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Phish, Lawn Boy

We’re all in this together.

Track List:

  • The Squirming Coil
  • Reba
  • My Sweet One
  • Split Open and Melt
  • The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony
  • Bathtub Gin
  • Run Like an Antelope
  • Lawn Boy
  • Bouncing Around the Room

I know it’s been a while since I reviewed Junta for this series, but there’s a good reason for that. I hadn’t heard Lawn Boy in its entirety in several years, and though I remembered it being a strong contender for my least favorite Phish album, rediscovering it has felt great.

I still think it might be my least favorite Phish album, but it has more to offer than I’d originally remembered. Like Junta it suffers from being the product of a band that knew exactly what to do on stage with little to no idea what to do in a studio. Here, however, we do at least see signs of the band exploring the possibilities, with noticeable overdubs, vocal manipulation, and sound effect gimmickry throughout.

It leads to a clumsy product, for sure, with none of the things that I just listed being good things, per se, but it at least gives us an indication that the band knew what Junta lacked, and was taking steps to correct it. They might not be the right steps, just yet, but it’s a solid impulse, and by the time of their very next album, it would pay off in spades. But that’s a story for another day. Let’s take a look, song-by-song, at Lawn Boy.

The Squirming Coil


Foolishly, I thought that “The Squirming Coil” was our studio introduction to the works of longtime Phish lyricist Tom Marshall. It turns out that he received songwriting credit (along with three others) for Junta‘s “Golgi Apparatus.” My mistake, and I would have mentioned it there had I known, but Lawn Boy‘s opening statement is a far better introduction to Marshall’s style. His nonsensical imagery kicked up by his lyrics is sustained and expanded upon by the music behind it, and what might look empty on paper manages to sound grand and profound in the hands of the band.

Unfortunately, “The Squirming Coil,” while a gorgeous, twinkling composition in its own right, fails to come to life here. We’ll eventually get to A Live One, where we can appreciate its true brilliance, but all we really have to admire here is the quiet guitar section toward the front end of the song. Something about the mix of the song overall seems off, because as lovely as Page’s piano sounds when you find it, it feels buried. As does everything apart from the guitar, actually.

It’s hard to say why this one fails to cohere on disc. The vocals are a bit lethargic, but the instrumentation isn’t without heart or energy. I think a lot of the problem is down to the mixing, which seems to throw all of the sound in one corner and makes it difficult to appreciate what the individual members of the band are actually doing.

That being said, the backing vocals during the final “It got away…” section are a nice flourish, and the piano outro — while nowhere near as long or interesting as it would become on stage — is a welcome spotlight for Page’s talents. It also helps that he’s the only one still playing by the end of the song, making me wish even more strongly that the philosophy behind mastering this album wasn’t to bury everything under everything else.

Reba

Still not where we need to be, but “Reba” survives the recording process a bit better than “The Squirming Coil.” The mix still suffers from the fact that everything crowds itself out, but the silly, sunny shuffle of the composition makes it a fun listen anyway. As though to retain balance, however, the backing vocals aren’t nearly as successful as they are on the previous song, and, depending upon my mood while listening, they can actually get pretty annoying.

Compared to almost any given live performance, the tempo of this “Reba” is outright sleepy. It’s not a real problem, especially as the long musical section in the middle gives the band an excuse to relish the unhurried pace. In the live setting, hearing Phish blister through these gorgeous movements is a joy that will never get old, but the quality of the composition and the talent of the musicians — with some excellent, gentle guitar heroics from Trey standing out in particular — makes this calmer performance worth hearing.

In fact, “Reba” is almost good. The instrumental segments certainly are (though still a bit muddy and crowded), but the vocals really let this one down. It’s a problem unique to the studio version, as these are some damned fun lyrics. The overdubbed backing vocals — and a sore lack of emotion in the “bag it, tag it” refrain — fail to pull the necessary weight.

Still, it’s a great singalong, with “take a peak at the cheetah, Reba, cheetah on the prowl” a very satisfying tongue twister. How Trey can retain acrobatic lyrical turns like that over the decades but lose track of simple verse-chorus-verse so easily is truly one of Phish’s great mysteries.

My Sweet One

And now we have our songwriting debut of Jon Fishman, Phish’s incredibly versatile (and game) drummer. It’s also the band’s first outright foray into bluegrass, which is a well they’d tap deeply in a few years.

There’s not much to this one. The extended — though almost disappointingly static — drum solo that opens the song betrays its origins, but overall “My Sweet One” is a fun interlude. The fact that the instruments take turns during the breakdown helps to skirt the problem of Lawn Boy‘s overall mix, and bassist Mike Gordon really sinks his teeth into his share of the lyrics.

It’s a decent interlude, but not much of a song. It’s more of a joke whose punchline is the very telling of the joke itself, and it’s kind of ironic that the simplest composition on the album is also the one that showcases the individual members of the band best.

“My Sweet One” is a short throwaway between longer, more memorable pieces, which is usually the role it occupies in concert as well. But it’s fine enough while it lasts, and it still might be Fishman’s most welcome contribution to the Phish setlist.

Split Open and Melt


Another one that misses the mark, due mainly to the vocal effect on Trey. The echoing grumble suits the mood of the song, but not the actual sound of it, and it’s much more interesting to hear him simply speak-sing his way through the narrative insanity live.

There’s also, of course, the sheer impossibility of a song like “Split Open and Melt” making much of a splash in the studio, as it’s primarily a vehicle for extended, exploratory jamming. The repeating bars at the end of the song make for a great, gorgeous gateway to dark, groovy improv, and here it’s not given anywhere to go. The ghost of a slimy jam shows up toward the end, just in time for the track to end, but I think the band realized what a cheat this is, as they were good enough to serve up a more impressive outro for this song on a future album.

The composed section is still decently impressive here, even if it is rather limp, and it’s nice to hear the brass, which feels like such an integral part of the song when the horns join Phish on stage, but which isn’t particularly missed when they don’t. “Split Open and Melt” is an odd song that seems to carry on a parallel life with itself, versions with and without horns sounding equally “correct.” I honestly can’t decide which version I like better.

Funnily enough, though this is one of the songs for me that makes me excited when I see it in the setlist of a show I haven’t heard yet, I used to hate it. Maybe it was the intentional disorientation of the composition, in a much more aggressive way than, say, “Foam” on Junta. Whatever it was, it took me ages to come around to it. Now that I have, though, it’s one that I’m regularly queuing up on the iPod when I need to take a long drive somewhere.

Which is more than fitting, considering the context of its later appearance. But, again, that’s a story for another day.

The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony

A jaunty, cheery little instrumental that actually serves as one of the album’s highlights. That says more about Lawn Boy as a whole than it does about “The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony” through. While it’s a fun composition and is far too short to be in any danger of wearing out its welcome, there also not much to say about it. It’s there, and then it’s over. It provides more of a segue out of the dark dreariness of “Split Open and Melt” than it does its own musical statement, which is fine. It succeeds in its neutrality.

On stage this number became a de facto intro to the completely unrelated song “Suzy Greenberg.” It serves there mainly as a warmup so that when the band launches into the fiery spite of that latter tune, they’re already on the same page. It works fine there, but has never really been notable on its own merits.

With Lawn Boy‘s dearth of identifiable musicianship, though, “The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony” is a ray of quiet light shining through the trees. It’s warm, and it’s welcome, but as soon as we start to appreciate it, it’s gone.

Bathtub Gin

So far I know I’ve been pretty down on Lawn Boy. My praise has been faint, but there are two things I’d like to point out.

Firstly, it’s easier for me to express what I didn’t like, because those things tend to be unique between the songs, and also clearly identifiable. Talking about what I do like, though I try to make an effort to do so, is harder. You can explain what a song does wrong, but you can only really feel what a song does right.

Secondly, “Bathtub Gin” will be the last time on this album that I remain unimpressed. The final three songs are a perfect farewell to the early fumblings of studio Phish…and we’ll get to those soon enough.

For now, we’re mired in overdub hell. For what should have been a charming, boozy singalong, this version of “Bathtub Gin” relies far too heavily on studio trickery, burying rather than enhancing the song under ice cube avalanches and sophomoric flatulence. It’s disappointing, because like “The Squirming Coil,” “Reba,” and “Split Open and Melt,” “Bathtub Gin” is a treat live. Its upbeat, hesitating simplicity is infectious, and it leads to wide-open jams that are typically major-key, danceable rockers.

While we don’t get any kind of jam here, the real disappointment is the fact that the singalong section feels more like an experiment in melodic soundscapes than it does a song.

The first time I saw Trey live, he pulled out an acoustic guitar and played this song as part of his encore. Stripped down to its barest structure, the electricity and charm remained intact. But when you drill it deep into the ground and pile so much sonic silliness on top of it, almost none of that comes through.

“Bathtub Gin” is probably the strongest example yet of a soaring live high doubling as a plodding studio low. But don’t worry…the best is yet to come.

Run Like an Antelope

Now this…this…is great studio Phish. The silly sounds and the overdubs contribute to the feel of the song rather than detract from it, the backing vocals make for a nice late-game treat, and the silliness and musicianship complement each other perfectly.

The mix even sounds better on this one, though it might be an illusion caused by the “stuttering” of the instruments, each leaving gaps through which it becomes easier to hear the others.

Whatever the reason, “Run Like an Antelope” is this album’s “Divided Sky.” Not in the sense that the compositions are anything alike, but in the sense that they both find ways to channel their inherent energies through the different kind of performance that a studio demands.

It also doesn’t hurt that this version of “Run Like an Antelope” does contain a jam, and one that’s rather good. By no means one of the best, but certainly good enough to warrant several listens.

“Run Like an Antelope” is a song built on escalating tension, a simple concept that can be explored in so many different ways. That’s why it’s okay that this version might pale in comparison to so many others…there’s still room — lots of room — for it to succeed on its own merits. And it absolutely does.

This is a great, clean version of an incredible, soaring rocker, and is absolutely a standout track. It doesn’t take much to be the best song on Lawn Boy, so I’ll say instead that it’s still, to this day, one of my favorite Phish studio performances. It’s pure lightning…until it suddenly isn’t. At which point it builds again…and it’s fucking beautiful.

“Run Like an Antelope” is this album’s masterpiece, and required listening.

Lawn Boy

The titular track is the first time we get to hear pianist Page McConnell take the mic, something relatively rare in the studio, especially for a song he didn’t write. He had a much larger role as a vocalist on stage, and, indeed, he has a lovely, adorable voice. “Lawn Boy,” the studio version, doesn’t do him complete justice…but it’s still damned good.

“Lawn Boy” is absolutely Page’s signature spotlight, stepping away from the keys, as he does, to serenade the audience in the sleaziest, slimiest, most beautiful way possible. The fact that Mike Gordon often gets called upon to make up for they absence of keys with some gorgeously understated basswork is just icing on the cake.

Here, the song sounds a little too structured and deliberate. Tom Marshall’s lyrics are excellent, turning a handful of rhymes about synesthesia into a reassuring personal journey, which Page further turns into bizarre, nonsensical flirtation with no-one in particular.

On his most recent acoustic tour, Trey played “Lawn Boy” at a few shows, and explained that the song was originally written as a straightforward jazz number. Then Page sang it, and it was something else entirely. A whole other song that neither he nor Tom Marshall nor anybody else had expected. It was just there, and it was Page’s from that point on.

And I’m glad it is. While this track feels like filler on the very album named after it, it’s pleasant filler, and is still fun to sing along to…even if Page doesn’t have a giddy, swooning audience to sing it to.

Bouncing Around the Room

“Bouncing Around the Room” is a pretty divisive song. While I agree that it often breaks momentum in the live setting — and at the very best just sort of…happens — I think it’s a fantastic studio track, and it’s one that uses the studio (and all of its attendant possibilities for tweaking) to its strong advantage.

On Phish’s next album, A Picture of Nectar, they would demonstrate a clearer understanding of what should (and should not) be done to get their point across in the studio, but “Bouncing Around the Room” suggests that they figured it out at some point during these sessions, and recorded one more track to prove it.

The revolving, layered repetition of the same few bars leads to internally profound places, each of the band members getting an overdue spotlight, Tom Marshall’s lyrics resolving into a hazy thing of inexpressible beauty. It’s the kind of song that only Phish could have handled quite this way, and yet it’s not all that much like Phish.

“Bouncing Around the Room” sounds like a tantalizing outtake from some unreleased sessions, finding the band in a kind of satisfied, masterful lethargy. Searching and circling inward. Finding words they never knew existed for things that had previously been beyond the ability to express.

It’s also a fantastic, radio-friendly pop-song, rightly catchy and impossible to forget. (Or to want to forget.) That, in itself, is an indication of some very good things to come, and if it weren’t for the machine-gun chaos of “Run Like an Antelope,” this would be Lawn Boy‘s easy all-star.

As it is, though, it’s the perfect punctuation to one phrase, and an intriguing start to the next.

ALF, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

Way back in episode six of season one, something incredible happened: I liked an episode of ALF. Since then I’ve enjoyed a few others to varying degrees, but “For Your Eyes Only” still stands out to me, simply because of how unexpected a treat it was. It was a funny episode that took a touchy subject and handled it cleverly. It didn’t hurt that it also introduced (and heavily featured) a great character: Jodie.

Jodie was a blind woman who lived alone. She and ALF met in that episode and bonded over their shared isolation, and it was lovely.

It really was. While Jodie’s actress did a nice job with what she was given, the real surprise was the big leap in quality of the writing as well. The writers not only set themselves with a challenge — writing comedy about the blind without being needlessly flippant or cruel — but they rose to it.

Since then I’ve been told that Jodie makes a return appearance…a prospect that I certainly welcomed, but I never expected it would come all the way at the end of the following season. The chronological distance between this and “For Your Eyes Only” proves somewhat problematic, but we’ll get to that later. Right now, the only important thing to note is that JODIE IS BACK YOU GUYS.

“We Gotta Get Out of This Place” might not be as strong as “For Your Eyes Only” but JODIE IS BACK YOU GUYS IT IS JODIE AND SHE IS BACK!!

We won’t get to see her for a little while, though. The episode opens with ALF and Willie playing chess. Chess is obviously a pretty complicated game, but I’m okay with ALF knowing the rules by this point. He’s been on Earth for over a year, and that’s plenty of time to develop a decent working knowledge of the game. What interests me, though, is the passive confirmation that Willie has no friends. At all.

It’s actually kind of sad. If poor Willie wants to play a game of chess, he has to pull a naked mole rat out of the laundry hamper because nobody else can stand this man’s company. It’s depressing. As many times as they try to fill the living room with anonymous nobodies we’ll never see again, they can’t fool us. Willie is friendless and alone. Which might make for a good character trait. You know…if the writers noticed.

The phone rings and Willie answers it. It’s for ALF, and ALF says, “It must be Jodie!”

Just in case you haven’t noticed, I’m happy with it being Jodie. I’m not happy with ALF’s assumption that it “must be” her.

Must it? She’s never even been mentioned since her episode way back at the beginning of season one, but this line makes it sound like ALF has been in regular contact with her.

Somehow that rings false, and later it’s even proven false: ALF says he only met her once.*

I’m glad she’s back, but why not have her pop in now and again? It’d keep the character fresh in our minds as viewers, and she’d certainly be a more welcome presence than almost any other disposable character they invent to spice things up from week to week. How many people watching in the pre-DVD age would remember this person by name? Even enthusiastic fans of the show would be lost if they’d missed that one episode.

Whatever. It turns out Jodie needs a place to stay, which makes Willie huff and puff and do whatever the fuck this is:

ALF, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

Why is Willie such a massive cock who always refuses to help people?

Remember, this man is a social worker. It’s not just that Jodie wants to have a slumber party…it’s that her apartment building is transitioning into condos, and she has to leave. She has nowhere else to stay, and nobody else to turn to. She’s a friend of one of Willie’s family members, she’s polite, she’s gracious, oh, and she’s blind, and Willie would prefer she sleeps in the rain gutter for the rest of her life than on his sofa for a couple of nights.

THIS MAN IS A SOCIAL WORKER

It’s disgusting, and it’s getting to the point that Willie seems inhuman. As much as I hate ALF and recognize him as an obnoxious freeloader, and as much as the episode wants me to believe that right now — with his offer to Jodie intended to play as one massive gesture of disrespect toward the friendless goon who spends his free time scoring cheap chess victories off a space alien — it’s pretty clear that it’s Willie who’s King Asshole.

The phone conversation even implies that he knows who Jodie is. This isn’t some silliness where he mistakenly thinks ALF is offering another Melmacian hobo a place to crash,** it’s somebody he’s familiar with. It’s the lonely blind woman who has nobody in her life and nowhere to stay while she looks for a new apartment. Willie is fully aware of this, all of this, and he’d prefer to leave her to rot. In fact, he’s appalled that somebody might even suggest a different option.

Why is it that the one time the show wants me to see ALF as an irritating parasite is also the one time I’m entirely on his side?

Please tell me that says more about the writers than it says about me.

ALF, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

The Tanners apparently forget how many people are in their family and eat dinner without Brian. They bitch endlessly about how rude ALF was to invite a friendly woman with a disability into their massive fucking mansion instead of letting her die in a dumpster, but Lynn takes ALF’s side.

Oh, lovely Lynn. It took the show a while to figure out what the fuck kind of character you were supposed to be, but “voice of empathy and reason” is exactly where I’d hoped you’d land.

In the course of this conversation with the entire family — yes, the entire family, I don’t care if you think they used to have a son, you’re obviously just confused — we learn that Jodie still doesn’t know ALF is an alien. This is also where we find out that their one meeting in “For Your Eyes Only” was the first and last time they were in each other’s company. So…I know I was kidding about this in my previous reviews, but it really is starting to sound like ALF actually did lead her on and abandon her way back when. The fact that she’s asking him for help now really makes it clear how much of a pinch she’s in.

There is a funny line when ALF reveals that he invited Jodie to stay for a month. Willie — of course — is taken aback, and then ALF clarifies: “Actually, I told her she could stay forever. But I thought I’d break it to you a month at a time.”

The writing in the first Jodie episode is still some of the best the show’s ever had. “Going Out of My Head Over You” (and possibly “Night Train”) might have surpassed it, but it set an early example of what a good episode of ALF might look like. In large part, that was due to the fact that the dialogue and the gags were well-observed and sharp.

Lines like the above suggest that the writing staff might be capable of rising to the occasion once more, and while this episode doesn’t hit the highs of the previous Jodie appearance, it’s decent enough on its own merits, and it recaptures a little bit of the sweet interplay between her and ALF. That in itself is more than enough to warrant her return.

It takes ALF making the situation explicit (“How would you feel if you were some blind lady that got strung along by a midget in a gorilla suit and then had no place to stay because you’re not good enough to sleep on the couch of some guy who sucks dick for crack?”) before Willie and Kate relent. As mentioned, it’s Lynn who takes the decisive stand here, and I think that’s adorable. In “For Your Eyes Only” she was also the one who stuck her neck out to get ALF and Jodie together, and while I’m positive this is not a conscious nod to that fact, it still provides some nice resonance.

ALF says, “Thanks, Lynn. I owe you one.” Lynn asks, “One?” And ALF replies, “One today.”

If season two introduced any substantial improvement over season one, it’s this new relationship between ALF and Lynn. It’s so much more real, and, to me at least, it’s become the (all-too-often invisible) heart of the show.

ALF, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

ALF moves all of the furniture out of the way so that Jodie won’t trip on it when she gets here. It’s similar to the scene in “For Your Eyes Only” in which ALF was constantly reminding Jodie of where she was in relation to other things, and this time the similarity might be a conscious one. Here it makes a little more logistical sense, as she wouldn’t be familiar with the Tanner floor plan the way she would be with her own, but it’s still the same kind of well-meaning thing that people do to accommodate the disabled that actually comes across as unwittingly rude.

And that’s nice.

I like that, because that’s a smart observation, and it turns that kind of mindset into the punchline, rather than asking us to laugh at the disability. This episode might be treading similar water to “For Your Eyes Only,” but it’s water worth treading again, because it’s a sticky issue that’s ripe for another examination. The fact that it goes even deeper this time further justifies the retread.

But fuck thinking about this shit JODIE IS BACK YOU GUYS LOOK JODIE IS BACK!!

ALF, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

What a sight for sore eyes. After so much bullshit over the course of the past season and a half, it’s great to be back in the presence of the first assurance we had that ALF didn’t have to be utter garbage.

But, really, why haven’t we seen her since? We’ve had three episodes with Jake in them, for the love of Christ, and we were even privy to every detail of the never-anticipated wedding of Wizard Beaver, but we can’t so much as check in on Jodie? I guess doing so would break the longstanding tradition of ALF entering into lifelong friendships with people he never even thinks about again, but maybe — just maybe… — that would be A Good Thing.

When we met Jodie, she was just a lonely, sightless woman, living alone. ALF entered her life and gave her someone to talk to, which was effective and sweet, and it cast our hero in a new (though admittedly temporary) light. Based on the show’s track record, I wasn’t confident that the writers would handle her blindness anywhere near appropriately, but I was pleasantly surprised; Jodie was a perfectly capable and well-rounded human being. The blindness didn’t have as much to do with her as it did with the way people reacted to it. She was fine, in other words; everybody else was doing the stumbling.

Here we find her much the same as we left her. She doesn’t seem to have changed at all, but that’s what’s unintentionally sad about it. She still has no friends and nobody else to talk to. ALF may well have been the only pleasant relationship she’s had in years…and it only lasted a couple of hours. “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” doesn’t want us to think about that, because if we do we’ll see that it must have been a pretty dark few months for Jodie.

Some people are perfectly fine being left alone. I don’t mean to imply that there’s anything wrong with being happy on your own…but Jodie wasn’t. That’s why she and ALF met; neither of them were happy in their loneliness.

ALF’s been doing pretty well since then — getting into scrapes, playing chess, raping stuff — but Jodie’s gone literally nowhere. What’s worse, she met a man she felt she finally connected with. That man was ALF. He blew off their second date and never gave her another thought.

Yeah. I feel pretty bad for ol’ Jodie.

ALF, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

Whatever failed to happen between them, they do slip back into a charming dynamic pretty easily. They play some silly game in the kitchen with Jodie identifying slices of cheese by the smell. When ALF throws her off by poking holes in something that isn’t actually Swiss, she accuses him of cheating. He replies, “All’s fair in love and games of Guess the Cheese.”

On its own that’s not especially funny, but it works because Jodie laughs with him. The point of that line — and this sequence — wasn’t to tell us how wonderful ALF is (are you listening, “ALF’s Special Christmas?”) but to tell us how well these two get along. You know. Characterization.

Jodie legitimately enjoys ALF’s company, and she cares about him. He cares about her too, I think…not consistently, and never when she’s out of sight, but he did invite her over when she was facing homelessness, which is something, and now he’s keeping her spirits up as well.

Interacting with Jodie brings out a gentler kind of ALF in Paul Fusco’s performance. The dynamic, for once, is one in which ALF does not seek to dominate. In just about every other situation, he’s either dominating the scene, the conversation, or another person outright. With Jodie, they’re conversational equals. They’re friends. And it works very well.

Mainly it works because Jodie’s actress is game in ways that, say, Max Wright isn’t. While the ALF / Willie friendship has been toyed with a few times — nearly always to welcome effect — it’s too obvious that Wright doesn’t want to be ALF’s friend. Whatever he may think Willie is, it’s not a guy who gives half a shit about the space alien fucking his daughter. And while Anne Schedeen is absolutely game, the ALF / Kate dynamic is one of comfortable antagonism. Having the two of them bond too deeply just wouldn’t be right for who they are. It’s far better that they continue to push each other’s buttons without ever actually shoving one another over the edge.

Jodie, however, does want to be ALF’s friend. Indeed, the ease with which they’ve slipped into that dynamic twice now makes it clear that that’s what they already are.

Or could be…if ALF ever returned her phone calls.

ALF, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

ALF and Jodie are enjoying their delicious beverages: Diet Soda Cola, and Soda Lemon-Lime. Names that would be monumentally stupid even if the actual names of the sodas weren’t peeking out from beneath the half-assed stickers. But Kate pisses all over their carbonated cheese parade by coming over and asking ALF why he threw away this morning’s paper.

It turns out it’s because he didn’t want Jodie to find a new apartment and leave, which is sweet in a childlike way, and extremely creepy through a more adult filter. Due to his relationship with Jodie playing out similarly to a romantic one, this is a big red flag. For once, the episode realizes it, and makes much of this later.

Jodie is embarrassed, and apologizes to Willie and Kate. Having realized that he’s been manipulating the situation to keep her homeless, she starts to visibly tire of ALF’s antics, and this is great.

Really. It is. Like the clever twist of “Working My Way Back to You” (in which ALF on his best behavior is a better homemaker than Kate is, to the gradual irritation of the entire family), this is evidence that somebody on the writing staff took a decent story, and then put forth the effort to make it better.

This episode began with ALF (and Lynn) lobbying for Jodie to stay with them, against the wishes of Willie and Kate. That’s a perfectly fine setup, with two characters looking out for Jodie, and two who don’t seem to care much about her at all. It positions ALF as a nice guy, and he gets his way. Now, however, he’s no longer acting in her best interests…being just as selfish as Willie had been. The roles are reversed. Willie might still want her to leave for his own reasons, but helping her find a place to live also helps Jodie. ALF, on the other hand, is willing to hold her back for the sake of not losing her. I like this.

ALF, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

The Tanners find a nice apartment listing for Jodie, and she goes into the living room to call and see if it’s available. While she’s gone, ALF opens up to Willie and Kate, telling them that he doesn’t want her to leave. They reply, correctly, that she wants to move out, but ALF explains that they don’t understand the plight of the blind. He does, because he locked himself in the closet the other day. “Being blind is very dusty, and smells like boots.”

The upshot of the conversation is that if Jodie leaves, ALF says he’s going with her. This is sweet, and also leads to some more good comedy. Willie raises the perfectly valid point that Jodie would never be able to take care of him the way the Tanners have, but ALF corrects him and says he’ll be taking care of her. “Jodie needs me like a hole in the head!” he says, assuming that that’s something Earthlings see as a positive thing. It’s funny.

Why is ALF able to choose to move in with Jodie before consulting her on it? That gets addressed later, so I’ll save it for that, but while watching this the first time, that felt like a pretty big logical hole…something I mention because I was enjoying it enough that I didn’t actually care. Give me a good scene and I’ll give you all the slack in the world.

The best joke in the episode comes when Jodie announces that the apartment is available, and ALF informs Lucky (off-camera) that he’s moving out. “Gee,” ALF says. “I’ve never seen a cat smile before.”

THE JODIE EPISODES ARE GOOD YOU GUYS

ALF, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

After the commercial Brian warbles a few bars of “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” just to really hammer home the fact that the show has literally given up writing lines for him. Then we cut mercifully to Jodie’s new apartment, where ALF is looking at a book written in braille.

He says, “This book doesn’t have any words.” Then he runs his finger along a page and adds, “It’s got zits.”

Again, it’s funny, but it leads to a kind of dickish moment where he pulls out a pencil and starts treating it like a dot-to-dot. Won’t that fuck up Jodie’s book? Maybe, but, never fear, this is a good episode and the writers are paying attention to what they’re doing.

As evidence of this, Jodie comes home from grocery shopping. With the Tanners, it made sense that ALF couldn’t help with chores like that, because he’s an alien and can’t be seen in public. However Jodie doesn’t know that…so, in her mind, is he just some unemployed schmoe who makes blind people wait on him hand and foot?

Good question, and the episode addresses it immediately. “I don’t understand you,” she says. “You don’t have a job. You never leave the house.” She knows something’s up, but she doesn’t know what it is. ALF explains it away by confessing that he’s a very, very old man. I wish the conversation went a bit further than that, but it’s clever that ALF dodges the question by telling the truth. He is a very, very old man. He’s not a man from Earth, but she doesn’t know that.

ALF, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

Jodie starts preparing dinner, and ALF — to not be a total waste of everything for once — sets the table. It leads to one funny joke when ALF finds out they’re having vegetables (“That’s not food; that’s the stuff food eats.”) and one shitty joke that’s just ALF accidentally smashing her dinnerware all over the floor because, fuck it, he’s a total waste of everything even at his best.

It is nice that his well-intentioned behavior works against Jodie, but ALF smacking shit onto the floor isn’t nearly as clever or satisfying as him hiding the newspaper listings earlier, or what we see him doing in a moment.

ALF, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

The next day, Jodie trips over something ALF put in the hallway: a speed bump to prevent her from walking too fast and potentially getting hurt. He also taped cushions to things so she won’t have to worry about bumping into them, and labelled things like the window and the table with raised lettering.

She even finds him putting curb feelers on her shoes.

Does anyone out there actually remember those? I remember when I was learning to drive, and I had trouble parallel parking. My father made some joke about curb feelers, and that was the first time I’d heard of them. I wanted them immediately, so his joke backfired. Little did he know I’d never have any shame about looking like an idiot.

Anyway, ALF’s annoying the everloving shit out of her, but he’s doing it for what he thinks is a good cause. AND FUCKERS I LIKE THAT.

Intention and reality are not matching up for ALF in “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” and that’s interesting. This isn’t just a bunch of jokes that do or don’t work; it’s the examination of a flawed mindset, putting us as viewers in a position where we can be on both ALF’s and Jodie’s sides.

It’s also kind of adorable…at least in terms of intention. The “child’s craftbox” approach to his modifications to Jodie’s apartment add a nice level of unspoken visual comedy. I really need to give more credit to the props department. Or, y’know…give them props.

B-)

ALF, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

Jodie sends ALF off on a wild goose chase to find her keys, and while he’s out of the room she calls the Tanners. This is where we learn that ALF told her he was only going to stay with her until she got settled…but now it’s clear that she’ll never be settled by his standards. I kind of wish this tied into the “break it to you a month at a time” joke from earlier, but, as it is, it’s kind of sad.

In a good way. Not in a Willie-has-to-play-chess-with-a-wise-cracking-puppet way.

Later on, ALF is chiseling the word BEET into a beet, and hits his finger with the hammer. He calls for Willie and Kate, but then catches himself. “What am I doing? They’re not here. I’ll have to kiss it myself.”

Was Jodie’s actress related to one of the writers or something? They really seem to step up their game for her episodes.

ALF, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

The Tanners come over while Jodie is doing laundry, and explain to ALF that she called them to take him away. She wants to live alone, and he’s being overbearing.

He says that that doesn’t sound like Jodie, and was probably a different blind woman who had a wrong number. Again, funny, but he’s clearly grasping at straws, and he knows they’re right. It’s a lovely, sad moment of realization.

Then Jodie comes back in, and ALF immediately shouts, “Jodie! Don’t take off your clothes! We have company!”

That got a legitimate lol out of me.

ALF, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

ALF sits Jodie down…and tells her it’s time for him to go. He promised to stay until she got settled…but now she’s settled, and he will leave.

It’s a little heartbreaking, actually, because it’s clear that he doesn’t want to go. He realizes that he’s not making her happy, though, and her happiness is more important to him.

She thanks him, and tells him that he did help her adjust to her new home, even if he ultimately took it too far. She even gives him a braille book of his own to remember her by…the same one he defaced earlier. And she finished the dot-to-dot for him.

They turned ALF’s idiotic dickishness from earlier and turned it into the legitimate emotional payoff of the entire episode. That’s fucking incredible.

It makes for a really lovely conclusion to an episode that wasn’t nearly as good as “For Your Eyes Only,” but achieved a definite sweetness and a surprising amount of laughs on its own merits. Not one of my favorites…but one I definitely enjoyed.

ALF, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

But we’ve still got a short scene before the credits, so ALF puts on some dark glasses and pretends to be Ray Charles, singing “Georgia on My Mind.” You know. Just one last-minute slap in the nuts for anyone dumb enough to think the blind made it through this episode without being a punchline.

I really hope we get to see Jodie again, but, if we don’t, this at least feels like a good place to leave her.

It’s not the passive “fuck you” that she got at the end of the otherwise excellent “For Your Eyes Only”…it’s a reminder to us — and to ALF, and to herself — that she can be okay on her own.

I’m more comfortable leaving her here, at this point in her life, and though I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing her again, I don’t mind ALF moving on, especially now that Jodie’s had time to see that she didn’t really enjoy having him around anyway. It’s a good time for ALF to let her live her life.

Like he did with that little cancer gir-

…oh.

Oh.

MELMAC FACTS: Melmacians were outgoing by nature; ALF is shy compared to most of them.

—–
* I guess he bailed on their dinner date that was referenced at the end of “For Your Eyes Only.” Stand-up guy, that ALF.

** ha ha

Me and Mary Ann!

Dawn Wells, of Gilligan’s Island fame, has graciously signed a copy of her new book for yours truly. Yeah, that’s cool and all, but that’s not what you care about.

What you care about is that she also signed a second one as a special, early Christmas gift for one lucky reader of Noiseless Chatter. Because she loves you!

Wells was every bit as charming and lovely as I’d hoped. She’s still an extremely beautiful woman, and almost absurdly polite. She’s easily one of the warmest celebrities I’ve met, and there’s something magical about a 75-year-old woman who can get a roomful of young men stammering just by giving them a smile.

I haven’t read the book yet, but I have flipped through it, and happened to stumble right upon a cute little anecdote about Alan Hale (who played The Skipper) breaking his wrist on set and not telling anybody, so that he wouldn’t inconvenience them. So, yeah, I think I’m going to love this book.

But again, THAT’S NOT WHAT YOU CARE ABOUT.

Do you want to win this special, autographed Christmas gift from Mary Ann?

THE RULES

What Would Mary Ann Do?

There is no charge to enter, and I’ll foot the bill for shipping. Just do at least one of the following by the deadline of October 15:

* Share this post on Facebook
* Share this post on Twitter
* Share your favorite Noiseless Chatter post (whatever it is) on Facebook.
* Comment below with the name of the Gilligan’s Island character you would most like to take to the prom. AND WHY

Each of those will earn you one entry, and you can do multiple things to earn multiple entries. The winner will be chosen via random number generator.

If you share something on Twitter or Facebook, be sure to “tag” Noiseless Chatter (or @NoNoiseChitChat) so I’ll be sure to see it. If for any reason you’d prefer not to do that, or can’t figure out how, you can email me the screenshot(s) of your posting(s) here(s): reed.philipj at gmail dot com.

When commenting / sharing / emailing / tweeting, make sure you do it from an account you actually check, as that’s how I’ll be contacting you to say YOU WON AND YOUR LIFE IS NO LONGER MEANINGLESS

I’ll send the package out in late November or early December (depending upon how long it should take to get to you) and I’ll probably include another few goodies along with it.

So, yeah. Dawn Wells is incredible. I’ve already thanked her for you. Now get enterin’. You have until October 15!

Joel Hodgson and Mike Nelson

Vimeo now has Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes available for rent or purchase. That’s fantastic news in itself, but the best part is that they’d like to make more episodes available in the future…episodes that have never been legally available due to rights issues.

Their catalogue right now consists of 80 episodes…which is plenty to keep people busy, but also more than enough to overwhelm the uninitiated.

Episodes are an hour and a half long, after all. It’s an investment of time to decide whether or not you even like the show…and the fact is that they’re not all created equal. Each episode features a riff of a complete movie, which is what causes distribution rights issues, and also either boosts or restricts the comic mileage. Some films are ripe for riffing, others…not as much so.

I want people to support these videos, as this might be the only way we do get proper releases of long-missing episodes. At the same time, I want the people who support them to…y’know…WATCH THE GOOD ONES AND ENJOY THEMSELVES. So here’s a quick and dirty list of 10 legitimately brilliant episodes that are available right now. And since I haven’t seen all 80 yet, please let me know your own suggestions in the comments.

10) Eegah (1962)

(Season 5, Episode 6, Host: Joel)
EegahStarring the recently-deceased Richard Kiel, this is a perfect “gateway” riff for the uninitiated. Every aspect of terrible filmmaking is on display in Eegah, from hilariously awful ADR to incongruent musical sequences. The film itself is about a giant prehistoric man who lives on an (ostensibly) snake infested mountain, and then he goes to a swimming pool. This riff unseats Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure by featuring the single funniest usage of the song “Tequila.”

9) The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)

(Season 8, Episode 12, Host: Mike)
The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up ZombiesI’m pretty sure the folks making this movie realized what a pile of shit it was before they released it, which is why it has a title that screams parody…and nothing else about it that does. An evil sorceress and her hideous assistant Ortega do that voodoo that they do so well, I guess, even though the zombies that the film is named after are barely in the thing. There’s also an incomprehensible comic relief character, and it all adds up to one of my favorite underappreciated riffs.

8) The Final Sacrifice (1990)

(Season 9, Episode 10, Host: Mike)
The Final SacrificeA Canadian action film that reminds the world of why there aren’t more Canadian action films. One of the great joys of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is watching them pull apart a film that means so well…and yet accomplishes nothing. Good intentions and horrid execution are a perfect comic match, and those are the films that lend themselves naturally to hilarious mockery. In The Final Sacrifice, the central pairing of heroes is so bungled it becomes a film-length joke in itself, with mustached pick-up truck enthusiast Zap Rowsdower helping a gangly youth find his father’s lost Lemon Mines.

7) Soultaker (1990)

(Season 10, Episode 1, Host: Mike)
SoultakerBoth films “starring” Joe Estevez make this list, and with good reason. Soultaker is some kind of severely mishandled meditation on fate, mixed with a story of love that outlives life itself, and has Joe Estevez. Joe Estevez plays Joe Estevez to perfection, as a Joe Estevez who takes souls with a little plastic ring he found under the couch. There’s a lurking sense of menace that never actually shows up, because that menace is played by Joe Estevez.

6) Gamera vs. Gaos (1967)

(Season 3, Episode 8, Host: Joel)
Gamera vs. GaosAny of the Gamera films are good choices for download, as, for whatever reason, the giant flying space turtle lends himself well to being made light of. Go figure! I almost chose the first film, Gamera, instead, but ultimately I’d have to give Gamera vs. Gaos a slight edge, as this one sees our meat-filled hero duking it out with a ropey-looking bat monster that appears to be in constant pain. There’s also a blood fountain. Like, one that somebody built on purpose. It’s pretty great.

5) I Accuse My Parents (1944)

(Season 5, Episode 7, Host: Joel)
I Accuse My ParentsMystery Science Theater 3000 is mainly remembered for riffing awful sci-fi and monster movies, and with good reason. However I Accuse My Parents is strong evidence that any kind of film, in the right hands, can become a comic masterpiece. This one is about one young man’s helpless slide into juvenile delinquency…the tragic and direct result of winning an essay contest. (I’m not kidding.) I’m sure somebody’s going to be upset that I put this one well above The Final Sacrifice, but I don’t care. This is one I absolutely love, with its bizarre tonal shifts and bungled moralizing. No, it doesn’t feature a man in a stupid rubber suit, but the riff is brilliant all the same.

4) Mitchell (1975)

(Season 5, Episode 12, Host: Joel)
MitchellIt’s the last of Joel’s riffs, and quite possibly his best. Mitchell is about one heroic cop that doesn’t do things by the book, but he gets results, dammit. Oh, and he’s played by Joe Don Baker, which means that this thrilling, devil-may-care attitude is filtered through an obese, repulsive idiot. As a character, Mitchell embodies perfectly the disconnect between intention and reality that Mystery Science Theater 3000 exploits so well. Mitchell arranges drug deals with elderly ladies, gets in shouting matches with children, and seems to forget what case he’s working on, as the crime that opens the film gets resolved off-camera through a single line we hear on the radio. Oh, and he comes with his own theme music. This one is a must see.

3) Werewolf (1996)

(Season 9, Episode 4, Host: Mike)
WerewolfAnything in the top three is good for an hour and a half of straight laughter…but I admit I have a slight preference for the Mike years over the Joel ones, so your mileage may vary. Werewolf is the other Joe Estevez masterpiece, and it is brilliantly, perfectly, gorgeously awful. It’s also, I think, the only werewolf film that features the titular monster driving a car. The lead actors (and / or the screenwriters) have no concept of correct grammar, and the big twist at the end of the film is something you’ll see coming from the opening credits. Speaking of credits, this one closes with a great singalong that’s worth the price of admission in itself.

2) The Pumaman (1980)

(Season 9, Episode 3, Host: Mike)
The PumamanYou know when a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy comes out and people who see it say things like, “No, it’s really good. Actually good, like a good movie. For real.” That’s because of movies like The Pumaman, which gave a truly terrible name to superhero films, a stigma that lingers to this day. Fortunately, though, this episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 justifies the staining of the genre’s legacy. It’s an unforgettable film about an Indian who throws people out of windows, a man who adopts the powers of the puma (including flight for…some reason…), and an awful lot of poorly choreographed fighting…which this movie equates, inexplicably, with jumping from one side of the room to the other. Donald Pleasance is in it, too, in the role that made him wish he’d never been born.

1) Laserblast (1978)

(Season 7, Episode 6, Host: Mike)
LaserblastThis is it. The holy grail of movie riffs. Granted, “Manos”: The Hands of Fate isn’t available for download, but even if it were, I’m sorry…the Laserblast episode is the single funniest thing I’ve seen in my life. In fact, I remember watching this one when it first aired quite vividly. I didn’t know what it was called, but a few years ago I happened to see it again, and so many of the jokes came back to me. The two idiot cops, the absurd alien teleconferences, and a sex scene represented by kneaded back-fat all kept me laughing for weeks on end as a teenager. I think I only saw it once on television, but it’s stuck with me ever since, and revisiting it (which I’ve now done multiple times) never diminishes its charm or its brilliance. If I had to recommend only one, this would be it. Yet I can easily recommend all 10 on this list, and I look forward to reading your own suggestions below.

Tusk.

ALF, "Someone to Watch Over Me: Part 2"

Alright…so I scheduled this post incorrectly, keeping all of you (ALL OF YOU) in suspense for another week as to how this crrrraaaaazy caper would play out. I’m sorry to have done that, because this episode doesn’t even tell you.

Last week’s cliffhanger — which saw ALF trapped in the Ochmonek living room while police were outside, or something — is resolved off camera.

Yep, “Someone to Watch Over Me: Part 2″ opens with Mrs. Ochmonek angrily explaining to Willie that the burglar was in her house again, and as block captain he screwed up big by letting him get away.

We then cut to ALF, hiding upstairs with Brian, and…

…oh, okay. You caught me. That was the giveaway. God knows Brian’s not going to be involved with whatever the fuck happens here.

No, the “resolution” to the cliffhanger takes place over the course of this entire episode. I have a few things to say about that, but we’ll get to that later. The screengrab above actually comes from the recap at the start of the episode. Surprisingly, the recap is funny.

Really, it is. Playing with similar meta-comedy to last week’s “preview,” in which the footage was swapped out for black and white car crashes, this time the recap is edited deliberately poorly, with snatches of sentences from different characters, regardless of context or chronology, strung nonsensically together for a humorously uninformative “reminder” of last week’s events.

Of course, this joke was probably pretty easy to pull off since nothing really happened last week. They could have grabbed almost any lines from anywhere in the episode and they would have seemed out of context. Because, seriously, what was the context? I’d have more trouble stringing together moments that even suggested a story than I would avoiding such moments. In fact, I think I’m starting to understand how the writers (and / or editors) hit upon this gag.

What this joke does is inadvertently remind the audience that they wasted their time watching the show last week. The show can afford to jerk around with the recap, because there was literally nothing worth remembering. At one point, ALF realizes the problem and “corrects” the recap…giving us the last minute or so of Part 1, more or less unbroken.

Which means the recap is thus: ALF is in the Ochmonek house, and the police are there. Out of a 24-minute episode, that’s the only thing that mattered. I guess I feel at least a little bit vindicated by the fact that even the show agrees with me that the cliffhanger was the only salvageable part of that pile of horse shit.

So, there. That’s how Part 2 opens: with a clear acknowledgement of the fact that this shouldn’t have been a two-parter at all. Hope you like that big middle finger there, dear viewer, because it’s not going away any time soon.

ALF, "Someone to Watch Over Me: Part 2"

Now that we’ve been assured that Part 1 could have never existed and we’d all be just fine, the episode proper begins with ALF calling Willie on the phone. You can hear the police outside on both ends of the conversation, which is a nice touch. In fact, when the Tanners first hear the sirens, they assume it’s another one of ALF’s false alarms, since those have been happening constantly since he became block captain.

I’d tell you to keep that in mind, but the part that makes it seem really odd follows immediately: ALF shouts to the police that he’s armed, dangerous, and off his medication.

Now, see, the cliffhanger last week raised the question of how ALF would get out of the house. I predicted they’d botch it, but I didn’t think they’d botch it so substantially that ALF’s solution is to escalate the situation and ensure that he can’t escape from the house.

There’s nothing else ALF could mean to do by saying these things. Right? Sure, he’s from another culture, but confirming to the police that he’s in the house — and pretending to be a massive danger to them and to everybody else — only means that they’re going to try harder to capture him. No adjustment for cultural difference is going to change that.

Here’s why it’s doubly frustrating: last week, I was left with a genuine puzzle. I knew ALF had to get out of the house, but I couldn’t see any reasonable way for him to do that. What this episode did was remind me that I’d forgotten a clue: ALF’s false alarms.

See, that’s your natural, organic solution right there. ALF raised so many false alarms as block captain that this could simply be another one of them. All ALF has to do is hide long enough for the police to realize that that’s what it is, and let them quietly go away.

That’s how ALF gets out of the house, in a well-written episode. That’s why we would have just been reminded of the false alarms…in a well-written episode.

What we get instead is ALF threatening to murder a shitload of policemen and then claiming to have hostages. Why he thinks pretending innocent people are also in the house with him and in danger of getting killed is going to make the police leave him alone is beyond me. Escalating the situation in Part 2 is a perfectly reasonable thing to do from a structural standpoint, but the narrative has to justify it. Otherwise it’s just a character artificially ramping shit up for the hell of it, and that’s exactly, brainlessly, what we have here.

ALF, "Someone to Watch Over Me: Part 2"

Iola is there with the cops, which might seem a little odd on its own, but it’s actually pretty fair. She lives on the same street, was part of the Neighborhood Watch, and other anonymous townsfolk are collecting to watch the events unfold anyway. So I’m okay with her being here.

Especially since we find out she’s an actual character.

Oh yes. Stay tuned.

For now she just tells the cops to knock the door down with a battering ram. They don’t have one, so she asks where he tax dollars are going. Decent enough for a filler moment, but it actually lays the groundwork for what follows…which itself is the unexpected highlight of the episode.

ALF, "Someone to Watch Over Me: Part 2"

Officer Griswold shouts to ALF through a megaphone, inquiring about the safety of the hostages. Behind him, a man slowly strangles himself because he just realized he’s in an episode of ALF.

I do like the way this episode is shot. Visually speaking, it has character. With the exception of some brief detours to the Tanner house, everything in this episode feels unique. It creates a decent, dark atmosphere, taking advantage of the facts that this is happening at night, and that ALF can’t turn on the light. The net result is something that manages to stand apart from most other episodes of ALF in terms of presentation, and that is an inherently good thing.

In fact, with the police cars and the horde of extras, not to mention the new set that is the Ochmoneks’ lawn, this is pretty likely an expensive installment…which might be why a “Part 1″ exists. In order to find room in the budget for a pricier episode, they probably needed to toss off a cheapie. Story-wise, Part 1 gave us nothing. But for those balancing ALF‘s books, its interminable scenes of idiots wasting time and Willie’s musical interlude freed up an awful lot of cash to be spent elsewhere.

Iola gets another nice moment, telling the police that in America they don’t “negotiate with terrorists,” and should therefore just fucking kill ALF already. I’ve earned this boner, and I’m going to enjoy it.

The police then threaten to use teargas, and she screams, “YES!!! TEARGAS!!!!” and then whips the crowd into a chanting frenzy. It’s nice, because Iola’s dangerous insanity gets layered on gradually. In Part 1 there was an otherwise innocuous question about getting to carry weapons. Eariler in this episode, she suggests a battering ram…ostensibly, though, to be deployed in aid of the hostages.

Now, however, she’s simply relishing the potential violence, and that’s the kind of escalation that works. It escalates her right into having a character trait, which ensures that we will never see her again.

ALF, "Someone to Watch Over Me: Part 2"

Very surprisingly, ALF beats Kevin McCallister to the punch by two years when he turns on a violent movie to simulate gunfire. It doesn’t make much more logical sense than it did in Home Alone, but at least in that case it was some dumbass pizza guy who fell for it. Not…y’know…A SQUAD OF TRAINED POLICE OFFICERS IN LOS ANGELES WHO PROBABLY KNOW THAT GUNFIRE OUT OF A TV SPEAKER IS NOT EASILY MISTAKEN FOR THE REAL THING.

If you’ve ever been to a firing range, you are already aware that there’s a massive difference between a gun going off a few yards away and whatever you’re hearing in even the most realistic film. In this case, it’s ALF flipping on an old Western, which isn’t going to sound anything at all like actual, real-life gunfire.

I’d be willing to buy that the police panic simply because it’s a loud and unexpected burst of noise, but that panic wouldn’t last more than a second or two…just long enough for them to see that nothing’s actually being damaged, nobody’s getting hurt, and they’re not in any danger.

Why is ALF simulating gunfire anyway? Because that will convince the police that there’s nothing here that needs their attention I FUCKIN GUESS

ALF, "Someone to Watch Over Me: Part 2"

Officer Griswold yells at ALF to hold his fire, while Max Wright, in a gleeful crack haze, faces the wrong camera.

Willie eventually remembers, along with the writers, that he’s a social worker, and he tells Officer Griswold to let him go in so he can reason with the burglar. That…is actually a viable excuse for Willie to get into the house, but I’m kind of sad that this is only the second time ever that Willie’s profession has had anything to do with the story, and neither of those times did it involve the quelling of unwanted sexual advances being made on his wife or daughter.

Officer Griswold doesn’t let him in, however, so even though the writers realized they could connect these things, they also didn’t wanna.

It leads to a funny moment, though, when Officer Griswold responds to Willie’s assertion that he’s a social worker by saying, “What are you gonna do? Give him a welfare check?” That’s not the funny part…the funny part is Iola’s overplayed laughter, in wonderful Mrs. Doyle style, punctuated by her slapping the cop on the shoulder.

This, deliberately or not, works as a decent barb against people who would make a joke like that, and taken in conjunction with her previous words and actions, it further cements Iola as a very specific type of conservative. I’ll give you a hint: she’s not the kind you want to live next to unless you’re absolutely sure your entire family is white.

ALF, "Someone to Watch Over Me: Part 2"

We then cut to the dugout to check in on all the actors that were benched this week. They’re observing the standoff from the kitchen window, which is odd, as there’s no reason they can’t walk outside to watch it, and the kitchen window doesn’t face the front of the Ochmoneks’ house anyway.

Brian worries that ALF might go to jail, but Jake makes a joke about jail not being so bad because did you know he’s from Brooklyn? Ya, manicotti, fuggettiboutit.

Kate gets my favorite line of the episode here, simply because it reminds me that however much meandering bullshit we have to wade through with this show, she’s still Kate: “ALF’s not going to jail. Though a short sentence might do him some good.”

ALF, "Someone to Watch Over Me: Part 2"

We get a few more nice moments, with Officer Griswold observing that it’s going to be a long night, to which a fellow officer responds, “Why? Is this the night we set the clocks back?”

It’s a joke that does a pretty poor job of establishing some disposable nobody as comic relief — which you really don’t need in a sitcom anyway — but on its own it’s a pretty decent line. Or maybe I’m just glad we’re getting actual jokes instead of ALF playing Westerns on TV while cops run in circles shitting themselves.

A reporter shows up on the scene, which leads to mostly lame garbage, except for when Iola tells him, on live television, that he’s fucking terrible. But, she says, he’s also cute, and explicitly suggests a one-night stand.

“Think about it,” she tells him. “I’m a widow.” Then she strolls away in what is clearly her idea of seduction.

She is a character. Whether or not you find her antics funny — and while I largely do, I certainly don’t find all of them funny — you have to appreciate the fact that this neighbor, who has never been seen prior to the very story we’re watching, is already miles ahead of most of the series regulars in terms of characterization.

Beverly Archer — who plays this character — is almost certainly entirely deserving of the credit. Unlike the “dumb policeman” and “basic policeman” characters we’ve also been introduced to for the sake of this aimless nonsense, she takes the lines she’s given and provides her own connective tissue (which those in the industry refer to as “acting”) to flesh out the unwritten spaces in between.

The disparate elements of unintentional characterization — humorlessness, right-wing insanity, bloodthirstiness, compulsive domination, sexual creepiness — come together into one cohesive whole, simply because Archer makes the effort to connect them. We never get anywhere near a clear picture of who she’s supposed to be through the writing itself, but with somebody who understands how comedy works delivering the lines, so much of the work gets done passively, organically, and naturally.

Looking her up to learn her name revealed to me that she also appears in Project: ALF, the series-capping TV movie. I have to assume she plays a different character, but at least we know somebody will be worth watching in that travesty.

The pizza that ALF demanded arrives, and Officer Griswold calls to ALF to come out and get it. He’s actually about to do it until Willie shouts at him not to, and ALF says, “Oh, yeah.”

That’s funny. It’s worth a chuckle, anyway. But, damn, what does Willie have to do to get kicked out of this crime scene? Grab their guns and start shooting them? At this point he’s actively interfering with police business, and they hardly even seem to care. I guess that makes sense, though. The LAPD is famously easygoing.

ALF, "Someone to Watch Over Me: Part 2"

The Ochmoneks return and wonder what’s going on, as well as who beheaded their lawn Santa. It’s a decent visual gag, and serves as another nice character detail. In…several ways, actually.

Can “Someone to Watch Over Me: Part 2″ please end with the police gunning down ALF and the Tanners and the show being revamped to star the Ochmoneks and their horny widow neighbor?

The reporter than comes over to interview them, and Mr. Ochmonek wonders on live TV why his house keeps getting robbed when he doesn’t have anything. He then posits that the Tanner house, which is right next door, would be a better target, since they have a computer, a telescope, a Waterpik…

And this is exactly the kind of “annoying neighbor” the show should portray Mr. Ochmonek as more often. He intends no malice, but he’s putting the Tanners in needless danger, which would give Willie & Co. a reason to hate him that we can understand. Instead, Mr. Ochmonek almost always comes across as a genuinely nice man that we’re supposed to believe is a nightmare to live next to, with the show making no effort to provide us actual reasons to believe it.

Something like this — a well-intentioned, but poorly considered, speech on live TV about what a great target he’d have thought Willie’s house to be — works perfectly to provide such a reason, but I have a feeling this is more of a welcome exception than a new direction.

Whatever. The police say they’re going to blow up the house, or something, I don’t know, so Willie stands up and runs inside, where ALF hugs him.

ALF, "Someone to Watch Over Me: Part 2"

Man, these cops really should have had Willie hauled away a long time ago, or at least shot his knees out when he made a dash for the front door. It’s a sweet moment, though, and I’m almost willing to just accept it, because I like that Willie put himself in danger for ALF.

I mean, I wouldn’t have. And I don’t even believe that Willie really would have. But it happened, and that’s fine because it’s pretty damn cute.

They talk for a bit about how utterly fucked they are, but then Willie has a brainstorm: he’ll hide ALF in the hamper with a walkie talkie, and put the other walkie talkie in the window, that way the police can come in and see that there was no burglar here at all; he was broadcasting — for…some reason? — from another place entirely.

But why place the walkie talkie in the window? Why not place it next to the window, or under it, or anything else? Putting it in the window should make it pretty easy to see, so even if they don’t notice Willie’s oily mitt placing it there, surely they’ll notice that it wasn’t there before.

Speaking of which, Willie turned the lights on…shouldn’t that render he and ALF pretty clearly visible through the windows? The darkness made sense. Maybe the cops would see that whoever was inside was tiny, but beyond that he’d still be a shadow at best. Now the living room is lit up like an aquarium, so why isn’t the jig up?

And ALF was clearly pulling back the curtains to yell things at the cops, so how are they going to believe it was a walkie talkie all along?

ALF, "Someone to Watch Over Me: Part 2"

Willie opens the door and they shoot him and he’s dead and that was the last episode of ALF I hope you liked it.

…sadly, I’m lying. He calls out that there’s no burglar in there after all; it was just a walkie talkie. Well, that sure explains with no room for suspicion why Willie was fucking around in there alone for so long.

The cops come in and find the walkie talkie, which is indeed broadcasting ALFchat, but for some reason they can’t hear the alien speaking in the hamper which is right next to them.

The LAPD decides that everyone should go home and never speak of the hostage situation — which should ostensibly still be going on, since they believe the burglar to be broadcasting from elsewhere — again. The news reporters, the neighborhood, and the Ochmoneks (whose home was actually being robbed) are all okay with this for no reason whatsoever.

ALF, "Someone to Watch Over Me: Part 2"

The Ochmoneks wonder why Willie is taking their hamper home, which is a perfectly valid question that he has no answer to, and these people who were just robbed ten zillion times in the past week have no problem letting him leave with it, even though it obviously contains something conspicuously heavy.

Willie takes the hamper outside and Officer Griswold shouts, “Let’s hear it for Willie Tanner!” which is the only time in the history of the English language that those six words have been arranged in that sequence.

ALF, "Someone to Watch Over Me: Part 2"

The crowd chants its love for Willie, and in the short scene before the credits ALF makes some noise. I don’t care. I don’t want to talk about that.

What I want to talk about is this: the unspoken, unseen absurdity of what happens here.

Granted, there’s plenty of spoken and seen absurdity, but think about Part 1. What was it that set this entire plot into motion?

A robber.

A robber. Not ALF fucking around and being mistaken for a robber, but an actual robber that was actually robbing actual things from actual people. The Neighborhood Watch was formed, ALF saw the robber, and eventually set out on foot to capture him.

Fine.

At the end of the last episode, the robber escapes through the window and…

…that’s it.

Part 2 is about ALF ensuring that the robber gets away, and is free to rob another day. Where did he go? Who knows. The point is that with ALF performing an all-night standup routine for the LAPD, the criminal is able to escape easily. Had ALF just hidden or something and not threatened gun violence and invented hostages and ordered pizzas or any of the other shit he did, the cops would have figured out the truth: if there was a robber, he’s not here anymore. They could put out an APB with whatever information they had — remember, ALF saw the guy and could provide a description to Willie, who could then pass it on to the police — and be on the lookout.

Instead, by convincing the police that he was the robber, there was no need for any of the cops to be looking elsewhere. In fact, elsewhere was the last place they should be looking, since the situation was unfolding here, in one specific home, and the cops were rightfully concentrating their efforts there.

So, yeah. The episode says nothing about this. The episode doesn’t even seem to realize this. ALF aided and abetted the escape of a criminal for literally no gain of his own whatsoever. This is the magical space Jesus that “ALF’s Special Christmas” tried to convince us was making the world a better place.

Oh well. At least he’s been a true and available friend to that dying little cancer girl.

Right?

Is she dead?

ALF doesn’t care. He’s got policemen to distract from their jobs of keeping the public safe.

Fuck. You. ALF.

MELMAC FACTS: Willie’s middle name is Francis. Melmacians have green blood. ALF is claustrophobic, even though he’s hidden in suitcases and boxes and shit with no problem before.

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