Season 3, Episode 10: Couch Potato

So I talked a few weeks ago about the interior/exterior divide, that connection between a character’s outer actions and inner motivations, and how and whether the latter can be expressed positively.  I’m returning to that briefly here to say that this season’s episodes can be sorted generally as “personal life” and “work life”, with not a lot of interchange between the two.  “Sexual Harrassment” and “The Horn Blows at Midnight” came the closest, with undesirable work aspects following the cousins home, but the stakes for each were firmly in their respective categories.  But we’re almost halfway through the season here–it’s time to take our primary colors, mix them up, and see what we get.


The cousins are told that they are now “official cable subscribers”, so now I’m really curious to know what network channel Twinkacetti found porn on last season.

I don’t mention it too much anymore, probably because I’m too focussed on where I can best make a boner joke, but the first few lines of dialogue are a nice, succinct setup.  Cable television (installed by the guy from the XYZ company) is presented as the end-game of American consumerism/individualism, while Balki the Kid is just playing around, wearing the cable guy’s belt.


Larry extolls the virtues of having cable, such as never having to wait in line at the movies, go to the mall, or even join a gym.

Yep, ol’ Larry Appletonnage is excited about that one! The cousins flip through the channels, pausing on music videos


Balki: Is that Michael Jackson or his sister?

Larry: …that’s Diana Ross.

You see, it was funny at first because Michael Jackson and Latoya do share a strong family resemblance, so the audience can relate to the joke–but then it’s topped by the joke that ALL black people look alike! Black people, AMIRITE?

Larry gives Balki the Kid the remote and tells him he can pick anything he wants.  Balki upsets Larry by changing the channel from a sports game that’s in it’s final seconds. Larry gets upset, and dude, if you cared that much maybe you should have gone to a sports bar?  Anyway, Balki wants to watch old TV shows, and Cable TV immediately proves its worth. Balki doesn’t have to personally sing Reason #10 We Won’t Get Seasons 3-8 On DVD: the Mr. Ed theme song.


The cousins start to fight over the remote but are then soothed by the Brady Bunch theme.


By that evening, Balki is comfortably numb, watching three different Arnold Schwarzenegger movies at once that Larry can’t tell apart. It’s obvious to me at this point that there was no TV noise on the apartment set – thus explaining why they’re a bit over-explainy with the dialogue and why Balki keeps raising the remote up so high, so the elderly women in the back can see him change the channel.  But I can barely hear what the cousins are saying. I’m not complaining, mind you.


Larry tells Balki to go to bed, and Balki shows his total disregard for Larry getting any sleep by kicking in his bedroom door while talking in the shittiest Arnold voice ever.


The next day, Larry struggles to do Balki’s job at the Chronicle. No, Larry! You’re doing it wrong! You have to sing a song! Sing “Strawberry Letter 23”!


Belita Moreno’s back!  Belita Moreno’s back, everybody!!!!!!!

Her name is Lydia and she’s got great hair! She comes in asking where Balki is and where all the letters for the advice column are.  Her deadline’s in 20 minutes!  But she’s suddenly not in a hurry when she’s flattered by Larry asking for advice.

Lydia: What’s the problem, Larry, can’t get a date?


Larry explains the problem, but since we’re only 7 minutes into this episode, Lydia is stumped by Balki’s troubles. She starts in about how she has problems of her own, how she’s neurotic and doesn’t have time for this shit.  Moreno’s on screen for all of a minute and already she’s the best addition to season 3. To prove my point by way of comparison, Mr. Gorpley comes in and reminds us that all he thinks about is how much he hates Balki.  I guess Balki’s lucked out that Mr. Gorpley only comes out of his office once every day to see if he can fire him, which has allowed Larry to cover for him.  Gee, I really hope Larry’s two-sentence articles haven’t suffered…


It seems like once per episode the show pulls off a nice subtle joke, and here it is: Balki comes in wearing sunglasses to indicate that he’s completely hung over.  Larry asks him if he went home and turned on the TV for lunch, but Balki’s in a shame spiral and “doesn’t want to talk about it”.  But because this is a TV show, he then talks about it.


Balki tarried at home to watch Leave it to Beaver, which made him cry when the Dad said “we’ll love you no matter what”.  We’ve talked about smugness.  And we’ve talked about how Balki is always the one giving the lessons to Larry.  And we’ve talked about the shift from thinking and feeling guilty to laughing.  Finally, we’ve reached the point where Balki has found a way to mainline pure, dephlogisticated sitcom essence.  He just watches TV all day long, suckling at the teat of easy lessons. And honestly? This concept is actually gold. Show, you’re impressing me–did you read Donald Schön’s The Reflective Practitioner since last week?

Larry says that the dad says that every episode of Leave it to Beaver, and that they have to do work.


Balki runs up the stairs with the mail, pausing every few steps to spout the Superman intro (faster, more powerful, etc.).  Between this and Lydia’s exit, I think I’ve found the reason why there’s stairs, an elevator, and a couple of exits: it allows for variations in a character’s entrance and exit–in terms of abruptness or being drawn out.  The joke here was that Balki was trying to do his job and catch up where he was behind, but he was slowed down by his own mix of character traits – having been pumped full of old TV and the need to make every joke possible.

The mom from the dog episode Harriette was nice enough to stick around so that she can function as the DSM-III made flesh.  She asks Larry a series of diagnostic questions and concludes that Balki is a couch potato.  It’s not until she predicts that Balki’s asscheeks will soon lose their firm, Myposian suppleness that Larry finally sees the gravity of the situation.


Balki comes down the steps “singing” the I Dream of Jeannie theme (reason #11) and shaking that very same ass around.

Harriette, ever the tough-talking voice of reason from the streets, confirms then and there that Balki’s a couch potato. The “oh no” guitar riff comes on and we cut to commercial.

The Caldwell, night:

Balki runs in, breaking Larry’s nose with the door.


He grabs a box of snacks (perhaps a cue that he is turning into Larry at his worst), sits down, and howls in pain at the absence of the TV.  Larry has taken it away, and tells Balki that it’s better to enter the kingdom of heaven without knowing whether Shorty marries Elverna, than to be cast into hell. But you’ve all seen what happens when you take away a kid’s toy.


Larry put the TV in a locker at the bus station.  Not, you know, in someone else’s apartment. Not, you know, at work.  Not, you know, just stopping payment on the cable wire, since it’s doubtful Balki could afford it on his own.  Larry gave the key to Jennifer & Mary Anne (Sagittarius), but they’re on a flight to Zurich. Larry points out that Balki has been watching TV and eating snack food nonstop for the past two weeks, and after all, that’s his job.  What’s next? Balki wanting to be a top?

Balki’s addict tries to run circles around reason, bringing Larry down to the level of making him repeat everything in one of those Homer Simpson “and when is this free event happening?” kind of deals. Then Balki acts like Larry’s making a big deal out of everything, kind of how when cats do something dumb and then it looks like they’re trying to act nonchalant about it.

Balki promises that he can stop watching television, and Larry leaves, saying that Mr. Flynn wants him to cover a hearing at the Water Commission. (Who the hell is Mr. Flynn?)  Balki sits there and pretends to read the same book they’ve been using as a prop all season.


Larry comes home to find that Balki has gotten ahold of a gigantic TV set. He’s even holding the remote right at his crotch and is in an obvious state of bliss. I guess Malcolm-in-the-alleyway was out of TV sets, because this one came from Crazy Al’s Video.


Then we get about 8 minutes of Larry turning the TV off, Balki turning it on, and snippets of incidental music from an evidently dialogue-free episode of Mr. Ed.


Finally they snuggle-fight on the couch. Larry steals the remote and Balki chases Larry.

Larry calls Balki a couch potato and Balki says he can’t possibly be that because he doesn’t know what it is. Larry lectures him on the physical toll that binge-watching can take, but Balki’s distracted by what he thinks is a TV across the street.


Larry: Oh God… you’ve turned into a peeping potato!

Balki chases Larry again.

Larry says that TV has ruined their lives because they never go out anymore, to ball games, they  never go out with Jennifer and Mary Anne, Balki doesn’t even go pet that horse and turn his face towards an imaginary camera anymore!

Balki still wants the remote, so Balki chases Larry.


Larry threatens to throw the remote out the window, saying that the people who can destroy a thing, control it.


Balki responds that he knows which finger has the power to control the world.

It’s a rite of passage that every Myposian must have their own broken finger experience, so Larry grabs Balki’s and they fight over that and…


They then struggle over his other index finger.  It’s incredibly stupid, but it’s a good way of showing that Balki is bringing Larry down to his child level. I’m sure I tried similar goofy gambits as a kid.

Larry points out that it’s been weeks since Balki wrote a letter to his mother, but Balki is in denial.  He holds Balki’s face down to the TV Guide as proof of the date, stopping just short of rubbing his nose in it.


This… this is really good, you guys. We’ve got the counterpart to the Vegaaaaahhhhssss episode here. Larry is a fear-based man, so he was afraid he would become addicted to gambling; but Balki has lived in a feast/famine situation his entire life, and does not know how to adjust to a feast that never ends. Balki made Larry look in the mirror; here, Larry does the same symbolically.


There’s a beautiful moment, the tension ratcheted all the way up, and then Balki very calmly asks “this is Wednesday, right?” and starts leafing through the guide.  I’m a sucker for those kind of jokes, even if this one probably seems better by dint of coming after the repetitive physical comedy stuff. And forget how many times Larry has said “potato” this week:

Balki: I’ve turned into a Mr. Potahto Head.


This week’s lesson: be more selective with what you watch on TV. It’s only bad if you abuse it.  How many times has a sitcom done this? Since this is a good counterpart to the gambling episode, let’s revisit another part of that review.

Psychology Sidebar, Y’all:

Diagnostics for whether you’re watching a network sitcom

  1. does it feature easy lessons?
  2. does it feature slavish wanking over old shows?
  3. does it feature dumb jokes and slapstick?
  4. does it put down cable TV?
  5. does it refuse to say that TV is out-and-out bad for you?

We’ve gotten our lesson, and even the post-lesson joke that makes Larry upset (Balki ordered a satellite dish as well) but there’s still a couple of minutes, which is a little out of the ordinary for this show.


And there it is, the top of the Chronicle building, panning down to ground level.  Balki overreached, went to the full extent allowable of TV excess, but was brought down to earth by his basement-dwelling father-surrogate.

I guess the point of this scene is just to establish that Balki did recover and is back to doing his job perfectly no matter how much busywork Gorpley gives him. Balki did something wrong, faced serious stakes in both his home and work lives, but still faces no long-lasting consequences. The final chapter of Clockwork Orange got nothing on this!


Balki and Larry go to a rock concert, and Larry asks if Balki can handle the giant screens on stage.  Then there’s some bullshit who’s-on-first dialogue because they’re going to see the band Chicago.

Join me next week for “The Break In”!


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

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

Standing Tall: an Introduction to Perfect Strangers Reviewed

Pt. 1: On the Shoulders of Giants

My name is Casey and I like to watch old sitcoms.

Okay, maybe “like to watch” isn’t quite correct. But “like to hatewatch” wouldn’t quite get it either; nor would “like to watch ironically”.

I like to revisit media from my youth, things that got to me before I developed my own tastes, before I had much else to compare them to, before I could even appreciate the context they came from.

Here’s a few f’rinstances:

Music: Ray Stevens sure had no idea he was so racist, did he?

Comics: Spy vs Spy was about how neither side of the Cold War was morally superior

Toys: I’m even more upset as an adult that I never got action figures of Hooks, Callahan, Lydia Deetz, or Barbara Maitland

Movies: Oh, Gremlins was about fear of black people moving into white neighborhoods; I get it now

I may only have vague memories of some of these things, but I know they occupied a fair amount of my childhood.  I like to look at them, try to know what they were in ways I couldn’t have then, unpack the meaning they had for me and what lasting impact they’ve had on my personality and thinking.  Engaging with the pop culture of my youth is my own shitty Vergangenheitsbewältigung.  It can be a weird process, an embarrassing one, but also a fun one too.

So I’ve decided to do an episode-by-episode review of Perfect Strangers, a show that ran on ABC from 1986 to 1993.  I’ll admit that I probably only saw the last 2–maybe 3–seasons of the show, but I do remember that I was totally into Balki Bartokomous. I distinctly remember repeating some of his lines (“Well paint me green and call me Gumby!” in particular).  And Balki–as well as other “wacky other” characters on TV at that time–figured large in my concept of myself; but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Why am I doing this? Why sign myself up for a week-to-week review of a show that probably doesn’t deserve it?  For the reasons stated above, sure.  I was also inspired to do so by a couple of similar review blogs: Full House Reviewed, and Noiseless Chatter, which is close to three-quarters done reviewing ALF.  I’ve enjoyed the hell out of their reviews, and part of me wants to give something back.  Admittedly, there’s a part of me that has a huge fucking ego to think I can fill either of their shoes; there’s a part of me that’s scared to death that I can’t.  So let’s also frame this as a writing exercise.  I haven’t written much outside of my webcomic since graduate school, so I see this as a chance to build up some skill outside of comics.  And what has been really great about the ALF reviews is how Phil looks at the various and specific ways that ALF just plain didn’t work as a television show; my hope is that this endeavor might also help me take apart the act of storytelling and better inform my own attempts within my webcomic.

Pt. 2: On the Wings of My Dreams

I hope this review blog can be a fitting next generation to Phil’s ALF reviews.  Which I suppose makes Full House Reviewed the grandparent?  And all of the other review blogs the relatives you only see on the holidays and don’t quite remember? (Seriously, go look at Family Matters Reviewed and tell me that’s not the blog equivalent of your weird uncle.)  I may not be capable of reaching Billy Superstar’s heights of vulgar hilarity, or Phil’s devastating insights, but sometimes the middle ground that exists between such extremes can be pretty fertile ground. Hey, that reminds me:

Let’s take a look at the opening credits, huh?

These guys look so different!  What kind of crazy circumstances brought these two together?  I’m willing to find out, because the show has promised me that, strangers or not, there’s something perfect about their pairing.  That’s a pretty big boast!



Blame the DVD for the crummy video quality.

Sitcom intros have to do a lot in a compressed time frame, and boy does this one not disappoint.  I mean, we’ve already established that Larry has more money than Balki. You see, Larry has two sweaters, while Balki only has the one shirt.  Marvel at my deep insights into the coded language of sitcom intros.

Larry Appleton hails from Anytown, USA, land of the white picket fences, cookie-cutter houses, perfectly-maintained lawns, and mom still making you a bag lunch, even when you’re moving off to Chicago.


Also, evidently, the land of popping out kids every couple of years.  What do you want to bet they’re Catholic?  We later find out that Larry has 8 brothers and sisters; I assume that three of them aren’t shown here because, seriously, once you’ve done fat kid, bratty kid sister with pigtails, girl who’s into baseball and nothing else, preppy brother, and a really cool bro, what else is left?  I’m getting the feeling that Larry is leaving behind a potentially much better sitcom.  I mean, that one guy is obviously… just… so cool.


Meanwhile, Balki says goodbye to his own sitcom premise.  You can tell it’s foreign because people are wearing shawls and hats, and some of them are legit old.  Just like the scene with Larry, I’m sure that each of these characters represents various stereotypes of foreign culture, but they’re lost on me because I’m not foreign.  Also of note is that Balki has turned over his sheep-herding duties to Joel Hodgson there in the background. I’m not going to make a joke about how he’s taken over the sheep-fucking duties, too, because now there’s less competition for the stone-cold Myposian foxes shown here.


Ah, shit. Why do I get the impression Balki’s going to be making that face a lot?


Goddammit I already want to smack him one.  I’m sorry. Gotta keep a positive outlook. It’s only the credits. I can skip them on future episodes.

And just when the music has you thinking the show’s about to begin, there’s more intro!



See? That face is better. I guess every dark street does have a light at the end.


Larry’s looking a little rough, though.  That egg salad sandwich isn’t sitting too well.


Finally, our heroes have reached their common destination: late 70s Chicago! Now let’s never speak of the opening credits again, at least not until next season at the absolute soonest.

As the show’s introduction ends, so too does the introduction to my long-term project to review it.  Whatever metaphoric rain and thunder, wind and haze this show dares to throw at me, I’ll just remind myself that it’s my life, and my dream, and nothing’s going to stop me now.

Join me next week where I’ll review the first episode, “Knock Knock, Who’s There?”!

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 20: PERFECT STRANGERS - gallery - Season Two - 1/20/87, Mark Linn-Baker (Larry), Bronson Pinchot (Balki), (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)