Season 4, Episode 18: Car Wars

Dammit, I had to go and skip the one about cars last season, didn’t I? The show found out and now it’s forcing me to watch an episode where Larry’s wrong about cars.


At the Caldwell Hotel, we find Cousin Larry once again losing his shit because of an over-dunked cookie. As we learned a month ago, milk ruins everything.


Balki rushes in excited because he raised up enough money to buy a car. Remember, kids, this was the 80s, back when “a car” cost a specific amount of money. Balki cashed his paycheck, withdrew all his savings, and gathered up a bunch of homeless people and forced them to sell their plasma.


Cousin Larry tells him he has to do research in Consumer Reports and know what he wants in a car before buying one.  Balki responds with a move called “The Price Searcher”.

Balki has decided that he wants to buy a car from a place he saw on television: Honest Achmed’s Used Car Caravan.

Larry: How can I say this tactfully…

I’ll do it so you don’t have to, Larry. Arabs are crooks because they are foreigners and worship a false god! And if that’s not bad enough, they have brown skin and wear weird stuff on their heads!

Nah, j/k, this show isn’t racist at all: Larry explains that “Achmed” is just some weasel named Burt. He offers Balki the Appleton Used Car Rating System (AUCRS), telling him that if he carefully follows all of its commands, he’ll receive blessings; but if he does not, curses will overtake him.


Evidently the “looking into the future” thing has become another running bit. Seems like this week’s secret word is “appropriation”, kids.  Burt appropriates another culture’s dress and mannerisms; Larry has stolen Claire Hayden’s soothsaying. In both cases, minorities are disrespected in service of the white man’s goal: lie to a different minority. There’s a good chance I might not like this episode.


Cousin Larry says that in the future, he will have some sort of medical emergency in the middle of the night (burst appendix, toxic levels of calcium in his kidneys from too much Bismol, prolapsed rectum) and that Balki’s car won’t start and he’ll die.  Balki starts screaming, because


and he can’t stand the thought of losing anyone else so soon.

Psychology sidebar: promotion vs prevention focus. After almost four seasons, Balki having multiple lifelong dreams has allowed for them to follow a generalized arc. Graduating high school/entering college; playing with dinosaur toys/riding a motorcycle; putting someone in jail/going to jail.  Sure, there’s a loose theme of doing “American” things (karate, putting fish down your pants, buying a typewriter), but Balki mainly wants new experiences that Mypos could never offer him. He usually couches his approach as wanting to have “fun”, but to Balki, this often means “new”. And America has been the perfect place for him to do this, as he’s found very few obstacles to getting the major things he needs and wants (housing, a job, a pudgy tummy to rub at parties).

Larry, on the other hand, has struggled to get everything he’s ever gained.  He may only be 27, but when he’s not crying about how someone pushed him on the playground, he acts like someone in their late 40s.  Cousin Larry is trying desperately to hold onto what he has, and is hypervigilant about threats to what he’s trying to achieve.  You’ve probably heard some variation on the saying “If you aren’t a liberal when you’re young, you have no heart, but if you aren’t a middle-aged conservative, you have no head.”  I take serious issue with it, but I think it does reflect a small-t truth: that what’s important changes to you as you age.

What I’m getting at here is that Balki is promotion-focussed, essentially a teenager, understanding risks but putting much more weight in the rewards.  Larry is prevention-focussed, already middle-aged, understanding too well how many forms risks can take.  Here, at least, it is actually true: Balki sees things one way, and Larry sees things another way.

But if you think I’m going to unequivocally compliment this show, hello, welcome to this blog.  It’s all fine and good that Larry try to convey to Balki what the risks are, but shouldn’t they be real risks?  He’s banking on Balki not remembering that ambulances exist, or that other people live in the same building.  Larry’s being an asshole instead of telling Balki that he’s wiped out his savings for a used car, leaving him no money for repairs (not to mention next semester’s textbooks); instead of telling Balki that he has a bank account and can get a loan; instead of telling Balki how cool it’s going to be having any car.

Larry’s not done being an asshole yet.  He’s forced Balki to beg for that sweet, sweet AUCRS, and then demands that Balki hand over all his money.

I mean, I realize that an episode where Larry says “Hey, let’s use the Blue Book” would take approximately five minutes, but can’t Larry just explain how his dad’s rating system works?  I mean, he’s back to deliberately not explaining things to Balki again.  Sure, in this scene alone, we get the impression that Balki needs everything explained to him (he wants a personalized license plate with a message 13 words long), so maybe Larry’s tired of it. But at least he could– no, wait, sorry, having Balki misunderstand things is funnier than Larry explaining things. My apologies.

Harriette has brought Lydia to the basement to watch Larry do his thang–*cough*–sorry, hair in my throat, I’m not racist–his thing.

Cousin Larry has used two different computer programs: one to create a list of every used vehicle in Chicago; and another to apply criteria to narrow the list.  Remind me why this spends his time buying sandwiches for bosses who’d rather let him rot in prison than give him an actual writing assignment?

But because it is Larry who has prefigured car-locating websites by about 20 years, Harriette’s treating it like a sideshow and Lydia asks if he wet the bed as a child. There’s a short discussion about whether it’s important to like the car, or for the car to last a long time, and I’m glad that the show chose this set of people to have the discussion. It wouldn’t have made any sense for Balki to take a position opposite Larry’s.  Anyways, we find out that Larry’s dad picked out the Mustang for him; if season 1 is still canon, he evidently made Larry pay him back with any change he picked up off the sidewalk.

I’m really going to side with Larry on this system, but, you know, I have been in a couple of positions where I sort-of managed people.  No matter how perfect your system is, you really do have to get buy-in from the people who will carry it out.

Balki runs in and says he found the car of his dreams in the parking garage.  He likes it because it’s red. I mean, if you’re going to have a phallic symbol, why pretend that’s not the goal?  His other reasons are that the car has mudflaps*, an antenna that leans back, and a Garfield toy in the window. But what good would it do to explain to Balki that you can paint a car and buy after-market accessories? He just had a stroke.


Anyway, that car didn’t pass the AUCRS. Blah blah, having fun/having a good car. Balki asks if Larry was breast-fed.


Larry tacitly and shamefully admits that even his mom wouldn’t let him near her tits.


We break for commercial and we come back at the top floor of General Motors headquarters, where Balki is forcing the CEO to count the number of bolts in all the late-model Oldsmobile Cutlasses.


Oh, no, wait, it’s the Chronicle. They come out of the elevator into the parking garage, where Cousin Larry has parked Balki’s used car.


There are only two cars in the parking garage, so Balki looks at the wrong one.


Balki tries to hump the car, and then starts jumping up and down about the car being a convertible.

So, here’s some Perfect Strangers thinking for you: Larry and Balki have a fight about postal fraud, so half the episode takes place at a car dealership. Larry gets into a fight over a parking spot, so the entirety of their interactions takes place in the basement office of the Chronicle.  Larry buys Balki a used car, so most of the episode is in the parking garage.


And again Larry has trouble with keys; typically we see him keyless, but here, his repeated attempts to press the wrong/unwanted car keys into Balki’s hands fail.


Larry, giggling like the excitedly unaware father he is, leads Balki to the car.  When Balki starts it, it begins to smoke.


We return after the break to the most important car garage in the US, where we learn that cars work exactly the same at showers: Cousin Larry evidently intends to fix this problem with a single wrench.


Balki can’t start the car, so Larry’s appendix bursts.

Nah, j/k, Balki wants to take the car back, but Larry refuses because his pride is on the line, plus his belief in his father’s supremacy is being challenged by Balki’s insults.


Larry suggests that they touch screwdrivers (hee) to the battery’s terminals to see if it has any juice left.  Women in the audience start doing some “oh no” noises** and laughing about what’s going to happen next.


Balki explicitly mentions how closed circuits work. Then he touches his cousin and they get electrocuted.

Like, are handles of their screwdrivers made of some conductive type of metal? And also did Balki fucking leave the key turned in the car? There’s no way this could work, but there they are, jittering like two master Elvis impersonators. I’m beginning to not like this episode.


I’m laughing out of sheer incredulity that the camera keeps zooming in on the Chronicle. I mean, there wasn’t even a commercial break there.  I mean, if you want to indicate the passage of time


Okay, they’ve changed their clothes, but–

Have a coworker walk by and say goodnight on their way out! Have Harriette make fun of them! Have Larry hastily try to justify himself to RT Wainwright by saying that he’s working to expose shady used car dealerships! Jeeeeez.

Larry says that he’s done so much for Balki, and Balki says that it’s his fault so much has gone wrong.  And, you know what? As much as it would have been a repeat of that episode I didn’t watch last season, I would kind of prefer an episode where Balki is naively deflecting the car salesman’s questions about what he wants. Can you picture it? Balki asking why all the dealership says that every single car is an “Asis” when he can clearly see that they are Toyotas, Hondas, Chevrolets, etc.? Balki, during the test drive, taking the salesman to his college campus to see how it looks parked; or going to Bob’s MARKET to see how well the backseat safety belts will hold his grocery bags.


The cousins hug and get electrocuted again.


Nah, j/k, I’m barely even paying attention at this point.  Larry said “oil” so you can all guess what happens next.


Evidently Larry has bought hundreds of dollars worth of car repair items: a Craftsman tool chest, shop towels, a mechanic’s creeper, and a whole case of motor oil. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to like this episode.

Balki starts to ask about putting in the oil, and Larry just shouts at him to get it over with and pour the oil on him


I used to have a car that used as much oil as it did gas, and here’s a tip for you: Balki’s holding the bottle the wrong way around.  You want the spout at the top when you turn the bottle sideways. This assures that the oil does not block the spout completely while you pour, and it won’t get everywhere. Not that this has any bearing on where the scene is trying to go.




Seriously, though, this is when Harriette should have walked in.

And the next scene takes place

Guess where

guess c’mon guess

Can you guess where?


We’ve spent 90% of this episode in the Chronicle’s parking garage.  The cousins say out loud a summary of the rest of the episode, lest they forget what they spent 36 hours straight doing.


The cousins get in the car, and Balki is so happy that he makes the same face I did when someone ran over my foot once.

Balki turns the key, and a mysterious metallic noise swells. The sound rises, and when it finds its voice through Larry Appleton, you know that an awful joke is coming.

The show even goes to the trouble to make sure that Balki verbally confirms that D stands for Drive so that you know exactly what the joke is.


The joke is that they put the car back together wrong because they are not good at cars.


But yeah, despite the fact that this is not how gearboxes work


and the fact that this is not how walls made out of cinderblock work


and the fact that you can see stuff behind the cinderblocks in one shot, but not in another


it was the funny thing to do… right?


I mean, it must be.

Balki points out that the crucial missing piece of the AUCRS is the ability to admit to failure.

*holds up mirror to half the episodes this season*

To me, because I am a real person, the lesson should be that any system is only as good as the information put into it. It’s not Larry’s fault that some dealer lied about a car, or that, by chance, some unusually high number of parts stopped working at the same time.  Some cars last longer if you drive them every day instead of letting them sit on a lot for months.  I think that the worst I can say about Larry’s system is he should have recalibrated it to give him more than one car.  This way he could have allowed Balki to have a say in the matter.

Later, at the apartment, we learn that they traded in the shitty car to Honest Achmed for something red (hee).

Larry apologizes and they talk about ugly cars for a minute. Evidently it doesn’t matter how well a car runs or how long it lasts, because if it’s ugly it sucks. This explains a lot about their girlfriends, doesn’t it?


Larry tells Balki to not admit to knocking down the parking garage wall, and Li’l Balki, the Most Honest Little Boy in the World just up and agrees.

Now that I’ve written all my thoughts (plus the requisite three jokes) about this episode, I find I have some more. “Car Wars” is actually a pretty good example of what Perfect Strangers has become in its fourth season.  Despite the sneaking suspicion that these plots are (ahem) reverse-engineered from the desired physical comedy scene, there’s still at least an effort to have it based in some sort of disagreement.  Here, there’s a decent setup for this show, and buying a car taps into Balki and Larry’s personalities–enough for me to suss out some realistic depth in what’s going on for them psychologically.  But the show made a decision this season to be The New Laurel and Hardy, meaning that the paths that situation could take were severely limited.  I’ll have more to say about this in the season review, but I just want to say here that the show took an easy route that allowed the cousins to do physical comedy around a single object.  You’ve got the basic setup, Larry approaching something the wrong way (even if it’s likely the smarter way), a token appearance by any two supporting characters, and then physical comedy until it’s time to go home.  Plus it’s got tropes that I remember from when I was a child. We’ve seen self-important game show hosts, biker gangs, overpriced camping equipment, expensive “self-help” pop psychology, and here, shady–and gimmicky–used car dealers.  But I’m pointing to this episode as a prototypical example of season 4 Perfect Strangers not because it’s good, or because it’s exceptional, or because it delivered on a good situation; really, it’s more that the most odious thing here wasn’t sexism, just that the writers assumed their audience was dumb enough to forget for a minute that screwdrivers usually have plastic or rubber handles. So what’s my take on a (ahem) middle-of-the-road episode of Perfect Strangers?


I didn’t like it.

Come back next week for “Just a Gigolo” where the cousins meet David Lee Roth!


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

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

*just like I like my women

**hey, I hear women mostly, there’s a guy or two laughing

Season 3, Episode 18: The Defiant Guys

Welcome to another TGIF (These Guys is Funny)!

We open at the Caldwell, where a fully-dressed Larry asks Balki if they have any more dental floss.  That is one of the things that always runs out first, isn’t it?  Especially when all you eat is the Paoli’s Meat Gobbler pizza and you get all those fennel seeds stuck between your molars.


Balki, on the other hand, is in his Mypos jammies eating Sugar Oatsies, which I assume is also made by Unicorn. When I’m buzzing the Kellogg factory, I know I’ll need the pep that you can only get from oatsies, so I reach for Sugar Oatsies! Balki says something about being out of dental floss, but take a look out that window.  Don’t the cousins live on the second floor?

Larry: Oh great, just when I could really use the confidence that a good flossing gives me.

When I really need the confidence that a good flossing gives me, I reach for Stringacetti Brand Dental Floss – “Men do those things for their teeth”.  I actually kind of like this weenie version of Larry.  But Larry’s dressed already because Mr. Burns is taking him to lunch.  I know some of you out there are older than me, so please tell me: was lunch at like 9 in the morning back then?

Larry thinks that somehow, unlike every other low-stakes situation he’s ever faced, he’ll manage not to screw this one up by wearing his lucky tie and his lucky socks, and his–


oh no Larry found a lump

Nah, j/k, Larry can’t find his lucky pen, you know, the same one that almost got him killed early this season?  The cousins talk about the function and use of pens for awhile, and Larry even hands Balki a cup full of pens. Certainly something that we spend so much time on is going to have a huge impact on the rest of the episode, right?


Then, for the third time this season, Larry does not have the right keys, but hasn’t Larry already become synonymous with not achieving one’s dreams? Does he even still need a symbol for it?  It’s revealed that this time, Balki is the culprit, having given Larry’s car keys to Jennifer.*

But did Balki take all the empty Bismol bottles out of the backseat???


Balki brags about how he got to feel a thankful Jennifer’s breasts brush momentarily against his chest, but Larry is more upset about how he now must take the bus with the unwashed masses.

ABC, deep into its fight against such evils at satellite dishes and *shiver* basic cable, knew that some portion of its audience may well have been changing the channel from TBS.  Those of you who were children of the late 90s or even *shiver* the aughts may not know that the TBS Superstation used to begin its programs at 5 minutes past the hour or half-hour.  This was a clever tactic on the part of Ted Turner, seen here in this undated photograph:


It was clever because it kept viewers tuned into the Superstation, where they could actually see such classic television as The Andy Griffith Show, Gilligan’s Island, and as much Woody Woodpecker as they could stomach.  At any rate, ABC knew that it had to hook those viewers quick, so writer John B. Collins (no relation) here has Larry recap the situation Balki has put him in:


Larry: Because of you I can’t floss, I wasted precious time looking for my lucky pen, and now I have to take the bus!

But Balki says that Larry can’t leave yet, because they have to talk about having made him angry.  And props to Larry for having better presence of mind to say very clearly how he’s feeling and that he doesn’t have time. That’s better than I do when I’m pissed off at you terrible shit-suckers who read this blog!


Later, at the Chicago Chronicle basement, some Hispanic woman comes on screen, hands Balki a mailbag, and leaves, and then a black guy walks in front of the camera.


Get those ethnic people out of the basement! An old white woman is coming down the stairs!


Balki tries to tell Mrs. Van Weezer, Society Editor, about his bad day, but she doesn’t give crap one about the cousins! Finally, a REAL woman!  She’s there to make sure that Balki mailed an RSVP, and goes so far as to namedrop herself in the process. Hoo! She’s quite the rage! But we wouldn’t want to set up something in the first act that would cause her to be angry later on, would we, Balki?


Look at Balki’s face, he’s so grateful that such an important personage gave him such a good catchphrase setup.

Mrs. Van Weezer, Society Editor, calls Balki a cretin, and he mistakes it for a regional joke, and for once, his misunderstandings work. I’m grateful, too.

But it turns out that Balki did not remove a card that was paper-clipped to the outside of envelope, on which Mrs. Van Weezer, Society Editor, shit-talked the Porterfield family.

*leans back in chair, smiles wanly*

Here it is, sitcom logic’s finally going to work against Balki. Who cares that paperclips would fall off in a full mailbag inside a mailtruck, Gorpley’s finally got grounds to fire Balki.  Mrs. Van Weezer’s gonna edit this guy right OUT of her society!


(just in case she doesn’t die by the end of the episode, I’m calling this as her catchphrase)

Harriette ushers an upset Larry into the basement. Balki continues to try to reestablish rapport, but Larry just keeps moving too quickly for me to get a clear enough screenshot for you to see Lydia in this scene.


Not only did Larry get off the bus at the wrong stop, he’s late turning in yet another two-sentence article, and his fountain pen leaked. I, uh, kind of thought that the fountain pen thing was going to be the physical comedy setpiece for this episode, and we’d end up with both the cousins covered in ink, then hugging and saying “hi” to whoever walked into the room. You’ve got my attention now, show.

Balki says they have a saying on Mypos, and Larry glares at him, prompting Balki to skip straight to the English translation.


It’s been awhile since I’ve had opportunity to praise the show for demonstrating progress when it comes to the cousins’ idiosyncrasies, which means I’d also forgotten the tiny bit of whiplash that comes after it. Here, somehow, the Mypos saying includes a reference to the works of Tennessee Williams, but it’s basically about not waiting to talk through things INSTANTLY when someone is upset with you.  Yes, of course! It’s always a good idea to make someone talk about their upset feelings when they’re deep within them! It’s a neuro-psychological impossibility that the brain’s glucose levels might be too low to think about more than one thing, or that the person prefers to schedule a time to talk about something. It was simply my ex-girlfriends’ faults that they didn’t want to post-mortem arguments the second after we had them. Their fault!


Then Harriette lets Lance Dick and his tiny tie into the basement, and the audience laughs when Harriette expresses honest fear that inept white men carrying guns might, on an aggregate level, be more likely to use deadly force against brown people than other whites.

Lance Dick gives Balki his belt, and lets Balki wear it because I guess there’s no lockers? Or regulations in the city of Chicago? Is security this lax in a giant city?


Even though there’s just the one elevator in the world’s most important newspaper**, Harriette week after week has nothing better to do than ask Balki what he and Cousin Larry are fighting about. It turns out that Balki isn’t the only one in an abusive relationship:

Harriette: My husband has two moods: angry… and angrier.

I can’t wait until we get to meet this angry man who carries a gun! Sounds like he’d be a good lead for a family sitcom! I mean, come on, how many black people were on the TBS Superstation back then?


Harriette says that what she does with Carl Winslow: Angry Black Man is she locks him in the car and drives him around until he talks about the problem. Literal wisdom from the streets, folks.

Amazingly, Jennifer has had more impact on the plot by not being there at all, meaning that Balki can’t use the old Car Winslow trick. Then the elevator call alarm starts buzzing and Harriette yells up the shaft for the person to jump out of a window.


Bye, Frank!

*leans farther back in chair, laces fingers behind head*

Yup, Balki’s going to be so, so very wrong this week, taking that awful advice. He’s going to get both him and his righteously angry cousin fired.


Larry comes back and Balki contemplates a plan that I have to just comment on without any subtext because of that moratorium I established last week. *ahem* When I need to get my cousin to talk to me–and fast!–I reach for Lance Dick brand Genuine Security Man Handcuffs. Lance Dick Handcuffs… “Cuff that Cuz!”


Balki handcuffs them together, and Larry asks “what are you doing”.  Balki’s response makes me wonder if someone on the writing staff just didn’t understand that you put that kind of line as stage directions.


After pretending to not be angry at Balki anymore doesn’t work, Larry starts checking all of Balki’s pockets for the key.


Larry gives in, finally accepting this key thing as his defining symbol. Balki says he wants them to be friends, and Larry says that you have to ask permission when offering someone else’s possessions.  Balki says he’ll never, ever, do that again.


Hear me.

I will hold you to this.


Of course, since there’s 11 minutes left, they don’t get out of the handcuffs yet.  The uncles Mr. Burns enters and now the girls the cousins have to hide what they’ve done.  Yeah, guys, that’ll work, he won’t feel your hands on his butt.  Mr. Burns is here to give us that sweet halfway-point exposition: R.T. Wainwright actually wants to meet Larry because Burns told him that Larry has potential. Burns manages to put Larry down a little bit, but it’s just not the same. I miss Twinkacetti. I miss… her. *sniff*

The cousins fight over the handcuff key and it breaks.


When I have a business lunch with an employee from the basement of my building, I need a restaurant that understands my physical comedy needs. That’s why I eat at Chez Paul, one of Chicago’s finest third locations.


Hey, look, everybody, it’s the “other arms” bit! Hello, comedy bit!!!


Larry:  We’re not together, but we’d like to sit near each other


The Maitre D’ has heard that one before, and seats Balki and Larry on opposite sides of a divider.


And there he is–R.T. (Really Tall) Wainwright himself! But–oh no! He likes to sit at a different table when he comes to Chez Paul!  Larry launches into this thing about air currents and smoking sections and boy oh boy does that date this.  I remember the Pizza Hut I went to as a kid had dividing walls and fans that did nothing if you were seated too close to someone smoking.


Anyway, Mr. Burns tells Larry to cut that shit out.  They move to another table, and, okay, really?


Like, how can Balki standing behind Larry, or sitting behind Larry, possibly work? Mr. Burns has met Balki. I know, I know, you’ve all told me before that I’m putting more thought into this than the writers. I’ll move on.


Larry tries to impress Wainwright with his verbal prowess by rattling off a list of spoonerisms, which is almost a running joke in this episode?  Balki sits down at the next table and OH NO


It’s Mrs. Van Weezer! It’s bad enough she has to eat there knowing that black people are sitting behind her, but now she has to *shiver* look at a foreigner (possibly even smell him, thanks to those air currents).

Wainwright asks Larry what got him into newspapers, and before Larry can get the word “photographer” out, Balki pulls him onto the floor.


After the cousins verbally confirm everything that has happened visually up to this point, Balki drags Larry to the restaurant entrance. Then they talk about the situation some more, and then they go back to the table and say “HI” together like they do every third episode or so.  Larry quotes the Perfect Strangers writing staff creed:


Larry: Balki’s such an interesting man that if he’s gone for more than a minute, life gets boring

Burns, one of the few people on this show who reacts to these cousins like a normal human being, covers his face in shame.


In the process of introducing Balki, it’s revealed that Mypos is in the southeastern Mediterranean. Wainwright calls bullshit, as he was a war correspondent and knows all the Mediterranean islands.  Evidently, Mypos was used for target practice.  God damn, Larry, you’re worried about trying to take a photo of a dead baby for the Chicago Chronicle? You’ve got one of the biggest human rights violations stories of the 20th Century sharing an apartment with you! Do like Charlie in Firestarter and go to the Rolling Stone with this!


Instead of that, Balki feeds Larry and wipes his mouth. Burns suggests that Balki and Larry are the product of incest.  Burns, all you need is a vice and you can fully replace Twinkacetti. Please, pleeeeease, pinch a waitress’s butt, fart, pull your penis out, anything, man, we’re coming up on the end of the season. I know you don’t have any eyebrows, but that doesn’t guarantee you won’t go the way of the Tina.

Wainwright asks if something is wrong with Larry’s left hand. Larry strokes his water glass and says he likes to save it for “emergencies”.


Wainwright’s heard that one before.


The handcuffs are  revealed and Burns says Larry better have a good explanation, as though it were some kind of crime. But I can understand the reaction, given this show’s track record for handcuffs jokes.


Later, at the Chronicle, we find that those four sure did have fun when they got together, and that they ended up bonding over embarrassing situations. Like the time when Wainwright was a war correspondent and was too high to report on islands being used as target practice.


Wainwright thanks Burns for introducing him to the cousins and then tells him to get the fuck off the set and never come back.

Larry tries to apologize to Balki, and then the music comes on. But Balki says that Larry’s wrong…

*leans further back in chair, because here comes the Mypos logic*

…that it was actually Balki’s fault.

*falls out of chair*

Larry tells Balki that he might need to adjust his proverbs to account for the higher levels of complexity and nuance present in modern American society.  Complexity like dealing with three old people at once. Nuance like the symbolic key breaking, whatever the hell that meant. The lesson basically is that because there’s more going on in any given day than just sleeping, eating, and screwing livestock, talking “right now” just doesn’t work.


Harriette comes in and says that the cousins look like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier, in case you didn’t get the reference this week’s episode title makes. I guess, yeah, if you just look at the handcuffs, sure, okay.

You know what? I liked this episode! And it wasn’t just the other arms bit, or the fact that Larry was right.  Okay, Larry being right was part of it. But there’s more than that. The lesson was one that was true, and was demanded by the plot of the episode. Sure, it was the easiest, most accessible example possible, but it’s one of the realest ones this season.  Every generation must answer life’s questions anew. Sometimes you gain the understanding independently and realize how right your parents were; sometimes received wisdom just doesn’t work in the face of cultural change.

The episode ends with Harriette telling the cousins that Lance Dick will not be reachable for the weekend because his wife just had a baby.

When I’m staring down a long weekend with no hope of wiping my butt in privacy because I’m handcuffed to my cousin, I reach for a hacksaw, because locksmiths only exist in science fiction.


See you next week for “My Brother, Myself”


Catchphrase count: Balki (3); Larry (0, but where was his season 1 catchphrase when we needed it most?)

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

*Baby, you can drive my car, ‘cause baby, I love you… as long as you love me.

**and don’t think I didn’t notice how Mrs. Van Weezer didn’t use it

Season 3, Episode 3: Sexual Harrassment in Chicago

Before I make a joke about Balki probably going to jail in this episode, I want to take a few moments to talk about confidence vs smugness in sitcoms, which basically means I’ma talk about Full House some. There’s a pattern I’ve observed in some sitcoms, a path they sometimes follow across their second and third seasons. Once those overseeing and writing a show have figured out what their audiences like and don’t like, they revise.  Elements that didn’t test well are downplayed, or even removed.  Mark Brendanawicz from Parks & Recreation.  Judy from Family Matters. Elements that work are enhanced, given center stage, and often milked.  Sometimes, you get great seasons of television. The second season of Community. The second season of League of Gentlemen.  Seasons 3-6 of The Simpsons.  Other times, shows reinvent themselves and find something new to say or do.  Seasons 5-7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I get the impression the writers thought each of seasons 4-6 was going to be the very last). Seasons 7 and 8 (and to a lesser extent 9) of The Simpsons. Season 3 of League of Gentlemen.  Still other times, you end up with the equivalent of layers of papier mache over a balloon; after deflating, you’re left with a hollow shell I’ll call smugness.

Confidence in a show’s elements allows you to apply them with often pinpoint accuracy; smugness assumes that’s all that people want, and just keeps jabbing with them, blind to any target but mass appeal. Elements repeating endlessly; a storefront clown, waving, laughing at itself, waving again.  Somewhere in the third season of Full House, they started getting smug; catchphrases becoming somehow a personality trait, the girls always getting what they want, characters learning lessons and still getting what they want most of the time (though I will point out the episode “Those Better Not Be the Days”, which was the most Full House ever made fun of its own failings; IMHO, it never did so again). Look at this smug shit:

Full Of Shit

I’ll admit I only watched the first episode of the very last season of Scrubs, but if the rest were anything like it, the show had been reduced to “All Your Favorite Jokes from Scrubs Are Back!”  I’d even say that Community got a little smug in its third season, or at least a little lazy.  Plots repeated, jokes being about previous jokes, rather than about new things. (Arrested Development got away with this by having the same jokes show up in various scenarios, with varying meanings.)

Confidence is knowing you can do right. Smugness is knowing you can do no wrong.  Guess which one led to Oedipus killing Jocasta and blinding himself.

We’ve gotten some warning signs already from that interview with Pinchot that I linked you to a few weeks back.  And the show’s success has filtered down even to its characters living space, the apartment growing a room, the cousins getting (if only barely) better jobs.  I want to see if Perfect Strangers has achieved the confidence that it in some ways (*cough* Linn-Baker *cough*) deserves; but I’m scared that it may very well skip ahead and go straight to smugness.

Anyway, judging by the title, Creepy Balki’s probably going to jail this week, so let’s get started!

Book of Chronicles 3:3

We started the past two episodes in darkness, almost as if the show were taking tentative steps into its third season; now, we begin in the full light of day, at the Chicago Chronicle.

Larry and Balki share a quiet moment

It’s a slow day in the basement, Balki and Larry quietly going about their duties, when a woman–a new character–enters at the top of the stairs.

*cue music*

Olivia Crawford: Here… I am!

Larry exposits that Olivia Crawford is the editor of the Sunday magazine for the Chicago Chronicle, and that he’s always wanted to meet her.

Larry meets Olivia

“Well of course you have!”

Olivia doesn't like a little tummy on a man

Could it be…? Could that be some good foreshadowing there?  She tells Larry that she’s there to get him to write a piece for the Sunday magazine, and Larry getting really flustered and happy. I share his excitement, because what I’m sensing is that we might have season 3’s Fat Marsha here.  Olivia is a good actress, older, confident… ah shit, wait. She starts hitting on Balki, calling him darling, knowing where Mypos is. Ah shit, she really will be this season’s Fat Marsha, won’t she?

Larry and Balki share an expository moment

Larry explains to Balki how important such an assignment is, in case we’ve forgotten that Larry has gotten nothing more than two sentences into the paper during his two weeks at the Chronicle. We go to commercial and come back to Larry, stoked that he has come up with a title for his article: “Is Chicago disappearing?” It’s a piece on how Chicago’s neighborhoods are losing their ethnic character, and that’s pretty meta of you, show. It would have been nice to get an episode about Larry meeting the other foreigners in Balki’s night school classes to get some firsthand knowledge, but I’ll at least give credit that it’s a good assignment for Larry; probably something he’s thought about over the past year (?) of seeing an ethnic person undergoing the slow melting-pot process.  Speaking of ethnic people Larry knows, here’s Harriette Winslow!

Fart Marsha

Olivia hates having to ride the elevator with other people; Harriette hates having to ride it with Olivia inside.  I can get that. Everybody generally only enjoys their own brand.

oh yeah

Olivia very quickly dispatches Larry upstairs to her office to retrieve her “forgotten” car keys.  She compliments Balki on the prowess with which he sorts the mail.  Balki surmises that he developed his muscles from “lifting sheep”, meaning the conversation leads inevitably–as all conversations between Balki and women seem to do–to basic bodily functions.  It turns out that sheep having seven stomachs only compounds the problem of constipation.  And when you’re a lonely adolescent sheepherder, that instantly becomes your problem, if you know what I mean. (If you don’t know what I mean, I mean when you want to stick your penis in a sheep.)

Anyway, before Balki gets to the broken finger part of the story (due to manual disimpaction injury, no doubt), Olivia diverts him to the topic of homesickness.  She knows there’s only so many minutes in a sitcom, and she needs to get laid.  Balki talks about the things he has to remind him of Mypos: Dmitri, a tapestry made by his sister Yana, the nude charcoal drawings of his sister Yana, the–

Wait, did you say “tapestries”?  Olivia collects tapestries!  What a coincidence!  I’m reminded of self-proclaimed psychics and palm readers, and how they know enough generalities of experience, as well as conversational tactics, to get their marks to reveal something that can be capitalized on.  The pretense of commonality established, Olivia wastes no time getting those digits: Balki lives at 535 Windsong, apt. 207.*  There’s a good joke here, too, where Balki relays the important information that he lives in a “brick building”.


Then Olivia starts breathing on his neck and smelling him.  Then she kisses him and we get our very first “wooo!” from the audience this season.  And semi-fake though I take most audience reactions to be (I mean, they get prompted sometimes), “wooo!” is a thing I’ve heard in real life from people observing others kiss.  Do you think our cavemen ancestors did this, back when there was less privacy? Do you think our collective unconcious thinks that thunder means rain, snakes mean bites, and one kiss means you get to watch sex soon?

more like unzip code AMIRITE

Olivia just goes to town on Balki, right there on the mail table.  All those letters are probably just going to other floors of the building, but Olivia’s taking Balki to entirely new places.  But, ultimately, as you already know by this point, Olivia Crawford is the bad guy this week, so I guess I can’t like her. Old ladies sure are gross, aren’t they? They should learn not to want sex after they turn 40… no, 30… no what am I saying, women who want sex are whores!

awww yiss

She had her keys the whole time!  What a liar!  Who knows how deep her evil goes (as if it weren’t enough simply being a one-off character on this show).

Balki penis confused

Balki spends the whole commercial break in shock on the mail table.  Larry comes back without Olivia’s keys.  Balki, in relaying to Larry what just happened, is for the first time in who knows how many episodes, actually humble.  He haltingly asks if “looking at tapestries” is a euphemism for sex, like when they say “lifting sheep” on Mypos.  And this is good!  The show is tentatively broaching the topic of sex through its characters tentatively broaching it.  Larry asks if it’s Laura, from the classified ads department (an apt guess, as this department would be home, as it were, of the SWF).  After revealing that it’s Olivia coming over to look at tapestries, there’s a nice little bit of dialogue I’ll point out just to reinforce the confidence theme:

Larry: Haha… Balki… I don’t mean to hurt your feelings…

Balki (annoyed mimicky voice): But you’re going to…

Larry and Balki share a season 3 moment

Larry, in a nice bit of discernment, differentiates Olivia from last season’s ulterior motive girl by pointing out that Olivia is an executive. Much like Lazarus and the rich man, Larry sees that there is a great gulf fixed between Balki and Olivia Crawford. Larry, understanding that his keylessness means he is barred from entering, accepts that this episode is about Balki and Olivia, not about his ethnic cleansing story. He concedes graciously, saying that he trusts Balki to take care of himself (confidence!).  “You’ve been with women before,” Larry says, laughing over the bygone Myposian boners of summers past. “I’m sure the milkmaids were all over you. I’m sure you had to beat ‘em off with a crook!”


on Mypos very simple to stay virgin

Balki’s a virgin!

are you surprised

Larry’s a virgin!

This can happen sometimes with people who haven’t yet realized their own homosexuality.  “Sex” can be a particular, set-in-stone kind of concept, defined strictly as occurring between, say, mommies and daddies. Anything they’ve done outside that concept has no name, and can only described by the the moon on Balki’s lips, the combined scents of Bismol and potata crumbs on Larry’s breath when he pants, the… whew, sorry, I’ve got to stop there.  Give me a minute.  It’s.  Um. A good joke. The way they don’t explain it.  Larry agrees to stay home that evening to be Balki’s protection.

who could that be

Olivia’s urgent knock opens the next scene, but when Larry opens the door–

at first i was likebut then i larry'd

Larry: Balki and I are cousins.

Olivia Crawford: Oh… how nice.

Y’hear that, folks? Olivia doesn’t value family!  She’ll never be seen from again!  She changes her tune quickly, saying that she’s late for cocktails with the Mayor, and that she’ll just look quickly at the tapestry.  Larry is somehow still certain that she’s being honest.  I guess I’d expect one liar to recognize another, but oh well. Everybody’s got to take their turn holding the idiot ball.

Larry leaves to go to the library to research his article, and then Balki comes out of his bedroom with…  the hell?

Balki Blanket Bingo

It’s the same damn blanket he made for Larry last season.  Either the prop department just decided to be lazy that week, Balki lied about making the blanket for Larry, or Myposians only know that one design to put on a blanket.  Also blankets are tapestries, I guess.  The tapestry purports to show the whole history of Mypos.  It turns out that the Bartokomous family started when Uncle Stavros farted; then they all became retarded.   Nah, j/k, Ferdinand Mypos discovered the island by just trying to walk across the Mediterranean from Italy or some mess like that.  Because, you know, Mypos is such an Italian name. Not Greek at all.

Olivia touches the things

Also there was a Great Tomato Famine. Geez, an alfalfa famine and a tomato famine?  Those poor Mypiots. Anyway, Balki admits that he thought Olivia was a whore (wish I was joking), and apologizes. Olivia wants to know if he still thinks that way about her.

don't be ridiculous

Then Balki compares Olivia to his mom. Haha! She’s old! Old women are gross! Who would ever want to touch any of the orifices of an old woman? Barf! Retch!  Puke-a-roonie!

Undaunted, Olivia tries to force her mucous membranes on Balki’s mypos membranes.


Balki: M-mama never did that.


Balki says that he wants to wait until marriage.  Larry comes back, having forgotten yet another key: his library card. What a trooper, taking one last shot at establishing a running motif of “no entry” to reinforce how Balki won’t enter Olivia, and how she won’t enter the show ever again. It could have even been mirrored by ethnic communities not being able to enter the greater cultural milieu. But Larry blows it by asking “what’s going on here” when it’s completely obvious.

ask me if I'm blind


are you blind?

When the show keeps me from making yet another joke about how Larry asks “what” before “why”, I consider that progress. I consider that the show noticing its own patterns, its own faults, if not yet correcting them, then at least commenting on them, is a good thing. Then Balki makes a joke about Olivia being all over him “like a wet t-shirt”, and that’s a good joke too!

here at the brasserie

Olivia just doesn’t give up, though, suggesting that Balki rendezvous with her at Mickey’s Hideaway the following Tuesday.  But Larry knows all about the place, having stayed up many a night until 2 in the morning just so he can masturbate quickly and silently to their television ads.  Olivia then threatens to get Balki fired, and now who’s blind through overconfidence, doing such a thing in front of a witness?

In the next scene, Larry rattles off a list of other employees who got fired just because they didn’t want to sleep with Olivia.  Ha! A bunch of guys turned her down because sex with old women is gross gross GROSS!


Olivia is once again ushered into the basement by the woman who knows that you can’t be both the person having sex AND the person using it as blackmail.  The cousins have already sent a letter of allegation to the managing editor, but:

all your dick are belong to me

Confidence has turned to smugness.  Olivia felt secure in her position on a higher floor, but in trying to mine the basement for her own desires (eww!), she has eroded the foundation of her power. Jack, the managing editor, comes down to the basement. The cousins offer further proof of Olivia’s tawdry nature: Larry has discovered that there’s a room at Mickey’s Hideaway named after her, and Balki offers to be dusted for her fingerprints. This is–


*wipes tear from eye*  Balki said fingerprints. I’m so goddam proud of my boy right now. Pronouncing words correctly. Refusing to give his body to those with nefarious purpose, and instead offering it freely in service of justice.  What does Olivia have to say for herself?

uh uh uh uh

Yeah, that’s what I thought.  Get off my show, you sex-crazed old bag!

this guy's name is Jack

Olivia is fired, and the audience cheers. Olivia puts down the Chicago Chronicle and starts to leave, saying that she hears they put out in New York.  But! Ha! Harriette won’t let her on the elevator! Black women sure don’t take any nonsense, do they?

no entry

Jack: You two should feel proud of yourselves.

don't encourage them, Jack

Larry is happy to have served his role as detached adult in this episode, until Balki points out that it means he won’t get to have an article in the Sunday magazine.  You can tell Larry’s doing the mental calculations here of just how long it will be until he can get home and crack open a nice cold Pepto Bismol.

haha no success for Larry

And then the show ends with a good joke about how Balki’s happy that, if and when he gets married, he’ll be able to spend his honeymoon in a state of fumbling, awkward bliss.

So.  Confidence vs smugness. Progress vs (self-assumed) Perfection. Humility vs hubris. Ovis aries vs Olivia Crawford.  I’m happy to say that this episode shows some confidence, as well as some progress. Likewise, similar to the cousins’ situation at the end of every episode, it’s clear we have still have some distance left to cover.  There’s some decent jokes, some one-upping of season 2’s tropes, some humility on Balki’s part, and some confidence in Balki on Larry’s part.  With the cousins as the heroes, we have to see every other character from their perspective.  In season 2, we were forced to see Fat Marsha through their eyes, meaning she was, if not a proper villain, an unrestrained other.  We must also see Olivia through their eyes, at least until the final act, when a judge must come down from on high to decide the matter.  She threatened the cousins, but she also threatened the reputation and operation of the newspaper.  Olivia Crawford was a clear bad guy; I wanted so badly to make the joke that she was evil simply because she was doing things a man in power might do. But she was doing clearly unethical things, so I left it alone.  I just wish the show hadn’t added “she’s old” into the mix, and suggested that her age, coupled with her forwardness, were what turned Balki off.  Actress Holland Taylor was only 44 when this episode aired, and Balki 28. If I had seen this as a kid, that difference might have seemed greater to me than it does now.  But I’ve come to learn not to judge my past self by my current standards.  It’s important to look at old media in terms of current mores, and instructive to see where and how it falls short (or doesn’t).  But there’s only so far one can go in criticizing it, I suppose, since there’s nothing to be done about it now, other than hope that the next time is better.  But since I didn’t say this last week, I do feel bad for any sitcom character who’s the least bit overweight, or even a few years older than the other characters; because they always seem to end up having to do an episode about that innocuous aspect of themselves, just because it’s not some assumed media “norm”.

Anyway, I’ve gone on long enough with this review. I’ll have plenty of time for more self-reflection next week, when the cousins and I will be “Taking Stock”. See you then!


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

Coner count: Olivia (1, continuous)

Catchphrase count: Balki (1); Larry (0)

*Did they move twice? In two weeks?