Season 4, Episode 17: Prose and Cons

No, please, I’m begging you, show.


We’ve been over this. This is a self-destructive pattern you have. Why do you keep hanging out with these lowlife stories? I saw what it did to Frank, and I see what it’s doing to you.

Like any addict, you’re telling yourself a happy story, set to some upbeat saxophone music. You’re saying that this episode about criminals won’t be like the others.


Harriette knows what’s what, and she quickly hustles Lydia into the elevator before the GeSTOPo–those menacing, somehow indistinct figures–show up.


But even foreigners know how ownership of black women’s bodies works in America, so Balki demands to drive the elevator.


Harriette, deep into contract negotiations for Family Matters, considers the PROSE AND CONS of tearing Balki a new one.*


Larry: Don’t stay off-screen for more than 30 seconds.


Not only can the elevator go really fast, but the acceleration it undergoes matches the rise in volume (not to mention rise in pitch) of both Lydia’s and Harriette’s screams, because gosh darn it physics is a real thing.  We also find that the seventh floor of the Chicago Chronicle, that’s right, you heard right–


this building, is evidently some type of tower silo.


RT (Refuted Testimony) Wainwright, who after a month finally managed to squeeze a few drops out, comes in to congratulate Larry on an article he wrote about a commodities scandal. He mentions that Larry should “try being more assertive”.


Larry considers the PROSE AND CONS of establishing continuity with a previous episode, but decides that 15 weeks is too far back and settles on asking for an office upstairs with Marshall and Walpole. (No.)  For the first time in forever, there’s a brief mention of Balki still making friends with criminals, as he’s the one who found the informant, “Sore Throat”.


He, uh


yeah, he orgasmed there


Balki then becomes one with the ball misunderstands ass/asset, and, you know? That’s not a bad one. I even like that Larry is an adult here and explains to both Balki and RT what happened.

Then the precise midpoint between Steve Martin, Dan Aykroyd, and Rick Moranis comes in from the parking lot, congratulating the cousins on the article, and hands them subpoenas.


Hey, speaking of “second cities”, we see that the gentrification of this part of Chicago is coming along apace, having attracted families with children. Look, even Ritz Discount has gotten a new paint job, like unto a whited sepulchre, within full of dead men’s stereos and all uncleanness.

The cousins fortify themselves with hot brown liquid as they prep each other on how they’ll answer questions from Judge Gideon, son of Judge Joash.


Larry’s really getting off on this, because it’s 1) something he can have them practice, 2) something that lets him put books on the table, and 3) might get him on TV.  Balki starts talking about fashion and then, because he has never, ever been afraid of horror movies, not even ONCE, NEVER…


…he makes a joke about Poltergeist II: The Other Side.


What concerns me more is that Larry is having to shoulder this responsibility himself. The Chicago Chronicle has been established as bigger than the New York Times, and apparently won’t pony up money for a lawyer for the cousins?  Bobo the Elder and Bobo the Younger are seriously going to let their paper be represented in court by two guys who break mimeograph machines, break into administrative offices, and ruin fancy dinner parties? What’s more, Larry reports to Marshall and Walpole, and we see now that those shits deliberately left their names off the article so Larry would take the fall.

Balki asks about when he gets to tell the judge what he knows, and Larry asks “what do you know”, and I actually laughed at that.  Balki tells us that Sore Throat, aka Waldo Gillings, is a driver for a crime boss who makes deals from the back of his limousine. Let’s extend broken window theory here: shouldn’t Chicago just outlaw limousines?**

Larry tells Balki that they, as journalists, have to not disclose their sources. But then Larry finds out that the judge knows how much Larry’s raise is going to be. Haha, just kidding, that was a cool callback, though.  Please subscribe and don’t forget to hit that “Like” button!


I vehemently swore that I would not track Balki’s other catchphrases, and I’m glad I did that, because there’s a ton by now (you really stepped in something good, I’ll be snookered, wwwwwow!, you do/I do, get out of the city, both cousins saying “Hiiii” when someone walks in while they’re fucking).  We don’t see much of “swing it on in” anymore, but here, Balki looks closely at Larry’s mouth while he pronounces a word (incarcerated, instead of incinerated, which was actually another good one).  I want to commend writer John B. Collins for–

ah, shit, now Larry’s talking about how they have to stand up for freedom of the press, and Balki keeps standing up




Anyway, Larry mentions the Constitution, so Balki gets on board with the idea.  Then Larry says that the Judge will not throw them in jail, triggering a Gilligan Cut.


Props to the music department for the harmonica version of the “back from the commercial” music, but god dammit, Donald Trump is only today getting sworn in and already the journalists are being jailed.


Larry and Balki have a good laugh about being prisoners.

Balki reminisces about being jailed on Mypos after he kidnapped a baby goat.


Balki: He liked to hang around with me. I gave him a lot of positive ego reinforcement.

Sounds like that goat had…

wait for it

…Livestockholm syndrome!

Anyway, on Mypos is very simple: the jails have no bars, just a circle drawn on the ground. I have to say, I am really impressed with the writing this week, because this is downright experimental in terms of this show’s conflicts.  Usually, there’s some sort of vaguely-defined middle ground that the cousins can reach, but here, they really are speaking completely different languages.  Balki may give lip service*** to Christianity, but what he’s describing essentially is a sketch of ritual magic: that a “barrier” is created to keep some evil power contained.  But is this episode a culture clash about religion, about how the idea of “magic” originated out of Judaism as a way to stigmatize other ways of contacting supernatural forces? No. Or does the discussion of how the “jails” differ mask the deeper issue of how breaches of social contracts are handled? That the American prison-industrial complex**** is so developed that it has beds? That its methods are so effective that my middle school’s architecture was designed on the panopticon principle? That prison is so ingrained in the cultural imagining that you can make jokes in shorthand (harmonicas, numbers on the walls, rape)? No. The ocean between the United States and Mypos is too vast!  Balki was jailed for sticking his peepee in a goat that was slightly too young; the cousins are now jailed for Larry’s commitment to ideas.  Values and their judges: on Mypos, both are bound to the physical world. You can only sin corporeally, and your neighbors mete out punishment. In America, both are largely unseen, perhaps only existing in an abstract sense. Circles on the ground bar more effectively than permeable walls.  To have an episode with no possibility of middle ground, no possibility of a fight between the cousins, is bold to say the very least.


Nah, j/k, the cousins are given blankets and

the guard


the cell door.

The Guard tells them that another reporter is still in jail for not revealing a source, and has been there for three years.  Geez, they hired a whole actor just to relay that information? Me, I would’ve just put a skeleton in the corner with a press pass in its hat, but wearing no other clothes, because that would make the hat funnier.

Which reminds me:


Larry starts worrying about three years in the clink, since he won’t have anywhere to plug in his Waterpik (which he, what, smuggled in up his ass?).


Larry starts shouting that he’ll talk and Balki reminds him of what it means to be a reporter. Um?

Wouldn’t Sore Throat have the possibility of being granted immunity if he gave information on his criminal boss… who is now behind bars anyway? Is he just trying to stay in the good graces of all the other limo crime lords? Where’s Waldo, anyway?


I think I may have mentioned once or twice that I’m more of a Larry than a Balki.  Balki gives Larry’s ideals back to him, and Larry says that he doesn’t believe he has the strength to uphold the constitution. The show has completely forgotten that Larry had eight brothers and sisters, but I haven’t.  He constantly had to make his own way, not just to prove himself, but because his parents’ attention was divided 9 ways.  Those of us who get into that kind of self-sufficient pattern often don’t know how to ask for help.  Some of us may find ourselves in jobs where our superiors either offer no support, or open disdain for us. I don’t like when Larry turns into a baby, but damn if it ain’t earned here. The Chicago Chronicle has distanced itself completely from the cousins.  Kind of makes you wonder what they’re hiding on floors 7-30. I bet Frank knows.

There’s actually a callback to the stand up/sit down bit from earlier, and then Balki remembers stuff from his American history class!  Balki says that people like Nathan Hale and Paul Revere were just regular Joes until they had to be heroes.  Balki even says forefathers without a dumb joke!

Larry has plenty of fetishes: dating women who are one standard deviation above the average height, getting beaten up by men wearing denim anywhere that has a liquor license, wet-and-messy-bismol (I told you I’m more of a Larry), but Balki knows which one his cousin needs now: the outward trappings of being an American citizen.


Balki starts singing “America the Beautiful” (public domain).


what the fuck


The Guard brings two more prisoners, and Larry, desperate for that middle ground between cultures, calls upon Generic Deity:


One of the prisoners is named Dutch, in the grand tradition of criminals being named Dutch going back at least to 1934’s The Big Shakedown. The prisoners are quickly established as rude dudes. I mean, look, that one guy’s wearing motorcycle gloves! Plus he threatened to kill the guard.


Mirroring his earlier request for a new office, Larry begs to be placed in a separate cell because he knows what types of jokes happen in these situations.  I will say that I like that Dutch accuses the cousins of being snitches, which both is and isn’t why they’re in jail.

I will also say that I don’t like Balki saying he’s defending “the right to arm bears”. Dutch threatens to disembowel Balki.


Balki considers the PROSE AND CONS of making a joke about the word “organ”.


You ever watch old Scooby-Doo cartoons? I remember at one point, about the same time that I understood how cel animation worked, that I could tell which bush the monster was going to jump out of, which suit of armor was going to be haunted, and which stone would open up a secret passageway. So I should have known that the only movable item introduced in this episode was going to drive the physical comedy.


Despite the multiple layers of fat that have built up on Larry’s torso, thighs, and yes, even his pinky toes, he begins to shiver, causing Balki to think there’s an earthquake. Well, I know how to handle this, you both take off your clothes and get under Balki’s blanket.

Balki offers his blanket, but before the audience finishes their “awww”, Balki brings the conversation back to the same thing he always does: how awful sheep smell when it rains and they get wet and you have to be real close to them because no way you’re gonna stop fucking them.

*sees the joke coming of the other prisoner stealing Larry’s blanket*


*watches the joke where the other prisoner steals Larry’s blanket*

*doesn’t laugh*


Balki asks if Cousin Larry is going to let them get away with this, a question punctuated quite clearly by the very neatly-drawn anarchy symbol on the wall. Balki then tries to ask for the blanet back.


Larry starts slapping Balki so that he can establish–

*reminds self that prison rape jokes aren’t cool*

–so that he can establishing pecking order.


Dutch and Jacob start trying to push the cousins through the bars.

*considers the PROSE AND CONS of doing a bit where I tie the opening sequence’s revolving door bit to prison recidivism, and like, how cell doors are revolving doors to prisoners, and another 1,000 words on top of that about how this episode doesn’t truly stand as a counterpoint to the Stanford Prison experiment because none of the prisoners is wearing a uniform, which could include jokes like “Zimbardo Zaggy Badbad” and maybe some mess about rehashing plots vs non-replicable studies*

Nah, too much effort.

The guard lets Dutch and Jacob out, because their mother posted bail. That’s almost funny.

Okay, I was cool with the ways Balki was misunderstanding English this week, and I was dreading what kind of dumb physical comedy they might get up to in the cell, but…

The other prisoners stole their blankets and pushed them up against the bars? I’ve seen scarier episodes of Rugrats.  Couldn’t they have ended up in the cell with the crime boss they exposed?


*sees the joke coming that it’s somebody else playing*

*watches the joke that it’s somebody else playing*

*laughs at the idea of the joke*

*doesn’t laugh at the execution*

The Guard comes back and messes up his fourth line.  Cousin Larry, sensing weakness, says he ain’t gonna sing. The Guard then uses his 21” black zinc telescoping corrections baton (with jeweled endcap) to stifle this nascent riot.

Oh, no, wait, Waldo came forward and testified when he heard that the cousins went to jail for him.


Balki points out that Larry did the heroic thing, even though it ended up having no effect.  And that’s great that Larry did that, but I know that Larry’s like me.  Larry understands confounding variables.  He was rewarded… but not for what he did.

Instead of leaving, the cousins just stand around in the cell talking about what hot shit they are.


Then they run away from this pointless episode.

See you next week for “Car Wars”!


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

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

*where “one”=”urethra”

**similarly, if Star Wars VIII doesn’t have the First Order blowing up every desert planet in the known universe, they deserve to lose

***and oh what lips they are

****come on, somebody’s got bingo by now on my academic theory references

Season 1, Episode 4: Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Another week, another shot of the Ritz Discount/Caldwell Hotel exterior.  And also another indication that Twinkacetti gives precisely zero shits about whether he gets customers or not. That schmutz on the sign! Those pitiful flags!  Insert obligatory “Puttin’ On The Ritz” joke here.



Balki and Larry engage in some simple physical comedy and the audience laughs politely once they’re done.  Listen, show, I know it’s only the beginning of the episode, but you set the bar pretty high with “Balki turns a radio off” back in episode one.  It takes more than a stack of motor oil cans to get this audience to cheer.  Larry complains that the pyramid isn’t perfect, so Balki takes a can from the bottom and puts it on the top.


Larry says “Obviously, you don’t know the first thing about physics”, which is another mark in the “Balki is a cartoon character” column (cf. previous episodes where Balki is knowledgeable only when it’s funny, ala Roger Rabbit). Larry’s confusion may seem a little misplaced, but you must understand that it was only the year before this episode aired that the popular game Jenga made its way to North America.


Twinkacetti enters, making a joke about how it would be incorrect to call his employees “gentlemen”. With this line, Twinkacetti makes both an accurate observation and a sad commentary on overpopulation in the United States as well as the semantic drift of any language when the society that uses it undergoes constant rapid technological changes.  Twinkacetti continues this thesis by showing off his new driver’s license, which stands a symbol for the change in social status markers over the past century from those of permanence (land ownership) to those of mobility.  Balki, very astutely, connects the masculine drives of power, status, & sexuality, guessing that Twinkacetti must have a pretty big boner over his renewed license.  Pretty smart for a dumb 80s show, huh?


Balki is humbled to be allowed such a place of prominence in American society, working not only under, but alongside, such card-carrying individuals.  Larry tries to calm him down, posing the counterargument that things like driver’s licenses, rather than being symbols of status, are one of the grand equalizing tools of a democratic nation.  You know what? I’m full of shit and this path’s going to run into a dead end soon. This actually is a dumb 80s show: Balki makes a joke about Merv Griffin, and then a joke about how there was only one car on the whole island of Mypos.  Larry claims that Balki could get a license himself, but Balki’s not buying it.


Larry agrees to teach Balki to drive, but then Balki reminds him that there’s only four characters on this whole show, so they’ll have to use his car. Given that the past couple of episodes involved Larry being maimed (albeit off-screen), my hopes are now officially raised.  Larry gets another good line here while he fumbles around saying he’s scared that Balki will wreck his car:

Larry: Well, Balki, a man’s car is not just a piece of machinery. I mean, my car is very special to me. I spent years saving nickels and dimes so that I could…  I mean, it’s not that I don’t trust you…

The joke that Larry owns a shitty car is marred only by the intro showing us Larry’s fuckin’ cherry Mustang every damn week.  Twinkacetti makes a bet with Larry that Balki can’t get a license, and here we are, already reusing the first episode’s structure.  Nah, I’m okay with it.  Balki getting a license fits perfectly with the theme of Balki trying to live the American dream.  Twinkacetti needles Larry enough the takes the bet and agrees to teach Balki in his simultaneously shitty/nice car (this is, truly, Schrödinger’s car, because its quality will collapse into one or the other state when next the audience observes it).


Larry says “damn” again and I guess you really could say that on TV back then. Like I say, I started watching this show in its last 2 or 3 seasons, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if ABC had cleaned up its act by that point. Catchphrases, boners, now I’ve got to keep track of Larry saying damn.  Let it never be said that I don’t work hard on these reviews.


Balki’s so excited that he starts singing “Little Deuce Coupe” and shaking his pretend tits around.  It made sense when he was singing a Dolly Parton song back in “Picture This”, but not for the Beach Boys.  I can only imagine that his copy of the single on vinyl had goat crap on the words “Beach Boys” and he thinks “Surfer Girl” did the song.


Larry asks God for confirmation that it’s a good idea to teach Balki to drive, and the motor oil can pyramid topples.


Larry wonders whether that was a “yes” or a “no” answer, which is actually pretty shrewd.  Does everything Balki touches turn to crap? Or are disasters as well as miracles the purview of God, and Balki is under God’s protection so long as Larry believes in him (or Him)?


In the next scene, Larry comes home with a bunch of groceries, including a plunger. I can relate. When I first moved away from home, I didn’t even think about a plunger until the very moment I needed one. So which one of these guys do you wanna bet stopped up the shitter?

Similar to how Larry’s been putting off getting some fiber in his diet (I mean, it’s gotta be Larry), Larry also has been stalling on actually getting in a car with Balki at the wheel. Cousin Larry decides that they’ll pretend the coffee table is the front seat of a car to “practice”, and Balki accuses Larry of not trusting him. Larry reminds him that they have to fill a whole 21 minutes and to sit the hell down and do a bit with the weirdly useful groceries he just bought.  Balki pretends to open and then slam the car door, which is a really elegant “yes and” for the padding premise: he’s playing along with the bit AND giving Larry an opportunity to whip out his catchphrase.



Surprising everyone, Larry uses the plunger as a gearshift, frozen broccoli as the gas pedal, and grapefruit as the brake. (See? Larry is deliberately ruining high-fiber foods.)  Balki really commits to the padding scenario, pretending to ask for the keys, put on sunglasses, buckle his seatbelt, etc. Finally, Larry shouts at Balki and Balki knocks Larry off the table, fulfilling the characterization and “comedy” quotas for this scene.  If they had followed through with the tacit promise that Balki would stomp on the grapefruit, they would have used up their laughtrack budget for the whole episode.  Sitcoms are a delicate balance, people.


Later, at the Ritz store, Balki is visibly shaken by “an accident in Cousin Larry’s car”.  This necessitates the presence of Susan, because Twinkacetti’s already too busy not giving a shit about sales to not give a shit about one of his employees. We find out that Larry died in a fire, putting the perfect punchline to the 3-episode joke of Larry getting physically harmed off-screen.


Nah, just kidding, 80s shows didn’t have that kind of continuity; networks expected their audiences to not have seen the previous weeks’ episodes.  This means that Larry lives, continuing the theme of misdirected setups established by the unsquashed grapefruit (or grapefru-it, as Balki calls it).  It turns out that they hit a shopping cart in a grocery store parking lot and Balki tries to apologize; Balki says that, because of what he did, he must go far away and cover his face in shame.


That’s a very specific atonement ritual for an island that has just the one car.


After the act break, we find Balki back at the apartment, taking comfort from his stuffed sheep, Dmitri (not actually named here, but it’s Dmitri).  Larry comes in and apologizes to Balki for overreacting.  What Perfect Strangers does here in the space of two scenes, Full House would later elevate to an art form of taking up the whole episode: Character A does something legitimately wrong, Character B experiences legitimate anger and expresses it. This makes Character A sad, resulting in Character B apologizing.


Larry cheers Balki by reminding him of his commitment to the American dream (“get back on that horse”, etc.) and the pair of them launch into a rousing… er, that is, purely platonic rendition of “America, the Beautiful”.  Ahem.  On to Balki’s driving test.


They stand in line at the “State of Illinois Motor Vehicle Facility”, Balki visibly shaking (that’s not the horse Cousin Larry meant, Balki).  Larry asks if he’s nervous.


Eddie Barth (whom I’m sure you all remember as “Additional Voices” in the cartoon Challenge of the GoBots) plays the cranky MVF employee.  Every show makes the “cranky MVF employee” joke but boy, it gets me every time.


Balki gives Barth more reasons to be cranky, so it’s a good thing this episode has “not following through on setups” as its theme.  Wait–oh shit!–Barth does the road test too!  You got me good, show.


I knew better than to expect to see the road test (this episode used up its one unique set on the MVF), so it’s back to the Ritz.  Twinkacetti is rude to a nun over the phone; where will this man’s reign of terror end?


Balki comes back and tells a story… and god damn, how many times per episode am I going to have to say some variation on that?  Balki thought that the driving examiner was having a heart attack, but it turns out that he just had bad gas, having eaten a salami sandwich, french fries, and two chili dogs.


(Should I use this opportunity to call back to what makes MVF workers cranky? A callback joke about Larry’s car now being farty instead of shitty?  Or go for the long shot of landing a callback to Larry’s bowel troubles? Vote in the comments; vote early, vote often.)  Twinkacetti keeps going on and on about how he wants his 50 bucks, the callousness of which troubles Balki.  Twinkacetti says what I can only hope is his catchphrase:


But Balki says that the examiner was so happy not to be dead that he gave him a driver’s license.  And…yeah, sure, that’s not a gross misuse of one’s power as government employee, let’s go with that. Twinkacetti starts crying because now the local pimp is going to waste his ass over a lousy $100.


Balki and Cousin Larry exchange the lessons they’ve learned to the dulcet tones of clarinet and synthesizer.  Balki learned to not give up because Larry trusted him.  And Larry learned that he should trust Balki more often, especially if it means getting an extra $50 every now and then.

Larry: Did you put on the parking brake?


Balki: What’s a parking brake?



But because every episode requires the “soft reset” of Balki still being a member of the sub-human class called “those dumb goddam foreigners” and Larry still being angry about having to put up with his shit, Balki has locked the keys in the car.


P.S. Balki keeps mispronouncing Larry’s last name.  What’s up with that?

P.P.S. No jokes about using a shepherd’s crook to steer a car. What’s up with that?


Catchphrase count:  Balki (3); Larry (1); Twinkacetti (1 hoped for)

Boner count: Balki (0), Larry (0), Twinkacetti (1 suspected)