Warner Bros. // 1986 // 700 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 13th, 2008
"Of course not, don't be ridiculous."
Hey look! It's that show about that lovable immigrant and his neurotic distant cousin and how they cope with all of life's challenges! Does it retain its nostalgic glow or is Perfect Strangers best left abandoned in the wilds of Mypos?
Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker) has dreams of moving out of his Wisconsin house and heading to Chicago to pursue a career as a photojournalist. To make ends meet he takes a job at the Ritz discount store, a dumpy shop owned by the ill-tempered Donald Twinkacetti (Ernie Sabella).
Larry's life will change forever when Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot) shows up at his door. Turns out Balki is somehow related to Larry and he has dreams of becoming a United States citizen and "Cousin Larry" is his ticket to the American Dream.
So the two move in together, land jobs at the Ritz store and embark on a zany series of zany misadventures, which include, but are not limited to, escaping an avalanches, testifying against a small-time gangster, dealing with crushing heartbreak, discovering the true meaning of Christmas, enduring a renters strike, putting up with their squatter landlord, wooing the blonde bombshell stewardesses from across the hall, counseling family members against becoming a full-time musicians and throwing away their college money, impressing the world's greatest photographer and finding their way off of a roof in the middle of a thunderstorm.
Lots of fond memories about this show. Tuning into those TGIF lineups was a staple of my boring and uneventful childhood and Perfect Strangers was my favorite of the bunch. I just thought there were very few things funnier than Balki mother-f -- -- -- Bartokomous. Just look at the guy! He wore suspenders! He spoke in a crazy accent! He did the Dance of Joy! All the time! The man was a comedy god to my young eyes.
To my older eyes, it's all pretty lame and cheesy, though in defense of my younger self I can easily see why I enjoyed the show. It's not that bad, nowhere as insufferable as its spinoff Family Matters and surprisingly dramatic and touching when it wants to be.
Look, the humor is laced with the boilerplate, milquetoast writing one would associate with two-decade-old, ABC family-friendly sitcom content. The story beats follow the same textbook layout as all shows of similar ilk (Say, you don't think Balki, finally put into the baseball game, will hit a homerun on the second strike in the bottom of the ninth to win the game?!) and will be immediately predictable after minute four. But there's a place for this kind of featherweight, feel-good storytelling and the showrunners behind Perfect Strangers realize that. That place is at an early prime-time slot for kids and parents to sit down and watch and not have to worry about Cousin Larry joke about his erectile dysfunction. And we should all be eternally grateful for that.
The early going-on was entirely different from the seasons I remember, when Larry and Balki were running around the newspaper building. Here they're just biding time in a rat-hole of a thrift store. Following the abbreviated six-episode first season, the second season trims the ridiculously long opening title sequence and introduces future mainstays, Jennifer (Melanie Wilson) and Mary-Anne (Rebecca Arthur). Also, plots became more out-there, as the characters leave the confines of their apartment and head to a log cabin and are promptly besieged by an avalanche or end up facing down a terrifying maelstrom while trapped on that roof. Those are the Perfect Strangers plots I remember, laced with Balki one-liners, Larry grimaces and a bounty of slapstick humor.
Don't expect much other than a straight dumping of the shows onto DVD. The full frame picture is soft and unimpressive and the mono sound is mediocre. And you get only one extras: a "Dance of Joy" montage.
So is Perfect Strangers corny? You bet. Super corny. But it's still capable of eliciting a handful of chuckles and some of the Balki and Larry interactions are surprisingly tender. Pretty crappy DVD set, though.
Immigrants with a loose grasp of the English language are funny! Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 700 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Not Rated