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?

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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!

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Season 3 Reviewed

As I said last week, I have lots to talk about. I’ll split it into sections to help you out. If you didn’t read last week’s textdump, that’s cool, whatever, I didn’t care anyway. But Section 1 will touch on the most important fallout of the historiography that I wrote.

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1. Season 2 Backtrack (Bring Back those Bouncy Blonde Babes!)

So it turns out that Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) were intended for only one appearance–the one in Season 2, Episode 2, “Hunks Like Us”.  Whether it was due to Linn-Baker and Pinchot arguing for their return because they felt they had good acting chemistry, or if it was just the studio audience reaction, the women were brought back as recurring characters. And then ABC started moving the episodes around; they placed “The Unnatural” right after “Hunks Like Us”, and my guess is that this was to assure home audiences that the women would stick around. But damn, that’s some rapid prototyping! I’d believe that Rebeca Arthur tested well with audiences, but Melanie Wilson? I just don’t see the appeal of the Jennifer character, other than as something for Larry to cry about.  And if ABC was willing to bring actors back because of a strong first showing, perhaps they got rid of actors for the opposite.  But this explains all of the confusion of why they were suddenly neighbors, and why they were suddenly stewardesses. Jennifer became Linda, Mary Anne was added so we could have some nutty upstairs roommates, and Gorbachev? Mary Anne was so dumb that she put him in the washing machine on hot and added too much bleach.

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I was so angry at so many things when I reviewed “The Unnatural”, as well as how the new women supplanted my beloved Susan (“The Rent Strike”), and how they were so obviously intended as the leads’ long-term girlfriends, I overlooked how their continuation answered one of my other gripes. There were scant few recurring characters in season 2 (basically, Gina and the Twinkacetti offspring, Here Today and Gone Tomorrow). So Season 2 did give us recurring characters, but I’m still unsatisfied, because I feel that they were overused. I could have used some more Schlaegelmilch, or maybe the one guy, or even that other guy, in “The Rent Strike”; and why couldn’t other denizens of the Caldwell have been on the Ritz Discount Royals?  If anything, ABC put too much faith in these two women. Did they give Melanie Wilson a 5-year contract, only to realize that she didn’t have much screen presence and shuffled her off the stage as quickly as they could get away with? Or is it simply a side effect of the fact that bringing her back as a stewardess robbed Jennifer of the one part of her bio (working at a gym) that was unique to her alone? At any rate, as I forecast, ABC is eager to move things around, focus on them if they work, and ditch them if they don’t; it may make for a less than continuous experience, but it pleased the viewers. And if Season 3 was a disappointment in terms of the show not committing to either characters who showed up once versus people the cousins interacted with everyday, then I’m going to put that down to ABC trying to come up with the best formula for the new situation of the cousins working at a newspaper. Once Lydia showed up, she kept showing up. Mr. Burns ran out of the room enough times that the show finally let him go forever.  Forget everybody else.

You know what? I’ll go a step further and say that not only was ABC trying to see what would work for recurring characters for this show; it was trying to figure out how to do a workplace comedy at all. I went to the trouble of clicking on every ABC sitcom from the 1980s in the Wikipedia list (up through the 1987-88 season, anyway), and it appears that ABC really did focus almost exclusively on households and families. The only shows I find that are definitely workplace comedies are Open All Night (1981-82), Off the Rack (1985), The Slap Maxwell Story (1987-88), and Just in Time (1988). These were set in, respectively, an all-night convenience store, a clothing store, a newspaper, and a magazine; and not a damn one of them lasted more than one season.  Smack dab in the middle of these, time- and setting-wise, were dual versions of Perfect Strangers: the discount store with the character-of-the-week, and then the newspaper with fledgling attempts at a recurring cast.

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2. Changes (and not) in character and setting (Reuse, Remix, Repeat)

We got two (three?) new bosses for the cousins, an elevator operator, a neurotic advice columnist, and the return of everyone’s favorite lovable ethnic scamp, Vince Lucas. I think that the show could have gotten away with only a handful more stories set at a discount store, so it’s good that we’ve moved on.  And just as we saw last week that the actors’ stories shed details to fit a strong narrative, so did the show. Twinkacetti gets all of one mention, and slowly the whole idea of a landlord is lost, though we do get echoes of other neighbors (Schlaegelmilch).  Another thing reading through all those articles told me is that Thomas L. Miller saw this as a friendship show.  I guess maybe I’ve just never watched many of them to know if this is standard, but seasons 2 and 3 were firmly, strictly that. Other characters existed solely to provide something for the cousins to fight over.  Once that conflict is established, does anyone else really need to be on screen or have any impact on anything?

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I’m realizing that some of the episodes I like best are the ones where the external world is more than just a vague hint.  In “The Rent Strike”, when we got to see the other apartment dwellers; in “Get a Job”, where a restaurant serves as more than mere backdrop.  An apartment building seems like an easy environment to flesh out.  But a likely-constantly-in-the-red junk shop? Well, some cops came by once.  But a baseball team? A racketeer? These things extended the world along minor linear paths (Twinkacetti’s greed, maybe? Balki’s interest in Spider-Man?), but they didn’t feel like they fleshed it out.

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But Season 3 has given us a workplace that automatically and instantly builds the world of Chicago-1. Not only is the Chicago Chronicle a microcosm unto itself, but it connects the cousins with the city and beyond.  We met an out-of-state psychic, the cousins’ ultimate boss is well-traveled, and Larry is given reporting jobs that take him to low-profile events. Some connections with the outside world are problematic, though. “Just Desserts” is a physical comedy high point, but it too forces our sense of the show’s reality in multiple ways. Food chemistry aside, why has Larry put aside slowly working toward his dream of photojournalism so he can try to sell stuff to chefs? “Taking Stock” is character-driven, but Balki forcing a company to reduce its profit margins is too fantastic to be taken seriously. But the smaller story of Larry and Balki causing Bob’s Market to operate at a serious loss for its first month does a better job of connecting the cousins to the world around them. That the ad in “To Be or Not to Be” gets on the air at all is unbelievable, even if the process of making the ad was character-driven. “Karate Kids” is character-driven, too, but again we’re on the smaller scale: Larry thinks he can pick a fight with a guy at a bar because brains, he assumes, win out against brawn. I get that Balki’s lack of sense of barriers and hierarchy makes meeting the Quaker Oats man and John Henry possible, but it’s still not probable. Between the two cousins, we begin to see shades of Homer Simpson meeting George Bush and Ken Griffey, Jr., Homer going to space, Homer running a snowplow business, Homer working as a Monorail conductor….

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So it seems that the bigger the scope and the higher the reach of a Perfect Strangers plot, the worse it fares in terms of reality. Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, because the Chronicle is meant to be the #1 newspaper in the U.S. But the cousins do work in the basement, where they are underpaid for being overworked on menial tasks.

A large part of what I think makes the Chronicle setting work is the characters, not only in and of themselves, but also in terms of the roles they step into.  Harriette is a strong character all on her own.  I don’t know enough to say whether her acting is any sort, or level, of African-American caricature (that is: I suspect, but I’m a white guy), but she’s there to talk truth to the cousins.  And JoMarie Payton has presence.  And so does Belita Moreno, but you already knew that. She bursts onto the scene with such energy and knowledge of character that we know who she basically is within seconds.  What’s more, she’s also there to talk truth to the cousins.  I mentioned way back my impression that Susan and Twinkacetti were there to act as angel- and devil-on-the-shoulder type characters for Balki and Larry, respectively, pulling them further in their respective directions; or, if mixed and matched, to pull/repel them closer to center.  Harriette and Lydia serve a similar purpose: Harriette to reinforce Balki’s experience-based knowledge, and Lydia to affirm Larry’s booksmarts. It doesn’t always play out that way (cf. Harriette’s advice in “The Defiant Guys”). And it may never be fully realized, given this show’s reliance on breaking established character for laughs.  But it’s there, and the fact that these two often rub each other the wrong way* makes them–and the show–that much more fun to watch.

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Speaking of filling roles, Twinkacetti’s gall was a whole divided into three parts. We had (and lost) Eugene Roche as Harry Burns, the disinterested Twinkacetti. We have Sam Anderson as Mr. Gorpley, the mean Twinkacetti. (Larry got the greed.)  Even though we saw more of Eugene Roche, it’s Sam Anderson who’s returning for season 4. I personally like the idea of a boss who tries to avoid his employees as much as he can, but I can see how a boss who constantly tries to find a way to fire a perfect employee makes for better sitcom conflict.

So we have new characters settling (sort of) settling into what were (sort of) puzzle piece roles, and ABC was constantly tinkering with things.  I feel like the group of characters is close to being cohesive, but the addition of so many decent actors who have their own personalities and, in Harriette’s case, a family outside the show, just makes Jennifer look more and more, well….

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3. Old TV shows are great! (Remember, Don’t Watch)

To sum up what we’ve seen this season about television:

–The Golden Age of Television was just that: perfect in every way

–When you’re dealing with an addiction, say, for instance, to television shows, it’s important to remember that addictive personality disorders don’t exist. America’s culture of excess (cable television) is what causes addiction, so be moderate

–The bar for a good TV show lesson is anything deeper than Ward Cleaver telling Beaver he loves him no matter what

–Getting on television is an admirable goal

Newhart is a pile, but gee, wasn’t The Bob Newhart Show great?

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–It’s important to pay homage to the Golden Age of Television, even if you’re selective with your memory

Shoot, hold on a minute, it’s late and my eyes are getting tired. Let me put on my glasses so I can pick out the next screengrab–

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Ooh, okay, maybe not.

4. Money & Death (Choose your own season finale!)

There sure were a lot of episodes about money and death, huh?

Money: “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, “Night School Confidential”, “My Lips Are Sealed”, “Just Desserts”, “Better Shop Around”, “My Brother, Myself”, “You Gotta Have Friends”

Death: “The Horn Blows at Midnight”, “Future Shock”, “The Break In”, “The ‘Pen’ Pal”, “Bye Bye Biki”

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I remember enough (little enough?) about I Love Lucy to associate get-rich-quick schemes with it, so if Perfect Strangers was still trying to honor that show, the trope is well-placed.  And it fits with Larry still refusing to give up on the idea that there are shortcuts to success.

And as far as threats to Larry, sure, we had job (3), girlfriend (5), and ego (22). But are there so few things going on the cousins’ world that they needed to dip into the well of Larry possibly losing his life (or at least, his future) three times? And what did Balki stand to lose this season? His work buddy, his job (2), his innocence about the business world, his meager earnings to a counterfeiter, his work ethic, his cousins’ faith in him, and his grandmother.  Sure, both cousins are dealing with real threats that real humans experience.

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But in one way, that’s glaringly bad. It’s unbalanced: the stakes are too damn high for Larry. In another way, it’s perfect for the cousins’ personalities. If Larry thinks in terms of getting rich quick, he likely also thinks in terms of losing it all quick. Okay, sure, Balki was a dick in “The Horn Blows at Midnight”. He should have known that Larry’s blood pressure was already elevated from his diet, and that convincing him he would soon die could only make that worse. In most cases, however, Larry makes the stakes high for himself, and the answer is usually along the lines of

–you just have to be upfront with your feelings

–you have to be upfront about your embarrasing situation; someday you’ll look back on it and laugh 3 minutes later

–you don’t have to impress someone who already likes you (remember? you and Jennifer struck a deal in “Future Shock”)

For Balki, on the other hand, this is the first he’s ever faced some of these threats. To a child, whatever is right in front of you (or was, just a moment ago) can become your whole world. Perhaps it’s not so imbalanced after all.

*holds up finger as sign of warning*

But for every successive season, the show will be less and less able to get away with that kind of imbalance.

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Speaking of stakes, I wonder what stakes the show felt it was facing. Season 3 had two–possibly three–episodes that could have worked as a finale.  I’m saying three because for some of you out there who illegally downloaded** this season may be seeing “You Gotta Have Friends” as episode 22. It’s not finale material, but someone thought it belonged last for some reason.  The one that aired last in the original run was “Bye Bye Biki”. But the story of “The Graduate” feels the most like a finale. It gives us that incremental success that we got at the end of both seasons 1 and 2. Balki graduates from Adult Evening Classes High School, and Larry makes a principled stand all on his own, virtually free of his own hang-ups. “The Graduate”, even with Balki’s statement that he now wanted to give back and make his own contribution to society, is very much a tying-things-up kind of show. Balki sees how he’d gotten so far, is grateful for it, and is ready to keep succeeding.  “Bye Bye Biki” does the same: Balki must face that the past is just that, and accepts that he should now cast his gaze forward.

But, the difference here is that we’re juxtaposing success and death.  And if you consider “You Gotta Have Friends”, we weave in the idea of money again.  On the larger level, the show spent a lot of money for the cousins to see Carl Lewis; on the smaller scale, so did Balki.

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I’m a writer, and ultimately my worries and feelings and thoughts and desires come out in what I write, both here and in my webcomic. So I have to wonder if, in aggregate, Perfect Strangers was worried about its own future.  Would it graduate to syndication at some point? Would the shortcuts it took to “lessons”, or making food episodes that matched the physical comedy on I Love Lucy, succeed?  Or did it indeed need some help from friends? Would the gamble of Carl Lewis work? Would a guest star like Perfect Strangers-brand cream-filled treats enough to agree to be on the show? Would the tiny gambles of character removal and tonal shifts it had been making all along pay off? Or would it misinterpret the lessons it learned early on about gambling (“Babes in Babylon”)?

Or would it die and leave an empty chair behind?

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5. Video games (and other media)

Even though I only majorly dipped into the video game joke well a couple of times, it was very prominent in my mind throughout season 3.

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Perfect Strangers seems to have suffered the same fate that ABC wanted for then-classic television.  For the most part, it’s remembered vaguely; for anyone who remembers more than Balki’s catchphrase, it’s remembered fondly.  Pardon my potential confirmation bias, but my take on the Perfect Strangers fan community is that it has a distinctly feminine bent–at least in its expression. Given, much of this has to do with the fact that, up until I started this blog and kept with it, there was basically only one website for this show; and it was (and is) developed and maintained by a woman.  But even the Facebook groups feel the same way. And when I say feminine, I’m just going with the common, “thick” version of the concept; it’s problematic; here’s not the place I want to discuss the term or its connotations; and I’m not putting it down.  There seem to be greater memories of feelings and moments, rather than memories of specific jokes or characters who aren’t Balki. But here’s the thing with confirmation bias: it’s easier to succumb to when there are fewer examples of a thing. It’s why minorities are criminals; it’s why redheads are sexy; it’s why I associate aviator sunglasses with dictators.***

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The Perfect Strangers fan community is small. Full House got a reboot; Three Stooges got a movie; you will never, ever stop seeing Star Wars or Shrek. Sure, every now and then a fan will ask rights holders about further Perfect Strangers DVDs, or ask the creators about a reboot, but the answers were, respectively “You never know” from the first and “It has been mentioned” & “It could be fun” from the second. You never know! The DVDs could come out tomorrow! Somebody on a forum mentioned locking up all the gays, and you know, it could be fun! You never know!

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Anyway, I’m taking the long way to make a point about the video quality of season 3 onwards. For those of you reading in the year 2054 who had the masters of every TV show uploaded into your brains at birth 1) I’m sorry, and 2) the video quality on this season is not great, and it lent my viewing experience a surreal feeling. I had to go to a torrent site and download the rest of this show, which is criminal enough****, and I’m okay with that, but many fans don’t share my blase nature, so it’s a certainty that fewer people in the past decade have seen seasons 3-8 than the other two. Also, the rips came with no contextual information, in an order different from original airings, and a few of the filenames feature misspelled episode titles. When did they air? Who recorded them off METV? Did they leave anything out? Who can we thank for the one episode with all them dancing Santas? These episodes feel as fuzzy as I imagine most people’s memories of Perfect Strangers are.

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What? Oh, video games, right. The Mario Cousins, Larrio and Balkigi.  I had an NES and a Gameboy as a kid. I had a handful of games: Mario Bros/Duck Hunt; Back to the Future; Super Mario Bros 3; Fun House; Rad Racer; Spy vs Spy; and for the Gameboy: Tetris Blast; Star Wars; and Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I never beat any of those entirely on my own. Fourth stage on BttF was the best I could do; my cousin figured out how to get the initial sword in Zelda and I figured out the rest; fuckin’ fuck Fun House. SMB3 I beat only through use of a Game Genie: I’d start on World 4 as invincible sledgehammer Mario and go from there. On my own, I could get to World 3, and that was after a couple of years of throwing myself against World 2 (that damn pyramid, man). When I got there, I promptly lost my frog suit and gave up, because I hate hate hate water levels. Besides, come on, if you’re a plumber, and you’re underwater, doesn’t that mean you did something wrong?

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I thought I could get away without talking about the other two Perfect Strangers review blogs that started roughly the same time as mine. I really don’t want to incriminate myself in those sites’ deaths, and you’ll have to find them on your own, but I feel successful that I alone achieved the escape velocity necessary to make it past season 2. Anyway, simply making it farther with this show, coupled with something that ought to have been 1st gen copy but looks like 5th,  were enough to plant the seeds that bloomed into confirmation bias when season 3 plots and structures started resembling season 2’s. I broke into uncharted territory, I lost some of the protection I had in the form of jokes I thought would keep running, and I made it through the water stage alive. And in a few weeks, I’ll move on to World 4, which I imagine assumed itself a giant after the gambles it made over the past 22 weeks paid off.

I think the point I was trying to make here is this: Perfect Strangers season 3 is this thing that I imagine has been seen more rarely, which makes me think of a thing with a 3 that I saw but rarely, and then gave up on a lot. Also I may or may not have murdered two other websites in code blood.

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6. Cue the synth clarinet, here’s your season 3 review in easy-to-swallow list form

Best episode: I still have a soft spot for the season 1 episode hiding inside “Karate Kids”, but “The Defiant Guys” wins here. It had Balki actually try out advice that worked for another person’s situation, but not his. Larry was sort of rude, but both cousins owned up for their part in the conflict. The fact that the physical comedy didn’t feel forced, but was a result of the conflict, was also good. Putting it at the end kept the focus on emotions and problem-solving, resulting in multiple lessons for different specific situations.

Worst episode: Never stop shoving hot pokers up your rectum, “The Break In”

Best one-off character: Ted McGinley as Billy Appleton

Worst one-off character: The homeless black guy they picked up off the street to play Carl Lewis

Best Balki-ism: “Cookies *grunt* cream”

Worst Balki-ism: the rest of them

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Season 3 Catchphrase Count: Balki (18); Larry (7)

Season 3 Boner Count: Balki (2); Larry (3)

Cumulative Catchphrase Count: Balki (59); Larry (14)

Cumulative Boner Count: Balki (11); Larry (13.5)

Dance of Joy running total: 11

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And for next week: I’ll look at what our actors did between season 3 and 4!

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*don’t you fucking dare say it

**I just called the police on you, by the way

***seriously, though, Charles Nelson Reilly was probably a dictator at some point

****by this point you’re already in jail and the police won’t believe you if you tell on me

Seasons 1 and 2 Revisited

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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?

16magazine1986

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.

tvguide092786b

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.

menslook0887a

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

birminghampunch080787-1

*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.

playgirl

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: —

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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.