Everyone has their favorite television shows from years past. Some shows from our childhood will always hold a special place in our hearts. Watching some of these programs on DVD years later can be a depressing experience. Well, the television show Perfect Strangers, which has just released its first two seasons onto DVD, is just such an experience.
The show, launched as a mid-season replacement in 1986, was a success and aired through August of 1993. It followed the story of Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker) and his (very) distant cousin, Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot). The show starts out with Larry, a mid-20-something man from Wisconsin having moved to Chicago to live alone and pursue his dreams of becoming a photojournalist. One day (the day the show begins) Larry answers a knock on the door to find out that a cousin he never knew, Balki, has arrived from the island of Mypos to live with him.
The culture clash is instant as Balki has little to no idea about U.S. customs other than the dribs and drabs of pop culture references that he is able to misuse (or sing) at a moment's notice. Larry, recognizing that Balki needs help, takes his cousin in. He also gets Balki a job at his current place of a employment, a discount store run by a less than reputable man, Donald Twinkacetti (Ernie Sabella).
Also present in season one is the quickly jettisoned character of Susan Campbell (Lise Cutter) who disappears after the first season. She is replaced by Jennifer (Melanie Wilson) and Mary Anne (Rebecca Arthur) who would become love interests for Larry and Balki, respectively.
The vast majority of plots in the first two seasons (and the rest of the series) take one of two forms. In the first, Balki gets into trouble due to his not understanding U.S. customs and Larry makes the problem worse before Balki is able to right everything through the same lack of understanding that got them in trouble in the first place. In the second, Larry wants to impress someone (often a woman) and declares that he can perform tasks he is in no way capable of and Balki ends up bailing him out. With Balki's naïve ways and Larry's high-strung attitude both of these formula led to some wonderfully funny moments.
Sadly, most of these funny things are just that, moments. There is a lot of slapstick and going for the cheap, easy laugh. And, while the show was most assuredly current back in the '80s and early '90s, the references it makes feel terribly dated (and Pinchot's mullet-esque hair doesn't help matters).
Worse than that, however, is the fact that it really isn't until about halfway through the second season that the show hits its stride. As a mid-season replacement, the first season was an abbreviated seven episodes, and while it sets up the later story and the two main characters, the show never seems to quite hit a rhythm until later.
Even so, despite its datedness and reliance on easy jokes, there are still a few laugh-out-loud scenes, including the classic two-part episode, “Snow Way to Treat a Lady,” which features the cousins, Mary Anne, and Jennifer off on a ski trip that results in them being trapped in a cabin due to an avalanche. From Larry's foolish boasting about his ability to ski, to the disaster of the avalanche, to Balki's saving the day, the episode has all the hallmarks of what makes Perfect Strangers funny.
People looking for a bit of '80s nostalgia, or to relive memories of one of the better shows on ABC's TGIF lineup would do well to check out Perfect Strangers. People who think the '80s were better left 20 years ago will find little in the series to convince them that they are wrong.
The DVD release features little in the way of extras. There is a brief montage of some funny moments from the first two seasons which mainly focus on the “Dance of Joy,” which is a dance from Mypos that people do when happy (as its name implies).
Perfect Strangers – The Complete First and Second Seasons is currently available on DVD.