April 28 - May 4, 1990
Mark Linn-Baker Brings a Class Act to Perfect Strangers
by Mark Allison
A lot of sitcoms try to be
hip and up-to-date. Not Perfect Strangers. It prefers to look
backward, to dig into television's past and uncover nuggets of pure comic gold.
"When we set out to do
the show, we wanted to do an old-fashioned character comedy," explains Mark
Linn-Baker, who plays uptight Larry Appleton on the series. "We
talked about I Love Lucy. We talked about The Honeymooners.
That was the tradition we were harking back to."
The show's old-fashioned
influences are obvious. Just watch Linn-Baker and co-star Bronson Pinchot,
as Larry and immigrant cousin Balki Bartokomous, try to lug a piano up eight
flights of stairs -- remind you of the Three Stooges? Or listen to Larry
teach Balki the who-what-where rules of newspaper reporting ("The first
rule is 'what.'" "I don't know. What is the first
rule?") - it's straight from Abbott and Costello.
Of course they give the old
stuff a new twist, and they make the gags their own, as Linn-Baker is quick to
point out. "We can do some extreme physical comedy," he
chuckles, "but it works because it's based in character."
makes the shtick so successful? Talent and timing. A veteran of
stage and screen, the 36-year-old actor is a show business pro. And as Strangers
wraps up its fifth season, he and his cohort have their routine down pat.
Is it easy? "We
work to make it look that way," Linn-Baker reports, "but it's real
intense work." So even though the show is filmed quickly -- the
weekly production schedule was recently cut from five days to four -- the actor
says that he and his colleagues take their work seriously.
It pays off. Larry and
Balki's comic interplay looks effortless; the rapid-fire double-talk and wild
pratfalls hit the mark every time. According to Linn-Baker, the chemistry
between him and his co-star was there from the start. The show's creators
had signed Pinchot first, soon after he caused a stir as gallery guide Serge in Beverly
Hills Cop. Then they saw Linn-Baker on an episode of Moonlighting.
He was promptly called in. "From that first scene that we did
together," he remembers, "it just clicked."
Asked if he and the crazily
compulsive Larry are alike, the actor laughs. Then he considers the
comparison. "Yeah, I'm an obsessive, compulsive person," he
confesses. "I think probably I became an actor because that was a
good antidote for that . . . Larry Appleton, unfortunately, doesn't have that
One of Linn-Baker's personal
obsessions is the theater. Every summer, when his TV work is done, the
actor heads to Vassar College, where he directs plays, develops scripts and
conducts workshops with New York Stage and Film, a production company / training
program he helped establish five years ago. He's already planning this
But the man who does
slapstick and Shakespeare doesn't plan on leaving Perfect Strangers
anytime soon. Playing Cousin Larry, he says, is still a lot of fun:
"I think it has to be because we do a comedy, and if it's not fun, it's
awfully hard work . . . We do have a good time."