Season 4 Reviewed

Parties and Games

Do you realize I’m not even halfway done? I’ve reviewed four out of 8 seasons, but only 72 out of 150 episodes.

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I say this not to complain, or even to talk about the arcane topic of how networks decide on how many episodes to order each season. I mention this because I feel like Perfect Strangers has pretty much decided what it wants to be.  I mention this because I’m worried that I have 78 episodes left, and that this show isn’t going to try to surprise me with anything.  It’s almost like there’s a party this show will never get to…

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One thing the show has decided is that it wants the softest of resets every episode.  No matter how many times Larry and Jennifer show affection to each other (I think there were two scenes with that this season), Larry still worries about whether she even know he exists.  I’ve called Larry a baby before, but this is a serious problem with:

Psychology sidebar: Object Permanence means, basically, the point when a child realizes objects persist in reality even when outside their field of vision.  Its absence is part of what makes peek-a-boo fun; its presence can demonstrate nascent math abilities.  Say, for instance, you have three teddy bears sitting on a table that the infant can see; you hang a cloth between them and the child, remove one bear, lift the cloth, and the little crotchfruit gets confused. It knows there were more of them previously.

It’s basically a shift from being the one-dimensional Linelander to being a two-dimensional Flatlander.  It usually occurs by about age 2.  Larry is a 27-year-old man.  I take it back; that’s not a reset, that’s a regression.

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No matter how many times Balki and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) kiss (or implicitly have sex), it’s never established that they are a couple.  I mean, I would have expected a stronger reaction from her than “resigned” when Balki was getting married. I’d be screaming and crying about how he can just DUMP me without a second fucking GLANCE and shack up with that LITTLE ISLAND WHORE. But she’s so dumb she didn’t understand love.

You can send Balki to high school, you can even send him to college, but his malapropisms never improve.  (That is, they never go away and they’ve mostly ceased being funny.) He never gets appreciably smarter. Really, neither does Larry. He was hired because they were short-handed, and then he was promoted to a position where he’s underutilized.  Again, these halts in development seem even worse when, as the show has stated, Balki and Larry been together for a number of years >1.

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I’ll even admit it was nice that there continuity along the lines of “Larry screws things up on trips”: that’s continuity that progresses along a certain path. Otherwise, though, Larry barely gets a promotion, the cousins don’t get a maid, the cousins don’t win a bunch of money, Balki doesn’t take up a hobby, Larry’s always dumb, Balki’s always wrong, Lydia’s always a sex addict, and

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Sometimes jokes work, and sometimes they don’t!

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We’ve still been getting clunky set-ups which don’t always lead to good jokes.  The show seemed to have a better track record with this in the early seasons (that poster of G. Gordon Liddy on Twinkacetti’s office wall), but now has lost its touch.  We literally have to have characters doing un-natural, almost asshole kinds of things to set up a punchline (Larry and Mary Anne giving Jennifer the same sweater plus the demand that she open Mary Anne’s first).

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We even get clunky episode setups (“Games People Play”, for one), confusing setups (“High Society”), and even confusing episodes (“Crimebusters”).

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So why is this happening? What caused this mix of playing out the same arguments and lessons (compare “Better Shop Around” to “Car Wars”; compare “Piano Movers” to “Prose and Cons”)?

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We have one indication in the set of interviews from a couple of weeks ago, when Mark Linn-Baker told Regis that “the simpler the stories are, the better it gets”. This completely explains why, in some cases, we do get quick setups (“Games People Play” and “Prose and Cons”). The longer setups involve more than one moving piece (“Blind Alley”, “Come Fly With Me”, “Seven Card Studs”).  At any rate, the showcase each week is whatever physical comedy Larry and Balki get into. And wasn’t it worth it to see Larry’s blanket get stolen?

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And I find myself wanting to blame Mark Linn-Baker here, because he’s the one who stated that philosophy.  But was it his? Was it an agreement on his and Bronson’s part? And this probably isn’t fair either, but I find myself wanting to think that it was the actors who simplified things.  Maybe. Or maybe they got good ratings the more they did it? Or maybe the writers just stopped trying to make dialogue-heavy scripts after awhile?

Was it that hard to retain a few lines of dialogue to keep the part where RT (Rosy Testicles) Wainwright was attracted to Larry in “Just a Gigolo”?

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Maybe it’s all of those in different portions.  But I don’t want to ignore that part of it must be due to the nature of sitcoms in the 1980s.  I’ve read that some writers swear by the idea that all good writing must involve conflict.  So, sure, Balki and Larry have to fight each week about something. Moreover, sitcoms back then tended to focus on their gimmicks. It wouldn’t be Perfect Strangers if there weren’t some cultural misunderstandings.  Some of the better episodes to me still retained those: “Come Fly With Me”, “The Gift of the Mypiot”.  And the even better ones were the ones with both internal and external conflict: I’m going to go back a season and mention “The Defiant Guys”, but “Wedding Belle Blues” is the best example of this from season 4.  You had the cultural differences (Larry and Jennifer believe in true love, Balki believes in tradition) and the internal struggle (Balki is torn between his old culture’s dictating ways and the American fealty to love, trying to figure out how to make the fewest number of people sad).

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Also, I’m having trouble putting a strict timeline onto these things.  Are these episodes happening close together in time? Are they meant to be one a week? Do they just cover the months of August to May for the cousins?  Whether 10 months or 12, 22 arguments between two men doesn’t seem terribly excessive. But some time does have to pass between episodes, so it’s jarring to me when relationships don’t deepen in the interims.  But for audiences at that time, I can only guess that was the nature of sitcoms. (And probably still is? I don’t watch sitcoms aside from Fuller House these days.)  You see these two funny people in a funny situation.  You either come for the feel of the show or because you like the actors, or because you like the jokes. You can count on this show being this flavor every time.

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And now I’m realizing that the show doesn’t make up plots that you don’t see, to just scatter into conversation (“Balki, last week you ruined my posters by washing them because they looked dusty. I am NOT going to let you wash my car!”).

Maybe I’m spoiled because I’ve experienced shows like Arrested Development and League of Gentlemen and Bojack Horseman and Rick and Morty, where past events have repercussions for later episodes.  Or maybe those shows are written for adults.

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Say…

I was a kid when I watched Perfect Strangers and Family Matters and Full House and Out of This World.  (I was also a kid when I watched Murphy Brown, but in that case I didn’t understand most of the jokes.)  I think it’s a fair statement to say that Perfect Strangers was being written for children by this point.  And if kids were by any margin the target audience, we should expect these trends to continue, and to grow, in the next few seasons.

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And looking at it this way sheds some light on what we’ve seen this season.  The pat lessons that mid-20-somethings should have learned long ago.  The fact that Balki’s like a hyper child, and that Larry can’t believe that one woman will like him when no one else has his whole life.  They’re both individual cases of arrested development, with Larry turning into a baby almost every week.  Seriously, though the lesson of both “Piano Movers” and “Prose and Cons” is “you did good, even if it amounted to nothing”.

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It explains why there’s an episode built around the concept of “Double Dare”. It explains why the cousins act like children. And it explains why they’re slowly turning into cartoons before our eyes.  Consider the cartoon logic of a badly-repaired car in “Car Wars”, or how someone can get hypnotized from across the room in “The King and I”.

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Psychology Sidebar: Games People Play by Eric Berne.  I almost got into this in the review of the episode with the same name.  Let me rebuild Berne’s thesis here.  Human relationships are based on “strokes”. A stroke is when one person says “Hello” to another; two more happen when the other responds with “Hi! How are you?”. Strokes acknowledge your existence; not getting the expected scripted response means you aren’t getting stroked back, making you despondent and upset.  The “games” people play are ones to cheat the system, to get strokes by some shortcut.  I can affirm that my alcoholism isn’t a problem if I can get someone to drink with me.  I can pull in a third person to be a psychiatrist/judge when I disagree with someone, because I want to feel that my opinion has validity. I can get into fights with my spouse to avoid intimacy, which I’m afraid of. It’s all variations on the idea of getting what you want from others without putting in the actual work for it. If you’re still not getting the concept, watch any episode of Seinfled to see it played out.

The only strokes Balki and Larry are interested in are… nah, that one’s too easy. You all knew I was going to say “on their penises”, right?

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What I’m getting at here is that I think Perfect Strangers has been getting good ratings with what’s approaching a minimum of effort.  I mean, goddam, “Piano Movers” should be proof of how far is too far along those lines. The most interesting thing about that episode, other than Lydia’s smile, is the factoid that it’s a ripoff of Laurel and Hardy.  Yeah, it gives you something to say about the episode, but no reason to watch it, compare the two, or even want to live anymore.

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But what does effort look like, you ask? I’d say it’s using all the pieces at your disposal.  There are, what, 8 characters on this show now? As much as I enjoyed Harriette and Lydia bickering with each other, it was never central to the plot. As much as I enjoy seeing Rebeca Arthur, she hardly ever has an impact on the plot (it’s arguable in “Wedding Belle Blues” as she’s mostly there to be hurt or not hurt).  Harriette was originally presented as the character with knowledge from the streets; but she barely did or said anything in her last few appearances.  Lydia was originally a tightly-bound set of neuroses. Now she just really, really likes sex, which is a wrong thing to like.  Gorpley was presented as a mean guy who had power over Balki’s job. Now he’s a mean guy when he bowls, comes to a Christmas party, or plays poker.  To go back to season 3 again for a moment, how the hell did he not have a bigger role in “Couch Potato”, when Balki was literally missing hours of work?  I’ll have a lot more to say about jerk characters and jerk dialogue at some point; remind me if I haven’t done that by season 8.

But couldn’t these people be used more? Couldn’t Larry and Balki threaten RT Wainwright’s position in some important meeting where they fight over Sweet n’ Low packets?  Couldn’t Balki’s industriousness lead to greater work being put on Gorpley’s plate, work he can’t delegate, and so he tries to slow Balki down with the mail? Couldn’t Harriette be upset about doing the same job for years and talk shit about her boss, which Balki then repeats (either in the sense of “why, you’re not a tyrant, Mr. So-and-so” or by making the gripes sound worse than they are through Balki speech), or which he tries to fix?  Couldn’t Lydia come into work drunk and keep talking to Larry about her woes, making him late in turning in an article?  Couldn’t Jennifer and Mary Anne do their best to stop Larry from fighting in a restaurant?  While everybody’s trying to make this show simple, it ends up pushing everybody else from the room. These two atoms, Balki and Larry, form a helium gas that keeps expanding, leaving no room for anyone else. No time to think about hydrocarbons. No time to think about glycerides.

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And when I say everybody else, I do mean the women, primarily. This season was the absolute worst in how it treated women, with three definite and terrible examples: “That Old Gang of Mine”, “Maid to Order”, and “Wedding Belle Blues”. Part of what makes these so disappointing was how good the setups were, just to be ruined by jokes or how issues are resolved.  At any rate, women appear to exist in a lesser role than men–not just in terms of how often they have large roles (god I miss Fat Marsha) on this show, but also in terms of the show’s philosophy towards them.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a show about two men touching each other’s faces ends up giving women short shrift.  At the very least, Robert Blair, author of two of those episodes, isn’t coming back.

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For all that I’ve been making it sound like the show has stagnated, I feel like we finally got some movement on the “ABC keeps trying to retool its shows” front.  Season 2 gave us one episode with the cousins working a different job “Get a Job”, and somewhat of another in season 3 “Just Desserts”. Despite the numerous possibilities there are for stories taking place at a newspaper, or for any workplace in general, we only get a handful in season 4 (“Assertive Training”, “High Society”, “Crimebusters”, and “Prose and Cons”).  But we seem to be getting more and more episodes where the cousins are put into situations that have nothing to do with home or work (“That Old Gang of Mine”, “Come Fly With Me”, “Car Wars”, “Seven Card Studs”, “Just a Gigolo”).  “Come Fly With Me” and “Teacher’s Pest” are the clearest examples of putting the cousins in a new work situation, which to me reads that ABC was testing things out.  After two seasons of not trying to give Larry a clear role at the Chicago Chronicle, someone seems to have decided to see how audiences would like him working in a classroom.  And hey, I wouldn’t have minded that!  Not only would it have given him a student-of-the-week to deal with, but maybe it wouldn’t even be Balki sometimes! And “Come Fly With Me” is an example of both cousins working in a different job setting.  These two episodes together are definite forays outside the norm for the cousins.

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Other times, the show keeps experimenting with lifting a story from somewhere else and seeing how well it goes. Season 3 gave us “Just Desserts”, which had an I Love Lucy homage as its reason for existing.  I take it that one had good ratings–after all it continues to be a fan favorite–because they tried two more such episodes this season.  “Piano Movers”… let’s not talk about “Piano Movers” again. But “Aliens” is just a poorly done homage to the “It May Look Like a Walnut” episode of The Dick Van Dyke show.  The only joke this show could come up with on its own was that everybody wore vests like Balki.

I fully expect to see more episodes like these from season 5 on. I’m sure ABC will keep trying them because, hey, sometimes it may not work, but sometimes it does.  Larry will always see things one way, and Balki will see things another*. The cousins will continue to be gay. They both will still have a long way to go.

Of course they will, don’t be ridiculous.

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I think that’s all I have to say about season 4 for the moment. Now here’s the part where I give you a list of the best and worst things from season 4, and you all have to accept it as the final word.

Worst episode: choke on your own scripts, Robert Blair

Best episode: Games People Play, but Assertive Training and Maid to Order are tied for second.

Best one-off character: Cobra, just because he knows his late-night comedians; but Mrs. Bailey did have thoughts and feelings of her own, and Carl Winslow acted like a real person, so let’s say it’s a three-way (heh) tie.

Worst one-off character: fuckin’ Walt

Best Balki-ism: um, none?

Worst Balki-ism: “perversion” in place of “promotion”

Season 4 catchphrase count: Balki (12); Larry (7)

Season 4 boner count: Balki (1); Larry (1)

Cumulative catchphrase count: Balki (71); Larry (21)

Cumulative boner count: Balki (12); Larry (14.5)

Dance of Joy running total: 14

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Join me next week for another Perfect Strangers review!

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*In all fairness, breaking that standard was one of the best parts of “Just a Gigolo”.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation 1989

Here we are again, with another round of seeing what our beloved cast did in their downtime in 1989.  Let’s go ahead and get this one out of the way:

Melanie Wilson

nuthin’

Okay, now that–

Rebeca Arthur

nuthin’

–welp–

Belita Moreno

nuthin’

–okay come on–

Jo Marie

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Jo Marie Payton chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo was on the screen for about 1 whole minute in the film Troop Beverly Hills. She plays a sassy black woman who works in a uniform store and says the word “shit” in front of a bunch of kids.

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She also showed up on the “Jailbirds” episode of Small Wonder. She plays a sassy black cop, but she goes undercover–as the only black Misfits fan ever–to scare the robot kid because the robot kid was spraypainting. I don’t know enough about this show to make jokes about it, but that’s okay, because from what I can tell the writers didn’t know enough about making jokes.

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FJ O’Neil

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On that same episode of Small Wonder, my man RT (Remanded Trial) Wainwright plays a judge. Big whoop.

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He was also on an episode of Tales From the Crypt (“The Man Who Was Death”) playing a priest who says a bunch of, ahem, Religious Talk at a prison execution.  What can I say, this man looks good in robes.

 

Mark Linn-Baker

Mark was on Valerie’s Family: the Hogans (a show that underwent more name changes than an early EC comic*) playing somebody named Stan Forrest. The episode title was “Stan and Deliver”. I wonder who played Deliver HAR HAR HAR. Sorry, no screenshot.

 

Sam Anderson

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Assistant Manager, “The Royale”

This is the only ST:TNG episode I’ve ever seen, but it lives up to the hype! The bald dude said “Make it so” and everything!  Here, Sam Anderson is–

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a slightly menacing assistant manager in a suit! Surprise!

Alien Nation

Thomas Edison, “The Game”

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Fun fact: Sam Anderson didn’t need the usual alien bald cap for this episode; he just shaved his head.

Slick Sam was also on an episode of Hooperman playing somebody named Dr. Lazlo. I can’t find it to watch it, but I bet he wears a suit in it. A doctor suit.

I wonder what Bronson’s up to…

 

Bronson Pinchot

nuthin’

 

*yawn*

Well, this continues to be the most disappointing feature on my blog. I mean, this is a lot of work just to get across the point that Perfect Strangers was the best thing these actors had going back then. But, hey, Bronson’s big movie was due to come out soon!  Certainly that would elevate the visibility of every member of the Perfect Strangers cast, and we’d see them all rise to stardom.

But for now, let’s do the news & magazine articles from May 7, 1988, through May 6, 1989. Reviewing the news coverage of seasons 1, 2, and 3 all at once was illuminating and worthwhile because those articles told a story about stories that morphed over time. Who Bronson is. How he rose to stardom. Where he’s going. How Perfect Strangers started. How stingy Mark Linn-Baker was with his words and money. To further that analogy, I’d have to say that I’m writing another chapter here. But ultimately, what I want to get from these is whether they a) support, or b) challenge what’s come before; the overall tone of how the show is being treated; whether Bronson says which toe he likes to suck on most.

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Season 4

“Bronson Pinchot is a survivor….”

“The problem was, Pinchot wanted to be a real actor.”

I’m a reference librarian, and one of the traits I try to instill in students is to be inquisitive and skeptical.  Part of this includes making sure that at least two independent sources agree on the information you’re using.  So it makes me very happy that I now have another source (the second article is a condensation of the first) to prove Rebeca Arthur was not lying on Pat Sajak’s show when she said that she was going to be the Azalea Queen at the 1989 North Carolina Azalea Festival.  She replaced some unrepentant whore named Julie McCullough, who had appeared in Playboy.  But since Arthur–who studied dance and theater at the University of Maryland–had no primary or secondary sexual characteristics, she was determined to be perfect for the festival.

It should be no surprise by now that Mark Linn-Baker  had definitely been busy in his off-time.  He was one of the producing directors of the New York Stage and Film Company, and that the organization had grown large enough that they wanted to start another such program for theatre students in Sarasota.

Other than that, the article is mostly a collection of all the other quotes that Mark has rehearsed to give during interviews, which seems to hold up across publications, as well as television interviews. I enjoyed making My Favorite Year, I like theater but I am proud of the funny stuff I do on TV, Bronson and I hit it off quickly, the press is disappointed there isn’t behind-the-scenes drama, I’m not quite the straight man, unless you’re talking about Jackie Gleason in the Honeymooners…

god fucking dammit they’re going to do a Honeymooners episode, aren’t they

A couple of choice quotes from that article:

Mark: “…I wanted the next film to be something special. So I ended up turning down a lot of films that came my way. I wasn’t looking to do a mindless comedy. I tried to be very picky.”

Well, that certainly explains him voicing a penis.

Mark (he’s a different Mark who wrote this article): “…the two stars say they’ll be willing to stay as long as ABC wants them.”

Turns out Mark (the actor) has a sister who got married in the summer of 1988, but only after proving to him that she was ready for it by having sex with her fiancee in a piano bar.

.October 9, 1988: the day nothing of any interest came on television.

There’s honestly not a lot here about how good the show is or isn’t.  Again, I have no doubt that there were such articles; they’re just not curated on the fansite. And that’s not a knock on the fansite; weekly TV publications without “guide” in the title were generally thrown away after people were done cutting out the coupons from the Sunday paper.

One reviewer obviously hadn’t watched the show because she uses words like “hilarious” and “laugh” and at one point claims that “Balki… improved his English”. Dusty Saunders of the Rocky Mountain News TV Times claims that not enough people were watching Perfect Strangers, even though it’s funny, really, we promise. Did you see the one where they were in the grocery store? Solid stuff.  In fact, the actors were still trotting out that old Lucille Ball quote. Even Rebeca Arthur admits she thought the show wouldn’t last when she first saw a commercial for the first season. But almost 30 years later, it’s still shown every Friday night at 8:00 on ABC. Wild!

Bronson Pinchot remains the same bundle of insecurity and hauteur.  He claims that he “need[s] to do a certain kind of comedy which is not grown on trees” (emphasis mine). It’s your basic human mental gymnastics that lets you think that you caused your success, because the alternative is that no one, not even you, especially not you, is in control of your life.

But that article is lousy with boasts: he has two homes (one in Hollywood, another in Malibu), superstardom is just around the corner, he had played “bigger parts” before Beverly Hills Cop, he’s the one who recommended Joel Zwick be the director for the upcoming (*ahem*, blockbuster hit) film Second Sight, in which he not only plays the lead, but also rewrote the part.

Bronson also claims that he was the first choice to play Liberace in a TV biopic on ABC. He of course turned it down. After all, sitcom actors who try to take on serious roles are just trying to prove something to people. They look so silly! I mean, it’s not like Bronson can’t do serious roles, everybody at Yale wanted him for serious roles because he was so good at it, but he just doesn’t feel the need to show off, after all, most people prefer comedy because they’re not snooty, it has nothing to do with making money.

He mentions the cousins being on a talk show whose purpose was “dragging men through the mud”. But I don’t think we can trust Bronson’s take on the tenor of the questions, since he claims that all of the women in the front row were openly masturbating over him.

But we again get some articles that give us a more nuanced picture of Bronson. In this 1989 TV Guide (Canadian edition) article, he brags about his success, but also says that he was still doing research on Balki.  Bronson found his father–who left his wife and four kids, as you recall–in 1988, in an “old age” home (this was the 80s, where “retirement” had not been invented yet). According to Bronson here, Daddy Pinchot had “nothing to say. He just doesn’t know me. I don’t see him.”

The easy working relationship between Pinchot and Linn-Baker has been mentioned so many times now (here, by Linn-Baker) that I’m tempted to believe it completely.  Either that’s just the illusory truth effect talking or it really was true.  I think it’s a little bit of both, but I still suspect there’s more to it that Mark’s not saying.  Sure, he’s the one with the more extensive theater background, so when he says that he and Bronson “have a shorthand that only the two of us understand”, I believe him. Like any close relationship, Bronson says he can tell when Mark’s angry–which I bet was hard enough to do, given Mark’s curt, possibly guarded, answers to everything.  (Evidently, Mark’s breathing changes and “his hair starts to fluff up” when he’s angry.)

We get another brief glimpse of Bronson’s admittedly shitty adolescence. Says Bronson: “They say your subconscious has no sense of time, so the part of you that was 11 years old and miserable is still alive inside you”.

And… I think we get a little bit of honesty from him.  In aggregate, the articles I looked at last time ended up portraying Bronson as having thought he was too good for television, and did Perfect Strangers because he was broke. I still think that’s true, but here he frames it as having not been sure that he could play a nice character. And even though Bronson says he enjoys playing a loving character like Balki, the article ends with him saying that he uses the nice character as an excuse to justify acting like an ass to others in real life.

In an article from the San Francisco Chronicle, however, he swears he “won’t play evil”. The author here, John Stanley, made me laugh in a way I don’t think he meant to.  He starts the article trying to describe Bronson as thoughtful, mysterious, distant, and nervous.  But then Stanley says that Bronson comes to life after eating food.  It honestly reads like Stanley has never heard of blood sugar.

Bronson gives us some insight into how he sees and inhabits the character of Balki–or the reverse, as it reads here–and we get yet another indication of Bronson’s relationship to the other sex.  “Women fall in love with the character of Balki and expect to find that quality in me. And when they meet me they suddenly realize I’m either more interesting than they thought, or I’m not interesting at all.”  Gee, sometimes jokes are funny and sometimes they aren’t huh?

Another choice morsel from this article is that, according to Bronson, “Bini” is Balki’s middle name.

Bronson was in Starlog in May 1989, huh?  No wonder that rag folded 20 years later!

The article goes behind the scenes of Second Sight, which was intended (sort of) as a vehicle for Bronson.  Evidently it was the 1988 writer’s strike that resulted in the movie taking so long to come out. The way this article reads, the script had to be “reinvestigated” and rewritten largely by the actors (gee, why is it that actors are always the ones who turn out to save the script when the actors are interviewed?).  I’ll admit I haven’t watched much of John Larroquette’s work in recent years (other than when I go to the gym and Night Court is on one of the televisions), but this Starlog piece paints him as being not at all happy with the movie, or the production of it, or the other actors’ performances. Second Sight evidently had a small enough budget they couldn’t even buy extra ice cream for a second take of one scene. One of the actors tries to describe the movie as “the Three Stooges

A second article about Second Sight makes me wonder why Me and Him didn’t get this much promotion.

Finally, it’s amazing to me how so many details are scattered across these articles; it really has turned out to be necessary to read everything I can to get anywhere near a complete story.  This time around, I learned that the comedy album Bronson had written was done at the request (and payment) of A&M Records, who then turned it down when it was completed.  It’s also implied that Bronson turned down the role of Ben Jabituya in Short Circuit.  Just think!  Bronson could have been remembered as the guy who did brownface, instead of Fisher Stevens! Instead, he’s the guy who’s remembered for saying one sentence.  I’m sure we can all agree who got the better deal in the long run.

Join me in something like 30 weeks for reportage up through season 5.

But join me next week for the actual Season 4 Review!

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*Psychology sidebar: priming.  The joke about EC Comics titles was lost on probably 100% of you, but the reason it was on my mind is that F.J. O’Neil was in a show based on an EC Comic.  Priming works this way: subject is shown a stimulus (the word “slavery”) and is then asked a somewhat unrelated question (“name as many presidents as you can”); the stimulus influences the response (subject is more likely to start with Lincoln in their answer).

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Susan Campbell

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Ah, Susan, will you ever find love?

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Is that even what you’re trying to find?

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Are you searching for rock bottom, just to see if it’s worth rebuilding on?

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Love the new haircut.

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Sex, lies, and videotape (cumulative seasons 1-4)

Remember how I said I would never look at the interviews given by the actors in Perfect Strangers?

A few months ago, Phil sent me the Alcott Farm 2017 Calendar Featuring the Work and Wisdom of Bronson Pinchot with Photography by Beth Yarbrough.  There are fifteen of these left as of this writing, so please do purchase one. You may want to quibble over the fact that you will have “lost” two months of its utility, but the wisdom and the works within will return blessing and success to your life for years to come.  Why, January’s wisdom alone has changed my worldview: “Time-altered things retain their loveliness. Their beauty lies in the intention of their maker, whether artist, artisan, or deity.”  Finally, the perfectly-stated rejoinder to the whole idea of the “death of the author”.  Barthes can suck it!

February’s wisdom is almost a continuation of that idea: “If the context of a work of art is knowable, it is one’s duty to consider it as part of the whole; if it is unknowable, it is one’s privilege to exult in the surviving artifact.”  In other words, I haven’t been carrying out my full duty in creating this blog. So I find it necessary to look at the various extant video surrounding this show: interviews, game show appearances, and a smattering of commercials. Many thanks to Linda Kay for her curatorial efforts.  Just think, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have so many things at my disposal to put down this show.

The only lie I have for you–in fact, the only one I have ever made–is that there would be sex in this week’s post.

So strap on, tune in, and get turnt, let’s look at interviews and such through the end of season 4!

Season 1 & 2 (March 25, 1986 – May 6, 1987)

Not all of these videos have specific dates on them, so I’m lumping some of those together here that simply claim to be from the “late 80s” or “1986”, etc.

I am honestly surprised there weren’t more interviews with Bronson Pinchot for this time period.  That is, I’m certain there were, I’m just surprised that they aren’t included on Linda’s YouTube page.  I think we can all agree it was just tons of Bronson interviews where they asked him about Beverly Hills Cop.

Of special note is the fact that in this timeframe, we have the only double appearance by the cousins, on Hour Magazine at some point in 1986.  Hour Magazine was hosted by Gary Collins (you all know Gary), and appeared to be a talk show with an added conceit: each celebrity was the “person of the hour”, and would stick around to be a part of the host interviewing other guests.

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Left: me at 6 years old; Right: rare pre-production shot from Mac and Me.

Linn-Baker and Pinchot hang out while Gary talks to a woman who had four sets of twins (one kid excitedly says she watches Perfect Strangers).  They also participate in an interview with a Karen Dean Fritts, a psychologist who was there to discuss whether bachelorhood was on the decline (due to men becoming more selective because of STDs).  Mark is uncomfortable talking about his then 3-year-long relationship, but Bronson’s words are more revealing. Sometime around 1982/1983, Bronson had been engaged. After that went south, Bronson says that he think he’s “not even going to get close for, like, another eight years”.

This interview is also noteworthy for being the last time either one of these actors would touch an animal that wasn’t dead poultry.

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I suppose it would have been a safe bet that Bronson was on Hollywood Squares at some point. I’m going to admit something about myself, something I’ve never told anyone else: Hollywood Squares is one of those shows that I’m aware of, but it was never a part of my childhood.  I feel like most people in my general age range must have seen it; it was on during the time period when I would have first started seeing gameshows. Whether it was because my parents mostly watched ABC, or because I never really saw daytime shows, I felt like I had missed out. It usually came up as some sort of joke or punchline, so I’m hoping someone out there can situate Hollywood Squares for me in the greater pop culture context. Was it a good show? Were the celebrities generally well-loved? A-list, B-list, etc.?

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At any rate, Bronson was on there at least three times.  He’s not very funny here, and even doesn’t understand a joke the host makes.  I suppose he was out of his element here, since there weren’t any old women to talk to about constipation.

Hey, Bronson Pinchot and Brigitte Nielsen presented an award at the People’s Choice Awards in 1987!  Certainly they’ll engage in some witty banter about how she was in Beverly Hills Cop 2 and he wasn’t, right?

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No. Bronson makes a joke, Brigitte doesn’t get it, and Bronson tells her she didn’t get it.  I’m not sure whether it would be better or worse if they had come up with their dialogue beforehand.

Evidently, in late 1980s France, television was undergoing deregulation. This meant that networks needed to (heh) fill some slots quickly, so they started importing American shows.  Like, who cares, really, but I know at least one of you out there will be into the footage of two French voiceover actors moaning while watching Perfect Strangers.

Season 3 (May 7, 1987 – May 6, 1988)

All right! We’re halfway done with th…

*sees that I am on page 3 of 19 in this Google Drive document full of notes*

ah shit

If you think I’m to do a paragraph or two for each of the remaining 40+ videos I watched, you’re nuttier than squirrel shit.  So let’s talk trends. Previously, Bronson had been the star; but now that Perfect Strangers itself was a bonafide hit, it’s just interviews all over the place.

You’ve got your morning talk show interviews:

Bronson Pinchot appeared on Good Morning America a few times that year.  The first I have (from September 1987, right after Bronson received an Emmy nomination) doesn’t give us much information. Bronson deflects the host’s praise about the nomination, as well as the good reviews, as he claims it does no good for him: he doesn’t even get free shoe shines. And there’s the Bronson we all know and love!

Host: So you’re doing great and people like you!

Bronson: This is not enough to make me happy.

It appears he did have a girlfriend that week–he makes some sort of finger-based inside joke to the camera.  At one point, the host asks him about trouble on set, and we learn that Linn-Baker was essentially a class clown–making Bronson laugh, but becoming pure innocence when the teacher notices.  I do want to highlight one thing Bronson says here, in the context of coming up with “don’t be ridiculous”:

Bronson: It came out of… this constant thing, which I think a lot of people have, which is, “I really don’t understand what you’re talking about, but I want you to still like me, and I want not to be stared at right now, so I’m just going to deflect it”.

Deep. My psychology sidebars have nothing on that.

The other Good Morning America interview gives a couple of tidbits: one is how much he and Mark come up with lines for Balki, and how much of the physical comedy they come up with. There’s also a mention of the movie Second Sight, no kidding here, two years before it came out. Bronson is annoyed by the types of things women want to do when they travel.

He was also on AM Los Angeles a couple of times. In one, he talks about flea bites on his ankles. In another, he’s promoting the show’s move to Friday nights.  But this is also where he starts exhibiting a pattern of behavior.  He comes out early before the hosts are done talking about the day’s program, he steals their question cards, throws away the ones that I assume are about Eddie Murphy, and he keeps deflecting questions about his personal life. Second Sight, according to Bronson, was to come out in November of 1988.

But sometimes, Bronson would be allowed to stay up past his bedtime and be on prime time.  He showed up again on Hollywood Squares, where he pretends to call Ronald Reagan as Balki (in the grand tradition of jokes Bronson comes up with on his own, it’s almost a good idea, but ends up going nowhere). He made some small appearances on Entertainment Tonight, sometimes just for quick quotes, like when he shared a memory about how his bosses on Perfect Strangers took him to task for breaking character; and when Bronson thought Harvey Korman would back him up, Harvey Korman did not back him up. One clip from March 1988 gives us a couple of tidbits about Bronson: he was miserable when he’d go 8 or 9 months without a job; and that his goal in playing Balki is to make “you look at things the way you looked at them when you were 5”.  But God I love Mary Hart’s reaction to hearing about Bronnie’s role in Second Sight.

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Let’s pretend this one is also from Entertainment Tonight so I can lump them in here. January of 1988: Cheryl Washington interviews Bronson and leads into the clip by saying that Perfect Strangers enticed him to put movies on hold.

*pauses YouTube video and laughs for three minutes straight*

To his credit, though, he does say that he turned down a lot of movies because he didn’t know how to separate the wheat from the chaff.  He was developing “a few movie projects”

*three minutes pass*

but hoped that he could be on a great, innovative sitcom, like Mork and Mindy.

like, look, man, did you watch it or not

From something called Hot Quotes!, and I’m paraphrasing slightly:

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Tabloid interviewer: Are any women trying to date you?

Bronson: No, there are none.

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Each of the last few generations have had their flashpoint moment, the moment everyone can say where they were that day: Kennedy’s assassination, the attack on Pearl Harbor, 9/11, the moon landing, but for many, it was Bronson Pinchot’s appearance on Hour Magazine in February 1988.  Bronson touches Gary Collins’s leg and makes fun of his socks. Bronson slouches silently and then eats pie made by Pillsbury Bake-Off winner Mary Lou Warren. Then, he and Gary talk fashion with Sandie Newton about mesh biker shirts and Prince William’s knees. They also discuss losing the hair on their lower legs, a clever ruse on Bronson’s part to get Gary Collins to touch his leg.

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But hey, the last part of Hour Magazine picks up a bit with actress Sally Kirkland!*

She talks about acting school, certainly something Bronson will have perspective on…

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No, Bronson just flirts with Sally. But then the conversation moves on to doing roles with accents, certainly something Bronson will have perspective on…

Bronson?

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Fine, moving on to season 4.

Season 4 (May 7, 1988 – May 5, 1989), or, the section with all the Pat Sajak clips

That morning talkshow/late night talkshow order worked alright for the season 3 videos, but I think it’s worth doing the rest of these actor by actor.

Melanie Wilson

We’ve got two interviews here, one from A.M. Los Angeles in March 1989 where she talks about her father, Dick Wilson. Dick was not only on Bewitched, but he was also Mr. Whipple in the “don’t squeeze the Charmin” commercials.  The host is unimpressed by this.  Anyways, Melanie had been acting since the age of 10, going from theatre to commercials to Perfect Strangers.  Also her husband makes closets and the asshole hosts of A.M. Los Angeles straight up ask her if she’s worried about him screwing lonely housewives.  There’s also a lovely quote from Melanie that I just have to present out of context: “It’s true: you’ll never see me anywhere”.

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Now here’s one that I found very interesting to watch.  In April 1989, Melanie Wilson appeared on the Pat Sajak Show the same night that Louie Anderson was a guest.**  She tells Pat the exact same story about her dad, but it’s a little punchier by now.  But pretty quickly into their chat, Louie butts in and shifts the conversation immediately to how the makers of Perfect Strangers hated him, and he wouldn’t be on that stupid show anyway.  He acts like he’s joking, but it sounds pretty honest to my ears.  Melanie had no idea that Louie was the original Cousin Larry.

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Melanie and Pat talk around the fact that Louie won’t shut up, and Melanie subtly signals to Pat that she’s uncomfortable. He’s an aware enough guy he picks up on it and goes to commercial.

Rebeca Arthur

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Rebeca Arthur did a lot of game shows, such as Super Password, Couch Potatoes, and The All-New Liars’ Club. As far as I’m concerned–and perhaps this has to do with her hair color and figure–she fits in well in this setting.  I also find that she’s fairly funny on her own. For instance, in her February 1989 appearance on Couch Potatoes (it’s basically a version of Trivial Pursuits where the contestants only answer the questions about TV), pretty much the first thing out of her mouth is a joke about how Balki fucks sheep.  I love this woman, y’all. I do feel for her, though, since it’s quickly obvious that none of the contestants has watched even a minute of Perfect Strangers; seriously, they don’t even know   Anyway, you find out that Rebeca auditioned for the role of Jennifer first, and that Mary Anne was originally going to be called Rachel. A moment of silence, please, for the Larry Anne (Ship) that never was.

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I mention her appearances on Super Password during “Halloween Week” simply to make a few stray observations. First is that the dog seen in “Your Cheatin’ Heart” was actually Rebeca’s dog, Emmy.  Another is that Pat Sajak was the second celebrity guest, which to me now becomes an indication that network lines were perhaps only drawn in the sand.  ABC may have turned Perfect Strangers into a commercial for Moonlighting, but Super Password aired on NBC, and The Pat Sajak Show was on CBS.

*shrug*

The gimmick of Halloween Week is that host Bert Convy had to pass out bags with “tricks” or “treats” in them to the players, and it’s obvious that no one had decided beforehand what merited either one. Bert Convy doesn’t even try to hide how little he likes the gimmick, and Pat Sajak keeps lightly criticizing him for not keeping the pace going.  But, hey, I’m not reviewing Super Password, right? It’s honestly kind of boring to wa–

Oh wait–there’s toys!

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I can’t identify that inflatable bat, but it’s likely Oriental Trading Company or Hallmark. Maybe Russ.

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In case you were looking for something undeniably 80s from these clips, Rebeca Arthur plays with Shlump, one of the Boglin toys.

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On the second show, who cares about anything else, because there’s a Snarlie Narlie from the Rock Lords line.

Not enough Pat Sajak for you yet? Here’s Rebeca on his show! She’s brought her dog, Emmy, along.  Pat gives her a muffin for the dog, and Rebeca jokes about how messy it’s going to be when Emmy shits it back out later on. I love this woman, y’all.

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Let’s see, what’s interesting here… she can’t remember what the cousins’ jobs are… she was the Azalea Queen at the North Carolina Azalea Festival… she has a friend named Lisa…

I’ve got eight more pages of notes to condense, so let’s switch to Mark, shall we?

Mark Linn-Baker

Mark had his interview talking points down to a science, and you basically get the same talking points covered in the articles from last time around. He and Bronson have no drama behind the scenes, he and Bronson don’t hate each other, he and Bronson “have good chemistry”.

Again, because I did such a thorough and perfect job creating a narrative of these actors and their relationship to each other, the show, and their own lives, I only have a list of tidbits here.

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Mark: The simpler the stories are, the funnier it gets.

Well, I’ve definitely found my season 5 running joke!

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Pat Sajak: They’re starting to call you guys Laurel & Hardy, and Norton & Kramden….”

don’t give ‘em any ideas, Pat

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Mark: We try to be funny.

Damn! Two running jokes for season 5 and I haven’t even started watching it yet!

It wouldn’t surprise me if people stopped interviewing this guy after awhile.  Anyway, Mark seemed to be a go-to guy whenever someone needed a safe white guy who was associated with comedy, who would show up on time and not mess up any lines.

mickeymouse

For instance, he co-hosted Here’s to You, Mickey Mouse with Soleil Moon Frye.  This TV special celebrated Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday*** by having Mark hang out with a teenage girl in a dressing room and solemnly watch old Mickey Mouse cartoons.  I love you, Mark, but fuck this snoozefest. I’ll stick with Totally Minnie, thank you very much.

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Ah, crap, I knew I’d regret this endeavor at some point. I’m going to have to watch the 1988 McDonald’s Charity Christmas Parade in Chicago, hosted by Linn-Baker and Uncle Jesse.

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This whole thing is far, far more boring than you’d think.  I watched the whole thing just to bring you these juicy details. John Stamos and Jana Davies keep making jokes about Mark, possibly to throw him off, but Mark sticks to the script like shit to a shovel. Now that he’s spent years on screen correcting pronunciation, he makes sure the home audience knows that you’re supposed to say “pom-pon”.  We learn that Stamos and Mark were in high school band, playing drums and clarinet, respectively.  I was in high school band, and yes, their personalities are an exact match for those instruments. I also would have believed that Stamos played trumpet.  Bob Evans Restaurants had mascots named Biscuit & Gravy; John Stamos’s favorite movie is Wizard of Oz; Jana Davies tries to get the guys to make jokes about her breasts; Jana Davies laughs at what she thought was a fat joke; Jana Davies sounds like a jerk, huh?  They also make up canon for Mac Tonight, which I really don’t appreciate. They’re saying he’s from outer space. I don’t believe it. Guy played a piano on a cloud. I believe in genetic convergence and all, but come on.

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Santa is explicitly religious when he talks, which you damn sure couldn’t do these days.

Lastly, because he didn’t mind another $200 bucks in his savings account, Mark hosted the Moscow Circus special (sometime between August 15 and October 9, 1988). Evidently Perfect Strangers had repaired US-Russian relations!

newsforthehardofhearing

This is the worst spoof of News for the Hard of Hearing that I’ve ever seen.

Mark gives us a very short history of circuses, and talks about how many people are in the Moscow Circus and they also have bears and there’s some sort of mythology about cranes and who fucking cares I’m tired of watching all this shit now I’m tired of this show I’m tired of these actors I’m tired of the whole world do you understand me our whole country is turning into a Moscow Circus and Pinchot spelled backwards is Putin nobody knows conclusively why the term handbasket is used but that’s what we’re in or maybe the more appropriately temporally-localized metaphor is that we’re going to hell in a Hummer or we’re going to hell in a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine we’re going to hell or it’s a Mohamed and the mountain idiom kind of a thing and it’s here we’re in HELL and

oh, the video ended

Bronson Pinchot (pronounced “pinch-ohpopo”)

Of course I left Bronson for last. And of course most of the interviews were with him. And of course he keeps touching feet and shoes. Let’s do these in chronological order.

zwick

During the summer of 1988, Bronson appeared on both Good Morning America and Entertainment Tonight to promote his big upcoming super-great-sure-to-be-a-blockbuster-hit Second Sight.  Joel Zwick (that’s him above), director of 49 out of the first 50 Perfect Strangers episodes, was set to direct Bronson as a “psychic virtuoso”.  It’s been most of my life since I watched anything like either one of these programs.  I have vague memories of these shows being on the set of whatever movie, but I don’t know if I remember them happening a year and a half out had more to do with how slowly time passed for youngsters.

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Mary Hart (Scorpio): Pinchot, known for his interpretation of offbeat characters such as Balki on Perfect Strangers, says that developing a role for a film–

Wait, Mary Hart, STOP

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Shouldn’t you list, like, a second character he interpreted? That he’s known for? Maybe????

Bronson says that it’s high pressure because he has to come up with new comedy all the time during the film.

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Makes sense. Larroquette mentions that he finds Bronson funny because he’s always doing something unexpected.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work out for him.  In his appearance on Attitudes (a talkshow you’re more likely to remember from the Saturday Night Live parody with Jan Hooks and Nora Dunn), he got the audience to agree to not applaud for him when he comes out, just as a goof on the viewers at home.

What? Why?? Anyway, he mentions Moonlighting, so I stopped the video and went on to the next one.

Bronson showed up again on Good Morning America in November 1988 to talk about how “Up a Lazy River” was some grade-A funny shit, but that the quicksand was made from “fine gravel” and he got an ear infection from it.

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Bronson–

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Bronson please give Joan Lunden her shoe back.

At this point, I assure you you’re not alone in wondering if Bronson has some sort of fetish.  Sure, the first time, he was making a logical joke about his success not getting him “shoe shines”. Later, when he was on Hour Magazine, Gary made fun of Bronson for zoning out, and Bronson responded by making fun of Gary’s socks; they later made a callback to it and touched each other’s legs.

But here? He grabs Joan Lunden’s shoe before she’s even done with her first question and holds it up in front of him while he says hello to family at home.  Is there something here? Was it some sort of ill-planned joke on the references to Balki having the prettiest legs on Mypos? (Question just for people who like men’s legs: does Bronson have nice legs/feet?) Is it just Bronson trying to buck formula again, either to play the role of Bronson Pinchot, or maybe amuse himself?  At any rate, I’ve got three running (ha) jokes ready for season 5 now.  And I thought it wouldn’t be worth watching these interviews.

Lest you think that Mark Linn-Baker was the only one of the cousins that Arsenio Hall liked, Bronson Pinchost appeared on his show in both February and May of 1989.

I want to apologize that most of this post has been nothing but fodder for your next Perfect Strangers trivia party, but I did finally get some insight from these two interviews.  Let’s get the morsels out of the way first.

–Bronson says he keeps Balki fresh by using his own “rhythm” rather than that of the character.  Yeah, and it fuckin’ showed this season

–Bronson’s family was on food stamps when he was young

–In case you needed more reasons to dislike him, Bronson did not know who Debbie Gibson was

–There’s a bit missing from the portion with second guest, Michael Gross, who had just finished up a 7-year run on Family Ties. I wish I could have seen more of him and Bronson together to know if they talked about their different perspectives on their shows. But mostly during that section, Bronson just pipes up once to make a joke about watching porn.

*shit, I almost forgot to make a joke about watching porn this week, gotta come up with something fast*

Ahem.  I watch porn.

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–in the May appearance, Bronson takes off his shoes right away (Jesus…)

–we learn that Bronson talked about his mother’s feet in his February appearance (…Christ)

–At that point in time, Second Sight was supposed to come out in August 1989

–Bronson used to turn up the music real loud when he would bring home girls when he was 17

Yes, that’s right, you heard right, that tender age of 17, when he was in high school and depressed and overweight and barely social…

Say…

There’s a couple of ways that you can sort Bronson’s talkshow appearances.  One is the daytime/late night axis.  He likes to goof around in the mornings, steals question cards, steals shoes, tells the audience not to laugh, but on Arsenio, he’s quiet. Waits for a good opportunity to make an adult joke. Shows off his legs to the ladies. Talks about gettin’ that high school poonanny.  Perhaps Bronson’s keenly aware of the audience demographics, and modifies his behavior appropriately.

But another axis is male vs. female hosts. It always seems to be the women hosts that he goofs around on.  Sure, there were both male and female hosts on AM Los Angeles, but he stole their interview cards.  Sure, when both cousins appeared on Hour Magazine in 1986, you could argue that Bronson hadn’t developed his quirky “what’s-he-gonna-do-next” persona, but in the 1988 episode with just him and Gary, he barely talks through most of the segments.  He takes Joan Lunden’s shoe, but he’s remarkably laid-back on Arsenio.

Here’s the thing about Occam’s Razor: not only does it need to be the simplest explanation, it needs to be the simplest explanation that covers all the pieces. Maybe Bronson legitimately loves everybody’s feet, including his own. Maybe his fiancée left because he only wanted to suck on her toes.

BUT

He was not the most social person in high school, even if he did bring girls home sometimes. Maybe he did date a different woman every few weeks after finding success, and maybe he did grab secretaries’ butts, but he was engaged, and they did break it off, and he did go on national TV and say that he didn’t think he could ever “get close” to marriage for another eight years. And–spoiler alert–we know now that he never has gotten married.

To try to be fair, I’ll acknowledge that this can’t possibly be the totality of Bronson’s television interviews to this point.  We can’t get a full picture right now of how he developed over the years 1986-1989, and the foot stuff itself could be overshadowed by some other recurring thing–or lost in a sea of no recurring things, if we could. But that previous paragraph is made up of facts, and here’s my interpretation of these interviews seen through these facts. I get the strong impression that Bronson is more comfortable talking to men. When there’s a chance of a woman asking him questions, he seems to need to deflect it by being goofy first.  For whatever reason(s), the Bronson I see in these interviews does not want to have no power in a situation with a woman. Let’s take the attention off of my interior by looking at my exterior.

On the other hand, Balki did try to shine Susan’s shoes with his heart…

 

Did it–am I done? Did I watch them all?

*collapses into a heap in Yaya Biki’s chair*

I hope you enjoyed this dive into the world of TV appearances; and if you didn’t, please tell me so I won’t waste everybody’s time for the next four seasons.  I’m curious to hear if anyone else has a different take from mine on Bronson and feet.

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To end, though, I’ve got one more video from this time period for you.  Bronson Pinchot was in a Temptations music video for some goddam reason because the Temptations weren’t that popular anymore, and Bronson was, which just goes to show you how much justice there is in the world. Also, surprise surprise:

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Join me next week when I’ll look at articles written during season 4, and also what our actors did during the summer of 1989. After that you’ll get your season 4 review, I promise.

_______________________________

*At one point in this interview, Gary asks Sally who just came in the door behind the audience; it was Paulina Porizkova. Mere coincidence?

**Mere coincidence?

***Does this mean he was still wet with afterbirth at the beginning of “Steamboat Willie”?

****Thanks again to Linda Kay’s curatorial efforts.