Comedy Oddities – A Perfect Strangers Halloween

Before today I hadn’t watched an episode of Perfect Strangers for over twenty five years, it was a sitcom I was vaguely fond of as a kid but something I had a feeling had aged badly and so didn’t wish to return to it and ruin any memories of it. But due to hearing that it had an amusing Halloween episode I thought I’d see how it fared after all of this time.

Bronson Pinchot’s also one of my favourite actors, not because of his actual acting ability (though he is pretty damn fine in most things, and currently impressing in The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina) but due to the Random Roles interview he gave with The AV Club where he was shockingly honest about his time in Hollywood, and more than happy to spill the beans about what it was really like to work on various films and tv shows. You can read it here, which I’d recommend doing so right now as it’s fascinating stuff. He’s very open about Perfect Strangers in that interview, commenting “I discovered my inner physical comic there, because I felt that the writing was weak” and “I was actually quite depressed during Perfect Strangers, and the contrast between what I was playing and what I felt like was a bit much. And that was a hard time, actually”. To his credit you really can’t tell he was in such a low place, which makes his performance all the more impressive.

For those not in the know Perfect Strangers was a typical odd couple sitcom where Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker) had just moved to Chicago but is suddenly joined by his naive and always optimistic distant cousin Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot) from the Mediterranean island of Mypos, and who all but insists on moving in with him. The Halloween episode was from Season 4, and entitled “Aliens”, and in it Balki and Larry are holding a Halloween party where they’ll be showing their favourite horror movies. Everyone leaves half way through though as they’re too distressed by proceedings, with Larry mocking Balki as he’s scared of the dark. But the next day Balki has mysterious powers, including being able to shoot laser beams from his fingers, make a milk carton float in the air, walk through solid doors and various other impossible feats, all the while denying such actions. Soon enough Mark believes his cousin may be an alien, whilst everyone presumes he must be drunk or out of his mind.

What I didn’t expect is for the episode to make me laugh a fair bit. Okay, there’s some fairly poor moments including a hacky mother-in-law joke where one character says “Why watch monsters when you can see the real thing”, and there’s a terrible moment when Balki doesn’t want to watch a horror film whilst wearing a chicken costume and Larry asks “What’s the matter with you, you chicken?” which didn’t even deserve a groan. But there are some genuinely funny lines including Balki’s “Why would anyone want to sit through 12 hours of horrible movies, I could barely make it through Ishtar” and Larry explains “People love to be frightened, that’s why so many of them live in New York”. Balki’s various tricks raise a smile as Pinchot is a strong physical comedian, and the way the episode becomes more and more ludicrous pleased greatly.

Unfortunately the ending is a massive disappointment, I’m not quite sure how they could have explained events in any other way, unless Balki had made friends with a Derren Brown style magician, but it turns out it’s all a dream that Larry was having which is of course a massive cop out. They didn’t even have the decency to throw in a moment which makes you wonder if Balki really is an alien right at the end which might have stopped me from being so annoyed by it, but I guess as it’s a mainstream family sitcom made in the eighties that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. And it doesn’t ruin what came beforehand, it’s just a bit annoying that they took such an easy way out.

It’s not a series that I plan to return to but I’m pleased that rewatching it didn’t destroy the nostalgia I had for the show, and it is far more likeable than I thought it would be. Both Linn-Baker and Pinchot put in game performances, with Linn-Baker pulling off his decent in to madness in a gleeful manner, whilst Pinchot is clearly having a ball, and if you’re in a nostalgic mood you may well find yourself enjoying twenty odd minutes in their company.

Alex Finch.
https://twitter.com/comedytowatch

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