Season 5, Episode 19: He’s the Boss

Welcome back to Perfect Strangers Reviewed!

Since Hulu just today started offering episodes of Perfect Strangers, I’m assuming that at least, oh, 500 of you are new readers looking for some easy-to-digest listicle about the show.  So, without further ado, here are

11 Easter Eggs Even Die-Hard Perfect Strangers Fans Aren’t Likely to Have Ever Noticed In The Perfect Strangers Opening (Number 12 Will Surprise You Since I Said There Were Only 11!)

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1. The boat that Balki and Larry are on in the opening shot is called “Ecstasy”, which was an in-joke amongst the crew, who did tons of E before every taping.

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2. “Stereo where available” was something you’d see on 90s television shows all the time back in the 90s. Stereo was not available everywhere until 1993, when the humorously-named “Speaker of the House” bill became law.

3. “Perfect” and “Strangers” are in two different fonts, a luxury most sitcoms of the period could not afford.

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4. To help him get into character, ABC had Bronson Pinchot sail from the island of Folegandros to New York. I can tell this just from the type of wear seen on the railing of the boat.

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5. Larry Appleton lived two houses down from a Chevron gas station, which honestly kind of messes up that whole “dude came from a small town” vibe a little bit.

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6. The “Welcome to Chicago” sign was made by ABC’s props department. Chicago always has, and always will be, militantly against outsiders of any kind setting foot in the city.

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7. It took years to film the shot of Larry and Balki running, because they kept falling and breaking their legs.

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8. Seriously, even this horse was out of its mind on molly.

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9. When Larry opens the newspaper, he is smiling at an article reporting on the recent extinction of Ammodramus maritimus nigrescens, the dusky seaside sparrow.

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10. Blink and you’ll miss it! The Wrigley Field sign says “TICKET INFO LEY FIELD MONDA”

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11. After the revolving door sequence was filmed, a security guard came out and boxed the ears of both Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker for “screwing about”.

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12. In the final shot, the cousins are heading towards the Chicago Theater to see a production of The Odd Couple. The 1987 production of the play featured Tim Conway and Pat Harrington, both of whom are dead now.

The downside of Perfect Strangers being readily available, though, is that I can’t get away with making stuff up anymore.  This is probably as good an opportunity as any to come clean: I completely made up the character of Harriette Winslow.

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We get a brand new shot of the Chicago Chronicle building, from all the way across the river, signalling distance. But the fact that the nearby bridge is cropped out of the shot makes this an artificial–or perhaps even a forced–distance.

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Inside the building, we find Balki in reverie, picturing himself as ruler over an epistolary domain, changing the lyrics to Reason #37 it took them this damn long to release seasons 3-8 in any format: “The Candy Man” from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Who can take a mailbag
Dump it on his desk?
Stamp each letter twice before he has to take a rest?
The Balki Man
The Balki Man can
The Balki Man can ‘cause he wets it with his tongue to make the stamps stay on

Larry and Lydia sing back-up for him, but when Gorpley comes out of his office to try to get the plot moving, he can’t, because Balki keeps singing.  30 seconds into the episode and it’s already established that Balki is the boss.

But hey, we haven’t seen Lydia or Gorpley for six weeks now!  Gorpley makes his small appearance here count by giving us exposition and making me wish I worked with him. It appears that someone walked in off the street at the same time that the Chronicle was short an Executive Vice President, so there’s a new one of those now.  Gorpley plans to welcome his new exec overlord by buying him a prostitute.

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The new EVP is named Glover, which–well, I should take a moment to explain something for any of you who are brand-new to this show.  Perfect Strangers was a thoroughly intelligent sitcom featuring multiple levels of meaning in any given scene.  And, just as Shakespeare used names to indicate character (e.g. “Falstaff” hinting at a lack of uprightness), so too did Perfect Strangers.  In season 3, episode 8, “Night School Confidential”, Balki’s schoolmate Gary Poorstudy talks Balki into letting him copy his test answers; in season 4, episode 5, “High Society”, Larry tries to impress Bobo Richman, who turned out to have made his fortune through clown trafficking. And here, we have someone in power named “Glover”… need I say more about how this episode is likely to end?

Since Balki spends all his time singing about how easily a computer will eventually replace him, he’s generally not aware of anything else going on in the office, so Larry and Lydia have to give him the rest of the exposition.  Larry says that Wainwright has given Glover carte blanche to reorganize the newspaper*. Haha I bet he put the comics on page 1 heehee and the obituaries in the sports section hoho what a fun time I have making jokes about this show!

Balki hears “carte” and thinks credit cards. To be fair, it turns out there was a credit card called Carte Blanche (which used to be in competition with the Diners Club card until it was bought out by them), but just think, if Balki had grown up on a small island with an agricultural economy, he might have thought Larry said “cart”.

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Larry, five seasons in, maintains his role as the jaded cynic, seeing the capitalist system for what it is–a machine fueled by human bodies–and correctly reduces carte blanche to the power to choose which bodies are employed. Lydia boasts her unassailable position, as she’s syndicated in 800 newspapers.

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RT (Reorganization=Termination) Wainwright and Mr. Glover come out of the elevator, the latter bragging about rightsizing the advertising department and giving a column to a promising writer.  What a monster, this guy! Say, his hands look kind of small…

Wainwright says that he will be happy if Glover can replicate his successes at the St. Louis Examiner; in the meantime, he’s going off to a publisher conference. Hey, screw you, Wainwright!  Leaving while Glover does all the dirty work so you don’t have to listen to people beg for their jobs. Asshole.

Larry smooches some serious ass to try to secure his own. Glover advances on the cousins, he and Wainwright both saying “Appleton” over and over, giving Balki no reason to ever mispronounce the name again. Glover compliments Larry on a recent article uncovering corruption in the sanitation department, another bad portent: when even those who clean up the city are dirty, what hope is there?

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It’s times like these I’m glad I don’t live in a sitcom and can actually control what emotions show up on my face.

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Lydia tells Wainwright to pass on a greeting to Rupert Murdoch.

*waits with bated breath for the inevitable joke about where Murdoch used to–ahem–bury his lede*

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Then Glover walks up and tells her she’s old, her fans are old, even her byline sags, and to get her shit together. Lydia starts freaking out, and Balki rushes to comfort her.  Now, normally I brace myself for any time that Balki talks, but here, it’s just setup lines for more Lydia, making this the best Balki dialogue ever. Lydia leaves, yelling about “pimples, petting, and puberty”. God damn do I love Lydia. (Sure wouldn’t mind seeing her in a pink slip, if you know what I mean….)

Glover is gone just long enough for Cousin Larry to talk about how sure he is he’s getting a promotion soon. Balki says that Larry’s “ship has hit the fan”, which he previously said in “Crimebusters” (where policeman Carl Blackcop made a cameo); that’s what happens when you never correct him, Larry.

See the rhythm of the sitcom: if a character says something out loud, the opposite happens, because–get this–that’s funny. Lydia is confident her job is secure; her job is now not secure. Larry is sure he will get a promotion; Balki gets a promotion to be head of “editorial services”.

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Glover doesn’t even have the communication skill to call people by name–he just points and says “you” when two people are standing near him, and while the person he is addressing is looking away from him completely.

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He fires the possibly-Hispanic woman on his way out:

Glover: You, you’re fired!

Where have I heard that before? Hmm…

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Later, at the apartment, the women have–

*oops, I forgot to let out that breath, phew!*

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Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) have come by to celebrate Balki’s (heh) new position, and their conversation consists solely of the items in Balki’s office: chair, desk, carpet, windows. (These four sure do have fun when they get together, don’t they?) But this is apt, and only fitting in a capitalist society: what is power, but the appearance of an abundance of material possessions?

Larry asks if anyone wants more brown liquid as an excuse to get out of the room; Jennifer follows. I’m proud of Cousin Larry for admitting to Jennifer that he’s jealous; he hasn’t lied for eight episodes now! Here’s your 60-day chip, pal. Larry says that it’s more important for him to be happy for his friend than to anger the capitalist machine.

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When they return to the couch, Mary Anne is telling Balki that power gets her wet. No wonder she’s been trying to tank her own career! They lean in to kiss, but Larry quickly reminds his cousin that the hierarchy in the apartment has not changed by slapping Balki’s thigh.

Balki promises that the new job will not change their friendship. Larry offers to take him to lunch, but, haha, get this, the, hahaha, the punchline is that Balki has a meeting! Whoa haha man executives be having meetings, am I right?

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A new day brings another new shot of the Chronicle building. New readers, I must direct your attention: notice how the camera has panned up to show you the upper windows of the building? This is because Balki now has an office on a higher floor. I’m telling you, this show is deep.

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Balki’s ethnic secretary Maria** announces that Mr. Appleton is there to see him, giving Balki no reason to ever mispronounce the name again.

Balki is wearing some brand-new Myposian clothes, which Larry stares at like he didn’t see them that morning. Balki says that he’s dressing for “excess”, which you all probably thought was just him getting a word wrong.  Aren’t you glad you’ve got me around to point out the underlying capitalist commentary in this show?

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Balki shows his cousin the reason he can no longer meet for lunch: he spends his time boiling water and then freezing it.

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Then there’s some fucking bit where Balki puts a head of lettuce into a paper shredder. It takes up a whole damn minute. Whatever, who cares, moving on.

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Glover has decided that the best use of Larry’s investigative skills is to have him interview Balki about his new promotion. Balki reads from his schedule, which is wall-to-wall photo ops. The more astute of you are already picking up on a unifying thread with photos here. Again, the show presents us with the idea that power forces distance. Note the framed photograph of Dmitri on the wall: friends preserved, kept in place, commemorated, but no longer held. Or rather, held close–enough.

But does Balki see the irony?

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Mr. Glover comes in and Balki hugs him… gee, that guy’s sure got some swoopy hair…. Mr. Glover sends Balki off to have his picture taken.

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While he’s gone, Larry asks Glover what Balki’s job entails. Glover spouts a bunch of bafflegab, but who cares about that, look at that newspaper on the wall.  Certainly it was the Chicago Chronicle’s boldness in using hammer headlines like WALK ON MOON–with no smaller headline underneath it–which made them the #1 newspaper in the United States.

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Larry calls out Glover on his bullshit, and Glover asks Larry if he’s ever heard of the American Dream program.***

Larry: Well, sure, it’s a training program for immigrants. It helps them acquire the skills necessary to advance in the business community. I’ve known about this for years and never once suggested that my cousin–who is an immigrant–apply for it, much less let him know that it exists at all.

Glover explains to Larry that he wants an article that will make it look as though he’s training Balki as part of the American Dream program, as that’s cheaper than actually providing the training. Larry Appleton, an upright citizen who has never once tried to get something he didn’t deserve by making himself appear to be something he wasn’t, oh no, not Larry, he objects to Glover’s tactic.  Me, on the other hand, I object to the fact that Glover didn’t explain any of this to Larry when he assigned him the interview.

Mr. Glover tells Larry that he’ll fire him if he won’t write the article.  The “oh no” music comes on.  Oh no! Larry might have to try to find work at one of Chicago’s six other daily newspapers while Balki’s higher paycheck covers the rent for a month!

Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back after I go take a whiz real quick.

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Speaking of people’s talents being utilized, Jennifer sits quietly while Larry recaps the first half of the episode. He doesn’t want to ruin Balki’s happiness, which is immediately shown by Balki cart(blanche)wheeling into the apartment.

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Balki strokes Jennifer’s hand while he asks her to lunch, which manages to be even creepier than the time he almost stuck a plunger on her ass.

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For all of you new readers, the fact that Jennifer only stays on-screen for 30 seconds at a time is also a coded part of the show’s structure: it symbolizes how the writers haven’t developed Jennifer’s personality beyond “she eats lunch”.

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Then Balki breaks down crying, wondering why he’s not happy with his new position, which he admits comes with everything a Mypiot could wish for (which up to this point I had assumed was a pig snout in every pot and a penis in every sheep). I give Bronson a lot of shit every week for how he messes up perfectly good subpar jokes, but I’ll give him some credit here: he does a bit where his crying keeps Larry from understanding what he’s saying, until he suddenly, calmly, and clearly repeats himself.

I’ve been in a job before where I was promoted to a position that didn’t come with any of the duties suggested by the title, so I can understand Balki’s emotional state here.  Every time he asks Mr. Glover what his job is, he gets his picture taken, proving that story we like to tell ourselves about the beliefs of any given indigenous group: that the camera steals one’s soul.

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Cousin Larry explains the situation to Balki, and with this new knowledge, his immediate reaction is to cover, his body**** to protect it from the machinations of the capitalist system.

Balki decides to quit his job, and immediately launches into a solo Dance of Joy. Larry stops him, saying that Glover will put another immigrant in the position.  What they must do, he says, is take down Glover himself.

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At this point, I’m legitimately intrigued to see what the cousins will do.  In any normal business setting, the solution would be to carry the issue up the hierarchy and have administration look into the issue. But by having Wainwright gone to a publisher’s conference, the show has deliberately painted itself into a corner. And the fact that Larry is not the bad guy this week means that we may actually see Larry come up with a creative way to fix the problem.

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Arise, Larry!

Arise, Balki!

Arise ye cousins from your slumbers

Arise ye prisoners of want

For reason in revolt now thunders

And at last ends the age of cant.

Away with all your petty slapfights

Servile masses arise, arise

We’ll oust henceforth the RT Wainwrights

And spurn the dust to win the prize!

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Oh, wait, no, here we are with RT (Return Trip) Wainwright having just returned to the Chronicle right after landing. Wainwright what the hell is so important that they grabbed him as he was entering the basement from the parking garage, and then refused to tell him about while they rode up in the elevator. He’s initially worried that Balki’s in a position of responsibility, but then restates his faith in Glover.

They ask Wainwright to hide under Balki’s desk so that he can hear what Glover is doing.  It was perfectly fine for the cousins to try to record criminals (or people they mistook for criminals), but not an option here, no, here, we need to set things up so that Glover mistakenly thinks Wainwright is giving Balki a blowjob.

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The secretary abruptly opens the door to an executive office multiple times to let them know that Mr. Glover is coming, and then that he has arrived.  No kidding about him putting immigrants into positions and then providing zero training.

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Glover enters, shouting “Appleton”, giving Balki no reason to ever mispronounce the name again. He’s furious because Larry wrote an article telling the truth.  Dude, you complimented him on uncovering corruption, what the fuck did you think was going to happen? And while I’m at it, Wainwright, come on, you pay Larry to tell the truth to millions of readers. Since when do you start doubting your investigative journalists?

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Balki confronts Glover (that symbolic name’s making a lot of sense now, huh?) about whether he ever intended for the position to do any work. After insulting Balki’s intelligence, Glover starts in with the whole “you won’t replace us” bullshit about how Balki’s taking a job from a real American who deserves it.***** How much easier to frame Balki and hang him somewhere high, out of the way, where he can’t do any more harm.

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Larry calls Glover un-American.  I’ll admit I didn’t expect such a strong, real message from you, show, certainly not a mere week after Larry did Tex Avery-style reactions to a cartoon stick of dynamite.  The lessons Perfect Strangers has given us recently, when it gives them at all, have been targeted mainly at a child’s level of moral understanding: be willing to admit when you’re wrong, don’t use others for gain, don’t talk behind others’ backs. And even the one previous time where a new Chronicle employee has threatened one of the cousins’ jobs–Olivia Gropedick from season 3’s “Sexual Harrassment in Chicago”–the show chose broad farce for most of its 22 minutes. But here the show takes a clear stand on inclusion, work ethic, racism, and what it means to be an American; and the fact that it doesn’t belabor its point, or try to lay out the argument in more basic terms, is to its credit. That said, it still saddens me to watch this play out.  Not because it’s a bad episode; no, the show’s seriousness here in the final act certainly puts it a notch above most other episodes; but because it’s a message that not everyone’s on board with yet, 27 years after this episode’s airing. Larry and Balki fought–and beat–a Mr. Glover in 1990, but we’re still dealing with his senescent ilk today in our families, the business world, and in our government; and we’re likely to be dealing with this shit for generations to come.

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Glover tries to fire Larry; Wainwright fires Glover; Wainwright commends the cousins; Bakli starts talking about the details of making goat chitterlings.

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Lastly, Wainwright tells Larry to train Balki how to be investigative journalist.  This is the second time we’ve been threatened with the idea of the cousins as an investigative team.  Watch out, Marshall and Walpole! ABC might just casually forget that you ever kind of existed!

And now, the potential plots for season 6 have been so well seeded, they do the Dance of Joy!

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Join me next week for “Here Comes the Judge”!

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

Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0); Glover (as if)

Dance of Joy Running Total: 17

*Here, the show gives us a pun.  Glover has been given carte blanche (figuratively “a blank slate”) for a carte blanche (literally “white paper”, that is, a newspaper)

**pronounced in the ethnic fashion

***My compliments to the props department, who have set the clock to the same time that Balki’s planner says he has an appointment with Larry

****cf. Genesis 3:7

*****But then they went and left the clock at the exact same time for this scene. *sigh*

P.S. Nowhere else good to put this, but Balki mentions that Miss Mypos has a mustache; a positive sign that the islanders do value political acumen over beauty. Or just that foreign women are fuck-ugly! Who knows.

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“While the forces of repression need to win every time, the progressive elements need only triumph once.” – Friedrat Engels, “Mousefesto of the Communist Party”, 1990

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Season 5, Episode 18: Blast From the Past

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Welcome back to Perfect Strangers Reviewed, now in stereo!*

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We find ourselves once again at the Caldwell, and talk about blasts from the past: here’s Balki vacuuming and singing.

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And this is probably a good opportunity to reflect on the fact that, unlike other ABC sitcoms of the time, Perfect Strangers never features a cold open with a quick joke. You know what I’m referring to, right? Just about 30 seconds worth of setup and punchline for something that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the episode, a slice of life gag indicating that the characters do have lives outside of the plots where we see them. I’m trying to guess why Perfect Strangers doesn’t do this, and the main difference that comes to mind between it and Full House or Family Matters is the size of the cast. Were those pre-credits gags a way to keep the studio audiences occupied while other cast members were getting ready for their scenes? But then I realize that makes the assumption that those types of scenes were filmed simultaneously with the episodes themselves. But perhaps they were additions after the fact, able to fill time if an episode ended up running short? Perfect Strangers, so I read, was typically filmed pretty quickly as far as sitcoms went. Perhaps this efficient machine was tuned so well that running short or long was never an issue (the majority of season 5 episodes clock in at exactly 23:22, with only a handful dipping below 23:00).

Whyever it was, it’s certainly not because the writers couldn’t think of anything else than to have Balki dance and sing again. No, you see, Perfect Strangers was always a much denser, layered sitcom in comparison to its contemporaries. Reason #36 that most fans have had to content themselves with only the vacuuming scenes from season 2 : “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker, Jr., a subtle clue that this episode will be a sequel.

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Larry comes in and hangs his coat. Remember this. This is important.

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Larry has braved the withering barbs of another young waitress to bring home a donut for Balki, which Balki quickly puts aside so he can talk exposition. He tells his cousin that Marvin Berman is taking them to dinner to thank them. Larry, who remembers the name of every single person in his hometown and how they ruined his chances at success, somehow doesn’t remember the person who, only three months ago, almost killed him.

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Larry has a flashback. For those of you who don’t remember Marvin Berman, you don’t get a recap. This is episode 90, why in the hell would you be reading this review before the one where he first showed up?

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If anything has been consistent about Perfect Strangers, it’s that the show has a weird fascination with crime and criminals. In seasons 2 and 3, with Vince, it came across as a little strange that he, of all people, would come back, given that the cousins had a whole building full of neighbors. And sure, okay, I get it, Larry’s a fledgling “reporter”, so every now and then it makes sense that he’d be involved in a crime story. Or, at least it would make sense if there weren’t already a reporter doing the crime beat. Wait a second, I just realized…

We met ace crime reporter Frank Peterson in the middle of season 3. In season 4, Larry tried to break a story about corruption a the lowest levels of government. And earlier this season, Larry was researching stories about murder trials about money laundering. Oh god, you guys. Nobody’s doing the crime beat anymore. Frank really is dead. (´;︵;`)

Anyway, point is, Perfect Strangers’s crime episodes are generally guaranteed to be terrible. But season 5 has been leaning pretty far into under-the-top zaniness. Plus, I think it would be difficult for this episode to be a repeat of Vince’s second appearance. The whole concept there was that Larry was afraid for his own life. But Marvin was set up as a coward himself, so it’s not going to be that. Marvin was practically begging to go to prison, plus he got a book deal out of the whole situation! I’m actually a little bit intrigued to see what direction the show wants to take this story. I just have no idea why Larry’s so upset.

I don’t know why yet because I’ve had the episode paused for the past few paragraphs. It feels good.

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After the flashback, Larry is finally trying out erotic asphyxiation on Balki, but Balki reminds him they have to eat soon, so he stops.

Larry is upset that Balki invited a “homicidal maniac” over, and okay, maybe I was wrong to be intrigued. Balki is still signing Larry up for shit without asking first. I keep thinking you’re going to change, show.

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Marvin shows up and wastes no time in being tone-deaf to Larry’s fears. He makes a joke about his “dynamite vest”, which would not have worked if it weren’t a vest that I totally wish I had now.

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Marvin is making jokes on the recommendation of his therapist, Dr. Shore. But Larry, for once in his life, makes a joking comment that’s actually pretty straightforward, about how he was traumatized by the previous event and doesn’t find it funny. Proud of you, there, Cuz.

Balki and Marvin keep recapping Marvin’s original appearance, and I find it’s just confusing me as to what happened. Marvin mentions that he ended up testifying against his bosses in order to get out of jail. I’m going to admit that I have no idea what kind of timeframe there is between reporting on crimes and going to court. So, the story then was that Larry had done the research into the money laundering operation and the newspaper reported on it. Do newspapers have to turn over the evidence they find to the police? Are detectives angry/embarrassed when reporters figure out a story before they do? (And wouldn’t that have made a good episode? Not to mention a way to have Larry interact with Carl Winslow?) At any rate, Larry must have found evidence, and if it was good enough to be published without risk of libel, wouldn’t it also be good enough to convict the crime bosses? Why would Marvin have been given such a deal, assuming they didn’t need his testimony? Like I say, no idea how these things work.

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Immediately after Larry says that he doesn’t want any more dynamite jokes, Marvin whips out a stick of dynamite that’s made out of chocolate. Great, we needed one more jerk on this show. (It’s called a “schtick of dynamite”, though, which did make me laugh.)

Anyway, Marvin keeps making jokes, and it goes on for awhile.

Later, when they come back from the restaurant, Balki is finishing up a joke about kangaroos. The cousins and Marvin have a good laugh about this groaner.

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Larry hangs his coat. Remember this. This is important.

Balki goes off to make some hot brown liquid.

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Larry hangs Marvin’s coat. Remember this. This is important.

Balki, without first washing his hands, digs marshmallows out of a bag while Marvin blithely mentions his likelihood of now getting shot in public. Marvin says that he’ll go into the witness protection program the next day. The fuck? Like I said, no idea how the timeframes for this kind of thing work, but damn, Marvin.

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The show tries to lighten the mood by having Balki and Marvin keep talking about marshmallows. Gotta love how these writers balance those tricky tonal shifts!

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As much as I love the potential of Larry having to deal with two completely oblivious happy people, he’s right in telling Marvin to leave.

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There’s a bit where Marvin keeps popping back in the door to talk and Larry shutting it on him. That’s rude, Marvin. Didn’t your momma teach you to knock?

Balki thinks they’d recognize gangsters following them, and Marvin says they wouldn’t. He’s right! I mean, after all, it’s not like on Mypos, where all the criminals have names like Stabros, Theftos, or Zimdog Zaggy Badguy, and walk around saying “Hello, my name Villainos, may I please murder your children?”.

Larry begs a higher power to deliver them from evil.

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However, knowing that faith without works is dead, Larry also goes to close the blinds.

Balki notices a heavy standing down on the street, Marvin recognizes him as “Max the Terminator”.

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When Phil was doing his ALF reviews, he remarked at least once that, in some scenes, the writers appeared to have completely forgotten what happened in the scene immediately previous. I can’t knock Balki for getting excited at hearing the word “terminator” and immediately jumping to Arnold Schwarzenegger. But this mome** just yells out the window about the movie Twins. Balki can’t pick up on the scared gestures and tone of voice in which Marvin screams “Oh my god! That looks like Max the Terminator!”, much less remember the context of the conversation they’re having. Balki isn’t just dumb: Balki’s brain is an ALF script.

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Hey, by the way, have I pointed out that crescent moon thing on their wall? There’s a couple of shelves on it. Can’t really tell what’s on the shelves, nor why it’s kind of serrated instead of smooth, but hey, there you go. Fun fact: did you know there used to be a phone on the wall right there?

I, uh, really don’t have anything else to say at this moment. Just feels good to have the show paused again.

Larry says they should call the police, and I’m a little surprised that no one stops him. Someone always stops the person trying to call the police. Congratulations, Perfect Strangers, on being brave enough to finally overcome this tired trope!

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The phone is dead, so these three run out and then run back in because there’s a guy on the stairs. There’s another joke that’s supposed to be about Balki misunderstanding a word, but depends on Balki misunderstanding–and ultimately not trusting–others’ fears. Screw you, Balki. See if I ever buy you a donut again.

The “oh no” music comes on! Oh no! A character I don’t give a shit about might die!***

The cousins will kill two mobsters in cold blood right after this!

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When we come back, Marvin is worried he’s going to faint. Fainting! Ha! One of the two things he did last time! Classic Marvin.

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Larry says they need to get a message outside the apartment, so Balki runs off to grab matches for smoke signals…

Ohhh, now the cousin can get some bass in his voice!

Cousin Larry pulls Balki and Marvin close to correct them, and thank the Gaboogies, we finally get a Three Stooges moment.

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Larry suggests a morse code signal on the ceiling to alert their girlfriends. Then Balki and Larry start arguing over the morse symbol for “S”, I guess because it’s funny to say “dot dot dot” real fast?? Balki wins the argument by claiming to have worked for Mypos Western Union. Then he just taps out S and leaves it at that.

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Then there’s a knock on the door and Larry pretends to have a Mexican accent again. Ha! Racial stereotypes sure are fun, aren’t they?

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At the very least, I’ll give the show credit for a small bit of logic: Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) came down because of the screaming, not the morse code. (Besides, Mary Anne’s so dumb she thinks SOS is Spanish for “that is”.) There’s discussion about how they were trying to get their attention so that they would call the police, and… why is going back upstairs no longer an option?

Then Gorpley and Lydia come in and close the door behind them, locking it. Nah, j/k, Mary Anne suggests that someone ascend the fire escape and go across the roof to the next building. Since I take the time to point out every last inconsistency and stupid plot point in this show, I should say that there’s a tiny bit of underlying logic here that I appreciate. Even though the stated idea was to get the women to call the police because the cousins’ phone has been disconnected, Mary Anne automatically has assumed that the phone lines have been cut for the whole building. It’s a realistic way that someone suddenly in danger might miss a detail when trying to solve a problem.

Since there’s always more illogic than logic on this show, I should say that not a single one of these people realizes that either one of the women could go downstairs and call the police, since the mobsters wouldn’t recognize them at all.

Since the goal now is to keep the mobsters from getting to the man who almost put them in prison, Larry (a man who almost put them in prison) offers to go to the next building for help. Before he leaves, he tries to get a promise from Jennifer that she’ll never use her vagina again if he dies; she makes the same face women do when I press them on their feelings right before I jump out a window.

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Balki starts talking about how brave Larry is. Larry almost immediately comes back in and says there’s another man on the roof, as though that’s somehow a bigger worry than how suspicious Larry must look to the goon standing on the ground.

Someone knocks on the door saying that they’re the “phone man”. Larry gives everyone a role in a plan to throw a blanket over the guy and tie him up. Man, everybody’s listening to Larry this week!

Man, everybody’s going to die this week.

Some swarthy fellow with his hand in the pocket of his jacket comes in.

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*sigh*

We all know he’s actually a repair man, right? This joke almost works except for the fact that I’ve never once seen a repair guy without some kind of tool belt. Anyway, the brown man just trying to do his job is quickly tied up and imprisoned by three white men, whose leader is afraid of anyone who might possibly have a higher red blood cell count than his.

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Larry says “Balki! Into the closet!”, Balki rushes into the closet, and Larry pulls him back out. I know there’s something homoerotic going on here, but the symbolism on display is more complicated than an episode of Aeon Flux.

There’s another knock at the door, and then they all trap an old white man.

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Det. Lift Browman: Freeze! FBI! That wasn’t really that funny the first time!

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The other guy they blanketed is Marvin’s psychiatrist. Balki says that one of the FBI agents looks like “the neighbor on Doogie Howser”.

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So here’s something interesting: he doesn’t. At all.

neighborkid

This is about two steps removed from actually working as a joke. Ideally, the actor playing the cop would have had a role on another show, and Balki would have referred to that. Or, a step down from that would be that Balki referred to some other actor on a show that the cop actually did resemble. As it is, even if this episode was written and filmed before Doogie Howser started airing, and even if there was no way for the Perfect Strangers writers to know what was going on with another ABC show, it seems a bit lazy to just make a joke that only had a slight chance of making sense once the episode would air. It shows good instinct on some writer’s part: as a good tension breaker, namedropping another ABC show, making a fair guess that another program would include a neighbor character. It’s a fine joke in form, but not in execution, you know, kind of like Perfect Strangers in miniature.

Anyway, what the fuck, who cares, Dr. Shore says that Marvin ran away from protective custody at a hotel.

He fucking left the…

Wouldn’t he have seen these FBI guys at the…

He could’ve called the cousins and had dinner at the…

Left it paused for an hour this time. Fuckdamn does it feel good.

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Marvin says he’s going to Kansas and his new name will be Orville Perdue. I assume he’ll be working at a Cinnabon****. He leaves, and you know what? I’ll miss him. One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about this show is that someone involved has a good sense for casting. George Wyner is great as Marvin Berman: by turns a lovable dope and a meek psychotic, his appearances have been two of the few times that a guest actor has enhanced Balki’s innocent in-the-moment misunderstandings. And by giving Larry two goofballs to corral, the show finally hits the madcap-comedy groove it’s been looking for. I’ve had trouble so far–and I’m sure I’ll continue to have–with how Perfect Strangers has been gradually losing all vestiges of its roots as a more adult-targeted show. It’s often occupied some tepid middle ground between the two, with token efforts at cultural conflict and lessons. Even this episode has plenty of illogic, some of it admittedly due to the often messy work of piece-moving, but the show has leaned so far into cartoon territory here that it doesn’t matter so much. A lot of this has to do with simply having a third silly character in play, but much of it certainly comes from Wyner’s performance. And also, bravo to whomever was over casting then, you did a great job, with the sole exception of Jennifer.

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Speaking of the store-brand Judith Light, she says that, between this and all the times she’s walked in on the cousins doing “folding deck chair”, she will no longer come downstairs when she hears screams coming from the apartment.

Mary Anne, who has been here for all of seven minutes, thanks Balki for a “lovely evening”. I’m not ashamed to admit I laughed at that one. The women leave.

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Then Phone Man comes out of the closet and bashes the cousins’ heads in with their phone.

See you next week for “He’s the Boss”!

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

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

*to activate this feature, use your second computer monitor and duplicate your display

**I have officially run out of synonyms for “idiot”

***I’m referring to Marvin here. I understand your confusion.

****This is an extremely funny reference to Better Call Saul

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P.S. sources online claim that new footage was recorded for the flashbacks in this episode. I have some trouble believing this. There are differences in angle, and especially in dialogue in the third flashback scene, but they could easily just be alternate cuts of the same scene. The curls of Larry’s hair and the knot of Marvin’s tie are in the exact same places. I’m interested in knowing the ultimate source and reason for the claim that it’s new footage. You may want to answer that the fan site is the source for the claim, but that’s not enough for me (besides, it references a script that simply calls for a flashback–wouldn’t the new dialogue be in the script?). To quote dead guy Christopher Hitchens, “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

Season 5, Episode 17: Three’s a Crowd

Welcome back to Perfect Strangers Reviewed, the nation’s ONLY gay cousin humor blog!

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Once again, I find that, by reviewing this show, I’ve tapped into to some basic structure of the world: hurricanes Harvey and Irma have passed, leaving their heavy rains not only across the Southeast, but across Chicago as well.

Inside, we are greeted with ill omens from Jennifer, daughter of the Earth herself: “It’s your turn, Balki”.

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Larry, Balki, Jennifer, and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) have gathered to play a board game. Which board game it is does not matter, because I see here that the show is talking to me in symbols again. I have named the show as mirror, or lens into the inner workings of the universe, and the show responds by clarifying.  What is a sitcom, ultimately, but a lighthearted escape into simplification of human relationships?  And would you describe a board game any differently?  Humanity laid bare, reduced through the boiling of situation down to two essential choices: competition vs cooperation, difference vs sameness, fun vs frustration.  Perky Pat’s got nothing on this!

The show has, in its own way, made symbolic wordplay. As Socrates asked Polemarchus and his buddies to look at the city to understand the individual, Perfect Strangers looks to the board game to generate a scenario.

Welcome back to Perfect Strangers Reviewed, the nation’s ONLY faux-academic- and self-referential humor blog!

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Jennifer asks Balki to reveal his pet peeve about Larry.  Similar to last episode, when Jennifer accidentally discovered that Larry thinks about her when she’s not there, this is treated as though it’s going to be embarrassing.  Given that these guys have half their heated arguments in front of their girlfriends, what’s the big deal? Just say “I wish Larry would wipe off the butt plugs immediately after instead of letting them sit for days” and move on, Balki.

Balki, at the point of tears, says something nice about Larry (he doesn’t give himself enough credit for doing good), and Larry makes this face at Jennifer.

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Mary Anne draws a card and is faced with a simplified version of the tough choices she has to make every day: say what bugs her about Jennifer or sing a Barry Manilow song.

Haha whoa then they make a joke about how Barry Manilow songs aren’t good! Wow, I hope ABC had lawyers ready for that libel suit!

Mary Anne matter-of-factly says that Jennifer corrects everything she does.

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God damn I love Mary Anne. Yes, she’s so dumb she thinks Monopoly is the Mormon version of the kissing disease. But aside from my own pet peeve that she’s not my girlfriend, she’s still the best character on this show, one designed so that just about anything she does or says is great.  I could take her statement one way–the way the show meant it–that she’s too dumb to realize how candid she’s being and the magnitude of her claim, and it’s a good joke.  Or I could go the other way and say that Mary Anne (Self-knowledge) is really the most emotionally put-together person and just doesn’t let how terrible Jennifer is affect her.

Also, show, you’ve impressed me!  For the longest time, I struggled to put together who Jennifer was through the table scraps of personality you’d offer (see: almost every other episode Jennifer has been “in”).  But the one consistent thing we’ve seen so far is that Jennifer is mean and condescending to her best friend of 20+ years. You stuck with it, show, and you managed to wring a plot out of it!

I give the cousins a lot of shit for how they publicly air their dirty louwndree, but at least they walk three feet away to do it. Jennifer seems to not know that when you ask for criticism, you get it.  When accused of re-doing Mary Anne’s work whenever they’re on a flight together, she responds with the time Mary Anne left the oven on for three days straight.

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Jennifer, don’t pull that thread. Did you seriously let her have the oven on for three days while a batch of cookies turned to fused ash?  That’s fucked up! Boy, these four sure do have fun when they get together…

Jennifer: At least I don’t put my makeup on with a spraygun.

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OH YOU TAKE THAT BACK YOU BITCH

As they leave, we learn that Jennifer went to the prom with her own brother.  Hey, Larry, there’s something else you two have in common!

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Larry: This episode’s still ultimately about us, right?

Balki: It okay, cousin, we do a dance or some shit.

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Later, Balki’s been sitting out on the fire escape to monitor the screaming, which is a good “fill in the blanks” kind of joke that Perfect Strangers does, what, 2 or 3 times per season?

Another thing you only see a few times per season is the cousins opening the door within 10 seconds of someone knocking on it.

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Whoa, I didn’t expect it to be Mary Anne! I thought it was pretty clear this episode was going to be about Balki winning a board game tournament because he was so good at Scrabbleiki.*

She describes her current relationship with Jennifer by way of hyperbole, which Balki misunderstands. But longtime readers don’t need to know about the specifics of the dialogue to know that Mary Anne presages another hurricane.  In the Perfect Strangers tarot, Mary Anne is the moon, and Jennifer the earth.  Her hair, once simply voluminous curls, has now become  a blonde nimbus, a clear sign of bad weather to come. The cousins are water**, tidal forces, etc.

Balki demands that Mary Anne take his room and start taking the underwear out of her suitcases immediately. Cousin Larry doesn’t even put up much of a fight about it this time.

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There’s a bit where Mary Anne says “I’ll try to stay out of your way” and then hits Larry with her bag. Larry makes a face like she’s already a bigger annoyance than the person of suspect familiality who constantly invites others to use their toilet paper, but come on, man, you could have given her more than a foot to get by you.

Larry chides Balki for getting them in the middle of the women’s argument. Balki defends his kindness towards his girlfriend (finally! the show tells us) by asking Larry what he’d do if Jennifer came and stayed.  Cousin Larry says he would hide a baby monitor besider her bed and masturbate into a Freddy the Frog bank out on the fire escape.

But now Larry is worried that Jennifer will think he’s taken Mary Anne’s side.  So go fucking talk to your girlfriend and find out how she’s feeling. What the fuck! How the fuck does Larry have a fucking girlfriend and I have a “recommended for you” section on the PornHub front page?

There’s another knock on the door, and it’s someone other than Jennifer!

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Haha I had you going for a second though, didn’t I? You should have seen your face.

Jennifer wants to talk, so Larry offers to take her to a coffee shop.  The audience laughs at this, because damn, what a fucking asshole you are, Larry, offering your girlfriend some privacy and your cousin free time alone with his girlfriend.  Then Mary Anne is heard from off-screen and suddenly Jennifer thinks talking to Larry is no longer a valid option, so she leaves.

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The fuck are you grinning at?

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Some time later, early one morning, Larry walks into the bathroom and sees Mary Anne’s tits. Then he does some physical comedy mess with an ironing board and a curling iron.  God bless Mark Linn-Baker. Poor guy is given a script that demands he instantly get burned by a curling iron through underpants, pajamas, and a thick bathrobe, and he sells it.

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Questions for the ladies out there:

Do you use a curling iron in a room where there is no mirror?

Do you iron your sweaters??

Will you date me???

Linn-Baker’s stunt double, Kevin McDonald of The Kids in the Hall fame, is seen here in the brief shot where Larry’s hair catches fire.

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Balki comes in and hands Larry the key to a local gas station’s men’s room. From irons to irony! The one time Larry has a key–THE ONE TIME–and it’s solely for the one part of his body that stubbornly stays locked up.

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I have to be honest, though: the restroom key is a great joke, even if they are a couple of assholes for stealing a private business’s property. It would be great, too, if Mary Anne saw the key and misunderstood its purpose, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

It’s really great–and by that I mean it really sucks–that instead of showing us that Mary Anne is causing trouble in their life, you know, by having her interact with them, they’re just talking about it.

Mary Anne comes out of the bathroom dressed like a stewardess.  It’s just now occurring to me, what with her highly variable work schedule, and what with how women on this show aren’t allowed to have interests outside of talking to the cousins, she probably has been there all day every day since she moved in.

023

She takes Balki’s coat, revealing his Spider-Man pajamas, which were kept in pristine condition since the last time a woman stayed over. The audience, those connoisseurs of comedy, laugh for three minutes straight.

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I thought Mary Anne was trying to be funny, but…

…she’s practicing?

*noises such as dahh, gmuh, eeuhn, etc., until*

that’s not–

fuck you!

She was going to be promoted! She was going to work in London! She’s been a stewardess for at least four years!  R… right?

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Mary Anne serves them breakfast.

It goes on for a while.

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The only good part is that she gives them their meals in tupperware containers, which back then was the standard way that airlines distributed food…

wait

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???

Cousin Larry starts in about how they should kick her out already. And you’ve done nothing for a whole week?  You haven’t talked to your girlfriend?

Balki’s obviously content getting to be his girlfriend’s hero, and doesn’t even feel the need to be serious, responding to Larry with song lyrics. (Props to the one member of the audience who recognizes the song before Balki says the name of it.)

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Larry decides then and there that he’s going to kick Mary Anne out, but Balki won’t get out of his way, blocking him no matter what direction he goes.  Larry turns it into a dance, tricking Balki to let him past.  It’s kind of dumb, but it’s also very Bugs Bunny and Daffy.  I’ll, uh, *cough* admit I liked this physical comedy bit.

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Even though Balki shushed Larry at the table earlier, he doesn’t bother while Larry stands outside Mary Anne’s door and screams about how she’s got to go.

If this episode is reminding you of Season 4’s “Maid to Order”, there’s good reason: both featured a woman taking over the cousins’ space, both featured each of the trio having their own motivations, both involved absolutely zero talking through of the issue, both involved Larry not getting any, and both were written by Tom DeVanney.

So Larry tells Mary Anne he’s found her a nice sorority to live with and cook and clean for, creating a happy ending for everyone.

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Nah, j/k, Mary Anne gives them watches and kisses Balki.  Now, Larry doesn’t tell her to leave. What the hell is wrong with these grown-ass people?

Wasn’t this supposed to be the show where the foreign guy always knows how to handle any social situation?

Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back. I won’t blame you if you aren’t.

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Later, Larry is on the phone with Jennifer, since it was impossible to film in front of a door with “309” on it.  Jennifer hangs up on him pretty quickly, and congratulations, show! You finally figured out how to get the women characters to leave without ever having them on stage in the first place!

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Balki comes in and, through mixed metaphor*** explains his plan to get the women to talk to each other again: he’s sent Mary Anne upstairs to retrieve her television set.

retrieve… her

hey

didn’t… Mary Anne… have

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*shakes head*

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Mary Anne comes in hot, and she also comes in angry.  Evidently Jennifer has changed the locks??  Then Jennifer throws the television set out the window! Okay, Dirty Larry and Crazy Mary Anne, both a’ y’all need to drop Jennifer right this minute. This is some thoroughly unhealthy shit.

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And since this episode is about Mary Anne and Jennifer, Mary Anne leaves.

Finally, out of the sphere of her influence, I realize I can think straight again.  It’s all coming together now.  The rewriting of an episode to reduce the number of characters. The details that keep changing, the slipperiness of memory, the dog (or was it a daughter?) who goes upstairs and never comes back down. Mary Anne’s outer garments strewn across the apartment, even though she was given a giant bedroom. Mary Anne causing cousins both great and small to receive a marker of time on their right wrists… yes, all symbols on this show are ultimately religious, but no, I should say, not the mark of the beast, no fake this, but true stigmata.  Somewhere in this episode, back when it was called “Maid to Order”, there was still an actual sitcom plot. But Mary Anne, in her travels, or rather, in the space between moon and earth, perhaps because of the vacuum between her ears, picked up some alien infection.  The discontinuity of logic, the lack of complexity in conflict, the absence of any mature emotional knowledge, these three, the evil, negative trinity of alienation, blurred reality and despair: the three stigmata of Sitcom Eldritch are a crowd that leaves no room for honest humor. Did the show catch these from Full House? Has it been spreading them to other sitcoms?

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The key on the wall has stayed visible on purpose.  These men’s room has been reduced to one much smaller, closeted water symbols forced into a water closet where, it is said, many men do their best thinking. The constricted space compressing the sitcom, the pressure creating another shorthand for the rhythms of human relationship, that rare diamond, the call-and-response catchphrase:

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Larry says they may spend the rest of their lives with their tray tables in the upright position, and uh, wow, yeah not even touching that one.  Ooh, it’s one of those where they don’t tell you the plan, but you see the plan play out in the next scene, ooh, fancy.

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Later that night, Jennifer and Larry are in the cousins’ living room, and Jennifer tells Larry he should come upstairs and fuck her.

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Larry actually says no and leads her back to the couch.

*noises such as ernh, ngggh, kyuhhh, etc., until*

Didn’t you just learn last week to not stick with a plan?  Go stretch that hymen, boy! Linn-Baker, killing it with the delivery again:

Jennifer is surprised when the two other people who live in the apartment enter the apartment.

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And here, finally, 89 episodes in, and I find a joke that I actually remember quoting when I was a kid.

Balki: Well… slap my face and call me Zsa Zsa

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Jennifer throws Larry on the couch as she tries to leave.  Gee, I wonder if she works out?

The elements of Perfect Strangers reduplicate and spread, as Balki once more stands on his tiptoes against a wall and refuses to hand over a key.

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Ah, thank you, show, I’ve always wondered how to get two blondes to tickle me.

Even though it’s supposed to be just one key, they keep using the sound effect for a whole ring of keys. Larry throws the sound effect out the window.

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Remember how it wasn’t the right thing to do to lock Larry in handcuffs until he worked out his problems with Balki? Well, fuck that, that was because a woman was telling a man to do it. Now that men are telling the women to do it, it’s the perfect solution.

Jennifer makes to call a locksmith, and Mary Anne tells her to call two. It’s a dumb joke but I love that kind of dumb joke.

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Then Balki and Cousin Larry start to arguing, and Larry says he’s “tired of this Mypos garbage”.  And… well, you know how fake argument bits go.  You’re a good gag writer, though, Tom DeVanney, I’ll give you that.  You’re definitely firing on all cylinders in this scene.

And, like karma come back around, the perspective that the cousins gained from seeing the women argue in “Trouble in Paradise” is now the same one the women receive from the cousins.

In the end, the solution is for each of them to apologize to the other. Not for, you know, Jennifer to actually put on her big girl pants and address the issue that was raised. Just for each of them to say “I’m sorry”. Mary Anne leaving the apartment is considered to be as bad as Jennifer insulting her every single day.

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Welcome back to Perfect Strangers Reviewed, the nation’s ONLY blog that… *noises* …reviews Perfect Strangers.

Join me next week for “Blast From the Past”!

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Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (1; I’m only counting this as Larry’s)

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

*Other Myposian board games: Battleshipiki, Yahtziki, Scattegoriesiki

**Hey, they get me wet!

***Or maybe Mypos really does keep its milk in giant, lake-sized reservoirs?

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Kinda wish this mouse would show up in an actual episode.