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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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….


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.


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….


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?


–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–


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”


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.***


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!


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.


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?


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.


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



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


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


*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

Season 3, Episode 7: Karate Kids

Hey, everybody.  I’m still pretty down about how there weren’t any horns last week.  I mean, the show usually does a solid job of figuring out the worst possible reference that includes something in the episode.  “Knock Knock Who’s There” had somebody knocking on a door, “Hello Elaine” had Balki saying hello to Elaine, so I’m not even certain that there’s going to be any kara–wait. wait. Is this it? Will we have actual proof that women were willing to be seen in public with these dodos?




Balki is happy because it’s his first Happy Hour, so he makes the same face I do when I’m trying my damnedest to get one of those little slivers of cocktail toothpick out from between my top molars with just my tongue.

Balki wonders out loud how lounges like Edward’s make any money giving away food. Larry starts to explain, but rather than a discussion between two adults, Balki mistakes “inducement” and “illusion”. You’re giving me whiplash, show! But then Balki points out that Larry is a thieving scoundrel because he doesn’t buy any drinks.

In fact, there’s a lot going on in this first minute, with a lot of background noise to boot, and it feels kind of disorienting for this show, since most extras aren’t paid to talk. Also nothing’s being repeated or anything. Weird.


Jennifer asks if Mary Anne (Sagittarius) is coming to the table, and the joke is… she loaded up on food? Mary Anne is so dumb… she’s hungry?  I don’t know.


Then Chuck “the Love Machine” Vestman starts hitting on Jennifer, so Larry comes up and tries to gently put him down. He uses a pun to do so (pull the plug), and Balki loves puns, so here comes Balki thinking it’s all part of the fun and games of Happy Hour.


But Chuck keeps hitting on Jennifer, Larry keeps putting him down, and…


Yep, Larry knows what he’s after when he goes out–gettin’ hisself thrashed by big guys at the bar.  Loyal cousin Balki stands up for Larry, resulting in him getting thrown over the bar too. Somehow, the scene doesn’t end with Chuck clubbing Jennifer and dragging her by the hair back to his denim-clad apartment.


Later, Larry is humiliated, but Balki is upset because this was his first Happy Hour and it was RUINED.  Okay, we’ve got a couple of character-driven things going on in this scene, but the show is not handling them the way I know it can.  On the one hand, the idea of “Happy Hour” is the perfect kind of thing for Balki to focus in on and inflate the importance of–but we don’t go anywhere with it.  And yes, I could have told you Larry has been bullied his whole life; there was probably only a small reduction in college, when he learned that taped “kick me” signs don’t stick as well to high pile sweaters.  But can we have some friggin’ details? Could we have 10 seconds of dialogue about how football players picked on the chorus kids and stole Larry’s girlfriend?  But Larry folds his arm in a really overdone manner, so at least Linn-Baker’s bringing some childhood upset to the dialogue, even if it is horribly nonspecific.  Larry says there’s nothing guys like he and Balki can do about it.

So… the lesson this week is going to be that the American viewpoint of eminent domain is reinforced not only at the level of mating, but also as a promise dangled before the eyes of the consumer, that they can get a free lunch, that something is there for the taking.  Even those savvy to the catch that you must pay for drinks–someone like Larry who goes to Happy Hour and orders ice water–respond to cheating with cheating, perpetuating evil.  Beating someone at their own game means playing it better. Being American, ultimately, is becoming part of a societal tug-of-war for luxury resources; while being Myposian, on the other hand, means getting excited at the promise of one solid hour of happiness, a break from the drudgery and boredom of the 9-to-5.  That’s going to be the lesson, right?

Balki: What about David and Goliath? What about Jack and the Beanstalk? What about the Captain & Tennille?

Oh, that’s right, last week’s lesson was not to trust predictions.


Balki does some sort of goddam bird pose and says he’s the Karate Kid.

No, go back to Balki listing pairs of things for the next 18 minutes. Turn back the world.

Larry says that learning Karate takes years, and we get an actual subtle line from Balki:

Balki: I saw that movie. I went back for popcorn, and when I got back, that kid was kicking everything he could get his feet on.  

This is a much more honest way for Balki to be dumb than to have him think that the shrimp he’s eating are holographic.

Larry: I don’t know… Larry Appleton, Fists of Fury, it just doesn’t sound right.


don’t you tempt me, show

Balki: Cousin, your fists can be just as furry as the next guy.



Balki’s all like “This is America” and reminds Larry that you can do anything  and then we get reason #7 seasons 3-8 are bound to collect dust in an offsite storage facility: Balki sings “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)”.

“Larry gets inspired” was seen early in Season 2 when Larry pumped himself up thinking about Eisenhower, but it’s kind of weird that Larry’s getting inspired by a song.  Damn, I really wasn’t far off with that undercurrent of those in power selling ideas and dreams of conquest to the idiot masses.

Now they’re both singing.


Larry take your damn feet off the couch.


But we go to commercial before we see Balki unzip Larry’s pants, though.  Stupid syndication cuts.


Welcome, everyone, to “Karate Studio”!

Balki hugs Sensei Pete Nakima and asks him if he knows about Happy Hour.


Larry spins his visit into a tale about how he’s writing a news story, even saying it’s a story about the “urban male ego”, without a trace of self-awareness.

Karate Pete’s all like, yeah, I’ve heard that one before.  Then he shouts and keeps saying “uhhhh” at the end of sentences just like a real Japanese Karateman would!


Pete: Bartokomous-san, I want you to attack Goldstein-san from the back.

Balki, sensing that Goldstein’s butt must be hiding a secret Karate weapon, fearfully asks “Why?”

We’ve already established that some things are funny just because Balki says them, and Balki talks funny, so Pete Nakima, being WAY MORE FOREIGN because he’s from further away, just dials that up to 10 and basically the audience laughs at whatever the last word of each sentence is simply because he puts emphasis on it.


For instance, that shot there? Pete said the word “different”, but he emphasized it and made a face. I’ll pause so you can all get over your laughing fit.

The scene ends with the cousins cowering in fear from the Asian and the Jew.


And for the second or third time ever in this show, we are given an indication of how much time has passed.  Three weeks! Holy shit!  Think what kind of lessons we must have missed!  Larry learning not to lie!  Balki scolding Larry for taking two newspapers from the coin-operated box, but only paying for one! Larry learning not to lie!


Larry comes in the apartment acting like he’s really stealthy and calls out to Balki. He then shuts the door, wheeling around and kicking toward it as he does so.  Part of this is the writing, part of this is Linn-Baker’s acting.  You can see the honest worry on his face, and you know that Larry has been through this at least 10 times by now. I don’t care if they spend the next three minutes explaining every aspect of the joke, this was Linn-Baker selling one half of the joke, and Bronson just sitting there to sell the other.


Why the fuck was I worried they’d explain the joke, this show’s got shittier fish to fry. I knew this was coming at some point, that time-efficient scene at Edward’s should have tipped me off they were saving room for physical comedy.

Guess what kind of noises they make














Then Larry whips out a sausage nunchuck and geez, there’s most of 6 seasons left to go and I’m already almost out of gay jokes.

I guess, okay, I guess it slipped out of his hands. Um. Because he oiled it. Whatever, 10 minutes left, let’s just keep going.

The phone rings, okay, phew, time to trot out my joke about hot tips from Gus, that’s always a good standby to–HOLY SHIT it’s Mrs. Schlaegelmilch!


She’s calling to complain about the noise! (BTW, I count this as a clue they’re still in the Caldwell Hotel.) Larry promises they’ll keep it down, then they scream some more.

Larry and Balki start talking about how great their reflexes and skills are, and Balki, here in perhaps his happiest hour, reminds Larry about how they’re not supposed to want to fight, and how sensei says that the most powerful weapon is the voice of love.  I hate that kind of explaining shit.  If I were Larry I’d be all like, yeah, look man, I was in that class too, Pete emphasized the word love, it was funny, but I got it.


Larry opens the window to shout at some lady. *Sigh* He’s not even working at Ritz Discount anymore, but he’s still making sure nobody goes in. Hey, look, Raisin Puffs.

Then, without any dialogue that they’re going to the restaurant again, they go to the restaurant! There’s hardly any gags being stepped on this week. Who wrote this? Huh. Two of the producers stepped in to write this one. How does that work, do you figure?  I mean, I get that there’s a room full of writers, and they all work on the show, probably most of the episodes to some extent, and sometimes they get the credit, I guess if they did most of the work.  But this, as well as a later episode, are the only writing credits for James O’Keefe and Alan Plotkin.  Like, not just for this show–for their careers, according to IMDB.


Mary Anne doesn’t want to be there, because the lighting makes her skin look “sallow”.  Try and tell me again that Mary Anne’s so dumb that she thinks karate is a type of artery.

Turns out that Larry lied to the women about Balki wanting to come to Edward’s.  The roof caves in, burying everyone in 50 feet of hard-packed snow, the end.

Nah, j/k, Larry slips Freudian, saying he’ll pick up the “Chuck”.  I guess if there’s one thing I can count on, it’s this show confirming every joke I’ve made about these guys being gay.


So Larry picks a fight with Chuck “The Love Machine” Vestman despite Balki speaking the voice of love to him.

Chuck, having spent the past three weeks in a coke-fueled tryst with Olivia Crawford and Claire Hayden, doesn’t remember beating up Larry and Balki.

Larry: Are ya chicken, Chuck?

But the way he says Chuck comes out “CHERK” but they didn’t have enough extra film that week to reshoot.

Larry actually does a fucking chicken sound, then he starts doing this Sylvester J. Cat “ffffine ffffeathered ffffriend” bit.  Stop, Cousin Larry, mixing up stuff like that only works when Count Floyd does it.


Balki comes in and tries to defuse the situation by saying that the chicken is the Myposian national bird, that it’s a symbol of bravery, and that if they’re going to touch weiners in the parking lot, he wants to come too.


So, Chuck comes at Larry, Larry flips him, Chuck slides him down the bar and chokes him.  I think I get now why we don’t usually see it when Larry gets maimed. It’s customary to do the artful cutaway for sex scenes, the camera pans to the flowers on the nighttable, or the curtains billow in.  Seeing Larry beaten twice in one episode is downright pornographic!


Jennifer and Mary Anne walk the cousins to their apartment, solemnly deliver a joke about how Larry’s a weenie, and then leave.  So… the lesson is that if you want to impress a woman, she needs to be on screen long enough to figure out what her interests are? That’s the lesson, right? Can I go to bed now?

Larry talks out loud about his various wounds… getting beaten up, getting humiliated, both of those happening in front of Jennifer… and Balki pours salt in every one by repeating the word “again” (there’s a joke in there somewhere… quoth the Dale McRaven?)

Larry bemoans how he’s changed from peacenik to beatnik (as in… beatings…? sorry, it’s late), that he’s no longer the nice guy he was.  Balki draws out the joke of hesitating to agree with Larry on that one, but backs off when it’s obvious Larry is about to cry.


Balki points out that Larry always goes too far — that he takes a good thing and pounds it into the ground.  I mean, I guess? There was that time when he took being a parent too far and incorrectly scolded the surrogate son character for stealing a bike?  Or when making dinner for women turned into a pissing match because they didn’t plan the meal until three minutes before they came over? I dunno, okay, sure, whatever, Larry’s a ground-pounder. Being a ground-pounder gets you pounded.

Balki mentions that Karate Pete thinks Larry’s a natural at Karate.


Anyway, Larry says he’ll keep taking Karate because he enjoys the classes.  Oh, cool, so we’ll have another Karate episode next w–


oh, no, wait, Larry tries to get Balki to do some karate with him and Balki punches him in the gut.


So, okay, let me talk a little bit more about this one.  I think there’s a solid season 1 episode somewhere hiding inside The Karate Kids. It’s essentially a message about the American male trying to dominate.  It begins with a nondescript tough guy trying to hit on Jennifer, and Larry trying to communicate his ownership. (Somewhat important to this is how Chuck didn’t even care whether he got Jennifer or not, as well as how he didn’t even remember Larry.  But, being American, Larry just plays whatever game is offered to him.  That characteristic is introduced immediately by Larry stealing shrimp, and followed through by him assuming that he must play the game of winning fights.  And if it weren’t enough that his foreign cousin is there to remind him of “the voice of love”, the star student at the Japanese-run karate school is Jewish.  That’s laying it on pretty thick for signifying that Karate is a symbol for all those that the American spirit has trodden underfoot, replete with a warning that the truer strength is being able to fight that way–or better–but choosing not to.  But Larry takes on the fighting style without its philosophy. He tries to be the best American he can be, and tries to use karate as loaded dice.  But this is season 3, and since Dale McRaven has staunchly refused to make his audience feel guilty, we get “Balki chases Larry around but this time they make karate noises”.  The whole of the karate philosophy is boiled down to “the voice of love”, and while there’s a nice parallel between the organic and the industrial (“The Love Machine”), the lesson we end up with rings false.  In season 3, not only is Larry’s past nondescript, but so is his present.  The lesson is not “karate teaches you not to seek things out”, the lesson is “Larry takes things too far”.  And damn if that doesn’t sound exactly like every single time that someone has told me I “think too much”.  As if thinking too much isn’t why medicine advanced enough for me to have working kidneys again. As if thinking too much isn’t the solution to half of the (good) courtroom dramas I’ve ever watched.  Besides, you have to take things too far to take things all the way, and isn’t that what every philosophy demands?  The problem is that the show picked a philosophy and turned it into a McGuffin for Larry to be wrong about.  This episode could have been great–I mean, look at how many subtle jokes there were. And I could seriously have done more with Balki grappling with the idea of Happy Hour and what he assumed it would involve. Ultimately, though, Balki walked out during the “hard work” portion of the movie: popcorn over perseverance.

There’s a concept in psychology of the “simulation heuristic” that comes up often in the context of regret.  Basically, the human mind tries to imagine how easy certain actions can be done, and how likely certain outcomes are.  How often have you heard a grieving person talk about how things would have been different “if only I’d been there”–been there to stop the deceased from driving, been there to save someone from a fire, been there at home more than at the office?  And the easier it is to imagine undoing something you regret, the harder it is to deal with. This episode is frustrating because it came so close to having some depth. But I couldn’t say where the blame should be placed.  Was the initial concept of this episode “Larry swings sausage nunchuks around” or was the episode written first and ABC (ahem) forced the sausage in?

Anyway, what the fuck, who cares, tune in next week to see what kind of noises Balki and Larry make in “Night School Confidential”!


Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (0); Karate Pete Nakima (everything Pete says is a catchphrase)

Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0); Chuck (1); Goldstein (?)

Season 2, Episode 10: The Rent Strike

This week’s episode really surprised me. There’s a lot I really enjoy about this episode, but there’s a lot that frustrated me, too. I wouldn’t say it’s the most frustrated I’ve been by the show so far; “The Unnatural” retains that honor. But it definitely has the highest number of frustrating things in it. I’ll have a lot to say this week, so take a long lunch break. Anyway, let’s get to it so I can make another useless joke about the opening shot.


When you get wide shots like this that linger for a second, it creates this tiny bit of suspense. Will we zoom in to the Ritz windows? Or the apartment window?


We get a rare moment of Balki cleaning something without singing about it. I was worried that the joke of Balki having eclectic knowledge of music would deteriorate further and further every time they needed an extra “joke” in a scene. But we can now state with 100% certainty that Balki is not a Willie Nelson fan.

Larry enters from the bathroom with toilet paper all over his face. Hey, Larry never shits and Balki doesn’t wipe, so they’ve got to use it for something. Balki makes a joke:

Larry: Did you make coffee?

Balki: “Make coffee”? What do I look like, a percolator?


And it’s a shitty joke, the kind of joke a kid would make; we saw him do this same thing last week too. But I love this development. The writer here is acknowledging that there’s only so far you can go with Balki mixing up basic English words (and capping the gag with “percolator” is a nice additional nod to his growing vocabulary). It’s also been established that he watches the previous generation’s sitcoms (Gilligan’s Island and the Brady Bunch), so maybe he’s also trying on tired old jokes for size. At any rate, this is good. This is promising. Balki is also still learning to imitate Larry. This week, he’s trying out Larry’s “what is that”/”why is that” combo of repeating jokes.

But it’s necessary padding, because neither the studio or home audiences could probably tell what was on Larry’s face. And since they’re not even allowed to use safety scissors, they’d have no idea why someone would come out of a restroom with pieces of paper on their face. Nah, just kidding, it’s necessary to set up the plotline that nothing’s working in the apartment. No hot water, no working disposal in the kitchen sink.


Haha, Larry got dirty water splashed all over the tiny open wounds on his face! Will the writer remember that he has no immune system to speak of?


Balki offers to fix the sink, and picks up the tool belt he for whatever reason keeps right next to their record player. Hey, wait, that’s a new angle! I guess I thought that was just a wall. I’m going to go ahead and say that this week’s running motif is “out with the old, in with the new” and shove as many little parts and pieces of the show into that framework using the patented “By God It Will Fit” method.

Okay, here’s another perfect example of something I like and something I don’t like resting snugly side-by-side within a few lines of dialogue. Larry explains the idea of renting and “ownership” to Balki, and even if it doesn’t lead to Balki criticizing some sort of American system (like banks and loans in “Check This”), it’s something I like when the show does. On the other hand, this is the absolute first time that the show has made explicit that Mr. Twinkacetti is their landlord. Seriously? They couldn’t have thrown in one single goddamn line anywhere in the last 15 episodes to establish that?


Lest the audience also start wondering when the hell Twinkacetti was ever more than their boss, Jennifer comes in wearing only a towel. Balki starts openly ogling, I dunno, her knees, I guess, because she really doesn’t have much in the chest area if you ask me. He tries to get Jennifer to take it off all the same, and is that a boner you’re popping, Creepy Balki?


Also, what the fuck? Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) live in their building as well? Okay, fine, this explains their presence on the Ritz Discount Royals team, but… would that have not come up at all when Jennifer brought Balki the gym paperwork? Would it have not come up when they came over to Larry and Balki’s apartment in that same episode? Why are all these revelations happening at once?


Before Balki can use the plunger on Jennifer’s ass (I really, really wish I was joking) she runs off to use their shower–their cold shower, might I remind you.

Again, a good thing to pair with the frustrating one: there is a really nice subtle setup here. There was a line a couple of minutes prior about how Larry doesn’t like to talk before he’s had enough coffee (something all us working girls can relate to, amirite, ladies?). Larry continued his explanation to Balki about how renting works, and that tenants can demand change, unlike, say, peasants living in a feudal system, I dunno, on an island whose only contact with the outside world was the crate of Wayne Newton records that washed ashore that one time. But he talks up the idea of banding together so effectively that we, as the audience, know he’s going to end up leading them himself. The scene ends with Larry saying “I need more coffee” and I think that’s the subtlest I’ve ever seen this show be. And I like it because, for once, it isn’t Balki pushing Larry outside his comfort zone.


This week’s third location is the bedroom of that one friend in high school after he convinced his parents to let him live in the basement, after they’d moved most of their stuff out, but before he’s put up any posters. The tenants of the Caldwell Hotel have gotten together to make a list of demands of Twinkacetti.

Susan! Hey, everybody, it’s Susan! Susan’s waving! HIIIII, SUSAN!


Wait. Wait, no. No. No. The motif. No. Out with the–oh no, she’s paired with the old man. Oh god no. No no no.



The child and the old lady switch places.

please no


oh sweet christ no the word “clean” is positioned above their heads. NO.

(Looks at IMDB to see how many more episodes Lise Cutter is in) NOOOOOOOO

*sniff* I guess… I guess I just have to enjoy what time I do have with Susan. The good thing that this — no, it’s just something in my eye, I’m fine — the good thing is that there are four women in a single scene, and they all talk. The old woman is named Schlaegelmilch, and that’s *sniff* it’s a perfect fucking name. And Balki almost pronounced “suit” right. And…and it’s great how efficiently this episode has set up that all of these new & old faces have known each other for some time. It’s like we’re dipping into an ongoing story that we didn’t even know was going on. Okay. I think. I think I can make some jokes again now.


Twinkacetti rolls up with a hat AND a scarf AND a vest, really playing up the mob boss angle. Watch out, Larry, or Mrs. Twinkacetti will break HIS kneecaps, and then he’ll break YOURS. He sees your list of demands, Larry, and he raises you a “fuck your list of demands”.


Balki tells the story of the Boston Tea Party, and Balki confusing the phrases “call it” and “call for” leads to Larry inadvertently leading the charge for a rent strike. Most of the extra tenants silently mouth their excitement so that ABC won’t have to pay them extra.


In the next scene, Dmitri is wearing earmuffs, and okay, you just won me over with Dmitri, show. Emotive accessories never get old for me. I was totally on Team Wade back in the day.


But then it’s back down into the unfunny valley again as Larry’s shaking and Balki’s foreign furs and Balki fucking cooking an egg over a candle aren’t enough for anyone to put together that Twinkacetti turned off the heat and electricity, so Larry has to ask fucking Balki what’s going on. I don’t care if you’ve had coffee or not yet, Cousin Larry, grow a fucking clue. Balki tells the story of the “Great Alfalfa Famine of ‘82”, which made me laugh.


Larry freaks out when there’s no running water, either, because he can’t think without coffee. You see, it’s the classic conundrum. If he could have the coffee, he could think clearly enough to just mix it with some liquid antacid, allowing him to have the coffee. Larry starts to gather up the furniture to build a fire to heat the coffee, and you see the shadow of someone moving out of the way who didn’t think Larry would get to that side of the set that quickly. That’s right, we see the clearly defined shadow of someone in this apartment without any working lights.



Meanwhile, Twinkacetti is on the phone with someone named Vinny–and I guess that’s just what happens when different writers don’t compare their scripts — they inadvertantly back-door Twinkacetti having actual mob connections into the canon.


The good thing that is paired with this is that, even though Larry has changed clothes, he did not wipe the coffee grounds off of his face.


Larry continues to not be able to think well enough to talk, so God has his brother, Aaron, relay his message to Twinkacetti. Balki lets loose a Myposian curse (something along the lines of “remoltsemuchitz”) that means “the byproduct of swamp slime”.

Twinkacetti: Gee, what are you, Jewish now? I can’t keep up.

Twinkacetti has laid a trap for our heroes, however: $10-a-cup coffee. But he’s soon to be hoisted on his own pitard, because little does he know that this is Larry’s secret weapon.



Nah, just kidding, Twinkacetti knows that every bone his wife breaks only heals back stronger. Unafraid, he sticks by his refusal to meet their demands.


…so all of the tenants just trespass and sleep in the shop.


This is how I’ll remember you, Susan, the morning sun casting a gentle nimbus around the corkscrews of your hair, the cute way you forgot to take your wristwatch off, the hint that maybe, just maybe, you held a second character trait somewhere deep within you, that perhaps you even contained multitudes.


However, the tenants have not exited the shop by the time Twinkacetti arrives, and here’s another example of good-and-bad grouped together. Good: Balki uses his shepherd’s crook to herd them into a giant tent. Bad: What the hell, there’s no fire escape? That’s illegal! Good: this leads to one of the best variations on the “walking bush” gag that I’ve ever seen.



Mrs. Schlaegelmilch is called by name again because it’s a perfect name and I would have done everything in my power to have someone say it again, too. Larry starts in on Twinkacetti and Twinkacetti actually apologizes, saying that all men are brothers. THIS EPISODE BRINGS BACK THE FUCKING BROTHERHOOD OF MAN THING HOLY SHIT THIS EPISODE KNOWS WHAT SHOW THIS IS. Twinkacetti says he’ll fix a few things around the building if they pay the rent today, but Vinny “The Finger” calls and Twinkacetti has a tiny heart attack.


What’s the big deal? Twinkacetti can’t owe more than $50, right? But Schlaegelmilch knows an opening when she sees it and pushes for more repairs. He gives into a few major, obvious things (fumigation, fixing doors), and Balki tries to push for all of them, but just deflates once it’s clear that all of the tenants who had speaking lines got what they wanted. Susan walks out of the Ritz Discount Store, and out of our lives forever.


This is the last frame she’s in. You can only just see the tip of the shoulder over which Balki popped his first American boner so long ago.


Back in the apartment, Balki takes a shit in the fireplace, providing fuel so that Larry won’t try to break the chairs for kindling again.

Balki feels humiliated: since he didn’t get the tenants everything they wanted, he feels that he came across as being foolish. Larry explains to him how negotiating works, and there’s the payoff that I was looking for earlier: we get Balki pointing out the seeming illogic inherent in adult tactics like asking for more than you really need so you’ll get the most crucial things.


Mary Anne (Sagittarius) comes by and asks, since Susan is now gone, if Balki would like to have breakfast with her.

Balki ends the episode by saying that he’s going to stick his penis in Mary Anne’s body.

This episode… where do I even begin? As much as it frustrated the crap out of me–essential details about the relationships of its main characters being only revealed once it became necessary (okay, I think there was maybe one line about Susan “going upstairs” somewhere in the first few episodes); Jennifer and Mary Anne taking over Susan and probably Tina’s roles; the incessant stretching of jokes to cater to whatever grade ABC execs thought the majority of their audience made it to before dropping out–it also delighted the hell out of me. The little dash of intellect in a complicated system Larry has to explain to Balki; Balki not needing to be a child for the plot to work; Larry being accidentally thrust past his comfort zone not by Balki’s projection of Myposian generosity onto everyone around him* but by the merest of linguistic mixups; the success in making us feel that Larry and Balki have been a part of a community for a long time; SCHLAEGELMILCH.

Plus I get the distinct impression that producer Mark Fink, who wrote this episode (it was his first), took his time familiarizing himself with the set. He used the kitchen sink, he used the fireplace, he forced this show to give us new angles of both the apartment AND the discount shop, and he picked the biggest, goofiest damn tent he could fit in there for the climax of the episode. It’s hard to know if Mark Fink did this episode in isolation from the other writers or just ignored them. One of these has to be true to explain Jennifer and Mary Anne suddenly living in the Caldwell Hotel. I mean, I know ABC used to try out different mixtures of its shows’ elements to see what tested best. I may never forgive the show for these women muscling out Susan, but at the same time I have to marvel at the efficiency ABC achieved with this setup, having the neighbor friend and the girlfriend be the same person. And hey, this way the show never has to go back to Reuben’s Perfect Body again, freeing up that set for use on Mr. Belvedere or whatever. Either way, playing a little loose with the elements of Perfect Strangers seems to have worked in the correct writer’s hands.

Out with the old, in with the new, and at both a script level (Larry being under Twinkacetti’s thumb changed to them being closer to equals; Balki popping boners over whatever woman he sees changed to a woman making the first move) and at a meta level (characters being changed out; new camera angles). I’m very tempted to say that I wish we could ignore at least some of the past few episodes and just let this be the beginning of season 2, but I did turn in that slam dunk of a review for “Babes in Babylon”, so.

Join me next week for “A Christmas Story”–it’ll be the last review of 2015! (Again, out with the old.)


If you want to see “A Christmas Story” before you read all of my dumb jokes about it, you can watch it tonight! Hop in the browser of your choice and navigate to tonight at 8PM for their 3rd Annual Xmas Stream! Phil will be hosting a marathon of shitty old TV Christmas specials, one of which will be “A Christmas Story”. Also, Phil’s raising money for the Trevor Project, which provides suicide prevention resources to LGBTQ+ youth. The shows will be as bad as the cause is good, so stop by! I’ll be there, both watching and participating in the live chat!


Boners: Balki (2); Mary Anne (1 – I hereby move to call lady boners “coners”); Larry (0) (his other mug says “No boners until I’ve had my coffee”)
Catchphrase: Balki (1); Larry (0)

*Psychology sidebar: this is called the “false-consensus effect”