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Saturday, January 5, 2019

'Perfect Strangers' S6: Anatomy of an '80scom

The Warner Archive December 4, 2018 DVD release of the 1996-97 S6 of the ABC TGIF sitcom "Perfect Strangers" brings us close to the finish line for this 8-season classic and allows Millennials another chance to see a sitcom done right. 

This set, which comes relatively close on the heels of the (reviewed) Archive release of "Strangers" S5, chronicles (pun intended) the further misadventures of uptight Chicago Chronicle reporter Larry Appleton (Mark Linn Baker) and his freshish off the boat cousin Balki Bartokomous. Don't be ridiculous, of course they follow in the grand tradition of Oscar and Felix and Laverne and Shirley. 

The sitcom veterans, whose numerous prior credits include "Mork and Mindy" and the "Strangers" esque "Bosom Buddies" with Tom Hanks,  behind "Strangers" take a nice  "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to the series. These pros begin with standard sitcom plots and amp things up to comic degrees that provide entertaining freshness.

We also get related "Easter egg" references throughout "Strangers." Earlier seasons include mentions of Cunningham Hardware of "Happy Days" fame. The S6 "very-special" two-part episode involving especially serious danger includes a "Laverne and Shirley" mention and a quick shot of the exterior of the Burbank apartment complex where those girls live in latter seasons. The boys go to La La Land on a newspaper assignment, and the encounters include meeting an ice-cream truck driver who claims to be a movie producer. 

The validation of the ability of Linn Baker and Pinchot to  deliver the goods include Lucille Ball being a fan. The Ball dynamic includes Larry and Balki often including their respective significant others Jennifer and Mary Anne in the fun. An S6 example is the girls working as waitresses when Balki greatly overextends himself regarding catering jobs. 

The fun this season begins with Larry behaving in character (pun intended) on overreacting to a relatively minor burglary. He gets a bank-quality security system installed in the mid-sized apartment that he shares with Balki. Yes, that leads to the boys getting trapped and facing punishment with extreme prejudice regarding being considered intruders, 

The show runners straddle the line between jumping the shark and having events follow their natural course by having Larry and Jennifer get engaged in response to a serious threat to their relationship. Largely keeping the engagement in the background throughout the season keeps things on the side of natural progression. Limiting the appearance of a rambunctious moppet to one episode shows the same restraint.

Additional restraint is shown regarding the seemingly obligatory episode in which a lead become a star. Creating rapper "Fresh Young Balki B" does not lead to fame going to the head of Balki; instead, we learn once again that you can take the boy out of Mypos but not the Mypos out of the boy.

S6 wraps up with arguably the most predictable episode of the season; Balki administers a compatibility test to nervous Larry and Jennifer. Although the test results and the responses of the loving couple are predictable, the journey to that point is a true joy ride. The bigger picture is equally pure sitcom in that a nottie without any fame or wealth almost  never lands a hottie. The perseverance that almost always pays off in TV Land almost always end with a restraining order in the real world. 

As oft stated in these posts but never meant more than in this instance, they don't make 'em like "Strangers" anymore. Modern sitcoms either have edge, cruelty, or simply no humor. Conversely, old-school series find decent to good "com" in a slightly exaggerated "sit" to the delight of most. 

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