried to flee. Proof to Balki (though he’d never see it) that something as vapid as American television is part of the same system that only cares about you buying junk.

I mean, think about it: the episode of The All New Let’s Make a Deal I embedded above literally rewarded contestants who could prove they were so good at consuming that they knew the exact price of a bottle of detergent. This is a fairly pointed message about television, certainly one more pointed than ABC ever let Perfect Strangers make.

The Cousins state the lessons they’ve learned: worthwhile rewards take more work than Balki put in, but not everything worth doing has to be as difficult as Larry made it. It’s less nuanced than everything that came before it, but at least it’s not grossly watered down.

The final joke of the episode–in addition to rejecting the subtextual indictment of television–provides the hard reset:

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So the remaining question here is: why in the world did this not get used?

It can’t be solely because Susan was in it. She could be switched out with Jennifer; or Mary Anne, if Jennifer eating potato chips didn’t jibe with her job at Reuben’s Perfect Body.

And it can’t be because there were simply too many good scripts once the show got a full season. This is better than a third of the stories that made it into Season 2.

It’s easy for me to imagine why it didn’t end up in Season 1. We know from reportage on Perfect Strangers that they had to scramble to put six episodes together for a “sample” season in the back half of the 1985-1986 TV season. “Game Brain” has hurdles, like the Cousins watching television, or being in a large crowd of costumed people, that–though minor–were probably too much to coordinate in that short turnaround time.

There are three major reasons I can imagine led to the script not being used.

One is that Larry and Balki aren’t working together towards some goal. Larry does help Balki practice his trivia, and he ends up on the gameshow. But the latter works as an unexpected result of Larry’s B-plot. Larry and Balki being largely unconcerned with each other’s goals is the least Perfect Strangers aspect of the whole thing.

Another is that “Game Brain” is a little outside Perfect Strangers’s early comfort zone. It’s more explicitly silly than, say, Larry getting beaten up at a bar, Larry getting pulled down the street by a large dog, Balki hugging a bank manager, or Balki throwing a birthday cake at a window. My immediate reaction on my first reading was that it felt more like a late 1970s/early 1980s sitcom script. I could easily see this as a Bosom Buddies episode, since Kip and Henry usually had their own story arcs. They were normal guys in extraordinary situations, where Balki and Larry are extraordinary guys in normal situations.

And speaking of Bosom Buddies: that show’s conceit was not only that Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari were in drag, but also that they had to quickly switch in and out of it. It was (for a while) the entire concept.

But “Game Brain” would have been just one script out of many for a show that essentially had two different premiere seasons. Given that it renders both its leads nearly unrecognizable for most of a half hour feels like too big a risk for a show that ABC didn’t fully believe in in the first place.

That the script didn’t get used for Season 1 makes a lot of sense, logistically. That it didn’t get used at the beginning of Season 2 still makes sense, risk-wise. That it never got used speaks to how firmly Perfect Strangers had chosen its alternate path (physical comedy and no B-plots) by halfway through Season 2.

Or it could have been left out for any number of other reasons we’ll never know. The writers could have forgotten it existed. For all we know Bronson didn’t like Gary’s shoes. But these three reasons seem likely to me.

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And that’s it! Unless the pilot episode with Louie Anderson ever surfaces, or someone gets the cast back together for a reunion, “Game Brain” is likely to be the very last “new” Perfect Strangers anything, ever. I feel incredibly lucky to have found it, just in time for the end of this blog. I’ll never love the show as much as its hardcore fans, but I bet they (you) enjoyed this more than I did.

For me, it’s more than just getting one more “official” Larry and Balki story. This was an opportunity to see a script before it went through the process of getting to the screen. If most 80s sitcom scripts started out this way, it feels like a crime to cut them down for the sake of commercial breaks. I’ll admit to some bias, too: it’s very easy for me to read “Game Brain” as a justification of my own opinion on what Perfect Strangers was intended to be. For better or worse, Mark’s readiness to respond to Bronson’s fledgling comedy ideas changed the show indelibly.

“Game Brain” also came at the right time for me because of how stark a counterpoint it provides to Season 8’s “The Baby Quiz”. Season 1 would have given us a story that cared about far more than just the trappings of contemporary gameshows: it was concerned with what a gameshow meant to both Larry and Balki. Cousin Larry sees the gameshow as incompatible with American mores; Balki sees it as the pinnacle of the American experience.

“The Baby Quiz”, on the other hand, just said “fuck it” and let Bronson take over the story with his warmed-over impressions. The gameshow itself became an afterthought.

“Game Brain” got rid of the bad taste “The Baby Quiz” left in my mouth by proving that there are still hundreds of viable ways of approaching the same subject matter.

You know what? This find is too good to not share the whole thing with you, so here you go: a half-hour radio play version of “Game Brain”. Just for today, screw copyright.

Credits:

Balki Bartokomous: Andrew Strobel

Larry Appleton: Ian Chris Hayes

Mr. Twinkacetti: Shawn Green (http://www.halfwayokay.com)

Susan, additional voices: Vivian Lajoie

Art French, narration, additional voices: Casey Roberson

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*I’ve got some bad news for you

**Hey, cut me some slack: it’s been four years since I watched Season 1

***Though I am told I would excitedly shift my baby walker over to the television any time the M*A*S*H theme came on

Next week: goodbye

The Top 10 and Bottom 10 Perfect Strangers episodes

Finally, after 45 months of psychological analysis and Zappa quotes, after innumerable inaccessible literature references and tongue-in-cheek exegesis, after painstakingly cataloging every moment of Bronson Pinchot’s 30-year career, finally, two weeks before Perfect Strangers Reviewed ends forever, here’s a straightforward post that might actually find an audience bigger than the three content scrapers that visit this blog.

Four years of hard work is nothing compared to a quick post that tells you how you should feel about things. Just ask the writers over at Slate!

One issue with trying to figure out the “best” or “worst” episodes of Perfect Strangers is that, on a good week, the show was a fairly balanced mix of passably clever punchlines, impossible linguistic misunderstandings, cultural conflict, and a disappointing sweeping aside of secondary characters. (On a bad week Cousin Larry would get condemned to eternal damnation for pocketing a penny from the tray at the convenience store register.) Very few episodes–even the great ones–are free from the show’s more serious problems.

 

Top 10

10. Eyewitless Report (Season 5)

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Maybe this is a cheat, because I’m handing this spot to one-third of an episode. But I love parody so much, and this episode does it so well, that I’m perfectly fine bumping something like “Finders Keepers” or “A Blast from the Past” from the bottom of the list so I can include it..

Mr. Gorpley suffered the fate of all secondary Perfect Strangers characters: featured in only two or three stories before being reduced to a single character trait (in this case, that trait is being named “Gorpley”). Depending on how many episodes of the show audiences caught, they may or may not have known that he was Balki’s mean boss. Whatever you do or don’t know about Gorpley, taking him completely out of the work environment makes him a wildcard in a story about a work retreat to the mountains.

And then doubly so when the episode turns into Rashomon and he has to tell the police a version of how he and Larry and Balki squared off against an escaped psycho killer. Given that his usual take on things is how much the world has shit on him, it’s hard to guess how he might describe the events. His retelling is the only time Perfect Strangers deliberately engaged in self-parody, and Gorpley’s versions of the Cousins–brain-damaged, barely articulate children–reveals him to be even more petty and nihilistic than we suspected, willing to waste the police’s time just to get in some cheap digs and dirty jokes.

You have to ignore–as my commenters pointed out–that Gorpley wasn’t at all necessary, given that Jennifer and Mary Anne could have delivered just as effective a parody; but you have to ignore almost everything Balki says to enjoy the show at all, so.

 

9. The Defiant Guys (Season 3)

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I almost put “Karate Kids” in this spot because it came so very close to making some kind of worthwhile cultural statement about the American (Caucasian) male’s warped idea of masculinity; but like so many episodes, it choked at the end, delivering the wrong lesson.

If “Karate Kids” failed to convey that talking through problems was the best way to resolve conflict, “The Defiant Guys” succeeded. Most episodes in Seasons 1 through 3 put Larry and Balki on common ground, where each thinks he’s an expert; but this is the rarer story where Larry is the only adult in the room, in his own way. Rarer than that, even: the secondary and tertiary characters take on actual roles in the story: Harriette doles out advice, Mrs. Van Weezer provides an obstacle, and Wainwright’s opinion of Larry actually still mattered. I’ve long suspected that Harriette and Lydia (like Twinkacetti and Susan before them) were meant to be advice-givers to Balki and Larry, respectively, and this episode is a window into how much better that version of Perfect Strangers could have been.

“The Defiant Guys” could stand next to any Season 1 episode, as both Cousins learn different lessons while handcuffed together: Balki to treat others how they want to be treated, and Larry to realize others will judge him fairly, even without the confidence a good flossing or a lucky pen will bring.

 

8. Pipe Dreams (Season 3)

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The show’s regular focus on slapstick brought comparisons to Laurel & Hardy films, a similarity that Perfect Strangers–much to its discredit–leaned into on at least three occasions. I’m putting that too nicely: Perfect Strangers had no compunction about blatantly lifting scenarios beat-for-beat from far better media. But this was before that, when the show was still defining its boundaries and tone, exploratory but unified around Larry and Balki’s personalities. Tasking the Cousins with fixing a shower works as homage to 1930s slapstick because it’s a diffuse homage, and localized to the settings the show already had.

That’s not to say this episode had any real conflict–cultural or otherwise–between the Cousins. In fact, this was one of only three Season 3 episodes that gave Balki no motivation at all. (Think about it: life on a relatively isolated farm meant that household skills were probably possessed by all family members. Balki was less likely to seek out an expert Myposian roofer because that guy might live a day or two away.) Larry assigned himself the role of boss for a simple plumbing job, with Balki as assistant. And though it grated at the time, Balki’s rapid cycling through stupid, devious, sad, and disturbingly delighted earned the comparison to Stan Laurel.

“Pipe Dreams” hit all the right notes for the tried-and-true physical comedy scenario of failing to fix a house. It promises very clearly that it will end with water spraying everywhere, and delivers. It also marks the very last time that Larry would try to impress Jennifer without it feeling incredibly tired.

 

7. That Old Gang of Mine (Season 4)

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In Perfect Strangers’s middle period, the setup was often dispatched as quickly as possible to get the Cousins into the scenario of the week. In many cases that impulse robbed the show of sense-making dialogue, but here, fuck yeah show me 12 minutes of Larry and Balki in over their heads at a biker bar.

(I’m going to go on record as saying that biker gangs are the United States’ single greatest gift to movies and television. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure wouldn’t be the same without those jolly badasses, and neither would The Garbage Pail Kids movie. Every sitcom should have an episode where the characters have a run-in with the local Hells Angels chapter.)

Another bad habit of the show was to get everybody but the Cousins off-screen, but here even that pays off when Balki asks a *ahem* well-hung Larry to pretend he’s the Scarecrow. It’s the only time in his entire career that Bronson demanding to make a Wizard of Oz joke was additive.

Unfortunately, the framing story for this is Balki’s girlfriend Mary Anne giving up a considerable promotion and the chance to live in London, where people don’t shun you for being smart. And Balki is invited to fuck the biker version of Smurfette. It’s a disappointing double-punch, and I’ll admit that other episodes about women (say, “Maid to Order”) had less problematic endings… but when it’s not being misogynistic, “That Old Gang of Mine” is a hell of a lot of fun.

 

6. The Rent Strike (Season 2)

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Like “The Defiant Guys”, this is another view into a viable path Perfect Strangers could have gone down. I suspect that the final two Susan episodes were leftovers from the scripts developed for Season 1*, which goes a long way towards explaining why this episode sticks out so much from the rest of Season 2.

Larry and Balki were both ready to take on the whole of America, but were trapped in dead-end discount store jobs, selling the dregs of the capitalist system. This was the first indication that they weren’t alone, that there were more supports around them than they thought, and that they might have more agency over their situation than they realized. The show would never again show you the other non-girlfriend residents of the Caldwell Hotel, but for this one brief moment, Larry and Balki were part of a community. It’s baffling that any sitcom could throw away a grouchy old woman as beautifully named as Schlaegelmilch, but Perfect Strangers made an art form out of squandering secondary characters’ potential.

ABC could easily have thrown out “The Rent Strike” since it was written for a version of Perfect Strangers that had already been left behind, but I’m sure glad they didn’t. It foregrounds the Cousins’ fraught and complicated relationship with their boss/landlord Donald Twinkacetti, and realizes the prop comedy potential of a junk shop in a way that very few episodes did.

*more on this next week HINT HINT

 

5. Wild Turkey (Season 7)

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One of the worst choices Perfect Strangers ever made was to turn uptight, anxious, sarcastic, jaded Larry Appleton into a manipulative, opportunistic, insulting, pathological liar. The writers finally realized the shift had pushed Larry out of the realm of family-friendly sitcoms and solidly into cartoon territory… and so they spun turds into gold*, finding a new type of comedy by leaning into that very incongruity.

(Maybe this happened because of a Q&A session after a taping, where an audience member asked Mark Linn-Baker how he felt playing an asshole. Or maybe it was because Bronson would openly abuse the craft services people with a shepherd’s crook for asking if he preferred Perrier or S.Pellegrino, and needed the audience to think Mark was the mean one.)

Larry trying to make money by selling second-hand turkeys reads as a gentle lampoon of his earlier get-rich-quick schemes, but otherwise the episode appears to be heading down the well-worn path of the “lost wedding ring” story. The rug-pull comes when the Cousins find themselves face-to-face with the equivalent of a sitcom family–all named after Happy Days characters–and Larry basically transforms into a demon, creating one of the show’s single funniest sequences. He offers false prayers to God, he screams at children, he steals food, and finally he breaks an old man’s ribs.

You’d expect Larry to get a wrist-slap from Balki at the end of the episode, but “Wild Turkey” refuses to explicitly comment on his terrorizing of a whole family at all. No one standing up to a man blatantly disregarding social constraints is a stronger explanation for Larry’s behavior than “girls didn’t like me in high school”. It’s downright amazing this aired the same night as Urkel convincing a girl to stop putting out for everyone–or really on TGIF at all.

*Like in the fairy tale Rumpelshittin

 

4. Better Shop Around (Season 3)

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Perfect Strangers‘s second full season still had something to prove. Outlandish plots like Balki becoming a rapper, or negotiating the sale of land on his home island, were still years away. “Better Shop Around” keeps the stakes virtually non-existent, opting instead to imagine how Balki and Cousin Larry would approach an “invisible” part of American life: the weekly grocery trip.

The episode brings Balki’s agricultural background to the forefront, contrasting it against America’s plenty. And the USian trend towards total disregard of the human aspects of commerce plays out in both Balki’s story (the cashier doesn’t want to chat, and she’s on the verge of being replaced by a self-checkout system) and Larry’s: when the Cousins are rewarded for being loyal customers, Larry sees an opportunity for personal wealth instead of community. For a show about a dumbass immigrant, Perfect Strangers was occasionally this smart.

One of the show’s strongest aspects early on was its handling of catchphrases. Full House gave each of its characters a catchphrase, though none of them revealed their peronalities.* Uncle Joey would tell people to “Cut. It. Out.” and DJ would exclaim “Oh Mylanta”. Tells you everything about them, doesn’t it? Similarly, I’ve yet to figure out what, exactly, poses “No problem” for ALF. But the best Perfect Strangers episodes understood Larry and Balki as reliable sets of responses to scenarios, and developed multiple catchphrases and catchphrase-a-likes to make that point. “Better Shop Around” is larded with them, with not only two instances of “Don’t be ridiculous”, but a “Where do I come up with them?”, Larry’s “Watch… and learn” and “I have… a plan!”, Balki running and jumping on the couch, and the Cousins playing catch with dead poultry.

*save for Danny Tanner’s “I like to get high off these cleaning supply fumes.”

 

3. Games People Play (Season 4)

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I doubt any of you are surprised that three of the dead-bird-throwing episodes are in my top 10.

The very first televised game show was British, but I’d argue that the format is a distinctly American institution, interlocking with the Tocquevillian idea of socioeconomic mobility as a central support of democracy. (I mean, barely anyone in America changes social classes since the 70s, when the billionaires took over, but it was nice to dream for a couple hundred years.) A game show episode is very nearly a sure thing for any sitcom–Season 8’s “The Baby Quiz” proves this by showing how hard you have to work to fail at it–because it typically involves the characters bringing their personal beefs into a fun low-stakes situation. Television viewers are already experts at being a home game show audience, and know exactly how transgressive a sitcom’s characters are being. And this episode gives us that, but that’s not what makes it great.

The Banana Strippers are what make it great.

It was serendipitous that a sitcom essentially about slapstick and live stunts happened at the same time as the heyday of game shows with larger-than-life physical games like Double Dare, Nick Arcade, Finders Keepers, and Fun House. “Games People Play” is one of the few examples where removing logic from the setup turned out to be fully justified: Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker had by this point built up their physical comedy skill to the point that you could fill a third of an episode with it. Having grown up on Double Dare, this episode scratched my own personal nostalgia itch the most.

 

2. Stress Test (Season 7)

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Given how dreadful some late-era episodes could be for any longrunning 80s/90s sitcom (you’ll notice no Season 6 episodes made it onto this list), the fact that Perfect Strangers’s 140th episode made it into my top 10 is a testament to just how well the Larry-Balki relationship could work when the writers understood it.

A psychologist putting Larry and Balki into stressful situations for his own and others’ amusement is about as metatextual as you can get. Since it’s a good bet the Season 7 writers felt the show was ending, it feels like a closing argument: no matter what tests life gives the Cousins, the results will be exactly the same. They’ll work together, they’ll fight, they’ll take turns wheedling and crying, and somedamnhow they’ll work showtunes* into it. “Stress Test” celebrates the fact that Larry and Balki don’t get along, asking you to pardon the earlier excessive missteps of discord (say, any time Larry made Balki cry) as something out of their control.

We also got solid guest-star casting with George Wyner’s third appearance. Wyner’s first two appearances as mob accountant Marvin Berman were among Season 5’s highest points, and it’s easy to imagine he was called back to help elevate another good episode. And whether or not it was intentional, that he would have been a familiar face to Larry and Balki added to the mindfuck elements of psych tests.

*Hey, I’ve never claimed that they were the straightest gay couple on television without evidence for it.

 

1. Get a Job (Season 2)

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SHE’S A PARTY GIRL

Pushing characters out of their regular environment is a nice treat–as long as it’s not (ahem) overdone. Later seasons would dip into that well too often–the Cousins as caterers, stewardesses, hospital orderlies, and in Season 11, air traffic controllers–but this was the very first time, and driven by existing circumstances in the show’s scenario. The Cousins were still down on their luck, and broke besides, and when Twinkacetti fires them, they’re desperate enough to take the first shitty job they can find.

Part of Perfect Strangers’s original thesis is that neither one of these guys could make it in the modern world on the strength of their individual knowledge or skills, and needed each other. Putting them in a situation where they were truly out of their depth–where even their combined efforts were futile against characters more out of control than they were–is a rewarding subversion of that thesis that the show explored far too rarely. (And with variable results: “Since I Lost My Baby” and “A Catered Affair” are worthwhile, but “Prose and Cons” would be in my Bottom 10 if I could remember a single thing that happened in it.)

Perfect Strangers regularly cast good actors in one-off roles–such as George Wyner, Holland Taylor, James Hampton, Kimmy Robertson, and Leslie Jordan–who could match the show’s just-shy-of-zany tone. Susan Kellerman, here playing Fat Marsha Manning, is the only one who elevated a guest role to something more than what was on the page. The script appears to have portrayed Fat Marsha as a disgusting, frightening part of Chicago’s working class; but Kellerman plays her as a woman in control of her own life, personally and socially and professionally. Being fry cooks at Fat Marsha’s Burgers would never be right for Balki and Larry, but damn if I wouldn’t have loved seeing her as somebody’s boss every week.

I’d stop the post here if I could, but for every great Perfect Strangers episode, there were two or three pitiable ones.

 

Bottom 10

I’ve faced tougher decisions to make than picking out only ten worst episodes of Perfect Strangers, but not many. (For instance, one of my college philosophy courses actually set up a live “trolley problem”. I’ll never forget the screams, the screech of steel, the smell like rotten barbecued pork.) To an outsider, Perfect Strangers fandom would suggest that the show was delightful, charming, and heartfelt, and suffered only from coming at the wrong time in television history, pitted not only against ratings powerhouses like Full House or Family Matters, but also against a “meaner” trend in sitcoms. This show’s fans long for the simpler days, when nice characters like Cousin Larry would bring nice characters like Balki Bartokomous to tears with threats of deportation. So it was a surprise that so many full episodes–and many, many more individual scenes–left a bad taste in my mouth.

 

10. You Gotta Have Friends (Season 3)

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20 minutes of Balki telling you Carl Lewis is going to show up, and one minute where Carl Lewis shows up.

Was this real? Was there really a time when Olympic athletes were so important that a sitcom would do anything to have one guest-star? And were they so universally loved you could just write absolutely nothing but their name over and over again and get away with it? And are either watching one perform, or meeting one personally, the only two possibilities for stories about athletes?

The 80s truly were a simpler time.

 

9. Here Comes the Judge (Season 5)

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Seasons 5 and 6 were, overall, the show’s lowest points*, and there are very few episodes I’d recommend from either. If Season 2 suffered by making Balki an angel, Seasons 5 and 6 suffered by making Larry a devil.

Balki getting assigned to the Chicago Chronicle’s grievance committee, and Larry having a grievance filed against him for stealing office supplies, should have been a walk in the park for the writers. To their credit, they at least knew that Larry should try to weasel out of it, but everything else about the episode fails. That it has almost nothing to do with the fact that they work for a newspaper is only the tip of the iceberg here. We’re given hints that Balki might have to face some sort of dilemma around the fact that his coworkers are also his friends. The possibilities of Lydia’s anxiety or Gorpley’s vindictiveness playing a part are dangled before us only to be instantly ditched. The episode is incredibly un-self-aware and thus unmoored from continuity, overlooking or forgetting how often Larry had to bring his work home. Another season’s Larry might have tried to pump Balki (hehe) for information on who ratted him out; but Asshole Larry humiliates him in front of their coworkers, who in turn don’t comment on it.

Like with “Eyewitless Report” above, I’m cheating just a little. “Almost Live in Chicago” would have taken this spot but for the fact that I wanted one episode that was all-around disappointing, where at every point you can only think of the episode it could have been.

*Some would say Season 7, and I half agree.

 

8. The Unnatural (Season 2)

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The initial six episodes in Perfect Strangers’s first season met my expectations that the show would be a mix of fun and bland, but with Season 2, ABC ushered in a brand new era of upside-down “morals”.

This marks the first time the show went out of its way to fellate Balki. Cousin Larry is one game away from winning the Greater Chicago Locally-Owned Business Baseball Tournament Jamboree, and Balki sees this as an opportunity to guilt trip him. The issue: Balki doesn’t realize Larry thinks he’s terrible at baseball, nor does he bother to tell him he was actually good at it on Mypos. One person being presented as a villain for daring to care about their own goals would prove to be Full House’s most-visited well. It was annoying enough there, even if you’re able to swallow that kids are too young to understand perspective-taking; but to see it play out between two grown men is worse. This show couldn’t even go ten episodes without infantilizing the very foreigners it wanted to praise as crucial to American society.

By setting up the double standard that Balki was allowed to not care about Cousin Larry’s goals, but that Cousin Larry had to give into every one of Balki’s demands, Perfect Strangers made some serious headway towards ditching the relatively intelligent aspects of the talky comedy it started out as.

 

7. A Horse is a Horse (Season 6)

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Man look this one starts out with the Cousins doing the Humpty Dance and ends with Balki resurrecting a dead horse with Mrs. Dash. At one point Larry sucks on a barber’s dildo. I don’t fucking know.

 

6. Aliens (Season 4)

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Ideally, sitcoms offer an interesting umbrella premise, or a unique voice, through which everyday situations can be filtered; and presumably they get renewed because audiences respond to those two aspects. So an homage episode–where one or both of those might disappear–is a shaky proposition to begin with, and the bar is higher. A sitcom taking on the look and feel of another piece of media needs to do more than ask “Wouldn’t it be funny if one character dressed up like another?” It needs to ask if there’s something interesting to explore about its own characters, or if there’s some comparison or contrast it can make with other shows or films. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s “Old Lady House” poked fun at how laugh tracks try to transform the often toxic behavior between sitcom characters. Community explored one character’s break with reality through stop-motion animation in “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”. Roseanne’s “The Fifties Show” contrasted Roseanne with television housewives two generations prior.

When you think of Perfect Strangers, your mind immediately jumps to The Dick Van Dyke Show, right?

As if it weren’t bad enough to outright steal the 1963 Dick Van Dyke Show dream episode “It May Look Like a Walnut” beat for beat, without any indication that it was doing so, Perfect Strangers turned it into something far, far worse by removing all of the things that made the original work.

For one, it made virtually no effort to localize the plot to Larry and Balki and co. Instead of coming up with a way for anyone’s existing character traits–Lydia, Harriette, Jennifer, Mary Anne, Mr. Gorpley, RT Wainwright, Old Man MacDuff, Big Scooter, Li’l Scooter, or Chimpanzos, the Myposian Ape, to toy with Larry’s sense of whether he was going crazy… they just all wore vests. The vests themselves were the other problem. “It May Look Like a Walnut” offered a visual pun on the oversized pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers; “Aliens” detached the plot from its central joke and forgot to find something to reattach it to.

Imagine how much fun it would have been if Perfect Strangers had parodied some contemporary alien film, say, Cocoon, or They Live. Instead we got this shit.

 

5. The Break In (Season 3)

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This episode–where Larry and Balki save a coworker from suicide by reminding him that he has a wife and kid–tried. It really did, I’ll give it that. But like imagine if it was somebody’s childhood dream to be a doctor, and after years of not going to medical school or going in for a regular checkup, they perform surgery when they’re at the grocery store and the checker has a heart attack. They tried, they really did.

This began as a lighthearted, wacky story, where everything Larry and Balki do to fix a mistake gets them in worse trouble. It was on its way to being a good episode right up until they meet Frank, the crime beat reporter, about to leap to his death to escape the horrors of the modern American city. I suspect the sudden swerve was to make Larry rethink how seriously he was treating his relatively minor problems, but the episode didn’t bother to make that clear. Aside from the tonal mismatch, it’s hard to believe that the Cousins–who can’t even handle hackneyed sitcom shenanigans–would suddenly be able to talk a man down from the ledge.

And then they go and gripe about how draining it was to save someone’s life. Fuck this one.

 

4. Piano Movers (Season 4)

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“Piano Movers” aired one week after “Aliens”, and when I reviewed it, I thought it had a shot at being the absolute worst episode of the show. I struggled to find anything to say about it and was reduced to making repeated whimpering pleas that it end.

And then I found out that it too was a complete theft, this time of the Laurel & Hardy short film “The Music Box”. It’s some sort of impressive that this is both the only Perfect Strangers episode I hated twice as much after I had finished reviewing it, and the only one I have even less to say about now than I did then.

It was very difficult to not include “The Gazebo” or “I Saw This on TV” in the Bottom 10. But in retrospect, both of those episodes were honest about being homages. Plus, I can cut the latter some slack because I know seeing Mark and Bronson as Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton brought a smile to Jo Marie Payton’s face.

 

3. Duck Soup (Season 6)

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Recipe for Myposian duck soup

Ingredients

  • 6 raw duck leg/thigh pieces
  • 16 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 large onion, peeled, halved
  • 6 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 handfuls of semisolids from the nearest Five Guys dumpster

Step 1: Mix all items in large pot

Step 2: Place pot, covered, in trunk of car

Step 3: Book 3-week trip to Panama in late July

Step 4: Park car in uncovered parking at airport

Step 5: Upon return, climb into trunk of car, close trunk lid

Step 6: Top with sour cream

Voilà! You have put in more effort, and created a better end product, than the writers, actors, and producers of this episode. I can’t think of a bigger “fuck you” to an audience than sex noises and saying dinosaurs still exist.

 

2. Yes Sir, That’s My Baby (Season 7)

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Oh wait I can it’s this doodoo hole. It’s a master class in almost every problem a sitcom can have.

Not only was this a fantasy episode; refused to answer its central question of what kind of fathers the Cousins would be; offered immense tonal discord by promising you that both Larry and Balki would go to jail for life for gross child neglect; never came up with a story; and made me wish I was watching “Piano Movers”, because it at least had Lydia; not only all that but it made damn sure you knew that Jennifer and Mary Anne’s sidelining from most episodes wasn’t actually a side effect of the show’s focus on physical comedy. Either the writers were deliberately excluding Melanie Wilson and Rebeca Arthur, or they couldn’t be bothered to give a shit that week at all. Oh AND you could make the case they were stealing from Laurel & Hardy again. Jesus.

An episode whose highest aspiration was putting Larry and Balki in diapers could have been almost anything; instead it chose to be nothing at all.

 

1. Season 8 (Season 8)

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I hate it.

The three times that Bronson Pinchot was given any sort of control over a sitcom–Meego, The Trouble With Larry, and Season 8 of Perfect Strangers–are maybe the only extant examples of complete abdication of the responsibilities of television storytelling. Or at least, they’re the only ones I can think of, and there’s no way I’m thinking about this season a single minute more; the time I wasted watching these episodes would have been better spent gargling bleach. Perfect Strangers had always pushed the limits of how much necessary story it could chip away, but Season 8 set to the task of removing bricks from the show’s foundation with gusto. And it did this by allowing Bronson Pinchot–who hated the show by that point himself–to take as much time with his derivative “comedy” monologues as he wanted.

ABC was so ashamed that it even made these six episodes that it did everything in its power to ensure as few people as possible saw them. ABC put a lot of crap on the air, so it’s welcome to see that even they could recognize pure dreck.

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In two weeks: goodbye

In one week: I have one final gift for you

Loose Ends: Larryoke and Prizes

There will be three more actual substantial posts after this, but for today, I’m just going to get a few things tidied up

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First, the videos from Larryoke 2!

And I think I forgot to post the videos from Larryoke 1 a couple years ago!

In some ways, I’m as proud of the 26 songs I wrote for both Larryokes as I am of the blog itself.

Larryoke started as a joke between myself and Philip J Reed (who wrote “Windy Chicagoan Nights”), and it seemed too fabulously nutty an idea not to do. And it turned out to be hugely rewarding. It let me push the boundaries of the review blog format, irrevocably setting the bar higher for the poor soul who just wants to make Thighmaster jokes while writing about She’s the Sheriff; it achieved some resonance with Perfect Strangers‘s own regular inclusion of songs; and it scratched some itches I wasn’t fully aware I had.

I grew up listening to “Weird Al” Yankovic, ever since I saw him in 1991 on Square One Television. Though I miss his earlier look and musical style (he was a pastiche of oddities specific to the United States of the 1970s and 1980s), I’ll follow his career as long as he makes songs. Along with MAD Magazine, “Weird Al” was my teacher when it came to subversion and recognizing the hollowness at the core of consumerism. But his was an empowering message in the vein of Frank Zappa: fetishizing Cuisinarts, SPAM, cable television, or infomercial products was obviously brainless, so the stuff I was into was fine by comparison. So long as it doesn’t cause a murder, etc. I would possess neither the sense of humor, nor the breadth of reference (academic or otherwise), to keep a project like this blog afloat if I hadn’t had a role model telling me I could pursue whatever weird shit interested me.

But… I never thought I would end up publishing my own parody songs.* Writing spoof lyrics is a very different kind of thinking from what I’m used to, because each line ideally needs to do four things at once: be about Perfect Strangers, rhyme with one or more other lines, retain at least one or two words from the original song, and be funny. I understand now how hard it must have been for the prophets to write Bible verses that were about ancient Israel and 20th-Century United States at the same time!

Some songs, like “Mypos Man” or “Sitcom Star”, basically wrote themselves. But others–and I’m primarily thinking of “Twinka ’90” and “I Reviewed Perfect Strangers”–felt like I only managed to finish them through sheer brute force. And I believe that “Where Have All the Good Shows Gone?”, which encompasses both the original and lesser, revived versions of TGIF**, could stand on its own outside the context of this blog. “Dim a Little Dimitri” is the Zappa-est song*** of the bunch, but “Where Have All the Good Shows Gone?” is the “Weird Al”-est. Could someone please get a job at the AVClub and write an article about Larryoke? Thanks.

Writing that many songs about Larry and Balki & co. could have been either a pure exercise of ego, or of madness, so I’m humbled that I had enough friends who also thought Larryoke was a good enough idea to put their time and energy into it. Or they helped out because they’re part of the global conspiracy focused on keeping me busy so I don’t find out about it. Whichever one of those it is, it was a lot of fun! Larryoke, and Larryoke 2, wouldn’t have existed were it not for all of the singers, who each brought their own interpretations to the lyrics, making them something much, much more than silly rhymes about a TV show. If you enjoyed either Larryoke, thank them.

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Second, I have some prizes to give away! In February and August of last year, I announced both

LAST ANNUAL

PERFECT STRANGERS REVIEWED

CAPTION CONTESTS

 

Our first prize tonight is these Perfect Strangers promotional slides:

slides1

Ain’t they beautiful? They’re going to appear in the mailbox of Jennifer, who captioned this image:

contest1

“Mary Anne, I didn’t know your family was also from Mypos. It turns out you are my sister!”

This one makes me laugh because it would mean Balki is more attracted to her.

The other prize is a set of Impel LAFFS trading cards. Since it consists entirely of promotional images of ABC sitcoms, it’s very likely the cheapest trading card series ever made!

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You won’t get the exact ones pictured, because I put those right in that toilet after taking the photo. But AN actual set of 80 cards will permanently bring down the resale value of John D‘s house because he submitted the winning caption for this image:

contest2

“Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten into me.”

This one makes me laugh because water is going up Larry’s butt.

Jennifer and John D, please comment with your email addresses, and then I’ll delete the comments. Or you can contact me through the Perfect Strangers Reviewed Facebook page.

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One more thing: I truly do only plan to put up three more posts after this one. Now, maybe someone finally gets back to me and gives me an interview, or maybe the requests I’ve put out there to find a copy of the pilot end up fruitful, or maybe Bronson finally sues me for libel. If anything on that order happens, sure, I’ll write up a post about it. I wouldn’t withhold anything like that.

But I won’t make any more efforts to get interviews, locate rare Bronson Pinchot films, purchase a mint-in-sealed-package Dimitri’s Diner apron, or open a portal to a dimension where Season 8 never aired. And if the show ever gets rebooted, no.

Fuck no.

See you next week for the inevitable Top 10/Bottom 10 post!

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*”Judy Eatin’ Fries” (John Fred & His Playboys), “Covered in Goo” (38 Special), and “Bennie & Her Boobs” (Elton John) will only ever exist in my Google Drive account.

**Television Ghosts Invoke Fear

***I wanted so, so badly to do a version of Zappa’s “Fembot in a Wet T-Shirt” (“Mypiot in a Wet Cousin”). There was no karaoke track available for it, which is a shame, because the original song has a “50 bucks” line and everything.