Certainly Perfect, But Not Necessarily Strangers

Curator's Note

ABC’s Friday night TGIF lineup is often remembered for its use of family oriented sitcoms to reach younger media audiences. Programs like Family Matters, Full House, and Boy Meets World presented manageable crises that could be resolved each week within the confines of the family, reinforcing confidence in the family unit as a source of comfort and resolution for any obstacles. Furthermore, the emphasis on children in these series provided younger audiences with a perfect identification point as they could potentially relate to the situations featured in these family comedies.

However, one show that anchored the original TGIF lineup but does not quite fit into this description is Perfect Strangers. While these aforementioned shows all revolve around the family (and in particular young children), Perfect Strangers features two single adult males who have to face a very different set of obstacles more relatable to single adults. On the surface this series’ very premise seems at odds with the TGIF paradigm. However, it is the reliance on the familiar tropes of the television medium that makes Perfect Strangers a perfect fit for ABC’s fledgling Friday lineup.

The show’s main character, Balki Bartokamous (Bronson Pinchot) was a familiar “fish-out-of-water” character, hailing from his island home of Mypos. Much of the show’s comedy focused on how the simple, inexperienced Balki attempted to adjust to life in the big city. Further, Pinchot’s co-star, who played Balki’s “Cousin” Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker), provides the perfect foil as the straight man that is continually frustrated and flummoxed by Balki’s actions. The dynamic between these two main characters makes one think of many mismatched pairings throughout television history, including The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and The Odd Couple, to name only a few. This reliance on the familiar conventions of television seems like a very astute strategy when embarking on a new branding venture, as having something familiar and reliable makes the new TGIF lineup appear less risky. And even if the series itself is an anomaly in relation to the other series featured on Friday, the anomaly is at least not destabilizing the expectations of television audiences. In this way, Perfect Strangers is so familiar that one can almost imagine other classic characters throughout television history like Ed Norton/Ralph Kramden or Felix Unger/Oscar Madison substituting for Balki and Larry during the “Bibby Bobka Ditty” featured in the media clip.

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