Hamilton Spectator TV Times
April 11 - 18, 1987

The Oscar and Felix of the 80's

By Bob Remington


Los Angeles - Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker are thieves.  Pinchot stole from Eddie Murphy.  Linn-Baker stole from Peter O'Toole.  They were both found guilty and sentenced to stardom.

Murphy and O'Toole never recovered their lost goods.  That's what happens to scenes, nebulous items from the movies that once stolen, can never be returned.  Pinchot stole his two minutes as Serge, the pretentious art gallery clerk in Beverly Hills Cop.  Linn-Baker's robbery was less spectacular but equally effective in My Favorite Year as a comedy writer assigned to keep the Errol Flynn-like character of O'Toole away from blondes and booze.

Today, scene stealers Pinchot and Linn-Baker are being hailed as the Odd Couple of the Eighties.  As the culture-clashing cousins in Perfect Strangers, they are Felix Unger and Oscar Madison in different clothing, two opposites living a not-always peaceful existence under one roof.  The series made ripples for ABC when it came on late last year and was a sleeper hit of the past season.

Proving that there is no honor among thieves, it is Pinchot who pockets most of the scenes in Perfect Strangers.  As Balki Bartokomous, a Mediterranean sheep herder who has come to live with his straight Midwest cousin, Pinchot grabs centre stage with a generic accent and a naive, vulnerable character who is in awe of American pop culture.  "I can't believe it," sighs Balki.  "I am finally in America.  Home of the Whopper." (sic - of course we know that's not how that line goes!)

The accent comes from memories of growing up with his Italian mother, Russian father, and various aunts and uncles who never quite melted in the American culture pot.

"Over the course of my life I've just picked up little sounds that tickled me," says the 28-year-old Pinchot.

"My father was of Russian descent, born in New York but raised in Paris and came to this country speaking no English.  To learn, he went to about three movies a day back in the Thirties.  He left home when I was a little boy, but I do remember him speaking like a Thirties movie star, like Robert Taylor with this undercurrent of French and a little Russian.  Just this extraordinary accent.  It was like four different accents with this 'dahling' on top of it.  Just bizarre."

Balki comes from the imaginary Mediterranean island country of Meepos (sic).  Pinchot wanted to make him Greek ("I love Greece"), but says it was a godsend the producers decided to make Balki a universal character.

"I'm glad they made it Meepos (sic).  That way nobody can say it's Russian or Greek or Italian.  There are certain accents I can't get out of my head.  Because we made it a country that was imaginary, I've been able to put them all together in one, sort of, clump."

After Beverly Hills Cop, Pinchot's stock was so high that he and his affected accent literally got Perfect Strangers to air.  Co-producer Robert Boyett says the series was initially turned down by all three networks until he and his partners came up with the art gallery clerk who upstaged Eddie Murphy.

Pinchot says he is much like the vulnerable Balki, and off-screen even shares a fondness for what could be the music of his character's native Meepos (sic).  Although the actor is a medieval music buff whose tastes lean toward French court music of the early 15th century, he has one tape of early Greek music that "only has three notes at a time because it was carved on rocks at Delhi.  Where there was a big crack they don't know what comes next."

He never liked himself in Beverly Hills Cop, but admits it was two minutes that changed his life.

"Here I am.  I get a lot of free coffee now."