Before there was Steve Urkel, there was Cousin Larry(Mark Linn-Baker) and Balki(Bronson Pinchot). The popular comedy from Miller-Boyett Productions became the anchor block for many years of family comedies on ABC when it was moved into the coveted 8pm Friday time slot. In later years, FAMILY MATTERS was to replace PERFECT STRANGERS. But, PERFECT STRANGERS got a long eight year run on ABC in various time slots on the network eventually becoming the beginning of a new Friday TGIF block of programming at ABC.
Never high art, but PERFECT STRANGERS managed to set up one funny episode afeter another each week, where Larry Appleton became the butt of absurd problems caused by his distant cousin from a small unknown Greek-like Island, Balki who moves in with him. But, t was enough of a premise to hang some jokes on. PERFECT STRANGERS was indeed a funny show, and a very nice family comedy for the kids. And the later inclusion of actresses Melanie Wilson and Rebecca Arthur provided a few sexy moments to entertain dad too.
The awesome comic talents of Bronson Pinchot were obvious. He was the real star here, with his talent for absurd ethnic characters such as Balki. But, Mark Linn-Baker was a pretty fair comic straight man as well here. His long-suffering at the hands of Balki provided great comic conflict for the show. Mark Linn-Baker is now 57. He’s tried his hand at many projects since PERFECT STRANGERS, but none has matched the success of this show. It was his high water mark of success.
As an young actor, Mark Linn-Baker’s first big break was supposed to be Woody Allen’s MANHATTAN in 1979, however most of his scenes were later cut from the final film while it edited. This was an unfortunate blow to the young actor, but nonetheless, Baker got a second big opportunity playing the straight man to Peter O’Toole’s eccentric character in MY FAVORITE YEAR in 1982. This role probably served to sell the actor as a perfect role for the long suffering straight man to play opposite the outrageous character provided by Bronson Pinchot in PERFECT STRANGERS.
Since the end of the eight year run of PERFECT STRANGERS, Mark Linn-Baker has gone back to his stage actor roots, and has been cast in his sixth Broadway production in his career. In 2011 he was cast in Woody Allen’s, RELATIVELY SPEAKING, completing a full circle of work for Allen during his career.
But, I’m personally waiting for the day when they make a WWII movie in which a heinous German officer threatens a prisoner with the lines, “Do you like Mark Linn-Baker? Do you like him very much? Who played cousin Larry on that show with Balki, PERFECT STRANGERS. Then you will sign the papers”. Woody Allen take note. You don’t have to thank me.