USA Today
March 25, 1986

A 'Perfect' opportunity for a hit
by Tom Green - USA TODAY

FRIENDS AND STRANGERS: Mark Linn-Baker, left, and Bronson Pinchot have the right chemistry for
comedy on 'Perfect Strangers' - Photo by Bob Riha Jr., USA TODAY

HOLLYWOOD - Talk about perfect, get a load of the chances that Perfect Strangers has for clicking tonight as television's newest hit comedy:

  • ABC has offered up its most favorable time slot, the half-hour bridging the network's freshest shows, Who's the Boss? and Moonlighting.

  • The stars are familiar faces, if not names.  Bronson Pinchot, 26, did more with one minute of screen time in Beverly Hills Cop than most actors do in 100.  And Mark Linn-Baker, 29, charmed everybody as the young man in My Favorite Year.

  • Creative credentials are impeccable.  Dale McRaven, the creator of Perfect Strangers, also created Mork & Mindy.  Co-executive producers Thomas Miller and Robert Boyett produced Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley.

The story casts Pinchot as a Mediterranean island sheepherder who comes to the USA and moves in with his shy and uptight distant cousin (Linn-Baker).  Pinchot is a foreigner, but Linn-Baker says, his character is too unique to withstand comparisons to Robin Williams' alien, Mork.

"This is not one guy doing a star turn in the middle of a set with a pretty girl nodding," Pinchot says.  Adds Linn-Baker: "This is character comedy."

In Beverly Hills Cop, Pinchot played Serge, the effete art gallery clerk with the untraceable accent.  Even though he is doing another accent - faintly Greek this time - he is not doing the same character in Perfect Strangers.

"This is an ersatz accent I'm doing," Pinchot says.  "No one really talks like this, although some taxicab drivers come very, very close."

The series was created with Pinchot in on it from the start.  Initially, he admits, there was more of a Mork & Mindy feel to the show, focusing on his character and the silly things he would do next.

Another actor had been cast as the USA cousin, but nobody liked the chemistry.  The producers were so pleased with Linn-Baker that they played up his character.

"I haven't had the pleasure before of clicking with somebody as much as I've clicked with him," Pinchot says.

The pairing (both went to Yale) appears to be an off-screen hit as well.  The outgoing Pinchot shrieks with delight when the more introspective Linn-Baker cracks a joke.

"My character is much more shy than I am," Linn-Baker says.

"You are very shy," Pinchot says.

"I'm not shy as a performer.  But I'm a shy person."

"But in a delightful way," Pinchot says.  "Not in a repressed Emily Dickinson way."

Pinchot has such an over-powering personality that on their first meeting Linn-Baker got to say very little the whole evening.

"I was so excited.  It's hard for me to hold in excitement.  I hugged him.  I love his work.  I went home and wrote myself a note to put on my bulletin board.  It said, 'Let Mark talk.'  I think it's still there."

TV Preview / by Monica Collins
Witty 'Strangers'

Perfect Strangers
ABC, tonight, 8:30 EST/PST

We love to love the affectionate alien.  The cute, bumbly creature from another planet who doesn't know Snickers from shoe polish speaks a Universal language.

Perhaps we love the innocence of these creatures, their sense of discovery.  In a cluttered, circuit-overloaded culture, they provide a fresh voice, even if it's a voice we can barely understand.

Perfect Strangers presents the latest lovable alien.  Balki, the Mediterranean shepherd who somehow finds himself in the middle of Chicago, is not technically from another planet, but he might as well be.

He's a guy who thinks that he can find a job prodding sheep in the middle of the Windy City.  He thinks the phrase "walking papers" means you're given documents entitling you to a stroll by Lake Michigan.  He is an innocent who doesn't know the meaning of money or greed.

Bronson Pinchot is wonderful as Balki.  And Mark Linn-Baker, as the alien's down-to-earth Chicago cousin, is also terrific.  These two have found the right chemistry for cut-up and straight-man.

As Balki lurches around, trying to make sense of modern-day Chicago, his discoveries are rather ludicrous but engaging.  We are laughing at him, with him, around him.  Whatever - we are laughing.

This is broad comedy, not the Cheers bar.  Naivete, not sophistication.  So be it.

Perfect Strangers provides honest laughter.  It's funny.  And, in TV comedy, that's reason to take it seriously.