It ain’t easy to out-odd The Odd Couple, but it helps if you have a wacky shepherd from the isle of Mypos. As luck would have it, Perfect Strangers had just such a shepherd in Balki Bartokomous, and paired with “Cousin” Larry Appleton, this Myposian native turned an ABC sitcom into one of the most memorable buddy comedies of the late 80’s.
In the first Perfect Strangers episode, Balki emigrated from his grassy Mediterranean isle to come live with his distant cousin Larry in Chicago, Illinois. Larry wasn’t exactly expecting this funny-talking visitor, but the two soon became roommates. In the early going, Larry worked at Ritz Discount Store for the crabby Donald “Twinkie” Twinkacetti (who doubled as their landlord, since they lived upstairs from Ritz), and the two cousins got into all sorts of mischief.
Balki wanted to experience everything about America (“Land of the free—Home of the Whopper”), from singles bars to baseball to Las Vegas casinos. The problem was, Balki wasn’t quite up on his Americanisms. While that made for some entertaining language mistakes (“Cousin, are you going to have a nervous breakdance?”), it also got the two cousins in a bit of hot water from time to time. Also adding to the hot water quotient was Larry’s reputation as an eternal schemer, and not a very good one at that. Regardless, the pair usually found a way out by show’s end, and if things turned out really well, we at home might be treated to a Myposian Dance of Joy.
Perfect Strangers debuted in March of 1986, and by the start of the fall season, Larry and Balki had a pair of new neighbors upstairs. Jennifer and Mary Anne entered the show as aerobic instructors, but before long the two had settled into careers as flight attendants. Either way, they were cute, and romantic sparks were kindled over the show’s run. As the seasons continued, Larry and Balki both got jobs at the Chicago Chronicle (Larry as a reporter, Balki as a mailroom worker), where their circle of co-stars expanded to include advice columnist Lydia Markham (played by the same actress who played Mrs. Twinkacetti in the first season), Balki’s mean mailroom boss Mr. Gorpley, and elevator operator Harriette Winslow, who was eventually spun off to the hit series Family Matters.
More changes came as the 1990’s began: Larry and Balki teamed up on a newspaper comic strip starring Dimitri the Sheep, and precocious seven-year-old Tess Holland moved in for a while as a new neighbor. Larry eventually married Jennifer, but not even a move to a new home could break up this match made in Mypos. Balki married Mary Anne, moved in with Cousin Larry and Jennifer, and by the show’s final run in 1993, both Jennifer and Mary Anne were pregnant. Together forever, the cousins and now best friends even got to experience the miracle of life together in the final two-part episode—a miracle that just happened to occur while the two couples were stuck way up in the sky in a hot air balloon.
Perfect Strangers was a solid hit during its several years on ABC, eventually joining Full House and others as part of the network’s “TGIF” Friday family lineup. Silly dialogue, slapstick pratfalls and one very useful catchphrase (“But of course not, don’t be ridiculous…”) made Perfect Strangers a favorite of all ages, and the show remained successful in syndication long after its last prime time episode. You’ve come a long way, Balki…
Louie Anderson played Larry Appleton in the unaired pilot.
“Standin’ tall on the wings of my dream,
Rise and fall on the wings of my dream…”
“It’s my life and my dream,
Nothing’s gonna stop me now!”
USA / ABC – Miller – Boyett Prod. – Lorimar – Tal Prod. / 150×30 minute episode / Broadcast 25 March 1986 – 6 August 1993
Executive Producers: Thomas L. Miller, Robert L. Boyett, Dale McRaven / Theme Vocal: Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now by David Pomerantz
Mark Linn-Baker as Larry Appleton
Bronson Pinchot as Balki Bartokomous
Melanie Wilson as Jennifer Lyons
Rebeca Arthur as Mary Anne Spencer
Ernie Sabella as Donald “Twinkie” Twinkacetti
Jo Marie Payton as Harriette Baines Winslow
Belita Moreno as Edwina Twinkaceti/Lydia Markham
Lise Cutler as Susan Campbell