For whatever reason, the Huffington Post did not think my discovery last week of Donald Trump’s net worth in 1988 was reason enough to hire me, so here I am again, reviewing this show.
I’ve talked multiple times now about how consistent Larry’s characterization has been. Even if Larry’s siblings have so far turned out to be not quite as cruel as we were originally to believe, it’s still true that Larry took it that way. He has a history of feeling ignored, being told he’s less (qualified/important/attractive) than others, and feeling like he’s never going to live up to his own goals. At 24, he felt that he hadn’t progressed in his career. At the tender age of 26, he saw his body showing signs of age and misuse. He’s scared of himself: that he’s more susceptible to physical and psychological disease (colds and addictions), and that his own shortcomings will lessen him in the eyes of others (season 3’s constant refrain of “they’ll think I’m a jerk, won’t they?”). Larry inhabits a world where he feels that he’s in constant danger of losing it all–a mere cold can lose him a shot at a relationship with a woman. Being in a mildly embarrassing situation could lose him his job. Believing that a criminal could reform could cost him his life.
So, yes, when I read the synopsis of this episode–”Larry takes assertiveness training”–I got excited. Sure, it could just be a reskin of last season’s second episode (“Biggest Loser”). But Cousin Larry is always looking for a big break or a quick fix, so I really want to see what he does with a pop psychology fad.
We open at the Chronicle and immediately establish that Larry is frustrated. He finally got his own parking space and–wouldn’t you know it–somebody parked their phallic compensation in it. Harriette, who keeps catalogic information on every employee at the Chronicle–their job responsibilities, their sticky situations, who they porked at the Christmas party–knows that the Porsche belongs to Doug Perkins.
And–wouldn’t you know it–here’s Doug Perkins now! Larry asks if the car is his, and if–
Doug Perkins has received training from the Bene Gesserit in the use of Voice, and Larry stops. Doug Perkins tells Larry that he needs the spot, and that Larry can park in his…
…when he gets one! Haha LOSER
Reason #18 you should STOP asking when this season’s coming out on DVD: Balki comes in singing “La Bamba”.
Gorpley gives Balki his paycheck and jokes about how small it is. When Balki asks why he didn’t get the raise he was promised:
Gorpley: You’re a foreigner, you dress funny, and I just didn’t feel like it.
Hot damn, Gorpley has come into his own! We’re essentially getting a setup similar to season 1’s “Picture This”, where a more confident Larry was trying to get Balki to learn to say “no” to people taking advantage of him.
But that Larry was a family-owned discount store Larry. The cousins have come home with sandwiches from what is likely a family-owned restaurant; Larry wanted a cheeseburger but got something else. How much fish did he get, Balki?
Balki: I believe that is a Filet-O-Fish.
In the competition of products, the brands with the best ad campaigns tend to take over the generic ones. Fun fact: Hydrox and GoBots came first. In the competition of types of Larry, the earlier puffing has gone, leaving a deflated man who can’t even demand that a restaurant fix his order. The Larry who hit on women in singles’ bars now is now intimidated by 14-year-old waitresses. We know the cousins both cook, but they have taken on a subservient role to products themselves, which if I remember Professor D correctly, causes tension between the people involved in the capitalist system.
And even though
young Balki still has many Myposian contemporaries, many of whom get regularly eaten by killer fish. He also says that on Mypos, one of their sayings is that “you can never be too nice, or too thin”. Body image issues aside (is that you or Balki talking, Bronson?), this is interesting insight into how ideas make it to Mypos, given that the original quote uses the word “rich” instead of “thin”. I want to say that on idyllic Mypos, those concepts use the same word, but the King weighs 300lb, so who knows.
Jennifer comes by to say that she needs to give an example of Larry not standing up for himself, so she cancels their date because a high school friend is in town.* Hey, how about that! Jennifer went to high school and had a friend when she went there! Watch out, show, if you make her any more unique, she’ll start becoming unbelievable!
Larry’s upset that he gave in to his girlfriend’s reasonable request. He had tickets to the ballet!
…so why was he going to eat a greasy gut bomb of a dinner before sitting next to a woman for two or three hours?
Despite the fact that the annual average US inflation rate in 1988 was 4.08%–more than 1% higher than that of 1987–we’ve established that at least Balki’s income has not increased. Rather than deciding to go to the ballet together so as not to lose the money Larry spent; rather than eating their dinner; rather than having sex so Larry wouldn’t waste his boner; the cousins decide to just watch television.
The show then does that bit where an announcer on the television asks them questions about what just happened (“Do you have trouble being assertive?…”), and it’s the only time that the show recapping what happened has worked as a comedy bit.
It’s long been the case that those with psychology backgrounds have worked in advertising. This has allowed for effective (often malicious) marketing that plays on the fears of the everyperson. Your husband is upset because your vagina smells funny and is just uncomfortable saying so. You’re not a man if you don’t smoke cigarettes. You’re not fun or interesting enough on your own, but beer can fix that.
The cousins see the world in terms of products, and purchasing power. Circumstances have caused them to not get the products they want, but they see this as their own failing. The only answer is to seek out another product. The television man tells them that they’re a couple of girly men, and that they should
Larry criticizes the writers for not giving them this plot years ago so that they’d have better jobs by now. Balki starts talking about pomegranates.
Well, that didn’t work. He’s still talking about pomegranates. Balki’s making some statement about hard work, but fuck that, we’ve got a whole 13 minutes to screw around before we have to learn that lesson.
Cousin Larry puts down Mypos for how it’s a breeding ground for new, pesticide-resistant strains of fruit flies. Then he calls 555-STOP and is immediately put on hold. It’s funny how businesses have multiple customers!
Some time later, Larry comes home and speaks in a deep, theatrical voice.
Larry hangs his STOP jacket. Remember this. This is important.
Larry brags about having a cheeseburger for lunch. Balki says that he’ll break out the Miralax so Larry can have a bowel movement later on and–
Larry: When someone tries to make you do something you don’t want to do, you just tell them
And instantly we see the illogic in the STOP seminar program. It’s to protect you from people making you do things you don’t want to do, but the method is to make them do something. And we see the nefarious way that it propagates the need it fills. Doug Perkins took the seminar, putting Larry in the position of being told what to do. Now Larry has adopted the same tactic, and tells Balki what to do.
…so how is this different from any other episode of Perfect Strangers??? I mean, every week we see–
Okay, okay, SOMEbody’s touchy this week.
There’s a knock at the door and the New Larry Appleton corrects his earlier mistake of opening it instantly and makes sure to talk about it and let the audience laugh before letting Jennifer come in.
Continuing the thread of Jennifer having a life outside of work, she begins talking about her job. She gets so far as revealing that she has a supervisor, who–
Larry doesn’t even realize he doesn’t need assertiveness training to tell her she’s still going on a date with him. He could have just called her on her bullshit that anything happens to her outside of his apartment or restaurants.
He tells her what to do like any man SHOULD to his girlfriend, but the audience ooh-hoos waiting for the fallout
Jennifer actually makes a facial expression (too brief for me to get a good screenshot) and says “okay”.
Larry digs deeper into the tortured logic of the STOP program to Balki, how others will be happy when they see him get what he wants.
Balki repeats back what Larry said in that “let me get this straight” way we haven’t really seen since season 1.
Then they practice the STOP method with a fruit!
Larry tells Balki to “concentrate”!
Balki does a funny walk across the room!
There’s a reference to Wayne Newton!
This is the series of callbacks I was looking for a month ago!
Chancellor Appletine tries to tell Anakin Sheepwalker that there is anger inside him. Balki denies it, but Larry pushes until he creates it. Larry, now a salesman for the STOP method, tells Balki that deep down he is furious about Gorpley denying him a raise.
You know, it’s too bad that Mr. Burns is no longer at the Chronicle, or there’d be a boss to talk to about Gorpley. And RT (Raise Tsar) Wainwright hasn’t shown up this season yet, so I don’t know if he even exists anymore. Larry stokes Balki’s anger: Balki sends half his paycheck home to his mama so she doesn’t have to work in her “golden years” (20 and 21), meaning that Gorpley has denied his mama the raise.
Larry pokes Balki in the chest until Balki picks him up. They ragefuck right there in the living room, Larry says STOP, eats the cantaloupe, and then they continue.
The next day at the Chronicle, Larry tells Balki to get that raise, so…
…Balki goes upstairs, away from Gorpley’s office?
Doug Perkins comes in. Note the subtleties here. At the beginning of the episode, Balki entered after Doug Perkins left; here, we have sought not new landscapes, but we see with–
Geez, fine! Whatever!
Larry is saved from a horrible fate by seeing what the STOP seminar has done to Doug Perkins: his wife threw him out, he just lost his job. Poor guy. They probably even took away his key for the top floor of the building, so he can’t even jump off of a ledge now. All he’s left with now is the worst possible catchphrase:
I get now that Balki went upstairs so that Larry could find this information out without him there, but, uh
Couldn’t the conversation with Doug have taken place in the parking lot??? Where the car is?
Larry tries to tell Mr. Gorpley that Balki is under a hypnotic spell, and then tries to STOP his cousin from coming down the stairs. How much plan, Larry?
Larry: Change o’plan!
And this is a nice role reversal of Larry not letting Balki talk to get across important information, which we’ve seen a few times by now. The monster Larry created throws him to the floor and advances toward Gorpley’s office, spouting Balki-isms as he goes. Larry tries to tell him to
But Balki throws his cousin into a mmmmmmail cart and sends him off-camera.
Balki has also taken on Larry’s theatrical intonations. Not only does the STOP training let people get themselves into bad situations and embarrass themselves, it lets them take twice as long to
Balki’s even calling Gorpley a “mother-mugger”. The kid gloves are off! Balki, look, I’m sorry, was I being too harsh about some aspect of this episode?
And just like how a mirror snapped Larry out of it in the Vegahhhhs episode, Balki’s catchphrase reminds him of his normal, happy self. But the damage is done, and Gorpley tears up the raise authorization form that he was about to file. Larry rows over in the mail cart with a coat rack (I bet you cash money Linn-Baker came up with that gag).
Balki, having learned his lesson, comes home in the next scene to let us know he got what he wanted anyway and didn’t need to learn a lesson. Balki told Gorpley that he took Larry’s advice and that was enough to get Gorpley to forgive him.
Holy shit! Gorpley has put Larry down without even BEING there. Show, you… holy shit that was a beautiful save. I thought you’d undercut the lesson but you reinforced it with a line written so tight you could bounce a quarter off it. And this was a lesson. I anticipated this season’s “Larry tries to fix himself” was going to go as badly as last time, but we actually had Larry trying to adopt commodified psychology and forcing it on his less sophisticated cousin, who experiences emotions so exaggeratedly that Larry was able to see how destructive it could be.
Larry: I thought a little aggressiveness would help.
And for once, the easiness of the nature of sitcom understanding has made a good episode. Last season refused distinctions of meaning–”sometimes jokes work and sometimes they don’t”. But here that was precisely the problem: Larry’s conflation of terms needed to be resolved.
Balki asks if the writers should bother writing more Desperanto for this season’s Mypos sayings; Larry says it’s okay if they don’t.
Balki: You get more flies with honey than with a rifle.
Man, THAT one has some layers, folding in the fruit fly joke from earlier, the confused import of sayings to Mypos, and perhaps even a critique of American problem-solving.
Balki says he hopes Larry has learned his lesson and fuck you, Balki, don’t talk to Larry like he’s a kid!
And just when I expected the episode to end without addressing the scene with Jennifer–
The final joke of the episode is Balki saying that Larry will have a chance to beat her up next week.
See you next week for “Aliens”!
Catchphrase count: Balki (1); Larry (0)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
*I notice that the apartment number has changed from 207 (see “The Graduate”) to 209.