Season 5, Episode 10: Almost Live From Chicago

Welcome back!  I hope you enjoyed the Dad Trilogy, but now it’s time to get back to business as usual.

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We find Balki, polishing a table and singing Reason #33…

*sigh*

The DVDs aren’t out yet, but I have to have a joke in the meantime. I guess I can still say: here’s reason #33 why a graphic design temp isn’t at this very moment working on multiple pieces of unique DVD disc art for Perfect Strangers: “Lemon Tree” by Will Holt (and popularized by Trini Lopez). The song presents itself as a warning against love, but a close reading of the lyrics bears indication that the warning is really against women.  After all, it’s not like love faded away or anything, or that the man’s love was untrue: it’s that the woman fell in love with another.  So we begin this episode with a warning that women are fickle and uncontrollable creat–

–hey why the hell is Balki polishing a table (with, I assume, something lemon-scented)? Does the biggest newspaper in the US not have a housekeeping staff?

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The cleaning is the efficient cause of Larry falling to the floor when he tries to sit on it. I can understand this, I think. I mean, you try and write a gag involving newspapers, or journalism, or mail sorting, and see how long it takes you to just write physical comedy instead.

Larry happily tells his cousin “TGIF”.

Larry: Balki, do you know about all the great shows on ABC’s new Friday night programming block? Full House returns for its third season, followed by the brand-new sitcom Family Matters at 8:30, Perfect Strangers, and then finishing off with Just the Ten of Us?

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For the first time in forever, Balki has used his catchphrase to cover up a lack of knowledge. He guesses that it stands for “two goats in Fresno”.  Is that really the best you can come up with, show? Come on. “Tampons go in front”. “The goats I fucked”. “That Gorpley is a fustilarian”.

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Twinkacetti’s Gal is Fashionable: Lydia enters dressed in what, if I remember correctly, were the only colors that existed in 1989.

Balki gives Lydia some mail and says “HAYM” (here’s all your mail).

POP QUIZ #1

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Where does Balki come up with them?

  1. Laffy Taffy wrappers
  2. He gets a good deal on them from Malcolm
  3. A small statue of Pazuzu whispers them to him at night

Far kinder than I ever will, Lydia very subtly expresses that she thinks Balki isn’t funny. But, well, when you get right down to it, bad jokes and funny clothing are Balki’s material causes, and it’s good that the show explicitly acknowledges this sometimes.

Lydia complains that she has gotten yet another letter from Channel 8, who want to do a television version of her advice column.  The General Idea’s Faulty: how exactly would that show go?  Would she just read letters on air and then answer them while the studio audience quietly watches?  Even if the person with the question were there on the set with her, would that really make for exciting television?  I dunno, I’m probably overthinking it.  Lydia is Dr. Phil. Let’s move on.

The cousins are astounded that Lydia would pass up such a great opportunity; after all, as George Walter Appleton told us, television is much better than newspaper work.

We learn that even someone as dedicated to the long con as Edwina Twinkacetti can’t always keep her story straight.  Where two seasons ago she couldn’t wait to get in front of the camera to be in the Chronicle’s TV commercial, now she has a fear of cameras that reaches all the way back to her childhood.  Her mother forced her to be on some show called “Miss Terry’s Tapping Tulips” when she was 6.

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Anyway, compared to other continuity hiccups this one is small.  I’m willing to overlook it because finally, FINALLY, another episode about Lydia.  Last time, Larry dressed up as a woman to steal the spotlight.  Let’s hope Balki doesn’t get a sex change.  I’m hopeful, but at the same time…

Remember back in season 3 when I started praising the show for how it depicted the cousins having learned each others’ buttons and patterns and blind spots? Yet here in season 5 I think I’ve said a couple of times that they each should have learned to spot warning signs.  I see the warning signs. A song whose message is to not trust women, a reference to a cancelled television show (That’s Incredible!)… and isn’t a Perfect Strangers episode that’s supposed to be about a woman warning enough?

*sigh*

Speaking of learning lessons: every four episodes or so we get an episode where Larry trots out some childhood trauma: girls rejecting him, his father being withholding, having a kidney removed so it could be made into a trophy for Brother Billy.  Yet here he is telling Lydia to not be hung up on something that happened so long ago.

Balki scares Lydia by telling her that the cameras are everywhere.

POP QUIZ #2

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Why is Balki such an asshole sometimes?

  1. Give him a break, he doesn’t know any better
  2. Assholes are funny, and this is why even characters like Lydia and Larry are allowed to be condescending. The sitcom in the 1980s was slowly trying to wrest itself free of the bonds of niceness. Even family comedies like Full House, ostensibly about the nicest, huggiest folks in San Francisco, featured a father who would insult his daughter’s best friend to her face.  Rather than limiting the mean jokes to one character, such as Louie DePalma on Taxi (not to mention making sure the other characters gave him his comeuppance), they began to be distributed to everyone, with the generous assumption that other family members or close friends would “understand” that they are just joking and are really nice. It’s Garry Shandling’s Show found a clever way around this by having its titular character relay the “mean” punchlines directly to the audience, not heard by the other characters. But in the late 80s and early 90s, shows like Married… With Children, Roseanne, The Simpsons, and Get a Life embraced the idea that family members are often assholes to each other. But family-friendly shows like the ones on TGIF continued to hide their malice behind smiles and sappy music.
  3. You are what you eat

Lydia says she’ll tell Channel 8 to fuck off, but Cousin Larry offers fame, dinners with Barbara Walters, wrapped in velvet, covered in glitz.

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The Girl is Fervent: Lydia says she’ll do it and goes up the elevator.  Going up an elevator is probably symbolic, but I just wasted like 200 words on a stupid multiple-choice gag, so let’s leave it at that.

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Later, at the Caldwell, the cousins are woken up by someone knocking on the door.  Balki wearing a weird hat played so well in “Seven Card Studs” that the writers decided to top themselves by giving Balki a taller hat.

GEE I WONDER WHO’S AT THE DOOR

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Lydia is on the verge of tears because she says she can’t face the cameras.  Hey! I’ve got a solution! Turn your back to them! (wocka wocka)

Evidently either a long time has passed or television here works as quickly as it does in the ALF universe, because it’s tomorrow that she’ll tape her pilot episode.  The cousins begin to take sides on whether Lydia should go through with it.

Now, I’m sure that some of you out there are expecting that I’m going to take this opportunity–an episode that features a television show–to use however Lydia’s show is treated as a critical commentary on Perfect Strangers itself.  Well, you’re right, and we’ll get to that by the end of the review. Until then, here’s a small taste:

Balki: Not everyone should have their own television show.

Balki keeps pulling out all these references to television shows that went off the air before he even arrived in America (here, he alludes to programs starring McLean Stevenson).  Didn’t we just establish two weeks ago that Mypos doesn’t have TV?

POP QUIZ #3

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How does Balki know about short-lived American television shows from the late 70s and early 80s?

  1. Cousin Larry’s statement in “Father Knows Best??? Part 2” should be taken as hyperbole and nothing more
  2. The island of Mypos has a subscription to TV Guide and one of the elders reads episode synopses to the children around the fire
  3. It’s not in the writers’ contracts to actually watch this show

Larry suggests that he and Balki act as plants in the audience and ask Lydia questions from her old columns so she doesn’t have to think of new answers. Okay okay okay

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The fact that Lydia doesn’t disagree with Larry–in fact calls the idea “brilliant”–gives us a little more insight to how her show will work, but the implication here seems downright fucked-up.  Are we to assume that the show is going to consist of Lydia on stage, taking questions from audience members sight unseen?  Forget being afraid of cameras, who wants to improv coherency and wisdom in real time?  That’s like asking someone to repair a motorcycle while it’s running. Like asking someone to publish the first draft of a novel. Like asking someone to have sex without drawing diagrams and running computer simulations first. *ahem*

Here’s some symbolism for you: Lydia tries to usher the cousins out of the apartment, but she is promptly reminded that it’s not hers.

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Lydia insults their couch and leaves.

Now that Lydia’s gone, the cousins return to their usual programming of stretching out bad jokes for too long.

Balki asks why Cousin Larry is so dead set on Lydia doing her show. Teenage Grief Is Formula: Larry starts yelling about high school classmate Bunky McDermott.  It’s your typical high school story: boy declines being elected president of the chess club, only to see someone else accept, and then to see that someone else marry a beautiful girl, become president of her father’s company, and get filthy rich. Larry has kept a news article about Bunky’s success in his wallet for the past four years.

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I’ll admit, there are plenty of things that I wish I’d done differently in my life, and I think about them more often than is productive. And I think it’s not necessarily a bad idea to light a fire under yourself sometimes. But I sure don’t carry a piece of paper around that says “you sucked that one time”.

Bunky, his bae Bryn Bramwell, and their beaucoup bankrolls: buddy, you better believe the alliteration bit is back.

*deeper sigh*

And here’s where Larry “lies”.  He tells Balki that Lydia actually wants to do the show, but she’s having trouble overcoming her jitters.  We’re supposed to believe that Larry is the bad guy here because–god forbid–if he can’t succeed, he at least wants to help someone else do so. The conversation he’s having with Balki is really one he ought to be having with Lydia.  Maybe his story (calmly recounted) could even inspire Lydia.  But god forbid there ever be battle that’s not between these two blinkered boobs.  But, hey, that’s the formal cause of Perfect Strangers: it would cease being itself if it wasn’t constructed out of this very kind of arrangement of elements.

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Here we are at the (heehee) “Phister” Theatre with a “Lydia Live!” logo and everything. And, yeah, it looks like the plan is not to have anyone on the stage but Lydia, and to have her answering questions without any possibility of editing after taping.  I have to imagine that some writer must have decided that there needed to be alliteration in the show’s title, because I don’t remember a single talk show that my mom used to watch that was live.  The only examples of live talk show hosts I can think of are Regis Philbin and Larry King, and they’re both older than God.  Seriously, who would put someone with no background in the medium into this kind of show? Fuck. Fuck.

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Mary Anne (Sagittarius) asks why it’s called “live” and Jennifer explains television show pilots. Mary Anne says something smart: a detailed understanding of how shows are picked up.  She explains this by saying that she once had a conversation with Ted Turner in an elevator.  I like the explanation in “Father Knows Best??? Part 2” because it led to a really specific and unexpected (and great) punchline.  But here… I mean, sure, it preserves the characterization that Mary Anne is so dumb she thinks a sportscast is what football players wear when they break their legs, but I think I preferred it when she was just smart about something completely out of left field.

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The cousins just go right up on stage to talk to Lydia and nobody stops them. Good job making sure you aren’t recognized as plants in the audience, guys.

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There’s a nice little moment where Lydia gets distracted by a stagehand putting a microphone on her.  Belita Moreno is good at these little touches.  They’re additive, as opposed to when Bronson undoes entire jokes.

Ha! “Phister”

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The announcer gives the intro to Lydia’s show, and when the camera zooms in on her she starts talking like she’s having a stroke.

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Lydia flips out and tries to run away but is thrown onto her back when she reaches the length of the microphone wire.  Ha! Isn’t it funny when people get hurt?

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The entirety of what this television station does for Lydia is give her a paper bag to breathe in and have the director (?) ask her if she’s alright.

Balki rushes in with Lydia’s things and says he’ll take her home.

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*deepest possible sigh*

Reminder: there is still a studio audience–including Jennifer and Mary Anne–watching as the following happens:

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I’m not even going to bother to try to write some well-turned phrases about the self-incriminating metaphor on display here. Fuck it. Perfect Strangers sends a message loud and clear: women don’t get their own shows. Women don’t even get their own episodes. Try it and you’re subjected to violence. “Almost live” is just another way of saying “stillborn”. I would say that at least Harriette got to leave and have her own show… but two weeks after “Almost Live from Chicago” aired, Family Matters would air “Laura’s First Date”, the first appearance of Urkel, who would take over the entire show in short order.

Perfect Strangers doesn’t even try to warm up a story about a woman through use of egg rolls and saxophone anymore; it just goes in dry.

POP QUIZ #4

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Fuck this show?

  1. Fuck this show.
  2. Fuck this show.
  3. Fuck this show.

There have been plenty of times in conversation where my drive to understand the reasons behind things has resulted in the other person thinking that I’m excusing what I’m trying to find explanation for. Some people do make the argument that if you were a god–if you could understand the reasons behind everyone’s choices–you could never condemn them for it.  I don’t believe that.

Treating Girls Inexcusably; Fuck. Perfect Strangers hates women, kind of in the way that God hated Esau: not through emotion but through treatment.

The final causes of Perfect Strangers are that TGIF featured family comedies, that Perfect Strangers was the only family comedy that starred only adults, that a show about adults wouldn’t attract young viewers, that physical comedy is funny (and not the consistent centerpiece of any other TGIF show), and that adults doing physical comedy cease being adults and become cartoons.

“Almost Live in Chicago” is a version of Perfect Strangers that treats the show–and its characters–like they’re cartoons.  I mean, shit, look, Larry just tied Balki up with duct tape–

The chase scene in “Taking Stock”. The bathroom scene in “Pipe Dreams”. Balki’s bowling technique in “Blind Alley”.  I don’t think this episode would stick out so much if every–or even most–episodes were written with this assumption; then, we’d likely see the cousins manhandle multiple different characters more often.  But even though the show has at times made Lydia one-dimensional, it’s never treated her as a cartoon.

Last week’s episode featured the cousins discovering the dishonest core of a social norm; this week they throw a woman around.

I’m not going to go into detail about the rest of the episode, except to say that the final dialogue is Balki propping up Larry’s ego by telling him how great his life is.

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Fuck, y’all.

Join me next week for “Home Movies”.

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

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

Extra credit reading: Aristotle’s Four Causes

Intermission: 8 Things

Hey look, yet another interruption! I’m never going to get through this season, am I?

But I figured I needed to do a couple of things I promised.

Thing One

First off, Larryoke!  Remember Larryoke? Now it’s back in blog form haha I’m the first to make this joke.  I think I’ve gotten some new readers since then (hello!) so I should explain.

When I got to the end of season 4 (the “halfway” point), me and my buddies celebrated by watching a handful of Perfect Strangers via a livestream event. The episodes were interspersed with goodies such as:

  • trailers for films that Mark and Bronson were in
  • clips of Bronson in his film roles up through early 1989
  • 3 minutes straight of Bronson flexing his butt
  • haha I guess that’s 3 minutes GAY of Bronson flexing his butt
  • a video reference to Earthbound that probably seemed out place
  • Perfect Strangers-themed song parodies, performed karaoke-style

It’s these last two that I wanted to make sure were available to enjoy for anyone who wasn’t able to make it to the livestream.  Here they are!  My singing voice is terrible, but everyone else’s is great! Many thanks to Adam, Vivian, Sarah, Philip, and Professor D.

And lastly, thank you to the guy who comments on each and every video I post on YouTube.  I can’t possibly imagine you had any idea what these were about, but you liked them all anyway.

Thing Two

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Phil and I went on a roadtrip (planes are roads!) to lovely Parsippany, New Jersey to see the Cousins in the flesh at the Chiller Theatre Expo. The picture above is an artist rendering of the trip. Because we are both bespectacled and bebearded men in our 30s, there’s no telling which of us is which.

Why were Mark Linn-Baker and Bronson Pinchot reuniting at a horror convention in New Jersey, of all places?  Who the hell knows!  I’m guessing that it’s because both of them are on the East Coast, and whoever was in charge of seeking out guests was clever enough to sense some sort of opportunity. (And, hey, I take 100% of the credit for any bump in any recent popularity of the show.)

Let me describe the Chiller Theatre Expo by talking for a moment about comic conventions in general.  My very first convention was DragonCon in 1995, in Atlanta.  It was exactly what you’d expect from a “comic” convention.  My dad took me, and I got a few comics (Disgusting Comics #2, Major Inapak: Space Ace, and MAD Magazine #265 are the ones that instantly come to mind).  In my memory, the con was almost entirely vendors with rows of longboxes full of back issues, comic book artists with their giant sheets of original page art. I’m sure there were attendees in cosplay, but they don’t stick out in my mind.

The last few cons I’ve been to–and what I hear about all the others bears this out–are almost entirely pop-culture conventions.  At the large ones (say, Comicpalooza in Houston, or the New York Comic Con) the big focusses are whatever upcoming movies feature superheroes or pop culture mainstays like Transformers* or whatever. Hell, I went to Comicpalooza in 2015 and saw some of the Rocky Horror Picture Show cast on a panel. You’re far more likely to see someone with a towering wall of their own artwork (depicting characters they don’t own) than you are to meet an independent comics artist like *ahem* yours truly. Rows of longboxes are a rarity. Don’t get me started on those shitty Funko toys, neither.

In fact, Mile High Comics–probably the largest brick-and-mortar comics retailer in the United States, just announced that they won’t be at the San Diego Comic Con, ending their presence there after 44 years. Rising costs of floorspace coupled with the fact that many convention attendees don’t even make it into the convention hall because of all of the events nearby (plus some bad PR on SDCC’s part) have made it unprofitable for Mile High Comics to even make the trip out there.

I say all that to say this: the Chiller Theatre Expo is by far the most focussed convention I’ve been to in terms of fandom.  The vast majority of the vendors there are selling horror memorabilia.  Sure, some of them have general “vintage” movie and TV stuff too, but the focus is clearly horror.  I bought a horror movie for a friend, some horror postcards for myself, and I bought Phil the most terrifying Playboy centerfold ever. I also want to give respect where respect is due. At least from what I can tell, it’s the horror fandom that has birthed a number of efforts to preserve the history of low-budget film. For decades, the majority of 70s and 80s low-budget horror films only got a VHS release, and that was it. Hardcore fans had to track down copies of limited releases of horror titles, hitting up yard sales and going-out-of-business rental stores. (I strongly recommend the documentary Adjust Your Tracking if you want to learn more.) But at the Chiller Theatre Expo there were at least five different booths offering DVD copies (of VHS transfers) of these films, with not much overlap among them.  The Expo was also the first I’d heard of a company called Vinegar Syndrome, whose business is to restore and re-release such films.

Yes, I realize this blog is called Perfect Strangers Reviewed. I’m telling you my experience of the convention. Back off.

So, yeah, there was a weird mix of celebrities there. Again, the general focus was horror, even if the actors had only been in one or two horror movies. They had most of the cast of the film Fright Night, George Hamilton was there, Michael Marona and Danny Tamberelli from The Adventures of Pete & Pete (I didn’t realize until I was talking to them how important it had been for young Casey to see other boys with red hair on television), I forget who all else.  I think the main thing they all had in common was being C-list actors, with a slight trend toward mostly being in media that preceded my birth.

Phil and I went to the Paramus Mall while we were there, and there happened to be a Lego store. Phil had the idea to make custom minifigures of the cousins, and we spent a solid half-hour digging in bins alongside children trying to find the right hair and clothing for the cousins.  Larry got an afro, a splattered jumpsuit (we hoped it might read as being from “Games People Play”), and a camera; Balki a bindle and a vest; Mary Anne (Sagittarius) an exercise outfit. In fact, hold on a sec–

*drives to the mall real quick*

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This is close. No camera for Larry, I think Balki had different hair, and Mary Anne had a bone. Jennifer is on the packaging.

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The first thing I did when we got to Mark and Bronson’s table was to give Mark the minifigures (to help your imagination: the Lego store gives you a plastic box to put them in).  He said something along the lines of “that’s nice” and handed it back.  I realized at that point that this must be his first convention appearance ever, and somehow I was the first fan to give him a gift. (I gave it back to him and clarified.)

Otherwise, I completely forgot everything I was going to say.  I become a shaky baby deer like that at conventions. I managed to get out that I had come to the convention solely to see them, and Mark Linn-Baker shook my hand. I had brought VHS copies of both Me & Him and After Hours (both movies had starred Griffin Dunne), but because of the prices they were asking for signatures, I only got Mark to sign Me & Him.  He commented that it had been a nice month in Munich.  There’s some movie trivia for you, Mark Linn-Baker fans!  He only had to do the voice of Griffin Dunne’s penis, but they actually flew him out for the filming.

I had intended to ask Bronson whatever happened with the comedy album he had recorded, but I forgot. He shook my hand and asked about my ancestry (the red hair, remember), and then he immediately went back to playing, idunno, Angry Birds or whatever.

The cousins had a number of promotional photos there. I didn’t buy any because I wanted to have my photograph taken with them. While in line for the photo, I overheard someone talking about being a member of the Perfect Strangers Facebook group, so I introduced myself (if you’re reading, hi! you’ll see in a minute why I’m not mentioning your name).  Phil was there with me in line, and when it came time for me to get my picture taken, they let him join in (for free! I had to pay money and didn’t even get to touch Bronson). Mark even recognized me: I think he said something like “there he is”, which could just be a catchall way of making people think you recognize them, but I certainly felt loved.

We ended up going back to the Expo the next day to see the cousins again and hang out with our new friend. I gave both Mark and Bronson the address of my review blog and said I would love to interview them some day. I also held our friend’s phone so they could get footage of them talking to the cousins one last time.

I have to tell you two things at this point. One is that, leading up to the Expo, Bronson Pinchot had been posting short videos of him in character as Balki advertising the event.

The second is that our new friend is the most hardcore Perfect Strangers fan I’ve ever met, which is surprising given that they are even younger than I am. Perfect Strangers came into their life at a very trying time, and they’ve seen the whole run of the show multiple times.  They talked to the cousins all three days of the Expo.  By the third day, Mark and Bronson recognized them and greeted them warmly.

When they gave me their phone to record them, they told me that they really hoped that Bronson would do the accent and his catchphrase.  When I could tell that they were almost done talking with the cousins, I got the sense they weren’t going to ask for the catchphrase. So I piped up and asked if he would.  Bronson deflected the question to Mark, who happily rattled off an “Oh my lord”, but refused to do the accent at all. He said he was feeling “grouchy” that day.

I get that doing a convention is its own type of marathon. And I’m guessing Bronson decided for himself beforehand that he wouldn’t do the accent. Because if you do it for one person, you’ll have to do it for another, and another, etc. But…

It was the last day of the Expo. And certainly he could tell that he was with a superfan.  Maybe it was the fact that he was being recorded in a situation where he couldn’t prepare himself, as he’d done on YouTube leading up to the Expo. Couldn’t he have, though, just once? And not look like an ass on video?

Oh, wait. Nevermind.

Things Three through Eight

They’re releasing the rest of the seasons of Perfect Strangers on DVD. That’s right, you heard right, Warner Bros.** is going to release seasons 3-8 through their manufacture-on-demand program.

Oh God, I take it back.  I have nothing to do with any recent upswing in Perfect Strangers‘s popularity.

My first thought was “dammit, there goes one of my five jokes”.  But then again, it’s not a brick-and-mortar release, or even necessarily through sites like Amazon.com, which to me says that this is the only way Warner can maximize their profits. It’s still a possibility that they haven’t gotten the music rights.  In most cases, they could cut out the parts where Balki sings.  There are only two songs I can think of off the top of my head where cutting them would significantly impact a scene: “Proud Mary” from the camping episode and “Never Gonna Give You Up” from the journalism class episode.

*sigh*

Yes, I’m going to buy each season of the DVDs. No, I’m not going to go back and get better screengrabs for what I’ve already reviewed. Not only does this blog review Perfect Strangers, but it’s also a record of a particular point in time where only the first two seasons were on DVD, and where for awhile only the METV recordings were available for everything else, and where for another while original airings could be viewed. My screengrabs will be inconsistent overall, but I’m fine with that.

Also *ahem* if y’all want to buy me the DVDs when they come out, I won’t say no.

In fact, especially if Warner didn’t get all the music rights, I may have to stick with the original airings. I kind of want to keep seeing that filthy rat with the hammer, too. Kind of hope he dies at the end of season 5.

Anyway, I somehow managed to wring 2,200 words out of a post about some YouTube videos, a photograph, and DVDs that aren’t out yet.

Join me next week for “Almost Live from Chicago”!

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Boner count: Casey (0); Phil (1–it was when he was talking to Bronson; bet he thought I wouldn’t notice)

*GoBots came first. Fight me.

**I hope the DVDs say “Warner Cousins” instead, out of respect

Season 5, Episode 9: Hello, Ball

Check it out, y’all–it’s been 54 episodes since we had a title with the word “Hello”.  In “Hello, Baby” we met a baby; in “Hello, Elaine” we met Elaine; now we’re going to…

…meet a ball? The hell?

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Anyway, it’s nighttime at the Caldwell Hotel. Larry and Balki run in and head to the kitchen to get some ice.

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Larry’s in a hurry to get his exposition out before any of the other characters come in.

Jennifer’s father has come to visit and Larry has slammed his hand in a car door, spilled wine on him, and set his necktie on fire. Looks like Larry has developed quite a specific pyromania since last week.  At any rate, Larry fucking up in a restaurant is usually the physical comedy setpiece (see “The One With the Handcuffs”, “The One With Carl Winslow”, and “The One With Karate”). Since all that is happening off-screen, we’re certainly in store for something that would top even that!

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Mary Anne (Sagittarius) comes in to report that Jennifer’s dad tripped over Larry’s bike on the way in.  Okay, if Dad can’t see a bicycle in his path, that’s on him.

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Mr. Lyons arrives, complaining that he doesn’t want to stop to see where his future son-in-law masturbates. Larry apologizes, but it’s really not his fault.  Anyone entering the sphere of influence of the cousins risks getting arrested, fired, or having their fingy broken. Mr. Lyons is not given a first name here; as you’ll remember, Larry’s dad has two first names, so it balances out.

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Balki brings over dessert: stooki wooki pingpong (stewed prunes with Lucky Charms).  *sigh*  The Myposian dish names have gone from effort on the part of the writers to make it sound like there’s an actual language to them sounding like my jokes from season 2.  I’ll admit that season 5 has been doing a better job including more Myposian elements than season 4, but they seem to be getting lazier at the same time.

At this point, Mr. Lyons retires, since he’ll be playing golf tomorrow.  Turns out that Mr. Lyons likes to sleep so that he can be awake the next day.  Like father, like daughter!  Larry claims to be great at golf, evoking skepticism from Balki and Jennifer.

Another thing I’ve noticed about season 5 so far is that it’s been taking two different–almost opposing–approaches to what kind of stories it tells. On the one hand, we’re getting plots that feel more like “classic” (or perhaps the better word is “prototypical”) episodes. Balki’s misunderstandings of language and social codes result in him overstepping polite boundaries in “The Newsletter”. Larry’s opportunism in “Lie-Ability” is challenged by Myposian tradition. Balki goes to the dentist for the first time.  Many of these so far depend on the viewer being willing to ignore that the cousins have been together long enough to qualify for common law marriage in most states.

But now, we have an episode where those previous seasons are necessary for a twist to work.  Larry lies about his abilities constantly: rollerskating, weightlifting, plumbing, filling out a dress.  The viewer has to be familiar with these for the fact that he’s actually good at golf to have the comedic impact it’s supposed to.

Mr. Lyons barely hides his disgust with being in the cousins’ apartment, so he and the women leave.  Mary Anne takes the whole tray of stooki wooki ping pong. See? I keep saying that she and Larry would be a better match. (For you new readers, “Larry can’t poop” is a long-running joke on this blog.)

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The next day, Balki comes home from school and Larry has set up some contraption in the living room.

Larry: What do you think?

Balki: I love it. Absolutely love it. Which hole does it go into?

Larry explains that the “Swing Doctor” calculates your golf swing in terms of range and direction. He swings, and a voice tells him how he did.

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Balki is surprised that it can talk, having never encountered a computer that could do that, not even once, EVER

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Balki takes a turn with the Swing Doctor, but not before talking about a similar sport on Mypos.  Bangbongpokinokiwakayahoo is played with fence posts and jagged rocks.

I’d make a joke about, I dunno, why are the angelic children of Mypos vandalizing fences, or why are they using jagged rocks since all the bombing must have resulted in a variety of rock shapes, or even how the woman go out in the field and get brained with a rock, but I’m a little too bored by this Myposian sport to do any of those, much less try to come up with a new joke here.  I mean, we all see where this is going.  Balki was perfect at baseball, a brand new sport to him, because he played it on Mypos.  Balki was perfect at bowling, a brand new sport to him, because they played it on Mypos.  At the very least, unlike those two, someone wrote a foreign-sounding name for the sport.

Oh, wait, no, I do have a new joke for this: Balki fucks sheep after playing bangbongpokinokiwakayahoo.  Nailed it!

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Anyway, here’s where the culture-clash symbolism comes in.  It was a very deliberate choice to use golf in this episode.  You see, Larry wants to marry Jennifer, meaning he must first get approval from her father.  He must prove his ability to provide for her.  He must prove, if you will, his success on “the green”, a stand-in for money.  The symbolism’s a bit obvious, but effective nonetheless.  On the other hand, we have Balki, who comes from a barter economy, where interaction is with materials themselves (wood, stone).  In the American system of capitalism, the average person is removed from those, and must use a standardized form of equipment that serves in the place of those materials.  Different sheets of paper, though similar in size and color, represent different amounts of money: 1 dollar, 10 dollars, 100 dollars.  So to, do the golf clubs take on values of the original materials: 3 wood, 5 wood, 8 iron. Exchange rates in a Myposian economy will vary wildly from town to town*, as wildly as Balki’s swing. The American economy is rule-based, and it is mastery of those rules that–

Nah, j/k, that’s not the symbolism in this scene.  The fact that Larry coaches his cousin on how to handle a phallic symbol is. Also the balls symbolize balls.  In a poor imitation of probably four or five different Looney Tunes cartoons you saw as a kid, Larry tries to teach Balki about golfing stance. He tells Balki to “stay loose”, then tells him to “lock” all his body parts, and then “take a swing”. You know what I’m talking about.

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The Swing Doctor gets the best line of the episode.

Swing Doctor: You could throw it further.

(In America we have become so enslaved to machines that we accept their critiques blah blah blah…)

Here’s the second beat in the “Balki’s secretly great at a sport” plot: Larry doesn’t want Balki to play on his team when he plays doubles with the Lyons.

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Jennifer comes over to talk to Larry about the game on Saturday. She’s surprised to learn that Larry was being honest about his golf skills, given how he usually (har) lands in the “sand trap”. She makes the same face women do when I tell them what the doctor said about my balls.

Larry swears he’s being truthful.  He’s learned his lesson: he’d better not lie if he wants to get the right (heh) “angle of approach” with Jennifer.  If he wants to (ha) stay in the “short grass”. If he’s to get a (ho) “juicy lie”.

Okay, okay, I’ll stop.

Larry wants to (hee) “ground his clubhead”.

Anyway, Jennifer is now worried, because her father is a terrible golfer, and she wants Larry to play bad to spare his ego.

oh, wait, no–

she wants to STROKE his ego!!!

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So Larry offers his only begotten cousin as a sacrifice to appease the Father.

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Saturday morning. The camera zooms in on the only part of a golf course ABC had money to recreate: a fence.

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An observation: Balki told us that Myposian golf is played with fence posts.  And here we have a fence.  In this scene, I would have had Balki start trying to pry a fence post off, but what happens is that Balki just dumps all of his clubs out of the bag.

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Jennifer tells Larry to make his failure look genuine, and here’s this week’s line I don’t have to make a joke about:

In total defiance of physics, Larry hits the ball directly upwards, and catches it when it comes back down.  Mr. Lyons comes over and just exudes disgust at him for a bit.

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Psychology sidebar: self-serving bias.  Most people like to feel good about themselves, right?  But everyone is going to face a variety of successes and failures over the course of their lifetimes. When someone with a high self-esteem meets with failure, it causes cognitive dissonance**. This mental discomfort must be mitigated, but accepting the failure as one’s own results in a hit to self-esteem. So this person decides that the failure was caused by something external. As a complement to this, all successes are considered to be from internal causes.  That is, if I get a promotion, it’s due to my own hard work.  If I don’t get a promotion, it’s because those in charge don’t like me.  (The astute reader may ask why Larry ascribes all his failures to himself; that’s a story for another day.)

We see self-serving bias on display here as Mr. Lyons hits the ball off a tree and into a sand trap, and then blames it on the tee.

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Balki yells out some “waka yahoo” shit and hits the ball so hard he knocks it out of the studio and into an on-location shot. Jennifer starts acting like she’s going to have to stop dating Larry because Balki plays golf well.  I’ve heard of people doing what their parents want well into their adult years, but this seems a bit much.

Mr. Lyons asks Balki what his handicap is, Balki replies “the accent”.  Bronson got a good, solid joke and didn’t mess it up!

Larry asks why Balki’s so good, Balki says he just does what’s natural. Ah! That explains why he’s been pissing in every hole after he sinks a putt.

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I complain a lot about how often this show has “Larry lies” as its main driving force, but I will say this: most of the time when Larry lies it’s because the truth would reflect badly on him.  But this week we’ve got the worse form: Larry treats Balki like he’s a child.  I don’t mean Larry humors Balki, or phrases an insult so Balki will think it’s a compliment.  Here, Larry assumes that Balki won’t understand a different social code. Instead of explaining that Jennifer has asked him to whiff his shots to prop up an old asshole’s ego, Larry tells Balki that it’s “against the rules” to do better than a guest, and that Balki is “cheating” by playing well. This episode had an opportunity to put Balki in a position of learning something, but Larry’s explanation is reductive to the point of being dishonest.  Yes, Larry playing well would break an unspoken rule (respect your elders by letting them feel superior; sometimes it’s better to butter up an egotist rather than ruin everyone’s fun by making them upset), but the predominating context here means that Balki is going to take him to mean that it’s a rule of American golf.

This could have been a good cultural exchange. Balki could have learned about American culture and still critiqued it.  And hell, Larry’s really in the right here.  But this is a sitcom, so here are the real rules that can’t be broken:

  1. Family comedies must have lessons
  2. Someone must do something wrong in order to learn a lesson
  3. Balki cannot do wrong

Are y’all familiar with the Idiot Ball? It’s shorthand for when a character acts dumber than they should just so the plot can move along.  Well, because of sitcom rules, Larry is forced to carry the Asshole Ball. Hello, Ball.

Anyway back to the gay jokes: Larry tells Balki to keep his “ball” away from the “hole” because he needs Jennifer as a beard.

In true Perfect Strangers fashion, the callback retroactively makes the original joke work: Balki’s short game involves swinging the club around in a constrained double cone.

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Mr. Lyons reveals himself to be self-delusional about his own intimidation skills. And how like late-stage capitalism are this old man’s blinders, which–

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huh?

I already…?

okay

Jennifer thanks the cousins for “cheating” and playing Balki and walks off to talk to dad.  While she’s gone (about five feet away), Balki shouts at Larry. To add insult to injury, Balki tells Larry that the plan was stupid in the first place.  There’s your cultural exchange, folks!

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Balki foretells a future where Larry has to constantly lie to stay in Mr. Lyons’s good graces.  Cousin Larry makes it pretty clear that’s a small price to pay for continued access to Jennifer’s (hyuck) “inner nine”.

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Even though Larry should have been playing worse than Mr. Lyons the whole time, everything comes down to this last putt on the 18th hole.  Since there’s five minutes left in the episode, Balki tells us the story of Devo the Butcher.

Devo used to give soup bones to all the widows every Friday (haha yeah I BET he did). Balki’s Uncle Thriftos started dressing up as a woman to get free bones. The plan worked smoothly until Devo decided that Thriftos was just the girl, was just the girl, the girl he wanted. Thriftos split town. This all leads to a stupid moral: “sooner or later you have to dance with the butcher” that the audience absolutely loves.

Whatever. Is there still more to this episode?

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Larry chooses that moment to be honest and sinks the putt.  Mr. Lyons walks up and throws his club down. What a fucking baby!

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Later, at the apartment, Jennifer and Dad come by so he can apologize.

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Then Larry does that thing where he wants to say what he has to say first, not letting Mr. Lyons speak.  Balki and Jennifer try to stop him, so he shouts at them.  I’ve made so many jokes at this point about Balki being in an abusive relationship that it’s easy to forget just how much of a jerk Larry is when he does this kind of stuff.  It’s bad enough that Larry does this to Balki regularly, but it’s a different kind of bad when he does it in public. It’s even worse that he does it in front of the girl he’s constantly trying to convince he’s a perfect man.  But now, not only is he doing it to his girlfriend, not only is he doing it in front of a guest, he’s doing it in front of his girlfriend’s father, the very man he set out to impress!

At this point, Mr. Lyons should say that this behavior is far worse than having his tie set on fire.  Dad would even have a sort of moral high ground–others only obey his implicit “wishes”, but Larry is explicitly bending others to his will.

Structurally, it really sucks that Larry’s being this kind of asshole right now, because what he’s trying to do (speak his mind to Mr. Lyons) is a fairly upright and brave thing to do.  And it’s a situation with true comic potential–Balki knows his advice put Larry on this path, but now he has to dissuade him.

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Larry says he wanted Mr. Lyons to like him, but knows that what Jennifer thinks of him is more important, since she’s the one with a vagina.  But then Larry’s holding the Asshole Ball again and insults the guy.  Once Dad apologizes, Larry instantly shifts the blame onto Balki and Jennifer.

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Here’s a rarity for this show: Mr. Lyons reacts like a reasonable person who learned their own lesson would.  He says he deserves the insult and hopes to play golf for real with Larry in the future.

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Then Jennifer kisses Larry and Balki averts his eyes for some goddam reason?

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So there you go: Cousin Larry shouts at his best friend and his girlfriend, proceeds to insult her father, and then she kisses him for it at the end.  I feel like looking away, too.

Fuck you, show!

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___________________________________________

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

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

*see Chapter 33 of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court for further such discussion

**see Season 2, Episode 5, “The One With the Velvet Nude”