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ALF, "Hooked on a Feeling"

The penultimate feature here, folks: the definitive, unquestionable lists of the best and worst episodes of ALF. You are not welcome to disagree, because no other possible opinion can exist. I talked to scientists and everything. Anyway, we’ll get the best ones out of the way first, because I like to end on a curse word.

The 10 Best Episodes of ALF

10) Lies (4-2)

ALF, "Lies"

When the best episode of season four is at the very bottom of the list (and even then just barely) you get a great sense of just how awful that final stretch of episodes was. But “Lies” is actually a lot of fun for such a simple premise. ALF sends some of his stories to a tabloid, which then obtains a video of Max Wright sucking off a hobo. It’s up to Willie to distract the reporters while ALF, Brian, and Lynn steal the incriminating evidence. The entire thing takes place in and around the house, but it manages to feel a lot less claustrophobic than most episodes do, probably because we’re at least talking about space and aliens and hey, now that I type that I realize that’s what the whole show was supposed to be about. Crazy! This also marks Eric’s only appearance in the top 10, and if memory serves I’m pretty sure he spent the entire episode gurgling away in the broom closet.

9) La Cuckaracha (1-24)

ALF, "La Cuckaracha"

Speaking of the many times ALF being an alien had something to do with the plot, here’s the only other time ALF being an alien had something to do with the plot. Looking back at “La Cuckaracha” is really odd, as it feels like it comes from an entirely different, much more playful show than ALF actually was. For a sitcom about a sass-mouthed puppet it sure didn’t give a shit about making anyone laugh. But here, for whatever reason, the show let loose a bit, and it was pretty great. Riffing on the “giant animal” sub-genre of sci-fi horror films, “La Cuckaracha” sees ALF and Willie fighting a giant cockroach. And while it’s subject to the same lame jokes, shitty acting, and ramshackle atmosphere as any other episode, those things actually make this one feel more authentic. (Shockingly, giant animal movies weren’t known for their impeccable writing, acting, or special effects.) It’s strange that so little of Melmac made it into this show, but maybe that’s a good thing. It lets “La Cuckaracha” feel like a highlight rather than one silly sci-fi romp among many.

8) Working My Way Back to You (2-1)

ALF, "Working My Way Back to You"

ALF is a gigantic motherfucking bitchsack of a racist rapist kiddy-diddling asshole. And, for once, the show acknowledges that that might not be a very fun character to live with. This ends up being a great (and sadly uncommon) Kate episode, as she’s the character most likely to tear ALF’s throat out with her bare hands, which lends his efforts to get back into the family’s good graces a bit of actual tension. The misbehavior that pushes her over the line is a bit weak — he accidentally smashes a painting, which is evidently worse than the times he burned the house down, got Willie arrested, or had their neighbors investigated for murder — but ALF actually having to make amends for something is a nice change of pace. Also, it ends with ALF almost getting killed in a fiery explosion, and frankly that could have been preceded by 20 minutes of static and it still would have made my top 10.

7) Superstition (3-19)

ALF, "Superstition"

It’s now official: the best thing Brian ever did in an episode of ALF was possess a textbook. (Fun fact: in each of the episodes ranked higher than this one, the part of Brian was played by a pile of baby parts the producers bought from Planned Parenthood.) I didn’t know anything about “Superstition” before going into it, and it ended up being a pleasant surprise. For starters, it’s one of those very rare episodes in which each of the characters gets to participate, rather than stand around the set making faces while ALF performs his one-man show, Give ‘Em Hell, Gordy! But it’s also…pretty funny, actually, with the Melmacian bibliocide ritual being both believable enough and silly enough that the episode’s punchline — in which an elaborate ceremony is staged just so ALF can mumble a brief, general apology — actually lands. “Superstition” is a great exercise in subverting expectations. I’m referring both to the comically underwhelming apology and to the fact that an episode of ALF wasn’t a giant pile of shit.

6) I’m Your Puppet (2-22)

ALF, "I'm Your Puppet"

Working with Paul Fusco was an endless, spiraling nightmare of misery…grueling twenty-hour workdays without any recognition or satisfaction or a chance to showcase your talents, during which you were physically endangered by a treacherous network of trenches and had your career destroyed before your very eyes, while a puppet disco danced and screamed racist hate speech at you. Even so, some people didn’t enjoy the experience. Their frustrations were channeled into the script for “I’m Your Puppet,” which was about ALF obnoxiously operating an obnoxious puppet named Paul. The theoretical role reversal here is interesting, but by all accounts ALF and Paul Fusco had identical personalities anyway, right down to their refusal to ever wear pants to work, so maybe we can’t give the show too much credit for that. What we can give it credit for is telling this story in an impressively self-critical manner, the adorable little detail that ALF’s mouth moves when he voices the dummy, and the return of the incredible Bill Daily as Dr. Dykstra.

5) For Your Eyes Only (1-6)

ALF, "For Your Eyes Only"

When the first batch of scripts for the show was being written, it must have posed a bit of a challenge to the writers. How is ALF meant to interact with anyone when he can’t afford to have his extraterrestrial origins exposed? Episode six hit upon one of the most obvious answers: somebody he meets is blind. Of course, this was back before the writers threw up their hands and said, “Fuck it, whatever, he can walk down the street juggling and singing showtunes for all we care.” This early in the show’s run things really could have gone either way, and “For Your Eyes Only” was a fleeting glimpse of what the better option would have been. It had heart, a great guest character, and tapped into ALF’s inherent loneliness in a universe that literally rejected his entire species. Tying his emotional state into Jodie’s, and exploring (briefly) the parallels between them, worked wonders, and tricked me into thinking the show would be worth watching more than nine more times.

4) Fight Back (3-14)

ALF, "Fight Back"

Sometimes the reason an episode is good is self-explanatory. (“ALF makes a blind friend.” “The writers bitch about Fusco.” “A giant cockroach sodomizes Willie.”) But “Fight Back” is one that doesn’t sound all that good or interesting on paper. Willie’s car breaks down, his mechanic gyps him, and…that’s it, really. And yet it’s actually a lot of fun, and one of this show’s very uncommon ensemble pieces. Literally every character gets something to do. Apart from Brian, who is explicitly told he’ll get nothing to do, which as far I’m concerned is even better. There’s also a nice thematic splitting point early in the episode, as the same basic problem — a crooked mechanic — is dealt with one way by Willie, and another way by ALF. One tries to take the “correct” way out by reporting the mechanic’s shady business practices, while the other takes action and attempts to catch him red handed. ALF rarely had anything to say, so it stands out when an episode manages not only to say something, but to say it two different ways. It’s a simple episode, but one that I really enjoyed.

3) Going Out of My Head Over You (1-19)

ALF, "Going Out of My Head Over You"

Dr. Dykstra’s first appearance was his best, with an episode that I suspect was born of necessity. Paul Fusco and Max Wright (who played Crackrock O’Reilly) did not get along very well. They had a kind of Roadrunner / Coyote relationship, only instead of engaging in a war of comically overdesigned contraptions they’d stab each other with broken glass. Bringing Bill Daily — a professional in both realities — aboard to help them mitigate the conflict was a great move. ALF and Willie could hash out their differences and learn to live together, while Fusco and Wright, by proxy, could exorcise their frustrations and learn to work together. It led to some great scenes, including passive-aggressive impersonations at the dinner table in which the actors barely seem to hold it together, and the best part is that this experiment actually worked. Paul Fusco and Max Wright got along from this point forward, and the show was great forever.

2) Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow (3-23)

ALF, "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow"
Don’t ask me how ALF managed to handle a touchy subject with something suspiciously like intelligence. I still don’t know. But this annoyingly titled episode was actually pretty…good. And well-acted. And insightfully executed. This was one I dreaded because it tapped into a family problem that I had the misfortune to experience myself. Other episodes that charted territory I was familiar with (whether due to my father’s alcoholism, my elderly uncle’s death after finding an alien in a tent, or that time my wife slept with Joe Namath) were fucking piles of horseshit, to put it politely. But this one was a refreshing break from ALF‘s idiocy, and it ended without unearned moralizing. “Sometimes there are shitty people in your life,” the episode says, “and the only thing you can do is walk away.” For a sitcom, that’s uncommonly good advice. For ALF it’s like parting the Red Sea.

1) Night Train (2-9)

ALF, "Night Train"

Wow, what a surprise! “Night Train” is the best episode! I bet if you suffered a massive brain injury between that review and today you’ll never have seen that coming. Yes, yes, this was predictable. Who cares. It was a great episode of a show whose normal level of artistic merit is somewhere below watching an old lady tumble helplessly down the stairs. But this one was good, pairing up two characters whose relationship really should have been the heart of the show, and giving us just a taste of what a great version of ALF would have looked liked. ALF and Willie both compare shattered dreams and determine that they’re more grateful for the lives they lead than they realized, even if they’re not the lives they once imagined. Also an irrelevant hobo jumps to his death. It was a sweet episode with some real heart and some good jokes along the way, and the worst thing I can say about it is that it set a high water mark the show was simply incapable of ever reaching again.

The 10 Worst Episodes of ALF

10) Strangers in the Night (1-2)

ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

I remember watching this episode for my review and thinking the show couldn’t possibly get any worse than this. Oh, the follies of youth. In retrospect it’s not that I judged “Strangers in the Night” too harshly…it’s that I failed to predict ALF‘s staggering capacity for brainless garbage. This is the one where Mrs. Ochmonek wants to watch Psycho, so ALF orders a pizza and a robber gets scared. It’s also the second episode of the show, and already the Tanners are hardly in it. I wondered back then why they’d so quickly brush aside four of the main characters. (I was a fucking idiot.) I really have no idea why this was even written, and the narration added during the edit suggests to me that nobody involved with it knew, either. Boy, ALF. You really hit your stride right out of the gate.

9) Hail to the Chief (2-11)

ALF, "Hail to the Chief"

ALF runs for president in a dream but in a different dream he doesn’t but then at the end of another dream he is the president and then in real life he gives advice to actual presidents. CLASSIC SHIT RIGHT HERE. This is one of many episodes that feels like it was cobbled together from scraps, and in this case none of the scraps had any redeeming merit at all. “Hail to the Chief” is like the exact inverse of “Working My Way Back to You.” While that was a great showcase for Anne Schedeen, this one was written to see if they could get her to quit the show. It’s probably no kind of spoiler to say that this is by no means the only fantasy episode in the bottom 10, and I really can’t make this clear enough: as awful as ALF was every fucking week, the fantasy episodes are worse than getting hit by a car and dragged screaming for miles.

8) Don’t it Make Your Brown Eyes Blue? (1-8)

ALF, "Don't It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?"

You know, spending a whole episode about how your main character is driven into a sexual frenzy by an underage girl sounds great on paper. What a sure-fire classic. There’s no better comedy staple than the lecherous old molester, and pairing that with a music video in which Uncle Grabby dances around singing about precisely how many ounces of seed he’d like to squirt into her was a recipe for success if there ever was one. Amazingly, bafflingly, defying all knowledge I’ve ever had and ever will have about the universe, it turned out to not be very good. Quite where it went wrong is a mystery for the ages. Surely analyzing any given scene, line, or sequence reveals only masterful construction and flawless execution, but in the end “Don’t it Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?” somehow turned out to be a disappointment. I’ll never understand why it doesn’t work, and neither will you. It’s the single greatest idea in sitcom history, and its presence on this list of lows is a headscratcher even I don’t understand.

7) Wild Thing (1-18)

ALF, "Wild Thing"

When I declared “Wild Thing” the worst episode of season one (during the closing ceremonies of ALF Fest ’14) I knew I couldn’t have been entirely fair. In the first place, I was watching syndication cuts. In addition to that, “Wild Thing” seemed to have been hit the mathematical hardest by those cuts. Most episodes seemed to lose around 2-3 minutes of material, while “Wild Thing” lost some crazy amount that I don’t feel like looking up right now so let’s just say a day and a half. But now that I’ve seen it restored to its original glory, I can say conclusively that it was indeed the worst episode of season one, and a massive pile of shit no matter how much you do or don’t hack out of it. So potent was its stench that when it was re-aired during season four (with some minor editing to replace a few instances of the name “ALF” with “Wolf”), I didn’t like it any more than I did here. In fact, consider this dual placement for “Wild Thing” and “Hungry Like the Wolf,” because I’m far too lazy to write up the same fucking episode twice.

6) Tequila (2-23)

ALF, "Tequila"

“Tequila” is a 1988 erotic romantic drama episode of ALF written by Art Everett and directed by Nick Havinga. It is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by John O’Brien. Kate’s friend Maura is a suicidal alcoholic who has ended her personal and professional life to drink herself to death in the Tanner kitchen. While there, she develops a relationship with a hardened prostitute played by ALF, which forms the center of the episode. O’Brien committed suicide two weeks after principal photography of the episode began.

Goofs: The toilet paper is folded when ALF first sits down to urinate. The next shot of him sitting on the toilet shows that the toilet paper isn’t folded any more.

5) Like an Old Time Movie (3-24)

ALF, "Like an Old Time Movie"

“What if ALF was a silent movie?” That’s a question nobody’s ever asked, for any reason, at any point in human history. No, not even the people who made the episode. It’s common knowledge that “Like an Old Time Movie” was a script coughed up from the bowels of hell. The writers and cast, after consulting with 1989’s foremost theologians, knew that producing and airing the episode was the only way to preempt Satan’s impending reign over humanity. As such, “Like an Old Time Movie” was a necessary sacrifice for viewers all over the world, but it’s still pretty solid garbage. There were a few comments on the review about how ALF deserves credit for being the only show that did an episode like this, or whatever. Maybe that’s true. Probably not, but I don’t give a shit. If other shows were skipping silent film pastiche in favor making something worth watching, it’s not ALF that deserves credit.

4) Promises, Promises (3-6)

ALF, "Promises, Promises"

Ugh, “Promises, Promises.” I have to talk about this shit again? Actually, I guess I don’t. Let’s talk about something else. Like what we’ll do after ALF. I’m planning to jump off of a building. How about you guys? If I don’t get around to that, then maybe I’ll do a bunch of Fiction Into Film pieces, since I really enjoyed those but couldn’t get to them because ALF was fisting his way through all of my free time. I’ve also had a few requests to cover some Muppet stuff, and I might do that since I’ve never properly talked about them here. Oh, and I’m working on this year’s Xmas Bash!!!!, which is going to be pretty great, and which — I think — has the best mix of programming yet. Man, every time I remember that the Xmas Bash!!!! is technically a spinoff of the ALF reviews I’m kind of blown away. I never expected that this crap would lead to any genuine good in my life, or anyone else’s. But here we are, raising money for a great cause on what’s genuinely the most fun night of the entire year as far as I’m concerned. So that’s nice! That’s a positive thing! That’s something to focus on instead of talking about “Promises, Promises.” I feel liberated. I feel free. Does the air smell especially sweet to anybody else today?

3) Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades (4-18)

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

the hell is this god damned horseshit garbage pile, for fuck’s sake, my god, just look at this sack of crap nonsensical assload of trash, what kind of moron watches this shit for crying out loud, is there nothing better you could be doing with your time than sitting around pouring catpiss like this into your brain, I mean come on just get out of the fucking house if this is what you’re doing with your time, my frigging god almighty, jesus christ, I can’t think of a worse way to spend 20 minutes, I don’t care if you live to be ten thousand fucking years old there’s no reason to waste any portion of your life gagging down this bullshit episode of a dogshit sitcom for fuckwits, come on this fucking crap my god

2) Consider Me Gone (4-24)

ALF, "Consider Me Gone"

Season four would have been awful even if it didn’t end with a punch in the nuts. As it stands, season four was awful and it ended with a punch in the nuts. “Consider Me Gone” was a sendoff for the Tanners masquerading as a sendoff for ALF, and which turned out to actually be a sendoff for the show as a whole. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this clearly important episode would have had an ounce of effort invested in it. You’d be forgiven, but utterly wrong, you idiot. There’s pretty much nothing of merit in the entire clusterfuck. We spend large portions of the episode with an Alien Task Force outpost on the other coast, populated entirely with characters we’ve never seen before and would never see again, which sucks, but the rest of the time we spend with ALF and the Tanners, which also sucks. It was a necessary milestone for the show as season five would have seen ALF moving to another cast and environment, but the entire thing plays like a shrug, as though nobody who worked on it could muster up the energy it would have taken to even pretend to care. I’ve experienced more meaningful farts. But, hey, at least it laid the groundwork for Project: ALF, right? Speaking of which…

1) ALF’s Special Christmas (2-12)

ALF, "ALF's Special Christmas"
…oh, wait. This isn’t Project: ALF. Shit. I should have actually read the list before writing about it. Well, part of me wants to just say “Project: ALF isn’t an episode, so it can’t take the number one spot.” And I’d be right, because I’m very intelligent. But even if we wanted to count it, the more I think about it the more I really believe “ALF’s Special Christmas” is the worst thing imaginable. (And I’ve imagined some pretty horrible things in my time.) Project: ALF, for all of its impressively varied flaws, was just a comedy movie that failed to make me laugh. “ALF’s Special Christmas” was a cloying, emotionally manipulative dramedy about a dying little girl that failed to both make me laugh and make me weep. It set its sights on a deeply misguided target, and aimed to change lives through the dual magics of Christmas and gynecology. And it ends, as all of the greatest works of art end, with an alien in a Santa suit telling a black guy not to kill himself. Also at some point ALF has to deliver a baby in an elevator, in case you thought you’d be allowed to go five full seconds without Paul Fusco reaching directly into your chest and yanking on your heartstrings. This isn’t just a bad episode of ALF. This is evidence against the existence of God. Tittydrippings.

Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins

I had a Game Boy as a kid, and I loved it. Hell, I still love the Game Boy. There were too many great games available to list here, but one that I certainly played endlessly was Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins. I had the first Super Mario Land as well, but it always felt a little…off to me.

The sprites were too small. The fireballs bounced. Invincibility stars played the can-can music. It was just…weird. Like falling into another dimension and playing their version of a Mario game.

But Mario Land 2 was great. It looked (and looks) gorgeous. The branching paths and secrets felt perfectly designed for the series as I knew it. It contained this song for fuck’s sake. I played it constantly.

And I don’t just mean I picked it up and beat a few stages. I mean I completed it. Over and over and over again. As an adult I’ve revisited it, and while it’s not the game I quite remember it being, all of that childhood charm came rushing back to me.

…but so did a question.

Here is that question:

What the absolute hell is Wario doing at the end?

Wario — who you probably know by now from other games and spinoffs — is the evil converse of Mario. He’s greedy and hoards coins, unlike Mario who…

…anyway, point is, he’s bad. So at the end of the game you run through the fortress he stole from Mario and beat him up. Easy enough.

But then…well, watch the fight if you like, but feel free to skip to 1:28.

And what the hell does he do after Mario defeats him?

He shrinks. I get that. Mario does the same thing (usually) when he takes damage.

Then he cries. I get that. He’s a selfish bastard who just lost his castle. (Well, Mario’s castle. Why, exactly, is Wario demonized for wanting the kind of impenetrable fortress Mario himself already had? Why is Mario the hero and Wario a villain to be vanquished if they both craved the same exact kind of power? Okay…another Pop Question at some point then…)

But then he…throws a projectile of some kind. It doesn’t hurt Mario. Wario makes a silly face and runs off.

…I don’t get that.

What actually happened?

What did he throw?

This is the very end of the game…Wario’s final gesture of defiance…the last word from our fallen adversary…and I have no idea what it is.

It looks like no other item in the game. Part of me wants to assume it’s his hat, as you see the hat disappear before he throws whatever he throws.

…but Wario’s hat doesn’t look like that. His looks like the kind of ballcap Mario always wears, and this item looks a lot more like Link’s Phrygian cap.

Then I wondered if it’s Wario’s shoe…but it’s completely the wrong size for that, and it still doesn’t explain why the hat disappears. Granted, the coloring of the sprite’s feet changes, so that could represent a shoe being removed, but then where is the other shoe?

Or is it something else entirely? I honestly have no idea what Wario does here.

It’s clearly something cheeky, but I must have finished the game 30 times as a kid and I’ve done it a few more as an adult, and I still have no idea what in the world Wario is doing here.

He throws something at Mario. The game plays a sort of collision sound that you wouldn’t expect from a soft item of clothing. It also doesn’t seem to phase Mario. Then Wario scampers off…his final rebellion a mystery.

So I ask you:

What the hell is Wario doing?

ALF Reviews: Season One, Uncut

June 23rd, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in alf - (10 Comments)

ALF, "Wild Thing"

And so we begin the final installments in the ALF Reviews series. Forever. And fucking ever god damn.

I’ll keep the introduction short, since there’s a lot to cover: this week I’ll be revisiting season one. Those of you who have been following this blog from back when I had hair will know that my original reviews for season one were based on the syndication edits on Hulu. After that I obtained (courtesy of…well, you) a copy of the German box set that included the full-length edits.

These weren’t necessarily the original edits, though. The broadcast version of “For Your Eyes Only” had ALF and Jodie singing along to the Chipmunks, which never made it to a home video release. “Try to Remember” originally had ALF electrocuting himself rather than hitting his head. (As if that weren’t bad enough, he also told kids not to do that at home. Thank God that was cut!) And in a later season, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” replaced some actual Pink Floyd song with library music, so now that’s lost to the ages, too.

But, whatever, I said I was going to keep this shit brief. Point is, here we are, filling in the gaps for season one. I’m using this resource to itemize the cuts for me, so if it’s not 100% correct and it missed something I don’t care and, seriously now, neither should you.

I’ll also mainly be covering missing scenes. Snipped lines of dialogue or establishing shots for the most part don’t merit a mention here. I’ll call them out if I find them worth discussing, but by no means consider the below to be an exhaustive list of changes. If you’re interested in that…well, check out the resource! That’s what it’s there for. I’m just here to talk about the times it seems like Willie and ALF fuck each other’s butts.

On with the show!

Season One, Episode One: A.L.F.

ALF, "A.L.F."

The first cut scene was actually the very first scene, and it’s the sort of thing that’s hilarious in retrospect. We begin with what looks like a location shot of Willie and Brian, walking hand in hand. Fitting that the only fatherly moment he ever spent with the kid was snipped.

Then there’s some incredibly funny narration. Willie says, “This is the way it began. That extraordinary night. The night…he came!”

It’s an overwrought performance and I can’t stop laughing, not least because they’re framing this story as some incredible, wonderful development for the family, and by episode two ALF is shitting in the tub and fingerbanging the kids.

It really does go to show that there were two different versions of ALF as a character. This narration introduces us to one, but the actual show to follow spent an awful lot of time with the other.

Also, Willie is narrating this in past tense. At what point in his life is he telling this story? From his hovel in Iceland? I really wish “Consider Me Gone” ended with Willie finishing the story in voiceover. “And now our lives are ruined. Ruined forever!”

Another interesting snip: Willie is going to the shed to talk to a friend of his through the ham radio. So Willie really does use the ham radio! Willie really did have a friend! What a spoil of rich syndication cuts!

ALF, "A.L.F."

Look! Brian is doing something! Lynn and Lucky are in the shed! It’s…kind of interesting to see this, actually! The syndicated version opened with just Kate and Willie in the shed as ALF crashed into the roof. This is an entirely different feeling, and it actually makes it seem like the Tanners existed in some form before a sass-talking puppet moved in. No wonder they cut it.

We learn that Lynn also uses the ham radio talk to her friend Natalie, which I wouldn’t buy even if it really was the first thing I was learning about the character. And we learn about our first canonical boyfriend for Lynn: Lash. Willie makes a face when he hears the guy’s name because he knows there are 98 more episodes in which the writers will pair his daughter with all manner of invented idiots just like him.

Then Kate comes in. There’s a bit of domestic patter about Brian not wanting to eat his dinner. He makes a joke(!) about Lucky earning his name because he doesn’t have to eat Kate’s cooking. And then the kids leave and Kate talks to Willie about how he should support his daughter, even if she dates sitcom greasers.

But the most interesting part of the cut here, for me, is that at one point Willie touches the ham radio and there’s a big electric spark. Presumably this is what causes ALF to crash into the garage; in the syndicated version there’s no indication of why he crashed, but maybe this short circuit caused ALF’s navigation system to home in on it. It doesn’t really make much sense if that’s the case, but at least it’s a kind of explanation.

That’s about it for the noteworthy cuts. A few snipped lines elsewhere, and ALF sings “Proud Mary” to dare you to tune in next week.

Season One, Episode Two: Strangers in the Night

ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

This one is still the hastily slapped-together mess it always was, but there is more of an attempt to tie it all together in this version. There’s more of ALF’s narration stitching scenes together, for instance, and he opens the episode with a longer speech. Then he breaks Brian’s Missile Man toy. Huzzah.

A few similar changes throughout…extra lines, extra narration, nothing major. But this version does have a short scene after the credits that the syndicated version didn’t have.

Here we get a Dragnet-aping wrapup that checks in with the characters and tells us what happened after the episode. The robber, as you see, is in a rubber room now, because he saw ALF. That’s the joke.

Then we see the Ochmoneks on their couch (with a helpful subtitle that confirms the spelling of their last name), watching TV. She seems miserable with her husband, which seems to not fit with their later behavior. But, remember, this is back when Mr. Ochmonek wore a white tanktop instead of a Hawaiian shirt, so as far as I’m concerned that means we’re in a dream sequence.

Finally we check in with ALF. He blabs about how brave he was and throws popcorn everywhere. GOOD SHIT.

There is one impressive moment here, though. Lynn rubs his head, and ALF slides down under the table in ecstasy. Okay, that’s gross, but the cool thing is that you can see ALF do it. Like, you see his head above the table, then as he slides down you see his feet appear from under the other side. It’s a nice bit of puppetry that uses the furniture to block out the logistics in a pretty neat way.

ALF’s season one voice is definitely gruffer and not nearly as smooth as Fusco’s later performance would become. It almost sounds like an entirely different performer. In fact, it’s not until “Lookin’ Through the Windows” that the voice “steadies” into the one we remember.

Season One, Episode Three: Looking for Lucky

ALF, "Looking for Lucky"

A bunch of small snips nobody cares about, but there are two bits cut from the montage, including Willie and Brian looking for ALF in a dumpster, presumably while the piano outro from “Layla” plays in their heads.

Then there’s the sight gag you see in the screengrab. It’s a rare location shot, so it’s notable for that. It’s also one of the only actual “jokes” in the montage, so you have to wonder why it was cut.

And, man, doesn’t the sight of that storefront just make your mouth water for fresh meat? Mmm. Condemned butcher shops.

Actually, wait, so…ALF knows the word “delicatessen” but doesn’t know that that’s not how “cats” is spelled? God dammit, ALF.

But, okay, the real reason I’m pointing this out? Man, you probably can’t tell from the still image, but that had to be the most treacherous day of work for the midget. The box he’s standing on really teeters precariously.

It could just be a very good practical effect that makes the situation look more dangerous to the actor than it really was.

Or, of course, it could be they didn’t care about the safety or happiness of their actors at all.

IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO KNOW

Season One, Episode Four: Pennsylvania 6-5000

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

Lots of cuts with ALF bitching on the phone about nuclear weapons and singing the Jetsons theme song, because of course he does. Then there’s a lot of horseshit non-comedy with the two guys who aren’t Reagan aboard Air Force One. It all sucks massive dick.

Until one scene that miraculously does not! It’s actually kind of good.

Kate goes to visit Willie in prison, as she does in the syndicated version, but the scene is much longer here. Willie is terrified, and breaks down crying to his wife. “They fingerprinted me!” he sobs. She consoles him by saying, “It washes right off.”

Then they talk about the awful things they’ve seen prisoners go through in Midnight Express and Papillon. She again tries to cheer him up by saying that the prisoners in Stir Crazy didn’t have it so bad, and Willie replies, “That was a comedy!”

Brilliant stuff? Hell no. But it was clearly the best scene in the episode, and the one the actors have the most fun with. It was probably also the most fun to write, but there wasn’t a puppet in it so out it goes.

(I did see this scene in the clipshow “Try to Remember,” but it’s nice to watch it in context and establish beyond the shadow of a doubt that it really was the best part.)

Season One, Episode Five: Keepin’ the Faith

ALF, "Keepin' the Faith"

Hey, were you hoping for a longer version of the scene in which ALF gives Lynn “a Terry Faith facial”? Too bad! Here you go!

This time he applies some red shit to her face over the brown shit, and moans and groans revoltingly for an even longer period while he does so. It’s fucking gross. Well, gross-er.

Then the phone rings and Brian gets it, and we actually get to hear ALF on a sales call. In the syndicated version it seemed more like ALF was just buying a whole bunch of makeup and shit. Having this part of the scene restored makes it clear that he is actually successfully selling it to people and not just stockpiling it. So that’s nice, but through the whole thing you have to imagine that Lynn is in the other room rubbing alien cum out of her eyes, so it’s kind of hard to appreciate.

One line wasn’t cut, but I overlooked it when I heard it originally. In retrospect it’s kind of neat: ALF wonders during the makeup party if Willie’s “doing his card tricks again.” In “Do You Believe in Magic?” we found out that Willie actually does do card tricks. Accidental continuity, I’m sure, but that’s nice.

ALF, "Keepin' the Faith"

Less nice is the scene of Willie rubbing lotion on some lady’s tits.

Don’t ask me why.

She asks him to apply it for her, and he asks her where to apply it. She says, “Wherever you think I need it.”

So he rubs it all over her chest, and she lets him do it while he makes awkward faces.

…but if he finds this awkward, why did he do it in the first place? If she said, “Rub it on my chest, silly!” then maybe he would have been stuck. But instead she left the door open for him to rub it on her hands or something more innocuous and he leapt right for her melons, so I don’t know what the fuck is going on.

There’s also a cut part toward the end where some fat lady hears someone say “guacamole” and she gets all excited because she is fat.

So, yes, “Keepin’ the Faith” actually used to be way worse.

Season One, Episode Six: For Your Eyes Only

ALF, "For Your Eyes Only"

This one has one major cut toward the beginning of the episode, as Willie and Kate head out for their anniversary dinner. (Hey, remember when Willie remembered his anniversaries?! I definitely didn’t!)

ALF is sad that his anniversary party won’t by attended by the couple actually celebrating their anniversary, so he tries to get Brian and Lynn to celebrate with him instead.

Brian can’t stick around, though; he’s spending the night as his friend Scott’s house. (Hey, remember when Brian had friends?! I definitely didn’t!) He says that Scott’s turtle died, and they’re going to flush it.

Then Lynn says she’s going to Julie’s house, and ALF asks, “What’s she flushing?”

And that’s a really good joke, actually! But the syndicated version of this episode was still pretty good, so losing a moment like this didn’t hurt it too much.

Still, I wish it stuck around. It got an actual laugh out of me.

Season One, Episode Seven: Help Me, Rhonda

ALF, "Help Me, Rhonda"

Standard dialogue trims in this episode, but there are a few other things of note, mainly to do with the non-ALF puppet scenes.

The fantasy / flashback / dream (all three?) sequence on Melmac is extended, with some more gentle ribbing among ALF and his chums. At one point Skip makes a joke and says, “I kill me!” which seems to imply that that’s more of a general Melmacian saying than it is ALF’s specific catchphrase. That’s interesting.

They talk about wanting to fuck the waitress for a while, and ALF does one of those things where he wonders aloud about what would happen if the planet ever exploded…which is immediately followed by a loudspeaker somewhere saying, “Orbit Guards, man your battle stations. Nuclear devastation on its way.” Not really a clever joke or anything, but I’m bringing it up because it’s just a hair more insight into the destruction of Melmac than we had.

Of course we know that at this point ALF leaves to shovel a bunch of souvenirs into his space ship instead of rescuing anybody, including the two friends he’s sitting with at this very table. (One of whom actually came to Earth later to rescue him. Twice! Fucking ALF…)

As he leaves ALF says, “Listen, if you see Rhonda, tell her I lo… Don’t tell her anything.” It’s a decent moment, as his friends were ribbing him about his crush on her a moment ago, and it makes sense both that he’d hold back on this declaration and that he’d regret doing so.

ALF, "Help Me, Rhonda"

In a later scene, Skip and Rhonda make contact with ALF over the ham radio, as they did in the syndicated version. This time there’s some more dialogue, which isn’t surprising. But we also see their puppets and their ship, which is surprising, as the syndicated version was deliberately re-edited so that we only heard them; the camera never left the Tanners’ garage.

That’s an odd choice to me. Why find different footage and re-edit the audio so that we wouldn’t see the puppets? The footage already existed; it took more effort to cut Skip and Rhonda out than it would have required to leave them in. It’s really strange.

At one point ALF jealously asks Rhonda, “What are you doing with Skip?” and Skip mutters, “Not much.” So I guess she wasn’t giving it up to him after all. She tells ALF, “You’re the only one for me.” But we’re still not supposed to think ALF is an asshole when he blows her off at the end of the episode without explanation.

But hey, as long as she’s not romantically receptive to anyone else, ever!

Also, throughout the episode a bunch of characters sing “Help Me, Rhonda” at various points, which didn’t happen in syndication. This was presumably cut to avoid having to pay royalties, or because they didn’t have the rights to use it beyond the initial broadcast. Even ALF’s friends on Melmac sing it, so that’s another piece of Earth media they somehow had access to.

Season One, Episode Eight: Don’t it Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?

ALF, "Don't It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?"

In this episode Lynn lusts after Scott, which we already knew. But now that we’ve seen the cut scene from “For Your Eyes Only” we know that Brian was hanging around with a much older boy, and when Scott invited him over to “flush the turtle” his parents really should have intervened.

In the full version of this episode, ALF angles for romantic advice, so Kate tells him about what Willie did after they’d been dating for about four or five months: he found out that Kate liked cream of mushroom soup, so one day he packed her car full of 500 cans. ALF replies, “So you’re saying I should do something pathetic.”

Yep…best line in the episode, snipped.

Then we get a scene later in which Willie and Kate lay together in bed worrying about what the kids would look like if ALF got their daughter pregnant.

I’m not joking. It’s fucking disgusting.

BUT THEN, finally, the cut scene I’ve been waiting for since I reviewed this episode originally: ALF filming Willie, who performs “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting).” Inspired by the music video ALF made for Lynn, Willie makes this one for Kate. And while ALF’s was horseshit, this is actually pretty funny.

It works on a few levels, not least of which is the fact that the song is utterly inappropriate as a romantic gesture. It goes beyond the standard funny outfit / song reference style of humor ALF was frequently keen to rely on.

Lynn comes in and she and ALF talk about how to make the music video more exciting, such as by using smoke pots and by having Willie swim in lava. It’s not fantastic, but it’s the best scene in the episode. Needless to say, it was snipped so we’d have time to watch ALF’s fucking music video twice.

Season One, Episode Nine: Jump

ALF, "Jump"

We get one of my pretty big questions about “Jump” answered when the syndication cuts are restored: who was that other guy graduating with Willie or whatever the living shit was happening? In the syndicated version he was just sort of there with Joe Namath and the Indiana Jones guy.

Now we find out. Like everyone else in the dream, this is someone who got to cum in and on Willie’s wife whenever he wanted to. In fact, another earlier scene even sets this up, when the family is looking at Kate’s old photos and finds one of him. His name is is Animal Hohnerheim, which also explains where her daughter got her taste in men.

I can understand this being cut for time, but it’s unfortunate that he still appears in the syndication edit, as it makes the episode look even more poorly written than it was.

Anyway, the guy giving out diplomas or degrees or whatever says to Animal, “You’ve won the Indianapolis 500, you’re listed in the Fortune 500, and in the National League you’ve batted 500.” Then Animal says, “I gotta run! We’re having 500 people over for dinner tonight!”

Not hilarious but certainly one of the few jokes in this episode that seemed to require any degree of creative effort.

At the very end of the episode, Lynn mentions that she wants to skydive as soon as Lash gets his pilot’s license…and Lash was the boyfriend from the snipped intro scene of “A.L.F.”! Look at that. An entire romantic arc with Lynn was lost to syndication. Which is probably for the best, since she wanted to suck a completely different guy dry in the previous episode.

Season One, Episode Ten: Baby, You Can Drive My Car

ALF, "Baby, You Can Drive My Car"

In the full edit of this episode we meet the tow truck driver who brought the Tanners home. He helps them with their groceries, and it’s not a great scene or anything but once again it does have some of the best material in the episode.

The driver is played by Robert Costanzo. You look at him and think, “Haven’t I seen him in something?” And you have! The answer is that you’ve seen him in everything. Seriously, look at his IMDB page sometime. I’m surprised the guy has time to breathe he’s been in so much. Comedy, drama, sci-fi, fantasy, animation…he’s done pretty much anything you can imagine. And he’s not bad at all here, elevating his pretty ropey material.

When he first comes in with the bags he says, “Sorry about my tow truck breaking down. What do you suppose the odds were on that one?” Which is a decent line, but he definitely gives it a better delivery than any of these other actors would have.

Then there’s some pretty annoying, padded bit where he and Willie try to figure out how much the bill should be, since they both helped each other with their vehicles. The guy decides on $50, and Willie asks who is paying who. The guy laughs and then says, “That’s a good one. Cash will be fine.” Again, not great, but the performance sells it as an effective punchline.

As he leaves he says, “You might want to consider a new set of brake pads. I should have never towed you with the emergency on. My mistake!”

It’s a pretty good performance for such a minor part, and it definitely would have improved the episode. Then again, ALF isn’t in the scene so FUCK IT.

We find out in this scene that the friend Lynn was going to see the concert with was named Kathy. Not sure if that was in the syndicated version, but it’s another friend!

Some other cuts later on involved a longer scene of Lynn studying for a job at Mr. Jim’s Chicken and Oysters, and a trim to the scene in which she practices serving the food to her family in which Willie says Mr. Jim’s Chicken and Oysters sucks balls.

Season One, Episode Eleven: On the Road Again

ALF, "On the Road Again"

They cut a scene of the midget running across the room.

Mother fuckers.

Otherwise just some dialogue trims throughout. There’s a moment when Brian thinks he sees ALF outside of the camper, but Kate corrects him and says it’s only a rotted tree stump. That’s good.

And there’s a weird bit with some voiceover from Lynn. In the syndicated episode she was writing a letter to a boyfriend, but in this version we can “hear” what she’s writing, and it’s a plea to be rescued from this shitty vacation. (As I asked in the episode review, though, how does she intend to get the letter to him?) We also find out that the boyfriend is Lash!

Man, that character just can’t catch a break. He was referred to in three episodes, and chopped out of each of them.

Another snip has ALF fantasizing about eating pork and beans out of a can during the camping trip. Some more accidental continuity, as this was also something he looked forward to — and finally got to do — in “Night Train.”

Season One, Episode Twelve: Oh, Tannerbaum

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

The opening was snipped, and we lost Willie’s alarm clock playing “Jingle Bell Rock.” We also lost “Happy Birthday to You” in “Jump,” and the other musical moments I mentioned in other episodes, so it’s clear that a lot of these snips were to avoid having to license or pay for the songs again.

We also learn in that brief snipped moment that Willie’s Uncle Doug has been dead for two years by this point. We hardly knew ye.

There’s another snip later where we learn that ALF can read Japanese. He translates the tree assembly instructions for Willie: “So, you weren’t able to buy a real tree.”

Decent little joke, if not for the teeny tiny fact that WE NOW HAVE TO BELIEVE ALF CAME TO EARTH KNOWING BOTH ENGLISH AND JAPANESE.

The main cut in the episode comes in Willie’s nightmare. In the syndicated version this sequence did seem odd; his family loved him, ALF came over to fix the tree, and then Willie panicked. It seemed like pretty odd nightmare material, but in the unedited version it makes more sense.

ALF “fixing” the tree causes the family to realize it’s fake, and the holiday unravels. Lynn is suddenly dressed like Barbarino and refers to her “boyfriends” coming over to pick her up, which makes this canonically the first time she’s been up for a gangbang.

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

Then Brian comes in and is fucking terrible. He’s in military fatigues with a bandolier and he says, “Bye, mom. I’m leaving before some unnamed Central American country.” If it weren’t for the transcript on the syndication cuts resource I’m using, I never would have known that he was supposed to say, “I’m leaving for some unnamed Central American country.”

He then says he’s off to “stem the tide of Communism,” and delivers the line about as well as you expect he did.

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

Then the doorbell rings, and it’s Mr. Ochmonek! That’s good enough for me, but Kate says, “That’ll be my lover,” and leaves to go fuck him in the yard.

You know how I always used to wish Kate and Mr. O would run off together and star in a much better sitcom of their own? Well, merry Christmas to me!

This whole sequence would have elevated the episode, and it’s a real shame that it got cut. Again, it’s not because it was great, but because the episode was about Willie fretting about the Christmas tree, and how important it was to him. When it gets ruined and he can’t find a replacement, it makes sense that he’d fall into this anxiety spiral.

In syndication, this episode just seemed like your run-of-the-mill season one trainwreck. The full version, though, actually explores its central idea, and looks far more competent as a result.

This was a significant loss.

Season One, Episode Thirteen: Mother and Child Reunion

ALF, "Mother and Child Reunion"

The most notable snip in this episode comes at the very beginning. ALF arranges himself in front of the TV in a way that he won’t have to move for the rest of the night, as he can reach all of his snacks with one of those claw toys kids used to play with. (Now they just sext.)

It’s…okay. It’s not funny, but I like the idea that ALF would do this. I like much less the idea that he’s doing this so he can masturbate to a Jane Fonda workout video without interruption.

The rest of the snips in the episode are just Kate Sr. bitching about more things, such as the cleanliness of the bathroom, and pretending not to know what Willie does for a living. (Lady, I didn’t know for a long time, either.)

Those snips don’t remove anything great, but having them back does make the family’s eventual irritation with her land a little more believably, so it’s a shame to lose so much of it.

Season One, Episode Fourteen: A Little Bit of Soap

Literally nothing important. Some snipped dialogue nobody cares about, and longer edits of the bullshit soap opera ALF writes for.

It’s all garbage. Next.

Season One, Episode Fifteen: I’ve Got a New Attitude

ALF, "I've Got a New Attitude"

There’s a moment cut from the seance scene in which the shutters over the plot window move on their own. Afterward, Kate Sr. finds the wire ALF rigged up to create that effect.

It sounds a hell of a lot better than it actually played out, and it might have been cut for that reason.

That’s the kind of syndication cut that should happen; a good idea that just didn’t play as well as it should have. I’d say the episode is improved by removing that moment, but since it’s a pile of shit either way I guess that doesn’t say much.

Season One, Episode Sixteen: Try to Remember

A clip show. A few flashbacks to other episodes were removed. Nothing of note, thank Christ. Moving on.

Season One, Episode Seventeen: Border Song

ALF, "Border Song"

Willie makes a hideous face and acts like a dick to his secretary.

There’s a lot more interaction with her (and a bit more with his boss) than what we got in the syndicated version. It still sucks a fat one, don’t get me wrong, but since this is one of only maybe two episodes in which Willie acts like a social worker, it’s unfortunate that we lose this slice of his worklife.

Neither of these characters were ever seen again, so it makes sense that they’d be chopped out in retrospect when the episode needed to be shorter, but once again it’s not like anything else in the episode was worth keeping, so losing this narrow window into his job is a shame.

Season One, Episode Eighteen: Wild Thing

ALF, "Wild Thing"

Now this is an interesting case, as the syndicated version of “Wild Thing” was something like forty seconds long. Seriously, it was way shorter than the other edits, and the bulk of the missing material comes from the scene in which Willie builds a cage for ALF.

Throughout there are dialogue trims, of course, but of those the only really interesting one is when Lynn outlines the problem with the episode. She says, “Let me get this straight. You’re going to act strange and you’re going to eat cats. So what’s the change?”

Those of you who picked up from the review that ALF in “super crazy” mode was no different than normal ALF can take solace in the fact that the writers recognized this too…even if they did nothing to address it. ALF explains that it’s a matter of degree. “Imagine ALF to the tenth power,” he says, so I guess he’s 10 times as strange and wants to eat 10 cats.

The cage building scene is mainly just ALF telling Willie over and over that the cage he built sucks shit. And, again, this scene addresses another problem we had with the syndicated version. ALF produces a photograph of the last cage they built, and Willie says, “That’s all iron and steel!”

And…well…of course it fucking is, Willie. It is a cage. You built a crate. The script doesn’t make his obvious fucking misunderstanding of what a cage is more explicit, but it at least acknowledges that we aren’t looking at one.

We also learn a few more MELMAC FACTS from ALF’s photo album: he has a step cousin named Kendall, and a godson named Jed. There’s also a cute little moment here when Willie says, “You photograph very well.” ALF replies, “You know, I never thought so.”

It’s kinda great, and in just two lines we get what would have been the best part of the episode. (The photo-album-as-expository-device is also an effective method of moving the plot along in a fun way, and I’m surprised the show never really returned to that.)

ALF, "Wild Thing"

Then Mr. Ochmonek comes over singing “The Lady is a Tramp.” This was obviously cut for music rights reasons, but that doesn’t explain why the scene up until this moment didn’t stay in the episode. Anyway, it’s not great, but it’s always nice to see the guy, and this provides another little bit of continuity with the Ochmoneks’ love for Frank Sinatra.

ALF sings along when Mr. Ochmonek arrives, so Willie pretends he was the one singing. This excites Mr. O, who then forces Willie into an awkward conversation about Frank Sinatra, about whom Willie seems to know very little. Again, nothing great, but it’s nice to see Willie trying to feign common ground with the guy as opposed to giving him a titty twister and kicking him off his property.

The funniest line in the episode comes when Mr. Ochmonek looks at the crate and says, “What are you, shipping a monkey?”

Willie also asks Mr. Ochmonek to catsit Lucky for the night. Losing that doesn’t matter much, but it’s interesting that that development was set up so much earlier in the episode than we saw it in the syndicated version.

Much of this scene is seared garbage, as Max Wright flounders tries to pass off his accidental slip of the word “ALF” as though he meant to say “alfalfa,” but we do learn that Mrs. Ochmonek’s maiden name was Pitzer.

So, yeah, still no idea why so much of this was cut. Any insight into why “Wild Thing” ended up being so much shorter than the other syndication edits?

Season One, Episode Nineteen: Going Out of My Head Over You

ALF, "Going Out of My Head Over You"

It’s fitting that the best episode of season one had one of the best excised scenes…and it’s a relief that the syndicated episode still turned out to be pretty great.

We lose a big chunk of the initial exchange between ALF and Dr. Dykstra. Knowing he’s meeting a psychiatrist, ALF worries about how he’ll be perceived, and starts overcompensating. After they shake hands, for instance, ALF says, “Nice, firm handshake I’ve got there, huh? Good sign, right?”

It’s funny.

Then Dr. Dykstra asks him how he’s enjoying life on Earth, and ALF says, “I just wish there was more love, and less war. Not something a psychotic would say. Right?”

I like everything about this moment. Dr. Dykstra slides from the magic and wonder of meeting an alien into having to make awkward small-talk before the dinner party actually begins, and ALF panics believably when he knows he has the direct attention of a psychologist.

I kinda loved this episode when I saw the chopped up version, and though I really like this exchange I think the syndicated version works well enough without it. In any other episode this might have been the best scene. Here it’s cut without affecting the overall quality, which says a lot about how good “Going Out of My Head Over You” was to begin with.

Season One, Episode Twenty: Lookin’ Through the Windows

ALF, "Lookin' Through the Windows"

And, of course, a shitty dumbass episode had a shitty dumbass scene removed.

At the very end of the episode, when the police are in Mr. Ochmonek’s living room, the lights go out for a moment. Why? Who fucking knows. When they come back on, ALF is standing in the doorway like a fucking idiot. Doesn’t he know people aren’t supposed to see him? Kill this shitfucker.

Willie hurriedly turns the lights right back off, and when they come on again, Mrs. Ochmonek is standing where ALF was. Why? Who fucking knows.

Anyway, this is notable for two reasons.

One, in the syndicated version of the episode, the story ended with the police just accepting Mr. Ochmonek’s claim that he didn’t murder his wife. They don’t investigate anything, and nobody ever attempts to find or reach Mrs. Ochmonek to make sure she’s okay. Here, in the full version, we see why that is: she just shows up and the whole investigation is moot.

But two?

Oh, yes. Two.

Mr. Ochmonek sees ALF.

Yep.

Remember when I used to say that he was the only recurring character who never saw ALF? Well, that was bullshit. He saw ALF here. Just fleetingly, of course, and once Willie turns the lights out he asks, “Did you see something?!” Willie and Kate pretend they didn’t, and when the lights come back on it’s Mrs. Ochmonek standing there instead. (How she didn’t see ALF in this scene I’ll never know.)

But, yeah, Mr. Ochmonek saw ALF. That means that no recurring character went without seing ALF, and makes Paul Fusco’s assurance that they were very careful about who got to see ALF and who didn’t seem even stupider.

Fuck this show.

Hey, is that the last time I get to say that?

I’ll say it louder, then.

Fuck this show!

Season One, Episode Twenty-One: It Isn’t Easy…Bein’ Green

ALF, "It Isn't Easy...Bein' Green"

Lots of cuts from this one, but the most substantial cut is the scene of Kate and Lynn arriving at The Nutrition Follies and finding a couple already in their seats. The exchange is…well, it’s silly, but it’s better than anything else in the episode. (Noticing a theme here?) It was also cut, I’m sure, because the puppet wasn’t in it. (NOTICING A THEME HERE?)

The joke is that the audience is assigned seating based on whether their kids are playing meats or vegetables, and this couple says that their kids are potatoes, whereas Kate argues that they’re Cornish game hens.

It’s exactly that stupid, but kind of funny, and it’s nice to see Lynn getting to participate in some actual comic business. I like this bit! And in that screengrab, hey, is that a Paul Fusco cameo in the lower left?

The only other notable cut is the MELMAC FACT that when Melmacians were in mourning (or at a funeral) they would dress as vegetables. And they’d never wear a hat to a funeral.

Later on, Willie getting a round of applause after playing the piano was cut, as a clear and hilarious fuck you to Max Wright.

Oddly, some of the cuts listed in the resource I’m using were present in the Hulu version, so maybe there’s more than one syndication edit of this episode.

More oddly, even in this full length version, Dr. Potato Famine does not fall shattering to the floor, making that whole idiotic bit even more pointless than I assumed it was. Why in crap’s name wasn’t the action figure shit cut instead of Kate and Lynn finding their seats? At least the seating scene had jokes in it, for fuck’s sake.

Season One, Episode Twenty-Two: The Gambler

ALF, "The Gambler"

This one is just a bunch of cuts where characters explain the same basic concept (ALF is in deep shit with a bookie) over and over again. Trimming the episode removed a lot of fat, but didn’t make it any better.

There’s a MELMAC FACT about Melmac being so safe that their survival knives didn’t have blades. It’s a cute sight gag, but nothing great.

One notable detail is that ALF mentions Bouillabaseball briefly to Brian, describing it as being “like regular baseball, only you throw fish parts.” You can also sort of see the cards ALF is holding up, and they do look like they might be the actual Bouillabaseball cards that were shuffled into packs of ALF trading cards in the real world. No idea for sure, but the art looks pretty elaborate for a background prop we don’t get to see properly.

Anyway, that’s chronologically the first mention of “baseball with fish parts” on the show. Which makes the name of the sport even more fitful than it already was, as two other episodes call it Skleen Ball. In fact, here’s your breakdown, for those of you who have lives:

The Gambler (1-22): Bouillabaseball
Working My Way Back to You (2-1): Skleen Ball
Oh, Pretty Woman (2-7): Bouillabaseball
Movin’ Out (2-21): Skleen Ball

Fuckdammit, keep your dumbass imaginary sport consistent! Also, this nullifies the previous, excusable belief that the sport was originally called Skleen Ball and was only changed because Bouillabaseball was much wittier.

Nope.

It was Bouillabaseball to begin with.

Then it was changed to the nonsensical Skleen Ball.

Then they realized (remembered?) that Bouillabaseball was the better name.

Then they forgot they had a better name and reverted back to Skleen Ball.

Okay, one more time: FUCK THIS SHOW.

Season One, Episode Twenty-Three: Weird Science

ALF, "Weird Science"

Snips throughout, with the closest thing to a notable one coming at the start of the episode. Since the TV is broken ALF is especially bored, so we see him watch Kate do dishes through the plot window.

And, hey, remember when I wondered how he was tall enough to see through the plot window? This scene reveals that he’d drag a chair over and stand on it!

…okay, that’s not particularly surprising, but it’s still cool that at one point we got to see an answer. We even get the midget bringing this moment to life! (Speaking of which, RIP Michu Meszaros. Thanks for being such a highlight of a show so deeply in need of them.)

Once again, it’s probably the best part of the episode. It’s short, but the exchange between ALF and Kate is way better than dialogue in this show usually is:

ALF: Why do you wash dishes before putting them into the dishwasher?
KATE: I’m not washing them. I’m rinsing them.
ALF: Doesn’t that machine have a rinse cycle?
KATE: Yes. It’s after the wash cycle.
ALF: …you wanna run that by me again?

I don’t care if you liked that or not. I’ve spent years of my life watching this shit and that’s better than almost anything else I’ve seen.

The One Good Writer sure lost a lot of his work to syndication edits.

Season One, Episode Twenty-Four: La Cuckaracha

Nothing of note here. ALF mentions he bought his slime ball at Ed’s Bakery, the exterminator talks about roaches some more, and Mr. Ochmonek talks about roaches some more. The end. Let’s wrap this shit up.

Season One, Episode Twenty-Five: Come Fly With Me

ALF, "Come Fly With Me"

Music rights edits for sure, as we lose a few bits of Mr. Ochmonek (and later ALF) singing “Come Fly With Me.” What a shame to have lost so much Sinatra love from this guy. In fact, you can hear John LaMotta sort of slip while singing it and accidentally perform it well. He realizes quickly that he’s supposed to sound bad, and then he forces himself to lose the tune. It’s kind of funny, and very charming, that some actual singing talent crept through.

The major cut is right after they land. Willie and Kate already start bitching at him because they want to go home. I’m so glad they didn’t wait 10 seconds to start being ungrateful fuckbags to the guy who invited them on a free vacation.

Willie sulks that they’re stuck, and Mr. Ochmonek says, “Yeah, tough luck, huh? Stuck at a resort hotel!” That, I think, is the closest he’s ever come to calling Willie on his extraordinary dickitude.

Losing this isn’t really a big deal, except that, embedded deep within its rotten core, is what would have been the best line of the episode. Mr. Ochmonek explains that they can’t go home, even if they wanted to: “That plane is on its way to Central America. I can’t tell you anything else.”

And I absolutely fucking adore that line.

The One Good Writer and the One Reliable Actor, together at last.

That’s as good a place to end as any.

(But seriously: fuck this show.)

ALF, "Border Song"

In many ways, we’ve saved the best for last. At the end of each season we took an in-depth look at a member of the Tanner family, and drew, essentially, the same conclusion each time: these weren’t characters.

By no means does that suggest they’re all equal, though. Anne Schedeen easily came the closest, using the natural frustration and negativity she felt on a daily basis to give Kate a believable seethe. It helped, of course, that Schedeen has a natural sense of comic timing, and worked to sell both jokes and emotional moments that were underwritten on the page. She tried hard and, for my money, she did a great job with what she was given. A better job than the material deserved for sure.

Max Wright, by contrast, rarely tried at all. When he did you could almost feel the gears shifting, because it was like watching an entirely different person. He’d go from not caring if he hit his marks or pronounced his line properly to suddenly, unexpectedly, being genuinely funny in his awkwardness. Again, this didn’t happen often…but when it did, you’d almost be forgiven for thinking you were looking at an actor and not a depressed relative who should be on suicide watch.

The kids, interestingly, were miniature versions of the parents. Andrea Elson seemed to take after her TV mother and found some recognizable emotion in her character that she clung to whenever possible. Benji Gregory took after his TV dad by wishing he were dead.

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

But none of these characters were characters. We approached their discussions as we had to: by looking at what the individual actor did or did not bring to the part. The writing didn’t come close to shaping any recognizable figures…even after four fucking years with them. Willie best exemplifies this, as my Spotlight on him only made it clear that he wasn’t at all what the show wanted us to think he was.

To put a polite spin on it, one might say that ALF had an interestingly hands-off approach to characterization, letting every actor find and evolve his or her character with only minimal direction or guidance from the script.

To put a more realistic spin on it, ALF sucked ballsack and didn’t give two shits about its human characters.

Which leads us to…well…its one regular non-human character: ALF himself.

ALF, "Come Fly With Me"

Because, yes, ALF, unlike anybody else, is a character. For once we don’t have to focus on what the actor brought to the role. We will do that, because it’s still worth discussing, but we don’t have to do that.

ALF is well-defined. ALF is the character one could sit down after 99 episodes and a movie and actually say things about. There are things ALF would do and things ALF would not do, things ALF might say and things ALF probably would not say. Things ALF cares about and things ALF emphatically does not care about.

ALF is somebody.

In fact, he’s the onlybody.

Episode one positioned him as the important character we should all pay attention to. And that’s fine; it was the pilot, and you certainly do have to spend more time setting up the sassy puppet from space than you do the nerdy dad or the frustrated housewife.

The problem is that in every episode to follow, he was still the only one we were supposed to be paying attention to. Exceptions to that rule were rare and, importantly, they were exceptions.

At no point was ALF an ensemble piece. If the puppet disappeared for a few scenes or some other character got a nice chance to hold the spotlight on his or her own, this was clearly fleeting. Next week everybody — whether watching the thing or making it — knew we’d be right back where we started.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

The focus on ALF took a significant toll on the actors. Already grueling workdays were made even more thankless by the knowledge that the puppet would get all the jokes.

The actors went through hell just so a puppet could have a career. ALF gave nobody else any kind of bump in fame or a springboard to other projects. In fact, it marked the last major role almost anybody involved with it would ever have.

Any satisfaction any of them might have felt with any aspect of the production was purely incidental.

ALF, as a character, seems determined to surround himself with disposable figures he can pick up and let go of as necessary. He’s a joke machine. Not necessarily a good one, but a steady one. That’s why Paul Fusco didn’t see the Tanners themselves as necessary and treated them as such.

In his mind, they could have been anybody. For the purposes of a sitcom it was best to keep it to a small, recurring group of core characters, but if not for the logistical concerns of weekly television, ALF could have been rapping, farting, and slinging barbs at another group of actors working for scale in every single episode.

Paul Fusco knew this, which is why there don’t seem to have been any reservations about writing the Tanners out of a hypothetical fifth season. Most creatives would panic at the concept of their formula being reconfigured so severely, having to introduce a whole new cast, environment, and dynamic long after viewers are already familiar with the show.

Of course, only the environment would really change. The cast was a necessary evil, and the dynamic could always be illustrated by writing “ALF” on a whiteboard surrounded by arrows pointing outward.

ALF, "Do You Believe in Magic?"

This cast was never important, and no cast would ever be important.

We got a different group of characters and setting for Project: ALF, a different group of characters and setting ALF’s Hit Talk Show, a different group of characters and setting for ALF: The Animated Series, a different group of characters and setting for ALF Tales.

Even during ALF when Fusco filmed a pair of episodes on the actual Tonight Show set, no Tanners were invited to tag along. This was the puppet’s show, and he made sure that they knew it. In fact, pretty much the only additional piece of ALF media to feature the Tanners was the comic book. Tellingly, Fusco had no involvement with that production.

I hate the Tanners, but I can say that Project: ALF made me realize their importance. Without having them there, the film felt unanchored and aimless. Willie certainly never served any more than a minimal purpose in the show, but the fact that he was there, getting flustered whenever ALF pulled some kind of irritating bullshit, was, in retrospect, meaningful. In Project: ALF the alien pulls irritating bullshit all the time, but people just sort of shrug and drag their asses toward the next setpiece.

Confining ALF to the Tanner house might have been annoying to the puppet — and potentially Paul Fusco, though I’m only guessing there — but it actually lent the show a sense of stakes that I was only able to notice once those stakes were removed.

At the end of the day, ALF always had to come home. He could visit hospitals and nursing homes and animal shelters and whatever else he wanted to do, but because it’s a weekly sitcom he’ll need to start the next adventure in the living room set that’s already built. And this meant that his actions had (suggested) consequences.

"ALF," Looking For Lucky

If you piss off the people that you live with, you need to face that. You either apologize for it and fix things or push back against their frustration and make the situation worse. Certainly there are people who will naturally do either, but the point is that your decisions shape your living situation, the level of tension in the house, and the experience of being there.

ALF was in the same position. Many episodes were about him (deliberately or inadvertently) pissing off a Tanner. Sometimes they ended with ALF making amends, and sometimes they did not, but the very fact that ALF lived here, and would continue to live here, with these people, made those choices meaningful.

I tended to like the moments of ALF apologizing and disliked the moments of ALF punctuating a conflict with one last act of dickery. I think that’s because I was willing to buy the fact that he lived with these people. Of course I liked it when he’d apologize; that made living with him easier. When he wouldn’t, that made living with him harder.

On some level, I must have felt that, because once Project: ALF took it away, everything felt meaningless. ALF’s soft moments didn’t register. ALF’s shitty moments didn’t register. Nothing registered because nothing is meaningful when you dance along from character to character and location to location.

In Project: ALF, ALF being nice didn’t make it easier to live with him and ALF being cruel didn’t make it harder to live with him. Nobody lived with him; he could do whatever the hell he wanted, and the audience didn’t really feel anything the way they needed to in order for those moments to have impact.

There were no stakes, because neither he nor we will ever see any of these people again. ALF getting Willie arrested meant he’d have to deal in some way with a pissed-off Willie. ALF getting Ray Walston arrested just meant Ray Walston wasn’t in the movie anymore.

Project: ALF

Fusco’s inability to realize this is frustrating, but, to be fair, I didn’t realize it either until Project: ALF came along.

And I know why: for different reasons, both he and I were too close to the material.

This is a great example of why soliciting, accepting, and responding to outside feedback is such an important thing for creatives to do.

ALF had its share of external feedback that Fusco chose to ignore, and that ultimately sealed the fate of both the show and the character.

ALF, "Wanted: Dead or Alive"

When your entire cast is miserable and complaining about unfair working conditions, you should listen to them. Actors like to work, so if they’re complaining about all the bones they’ve broken tumbling into your network of puppet trenches when they were supposed to be finished shooting six hours ago, they probably have a point. They’re not complaining because they aren’t grateful to have a job; they’re complaining because this job fucking sucks.

When your writers keep seeing their scripts get gutted and rewritten, giving any funny lines to the puppet when possible and removing them completely when not, you’re stripping them of their incentive to write anything good in the first place. Like actors and acting, writers like to write. Writers do not like to produce work only to have it bastardized by a narcissist who can’t bear the idea of a secondary character getting the spotlight. By season four — which, to put it as politely as possible, was a pile of steaming catshit — the writers clearly weren’t trying anymore. They had tried for three years. I certainly don’t blame them for giving up by the end.

When the president of the network personally steps in to help you salvage your show, you should listen. You should especially listen when that president is Brandon Tartikoff, a network television whizkid who both understood audiences and respected the creative process. The shows he greenlit and guided weren’t just popular; they continue to be critical favorites, and they shaped the landscape of NBC and its competitors — who sought to respond in kind — in ways that we’re still feeling today. Tartikoff was an expert who took time he didn’t need to take to save a show he didn’t need to save. Fusco shot him down.

And when audiences keep rejecting your work — with everything from Project: ALF onward is hated with a passion you rarely see outside of this blog — you need to listen to them. People liked ALF. They bought all manner of shit with his face on it. He was popular enough that people do keep trying to give the character a chance. But whenever he pops up, viewers respond with a collective “…nah.” And that’s because nothing’s changed. The setting and characters, yes. The format, yes. The problems at the core of the character? Nope. Once you get sick of ALF you stay sick of ALF, because no effort has been made to evolve him or the way he interacts with a series of disposable others.

ALF, "Tonight, Tonight (Part 1)"

But for all of my complaining, you know what?

Paul Fusco was one talented motherfucker.

Of the main actors, he was by far the best. And the fact that we often looked at Willie and Max Wright as interchangeable (for instance) but almost never looked at ALF and Paul Fusco in the same way says a lot. Fusco’s performance was a performance. It wasn’t something he did. He wasn’t just reading lines off a script and moving on. Fusco played ALF. He gave him life. He gave him a distinct personality. He made something.

Whether you enjoy ALF’s antics or not — on the whole you know my answer — it’s impossible to deny Fusco his chops. He knew how to deliver a line, even if I didn’t enjoy the line. He knew how to carry a scene. He could be effectively funny or emotional as the moment dictated.

It was easy, at times, to believe that ALF was real, in spite of the fact that we were looking at somebody’s hand wrapped in an old carpet. In fact, it was easier to see ALF as real than any of the actual human beings we were watching.

That’s due to Fusco’s solid performance as ALF, and genuine understanding of who the character was. (Something no other actor had, though Schedeen and John LaMotta came closest to bringing some version of their character to life.)

But it’s also due to the show’s greatest accomplishment: the puppetry.

ALF, "I'm Your Puppet"

Dangerous trenches and grueling hours aside, Paul Fusco was a great puppeteer. (We probably shouldn’t push those things aside, I know, but I do at least feel as though we should consider them separately from the quality of the work he did.)

ALF was an impressively expressive puppet, and every aspect of his presence felt natural. Not just the way his mouth would move or the way he’d bob up and down when walking across a room. It was in the way he’d blink for no reason except that living creatures do blink. It was in the way he’d wrinkle his snout up in disgust. It was in the way his ears moved while he talked.

ALF felt alive, and that’s part of the reason the midget was always so incongruous. ALF already seemed real. When we cut to a little guy in an ALF suit trotting silently across the room, it was not only unnecessary, but because we already knew how ALF moved it looked unnatural.

Yes, it was the actual, flesh-and-blood person who didn’t seem real. The puppet, we believed in.

Fusco knew what he was doing, and had the talent to bring the character to life. He had something that most puppeteers and even most actors would kill to have: a character he innately understood, inside and out.

I’ve bitched about this show for several thousand years now, but Fusco’s performance is just about unimpeachable. It was the closest thing to a constant pleasure ALF had.

ALF, "Going Out of My Head Over You"

That’s why those external voices — his cast, his writers, the network president, his viewers — should have been heeded. They weren’t piping up and complaining and pleading because they wanted to ruin him. They were doing these things because they wanted ALF to be good.

What’s more, they all saw in it a kind of potential. A concept worth salvaging. Nobody wanted to sink with the ship. In fact, nobody wanted the ship to sink at all. But Captain Fusco said he knew what was best as he steered the thing directly into iceberg after iceberg.

He saw any kind of suggestion as meddling, as a personal affront, as an attempt to wrest control away from him, when, in actuality, everybody was trying to help the ship go further.

He still, to this day, does not realize this, culminating in the tragically hilarious insistence that he knows better than Tina fuckin’ Fey what audiences want and how best to give it to them.

Why has every subsequent ALF production failed? The simplest and most correct answer is that Paul Fusco still hasn’t learned the lessons people were trying to teach him 30 years ago.

ALF, "Suspicious Minds"

He reminds me, in many ways, of Seth MacFarlane. MacFarlane is a deeply gifted voice actor. He understands how to deliver a line; he knows how to wring every ounce of humor from anything he’s given. But when he’s more involved in the creation / writing of a project (Family Guy, A Million Ways to Die in the West), the comedy suffers.

MacFarlane has a habit of treating reference as punchline. Of coasting on audience familiarity and nostalgia. Of finding the laziest way possible to resolve a scene, conflict, or setpiece. All very Fusco-like qualities.

But then you look at something like American Dad!, which features MacFarlane only as a voice actor. He drops by whenever they need him to record the voices for Stan and Roger, and then he leaves. He’s very hands-off with the project creatively…and it’s the strongest thing his name has ever been attached to.

MacFarlane, like Fusco, fancies himself a renaissance man. He’s an actor, a writer, a director, a producer, a creative consultant, a showrunner…he does it all. And yet he’s actually at his strongest when somebody takes those things away from him.

His performances as Stan and Roger are some of the best that primetime animation has ever had, and with somebody else writing the lines and developing the characters, we get something better than MacFarlane — as talented as he is — could ever have done on his own.

To his credit, MacFarlane lets people take those reins. Paul Fusco does not. Which is a shame, because if he was left to focus only on the puppetry and the vocal performance of ALF, ALF might still be around.

ALF, "Hail to the Chief"

Yes, you knew I’d be bringing up American Dad! at some point here. It was an early point of comparison in this review series. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s another network comedy show that features an alien who secretly lives in a family’s attic. The difference is that Roger is integrated into his show’s universe, and is not the sun around which a handful of faceless others are forced to revolve.

Roger, in many ways, feels like a deliberate evolution of ALF…a knowing and successful attempt to correct the missteps of a decades-old show in a different medium on a rival network. I know that can’t possibly be the case, but it feels like it could be.

Again, Roger doesn’t have Seth MacFarlane’s self-indulgent humor behind him; he has a team of writers who care about making the entire show funny. (Some of which, it’s instructive to realize, were inherited from Futurama.)

Roger is one valuable part of a larger whole, and while he’s one of the principal characters he’s by no means the star. Episodes revolve around Stan, Francine, Hayley, and — gasp! — even Steve, with Roger many times getting nothing more than a few lines or a token appearance. He’s used when using him benefits the show or the story, and when he isn’t needed, he isn’t there.

He also addresses the problem of how to do interesting things with a character who shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house: disguises. While this concept was lightly toyed with in ALF (originally and most notably in “For Your Eyes Only”), it becomes a central aspect of Roger’s character.

It allows him to run off and do things he shouldn’t, in a narrative sense, be doing, while also retaining the danger of detection. Many episodes are about Roger’s extra-terrestrial origins being exposed. As such, we get to have our cake and eat it, too. Roger both can’t be seen and can run around doing whatever he pleases…a dichotomy ALF never nailed.

ALF, "For Your Eyes Only"

But the disguises also led to the development of what became Roger’s main characteristic: his mania.

Roger doesn’t just dress up so he can go outside. That’s how it started, but soon the writers realized how fruitful a storytelling device this could be. Roger loses himself in his various personas, becoming, in essence, a new character every time. Yet he’s anchored by that central mania. That’s what makes Roger Roger, in spite of whomever else he’s also being that week.

And that’s brilliant. It’s also the kind of thing that only happens when writers are allowed to develop new ideas and explore them.

Roger’s persona swapping wasn’t there from the start; it developed because the writers were able to learn (quickly) what did and did not work for the character, and they took it from there.

Which also addressed the other problematic aspect of ALF as a character: his two very distinct halves.

ALF, "ALF's Special Christmas"

ALF is constantly flipping between two different incarnations. He’s sometimes a snide, ungrateful, destructive asshole, and he’s sometimes a magical being from beyond the stars who solves problems and enriches lives.

The problem isn’t that ALF sometimes does one thing and other times does another. That’s realistic. More realistic, in fact, than many sitcom characters were at the time. The problem was rather how gracelessly the two kinds of episodes slammed up against each other.

There seemed to be no connection between ALF the selfless savior (“Border Song,” “ALF’s Special Christmas,” “Tequila”) and ALF the selfish shitnut (“Lookin’ Through the Windows,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Happy Together”). These weren’t two seemingly-contradictory approaches to the same character; these were two completely different characters.

Roger gets to have both by virtue of the fanatical dedication to his personas. You do have Roger trying desperately hard to do the right thing and help others (“Rough Trade,” “The One That Got Away,” “A Ward Show”) as well as Roger the violent sociopath (“Stan’s Food Restaurant,” “Ricky Spanish,” “Love, American Dad Style”). He can be sweet, suave, sexy, scary. He can be angry, anxious, avuncular, antisocial. He can be a thief, a friend, an enabler, or a hero. All of those are Roger and none of those are Roger; Roger is his commitment to whatever he’s doing. The behavior is different, but the characterization is constant.

ALF is just ALF. He doesn’t have a singular, driving impulse or commitment that ties all of his disparate behavior together. He does whatever he does that week, and that’s that. American Dad! finds some identifiable impulse behind the (humorously sudden) shifts in demeanor, while ALF just hopes we aren’t paying enough attention to notice.

ALF, "Happy Together"

Often, I’m not sure what ALF is supposed to be. To be honest, I’m not even sure if we’re supposed to find his jokes funny, as though he’s a hairy little Rodney Dangerfield, or if he’s supposed to come off as dumb and hacky, like a less-vulnerable Fozzie Bear.

But I always get the sense that Fusco knows. Even if it seems to change from scene to scene, I believe that Fusco is in command of his performance, and could tell you at any given time why ALF is doing what he does. I may not agree with his reason, but I certainly respect the fact that he’d have one.

After 99 episodes and one TV movie, I can honestly say that anything we know about ALF — for better or worse — was right there in the pilot. Fusco understood him from the very start, and that’s admirable in its own right.

What’s less admirable, and deeply unfortunate, is the fact that no other actors were given the opportunity to develop comparable understandings. This left ALF feeling stranded in his own show, adrift in a sea of nobodies.

With that in mind, it’s actually easy to share Fusco’s suspicion that ALF didn’t need the Tanners, or anybody, at all. It’s only with hindsight that we see that that isn’t true.

It’s not that ALF didn’t need the Tanners, it’s that the Tanners never got to be the Tanners.

ALF, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

Interestingly, there were a few exceptions to the “ALF is the only character” rule.

Jodie arrived on the scene as a full-fledged character in her own right. Dr. Dykstra as well felt “real,” even if the Tanners’ frustrated dismissal of him in “Mind Games” did suggest that the writers had a different idea of who he was than the viewers did.

But the most significant exception was Jake. Jake arrived in season two as just some new, young male character for ALF to bounce off of. (The miscarriage of Brian meant that this was a position that sorely needed to be filled.) He got to grow from there, however. He developed. We learned more about him. We started getting plotlines (including romantic fumblings and his strained relationship with his mother) that fleshed him out and positioned him as somebody we were supposed to care about.

Josh Blake’s acting was also some of the best on the show. Faint praise, to be sure, but so be it. For whatever reason, ALF found itself with an actor willing to do solid work and a writing staff that wished to develop the character.

It’s impossible to say for sure, but it’s not totally unlikely that if Blake hadn’t left the show, we could have ended up with at least one other developed, recognizable character headlining episodes.

That in itself could have led to more plots in which ALF took on a sort of Roger role, popping up to offer advice and tell a few jokes, and then disappearing again so that the real star of the episode could do his thing. (In fact, this is almost exactly how “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow” ended up playing out.)

ALF, "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow"

But we’re well into the realm of hypothesis here. The important thing to note is that Paul Fusco made the most of his spotlight, and with only sporadic exceptions ensured that nobody else would get the chance to do the same.

ALF is the captain of a team nobody else joined. He’s the CEO of a company with no employees. He’s the leader of a nation nobody in their right mind would ever want to live in.

He has potential. He has the ability to make us laugh. He has everything a breakout, memorable, iconic character should have.

But he’s also a puppet.

And therefore he can only do what Paul Fusco allows.

That’s why you’ll never see him again.

ALF, "On the Road Again"

Spelunky, The Golden Key

So, Spelunky is great. Come on, you know this. If you don’t, go play it. It’s available on just about everything that doesn’t say “Nintendo” on it.

But only recently did I finally unlock the last shortcut in the game…the one that requires you to bring a golden key all the way from the Mines to the end of the Ice Caves. It’s a difficult task, because while you are holding the key you can’t hold anything else, or attack with your whip, and if you drop it into a spike pit or something…well, you need to start all over again.

To layer that challenge on top of Spelunky‘s already steep difficulty and randomly generated levels…and your own character’s comical fragility…well, let’s just say that it took me sporadic play over the course of several years to accomplish this.

Do I suck? Sure I suck! I suck less than I used to, but Spelunky is a game that continues to challenge even the best players, as its procedural generation algorithm requires every player to find a brand new strategy every time.

So, yeah, I suck. I’ll always suck. So will almost everybody who plays it.

That’s why I’m writing this guide for anyone who has as much trouble getting that key to the Tunnel Man as I did. I’ve never written something like this before, but when I looked for a resource that would help, I couldn’t find one. Mainly it was just people saying, “Keep trying.” Or “Just focus on getting better at the game.” And that’s good advice, but it’s not enough advice.

There’s a lot you can do, and be aware of, that will help you carry that damned key from the beginning of world one to the end of world three. And I’m going to provide actual, real, genuine, usable, helpful advice here, instead of the vague platitudes I usually see.

Transporting the key is hard. It always will be. When somebody asks for help, it’s because they already know that. “Get better” is meaningless to them.

So here are a few things they can do to make it easier.

Getting the Golden Key to the Tunnel Man

Exploit that First Room!

The first room is crucial for this run, as the key will never spawn here. That means that — mercy of mercies — you can play the game normally! So, y’know. Do that.

Explore 1-1 thoroughly. Grab every gem and bar of gold you find. Take it slowly and carefully. Eliminate enemies so they won’t trap you or surprise you later. Rescue the damsel for a (more or less) free hit point. You won’t need much money in this run, but having it helps, and this is the only guaranteed safe time to gather it. Don’t use bombs and ropes to get to inaccessible areas, though…not even for a damsel. You’ll need those tools later.

From rooms 1-2 through 1-4, the key can spawn. If it doesn’t spawn in 1-2, treat that room the same way. Explore it thoroughly, gather everything you can, save the damsel, and don’t use up your bombs and ropes. If it doesn’t spawn in 1-3, do the same thing there.

Once the key does spawn, wherever that is, your strategy needs to change immediately. Use however many rooms until that point to rack up your money and scratch your explorational itch. Once you have the key, though, you need to be all business.

Remember Your Mission…

This is important, and it’s difficult at first to remember. Long before you’re asked for the key, you “learn” to prioritize certain things. Gem collection, fighting monsters, rescuing damsels, and so on. But when you’re bringing the key to the Tunnel Man, that’s all you’re doing. Every other objective should be pushed out of your mind.

Don’t worry about anything else. Let huge caches of gems go uncollected. Let the damsel scream for help. Leave that giant spider alone. Do nothing aside from finding the exit in each stage. You never know when something that looks ripe for the picking turns out to have a spider dangling over it or a spike pit beneath it. All it takes is one unfortunate jump or misstep to end your run, so ignore everything that isn’t an immediate threat.

Also, if it’s not obvious, don’t go looking for the Haunted Mansion or the Black Market or the Mothership or any of those other secret areas. Worry about them later. Never, ever worry about them at the same time as the key.

…Except When These Things Happen

Sometimes it will be worth deviating from that rule, though. This is where risk management comes in, and as any Spelunky player knows, risks often refuse to be managed. That’s why you need to make sure every risk you take, no matter how small it seems, is worth it.

In other words, assume everything you do will go wrong and kill you. Is that gold bar worth grabbing under that assumption? Of course not. Is that compass? Maybe…because if by some quirk you do survive, you’ll be much better equipped to finish the mission.

So deviate when deviation increases your odds of delivering the key, but deviate only then. We’ll discuss which items are worth the risk next, so for now let’s focus on some other pickups.

Damsels can be worth the extra hit point when you see one in an easy to access location near the exit. Since you can’t carry both a key and a damsel, it’s not worth taking one to the exit and then backtracking for the other unless you can do it quickly and without incident.

If you can’t, don’t bother. You’re weak, and it’s not worth risking health for the chance at another hit point…nor is it worth losing the key for good.

Money shouldn’t be gone out of the way for. You’ll earn enough just walking from the entrance to the exit, since we won’t be buying much in this run anyway. The same goes for chests. If you encounter them on your path, grab them. If you don’t, don’t.

Crates may be worth the effort, as you’re guaranteed either some bombs, some ropes, or a utility. Unless reaching a crate requires you to navigate tricky enemies or use more than one bomb (assuming you can spare one in the first place) to reach it, ignore it. But if you can get there safely (and get back out again) go for it.

Items Worth Grabbing

Shops will spawn at unpredictable intervals throughout the run, so if you see one, try your best to at least get a glimpse of what they’re selling.

The compass guides you to the exits, so that’s worth going out of your way for if you see one. It allows you to make a beeline that can complete the run in just a few minutes, it’ll keep you out of treacherous corners of the map that you don’t need to be in, and it will help you enormously in dark rooms. It’s the most valuable item you can find in this run, bar none.

The climbing gloves are also valuable. These will allow you to grab onto sheer vertical surfaces, increasing mobility and eliminating most fall damage. It also renders the ropes in many cases redundant, which is a good thing, as it’s one less item to worry about.

Capes and parachutes also help with fall damage, but for this run they’re a bit more limited in their utility.

Spiked shoes are handy for dispatching enemies, but not worth going out of your way for.

…and that pretty much covers it. Basically anything you can equip without having to hold (being as you can only hold the key) is fair game, but aside from the compass, and maybe the climbing gloves, nothing was especially helpful to me.

If you have money left over, buy any bombs that the shops have, and then any ropes. And ignore those beautiful weapons you wish you could carry; you’re stuck hauling the key.

The Key is Your Weapon. Be a Pacifist.

On the bright side, though, the key is a weapon! You can kill things with it pretty easily, it’s thrown just like a rock or pot would be, and you can pick it up again as many times as you like.

…in theory. It can also be crushed by falling stones or boulder traps. It can fall onto a bed of spikes. It can slip into piranha-infested waters. It can tumble into bottomless pits. So while you can fight with it, follow this advice instead: don’t.

Pressing up or down will allow you to see a bit of what awaits you in that direction, and that can help when deciding whether or not to toss the key at an enemy or an arrow trap, but whenever possible you should set the key down carefully and pick up something else to throw. (Obviously remember to pick up the key again before moving on, or you will say a very loud curseword.)

Don’t use the key as a weapon, as tempting as it is. Maybe this is a lesson everyone has to learn the hard way. Maybe you’ll do just fine with it until you’re in the last room of the Ice Caves and so confident slinging the key around that you sling it right off the bottom of the screen just before the exit. Maybe that’s the way you need to learn this one.

But if you’re willing to take a piece of advice from a stranger, take this: guard the key. Treat it as a fragile object, even though it’s not. Place it carefully, and never take more than a few steps away. It’s the one and only thing you need for this run, so treat it accordingly.

Embrace Ideal Circumstances

The random nature of Spelunky means you won’t ever play the same game twice. But it also means that some runs will be extraordinarily difficult, while others will be much easier.

I want to break down what an “easy run” (relatively speaking) looks like, because I think it’s important to be able to recognize one. When you see that you’ve been dealt a hand that gives you something of an edge, you’ll want to play more carefully, because you know that it could be a long time before you get as lucky again.

I won’t take into account enemy and trap placement, since there are too many variables there to even give an overview, and since you’ll know at a glance what looks good (few enemies and traps) and what looks bad (shitloads and fucktons of enemies and traps).

Good Circumstances:
– A first level that does not require ropes or bombs in order to explore the whole thing.
– Golden key does not spawn until level 1-4, giving you more time to collect money, items, and damsels.
– Shop spawns in the Mines, carrying a compass.
– Multiple levels spawn damsels near the exits.
– Kissing booths.

Bad circumstances:
– Levels with “trap rooms” that force you into using bombs or ropes to escape.
– Golden key spawns in 1-2, especially after a 1-1 that didn’t provide you with much money.
– Weapon shops spawn instead of item or clothing shops.
– Dark levels. (These can end a key run on their own, no matter how good you’re doing otherwise.)
– Shopkeeper gets angered by something you didn’t do.

Dark levels are the only variant levels that really affect things one way or the other. Snake, spider, and restless dead levels just require you to be aware of certain enemy types, and shouldn’t change your strategy at all. Rushing water levels just mean you should be even more careful about throwing your key around, but you shouldn’t be doing that anyway.

If you have a compass, dark levels are much easier. But no matter what, juggling the torch and the key is a nightmare. Run straight for the exit and hope for the best, knowing you probably won’t experience the best. And that that’s okay.

Take it Carefully

Don’t rush. You might see the exit, but do you see that boomerang guy waiting to whack you? You might see the key, but do you see that cobra spitting venom just offscreen? You might see that damsel, but do you see that you can’t get back out of her little alcove without using a rope that you may not be able to spare?

Always survey the area thoroughly, and don’t run headlong into what looks like a safe area unless you know it’s a safe area.

This is especially important in the Jungle, which is easily the most dangerous part of the run. It’s also why you’ll want to make sure you didn’t use up your bombs before this. If you see the exit directly below you, it may be worth blasting your way through rather than navigating a series of death traps or man-eating plants to get there.

Take every opportunity to examine your surroundings and figure out the safest way through. Don’t take unnecessary risks. And don’t even worry about the ghost. You’re moving toward the exit, remember, and the levels are small enough that she will never have time spawn if that’s all you’re looking for.

Don’t Miss the Key!

The key (and chest) will always spawn in either 1-2, 1-3, or 1-4. You don’t need to look for it in 1-1, but you do need to look for it after that. If you miss it, it’s gone forever, so be exhaustive in your search.

Won’t that use up bombs and ropes, though?

Fortunately, no. The way Spelunky works is that every level (though maybe not once you get to the Temple) is generated in a way that provides a direct path from the entrance to the exit…one that does not require bombs, ropes, or fall damage to reach. In other words, there’s a clear, relatively safe path through every level; you just need to find it.

In the level in which the golden key spawns, you will either see it, the golden chest, or both along that path. This is all the more reason not to bomb your way through levels yet; you’d miss the key you’d otherwise see if you took the clearer route.

In my experience the key and chest usually spawn close to each other, which makes them easy to find…but of course be careful not to accidentally touch the chest after picking up the key. (I’ve done that. It’s not fun.)

If you see the chest and not the key, you’ll absolutely have to make sure you find the latter before leaving. You may need to use bombs or ropes in order to do so. If you use too many of them, though, or take damage while you’re searching, you’ll be in trouble for the rest of the run.

So-ooo…

Don’t Be Afraid to Reset

Seriously. Don’t.

Better players of this game will read this advice and turn up their noses. Good. Fuck ’em. Because you’re not reading this to become a world champion Spelunky runner; you’re reading this because you just want to get the damned key to the damned Tunnel Man.

So don’t make it harder on yourself. Yes, ideally you’d be able to handle the entire run after having used all your bombs and took a crapload of damage and encountered two dark rooms and angered the shopkeeper…

…but why do that? Recovering from those handicaps would be impressive, but focus on the goal at hand rather than some additional concept of what would an “impressive” run would look like. You can focus on those things — and should — after you deliver the key.

Until then, play it safe. Look for runs that hand you a compass and 20 bombs and four damsels. Reset ones that keep giving you teleporters and spectacles.

The random nature of Spelunky means that you could have many, many runs before you get the right mix of circumstances to push you across the finish line, so don’t be afraid to reset. If you reset the bad ones, you’ll have more time to focus on the ones that actually give you a shot at success.

If you used two bombs in level one, reset. If you didn’t save the damsel or took damage before finding the key, reset. If you’re at the end of the Mines and you don’t have enough of anything to make you feel confident about surviving the Jungle, reset.

It’s okay. Practice more, yes, because ideally you will be able to recover from setbacks like those, but remember: this isn’t about anything more than getting a key from point A to point B. The moment that no longer has a shot at happening, there’s no shame in going back to point A.

“Get better at the game” isn’t advice for getting the key to the Tunnel Man. So don’t feel as though you need to do both at the same time.

Good luck. And if you have any additional advice that’s worked for you, leave it in the comments.

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