Perfect Strangers debuted to high ratings and critical praise in March 1986. Comfortably nestled between Who's the Boss? and Moonlighting on ABC's Tuesday night lineup while Growing Pains took a break, Perfect Strangers was hailed by critics as a refreshing blend of witty humor and slapstick delivery. Co-stars Mark Linn-Baker (Larry Appleton) and Bronson Pinchot (Balki Bartokomous) were lauded for their unmatched chemistry and comic talent. Comic legend Lucille Ball called it her favorite comedy. The show returned in the fall of 1986 on Wednesday nights paired with Head Of The Class, and continued to win its time slot. (It would be at least another two years before Perfect Strangers would become the centerpiece of ABC's TGIF Friday night lineup.)
The new DVD box set from Warner Bros. containing the first two seasons of the hit series allows longtime fans and newcomers alike to rediscover this wonderful, often overlooked sitcom gem from the 1980s. The premise of the series is simple and attractive. At the start of the pilot episode, Larry had just moved from his crowded childhood home in Madison, Wisconsin, to an apartment in Chicago, where he planned to make it as a photojournalist. To pay his bills, he found a job working at a discount store for the heartless Mr. Twinkacetti. One evening, a distant cousin shows up at his door, bearing his possessions in a box mislabeled "America or Burst." Balki has made his way from the Mediterranean island country of Mypos to start a new life in America. Unfortunately, there aren't many jobs in Chicago for sheepherders, so Larry lets Balki move in with him until he can get settled.
Balki innocently sees America through a scattered and chaotic series of images and slogans he has picked up along the way. "America, land of my dreams, home of the Whopper!" he exclaims. When he finds out he is in debt, Balki proudly asserts "now I am a true American." He may not realize that groveling is not the proper way to pick up American women, but he is a virtual encyclopedia of references to stars from Telly Savalas to Bo Derek. And then there's his weakness for Wayne Newton, the most popular singer on Mypos.
Larry views himself as the person to educate the naive but big-hearted Balki in the complex ways of American life. In various episodes, Larry attempts to teach his cousin about everything from dating and opening a checking account to driving a car and joining a "healthy club." But Larry is not as schooled in the ways of life as he likes to portray himself. When Larry's big ideas inevitably lead to chaos, it is often Balki that gives Larry a useful nugget of wisdom. This is the true strength of the show - for all the talk of Perfect Strangers being about a zany immigrant, the show is at its core about two people from different backgrounds who become inseparable when they discover how much they really need each other.
The box set contains all six episodes from the spring 1986 run, and the 22 episodes comprising the 1986-87 season. The packaging is colorful and informative, as the plastic slipcases give episode titles, writer and director information, airdates, and witty blurbs about each episode plot. Thankfully, all episodes appear to be uncut, so they can be watched as they were originally seen on ABC. Even the original Lorimar-Telepictures logo at the end of each episode is preserved. And for those of you who have endured the WKRP DVD debacle, it should be noted that all the music appears to be intact. Balki sings a number of songs in the episodes, from Tina Turner's "What's Love Got To Do With It" to Dolly Parton's "9 To 5," and they're all here.
One significant criticism is that the episodes do not appear to have been remastered from the original film, but rather taken from a video master. Although the picture quality is less than ideal given the potential of the DVD format, the look is still equal to if not superior to what has been available in syndication or on AOL's In2TV.
In the end, this DVD set is a must buy. This show is quite addictive, and it gets even better as the seasons roll on. Early in Season Two, we are introduced to Jennifer Lyons (Melanie Wilson) and Mary Anne Spencer (Rebeca Arthur), who will continue as Larry and Balki's love interests, respectively, throughout the rest of the series. Larry and Balki remain working for Twinkacetti at Ritz Discount during the first two seasons in this set, although they are constantly chafing to do something more. At the beginning of Season Three, the two of them get jobs in the basement of the Chicago Chronicle, where Larry cuts his teeth as a cub reporter and Balki works in the mailroom. On the home front that same season they are seen in a new apartment where Balki has his own room and no longer has to sleep on the sofa. (Many have commented on the fact that the move was never explictly referenced in the show, and that Jennifer and Mary Anne were still their neighbors even in the new apartment building - but we'll leave those controversies for the Season Three review!)
If enough people buy Seasons One and Two, Warner Bros. hopefully will release Season Three in the near future, and the fun will continue!