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Reviewed by Jeff Giles
e might not all admit it when pressed, but it’s a dirty secret of critics everywhere that we will, on occasion, take assignments purely for the pleasure of teeing off on an easy target. From this perspective, it’s easy to imagine “Perfect Strangers: The Complete First and Second Seasons” being one of Warners’ most-requested titles of early ’08. How better to soothe the bitter chill of winter than by tearing off the plastic on four DVDs of ripe-for-the-bashing ‘80s sitcom hokum?
Here’s the thing, though: “Perfect Strangers” is probably, believe it or not, much better than you remember. It goes almost without saying that aspects of the show – particularly Mark Linn-Baker’s wardrobe – have not aged well, and the set absolutely reeks of corn. Still, like Bronson Pinchot’s sheep-herding man-child Balki Bartokomous, the show will win you over. It isn’t likely to elbow current episodes of “The Office” off your screen – or even season sets of “Taxi” off your shelf – but if you’ve spent the last decade and change looking back at “Perfect Strangers” as just another dumb, “Full House”-level comedy from ABC’s ‘80s schlock-friendly development executives, think again.
Here’s the premise, if you aren’t (shudder) old enough to remember: Naïve sheepherder from fictional Mediterranean island nation of Mypos heads to America to make a name for himself; shacks up with never-met distant cousin who, despite being less than thrilled with the arrangement, is too polite to toss his bumpkin relative out on his ear. Laughs (in this case, eight seasons’ worth) ensue.
The show’s appeal, naturally, rests largely on the interplay between Linn-Baker and Pinchot, who take a pair of sitcom archetypes – the uptight fussbudget and the happy-go-lucky doofus – and infuse them with something like new life. God help us, they have tangible chemistry. Watching the first season’s abbreviated six-episode run, you can understand why the show built an audience so quickly. Yes, the plots tend toward the hackish end of the spectrum, but each script has at least one or two honest laughs – which is more surprising, and a bigger deal, than you’d think if you don’t remember such broad-as-a-barn-door setups as “Larry and Balki get gym memberships,” “Larry and Balki go to a singles bar,” “Larry and Balki babysit”…you get the idea.
As with most of these sets, “Perfect Strangers: The Complete First and Second Seasons” will appeal primarily to longtime fans (like these weirdoes), and for that crowd, these four DVDs are sort of a mixed bag. They do offer unedited versions of the episodes, which is always a relief for viewers who have suffered through years of truncated syndicated airings. On the other hand, the video is noticeably flaky in spots, and the “special features” are limited to a seven-minute reel of Linn-Baker and Pinchot doing their trademark “dance of joy” throughout the show’s first 28 episodes. At $40 list, that may not be enough bang for your buck – but if you do wind up dropping the cash, don’t be surprised if you find yourself laughing more often than you expect.