Arkansas Democratic-Gazette
November 18, 1986

   It's Not All Bad

The most common accusation against those who write about television is, "You just donít like anything about television.  You never write anything good about TV."  Thatís not true, even though articles critical of certain aspects of the medium do seem to outnumber those praising it.

In an attempt to even out the scorecard, here are two recent shows that deserve attention:

PERFECT STRANGERS

This funny little show, seen at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays on ABC, has emerged as one of the highlights of the viewing week.  It has matured into a perfect blend of hilarious situations and warmhearted affection.  What started off to be a show that seemed to be geared solely toward the uniquely skewed talent of Bronson Pinchot has slowly transmogrified into a really funny comedy that also now draws on the comedic talent of Mark Linn-Baker.

Pinchot plays Balki Bartokomous, a deliciously wacky Mediterranean immigrant who comes to Chicago to live with his cousin Larry Appleton (Linn-Baker).  At first, the series seemed to rely for virtually all of its laughs on the malapropisms and strangely off-center accent of Pinchot, which mirrored his wonderful Serge character in the movie, "Beverly Hills Cop."  However, it since has slowly modified into a true sharing of the laugh load between Pinchot and Linn-Baker, who was great in the Peter O' Toole comedy movie, "My Favorite Year."

Balki's cracked viewpoint of America continues to comprise the showís central theme and continues to offer many of the laughs.  For example, in the show last week he commented that a girl had been "hit with the ugly rock" and accused Larry of being "blue with envy."  His selection of hors díoeuvres for a date included those little wax soft drink bottles full of green and red liquids, caramel corn and wax lips.

However, Linn-Baker himself has grown into a source of real comedy.  His Larry character, while playing straight man to Balki most of the time, has enough eccentricities of his own to provide a mother lode of laugh material.

The nice thing about the show is that it is never cruel to its characters.  While Balkiís unfamiliarity with American speech and customs is the basis for much of the humor, Balki is never presented as an oaf.  In fact, he often is portrayed as more inherently clever than those around him.  In a recent show his Mediterranean cure for the common cold proved to be a miracle cure.  And no matter how much their personalities may clash, Balki and Larry always wind up expressing affection for each other.

VALERIE

A single episode of this show, on Sunday, November 9, was convincing proof that it de-serves more attention.  The series, shown at 7:30 p.m. on NBC and KARK, Channel 4, stars Valerie Harper as the mother of a houseful of kids.  In the November 9 episode her son Willie (Danny Ponce) steals the family car, goes joyriding and has an accident.  He seems baffled that his mother isnít as understanding as the family on a TV show he has seen recently.

The excellent part of the show was when Valerie went to great pains to explain to the errant Willie that real life often isnít like TV sitcoms, where everything must be conveniently wrapped up in a half-hour.  She explained how she couldnít forgive him instantly and proclaim that everything was just fine again now that he had confessed his transgression.  In real life, she explained, offenses as serious as stealing the family car and leaving the scene of an accident canít be passed off as something that can be forgiven in an instant.

The valid point that Valerie made was in marked contrast to the artificial situation two nights later on the ABC sitcom, "Growing Pains."  In that show the little kid Ben was caught after calling long distance 67 times in one month to a telephone porno tape service.  Not only did the kid get caught making the sleazy calls, but he also falsely accused the little neighbor boy of giving him the dial-a-porn number and the neighbor kid got the daylights pummeled out of him by his father.  Instead of any meaningful form of punishment being meted out, the "Growing Pains" kidís punishment was to write an essay about the experience.

Valerie hasnít been on the weekly watching menu, but it will be added after the excellent episode of November 9.