Associated Press
February 16, 1987

TV series flips upside down for 'Perfect' pair of comics

By Kathryn Baker

When Bronson Pinchot was in town to do "Saturday Night Live," it was a visit to another comedy planet.

"Perfect Strangers," his series on Channel 7, is not of the hip, smart-mouth "SNL" world.

Pinchot plays Balki Bartokomous, a humble sheep herder from a generic Mediterranean country called Mypos who moves to Chicago to live with his American cousin, Larry Appleton, played by Mark Linn-Baker.

It is one of ABC's few successes this season.  The network has ordered 22 more episodes.

He said in an interview the day after arriving in New York for "SNL" that the show is a throwback to an old-style, more visual, almost vaudeville-type comedy.

"Mark and I, our idols are, like, two generations removed from us," Pinchot said.  "Most people my age that are doing what I'm doing idolize Robin Williams and Billy Crystal, and I think those guys are great, but I really idolize Lucy and Bert Lahr and people like that.  And Mark feels the same way.

"We're more interested in that tradition of kind of almost coming out of a vaudeville tradition instead of this other kind of rock 'n' roll tradition -- that I love.  I love Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd, but I don't want to be like them.  I want to be like 'I Love Lucy' and 'The Honeymooners.'"

Pinchot could almost have had his pick of roles after his wildly successful bit part as Serge, the officious art gallery clerk with the funny accent in "Beverly Hills Cop."  He played a homosexual lawyer in the short-lived comedy series "Sara" and took a small, easily overlooked part in the movie "After Hours" just for the opportunity to work with director Martin Scorcese.

"Perfect Strangers" was sold with Pinchot in the lead because of "Beverly Hills Cop."  Originally, Pinchot was cast with another actor and the series was grounded more on dialogue.

The physical comedy began to happen "as soon as Mark walked into the room," Pinchot said.

Typical was a scene in a recent episode when Balki was having a disagreement with Larry.  Pinchot, not an especially large man, picked up Linn-Baker, turned him upside down and held him that way through many seconds of dialogue in which Linn-Baker remained resolute, arms held stiffly at his sides.

It's not easy stuff, and it takes a lot of practice.  Pinchot said he and Linn-Baker ignore coffee breaks and instead use the opportunity to hone their timing.  The constant work has produced a short-hand language that only they comprehend, Pinchot said.

"We were doing a thing once where I thought he was dead and I had to creep up on him and look at him and see if he was breathing and pull his eyes open," he said.  "We kept trying to figure out the best way to do it, and we finally said, 'No, it's stare, lean, eye-pull.'

"Later, we were sitting down with producers, and they said, 'Now, what are you doing?  It's a little blurry.'  I said, 'I'll have it perfect by tomorrow.  Mark and I were trying to get 'stare, lean, eye-pull' and what I did was 'lean, stare, eye-pull.'  They said, 'What?'  I forgot that I was talking in our language."

Not surprisingly, this type of comedy cracks up the actors, too.  Pinchot recalled a scene in an episode in which the heat in the boys' apartment is turned off and Balki tries to inspire Larry with tales of Mama pulling the family through the hard times back in Mypos.  Larry runs around with a blanket over his head panicking.  He drops the blanket.

"I put it back on, and when I wrapped it back around his head, for a minute he looked like an Eastern European woman," Pinchot said.  "I looked at his little round face sticking out of this blanket and I said, 'Mama?  Uh, Cousin?'  He looked at me for a second and then sprayed me with spit because he laughed so hard."