Perfect Strangers

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Perfect Strangers TV Poster Image
Cultures clash in upbeat, slapstick '80s classic.

Parents say

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Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this tv show.

Positive messages

Larry and Balki are cousins and good friends who are very loyal to each other. Their cultural differences are sources of humor, but they're generally presented in a way that doesn't insult or disapprove. Overall, the show presents a positive example of immigration and cultural adaptation. Larry can get caught up in crazy schemes. The cast is primarily Caucasian.

Violence

Some light, slapstick slapping, shoving, pushing, and peril, but nothing that causes real harm.

Sex

Mostly hugging and kissing. Some sexual innuendo that will go over the head of younger viewers; later episodes have some stronger sexual references, including subtle references to virginity. Balki is sexually harassed by a female boss at the Chronicle. A later episode deals with pregnancy.

Language

Very occasional use of mild language like "hell" and "damn."

Consumerism

Occasional references to music and pop-culture icons of the time (like Bruce Springsteen). Popular Chicago locations visible.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Some limited adult consumption of alcohol (typically social drinking). Occasional use of unnamed over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies created by Balki.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this classic 1980s slapstick sitcom bases much of its humor on the two main characters' cultural differences -- particularly Balki's misunderstanding of American customs. But they still build a strong, lasting friendship, and the humor isn't disparaging. Expect some subtle sexual innuendo, which gets stronger during the show's later seasons. But they're still mild by today's standards, and most will probably go over the head of younger viewers.

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What's the story?

When Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker) moves to Chicago from Wisconsin to start a new life, he's unexpectedly joined by distant cousin Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot), who's emigrated from the fictitious Mediterranean island of Mypos to discover America. Rather uptight, Larry must adjust to naïve-but-always-upbeat Balki as he, in turn, adapts to the ways of his new country. Balki's unique Myposian customs sometimes cause mishap and mayhem in Larry's normally well-organized life. But despite their inevitable culture clashes, the two bachelors help each other cope with the day-to-day grind of life in the Windy City. Together they contend with their grumpy boss/landlord Donald "Twinkie" Twinkacetti (Ernie Sabella). And they find companionship in the form of attractive neighbors Jennifer Lyons (Melanie Wilson) and Mary Anne Spencer (Rebeca Arthur). Over the years, Larry and Balki forge a positive camaraderie that transcends marriage and major career changes -- including jobs at the fictitious Chicago Chronicle, where they work with interesting characters like Sam Gorpley (Sam Anderson), Harry Burns (Eugene Roche), advice columnist Lydia Markham (Belita Moreno), and elevator operator Harriett Winslow (Jo Marie Payton). Later, Mr. Wainwright (F.J. O'Neil) joins the gang.

Is it any good?

The '80s sitcom PERFECT STRANGERS is a funny reminder of how extraordinary -- and often overwhelming -- the experience of moving to America from another country can be. While the show's humor is sometimes silly and dated, Perfect Strangers incorporates some timeless comedy traditions adapted from the works of Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy. (There's also some subtle sexual innuendo, which gets stronger in later seasons.)

But what really makes this show stand out is its distinctly positive presentation of immigration and cultural differences. And while the show's "best-friend" formula isn't exactly unique, it also offers a strong example of family loyalty and friendship.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why it's funny when someone doesn't understand things that are second-nature to you. How do you think you'd feel if you moved somewhere that was totally unfamiliar? Do you think the show is laughing at Balki, or with him? What's the difference? Is it OK to laugh at people when they make innocent mistakes? How do you think this show would be different if it was being produced today?

TV details

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