Season 4, Episode 9: The Gift of the Mypiot

Look, you were all the recipients of my beautiful sense of timing that you got a Christmas episode on December 25 last year. Blame me if you want for it not matching up perfectly this year. In my defense, though, Thanksgiving was yesterday, and you can buy Christmas- and winter-themed snack foods at Bob’s Market Meats Produce now, so it’s officially the Christmas season.


The show itself mirrors this time displacement by taking us into the Chronicle on a nice, bright, summer day.

Balki and Lance Dick and Harriette and Lydia and an unnamed woman are standing around so they can look at Balki open a present from his mother.


Why do the cousins always have things mailed to them at work, though? And I also have to question why he’s doing this without Larry there.  And who the hell is the woman on the right?

It’s a giant Rolo candy!


Nah, j/k, it’s a Davros cup, made by Davros Praxiteles (they’re not very creative with product names on Mypos).  Evidently it takes Davros one year to carve a single cup. Let’s assume that Mypos has equal numbers of men and women. Based on the fact that Balki is 986th in line for the throne, so there are something like 1,970 people on the island–wait, sorry, I’m miscounting, I forgot that


So, 1,969 people still there, and dude can only make one cup per year, we have to assume that this was a fairly pricy gift for Mama Bartokomous. I think it’s safe to assume that Balki’s previous gift of an electric sheep shearer has made the Bartokomous clan the richest on the island, and disrupted the local economy on a scale rivalling that of Musa of Mali’s pilgrimage to Mecca.


Anyway, Gorpley comes out and does his “bah humbug” bit and tells everybody to get back to work.  A staunchly insubordinate Balki ignores this order and makes Gorpley look at the cup and listen to his still broken English. Balki then misunderstands the phrase “choked up” and


Larry stumbles in from the parking garage, the joke being that he just had a rough time at the mall because he went shopping on Christmas Eve.  I get that you want to do a joke about crowds being rough, show, but talk about your time displacement: is the best way to get that joke across to have it look like someone literally threw him out of the parking garage?


Cousin Larry has bought Jennifer a sweater and everyone “ooo-woos” over it like it’s lingerie. He paid $125 for it. This show has been dumbing down Balki little by little every episode this season, to the point where he now misunderstands the idea of Christmas completely, thinking that Larry has purchased the sweater for himself.  So I’m going to leave Balki over there with his dumb jokes and silly voices and comment on this briefest of shots where we find that Sam Anderson is a real actor, too, and knows how to occupy himself when he needs to be in the scene later on.  Despite showing us his utter disdain for Christmas and gift-giving, he’s over there admiring the Davros cup, pausing only to roll his eyes at Balki’s idiocy.  Kudos to whoever made sure to catch that on camera, and kudos to Sam Anderson for giving us a small clue to where this episode is going for the character of Mr. Gorpley.


Gorpley comes over to comment on the party, which Larry tries to downplay the size of. Gorpley insults Larry and disappears into his office.

Alright, I don’t need to tell you how the rest of the scene goes, right? This is another setup like we had in “The Unnatural” and “Better Shop Around”: Balki tries to change the plan at the last minute.  This is what happens when you try to have rules without consequences, Larry.  You keep telling Balki not to invite people over without consulting with you. You tell Balki that there’s going to be a plan and that the two of you need to stick with it.  But this is what happens when parents have jobs: they feel bad that they aren’t spending time with their kids, and try to be a friend instead of a rule-enforcer.  You indulge the kids, you don’t uphold the rules, you put the blame on yourself for being a bad guy, and it sends all the wrong messages. The child is reinforced in their errant ways.  Shoot, I’m surprised Balki didn’t invite the rest of the newspaper staff, not to mention Turkey Leg Greg and RT (Reindeer Team) Wainwright.


Later, it’s nighttime at the Chronicle, and it’s snowing (sort of)!  Obviously it’s not about to be a blizzard, so I’m going to assume that Larry got to be the Christmas Boy, and Balki got to fuck all of Larry’s sisters (and mother, and aunts), sometime during Season 3.

Speaking of asking for things at the last minute, Gorpley is on the phone, and we’re led to believe that he’s trying to get laid until the punchline is that he wants to spend Christmas with his mom.

Balki has physical difficulties with inviting Mr. Gorpley over, so he tries to wriggle through the letter of the law by asking if Gorpley has anywhere to go.  Gorpley’s all like “I’m going to be going up more chimneys than Santa tonight”, and then they have a good laugh about not being loners.


Again, you know how this scene ends, so let’s move on.


At the apartment, Cousin Larry is still using the cheap potholders he stole from Ritz Discount, meaning that he is burning his hands taking whatever the heck those are out of the oven. And even though the food itself is too hot to hold, he just pops one in his mouth like a moron.


Larry is more excited than Shelley Duvall in 3 Women at the prospect of entertaining guests. He’s convinced that the party is going to be perfect because he wrote things down on a clipboard. He needs this. I mean, seriously, we’ve had four parties so far this season, and none of them went well.

Larry: Should I add another log?


Balki’s been saving the old “wouldn’t it be a good idea” dialogue for a special occasion, and Larry’s even excited about that. He’s so sure that he’s going to get laid this year.

You see, we learned three weeks ago that Jennifer is a daughter of the Earth itself. Larry picked up on this. And, like Socrates in The Republic, Larry understands that you can understand the city by looking at the man, and more importantly here, vice-versa. We find that Larry is a proponent of the Gaia hypothesis of the Earth as a self-regulating system.  Let me follow suit and try to explain the idea with a closed system first: snowshoe hares and their natural predator, the bobcat.  One year, there is an abundance of snowshoe hares, meaning that the bobcats have ready prey; the bobcats survive longer and reproduce more. Thus, the next year, there is an abundance of bobcats. The relatively unchanged population of snowshoe hares is now not enough to feed the bobcats, some of whom inevitably starve and ultimately do not reproduce. The next year, there are fewer bobcats, meaning that the snowshoe hare enjoys a comparatively peaceful time of population growth; the cycle begins again.

Now, take this to the larger scale: the Earth is made up of numerous small habitats, continents, climatic zones, ocean tides, weather patterns. The Gaia hypothesis is that these make up an entire system that has emergent qualities, one of which is to regulate itself.  If the use of the term “Gaia” has you thinking that this theory is teleological (that is, that the “system” has some intent), you’re sitting alongside critics of the whole idea, which is why I started off on the more palatable example of bunnies dying.  At any rate, we know that Jennifer has no personal goals or intent to speak of, so it’s not an issue here.

But! How can we think of the Earth as a self-regulating system if it is not a closed system? Let’s look to “Daisyworld”, a computer simulation* about a world covered only by two types of daisies: those that reflected the sun’s rays (white), and those that absorbed them (black).  To achieve temperature regulation, the two daisy populations balance each other out for any given input from the simulated sun. As the temperature of the sun is increased, black daisies start dying off. We see: introduction of heat imbalances the system, causing it to ditch some portion of what holds the heat there.

So why do I say that Larry is a proponent of the Gaia Hypothesis? He believes that by introduction of a nice, warm sweater, Jennifer’s panties will come off.


Back to the episode, where Balki’s acting like a dummy so he can get Larry good and angry right before the guests arrive.

I’m sure you all have your Christmas traditions: singing carols, roasting chestnuts, opening one–and only one!–present on Christmas Eve.  The show has its own: like not answering the door for a full minute after someone knocks.


We get a repeated sequence here where Larry keeps doing shitty accents through the door, and then letting in the expected guests.  The only real jokes here:

–Balki kisses the women as they come in, and also tries to kiss Lance Dick


–Larry does a “Mexican” “accent” and Lydia assumes she accidentally knocked on the door of her Latin lover, Ramon.*


Check out that bow! I know what present *I* want to unwrap this year!

There’s a third knock at the door, and the cousins just fight over opening it with every goddamn person there watching.  And I thought it was awkward when they brought over all of Balki’s classmates for a graduation party!






Why don’t–





Jennifer, Mary Anne (Sagittarius), the maybe-she’s-Latina woman who works in the basement, and some guy show up. Balki tries to kiss this guy, too.


Harriette, the perfect guest, starts making demands of the cousins, but Balki won’t even be upfront with her about Gorpley coming. Once the traditional Christmas beans are spilled**, and the guests see that Balki has pulled a party guest out of the dumpster, they try to leave. Larry convinces everyone to be quiet when Gorpley shows up. But Balki says he’s going to let Gorpley in.


Gorpley is louder through the door than anyone has been up to this point, but somehow he doesn’t hear them all pile on Balki.


And for once–it’s a Christmas miracle!–Gorpley can hear someone who’s shouting three feet away from him!

Everyone gives in at that point, and Balki tells them that even Gorpley contains a spark of the Christmas Spirit which they can stoke into a flame. Sure, okay, but maybe

just maybe


After the act break, we find that Gorpley’s way of partying is to just throw insults around.


Those two images sum up my relationship with the Perfect Strangers fan community.


Then Balki Claus shows up to pass out the presents.

To Harriette, from Lydia: a scarf


Gorpley: Real nice, Lydia, they’re giving them away at the gas station with every fill-up.


(Balki not being aware of this because he’s getting the next present is a nice touch)

To Lydia, from Harriete: a bottle of morning-after pills!


Nah, j/k, it’s the new “Nora Trueblood Adams mystery”

Gorpley: I’ll save you 600 pages: the countess did it.

Harriette gets so angry at this re-use of a joke from season 2’s “Lifesavers” that she tries to attack Gorpley.


Let’s go all the way back to last season, where sometimes jokes are funny, and sometimes they’re not.  Perfect Strangers will occasionally set up a punchline in a really clunky way; sometimes it pays off with a good laugh (the photograph of G. Gordon Liddy in Twinkacetti’s office), and sometimes it’s downright terrible (the handcuffs joke in season 1).  Here, the clunky setup is that Balki hands Jennifer two gifts at once–the one from Larry and the one from Mary Anne–and then Mary Anne insists that hers be opened first.

Mary Anne has, of course, given Jennifer the same sweater, which she got at 1/4 the price that Larry paid. Jennifer thinks it’s just fabulous; it was just what her system needed to get some more of those pretty white daisies blooming. Larry, however, is the human, capitalist, *ahem* American element which overspends its resources, increasing the temperature of the Earth’s system beyond what it can bear, killing all life on the surface.


When it comes to joke set-ups, I may take the long way around with mine, but they ALWAYS pay off.


Gorpley: Good move, Appleton! Boy, I bet you feel like a real jerk.

Hoo-hoo, save some for his mother to bury, Gorp!


They all pick up Gorpley and take him into the hallway! Yes! Now! Bash his head in with the fire extinguisher!


Seriously, though, do these people want to have jobs when they come back from the holidays?


When Balki tries to protect his boss, Gorpley says that he can’t be harmed. He then catalogs every shitty thing that’s happened to him during past Christmases:

–His wife said she wanted a divorce on Christmas 3 years ago

–His drunk dad showed up on Christmas when he was in high school and stole his college money

–When he was 8, the Gorpleys’ trailer burned down and they spent Christmas at the Red Cross


This sad story convinces everyone to be nice to Gorpley, and I’m a little conflicted about whether I should be upset at the show for this.


Let’s talk about the Christian view of forgiveness and how to treat other people. Christian forgiveness basically involves not giving a shit about why someone did what they did or got the way they are, so long as that person has asked forgiveness for their sins. At its best, it’s an acknowledgment that such things are supposed to be between the other person and God, and that we’re all fuckups. On the other hand, it’s a way to avoid scrutiny of one’s own misdeeds. But that, at its core, betrays that Christianity provides no way for people to forgive themselves.

It came as a surprise to me when I was a freshman (and Christian) in college and found out that some Christians were opposed to the idea of psychology as a valid subject of study.  I can see a little of it now: psychology understands some parts of human behavior and thinking by way of evolution. And I mean this in not only the sense that we’ve got some leftover ape habits, but also in the personal evolution sense.  The sense that childhood trauma can mess you up, and that you can counter your own self-destructive shit by understanding how you got there.  You can forgive yourself that way. Similarly, you can take the view that everyone’s doing the best they can, or else they’d be doing better; whatever stuff they do that’s not healthy for them, or others, they probably came by it honestly. At its worst extension, though, you run the risk of assuming someone’s background, and is that a fair thing to do?

So the question remains: should we need to know what made Gorpley a bitter man to forgive him and show him love? I’ve heard Christians overstep the idea that we should help and love others by saying that it’s important to do so because the other could be an angel in disguise***; this is insidious to me because Christians should really be loving others because the others aren’t angels.  On the other hand, knowing what Gorpley’s been through reminds us that he’s human, just like we are.

I’m torn!

Anyway, Sam Anderson’s got some great acting going on, swinging his head around like he’s looking for an exit that doesn’t exist while Balki brings him over to the couch.  Balki gives him a present.

It’s the head of a reindeer, the traditional Myposian gift!


Nah, j/k, it’s that Davros cup.

Gorpley tries to give it back, but instead of picking him up by the collar and telling him to fucking take it like last season, with the typewriter, Balki tells him that Gorpley accepting the cup is a present to Balki by way of a Mypos saying.


At first, Gollum grimaces at the taste of lembas, but quickly realizes that he feels the Christmas Spirit because Balki Claus touched his soul.


Mr. Gorpley: Do you feel like this every Christmas?

Larry: Except for Balki… he feels like this every day.

Oh for f-


Then Balki starts them singing a song.


*gags self with a turkey bone*

At the end of the credits, the cousins sit at not quite the right angle to see out the window.


Join me next week for “Maid to Order”!


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

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

*Current list of Caldwell residents and why they’re not at this party

Mrs. Schlaegelmilch; spending Christmas with her sausage

Mrs. Falby: when you crap your pants on the daily, you don’t really get invited to parties

Eddie Harris & mom: deported after Eddie tried to take over Vince Lucas’s business

Old white man: dead in his fourth-floor apartment since the previous June

Old black man: playing Santa on another sitcom

Ramon: to quote Larry, “fuck Catholics”

The other four people we saw in “The Rent Strike”: making sacrifice to Sol Invictus

**my family is weird

***a (perhaps honest) misreading of Hebrews 13:2; the verse simply says that it’s happened before–not that it will happen again, or you should be nice because it could happen again. Sure, maybe the latter is implied, but still, it’s a little counter to what Jesus practiced, don’t you think? Angels are less in need than humans.

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