sitcom smackdown

Comedy Undercard: Perfect Strangers vs. Dharma & Greg

Vulture is in the midst of its Sitcom Smackdown, a three-week contest that pits the best sitcoms of the last 30 years against each other to crown the ultimate winner. But while that bracket focuses on the greatest, most innovative modern comedies, it couldn’t cover all of the series that live on in our hearts, the ones that may not fit those highfalutin parameters but which we could talk about for days. To give these other series their moments to shine, every day we’ll be pitting two like-minded comedies against each other: We’ll pick our winner, and readers will then vote for their own. Today: It’s the battle of the mismatched duos, Perfect Strangers and Dharma & Greg.

Today’s Contenders: Perfect Strangers (1986–93) vs. Dharma & Greg (1997–2002)

Every generation gets the Odd Couple it deserves. Actually, I don’t know if that’s exactly true — but it seems true when we’re talking about these pairings. Strangers followed the uptight Larry and his whimsical immigrant cousin Balki, while Dharma followed the uptight Greg and his whimsical yoga-teacher wife Dharma. Everyone learns from each other! Sure, culture clashes ensue, but at the end of the day, these pairs are inseparable. Bring on the goofy neighbors!

Sitcom phylum: Strangers was produced by Miller-Boyett Productions, who also produced Laverne & Shirley, Bosom Buddies, Happy Days, Mork & Mindy, Full House, Family Matters, and Step by Step. Dharma & Greg is from Chuck Lorre, who also created and produced Grace Under Fire, Cybill, Two and a Half Men, and The Big Bang Theory.

How dopey is dopey? Balki Bartokomous eats strange food, wears strange clothes, uses unusual phrases (“Well, slap my face and call me Zsa-Zsa!”), and does not generally subscribe to the germ theory of medicine. Dharma is upbeat and wears clothes straight out of Phoebe Buffay’s closet. Balki would be out of place anywhere other than his home nation of Mepos, whereas Dharma just gets a little bit ditzy on occasion.

How straight-laced is straight-laced? Cousin Larry egotism and ethnocentrism backfire in every episode. Trust Balki’s cockamamie ways for once! Greg is pretty enchanted by Dharma’s open-mindedness and perkiness, and she’s comforted by his stability.

Any associated dancing? Balki does a Dance of Joy. Dharma & Greg does not have specific choreography.

Do the people around them find these pairings ridiculous? On Strangers, not only does no one find it ridiculous, but the two also strike up romances with a pair of intellectually mismatched women. On D&G, their families are skeptical of their union at first, but grow to accept and embrace it.

Are the shows any good? Perfect Strangers is … not. I say this as someone who loved the show when it first ran — when I was a child. But upon rewatching, well, pull my ears and call me Dumbo, it has not aged well. Dharma, on the other hand, really has. When it aired, it felt like an also-ran compared to Friends or even Mad About You, but watching it now, it’s surprisingly self-assured. Comedy has trended away from happy-couple stories, and it’s too bad.

The moment of truth: Balki Bartokomous will always occupy a sacred place on my comedy altar, in a way that neither Dharma nor Greg ever will. I have more affection for Strangers. But having rewatched a bunch of episodes of both shows, I can say that I will never rewatch another Perfect Strangers recreationally, but I can imagine the day when I’d chillax to a Dharma & Greg marathon.

Winner: Dharma & Greg.

Perfect Strangers vs. Dharma & Greg