South Florida Sun-Sentinel
August 3, 1986

    Chemistry Between 'Strangers' Wins Raves

Bill Kelley, Television Writer

Bobbing along in the sea of mediocrity that is ABC's prime-time schedule, Perfect Strangers has two things going for it that most ABC programs do not: 1) an audience, and 2) a following among critics.

In fact, one of the toughest critics of network sitcoms absolutely loves Perfect Strangers.  She doesn't work for a newspaper or a magazine.  But she knows more about television comedy than almost anyone.

Sheís Lucille Ball, and she raved about Perfect Strangers -- a "buddy" comedy starring Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker -- at a press conference for her own upcoming sitcom (Life With Lucy), during the June press preview of the fall TV season.

Two days later, when the stars and producers of Perfect Strangers met critics in Los Angeles for the first time since the showís premiere, the first item raised by the press was Ballís rave review.

"Well, from her lips to ABCís ears," replied a hopeful Tom Miller, one of the seriesí producers.

Translation: Perfect Strangers, despite encouraging ratings, is far from the runaway success of, say, NBCís The Golden Girls.  So Miller and his partners, Dale McRaven and Bob Boyette (sic), hope ABC -- which does not have a reputation for patience -- continue to let the series develop an audience next season.

Perfect Strangers, which returns this week with two episodes (Tuesday at 8:30 and Wednesday at 8 p.m., WPLG-Ch. 10 and WPEC-Ch. 12), stars Linn-Baker and Pinchot as an American bachelor and his East European cousin, who share an apartment in Los Angeles.  The immigrantís naivete -- and his thick accent, a variation on the dialect Pinchot used for his cameo in Beverly Hills Cop -- supplies fuel for an abundance of comic situations.

The series premiered as a 1985/86 midseason replacement.  Brandon Stoddard, ABCís new entertainment division president, reportedly told the producers they could open with six episodes during the relatively non-competitive midseason, or be granted a 13-episode order and premiere, unprotected, as part of the full slate of fall programs.  They jumped at the "short order" of six episodes.

"Weíve all worked on Ďpartnerí shows before," said Miller, referring to himself, McRaven and Boyette (sic), "such as The Odd Couple, Laverne & Shirley and Bosom Buddies, but these guys have a stronger chemistry than any two actors we`ve worked with."

"Itís just pure comedy," offered Pinchot.  "Thereís no episodes about bed- wetting, or about rape.  Itís just funny."

Although Pinchot and Linn-Baker are most recognizable for their small body of movie work -- Pinchot for, obviously, Beverly Hills Cop, and Linn-Baker for My Favorite Year, with Peter O`Toole -- most of their experience has been in television.  Two seasons ago, Pinchot co-starred as a flamboyantly gay law clerk in NBC`s flop sitcom, Sara (which he dismissed as "bland as could be and not very fertile for making something funny happen").  They both attended Yale University, as drama majors.

"My last year at the Yale Drama School overlapped with Bronsonís first, but we never met," said Linn-Baker.  Added Pinchot: "But I saw him once in a performance of A Winterís Tale, in which he wore brown tights baggier than old blue jeans, with folds in the seat that looked like a baby elephantís behind."

After everyone chuckled at Pinchotís joke, Boyette (sic) remarked: "These guys have their chemistry, but even that alone isnít enough.  To sell a show to a network, to get it on the air, you have to have a conceptual twist.  After that, Bosom Buddies (a sitcom about two homeless young men hiding out in an apartment building for women) isnít about two guys in drag.  Thatís just the gimmick."

Said Pinchot: "Ideally, people donít see this and say, ĎIsnít that a funny show about an immigrant,í they say, ĎIsnít that a funny show about two guys.í"

As Pinchot and Linn-Baker discussed their mostly obscure film and TV credits, one critic mentioned that one of Pinchot`s pre-stardom features -- 1985's R-rated Hot Resort -- has been all over the cable channels this summer.

"My agent used to call it Last Resort," he reflected, shaking his head in mild embarrassment.  "But one good thing came out of that: I got the voice for Serge, the character I played in Beverly Hills Cop -- obviously the big break for my career -- from the makeup lady in Hot Resort.  She had the most incredible accent.

"So even out of a stiff like that, some good can come.  And, of course, Beverly Hills Cop was a big help, although when I first saw it, none of us knew it would be a big hit -- my reaction upon seeing myself was, ĎI`m so fat!í  Perfect Strangers is something weíre all pleased with.  I want to get back to work so we can do more with it."

"Yeah, we havenít really had much time to explore the premise in just six episodes," said Linn-Baker.

Which is?

"A combination of someone from a foreign cultural background trying to understand what this countryís about, and . . . someone who lives here trying to understand what this countryís about," he said.