October 18, 1986
By Don Merrill
There's a lot more to the success of Perfect
Strangers than the fun of hearing a shepherd from a Mediterranean island,
newly arrived in Chicago, proclaim "Don't be ridiculous!" a few times
during each show. It is a carefully crafted work that combines the
experience of talented people who have labored on a great number of popular
situation comedies -- and a not inconsiderable number that have flopped.
The key to this one's appeal is a clear
basic concept -- Balki the shepherd's wonder at our American way of life --
supported by fine comic acting and stories that depend upon the humor in the
characters rather than one-liners. The plots are slight, depending
generally upon Balki's getting into trouble because he accepts literally what
he's told about the way we do things here.
What we see each week is a reflection of
ourselves through the eyes of an innocent, and that's not only funny; it evokes
the pleasure of recognition. Perhaps most important, Perfect Strangers
has that magic, and essential, ingredient of good situation comedy --
warmth. We actually like the people in it.
Balki (Bronson Pinchot) arrives in Chicago
and moves in with his distant cousin Larry (Mark Linn-Baker), who lives in an
apartment over the Ritz, a shoddy discount store. Larry aspires to be a
photojournalist, but for the time being is working as a clerk at the Ritz.
Balki somehow has difficulty finding work as a shepherd in Chicago, so he too
works at the Ritz, which is run by an unsavory character named Twinkacetti
(Ernie Sabella). Twinkacetti is as insensitive as they come. On
blind people: "Give somebody a white cane, they think they own the
streets." Completing the regular cast is nurse Susan Campbell (Lise
Cutter), Larry's platonic girl friend, who lives in another apartment over the
In one episode, Larry tells Balki that
people take advantage of him because he's so eager to please, and that he must
learn to say "No." Sure enough, Larry has to ask Balki for a
favor; Balki says "No," and as a result Larry almost loses a chance to
sell a picture. In another episode, it's Larry's birthday and he's feeling
low so he says he doesn't want to be reminded of it. Balki has an awful
time calling off the surprise party he's planned and then in the middle of the
night has to set up another party because Larry feels neglected. Frothy
stuff at best, but the writers make the relationship work beautifully to produce
the heartwarming, often charming comedy.
The casting is inspired. Pinchot
brings a delightful sense of wonderment to his Balki that makes him funny and
downright lovable. Linn-Baker, as the much put-upon, but always
understanding Larry, must balance frustration at Balki's antics with compassion,
which is no easy task. They compliment one another like a winning doubles
team at Wimbledon.
For some reason, the show boasts one
producer, three executive producers, two supervising producers and two
co-producers. That's a lot of production for a half-hour show; but since
most of them also write, we won't cavil. They're turning out an excellent
opener for ABC's Wednesday night schedule.