ALF Reviews: ALF, Sega Master System (1989)

Oh, my aching ass hole.

It’s been two years since I finished reviewing ALF, but the fucker still haunts my dreams. People still send me ALF shit in the mail. (Not literal shit excreted by ALF, though I think I’d actually prefer that to the figurines and paper plates and coloring books.) People still tag me in every YOU’RE SO OLD IF YOU REMEMBER THIS meme that features a picture of ALF. Every time the National Enquirer catches Max Wright shambling out of his apartment to plead with God to take him, I’m the first to know.

All of which is to say, I have yet to exorcise the demon. My work must not be done. I attempted to do this a year ago with that review of ALF Loves a Mystery that I promised to a reader who doesn’t come here anymore, but the Earth has completed one more orbit around the sun and society has sunk another dozen or so notches toward hell and I still have work to do.

ALF, released for the Sega Master System on December 31, 1989, is something I actually did want to cover during my reviews of the show. Casey over at Perfect Strangers Reviled feels compelled to drag out his misery by covering every fucking thing that happened to every fucking actor during every fucking minute of their day. Me? I did the bare minimum and fucked the hell off, secure in the knowledge that I’d only have to dip back into the show every year for the rest of eternity.

I think we can easily see who won that round.

ALF: The Video Game, which is what I’ll call it to avoid confusion with the show (though ALF: The Digital Fuck-You is almost certain to be more accurate) was not the only ALF-related software released during the show’s run.

It is probably, however, the only title worth reviewing. Most of it was printing software and educational games with an ALF license. There was a computer game called ALF: The First Adventure, which I haven’t played but seems to be a pretty simple and inoffensive little maze game. It was also released in 1987, which was actually when anybody with half a brain might have given a shit about the show.

I don’t know what month it came out, but 1987 covers the stretch between the second half of season one and the first half of season two. That’s perfect tie-in timing. ALF: The Video Game, by contrast, came out at what must certainly have been the worst possible time: just as the show was about to end forever with the Alien Task Force disemboweling ALF in a field. A December 31, 1989 release means only 11 episodes were left. Four of those episodes actually came close to being good, but one of them featured Jim J. Bullock so fuck it.

I’ve never played ALF: The Video Game before. That’s partially because I wasn’t one of the 30 people who owned a Master System. For those of you who don’t know, the Master System was the hunk of crap Sega made before the Genesis. The Genesis is the one you remember, trust me. (Unless you’re in the UK, in which case the Genesis was called the Mega Drive. The Master System was probably called the Goody Box or some such nonsense.)

My uncle had a Master System, for some reason. I remember playing it way back then and not feeling even slightly disappointed that I owned an NES. I definitely remember playing Rocky, which only made me wish I were playing Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, and some Duck Hunt-style game that really fucking made me wish I were playing Duck Hunt. The Master System version did have little armadillos that curled up into balls when you shot them, though, and that was kinda cool.

I don’t think my uncle had ALF: The Video Game, which is good because I was a fucking idiot as a kid and probably would have played it. My mental state is fragile enough as it is, so I can’t imagine cramming this traumatic experience into my past as well. I’d be a gibbering wreck.

More of a gibbering wreck. Maybe I wouldn’t even be able to gibber!

Anyway, the one thing I do know for sure about ALF: The Video Game is that it has puzzle elements, and it’s not just about jumping over obstacles and eating…um…man, it’s been so long since I reviewed ALF. What was it he was famous for wanting to eat?

Oh, right: underage tits.

That’s mildly worrying, because it leaves open the possibility that I’ll get permanently stuck on some inscrutable puzzle at some point, but I did find a walkthrough. I won’t refer to it unless I absolutely need to, but I’m glad to know it’s there.

The funny thing is that the walkthrough was written in 2012! Twenty-three years after nobody cared about this game in the first place, some dodo dug it up and personally wrote a step-by-step guide to playing it.

Holy shit. Can we all just take a moment to reflect on what a sad fucking life that guy must lead?

Anyway, please enjoy my exhaustive review of ALF: The Video Game.

No nevermind FUCK IT SHUT THIS OFF FUCK IT NO

I…

This is a real release.

This was on store shelves.

This was a product people coded and manufactured and distributed.

Why does it look like this?

To put it in perspective, here are just a few of the other games 1989 had to offer: Super Mario Land, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Phantasy Star II, Golden Axe, Mother, Dragon Warrior, Castlevania III, Duck Tales, Prince of Persia, Mega Man Fuckin’ 2.

This was a good year for gaming, and I’m only listing the games whose legends have endured. Add in the forgotten and overlooked gems (not to mention the brilliant games that would have been released a year earlier or later) and you’d have yourself one hell of a fantastic retro library.

So why do we have a title screen with hideous pixel art of ALF realizing he just sat on his sack?

Why couldn’t they capitalize the P in Productions? Why can’t they get three fucking letters the same size? Who on Earth would want to play this?

And I’m just showing you the static image. I’m not making you listen to the music. The tinny, maddening, looping music. It’s fucking terrible. I know writing about music is like dancing about architecture (my observation so please credit me if you use it elsewhere) and I’m even worse at architecture than I am at dancing, music, and writing, so I know I can’t possibly describe it for you.

But maybe think about an ice cream truck playing a peppy little jingle. Only that jingle is composed of digitized shrieks and screams. And the volume is so high that it overwhelms the truck’s shitty speakers and comes out sounding distorted. And that ice cream truck is currently getting the electric chair. And your little brother is puncturing your eardrums with heroin needles.

What I’ve just described would be “Hey Jude” compared to this horse shit.

The music loops a few times and then the game plays with itself.

Nothing really happens except that ALF walks to the left. Like, he’s in a house walking to the left, and then he’s on a street walking to the left and then he’s in a cave walking to the left.

Different games have taken different approaches to this, but these demo sequences are holdovers from the arcade days of “attract modes.” The idea, obviously, was that every quarter had to be peeled out of somebody’s hand, so in addition to cabinet artwork and flashing lights, a game going unplayed would sort of audition itself briefly to passing kids. It would show off action-packed sequences to prove it could be fun. It would show off impressive cinematics to prove it was cutting edge. It would show off interesting late-game levels to prove it was worth playing for as long as it took to get there.

It would, in a word, convince. It was its own commercial.

In the attract mode for ALF: The Video Game, ALF walks brainlessly into a pit and his angel ascends to Heaven.* Great.

There are a few sequences in the demo, and since we don’t see any puzzles or platforming or combat, I guess ALF: The Video Game is just intending to show us all of the incredible, varied locations ALF can walk left through. If you’d like to know how many there are, I’ll help you figure it out.

Look to the left. Now look to the right. Now look below you. You’ve just looked at more locations than you’ll find in ALF: The Video Game.

The very end of the attract mode is ALF swimming. Some nameless human enemy fires a harpoon at him and the sequence ends literally one frame before the harpoon pierces ALF’s throat. It’s a far better cliffhanger than “Consider Me Gone” had, that’s for sure.

I will point out that I’m playing this on an emulator, because no human being deserves to profit off of ALF, least of all the guy on eBay who wants $480 for a copy, plus $20 shipping.

Yes, there are cheaper copies, but when something sells for $500 and you buy the same item for $35 or something you can be reasonably sure you’re going to receive a box full of ants.

I bring this up, though, to assure you that while I will be emulating what is clearly going to be the gaming experience of walking in on your parents making a snuff film, I won’t be using save states or anything. And if you don’t know what that means, it’s enough to know that I won’t be cheating my way through it, and I won’t be manipulating the game in any way to make it easier on myself.

If you don’t believe me, just reflect on the fact that I reviewed all 99 episodes of ALF, and the movie, when I could have easily cheated and just said I died.

Ah alright fine whatever I’ve stalled enough let’s play this garbage.

Well, that will sure teach me not to make fun of the art on the title screen.

This is…like, this is actually Microsoft Paint, right? Like, without any joke, that’s what we’re looking at here? This is exactly the quality of art I was able to produce with it at around 12 years of age, and about what I’m still able to produce with it today. But there’s an important difference, I think: I AM NOT AND HAVE NEVER BEEN A PROFESSIONAL ARTIST FOR VIDEO GAMES.

Those games I listed above as coming from 1989? Those were all varying degrees of good games. But, what’s more, they were all varying degrees of beautiful games. Look at the art style of Phantasy Star II, Duck Tales, Castlevania III. Look at what people were able to achieve with pixel art. Look at the way each of those games evokes different feelings, emotions, universes with nothing but simple sprites and backgrounds. And those games were far from alone; even terrible games back then tended to (though they certainly didn’t always) have actual artistic direction. They had care invested in their presentations.

It’s not enough to say, “Eh, it’s an early console game,” because that does a disservice to anyone who ever worked their ass off to successfully produce a game that looked, sounded, or played fantastically. And, let’s be frank here, a number of companies such as Nintendo, Capcom, and Konami were already doing all three reliably.

What this first screen of actual gameplay tells me — this first impression of what the game is — is that the developers don’t care. They don’t care that it looks like crap and they don’t care that it sounds like crap, so I’ll be shocked to holy hell if they care that it plays like crap.

Anyway I’ve spent enough time bitching that ALF has entered his impatient animation. He knocks on the screen, so angry that he forgets how punctuation works.

But guess what, pixel dick?! I ain’t done yet!

This is clearly meant to be the Tanner house, and we start outside. ALF’s spaceship is on the garage, which would seem to imply that he just crashed here. And that would be fine! But we remember from the show both a) he crashed at night and b) the Tanners waited something like 71 episodes before they bothered removing the fucking UFO from the roof.

On top of the house itself, there’s some kind of green scooter thing. ALF can scale the ivy to the top of the house, which we remember was always one story.

Once there, ALF automatically stands on the scooter, but he can’t do anything. So far as I can tell, only one action button in this game does anything. The Master System had two action buttons, labelled 1 and 2, but 1 both jumps and interacts with things.

ALF hints that we need to find some fuel for this thing, and that seems to be all we can interact with here. I head off to the right in the hopes that the next screen will have, at the very least, a different shrill, ear-scraping melody.

It doesn’t. Or maybe it sort of does? It’s hard to tell. It’s like saying I hear a different melody when I put my own head through a glass window than I hear when I put your head through one.

Despite the fact that most of the garage is out of view and the fact that the garage was an important location in so many episodes of the show and the fact that THE COCKING SPACESHIP is on the roof of the garage, you can’t go in there, and heading right leads you to the middle of some street.

I didn’t cut anything out between those two screens. Walk right from the scooter and there you are, in the middle of traffic. No wonder a social worker can afford a home like this in Los Angeles; the fucking highway runs right into the side of it.

I thought at the very least we’d be able to explore the rest of the Tanners’ yard, or maybe the Ochmoneks’ house (where ALF could snag a rad Hawaiian shirt). Any of that would have required some degree of creativity though so fuuuuuuuck dat.

We do see two of the game’s many (three) enemies on the screen, though. There’s a kid on a motorbike who zips by again and again. Only the wheels are animated, which would normally be fine, but the fact that he seems to be the only person using the road makes it very clear that the developers were being as lazy as possible.

In the upper right you see…I dunno, The Hamburglar? He shuffles along the sidewalk like he shit his pants, and he just keeps opening and closing his hands as he walks, like he’s honking a set of imaginary tits.

My assumption is that this guy is supposed to be from the Alien Task Force, despite the fact that the show always had them dress as officers in the military and this guy is cosplaying Carmen Sandiego. I figured I’d look up the game’s manual online to be sure and, yep, Alien Task Force.

Of course that means I had to read the fucking manual to ALF: The Video Game so I’m not letting you off the hook, either.

And…that’s pretty interesting, in more ways than you might at first realize.

I will say that I have no idea if the age of 229 is show-accurate. Maybe one of you remembers. The odds are good that you’ve read my ALF reviews more recently than I have, and frankly I’m just thrilled that I managed to erase some ALF information from my mind without physically carving it out with runcible spoon. But beyond that…

Even at the very end of the show’s run, official products can’t decide whether to call him ALF or Alf. Here’s my humble take on it: It’s clearly ALF you fucking morons.

Then there’s some interesting information complementing what we heard in the show. In no particular order, this confirms that Melmac indeed exploded when everyone plugged in their hair dryers at the same time. If I remember correctly, this was stated in the show, but as that kind of offhand comment ALF so often made that we could never definitively prove wasn’t a joke. (Three cheers for the metatextual irony of never knowing whether or not something in a sitcom is meant to be funny.)

We also learn that ALF left Melmac to find a “space-age candy store.” This could contradict what we learned in the show — he fled when he heard the emergency sirens, without helping anyone else — but I’m actually cool with it. Everything we learned about him points to the fact that while his family, friends, girlfriend, pets, Orbit Guard colleagues, and his entire history and culture perish in a nuclear holocaust, his first thought would indeed be where to get some junk food.

What’s more, the colony of New Melmac or whatever it is that Skip and Rhonda founded was evidently on Mars. Fine, whatever.

But the most interesting thing? Maybe you noticed, maybe you didn’t, but…ALF joining Skip and Rhonda on their new homeworld was an idea not yet introduced by the show proper. This confirms that there was some communication between the developers of this game and the writers of the show; the developers were privy to a plot development that viewers wouldn’t see until the final episode.

As a recap, “Consider Me Gone” saw ALF attempting to meet up with Skip and Rhonda as the Alien Task Force closes in on him and Willie thinks “THANK CHRIST” so loudly you can hear it in your bones.

The manual also mentions that Lucky is in the game, even though he died in “Live and Let Die.” Not a big deal, but I figured I’d point it out since Lucky is the only character other than ALF mentioned in the entire fucking manual.

The manual also offers some extremely helpful insight for players, such as “You can’t beat this game without items.” Gee, thanks.

Introducing a list of those items, it says, “Not all items are actually pictured in the game, so we’re showing you pictures of them here so you can see what they look like.” Which is more or less the creative team saying, “We’re so lazy we didn’t even bother to draw most of the shit that’s supposed to be in this game.”

Oh and this:

I hope to fuck this is one of the items not actually pictured in the game.

Anyway, I go left to the garage again and then left one more screen, and I’m instantly in the Tanner kitchen.

That’s Lucky on the counter, and Tits McSqueezins coming in from the left. Not pictured is me on the ground, twitching and nauseous over the pattern on the floor.

Also, suddenly, I have a status bar, which disappears when I go outside to the right again. I have to assume it’s a programming error, because there’s no reason for my score, money, and lives to be displayed on this screen and not the other two I’ve already visited.

I’m assuming those are lives in the upper right, anyway. They’re ALF heads, I think. Or maybe they’re little icons of his arm making a muscle? Maybe they’re Melmacian genitals. Who gives a shit.

The next time I come in, that fucking guy enters from the right instead.

This means I can proceed to the left, but I have to wonder if that’s the actual solution. Is that what I was supposed to do? Flee the room and return, somehow warping spacetime and plopping my adversary somewhere else entirely? At least the game follows the narrative conventions established by the show: something happens, then something else happens, then something different happens, then it stops.

At least, I hope it stops.

I walk past Lucky, who disappears. I was hoping for a sound effect like when Pac-Man swallows a piece of fruit whole but no such luck(y). The cat appears in my inventory instead. Please don’t ask where ALF crammed him.

I try to interact with the refrigerator, but suddenly the 1 button doesn’t let me, and the 2 button does. THANKS. Was every screen made my a different person? Jesus.

In the refrigerator ALF finds a salami stick. He says “Just the ticket for those nasty bats,” and I have no fucking clue what he’s talking about. What bats? I’m assuming we’ll find them later, but isn’t it a bit strange to say that now, when it’s impossible that any player would have seen them yet? And why would seeing a stick of salami immediately make you say, “Aw yeah, now I’m gonna fuck up some bats”? I don’t understand this even slightly.

ALF wedges the salami snugly beside Lucky and we move further left. Now we’re in the Tanners’ central corridor, which we all certainly remember from every episode of the show. On the wall are two portraits that you can’t definitively prove aren’t Willie and Kate so there that’s your cameo shut the fuck up.

At least we get three doors to choose from, and the fact that I’m genuinely excited about that, in spite of the fact that they couldn’t possibly lead to anything interesting, shows how much of an adventure game fan I am.

I grew up playing graphical adventure games of all stripes. My favorites were the ones made by Sierra, mainly the Space Quest series, but Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist is still the best one I’ve ever played. I also loved Leisure Suit Larry 6, which took place in a hotel that is still one of the best and most memorable locations I’ve ever explored in a video game.

Elsewhere there was The Secret of Monkey Island, which my friend Ray owned and which I was deeply jealous of until I got a computer that could run it many years later. And another game that ALF is perhaps oddly reminding me of, Hugo’s House of Horrors, which saw you exploring a haunted house.

The most classic of these games, though, was Maniac Mansion, which I originally played on the NES. I remember poring over an issue of Nintendo Power that featured a complete map of the Edison Mansion, and instantly falling in love. As much as games could transport me to outer space, to the old west, to fantasy lands beyond number, this game with its promise of a trek through a creepy old house absolutely grabbed me from the moment I laid eyes on it. I got the game that Christmas, or perhaps for my birthday, because I had pestered my parents endlessly for it. I knew for a fact I would love the game…and I did. I loved it even more than I expected to.

It was clever, it was funny, it was scary. It was tense. It was impressively versatile, with a number of different characters to choose from and what felt like an infinite number of ways to progress leading to an infinite number of endings. I was familiar with games you could win or lose; Maniac Mansion was the first game to give me a story that you could win and lose in so many unexpected, interesting, hilarious ways.

Games like this saw you plodding back and forth over a location or a series of locations, accumulating items, paying attention to dialogue and descriptions for clues, and solving oblique puzzles as you moved forward. In most of these games you could die, typically for failing to solve a puzzle correctly and frequently in a way funny enough that you wouldn’t get frustrated, but none of them had a life system like we see here.

Lives make sense when you accidentally run Mario off a cliff, because games like that are built around reflexes and quick thinking. You need, if the game is going to be fair, at least a few chances to get things right. In a game like this, though, I’m a little baffled by the life system. An adventure game shouldn’t be about reflexes or quick thinking; the solution comes to your mind, not to the tips of your fingers.

We’ll see how it works out, but my immediate thought is that whoever made this game knew that video games usually gave you a set number of lives and didn’t take the time to wonder if that was even a good fit for the kind of game they were making here.

Anyway, all of this is to say that in graphical adventure games, being confronted with three doors is like a promise that the game is about to open up in fantastic ways. There’s something unknown behind each one, another little world to explore, even if it’s the size of a single screen. Puzzles to solve, things to find, backstory to uncover.

oh who I am I kidding they each just lead to the street again don’t they

The leftmost door leads to what I assume is Willie and Kate’s bedroom. I have to assume this, because the game is going to go out of its away to avoid ever using the words “Willie” and “Kate.” Perhaps this was due to the fact that in the fifth season, the characters were going to be written out anyway, as a result of Max Wright threatening to strap dynamite to his chest and blow himself up in Brandon Tartikoff’s office if they didn’t let him out of his contract.

Whatever the reason, we sure as shit aren’t running into any Tanners in the Tanner house. It is nice that the game passively continues their established habit of never, under any circumstances, fucking. In the universe of this game, they’ve staved off physical desire by working to break the world’s record for largest number of decorative pillows.

There’s not much in the room, but there are two more doors. The one on the left is locked. ALF says he’ll find a key. Lucky, already cramped, cringes at the thought.

I see I earned 700 points somehow, I guess. That’s great. I hope you are jealous of my score I wish I were never born.

Anyway, I guess we’ll have to come back to this door later, so I’ll try the one on the right…

Hm.

Remember that thing I said about the game promising to open up fantastically?

Anyway, in this room and the hallway, I seem to be free from Alien Task Force harassment. It would be one thing if avoiding them were any kind of puzzle…or if, say, the game had a 60 minute time limit before the Alien Task Force closed in on the house, and you had to fix your spaceship before then…but instead they’re just sort of there, because whoever made this game heard that video games have enemies and and didn’t take the time to wonder if they were even a good fit for the kind of game they were making here.

Rad.

Going to the left takes us back to the hallway, but if we go right, we end up in a new area:

I’m assuming this is Brian and Lynn’s room? In the show they had separate bedrooms, but having them bunk together certainly makes things more convenient for ALF.

For the record, the rightmost door in the main hallway also leads to this room. We’ll get to the center door momentarily, but for now just remember that the far left and far right doors lead to the same long room, and somehow there’s a door that leads to a different room between them.

Fuck this show…’s tie-in game?

You know, this game is inadvertently proving how empty a universe ALF created. I talked about that a bit in my review of the godawful Gilligan’s Island episode, but now we’re seeing evidence of the fact that setting an interactive game in the Tanner house — the main location for every single episode across all four seasons — reveals that the show introduced nothing worth interacting with.

Think about the many Simpsons games that allow you to explore 742 Evergreen Terrace and/or Springfield in general. Starting, I think, with Virtual Springfield in 1997, which wasn’t much of a game but which thrilled me when it came out just because it was dotted with so many things and characters and locations from the show. Much more recently there are the South Park games like The Stick of Truth and The Fractured But Whole which allow you to dig through characters’ homes and closets, uncovering and collecting relevant items from the show’s history. It’s fun. It’s a treat for fans. It makes the games feel that much more interesting and worth playing.

I know I’m trying to force modern sensibilities onto an old game, and that isn’t be fair. But let’s say ALF: The Video Game were made today. Somebody says to the development team, “Pack it full of references that the fans will appreciate.”

What references could there even be? What would you find in Brian’s closet? Who would you interact with outside of the Tanners? What would it be like exploring Willie’s workplace?

These things are complete blanks. I guess there are a few things you could stick in there. Maybe you could find the perfume that killed the giant cockroach, or you could find Uncle Albert’s corpse in a kiddie pool outside. But, really, after 99 episodes and a movie, ALF was so embarrassingly empty. It’s possible we didn’t get these little in-universe nods to past adventures because that’s simply not what tie-in games did in 1989, but making it in 2018 wouldn’t change a thing.

Anyway, let’s see what’s behind this door.

Oh fuck you.

This game must have been really easy to write dialogue for.

And speaking of dialogue:

Whoever wrote the manual melded two of ALF’s catchphrases together. It’s “Ha, I kill me,” and “No problem,” you dingdongs. I fucking hate the show and even I know that. “Ha! No Problem!” is meaningless. Unlike ALF’s actual catchphrases which are DEEPLY MEANINGFUL. I guess I should be grateful they didn’t stick a burp in there.

Anyway, back into the hallway, so we can check out that middle door.

It brings us to some stairs leading into a dark basement. Which is also somehow in the middle of the extra-long bedroom we were just in. There looks to be a grey cat or something running around at the foot of the stairs, but I’m guessing it’s actually a mouse or a rat.

With only two action buttons it doesn’t take long to experiment, and by that I mean accidentally solve the puzzle without trying.

Either 1 or 2 releases Lucky, I guess, and the mouse runs off. That’s it. Also, ALF isn’t animated when he climbs or descends the stairs…he just winks from one step to the other. I really am starting to think each room was coded by a different person.

I’m guessing the mouse would have killed me, or something? No idea. Now I will never know. And if knowing is half the battle, never knowing must logically be the other half, so I guess I’m doing pretty well.

Anyway, have you noticed something? This is evidently the first screen on which I need to use an inventory item…AND IT IS ONE OF THE SCREENS THAT DOES NOT DISPLAY THE INVENTORY.

Great fucking game, ass bags.

ALF warps by increments to the bottom of the stairs, where there’s nothing to do. Jumping turns on the lights, just as we remember things working in the show.

The Tanners did have a basement in ALF, but if I remember correctly we only ever heard that it was full of shit from Willie and Kate’s honeymoon. They even have their original box of condoms, still factory sealed. But we never got to see it, unless Satan is keeping up his end of the deal and actually wiping my memories of the show.

Now we not only see it but we learn that it houses the secret entrance to a cave.

Jesus fuck, Willie, fix your damn house. Are you just hoping that some C.H.U.D.s will find their way in and eat Brian?

I’m honestly assuming I need to find some more items to progress in this direction, but what the hell. ALF isn’t especially fazed by discovering the secret entrance to a cave, so I guess I shouldn’t be either.

I die literally the moment I enter the cave.

The mouse from before appears behind me before I can even move and murders me, as mice are wont to do. You remember that mouse, right? The mouse that the game made sure we scared off before getting anywhere near the cave? Well also it’s right behind you and if you don’t shag ass you’re fucked.

How god damned weak is ALF that a mouse bumping into his ankle kills him instantly?

Anyway, we see the bats we were warned about when we found the salami, and ALF automatically brandishes it over his head like a flyswatter, so I guess we have to swat mammals out of the sky with a beeflog here in this shitty game for idiots.

Pressing 2 swings the salami, which sounds like a dirty joke, and now I’m mad because I can’t actually make that dirty joke. I died less than one second after taking this screengrab because I tried to jump onto the platform and for some reason just jumped straight up, giving the mouse plenty of time to bump into my ankle again and, obviously, murder me on the spot.

When I die here I restart at the entrance of the cave, and I have to remember to immediately move left because if I don’t, I’ll be killed by the fucking mouse in a matter of about one second. I still don’t know why ALF wouldn’t jump onto the platform, so this trial-and-error isn’t really working in my favor. I can’t even see how many Malmacian genitals I have left, because in the first area that can actually kill you they decide not to show you your lives.

This time I try to jump onto the ledge again and jump directly into a bat, because ALF controls like a fucking cinder block.

Then I realize I can walk under the platform and skip the jumping altogether so I do that and…

…really?

It’s a trap. I can’t do anything. Maybe I can jump over the mouse and go back the other way, but I die when I try it and Jesus Christ, guys, I used to like video games. I really did.

Well, then. I guess that’s that. It’s only fair I answer their question honestly…

Oh, alright.

It starts me off back at the cave entrance, which is nice. It means I don’t have to do both of the things I did already.

This time I jump into the bat three times while trying to get on to the ledge. The fourth time I manage to bat a few…bats out of the way, but they move so erratically and ALF moves so stiffly that there’s really no way to time anything. You just have to keep pressing 2 again and again, hoping your swings connect.

If you’d like to experience ALF: The Video Game but can’t afford it and don’t know how to emulate, there’s a home version you can play with your family. Ready? Pick up a controller and press a button over and over again, as fast or as slowly as you like.

There. You lose.

Wasn’t that fun?

This time I don’t get the option to continue. THANKS. I guess you can only do that once, so back to the start of the game for me…

I restart. I do all the shit I already did, but with less typing angry notes to myself for this article.

I get killed by the bats four more times and have to continue again.

Don’t get me wrong, ALF was fucking terrible. But who the fuck watched it and decided the video game should be about ALF slapping bats across the face with a meatstick? Is this really something that would please even die-hard fans of the show? Who is this for? People who hate bats and sausage?

I die four more times to the bats and have to start the game over.

The hit detection is abysmal. Sometimes the salami kills the bat, and sometimes the bat kills ALF as though it collided with his actual salami. This game is fucking terrible, and I’m not sure why a mediocre puzzle adventure feels compelled to pivot on a dime to become the world’s worst platforming bat-brawler.

I die four more times to the bats and have to continue again. I learn that after you kill a bat, it flutters slowly toward the bottom of the screen. If a single molecule in ALF’s toenail connects with the dead bat, you of course die instantly.

I die four more to the bats times and have to start the game over. There is no rhythm you can get into and no way to hit the bats more effectively. You’re in a cramped space with little room to maneuver and a character that anyway controls like an old shopping cart.

Sometimes you hit a bat and it doesn’t matter. Sometimes the bat attacks from an angle that you can’t possibly hit, because ALF seems to believe weapons are to be held two feet above your head at all times. In theory you could see that a bat is coming in at an unfavorable angle and move away, but since sometimes direct salami connections don’t count and sometimes a clear swing and a miss will kill a bat, there’s no way of knowing. You may think you’re moving away from getting hit but you could just as easily be moving away from a swing that would have killed the bat. It’s a crap shoot each time.

This is a fucking nightmare.

I die four more times and continue. I die four more times after that and have to start the game over. I make it further than ever before, but it doesn’t matter because this fucking cave never ends.

I die four more times and continue. I keep dying because the screen doesn’t scroll unless ALF is nearly at the edge, which means bats can pop out of nowhere and leave me with no reaction time. ALF can’t walk while swinging his salami (for me it just sort of happens naturally) so repeatedly attacking the whole way isn’t possible. You have to stop moving to attack, and stop attacking to move. Whenever you move, there’s a 50% chance you’ll walk face-first into a bat. Whenever you attack, there’s a 50% chance it won’t matter.

I’m not bad at playing video games, guys. Aside from crying it’s the one thing I do well. I beat every fucking Robot Master stage in the entire Mega Man series without taking damage, but I can’t make it to the end of ALF’s fucking salami cave?

I die two more times.

But then…

Holy shit! The cave has an end! ALF finds…a shed, I guess? And a gold nugget. He makes a shitty joke of a type that’s entirely in keeping with his behavior in the show: he mentions something you might recognize. Maybe the actual writers did make this game.

I die literally as soon as I close that text box because I guess there was a bat hiding behind it. This might be a slight blessing, as it looks like the “correct” way out is to walk all the fucking way back to the beginning of the salami tunnel. Dying, though, puts me right back at the entrance, so I leave, and, sure enough, I seem to still have the gold nugget. I retreat back to a screen that shows my inventory, because that’s certainly the way games should work, and I see I now have $50.

Woo! Spending spree!

Except that I now have only one life and no continues.

This is sure to go well.

I finally walk left of that main hallway and end up in the Tanner living room, with their famous inward facing couches. Nothing here is interactive and the Alien Task Force guy keeps grabbing at my last remaining genital so off we go!

Leaving the house puts us right back on the road. Fine. I’m just glad it isn’t another fucking bat cave.

Nearly all of the stores have CLOSED signs on them and I can’t even work up anger over the fact that this game features ALF walking around the neighborhood and visiting shops in broad daylight.

Finally, after what seems like forever, I find a store that’s open. In a fuck you for playing this far, the game’s “art style” degrades yet again so that the store is just a menu rendered in ASCII characters.

I can buy a key, a ladder, a fish, or a costume. I can only afford two of those things and I have no clue what a fish would be used for, whereas the key, I assume, will open doors in the Tanner house. I’ll go with that.

I walk out the door and get immediately killed by a biker who was on a completely different horizontal plane from me. He doesn’t even have the courtesy to stick around and watch me ascend into Heaven.

No continues. I have to start all over again.

I get back to the caves and die four more times. I continue. I die for more times and start over.

If there were actually any chance of getting better at this segment, I might possibly not hate it so much. Instead it’s just like flipping a coin 50 times in a row, and calling yourself a winner if it lands on heads every time. It will eventually happen, but it sure as shit won’t feel satisfying.

I die four more times and continue. I die four more times and start over.

This would be easier if I used save states for sure, but I want to have the actual, intended experience of the game. Watching ALF would have been easier if I fast forwarded the whole fucking mess but then I wouldn’t have had the right to bitch that a show about a farting puppet wasn’t very good, so I think we can all agree I’m making the right choice.

I die four more times and continue. I die four more times and start over. I die four more times and continue. I die four more times and start over.

Through some kind of miracle I make it back to the shed and find the fucking gold nugget on my first life. This is good. This is very good. I have all of my lives and a continue. If I don’t beat this fucking game now, I never will.

Hey, look. The bat hiding behind the text box this time didn’t kill me, so I was able to proceed left and confirm that…the universe ends?

Either this is an invisible wall and I won’t be able to proceed that way, or it’s a pit that kills me. Knowing this game, it’s the latter, so I’ll try walking back to the entrance.

A mouse that can levitate kills me seconds later.

Fine.

I spend way too fucking long trying to figure out how to get ALF to climb up some stairs, because this game is just that well made. I eventually manage it but I couldn’t tell you how. I just pressed everything forever and screamed profanities into the void. It seemed to work okay.

On my way out to rebuy the key, I realize there was a door in the living room I didn’t try because Fingers Magoo was blocking it. Shockingly it isn’t locked, and it takes me to the Tanners’ back yard. Or side yard, since I was in the back yard already? Who knows.

Continuity props for including the gate between the Tanners’ and Ochmoneks’ property. I don’t personally remember there being a moat around the house, but I’m sure that’s correct, too.

Yes, I can read the sign, but I try getting in the water anyway, and I learn that ALF actually has to put on more clothes to go swimming. Strangely enough, he just stands on top of the water rather than splashing around in panic or something, as though the water’s surface may only be broken by swimsuits.

I learn that if I keep the Alien Task Force guy on the screen, another won’t spawn ahead of me, meaning I won’t have to step into the road and be killed by another biker. (As we all remember from the show, the Alien Task Force is biologically unable to walk on tarmacadam.)

Thus begins my extremely fun progress through this area, which consists of me taking a few steps and waiting for this guy to shuffle a little closer, honking air tits at me all the way. Then I take another few steps and JESUS CHRIST HURRY UP DO YOU WANT TO CATCH THIS ALIEN OR NOT

I learn that, for no reason whatsoever, the jump button is disabled on street scenes. Despite the fact that, y’know, there’s a fast-moving enemy in the road you might want to jump over. THANKS. Also, the inventory screen isn’t displayed, despite the fact that you might want to know how much money you have before you go shopping. THANKS TOO.

I go left to see what else there is on this street, and you seriously can’t imagine just how tedious it is to walk slowly past endless buildings with CLOSED written on the door. I take a few steps and have to wait for the background music to cycle completely before this handsy fucker even gets close to me. He’s slow as all shit but my alternative is to scroll him off the screen and have his double spawn in front of me, forcing me into the road where I CANNOT JUMP OVER THINGS THAT KILL ME FROM COMPLETELY DIFFERENT HORIZONTAL PLANES.

Fuck.

Finally I make it to a bright yellow building that also sells things.

This place carries whatever an ALF book is and a lantern, and, just like in all five-and-dimes, everything costs exactly $100.

I can’t afford this shit so off I go.

Oh please Jesus no not more shuffling no please no

Actually this time it doesn’t take very long. I reach the end of the road and learn that it wraps around; I’m back in the yard.

I take a celebratory shit on the lawn.

Anyway, off I go, into the house to unlock some doors, baby! Now THIS is action!

Brian and Lynne’s bedroom is closest, so I go there first.

The key indeed opens the door but…I can’t seem to do anything else. I can’t interact with it or go through it or anything. Fun. Can’t wait to find out I was supposed to buy the fish instead.

I go to Willie and Kate’s room and open the door on the right side of the screen. Some kind of insect was in there and it kills me without warning. It happened so fast I couldn’t take a screengrab.

I went back and it was still there. LOVELY STUFF.

It followed me into Brian and Lynn’s room and killed me again. Feels so good to be burning through these lives. I swear to fuck if I have to do that bat cave again I will shit.

I enter the room again and the bug immediately kills me because it spawns on the same side of the screen that I do.

I have to continue. This is it. FUCK.

The bug, of course, is still there, but I make it to the last door. It opens and I get the swimsuit.

So, just to be clear, there are three doors you can open. There are no clues about what is behind any of them. One does nothing, one kills you, and one gives you what you need to progress. It’s like that old story, “The Lady and the Tiger and the Door With Nothing Behind It.”

I’m joking but I’m absolutely fucking terrified I’ll die and have to do the bat cave again thanks to this “surprise, motherfucker” bullshit.

I head back out to the water and…

Oh fuck no.

Another action sequence. This one isn’t nearly as bad as the bat cave, because the enemies move and behave reliably. The cat fish GET IT swim back and forth, and the harpoon guys fire when you get near their vertical axes. Easy, right?

Well, yeah…but you can only learn how they behave though trial and error. Which is how I blow through all four of my remaining lives.

I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be doing in that fucking water. At one point I found a treasure chest, but the text box didn’t stay on screen long enough for me to read a single word of it. There are air pockets to suck on as you go down, so I guess whatever I’m looking for is all the way at the bottom.

I don’t know. And I may never know. Because to even get another shot at this, I NEED TO REDO THE BAT CAVE FUCK

Hold please.

I’m going to do some soul searching.

Okay. I’ve slept on it. I’ve even consulted the manual again to discover that three of the four “helpful hints” are specifically about the fucking bat cave, meaning the developers absolutely knew it was needlessly challenging bullshit, but rather than, y’know, fix it they decided to add a hints page.

The other bullet isn’t a hint of any kind; it just tells you that if you sit still and cry long enough ALF will knock on the screen and bitch at you. For a good laugh, scroll up and see the screengrab.

In all honesty, I’d be (more or less) okay with the game giving away its more esoteric secrets in the manual. It’s not ideal game design, but it’s not a huge problem. Here, though, the game is admitting that it’s a piece of shit.

“Can’t beat the bats? Well, they’re tough, so just keep trying.”

“Died after getting the gold nugget? Well, so did our playtesters so let’s just ignore it and move on.”

And, for the record, “Where does your mom keep the lunch meat?” is the world’s greatest insult.

So I don’t know, guys. On the one hand, I really want to play this game properly. On the other hand, the game essentially comes with a note from the developers saying “Sorry we made a heap of shit.”

I’ve decided to allow myself one save state. Just one.

I’ll replay the game until I can get to the gold nugget again on my first life. I did it once before, so I don’t feel too bad. I’ll lay down a save state there, and that’s it. That’s the only way I’ll ever finish ALF: The Video Game, so if you’d rather read my writeup of that than ALF Gets Eaten By Bats Six Thousand Times on the Same Screen, that’s what we’re going to do.

I need a different emulator to use save states, so forgive the change in image quality. I KNOW THEY WERE SO BEAUTIFUL TO LOOK AT

It actually only takes me one further death (and reload) to get the gold nugget. Praise the Lord.

I figure I’ll test out that end-of-the-universe thing I saw before.

ALF dies.

RELOAD SAVE STATE I GUESS

I try to leave the cave properly and get killed by a bat. This warps me back to the cave entrance and, yes, the manual tells you that you don’t need to get the gold nugget again, but since the inventory isn’t displayed, there’s no way for a player to actually confirm that they’ve collected it. Rock on!

There’s an Alien Task Force guy in the living room who kills me. This warps me back to the yard for some reason.

Then it’s back to

OH CHRIST NO

I can’t take it. I can’t take listening to this fucking music loop endlessly while a man with no knees hobbles toward me.

Fuck safety. I sprint down the road and somehow don’t die. I find the general store, buy the key, and open the correct closet door, solving the clever puzzle that the game provided hints about in the form of killing me a bunch of times.

Then it’s back to the fucking sea dive I guess.

I make it to that treasure chest easily enough. This section isn’t fun by any stretch of the imagination, but at least it’s an actual game. It has enemies with recognizable patterns of behavior and ways to reliably make it through.

This time when I grab the treasure chest I get to read the message.

ALF: The Video Game, I’ve been to Vegas. I know Vegas. Vegas gave me my favorite STDs. ALF: The Video Game, you’re no Vegas.

Wondering how much money this pirate treasure is worth? Too bad; the inventory doesn’t display on this screen, either. Eat my balls.

I’m assuming there’s more at the bottom, so down we go.

I get killed by a harpoon guy immediately. The next time, though, I do make it to the bottom, where I again die immediately.

“What oyster?” you may ask. Well, it’s behind the text box, and I didn’t see it either because you have to be all the way at the bottom of the screen for it to scroll, so I guess I bumped into it before it even existed and now I am dead.

On my way back down I get killed by another harpoon guy and I’m at the continue screen.

Fucking hell this game sucks.

Anyway, back to the oyster.

This time I descend on the far left side of the screen and, sure enough, I can see the oyster chomping away. Since the manual told me the pearl is a collectible item, I assume I have to time it so that I grab it while the thing’s mouth is open. Fair enough.

Actually, wait. If I didn’t get the pearl, does that mean its mouth was closed?

Then how did the fucking thing bite me?

I HATE THIS

I am now telling the computer exactly what ALF can do with the pearl.

Of course I need to swim all the way back up. But being as this is an actual game and not a mindless bat gantlet, I might actually survive the return trip.

Seriously, WAS EVERY SCREEN CODED BY A DIFFERENT PERSON?

A harpoon guy kills me.

I only now realize how odd it is that the little swimming cats are enemies and not bonus items or something. In Soviet video game, cats eat ALF.

My death warps me to the top of the water sequence, and then I leave and go back to the yard, where the status bar doesn’t display so I still can’t see what any of the shit I picked up is worth. Nice.

The grabby guy in the living room kills me because I touch the brim of his hat while trying to jump over him, but at least I can see that my deep-sea dive netted me a cool $300. That’s still not enough to buy all the shit I’ve seen for sale so I guess I’ll be hunting for more treasure somewhere else soon. Fantastic.

I go to the five and dime, because it’s closer to where the game restarts me. Selling the pearl gets me another $100, which means I can buy both items here and still have $200 left over for the general store.

Cool! I purchase the lantern and the ALF book.

As soon as I leave the shop, the ALF book opens up, I guess?

I press B1.

I press B1.

I press B1.

what

what

what no

WHAT

What the fuck is this shit?

The book didn’t even just kill me; it took ALL my lives away and reset the entire game. Was it the fucking Necronomicon?

Is this seriously the whole point of the ALF book? Just to kick little kids in the fucking balls? I honestly thought this was a cute little bonus while I was reading the text. You know…a kind of optional item that lets you read about ALF’s backstory, which would have been pretty nice in the pre-DVD days, when a lot of fans hadn’t seen the relevant (mainly early) episodes.

But then…

It really does take me back to the title screen, where ALF is making the same face I am right now.

Can you imagine if I hadn’t set that save state? If I read the fucking ALF book and had to do the fucking bats all over again just because I bought a seemingly innocuous item from the store?

Jesus Lord above. This isn’t just a bad game…this is a game actively designed to fuck you.

I know graphical adventure games, especially those made by Sierra, had a habit of killing you for doing silly things. However, they were nearly always things there were major hints you shouldn’t do. Yes, you can drink from the pool of acid, but you should be pretty well aware that’s a bad idea before the game punishes you for it. What’s more, though, those games allowed you to save your progress at any point.

Death in those games was sometimes a kind of reward, and the save-anywhere system allowed you to experiment both to figure out puzzle solutions and to do clearly stupid things just so you could see the unique death animations and read the mocking messages. It was part of the experience, and the experience was built around it. A silly death wouldn’t be funny if it happened four hours into the game with no warning and no way to restore your progress.

ALF: The Video Game isn’t being cute. This is outright malicious.

I load the save state and a bat kills me. Fine.

I buy the key and the dirt bike kid kills me. Fine.

I get the bathing suit and the pirate treasure, then I’m killed by a water snake, a cat fish, and a harpoon guy. Fine. I continue.

I’m killed by two harpoon guys. I get the pearl and I’m killed by one harpoon guy. On the way to the five and dime I’m killed by the dirt bike kid.

Fuck this game.

You know what, though? I’ve decided. The game betrayed my trust as a player. The ALF book has proven that this game doesn’t care if I only fail through fault of my own, so I’m leveling the playing field. I’m going to set down another save state before that water sequence, and after if it goes well.

I’m killed by a bat leaving the cave, and I’m convinced it’s impossible to escape alive. Then I’m killed by the dirt bike kid.

I get back to the treasure and the pearl, but due to having to time the oyster’s biting, I end up reaching for it as soon as an impossible-to-see harpoon guy fires down from off-screen.

It kills me. Whatever. At least I’m out of the water part.

I go to the general store first this time and sell the pearl. I also try to sell the swimsuit and the game reveals that it’s as sick of me as I am of it.

I buy the ladder, because it’s the only thing here that seems useful. Presumably it will somehow behead me the moment I walk out of the store, or format my computer.

I go back to the five and dime for the lantern. I have exactly $100 left over. Hey, that’s exactly the price of the ALF book! So anyone who just buys it because they have that precise amount of money left over and might as well pick up another item will get a real kick in the throat.

ALF: The Video Game, fuck you on behalf of all of those kids.

I make it back to the house without incident. Surely I need to be nearing the end of this fucking thing.

I thought for sure the ladder would help me get to the spaceship, but I can’t figure out any way to use it. I resorted to checking that walkthrough and discovered I actually have to go through the fucking bat cave again.

Only, this time, further.

MOTHERF

Save state.

I’m killed by bats twice. Reload state both times. I make it back to that little shed thing, only there’s what I assume is that ladder I bought stretched over a gap. Not sure why, since I didn’t need it to reach the shed the first time, but whatever. Save state…

Killed by a mouse and then a bat. Reload both times.

Now, instead of that black void that killed me before — remember when ALF fell in the hole? — the screen just keeps going.

THERE WAS NO HOLE YOU FUCKS

Jesus Christ does this bat cave ever end? I have slapped more bats out of the sky with a salami stick than any human being should ever have to.

I turn down the music. I can’t stand it anymore. It’s genuinely giving me a headache. It’s so fucking shrill. To hell with experiencing this game as intended. I’ll end up in a fucking institution.

I make it to the end, finally, and…

I find the same fucking shed with a different message.

Fuck you, game.

And what the shit is Melmacian scooter fuel doing in a second shed at the end of a long-ass secret bat cave underneath the Tanner house? WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE.

Surely the game wants me to walk all the way back out of this cave. Surely this game can pork itself sideways.

A bat kills me and I’m out of the cave. The phrase “the sweet release of death” has never made so much sense to me.

Anyway, to the scooter I fuckin’ guess. I save state there, because there’s no way in shit I’m trusting that the game won’t pull some kind of massive bullshit.

I rose into the air and died for no reason that I could comprehend before I could even get a screenshot.

The game pulled some kind of massive bullshit.

Loading state…

I try again and what fresh hell is this

Little Fisher-Price airplanes fly by. At least I assume that’s what they are, because otherwise ALF is the fucking length of a jetliner.

It’s not difficult at all to avoid them. On my first try I make it to my goal, a space station, which is represented in proud ALF: The Video Game tradition by a menu composed of ASCII characters.

I guess I’ll buy the space suit.

When I leave I get a little scene with ALF flying away from the space station, so enjoy it. It was on screen for all of eight frames.

Then I guess I’m flying again, only now there are green comets and some kind of little Sputnik thing to avoid. Sputnik kills me, twice. This is much harder than the airplane sequence was.

I continue.

Sputnik kills me four more times. Game over.

This part pretty much sucks. You can move left and right easily enough, but pressing 1 causes you to ascend slowly and releasing it causes equally slow descent, making it difficult to avoid the fast-moving Sputnik.

There’s no way of knowing where it will appear, and it moves horizontally, your slow vertical movement making it sometimes impossible to get out of its way fast enough. If you move left or right while ascending or descending you can buy yourself a bit of extra time to get out of the way, but that can easily get you hit by the otherwise trivial comets, which move vertically.

Each time you die, you start back at the space station. The music is different here but even more shrill.

I reload the state. I’m killed by a comet and then by Sputnik. I continue.

I’m killed by Sputnik. I nearly make it to the moon, presumably my goal, but I’m killed by Sputnik.

I’m killed by Sputnik twice more and load the state.

I’m killed twice more by Sputnik. I fail to continue because the cursor defaults to NO, perhaps as an act of mercy. Load the state.

Sputnik kills me and a comet kills me. Continue. Sputnik kills me three times, a comet kills me once. Load state. Comet kills me. Sputnik kills me.

Continue. I have never seen the moon again.

Sputnik kills me four times. Load state. Sputnik kills me twice. Continue.

I finally make it back to the moon. The screen stops scrolling and I have no idea where to go. Sputnik starts moving diagonally. I fucking scream.

Finally I manage to do whatever the fuck I had to do. I guess I needed to position the scooter just beneath, but not in, the moon’s open mouth. Because inside the mouth, I assume, is a spaceship repair kit.

The moon has a fucking tongue, people.

ALF flies away and the game ends.

Well, at the very least, I can say that this game has definitely earned the right to bear the name ALF.

Just like in “Consider Me Gone,” Skip and Rhonda drive the plot and are neither seen nor heard. In the show, the fact that we didn’t see them at least was understandable; the puppets might not have existed anymore, or they could have gotten damaged since the first and only time we’d seen them in season one.

But here? Where we could mock up a quick pixel doodle of them and a text window that says CONGLATURATION. YOU’VE HAVE LONCHED THE SPACES SHIP! WELCOME HOME AL!!! it’s simply inexcusable.

And that’s it. That’s literally the whole ending. You’ve missed nothing. I’ll never get my life back.

Just to make sure nobody ever asks me to play this again, I started the game over and bought the two items I didn’t before, to see what they do. It’s much less frustrating this time because the game gradually taught me the correct way to play it which means I was able to improve at a reliable rate whoops actually it’s because I just keep using save states after every fucking bat.

I redo all the shit I wish I never had to do in the first place until I buy the key and return to Willie’s closet. This time I know which door houses the swimsuit, so I don’t have to guess, except when I open that door, the insect comes out and kills me.

This time, the swimsuit is in Brian and Lynne’s closet. So…Jesus Christ? It’s bad enough there are no in-game clues as to which door will kill you and which will help you advance, but every time you play the game it’s different, so there’s no way to just remember the solution and avoid this Melmacian Roulette bullshit.

When I dove, though, I found a cool glitch where three enemies embedded themselves in each other and couldn’t move.

That’s the most fun I’ve had with this game.

So okay, after the dive I have all the money I need to buy the items I haven’t tried yet.

The fish seems to do nothing. I bought it, left with it, went swimming with it, and nothing happened. Here’s a screengrab proving it’s in my inventory; that little icon is all you get for your money, so far as I can tell.

The instruction manual has this to say about the fish: “What’s the mystery surrounding this scaly object? None, really…but it does make the game interesting!” Yes, I am so interested in the game siphoning $20 out of my coffers for a dummy item.**

I also purchased the costume, which you’ll remember is supposed to make the Alien Task Force agents overlook you.

And, surprisingly, it works! It also creeps the shit out of me to look at but it works!

Of course, this being ALF: The Video Game, there are a few catches.

1) It stops the Alien Task Force agents from spawning at all, so it’s kind of disappointing that we don’t get to see them grabbing at a clown’s anus.

2) It replaces the Alien Task Force agents with dogs, as you’ll see in the screengrab. They run far more quickly than the shamblin’ squeezers, which actually makes you far more likely to get hit. If they catch you, the costume disappears and you’re right back where you were, with the agents reappearing and you in grave danger. It’s useless.

3) The costume disappears when you’re in the house, despite the fact that the place is swarming with Alien Task Force agents and the item would be very useful here, as the rooms are cramped and you can’t move vertically to evade them like you can on the road.

This means the costume functions on a whopping one screen in the game, and it makes that screen harder.

SO GLAD I WENT BACK FOR THAT

So, is ALF: The Video Game any good?

Fuck off no.

Nothing about it is good. The controls are stiff, the animations are either hilariously simple or non-existent, the puzzles are often guessing games, the action sequences are unplayable half the time and too easy the rest, it looks like crap, it sounds like crap, it kills you for curiosity, despite the fact that random guessing is the only way to solve anything in this fucking game, and my favorite thing about it is that it took another several years off my miserable life.

I’ll admit, though, I like the premise. A lot could have been done with this. In another time and place, I can absolutely imagine a game like this working. You’re a beloved little alien wandering around, collecting the items necessary to leave Earth in your spaceship, avoiding government agents who are trying to take you away. That’s a can’t-miss premise, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

Oh

Tune in next year when I review the fuckin’ paper plates.

DEATH TOLL:
Bat – 68
Sputnik – 24
Harpoon Guy – 9
Mouse – 5
Comet – 4
Dirt Bike Kid – 4
Insect in Willie’s Closet – 3
Alien Task Force – 2
Water Snake – 1
The Bottom of a Screen – 1
Cat Fish – 1
Oyster – 1
A Deep Hole – 1

* This is unintentionally, I’m sure, open to interpretation. ALF has no halo, for instance, and his wings look far more like those of a demon’s than of an angel’s. But he does, in fact, ascend Heavenward as opposed to descend Hellward. And wait, is ALF going to Earth Heaven, with God? Not Memlacian Heaven, with Barry? God didn’t make this piece of shit; what does He want with him?

** If anyone out there has found a use for the fish, please contact me. I’d like to fly to your house and punch you in the balls.

There’s No Fiction Like Non-Fiction

I’ve already said that I can’t reveal much about the book I’m writing quite yet, but I think there are a few things I’m at liberty to share. One of them is that it’s a work of non-fiction. This is actually a source of amusement to me.

I’m a fictionist. End of story. When I sit down to write, I create characters. I figure out who they are. I let them interact and show me sides of themselves I never anticipated. I watch them bumble around and find their ways either forward or backward. (Usually backward.) It’s fun. I love it. And when I’m not writing, I’m dreaming up ideas, situations, complications, so that when I do write, I have some concept of where I can take things.

As of right now, I have two manuscripts that I would call complete. That is to say that I may well tweak them at some point in some minor way, but they’re finished. They’ve been written, rewritten, rewritten, edited, rewritten, re-edited, rewritten, and finalized. I’m happy with them. If I died tomorrow and somebody found them and they turned out to be my legacy, I’d be okay with that.

One is a work of high literary fiction called Afterbirth: The Comedy of Miscarriage. It’s a darkly humorous and deliberately overcomplicated narrative, told by a child who was never born. He relates — from wherever he happens to be now — the dozens of couplings and tragedies and coincidences throughout the generations that ultimately funneled two idiots together. Two idiots who created and quickly lost him. It’s a laugh riot.

I’m happy with it. By some miracle, the first draft was very strong, and a number of talented people came together to help me make it even stronger. I’ll always see it with fondness, even if it goes nowhere, but, in my humble (and utterly unreliable) estimation, it deserves to go somewhere at some point.

It’s not exactly a debut novel, though. It’s not the sort of thing an agent would have an easy time shopping around, especially coming from a nobody. So I got to work a few years later on something I thought would be easier to market: a pastiche of the detective fiction genre called, hey, Detective Fiction.

I started writing it for the sole purpose of having something with merits I could clearly and quickly communicate to agents. It doesn’t hop around through time or spin complex backstories for minor characters or sideline action in favor of theme like Afterbirth does; it tells a funny — though decidedly functional — detective story starring a character thoroughly ill-equipped to solve it.

It was going to be easy. That was the entire point of Detective Fiction. But, as I wrote it, I fell in love with it. I stepped back from it a little and saw glimmers of actual humanity that I then, as an artist, was obligated to expose. It’s still a far simpler story than Afterbirth, and it’s a more overtly funny one, but there was something real within these characters, in both positive and appalling ways, and I found Detective Fiction becoming something more than what I wanted it to be.

Which, ultimately, means nobody wanted that one, either.

I’ve solicited agents for these books off and on for years. I’ve worked on other projects. I’ve rarely stayed put, creatively, and even if I were to go nowhere, I wouldn’t see that as any kind of failure. The old man sits in his garage carving ducks out of blocks of wood. None of them will end up in a museum, nobody knows his name, at best they will sell for a buck at an estate sale after he dies. But carving them makes him happy. Carving mine makes me happy, too.

I’ve spent a lot of my life working on fiction, trying to sell fiction, seeing my short fiction published. (That’s much easier than shopping novels around, if you’re curious. My problem isn’t that I can’t find success in publishing…it’s that my heart is in longer works, and I don’t particularly feel compelled to craft tight, punchy stories the way I do to craft complex, meandering narratives.)

So, of course, the one thing a publisher snaps up from me is a work of non-fiction.

It’s a laugh riot.

I don’t mean to downplay this in any way. I’m thrilled. The book is coming along great. And getting a work of non-fiction published actually makes more sense than getting a work of longform fiction published. (I’ll explain momentarily.) It’s just that I feel like I’ve been spending my life on the basketball courts, struggling for recognition, only to pick up a baseball bat and hit a grand slam. It’s a major achievement and something to be proud of…but you have to wonder what the hell you were doing over there.

I have a complicated relationship with non-fiction. I love it when it’s engaging, when it’s fascinating, when the authors are also expert storytellers. (Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus, Shannon Moffett’s The Three-Pound Enigma, anything by Carl Sagan or Michael Pollan or Bill Bryson.) But too often, non-fiction just feels like text to me. Information. Great for a reference book, fatal for anything ostensibly readable.

And so I read far (far) less non-fiction than I do fiction. Bad fiction is still instructive. Sometimes, like bad movies, it’s even fun. Bad fiction helps me to understand and appreciate how good fiction works. Bad fiction can even inspire great fiction to come, by digging up incredible ideas that later authors run with more effectively.

By contrast, bad non-fiction just stinks.

It’s boring. It’s dry. It’s there and that’s fine and I’m willing to believe it’s accurate, but holy hell I sure don’t want to read it, no matter how interesting the subject matter should be.

Oh, and, here’s the other thing: I don’t believe non-fiction exists.

Or, rather, I think non-fiction is a deeply misleading term for what it actually is. Surely there’s merit (and urgency) in drawing a dividing line between the many factual books about World War II and the many stories inspired by World War II. An author who supplies, in some form, actual names and places and dates with the main purpose of providing an accurate historical record is distinct from an author who invents characters and plugs them into that backdrop. They both may arrive at a kind of truth. The novelist often even arrives at greater truths. But the process by which each author arrives at his finished product is importantly distinct.

To a point.

The mere process of translating history or science to text is a creative act. We have to decide what goes in and what is left out. We have to decide how much time to spend on each event we’d like to highlight. We have to decide how to present it. (Chronological presentation may seem to be an easy default, but it may not always work, especially if the fallout from the event you’ve just described won’t be felt for decades or centuries down the line; it may be wiser to pair the cause and effect so that the reader is sure to understand the connection.)

And then there’s the simple act of description. Writing is the process of encoding and decoding. If I were to write a (hopefully short) piece of non-fiction about a man I watched eating an apple, I’d have to take a wordless experience and translate it into a medium that consists only of words. I’d also, consciously, have to choose and arrange those words carefully, not necessarily because they’re the ones I’d like to use but because they’re the ones that would give you, the reader, the most accurate possible portrait of what I’m attempting to record. I’m creating a world, just as I would if I invented that man and his apple wholecloth. The fact that I didn’t is the only salient difference, and it’s an arguably incidental one.

Perhaps while that man ate the apple, a pigeon landed next to him, scrounged for some breadcrumbs, hopped around a bit, and then was startled off by a child. I saw it happen. I observed it. But including it in my work of non-fiction would almost certainly distract from the man eating the apple…the very subject I’m trying to write about. Knowingly distracting the audience from the point I’m trying to make would be idiotic, sure, so I leave the pigeon out, leave the breadcrumbs out, leave the playful child out.

But then, didn’t I just drift into fiction? By curating the scene, I’m presenting an alternate version of what actually happened. What I include may be as truthful as possible, but I’m excising so much else. By choosing not to report something — and every record of every kind must choose not to report something, or there wouldn’t be time enough in life to report anything — I’m inventing. I’m inventing a version of that man who ate an apple without the pigeon, without the car honking away in the distance, without the leaves flitting by on the ground, without the clouds in the sky and where they were positioned and how big they were and what they looked like. And how many times did he blink? I don’t know. I don’t have access to that information. I will have to craft my work of non-fiction without knowing everything about what I’m actually recording.

In short, what I mean to say is that there’s always an element of fiction in non-fiction. I don’t know that there’s always an element of non-fiction in fiction, though there frequently is.

Fiction is where my heart is, and where it will always likely be…but how much fiction have you read from me? Maybe a little; I’ve posted a bit of it here. How much non-fiction have you read from me? Well, that would be just about everything you’ve read from me.

I’ve always written stories, but I’ve found success as a critic, as an essayist. It’s why you’re here. It’s why my publisher has any idea who I am. When I spoke with him on the phone, he told me he was impressed that I’d successfully built a following that tunes in just to see what I’ll say next. That’s the sort of thing that happens quite often to fictionists. I don’t think it happens as frequently to essayists, especially those who cover as much disconnected ground as I do.

I don’t know that this means I’m a great writer of non-fiction. More likely, if I really had to appraise myself critically, I’d say it just proves that I’ve learned to take much of what I’ve wanted to accomplish with fiction, and found out how to bring it to life in non-fiction.

I try to tell stories here, and I try to tell them in the same way that I enjoy telling stories I made up. I let myself digress. I hop around in time. I provide little backstories for the minor characters I mention. I’m telling the truth, but I’m aware that it needs to be curated, and I find that curation to be a lot of fun. I’d be doing the same for invented characters, after all. Why not give creative shape to those that actually exist?

The ALF reviews were little stories, which essentially laddered up into a larger one. They’ve already brought more enjoyment and laughter and satisfaction to people than any fiction I’ve written. When I write an essay about a movie I’ve seen or a book I’ve enjoyed or a video game I’ve played, I try to write a story. I try to spin a narrative that’s worth reading, whether or not you have any familiarity with or interest in that movie or book or game.

I try to let my personality shine through. Why wouldn’t I? It’s who I am. I’m a snarky son of a bitch with an extraordinarily soft heart. I’ll laugh at works of terrible art right up until the moment they touch me, at which point I’ll defend them to the death. I’ll pretend I don’t care what people think of me or what I have to say, but I hope it’s always clear to you that I do care, that I want you to enjoy the time you spend with whatever silly thing I’ve been writing, and that I respect your opinion of it more than I could ever respect my own.

And so it’s probably not all that strange that the fictionist has signed his first publishing contract for a work of non-fiction. Maybe it’s actually a good thing. Readers here and elsewhere know me overwhelmingly for my works of non-fiction. Maybe they wouldn’t have much interest in reading a novel of mine. The fact that they pop in to find out what I thought of some largely forgettable Mega Man game doesn’t mean they care at all about a 600-page story I’ve written about Brutus the Time-Traveling Hobo.

That’s okay. I thought I’d end up going down one path, but it’s no less thrilling to go down the path next to it, especially when the destination is the same. It keeps things exciting. It keeps things surprising. Just as a character I invent will inevitably turn out to be something other than what I expected, so do I, the author. That’s all part of the fun.

The great news is that the book I’m writing will be of interest to readers here. There’s no question. You may or may not buy it, of course, but you’re at least the right audience for it. You’re used to the approach. You’ve seen it here before. In fact, it’s even a subject I’ve covered on this site a number of times. (Though, it’s fair to say, never in this way, at this length, or so satisfactorily.)

It’s a book I am excited to share more details about, because I think it will result in a lot of people saying, “Oh!” Unlike my announcement of Brutus Rides Again! which would understandably be met with something closer to “Oh…”

At some point, without realizing it, without knowing it, I started investing all of my writing with the same love and attention that I used to set aside only for fiction. I think novelists have a noble calling, but I think that any book, however real it is, whatever the subject matter, whoever it’s for, should still be able to take the reader on an adventure. It should still be able to transport them to places they haven’t been and show them things they’ve never seen. It should, as Thomas Pynchon would have it, “project a world.”

It should matter. There’s no reason non-fiction can’t touch a life or spark the imagination or reveal new perspectives the way fiction does regularly.

I’m a fictionist writing a work of non-fiction. I look forward to you telling me, in time, how I’ve done.

Separating Art from the Artist

Pretty straightforward title to this post, but it’s something I have trouble with. Sometimes. Perhaps.

There comes a time in every life when an artist responsible for something we love speaks or behaves in a way that we hate. This isn’t anything like a new phenomenon. “Never meet your heroes” is a maxim for a reason.

Now, however, we don’t have to meet our heroes to be appalled by them. The rise of mass media lets foul behavior by popular figures carry as far and wide as the things that made them popular in the first place. I’d argue this is a good thing. The rise of social media carries them even further, and lets us experience that behavior more directly. Still, good thing. Ideally, this should help people keep themselves in check ethically, and think twice before saying something needlessly confrontational or stupid. These are positive impulses.

Then, this past week, Roseanne tweeted a racist joke (and a relatively baffling political one). She did apologize, and that’s nice, but that apology is undercut at least somewhat by her retweeting responses telling her she shouldn’t have apologized. Oh, then she shared a visual version of her original text-only racist joke. Lovely stuff.

Needless to say, that’s appalling. There’s nothing quaint or charming about racism to me, especially at a time when race relations ain’t going so hot. I wasn’t the only person appalled; Roseanne single-handedly created a PR crisis for ABC, the network that had revived her sitcom, and she was cancelled within a matter of hours.

This all makes a kind of logical sense. What makes a bit less sense to me is the fact that…I still respect her.

I’ll explain. I don’t respect her as a person. Not even slightly. I’ve heard nothing about her personal or professional behavior to suggest that she is somebody anyone would want to spend time around, and irony-free racism cements for me, at least, that I wouldn’t want to spend time around her, either.

And yet…I respect her as an artist.

I’ve always loved her show. It was a common point of reference for me during the ALF reviews, when I needed an example of a sitcom done right. I revisted the show over the course of the past year or so, and found that it held up extraordinarily well, even if I didn’t remember it as well as I thought I did. Eventually I got to its final and clearly worst season, and still found things to enjoy.

I approached the recent revived season with a small amount of trepidation, but…well, I kind of loved it. It may well be the single best revival of a dormant property I’ve ever seen. Typically, I don’t think it’s worth going back to a dead show, however much I might miss it. The results tend to range from insultingly poor (Arrested Development) to fine enough but not worth exhuming (Futurama). I’m not sure I’d ever seen a years-late revival that could stand shoulder to shoulder with the original. At least, not until Roseanne.

In a year’s time, two years’ time, ten years’ time, I expect I’ll feel much the same way. Roseanne the show was incredible. It was well written, perfectly cast, often disarmingly intelligent. It was a great and important piece of American television, and if I were to make a list of my all-time favorite shows, I know it would rank pretty high.

And Roseanne the person is clearly a sack of crap.

I’ve seen a lot of people saying that her behavior has ruined the show for them. I understand that, and yet I don’t feel it. I found it immediately easy to bring the knife down and shear the artist away from the art. I’ll watch Roseanne again, but I won’t lose sleep if I never hear from Roseanne again.

All of this should be — should be — to say that I’m really great at separating art from the artist, and you should all follow my lead.

But…I’m not. And I’m very curious to hear from other folks about how they usually handle it themselves.

In Roseanne’s case, I find it easy. In many cases, I find it easy. In other cases…I can’t seem to do it.

Another recent example would be Aziz Ansari, whose sexual misbehavior (and tone-deaf response) has absolutely turned me off to his work. I’ll cue up Roseanne at some point, but I feel sour enough on Ansari that I’m not sure I’ll ever be up to rewatching Parks and Recreation.

That seems imbalanced to me, though. Ansari was just an actor in that show. A performer. He read the lines he was handed. Roseanne, by contrast, was the driving creative force behind her show, and the only creative voice that was with it from the beginning to the end, meaning it should have a much tighter connection to who she actually is.

So, hey, I watched Roseanne growing up and Parks and Recreation didn’t debut until I was well into my adult life. Maybe it’s nostalgia at play. Maybe my enjoyment of Roseanne isn’t tarnished because it’s tangled up in so many other positive memories that I don’t want to lose.

But, no. Because John Kricfalusi’s abhorrent grooming of underage sex partners (and his even more tone-deaf response) has unquestionably tarnished Ren & Stimpy for me, and that’s a show I loved far more actively as a child than I did Roseanne. Why can I not separate him from his work?

Perhaps you’ve noticed a common thread to my personal unforgivens: sexual assault. Pretty heinous, right? No wonder I have more difficulty moving past that.

But, again, no. Both Woody Allen and Roman Polanski have been dodging responsibility for their own histories of assault for decades. (Grooming and rape, respectively.) But I like their films. (Well, some of their films.) I enjoy their work. I’ll watch more of it, I’m sure. As an artist, I’ll study it. As a critic, I’ll dissect it. As a viewer, I’ll discuss it. I don’t support Allen and Polanski any more than I’d support Kricfalusi or Harvey Weinstein as human beings, but I can separate them from their bodies of work.

For years I’ve included Bill Cosby’s stuff in the Xmas Bash! just for the sake of mocking it, but I doubt I’ll ever be able to do that with anything Louis C.K. did. I’d rather not even see that guy.

Why?

I honestly don’t know. I’m not writing this post because I’ve arrived at some profound conclusion, because I’ve figured out the way my brain works, because this has helped me to more sharply identify the limits of my personal moral compass. I’m writing this because I want to hear from you.

I want to know when you’ve have trouble separating art from the artist, and when you haven’t. I want to know if this is something you’ve ever successfully worked to do in the past. (It’s probably worth mentioning that I haven’t “worked” to arrive at any of the above stances; I have some reaction to their behavior and either do or don’t separate them from their art immediately. It’s not a process; it’s a response.)

Any insight would be appreciated here. Great art is great art and appalling behavior is appalling behavior. In some cases, I can keep them separate. In other cases the weight of one irretrievably sinks the other.

I’d like to know why. I’d like to figure out, to the best of my ability, what is happening in my mind when I can separate them in one case and can’t in another.

What are your examples? Is there anybody out there who separates them in every case? Anybody out there who doesn’t separate them ever?

I’d like to know.

Book It!

Writing has actually been important to me for longer than reading has. Don’t worry; I’m not suggesting that this is in any way a good thing. Writing without reading is almost entirely worthless for anything beyond its therapeutic value.

But I wrote, long before I understood stories. Long before I understood characters. Long before I understood structure or themes or my audience. I wrote a lot of garbage. It went nowhere, which is exactly as far as it deserved to go.

Eventually, I started reading as well. Nothing of much merit. Some John Grisham, some Michael Crichton, some Stephen King. The pop stars of fiction. I’d like to think I would have enjoyed actual literature, but I sure as hell wasn’t reading any, so we’ll never know for sure.

At some point in the mid-90s, looking for something to read in my high school library, I found a copy of Catch-22. I’ve already talked about what an important moment this was for me. I won’t say much more, except that this is the book that made me a writer. It’s the book that revealed to me what writing can do. It affected me in a way no work of art had ever affected me, and, suddenly, writing wasn’t just some passive hobby. It was what I wanted to do. It was the first thing I’d ever thought to take seriously.

That was around twenty years ago. In the time since, I studied literature at college. I dedicated myself to honing my craft, working with a number of deeply accomplished writers who, for reasons I’ll never understand but will always appreciate, showed me more patience and support than I deserved.

I was a kid. I was stubborn. I thought I knew more than I did.

They helped me anyway.

I joined a number of writing groups online, and met other helpful artists who guided me forward. I connected with people on various forums and shot drafts back and forth. Often the mere act of providing feedback helped me see weaknesses in my own work that I couldn’t have addressed otherwise.

I got better. I started writing for a number of different websites, all of which took a chance on me when they certainly didn’t have to, and all of which helped me to improve a little more.

I started seeing my work edited. Not marked up, not annotated with suggestions, but changed. I provided something, and they published something else. I bristled. I was a writer, so I was supposed to bristle. Who were they to meddle with my work? They were people who knew what they were doing. I was still learning. In time I started to realize that the edits almost uniformly made my work stronger. I started to take note of what they were cutting, what they were changing, what they were resequencing. My work got better.

I started seeing my work commented upon by readers. The internet provides that incredible resource, something that traditional print media never allowed. Feedback from your audience is instant. If I wrote something good, people would tell me. I could reload the page and find 20, 30, 50 people telling me. If I wrote something bad, people would tell me. I could reload the page and find twice as many eager to tell me that.

I bristled. I was a writer, so I was supposed to bristle.

Then I listened. Not to everybody, of course, because there will never come a time that I’ll please everybody. But sharp criticism — even if it’s sharply phrased — was helpful to me, too. Perhaps the reader had missed my point. More often, I have to admit, I failed to deliver it clearly. I learned. My work got better still.

I started hosting my own writing workshops. I started tutoring others who wished to write better, whether for professional or personal reasons. I did my best to help them understand the lessons I had to learn painfully. I saw progress. I watched them evolve from writers at one level to writers at another. To this day I’m still not sure I’ve ever felt more satisfied than in those moments.

I got work as a writer. An an editor. As a proofreader. At some point the hobby that had become a passion had become a career. I’ve worked in television, radio, newspapers, magazines, the private sector, the government. People need writers. Countless individuals along the way had helped me become one. This was how I earned a living. If that’s where I stopped, I would have been happy.

That isn’t where I stopped.

A few weeks ago, on May 2, to be exact, I fulfilled a lifelong dream. I signed a publishing contract. I pitched an idea. Months passed. Emails were exchanged. Conversations were had. A contract was prepared. I signed it. I’m writing a book.

I can’t really offer much more in the way of detail. Well, I could, I suppose, but I’ve been asked not to. I’m happy not to!

The point is that I’ll be working on a complete draft over the course of the next few months. Noiseless Chatter won’t go away. I still intend to post new things. Maybe I’ll share some insights or anecdotes about the writing process. I’m really not sure. But as busy as things have been for me, this made them much busier overnight.

This is a good thing. Because this is what I’ve worked for. And this is where so many people in so many places for reasons I couldn’t possibly tell you helped me get here.

You, all of you, helped me get here. Those of you I went to school with, those of you who followed me here from YouTube or Nintendo Life or Adventure Game Studio, those of you who stumbled across an article I wrote here or elsewhere and stuck around…you’re the reason this is happening.

There’s another writer online I respect very much. I’ve followed his career. I’ve read much of his output. I do my best to support him whenever I can. In fact, I’m jealous of him, of his talents, of his abilities. He’s great at what he does, and he deserves everything he’s achieved.

He’s also broke.

He has a Patreon, and that seems to make the difference between whether or not he can afford groceries for the month.

I…don’t have to worry about that. My writing career isn’t as impressive or storied as his, and if we both died tomorrow he’d leave a legacy and I’d leave very little. But I can afford to eat. I can afford a place to live. I don’t have to worry about who will be sending me a check, or how much I have squirreled away in case that check doesn’t come.

I don’t just get to write; I get to make a living as a writer.

I’m a tremendously lucky person for that reason if for no other, and I don’t let myself forget that. Better writers than me struggle more than I do. Worse writers than me do much better. There’s not much in the way of correlation between talent and success. No matter how much I have of the former, I’m a very lucky person to have any of the latter.

I’ve worked with more talented individuals than I could possibly list here. Sometimes on projects that went nowhere, sometimes on projects that could have been better, sometimes on projects that went better than we could have dreamed. I’ve known more people who have picked me up when I was down and encouraged me to keep going when I was hopeless than I can even remember. I’ve gotten where I am because a lot of people gave up little pieces of themselves to hold me together.

And now I’m getting a lot further.

This opportunity will open a lot of doors for me. That’s thrilling and frightening in equal measure. I keep expecting to wake up at any point now. And, of course, I keep hoping I won’t.

The draft is coming along great. I’m excited to share it with my publisher and excited to share the details with all of you once the time is right. This is a big thing for me, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

I grew up without much support for my writing. I can’t really blame anybody. Nobody should write because they expect to make money at it. I didn’t expect to make money at it, and my family understandably thought I should maybe look into some other career.

But then I started to meet people who also weren’t doing it for the money, who were doing it because that’s who they were. They worked at grocery stores or at restaurants or at movie theaters to pay the bills, and then they’d come home and write funny, moving, thought provoking things most of the world would never even know existed.

And they helped schmucks like me.

If I hadn’t found that support, and hadn’t had that support upheld so many times over the years, I wouldn’t be a writer today. Not professionally, at least. I’d have a hard drive full of Word .docs and a pad full of notes that would go, ultimately, nowhere.

That would be okay.

The fact that I’m any further along than that is a bonus. It’s more than enough for me. It’s always been more than enough.

But pretty soon, I get to take another step.

I’m a really lucky guy.

I hope you’ll stick around to see it through with me.

The 10 Things I Liked About Roseanne’s Ninth Season

Last year, I started working my way through Roseanne for no real reason except that I remember enjoying it quite a lot as a kid. My memory of the show sure as heck got a lot of the details wrong, but I was right about the quality.

The writing was sharp. The casting was perfect. The acting was top notch. It was far more serialized than I remembered. Rewatching Roseanne made for a really fantastic revisit.

But ah, the sickle!

However much I was enjoying the show — including an awful lot of episodes I was seeing for the first time — there was always a grim specter on the horizon: season nine.

To provide context, prior to the recent Roseanne revival, season nine was the show’s final stretch, and it has a dire reputation.

It involves the Conners winning the lottery, which sounds like the sort of thing that could indeed be handled in any number of creative, intelligent, funny ways. Instead, B-list celebrities like Jim Varney, Tammy Faye Bakker, Jim J. Bullock, and Steven Seagal are trotted out to play exaggerated cartoons as the Conners themselves largely splinter off on joyless solo adventures and engage in limp parodies.

I remember people complaining about how awful it was while it aired, which suggests that widescale dismissal wasn’t a conclusion we culturally reached only after consideration and reflection. My friends who still watched the show at that point all reported back about how much they hated it. Later, I worked with someone who adored Roseanne, and we exchanged fond memories of the show…but when season nine came up, she grumbled about “the lottery season,” which seemed to say it all. Even in this largely positive (and very good) Facebook fan group, season nine draws a lot of unexpectedly strong ire.

Needless to say, I was very excited to finally get to see those episodes for myself. I love garbage!

And, well…it really is garbage. Its hideous reputation is well deserved. The entire time I was watching earlier seasons, I refused to believe season nine could be quite as bad as everyone said. How could one of television’s best shows tumble so far so fast that it immediately became one of the worst? Even The Simpsons represented a gradual decline…how could Roseanne represent a plummet?

I could write a few thousand words about how awful it is, but you can probably find those elsewhere. Or you can watch it yourself, preferably after watching any number of the previous eight seasons so you can wonder what the hell happened, too.

Instead of tearing down something people love, I’m going to do something far less common on this site: I’m going to build up something people hate. I’m going to celebrate some of the things this truly terrible season of television did right. Because, hey, it really did do some things right. And after the nearly flawless eight-season stretch that preceded it…I think Roseanne deserves that.

This is my list of the 10 things I liked about Roseanne‘s final season. I’d say “Top 10,” but, frankly, I had to stretch slightly to even hit 10 so I think we can call this exhaustive.

I did set myself one rule: no “I liked that X didn’t happen” entries. This list is exclusively about things I actively enjoyed about the season, so I can’t say things like, “Tom Arnold didn’t make an appearance.” Or “Watching the show didn’t give me a brain tumor.”

Here we go.

10) The theme song’s lyrics


…alright, I had to reach slightly for this one. I don’t dislike the lyric-version of the theme song, which debuted for season nine. Having said that…I also don’t quite see the purpose. Roseanne‘s instrumental theme tune was (and remains) iconic. This is a bit like having somebody warble over the Hawaii Five-O intro; even if it’s good warbling, why mess with something that’s already great?

Surprisingly, though, this version of the theme song isn’t bad, and the lyrics actually feel like they fit and weren’t crammed into an existing melody almost a decade after everyone got to know it. The credit for that belongs to John Popper, who wrote and performed this version of the song with his band, Blues Traveler. (Blues Traveler was one of the first bands I saw live. NOW YOU KNOW THAT.) They also recorded new stings to play between scene and act breaks.

I feel a bit bad for Popper that his version of the theme is associated with this of all possible seasons, but that’s just the way the chips fell. Popper appeared in season eight’s “Of Mice and Dan” as blues musician Stingray Wilson, backed, of course, by the rest of Blues Traveler. It’s not one of my favorite episodes, but there was obviously some mutual respect between the band and the show, as Popper was invited to compose theme song lyrics (one hell of an unexpected honor) and DJ hung a Blues Traveler poster in his room for the rest of the show’s run.

Of course, the less we think about Blues Traveler and Stingray Wilson existing in the same universe the better, especially since we learn that “Run-Around” and “Hook” — actual Blues Traveler hits in our universe — were written by Stingray Wilson on Roseanne…no. No. We have nine more entries. WE WILL STAY POSITIVE.

9) The Christmas episode


Roseanne is understandably known for having great Halloween episodes. Personally, too many of them break reality for my taste, but I can see why they have their following.

The holidays I really thought Roseanne nailed were Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thanksgiving episodes were more or less a gimme. As the extended family gathered in the Conner kitchen, we in the audience were guaranteed to see conflicts addressed, grievances raised, and great dialogue spread among a larger number of characters. A simple template, almost guaranteed to produce a memorable episode.

The Christmas episodes, though, were a bit less predictable. Maybe Roseanne needed some extra money and became a mall Santa. Maybe Dan took the opportunity decorating the house to bond with Becky’s brash new husband Mark. Maybe we get a peek at David’s abusive home life. Hell, maybe we give our Christmas episode over to Leon’s gay wedding.

I liked all of the Christmas episodes. I looked forward to them. And so I was genuinely worried when I saw that season nine had one was well. Was this godforsaken season really going to break the show’s perfect record with Christmas?

Actually, no. It wasn’t. “Home for the Holidays” is far from the best Conner Christmas, but it’s still pretty good. It’s the rare season nine episode that plays better in retrospect, too, as Dan’s periodic detachment from the celebrations make a very sad sense when we later find out why. See, Dan (like John Goodman) was absent from a long stretch of episodes, the character spending some time in California. Unknown to anyone else, he was also canoodling with another woman. Christmas represents his return to the family. He’s plagued by guilt. He has doubts about both halves of the equation. Does he really want that other woman? Does the fact that he’s even questioning mean he doesn’t want his family?

Especially heartbreaking is the gift Roseanne gives him: the burning of their mortgage, which she has paid off. After all these years together, the Conners finally own their home. Dan is devastated, and forced to account internally for the damage he’s done to his family when they should have been getting stronger. This is all something we only find out later, and it works perfectly.

Except, you know, we find out this whole thing never really happened and Dan never actually cheated and Roseanne never actually paid off the house so really there’s no point to any of this and whatever retroactive emotion we link to the scene means we have to ignore the later revelation that undoes this one but no. No. We have eight more entries. WE WILL STAY POSITIVE.

8) Dan’s ennui


So why was Dan away from his family for much of the start of season nine? A very good reason, actually. In season six’s “Lies My Father Told Me,” Dan learns that his largely absent mother is mentally ill. It’s a secret Dan’s father kept from him for many years. In season nine, after the Conners hit the lottery, Dan realizes that he has enough money to get his mother the help she needs, and takes her to an institution in California.

This is a nice development, even if it’s only to give Goodman an in-universe reason to take a few weeks off from the show.

What’s nicer, though, is that this isn’t a snap decision, or something that happens between episodes. Instead, in “Honor Thy Mother,” we see Dan building toward the idea, beginning with a very believable, general sense of malaise and ennui.

Dan has money now.

For eight seasons, he’s struggled to put food on the table. Sometimes he’s failed even to do that. He worked constantly and regularly for whatever someone was willing to pay. “Dan the Drywall Man” had a reputation for doing good work, but that reputation never got him far enough to take it easy. Yesterday’s paycheck won’t last through today…he needs to get back out there and find more work.

Until now. Now he has money. Now he doesn’t even need a job, let alone a series of jobs.

And for perhaps the first time ever, his mind has a chance to wander. He begins to question his purpose. He wonders who he is, and what he’s doing. He opens up to characters he usually wouldn’t, such as Leon, in the vague hope that somebody can give him guidance. Having the luxury to reflect on meaning can be a curse, because it may lead to you suspect there is none.

Ultimately, Dan decides to help his mother, which suggests that this mental listlessness had a positive outcome. But it’s in the course of helping her that he meets and falls for her nurse. The same aimless, desperate thoughts that led him to make one of the least selfish decisions of his life led him also to make one of the most.

It was a plot development born of logistical necessity, but like so few other things in season nine, it worked.

7) A few of the premises


Season nine was rife with idiotic premises. Does anybody really care if Jackie dates a Moldavian prince? Did anybody need to see the Conners go to Martha’s Vineyard so they could stand silently around while a bunch of nobodies told jokes about being rich? Was there any reason at all to embed a jokeless, condensed version of Rosemary’s Baby in the middle of an Absolutely Fabulous crossover?

And did I really just manage to list a bunch of shoddy premises without even mentioning the time Roseanne fought terrorists on a hijacked train? Jesus.

The season was full of terrible ideas, but there were a few genuinely good ones.

Roseanne and Jackie spending an entire episode at a spa together should have been great, and in any previous season we would have certainly gotten some great dialogue as the two worked through their problems, gave each other advice, reminisced, fought and reconciled…it, frankly, would have been great. Roseanne and Jackie had perhaps the most rewarding dynamic on a show full of rewarding dynamics, but season nine just has them get yelled at by exaggerated, unfunny caricatures. Oh, and then it becomes a fantasy episode where Roseanne thinks she’s Xena. Come on.

There are also a pair of episodes after Dan and Roseanne split up that should have been great. The first sees Roseanne driving aimlessly around Lanford, reflecting on how the town has changed over the years. The second sees her holing up in her bedroom, depressed, and refusing to come out. A better show — such as Roseanne so recently had been — would have used these opportunities to explore character, both Roseanne’s and those who tried to help her move forward in the face of domestic tragedy.

Instead, both episodes — both of them! — are little more than extended jokes on the fact that Roseanne eats junk food. Come on.

And yes, an unhealthy diet led to Dan’s heart attack at the end of season eight. And no, season nine’s junk food duology doesn’t remember or comment on that in any way.

Come. On.

Still, though! Good ideas. Credit where it’s due.

6) The kitchen table scene


The ending of the season — and, until a few months ago, Roseanne as a whole — revealed that much of what we’ve seen on the show, if not all of it, was either invented by Roseanne (the character) or heavily fictionalized.

This was a divisive revelation. The most significant difference, arguably, is that Dan did not survive his heart attack at Darlene’s wedding. (More on that in a bit.) But as much as people like to see that as a way to bracket season nine off as the contents of Roseanne’s novel and ignore it completely, the divergence between fact and fiction didn’t start there.

Roseanne also reveals that Jackie was always a lesbian, for one, and Roseanne invented a series of boyfriends for her. She also mentions that Darlene and Mark were a couple, as were Becky and David; in the episodes we saw on television, it was the other way around.

But that’s not what I really enjoyed. What I really enjoyed was the way in which these revelations were rolled out.

From seasons one through seven, the intro credits saw the family and a hanger-on or two gathered around the kitchen table. Eating pizza, exchanging Chinese food, playing poker. Everyone was together, the camera slowly panned around them as they went about their interactions, and the only sound we heard was Roseanne’s laughter to close the sequence out.

Near the end of “Into that Good Night,” season nine’s finale, we see the Conners and their friends gathered around that table again, the camera pans around, they exchange and squabble over Chinese food…but now we can hear their conversations. It’s not an intro sequence; it’s just a scene. It’s playing out for us.

And, as it does, Roseanne looks around the table. Her narration tells us how different reality was from what we’ve seen, and each character, as we watch, becomes their actual selves. Leon starts vocally praising George H.W. Bush. Becky and Darlene abandon the relationships we thought they were in and immediately take up with the other Healy brother. And Dan…well, Dan’s chair is suddenly empty.

It’s an efficient and deeply effective way of essentially undoing much of what we’d learned about the Conners. Anyone who disagrees with the direction the series finale took is, certainly, entitled to that opinion. In fact, I largely share it.

But the manner in which it was executed? It was perfect.

It was a perfectly executed gut punch.

5) Fred Willard


If I had to guess, I’d say Roseanne expected to end with season eight. So many of the episodes in that season have to do with looking backward, closing out plot threads, or both. It seems like it was written (or at least conceived of) as a natural stopping point for the characters in a way that season nine absolutely doesn’t.

Season eight saw Dan meeting up with his old band, Roseanne and Jackie rooting through boxes of their childhood toys, the kids finding loveletters Dan and Roseanne wrote when they were dating, Darlene getting pregnant, Dan and Roseanne having one “last date” before their own new baby is born…and, of course, Dan’s heart attack, which we’ll discuss later. Even season eight’s intro credits featured a series of photomorphs, showing how each character looked when the show started, evolving into what they now look like, as it ends.

One of these episodes featured Leon, a character played by the fantastic Martin Mull, getting married. In addition to this episode (“December Bride”) being sweet, smart, and a laugh riot, we were introduced to Fred Willard as Scott, Leon’s new husband.

Willard wins Roseanne over immediately, and I doubt it took the audience much longer to warm up to him as well. The guy is a comic treasure to this day, and he fit Roseanne‘s universe perfectly. This wasn’t a hollow celebrity cameo (we’d get plenty of those in season nine); this was a new character we wanted to spend some time with, laugh with, and watch Leon grow with.

Season nine might be Roseanne‘s equivalent of an unplanned pregnancy, but it at least did give us more time with Fred Willard. That in itself can never possibly be a bad thing, and it helps that Willard still manages to be funny when the material fails him. He’s a natural entertainer, a legitimately good actor, and an anchoring presence in his handful of episodes.

If anything, he served as a great reminder that for eight seasons, and right up to the end of that eighth season, Roseanne had no trouble at all producing some of the best characters on television.

4) DJ becoming a film buff


Michael Fishman was seven years old when Roseanne debuted, which meant that his character DJ spent a good number of seasons without much to do. If I really racked my brain, though, I could probably think of at least one sitcom that gave its own young actor even less business. (And, to their comparative credit, Roseanne and Dan do often remember they have a son.)

Fishman wasn’t a bad actor, but he was young enough that it was difficult to give him many stories. As such, he was nearly always on the periphery, and a few times sat episodes out entirely.

This is all fine. I’d rather not see unnecessary characters crammed unnaturally into scenes for the sake of it, and Roseanne used the kid well enough. It’s a shame, though, that he was so young for so much of the run that he didn’t get to develop much of an arc of his own.

Until, shockingly, season nine.

Allowing DJ to reveal himself as a film buff (and blossom into a film maker) was arguably the only character choice in season nine that made sense. It not only gave Fishman more to do, but it was true to DJ’s character. We watched Becky and Darlene grow up actively, because they were at more dynamic times in their lives. Certainly one changes more between high school and college, or when entering the workforce, than one changes between grades in elementary school.

DJ’s legitimate love and knowledge of cinema, though, proves that he was developing in his own way when we (and his parents) weren’t looking.

He grew up in a house with the television always on. He consumed all kinds of programs and movies that the networks showed him. The Conners getting a VCR in an earlier season was a genuine turning point for them, and it allowed them to regularly head to the video rental store for an armload of things they’ve never seen.

DJ absorbed all of it. He developed a critical eye. He started to learn about why certain films worked and why others didn’t. He developed a taste in cinema apart from the rest of his family, just as Darlene had previously developed a love of literature and writing. It became an escape, and it shaped who he is. What’s more…that’s sort of what happened to me, as well. Too much television in the house may or may not have rotted my brain, but it certainly helped inform the way I see the world, and my desire to create. I absolutely am willing to believe the same thing happened to DJ.

Also, his love of cinema introduces him to Heather Matarazzo, playing a character also named Heather. Matarazzo is another of season nine’s few consistent bright spots, and I’m glad DJ (and we!) got to spend some time with her.

3) Darlene’s delivery


Roseanne lucked out when it cast Sara Gilbert. Lecey Goranson as Becky and Michael Fishman as DJ were perfectly fine and often quite good, but Sara Gilbert as Darlene gave us one of television’s best characters overall, and one of the most important characters to me personally. Gilbert should be, for my money, the gold standard for child actors, holding her ground right alongside Roseanne, John Goodman, and Laurie Metcalf…damned good company to be in.

There’s no way anyone could have known in season one just how deeply and remarkably Gilbert would inhabit the character, how much incredible work she’d do as Darlene over the years, or the creative freedom her strong performance would allow the writers. After all, they could trust her to work wonders with whatever they gave her. Uniformly, she did exactly that.

When Becky was recast (temporarily…sort of?) in season six, it took a while for viewers to adapt. But, hey, it worked well enough. Part of the reason for this is that Goranson — and I say this with no intention of being rude — was replaceable. She wasn’t terrible, but she certainly didn’t stand in a league of her own. Somebody else could fill those shoes.

Imagine instead if Darlene had been recast. It would have been a catastrophe. It wouldn’t have been possible.

All of this is to say that even toward the dragging end of Roseanne‘s deeply disappointing ninth season, it’s no surprise that Gilbert is still doing important work.

After the character was absent from many episodes, “A Second Chance” sees Darlene going into labor prematurely. Very prematurely. And the following episode, “The Miracle,” is about her and the rest of the family coming to terms with the very real chance that the baby will not survive.

Gilbert, for obvious reasons, is not at her caustic funniest. But she does turn in an impressive dramatic performance, as does Johnny Galecki as David, who we see become an adult over the course of the delivery, leaving his detached slacker persona behind to become a supportive, attentive husband and father.

As far as emotional episodes of Roseanne go, there have certainly been better ones. But it says a lot that when they needed one at the very end of their final run, they turned to Gilbert to deliver it.

2) Dan’s death


Technically, Dan’s death came at the end of season eight…we just didn’t know it. But since the revelation happens in season nine, and since the revelation is crucial, I’m happy to give this season credit for it.

In “The Wedding,” Dan suffered a heart attack after Darlene and David got married. If I’m correct in thinking season eight was originally meant to conclude the show, I’m confident in saying this was always intended to be fatal.

And yet…he survived. “Heart & Soul” came next, and was about Dan’s recovery. Then “Fights and Stuff” saw Dan and Roseanne sparring over his reluctance to lead a healthier lifestyle. Dan was alive, and the heart attack was just something to which other characters would refer now and then.

At the end of season nine, though, Roseanne reveals that he did indeed die that day. And, frankly, that’s how it should have been.

I love John Goodman. I love Dan. But “The Wedding” builds to Dan’s death so perfectly that it’s actually frustrating he doesn’t die in that episode.

He feels off as the wedding approaches. The makeup crew does a great job of making Goodman look more sickly as the episode progresses. He loses focus as Darlene and David exchange vows. When he tells Roseanne after the ceremony that he’s not feeling well and needs a doctor, Goodman sells the idea that this is serious. That this isn’t a cliffhanger. That something very important is happening and things are not going to be the same next week.

What’s more, Dan’s death is what gives real meaning to what he says to Darlene before she gets married.

He gives her a key to a safety deposit box that nobody else knows about. It contains money and valuables. What he tells her provides important context for what should have been his death…and it’s also far better writing than any weekly 90s sitcom deserved.

That’s your just-in-case money, Darlene. Now you’ve got a baby coming, and I just think, if you had more money laying around, you’d have more chances to change…I don’t know. Whatever it is you want to change. I just don’t want you to miss any opportunities, Darlene. Everybody thinks there’s plenty of time to do whatever they want. Believe me, there’s not.

Darlene reassures her emotional father. She tells him she isn’t going anywhere; she will still be around.

We need Dan’s death as the ironic punctuation to her promise. We need it to give his speech heft. We need it because that’s why all of this matters.

Without Dan’s death, it’s just something nice a father does for his daughter.

And that’s never, ever been enough for Roseanne before.

1) The Bev / Nana Mary episode


There’s no reason a late-game episode about Roseanne’s mother Bev (Estelle Parsons) and Bev’s mother Mary (Shelley Winters) sitting on a couch and talking to each other should have been great. The ninth season was full of experimentation that went nowhere, great premises squandered, and characters that seemed to be controlled by writers who no longer cared about nor understood them.

And yet “Mothers and Other Strangers” works. I don’t mean that in a relative sense, either. I mean it’s actually a truly great episode of Roseanne, and the only one in the entire season that feels like it belongs in another.

In the previous episode, Bev accidentally outs herself as gay. It was a fine enough revelation, but it’s this episode that keeps it from being a hollow gimmick. Bev finds herself in internal turmoil as a result of her confession, and is now forced to face it herself. And, true to life, once they start addressing one emotional issue, others come to light, and they have to face those, as well.

This leads her to take a trip to see Nana Mary, one of Roseanne‘s best recurring characters. She confronts her mother about her own childhood. About the fact that she never knew her father, let alone who her father even was. She works through a lifetime of repressed frustration and anger in the course of one extended conversation with the woman she feels ruined her life. Which is nice, because we’ve seen Roseanne and Jackie accuse Bev of doing the same thing to them…and Becky and Darlene accuse Rosanne of doing it to them.

That’s the thing with families. A decision is never just a decision. The fallout spans generations. A poorly handled conflict today changes the way a mother or a father handles their own children decades from now. And so on, and so on.

Mary raised Bev in an open and free environment; Bev raised Roseanne and Jackie in a rigid and strict one. Neither, this episode suggests, was right. You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t. Being a parent is hard. There’s never a right answer, and you just have to try really hard to not choose to worst one.

“Mothers and Other Strangers” represents a ladder of damaged women who blame each other for doing the things they’re also doing to their children. It’s a smart, emotional, funny episode that certainly doesn’t justify the ninth season, but at least gives us something to look forward to when we watch it.

It’s an episode that matters, and that’s something I can’t really say about any of the others.

There’s good stuff in season nine. There really is. The reason it’s held in low regard, though, is that we’ve never had to dig for good stuff in the earlier seasons…if anything, it was difficult to find the truly bad stuff.

On the whole, the season is pretty awful. Nothing it does right outweighs the thousands of things it consistently does wrong. But if you can’t resist watching season nine…at least you know you’ll have ten things to look forward to.

And one shockingly fantastic episode to boot.

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