Season 3, Episode 12: To Be Or Not To Be


The show gives us a panning opening shot, from the top to the bottom of the Chicago Chronicle building, showing us that this path remains empty thanks to the heroic efforts of the Carin’ Cousins Suicide Prevention Squad.


Lydia runs in from the parking garage messing with her earrings. Hi Lydia! Hi!!!

She brings the cousins news of the world, heralding the coming of Director Joel Berry. This name doesn’t register with the cousins, so Lydia tells them that he’s trying to find a Chronicle employee whose constitution would be appropriate for a commercial. Which he’d… um… post… tribunes?

I tried.


Harriette comes down in the elevator, and they’ve got the same dress on!  Oh no! They get super catty about it! I guess it is true that women are the biggest obstacle to feminism!


Belita Moreno really sells that she’s supposed to be wearing a tight, uncomfortable dress by hobbling up the stairs. Bye Lydia!!!

Balki tries to convince Larry that fame is now within reach, because, um, yeah, Larry’s long-term dream is acting, let’s go with that. Then Balki starts in with a pretty good Robin Leach impression that goes on way too long. Have you ever worked with that guy? The guy who doesn’t just want to say a quote from the Godfather, he wants to say one of the monologues? And there’s pauses in it, and you don’t know if he’s expecting you to do a call-and-response or what, because you’ve never watched the Godfather? Are you going to do this the whole show, Balki?


Hey, look, Customer #1 from the very first episode has found fame as a Hollywood Director! Director Joel Berry comes in complaining about how he had to look at a loading dock and then he’s all like “what, a basement set is supposed to be a step up from a discount store? What kind of sitcom does that?”

Balki gets excited, thinking that Director Joel Berry might know Wayne Newton. AGAIN with the Wayne Newton! Kinda makes me miss the first season, when Balki’s interests were more varied and he liked both Wayne Newton AND Dolly Parton. But all this thinking about the first season just makes me think about… her *sniff*.

Director Joel Berry does that framing thing with his hands because that’s what directors do and stares at Balki  Director Joel Berry asks Balki to give Larry mail again. Simply because Director Joel Berry has found the only two people in the building doing actual work instead of sucking up to him, he feels that he has found his stars! Now that they have begun their career in acting, Balki and Larry start practicing their Thalia and Melpomene faces.


Hey, by the way, go back up a couple of screenshots. That looks like a publicity/press photo on the wall back in what I assume is Gorpley’s office? Is that by any chance Sam Anderson from another role?


Then Lydia and Harriette appear at the top of the stairs singing Reason #12 You’re Not Going to Get Seasons 3-8 on DVD, So Quit Asking Me Like I Would Know Or Something: “Together (Wherever We Go)” from the musical Gypsy.

And yeah, sure, that’s a joke, let’s go with that to end the scene.


Back in the apartment, both Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) are present to receive the Sacrament of Exposition. Balki makes a joke about Larry being a lesbian, and…


…and, yeah, okay, I’ve seen one or two that look like that.

Jennifer looks at her watch and says that if there’s no more exposition, they’ll be going…


Larry starts in about how if he becomes a big Hollywood star, he won’t forget the little people. He won’t let anyone leave the room and finally Jennifer tells him that they’re seriously 👏 only 👏 paid 👏 to 👏 listen 👏 to 👏 exposition 👏


Larry says that he’s got to prepare Balki for the big commercial shoot the next day.  Oh boy!  “Larry makes Balki rehearse a plan” scenes are my favorite!


It’s been four weeks, but Larry’s finally got his ego back from the repair shop, and it’s running so nice, he’s got it up to about 65, which is a great cruising speed for this model of Appleton.

There’s dialogue here to the extent that Balki sees his upcoming role as very simple–just do what you always do.  You walk in, you say the line in your funny accent, and you’re done.  Larry counters that there’s depth to acting:

Larry: Tomorrow, you’ll be an actor playing the part of a person delivering the mail. Two completely different things. One is a job; the other… is acting.

I’m not even going to let this one come to a boil, I’ll just go ahead and say I’m really not sure if I’m supposed to take this as a commentary on these two actors.  Linn-Baker is the serious theater actor who went on record saying that doing this show is what gave him the finances to pursue that career. Bronson Pinchot is the actor who talked with a funny voice in a movie, which he parlayed into talking in a funny voice on a TV show, and people liked it so much he decided to start buying expensive paintings. But I’ve never once gotten the impression that these actors didn’t like each other.  I’ve yet to read any stories about fallings-out on set, or hard feelings after the fact. But it was Robert Blair’s first writing credit on this show, and this is around the time that most shows start commenting on themselves in a bigger way, so… yeah, I see it? But I’ve been wrong before (ask me about my metatextual interpretation of Die Hard 3 sometime).

Anyway, back to “Larry’s a Jerk” scene 87, take 2:

Larry think’s he’s hot shit because he built the sets for West Side Story in high school, so Balki sings Reason #13 You Should Just Stop Asking About Season 3 Through 8 On DVD, Really: “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie.

They practice, with Balki delivering the mail, and Larry just yells “wrong!” at him. It’s been something like 30 episodes since the last instance, but finally somebody remembered to put in an instance of Larry repeating instructions over and over and using hand gestures.

Larry: Concentrate… on relaxing.




…on relaxing….


Balki stumbles towards Larry, getting more and more wobbly as Larry gives him more instructions on how to walk. It’s like one of those old cartoon bits where somebody is told how to golf.


Larry tells Balki to emphasize “mail” because, yeah, that’s the key word when you’re advertising a newspaper, let’s go with that. The cousins just say “mail” at each other for awhile.


And why hasn’t Larry been doing this with things like his last name?


Then they do the stumble-wobbling thing again until their peepees touch.


In the next scene, they’re rehearsing the commercial and just in case you wanted to see it again, we get more of Balki wobble-walking.  The director asks whether his legs are all right, and Balki informs us that his supple calves got the whole population of Mypos wet on a daily basis.


Larry tells Director Joel Berry that he should remind Balki “less knees, more hips”. You can tell that Director Joel Berry thinks these guys are totes gay, but he’s a professional and keeps it to himself.* So Director Joel Berry tells Balki to forget everything Larry told him about acting. Balki delivers the mail successfully, and is just so very excited about it.


In the next take, Larry tries out this dumb sonorous voice and starts putting in narration about the Chronicle. It’s almost like someone told him that’s the voice you’re supposed to use when you’re acting.


Uncle Joely tells Larry to cut it out, but then Larry just does the same shit again with the voice, and keeps adding to the script.


This is really exciting, right? A whole episode of everything repeated, right down to the director slapping the mail into Balki’s hand. I guess one guy in the audience is laughing really hard, so it must be good!

*sigh* yeah let’s go with that


They try it again, but Larry says “cut” and the director yells at him**.  Larry starts making a big fucking deal about how Balki changed one word, since they’re “sticking to the script”. And, okay, remember how I came around a little back in “Hello, Baby”, when we were shown how Larry’s a little kid too? Larry the Kid now wants the adult to make things fair because Balki got a bigger piece.


Director Joel Berry takes his whole crew one foot off to the side to have a private “creative meeting” and Larry butts in to let them know you have to go a whole two feet to not be heard.


Speaking of repeating things, the women are at the apartment again, but the Chinese takeout boxes have turned from white to red, and if you’ve Googled your Chinese theatre colors & their meanings like I have, you already know how this change symbolizes the basic arc of every Perfect Strangers episode.

Because they all sure do have fun when they get together, Jennifer and Mary Anne decide it’s time to leave. Then the commercial comes on and Larry says “we don’t need to see that”.


I was kind of expecting a “telephone call for Mr. Herman” kind of result for both of the cousins, but Balki gives the spiel and Larry just has a deer in the headlights look.

And seriously? The Chronicle approved their article writers looking like they’re idiots who just stare into space?


Mary Anne asks if Larry was in it. She’s so dumb, you guys!


Jennifer tries really hard to take care of Larry’s feelings. It’s one of those times where sitcom people are far less able to hide their emotions than real people are, but Jennifer’s just happy to have some lines for once. Then they leave.


Larry starts in on the Bismol, which Balki actually comments on as a problem.

Larry is upset that he promised everyone he was going to be a big star, but he ended up being just a bit player. And holy crud do I wish I could ask Mark Linn-Baker how he felt about this episode, because seriously, that is the arc this show has taken so far. Please, if anyone knows anything, speak up.

Balki tries to mitigate Larry’s upset but fails too. He says that his friends (all three of them) don’t see Larry as a jerk. Balki says that they see the other parts of Larry–that he’s a good friend, kind, supportive, that he’s always there. Shit, I wish that they hadn’t originally aired these episodes out of production order, because that would’ve been nice to see.

Larry is happy for Balki since his face will be on every bus in Chicago, because sure, all directors are also photographers, LET’S GO WITH THAT.


But–a surprise! Larry’s face is on the side of that horse from the opening!


Nah, j/k, Larry’s also on the side of the bus. And that’s pretty good advertising, really. I mean, wouldn’t you like to be touched by these friendly fellows? Whatever they’re selling, I’ll take two!

But… does Larry not remember having his picture taken? Or did the biggest newspaper in the US put a ton of money into having a grainy blown-up film frame on the side of every bus in Chicago?

And somehow, after all that repetitive padding, we still haven’t met the run time, so the cousins just stare at the bus for a whole minute, then we get to watch the bus pulling away too.


Oh wait, I spoke too soon–the bus drives right into the side of the Chicago Sun-Times building, erupting in a fireball, starting what, according to Wikipedia, is a six-episode arc about the Newspaper Wars.  Next week’s episode, “My Lips Are Sealed”, is the one where Balki is tricked into telling the Chronicle’s strategy to a mole.


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

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

*I am not a professional.

**Because he’s a professional.

Season 2, Episode 11: A Christmas Story

Ah, the holidays. Time to visit with friends and family and reflect on the joys and sorrows of the past year, to bid it adieu and huddle together, drawing strength from each other to ready us for the new one. Christmastime in particular is a time for excess: overeating, overspending in service of giving others tokens of your love for them. And, if there’s love in your heart, an excess of Christmas spirit: the Christmas miracle. As I’ve been learning from this show, the truest love is that between cousins, so I’m sure we’ll see a Christmas miracle before the episode is done.


Oh yeah, if you’re a working schlub like me, Christmas also means office parties with your boss, his family, other people from your apartment building, and a bunch of people you’ve never met before who don’t get any lines.


Man, Twinkacetti’s so evil he refuses to sing Christmas songs. This is the face of your Anti-Christ, people. But we do get to see his two kids again, Hairdo and Halfpint.


The characters toast each other twice because they’re not sure which camera angle is being used at any given moment. Then they all hightail it the fuck up out of there because, after three weeks of this show’s negative stereotypes (Latinos, and then Italians, and then Italians again) they do NOT want to be around for whatever Jewish jokes might come up. They know not to mess with the ADL.


We get a little moment of the Twinkacettis arguing about how Edwina spent $100 on the spread for the party; like I said, this is a time of excess. Then Mrs. Twinkacetti gives the cousins their Christmas bonuses and brags about how she gave Mr. Twinkacetti a black eye.


YES. YES. BLOOD. MORE. IT PLEASES US. But we’re only two minutes in, so this is not the Christmas miracle.


Larry talks about the great Christmas (“Christmaaaaahhhhsss”) they’re going to have in Madison, Wisconsin, and Balki makes the same face I did when I accidentally stapled my fingers together that one time. Larry says it’s going to be the best Christmas ever, and damn it, you never say that kind of shit in the first act of a sitcom. God damn it.


Balki is excited by snow, and that’s a good way of making him a child. I’m sure the closest they got to snow is the ash from their local volcano. He gets to excited he decides to share a yule log with Cousin Larry.


Larry keeps hyping Madison; X-Mas 1986 means he’ll be the “Christmas Boy”, a role that rotates yearly amongst the 9 siblings in the Appleton clan. Cousin Larry is very excited.


Balki then talks about how he’ll miss Christmas on Mypos. It’s supposed to be touching, but some dolt in the audience laughs at the word “baklava”, unaware that it’s a real thing and not just some madeup word. The show is trying to ramp up some emotion for both of these guys by having them miss people we’ve never really met. And yeah, if I had that cool brother from the intro, I’d miss him too.

Then the show lets slip that it has too much time to fill by having Larry repeat Balki’s “Christmas Turtle” joke. The turtle being named Bernie (a good, strong Mediterranean name, that) doesn’t save the repeated joke.

Larry gives some important words about how when there are changes in your life, you have to move on. And here’s another Chekhov’s Gun of sitcoms: if Character A tells Character B a nugget of wisdom in the first act, he will have to learn it himself in the third. Damn it, were almost a third in, here. We’re not going to Madison, are we?


Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) come by, and damn, whatever happened to that style of overalls? I’m not into blondes, nor am I into female characters who barely have the one personality trait, but Jennifer’s doing a lot with a little thanks to 80s fashions. And since we didn’t get a reference to it last week, the show reminds us that Mary Anne is just a fucking idiot. Before they leave for their skiing trip, Larry demands adherence to the law of mistletoe.


Larry tries to jam his tongue down Jennifer’s throat. He’s just been waiting all season to do that, and finally has an excuse. Thank the baby Jesus we have customs that allow us to control women’s bodies and invade their personal space. It’s what separates us from the foreigners (they just do it whenever they want).


Larry just had a white Christmas in his pants.


Mary Anne just gets up in there like “I’ll show you who doesn’t have a high school education”.

Larry and Balki share a moment of quiet contemplation over their boners.


Larry explains the forced invasion of women’s bodies thing, and that it only works at Christmas, so Balki decides then and there he’s going to take the mistletoe along and make out with every woman in Larry’s family. The Christmas miracle is not that women are treated like human beings.


Larry calls up “Gus” to see if he has any hot tips about endurance while Balki grabs his suetcase.

…and they can’t go to Madison because the airport is snowed in.

So then Larry calls his mother. The Christmas miracle is not that Balki can pronounce “Appleton” yet.


Larry asks mom not to let Elaine be the Christmas boy, and man I hope we get to meet her, because she’s now been established as the one that fucked him up the most. Then the cousins call up the bus company, but there’s a blizzard and the roads are closed, so then they try to get a snowplow, but they can’t get a snowplow because there’s a blizzard. Also Dmitri’s wearing glasses because… Balki was reading the phonebook? Let us all contemplate the mystery of Dmitri’s glasses.


Balki reminds Larry that he has a car. You know, a car, that he can drive, on the roads that are closed.


See? I told you. Balki (dressed in Russian-type clothes because he’s foreign) sees that Larry’s car broke down in front of a “Christmas Tree Store” and decides that they will have Christmas at the apartment.


The guy who runs the “Christmas Tree Store” out of his trailer in an empty lot comes out eating a turkey leg, so I will call him Turkey Leg Greg. His wife shouts at him to shut the door, she’s not going to heat the whole sitcom. The Christmas miracle is not that the lower classes will be portrayed as anything other than rude and driven solely by physical drives such as hunger or staying warm.


Turkey Leg Greg gives Balki a shitty tree from the dumpster. Sheesh. Even before I was on immunosuppressants, I knew not to touch dumpsters except–maybe–at gunpoint. But Larry says that the tree does not give him that sweet, sweet “Christmas feeling” he craves. Sad Larry is so sad that he walks off into the snow to be alone. Balki goes back home with the tree, and I am so, so pissed that neither one of them rolled up the window on that Mustang. When a man loses his love for his classic car, he’s lost his love for life.


Ah, dammit. The Christmas miracle is not that Larry froze to death.


Larry’s jacket has the fakest looking snow on it I’ve ever seen, but he doesn’t even get a chance to hang it, because Balki Claus is here! Larry knows nothing else is going to happen in this episode, so he lets Balki recite as much of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” as he wants.


Hey! Perfect Strangers got to the Donna Dixon reindeer name joke years before the Simpsons! But then he follows it up with “on Reagan, on Nixon”, which makes me question where to draw the line of when Balki is intentionally making a joke. Which… is kinda the long-term arc of “Homer getting things wrong” turning into “Homer making the joke deliberately” in latter-day Simpsons (see Season 17, ep. 20, where Homer tells Marge “you used to love my nonsequiturs”).

Anyways, Balki stole a bunch of decorations from the discount store, including a banner, ornaments, and Christmas lights that don’t work. He also bought them Jewish food. And I’ll say this so the show doesn’t get sued for it. Gefilte fish is as bad as you’ve heard.


But Larry doesn’t want a tree, he doesn’t want to eat, sing carols, or even string popcorn.


Balki: Now you’re making Balki mad.


You probably already guessed that Balki had a couch cushion under his suit, but if you didn’t they staged the reveal shot perfectly (at least for the home audience), with him standing right beside the chair he took it from. Balki rants for awhile about how he’s not getting the Christmas he wants, either. He lists more Myposian traditions, and just like before, Larry repeats the last item in the list (“roasting radishes”) as a question.

Even though there were only enough jokes for one night, they somehow made them last for eight nights straight. But that’s not the Christmas miracle either; that’s the Hanukah miracle.

And Balki hammers home that Larry wasn’t taking his own advice, once again turning the tables on which one of them was a child. Not only that, but it furthers the theme that Balki’s inner child is pure (look! snow!) while Larry’s is only arrested in its development.

Larry literally even says that he doesn’t want to grow up, and I think I should finally give this show some credit for its whole “Balki is a child in this way, but Larry’s a child in this way” thing. Even though it has been used a little clumsily in the past, there’s some depth to it here. Larry is pouty here because he can’t do the family tradition he’s only gotten to do twice in his life (at 6 and 15). They don’t overdo Balki being a child here, but that’s okay, because this is something that’s finally working on the aggregate level. Balki the Kid is well established, but Larry the Kid is subtler. But each complements the other. Larry is the parent for Balki’s intellect; Balki is the parent for Larry’s emotions.

But since this episode has committed to its repetition, Balki suggests opening presents, Larry whines again about it not having the Christmas feeling, and–


Balki: I’ve got your Christmas feeling hangin’, boy.


Balki lets Cousin Larry be the Christmas boy. Mark Linn-Baker really sells the childish glee when handing out the presents.

Balki gets a boombox! And a Wayne Newton tape! (The Christmas miracle is not that the writers remembered Balki’s love of Wayne Newton, because this is already the third reference to it. It’s probably in the show bible.)

Cousin Larry’s gift is a blanket that Balki has been working on for him since the day he arrived. He tells Larry “Happy Birthday”, which is what they say on Mypos because of Baby Yayzoos, which leads to a decent sheepherder joke.


Cousin Larry almosts breaks down crying while telling a story about when he was 6 and gave his mom a handmade pot holder. And yeah, I’m putting this together now. Larry’s first time being the Christmas boy was when he was 6; it was likely a magical time. His second time, he was 15, when he probably felt that he was too old to openly enjoy it, and probably acted aloof. Christmas at the age of 6 was probably the last thing he really enjoyed before his brothers and sisters engaged in a years-long pattern of mental torture not seen since the 1944 film Gaslighting.

But Larry now has the Christmas feeling! There’s love in his heart! Here it comes! Here comes the miracle!


The Christmas miracle is that the lights on their tree come back on. That’s right. The shitty string of lights that probably doesn’t even have a UL-compliant plug, which Balki hung on a literal garbage tree, managed to come back on long enough for the cousins to misattribute meaning. You know what? All those characters in the first scene were right to get out of there while they had the chance.


Then they hear children caroling outside. You know, in the middle of the blizzard that shut down all roads and flights out of a major US city. Balki and Larry watch from the comfort of their warm apartment as the children get frostbite and die.


Merry Christmas everybody! Join me next year when I review “Dog Gone Blues”!


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