Season 4, Episode 1: The Lottery

Welcome to Season 4!

And, huh. Based on that episode title, maybe I wasn’t too far off in guessing at the writers’ preoccupations in season 3.  Season 4 premiered on October 14, 1988 as the lead-in to the proto-TGIF block of programming on ABC.  Full House, then in its second season, aired immediately after, but by the summer of 1989 it was moved to the start of the Friday night programming block.  Perfect Strangers would be bumped an hour later then, following Full House and Mr. Belvedere; why the change? TGIF: this guy’s inference? Families.  In Fall 1988 Perfect Strangers was in competition with Beauty and the Beast on CBS, and Sonny Spoon on NBC.  (Don’t remember Sonny Spoon? You and everybody else, bud.)

Anyway, who the fuck cares about that, what’s occurring to me now is that Season 4 is the first season where we’re not starting over. Season 2 was a year of struggles and pain, being willing to let go of parts of the past if they were keeping you from living in the moment (Larry the Christmas Boy and Balki the dog-owner). Season 3 was a little more forward-looking: it ended with the same lesson, but that was after a year of trying its darnedest to progress and move past its own tropes (Mypos sayings).  In a broad sense, Season 3 overgeneralized Season 2’s lesson of letting go into actively trying to forget unless pressed to (Larry the Camera Boy and Mary Anne the landlord-rememberer).  Season 3 gave us a new work environment, and a new set of second-tier characters that it was alternately hesitant to commit to (Mrs. Burns & Gorpley) but would bring back and highlight if they proved popular (Harriette and Lydia). Twinkacetti still existed in the world of Season 3, and we can assume that Mr. Burns probably does too, unless we’re told otherwise.  However:


But for once, we’re in the same place, we’ve got the same characters. So perhaps the show doesn’t have to do as much heavy lifting in terms of introducing us to the characters and their situation, but I would argue it still must do some. Like how at the beginning of 4th grade the teacher spent the first couple of weeks reviewing stuff from 3rd grade. Back then it just made things boring for me, but I can see now it was the teacher’s way of sound out the waters, pre-test for the year, find out not only what we remembered by what we wanted to learn and how we thought of ourselves and others and school in general. So I’ll probably give the first few episodes some tiny passes if they need them. Big questions:

Are things the same? Have the cousins changed since the spring?  Who are Larry and Balki now? Is this show still about dreams, and if so, what are theirs?  In addition to those big questions, I have a shortlist of smaller ones:

Will we have an endless list of characters who stop by, threaten the cousins’ friendship in some tangential way, and leave? Or will Gorpley say more than “Bartokomous, where’s the line that you say after my line?”

Will the lessons still be pat and easy? Or am I still guaranteed somewhere between 2 and 4 decent story endings?

Are we going to retread familiar ground again?

Will Larry lie only 20 times, or 21 times?

Will Larry remember that cameras are still a thing, and never stopped being a thing?

What new thing will Jennifer not necessarily like?

Will Balki ever pronounce Larry’s name right?


Anyway, here we are at the Chronicle.  It’s a new season, it’s sunny out, everything is success, success, success, and Balki is finishing up his work for the day.


Mr. Gorpley stops him, demanding more work: in this case an office directory.  As we saw last season, Balki had graduated from American high school; here, we see that he has now been socialized into the American capitalist system and knows that employees are simply tools, their bodies owned by their faceless employers.  Balki brags that he has added every employee’s blood type to their directory entries.

Gorpley affirms this dim view of employee agency:

Mr. Gorpley: Your days are numbered.


And Balki thanks him for it!  I’m going to pause from my hard-hitting exegesis to ask: how, in the 800+ hours of Balki watching television and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, did he never hear this phrase?

There’s a ding from off-camera!



One miss!

Two miss!

Red miss!

Blue miss!

This one has a brand new ‘do!

This one has neuroses, too!

Lydia is excited because she won the lottery, and somehow there weren’t any lottery commercials on TV either, because Balki doesn’t know what it is.


Harriette explains how the lottery is a backwards ritual that ought to be forgotten, as there are much better ways to control the population (in terms of stemming the dual tides of growth and revolution) than randomly stoning people to death.

Nah, j/k, Harriette mentions that the grand prize is $28 million dollars!

*counts on fingers… that’s 560,00 times $50!*

Then we find out that Lydia only won $100.  😦


Larry emerges from the past, confirming that he did not write an article that day and that he is still a jerk.


Harriette gripes about having to listen to Lydia whine about how Larry called her an idiot, and once again, Belita Moreno proves to be the only actor who knows how to use the different types of exits to their full potential–she starts whining as the elevator door closes.


Balki starts in with his whole “I want to play state-sponsored snowjob” bit and Larry tries to talk him out of it.


Larry: You have a better chance of being hit by a car!


…after which Balki promptly runs out to the parking garage.


Balki comes into the apartment shaking his imaginary tits, just like they do in Fiddler on the Roof. He’s singing Reason #17 that DVD as a format will be abandoned before the music rights on this season are cleared: “If I Were a Rich Man”.

Since there’s no women here, the cousins are forced repeat to each other what they did before they got home. Larry loaned Balki a dollar to play the lottery, and Balki pays him back out of his Freddy the Frog bank.  Freddy evidently has chosen some weird-ass antlered anteater wearing a cape as his avatar for this world.


But Balki has done more than take on the music of Jewish portrayals in pop culture: he offers to pay Larry 50 cents back instead of the whole dollar

Larry does not want in, Balki keeps trying to sell him on the idea that Balki is being generous and thankful to him.

Balki: You took me in, gave me shelter…

Ignoring for the moment that Larry treats Balki like dirt and calls him a slob, this is a succinct (and, if I may say, clever) way to restate all that audiences need to know about the cousins’ relationship 50 episodes in. Larry usually is all about the quick fixes and get-rich-schemes, but his response here is fitting: he is rejecting fate (chance/religion) in favor of control.

Cousin Larry wants to tell Balki about economics

*leans in close to the screen, fingers poised on keyboard, ready to praise the show*


Larry just starts reading the text on the dollar bill.

*shoulders slump, fingers type out “fuck you show”*


Larry, the acceptable face of the Capitalist race, says that the dollar bill can buy things, while the other piece of paper has no value.  He has chosen to let the eye on the back of the bill see for him, and is thus blind to the fact that he errs in the exact same way Balki does.

Later that night…


Black dress!

??? dress!

Dumb miss!

??? miss!

The women have come downstairs just to watch a man on a screen say six numbers out loud (the 80s were a strange, cocaine-fueled time, kids).

Mary Anne (Sagittarius) tells Balki to come back to the couch so that he won’t miss the drawing, something he certainly would have forgotten in the time it took him to grab a single bowl from the kitchen.


Jennifer: Gee, I’ve heard money is nice when little effort is put forth to get it.

Mary Anne says that if she won, she’d buy the airline she works for (the 80s were also a cheap time when you could buy a lottery ticket for a dollar and an airline for $28 million) so she wouldn’t have to be scheduled on double shifts.

She then spouts what are meant to read as well-informed financial decisions she would make for the company.  Mary Anne is the rare character in this show for whom everything she says is funny.


When she says something dumb, she’s funny because she misunderstands something. When she says something smart, she’s funny because she’s dumb.  But Jennifer?

Jennifer keeps the focus off herself by asking Larry what he’d do with 28 million. Larry again rejects the idea of chance by rejecting the question. But WWBD?

He would pay off the Myposian National Debt, which totals $635.

I hope you’re all wanting to strangle Balki as much as I am for blowing that money on a skywriting jet last season.


Deep down, Balki still understands that capitalist excess is a danger to his way of life, and start starts getting scared when the numbers are announced. He begs Cousin Larry to hold the transcribed numbers (Balki hid the ticket) and Larry puts on this whole asshole 1950s sitcom “gee, Balki” kind of voice.


We get a slow close-in on Larry’s face as he realizes what’s on the note that Balki handed him.


The women try to leave, there being nothing else in the entire apartment to interest them, but–


Balki won!


In the next scene, the women finally leave. For the second time this episode, Balki calls himself “a simple sheepherder”.


Look, Balki, I know that’s how all your masturbation fantasies start, but according to “My Brother, Myself”, you’ve been here for basically two years. You haven’t even touched your shepherd’s crook since *sniff* Susan left.


The cousins are so happy that they do the Dance of Joy.


Larry keeps pressing his cheek against Balki’s and saying “we did it”, but–

Balki: What you mean we, white man?

Balki very smugly gives Larry back his own rule-based thought process: he refused to play the lottery, thus he gets no share of the winnings. Cousin Larry deserves this on a couple of levels.  One, Larry put him down earlier in the episode. But more importantly, this is what Larry gets for being so rule-based for so long.  Larry offers to go buy 20 lottery tickets and give Balki half of whatever he wins as a show of good faith. They mention also that Larry told Balki that the word “sucker” has Balki’s face beside it in the dictionary. Okay, show, I’m warning you: you’re telling me that Balki knows not everything is literal. I don’t care how much else you’ve forgotten about the past 3 seasons (or was it 2? I’ll have to ask my man T-Boyett), but you’re blocking off escape routes early on here.

Larry cries…


Balki relents…


Balki: I’m just playing a game of cat and louse with you.

Not only does Mypos have such a small economy that $635 would pay off its debt, it evidently has its own food web too.


Larry: In your face, Donald Trump!

…who lives up in the sky with God, apparently?  I usually don’t talk about that guy, because, well, here’s my opinion of him:


But there’s definitive proof that his net worth was less than $28 million in 1988.



Where did Balki hide the ticket?


Larry: You put the ticket…

Balki: I put the ticket…


Larry: You put the ticket…

Balki: I put the ticket… in my…


Larry: You put the ticket in your…

*lets out breath*


Balki finally remembers that he put the ticket in his winter coat.


And here’s your show-stopping physical comedy setpiece for the season 4 opener: Larry and Balki start throwing coats out of the closet.  That scene from the 1974 film version of The Great Gatsby, starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, where Daisy throws all the shirts in the air, got nothing on this!

The ticket’s not in the coat, but maybe he put it in a cereal box.


So the cousins start throwing out the expired props from Season 3. You’ve got your Raisin Puffs, a couple boxes of Sugar Oatsies, and


Colonel Kernels!  I’m seriously excited by Colonel Kernels. I hope they travel to the Deep South to meet the racist CEO and do physical comedy at his plantation house, spill their mint juleps and swing from his porch fans.


Balki gets excited about a Captain Power decoder ring. He’s happy to have a complete set, but Larry throws it away, not realizing that exactly that kind of behavior is what increases the value of the toys that were kept in pristine shape. In fact, a few years past the airing of this episode, comics fans realized this fact en masse, driving up prices on old comics such as Incredible Hulk #181, and creating a boom/bust cycle of speculation involving numerous first issues, variant covers, and gimmick covers, like this one here for Amazing Spider-Man #400:


Oh, sorry, I got carried away there. Larry’s screaming at Balki now, and Balki’s crying, and now Larry’s holding Balki’s arms for the 16th time this episode and Larry’s throwing Balki around.


Anyway, Balki can’t remember where he hid the ticket. Larry yells at Balki to say what part of the apartment they haven’t torn apart yet, and Balki says “all those books that suddenly appeared for the first time this episode!”


Larry grabs a volume of Shakespeare from the shelf and he just starts shaking it around and I, as a librarian, must turn my head away from this savagery.


Then they tear open the vacuum bag, and, you know?


I’ve lost the thread of this episode, and quite possibly this show. Wasn’t this episode about blood types or something? Wasn’t this show about a shepherd and his beer-drinking cousin?  Has Balki fixed the radio yet?


The next day, we get a panning shot of the building’s exterior, which is the only part of this episode that’s felt like it’s taking place in a different year from that of the previous season. We see that the Caldwell Hotel has grown battlements, an outer reflection of the constant fighting within.


The cousins, spent from the night’s exertions, lie limp on the floor, and Mary Anne thinking that they’ve been up all night partying Hunter S. Thompson-style is really great.

Jennifer makes the episode’s requisite mention of their job, but before they leave, Mary Anne returns the envelope Balki gave her. The episode spins this as an indication that she is forgetful.

Now that they’re millionaires, the cousins go straight to the offices of Unicorn Cereal.


They’re so excited that they’ve been fucking the whole way there.


The cousins meet Mr. PAY-OFF, who in a very officious way (he’s wearing glasses and everything) checks the numbers on the ticket.

Larry mistook 7 for 4 when he read Balki’s handwriting. The idea is that since Balki puts a horizontal strike through 7, it looks like a 4 to Larry.




Larry demands that the official give them money based on the piece of paper that Balki wrote the numbers on, sealing the deal on that Colonel’s kernel of an actual commentary on assigned value.

The cousins only win $100. 😦  Barely enough to buy snacks for a Christmas party.

In the final scene, Balki names all the things you could spend $100 on in 1988: Air Jordans, 20 trips to the top of the Sears Tower, or a multi-year subscription to Sports Illustrated, including the swimsu-it issue.


Larry has always wondered what women’s hips look like…

Mary Anne is dumb (and smart); Jennifer is uncomfortable talking about anything but her job, which you can already tell from her outfit anyway.

Lydia is a slightly more established, slightly more troubled Larry; Harriette is black.

Mr. Gorpley hates Balki.

The lesson of this episode:  Larry looks at things one way, Balki looks at things another way.  That’s it. That’s the lesson.


Welcome to Season 4.

Come back next week for “Assertive Training”!


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

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

Dance of Joy running total: 12

Season 3, Episode 10: Couch Potato

So I talked a few weeks ago about the interior/exterior divide, that connection between a character’s outer actions and inner motivations, and how and whether the latter can be expressed positively.  I’m returning to that briefly here to say that this season’s episodes can be sorted generally as “personal life” and “work life”, with not a lot of interchange between the two.  “Sexual Harrassment” and “The Horn Blows at Midnight” came the closest, with undesirable work aspects following the cousins home, but the stakes for each were firmly in their respective categories.  But we’re almost halfway through the season here–it’s time to take our primary colors, mix them up, and see what we get.


The cousins are told that they are now “official cable subscribers”, so now I’m really curious to know what network channel Twinkacetti found porn on last season.

I don’t mention it too much anymore, probably because I’m too focussed on where I can best make a boner joke, but the first few lines of dialogue are a nice, succinct setup.  Cable television (installed by the guy from the XYZ company) is presented as the end-game of American consumerism/individualism, while Balki the Kid is just playing around, wearing the cable guy’s belt.


Larry extolls the virtues of having cable, such as never having to wait in line at the movies, go to the mall, or even join a gym.

Yep, ol’ Larry Appletonnage is excited about that one! The cousins flip through the channels, pausing on music videos


Balki: Is that Michael Jackson or his sister?

Larry: …that’s Diana Ross.

You see, it was funny at first because Michael Jackson and Latoya do share a strong family resemblance, so the audience can relate to the joke–but then it’s topped by the joke that ALL black people look alike! Black people, AMIRITE?

Larry gives Balki the Kid the remote and tells him he can pick anything he wants.  Balki upsets Larry by changing the channel from a sports game that’s in it’s final seconds. Larry gets upset, and dude, if you cared that much maybe you should have gone to a sports bar?  Anyway, Balki wants to watch old TV shows, and Cable TV immediately proves its worth. Balki doesn’t have to personally sing Reason #10 We Won’t Get Seasons 3-8 On DVD: the Mr. Ed theme song.


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


By that evening, Balki is comfortably numb, watching three different Arnold Schwarzenegger movies at once that Larry can’t tell apart. It’s obvious to me at this point that there was no TV noise on the apartment set – thus explaining why they’re a bit over-explainy with the dialogue and why Balki keeps raising the remote up so high, so the elderly women in the back can see him change the channel.  But I can barely hear what the cousins are saying. I’m not complaining, mind you.


Larry tells Balki to go to bed, and Balki shows his total disregard for Larry getting any sleep by kicking in his bedroom door while talking in the shittiest Arnold voice ever.


The next day, Larry struggles to do Balki’s job at the Chronicle. No, Larry! You’re doing it wrong! You have to sing a song! Sing “Strawberry Letter 23”!


Belita Moreno’s back!  Belita Moreno’s back, everybody!!!!!!!

Her name is Lydia and she’s got great hair! She comes in asking where Balki is and where all the letters for the advice column are.  Her deadline’s in 20 minutes!  But she’s suddenly not in a hurry when she’s flattered by Larry asking for advice.

Lydia: What’s the problem, Larry, can’t get a date?


Larry explains the problem, but since we’re only 7 minutes into this episode, Lydia is stumped by Balki’s troubles. She starts in about how she has problems of her own, how she’s neurotic and doesn’t have time for this shit.  Moreno’s on screen for all of a minute and already she’s the best addition to season 3. To prove my point by way of comparison, Mr. Gorpley comes in and reminds us that all he thinks about is how much he hates Balki.  I guess Balki’s lucked out that Mr. Gorpley only comes out of his office once every day to see if he can fire him, which has allowed Larry to cover for him.  Gee, I really hope Larry’s two-sentence articles haven’t suffered…


It seems like once per episode the show pulls off a nice subtle joke, and here it is: Balki comes in wearing sunglasses to indicate that he’s completely hung over.  Larry asks him if he went home and turned on the TV for lunch, but Balki’s in a shame spiral and “doesn’t want to talk about it”.  But because this is a TV show, he then talks about it.


Balki tarried at home to watch Leave it to Beaver, which made him cry when the Dad said “we’ll love you no matter what”.  We’ve talked about smugness.  And we’ve talked about how Balki is always the one giving the lessons to Larry.  And we’ve talked about the shift from thinking and feeling guilty to laughing.  Finally, we’ve reached the point where Balki has found a way to mainline pure, dephlogisticated sitcom essence.  He just watches TV all day long, suckling at the teat of easy lessons. And honestly? This concept is actually gold. Show, you’re impressing me–did you read Donald Schön’s The Reflective Practitioner since last week?

Larry says that the dad says that every episode of Leave it to Beaver, and that they have to do work.


Balki runs up the stairs with the mail, pausing every few steps to spout the Superman intro (faster, more powerful, etc.).  Between this and Lydia’s exit, I think I’ve found the reason why there’s stairs, an elevator, and a couple of exits: it allows for variations in a character’s entrance and exit–in terms of abruptness or being drawn out.  The joke here was that Balki was trying to do his job and catch up where he was behind, but he was slowed down by his own mix of character traits – having been pumped full of old TV and the need to make every joke possible.

The mom from the dog episode Harriette was nice enough to stick around so that she can function as the DSM-III made flesh.  She asks Larry a series of diagnostic questions and concludes that Balki is a couch potato.  It’s not until she predicts that Balki’s asscheeks will soon lose their firm, Myposian suppleness that Larry finally sees the gravity of the situation.


Balki comes down the steps “singing” the I Dream of Jeannie theme (reason #11) and shaking that very same ass around.

Harriette, ever the tough-talking voice of reason from the streets, confirms then and there that Balki’s a couch potato. The “oh no” guitar riff comes on and we cut to commercial.

The Caldwell, night:

Balki runs in, breaking Larry’s nose with the door.


He grabs a box of snacks (perhaps a cue that he is turning into Larry at his worst), sits down, and howls in pain at the absence of the TV.  Larry has taken it away, and tells Balki that it’s better to enter the kingdom of heaven without knowing whether Shorty marries Elverna, than to be cast into hell. But you’ve all seen what happens when you take away a kid’s toy.


Larry put the TV in a locker at the bus station.  Not, you know, in someone else’s apartment. Not, you know, at work.  Not, you know, just stopping payment on the cable wire, since it’s doubtful Balki could afford it on his own.  Larry gave the key to Jennifer & Mary Anne (Sagittarius), but they’re on a flight to Zurich. Larry points out that Balki has been watching TV and eating snack food nonstop for the past two weeks, and after all, that’s his job.  What’s next? Balki wanting to be a top?

Balki’s addict tries to run circles around reason, bringing Larry down to the level of making him repeat everything in one of those Homer Simpson “and when is this free event happening?” kind of deals. Then Balki acts like Larry’s making a big deal out of everything, kind of how when cats do something dumb and then it looks like they’re trying to act nonchalant about it.

Balki promises that he can stop watching television, and Larry leaves, saying that Mr. Flynn wants him to cover a hearing at the Water Commission. (Who the hell is Mr. Flynn?)  Balki sits there and pretends to read the same book they’ve been using as a prop all season.


Larry comes home to find that Balki has gotten ahold of a gigantic TV set. He’s even holding the remote right at his crotch and is in an obvious state of bliss. I guess Malcolm-in-the-alleyway was out of TV sets, because this one came from Crazy Al’s Video.


Then we get about 8 minutes of Larry turning the TV off, Balki turning it on, and snippets of incidental music from an evidently dialogue-free episode of Mr. Ed.


Finally they snuggle-fight on the couch. Larry steals the remote and Balki chases Larry.

Larry calls Balki a couch potato and Balki says he can’t possibly be that because he doesn’t know what it is. Larry lectures him on the physical toll that binge-watching can take, but Balki’s distracted by what he thinks is a TV across the street.


Larry: Oh God… you’ve turned into a peeping potato!

Balki chases Larry again.

Larry says that TV has ruined their lives because they never go out anymore, to ball games, they  never go out with Jennifer and Mary Anne, Balki doesn’t even go pet that horse and turn his face towards an imaginary camera anymore!

Balki still wants the remote, so Balki chases Larry.


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


Balki responds that he knows which finger has the power to control the world.

It’s a rite of passage that every Myposian must have their own broken finger experience, so Larry grabs Balki’s and they fight over that and…


They then struggle over his other index finger.  It’s incredibly stupid, but it’s a good way of showing that Balki is bringing Larry down to his child level. I’m sure I tried similar goofy gambits as a kid.

Larry points out that it’s been weeks since Balki wrote a letter to his mother, but Balki is in denial.  He holds Balki’s face down to the TV Guide as proof of the date, stopping just short of rubbing his nose in it.


This… this is really good, you guys. We’ve got the counterpart to the Vegaaaaahhhhssss episode here. Larry is a fear-based man, so he was afraid he would become addicted to gambling; but Balki has lived in a feast/famine situation his entire life, and does not know how to adjust to a feast that never ends. Balki made Larry look in the mirror; here, Larry does the same symbolically.


There’s a beautiful moment, the tension ratcheted all the way up, and then Balki very calmly asks “this is Wednesday, right?” and starts leafing through the guide.  I’m a sucker for those kind of jokes, even if this one probably seems better by dint of coming after the repetitive physical comedy stuff. And forget how many times Larry has said “potato” this week:

Balki: I’ve turned into a Mr. Potahto Head.


This week’s lesson: be more selective with what you watch on TV. It’s only bad if you abuse it.  How many times has a sitcom done this? Since this is a good counterpart to the gambling episode, let’s revisit another part of that review.

Psychology Sidebar, Y’all:

Diagnostics for whether you’re watching a network sitcom

  1. does it feature easy lessons?
  2. does it feature slavish wanking over old shows?
  3. does it feature dumb jokes and slapstick?
  4. does it put down cable TV?
  5. does it refuse to say that TV is out-and-out bad for you?

We’ve gotten our lesson, and even the post-lesson joke that makes Larry upset (Balki ordered a satellite dish as well) but there’s still a couple of minutes, which is a little out of the ordinary for this show.


And there it is, the top of the Chronicle building, panning down to ground level.  Balki overreached, went to the full extent allowable of TV excess, but was brought down to earth by his basement-dwelling father-surrogate.

I guess the point of this scene is just to establish that Balki did recover and is back to doing his job perfectly no matter how much busywork Gorpley gives him. Balki did something wrong, faced serious stakes in both his home and work lives, but still faces no long-lasting consequences. The final chapter of Clockwork Orange got nothing on this!


Balki and Larry go to a rock concert, and Larry asks if Balki can handle the giant screens on stage.  Then there’s some bullshit who’s-on-first dialogue because they’re going to see the band Chicago.

Join me next week for “The Break In”!


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

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