Perfect Strangers is, perhaps, the best Chicago-based sitcom of the last 25 years. The premise is simple: Larry Appleton discovers that he has a very very distant cousin, Balki Bartokomous who comes to live with him in Chicago and wackiness ensues. The series also had a rather popular spinoff, Family Matters which was known for its high Urkel content.
Back to Perfect Strangers, though. Being set in Chicago it’s my duty as a local resident to point out what is and is not accurate about the show. I thought a very long dissertation on the series as a whole would be too much (highlight: vintage Chicago apartments like that aren’t that big), and scaled this back to just the intro. Follow along with me now as I grade each scene of the introduction on its accuracy.
0:00 – 0:12: Basic introduction. This can’t be graded, as it doesn’t take place in Chicago; however, Mark Linn-Baker’s sweater is definitely encroaching on Cosby territory. No grade.
0:12 – 0:30: Larry leaves home. Although this is not set in Chicago, the level of detail is pretty good. You’ve got the mom wearing mom pants, the feathered-haired father, the sister with a headband, and the brother playing ball right in the path of Larry. I mean, what a jerk! No grade.
0:30 – 0:45: Balki leaves home. Again, can’t be graded but should get a bonus point for featuring the text “America or Burst”, indicating that Balki’s country of Mypos speaks English but spells about as well as Dan Quayle. No grade; 1 bonus point awarded.
0:45 – 0:50: Balki sees the Statue of Liberty: Yeah, yeah, New York is great whatever. No grade.
0:50 – 0:58: Balki rides the long bus: Chicago! Yes. We pan looking south towards the city, with The Only View Every Chicago-Based Movie Shot In Vancouver Must Use. Notice the bus? That only comes after a quick cut. And when Balki’s looking out the window a lot of trees are going by. Given the structure of the highway shown immediately after the cut, I’m going to guess this is actually on South Lake Shore Drive and not North Lake Shore Drive – the only overpass situation like that on North LSD is where Michigan Avenue meets LSD, and it doesn’t quite look like that. Thus, grade: F.
0:58 – 1:03: Larry drives into the city: Undoubtedly Larry is coming in on the Kennedy. But the “Welcome to Chicago” sign he eyes overhead? Is actually on 190, which connects O’Hare with the outside world. Thus, it’s entirely inaccurate. Plus! There’s no circumstance under which Larry would be driving from O’Hare… he drove here, remember? Grade: F.
1:03 – 1:30: Madcap wacky hijinks: No grade. They’re wacky.
It must be noted that this is the first version of the intro. Later versions – after Larry and Balki obtained employment at the Chicago Chronicle – included scenes of the cousins on a Chicago River boat tour (grade: A), the cousins running in Lincoln Park (accurate, but Vancouver Shot – so tired! – A-), Balki petting a horse off of Michigan Avenue (grade: A), Larry grabbing a paper outside of what is likely the Field Museum (grade: B), the two fighting wind on the ledge of a building (grade: F-, because of the “Windy City” stereotype that is so incredibly tired), the two going to Wrigley Field (accurate but I give an F because I’m a Sox fan), and the cousins attending a concert at the Chicago Theater (grade: A, but Balki would get mugged wearing that suit.)
It’s important to compare the two intros, because while the first version fails miserably at depicting Chicago accurately the second version makes big efforts. The Cubs game is a gimme (no one ever shows Comiskey because the Cubs are, well, popular), but the horse off of Michigan is a nice shot because – while still touristy – at least it’s not the two of them running with the Hancock in the background. I mean, there are two taller buildings here you know!
All in all, the first version of the intro fails but gets 1 point. The second version gets a low B-. They tried, they tried. Also: don’t miss the Wikipedia entry and its trivia, and the awesome “Only on the Internet” P.S. I Love You fansite. With fan fiction!
Have a great holiday, everyone.