Season 5 Reviewed

Welcome back to Perfect Strangers Reviewed!  I’m getting tired of this shit.

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I’ve sat down here to try to answer the tough questions I need to think about, and it’s hard. I don’t want to do it. In fact, I’ve already taken off my pants in an attempt to distract you all.

In the past few months, I’ve felt some fatigue setting in.  Now, a lot of this has to do with my own personal world over the past year. I… well, I had a shit year professionally, and it was enough to make me miss two weeks on this blog; let’s leave it at that. Some of my fatigue with ending season 5 has to do with coming off the high of ending season 4 and doing the Larryoke stream with y’all.  That was the highlight of my year, by far, and that wouldn’t have happened without readers and friends pitching in so much. Someone even asked me to do another one next Spring, and that was good to hear. It won’t happen, unfortunately. I mean, there’s not enough raw material to do another set of songs yet. You’d get “Marvin Berman Eyes”* and that’d be it.

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And some of it certainly has to do simply with reviewing a show for this long.  I credit Philip “The J is for Jingle Cats” Reed for inspiring me to do this blog, and he mentions fatigue at the end of reviewing three seasons of ALF.  Even Billy Superstar was complaining about how much further there was to go by the end of season 5 of Full House.  How Sarah Portland isn’t dead after five years of reviewing Star Trek I’ll never know. I don’t know if this is true for other reviewers, but somewhere in the course of reviewing season 5, my reviews jumped from 2,400 words on average to around 3,500.  Maybe I’m getting sloppy and less concise; or maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’m carrying more and more baggage of what’s come before each week.

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But a hell of a lot of it has to do with Perfect Strangers itself.  Like I said last week, finishing up each season has so far felt like an accomplishment. With two-ish seasons still ahead of me, this feels like having my 22nd birthday all over again.** And it doesn’t help that Perfect Strangers didn’t do anything to differentiate this season from others. Full House had specific throughlines, additions, and events that were season-specific: Jesse & Joey working at a radio station; Jesse & Becky’s kids being born; Danny having a steady girlfriend; Michelle dies in the last season. ALF’s latter seasons were distinguished by prolonged visits with new characters.  With Perfect Strangers seasons can be told apart first by workplace, and then by Balki’s haircut.

I hope you’ll forgive me for this extended penis-measuring against other shows, but like I’ve done a few times this season, I’m trying to disclose my thinking process to show how I get somewhere.  It occurs to me that Full House was bad because it was very good at what it set out to do (be incredibly saccharine, annoying, and endearing to self-centered little girls), and that ALF was very bad at what it set out to do (depict the often-heartwarming relationship between a brash-if-wise alien and his adopted nice everyfamily).

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Obviously my considered opinion is that Perfect Strangers is bad, but what the fuck is it trying to do? (And does that matter?)

I know by now I can’t judge season 5 by the original, more intellectual premise of the show (you remember, like when Larry was trying to get upskirts of Dolly Parton) in terms of two people with radically different worldviews bringing their varying knowledge and misconceptions to adult situations like jobs, and dating, and the various contortions that social and gender codes force us to make. It had mostly ditched that by season 4. But I think it’s worth discussing another aspect of the show’s premise. Like musician Jesse Frederick said (in last week’s post), ABC wanted a theme song about winning. Perfect Strangers is still a show about chasing one’s dreams, though at this point that aspect is certainly treated differently.

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For about 30 episodes, Larry Appleton wanted to make his way in the big city as a photojournalist, navigating an adult personal and professional life with the skills he’d learned in college. Balki wanted to live the generalized “American dream”, which in practice boiled down to a number of specifics (baseball, credit cards, driver’s license, high school degree, not fucking a blonde for four years).  The potentialities of where the cousins might go in life have collapsed into the eigenstate of working at the Chicago Chronicle. The dreams are smaller. Larry used to worry that he would never get a girlfriend; now he worries that he won’t be able to keep one. I look forward to Larry starting psychotherapy when Jennifer indicates she doesn’t like the bathmats he bought.

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I suppose Larry’s goal now is to be part of an investigative team like Marshall & Walpole, who were mentioned only once this entire season; and that’s a fine goal to work towards. And I guess Balki getting citizenship would be an endpoint for his arc. Season 5 gave Larry enough wins to make it believable that he could eventually be a journalist, but it didn’t truly advance that story.  RT (Reporter Tease) Wainwright pops up a couple times to dangle the possibility of Balki and Larry working together as a team. It would be a kick in the nuts for that to happen since Larry is actually doing the real work. And since, as we learned last week, two more full seasons of Perfect Strangers was basically a foregone conclusion, I can see the possibility that this kind of arc (for at least Larry) was planned to take up this much time. But going down that road of conjecture ends with another complaint: Larry’s arc is gradual, and episodes can be strung together to form a story with “Larry is trying so damn hard” as its backbone.

Balki’s progress, however, has been more like marking items off a checklist.  Balki gets a job, Balki graduates high school, Balki gets into college. Season 3 barely cared about Balki in high school, other than right at the end when the show realized it had a graduation story due and stayed up all night writing it.  But at least “The Graduate” threw up some natural obstacles for Balki. In season four Balki gets into college and takes one class. There’s little enough story between those two events that he wasn’t even needed for one of the episodes; and for the other, it wasn’t actually about Balki striving–or even experiencing–something as life-changing as college. All we’ve gotten is a narrow look at how Larry and Balki interacted on two separate days of his now two years in college.  Larry’s struggle is against the barriers that lots of people face: bad bosses, competition, trying to prove oneself, and trying not to let his neuroses get in his own way.  Balki generally sails through life succeeding at whatever he tries, with Larry as his own real stumbling block. For Larry to hinder himself is comic; for Larry to hinder Balki is tragic.

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Season 5 has been trying desperately to give Balki something else to do since he achieved his lifelong dream of staying a virgin at the end of season 4. And as a result, it comes across as though the newspaper itself doesn’t know what to do with him.  He’s been given various other extra responsibilities (“The Newsletter”, “Here Comes the Judge”, and acting as Larry’s research assistant in “Poetry in Motion” and “Digging Up the News”), and we can assume that those are ongoing, but they haven’t changed his main job at the Chicago Chronicle, which I guess is “jukebox” at this point. (Gee, if only they’d come up with a character to be his boss…) At the very least, we do get a couple of indications that Balki has a life past what we get to see. He’s still in college according to “Poetry in Motion”; and he volunteers at the hospital in “Disorderly Orderlies”, making good on his graduation promise to give back to America . But we haven’t heard Balki talk about what he wants out of his life, or out of America, for a long time now.  Is it every shepherd’s dream to oversee multiple flocks? Does he want his own farm? Does he want children? Does he want to gather up nine other guys so Mary Anne can give birth out in the field, and then come cook for them?  We’ll just assume Balki has some reason for wanting to go to college, but otherwise I guess it’s hard to come up with long-terms goals for a character once you’ve committed to giving him his every desire 22 minutes after he voices it. Or the show simply isn’t interested in exploring Balki’s life. Could be that.

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At any rate, what I’m trying to say about dreams is that Perfect Strangers has lost much of its general striving tone, but replaced it with goals that are specific (enough) to the characters Larry and the situation. And as much as I want to make that a compliment for season 5, it’s applicable more to the series as a whole, and that only because I know that we have 50-odd episodes left.  And whatever goals in mind the show has left for the characters–being an investigative team, buying a house, marrying, having kids–two years seems like a reasonable amount of time to achieve them.

But I could have said the same thing a whole damn season ago.

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Back to what I was saying earlier, that season 5 doesn’t have much to distinguish it from season 4. I suppose it would be unfair to say that it should. Other shows have run much longer without shaking up their central aspects. (I mean, I haven’t watched The Simpsons for a few years now, but the only major thing that changes is which voice actors die, right?) Just like season 4 was a succession of parties, I could say that season 5 had a relatively high number of episodes about family members (“Lie-Ability” & “Home Movies” (sorta), “Because They’re Cousins”, “Hello Ball”, and “Father Knows Best???”) and sports (“Good Skates”, “Lie-Ability”, “Everyone in the Pool”, “Hello Ball” again), but that’s only true of the first half.

I don’t think this is so much a distinction as it is the further drift of a rudderless ship, but season 5 leaned much more into kiddie fare than season 4. In Billy Superstar’s season 5 review of Full House, he noted that the show’s palette had switched to brighter colors that season. I’m still watching VHS rips, meaning that the colors I see are the muted browns, yellows and greens of a COPD patient’s purulent sputum. But we’ve all but left lessons behind. Don’t get me wrong, the cousins still had to navigate a few tricky adult situations. They explored whether lying was appropriate when trying to bolster a cranky old man’s ego (“Hello Ball”), whether making money was worth causing others pain and suffering (“Season 5”, haha, gotcha! Seriously, though: “The Selling of Mypos”), and tackling a nationalist’s attempt at undercutting affirmative action (“He’s the Boss”). Those were brief elevations of maturity that I was thankful to get, even if two out of three of them spent a hell of a lot of time on Balki singing & dancing or swinging a golf club around. But we had episodes where the cousins rolled an overweight man around for 10 minutes straight, flung a coworker around like a ragdoll (“Almost Live From Chicago”), put on animal costumes, and even one where a grown-ass man was scared of the dentist. Most relevant to this point, though, is that the plots are becoming simpler. Larry can’t skate and learns to. Balki is afraid of the dentist but then Larry is, too. Balki loses a bird and then he gets it back. The cousins get kidnapped, and they escape. The gang goes on the worst trip ever, and then it’s over. You could take any of those scenarios and get a great episode of television. But Perfect Strangers took those scenarios and didn’t build on them, storywise. I know some of you just read this blog, and some are familiar with the episodes, but tell me, either way: can you, without going back and looking, tell me anything more about those stories that isn’t the physical comedy portion?

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We learned in the interviews for season 4 that a rule of thumb for Perfect Strangers was “the simpler the stories are, the funnier it gets”. So the show is achieving what it set out to do. But I think it’s doing it unevenly.  Nowhere was this on display more than “Almost Live in Chicago”. Lydia Markham’s character is that of an advice columnist whose multiple neuroses keep her from getting her personal life in order. A story where one specific fear stands firmly in the way of career advancement–think someone as popular as Dear Abby suddenly becoming as popular as Oprah–should truly have been a character-defining episode for Lydia. Instead of Lydia making her own decision, on her own terms, the cousins run up on stage and Looney Tunes her into quitting. Perhaps the combination of a character-driven story, and the fact that the writers couldn’t have Lydia turn down the new job on the basis of dating one of the cousins, was just too much for the show to handle.

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Speaking of neuroses, and simplicity, Cousin Larry has lost some nuance. We’ve been seeing that for a couple of seasons now when it comes to his inferiority.  Formerly, he had plenty of stories about how miserable his youth was, and how that translated into specific public behaviors (not wanting to dance in public because of a heldover “imaginary audience” in season 1’s “First Date”; still hung up on high school social hierarchy in “Hunks Like Us”).  But it’s been the case for a long time now that Larry will weep at the mere thought that Jennifer might not like him, that Jennifer’s family might not like him, that Jennifer might find someone else who is better at clipping their nails.  To be fair, we did get three stories this season where Larry’s behavior was tied to his past. “Father Knows Best???” was a standout for the a major aspect ultimate origin of Larry’s inferiority complex; “Nightmare Vacation” was a good way to keep Larry’s worries fresh by having their root in past episodes; “Almost Live in Chicago” does a lot to explain why Larry is so ready to jump on every single opportunity to advance professionally, socially, romantically, or financially. But that appears at the broad level of looking at this season, not for individual episodes. When Larry’s behavior isn’t tied to some sort of trauma, or unproductive way of thinking, he’s just mean.***

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I try to give credit where it’s due, and Philip J Reed has likened Larry to George Constanza.  Much like Socrates prefigured Jesus, Larry has tried to game social situations to his advantage.  I mentioned Eric Berne’s “Games People Play” in my season 4 review, and it’s worth bringing up here as well. “Games” are when someone tries to exploit a flaw in the way the world works to get more than they put in, be it at a broad societal level, or at the interpersonal level, or within specific domains of systematized behavior.  George Costanza uses “it’s not you, it’s me” to break up with women to avoid repercussion for mentioning another’s flaws (and, potentially, to get the woman to tell him he’s not that bad); he gets away with acting like he works in an office for weeks because in most cases, your co-workers never see your hiring paperwork or interactions with human resources. Larry is a prototype for this behavior, but even that feels like it’s been slipping. In season 3 and 4, we saw Larry manipulate Balki by appealing to various aspects of his personality and American values, take unfair advantage of both a shopping spree and a bar’s happy hour, obscure the full story of Balki being “in line for the throne” to gain access to rich people, and overuse a decentish social tactic that he learned in an assertiveness training class.  I don’t think that season 5 has given us fewer of these types of episodes–”Lie-Ability” is certainly of the “and they let you just get away with this?!” variety, and “Hello Ball” & “Disorderly Orderlies” just barely count.  When Larry’s poor behavior isn’t rooted in his past, he’s got no excuse; when it flat out ignores social rules instead of gaming them, he becomes an outright asshole. He tears up the apartment for a mere $25,000; he’d sell other people’s land without a thought for their needs; he takes over Balki’s video letter to home for no discernible reason or apparent personal gain; he blatantly ignores the conditions of the people he interviews. Perfect Strangers has proven that it can write a nuanced Larry, and still tries to two or three times per season, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be interested in it.

Just like the first half of season 5 felt like nothing but sports & family members, much of the back half of this season came across to me as a series of attempts to push parts of Perfect Strangers in definite directions and see what worked well.

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And I want to make clear that this is all my conjecture based on reading between the lines. It’s not like I have documentation that this was the intent.  If I didn’t already suspect ABC of doing this, I might not have interpreted it this way. I’ll admit to binge-watching just about every other show I’ve been into, and patterns appear to me when I do.  When I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I got the impression that seasons 4, 5, and 6 were all written with the assumption that each would be the final season (I mean, maybe Whedon planned to dedicate a whole season to the Trio, but it sure wasn’t as compelling as what came before). Full House seemed to make these kinds of changes across seasons as well, probably most obviously when Julie Smollett showed up briefly at the end of season 5 and came back in season 6. And you’ve heard of backdoor pilots, so I won’t go into that.

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The most obvious episode like that for Perfect Strangers was “This Old House”. Certainly if the show were to go on much longer, at least one cousin would be married and need to move out of the Caldwell Hotel.  But I think the show is also trying to find out if audiences prefer the cousins having separate responsibilities (“Here Comes the Judge”, “He’s the Boss” (kinda)), or working together as an investigative team, regardless of Balki’s qualifications (“Digging Up the News”). Both “Because They’re Cousins” and “Blast From the Past” seemed at the time like the show testing out a third character to bring back from time to time; similarly “Three’s a Crowd” and “Eyewitless Report” could both be read as experimenting with allowing an established secondary character more than 30 seconds on screen.  Both of these could just be wishful thinking; and god damn do I wish the show would find success with some character that wasn’t one of the cousins.

And here’s my main gripe, one that you can already guess if you’ve been following this season’s reviews: Perfect Strangers has no interest in using most of the characters it has at disposal.

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I looked back over my previous season reviews while writing this, and I sure was fucking naive when I finished up season 3.  I was willing to dismiss a lack of focus on the other Chronicle employees as simply evidence of efforts to figure out what characters worked best and, on a more basic level, how a workplace sitcom would function. A symptom that I mistook for piece-moving has become a full-blown disease.  Can you believe we’ve been three seasons with Lydia, Gorpley, and RT Wainwright at this point? Can you believe that Gorpley and Lydia were in 12 and 13 episodes respectively this season?

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Say whatever you want about how the focus of the show is the relationship between Larry and Balki, but when Bronson Pinchot himself voices discomfort at that focus, don’t you think that means there’s a problem?

Perfect Strangers gave itself girlfriends, a new workplace, and four regular Chronicle employees, and still it wants to bring in new characters for the cousins to interact with. For arguably 10 out of this season’s 24 episodes, the cousins had to deal with a new personality disrupting their lives for a little bit. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy we got to see Larry’s dad, Marvin Berman’s second appearance was surprisingly worthwhile, and having Balki be able to respond in an unexpected (if consistent) way to an even more wet-behind-the-ears Myposian felt like a necessary story. Plus, James Hampton as Mac MacIntyre was the best guest character since Fat Marsha.

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But shouldn’t we, in the meantime, have gotten to know more about the recurring characters?  And since one of them left at the end of last season, shouldn’t that have increased the amount of time we see the others? Sure, we got some gossip about Lydia and Gorpley in “The Newsletter”, but it was gossip in isolation that served no other purpose than to quickly demonstrate that Balki had caused trouble. We saw more of Gorpley in season 4, even if only in situations outside of the workplace. But at this point, I’m wearing out this joke about Gorpley’s shitty Christmases, since all he did this season was stand around and eat. And Harriette’s gone, so we’ve lost the bickering between her and Lydia, flavoring that it so desperately needs now. We got one factoid per season about RT (Receding Throughline) Wainwright in season 3 and 4; this season nothing.

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Worse still are how the show handles the cousins’ girlfriends. Sure, Jennifer and Mary Anne were in 18 and 19 episodes respectively, but I’ve taken pisses that lasted longer than their collective screen time. Even “Three’s a Crowd”, the episode that was about their fight, managed to have Jennifer absent for most of it. Larry and Balki spent more time with a men’s room key and an iron than their own girlfriends. Obviously Melanie Wilson’s and Rebeca Arthur’s (and Belita’s, and Sam’s) agents got them contracts stipulating a specific number of episodes, but the show only ever does the bare minimum to fulfill those obligations. I finally realize why we had so many fucking parties in season 4: it’s an easy way to get characters in an episode without them having to say anything or do anything. Did having both girlfriends, Lydia, and Gorpley all together in the basement in “Father Knows Best???” accomplish anything other than repeating the gag of accidentally shutting a locked door?

I guess I can see now how it would take a group of eight writers huddling in tense conference to come up with a way to give a character two lines of dialogue without disturbing the rest of the script.

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It would be far too kind to say at this point that Perfect Strangers didn’t know what to do with the workplace and apartment settings, or what to do with its supporting characters: it’s plain not interested. Just like I buy fruit from the grocery store and end up throwing it out two weeks later when it rots because I also bought a box of Pop Tarts, the show gave itself a lot of raw material and opted not to use it. Instead of exploring those characters, or at the very least letting them have any impact on a plot, we end up with physical comedy, Balki singing showtunes, Balki putting on funny hats and chanting.  Cutting out these characters not only closes off potential stories, but potential ways to explore stories as well. It’s far too easy to think of better ways to use the supporting characters in episodes like “The Newsletter” or “Here Comes the Judge”; and when they aren’t used at all, Perfect Strangers ends up being drearily uninteresting. “Poetry in Motion” ended up feeling like a clone of season 4’s “The Lottery”. “Lie-Ability” teased a bunch of interesting stories in the first three minutes and then spent the remainder implying that Larry had talked Balki into wiping his ass. I know I watched “Everyone in the Pool”, and that’s about all I can say about it at this point. I’d put “Disorderly Orderlies” and “This Old House” in this category, too. And instead of an episode where Larry and Jennifer celebrate their anniversary, we got “Bye Bye Birdie”, which is one of the most unnecessary episodes of this show I’ve watched yet.

And lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also re-iterate what we learned in “Digging Up the News”.  In the course of rewrites (or possibly during editing?), it appears that Perfect Strangers is willing to ditch the handful of dialogue necessary to avoid what I think of as “sitcom logic”. I’m not sure how often this is the case–and I may not try to investigate it in the future–but it’s certainly another piece of the puzzle of why Perfect Strangers is the way it is.

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So, back to my initial question of “what the fuck is this show trying to do or be?” This season, it tried to explore that derive from the cousins at this point in their lives, personal and professional.  It tried to build some story “arcs” that carried across more than one episode. It tried to touch on some serious contemporary topics like toxic waste and toxic leadership. It looks like it was trying to figure out what it might need to change as it entered its final years. It certainly wasn’t trying to be like other sitcoms. At times it tried to be a cartoon, and it even found some success when it leaned more into that (“Blast From the Past”, “Eyewitless Report”).

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But ultimately what I think Perfect Strangers is trying to do is be both a sitcom and a kids’ cartoon.  It’s a unique thing to try to do, and I think distinguishes it quite well from other family sitcoms of the time period.  Whether good integration of those elements is possible is a different topic for another day. My point here is that they generally don’t work together in the the way Perfect Strangers attempts, and nowhere was this more clear than when the two collided head-on in “Almost Live in Chicago”.

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One last word about my hopes for the next three seasons: I don’t have any.

___________________________________________________________

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You didn’t think I’d leave without a list, did you? I know you millennials love your fucking lists.

Favorite episode: “Eyewitless Report”

Episode that made me want to remove my own hemorrhoids with a used grapefruit spoon: “Almost Live From Chicago”

Best one-off character: Mac MacIntyre (James Hampton)

Worst handling of a one-off character: Mr. Vaughan (Travis McKenna) in “Disorderly Orderlies”

Best Balki-ism: haha you think I’m even paying attention to them at this point?

Worst Balki-ism: that time when he said something

Season 5 catchphrase count: Balki (17.5); Larry (10)

Season 5 boner count: Balki (6); Larry (4)

Cumulative catchphrase count: Balki (88.5); Larry (31)

Cumulative boner count: Balki (18); Larry (18.5)

Dance of Joy running total: 17

HONGI BONGI: HONGI BONGI

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Join me next week for another Perfect Strangers review!

___________________________________________________________

*He’ll come into your place / Scare you with dynamite / The hitmen know his face / He’s got Marvin Berman eyes

**The fact that that birthday party also included fursuits and oversized props is purely coincidental

***With the major fucking exception of dislocating Lydia’s shoulder because someone he knew in high school has a sugar daddy-in-law in “Almost Live From Chicago”

goodrodents

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Season 5 Reportage

soypancakes

Welcome back! I know I’ve picked up some new readers over the past few months, so I’ll explain what I’m doing here. Ever since I found out that Jennifer and Mary Anne were promoted to regular characters on the strength of seeing them on-screen for two whole minutes, I decided that I needed to get serious about educating myself on the context of Perfect Strangers.  So between seasons I now look at whatever interviews and news reporting I can find on the show.  It’s much more work than reviewing an episode, but the benefit is I don’t have to watch an episode to write it. I utilize the information found on the long-running Perfect Strangers fansite, as well as the videos curated on the associated YouTube channel. It’s been a worthwhile endeavor, not only for learning trivia like Larry thinking the original decorations for the apartment set made it look like somebody’s grandma’s house, but also for giving me the chance to break the story about Bronson Pinchot’s shoe fetish.

Being finished with season 5 of Perfect Strangers, I’m finding, doesn’t really feel like any sort of milestone. Completing season 3 felt like an accomplishment, because it proved, if nothing else, that I had far less of a social life than the guys who wrote the other two Perfect Strangers blogs.  Season 4 had its obvious benefits as the (sorta) halfway point. My emotional response to having season 5 behind me is, for the most part, one of buckling down for the rest of it. Accomplishment has come, been recognized, and gone, and now there’s a set amount left to do. I’ll have more to say about this next week, in the season review, but one of the things that struck me with this week’s research is that I found a reflection of this feeling in the interviews with the actors.

So read on as we look at interviews and articles (et a little cetera too) from May 6, 1989, through May 4, 1990, organized so that all the juicy Bronson stuff will be at the end.

The Show itself

I only find two articles talking about the show leading up to the season 5 premiere. A mid-season article in TV Guide overstates the Larry/Balki “investigative team” relationship, but even more distanced from the actual show is an August article in TV Week:

At 9 o’clock, “Perfect Strangers” moves out of the traditional family hour (8-9) and into an area where presumably more adult themes can be explored in a show that has been maturing since its innception…. The comedy during the first few seasons came from the unrelenting conflict generated by Balki’s naivete and the cousins’ romantic entanglements with a pair of flight attendants, one as solid as Larry and the other as off-the-wall as Balki.

Can you imagine writing about a show you’d never watched?

There’s nowhere else good, narratively, to place this Rolling Stone article about sitcom theme songs, so I’ll mention it here.  For one, I never realized how much 80s theme songs read like translated anime theme lyrics, and the article pulls no punches in getting across how meaningless some of them are (like Growing Pains’s “sharing the laughter and love”). These quotes from Jesse Frederick are the most relevant to this blog’s discussion of Perfect Strangers:

Ironically, there’s an intense process to come up with these songs, and they all come out sounding kind of the same.

[ABC] said they wanted the theme to sound contemporary but not too rock & roll.  They wanted something real positive.  They said, ‘It’s about winning.’

Millions of people hear your music every week…. And you’re generously paid.  But somehow you’re not quite as cool as you’d be if you did something else.

Okay, on to the actors.

Melanie Wilson

Melanie did a couple of interviews in the summer of 1989.  One of them was on the Pat Sajak Show. Wikipedia doesn’t make any conjectures as to why Sajak’s talk show got low ratings, but maybe it had to do with the fact that he was only bringing in guests like “the taller blonde from Perfect Strangers”? She trots out the same damn stuff about her dad (Mr. Whipple) and her husband (the closetmaker) and I already regret wasting my time this week.

melanieamla.jpg

And speaking of repeats from last time, she appeared on A.M. Los Angeles again.  The very first thing the male host (in this instance, it looks like someone else was filling in for Steve Edwards) does is talk about her body and obviously think that he’s very charming for doing so. Melanie is still going on about those fucking closets, but she also gives us some actual information about the show. If you’re interested in knowing the turnaround time from taping to air, she mentions that filming for “Father Knows Best???” will begin the following week, meaning that it aired about two months after filming.

For the season opener, “Good Skates”, none of the four actors knew how to rollerskate and someone had to be brought in to train them. (Now how impressed are you at Mark Linn-Baker’s “bad” skating?)  She jokes about calling her agent to ask for a new gig when she first heard about the episode, but I feel like she’s not really joking; the host makes a crack about sitcom writers coming up with plots that don’t play to their actors’ strengths.

*turns head to camera, The Office-style*

It’s long been my complaint that Jennifer’s character is as developed as someone with Kallmann Syndrome. And Melanie’s interviews have so far been the least interesting of the bunch, so it surprised me to find something of interest in the articles.

Friends, Melanie saw her first penis in France, when she was in college.

Also, she has opinions on her role in the show.  For one, she’s a little embarrassed that in three years, she’s only kissed Larry as many times.  Another article (published soon before the season 5 premiere goes much further into depth on what she thinks Jennifer’s personality is. ‘Bout to give y’all a bunch of quotes, because this is worth reading.

“She’s not just polite, she’s very polite.  She’s not just proper, she’s very proper.  She’s not only intelligent, she’s very intelligent.  And she’s not just repressed, she’s very, very repressed,” Melanie says.

Hey, if you say so, Mel. I mean, if you give a character no lines and no agency, what else can you assume about the character other than “she holds herself back”?

Melanie describes [the sitcom-making] process as “…a courtship, really, between actors and writers.  Jennifer and I have some similarities on which the writers have drawn.  For example, like Jennifer, I went abroad to study.  I was quite academic during my school years; I was, and remain, a voracious reader.  I think that as they’ve come to know me, they’ve taken a part of me and given it to her which then gives her, thankfully, another dimension.”

My god, how much of these scripts got cut between Monday and Thursday?

“They’ve allowed her to be different from the typical TV ‘blonde’.  You could say,” Melanie said, “that she’s treated more like the ‘typical TV series’ brunette’ would be.”

Okay, whatever, I mean, jeez, even the actors have headcanon

“What I’m also pleased about is the way the writers have been rounding Jennifer out over the past year.  She has more of a sense of who she is, and what she wants, and more strength as a person.  I suppose you could say she’s coming into her own.”

What the shrinking fuck? Christ, this sounds like me waxing eloquent about my “process” in writing jokes about buttfucking. Let’s review what we’ve learned about Jennifer this season: she rollerskates, she plays tennis, she has a dad, she occasionally gets very mad at her best friend instead of regular mad, and sometimes she’s playful with her boyfriend if there’s an extra 10 seconds the writers need to fill. I find it easier to believe that her role was reduced than that she was making shit up, and if that’s the case, then fuck this show.

Weep for Jennifer, y’all.

Mark Linn-Baker

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Speaking of forgotten actresses, here’s Mark with Rae Dawn Chong. I’ve only seen a couple of her movies (if your tastes run anything near to mine, check out The Borrower; it’s one of my favorite batshit-crazy scifi movies), and seeing her here made me wonder why I don’t see more of her. I found out her career wasn’t short-lived, it’s just never been very prominent. And, here’s this blog’s rare intersection with current events: she recently spoke up about her then-agent’s complicity in a harrassesque (?) encounter with Steven Seagal in the 80s.

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Anyway, back to Mark. Just like with Melanie, the televised stuff is more boring than the written. Just watching the clips, Mark doesn’t seem like he wants to be there. It’s not that his answers are particularly short, he just doesn’t say much in terms of his feelings or thoughts on things. In his appearance on A.M. Los Angeles in March of 1990, it appears that someone had to do research just to have something to ask him questions about. The hosts (in this case, Tawny Little and the same guy filling in for Steve Edwards, unless Steve got a dye job that month)  blow through questions about the physical comedy on the show so fast they end up having to bring out that years-old line about him being the cheapest guy in Hollywood. I mean, look at this guy’s evasion:

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Host: Any new twists and turns in the plotline we should know about Perfect Strangers before we go?

Mark Linn-Baker: Just, uh… same stuff, physical comedy, Balki and I continue to work together, and hopefully it’s funny.

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Well, now we know who the show’s biggest fan was, right? I was so bored by this I ended up focussing on the giant chairs they’re sitting in.  I wonder if that was in any way the inspiration for this Tim & Eric bit?

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Anyway, a couple of interviews do mention his theater company, which I finally found out is the New York Stage & Film Company.  What’s more, he co-founded it before he was ever on Perfect Strangers! I’d expect him to gush about it, but he’s so focussed on his duty of doing interviews that he stays on the topic of Perfect Strangers. You know how last time I talked about behind-the-scenes stories being shortened and streamlined, losing both detail and truth, over the course of four years? Mark makes it sound here like that was the goal all along, which doesn’t jibe with the stories I saw in season 1. It makes me want to interview Mark myself and ask about the show’s course.

Not that I would ever try to interview him, of course…

Back when I reviewed “Father Knows Best???, parts 1-9”, commenter and Christmas-ruiner Philip J Reed asked how they managed to film the flooded basement. In an October 1990 appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show, Mark tells that they used a tank filled with water–one of the same ones that Esther Williams used–for it.  Arsenio brings up Me & Him, which evidently didn’t get released in the US, so it surprised Mark to hear that someone in the audience had seen it.  (Since it was a European-only release, this means that most countries did not hear his voice.)

The interview isn’t exciting, or really worth watching, and I think Mark sums things up pretty nicely when he jokes that he “lives for” interviews.

Luckily, Mark’s a little more talkative in print, and we get some information on the show’s own process. I hinted at a Monday-Thursday schedule above (apparently shortened from five days to four with season 5, and Mark is where this info comes from

According to an article in Nightlife magazine, which no doubt refers to season 4,

Each week, the cast and crew begin their “fun time” with an almost — dare we say? — theatre-like process that lasts five days.  Writers, actors and director discuss motives, characterization and what is funny about the script and what’s not.  “There’s pretty much agreement about what works, when it works,” he says of the workshop method.  “It’s like putting on a playlet every five days.”

So, yes, everyone shares credit for the cousins shaking their butts during the Wedding March in “Wedding Belle Blues”, but that means that everyone is also responsible for the laff riot that was Larry getting his blanket stolen in prison. We learn from an interview in Drama-Logue* that Perfect Strangers was the first of Mark’s roles where he (at the producer’s urging) watched his own performances. “It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just not what you expect.  Miller said I had to get over that and I did.”

This is thrilling stuff, right? Call now and pledge to keep these wonderful blog posts going.

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Rebeca Arthur

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere! Rebeca didn’t do very many interviews, but she did have some other television appearances.

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She appeared on Circus of the Stars in both 1988 and 1989 (I missed the ‘88 one last time, sorry), and now that I’ve watched a little bit of both, I have to wonder: what was the draw? It seems like it’s a lot of work to get actors trained, and for what?  On the one hand, you get to see actors doing things entirely unrelated to their talents, and on the other hand, stunts done by people who aren’t trained professionals. I asked some of my older friends what was so special about these shows, and they reminded me that there wasn’t cable back then. Check the clips out if you want, especially if you want to hear Leslie Nielsen read bad copy that misuses the word “glasnost”.

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As we saw in Opposites Attract, though, Rebeca was in great shape after two years of training. In one of the two interviews I have, she talks to Pat Sajak about the training.  I doubt we’ll see Sajak again during the course of this blog, so I’ll say this about him: I really respect how skilled he is at reading the feeling of a conversation and nudging it in the right direction, I just wish he were funny too.

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Her other interview on–surprise, surprise–A.M. Los Angeles is of note because the hosts (here Steve Edwards and Tawny Little) bring out Victoria Jackson during the segment. Rebeca jokes that she wants Victoria to play Mary Anne’s sister, and never have I made something headcanon so quickly. Instead of anyone having done enough research to ask about the episode they appeared in together, the host derail the whole conversation by trying to get them to say that they get typecast as dumb blonde characters. Neither of them bites, and good for them. Fuck you, Steve Edwards and Tawny Little.

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Rebeca also appeared on the very last week of broadcasts of The New Hollywood Squares, and–

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Mother of fuck, it’s Jim J. Bullock!

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There’s not much to say here, other than I find it delightful to watch Rebeca get some time in the spotlight. There’s a bit in the second clip where a spokesperson for Alberto-Culver (one of the advertisers on the show, I’d imagine) has come in from France, and he goes up to Rebeca’s square and they pretend to make out for most of the episode.

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Bronson Pinchot

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I have–oh god–to watch 17 interviews with Bronson this time around, not to mention read 15 articles. So take off your shoes and let’s tackle these in chronological order.

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I didn’t mean you, Bronson!

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Seen here: Bronson at the tender age of “high school”.

The majority of the interviews during 1989 had Bronson talking much more about Second Sight than Perfect Strangers, and this one (a May 6, 1989, airing of Public People, Private Lives) is no different.  But rather than focus on his work, this show’s focus is on what goes on for actors off-screen.  We get a recap of his story of growing up poor and overweight, with a few new bits of trivia sprinkled throughout (he wanted Balki to be named Apollo). Even after claiming to be on a “girl diet” after tiring of women leaving him after six weeks, the host keeps pressing him to talk about his deep, sexual needs.  After mounting her briefly…

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…Bronson answers that, after growing up in a depressing situation, acting gives him his greatest joy:

I think I was sad because I was just what I still am, which is sensitive. And if you’re sensitive, life makes you sad, and that’s all there is to it…. That little boy wants to be somebody else. It gives me great pleasure, I mean, like, sexual pleasure to, like, change, and just be completely different.

Self-awareness is a slow and fitful thing, as not two weeks later he’s quoted in a newspaper as saying that his role as Balki was “the first time someone had approached me as an actor, not a bubble-gum machine and saying, ‘We want that flavor.'”  Yeah, I suppose vanilla, French vanilla, and vanilla bean do have their subtleties.

In September 1989 on Movietime, baffled honesty from Bronson when asked about the Family Matters spinoff:

[Jo Marie is] going to be a lot happier on her own show, because on our show, you need a soul made of cast iron if you’re not Mark or me, to, like, live from week to week, because there’s–they don’t–there’s nothing for those people to do, and how they make it I don’t know. But there’s often, like, tears and headbanging. I mean, it’s like so focussed, it probably… I don’t know, I don’t know if there is another show where it’s so totally focussed on so few characters.

Holy shit, not only does this (along with Melanie Wilson’s kind-of complaint) confirm so much of what I’ve been suspecting about the show, but it’s also the first time I’ve heard Bronson complain about something in a way that didn’t position him as either hero or victim. And if Jo Marie wasn’t happy on Perfect Strangers because all she got to do was stand around and do crossword puzzles, I can only imagine how difficult it was to have her own show taken away from her by a 13-year-old. I wish I could pick her brain about it, but like I say, no chance in hell I’d ever even consider trying to interview any of these actors.

*ahem*

By the time October of 1989 rolled around, it was all about advertising Second Sight. Most of the interviews feature Bronson talking about how he researched and interviewed real-life psychics for the role of Bobby McGee (and how he got almost nothing funny to use). Aside from the research, Bronson doesn’t have much to say about the movie other than that it’s “hilarious” and that “you have to turn off your brain”. Other trivia: “Murray” was named after the original director, who walked off the picture; Bobby McGee gained psychic powers after being struck by lightning at 15 (I know you were all wondering); Bronson intended the “Freeway of Love” scene in Second Sight to imply Bobby thought he was Aretha Franklin.  Because that’s what psychics do, mistakenly think that they’re the people they hear on the radio.  Good three months of research there, Bronnie.

And lest you thought that his new-found candor meant that he was no longer up to his old antics, Bronson once again grabbed the hosts’ question cards and read through them first thing on his October appearance on Attitudes.  I’m willing to be a little more understanding about this now that I’ve seen so many of his interviews; the ones available can’t possibly be all that he did, and he has to have been bored with the same dull questions over and over again (the host on Movietime asked him did it feel good to be cheered for after a performance). He also uses his new girlfriend Wren, who was in the audience, as a distraction.

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But he also reacts somewhat strongly when the hosts on Attitudes to try put everything he’s said in other interviews (about his early life, being a late-bloomer, and how he developed his eccentric interests) into a narrative. I get the impression that he’s thrown off by the genuine interest that Linda Dano and Dee Kelly have in the questions they have about his real life.

On the other hand, Bronson’s just as uncomfortable in his Geraldo appearance, even though he’s almost completely out of the spotlight. This episode of Geraldo features a number of real-life psychics whose services were used for police cases, and Bronson is there to promote Second Sight. It’s the same kind of almost-synergy feel that Jury Duty had. Geraldo tries to lighten the mood by showing off a production still of Bronson as Jorge Jiminez–

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–but Bronson stumbles through his answers and looks like he wishes he could be somewhere other than on a stage sitting in a row of people he doesn’t know and doesn’t get to talk to. It must have been difficult to go that long in front of an audience without escaping into being someone else. (Bonus: he refers to his catchphrase as “DBR”.)

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If Bronson had little to say about how Second Sight turned out in the week leading up to the premiere, it didn’t stop him from talking up his own abilities. Not only did he help “develop” the script, but it was his whole idea to overload Bobby with psychic abilities. In an article in the New York Post, he talks about Serge → Perfect StrangersSecond Sight as a deliberate (or at the very least fortuitous) set of steps in his career. At the same time, self-awareness rears it head as Bronson says “I think they see me as a comic…. I don’t get other scripts and I don’t know that I’d send them to me, either.”  And just as quickly it’s gone again, as Bronson starts his decades-long habit of throwing shade on better actors:

Eddie Murphy’s funny, but I have yet to see him play a character.  He always winks at you through the character.  I call that the post-‘Saturday Night Live’ thing…. Maybe there is someone in an office somewhere saying ‘Let’s not use Bronson Pinchot — I’m sick of him,’ but I sort of doubt it.

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Most of the televised interviews that week are a grab bag o’Bronson.  In both his appearance on Regis & Kathie Lee, as well as on After Hours, he talks like the character of Balki, accent and all, was birthed straight from his head, Hera-style.** There’s a woman in the audience dressed up, bearing a shepherd’s crook emblazoned with BALKI FAN, who begs to be Bronson’s “Myposian Bo Peep”.

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Bronson gives a signal to Wren, talks about how he met her in a furniture store, and cracks jokes so bad one of the crew off-stage groans loudly a few times. The After Hours host asks Bronson if he wants to do another five years of Perfect Strangers, and Bronson just gives her a look for a few seconds.

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And that same day, on Entertainment Tonight, Bronson wishes he knew what he’d be doing after his two last contract years were over on the show.

Bronson talks about his shoes on his Arsenio Hall appearance (the night before Second Sight’s premiere), but that’s old hat by now. We get some more behind-the-scenes information: Mark had to tell Bronson not to be grabbing asses the first time Melanie and Rebeca were on the show; Bronson peed his pants during the scene where they poured the wine; and Bronson can’t even come up with the name “Rebeca”, referring to his co-star as “the girl sitting next to him”. Most interesting to me is Arsenio asking about the comedy album.  Bronson refers to it as “The Further Adventures of Serge”, and says that the A&M representative forgot asking him to record it; A&M gave him a pity session where they listened to the material, and the recording ultimately ended up at Bronson’s house. (Roadtrip, anyone?) He also mentions appearing with Jan Hooks as host on Friday Night Videos, a show which ran for twenty years and I somehow never once heard of. If anyone has a copy, I’d love to see it, just for curiosity’s sake.

The next morning–

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oh for fuck’s sake it’s A.M. Los Angeles and those fucking awful hosts again.  Bronson complains that the audience on Arsenio were demanding he do the Serge voice, and Steve Edwards’s response to this is to ask for the Serge voice. Fuck you, Steve. Bronson gives us once again the history of him only accepting the Perfect Strangers role after a summer in Europe (financed by his Risky Business royalties). You’re probably tired at this point of me rehashing this story, but it sticks out to me here because which parts he’s being honest about have changed again. He admits to being broke, but instead of being accompanied by his girlfriend, it’s just “a friend”. I’ve been building this narrative that Bronson just puffs himself up, but I’m beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, he’s a real person, and there are certain things he doesn’t want to talk about, or be asked questions about, in certain situations. I mean, Wren probably was watching this show.  Bronson also takes questions from callers, including one who is upset that he’s in a movie about such evil things as psychics, and someone who knew Bronson in 3rd grade (and whom Bronson remembers having a crush on).

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And then Second Sight premiered that night. And that’s when Bronson seems to change.

Here’s the New York Times’s one-star review of Second Sight, written by Janet Maslin, who still does film reviews for them. She blames the lack of humor in the movie on director Joel Zwick, and is only relatively kind to Pinchot and Larroquette.  Part of me wishes I could dig up other contemporary reviews, say from Variety, but I find I don’t need to. A distracted Bronson on the November 4 airing of the Byron Allen Show tells me all I need to know. He seems to be more interested in complimenting Melissa Manchester on whatever song she had just played, and doesn’t seem to pick up how uncomfortable he makes Allen when he sits on top of the guest couch.

Psychology sidebar: we’ve talked about cognitive dissonance before, the phenomenon where people can’t stand to have two conflicting thoughts in mind. If something contradicts a person’s grand narrative or deep-held beliefs, the new information is re-interpreted, re-categorized, or simply rejected.  Most people’s grand narrative includes themselves as a good, competent person. When I am successful, I attribute it to my own talents and effort; if I fail, it was the fault of an external factor. (Likewise, when someone we don’t like is successful, it’s due to external factors; if they fail, it was their own damn fault.) To briefly comment on my own hobby, webcomics, it is rare to see a successful webcomics author admit the sheer amount of luck necessary to make a living off selling T-shirts and self-publishing.

So it’s no surprise that, after a couple of years of Perfect Strangers not doing so hot in the ratings (it went from first to second in the first year of TGIF, and then bumped to the third spot in 1989 when Family Matters debuted), and with Second Sight having bombed, Bronson starts assigning blame.  In an article towards the end of November 1989, it’s the writers’ fault, since rewrites evidently kept being made up “until air time”, and that it took eight writers to solve the show’s problems. “The fact that any of it works is a miracle.”

(Jesse Frederick’s words echo: “there’s an intense process”… “they all come out the same”…)

In a February article in The Daily Bruin, Bronson goes further, doing a 180 on his earlier claims that he developed the Bobby McGee character. “People could spot a mile off that the character was invented around Bronson Pinchot.” Here, the “television industry” is also at fault for “watering down” programs.

But it is a surprise to see Bronson start accepting some of the blame himself.  In the January 11 edition of USA Today, Bronson still refers to Second Sight as a “limp movie” and is still confident that his own talent had not “eroded”.  But, referring to sitcom-making as preparing cookies, Bronson feels that “when I’m allowed to fiddle with the batter, sometimes my ideas aren’t that great.” He appears undaunted, though, joking that he wants his own starring series after Perfect Strangers (“The Bronson Pinchot Chot”); and trying to make sheep into sheep-ade by calling Perfect Strangers “cult” status one that will allow him to “create” other characters.

Can’t wait to see that!  That very same day, Bronson was again a guest on The Arsenio Hall Show, where, when asked what the fuck happened with Second Sight, starts taking off his pants instead of answering. He discusses Jury Duty (which would air three days later) and mentions that he had asked for his role to be enlarged.  Then he takes off his shoes, takes off his pants, and tries to mount Arsenio.

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Bronson went to New York from March through May (?) of 1990, after season 5 filming had wrapped up, to work on a play.  He was in Zoya’s Apartment, which was on Broadway, and worked with a Russian director, who had to direct with the aid of a translator. He talks about this a little on Late Night with David Letterman in March of 1990, saying that he researched his con-man character by watching King of the Gypsies. (I haven’t seen that film, but I’m sure it’s not as good as The Borrower, starring Rae Dawn Chong.) David Letterman does a better job of controlling his physical environment: when Bronson starts messing with the papers on his desk, Letterman takes them back and keeps the conversation moving. He relates a story about a woman coming up to him on the street and giving him her opinion on Perfect Strangers: “That was cute at one time; your character has not evolved”.  In keeping with his newfound honesty/attribution re-assignment, Bronson says he agrees.

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Again, I get the impression that Bronson is willing to talk about some things in certain environments, but not in others.  Previously, Bronson seemed to want to forget about his role in Hot Resort, but here he’s fine talking to Letterman about it. (He reports that it was only released in Fiji, and it doesn’t sound like he meant it as a joke; I’m guessing he would know this, right?) Similarly, Bronson doesn’t mention his girlfriend by name in his April 1990 Playgirl interview, which  makes a lot of sense. Why spoil the mystery?  After all, as Bronson says, Balki is “innocent and untouched – a certain type of woman finds that a real come-on”. Mary Anne and Balki may have kissed more than Larry and Jennifer, but it was much, much longer before any script confirmed their relationship.

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Finally, Bronson appeared on the Joan Rivers Show in April of 1990, where he thankfully manages not to mount the host.  He talks about a lot of the same stuff we’ve covered already (girlfriend, psychics, the origin of the name “Balki”)***. I’m truly surprised that I’ve gotten this much narrative about Bronson’s career, and his own feelings about it.  I’ve never followed a celebrity enough to try to track how they present themselves, and it’s been an interesting trip this week to watch Bronson go from his usual braggart, anticky self to someone going through the emotions of watching their career stumble majorly just when they thought it was picking up speed. If the failure of Second Sight shocked him out of his standard persona enough to get him to criticize both the writing on Perfect Strangers and himself, by the time he talked with Joan Rivers he was trying to look at his own future with a more honest appraisal of his chances. Staying in New York for three months cost him a lot, and he figured he would be out of money by the time season 6 starting filming. And we know from that Entertainment Tonight piece that he knew how soon his Perfect Strangers contract would be finished. Bronson said that 1990 was the year where he would need to be an adult about his finances.

And Bronson was never broke again.

Let’s wrap up our discussion with a longer January 1990 LA Times article about the many shows of Tom Miller and Bob Boyett, and the main question the article sets out to answer is why their shows are so goddam successful. The article offers a token example of criticism towards Miller-Boyett shows (they aren’t “realistic”) which is met with a glib “30 million Uncle Joy fans can’t be wrong” answer. The article even gets a choice quote from Brandon Tartikoff, then president of NBC, who was jealous that he’d come home on Friday night and find his kid watching ABC instead of, um, Baywatch.  The main answer for Bob & Tom’s success seems to be that people want familiarity (and damned if that doesn’t share a linguistic root with “family”):

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“Shows really have to work to make it today,” Boyett says.  “It’s always been tough to have a hit but today it’s a million times more difficult than it was in the 70’s.  It used to be that people would sample a new show just because it was new.  Now, new is bad.  Now, people hear new and they are not interested.  We’ve been lucky that the networks have believed in us and our shows long enough for the audience to become attached to them.  Our track record certainly helps in that respect.”

They also mention how they try to treat each show’s set of actors “like a family”, and how they make sure to include “a certain amount of women and older people”. This “family” treatment no doubt explains why there was so much “tears and headbanging” behind the scenes on Perfect Strangers (by the way, have a good Thanksgiving with your loved ones!). Anyway, Miller-Boyett had found success with a type of formula and were duplicating it as much as the market would allow, kind of like how Hanna-Barbera pumped out endless variations on Scooby-Doo in the 70s.

So is that the note we’re left with this week, heading into the season 5 wrap-up? That Mark Linn-Baker had nothing bad to say about the show, but even more telling, he had nothing good to say about it?  That the actresses were reduced to tears behind the scenes because they were lucky if they got two lines in a single episode? That Bronson would become a has-been as soon as the credits rolled on the series finale? And that, thanks to the reign of Miller-Boyett, that invisible pair dictating orders from a higher floor, Perfect Strangers’s main selling point was that it had been on for five years?

Nah, shit, man, that’s bleak.  Let’s end instead by watching a video of Jo Marie cook liver and onions and Reginal VelJohnson enjoy the hell out of eating it.

Next week we’ll bury this fucking season.  Bring your shovel!

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*The Drama-Logue article claims that Bronson was cut from Annie Hall, easily two years before he even started taking acting classes.  Makes me want to smack the writer for such shitty research.

**Actually it was his makeup person on the set of Hot Resort, per the David Letterman interview also in this post.

***It’s mentioned here that Bronson’s first televised interview was with Joan when she was guest-hosting for Carson. I’d love to see that, if anyone can dig up a copy.

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation 1990

Welp, time for another post that’s disappointing for everyone involved–you, because I’m not making jokes about the cousins yiffing, and me because I’ll watch about 15 hours worth of media just for a measly 15 minutes of Perfect Strangers actors.  I’ll be lucky if I wring 1,500 miserable words out of it and we’ll all feel like we’ve wasted our time today.  Let’s begin!

Melanie Wilson

Well dye me blonde and kick me out of the apartment, Melanie was on something else!

She appeared on the pilot episode of a sitcom called The Family Man, a Bickley & Warren/Miller-Boyett show that only lasted one season.  The premise seems to be Full House, but Danny is a fireman and Al Molinaro is both uncles.  Look at this intro, doesn’t this look like the audiovisual version of soggy white bread?

I mean, they got Jesse Frederick to do the theme, and even he didn’t bother to write lyrics, knowing this was destined for eventual exclusion from “the best one-season sitcoms of the 90s” lists. Scott Weiniger as Steve seems to be the only actor bringing any enthusiasm to the show; it’s no surprise that he got a recurring spot playing Steve on Full House.

I almost missed that Melanie was on this, but luckily the fansite’s YouTube page memorialized the appearance. The fact that Melanie’s role as Steve’s teacher, Ms. Hickerson, is not on IMDB is proof that I’m only the second person to ever see it.

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Oh, Melanie’s performance?  They let her say a couple of punchlines.

And that’s the most anyone has ever written about The Family Man (1990).

Jim Doughan (Lance Dick)

Speaking of one-season sitcoms, Jim Doughan played a character named Mr. Buckley on His & Hers. His & Hers starred Martin Mull and Stephanie Faracy, so it’s a real head-scratcher why the show never made it past 13 episodes.

The intro is the only surviving piece of the sitcom I can find, and it rivals The Family Man for blandness.  At least The Family Man indicated that sometimes the characters go outside. His & Hers appears to be about a man and a woman who sometimes lie down, sometimes stand up, and on special occasions sit down. IMDB lists Jim Doughan as being in every episode, but I have a little trouble believing that.

Jim also appeared in an episode of Empty Nest, a show I have more distinct memories of than I do for Perfect Strangers. I’m glad that I watched this episode–“Goodbye Mr. Dietz”–because it was a David Leisure-centric one. Charlie Dietz–along with Balki, Kimmy Gibbler, and Urkel (well, seasons 1-3 Urkel, anyway)–was influential in me wanting to grow up to be a wacky-neighbor type. I didn’t realize he was such a lech, so it looks like it’s time for me to add that to my personality.

One part of the episode features Charlie throwing a party, and Jim gets to be the one party guest who has any dialogue.

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I completely forgot that Park Overall was on this show. How the hell is she not working these days?

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F.J. O’Neil

This is, what, the third time Valerie/Valerie’s Family: The Hogans/The Hogan Family has come up on this blog?  It’s weird to think that a six-season sitcom that survived two name changes never got a DVD release.  As I understand it, by the time it was done with its third season, Jason Bateman was carrying the show.  Anyway, RT (Revised Title) was on an episode as somebody named Mr. Norris, I can’t find it, so nevermind.

I did finally have a reason to watch the horror movie The Willies, which ended up being one of those movies for kids that feels like it was written by one.  He plays an elementary school principal and stands next to Patrika Darbo.

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IMDB says he was also in The Hunt for Red October, but I refuse to watch a two-hour+ movie for this.  I’ll just watch it until he shows up.

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And there he is. CONFIRMED

Robert G. Lee (Doug MailKenzie)

Evidently, this guy was the warm-up comic for a few sitcoms, including Perfect Strangers. In this video, you can see him not wearing a hat.

Belita Moreno

This week’s theme appears to be one-season sitcoms now, as Belita appeared in one episode of Going Places as “Madame Pushnik”.  In fact, it’s the episode that commenter Mark Moore mentioned way back when I reviewed “The Horn Blows at Midnight”. Now that I’ve read about it some more, Going Places looks like it falls into that same camp with Full House where the unique concept (here, television comedy writers living together; there, comedians living together) was retooled in order to make it sell better in Peoria. Going Places‘s premise lasted half a damn season before they gave up on it.

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Belita plays a psychic who is called in to help protect one of the characters who was “cursed” and is expected to die within hours. She’s far and away the funniest part of the episode, and I can say that even without watching the whole thing (here’s the clip, if you’re interested). It’s actually instructive, I think, to watch this alongside “The Horn Blows at Midnight”, just to see how much better that plot can be done. They have mostly the same elements (Mme Pushnik even sprays some foul-smelling stuff on them, made from “fish parts”, no less!), but they’re rebalanced. Most of the characters aren’t doing anything, but that’s okay, they’re responding to a whirlwind that entered their home. She acts circles around “Horn”, which was just Balki saying “you should be as scared as I am” and Larry saying “no” over and over again.

Could it possibly be that having a silly foreigner doing a silly foreign accent and a silly foreign ritual only as a 6-minute extended gag in a single episode has more impact than having to see him every week?

Haha nahhhh anyway Belita was also in the movie Men Don’t Leave for about 10 seconds, playing, I don’t know, some woman.  If you want to watch Joan Cusack play a nurse who commits statutory rape, this has got to be the film for you.

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Rebeca Arthur

Rebeca appeared in the film Opposites Attract, which was a boring little TV movie vehicle for Barbara Eden and the guy who played the voice of Charlie on Charlie’s Angels.  If waiting an hour and a half to watch two old people kiss is your thing, then you should really check this one out.

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Rebeca plays John Forsythe’s bratty kept young girlfriend, Victoria.  She’s actually in the movie a fair amount, and even got to have, if not a whole emotional arc, at least a couple of emotions. She’s got her dog Emmy with her again, plus she shows up in a number of different outfits. And here’s my chance to make good on following in the footsteps of my wacky idol, Charlie Dietz:

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Sam Anderson

I found it much easier this time around to get downloads of episodes of Growing Pains, where Sam Anderson played Principal Willis Dewitt.  He was only in a couple of episodes throughout 1990, and I can tell from watching them that he would have had a larger role in earlier seasons when Mike Seaver was still in high school. And here’s something interesting: even though Gorpley and Dewitt seem to have roles that occupy the same secondary-character space, Dewitt has a much bigger presence.  And I don’t just mean because he has an actual relationship with Mike Seaver that is obviously informed by past storylines (what a luxury), or that he gets more lines, or even that he seems to enjoy his role; I mean that he functions as a character without even being there.

In the first episode I watched (“Mike the Teacher”), it was a story about Mike trying to be a substitute teacher at his old high school.  Here’s Anderson standing next to Patrika Darbo:

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And here he is having a reaction to Kirk Cameron somehow not realizing that primates have hands very similar to ours*.

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The other episode I watched (“Ben’s Sure Thing”) is about a parent-teacher night at the school. You only hear Anderson’s voice over the PA system, and see his face on a couple of posters.

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One of those posters gets more of a story than Gorpley does in “Father Knows Best, Part 2”.

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Somehow letting a character talk and interact with other characters conveys a lot more personality than having them stand around and eat every time you see them. Go figure.

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Also of note for this episode of Growing Pains, Kimmy Gibbler was Ben Seaver’s dorky girlfriend! Growing Pains seems like it’s ripe for the snarky review blog treatment. Somebody should review it!

*searches on Google*

Somebody should review it, but with jokes!

While we’re playing Six Degrees of Bronson, Tim O’Donnell was producing and writing Growing Pains up until early 1990… after which he wrote and produced Uncle Buck. No, not the movie. I wish I could have watched something that good for this post.

*sigh*

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IMDB lists Sam Anderson as being on a few episodes of the 1990 sitcom version of Uncle Buck.  I watched five episodes of this garbage and not a single one of them had Sam’s character. Bravo, Sam Anderson, for pinpointing which videos to report to YouTube as DMCA violations.

Friends, when I was about 10, I used to stay at my grandmother’s house during the day.  She had cable, and for whatever reason she let me watch all of the standup that came on during the day on Comedy Central. I am not ashamed to admit that I liked Kevin Meaney’s material.  Yes, 90% of it was him saying “that’s not right!”, but the other 10% was him doing a bit with a shitty Mexican accent, so if you want to criticize him, make sure you mention both.

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But Uncle Buck as a sitcom has to be the most unnecessary TV spinoff of a movie I’ve ever come across, and yes, I am aware of the Little Shop of Horrors cartoon.  Seriously, if all CBS could do for competition with Full House was, you know, Full House with fewer uncles (here, the parents died between movie and show), no wonder it only lasted one season. Kevin Meaney’s Uncle Buck seems to be at the opposite end of the annoying, bad-influence uncle spectrum from ALF.  Where ALF would steal cars and write songs about fucking the Tanner children, Uncle Buck just smokes once per episode. Lu Leonard plays a store-brand Mrs. Hoargarth, and every time she’s on-screen the other characters can’t shut up about her being fat and/or ugly. Someone forgot to tell them that those jokes only worked in the movie because John Candy’s Uncle Buck was trying his damnedest not to say them.  Also there’s way too much makeup on Kevin Meaney, I’m talking John Schuck on The Munsters Today levels. But I digress!

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Lastly, Sam Anderson played Warren, “head of the White Boys, yuppie Criminal”, in the film Dark Angel. It’s one of the endless sci-fi shoot-em-ups that came in the wake of Terminator, but it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen. If you enjoy watching films where nobody tells the actors what regional accents they should have, crack open some wine and watch this tomorrow night with your very best boyfriend.

Mark Linn-Baker

nuthin’

Bronson Pinchot

Bronson followed up his turn in Second Sight with the 1990 TV movie Jury Duty (or as it later came to be known, The Great American Sex Scandal).

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Just like Going to the Chapel, this features an All Star Cast, meaning there are a ton of television actors in it, Alan Thicke, Bill Kirchenbauer, Reginald VelJohnson, Heather Locklear and Tracy Scoggins being most prominent among them.  And just like Going to the Chapel, they all pretty much just hang out around the hotel where they get sequestered.  It’s an umbrella structure designed to have a few mini-stories that don’t touch each other, and I’m having trouble coming up with feature films that use that structure.

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Finally, just like Going to the Chapel, Bronson’s role appears to be expanded: he plays four characters.  The only one of his characters that’s necessary to the plot is accountant Sanford Lagelfost–on trial for embezzlement–who doesn’t get any lines; which indicates to me that the other three characters were added for Bronson.  The result is a film that doesn’t function as a Bronson Pinchot vehicle, nor does it really function as the drowsy ensemble movie it was intended to be.  I guess I’ll give Bronson the credit for Jury Duty being merely forgettable as opposed to completely featureless.  I mean, he does show us which of his sketch ideas from his Saturday Night Live appearance was discarded first:

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That’s right, you heard right, Bronson plays a Geraldo Rivera-alike called Jorge Jiminez. Another of his characters is Arthur Lloyd, who pretends to speak French so he can bang Ilene Graff.

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And, finally, Bronson plays a hotel receptionist named Magda.

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Eat your heart out, Eddie Mumphrey!

Anyway, I refuse to leave you without a screengrab of Reggie VelJohnson.

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If you’re too lazy to write a suicide note, Jury Duty is the movie you want open in Windows Media Player when they find your body.

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And that was all the stuff I could dig up on the Perfect Strangers cast for 1990!  I’ve got to say, unlike the previous Summer Vacation posts, this one actually felt worthwhile.  Not that half this shit was worth watching for its own sake, though. Rather, this was a window–albeit quite a narrow one–into some of the minor television shows of the period.  I watched shows for this post that I’d never even heard of, and I was an avid sitcom-watcher back then.  The one-season sitcoms I discussed I think are good examples, not just of how important a good intro is, but the limits of television formula.  Stray too far, like Going Places, and you find that television wasn’t quite ripe for navel-gazing.  Take a winning formula, but strip it of almost all comedy talent, like Uncle Buck or The Family Man, and you end up with the sitcom equivalent of getting a papercut from a photograph of a pillow. Compared to these, it’s no wonder that Balki would continue to shake his imaginary tits and sing “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” for another two years.

Next week we’ll take a look at articles and interviews up through the end of season 5.  See you then!

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*this is for the one person who doesn’t know what I’m referring to: https://youtu.be/2z-OLG0KyR4

Patrika Darbo count: 2

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Susan Campbell, RN

always moving

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changing her name as often as she changes her hairstyle

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as often as she changes boyfriends

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nothing, not even more, satisfies

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susan come home we miss you

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