So I talked a few weeks ago about the interior/exterior divide, that connection between a character’s outer actions and inner motivations, and how and whether the latter can be expressed positively. I’m returning to that briefly here to say that this season’s episodes can be sorted generally as “personal life” and “work life”, with not a lot of interchange between the two. “Sexual Harrassment” and “The Horn Blows at Midnight” came the closest, with undesirable work aspects following the cousins home, but the stakes for each were firmly in their respective categories. But we’re almost halfway through the season here–it’s time to take our primary colors, mix them up, and see what we get.
The cousins are told that they are now “official cable subscribers”, so now I’m really curious to know what network channel Twinkacetti found porn on last season.
I don’t mention it too much anymore, probably because I’m too focussed on where I can best make a boner joke, but the first few lines of dialogue are a nice, succinct setup. Cable television (installed by the guy from the XYZ company) is presented as the end-game of American consumerism/individualism, while Balki the Kid is just playing around, wearing the cable guy’s belt.
Larry extolls the virtues of having cable, such as never having to wait in line at the movies, go to the mall, or even join a gym.
Yep, ol’ Larry Appletonnage is excited about that one! The cousins flip through the channels, pausing on music videos
Balki: Is that Michael Jackson or his sister?
Larry: …that’s Diana Ross.
You see, it was funny at first because Michael Jackson and Latoya do share a strong family resemblance, so the audience can relate to the joke–but then it’s topped by the joke that ALL black people look alike! Black people, AMIRITE?
Larry gives Balki the Kid the remote and tells him he can pick anything he wants. Balki upsets Larry by changing the channel from a sports game that’s in it’s final seconds. Larry gets upset, and dude, if you cared that much maybe you should have gone to a sports bar? Anyway, Balki wants to watch old TV shows, and Cable TV immediately proves its worth. Balki doesn’t have to personally sing Reason #10 We Won’t Get Seasons 3-8 On DVD: the Mr. Ed theme song.
The cousins start to fight over the remote but are then soothed by the Brady Bunch theme.
By that evening, Balki is comfortably numb, watching three different Arnold Schwarzenegger movies at once that Larry can’t tell apart. It’s obvious to me at this point that there was no TV noise on the apartment set – thus explaining why they’re a bit over-explainy with the dialogue and why Balki keeps raising the remote up so high, so the elderly women in the back can see him change the channel. But I can barely hear what the cousins are saying. I’m not complaining, mind you.
Larry tells Balki to go to bed, and Balki shows his total disregard for Larry getting any sleep by kicking in his bedroom door while talking in the shittiest Arnold voice ever.
The next day, Larry struggles to do Balki’s job at the Chronicle. No, Larry! You’re doing it wrong! You have to sing a song! Sing “Strawberry Letter 23”!
Belita Moreno’s back! Belita Moreno’s back, everybody!!!!!!!
Her name is Lydia and she’s got great hair! She comes in asking where Balki is and where all the letters for the advice column are. Her deadline’s in 20 minutes! But she’s suddenly not in a hurry when she’s flattered by Larry asking for advice.
Lydia: What’s the problem, Larry, can’t get a date?
Larry explains the problem, but since we’re only 7 minutes into this episode, Lydia is stumped by Balki’s troubles. She starts in about how she has problems of her own, how she’s neurotic and doesn’t have time for this shit. Moreno’s on screen for all of a minute and already she’s the best addition to season 3. To prove my point by way of comparison, Mr. Gorpley comes in and reminds us that all he thinks about is how much he hates Balki. I guess Balki’s lucked out that Mr. Gorpley only comes out of his office once every day to see if he can fire him, which has allowed Larry to cover for him. Gee, I really hope Larry’s two-sentence articles haven’t suffered…
It seems like once per episode the show pulls off a nice subtle joke, and here it is: Balki comes in wearing sunglasses to indicate that he’s completely hung over. Larry asks him if he went home and turned on the TV for lunch, but Balki’s in a shame spiral and “doesn’t want to talk about it”. But because this is a TV show, he then talks about it.
Balki tarried at home to watch Leave it to Beaver, which made him cry when the Dad said “we’ll love you no matter what”. We’ve talked about smugness. And we’ve talked about how Balki is always the one giving the lessons to Larry. And we’ve talked about the shift from thinking and feeling guilty to laughing. Finally, we’ve reached the point where Balki has found a way to mainline pure, dephlogisticated sitcom essence. He just watches TV all day long, suckling at the teat of easy lessons. And honestly? This concept is actually gold. Show, you’re impressing me–did you read Donald Schön’s The Reflective Practitioner since last week?
Larry says that the dad says that every episode of Leave it to Beaver, and that they have to do work.
Balki runs up the stairs with the mail, pausing every few steps to spout the Superman intro (faster, more powerful, etc.). Between this and Lydia’s exit, I think I’ve found the reason why there’s stairs, an elevator, and a couple of exits: it allows for variations in a character’s entrance and exit–in terms of abruptness or being drawn out. The joke here was that Balki was trying to do his job and catch up where he was behind, but he was slowed down by his own mix of character traits – having been pumped full of old TV and the need to make every joke possible.
The mom from the dog episode Harriette was nice enough to stick around so that she can function as the DSM-III made flesh. She asks Larry a series of diagnostic questions and concludes that Balki is a couch potato. It’s not until she predicts that Balki’s asscheeks will soon lose their firm, Myposian suppleness that Larry finally sees the gravity of the situation.
Balki comes down the steps “singing” the I Dream of Jeannie theme (reason #11) and shaking that very same ass around.
Harriette, ever the tough-talking voice of reason from the streets, confirms then and there that Balki’s a couch potato. The “oh no” guitar riff comes on and we cut to commercial.
The Caldwell, night:
Balki runs in, breaking Larry’s nose with the door.
He grabs a box of snacks (perhaps a cue that he is turning into Larry at his worst), sits down, and howls in pain at the absence of the TV. Larry has taken it away, and tells Balki that it’s better to enter the kingdom of heaven without knowing whether Shorty marries Elverna, than to be cast into hell. But you’ve all seen what happens when you take away a kid’s toy.
Larry put the TV in a locker at the bus station. Not, you know, in someone else’s apartment. Not, you know, at work. Not, you know, just stopping payment on the cable wire, since it’s doubtful Balki could afford it on his own. Larry gave the key to Jennifer & Mary Anne (Sagittarius), but they’re on a flight to Zurich. Larry points out that Balki has been watching TV and eating snack food nonstop for the past two weeks, and after all, that’s his job. What’s next? Balki wanting to be a top?
Balki’s addict tries to run circles around reason, bringing Larry down to the level of making him repeat everything in one of those Homer Simpson “and when is this free event happening?” kind of deals. Then Balki acts like Larry’s making a big deal out of everything, kind of how when cats do something dumb and then it looks like they’re trying to act nonchalant about it.
Balki promises that he can stop watching television, and Larry leaves, saying that Mr. Flynn wants him to cover a hearing at the Water Commission. (Who the hell is Mr. Flynn?) Balki sits there and pretends to read the same book they’ve been using as a prop all season.
Larry comes home to find that Balki has gotten ahold of a gigantic TV set. He’s even holding the remote right at his crotch and is in an obvious state of bliss. I guess Malcolm-in-the-alleyway was out of TV sets, because this one came from Crazy Al’s Video.
Then we get about 8 minutes of Larry turning the TV off, Balki turning it on, and snippets of incidental music from an evidently dialogue-free episode of Mr. Ed.
Finally they snuggle-fight on the couch. Larry steals the remote and Balki chases Larry.
Larry calls Balki a couch potato and Balki says he can’t possibly be that because he doesn’t know what it is. Larry lectures him on the physical toll that binge-watching can take, but Balki’s distracted by what he thinks is a TV across the street.
Larry: Oh God… you’ve turned into a peeping potato!
Balki chases Larry again.
Larry says that TV has ruined their lives because they never go out anymore, to ball games, they never go out with Jennifer and Mary Anne, Balki doesn’t even go pet that horse and turn his face towards an imaginary camera anymore!
Balki still wants the remote, so Balki chases Larry.
Larry threatens to throw the remote out the window, saying that the people who can destroy a thing, control it.
Balki responds that he knows which finger has the power to control the world.
It’s a rite of passage that every Myposian must have their own broken finger experience, so Larry grabs Balki’s and they fight over that and…
They then struggle over his other index finger. It’s incredibly stupid, but it’s a good way of showing that Balki is bringing Larry down to his child level. I’m sure I tried similar goofy gambits as a kid.
Larry points out that it’s been weeks since Balki wrote a letter to his mother, but Balki is in denial. He holds Balki’s face down to the TV Guide as proof of the date, stopping just short of rubbing his nose in it.
This… this is really good, you guys. We’ve got the counterpart to the Vegaaaaahhhhssss episode here. Larry is a fear-based man, so he was afraid he would become addicted to gambling; but Balki has lived in a feast/famine situation his entire life, and does not know how to adjust to a feast that never ends. Balki made Larry look in the mirror; here, Larry does the same symbolically.
There’s a beautiful moment, the tension ratcheted all the way up, and then Balki very calmly asks “this is Wednesday, right?” and starts leafing through the guide. I’m a sucker for those kind of jokes, even if this one probably seems better by dint of coming after the repetitive physical comedy stuff. And forget how many times Larry has said “potato” this week:
Balki: I’ve turned into a Mr. Potahto Head.
This week’s lesson: be more selective with what you watch on TV. It’s only bad if you abuse it. How many times has a sitcom done this? Since this is a good counterpart to the gambling episode, let’s revisit another part of that review.
Psychology Sidebar, Y’all:
Diagnostics for whether you’re watching a network sitcom
- does it feature easy lessons?
- does it feature slavish wanking over old shows?
- does it feature dumb jokes and slapstick?
- does it put down cable TV?
- does it refuse to say that TV is out-and-out bad for you?
We’ve gotten our lesson, and even the post-lesson joke that makes Larry upset (Balki ordered a satellite dish as well) but there’s still a couple of minutes, which is a little out of the ordinary for this show.
And there it is, the top of the Chronicle building, panning down to ground level. Balki overreached, went to the full extent allowable of TV excess, but was brought down to earth by his basement-dwelling father-surrogate.
I guess the point of this scene is just to establish that Balki did recover and is back to doing his job perfectly no matter how much busywork Gorpley gives him. Balki did something wrong, faced serious stakes in both his home and work lives, but still faces no long-lasting consequences. The final chapter of Clockwork Orange got nothing on this!
Balki and Larry go to a rock concert, and Larry asks if Balki can handle the giant screens on stage. Then there’s some bullshit who’s-on-first dialogue because they’re going to see the band Chicago.
Join me next week for “The Break In”!
Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)