How I Spent My Summer Vacation: 1988

If all of those articles we looked at two weeks ago were telling the truth, everything Perfect Strangers touched turned to gold, and its actors would see nothing but success from 1987 onwards. I mean, after all, it and Full House built the powerhouse of TGIF. And Bronson was so sexy. I mean, those lips! That hair! The promise of being his girlfriend for only three weeks!

*mops sweat from brow with the corner of a Myposian tapestry*

Sorry, I’m getting off-track here.

Last time, there wasn’t much to say about what our actors did to get paid the rest of the year. Let’s see if 1988 is any more fruitful.

Melanie Wilson (Jennifer)

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Okay, well, that one’s not a surprise, certainly Pinchot was–

Bronson Pinchot

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Okay, well, he said he was going to be in a movie come Christmas ’89, so he was working, movies take a lot of time. Let’s move on to *ahem* established actors.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson already had a decade of television work under his belt by 1988, so it’s no surprise that he showed up in an episode of 21 Jump Street as “Dan Finger”.

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I’ve never watched 21 Jump Street, but I watched one of the scenes with him in it. I’m going to guess (and part of this comes from his IMDB page) that Anderson got a lot of work as guys in suits. He definitely pulls off the air of someone who would comfortably occupy an official role as some part of a bureaucracy.  After all, we first saw him in season 1 as a guy in a suit working at a bank.  In both cases, he’s been a frustrated-bordering-on-suppressed-anger kind of guy, and that’s how I like my authority figure characters. It gives the kids something to rebel against, and the parents something to identify with.

And hey, look at that, he was guy in a suit on Growing Pains, working as a frustrated part of an educational bureaucracy!

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I don’t know how in the world I forgot that Sam Anderson was in Critters 2: The Main Course. This lets me talk about Critters!

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The Critters series of movies is one of the better thought-out, better written, and most cohesive of the 80s/90s horror series I’ve watched (and I’ve watched a lot). That’s really not saying much, especially for what began as a Gremlins clone, but what makes Critters work is that it has a lot of heart, and what gives it that heart is the character of Charlie, played by Don Keith Opper. I could talk all day about Critters, but anyway, Sam Anderson plays Mr. Morgan, who oversees the publication of a small-town newspaper, the Grover’s Bend Gazette. Not a suit, but working in an established, official capacity.  I probably forgot him because you’re supposed to forget this type of character. He makes the newspaper real, has a little bit of personality (here, dealing with the minor headaches of placing rural “news” stories in order of importance), and then the movie gets down to business with killings.

Eugene Roche

He did a bunch of stuff, and then he died. From the looks of it, he may have been well-known for his role on Dave’s World. I really felt like breaking the law today, but I can’t find that show for download.

R.I.P. Eugene Roche, and R.I.P. Harry Burns.  I hope he finally got ahold of Lance’s column.

I’ve saved my favorites for last:

Jo Marie Payton

I couldn’t find Payton’s appearance on The Slap Maxwell Story or Frank’s Place (haha, what’d she do, stand on a grave and dispense wisdom? god it’s fun to make jokes about suicide), but she was also in a film called Colors. She played “2nd woman in recreation center”, so you decide whether that one’s worth tracking down to hear what “Mm-hmm, baby” sounds like with different acoustics.

Belita Moreno

When she wasn’t working with two idiots in Chicago, Belita worked with Two Idiots in Hollywood. I’ve never heard of it, which means it was a garbage movie for babies. It wasn’t released on DVD, but it would cost me four times as much to get a copy of it on VHS than it did to get Going to the Chapel (see below), so I’m sure it was at least better than that. She played some character named “Dreamhouse Barbecue Mother”, which coincidentally is also what I was planning on calling the first prog rock album I release.

As far as television, she was on Valerie, The Slap Maxwell Story, and Family Ties. I’m trying so hard to take money away from actors and executives, but I’m not finding the episodes of Valerie or The Slap Maxwell Story to download. At the very least, some degenerate soul uploaded the episode of Family Ties:

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Looks like she may have been somewhat typecast as only being able to stand beside short, fat, sleazy men. I expected a more prominent role for Moreno; here, all she does is smile, shake hands and say “I’m Norma”.

Rebeca Arthur / Mary Anne (Sagittarius)

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Finally, fuck and yes, I got to download a movie illegally! In one of those cosmic coincidences, Rebeca Arthur played a be-eyelinered character at a party named Tina in Scrooged. I was always intrigued as a kid by the skeleton hand lighting Bill Murray’s cigar but it wasn’t until now that I finally had the motivation to watch it. (Spoiler: that scene doesn’t even happen in the movie.) The script needed a sexy blonde who was hot for Bill Murray, so Rebeca Arthur was a sexy blonde who was hot for Bill Murray.

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Would that she were a sexy blonde who was hot for me.

Mark Linn-Baker

As we saw two weeks ago, Linn-Baker spent any time he wasn’t working on Perfect Strangers teaching and acting in New York. I’m having trouble finding anything about what plays he might have been in in 1988, but it’s safe to say he likely wasn’t in Cats, or Rodney Dangerfield on Broadway!.

He was in a couple of movies that summer, though. God help me: I was a model citizen and bought them both on VHS.

Me and Him (Sept. 1988)

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Mark Linn-Baker plays the voice of Griffin Dunne’s penis. It’s kind of like Stranger than Fiction, but with a penis instead of an author.  It fits with Linn-Bakers depiction of Larry–basically trying to pull someone towards their baser urges. So it’s kind of like Perfect Strangers, but with vaginas instead of Sears Tower ice cream sundaes.

Going to the Chapel (Oct. 1988, also released as Wedding Day Blues)

This movie was released mere days before season 4 began.  Here’s the front of the VHS box:

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Look, I like Linn-Baker and all, but if his name is listed first on the packaging, then “All Star Cast” is kind of a stretch. And to give you an idea of the budget for promotional photos: they took a picture of John Ratzenberger while he was asking if he was standing in the right spot.  This movie was much harder to pay attention to than Me and Him. It’s meant to be one of those ensemble pieces where all of the wacky relatives threaten to ruin the wedding and cause stress for the bride and groom.  The problem is, no one is wacky enough, or has enough impact on the plot.  Also, no one character is meant to be particularly prominent, which makes it obvious that Linn-Baker’s role was expanded in the first act of the movie.  I have no clue what the impetus of this movie was. I can’t imagine someone wanting to write it, or then writing it and thinking it was good. I can’t imagine the actors thinking it was good. I can only see this as a paycheck for everyone involved–but who the hell wanted to spend money on it?

Anyway, this is likely the only time that you’ll ever see Linn-Baker and Max Wright on-screen at the same time. And yes, they touch each other.

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Susan

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Susan’s cowboy boyfriend comes back and almost immediately lands in jail. He’s going to be hanged, so Susan tries wearing a nice dress to help him out.

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It works, but then Cowboy Boyfriend leaves again.

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I love you, Susan, and I know that you’ve moved on. I’ve gotten over my own sadness enough to start hoping that you’ll find happiness. But will you ever find true love?

______________________________

There were no changes to the opening credits in Season 4 other than the title losing the shiny reflection effect, so join me next week for “The Lottery”, which involves Larry pulling the slip with the black spot on it.

Also, many thanks to a real-live Jennifer for the art at the top of this  post!

Seasons 1 and 2 Revisited

hamiltonontarioad

Backtrack to Both Bunches of Bygone Bulletins

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Bring Back those Bouncy Blonde Babes! (I bet they bake bodacious bibibabkas)

Normally, I’d be doing my review of the whole season, but I have a lot of stuff to talk about. A bootload. A sheep-ton. I would say beaucoup*, but that’s the sound Mary Anne thinks ghost birds make (on account of she’s so dumb). At any rate, part of what I want to discuss has to do with Season 2, so we’re going to have to backtrack. Next week you’ll get your season review.

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So there I was, looking through eBay listings for actual Perfect Strangers merchandise, when I came across a copy of The Philadelphia Inquirer TV Week featuring an interview with Rebeca Arthur. The auction photos included the interview, so I read it (hey, there was nothing else going on at work that day).  Not only did I learn that Arthur used to work for a private investigation firm, the article also mentioned that Jennifer and Mary Anne were originally only intended to be in one episode.

Let that sink in.

No really, let that sink in.

Jennifer and Mary Anne were so popular with the studio audience during the filming of “Hunks Like Us”, ABC brought them back for more episodes.

For comparison, here are other characters who had a single appearance but proved so popular that audiences demanded they come back.

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I’ll give you some time to process this.  Meanwhile, I’ve realized that if I’m going to see this review blog to completion, and if I want to actually understand this show, what it was and why it was that way, I need to read everything I can find that was written about it.  This means I need to go back and read all the stuff on www.perfectstrangers.tv pertaining to seasons 1 and 2. I know I said I wouldn’t do it.

I don’t really know where to draw the line when deciding what time period to look at for each season, I will lump in** some season 3 stuff here too.  The Laughing Love God knows I have a lot to say next week too.  So let’s see what we can find out about Perfect Strangers based on articles and interviews published through May 6, 1988, the original airdate of “Bye Bye Biki”. I figure any contemporary reviews of season 3 as a whole will do more to inform any changes made for season 4, so I’ll hold off on those.

*sigh*

I have 200 tabs open in my browser. Let’s see if I can get it down to just the hundred porn sites I have set as my homepage.

 

Season 1

The 1984 Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles, California. I’m pretty out of my depth when it comes to recent U.S. history. After all, in July 1984 I had only just gotten my lanugo looking good, so I wasn’t paying attention to the Olympics. But I have vague senses of what was going on politically back then.  A friend of mine told me that when she was in her teens and twenties in the 1980s, she was legitimately afraid that the nukes could start falling any moment. We weren’t exactly on (hmm what’s a good political joke ah yes) warm terms with the Soviet Union in the early 1980s, to the extent that there was a Soviet-led boycott of the 1984 Olympic Games. (They had their own “Friendship Games” that same year.) At any rate, the Olympics happened here, with (I imagine) an undercurrent sense of “some of y’all don’t like us”.

Thomas Miller and Robert Boyett, the pair behind Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, and Bosom Buddies, noticed that during the Olympic games, Americans were open and friendly to those visiting from around the globe.  When the Olympic games were over, Americans went back to their default setting: grumpy, cynical, and isolationist. Perhaps they wanted to send a message to the world that deep-down, Americans were friendly, but were just dealing with their own issues; perhaps they wanted to send a message that Americans needed the rest of the world as much as they needed us; perhaps Joanie Loves Chachi’s ratings tanked in its second season.  At any rate, they came up with a show they were calling The Greenhorn. Says Robert Boyett: “We thought it would be great to do a series about a man who comes to America and says, ‘What a wonderful country,’ and put him up against another character who has lived here and knows the flaws.”

But their idea kept getting turned down! There were similar media in the works at two of the big three networks: CBS had the TV rights to Moscow on the Hudson, and NBC was developing a Wild & Crazy Guys show.

*takes a solid two minutes to weep silently into a stuffed sheep*

ABC turned them down as well, but their “persistence”, according to that article, paid off. I don’t know what persistence means in Hollywood speak.  Note, though, for the sake of my own take on this show and what it turned into in season 2, cynicism was built into it from the beginning.

But whom would they get to star in such a piece?  Luckily, Tommy Lee and Bobby Lee went everywhere together, even to a showing of Beverly Hills Cop, where they saw Bronson Pinchot act gay and mangle words as Serge.  I still haven’t watched the movie, but I did watch one of Pinchot’s scenes. I don’t know that he “stole” anything from Eddie Murphy. I think Eddie Murphy had star power to get things cut from his movies if he wanted. But I’ll admit it’s effective to see Eddie Murphy surprised and momentarily at a loss for words.

Here is where the narrative breaks down a little, and you’ll get a slightly different story depending on which articles you might read, and how long after the show premiered they were written. Miller and Boyett approached Bronson Pinchot, who initially turned them down.  At that time, Pinchot was the belle of the ball, and he loved telling magazines and newspapers about how, after Beverly Hills Cop, he had to tell Rolling Stone that he would call them back because he was on the other line with USA Today.  Around that same time, he had some bit parts in some other films: The Flamingo Kid, After Hours, Risky Business (from an “inconsolable” Pinchot comes the constant refrain of the bit-part actor: “my scenes were cut”), and a teen sex romp called Hot Resort that I beg one of you to buy me so I can show a clip or two of it for the inevitable Perfect Strangers Reviewed Livestream. He also was in the TV show Sara, where he played a gay lawyer. Sara didn’t last very long. And despite the success of the Serge character, Pinchot was not getting movie scripts thrown his way.

In the summer of 1985 (more popularly known as “the Summer of Love”), he took a vacation in Europe (Belgium, Italy, and then Greece) with his girlfriend.  But it left him broke, and he came crawling back to the Bob & Tom show. While I’m still thinking about that article I just linked (which, by the way, came out around the same time as the very first episode), note this quote from Pinchot:

“My fantasy scenario is to do the little innocent sheepherder in Perfect Strangers until I get tired of it, then sit around collecting furniture until the public forgets about him in a few years. Then I’ll just do movies.”

I’m sure that came together for him!  But come back Pinchot did, because in 1985 The Greenhorn was the best he could do. Luckily, he did have some ideas about the titular character thanks to his recent travels in Greece.  I’m jumping ahead in the publication dates of articles, here, but the name “Balki” was something that Bronson’s sister came up with: she had named her dog “Balcony” and then decided that it needed a nickname.  I’ve told you the stuff about Louie Anderson being the original “cousin”, but in my Season 1 Reviewed review, I figured that it was Anderson’s height compared to Pinchot’s that just didn’t work. But it wasn’t until 1987 that an Associated Press article would say that the original concept of the show was more dialogue-based, which I think certainly fits with what it was trying to say about the characters. The article quotes Pinchot to the extent that Linn-Baker was the catalyst that pushed the show towards physical comedy. Whether cream pies like as of fire sat upon Linn-Baker, and he was filled with the Spirit of Buster Keaton himself; or whether Pinchot took one look at him and said “I bet I could throw this fucker around some”, there you go.

But why did Linn-Baker walk into that room that day? He also wasn’t getting movie scripts! Linn-Baker, after his role in My Favorite Year, went back to the quiet, hungry life of a New York theatre guy.

By the way, turns out “Linn” is his middle name, but there was already a Mark Baker in the Screen Actors Guild, and they spelled his name Mary for his (brief) appearance in the film Manhattan. Given that I’ve been called Tracy, Stacy, Jason, Cassie, KC, Chase (by a therapist!), Robertson, Robertston, Robinson, and even pronouncing the first part of my last name as “robe” instead of “rob”, I can so fucking relate.

Linn-Baker had made a small foray into the television world himself by that point, on the 1984 CBS show Comedy Zone.  Says Marky Mark of that funny bunch:

“There were four layers of bureaucracy on that show, and I’m still not sure which one was running things.  And neither are they.  They talent they amassed on that show!  They had great actors, great writers and four bureaucracies to keep them from doing work.”

I can so fucking relate.

Aside from the regular, albeit low-paying, work in theatre, Perfect Greenhorns was the best Linn-Baker could do at the time.  But the two actors seemed to take to each other pretty quickly! “There has not been one blowup between them”, according to my man Tom Miller. Perhaps I’m reading between the lines: that article seems to be implying that friendship comedies are a little stale on television; but it does let Miller have the last say: “Friendship has never gone out of fashion”.

Again, Linn-Baker’s pretty silent overall in these articles. I’m getting the impression, though, that this is only partially because the show was made for/tailored to Pinchot. I think Linn-Baker just didn’t talk that much. Shyness? No deep psychological need? I dunno.

Let me get some tidbits out of the way before I talk more about how season 1 was made.

Linn-Baker says that he was becoming known as the cheapest man in Hollywood. Haha Jewish joke amirite?

Pinchot and his girlfriend tied for high school valedictorian. And not only that, his high school girlfriend was a male stock Asian stereotype, meaning that “The Graduate” is the closest this show has come to biographical.

Linn-Baker was directing a play the summer between seasons 1 and 2.

Pinchot on Balki’s accent and English: “The way I figure, Balki grew up in Europe, and he learned his English by sitting through three old movies a day.  That explains why he talks the way he talks.”

Oh, of course, that explains all the specific references to American television commercials. And uh, okay, Mypos is in Europe. Fine.

Linn-Baker signed a 5-year contract, and I have zero idea how that works. I’m going to venture a guess that it only binds him for 5 years, but not ABC.

There are plenty of mentions about how they both went to Yale, and just as many mentions about how they never ran into each other there, and they most certainly didn’t engage in homosexual sex, no sir, not at Yale.  This is another point where we start seeing gloss, but in the multitude of articles truth is established. Bronson did actually see Linn-Baker in a production, but note what he focussed on:

Pinchot: “But I saw him once in a performance of A Winter’s Tale, in which he wore brown tights baggier than old blue jeans, with folds in the seat that looked like a baby elephant’s behind.”

And back to Pinchot for a minute: we do get a bit about his backstory. Article writers liked to play up the fact that Pinchot came from Russian and Italian immigrants, and that his dad took the name Pinchot from a building in New York. Being named after Louisa May Alcott’s dad gives him that distant, fancy, not-as-far-removed-from-the-old-world air. Pinchot was poor, he worked as a  typist, his dad left when he was little, poor growing up. A breezy melting-pot rags-to-riches story. We yearn for narratives that we can remember; and in this case, the more that it resonates with the character an actor plays, the better.

So that’s what magazines thought about Bronson Pinchot, but what did he think about the show?

“It’s just pure comedy,” offered Pinchot.  “There’s no episodes about bed-wetting, or about rape.  It’s just funny.”

Okay! Moving on…

Many of the articles refer to the initial six episodes as “sample” episodes; so this was a practice to see if a show was something that advertisers would put money towards. Perfect Strangers took over the slot that had up to then been occupied by Growing Pains, but why there?

Maybe it’s because Pinchot dragged his feet, or maybe it was because ABC still wasn’t convinced after all of that TLMBLB “persistence”, but according to Miller, those six episodes ended up being made in a very short time, for their own “protection”:

“My partner, Bob Boyett, and I had pitched the series to Brandon Stoddard (president of ABC entertainment) for the 1986-87 season.  Brandon liked the idea but reminded us if we started in the fall, we’d be competing with a lot of new shows.  Then he said, ‘If you guys can make six shows real fast, I can put them on now’.”

More from Miller:

“ABC gave us an option,” Miller explained.  “We could either test it out in a run of six episodes in a protected time period, or we could do the standard 13, and take our chances at getting the full run.”

Let’s move on to the reviews, because good grief, I’ve written 2400 words and I haven’t even gotten to the season 2 reporting.

The articles reviewing the set of six sample ‘sodes (see? superior syllable-slinging) explicitly mention capitalism, the “frustrated” nature of Larry’s character, that Bronson gets all the good lines.  One review of the first episode assumed Susan was Larry’s girlfriend. One reviewer was even sure that the Pinchot/Linn-Baker dynamic was the key element that would get the show picked up for the fall, though he wonders whether the title will still make sense (bless you, sir).

And boy, that “America, home of the Whopper” line really resonated with a lot of reviewers, because it gets quoted–and misquoted–in abundance.

Believe it or not, there are a couple of articles that are dry runs at a review blog of this type.  First, from Robert Bianco of the Pittsburgh Press:

Balki has curious gaps in his American knowledge — he knows about Burger King, Dolly Parton and “Nine to Five,” but he’s never heard of Levi Strauss and never seen a pop-top can.  His reactions are often funny, but if the writers don’t control their tendency to go for the cheap, easy laugh at the expense of character development, the character will turn into a walking laugh track.

And the supporting characters are weak, the same flaw that helped destroy “Mork and Mindy.”  Twinkacetti (Ernia Sabella), the boys’ employer, is a heavy-handed humorless rip-off of “Louie” from “Taxi.”  And their best friend, Susan (Lise Cutter), has been given little to do but smile and say, “Isn’t he cute.”

And please, please look at this concise takedown of season 1 by none other than Tom Shales of the Washington Post.

Even if you don’t read Shales’s review, look at how the fansite puts a disclaimer on the article.

I see you, fanbase.

And how can I not give you this from 16 Magazine to end my unpacking of season 1 coverage?

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Season 2

“It may never be looked back on as great TV”

Audiences took to the cousins, and Perfect Strangers became a real show in the fall of 1986. ABC re-aired the sample episodes in August before showing “Hello Baby”, in order to put to rest the rumors that Balki and Larry actually did kiss briefly in one scene. The 86/87 season of Perfect Strangers was also considered its first season by those working on it.

My very first library job, back in the summer of 2002, between my freshman and sophomore years, was at the Berry College Memorial Library.  This was the summer of Enron, the summer of Attack of the Clones, the summer of me shelving magazines and academic journals and getting dizzy from the smell of book glue.  Advertising Age is this floppy folio-sized magazine that they send to you folded and it never wants to stand up straight on the journal shelves and only people in the advertising business and people who work in library serials departments know about it. Here’s what they had to say about the ratings for the Perfect Strangers reairings: “Perfect Strangers” (ABC); 8/31 (minus 2); 8/24 (plus 6); 8/17 (minus 5).”

A few mentions are made here and there about the show going up against Highway to Heaven in the same timeslot, and that it wasn’t expected to beat it in the ratings. One article in particular indicates that the new timeslot Perfect Strangers went to on Wednesday nights was a courageous move.  Many of the articles do acknowledge the leg-up that the show got thanks to its “protected” time between Who’s the Boss and Moonlighting, but only to quickly brush it away, because of course it was the chemistry between the the two leads, how could anything else explain it? The reviewers do protest too much, methinks.

But kids loved the cousins!  Oh wait, it says they liked ALF too. Kids are stupid

But girls got wet over the cousins! “Is Bronson sexy?  Fans say ‘Yes!’”

But is Mark sexy? I beg you, please buy me a copy of the movie Bare Essentials, and after I’ve rehydrated, I’ll let you know.

A review published the day that “Hello Baby” aired, about the character of Larry:

“As scripted, though, there’s a lot of ‘ugly American; to the part, and the show might lose a bit of its appeal if the character doesn’t evolve a bit more into what Americans would like to think they are, rather that (sic) presenting a fairly unflattering, if realistic, picture of the true American character.”

And Linn-Baker on Larry in the full season:

Initially Larry was written as a very knowing guy, almost cynical, says Linn-Baker [himself born in Missouri and raised in Connecticut].  “The thought was to have Balki, this total innocent, paired with someone who was really jaded — the ‘Odd Couple’ idea.  But what we finally came to was that Larry — while immersed in the culture and a little more thoughtful — was finally just as much of an innocent in his own right.”

Well, that explains the shift from Larry actually knowing anything to Larry breaking down in tears in the final act because he was a bad little boy.

Larry was originally supposed to be wearing Balki’s clothes. But Pinchot got to the set that day first and took Larry’s clothes because he liked them better. When Linn-Baker got there he said he didn’t like those clothes anyway, they were garbage clothes for stupid babies.  Also, when Linn-Baker saw the apartment set for the very first time, he said he didn’t like the “fussy” way it was decorated, that it looked like his grandmother’s house, get it out of here, it’s stupid, where’s my antacid. Nah, j/k, Linn-Baker’s a pretty calm and collected guy:

“If Bronson is frustrated or unhappy, you hear it immediately, though he’s not always that capable of explaining his frustration.  But whatever, he lets it all out.  Mark keeps it all in,” Miller says…

And if Cousins Larry and Balki were, indeed, “halves of one person”, then Linn-Baker and Pinchot mirrored this internal/external divide. While Mark’s major purchases were a convertible and a co-op apartment, Bronson was buying up Scandinavian furniture.  Magazines loved taking photos of that one bed that cost $9,000.

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Pinchot’s backstory is now told in shorthand, the details of the past wiped away in favor of tight narrative. Now, it’s a short story about the producers seeing Beverly Hills Cop, asking Bronson, Bronson taking a trip to Greece, and thus Balki is born.  Plus Pinchot took another trip to Greece in the summer of ‘86 to get more steeped in the culture of people who fuck sheep. So now that trip was talked about instead of the broke-on-his-ass trip the previous year.  Pinchot gripes about not having much luck in the girlfriend department anymore now that he’s famous. The familiar details show up again: growing up on welfare, the absent father. He boasts about his lack of pop culture knowledge: he didn’t know who the Beatles were, he never saw Laverne & Shirley or Mork & Mindy.  Gone were mentions of the film Hot Resort. Completely forgotten were the lack of roles coming in after Beverly Hills Cop.  But not all of the ill-fitting details of Bronson’s story got swept under the rug: the mythology of “Balki” had shifted from the personal to the character:

“Balki is short for balcony,” he explains, “which is where Balki’s father first saw his mother.”

Canon if you want it to be, just like Samuel L. Jackson saying Mace Windu is alive and then getting George Lucas to agree with him about it. Also I guess they all speak English on Mypos?

Here and there, Pinchot lets slip that he was adjusting his mindset: he previously assumed it would take him ages to get a leading role in a movie, and the sudden success surprised him. But in many cases, he just reads as total detached braggadocio. Take this interview from 1987, where Bronson boasts that “the show has got to be the pinnacle of physical comedy”.  That’s right, y’all, fuck the Marx Brothers! Fuck them lame-ass Stooges, too, however many of them there were!

The narrative of Bronson Pinchot actor (USA) was now one of success, and both the press and Pinchot himself were eager to tell it. I mentioned previously that Pinchot claims to have recorded a comedy album that never got produced, but there were other things, bigger things!   Bronson hoped to one day do a one-man show, and he was also writing a movie with Mark Kaufmann and, uh…

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3731811/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

yeah, that didn’t happen either

But Bronson did do commercials for both Maxwell House

and Pepsi

and he hosted Saturday Night Live on Valentine’s Day 1987. So he was getting work. And I’m sure he was doing tons of interviews on talk shows, but I’m *ahem* certainly never going to watch all of those…

I give you also this tiny article about Pinchot, because again we see the fanbase being fiercely protective against a “majority of the media”, which here is represented by Gaultier, Falwell, and Zappa.

I see you, fanbase.

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Now that we’ve established that Pinchot was hot shit in 1986 & 1987, it’s worth noting that, just as I’ve been impressed with Linn-Baker’s acting, so were some of the critics. A “bystander” in this article says that Linn-Baker is the funnier of the two; director Joel Zwick also notes that Linn-Baker would work on jokes at the detail level to make them go smoothly.  Again, I like this because it mirrors the characters: Balki’s broad comedy of swinging a hammer at Larry vs. Larry doing the tiny shake of the head to convince Balki to stay up all night studying. Linn-Baker also says in that article that he turned down roles for a bunch of “dumb comedies” after My Favorite Year. Such high standards for what films he’d pick no doubt led to his roles in Going to the Chapel and Him & Me.  Men’s Look magazine published, right before the premiere of season 3, a longer piece on Linn-Baker, replete with plenty of steamy photos for girls to clip out and put above their headboards, or stick into the corners of the mirrors.  But the article is pretty breezy again, trying to build that narrative of being born into the acting life (both of his parents worked in theatre).  But really, come on. Probably the best-known play that Linn-Baker had done to that point was Doonesbury, which I didn’t realize until reading these articles had not fared well.*** The article also cites Mel Brooks as having said (out loud!) during the production of My Favorite Year that Linn-Baker was good. That explains why Brooks cast him in Spaceballs, Life Stinks, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and Dracula: Dead and Loving It.  Oh, and: Mark had a girlfriend named Jennifer back then.

And hey, let’s not forget Dmitri! Someone on the crew saved little Dmitri’s soul by refusing to let him be clothed in a wool vest. This article spells the name Dimitri, which is also how the fanbase spells it, but fuck that. Curly was spelled “Curley” on early Three Stooges shorts. It’s not my fault if those who write history aren’t well-read enough to know what the common ways of putting foreign names into English are.

And now we come back again to Rebeca Arthur, and how she and Jennifer were brought back after audiences loved how they left the room in “Hunks Like Us”. Arthur signed a five-year contract as well. Her success led her to boast that she would someday have a lead role on a show, because she “knows what the formula is now”. She also gives us some insight into why Mary Anne acts differently from the way she’s written sometimes:  “She’s a little dizzy, but then she’ll come out with something that makes perfect sense.  I’d say she’s naive.”

If you want to read more about Tom Miller, read this article, because it seems that he had much more to do with the show’s creation than anyone else. Here I’ve been picking on Dale McRaven all season; but that’s my fault for only reading a few articles last time. Tom prayed that the show would reach five seasons so it could go into syndication; if the math doesn’t sound right, just remember he’s not thinking of the first six episodes as a season.

And here’s one more fun fact about season 2’s production: ABC spent $20,000 on wood and white carpet for the skiing 2-parter. ABC also hired people to train the actors how to ski. And then they didn’t ski. How much did the footage of some other guy actually skiing cost? Cripes.

Okay, 4500 words now, and we’ve still got:

Season 3

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*sigh*

It’s more articles about Bronson Pinchot.  When the narrative gets trotted out, it’s shortened further still.  But by this point, most people knew it anyway; and the article writers were coming up with new questions. There’s actually a really good article on Pinchot that I want to end this post with, so let’s get through these other tabs first.

This article, an interview with–

haha, whoops, wrong set of tabs

This article, an interview with Linn-Baker, reveals some new details, like how he co-wrote a play, and like how sometimes he has a mustache. He talks about this being the longest job he’s ever had, and there are faint hints of griping when he talks about ABC moving their timeslot a second time.  Said Mark: “Our numbers are going to drop, but I suppose the network knows what it’s doing”.  He was also teaching acting at Vassar, but that wasn’t the only place his skill was being affirmed. A couple of articles praise Linn-Baker’s acting ability in terms of the range of faces he can make; one published in 1987 went so far as to describe his nose as “prehensile”. (I realize that the fansite says “circa 1986” for this one, but look at the context clue of the final paragraph of the article, where it mentions the cousins’ new jobs.

And speaking of season 3 changes, “…we’ll also be moving into a larger apartment”, [Pinchot] said. “Balki will be able to have his own room.”

Again, this is Pinchot saying this. It was never stated on the show that they had a new apartment, and even the writers, later on, still referred to them being on Caldwell. This article (among others) talks about how the leads had a fair amount of leverage in adding to the scripts. Evidently, the episode with Fast Eddie was, according to Linn-Baker, “too sad”, so Bronson threw in Boochi tag. So why didn’t they play Boochi tag with Frank?

Despite how flawed that solution ended up being for the story that episode was trying to tell, note that it was tag-teamed (hee) by the actors. Linn-Baker identified the problem, Pinchot came up with a solution. They did seem to have a good rapport, and I find all of one mention of any discord between them.  They fought for a half-hour over a gag in “The Defiant Guys” that Linn-Baker thought didn’t work.  I agree–just read the article, you–that would have been taking the other hands bit slightly too far, and they were already making tiny breaks in the show’s reality by that point. Things were fragile. But then, yeah, if I had to be handcuffed to somebody I liked for a few hours, yeah, that would suck.  I try to keep myself hydrated, and I go by the rule of C²P² – “clear and copious pee-pee”, meaning over the course of two hours, someone would have had to see or touch my wiener.

Fun fact: Linn-Baker “performed a solo mime show” when he was in college. So that’s what they called it at Yale in the late 1970s! Speaking of…

Eddie Murphy calls Balki gay

A Florida newspaper calls Balki gay

Pinchot trained for trapeze stunts for CBS’s Circus of the Stars; an article makes reference to his “catcher”, so now I’m calling Pinchot gay.

But what does Bronson call himself?  A fat loser.  The RockLine! interview isn’t the first time Bronson has said he was overweight until his 20s.**** That interview probably has the shortest (and most misleading) history of the Balki character, but we do get more about his teenage years. Basically, Bronson was excluded from just about everything in high school for being fat; he says that it led him to focus more on his academics, and on drawing.  So now, in addition to wanting hear the spoken comedy album, I wish I could see his art. But I do now wonder how Pinchot felt about the (missing) lesson of “Weigh to Go, Buddy”.  He has lots of praise for his mother here–how she encouraged her children to be creative and original, and turned their focus away from pop culture, which Pinchot says he hates. Remember how he said he didn’t know who the Beatles were? He’s still talking in 1987 about how he had to tell his college classmates he didn’t know who Mork was.

Instead, he was spending his money on his favorite parts of real culture like Wizard of Oz memorabilia and 500-year-old French play manuscripts.  That’s probably the most consistent thing about him from what I’ve read so far. Moreover, from an “Unknown Publication”, we get a sense of an unknowable Bronson Pinchot.

“Like any butterfly with a brain that should someday be preserved in a jar of formaldehyde, Pinchot is both easy and hard to identify and pin down.  He can deliver the devastating quip, the generous compliment, the complex analysis, the introspective tidbit, the damaging revelation, the self-promoting remark, the loony look, the helpless giggle.  In a way, he is what he’s doing at the time.”

And how can I resist reading the isolated high school experience into this behavior? Does he flit and joke to distract interviewers from something else (criticism)? Or has he abandoned that, and this is just who he wants to be? Pinchot had, by that point, seen that some of his peers hit their peaks in their teens and early 20s, allowing him some perhaps long-overdue downward social comparison.  Anyway, there’s also this quote from him:  “I can’t watch two seconds of television.”

unless

wait for it

unless it’s Moonlighting!

Speaking of talking as a puppet for an unseen entity, Bronson’s favorite Muppet is Janice. And what the hey, go read his interview in Muppet Magazine. Who cares about Pinchot in it, but damn do I miss the writing style in those old kids’ magazines. Gonzo is more real to me than Bronson Pinchot ever will be, especially when fiction gets mingled with truth even further:

“…for years he toiled in obscurity with heavy dramatic roles for various theater companies.”

Oh? Do some fucking research, Deeb; it’s so obvious you’re just parroting what Bronson told you. My buddy Stu over here says Pinchot was just playing bit parts during that time.  At any rate, there were still big things in Pinchot’s future, because I begin to see mentions of the movie he’s going to–*gasp*–star in come Christmas 1989.  I’m sure it’ll be great!

And lastly, that Playgirl interview I’ve been alluding to. This is the one I’m strongly encouraging you to read in full before you read the rest of my post; this is probably the most revealing look at Pinchot we’ve gotten yet.

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Sorry, I realize now you probably thought you were going to see his penis. Anyway, please don’t think I’m buying every bit of what Bronson says.  There’s a tiny bit of illogic that he’s unaware of–note that he’s probably been talking about how poor his family was that it’s just a spiel he gives at this point. He mentions it being a thrill just going to a restaurant, mere paragraphs after talking about how restaurants can really fuck up a meal if they don’t get the tiny details right on the mile-long list of specifications you give them for your giant vegetarian meal. Here’s what I think: that young Bronson, shunned by his peers, had a scattershot intellectual upbringing.  He knew quite a bit in a lot of different areas, certainly not enough to make him an expert, but more than enough for him to realize that he knew more than those around him.  Note how Bronson criticizes actresses who want to only talk about film, but not about other types of art. I’m sure Bronson could (at that point) hold his own (to a point) with experts on most topics; and I’m guessing he certainly beat most of those around him for breadth, and likely (slightly) depth on most of the intersect, too. I realize I might be saying more about me than about Bronson that this is my interpretation of him, but I feel that I can relate.  This jack-of-all-trades path of intellectual development means that at some point, in some area, you may all of a sudden reach a tipping point of skill, leading to some sort of success. You get rewarded, so you do more of that thing.  A few years later, you get a sense of your place compared to others around you, and you make assessments–about them and about yourself.  Bronson is telling us (through the discussion of hunks) that you have to figure out what your specialty within that field is and go with it.  But buried inside that is more criticism of the standard:

“I’m very close in age to most of these people,” he begins, “and about a million light years away from them in what I’m trying to do….My first and last responsibility is to completely fulfill a character.  That’s just a different approach.”

And again, this is me talking about me, but I feel that disappointments lie behind criticisms like this.  It’s a tension of knowing you have something special, but that it doesn’t fit with most of what’s going on.  Part bluster, part reality, part… idunno, part trying to call out in the darkness for others who think the same way.

Also, we find out that Bronson used to straight up grab women’s asses to try to get them to have sex with him; he claims that he met with success often enough. You can say that sometimes some women want that, and want to be pursued that way, and I’ll believe you more if you’re a woman. But not knowing whose asses he had access to, I think immediately of the aforementioned actresses whom he didn’t think highly of in the first place, and who likely weren’t as “big” of a star as he, or assistants or crew members on the Perfect Strangers set, or on Saturday Night Live: people who could risk losing a part, or a job, if they didn’t play along.

Of course, Pinchot was talking to Playgirl magazine, and he winkingly tells you he’s playing a part for you at the end of the article, so season with salt to taste.  Perhaps the message is simply “hey, I don’t lounge around topless showing off my hairy pecs like some idiots, but I’ll still grab your ass, and you’ll like it”; which is not too far off from messages endemic to such publications.

Lastly, Pinchot tells Playgirl that he doesn’t consume caffeine (or drugs, or alcohol, wotta saint). So, uh, Bronson, let me ask: why the percolating fuck were you selling Maxwell House and Pepsi?

I find no interviews with Melanie Wilson for this time period.

Melanie: —

_________________________________

Boner count: come on, did you see those photos of Bronson and Mark?

*I’m from Georgia; if you’re from a northern state, Mary Anne is so dumb she thinks that beaucoup is the sound male birds make.

**Not to be confused with lumpen, as in lumpenproletariat

***I mean, I read the play when I read through all 40 years of the Doonesbury comic. It wasn’t great, but then I don’t know what theatre audiences like. The best thing to come out of that play, though, was the Rap Master Ronnie video: https://youtu.be/-PETIr_4c1c

****He actually says that he was overweight until he was 20, but one article quotes him as saying that he couldn’t stand to look at how fat he was (at 24) when he watched Beverly Hills Cop.

P.S. The fact sheet that Pinchot would send out to fans spells the baked goods as “bibibabkas”. I’m going to assume he knows what he’s talking about since he read the script. The correct spelling is bibibabka, not bibbibabka. Fight me.

P.P.S. All images come from http://www.perfectstrangers.tv. My thanks to Linda Kay for letting me put them here amongst all my swears.

Season 3, Episode 19: My Brother, Myself

We open at the Chronicle, where Balki is talking to “Cousin Billy” on the phone.

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SEASON 3 BOSS FIGHT

Last season’s level boss, Larry’s sister Elaine, was a bit of a cakewalk. If I remember correctly, all Larry had to do was dodge flying piano keys and hug her three times to beat the level.

But now we’re going to get to meet the one other sibling that the writers have bothered to name!  Remember Billy? From way back in the worst episode ever, “The Unnatural”? If I remember correctly, Billy had about a million trophies and had to start storing the lesser ones (“Best in Show – Tri-County Dimple Competition”) on Larry’s side of the room.  Elaine shaving Larry’s head was revealed as just silly little siblings at play, but I think this show will have a harder time reversing what we know to be true: Billy Appleton has been condescending to Larry since childhood.

Shit, I knew better than to get excited. I mean, after all, why the hell was Billy calling at work, and, oh, yep, there it is

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Balki thinks that the menstrual cycle gives women dark powers over men, like reading their minds.

*sigh*

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Larry comes out of the elevator, Balki gives exposition, and Harriette patiently stares at the camera until it’s time for her to ask for backstory. But Billy’s coming to Chicago for a couple of hours and Balki is so excited to mispronounce the name of another of his relatives!

Nature abhors a vacuum, so Balki’s exit pulls Harriette and Lydia toward Larry. Brother Billy has continued to be successful into his adult life: he owns his own business and flies frequently to Paris and Monte Carlo (the only two rich-people places the writers have ever heard of).  Lydia sides with Larry, as she, too, hates successful people.

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But then we find out Larry has been bragging about himself to Billy, claiming that he is the city editor. And because Billy didn’t, you know, grow up with Larry, he doesn’t suspect that Larry was lying.

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Harriette tells Larry that he deserves whatever he gets, and Larry responds with more alliteration with B words. You can tell one of the writers was so excited when they looked up who the executive editor of the Washington Post was and saw that it was “Ben Bradlee”.

Then the women start in with the alliteration and I guess that’s just a thing now. Buncha bit-part bimbos better not be bout to buoy this bonehead’s braggadocio…

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It seems like once every 6 or 7 episodes we get some nice directorial work, and here it comes as a transition from Larry worried at work to Larry worried at home. Balki, carefree as ever, is catching up on his reading (likely Amazing Spider-Man #299, the one where Peter Parker meets Eddie Murphy).

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Larry starts laughing, and begins his gambit to get Balki to help him lie to his brother. He says he’s laughing about the times he and Billy played “Appleton Snowjob”.

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Balki: I know this! On Mypos is very simple… the woman is working out in the field, she put cocaine on the erect penis, then she cook for eleven men!

It seems like once every 10 episodes or so Larry tries to hook Balki by acting like he’s not going to let him do something. Larry says that the Appleton Snowjob is a game where you try to fool your brother into believing something. And just like my little brother did upon realizing for the first time that you don’t always win when you play Chutes and Ladders, Balki weeps openly.

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Cousin Larry says they have to come up with a story, then “comes up” with increasingly absurd stories, the joke being that Larry keeps saying them right before Balki says something. I mean, I get that this is Comedy Dialogue Structure #52 (US Pat. D293,473), but I do kind of wonder what Balki would have come up with.

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He gets Balki on board with the city editor scam, but then Larry then posits an obstacle. How to get around Mr. Burns being there? An excited Balki says that he overheard some ABC execs saying that the studio audiences just didn’t seem to respond well to Eugene Roche, and he wasn’t coming back to the set anymore. Dude was gone.

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Demonstrating the briefcase skills he developed in “Night School Confidential”, Larry throws a bunch of personal effects into a briefcase and off they go to the Chronicle to perform their “snowjob”.

Later, in Mr. Burns’s office, the cousins changes the picture on the wall. Okay, okay, okay. Show of hands, readers. How many of you have black-and-white headshot photos of yourself on your office walls?

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Huh. Just me and Mr. Burns and Larry. Alright.

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And for the second time in years, Harriette has ventured more than two yards outside of the elevator just to let the cousins know that Billy is on his way.

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*squeal*

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It’s Ted McGinley! I did not expect that! I mean, I really only watched Married… With Children reruns in middle school, and I barely remember anything but the episode where Al Bundy is supposed to be in a Dodge commercial, but I’m weirdly excited to see McGinley here (so is Harriette, who gets a little wet before she leaves).  Similar to Mr. Burns and Kimmy Robertson, simply because I’ve seen him in literally anything else, ever he feels like more of a “real” actor. And I know enough about McGinley’s reputation to know what an insult that is to Linn-Baker and Pinchot.

But this confirms that Larry is the runt of the family, or possibly that a Jewish family left him on the Appleton doorstep in 1961.  The first thing out of Billy’s mouth is that Larry is so ungodly fat now.

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Just like any good foreigner, Balki’s instinct upon meeting a new “family member” is to start checking for where they keep their wallet.

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But then Balki goes too far trying to boost the con game. He starts by saying that everyone treats Larry like Prince Valium.  I know I haven’t really mentioned many Balki-isms since “Night School Confidential” kind of sweet-and-soured me on them (dammit! see?), but I mention this one because Spaceballs probably came out around the same time this season was being written. Wait, wait, I am NOT claiming that Perfect Strangers stole the joke. I’m just saying that someone needs to add this to Wikipedia’s list of multiple discoveries because this is way more important than some garbage mess like the Polio vaccine.

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Anyway, Balki keeps making shit up and Billy finds Melanie Wilson’s headshot. Balki says that Jennifer is a former Miss Costa Rica and then makes the same face I did a couple months back when I had shingles and the pain kept waking me up in the middle of the night.

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The cousins take a cab to the restaurant, but we don’t get to see it this time, because we’re not scheduled for anybody to beat Larry up until next season.  When we return to the Chronicle, we find that Billy has already left. Ah yes, I like this kind of boss battle. You think you’ve defeated them, but they just run off to a higher level of the tower; or you’ve only knocked away layers of armor. Either way, in the next round, they’re going to be flashing red.

Cousin Larry reveals that he lied, and Balki realizes that his soul has been darkened by participation in Larry’s evil. Oh, Larry, that’s Snow Way to Treat Your Brother, Or Your Cousin!

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Larry promises to tell his brother what’s what the very next time he sees him. The phone rings, and Larry gets a hot tip from Gus that Billy’s flight was cancelled, and that Billy will be staying with them that night.  Larry picks up his lucky pen and gouges his own eyes out so that he can never fulfill his promise to Balki.

Nah, j/k, I think that happens in season 6, though.

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Billy comes out of Larry’s room asking for a lint brush. It’s in Balki’s “lint drawer”. (I expect another painting soon, Balki.) It turns out that Larry told Billy that Balki is offering them a place to stay while Larry’s townhouse is being remodeled.

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So… did Larry remove all of his items from his bedroom and make it look like the guest bedroom? Did he get rid of the smell? Did he remove all of the art that he had around the apartment, since Billy would know what Larry’s tastes were? Did he even remove the Bismol from the fridge? I’m beginning to think you’re pulling a Snowjob on me, show.

Balki calls Larry fat. Balki, having long acclimated to the sounds of Larry sobbing while he masturbates in the next room, has forgotten that sound carries across short, open distances and yells at Larry about lying.

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Balki sits the brothers down and tells them the parable of the brothers Zaggy Badbad (Mooki and Grinki in this case).*

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The music comes on really strong throughout this whole story. I think the music director for the show thought that if they did this, it would cover up the fact that Balki’s story is basically just recapping the first 15 minutes of the show, but replacing the names and switching out “job” and “home” for “ram” and “farm”, respectively.  The point of the story is that the brothers used to love each other, and now don’t and that Larry will die alone, unmourned, and unloved.

aloneunmournedandunloved

Larry Appleton, aged 72.

I thought Billy was a total shit to Larry when they were kids? Doesn’t he deserve some comeuppance?  I’m disappointed that Larry is  working through an adult issue with a member of his family instead of just being called fat and unsuccessful for 22 straight minutes, but maybe this is part of an aggregate point. Maybe once you’ve identified as a nail, everything starts to look like a hammer. Maybe Larry convinced himself that he would only ever be ridiculed and put down, and he then interpreted–or even forced–situations to end that way. With Jerseyman. With Vestman. But now Tuxman is here, and–

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HEY WAIT A MINUTE

Episodes about Myposian food, about Vince Lucaahhss, about snow and lying, about Balki demanding to be allowed a crucial part in a game at the last minute. Eugene Roche, like Count Fenring, a failed Twinksatz Haderach; Jerseyman/Vestman; Belita Moreno has a different hair color…

IS LEVEL THREE JUST A RESKIN OF LEVEL TWO?

*throws controller across the room*

AND YOU JUST INTROSPECT INSTEAD OF FIGHTING THE LEVEL’S BOSS?

*jumps up and down on the console*

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At the end of Balki’s story, Billy starts crying. He admits to lying about everything he said he owned. Turns out he’s a travel agent and gets good deals on flights.

Larry wonders if Billy lied to him all these years. Yeah, Billy, huh? Was that “First Place – Wisconsin State Fair – Cheese Identification” trophy fake too? But there’s still like three minutes left, so instead of coming clean, Larry tells Billy that he forgives him.  Once that takes up a minute, Larry recaps all the things he’s lied about.

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Larry: I’m not the city editor at the paper, I don’t own a townhouse. Jennifer and I aren’t engaged, but she does like me. Look, here’s the shooting script for “Future Shock”, look at the highlighted passage on page 30. See? Firmly established in the show’s canon.

Turns out they were both jealous of each other because their parents pitted them against each other with that “why can’t you be more like your brother” bullcrap. Larry and Billy, with the things they were good at** both represented the other’s greatest desires. Man, the dynamic between Walt and Hank on Breaking Bad got nothing on this!

Larry and Billy hug, and it’s a real touching moment for people who–unlike me–can experience real emotion about their family. I’m so proud of this show.

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Balki is brought to tears, this being the first time the show has ever fully obscured him in a shot.

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Balki says that this was the moment that they really became brothers, the moment that they “really stepped in something good”.

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*mashes the A button repeatedly to try to get through Balki’s text faster, even though I know it doesn’t work that way*

Join me next week for “You Gotta Have Friends”!

____________________________________

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

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

*Makes me wonder if, when they got together with Zimdog, they were more of a Three Stooges or a Marx Brothers kind of deal.

**Larry was really good at ironing.