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Friday, June 03, 2011

TGIF: Perfect Strangers

Perfect Strangers was one of those mid-season replacement shows that ended up becoming a huge hit.  When it premiered in the spring of '86, only six episodes were filmed.  Typically, most mid-season shows don't do very well in the ratings, and it's rare that one gets picked up for a full season.  Perfect Strangers defied those odds, and ran for an additional seven years.  That's pretty impressive.

My personal opinion is that the show seemed to do well because of the fantastic chemistry between the two lead actors.  You had Mark Linn-Baker as the conservative, yet overly neurotic Larry Appleton.  And you also had Bronson Pinchot, who played Larry's cousin, the eccentric sheep-loving Myposian, Balki Bartokomous.

This blog entry is mostly about Balki.  I do mention 'Cousin Larry' in this entry as well, but truth is, I didn't find him as interesting as Balki.  So, I guess in one sense, I find one stranger more perfect than the other.  They both have their flaws though.

I'm going to tackle this blog entry a little bit differently.  If you've been keeping track of this blog at all, you'll know that I usually go on and on about who the person (or subject) is, why I chose them, and what lessons I've learned from them, or what similarities I have to them, yada yada yada...

I'm just going to come right out and tell you what Balki Bartokomous and Larry Appleton taught me.  Right here, right now.

Balki taught me to appreciate the little things in life.  He also taught me never to take anything for granted.

And Larry taught me that anyone can have compassion for someone if the right time comes up.

I guess I should explain this in more detail.  It'd be pretty pointless to come up with a conclusion right off the bat without providing evidence of it. 

I present Exhibit A...or exhibit Balki...

You may have watched the opening credits of 'Perfect Strangers' that I posted at the very beginning of this section.  If you have, you'll probably have come across this scene.  I mentioned earlier that Balki was an eccentric, sheep-loving Myposian.  In case you haven't figured it out yet, Balki is not native to America.

Balki was born and raised in the island nation of Mypos.  He lived life as a shepherd on Mypos, and he later moved to Chicago in the mid-1980's after finding out that he had a distant cousin in the area.  When Balki was reunited with Larry, Larry was wary of the idea of letting Balki move in with him, as he was just getting adjusted to having his own apartment for the first time.  However, Larry decides to give him a chance, and with Larry's help, gets Balki his first American job working at a retail store run by their landlord, Mr. Twinkacetti.  Larry's hope is that by having Balki live with him, he can teach Balki all about American culture, and hopefully make him feel more at home.

Surprisingly enough though, Balki seemed to take to America quite well.  He almost understood America better than Larry (who was born and raised there) had. 

And I think part of that reason was Balki's overall enthusiasm for everything American.  He saw joy and appreciation for things that most people take for granted.  Cable television, rock music, sugarless chewing gum, traffic jams, elevators.  He genuinely seemed to enjoy it all, and be fascinated by the simple things.  In many ways, he was a lot like a five year old child, eager to explore the wide world, yet having an innocent, almost childlike way of seeing things.  It truly was refreshing to see.  Just check out some of these examples.

Ultimately, I want to be the same way too.  I think that Balki's way of life and his view on the world is one that not a lot of people seem to have, and I think that they are really missing out on quite a lot.

I know at times, I've lost sight of what is really important in my life, and wish I could stop and smell the flowers like Balki has.  It would certainly make life a lot more enjoyable and a lot less stressful. 

Somehow, Balki always seems to handle himself with grace and dignity.

Well...maybe not in THAT instance.

Balki has had his moments of greatness though.  Much of that comes from his upbringing.  Although he is very excited to live in America, he never really forgot where he came from.  Just as Larry had tried to teach Balki all about American culture, Balki was just as eager to get Larry to understand the place where he came from.  In one such episode, Balki decided to show off his culinary talents by making a Myposian delicacy called the bibbi-babka.  It turned out to be a huge hit, and Larry thought that they could make a fortune with Balki's recipe. 

Balki's recipe had every ingredient needed for huge success.  It was a recipe that had been in Balki's family for generations, so he knew exactly what was needed for the perfect bibbi-babka.  If only Larry hadn't tried to alter the plan like he did in the above clip, maybe this wouldn't have happened.

I think the bibbi-babka episode perfectly expresses the point that I was trying to make regarding Balki, and why I want to try to be more like him.  Balki has the self-confidence and the common sense to know what is best for the situation, and what simply won't work.  Balki probably made his first bibbi-babka as a young child, and for years afterwards.  I would think that Balki would have enough experience to not only make a perfect bibbi-babka, but how to make one flawlessly and without stress.

Cousin Larry wanted none of that.  He thought that making them really quickly, he would be able to make even more of a profit.  He thought that by doing things the so-called American way, they'd earn better and quicker results.

Scoreboard:  Mypos 1, America 0.

I don't know about you, but I think that Larry could have taken a few pages from Balki's book.  Balki made his bibbi-babkas with love and patience, and they turned out to be a success.  Larry rushed through the process and it blew up, quite literally in his face.

Now, I ask you...which would you want to be like more?

There is a downside to Balki's childlike innocence though.  A downside that has gotten Balki into some rather bad situations. 

And, this is where my point about Larry comes into play.

Towards the end of the series, (in a plotline that even I found kinda farfetched), Balki is discovered by a music producer, and he records a song as 'Fresh Young Balki B'.  It's an effort that he is incredibly proud of, and he put everything he had into recording the song because he wanted everyone to see his success.  He wanted his mother, his girlfriend Mary Anne, Cousin Larry, and Larry's fiancee Jennifer to watch the video on MTV.

Unfortunately for Balki, the record company dubbed in another man's voice in place of Balki's.  The record company Milli Vanilli-fied Balki, and Balki was left hurt, confused, and disappointed by the whole thing instead of feeling proud of doing something that he thought people would enjoy.

And Larry couldn't stand to see Balki so hurt.  As painful as this may be to watch, you gotta admire Larry's courage and not being afraid to embarrass himself to try and seek some sort of vindication for Balki (@ 5:14).

On the surface, Larry Appleton may come across as the type of person who only cares about himself, and how he acts arrogant at times...but when prompted, or when he sees injustice, he is the first one to step in and defend you against it.

He also seems to have just the right things to say at exactly the right moment, and is very empathetic towards people who are feeling pain.  (I've also been told by a couple of friends of mine that I have those qualities as well, but don't tell them I told you, okay?  LOL)

But I'm sure you want one more example of this.  Before Balki ended up with Mary Anne, he was trying to find love with a woman named Carol, who basically used Balki.  Larry tried to help him get through the heartbreak below.

I'd probably do the same thing Larry did.  Because that's how good of a friend Larry was to Balki. 

In fact, I think that's why Larry and Balki got along so well.  They helped each other out as best they could.  Balki showed Larry the virtue of patience, and through some wacky Myposian customs, helped Larry become a better man for himself, and a better boyfriend/husband to Jennifer.  Larry repaid Balki by helping him cope with life's disappointments and standing by him when times got rough.

Really, if there's anything that anyone can learn from watching Perfect Strangers, it's the value of true friendship.  Larry Appleton and Balki Bartokomous had that true friendship.

It's a friendship that many people wish they could find.

How about you guys?  Do you have a Larry or a Balki in your life that through thick and thin will always be there for you?  I'd love to hear from any of you on the subject!

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