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Series / Perfect Strangers

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Standing tall...!
On the wings of my dream!
Rise and fall...!
On the wings of my dream!
The rain and thunder
The wind and haze
I'm bound for better days!
It's my life and my dream
And nothing's gonna stop me now!
"Nothing's Gonna Stop Me Now", sung by David Pomeranz

ABC Sitcom (1986-1993) about naive immigrant Balki Bartokomous, from the fictional Mediterranean country of Mypos, who comes to Chicago and moves in with Larry Appleton, his American cousin whom he's never met. Started out as equal parts Fish out of Water and Odd Couple, took an odd turn when the Straight Man stopped being straight (comedically, that is) and started devising deranged schemes that would have made Lucille Ball dizzy (in reality, she was a big fan of the show). At that point, it became the personification of Idealism vs Cynicism, with Balki's wide-eyed idealism almost always (if not completely always) winning out over Larry's "real-word savvy" cynicism.

Was always a strange blend of stale formula and Fawlty Towers-level anarchy; survived on the not inconsiderable talents of Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker.

The most memorable episodes feature sincere Heartwarming Moments and brilliantly performed displays of classic physical comedy, which became a hallmark of the series.

Spawned the Spin-Off Family Matters. Not to be confused with the song by Deep Purple.

This show provides examples of:

  • Accidental Bid
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Many examples of this in "Just Desserts":
    Balki: We can't bump the bibi-babka ditty! It's part and parcel of the point-by-point process of baking bibi-babkas!
    Larry: I understand that it’s part and parcel of the point by point process of baking bibi-babkas, Balki, buddy, but...
    Balki: You can’t bake bibi-babkas without belting the bibi-babka ditty! If you drop the damn ditty you’re doomed!
  • Alliterative Name: Balki Bartokomous.
  • All Just a Dream: A Halloween themed version based on Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Also an episode focused on Larry and Balki suddenly doing extreme, death-defying activities.
  • All-Loving Hero: Simply put, Balki loves EVERYONE. He sees everyone as good, and is often completely blind to mean-spirited behaviors of people, notably of Mr. Gorpley, whom he considers a friend. He has even taken convicted criminals into his home to help them reform.
  • Already the Case: Balki once gave Larry a speech about not giving up which included the sentence "If George Washington had given up at Valley Forge, we'd all be speaking English now!"
  • Artifact Title: They stopped being strangers pretty quickly, and in fact were Heterosexual Life-Partners by the end of the show.
  • Babies Ever After: The show ends with the birth of Larry and Balki's sons and the two set for parenthood with Jennifer and Mary-Anne.
  • Badass Adorable: Balki is sweet, cheerful and, among other things, has stood up to an armed burglar and proven himself to actually be quite an adept fencer as Larry found out. He's also a lot stronger than he looks.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Balki may be as innocent as an excited puppy, but do not threaten his Cousin Larry.
  • Blithe Spirit: Balki is that one prominent ray of sunshine in everyone's lives.
  • Blunt Metaphors Trauma: Balki
    • Combined with Literal-Minded.
    • One episode had Balki physically pick Cousin Larry up to restrain him from his latest Zany Scheme. In annoyance, Larry repeatedly ordered Balki to "Put me down!" Balki tearfully insisted he could not do so, until he finally relented - and proceeded to insult Larry. Larry gave a confused reaction shot for several moments before the clarity struck him, at which point he calmly said, "Balki, *set* me down.". Balki obliged instantly, "Ok", and returned Larry's feet to the floor.
  • Bottle Episode: The entire two-parter of "Father Knows Best" takes place in only the apartment, mostly in the basement.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Larry and Balki have this conversation while role-playing before going to an art show:
    Larry: What do you think of this picture?
    Balki: I think it's pretty.
    Larry: No.
    Balki: I think it's ugly.
    Larry: No.
    Balki: I think it's...pretty ugly.
  • Briefcase Full of Money
  • Catapult Nightmare: "Beautiful Dreamer" centers around this. Balki can't sleep at night and when Larry tries to help, this happens.
  • Catchphrase: Both Balki and Larry have a handful of these.
    • Balki: "Where do I come up with them?", "Wow", "Get out of the city!", and "Of course not, silly, don't be ridiculos (sic)".
    • Larry: "Oh, my Lord!", "Watch and learn", "Don't you ever, ever, do/say that, again!", and "I have... a plan!"
      • Before long, the pause right after "I have..." would prompt Balki (and later on anyone in the room) to say, "Oh, God..." just before Larry finished the phrase.
    • Larry also has a condescending "Balki, Balki, Balki..." whenever he feels Balki is being overly naive.
    • This makes the scene of Larry dropping Dimitri on the floor harsher.
  • Christmas Episode: More than one.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Balki had a case this in Episode 2, mixed with Extreme Doormat, until Larry told him to say "no" to things.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: In the early episodes, Larry and Balki had a friend named Susan Campbell, the original lead female character before Jennifer and Mary-Anne came alone. After appearing in all the Season 1 episodes and three Season 2 episodes, she vanished.
    • Larry's original boss at the Chicago Chronicle, Harry Burns, also disappeared without any explanation after the introduction of Mr. Wainwright, whom later became Larry's boss instead. Mr. Burns only appears in a few Season 3 episodes before vanishing.
  • Cloudcuckooland: Mypos
  • Comically Missing the Point: A very common trope for Balki.
  • Companion Cube: Dimitri, Balki's stuffed sheep. Later we find out that he's made from the wool of an actual sheep named Dimitri who was killed saving Balki from being run over by a carriage.
  • Corrupted Contingency: In "Safe At Home", Larry installs a new security system after his and Balki's apartment is burgled. At night, Larry accidentally sets off the system and is unable to deactivate it because he forgot the password (which he also refused to tell Balki for security purposes). When Larry tries to resolve the issue by ripping out the panel, the system threatens to release poison gas, prompting them to throw Larry's new stereo chair through the window to shut it off, which the system interprets as the "robbers" having fled.
  • Crazy Cultural Comparison: Several, with the "Dance of Joy" being the most famous.
  • Creative Closing Credits: Occasionally done in later seasons, notably Balki and Larry’s Greek dance in “Grandpa,” and the two performing “Danke Shoen” with Celebrity Star Wayne Newton in “Wayne Man.” The final season even featured a Hilarious Outtake.
  • Cunning People Play Poker: After Balki loses all of his money playing poker to Gorpley, Larry challenges Gorpley. Larry has a reputation as a Know-Nothing Know-It-All. That reputation is not undeserved. However, he happens to be an excellent poker player, and engages in a case of Hustling the Mark by banking on that reputation and getting Gorpley to bet even his car. Larry lets him off the hook as far as his car goes, but does win back Balki's money.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Surprisingly Balki, especially towards Larry's penchant for blowing smoke.
    Balki: But 'Coosin', I don't know how do dat.
    Larry: Luckily, I DO know how do dat!
    Balki: (muttering under his breath) I knew you would....
    • Larry whenever he's being the straight man.
  • Developing Nations Lack Cities: The fictional island nation of Mypos is Balki's home country. The few times it is shown, we never see any cities, just small villages with carts and wagons for transportation rather than cars. It is also mentioned that only the royal family has indoor plumbing and the country has only one working telephone.
  • The Ditz: Mary Anne; although she borderlines on Genius Ditz territory in later episodes as part of a recurring gag in which Mary Anne will occasionally say something smart, which causes Balki, Larry and Jennifer to look at her strangely, only for her to explain how she knew it.
  • Do-It-Yourself Plumbing Project: In "Pipe Dreams." Larry and Balki's attempt to replace Jennifer and Mary Anne's shower head turns into an Epic Fail, creating one of the series' most memorable moments.
  • Easily Elected: In one episode, the King of Mypos comes to visit Larry and Balki. While he's greeting them, he dies and falls on Larry. Balki then tells Larry that the way Myposian royalty works, the first person the previous monarch touches after dying becomes the new one. Since Larry doesn't want to be the King of Mypos, he hatches a crazy scheme to pass the title to someone else.
  • Eloquent in My Native Tongue: Before Flanderization set in, Balki was shown to be very competent when in his natural element.
    • Matter of fact, in "Citizenship", when Larry visited Mypos, decided he liked it there and wanted to emigrate, he found out their "stress-free life" is due to the fact that everyone is very competent at what they do, and his efforts to learn local trades were a complete disaster.
  • Embarrassingly Painful Sunburn: The conundrum the guys face in “The Sunshine Boys” after Larry’s backfired attempt to impress his rich high school nemesis.
  • Establishing Shot
  • Fainting: Larry does so in "Hello, Baby" when he sees Gina giving birth.
  • Firefighting Episode: In "Great Balls of Fire", Balki drags a reluctant Larry into a volunteer firefighting program. Larry initially wants nothing to do with it until Jennifer finds it hot that he's in uniform. Naturally, their bumbling end up setting the firehouse they're stationed in on fire. They manage to put it out but not without filling the entire break room in foam. Unsurprisingly they get booted out, but Larry managed to nab the firefighter helmet for Balki and a uniform for himself.
  • Fish out of Water
  • Flanderization: A lot of it, especially for Larry. As time passed he became more centered on the arrogant-knowitall-cityboy-with-a-scheme aspect he occasionally showed in the earlier episodes, resulting in the show becoming too formulaic where Larry cooks up a plan (where he would say his Catchphrase) and then the rest of the episode will show how things get fouled up.
  • Foreign Queasine: Played straight through as a running gag in the series. Numerous times throughout its run, Balki Bartokomous will often make and serve dishes from his home country of Mypos to his cousin Larry Appleton, that contain such bizarre (and vomit-inducing) ingredients such as yak bile and the bladders of sheep and pigs. The season four episode "Come Fly with Me" centers on this, as Balki and Larry's flight attendant girlfriends Jennifer and Mary Anne get sick from eating Halkidikis (coincidentally sharing an alternate spelling of a Greek peninsula), described by Balki as the "travel food of Mypos", whose primary ingredients are milk, eggs, flour, honey, and goat spleen with mold aged to the point where it developed green fur on it. This is inverted, however, in the season three episode "Just Desserts" with a dessert known as the Bibi-babka, which contains typical dessert ingredients and which Larry attempts to market (though he tries to make it in such a rushed fashion that they explode because they weren't made with love and care).
  • Formula-Breaking Episode: A two-part episode in which Larry and Balki go to Hollywood for a report on a wedding and wind up framed for murder, forced to go on the run with the murderers and police on their tail. There's very little in audience laughter and it's shot more like a movie, being on location and everything.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: In the pilot, before Balki shows up, Larry is able to live alone in a spacious apartment in downtown Chicago on a retail job in a small store. Even after Balki moves in, it's a bit of a stretch until they land better-paying jobs in the third season Retool.
  • Funny Foreigner
  • Game Show Appearance: The two went on the fictional show "Risk It All", which borrowed actual props and games from Fun House (1988) (another Lorimar/WB production).
    • As a matter of fact, Larry and Balki appear in promos for Fun House (perhaps as repayment for using the set).
  • Genre Throwback: The sophisticated physical comedy performed by Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker is akin (and can be easily compared to) to the works of Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, and others. The same could be said about the the general vibe of the show itself. A clean, family-friendly comedy with an all-adult cast is a throwback to some of the older sitcoms of the 1950s and '60s.
  • The Ghost: Balki's father, who is mentioned in passing but never features when Balki and Larry go to Mypos.
  • Greeting Gesture Confusion: Balki greets nearly everyone who offers him a handshake with an unexpected, often situationally inappropriate, hug.
  • Happy Dance: Balki would break out into this on occasion, dragging Larry along with him
    • It was a specific dance Balki called the "Dance of Joy". "Now we are so happy, we do the dance of joy!" At the end of the dance, Larry would jump into Balki's arms. When Balki rescued a dog from the pound, he even taught it to dance when it heard those words.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: In "Dimitri's World", we learn that a sheep named Dimitri once got killed saving Balki from being run over by an ox cart, and Balki used the wool from the sheep to make a toy sheep named after the one who rescued him
  • Hustling the Mark: Gorpley once took all Balki's money in a poker game, so Larry gets in on the next game to try and hustle Balki's money back. Larry uses his reputation as a Know-Nothing Know-It-All to hide the fact that he is an excellent poker player and destroys Gorpley.
  • Hyperventilation Bag: Happens in one episode.
  • Hypno Fool: A hypnotist is brought to a party and attempts to get Larry to think and act like he's Elvis at the sound of a bell. Larry plays along, but starts to do a Marlon Brando imitation, proving that it doesn't work on him, but Balki starts acting strange around this time. Turns out Balki got hypnotized instead. Hilarity Ensues as Larry and the girls try to snap him out of it.
  • I Am Not Left-Handed: "I am amphibious!"
  • Identical Stranger/Replacement Goldfish: Following their break-up, Balki and Mary Anne date carbon copies of their exes. While they are in complete denial about their new partners (though Balki later admits it, after slipping and calling the other woman "Mary Anne"), the dates each immediately recognize the similarity. The episode ends with them getting engaged.
  • Intoxication Ensues: Suffering from a terrible cold on the eve of a big date, with all other options exhausted, Larry agrees to take "the Mypos Cure." Balki mixes up a batch of the awful potion for Larry, who forces himself to gulp it down when Balki leaves the room... and returns with a tiny spoon, the intended dosage for a single person. Larry just has time to tell Balki, "I can see through you" before he passes out. He awakens several days later, his date long missed - but hey, his cold is gone!
  • Jerkass: First it was the pair's employer and landlord, Twinkacetti. Then when they got jobs at a local paper, such reins were passed on to Mr. Gorpley.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Larry. As greedy and egotistical as he is at times, he's often shown to really care for his cousin, and he's truly in love with Jennifer.
    • A great example of this is in "Disorderly Orderlies." Larry wants to score an interview with a patient in the recovery room. In a cruel attempt to coax Balki into giving him the key to it (which he is forbidden to do), Larry pins him down to a bed, wraps a blood pressure cuff around his head, and threatens to “squeeze his brains out.” Balki refuses to give up the key, and Larry inflates the cuff as much as he can, pressing it dangerously tightly around Balki’s head. Balki then pretends to pass out. Larry suddenly changes his demeanor, now terrified that he had actually hurt his cousin. He rips off the blood pressure cuff, lifts Balki’s head, and nearly in tears, calls out his name to wake him up. Balki then laughs, tells Larry he was just kidding and makes his escape. The all-loving Balki KNOWS that Larry is deeply caring inside, and he used this to his advantage. The important thing was in that brief moment, Larry no longer cared about his job or his greed.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Larry often brags about being knowledgeable regarding things when he's actually not; subverted on the few occasions where he is really good at something (golfing, playing poker) and most people think he's just blowing smoke.
    • He has a Freudian Excuse for this. When we meet Larry's father, we see that while ostensibly a Nice Guy, he's also very critical of Larry—in a manner identical to the way Larry sometimes bullies Balki, who even turns this around on him—who's clearly spent his entire life trying to please him and feeling like he can't measure up to his expectations.
  • Laughing at Your Own Jokes: Balki often does this, usually following with the phrase, “WHERE do I come up with them?!?!”
  • Manchild: Balki is a mild example. He's extroverted and excitable, and has Spider-Man and He-Man pajamas, yet he also comes across as meek and mild-mannered.
  • Meaningful Name: Actually, just a clever wordplay. Larry Appleton is from Wisconsin. Lawrence University is located in Appleton, Wisconsin.
  • More Hypnotizable Than He Thinks: Subverted. During one episode, Larry claims that he can't be hypnotized; he turns out to be right, but the hypnotist instead entrances Balki by accident.
  • Multinational Shows: Sold to Russia.
  • My Name Is Inigo Montoya: Balki, as he prepares to Sword Fight with Zoltan of Mypos' neighboring island, Skeptos.
    Balki: My name is Balki Bartokomous. You scared my cousin. Prepare to lose your lobes.
  • Never Win the Lottery: Balki has a winning lottery ticket for $28,000,000, which ends up missing. After Balki and Larry conduct a mad search for the ticket (making a mess of their apartment in the process), it turns out that Balki had given it to Jennifer and Mary Anne for safekeeping. When they try to cash it in, they discover that Balki wrote one of the numbers down wrong and they only won $100.
  • Nice Guy: Balki, naturally.
  • Nice Mean And In Between: The first two series had Balki (Nice), Mr. Twinkacetti (Mean), and Larry (In Between). Subsequent episodes had Mr. Gorpley filling the Mean role.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The "bibi-babka" episode was a retelling of George Papashvily's epic tale, from his autobiography Anything Can Happen, of he and his friends making and selling khinkali dumplings to restaurants. They pulled it off successfully once.
  • The Not-So-Harmless Punishment: A Myposian aquaintance of Balki's challenged Larry to a duel once. Larry accepted after Balki tells him the loser gets his ears boxed. Then, Larry realizes that in Mypos, "boxing one's ears" means putting the ears in a box.
  • Odd Couple: Larry and Balki.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: In a hilarious tribute to Weekend at Bernie's with the King of Mypos.
  • Paranormal Episode: There was an episode where Larry and Balki discover a ghost in their new house. There was also an episode where Balki turned out to be an alien, but in that case it was All Just a Dream.
  • The Pollyanna: Balki, save for a few Break the Cutie moments.
  • Poor Communication Kills: In "Pipe Dreams", Balki almost hits Larry in the head with a hammer, because Larry doesn't specify that it's the wrench Balki is supposed to hit, not Larry's head.
  • Product Delivery Ordeal: An episode has Lydia ask Larry and Balki to deliver a piano to her apartment so she can audition for a music producer. They get the piano to her building without issue, but it won't fit in the elevator so they have to carry it up ten flights of stairs. The piano gets destroyed in the process, but it turns out Lydia didn't need it after all.
  • Public Service Announcement: Balki and Larry did some of these, which ran during Saturday morning cartoons during the late 1980s. These involved Stock Aesops for children such as responsibility, learning from mistakes and compromise.
  • Quicksand Sucks: In "Up a Lazy River Part 2", Balki and Larry plunge into quicksand.
  • The Rashomon: And when asked where the truth would come from, everyone pointed to Balki.
  • Retool: The show was overhauled in the third season, with Larry and Balki getting new jobs in a more glamorous setting (a big newspaper instead of the small store they'd been working at before), new supporting characters including Mr. Gorpley and Harriette, and a memorable new title sequence with footage shot on location in Chicago.
    • The show was retooled again in the seventh season. Larry and Balki finally move into a house, now living with Jennifer and Mary-Anne, supporting characters like Mr. Gorpley and Mr. Wainwright slowly got phased out, Larry marries Jennifer, with Balki soon to follow suite with Mary-Anne. The show would end after the following season, making the first retool the longest era of the show.
  • Rising Water, Rising Tension: One episode has Larry, Balki and others trapped in the basement of the apartment building. A pipe breaks and the basement floods due to a plugged up drain. They have to find a way to escape before the water reaches the fuse box and electrocutes them all.
  • Ruritania: Mypos
  • Running Gag:
    • The Dance of Joy between Larry and Balki whenever something goes well for them.
    • If Balki's mother ever calls she would give a shrill "Balki!" to get his attention.
    • Mary-Anne dipping Balki and giving him a big smooch when the couples go to kiss one another.
    • Balki revealing whatever odd ingredient he would use in his Myposian food, often eliciting a disgusted reaction (Or a cringe one if they were about to eat it).
    • Larry often about to do something foolish that Balki tries to warn him about, the two trying to talk over the other until ultimately Balki is forced to let Larry go through in his action with predictable results.
    • The "Look Into the Future" gag, which Larry uses to guilt Balki into doing something immoral by feeding him a tragic story about what will happen (in Larry's mind, of course) if he chooses not to do it. This gag comes to a satisfying conclusion in the final season, with Balki making the stark realization that he has been manipulated by Larry for all these years, and telling him he is simply tired of it.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Harriette Winslow (yes, that Harriette Winslow)
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story:
    • Larry would often tell these to Balki (though "a look...into the future!") to either convince his cousin to aid him or spill the beans on something. In any event, once Larry got what he wanted, things don't go as planned.
    • Larry gets sick before taking a date to a Bruce Springsteen concert and agrees to take Balki's Myposian cold remedy. The end result is that he misses the concert due to the remedy knocking him out for three days (because he took way more than the recommended dosage), the girl hooking up with another guy with front row seats, Springsteen getting sick as well and postponing the concert, and Balki also getting sick just after Larry decides to take him to the rescheduled concert.
  • Shout-Out: At the end of the main title, the play Larry and Balki are going to see is The Odd Couple, one of the inspirations for this and many other sitcoms about an Odd Couple.
  • Show Within a Show: Later seasons featured parody clips of The Honeymooners and Laurel and Hardy, with the titular characters being played by Balki and Larry.
  • Sitcom
  • Spice Rack Panacea
    Balki: "...the Midolcrampabloatalis root that grows on the summit of Mt. PMS-kalos."
  • So Unfunny, It's Funny: In 'First Date', Balki, against Larry's advice, tells his date a really terrible joke about sheep and breaks down into hysterical fits of laughter. His enthusiasm while telling the joke is what makes it so funny.
  • Straight Man: Larry and Balki actually alternate at this depending on which one came up with the Zany Scheme this week.
  • Super-Toughness: In one episode, Balki and Larry gain the power of indestructability while under the protection of the Myposian God, "Teflonos." Unfortunately, it was all a dream.
  • That Syncing Feeling: Played straight in the episode “Out of Sync,” where Balki stars in his own cheesy early 90’s music video as rapper “Fresh Young Balki B.” ("Rappin’ his way across the sea..."). Thanks to a sleazy record producer, Balki unknowingly has his vocals dubbed over by someone else, a la Milli Vanilli.
  • Title Drop: In the episode "Crimebusters" Harriot drops the title of her future spinoff series when she tells Balki, "This is a family matter and you're in the line of fire!" This was likely intentional, as Family Matters was set to premiere later that same year.
  • Thematic Theme Tune: "Nothing's Gonna Stop Me Now" by Jesse Frederick and Bennett Salvay, the template for many other inspirational Miller-Boyett sitcom themes by the same songwriters.
  • Truncated Theme Tune: In the syndicated package, the theme transitions from "Sometimes you just get a feeling like you need some kind of change" to the chorus. It still comes out to 51 seconds.
  • Third-Person Person: Balki would occasionally refer to himself in the third person.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Eventually, Larry's penchant for trying a Zany Scheme would prompt this reaction.
    Larry: I have—
    Balki, Jennifer, and Mary Anne: Oh, God!
    Larry: —a plan!
  • Tragic Keepsake: Dimitri, as we find out in "Dimitri's World".
  • True Meaning of Christmas: Done frequently in a metaphorical sense of the trope, and once literally.
  • Twisted Christmas: In the first Christmas Episode, various problems get in Larry's way of taking Balki to his folks' home for a "real Christmas". In a later one, Balki invites sourpuss Mr. Gorpley to his and Larry's holiday shindig, where he quickly infuriates the other guests before offering his tragic backstory. In both cases, Balki then subverts this trope by being... well, Balki.
  • Unsportsmanlike Gloating
  • The Voice: Balki's Mama in a few episodes, heard over the phone when her son calls her.
  • Zany Scheme: Bordering on Once per Episode.