Family Matters Recused

Last week I promised you the review for Season 4, Episode 19: Just a Gigolo. It’s my fault that you aren’t getting that today. I am sorry. I’m trying to get an academic guest post set up for that one, but it’s not ready. So for this week and the next, at least, we’re going to take a little break from season 4.  This post was originally going to run between seasons 4 and 5, and it’s simply coincidence that I’m posting it on the first Friday of Black History Month.


Family Matters Assumed

Just over a year ago, through the Perfect Strangers Reviewed Facebook page, I received a message from someone whom I won’t name. Over the course of a week, ze contacted me, Philip J. Reed, and Sarah Portland about our review sites; possibly others.  The question asked of all of us is whether we were going to continue our reviews.  That is: would Phil review the ALF cartoons?; would Sarah review all of the new Star Trek stuff?; and in my case, when would PSR be done, and would I be reviewing Family Matters?  After all, said ze, Family Matters was “a continuation”.  Whoever ze is, ze damn sure ain’t this stock photo of a “lawyer”.


Paul Graham of fame laid out a a hierarchy of disagreements in 2008. I saw it online during the last presidential election (and yes, *sigh*, I’m going to have to talk about that shit in this post) and thought it was useful. Someone going by the handle of “Loudacris” on a site called CreateDebate made a graphic to illustrate Graham’s hierarchy.   Here it is:


So let’s go backwards through these.  First of all, mystery questioner… I’m not going to call you an asshat.  We’ve spoken through Facebook on multiple occasions, you’re obviously a fan of Perfect Strangers, and you read my blog. Morever, you’re a real person. You have feelings, and we all want to be understood by others.  I don’t think you’re an asshat, but the question was kind of an asshat question.

Second of all, you’re hiding behind an avatar.  If you can’t prove you’re a real person, then  what authority do you have about 80s/90s network sitcoms? I owe you nothing.

Third, you asked me about this when I had barely done a year of Perfect Strangers Reviewed. Maybe artists like me are touchy about people asking for free work, but damn if it doesn’t happen again that, when you post hard work online, you’re bound to eventually get “you should do more” as the first comment. At least have the courtesy to first compliment me/us on my/our work. And when will I be done? Am I falling behind your media feeding schedule?

Are all of you getting the message from that pyramid above? Name-calling and ad hominem attacks and responding to tone are mean, made by the real asshats who can’t engage in a discussion.  Let’s continue.

Fourth, to settle matters for all asshats, everywhere, forever: Family Matters is not what I’d consider a continuation.

Fifth, okay, Family Matters is not a continuation, it’s a spinoff.  I kind of want to define continuation by the persons making it, but that doesn’t work; so let’s say that intention is key.  Saved by the Bell: The College Years is a continuation. Extreme Ghostbusters was a continuation. Fuck, The Munsters Today, however it was received, was a continuation. (I’ve actually considered reviewing The Munsters Today after I’m done with this. The answer to the question you just thought is “no”.)

Sixth, the argument boils down to a misunderstanding of the differences between a character and a scenario. It’s a continuation of the character Harriette Winslow, as portrayed by Jo Marie Payton-France-Noble-Clark-Downs-Nahasapeemapetilon, sure, and her husband, Carl, and it takes place in Chicago. But could anyone look at both shows and say that they form one narrative? There’s more coherence between the New and Old Testaments, people.

Seventh, I’ll refute a central (implied) point: I should review Family Matters.  Here’s my answer: fuck no.


I want to take this opportunity to talk about why that is in more depth. I’m going to take the long way around, and this is ultimately a semi-political statement on race. (Spoiler: I’m a liberal atheist who thinks we’d be a whole lot better off without money. You’ve been warned.)

Family Matters Remembered

I’m not going to ever review Family Matters, but there are some things worth talking about. I’ll start with me as a childhood viewer.


I watched Family Matters as a kid; and just like many white kids then, I loved Urkel.  I had an Urkel talking doll; I had an Urkel backpack; I still have my copy of The Lean, Mean Urkel Machine that I probably got from the Troll book fair at school.  I share partial blame for his success. I’m sorry.

I remembered the episode where Urkel tries to infiltrate a gang and this guy puts on a tiny pair of glasses and calls himself an “artiste”. I had remembered it being Mr. Potato Head glasses, but it wasn’t, which means I need to go apologize to some people I helped put in prison.


I remember Urkel burning down the restaurant.

I remember the one where Urkel had a jetpack.

I know I watched the show with my dad, because he told me what kind of car Urkel drove. I still wouldn’t mind owning an Isetta myself.


I remember Myra.  I really liked Myra, because Myra had large breasts. I remember the episode where Urkel was afraid to touch her breasts.


I remember that I stopped watching regularly around the 5th or 6th season. I remember watching the other shows in the TGIF block around that time – Step by StepHome Improvement, Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, Boy Meets World, but somehow it seemed that the magic was gone. I know I didn’t watch any of those regularly. Was I really only into Full House and Perfect Strangers and Family Matters? Was ABC’s TGIF programming simply not as much of a draw for me once I started watching better-written stuff like The Simpsons and The Critic?


I know I tuned in a couple of times in the last few seasons of Family Matters and being disappointed that it seemed to have turned into the Stefan Urquelle show.

Family Matters Revisited

I watched the entirety of Family Matters for this post. All 215 episodes. Just to talk about why I won’t write about it.

Here’s the first thing that jumped out at me about Family Matters: it’s a show about black people.


From what I understand, the Winslows were originally living in the Caldwell Hotel.  In the pilot episode, you can see a hallway outside their door, which would be replaced with a front porch in every other episode. So maybe it was still in the hotel?  It’s also my understanding that Larry and Balki were intended to show up in the pilot. Consider this: an appearance by the cousins would have been conferring the success of Perfect Strangers onto its child.  I’m honestly glad that somebody was smart enough to nix that appearance.  History is littered with those in power conferring rights and respect to the powerless; when that happens, those in power control the language of the narrative.  (Think, for instance, of when any man says that women should be respected because they are someone’s daughter, sister, mother, etc.; such language denies them respect on the basis of their personhood.)

Anyway, before I talk about Family Matters proper, let’s see how Perfect Strangers addressed the change.

The promo gives the impression that, for the world that Balki and Larry inhabit, Harriette and her family got a television show, replete with relatives that could be removed as needed. And, wow, what the hell happened to Balki’s accent? Am I going to have to listen to that for the next

*counts on fingers*

10 years of this blog?


Not only does the show assertively stand on its own in this way, but Harriette mirrors this behavior.  She loses her job as elevator operator (my guess is that Balki mentioned to the wrong person that the elevator had buttons for all the floors) and interviews for a job as a security guard (my guess is that Lance Dick accidentally shot himself); when she’s initially turned down, she states the case for her qualifications loud and clear to the white manager.


(“A sister doing it for herself” is just one of the many awful and tone-deaf jokes you’d get from me, a white guy, if I reviewed the show.)

Eddie has a Chicago Chronicle sign or something in his room in another episode, but aside from those two things, Harriette’s job at the Chronicle is mentioned only a couple times per season after that. In the 5th season, she loses her job after having worked at the Chronicle for 23 years. It may be worth noting that, by that point, Perfect Strangers was off the air. It’s where the Chicago Chronicle originated; perhaps there was no need to keep that tie once the originating show was gone? And while we’re talking about continuation, Jo Marie was replaced during the 9th season.  Those two things really erode the idea of “continuation”, but that’s not the reason I won’t review it.


Family Matters Refused

The fact that it would take me probably 5 years to do is also not the reason I won’t review it.


I said “fuck you” at Family Matters multiple times while watching it; but that’s not the reason I won’t review it.

Or, actually, here’s my review of the series: I liked parts. I hated parts. It was good. It was bad. I have things I could say about why it was good. I have things I could say about why it was bad. Family Matters was a sitcom. It did sitcom things in a sitcom way.

But ultimately, I won’t review Family Matters because it’s about black people, and I ain’t one.


I know a few things about black people, and it’s all second-, third-, or nth-hand information; some of it from black people; most of it from books. In the first episode alone, I can see some things in the construction of Family Matters that fits in with things “I know” about African-Americans. You’ve got a big family living all together; there’s a matriarch present; there’s a mention of Prince; hell, the littlest kid is named Little Richie. But I don’t know enough. I don’t know half the celebrities that show up. I don’t know half the bands.


You’ve got episodes about making it big in sports, making it big in music, about driving while black, and about racist reactions to Black History Month. And for those first two things? I bet I’m making a bigger deal about them than I ought to, because I think of sports and music as being domains that black people are better in. That’s what I’ve been told my whole life, and I know damn well that if I looked at any amount of data on either thing, my understanding would be more nuanced by some order of magnitude. However, I don’t think that I remember any white sitcoms taking considerable time out of a story to have someone sing a whole song, or to have the characters doing nothing but practicing their dance moves in the living room as a group. When Balki and Larry sing, it’s always meant as some sort of joke. When Family Matters does it, you can tell it’s because someone thinks it’s important.

I’ll come back to the driving while black thing for a second. If you’re in enough of a social media echo chamber not to have seen this over the past half year, I’ll say it here: people of color weren’t surprised at the results of the 2016 presidential election, or any of the language used by the current administration. Being arrested or killed for nothing more serious than holding toys or candy is only a surprise to us. You may have only gotten upset (or not) hearing people asking “why’s there not a white history month” in the past few years. But black people? They’ve been seeing–living–this shit for years. Every god damn day.


When Philip J. Reed finished his ALF reviews, he mentioned that he couldn’t have imagined anyone’s voice but Billy Superstar’s for Full House Reviewed; moreover, that each of the shows we have picked to review are perfect for our personalities, and our voices.  I’m a neurotic, college-educated white guy who holds himself back from approaching women; I’m an overgrown child who still buys toys and wants to believe in people. I write detailed jokes about Daisyworld and put them right beside the easier jokes about Balki and Larry fucking. The internal focus between Larry and Balki mirrors in many ways my own internal struggles about how to do things. I’ve left women in my life hanging, and it’s often because I’m caught up in my own shit. As sad as it sounds, I am the cousins, and Perfect Strangers is the right show for me.


I’m not from a big family; I don’t even keep in touch with all of them anymore. I’ve never once gone to a black church and left Christianity’s fold a long time ago. I may have had “nerdy” interests, but I was never quite the type of social outcast Steve Urkel was. I didn’t grow up in a city. I’ve never been a robot.


And most importantly, I’m not black.

This show is not for me.


This show is not for me.


This show is not for me.


I think that, if anybody’s going to review Family Matters in a complete sense like I’m doing, it should be a black person.


But does that just make me one more white guy telling a black person what they ought to do?

Family Matters; Me, Cued

I hope not! But if it does, and I am, I hope you’ll tell me.

Let me take a page (or two) from Scott McCloud’s 2000 book Reinventing Comics. It’s hard to quote comics, so I’m just going to reproduce the relevant panels.


But let me also focus on the converse of who should write Family Matters Reviewed by saying who shouldn’t. I don’t think me, or any other white person, is the right person for it.  If we’re going to take a teleological approach, even playfully, and say the shows pick people, Family Matters hasn’t chosen yet.

There were two previous attempts to do Perfect Strangers, and both failed*.

Originally, Billy Superstar had wanted to review Family Matters, but all the seasons weren’t available on DVD yet, so he didn’t. There’s another guy who did reviews for a few seasons of Family Matters. I’m not going to link to it now; you can find it if you want. I linked to it once before, and now I regret it. It was written by a white guy. I haven’t read much of his reviews of the show, but I read enough to read one where he makes a joke about Harriette looking like an orangutan.

And you know what? It took a fair amount of work (I’m a research librarian, remember) to find out this guy’s name. I’m calling this guy out: UNACCEPTABLE, SHANE JEFFRIES

Let me get political again here. YOU MADE A RACIST JOKE, SHANE JEFFRIES

At the risk of back-patting, what I hear/read from women and African-Americans and other minorities is that one of the best things white cishet middle-class guys without disabilities like me can do is call out this kind of bullshit when we see it and say that it’s not okay.



Please note the difference. On Facebook, I was asked a question by someone going under a false name, and at first glance the question read as entitled, but there’s just an interested fan behind the avatar.  I didn’t say that person’s name.  “Rambo Homer McFly” doesn’t deserve that level of respect, or privacy. You’re an asshat, Shane. Go back to where you belong.


As far as I’m concerned, that kind of joke disqualifies you from writing about the show. I’m glad you went on to other things!  But I’m afraid that if I review Family Matters, I’ll end up making jokes that are just as racist–or be so cautious that I end up making fewer jokes, and still be racist. Because… I’m racist! I have racist thoughts about real people. I’ve done racist things, and I’m certain I still do in ways I don’t see. I benefit from racist structures and systems. Yesterday was the first day I tried calling a government agency to express my view about a nomination; why the fuck did I wait so long?


I have taken a test developed by Harvard researchers and gotten back hard data that the associations in my brain are racist. I’m from Georgia; my grandfather was in the KKK. I’m ashamed of that, and I’m responsible** for the bad aspects America he helped create. It’s unavoidable that my brain is going to continue to come up with ignorant racist bullshit for the rest of my life; my hope for the future is that each generation will be less so.


An important aside: I make numerous jokes about Larry and Balki being gay. I know only a few gay people. If I make insulting jokes, or say anything in bad taste, or anything that puts you down for being who you are, I want you to tell me. I need to know. I may ask questions, but I won’t argue with you. I don’t want to hurt anyone.


Family Matters was a show for black people and, sure, it was also a show written so it would have broad appeal for white people. But I feel that any white person is going to have less to say about the show than it deserves. Because black people know their own experience; and they also know the experience of how they’re supposed to present themselves to white people.  I know next to nothing about the latter, and even less about the former.

Family Matters Pursued

I think Family Matters could use some love (and some hate) from someone qualified to write about it. I illegally downloaded the entire run of the show–only to find out it wasn’t complete. There were numerous episodes missing that I had to purchase from iTunes, which really has more to do with the DVD releases than anything. Much of the season 9 rips were recorded during what was obviously a marathon, because I kept seeing the same show advertised in the bottom third of the screen. Also there’s one episode that’s lost a few minutes in the middle because a storm warning cuts in.  At any rate, for big movies, you can download them as soon as they’re released in Asia, which precedes the DVD release in the US, generally. But I downloaded these in November, a couple weeks after season 9 was released on DVD.  I honestly would have expected it to be on torrent sites, but then again, I’m an impatient criminal. At any rate, it’s out now! If you’ve been waiting to review Family Matters because African-Americans are disproportionately jailed for crimes that white people like me are more likely to commit, now’s your time!


By the way, yes, that’s Donna Summer in some sort of gas-powered egg timer. Family Matters went to some weird places. Just a heads-up.

I’d love to hear what a black woman my age has to say about the show. I’d love to hear what a black guy my age has to say about the show. I’d love to hear what any black person has to say about this show. Because god damn there’s a lot to say.


Maybe Family Matters and its reviewer haven’t found each other yet; maybe they never will. Maybe they have, and that person hasn’t acted on it yet. Maybe it’s there and I haven’t seen it? (down there, the comments, tell me) But here’s a message for that person (or the cooler self they become when they use the “boss sauce”):


Doing this kind of review blog certainly hasn’t been entirely a cakewalk***.  I have a lot of fun with it. It tells me a lot about myself, and about others, and about television, and about comedy, and about fans, and about nostalgia. But the more I invest in it, the worse it hurts when the show goes bad. When it acts like suicidal thoughts can be done away with in the time it takes to microwave a TV dinner; when it decides to let women stay around only if it helps the main characters get laid; when a character takes a moral stance that is then reversed in the next episode, or the very next joke they make; when it tells you there’s something wrong with you for being the way you are, or thinking the way you think.


And if you’re black, or if you’re a woman, or if you’re a black woman? I’ve seen enough to know that when you say anything online, you get hateful comments at the very least, and at worst, death threats (or worse?). And that may not even be the half of what you’d have to deal with if you took this on. Yeah, it’s a dumb old sitcom, but I’ve seen people who look like me get upset over far less. The worst I’ve had so far is a message on Facebook. You’ll likely be surrounded and policed by fragile white eggshells, jealous of your strengths and courage.


But if you’re out there? And you take this on? I will eagerly, hungrily read it. I will sit, and I will listen, and I will try to understand the interiors I cannot see. I will know that this is a larger, harder endeavor than Perfect Strangers Reviewed is in more ways than one. I will share your work, and I will encourage your work, and I will defend your work, and I will make stupid jokes in the comments about Waldo, or about Myra. And you’ll tell me I’m racist. And you’ll tell me I’m sexist. And I’ll learn, and I’ll try harder not to be.


Seriously, though, I’m totally ready to make stupid jokes about Myra.

And will anything I’m saying here make a difference to you? Do you need my allyship at all? Those aren’t questions for me to answer. If and when you show up, let’s talk about those things. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here.


Here’s what I know: Balki and Larry didn’t show up in the first episode; Harriette got a new job all by herself; I’m not reviewing Family Matters.

Ding Ding Mahmoud

So, back to the regularly-scheduled programming of white guys and their arguments that matter only to them. I’ll talk about Family Matters again at some point.  After all, it’s informed my readings of long-running sitcoms in general, and Perfect Strangers specifically, so it will be hard not to.

But I wanted to make sure that I said all this, because 80s/90s sitcom reviewing is a thing I’m doing right now. I think it’s a burgeoning community and I even see its potential as an art form. (I try to be an artiste with this blog.) Independent snarky sitcom reviewing is now a domain I have a voice in, and I’m invested in this, and I’d like to see it become more of a “thing”.  I want it to be a good “thing”, because there were plenty of times when the shows themselves certainly weren’t.


Oh yeah, by the way, there’s a Perfect Strangers Reviewed Facebook page, where you can ask me whether I’ll review your favorite show.


Urkel count: I lost track of how many different Urkels there were sometime around season 6

*for some goddam reason

**not “guilty of”–I see some white people confuse the two and try to reject the former

***yet another of the many instances of awful and racially-unaware uses of language you’d get if a white guy reviewed the show

Season 3, Episode 8: Night School Confidential


Remember how, three weeks ago, I was bitching about how this season hadn’t really revealed the dimensions of its characters, and I made that nice bullshit tapestry* out of the opening shot of the Chigaco Chronicle? You either have to take the characters higher (move them along a story in the external world) or deeper (find out more about what’s going on inside them, or what’s happened before).  But finally, FINALLY, we’re going get to see Balki at night school.  This means a third location. This means new characters. It might even mean we get to see Gina for a few seconds before someone shoves her into a restroom.  Shit, I’ll take Balki and Larry chasing Balki’s teacher around a desk if it means a new peek into the daily lives of these days.

Also, remember how the season began with Balki complaining how he had nothing to do but go to work all day every day?  It’s episodes like these that make me think the writers might not have had good communication with each other, because the more I think about Schoolboy Balki, the more I wonder how he hasn’t let every single one of his classmates sleep in Larry’s bed by now. Let’s get going, I know this show will give me plenty of reasons to complain.

Balki: Cousin, hold onto your pants!

Larry was already doing that, but go on…


Balki bought a watch! It’s a Rolex! With “solid quartz crystals and genuine Swiss movements”! (don’t forget about that feather-touch control, Balki…)

Balki won’t let Larry touch his watch.  Balki bought Larry App-le-ton (dammit) a Rolex as well!  Balki launches into this Don Pardo-style announcing bit. Larry is annoyed by it and so am I.

And while everything turns to crap in Larry’s hands generally, for the first time in his life it’s not his fault.  Larry, evidently on a diet, had a completely clean, empty plate in front of him, allowing the watch parts to make loud noises as they fell one by one.


So, anyway, Balki bought the fake Rolex** from Leon, “the human discount department store”.  Okay, okay, okay, wait. It’s obvious this is our twice-per-season “Innocent Balki gets taken advantage of” plot, but the solution to “Your Cheatin’ Heart” is now the initial situation here.  Is it because Malcolm likely stole the typewriter, while Leon makes counterfeits?  Anyway, it looks like we have established our new price range for this season: Balki paid $38.95 for the watches.  Did he stop there, or did he leave some money in his Freddy the Frog Saver account?


He bought Mary Anne (Sagittarius) a “priceless pearl necklace” (don’tmakethejoke) that once “belonged to Elvis Presley”.   (don’tmakethejokedon’tmakethejoke)


The cousins state out loud their opening thesis for the next scene:

Larry: Going to the police department was a complete waste of time


Harriette, somehow invested in every detail of the lives of these two yobbos, asks for more exposition.  Larry badmouths the cops, and this is where we first find out that Harriette has a husband, and that he’s a cop, and that he works in the homicide department. Balki thinks she’s talking about a faraway city, so Harriette leaves in her elevator.  (note to self: have elevator installed next to computer)


Then Balki says “the Princess die is cast” and oh fuck you.  Sidebar here: I read and reviewed the ALF comic series once.  No, it’s fine, the doctors say I’m okay now, but here’s what I came out of that with.  Comics ALF was constantly–like, once per page–whipping out some dumb homophonic pun.  F’rinstance, is there a car also in the panel? ALF says something about putting the “Ellen Barkin brake” on.  Is he in a scene with Lynn? He calls her “Lynn-a-mint” or some stupid mess. So this is what we have now.  Whenever Balki gets a line, I’m guessing the writers just wrote it the way a normal character would say it, and then just free-associated off of all of the words in the line.  I guess I should be grateful we didn’t get the runner-up for this line, which was probably “the die is casting couch”. Okay, we’re discussing whether the cousins can do anything about their situation–

Balki: No use crying over spilt curds.


Larry: Do you know what I’m thinking?

Balki: Is it a number between 1 and 10?


Balki: Is it bigger than a head cheese?

Is this man even going to the classes at the school? Does he spend all his time in the bathroom because the door says “Boys” and that’s how schools were divided up on Mypos?


Larry finally gets out his idea: infiltrate the cheap knockoff crime ring (it’s a whole ring now? okay) and use his position as a guy who writes two-sentence articles for the city’s “most powerful newspaper” to expose them.  Balki isn’t buying into the plan until Larry tells him that it will be “just like Miami Vice”.


Balki: Can I be Don Johnson?

Complain though I will about everything else Balki does, at least Pop Culture Balki is consistent.

Larry: We’ll tell him we wanna make a big buy, but we only want to deal with the boss.

Balki: Bruce Springsteen is involved in this?


Soon, at our third location, “Adult Evening Classes”…






…contain your orgasms.


Larry starts in with his Mexican accent (last seen in the episode where Larry was trying to flee for his life from ethnic crimeboss Vince Lucas, but this show’s not racist) and strolls up to a guy asking “where the action”.



There’s a nice little joke about Balki putting down Larry’s accent, and then Leon shows up. I didn’t watch Miami Vice, and I have no plans to.  The only Don Johnson movie I’ve seen is Dead Bang, you know, the one where he’s a troubled cop who pukes on suspects? So I’m just going to assume that these outfits hilariously miss the mark. I remember in Billy Superstar’s Full House reviews how there was some dress that one of the kids didn’t want to wear to school, and how Billy didn’t know what the joke was supposed to be.  I get that Larry is being ridiculous with his choice of clothing (probably because Balki wasn’t there to tell him not to be). But now we meet Leon, and Leon’s dressed similarly, if scuzzier? So… did Larry get it right?


(Also, hey, look, Leon’s played by Lee Arenberg, who was also the Human Flame in Freaked! ALF had Michu Meszaros; Michael Stoyanov was on Blossom.  Wait, did every actor from Freaked appear on an 80s sticom? William Sadler on Hard Time on Planet Earth; Alex Zuckerman on Family Ties; Megan Ward on Out of This World; Patti Tippo on The Nutt House; Jeff Kahn on Blossom; Derek McGrath on Who’s the Boss?; Mr. T on Diff’rent Strokes; okay, looks like Keanu, Quaid, Winter, Shields and Goldthwait all escaped that fate. I was worried for a moment.)

Sorry, while I was busy rabbit-holing, Balki was introducing Larry as a big player in the crime world and shaking his imaginary tits around.

Larry asks if they can set up a meeting with the big boss so he can drop some big money, which Leon agrees to.  Also, before we move on to whatever physical comedy is about to ensue, I’ve got to point out that Larry keeps rubbing his chest and his stomach when he pretends to be a crook.  Is this some sort of sublimated sexual gesture? I mean, I said I wanted some character depth, but this elevator took me too far down.


Anyway, back in the apartment, we find that Larry has decided to fight fire with fire. He’s been cutting up green paper for the past hour, and explains every detail of the plan. And because I’m SO SURE that every detail of the plan matters, and we won’t end up with Balki just turning Larry sideways, I’ll mention them here: The fat stacks of fake cash*** will all have $20 bills on top to fool the criminals. Larry will be wearing a wire, Balki will be wearing a bulky tape recorder, and Larry wants Balki to start recording (over a tape of “Motown’s Biggest Pop Hits”) after he says a certain phrase (“let’s make a deal”).  Can Balki remember one particular phrase?


They spend an inordinate amount of time on whether the criminals will be able to “grab the money” from the briefcase before Larry can close it.


Larry asks if Balki has a better plan.


But just like in “Snow Way to Treat a Lady”, he doesn’t.

Larry: If there were, the Miami Vice writers would have thought of it long ago!



In the well-lit foyer of the schoolhouse, Balki yells for Leon to come out and play.  Leon finally comes in and Larry demands to see the boss.  But then Balki opens his mouth

Balki: The boss… Mr. Big…


Balki: …the top banana man…


Balki: … the headless honcho…


Balki: …the kingpin…the Godfather…


Balki: …the big Cheese Whiz


Larry shuts him up, then Leon goes off and comes back with–oh man, give me a few minutes, I just crapped my pants.


Wow, do you see these guys? They’re tall! One of them’s black! The main guy, Fat Jack, has such disdain for social norms that he has fucking removed the sleeves from his shirt. But I’m not worried about Balki and Larry–they know karate!

Larry keeps trying to give the cue to turn on the tape recorder with the agreed-upon phrase , but there’s only room in Balki’s head for one catchphrase, so Larry has to take him two feet away and whisper (scream) “trrnonetaperecrrdr” over and over again.


Then the cousins talk very explicitly and loudly about the counterfeit watches they’re going to pay $15,000 for, and, uh… everybody seems to have gotten into the school all right, even though it’s midnight.  Why aren’t Fat Jack, Black Jack, and Third Jack just breaking into the classrooms and stealing overhead projectors and desks or whatever? Plus, nobody mentions how Third Jack’s jaw appears to be broken, which is more troubling than any of the plot holes in this episode.  Fat Jack demands to see the money, and Larry successfully pulls off closing the briefcase in time. Fat Jack then just grabs the briefcase and busts it open.  Then he says that the cousins are “dead meat”; yeah, Miami Vice writers, let’s see you top THAT for bad-guy dialogue.  This is it, cousins, show these guys those karate moves!


Balki pretends that he has a gun and-

Balki: I’m packing a heater.


Balki: I’ve got a scratchy trigger finger.


Me too, I give up.

Then that Motown joke pays off big time when reason #9 the DVD releases stopped with season 2: The Supremes’s “Baby Love” starts playing.


But, even though we heard the part of the song with the title in it, the bad guys debate what song it was. Except for the black guy, who corrects them, because he’s black, and because the song was sung by black people, and they all know each other. The joke’s about as bad as that cop handcuffed to the criminal in “Happy Birthday Baby”.

Then we finally find out why there’s been this giant telephone booth in the middle of a school hallway–it’s so that Balki and Larry can spend their last moments calling up a phone sex line.


Fat Jack breaks the phone booth glass and rips out the receiver.  Leon and Third Jack hold the cousins still so that Fat Jack can strangle them with the receiver cord.  Man, two episodes in a row where Larry gets choked, what are the odds…


oh, no, wait, Black Jack is a cop! And then a bunch of cops appear out of thin air thanks to the magic of camera angles.  But then Balki repeats all the nasty things Larry said about cops at the beginning of the episode, so Larry gets arrested.


Later, back in the apartment, Larry reads aloud his one-sentence article in the Chronicle (I’m not even kidding). Then Balki says another couple of dumb Balki lines.  I’m not going to go back and count them, but damn if this episode doesn’t feel like it hit a record for Balki saying things wrong. I mean, to the point where they just relied on him rattling off lists of them. The Rolex fake and broken, time stopped, the world of Perfect Strangers condensed into one stretched moment of Balki lines, detritus from the past echoing endlessly, large men in vests, ethnic accents, discount merchandise, of course not, small men fooling Balki, Motown, imaginary tits, baby love, since i lost my baby, happy birthday baby, hello baby, don’t be ridiculous, baby you can drive my car, baby, Balki, baby, forever a baby, fallen into the basement, no longer growing, Balki Blechtrommelmous, baby


I’m sorry, but this week was wearying. I mean it really wore me down and out.  I’m dead on your feet.  I’m car exhausted. I’m sick and radial tired. I’m Ellen Barkin brake.

Join me next week when I’ll try to escape the past and review “Future Shock”!


Catchphrase count: Balki (3); Larry (0)

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




Season 2, Episode 1: Hello Baby

Season 2 is here, and after a summer full of painstaking research, focus groups, and number-crunching, ABC shows its commitments to both its audience and its shareholders by bringing back everybody’s favorite aspect of the first season of Perfect Strangers: using the word “baby” in episode titles.

Before I start reviewing this season, I’d like to take a moment to discuss what kind of lengths I’m willing to go to for jokes.  I’ve been doing a webcomic for a while now (which you can read here), and one of the storylines I have planned for it requires that I have deep knowledge of the character of Kimmy Gibbler.  So what do I do? I watch every goddamn episode of Full House and transcribe not only Kimmy’s lines, but any other facts about her mentioned by other characters (I’ve been posting Kimmy’s dialogue on Twitter for a while now; you can read it here).  It wasn’t entirely self-torture because Kimmy Gibbler was one of the few bright spots in the 8 years of that show. In fact, it gave me somewhat of an appreciation for what Billy Superstar went through for Full House Reviewed: I just watched the damn show, but he committed to stretching it over many years, not only thinking about it, but writing about it.  Poor guy.

Anyway, I said that to say this: watching the entire run of Full House in the span of a few months revealed to me how much ABC would tinker with their shows from season to season.  Characters dropped, characters added, relationships evolving, and then de-evolving to their previous state, one-off actors/characters tested in the back half of a season would show up as recurring ones the next.  And I haven’t crunched the numbers on it, but the number of lines Kimmy would get on average levelled out (or, if you’re of a cynical bent, “became formulaic”) in the last two seasons.  Earlier seasons had a few fairly Kimmy-heavy episodes. By the end of the show, she showed up more often, but plots didn’t feature her heavily quite so often.  What I’m saying is this: like any corporation, ABC loves money, and viewers=money.  A company that’s willing to apply formula to roughly how many lines recurring characters would get can’t be trusted to keep things consistent from one season to the next, or even one episode to the next.

With that in mind, let’s see what changes with Perfect Strangers in Season 2!


We open this season at Ritz Discount, so we know they still have their jobs, which means Twinkacetti’s still around, which gives me hope that Mrs. Twinkacetti is there too.  Anyway, Cousin Larry is helping Balki dolly a refrigerator into the shop.


Evidently test audiences seemed to love Larry saying “lift… and push” over and over last season, because he keeps saying variations on “Bring it straight down here, and we’ll just swing it in”.  Balki questions his role in the Ritz hierarchy, being relegated to pushing heavy objects around while Cousin Larry tells him what to do.  Larry says that someone has to be in charge; that his role is to plan, and Balki’s role is to carry out that plan.  Balki crushes Larry behind the refrigerator, a fitting aperitif for those who like Larry getting maimed.  But the joke is still on Balki because Balki’s so dumb he thinks that their roles are totally fair!  Haha, isn’t it great to treat foreigners like shit?


Speaking of foreigners, here’s another one and her name’s Gina Morelli!  Gee, I wonder where she’s from?  She’s in the citizenship class with Balki and she’s very obviously pregnant.


She gets Larry out from behind the fridge and Larry comments that she’s very strong for someone in her “condition”.  Gina starts crying and telling this whole story about how her husband’s a truck driver, but he’s out of town and she just got evicted from her apartment.  Holy shit, did they just give a woman three personality traits in, like, the first minute of the second season?  I can only imagine how jealous Tina was when she saw this episode.

Cousin Larry agrees to help her before he realizes that means her staying in the apartment, and damn, boy, what is with you?  We’re supposed to believe that Larry is just being put-upon by housing not one, but now two (count ‘em, two!) foreigners.  Larry seems to enjoy looking like he’s willing to help people out, but when it actually comes time to do so, he starts backpedaling.  That seems to be a theme shared by this show, ALF, and Full House. Who were these shows catering to that networks thought Larry Appleton, Willie Tanner, and Danny Tanner were main characters your average viewer could relate to?  What, were white middle-class audiences of the time just assholes who didn’t want anyone impinging on their life in any way at all?  Sheesh.

Anyway, Larry ends up giving up his bed, and Balki sells Gina on the idea of it by saying that Larry has a blanket that plugs into the wall, yet neither of them knows what it does.  *ahem* Balki, there was a joke last season about Larry’s electric blanket. So Balki’s brain has been reset; a change and not a change at the same time.


We come back from commercials to the apartment, where Balki and Gina are saying their good-nights and thank-yous to each other in their own foreign languages; in the foreground, Larry’s doing a stupid walk and pretending to talk like them.  Then Larry bitches about how Gina has the TV in the bedroom and he doesn’t get to watch it.  Those test audiences sure enjoyed how much of an asshole Cousin Larry is.

Speaking of test audiences and their love of assholes, I’ll mention that this season premiered in the fall of 1986, a few months after the first season finished up.  It’s almost as if word spread through offices across America that, hey, did you see that new show on ABC about the two guys who live together?  I bet they’re gay, don’t you think so?  Take this episode as ABC’s response: you want two guys sharing an apartment, who are also gay maybe?  Here, we’ll make them share a bed, too!  Larry and Balki disrobe, revealing that Balki has Spider-Man pajamas.


And then the writers just frigging step all over the joke by having Larry ask “what are those” and Balki tell him what they are.  And then they stretch it out further by having Larry ask “why are you wearing those”; evidently Balki’s He-Man pajamas are in the laundry.  Then Balki tries to sneak it in by sitting down before Larry.  All right!  It’s fuckin’ time!


Balki fumbles his way through pillow talk, but Larry doesn’t understand what Balki means by “the hot side of the bed”.  Then Balki shoves Dmitri’s ass in Larry’s face.


Poor Balki! When he tries to be physical, it’s too much, too soon for Cousin Larry; when he tries to use sweet talk, it’s incomprehensible. Larry asks “what’s in my face?” rather than just pulling his head back and looking like a reasonable person would.  Dammit, is every joke on this show going to be repeated now?  Is telling every joke twice an oblique reference to this being Season 2?

Anyway, the rest of the episode is Larry telling Balki how to engage in American foreplay. Balki misunderstands the word “tease” and insults Larry’s penis.  Larry fumes, drinks a Cosmo-app-le-ton (antacid, triple sec, lime), and they both say their catchphrases at the height of orgasm. Larry learns a valuable lesson: that sincere efforts in the bedroom are just as sexy as good blowies.

Nah, just kidding, Balki says his bedside prayers, which are really just a way to be passive-aggressive about Larry having thrown Dmitri on the floor. Say, maybe Balki does understand intimate relationships in America!  Larry apologizes, but Balki makes him apologize to Dmitri, so I’ll drop the sex bit for a minute to point out how they’re infantilizing Balki again.  Balki drops the bombshell that Gina’s already two weeks past the baby’s due date.  Oh no!  Larry is right to be worried, since Gina’s water breaking will no doubt get all over the electric blanket.


After the commercials, we find that Larry has been timing Balki and Gina to make sure they’re able to get out the door to the hospital quickly.  There’s a nice little callback to the refrigerator scene as Larry tells Balki to “swing her around” as they get Gina back to bed.


Larry hangs three coats successfully. Remember this. This is important.

Larry blames Balki for not having told him Gina was pregnant.  I was going to gripe about how Larry commented on Gina’s “condition” at the top of the episode, and just remarked on how she was carrying “life” inside her in the previous scene.  I was *this close* to just assuming that the line was supposed to be “overdue” and just move on, but Balki’s follow-up line cements that Mark Linn-Baker said his line as written.  So…what the hell.


Balki explains how childbirth works on Mypos.

Balki: In Mypos have a baby very natural! The woman is working in the field… she takes a short break… she has her baby… and then she cooks dinner for 11 men.

That may seem like a hugely imbalanced sex ratio, but I’m guessing that every Myposian woman not washing her hands after childbirth means that every household there has its own little Typhoid Mary.

Larry says that sitcom structure demands that his character type force everyone into a plan.  Does Balki have a plan?


Larry says “fuck your agri-centric plan, mine’s better” and they go through it one more time.  So now we’ve spent the past three minutes 1) establishing that they’ve been practicing Larry’s plan, 2) hustling Gina off-screen, 3) hanging coats, 4) retconning the episode’s first scene, 5) Balki questioning the plan, and 5) Larry demanding they practice the plan again.  Now we can move on to–oh, no, wait, Larry wants to practice the plan one more time.  I was getting excited about how many character traits Gina had accumulated, but then they just shoved her off into the bedroom so Larry and Balki could play pad-a-show?

During their final practice run, Balki keeps derailing the process.  He wants to know why he has to do the grunt work (lifting the “su-itcase”; cf “grapefru-it” from season 1) while Larry does all the talking and directing.  Well, color me impressed, because this means that this episode’s theme was established in the first minute.  Perfect Strangers is not without its problems, but I’ll give it this: it generally knows what it’s trying to do and puts forth efforts to do it.

Then Balki acts like a child, whining about how he wants to be the one to make the phone call to the hospital.  Larry accedes, and we learn Balki’s idea of calling the hospital:


Balki: Hello hospital… baby is coming!

And all of a sudden I miss the sexually aggressive Balki from “First Date”. After the practice run, Larry starts talking some bullshit about how he’s like Eisenhower the day before D-Day, so I guess they’re both just overgrown children.

Then Gina wakes them up to tell them she’s been in labor “for a long time” but didn’t tell them because she wanted them to get their sleep.  Cousin Larry starts fumbling around because, remember, 80s sitcom audiences needed motion in addition to colors and sounds to keep them awake for a whole 22 minutes.  Larry keeps this up for awhile, going on a rager and throwing things around the apartment because he can’t find his keys.  Some planner you are, Cousin Larry.  Balki slaps Larry and thank God.

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Somebody had to get this episode back on track!  It was spiraling out of control because the third location was just as overdue as Gina’s baby.


They drive around Chicago’s famous Green Screen District for awhile, Larry screams and freaks out, and Gina has her baby in the car.  I have to imagine that if aliens learned about modern American society solely from sitcoms, they’d get the impression that the majority of children are delivered in cars, restaurants, or in every part of the hospital but the delivery room.

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Larry just can’t even.  How sheltered were you, Cousin Larry?  From the opening credits, I know that at least three of your siblings are younger than you.  Larry looks in the back seat and promptly passes out, this obviously being the first time he’s ever seen a vagina.


Back in the apartment, Balki leads Larry to his armchair.

Balki: Well, little boy, we had a big day.

You know what?  Even with how padded that middle section was with them talking about practicing Larry’s plan, and how many jokes they repeated, I’m going to admit I like this episode. Balki acting like a kid is now excused, because it works as subtextual buildup reinforcing the role reversal that Larry and Balki experience in the third act of most episodes.  Ultimately, this episode is a good statement of the relationship between the two main characters as well as the show’s thesis.  Larry thinks he knows how everything works in America, and thinks he’s showing his foreign cousin the ropes; but knowing how things work isn’t the same as experiencing them (you know, like vaginas).  Balki acknowledging that he doesn’t know so much makes him more receptive to learning, while things not matching the ideal makes Larry break down and miss the experience. Ultimately, each has something to teach the other.  At its core, it’s the narrative that I spoke to last week: that technologically advanced societies tell themselves: in their rush for progress, they have lost something important of their humanity, and that those less advanced are more pure of heart.  It’s also basically a variation on the “magical negro” trope, that those who are less than us (“us” being the modern white man, natch) will forever selflessly make efforts to help us. (Or, one could argue, Balki’s childish mannerisms put this in the “children have no internalized barriers and always speak the truth” camp.)

Anyway, the show is doing what it set out to do, which is one of the things I wanted to keep an eye on.  I am curious to see how well they’re able to keep up that theme, and the main relationship, over the course of 8 seasons.


Then the music comes on, and Balki says “Cousin…” and the audience all say “Awwww”.  Oh, for fuck’s sake, I was just reservedly singing your praises, show, and then you had to go and tell the audience to say “awwww” before it was really deserved.  And then Balki tells us another Myposian saying, which he says in his native tongue; outside of the earlier scene in this episode, it’s essentially the first time we hear him speak his own language.  And then he explains that the saying means “If everyone knew how to herd sheep, there would be no one to write poetry”.

…isn’t that basically what Larry was trying to teach Balki at the beginning of the episode? That division of labor is sensible because everyone has different abilities?  I thought the episode’s message was clear, but these kind of shows have to tell you what the lesson is because, you know, we are idiots.  After all, we’re watching television instead of reading books.  But they really botched the landing here at the end. I think I may smell producer notes.


So, on balance, it seems that not much has changed, though the season is still young.  Actually, given the short length of the first season, it’s probably not unfair to consider this the show’s second chance at an introductory episode. So let’s do what we did with Season 1 “Knock, Knock, Who’s There?” and see if the last line of dialogue reveals the show’s thesis:

Balki: Let’s go out and paint the town red, white, and blue!  But first, let’s put on our pants!

That about sums it up, right? Because they’re gay?

(I’ll admit that was a long way to go for a crummy gay joke, but I warned you at the outset of this review that when I commit to a joke, I commit.)


See you next week for “Hunks Like Us”!


Catchphrase count: Balki (1), Larry (0, even though Balki slapped him)

Boner count: Balki (0), Larry (0, unless you count the one he obviously has for Eisenhower)

P.S. Larry’s car appears to be a cherry ride, answering my question from “Baby, You Can Drive My Car”.