'Perfect Strangers' S3 DVD: Sitcom Version of Pulitzer-Prize Winning 'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay'
The Warner Archive April 17, 2018 DVD release of the third season of the '80s sitcom "Perfect Strangers" provides Gen Xers cause for the dance of joy. This release comes a decade after the DVD release of the first two seasons of this series about 20-something bosom buddies odd couple cousins Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker) and Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot) living and working together in Chicago. The other good news is that the S3 release creates reasonable hope for releases of future seasons over the next several months.
This release also provides an opportunity to address an 18 year-old issue. It is amusing that the 2000 Micheal Chabon Pulitzer-Prize winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is so highly praised as great literature despite essentially being a novelization of "Strangers." Kavalier tells the tale of the legendary comic book artists of the '30s through the '50s in the context of an 20-something New Yorker and his Czech cousin living, working, and (if memory correctly serves) dating together.
The core relationship is essentially the same in both the novel and the show. One difference is that Larry is a Midwesterner boy on his own until sweet and naive Balki knocks on his door almost literally fresh off the boat from the Mediterranean-adjacent island of Mypos. A broader perspective is that Larry and Balki can be considered the Lucy and the Ethel of the '80s. A narrower perspective is that "Strangers" has a significant role in the (reviewed) modern HBO series "The Leftovers," in which Linn-Baker plays himself.
S3 finds Larry starting a new job that brings him one step closer to his ideal career. He is a cub reporter at The Chicago Chronicle newspaper. Balki stopping by the office in the season premiere leads to him becoming the new mail boy at the Chronicle. The co-workers of the boys include sassy elevator operator Harriette Winslow, whose home life becomes the center of fellow TGIF series "Family Matters."
Business soon gets down to usual with fairly typical "sits" lead to "com." As is the case in all good and great shows, the distinction is in the quality of the writing and the talent of the actors. "Strangers" awesomely has shining moments in both regards.
The second episode of S3 finds Larry dealing with the shock of many of us on discovering a minor weight gain in our late 20s. This ultimately leads to Larry agreeing to go on a diet from Mypos only to lead to the typical conflict of his trying to get Balki to abandon his integrity only to ultimately learn that the high road is the better route. The hilarious physical comedy that is "Strangers" trademark revolves around Larry frantically trying to prevent Balki from discovering a delivery of a pizza.
The next outing is a special treat on many levels. Having Holland Taylor play a newspaper editor who is the virtual twin of the advertising executive Ruth Dunbar that Taylor portrays on the earlier '80scom "Bosom Buddies" (which shares creators with "Strangers" and "Matters") nicely ties that show in with "Strangers." "Buddies" costars Peter Scolari of "Newhart" and the father of Colin Hanks as childhood friends from Ohio now dressing in drag to live in an inexpensive New York apartment while they pursue professional and personal goals.
The next nice surprise relates to the nature of the "Strangers" plot about the character of Taylor trying to coerce Balki into having sex. Knowledge of several lesser shows leads the audience to reasonably predict that the "sit" will involve Larry trying to convince his cousin to give one for the team to help the career of our aspiring Clark Kent. "Strangers" does not disappoint regarding either the actual conflict or its resolution.
This pattern continues regarding an episode in which our boys engage in a three-minute dash around a grocery store. The physical comedy during that frantic effort is exceptional. More importantly, an audience expectation that greed results in the cousins only walking away with a can of Spam or an item of equal comedic value is unmet. The epilogue provides yet another good surprise.
The hilarity continues with adventures such as Balki creating chaos by assuming that corporate America has integrity, Larry having his effort to present a false front to his successful brother face obstacles, and the boys breaking into their office to obtain an incriminating document.
Nitpickers may comment on the order of episodes in the Archive set not coinciding with the order on IMDb. The most probable explanation is that the Archive order reflects the intended running order. To paraphrase the trademark line of Balki, anyone whom this bothers is ridiculous.
Part of the joy of pure sitcoms such as "Strangers" is that not much occurs that requires watching episodes in any particular order. The journey is the joy regarding starting at the development of the "sit" and ending up at the heartfelt discussion of the learned lesson as the picture freezes, there is a flourish of the theme song, and the end credits begin appearing on the screen.