September 17, 1986

Telefilms Review - Perfect Strangers
(Wed. (17), 8-8:30 p.m., ABC-TV)

Filmed at Lorimar-Telepictures Inc. by Miller-Boyett Prods., in association with Lorimar-Telepictures Prods. inc.  Exec producers, Thomas Miller, Robert Boyett, Dale McRaven; creator, McRaven; producer, Mark Fink; director, Joel Zwick; writer, Paula A. Roth; camera, Sherman Kunkel; editor, Kelly Sandefur; art director, Lynn Griffin; sound, Jim Ford.
Cast: Bronson Pinchot, Mark Linn-Baker, Ernie Sabella, Lise Cutter, Candi Milo

There isn't anything perfect about "Perfect Strangers."  The concept -- sort of Latka Gravas-for-a-half-hour-sitcom -- is hardly original, and it has been done better in the past.

But there are two funny performers, Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker, and some genuine chemistry between them.  There's even a few genuine laughs per half-hour.

It may never be looked back on as great TV, but in an era where good sitcoms seem particularly scarce, "Perfect Strangers" certainly deserves a place on the primetime schedule, and strong consideration on the syndie market in coming years.

Pinchot plays the immigrant, who's of vague Mediterranean heritage.  Pinchot is no Andy Kaufman, though, meaning his character isn't nearly as funny as Kaufman's Gravas, but it really seems to have a good deal more heart.

It might therefore be wise for the writers to concentrate on fleshing out the character further, sacrificing a little silliness for some additional depth.

When "Balki Bartokomous" dresses for bed in Spider-Man pajamas, and sleeps with a stuffed lamb, it's hard to think of him as a real-life human being.  And the silliness of it isn't inspired enough to justify the loss of character credibility.

It may take a little more work to get to the laughs now, but by developing Balki into a more believable, human character, "Perfect Strangers" will earn a lot more laughs over the years, and perhaps even elicit a few tears.

Just as important to the show is Mark Linn-Baker as Larry Appleton, the American cousin with whom Balki is rooming.  Baker seems perfectly suited for sitcom stardom, and he handles his role well.

As scripted, though, there's a lot of "ugly American" to the part, and the show might lose a bit of its appeal if the character doesn't evolve a bit more into what Americans would like to think they are, rather that (sic) presenting a fairly unflattering, if realistic, picture of the true American character.

In this season premiere episode, Larry's objections are overruled, and a pregnant and homeless friend of Balki's is allowed to stay in their apartment.

The stars end up in a Keystone-Cops dash to the hospital when it's time for the woman to deliver the baby, and Larry completely crumbles under the pressure.

The closing reaffirmation of the Larry - Balki friendship -- Balki transparently attempts to bolster Larry's ego by getting him involved in the search for the woman's apartment -- didn't ring true enough because Balki was at once too wise for the character and yet not nearly crafty enough to disguise his patronizing ploy.

But despite the fine-tuning that "Perfect Strangers" seems to need, it's a solid offering, one that ABC can't afford to squander, whether or not the sitcom is strong enough to challenge timeslot-bigshot "Highway to Heaven." -- Biro.