The Globe and Mail (Canada)
September 30, 1986

Actors compared to Carney and Gleason
Perfect Strangers make perfect friends

Bronson Pinchot is a guy who really loves his own jokes.  In fact, the star of ABC’s rising new series Perfect Strangers finds everything funny these days.

''I called my agent last week and he asked if I’d do this one-day project for some huge amount of money - and I just had a laughing fit,'' says Pinchot, eyes twinkling and face aglow.  ''I mean, I phoned my agent four years ago from a pay phone in New York to ask what’s going on and he said, 'Who are you, again?’''

'Pinchot was making ends meet as an 80-words-per-minute typist in temporary office jobs in New York, but all of that changed after his portrayal of a pretentious gay art clerk in the hit movie Beverly Hills Cop.  Acting jobs blossomed, and despite the failure of a short-lived NBC series called Sara he returned to television last March.

With Perfect Strangers dropped into an auspicious time slot after the successful comedy Who’s The Boss?, the series drew a large and enthusiastic following in just six episodes - and even became the subject of a profile in Rolling Stone magazine, whose endorsement usually brands a show as ''guaranteed hip.''

Perfect Strangers has done so well it now plays a central role in ABC’s plan to rebuild after a number of losing seasons.  The network has pushed it up 30 minutes to the all-important opening slot Wednesday evenings, where it will have to stand alone and be expected to draw a large audience.

Early season ratings for the show, which jumped to 13th over-all one week, indicate the hot run will continue, but series co-star Mark Linn-Baker says there’s nothing new in the formula for success.

''We took our inspiration from the old Lucy shows and The Honeymooners,'' says the cherub-faced actor.  ''There is something special about that old-fashioned character comedy.''

In the series, Pinchot plays Balki Bartokomous, a free-spirited and untarnished shepherd from the Mediterranean region who arrives in America in search of his dreams.  He lands on the doorstep of Larry Appleton, a compassionate distant cousin entangled in post-adolescent angst while working in a discount store and trying to make a breakthrough as a freelance photographer.

On paper it seemed to be just another Odd Couple, but the chemistry between the two actors was so strong that Rolling Stone also compared it to The Honeymooners and suggested that Pinchot and Linn- Baker might become the Art Carney and Jackie Gleason of the ‘80s.  ''Linn-Baker plays Appleton like a young, thin, bookish Ralph Kramden - a polite, thoughtful nine-to- fiver whose frustrations and disappointments threaten to throw him over the brink,'' the magazine said.  ''Pinchot’s Bartokomous, meanwhile, is possessed of a doe-eyed lunacy and a wiggy disconnectedness that plays off Linn-Baker’s wire-tight Appleton the way Art Carney played off the Great One.''

When Bartokomous has to throw a surprise party at 3 a.m., he hits the local doughnut shop and rounds up a bunch of night owls. When Appleton has to wake Bartokomous from a deep sleep, he imitates the cry of a hungry wolf.

And so it goes - exuberant naivete and playful friendship that affects the pair in real life.

Pinchot almost fell down laughing as Linn-Baker answered a question about his switch from stage to TV.

''Well,'' he said, holding a long pause.  ''It got to the point where,'' and then another long pause.  ''I was getting hungry.''

Pinchot erupted in hysterics, pounding Linn-Baker on the arm and rocking on his chair, and as the interview proceeded he took every chance to hoot and carry on with his buddy.  These two like each other, and series creator Dale McRaven says this simple fact is central to the series.

''This is a show about friendship,'' he says.  ''And if people don't like each other, the television camera really picks it up.''

Executive producer Robert Boyett says the actors’ stage backgrounds ''are also a deciding influence on their smoothness and chemistry. It gives the appearance of a play, rather than actors who have just stood in front of a camera in Hollywood.''

Pinchot and Linn-Baker both studied drama at Yale University, but Pinchot says with a grin: ''We’re actually from a school that doesn’t have a name.  I don’t know if anyone else ever went to it.''