We open with a shot of the Ritz Discount from ground level, teasing us with whatever’s down that side street. So mysterious, like back when I played my first Zelda game, Link’s Awakening, and you could see cool stuff on certain screens that you couldn’t get to yet because you didn’t have the Power Bracelet yet. Like, you know, maybe there’s a better sitcom down that street. Maybe there’s even a building where no sitcoms take place. But I won’t be able to get there with just my bare hands.
Balki and Larry are so sure they’re going to get a raise that they’re offering to take Jennifer and Mary Anne (Sagittarius) to a classy restaurant. Jennifer is wearing an outfit we’ve seen her in before, but Mary Anne has chosen to dress up as a strawberry Starburst for the occasion. You’re rocking that dress, Mary Anne, but you’re getting a little wild with the eyeliner. We’re towards the end of the season, here; don’t become another Tina.
Anyway, Larry had demanded a raise from Twinkacetti the previous day and is 100% certain that he’ll get it when Twinkacetti comes in that morning. Larry has forgotten that you’re not supposed to be certain of anything while they’re still showing the producers’ names on the screen (and, besides, you’re only ever supposed to be certain that love of family trumps all). But Twinkacetti comes in, rushing towards his office. He pauses briefly to establish character
Twinkacetti: Uh, I’m mean or something. Yeah. Ruff!
before closeting himself away in his office. Larry and Balki confront him, so he pops back out briefly.
Twinkacetti: Okay, whatever’s the opposite of what you wanted, just go do your lesson about how Balki’s better.
But Larry doesn’t give up, so Twinkacetti finally just decides he can masturbate to the S&P (Skene glands and perinea) 500 later and tells the cousins that they don’t get a raise because he hired another employee and lowered their salaries.
Evidently, Larry’s been working all through season 2 to grow a pair, because he finally stands up to Twinkacetti. He calls Twinkacetti out on how he overworks them, underpays them, and insults them. Cousin Larry also goes on about how discount shops just aren’t the best setting for sitcoms, and how they’ve pretty much done every story they can with this setup, so he quits. Balki backs him up on it, pointing out that they’ve also already done the “Larry stands up to Twinkacetti” plot. I like where this episode is headed! The show needs to break out of this rigmarole at this point; I mean, look, I was fucking talking about Zelda games up there with the opening shot. Let’s move on already.
Twinkacetti: Whatever, I just landed a role on A Fine Romance and it’s gonna be better than this trainwreck.
Larry and Balki pretend to laugh triumphantly, but it quickly sinks in that their courage has left them unemployed. They have made a mistake. In other words, Larry and Balki have a good laugh about their boner. (Nailed it!) But Larry quickly regroups and remembers that this show is about pursuing the American dream, and that they can do whatever they want.
Balki wants to be the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and Larry tells him to save that dream for season 6, they’ll need it by then.
And here’s the most I’ve ever gotten excited about a third location. I’m even in love with how brutally fake those signs are. I’m actually curious how they did both the neon, as well as the slight 3D, effects. And I don’t know why the idea of these guys working in a burger joint thrills me, but it does. The tacit promise of a grease fire, probably.
That jukebox. Awww yiss things are getting good. Larry makes an actually decent joke about how meth-heads probably come to the restaurant, but it’s a little punctured by the fact that the restaurant doesn’t look anywhere near as awful as it’s supposed to. I mean, it’s no Tony’s Mambo Room, but still.
Then we meet “Fat Marsha” Manning herself.
She’s a party girl.
I’m in love.
She instantly comes on to Balki. In the next breath she comes on to Larry. Then she comes on to Balki again. The show is placing the cousins in a setting, and with people, which 1) Larry has been trained to think of as low-class and which 2) Balki will accept, if not because he has no sense of American social strata, then because he’s open and loving. And bravo for doing that, since it functions as the the counterpoint for “Tux for Two”.
The show is trying to tell us that Larry is coming face-to-face not only with a gross restaurant, but a gross woman. That shot is instructive, I think. The white-collar hopeful is completely put off by the blue-collar woman. Even Balki knows something’s wrong!
But I get the impression that actress Susan Kellerman is rejecting some aspects of the role that the show gave her. Sure, she’s sexually harassing potential employees seconds after they enter her the business she owns, which is maybe not a great step up from working under a guy who insults you. The difference, though, is that Fat Marsha fucking owns it. She’s made it on her own in the big city: part of her backstory is that she lost something like 200 pounds (!) after opening the restaurant. You get the sense that Twinkacetti is miserable with his station in life, and that this only feeds his negative personality. But Fat Marsha is having the time of her life; sure, she’s coming on strong, but I’ve come to learn that flirting is just a way of relating to others for some people. On top of Kellerman putting such verve into the role, I think the fact that the other female characters get so little personality makes this all the more effective.
Fat Marsha smacks Larry on the ass.
Balki looks at Larry’s ass as if this move has never occurred to him.
Fat Marsha trains the cousins on making burgers; she comes on to Balki again, leading to the best joke of the episode.
Fat Marsha: Do you ever arm-wrestle naked?
Balki: Oh! No… that would be cheating.
Man, why can’t I get rewarded like this when I come up with good punchlines? I like boobs!
Heehee! Man, I love Fat Marsha.
She leaves for the gym (Reuben’s Perfect Body, I assume), having only taught the cousins how to make and serve a plain burger – not how to make gyros, fries, steaks, or even work a cash register from the current decade.
Balki the Kid shows up, excited primarily at how they’re in a new environment with new toys he can play with. He’s so excited about ringing the bell that he starts this shit again.
Balki shakes his pretend tits and sings “9 to 5” for the 50th time while making fries. I’m going to try to say this just once and get it out of my system: since I’m on immunosuppressants and have just the one white blood cell these days (I have to lie down occasionally so it can travel back out of my legs), I am deeply, deeply disturbed by how these guys keep touching multiple surfaces and then touching food that people are going to eat. Like, gag me with a spoon.
Larry takes an order from Lewis, patriarch of the Arquette clain, who likes his food as awful as possible.
Balki forces Larry to adhere to the rules of the hanging wheel that you stick the order tickets on, denying a restaurant patron an order of fries. I was going to make a joke about him being power-mad, but I think this is Roger Rabbit Balki rearing its head again–he can only break character like that when it’s funny.
And now, for the final aspect of the crazy situation that Larry and Balki find themselves in:
Angry hockey fans flood the restaurant! And… and… oh yes
JERSEYMAN 2: RETURN OF JERSEYMAN
We come back from the commercial break with a bunch of burly, angry men in blue just shouting at Larry. It’s the episode of Perfect Strangers I didn’t know I needed.
This guy shouts at Larry.
This guy shouts at Larry.
They’re all shouting at you, Larry! Balki, meanwhile, has lost track of the order wheel. Larry grabs Balki’s ears and then touches a bunch of food. Like, gross me out the door!
This guy over here keeps demanding a chili dog, and we finally realize just how bad the job at the discount store has been for Larry. If he had gotten a chance to interact with more than one customer every 10 episodes, he’d have enough customer service skill to be able to try at least one tactic to calm this guy down. Even Balki’s a little scared of the guy; I guess there’s not enough Myposian virtue in the world to overcome a guy shouting about a chili dog.
So they serve him what, if I remember correctly, was the result of my last mineral oil enema. Because he’s lower-class, Chilidude leaves, if not satisfied, then at least not shouting. On his way out, Chilidude has an altercation with Jerseyman.
Remember where you are. This is Burgerdome. The Sitcom Gods are listening, and will take the first man that screams. Larry tries to intercede.
Larry: No, no, look at his face! He’s got the mind of a child! It’s not his fault!
WHO RUN BURGERTOWN? JERSEYMAN RUNS BURGERTOWN
Then Balki runs in, and what, Balki, were you going to tell them that they’re family and family always sticks together? The only lesson Chilidude’s ever had to learn is to stop putting a space between the words “Black Hawks”.
Fat Marsha comes in and blows a whistle to calm down the hockey fans, and that’s my favorite non-dialogue joke this episode.
Fat Marsha: What’s this? What’s this?! You think I don’t know the law? You think I don’t know the law? Wasn’t it me who wrote it? And the law says: “bust a deal, you get no meal”.
Before they leave, it’s revealed that both Chilidude and Jerseyman are in a sexual relationship with Fat Marsha. Larry sits down before Fat Marsha can touch his butt again, so she sticks her finger up Balki’s butt as much as she can through his pants.
Balki and Cousin Larry come back home maimed and finally, for once, we got to see the maiming. You have no idea how much I appreciate this, show.
The cousins do a little post-mortem on how bad the whole experience was, and Balki refers to a commercial where a woman checks the waistbands of men’s underwear. I can’t find the commercial, but I’m sure it was real. Does anyone remember it?
Hey, it’s Mrs. Twinkacetti! But lest you think that this episode equals “The Rent Strike” for named female characters speaking, Mary Anne only says “bye” in her earlier scene, so “The Rent Strike” is still at the top.
Mrs. Twinkacetti has brought her husband by to ask the cousins to come back to work, because it turns out that the new guy was stealing from the discount store. (Nobody uses the word “fired”, so I think it’s safe to say they let Pugsley and Wednesday “play” with him.) Larry tries to shush Balki when he brings up their new jobs (maybe that lesson about lying stuck?), but then he realizes that Balki’s trying to haggle for higher pay. They get their jobs back, as well as the raise they asked for, and they even get Twinkacetti to agree to stop calling them losers. Just for that last part alone, you really couldn’t have had this episode anywhere but towards the end of the season. I mean, that’s half of Twinkacetti’s lines gone right there!
Don’t you just love Belita Moreno? I love Belita Moreno. The best part of this scene is how she keeps having to tell Mr. Twinkacetti what to do.
The cousins try to do that Roxbury Guys bit. I feel you, guys; women make that same face every time I try it, too.
The music comes on, but Balki and Larry realize that they don’t feel happy, so they engage in a little bit of self-deception, telling each other that someday they’ll graduate night school and land a photography job, respectively; they may have trials here below, but they’re bound for Canaan land. (The joke is that they’ll never achieve these their dreams, that all hope is falsehood sold by the elite to keep the slave class docile, life is drudgery. We like to have fun around here.)
Now they are so illusioned by their own brains’ chemical imperatives to not be sad, they do the dance of joy!
No, you don’t get a gif of it this time. You get a gif of Fat Marsha, because that’s what I want to leave open in a browser tab all next week.
Okay, now that we’re done with the jokes, let’s have a little talk about women and girls, since we had four of them this time around (okay, there’s a fifth one in the restaurant, but she just wanted fries). Every time I want to talk about Jennifer and Mary Anne in a collective sense, I have to overcome the urge to refer to them as “the girls”. Part of this is because Balki and Larry call them that; part of it is this weird mental holdover of my own. I don’t know why I feel the need to mention this, and I hope I’m not back-patting. I have to imagine that this show was one of thousands of places I heard fully-grown women referred to as “girls”, and thirty years later, it’s still something I’m trying to exorcise from my system. I didn’t mention it at the time, but the #1 gross-me-out sexist moment on this show so far was back in the Christmas episode, where Larry kisses Jennifer under the mistletoe, walks away, and jerks his thumb over his shoulder to signal to Balki that it’s his turn; a move that says “get in there”. I like joking about how they don’t give the women any lines or traits of their own, but that instance was a little too much for me, and I wasn’t sure how to express that. So let’s talk about othering.
I’ve mentioned before how I, as a child, I was intrigued by characters who were the wild “other”, who managed to carve out an existence removed from typical social interests. Usually this came in the form of the “wacky neighbor”, but when you remove the “neighbor” part, as here with Balki, it better articulates the “wacky” aspect as simply an unfettered Inner Child. There’s no doubt that’s what appealed to me–getting to be silly in situations where one is supposed to be proper (sidebar: what in the 80s was cathartic is now de rigueur in terms of the man-child, but that’s another topic for another day). For adults, Balki was the “other”; for children a compatriot (which, by the way, now that I’m thinking about it, props to mid-80s ABC for creating a long-running family sitcom with no family in it). But this show presents a more sinister “other”: the woman. In the pop culture world, even today, man is more often than not presented as the norm, something that the audience is supposed to relate to regardless of their gender. Despite Larry and Balki’s differences, women are the same impenetrable, inscrutable type of being, and the not knowing scares them.
There’s a lot going on here with sex and power and personality, way more than I’m qualified to talk about, but I’ll say a few things. Jennifer and Mary Anne are often basically the same person; “Trouble in Paradise” aside, the main difference is that Mary Anne has no brain, while Jennifer is, I dunno, taller. But they have something that Larry and Balki want to possess. I’ll give the show credit for having Larry’s outdated attempts at domination through puffing meet with failure, but it’s still the men who are making the first moves. Yes, the nature of a show about two men may be forcing that perspective, because it’s their desires at the forefront, but that begs the question of why we primarily get that perspective. Even in the Christmas episode, when Mary Anne kisses Balki, it’s played for laughs; Mary Anne is so thoroughly “the dumb one” that her forwardness really can’t be separated from that.
This episode began with the cousins trying to use luxury to woo women. They were then forced into a world that was ruled by a woman ; ruled so thoroughly, in fact, that she had no fear of having her own personality and owning her sexuality. Chilidude and Jerseyman symbolize, perhaps, that Larry and Balki would then be placed in competition with each other to be the sexiest, most desirable partner for the mate with the most economic power. So they flee back to their familiar, comfortable habitat, where the only woman with power is Mrs. Twinkacetti; and it’s clear that her power, as well as being played for laughs, serves as punishment for the evil ways of her husband. But, the point that I’m trying to make is, women as portrayed on shows like this end up being the other, and others are scary. Larry was fearful of Balki’s arrival, which almost cost him his job. And potentially, waiting inside every Jennifer or Mary Anne is a Fat Marsha or a Mrs. Twinkacetti, so the goal is to keep trucking along with the 9 to 5 in hopes that one day you can advance enough to win a woman who, because she symbolizes new life, also symbolizes your own mortality if you cannot impregnate her.
Anyway! I could have threaded a lot of that previous paragraph into the recap, but this seemed important enough to be serious about. Plus, I wanted to make some Mad Max jokes. But goddam I made an episode about the best one-off female character into a depressing quagmire of gender portrayals. Let’s just all scroll back up to watch that gif again.
And next week, good grief, it’s an episode about Larry’s sister: “Hello, Elaine”. Miss me with the sexism, okay, show?
Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0); Me, for Fat Marsha (not telling)
Dance of Joy running total: 8