The New York Times
March 25, 1986

CBS and ABC Present Two Series Premieres
By John J. O'Connor

Two new series that begin this evening return to the past for what they hope is inspiration.  CBS's hourlong ''Morningstar/Eveningstar,'' at 8 o'clock, tries valiantly to evoke the soothing warmth that in the 1970's was the trademark of ''The Waltons.''  The executive producers are Earl Hamner, creator of ''The Waltons,'' and Fred Silverman, the former CBS programming chief who gave Mr. Hamner his big break.  ABC's ''Perfect Strangers,'' a half-hour comedy that airs at 8:30 P.M., goes back even further, to vaudeville and comedy with a funny accent, this time provided by a young man named Balki who comes from ''a small Mediterranean island country'' that sounds very much like Greece.  The good news is that Balki is played by a gifted comic actor named Bronson Pinchot.

Mr. Hamner is credited with developing ''Morningstar/Eveningstar'' from a scenario created by Roger Damon Price.  And, as in ''The Waltons,'' Mr. Hamner is back as narrator, succinctly revealing the show's ''concept'' in the opening moments: ''This is the story of some young people who needed a home, some senior citizens who needed love, and how they became a family.''  When the Morningstar orphanage burns down, Bob (Darrell Larson), a young social worker, takes his wards to the Eveningstar retirement home, asking Debbie (Sherry Hursey), another young social worker, for temporary shelter.  Given the already stated family concept, the suspense is not exactly killing.

The children, ranging in age from about 7 to 17, move in, grumbling and sassy.  ''We've ended up in a waxworks,'' says one.  The older folks are a bit nervous; one or two are downright hostile to the idea. ''Ah find it most disruptive,'' says a former Southern belle still preoccupied with the social graces.  But in a matter of minutes, Mr. Hamner and Mr. Silverman have established their basic demographics, clearly aimed at the millions who are not turned on by the music-video glitter of a ''Miami Vice.''  This is closer to ''Highway to Heaven'' territory.  The lovable characters include everybody from an adorable little girl, bearing a remarkable resemblance to the youngest daughter on ''The Cosby Show,'' to a kindly woman who collects stray animals, saying, ''someday I'm going to find a place where I can keep every homeless thing in the world.''  The two social workers, of course, provide a note of contemporary romance.

The result sometimes comes close to sentimentality running amok, but ''Morningstar/Eveningstar,'' for all of its gooey and sometimes shameless machinations, can be accused of nothing more than promoting decency and compassion.  It beats mindless violence. And it would be foolhardy to underestimate the cast of veteran actors recruited for the Eveningstar home.  Sylvia Sidney plays the Southern woman, Kate Reid the protector of animals.  Equally prominent are Elizabeth Wilson as a three-time and still simmering widow; Scatman Crothers as a pianist waiting for his agent to call; Jeff Corey as a crochety loner, and Teresa Wright and Mason Adams as a couple married for 40 years.  The always lovely Miss Wright is billed as a guest star, and the reason is revealed in next week's four-hankie episode.

Directed by Jerry Jameson, ''Morningstar/Eveningstar'' is not without a sense of humor.  In one scene, sprinkled with good nights as the youngsters climb into bed, one of older boys smirks, ''This is just like 'The Waltons'.'' It is indeed, but maybe that is not such a bad idea for television in the mid-1980's.

Over on ABC, Mark Linn-Baker has left his large suburban family and is just starting out on his own in the big city of Chicago.  Opening his apartment door one evening, he is confronted by a fiercely amiable young man who insists that he is a relative and wants to move in.  This is Balki (Mr. Pinchot), who reasonably asks, ''What do you think, I'm going to move in with some stranger?''  Although straight from the hills of his Mediterranean home, and thrilled to have arrived in ''the home of the Whopper,'' Balki insists that he is a professional - a professional sheepherder.  This Miller-Boyet production was written by Dale K. McRaven and directed, with a neatly raised eyebrow, by Joel Zwick.

Clash-of-cultures routines are, by now, not the stuff of fresh television comedy.  There are a limited number of laughs to be drained from the spectacle of a wide-eyed enthusiast discovering such truly American artifacts as pink lemonade and sofas that turn into beds.  But Mr. Pinchot, who in a brief role almost stole ''Beverly Hills Cop'' away from Eddie Murphy, makes it all seem hilariously original.

Very nicely complemented by Mr. Linn-Baker as the wisecracking cousin (''related by rumor,'' he decides), Balki rushes into life with a trusting smile that is as innocently calculating as it is disarming.  He is Harpo Marx weaned on feta cheese and high hopes.  No matter the problem, Balki has a solution.  ''Of course I do,'' he assures skeptics, ''don't be ridiculous!''  Balki: ''I can fix things.''  Doubtful boss: ''You can fix things?''  Balki: ''Why not, I'm young.''  Mr. Pinchot is clearly having a good time with Balki, whether telling a story about how he managed to make his grandmother's limp finger as hard as a nail in a board, or doing an impersonation of Tina Turner singing ''What's Love Got to Do With It?''

Now, it would seem, it is just a matter of ''Perfect Strangers'' finding enough worthwhile material to keep Mr. Pinchot and Mr. Linn-Baker reasonably employed.