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 2 Reviewed

Welp, that sure was Season 2, wasn’t it? Where do I even start to talk about this thing as a whole? How do you even begin to discuss something that’s simultaneously the same thing each week, but also at times a complete mess of inconsistencies?


I guess let’s revisit the core idea of the show.  Bright-eyed innocent from isolated agrarian island gets skewed romantic perspective of American life from the bits and pieces of pop culture that made it that far afield. Said innocent travels in hopes of experiencing everything he’s “learned” about America, only to find that it’s both more and less than he hoped for.  He shacks up with a distant relative who is at the outset of trying to forge his own destiny, but whose knowledge of American society is only at the technical level (this is how something “works”).


The foreigner’s knowledge is superficial in that he only sees the output, but not the inner workings of a complex modern society; the native (the product of that society) has come to believe that systems and rules govern everything, and mastery of them, finding the right fulcra and levers, will gain him success.  One needs guidance through something more complex than feudalism, sheepherding, and barter systems; the other needs guidance into the inner workings of the human psyche.


So maybe let’s start by judging the episodes on how well they get across some part of that? We’ll look at Larry first.  Larry Appleton, as we’ve seen, wants to know that he has control over whatever situation he’ll be in, whether it’s through preparation (“Hello Baby”, “Babes in Babylon”, “Trouble in Paradise”) or manipulation of others (“Hunks Like Us”, “Since I Lost My Baby”, “Tux For Two”, “Snow Way to Treat a Lady”). He constantly meets with failure, either of his way of thinking (turns out babies are just going to pop out when they want to) or of his methods themselves (lies to impress women eventually unravel).


He’s always trying to gain something a little past what he’s had before: sometimes it’s a pretty woman, sometimes it’s a better job, but there always seems to be a materialistic bent to it. He tries to impress women with food, either cooked by himself or at a fancy restaurant, or with Bruce Springsteen tickets.  He’s also very proud of his belongings, such as his childhood bicycle; see also how disappointed he was by the gift of a potato clock.


Balki, on the other hand, comes from a society without much material luxury; in fact, the livelihoods of most Myposians seem to depend on what material goods they have (“Beautiful Dreamer”, where if they’re not ready with all of the wool when the buyer comes by, they’re boned for a whole year).  Other than being somehow fed a constant stream of American pop culture, Balki’s existence has been mainly wrapped up in other people.


It’s been established that, in communities that occupy lower socioeconomic strata, that sharing of new wealth is much more common. For instance, if someone were to win the lottery, they would share their winnings with other members of the community because if they don’t, they might not be on the receiving end of someone else’s luck.  So Balki freely offers his time (“Two Men and Cradle”), his efforts (“Falling in Love Is…”), his apartment (“Hello Baby”), and ultimately risks his life (“Snow Way to Treat a Lady”), without hope of being paid back at all.  While Larry assumes bad intentions on the part of others automatically, Balki assumes the best.


So what do these cousins do for each other in Season 2?

Larry helped Balki:

learn that love doesn’t come quickly, and not everyone’s honest (“Falling in Love Is…”)

learn to consider the needs of animals (“Dog Gone Blues”)

learn that sometimes you don’t have to achieve everything to be a success (“The Rent Strike”)

learn that physical presence isn’t the only way to help others (“Beautiful Dreamer”)


Balki helped Larry:

find his own strengths (“The Rent Strike”; “Can I Get a Witness?”; “Babes in Babylon”)

learn not to lie (“Ladies and Germs”; “Hunks Like Us”; “Snow Way to Treat a Lady”)

learn to just go with the flow and find meaning where he is (“Hello Baby”)

give other people approval when they seek it (“Falling In Love Is…”; “Hello, Elaine”)


So, okay, they help each other, but I do think it’s noteworthy that Balki’s missteps are usually from a place of good intentions, while Larry’s are not.  Balki gives his heart and love too quickly, and Larry’s just a dirty fucking liar. Balki wants everyone to have everything they need, and Larry’s just an emotionally withholding asshole.  Balki misses his mom, and Larry wants some hot poontang. I mean, come on, there was a whole two-parter towards the end of the season just to beat Larry down about his lying habit and establish Balki as a (symbolically) angelic character.


There are two other lessons that I didn’t put up there, because I want to discuss them in a little more depth.  One is the whole “family is the most important thing”, which would eventually become pretty much the ONLY lesson on Full House in its later seasons; we see this in “Lifesavers”, a little bit in “A Christmas Story”, arguably in “Since I Lost My Baby”, and finally in “Hello, Elaine”.  Then there’s also the troubling “blind faith” kind of lesson that’s showed up in this season.  It’s a subtle lesson in “Hello Baby”, and perhaps as well in “Two Men and a Cradle”, and at least the former of those is the tame “go with the flow and it’ll be alright” version.  But then you’ve got “Ladies and Germs”, which dealt with traditional remedies and came *this* close to advocating faith-based medicine.  And then, lastly, you’ve got the intersection of the “family” and “faith” lessons with “The Unnatural”. In both “Ladies and Germs” as well as “The Unnatural”, Larry is doing everything correctly (according to widely accepted knowledge), but is shown to be wrong because he won’t just blindly trust a family member.  In both of these cases, he’s 100% right to try to stick with his plan, but because he hurt Balki the Kid’s feelings, he has to give in; both have a third act where things miraculously work out.  The presence of this tendency worries me, especially since this season of Perfect Strangers precedes the beginning of Full House.


Another thing that struck me throughout this season was how we’ve all but dropped any sort of intellectualism in the show, and gone almost all the way towards slapstick.  Larry’s still a cipher for “intelligent character” (he reads books! wow!), and I think we’re supposed to assume Jennifer is as well, since she’s obviously going to be Larry’s girlfriend, and also because she isn’t the dumb woman character.  Back in the first season, we had Larry constantly trying to explain complex systems to Balki (banking, photojournalism, driving a car); we only got that a few times this season (renting vs. owning, attending classy events, skiing).  Skiing in particular is a perfect example of the shift in direction this show took.  Rather than have Larry actually bring anything to the table to actually teach Balki, they just went the physical comedy route of having them get their skis tangled up in the apartment.  There were a handful of times that the physical comedy actually made me laugh.  The bit where they shuffled around the apartment, and it took both of them to hang up the phone in “Hunks Like Us”; the frantic place-switching and dragging in “Two Men and a Cradle”; and the walking tent bit in “The Rent Strike”.  But mostly they seemed to be doing it just because they knew it would get laughs.  I suppose that’s not a big thing to complain about. The two things that come to mind for me regarding the natural selection process that comedy goes through are both related to the Three Stooges.  I remember reading that Curly tended to hike up his shoulders because it seemed to get more laughs (I read this in the notes of one of the “phonebook” volumes of Dave Sim’s Cerebus series; I don’t know where he got it, but I trust Sim to know his stuff); and that “Slowly I Turn” bit really shouldn’t work as well as it does, but it got laughs, so they kept doing it. Can I blame a major network for sticking with what kept audiences tuning in? (Fuck yeah I can, fuck those fucking suits.)


So, basically, we’re looking at two shifts in second season Perfect Strangers.  We’ve gone from Balki and Larry possessing equal knowledge to bring to the table, to Balki having more to offer Larry. I’m not going to count how many times each was right, or how many times each learned a lesson of their own. I’m not a soccer or a hockey fan, and I usually can’t follow a tenth of what’s going on on during gameplay, but I can tell which side of the field the players spend more time on.  Balki won this season hands-down in terms of which cousin is “better”.  The other shift is from actual adult topics and lessons to Balki turning Larry sideways to get his way, Balki having fun with “fingyprints”, and a goddam dog dancing around.  Why did this happen?


I’ll take a moment to point out that is a wonderful resource, and yes, I’ve used it if I’m trying to remember something between watching an episode and posting the review.  I’m trying not to overuse it, because I still want to rely on my own powers of observation for things to jump out at me.  (Seriously, their episode guides are an eye-opener in just how many types of catchphrases and catchphrase-a-likes this show had.)  One of the great things the site has collected is news articles on Perfect Strangers, which saves me from having to buy old TV Guides, or wear a disguise to go look at microfilm at the public library.  I’m certainly not going to read every piece of reporting on this show, but I did read the Rolling Stone profile that came out right before the second season.  Go read it, then come back.


Did you read it?

You fucking liars, you’re all going to fall into a pit. Anyway, whatever, one of the most important things in that article is a quote from show creator Dale McRaven:

“Right now people just want to be entertained,” says McRaven.  “I think the nation is tired of being guilty.  People just want to turn on the TV and laugh.”


There’s also a quote from Mark Linn-Baker about how they’re shooting for something like I Love Lucy.  Some of the other news reporting around the start of the second season includes quotes from Lucille Ball herself praising Perfect Strangers.  Take that with a grain of salt, though; Ball’s Life With Lucy premiered on ABC in Fall 1986 as well. There was likely some corporate synergy there, but I can definitely see some truth in Linn-Baker’s quote. So there’s an answer, though certainly not the answer, about whether this show built on 70s buddy sitcoms; somewhere between seasons 1 and 2, they decided to go even further back and see how well a 1950s comedy sense would transfer to the 80s.


By the way, that quote I’m mentioning from Mark Linn-Baker?  It was one of friggin’ two measly quotes from him in the whole article.  The article’s writer seems to have had a day-long interview with Bronson Pinchot, but for all we know the guy may have spent two minutes on the phone with Mark Linn-Baker.  Linn-Baker is, if anything, a little dismissive of television, but good grief had Pinchot already taken on the demeanor of an arrogant Hollywood type by that point.  I mean, come on, a few minor movie roles followed by a part on a failed sitcom, followed by a part on a sitcom that got renewed for a second season hardly seems meteoric.  But I’m positive Pinchot was the reason Perfect Strangers even got a second season, and I’m sure Pinchot knew it, too.  (Also, holy crap, Pinchot wrote a comedy album that was never made?  Color me curious!)


So we had a first season, the response to which was that audiences wanted physical comedy, and they wanted Balki. (In the primetime hour, they cried more, more, more.)  I think this may also explain a little of how the show treats women.  I said what I needed to say about this show and women back in my review for “Get A Job”, so go read that if you want to see what I think. The TL;DR version is that women are mostly unknowable except that deep under the left boob of every Bonnie Kleinschmidt out there is a heart so dark that, if the woman is given access to money or power, will become an evil, sex-crazed Edwina or Fat Marsha.  But season 2 just blew through its secondary characters like so many bottles of antacid. I appreciate that Mrs. Twinkacetti showed up so much, and I’m retroactively surprised that Gina showed up a couple of times, but we’ll never see any of these others again.  From now on they’ll all be up there together in the Statesville prison, along with Martin and Dutch and Lana, Thames and Sally Decker. I’m still super-bummed that Susan didn’t stick around.  And damn, was it just me, or did themes of loss just echo through the second half of this season?  Larry lost his chance to be Christmas boy, Balki mourns the loss of two sheepdogs, Twinkacetti loses his wife briefly, Balki misses being with his family for Christmas and the annual sheep-shearing, Larry loses his bike, the cousins lose their job, Mary Anne keeps losing parts of her brain…


I’ll miss Susan, I’ll miss the Twinkacettis (even their kids, Set Dressing and Speaking Role), I’ll even miss fucking Schlaegelmilch.  But if you’re going to up the physical comedy aspect, you’re basically going to end up with just Balki and Larry most of the time. That’s what we got, and I feel like that was a detriment to the show.  I mean, “A Christmas Story” was a total shitshow because we just had to sit around while Larry moped and whined for what felt like most of the episode; compare that to “The Rent Strike”, whose strength lay partially in the fact that the plot was driven by the existence of a whole building full of characters. It’s no surprise I liked the latter about as much as I disliked the former.  And as much as I hate how the show has just handed us girlfriends for the cousins (seriously, it’s not even a will they/won’t they, it’s a when will they here), and as much as I loved the Twinkacettis, it would have been a stretch to have Larry and Balki stay in that discount shop one second longer. I know we’ve got a bigger regular cast coming, and that’s certainly needed at this point.


What can we expect for the future of this show?  I’m going to bet on more physical comedy, more Larry being wrong and evil, and definitely more of Balki singing.  The consensus seems to be that seasons 3-8 haven’t been released on DVD because of the cost in music rights, so there’s definitely more Balki singing.  I suppose the upside to that is we might get more of Balki shaking his imaginary tits, but the downside is that the film quality is going to go way down.  Yes, I’ll be using the copies that are floating around on torrent sites from now on, and if someone from ABC wants to object to this, I’d be glad to send to each executive, creator, actor, guild member, or whomever, exactly what they would have made off of the sale of one complete series DVD, sold at whatever deep discount price Amazon would have been selling it for about a year after its release. I’m being generous, ABC: if the DVD had been released, I’d’ve bought it second-hand from a third-party seller, and you’d have gotten nothing anyway.


Let’s get to the last few things for my season review:

Favorite episode: “Get a Job”. I never thought I’d say this, but I would actually watch this one again.

Episode I hate the most: “The Unnatural”

Best lesson: Balki’s, in “The Rent Strike”

Worst lesson: it’s a tie between Larry’s in “Ladies and Germs” and Larry’s in “Hello, Elaine”

Best one-off character: Susan Kellerman as Fat Marsha

Worst one-off character: Elaine, but I will say that she was one of the better actors the show has had.  There was just so much build up that for her not to at least emotionally belittle Larry in some way was a let-down.  I mean, Larry’s got 8 siblings, right?  Couldn’t we have used baseball girl for this story?

Worst handling of a one-off character: Fast Eddie (blink and you’ll miss him)


Season 2 catchphrase count: Balki (31.5); Larry (3)

Season 2 boner count: Balki (6); Larry (9)

Cumulative catchphrase count: Balki (41); Larry (7)

Cumulative boner count: Balki (9); Larry (10.5)

Dance of Joy running total: 9

And, for next week:  I’ll look at what our actors did between seasons 2 and 3!


Season 2, Episode 6: Ladies and Germs

I hope you all like it when I get pissed off about this show, because I definitely do this week!


The episode opens with Balki dancing and singing “Freeway of Love” while shining his shoes. So here we have a definite difference between the 1st and 2nd seasons we can point to:

First season: Balki sang songs related to the situation, even if only by one word

Second season: Balki sings songs because the writers know they don’t have to actually write jokes to get laughs


Larry comes in bragging about how many times he’s going to get to touch Bonnie Kleinschmidt’s boobs.


Larry hangs his coat. Remember this. This is important.

Bonnie Kleinschmidt is fourth runner-up in the Miss Chicago beauty contest, and as is typical when one’s self-esteem is threatened, it can be useful to engage in what’s referred to in psychology textbooks as “downward social comparison”.  If you gather around yourself those who are obviously less than you, it becomes easier for you to see the good qualities you still can lay claim to. It also helps if you can find a loser with tickets to the Bruce Springsteen concert.


But Larry’s ego needs food badly, so he manages to spin this into a full-fledged fantasy where even Bruce is impressed that, out of the roughly 150,000 women in Chicago, Larry managed to find the one who wouldn’t refuse to be seen with him in public.  Before Balki introduces the plot element that will make sure we never, ever see Bonnie, much less hear her speak, I want to point out something I didn’t notice the past couple of weeks: that Larry managed to get the exact same lamp that they broke playing baseball.  That’s one of the perqs of working at a discount store that has 50 of everything and nothing ever sells.

Anyway, Balki says that they’re going to see Mr. Twinkacetti and Mr. Twinkacetti’s broken leg in the hospital.  I’m going to officially start my own Perfect Strangers headcanon and say that I hope Mr. Twinkacetti broke his leg because Balki sewed his pants badly way back in season 1.  Larry, of course, doesn’t want to go because he’s afraid of getting germs at the hospital, as he doesn’t want to get sick before his date.


Balki, of course, has to ask “What germs is?”, because they’d only just two years ago stopped trepanning on Mypos, and that was because their drill broke.  And if Larry is so worried about germs, why doesn’t the bombshell that germ theory hasn’t made it Mypos not dial Larry up to 11 on the freak-out scale?  It only took me a few seconds to realize that Balki probably wipes with his hands, and Larry only didn’t realize it this long because Balki has been using the toilet paper to make funny hats.


Balki pokes some gentle fun at Larry, asking if the invisible creatures called “germs” have a leader.  I’ll take misinformed but rightly skeptical Balki over Balki the Kid any day.  Larry recounts all the important events that germs have ruined for him throughout his life: his sixth-grade graduation, the spelling bee, and his junior prom.  On the one hand, Larry, I get you. When I grew up, I almost never got to watch the Saturday morning cartoons that would play on CBS because of college football games, which invariably ran into overtime; I never got to see much more than the end credits of The Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys starring Howie Mandel. I have hated football in all its forms every since.  When something keeps messing with you, you learn to avoid it. Cousin Larry, I’m sorry you had to share antibodies with eight brothers and sisters, but you really aren’t doing your immune system any favors by only consuming soda, beer, lemonade, potato chips, crullers, and liquid antacid.

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Soon, Balki and Larry recap the first scene in the world’s largest hospital room.  Balki mistakes a bedpan for a “Mypos army helmet”, and I think we have made the first step on the path to Mypos becoming a precursor to Wackyland from Tiny Toon Adventures.  Also, this is the kind of joke that I’ve never really understood.  The joke is that bedpans should never be handled because of what they’re used for, because what they’re used for is yucky.  But they clean those things out, right?


Larry and Curly screw around with the hospital bed while Moe suffers intense pain.


YES YES YES YES YES it’s Mrs. Twinkacetti!  I take back my trouser headcanon.  I know why Mr. Twinkacetti has a broken leg.  Mrs. Twinkacetti introduces her children, Placeholder and Plot Device.


Larry squats down to say hello, and here comes the money shot!


Oh no!  Larry’s lifelong dream of touching a boob is now at risk!  No wonder germs love you, Larry–you provide them a perfect delivery system!  Me, I would’ve talked to a doctor or something, because, you know, HOSPITAL. But Larry just up and runs away!



…and is sick by the next morning, having somehow also decided not to mix some crushed up Benadryl into his bismol. He’s so sick that he sneezes his “Puff” cereal right out of the bowl.


I can only think of one other shot like this, from the Garbage Pail Kids movie.

But I’d really like to know if there are more.  Seriously, if you know of other scenes in television and film where someone forcefully sneezes light, modular foodstuff out of its container, please say so in the comments. (Cocaine sneezes don’t count.)


I don’t have a joke about it, but hey, look, they have two phones now.  The episode tried, but it also didn’t have a joke about it. ZING!  Bonnie calls, and Larry acts like nothing’s wrong.  Hey, didn’t we just do a whole episode last month about how Larry refused to let his own physical limits ruin a date?

Anyway, Larry eats about a dozen oranges and takes equal amounts of vitamins A, B, C, and D because sure, that makes sense.  Balki brings him one of those big strings of garlic, Wolfsbane, and pumpkin mold because, you know, FOREIGN.  I would seriously advise against eating a whole bulb of garlic, by the way; your farts will smell like garlic for at least a couple days.

Larry does that stupid thing where he asks about the pumpkin mold using the wrong question (“what” instead of “why”) so Balki can explain something for yuks.  Balki offers to cook Larry a “secret Mypos cure”, but Larry’s not having it. In the process of Larry ridiculing long-disproven medical cures and other pseudoscience, we learn some other facts about Mypos: only the Mypos royal family has indoor plumbing, the island has one phone, and “the foremost spectator sport is spitting for distance”. Larry tells Balki to shove his secret cure, and good on ya, Larry. Larry then tries to swallow his pills without water because, you know, PHYSICAL COMEDY. And I assume this is also to indicate that modern medicine only gets you so far. SUBTLETY.




Later, Cousin Larry’s under a blanket, using a vaporizer. I had one of those!   I’m really not sure what tension there’s supposed to be for me at this point.  Am I supposed to hope that Larry will actually make it to the date?  This has become like when I watched too much Scooby-Doo or Matlock in a short amount of time, and I could tell who the bad guy was going to be without even putting the clues together.  I know Larry’s not going on a date because they’ve already used their third location.  The show keeps toying around with where it sticks its third location; this time around, they’ve shot their wad too early and have nothing left for the date.  Larry, sensing this, is ready to call it quits.


Balki pushes the secret Mypos cure again, and Larry makes a valid point that curing a cold in 20 minutes goes against 200 years of medical research.  Angry Balki shows up and threatens to flush the stuff down the toilet. (Whew! I’m relieved–at the very least he knows how to do one thing in the bathroom correctly.)  “Here’s your last chance” is a good salesman’s tactic, and it works on Larry. He demands the “Mypos cure”.

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And Balki just milks this moment for all that it’s worth, whipping out some righteous indignation at how Larry kept taking verbal potshots at his precious, holy, sheep-loving culture.  Larry may put Balki down without Balki knowing it, but Balki knows how to rub it in when somebody looks to him for help.

Larry: You’re gonna make this hard for me, aren’t you?


Larry must simply say the magic words: “I believe”. Larry, you should never have given any ground, because now you’re being forced into further retreat.  First, you were willing to be a science agnostic and at least try out the cure. Now Balki’s getting you to agree to faith-based healing.  You gave him an inch, and now he’s your ruler, Cousin Larry.

Larry: It’s okay. When I’m well, I’ll renounce everything.


Oh man, we humans have been using this trick on God for years.  God just never learns!



Ooh, yeah, that looks like bog water.  Glad I don’t live in a sitcom.  Larry asks if the cure has eye of newt or bats’ wings.

Instead, it’s “fish parts and herbs”.  Since there’s still a few minutes left in the episode, the twist here is that Larry was only supposed to drink a teaspoon, but downed the whole thing! Oh no!  Larry passes out and then sleeps for three days.  I guess he drank enough faith-based medicine to actually become Jesus!


Larry realizes that Bonnie’s boobs will be forever out of his reach, and Balki sells the joke that he went out with Bonnie just by puffing out his chest.  For the second season of this show, with its repeated jokes, this is pretty damn subtle.  I don’t even mind too much that this nice moment was punctured by the follow-up jokes that 1) Bonnie ran off with a guy with front-row seats, and 2) Bruce Springsteen had the flu and didn’t even show. (I guess Bruce’s nose was… wait for it… born to run.)

And for the second time this season, Larry has to apologize for being at all upset with Balki after Balki forces him into a position where he might lose a chance at one of his own dreams. His lesson is that he shouldn’t have put Balki’s culture down because Balki had his best interests at heart. And holy shit is that a lesson that won’t transfer well to the real world.  Larry is further beaten down by the demands of being in a sitcom.


Larry: Well, let’s not fight about it. I mean, you have your ways, and I have my ways

Balki: Exactly. Who’s to say who’s right?

I won’t say who’s right, but I will say this: I know enough about anthropology to know that, if I really want to be serious about being a liberal, I need to be open to other culture’s ways of knowing and being.  There actually are legitimately happy tribal cultures in parts of the undeveloped world that put the rest of us to shame (I’m not kidding, go read Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes if you’re curious).  But you don’t pick your own physical health as the starting point to being open to multiculturalism.  Sure, maybe by some chance the Myposian herb that looked like a nose happened to actually have some decongestant effect, but you’ve got to look at statistics.  When science has helped you out the majority of times you’ve looked to it for a particular fix, and you’ve got a hot date on the line, you don’t drink the fish parts. If you’re dying, sure, drink the fish parts.  You might point out that, 30 years later, Larry’s cures are no longer considered best practices for what to do when you get a cold: oranges are really more of a preventative measure, and vitamins had some serious shade thrown on them back in December 2013 (not to mention fish parts gaining some serious social cachet in recent years). But it’s the principle of the thing.

Okay, so we’ve got two episodes this season already that seriously pissed me off, which isn’t a great ratio. Let’s all just keep our chins up and remind ourselves that sitcoms like this often had different writers every week.

So let’s hope that we’re bound for better days next week when I review “Falling in Love Is…”.

I also hope that you’re all as lazy as I am and haven’t thrown your jack-o-lanterns out yet–you gotta save that pumpkin mold for cold season!


Boner count: Larry (1); Balki (0)

Catchphrase count: Larry (0); Balki (1.5)

P.S. Okay, so maaaaybe there’s a connection between Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love” and Bruce Springsteen, in terms of the sexual metaphor of a pink Cadillac; as well as the song featuring a member of Springsteen’s band. BUT IT’S STILL A FRICKIN’ STRETCH