Aug 6, 2014

Perfect Strangers: Gay Couple Turns Straight

For many years, tv has disguised gay couples as heterosexuals with some other reason for being together -- they work in the same office, or share an apartment, or are brothers.  So censors, skittish network executives, and shrieking homophobic audiences remain clueless, but if you're "in the know," the gay subtext is obvious.

Bronson Pinchot was well known for playing Tom Cruise's buddy in Risky Business (1983) and several swishy gay guys when he was cast in the gay-vague buddy sitcom Perfect Strangers (1986-1993).  He played Balki Bartokomous, an exuberant free-spirit from the faux-Greek country of Mypos, who descends upon his distant cousin Larry (Mark Linn-Baker) in Chicago.

It's supposed to be a brief visit, but the two end up falling in love, and Balki stays on.  He gets a job in the department store where Larry works, and decides to become an American citizen.  Eventually Larry becomes a photojournalist, and Balki a cartoonist.

I watched sometimes during the first and second seasons, when Perfect Strangers led into Head of the Class and Night Court, and the plotlines involved Larry negotiating his relationship with Balki: how do you handle being in love with someone who doesn't understand the details of modern American life, like how to open a checking account or go to the supermarket?

And Balki negotiating his relationship out with Larry: he's cute but so shy and reserved.  How can I draw him out of his shell?

Apparently the network had a problem: the guys were too obviously a gay couple.  So during the second season plotlines increasingly involved dating girls, culminating in steady girlfriends Jennifer and Mary Anne (Melanie Wilson, Rebeca Arthur).

Or maybe it was a screen.  Could they be sitting farther apart on that couch?

I remember the exact episode when I stopped watching: during the third season, February 3rd, 1988: Balki serves a Myposian dish, "bibi babkas," to Larry and their girlfriends.

"This is the end.  The show is doomed."

It actually continued through eight seasons, with the pair becoming more and more obviously heterosexual every day.  Larry eventually married Jennifer, and Balki married Mary Anne, although they continued to live together.

And they still couldn't keep their hands off each other.  Even off stage.

In the series finale, on August 6, 1993, both became fathers.  The heterosexist mandate was triumphant.  Sort of.

Bronson Pinchot, who apparently had a respectable physique, has since retired from acting.  Now he renovates Victorian houses in small-town Harford, Pennsylvania.

Mark Linn-Baker continues to act.  His tweets mostly involve his workout routine.

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