Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot) arrived at the door of his cousin Larry Appleton's (Mark Linn-Baker) apartment in Chicago one fine day, fresh from a trip that took him from his homeland, a small Mediterranean island called Mypos, to the bustling borough of Chicago. Truly a stranger in a strange land, Balki is initially upset but understanding when his Cousin Larry doesn't welcome him with open arms, but of course, Larry soon has a change of heart and before you can say 'formula sit com' Balki is his new roommate.
From the first episode, which debuted on ABC in March of 1986, through to the last of its eight seasons, Perfect Strangers stuck to a fairly predictable formula. Each week, Balki would land himself in a bit of trouble, usually caused by his lack of understanding of just how things work in America as opposed to his homeland. Larry would, more often than not, lose his temper with his Myposian cousin, but ultimately the pair would settle their differences and learn from one another. Balki would learn something about the American way of life while Larry would usually learn patience, understanding, and kindness. Things don't differentiate much at all during the first two seasons of the series, collected here in their entirety (and seemingly completely uncut) over four DVDs, but that really doesn't matter much, the predictability is part of the show's charm.
Despite the repetitive nature of the series, there is some character development that keeps things interesting. Balki and Larry are, in a way, starting on the same page together. Balki has just immigrated from Mypos, Larry has just moved to Chicago out of the family home in Wisconsin. Both of them are fairly new to the big city and trying to make a go of it on their own for the first time. Larry soon lands Balki a job working with him in cantankerous Mr. Twinkacetti's store after Balki (sort of) proves he's handy at fixing things, and while Larry has the best of intentions by rigging the radio his cousin was to repair, Balki shows Larry that he's smarter than he seems. When Balki comes to his cousin for help with woman, a trip to the singles bar shows that Larry isn't as wise in the ways of love as his cousin believes him to be, in fact, Balki might actually know more about dealing with American women than Larry. They're opposites, but in many ways, they're very similar and it's this chemistry, aptly portrayed by Pinchot and Linn-Baker, that makes the series such fun.
By the time the second season is under way we're introduced to the two love interests in the series, Jennifer (Melanie Wilson) and Mary-Anne (Rebeca Arthur). The two blondes prove to be perfect foils for the perfect strangers and they balance out the slapstick comedy that Balki and Larry provide by allowing the writers to explore the humorous side of male-female relations. Granted, none of this is very deep and most of the plot devices exist solely to guide us from one comedic set piece to the next, but the characters are fun and they work well together.
The episodes contained in the set are presented in their original broadcast order as follows:
Knock, Knock, Who's There?Disc Two:
Baby, You Can Drive My Car
Happy Birthday, Baby
Hunks Like Us
Ladies And Germs
Babes In Babylon
Falling In Love Is...
Two Men And A Cradle
Can I Get A Witness
The Rent Strike
A Christmas Story
Dog Gone Blues
Since I Lost My Baby
Trouble In Paradise
Tux For Two
Ten Speed And A Soft Touch
Snow Way To Treat A Lady (Part One)
Snow Way To Treat A Lady (Part Two)
Up On A Roof
Get A Job
As the episodes progress, we see Balki slowly acclimate himself to the American way of life. He gets a driver's license and goes to a health club. He mixes it up with the ladies and works at a fast food joint. Along the way he tries to help his cousin with his aspiring photojournalism career and he goes on a ski trip. He plans a strange birthday party for his sulking cousin and he teaches Larry about Myposian customs, the 'Dance of Joy' being the most obvious example. Again, they learn from one another and as such the show has a fair bit of genuine charm. Yes, the series is predictable and formulaic and yes it's all very corny and more than a little bit hokey - but the humor holds up surprisingly well and the plethora of eighties pop culture references thrown into the dialogue always prove amusing. Perfect Strangers may not be the epitome of eighties television, but it remains a lot of good, clean fun.
Each and every episode of Perfect Strangers is presented in its original fullframe aspect ratio but sadly the video quality of this release is substandard. Taken from what one could probably assume are old video masters, the image is murky and blotchy and lacking in fine detail. Color reproduction is okay but there's minor debris evident in a few spots, the opening credits sequence in particular. While it's doubtful that anyone is chomping at the bit for the adventures of Balki and Larry to be beautifully remastered, it would have been nice to see the episodes in this set look better than they do here. Everything is watchable, but the video quality isn't very good.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono sound mix in this set is of average quality for an eighties era television series. Dialogue remains clean and clear and there aren't any obvious issues with hiss or distortion. Levels remain balanced and everything sounds fine, even if it doesn't sound exceptionally fantastic. Optional subtitles are provided in French and closed captioning for the hearing impaired is provided in English.
This four disc set isn't completely barebones, but it's pretty darn close. Aside from some menus and episode selection, the only supplement is Dance Of Joy: Merry Montage Of Balki And Larry's Signature Two-Step Throughout The Show's First Two Seasons. In essence, all this really happens to be is a loosely edited 'greatest hits' clip montage of Larry and Balki dancing... except a lot of the clips assembled don't actually show the dance at all. It's fairly useless but for those who like to know such things it clocks in at seven minutes.
Perfect Strangers holds up better than expected over two decades after it was originally shown. As hokey as the show can be, there are some solid one liners and good gags scattered throughout most of the episodes that make the material a lot of fun to revisit. That said, the lack of extras and sub-par transfers do hurt things a fair bit. Fans of the show will want this no matter what as it's the only way to get the episodes in digital format, everyone else would be best served with a rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.