Actors Make 'Perfect Strangers'
Apparently, ABC thinks that good things
come in pairs for "Perfect Strangers," its newest comedy. The
show has two stars, Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker, and this week it
returns to the schedule with two episodes, Tuesday at 8:30 and Wednesday at 8
p.m. (its fall time slot).
"Perfect Strangers" tells the
story of Larry Appleton (Baker), a small-town boy with a big family who has just
moved to Chicago to make it on his own as a photojournalist. Before he can
unpack, Balki Bartokomous, a distant cousin from a fictional Mediterranean
island of Nipos (sic), shows up looking for a place to stay in the New
World. Larry, of course, takes him in -- or we wouldn't have a series,
Balki is the proverbial fish out of water,
an innocent abroad for whom everything in America is brand new and
exciting. He's like Gracie Allen with a thick accent; underneath the
fractured logic and optimism is an underlying shrewdness.
The show's three executive producers, Dale
McRaven, Thomas Miller and Robert Boyett, say Balki was inspired by the Olympics
in Los Angeles. They thought a foreign character could constantly
re-create the "it's great to be an American" feeling prevalent during
But "Perfect Strangers" is
really about two fish out of water -- Larry is as unprepared for life in the big
city as Balki. Balki bounds through life; Larry is like a tightly wound
spring, ready to unravel at any moment.
As Larry says to Balki after a disastrous
visit to a singles bar, "You jump into the swimming pool of life without
even making sure there's water. I check for water and a lifeguard, I test
for algae, then I put one toe in and call it a day." He is helped by
Balki as much as he helps him; it's a nice balance.
In its enjoyable mix of comic situations,
physical humor and broad characters, "Perfect Strangers" may remind
you of "Mork and Mindy," "Laverne & Shirley" or
"Bosom Buddies." And well it should: Miller and Boyett worked on
all three shows.
And like those shows, "Perfect
Strangers" is a buddy show that works because of the talents of the
buddies. Initially, the producers say the networks weren't interested in
their happy foreigner -- the idea sounded too similar to "Moscow on the
Hudson." It was only after they added the buddy concept, and hired
Pinchot, that ABC bought the show.
Pinchot starred in NBC's short-lived
"Sara," but is best known for his role as Serge, the haughty art
gallery clerk in "Beverly Hills Cop" (who, by the way, was modeled
after an Isreali make-up woman Pinchot knew). Watch him sing "What's
Love Got to Do With It" in that Third World accent while dancing with a
feather duster, and you know he's a major find.
Baker, meanwhile, managed to hold his own
against one of the screens greatest scene stealers, Peter O'Toole, in "My
Favorite Year." He gives the show a sane center, and together, they
form TV's funniest male friendship.
Not that "Strangers" is
perfect. Balki has curious gaps in his American knowledge -- he knows
about Burger King, Dolly Parton and "Nine to Five," but he's never
heard of Levi Strauss and never seen a pop-top can. His reactions are
often funny, but if the writers don't control their tendency to go for the
cheap, easy laugh at the expense of character development, the character will
turn into a walking laugh track.
And the supporting characters are weak,
the same flaw that helped destroy "Mork and Mindy." Twinkacetti
(Ernia Sabella), the boys' employer, is a heavy-handed humorless rip-off of
"Louie" from "Taxi." And their best friend, Susan (Lise
Cutter), has been given little to do but smile and say, "Isn't he
"Perfect Strangers" has no
relevant social messages, though there is a moral to every story. Usually
Larry learns that Balki's benevolence is more to be copied than mocked, but the
lessons aren't taken too seriously.
At one point, after both characters have
been taught an important lesson in self-respect, Balki says, "Too bad we
didn't learn it sooner, we could have gone to the movies instead."
Tuesday and Wednesday, skip the movies and try "Perfect Strangers."