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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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”!

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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?

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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”!

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

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

Season 1, Episode 5: Check This

Three weeks ago, we had an episode called “Picture This” because Larry was trying to take a picture of Dolly Parton.  This week’s show is called “Check This” because Balki gets a checkbook.  Stay tuned for future episodes titled “Smell This” (Balki’s recipe for Myposian stew involves leaving meat on the counter for a whole week), “Can’t Touch This” (Ritz Discount must move a surplus of camp stoves, which are bad luck to handle according to Mypos legend), and “What This” (22 straight minutes of Balki asking what things are).

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Balki is exercising along with the TV.  This is Balki’s way of waking up Cousin Larry to let him know it’s time to come out and establish his character trait of being the frustrated one.  Larry even goes so far as to admit that he’s grumpy all the time, and whoa, slow down, show! That kind of self-awareness belongs at least 2/3 of the way through season 2!

Then Balki continues his exercises and

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and

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dafuq

buttockpinches

We had an agreement, show.  You would provide me fodder for making funny reviews, and I would avoid the low-hanging fruit of “lookit, two single guys living together, they must be GAY”.

You were doing okay, show.  You had Balki and Cousin Larry popping boners only for women.  You gave Balki a number of weird fetishes that he tried to get women to participate in with him.

But then, one minute into your 5th episode, and Balki’s wearing just his pajamas and flexing his butt in Cousin Larry’s direction.  (“On Mypos, this how we make romantic overbites.”)

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Larry breathlessly asks “What are you doing” and damn if I don’t hear a glimmer of hope in his line reading.  I was willing to work with you, show, but enough

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is enough

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is enough!

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Seriously, show?  Fuck it.  You wanna set me up to make gay jokes, I’ll make the damn gay jokes.

donuts

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After Balki explains that he’s doing “buttock pinches”, Larry scolds him for not having folded his bed back into the couch. Cousin Larry’s tactic here isn’t original, but can be effective: set up a bit where he and Balki engage in physical comedy, increasing the chances that they’ll “accidentally” touch each others’ weiners.

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Larry uses the opportunity of showing Balki how to fold the bed as an excuse to say the phrase “lift… and push” over and over. Larry knows how he likes it.  I can already predict this week’s double lesson:  Balki learns to successfully execute the “Reverse Warrior”, and Larry learns that it’s only lovemaking if you really love the other person.  Then Cousin Larry pretends to sprain his back so that he can be bent over for the next couple of minutes.

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Balki tells Larry that the sofa is broken; when asked why he had not volunteered this information before, Balki responds that he was “watching and learning”.  We’ve established that Larry is trying to scenario his way onto some hot Mypos dick while staying innocent of explicitly wanting it, and this must be the kind of behavior Balki has been watching and learning from.  Obviously, Balki has broken the bed so that it can no longer be a couch, i.e., so that their relationship can no longer take the platonic form of two friends sitting together.  Anyways, enough analysis, let’s get to the fucking.

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Larry starts shouting “No”.  Cousin Larry, don’t go all Jon Lovitz in “Tales of Ribaldry” on me.  Larry then uses his catchphrase.

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Ahhh. I get it now. We established a few weeks back that Larry uses his catchphrase for dominance.  But then Balki starts talking money and it’s such a bonerkill that the episode switches to some boring plot about banking.  You’re going to give me whiplash, show.

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At the episode’s third location the bank, Balki hugs Sam Anderson because Balki is gay foreign.  Sam Anderson drops a lot of banking terms on Balki, prompting a joke about how some accounts are out of Balki’s “league”.  The punchline is then that Balki’s league is the “little league” because he hasn’t learned how to be a good pitcher, much less catcher yet when it’s not making him creepy or a cartoon, this show infantilizes Balki.  I don’t think I’ve mentioned that yet, but it’s also another thing that’s been present in most of the episodes so far.  Balki playing around with the cash register, Balki sleeping with a stuffed toy, Balki idolizing and idealizing celebrities, and now Balki getting a bank account that comes with a promotional “Freddie the Frog” coin bank.

There’s actually a nice little bit of dialogue when Larry tries to explain to Balki how banking works in terms of the money being kept safe, accruing interest, being loaned to others, being able to borrow if you have good credit, etc.

Balki: I could come to this bank and borrow my own money and then pay them interest?

Larry: Well, yes… provided you had good credit.

Balki: What that is?

Larry: Well, credit is proving to the bank that you don’t need to borrow your own money.

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Out of the mouths of babes uneducated farmers.  It’s probably the most clever the show has been to this point.  Larry continues to sell Balki on the idea by telling him about checks that have “pretty little pictures” on them, and Balki’s excited enough to hand over his money to the bank.  Balki then exclaims over the check designs (rainbows! flowers!) before settling on puppies.

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I don’t know whether to make that a joke about him being gay or a child, but that is the same face I make when I’m trying to push a nasty hemorrhoid back in.  Pictured below is when it slides back out five minutes later.

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Again, Susan shows up to massage Larry’s back because her one character trait is “she cares about people’s feelings”.  Balki gives Larry an “app-le” and damn, are we going to have to do a whole episode where the lesson Balki learns is how to pronounce Larry’s last name?  Speaking of last names, the video quality’s not that great on this DVD, but I think Susan’s nametag says “Susan Campbell, RN”. Balki presents Susan with a pack of sugarless gum and Larry asks if he really wrote a check for just those two things.

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He also bought Larry a bug light.  And… yeah, Balki’s definitely a kid in this episode, because this is exactly how I bought presents for people when I was little.  My parents took me to the Dollar Tree every year so I could do my Christmas shopping for the whole family, and I’d buy whatever made the most sense given what I knew about everyone (I still regret the inappropriateness of buying my aunt a $1 broom because my cousins were messy hellions, but hey, my parents let me do it).

Mr. Twinkacetti bursts out of his office demanding that Larry tell Mrs. Twinkacetti that the two of them went to a basketball game instead of the truth: that Mr. Twinkacetti is going to a poker game.  For justification, Twinkacetti cites Larry’s membership in the “male brotherhood” (is there a female…? nevermind), which Balki is explicitly excluded from. Larry doesn’t want to lie, but Mr. Twinkacetti says that “men do these things for each other”.

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GAAAAAAY

When Larry counters that the members of the Nixon administration did those things for each other, Twinkacetti tells Larry not to insult his heroes.  Susan tells Twinkacetti that it’s wrong to lie to his wife, and then she basically bolts out of the store.  She had to get out of there quickly because she was dangerously close to developing a second personality trait.  Because Larry refuses to lie, Twinkacetti gives him the task of delivering bodybuilding equipment; on his way out he sets up a fuckdate with Balki.

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Then we find out that Balki ordered brand new furniture for Cousin Larry and how do you wanna bet he’s paying for it?

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BALKI STACKIN THAT PUPPY PAPER, Y’ALL

Balki sings Diana Ross’s “Touch Me in the Morning” while he unwraps the new couch.

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GAAA-wait, no, that’s a song about saying goodbye to a lover.  Were you humping the old convertible sofa, Balki?  Could it not be folded up because it was stiff with Myposian discharge?

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Larry fails to hang his coat.  Remember this. This is important.

Cousin Larry takes a look at the new furniture, and he’s found this episode’s reason for getting angry.

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Ren. Stimpy.  Listen to me. Just fuck already.  Larry is upset because, as shitty as his old couch and chairs were, they were his.  We learn that Larry never had his own toys growing up, having lived with 8 brothers and sisters.  Besides, if you accept Sarah Portland’s thesis that Larry purchases only to impress whatever one-off characters wander into the apartment (which I’ve accepted as headcanon, so you should too), the loss of the furniture symbolizes the failure of his last major effort to find a Chicago bride & deny his own homosexuality.

Then Larry calls himself “neurotic”, which Balki mishears as “erotic”.  First this shows wears me down to the point of making gay jokes, then it just plain admits that Larry’s hangups are all sexual in their origin. Way to steal my thunder, show.

Having beaten me at the gay jokes game, the show returns to the banking lesson.  Here’s the entirety of Mypos’s economic system explained:

Balki: In Mypos, money’s not that important! Two chickens is a pig, two pigs is a cow, and two cows is a fortune!

Balki and Larry apologize to each other, and Larry says they can fix things by returning the new furniture and getting the old stuff back.  Then the big reveal: Balki sold the old furniture to Mr. Twinkacetti! Oh no!

The next scene spends a whole minute explaining to the audience what you’ve already figured out is the last hurdle for Larry and Balki to clear before the episode ends, so I’ll just talk about Edwina Twinkacetti, played by Belita Moreno.  You might know her from the George Lopez sitcom, and if you do, I won’t give you any shit about it.  I am reviewing Perfect Strangers here.

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Ernie Sabella does a great job selling his discomfort around her.  I already want to see more of these two on screen together.

Because Twinkacetti told his wife that Balki went to the ballgame with him, Balki is able to tighten the screws and get Twinkacetti to sell back Larry’s furniture for $1.  Edwina finds Twinkacetti’s poker winnings behind a picture of Gordon Liddy hanging in his office, and we have our winner for best joke payoff of the season so far.  The earlier gag about the Nixon administration you could wave away as not really being part of Twinkacetti’s bio because it was a little too much, but the Liddy callback makes it work.

Edwina threatens to break Twinkacetti’s legs if he plays poker again, so let me just trot this back out.

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I can only imagine Season 2 will introduce Mrs. Twinkacetti’s overbearing parents. But seriously, show, more of Sabella and Moreno, please.

The show explicitly calls out that manipulating Twinkacetti was Balki’s rite of passage into the “male brotherhood”, and the earlier bits about Balki being an overgrown child enhance this.  Anyway, our heroes got their sofa bed back, but Balki just can’t wait long enough to get it back to the apartment before he starts trying to frott it up.

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This position is called the “Double Lesson”.

Join me next week for “Happy Birthday, Baby”, which is the last episode (!) of season 1.

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

Boner count: We like to have fun around here, but in all seriousness, there were no legitimate boners this week.