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)

Season 2, Episode 4: Lifesavers

A new week, a new episode, a new angle for Ritz Discount!  This store is committed to holding onto its dilapidated string pennants and unappealing window displays.


Twinkacetti spends some time enjoying throwing away junk mail from Mother Teresa and the Christmas seals, just in case you forgot he’s very greedy and refuses to spend money unless it’s to lose it while gambling.  Nah, I’m just kidding.  I’m with you, Twinkacetti.  Mailed letters asking for donations doesn’t fit with the aspect of my liberal self that wants to preserve the environment and cut down on waste; I mean, if you really want to recycle those things correctly you have to tear out the envelope’s little plastic window yourself!


Twinkacetti saves a magazine called “Motorcycle Maidens” for his “private moments”; the way Ernie Sabella delivers the line makes it seem like he’s surprised to see it, implying that the magazine is junk mail.  But, in all seriousness, magazines about motorcycles and half-nude women have been around for a long time: Easyriders, Biker, Outlaw Biker… if I kept listing them you’d accuse me of having used a random name generator.


Larry and Balki come in to deliver some exposition about how a “runaway taxi” almost ran over Balki, but Larry pushed him out of the way, saving his life.  Evidently, saving someone’s life is a pretty big deal on Mypos.  Since we already established that women cook dinner right after giving birth on Mypos, I’m assuming that both babies and adults have a pretty high mortality rate.  So, it’s natural you’d want to elevate anyone who manages to keep another person alive in addition to themselves.  At any rate, Balki thinks that Larry is a hero, referring to him as the “Primo do Polos” (not sure of the spelling there, but that seems to translate into “first of the city”).


Oh man, Mypos is so backwards they even prostrate themselves the wrong way! Those wacky foreigners!

Twinkacetti comes out of his office, still reading “Motorcycle Maidens”.  But, in all seriousness, pornography addiction is a real problem and–


HOLY CRAP THE MAGAZINE ACTUALLY SAYS “MOTORCYCLE MAIDENS” ON THE COVER! (checks Google, Google image search, eBay, WorldCat, and one of those trademark search websites, finds nothing) HOLY CRAP!!!  This show is really killing it on the props, you guys.  Anyway, life-saving, hero, Primo do Polos.  Larry encapsulates what I assume is his thesis for this episode:

Larry: My custom is bigger than your custom.

Famous last words, Larry.  In the next scene, we set up the Balki’s antithesis by way of Susan! Hey guys it’s Susan! I missed you, Susan!  I was afraid there were only going to be two hair colors on this show from now on, but it’s Susan!


What’s wrong, Susan? You seem like you’re uncomfortable with your role of being the silent receptacle for Larry’s expository lines.  Is there anything I can–



Anyway, Balki has taken on the role of personal servant to Cousin Larry.  After Susan leaves, Larry continues to voice his rationale for why he’s letting Balki do this, and then asks “who am I talking to?” And I like it when I see little jokes that the writers put in for themselves, to semi-apologize for the fact that you have to get all that exposition in there somehow.  I’ve thrown a few of these jokes into my webcomic as well, so that made me smile.


One of the rules of Myposian personal servitude is for the servant’s head to never be higher than that of the Primo do Polos.  Evidently, it’s also the right of the Primo do Polos to pad the episode by forcing a joke to be said twice.  Balki has ironed Larry’s clothes, holds a light for him to read, makes him “Sheep Wellington”, and also spoils the mystery novel Larry is reading.


And this is good!  This is a much better Balki than last week’s!  An event triggers something specific to Balki’s culture, and Balki makes simple, heartfelt but misguided gestures to do what he has been told he should to honor good people. I have a good feeling about this episode.  The show gives us the reveal that we’ve all been expecting: that Balki’s servitude is a lifelong commitment (like I said, they probably don’t live long on Mypos).

Later, Balki tiptoes around the apartment while Larry sleeps on the couch; he ties a string around Larry’s foot, tying the other end to the side table.  He then tries to check for Larry’s breath on a reflective surface, and when it doesn’t work–015016 017

Larry then keeps walking back and forth, just to the end of the length of the string, building the tension for when he inevitably will fall over. And both of these bits of physical comedy work, because we have no idea what Balki is up to.  It’s a playful little series of reveals.


Larry even asks “why” about the string, rather than what it is, and you’re really an episode after my heart, aren’t you, “Lifesavers”?  Balki tries to follow Larry into the bedroom, and Larry chases him out, yelling that there is no hard evidence that droit du seigneur was ever actually practiced.


Later, in the shop, Balki sings “Material Girl” while cleaning. They’ve been leaning hard on this running joke, so I hope it’s going somewhere.  He is alone in the shop because he turned off Cousin Larry’s alarm clock.  Larry is proud of never being late, the punchline of which is that he was born three weeks early.


Twinkacetti bursts out of his office wearing the same hat from earlier, when he was jerking it to Ms. Helen Wheels.  This time he’s got the newspaper in hand, so whattaya wanna bet? Stock Market section?

Larry tries the old loophole trick of using his unlimited powers to demand that the servant no longer serve.  Anything he says goes, right?


But Balki is now the Nebulopolos (plural: Nebulopoli) because he has failed as a servant.  You walked right into that one, Larry!  Typical American blindness to other cultures.  You really should have found out all the rules of Myposian servitude, you know, seen if you could sic Balki on your enemies, go the Nightcrawler route and have him help you create gruesome photo ops.


Balki puts a bag on his head, and continues sweeping, now singing “Nobody Knows”, and whether writers knew it or not, it’s at least remotely appropriate, given that the song originated as a slave spiritual.  Balki continues working like this even after the commercial break, so you know this situation has become serious.  Twinkacetti suggests the solution I saw coming about 10 minutes ago–to set up a situation where Balki has to save Larry’s life. Hire Twinkacetti’s friend for $50 (always with the $50 on this show), have him pretend to rob the apartment, let Balki scare him off, and everything’s reset for next week.


Or, you know, we just end the whole series right here because Balki knocked over a bunch of cans of paint thinner and they all died inhaling the fumes.


A real burglar shows up and some guy in the audience just cracks up when he finally sees that both Balki and Dmitri have bags over their heads.  I like that.  Larry confuses the burglar and then wakes Balki up, trying to get him to come to Larry’s rescue.


Once Larry realizes that the fake burglar isn’t a fake burglar, but is in fact a real burglar, as evidenced by his real burglar gun, which fake burglars do not have, he starts babbling. Real Burglar (who is so confident in his abilities that he wears a bright red hat on the job) tells Larry to shut up, whereupon it is revealed that Larry didn’t talk through the entirety of 3rd grade.  I mention this only because I’m interested in exactly how fucked up Larry is.  Real Burglar pushes Larry onto Balki’s lap, trying to get them to do that buttsex thing he hears all the other burglars say this show is about.


Balki is upset on Larry’s behalf that anyone would automatically assume he’s a bottom, so he steals Real Burglar’s gun.  This is a kind of comedy version of Chekhov’s Gun: if the gun appears in the bad guy’s hand first, it will end up in the good guy’s hand (or vice versa, and extra points for each reversal).  Balki then shows us the Myposian form of shaming: slapping someone’s hand, saying “shame on you”, and cursing at them in your native tongue.  (Let’s add Balki Ricardo to our growing list of Balkis.)


By the end of the episode, the writers must have realized that they pushed Balki too far in the adult direction, so when Balki and Larry get back from the police station, we find that the police gave Balki ice cream and let him take his own “fingyprints”.


That’s right, you heard right, “fingyprints”.


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


Cousin Larry thanks Balki for saving his life. Saving people from certain death is just what you do when you care about somebody.  Awww, they care about each other so much it turns the music on.  Larry says that they are now even, which stands as the synthesis of the culture war subtext (taking care of your loved ones transcends all culture).

I’ll be honest:  I’m relieved that this week’s episode showed some improvement over “The Unnatural”.  I’m sure this kind of sitcom setup wasn’t new even back in 1986, but it allowed for a reasonable piece of Balki’s culture to show itself.  It let Balki be a bumbling, caring person, and it also let him do it as an adult.  And call me biased because I identify a little more with Larry so far, but I’m glad that it was Balki who learned a lesson this time.

Also, no third location this week.  Maybe Rafael Mauro (the actor who played Real Burglar, but you might know him as the car washer guy from the smelly car episode of Seinfeld) demanded his $50 up front.

See you next week for “Babes in Babylon”!


Boner count: Larry (0); Balki (0); Twinkacetti (at least 1)

Catchphrase count: Larry (1); Balki (1.5)