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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

'Perfect Strangers' S5 DVD: Odd Couple Cousins Find Themselves in More Sublimely Ridiculous Situations

The Warner Archive September 25, 2018 DVD release of the 1989-90 fifth season of the ABC sitcom "Perfect Strangers" brings us over the hump regarding home-video sets of this eight-season show. This release also provides hope regarding every season being available as snow begins melting roughly six months from now. People interested in learning more about "Strangers" things are encouraged to check out the Unreal TV 2.0 review of the third season and post on the fourth one. 

The pedigree of "Strangers" producers Robert L. Boyett and Thomas L. Miller including the "Strangers" spinoff "Family Matters" shows that the team both knows what the public wants and has a talent for catch-phrases that delight fans and annoy less-enamored folks. Trust me; I know what I'm doing.

The S5 "Strangers" episodes provide the perfect context for discussing the talent of Boyett and Miller for producing a likable TV show that enhances tried-and-true elements with nice surprises. The tried-and-true begins with the odd couple roommates concept of high-strung 20-something Appleton, Wisconsin native Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker) sharing a Chicago apartment with his laid-back and childlike fresh-off-the-boat naive cousin/co-worker Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot). The writers deserve great credit for keeping the "Beverly Hillbillies" style element of "Strangers" fresh after four seasons. An example of this is an S5 episode that has Balki seeing a dentist for the first time.

We also get a nice twist on the evil twin cliche. Even fresher off-the-boat cousin Bartok (Pinchot) visits from Los Angeles, He is a smooth talker who quickly and repeatedly takes advantage of Balki. This adds a "Its A Wonderful Life" element to the episode in that we see how Balki may have turned out on moving to America but for relatively (pun intended) patient and kind Cousin Larry mentoring and supporting him.

"Strangers" shines even better than it knows regarding a very special two-part episode that offers a treasure trove of sitcom gems. The bonanza begins with Larry hoping to make his visiting father (a.k.a. Uncle Walter) proud of his boy. Having James Noble, who is best known of playing the governor on the fellow ABC sitcom "Benson," checks the box for having a popular actor guest star. 

The familiar elements continue with the underlying "sit" leading to the regular "com" in the form of Larry ignoring a warning of Balki leading to mayhem that includes two characters in conflict getting locked in a room. Having the "how many times have you ..." joke turn against Larry later in the episode is even more awesome. 

The placing of beloved characters in mortal danger that delights viewers comes when the boys and Dad get trapped in a basement that is filling with water. The bonus is an enhanced ticking time bomb in the form of a electrical box that will fry our friends when the water level reaches it. Several decades of television shows and the fact that "Strangers" gets an additional 3.5 seasons makes the fact that the boys escape not much of a spoiler. 

The episode title provides the presumably unintended bonus. The words "Father Knows Best?" obviously refers to the '50s nuclear-family sitcom of that name that lacks punctuation in its title. The tidbits from a vintage interview with "Best" star Billy Gray includes that "Dad" Robert Young wanted the title to include the question mark to indicate that his family guy character was not necessarily the smartest guy in the room.

The bonus fun in the interview relates to Gray, who is well-known for a marijuana bust, once laughing and saying "you don't smoke, do you?" The only admissions regarding that are once finding the pot holder in the kitchen of a high school friend hilarious and going to great lengths to avoid my mother on some Friday nights while living with her for a few months after college. 

"Strangers" fans further get the "Larry plans a vacation from Hell" episode. The well-intentioned amateur travel agent books the boys and their girls a stay at the worst-ever Caribbean resort. Of course, this includes a strong risk of not making it back alive,

Another outing sets the stage for the sitcom staple of a Rashomon episode in which characters tell different accounts of the events that lead to the interaction in the opening scene. In this case, the drama relates to a bad dude crashing a corporate retreat. 

The bigger picture is that the shrewd instincts that keep "Strangers" on the air so long (and warrant a tie-in to the HBO drama series "The Leftovers") include a respect for tradition that largely avoids the series looking dated. The absurd native garb of Balki is amusing in any era and the business casual attire of Larry is adequately timeless. Further, most plots avoid '80s (and '90s) centric references. As the few episodes described above show, the "sits" could mostly occur during any era. One exception is that Trip Advisor protects against staying at dumps,

The final word is time is don't be ridiculous, buy the DVD. 

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