Rocky Mountain News TV Times
July 24 - 30, 1988

Perfect Strangers Merits More Friends

Written by: Dusty Saunders
Scripps Howard News Service

The series is not perfect television comedy.  And it is a stranger to a major share of the television critics.

Perhaps that's why "Perfect Strangers," ABC's often hilarious Friday evening sitcom about a pair of mismatched cousins, seldom receives the media publicity, industry accolades and spectacular ratings accorded many less-enjoyable half-hour television comedies.

"Perfect Strangers" is "The Odd Couple" gone berserk.

Bronson Pinchot stars as Balki Bartokomous, a Mediterranean goatherder who has emigrated to Chicago to pursue his own version of the American dream.  No, Pinchot did not got up on a hillside in the Balkans.  He was born in New York City and spent most of his life in South Pasadena, Calif.  But his excellent portrayal has funny, Old World charm.

Balki's roommate is his American cousin, Larry Appleton, played in marvelous apple-pie, deadpan style by Mark Linn-Baker.  "Perfect Strangers," which premiered in March 1986, is one of those comedies that produced laughs in spite of itself.  The story lines are as predictable as a Phoenix weather forecast.  Balki, the native foreigner, constantly tries to adapt to American mores; his loving cousin attempts to pull him out of jams while providing the audience with rubberneck double takes.  The series telegraphs its humorous punches as if Lorimar, the producer, owned Western Union.

Still, "Perfect Strangers" succeeds as entertainment mostly because of the performances of the stars.  Pinchot and Linn-Baker make the most of pratfall comedy a la Jackie Gleason and Art Carney.  An episode that aired early last season in which the two went on a supermarket shopping spree should be put into a TV time capsule to be observed in the future as an outrageously funny example of network situation comedy at its best.  Unfortunately, not every episode of the show has that go-for-broke style of humor, which is probably one reason the series is often ignored by the critics.

If you're not already a fan of "Perfect Strangers," the summer season is an ideal time to meet these off-the-wall cousins.  Keep in mind that although network television understandably takes a lot of knocks for airing mostly reruns during June, July and August, such scheduling allows viewers to catch up on series they may have overlooked during the regular season.

Network executives believe the summer season is a "planting time" in American homes -- a period when shows can be nurtured in hopes of harvesting strong audience ratings in the fall.

Two summers ago, ABC embarked on a concerted promotional campaign for "Perfect Strangers," which paid off in the form of increased ratings in the fall.

Dusty Saunders is the Rocky Mountain News broadcasting critic.