Season 4, Episode 20: Seven Card Studs



Here we are at the Caldwell Hotel, with a panning shot and bold, energetic music. It’s a new day in Chicago!


Larry calmly sips his brown liquid, from which we can infer that he’s had time to floss, chose an outfit all by himself, knows where his keys are, and will no doubt be prepared for his work day with a sharp mind.


Bakli sneaks into the well-lit living room and tries to tiptoe back to his bedroom.

Cousin Larry drags it out of Balki that he was playing poker all night, and it’s obvious that Balki is embarrassed about it. I may have to try to sneak out of this review later on when this turns to shit and the cousins start a tug-of-war over a poker chip and Balki says “one-eyed bandit”, but right now, this is a good start to the episode.  When have we ever seen Balki embarrassed? He’s doing something he knows goes against his Myposian values but just can’t stop because he’s enjoying it so much.


Here I thought that only Larry ever called in Balki as a pinch hitter any time he couldn’t touch a boob, but that now seems to be a refrain in Balki’s life: Gorpley asked him to sit in on the poker game at the last minute. But doing so lost Balki $100, completely reversing the cousins’ newfound fortune they won in at the beginning of the season.

Larry, who has evidently never once looked up from the desk in the room where he works with Balki and Mr. Gorpley, is shocked and appalled that Gorpley would take advantage of Balki in such a way.

Larry says that they have to beat Gorpley at his own game, not, you know, just never play poker with him and let the $100 loss be a lesson to Balki

But Balki’s been sucked into a den of vice which, according to him, includes “male bondage”.


Cousin Larry decides then and there that he must win back Balki’s $100 no matter what the *ahem* personal cost.

That night, still at their apartment, Balki comes out of his room wearing a hat and cape, because, hey, after all, this is an episode about playing poker with Gorpley at the Chronicle.


After the audience laughs at the funny hat for a couple of minutes, Larry gets the best line of the episode: “did I catch you at a bad time?”.


Balki wants to take a job as a human cannonball to make up the money. That’s some deep guilt there! The Reverend Dimmesdale flagellating himself to atone for the sin of adultery got nothing on this!

Larry offers his thesis: they’re going to play poker that night to win the $100 back from Gorpley.


But Balki offers a subtle counter-thesis to this, exaggerating his linguistic shortcomings, hoping that it will give Larry pause to think about his own competitive limitations:

Balki: You’ve got to be careful; Mr. Gorpley is quite the aardvark.

Larry, seeing Balki’s meaning, reminds his cousin that taking on a new persona can bring untold benefits to performance. And I’m not just talking about when the cousins roleplay as “Immigration Officer” and “Boy Who Lost His Papers on the Train”. Unlike disappearing into an alter, adopting a persona is a much healthier and proactive way to handle uncomfortable situations. You’re modeling behavior, you’re practicing a mode. You become “Date Mike” when you put on the Kangol hat; you don’t step into a negotiation without wearing your leopard print speedos.

Nah, j/k, Larry just says he was known as “Smooth Larry Appleton” in the poker world. Also, Balki was known as “Cool Hand Balki” in the goat-milking world.

You know what? Make your own jokes about those names. There’s simply too many.

Then Balki squeezes some imaginary teats for awhile.


You know, this show has changed a lot over its first four years: Balki graduated, they both got new jobs, Larry’s all but stopped wearing sweaters. But it’s heartening to see that some things are unchanging, like this show padding the hell out of its first act.  We’ve spent five minutes now discussing people who aren’t there and activities that no one is seen doing. The show makes a subtle pun about pads:


Larry has written down all possible poker hands for Balki’s convenience.

Balki says that learning the actual rules of a game he needs to play well is just too confusing, so Larry shows him how to do a pokerface*


Larry tells Balki to look at his face and Balki gets hungry for it, mentioning food as an excuse to put his tongue on his cousin.


Then Balki makes some joke about pokerfaces that rests on understanding multiple meanings for some goddam reason because Balki is funny when he’s smart because he’s dumb I don’t care anymore. He makes the same face I do when my foot cramps in the middle of the night and wakes me up.


Larry yells at Balki to pay attention, and to look at his cards, but not give away anything about what he has.  Shouldn’t they have spent a lot more time on what the different winning hands were, and how to weigh your options regarding discarding and replacing? The misunderstanding Balki should be making is that he shouldn’t specifically let his cousin know the face values of the cards, right?

Instead, Balki makes a face like he’s had a stroke.**


To his credit, Balki does pull the notepad with the winning hands closer to him, and then has increasing difficulty in hiding his excitement.

Dining room table chairs aided in the discovery of orgasms for both me and Balki, it seems.

Larry does that whole reverse psychology thing again and Balki starts crying that he wants to play Smooth Appleton Pokejob.

Now Larry has a plan. They’ll play badly to begin with, and then win all the money back after Gorpley’s guard is down. This plan rests fully on the assumption that Gorpley has never once paid attention to the fact that Larry does this kind of shit almost weekly after having worked near him for a year and a half.

Balki, for some goddam reason, is completely down with this snowjob plan.


Then Larry sprays the cards everywhere, because it’s the end of the scene and I really can’t come up with a better joke either, so.


The poker game happens at the Chronicle, since Gorpley’s house burned down for the 20th Christmas in a row while he was celebrating with the cousins.


Hey, wait!  I only count five card studs!

Hey, it’s Paul! Hey Paul!


But… they refer to Paul as Andre, because hey, honestly, Andre’s a much blacker name no one was paying attention to their shirts in the bowling episode.


Also this guy is named Walt. Who the hell are you, Walt, and why do you get to talk when my boy PaulAndre doesn’t?

There’s a scene in one of the later Sherlock Holmes stories where Holmes criticizes Watson’s writing for making it look like Holmes was a genius. Holmes accuses Watson of withholding all of the important details from the reader until Holmes himself mentions them; the audience could figure the crimes out at the same pace if such details were made available to them.  I say this to explain that what you see as my cutting sense of humor is simply my selection of what to show you. Here, when Gorpley asks if Balki’s in, Balki looks at the hand dealt him and starts gasping and yelling “Am I in???”. If you were actually watching these episodes you really wouldn’t need me here to tell you about the constant homoerotic undertones.

Larry plays a pair of threes and Gorpley beats him.  Also Gorpley has a better hand.


Okay, credit where credit’s due: Bronson starts delivering a line about how he and Cousin Larry are the worst card players in the world, and it actually reads as the TV version of someone doing a bad job of lying. I mean, it’s nothing you won’t find on some other show, but I do like to mention when Bronson actually does something that doesn’t make me hate him.

Larry offers his plan to play for both of them, and I’ll credit Linn-Baker with sounding ever-so-slightly less fake.  When you get right down to it, though, if Gorpley’s been paying any attention, he already knows that they sound like this half the time anyway.

Walt tries to defend the cousins, but Gorpley shuts him down fast.


Gorpley: You want fair, go coach little league.

Sam Gorpley, as always, knows exactly where everyone’s scars are. Gorpley had spent his life collecting miseries as one might collect bubble gum cards, or stories, or, yes, even placemats.  His serially-ruined Christmasses were notable simply by virtue of having happened on the same day of the year.  By the time he was 13, little Sam Gorpley had lost everything from pets (two dogs, a cat, countless goldfish) to friends to grandparents (all four) to his birth home (and with it, all his possessions).  He had learned to befriend trauma, or, if not befriend, to respect it, the kind of respect one has for a surgeon, or an interest rate. Gorpley knew that misery was a punishing god, but even the meanest gods need priesthoods, and he knew that if you can’t beat ‘em, worship ‘em, and he knew about Walt.  About how Walt used to be alcoholic. Gorpley could read scars like roadmaps, which are no help when the away game’s called on account of rain but the coach started celebrating the win too early.


And even though they did fuckall to plan this thing, the cousins babble over each other while they pretend to pick which of them will play.  Bronson again does well by continuing to talk after Larry does, and it’s obvious he was in the middle of some entirely unrelated story about cupping a dog’s balls.


Looks like Larry got his spring form back!


God do I love when they zoom in on the wrong part of the building.


You can see by everyone’s body language that it’s been a tough night. PaulAndre’s given up, Walt’s trying not to sit on a hemorrhoid, and Balki is distraught because Larry’s been losing.


Gorpley wins another hand, so the cousins walk three feet away and talk loudly about their secret plan.

Larry says that he’s in total control and asks for Balki’s money. And we see that the roles have now been completely reversed since the beginning of the season. Balki, having in the end successfully negotiated his way through a new relationship with money in “The King and I”, now understands that the (assigned or, if you will, face) value of a $20 bill is higher than that of the yellow pad of paper on which Larry wrote poker hands.  One can buy you four trips to the top of the Sears Tower; the other is only buying him a lousy night.

The cousins return to the table, where Gorpley gives us a good capper to an actual running joke: he used to be known as “Slick Sam Gorpley”.


Jennifer comes in and


okay, I’m sorry, before I make a joke about how Larry wants to play his bottom pair, or how she’s going to help him limp-reraise, or even how this daughter of the Earth is going to (heh) play the river card, I’ve got to ask: how the hell is every part of this building so easy to get into in the middle of the night?


Anyway, Jennifer comes in and Walt wants to know who she is.  Fuck you Walt, we’re never going to see you again. Make like a Tina and leave!


They step right behind Gorpley and whisper loudly about Larry having gotten the “fever”, but that it was all for Balki.

Larry, after betting his last 20, then bets Jennifer, driving Balki to take swift action.


Walt makes a joke about fucking Jennifer, but not every joke can be sexist, and luckily the next one isn’t. Larry demands that Balki put him down, and I don’t have to you tell you the punchline.  It works, mostly because Balki cries.

The stakes are further raised: Larry bets his next paycheck and his car.

Balki: Cousin, you don’t have a pair of anything!

I swear I had a joke written for that line, but now I can’t find it. Sorry.

Gorpley bets his car and calls.


Gorpley has a Full House, Friday nights on ABC!


Balki begs Larry to stop talking in metaphors, and I absolutely love that line. I think I’ll frame this screenshot and hang it over my bed.


Walt talks about fucking Jennifer again. Shut up, Walt.

Turns out that Jennifer was in on it! Suddenly Larry sounding not-so-fake earlier makes sense, because he was playing a snowjob on both Balki and Gorpley.  But here’s another doubly impressive thing.  Jennifer had to come in and fool Balki into thinking that Larry was struggling against *ahem* never-before mentioned gambling problems. Whenever someone on TV lies, but it’s supposed to be funny, you can always hear the fakeness in their voices.  Jennifer, as a character, was able to carry this out.  The second part here is that they finally gave Melanie Wilson something to do that impacted the plot!  It’s a surprise to me on two levels!


Gorpley knows scars, but Larry knows toilets: he wins with a royal flush.


And then Larry accidentally gives Gorpley his own car keys because that’s the end of the scene and, hell, you try to come up with a better joke to end the scene (actually, please do).


Finally, at the apartment, Balki wonders why Larry didn’t let him in on the whole plan.  Larry admits that it’s because Balki isn’t good at deception and–

oh my lord

–we’ve achieved harmony with the top of the episode where Balki failed to come home late in secret!


Larry gives Balki his $100 back (but not the rest of the money he just lost and won back that evening…?).

Balki realizes that he’s easily fooled. And, uh, you think?  With the exception of “Dog Gone Blues”, “The Defiant Guys”, and “Bye Bye Biki”, every episode where–

oh, wait, hold on, almost forgot that


About half the times that Balki has learned a lesson, it’s about people fooling him.  Twinkacetti, Carol, Vince, Leon, and now three people in one episode. Can we have other lessons for Balki to learn?  What would it take for a story about Balki learning about employee’s rights? About him learning that sharing his earnings with anyone else in their building is not reciprocated like it would have been in a lower socioeconomic setting like Mypos?  That the blackface comedy routines*** popular on Mypos don’t play well at the office?


*sigh*  I guess if Cousin Larry the show is able to pull the “what’s that on your shirt” gag five times in a row, I shouldn’t expect too much.

Overall, though, I feel like this was a decent episode. It’s actually the type of setup that the show should be doing more often. Balki gets into trouble, Larry knows better and tries to help, but his incomplete view gets them into further trouble, and they both learn lessons from each other and/or the world. If that were the general formula, it would be a surprising thing every once in a while if either one of them out-and-out solved the whole problem.  On the other hand, the fact that Larry was actually “right”, not to mention thoroughly smart, comes across that much stronger because usually the pre-credits scene involves Balki changing his diapers.

See you next week for “Teacher’s Pest”!


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

Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0); Walt (1); Gorpley (lost his penis in a Christmas boating accident when he was 14)

*pokerface? I hardly know ‘er face!



Season 2, Episode 11: A Christmas Story

Ah, the holidays. Time to visit with friends and family and reflect on the joys and sorrows of the past year, to bid it adieu and huddle together, drawing strength from each other to ready us for the new one. Christmastime in particular is a time for excess: overeating, overspending in service of giving others tokens of your love for them. And, if there’s love in your heart, an excess of Christmas spirit: the Christmas miracle. As I’ve been learning from this show, the truest love is that between cousins, so I’m sure we’ll see a Christmas miracle before the episode is done.


Oh yeah, if you’re a working schlub like me, Christmas also means office parties with your boss, his family, other people from your apartment building, and a bunch of people you’ve never met before who don’t get any lines.


Man, Twinkacetti’s so evil he refuses to sing Christmas songs. This is the face of your Anti-Christ, people. But we do get to see his two kids again, Hairdo and Halfpint.


The characters toast each other twice because they’re not sure which camera angle is being used at any given moment. Then they all hightail it the fuck up out of there because, after three weeks of this show’s negative stereotypes (Latinos, and then Italians, and then Italians again) they do NOT want to be around for whatever Jewish jokes might come up. They know not to mess with the ADL.


We get a little moment of the Twinkacettis arguing about how Edwina spent $100 on the spread for the party; like I said, this is a time of excess. Then Mrs. Twinkacetti gives the cousins their Christmas bonuses and brags about how she gave Mr. Twinkacetti a black eye.


YES. YES. BLOOD. MORE. IT PLEASES US. But we’re only two minutes in, so this is not the Christmas miracle.


Larry talks about the great Christmas (“Christmaaaaahhhhsss”) they’re going to have in Madison, Wisconsin, and Balki makes the same face I did when I accidentally stapled my fingers together that one time. Larry says it’s going to be the best Christmas ever, and damn it, you never say that kind of shit in the first act of a sitcom. God damn it.


Balki is excited by snow, and that’s a good way of making him a child. I’m sure the closest they got to snow is the ash from their local volcano. He gets to excited he decides to share a yule log with Cousin Larry.


Larry keeps hyping Madison; X-Mas 1986 means he’ll be the “Christmas Boy”, a role that rotates yearly amongst the 9 siblings in the Appleton clan. Cousin Larry is very excited.


Balki then talks about how he’ll miss Christmas on Mypos. It’s supposed to be touching, but some dolt in the audience laughs at the word “baklava”, unaware that it’s a real thing and not just some madeup word. The show is trying to ramp up some emotion for both of these guys by having them miss people we’ve never really met. And yeah, if I had that cool brother from the intro, I’d miss him too.

Then the show lets slip that it has too much time to fill by having Larry repeat Balki’s “Christmas Turtle” joke. The turtle being named Bernie (a good, strong Mediterranean name, that) doesn’t save the repeated joke.

Larry gives some important words about how when there are changes in your life, you have to move on. And here’s another Chekhov’s Gun of sitcoms: if Character A tells Character B a nugget of wisdom in the first act, he will have to learn it himself in the third. Damn it, were almost a third in, here. We’re not going to Madison, are we?


Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) come by, and damn, whatever happened to that style of overalls? I’m not into blondes, nor am I into female characters who barely have the one personality trait, but Jennifer’s doing a lot with a little thanks to 80s fashions. And since we didn’t get a reference to it last week, the show reminds us that Mary Anne is just a fucking idiot. Before they leave for their skiing trip, Larry demands adherence to the law of mistletoe.


Larry tries to jam his tongue down Jennifer’s throat. He’s just been waiting all season to do that, and finally has an excuse. Thank the baby Jesus we have customs that allow us to control women’s bodies and invade their personal space. It’s what separates us from the foreigners (they just do it whenever they want).


Larry just had a white Christmas in his pants.


Mary Anne just gets up in there like “I’ll show you who doesn’t have a high school education”.

Larry and Balki share a moment of quiet contemplation over their boners.


Larry explains the forced invasion of women’s bodies thing, and that it only works at Christmas, so Balki decides then and there he’s going to take the mistletoe along and make out with every woman in Larry’s family. The Christmas miracle is not that women are treated like human beings.


Larry calls up “Gus” to see if he has any hot tips about endurance while Balki grabs his suetcase.

…and they can’t go to Madison because the airport is snowed in.

So then Larry calls his mother. The Christmas miracle is not that Balki can pronounce “Appleton” yet.


Larry asks mom not to let Elaine be the Christmas boy, and man I hope we get to meet her, because she’s now been established as the one that fucked him up the most. Then the cousins call up the bus company, but there’s a blizzard and the roads are closed, so then they try to get a snowplow, but they can’t get a snowplow because there’s a blizzard. Also Dmitri’s wearing glasses because… Balki was reading the phonebook? Let us all contemplate the mystery of Dmitri’s glasses.


Balki reminds Larry that he has a car. You know, a car, that he can drive, on the roads that are closed.


See? I told you. Balki (dressed in Russian-type clothes because he’s foreign) sees that Larry’s car broke down in front of a “Christmas Tree Store” and decides that they will have Christmas at the apartment.


The guy who runs the “Christmas Tree Store” out of his trailer in an empty lot comes out eating a turkey leg, so I will call him Turkey Leg Greg. His wife shouts at him to shut the door, she’s not going to heat the whole sitcom. The Christmas miracle is not that the lower classes will be portrayed as anything other than rude and driven solely by physical drives such as hunger or staying warm.


Turkey Leg Greg gives Balki a shitty tree from the dumpster. Sheesh. Even before I was on immunosuppressants, I knew not to touch dumpsters except–maybe–at gunpoint. But Larry says that the tree does not give him that sweet, sweet “Christmas feeling” he craves. Sad Larry is so sad that he walks off into the snow to be alone. Balki goes back home with the tree, and I am so, so pissed that neither one of them rolled up the window on that Mustang. When a man loses his love for his classic car, he’s lost his love for life.


Ah, dammit. The Christmas miracle is not that Larry froze to death.


Larry’s jacket has the fakest looking snow on it I’ve ever seen, but he doesn’t even get a chance to hang it, because Balki Claus is here! Larry knows nothing else is going to happen in this episode, so he lets Balki recite as much of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” as he wants.


Hey! Perfect Strangers got to the Donna Dixon reindeer name joke years before the Simpsons! But then he follows it up with “on Reagan, on Nixon”, which makes me question where to draw the line of when Balki is intentionally making a joke. Which… is kinda the long-term arc of “Homer getting things wrong” turning into “Homer making the joke deliberately” in latter-day Simpsons (see Season 17, ep. 20, where Homer tells Marge “you used to love my nonsequiturs”).

Anyways, Balki stole a bunch of decorations from the discount store, including a banner, ornaments, and Christmas lights that don’t work. He also bought them Jewish food. And I’ll say this so the show doesn’t get sued for it. Gefilte fish is as bad as you’ve heard.


But Larry doesn’t want a tree, he doesn’t want to eat, sing carols, or even string popcorn.


Balki: Now you’re making Balki mad.


You probably already guessed that Balki had a couch cushion under his suit, but if you didn’t they staged the reveal shot perfectly (at least for the home audience), with him standing right beside the chair he took it from. Balki rants for awhile about how he’s not getting the Christmas he wants, either. He lists more Myposian traditions, and just like before, Larry repeats the last item in the list (“roasting radishes”) as a question.

Even though there were only enough jokes for one night, they somehow made them last for eight nights straight. But that’s not the Christmas miracle either; that’s the Hanukah miracle.

And Balki hammers home that Larry wasn’t taking his own advice, once again turning the tables on which one of them was a child. Not only that, but it furthers the theme that Balki’s inner child is pure (look! snow!) while Larry’s is only arrested in its development.

Larry literally even says that he doesn’t want to grow up, and I think I should finally give this show some credit for its whole “Balki is a child in this way, but Larry’s a child in this way” thing. Even though it has been used a little clumsily in the past, there’s some depth to it here. Larry is pouty here because he can’t do the family tradition he’s only gotten to do twice in his life (at 6 and 15). They don’t overdo Balki being a child here, but that’s okay, because this is something that’s finally working on the aggregate level. Balki the Kid is well established, but Larry the Kid is subtler. But each complements the other. Larry is the parent for Balki’s intellect; Balki is the parent for Larry’s emotions.

But since this episode has committed to its repetition, Balki suggests opening presents, Larry whines again about it not having the Christmas feeling, and–


Balki: I’ve got your Christmas feeling hangin’, boy.


Balki lets Cousin Larry be the Christmas boy. Mark Linn-Baker really sells the childish glee when handing out the presents.

Balki gets a boombox! And a Wayne Newton tape! (The Christmas miracle is not that the writers remembered Balki’s love of Wayne Newton, because this is already the third reference to it. It’s probably in the show bible.)

Cousin Larry’s gift is a blanket that Balki has been working on for him since the day he arrived. He tells Larry “Happy Birthday”, which is what they say on Mypos because of Baby Yayzoos, which leads to a decent sheepherder joke.


Cousin Larry almosts breaks down crying while telling a story about when he was 6 and gave his mom a handmade pot holder. And yeah, I’m putting this together now. Larry’s first time being the Christmas boy was when he was 6; it was likely a magical time. His second time, he was 15, when he probably felt that he was too old to openly enjoy it, and probably acted aloof. Christmas at the age of 6 was probably the last thing he really enjoyed before his brothers and sisters engaged in a years-long pattern of mental torture not seen since the 1944 film Gaslighting.

But Larry now has the Christmas feeling! There’s love in his heart! Here it comes! Here comes the miracle!


The Christmas miracle is that the lights on their tree come back on. That’s right. The shitty string of lights that probably doesn’t even have a UL-compliant plug, which Balki hung on a literal garbage tree, managed to come back on long enough for the cousins to misattribute meaning. You know what? All those characters in the first scene were right to get out of there while they had the chance.


Then they hear children caroling outside. You know, in the middle of the blizzard that shut down all roads and flights out of a major US city. Balki and Larry watch from the comfort of their warm apartment as the children get frostbite and die.


Merry Christmas everybody! Join me next year when I review “Dog Gone Blues”!


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