Reading too deeply into these things since 1981

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ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

At the end of season one, I decided to do a character spotlight on Kate Tanner. It was an extremely easy decision, as Kate was the only Tanner with any character to spotlight. At the end of season two, the decision to spotlight Brian is just as easy, but for the opposite reason: he’s the only one still without character.

I alluded to this — vaguely — in my overall review of season two a couple of weeks ago. The three best episodes were all built around exploring one of the Tanners:

“Working My Way Back to You” – Kate
“Oh, Pretty Woman” – Lynn
“Night Train” – Willie

Notably absent is a similar episode about Brian. And I don’t mean absent from my list of favorites; I mean that one doesn’t actually exist.

The show’s relationship with Brian is an odd one. I knew that, but just how odd it was didn’t register with me until I was looking for screengrabs to use in this article. Unlike the other Tanners, Brian almost never gets a shot of his own. He’s always in frame with somebody else.

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

It’s an odd pattern, but, unfortunately for Benji Gregory, it makes sense. Brian doesn’t get the camera’s attention the way the rest of the cast does because he doesn’t do anything. Even when he’s sharing a frame it’s not because he’s toadying up like Smithers, tagging along like Butters, or scheming like Iago; he’s just there.

Brian went from being the potential heart of the show (see E.T. for the obvious template) to being a piece of furniture. Actually, that’s unfair; the furniture is featured far more prominently than he is.

And it’s fascinating to me for so, so many reasons.

It’s impossible for me to say why Brian became such a worthless (literally…in the sense that he has no value) character, but some thoughts do occur. On this blog a commenter whose name I can’t remember posited that they hired Benji Gregory because he was a cute kid…finding out too late that he was a lousy actor and were stuck with him.

I certainly can’t disprove that, and it makes enough sense, but that’s the truly weird part: they weren’t stuck with him. Whatever the reason Brian wasn’t working, they didn’t actually have to keep him around.

ALF, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

Television is littered with the transparent carcasses of abandoned characters. While soap operas in particular see characters come and go (and die and revive) all the time, sitcoms are by no means exempt from the practice. Chuck Cunningham, Richie’s older brother in Happy Days, is probably the most famous example. For a while he’s positioned as a main character. For a much longer while, he never existed. My own generation had a similar vanishing-sibling moment with Judy Winslow disappearing from Family Matters.

In both of those cases, it happened early on. These were characters who were built into the foundation of the show, but then, once the machine was running, they proved to be vestigial. The audience didn’t care about them, the stories didn’t require them, and the writers couldn’t think of anything to do with them. It can seem a little silly (and, if you’re in a particularly playful mood, sinister) that the members of someone’s immediate family can cease to be overnight and nobody asks questions, but if that one flash of logical impossibility occurs for the sake of making the show better as a whole, it’s easily worth the tradeoff.

Other times it happens later. The Brady Bunch infamously introduced Cousin Oliver to the show because the kids were running out of cuteness…but wisely abandoned him when the audience responded with a not-very-Brady “come the fuck on.” Then, down the line, the otherwise cynical Married…with Children aped the Cousin Oliver debacle while simultaneously failing to subvert it. Seven, like Oliver before him, was dropped with the sort of swiftness that resembles silent apology.

So Brian being tucked in at the end of season one and having what’s now a spare room claimed by ALF in season two isn’t out of bounds for the show. If anything, being erased from history would ironically be the most memorable thing Brian ever did.

ALF, "Keepin' the Faith"

And of course, you don’t have to make a character disappear in order to say goodbye to him. Great shows like The Office (both versions) and Breaking Bad crafted in-continuity farewells to characters for various reasons, from the death of an actor to a character having exhausted his or her utility.

And then we have examples like Gilligan’s Island and Red Dwarf, who recasted the same character, so that you might tune in next week to see a character you knew being played by an actor you didn’t.

I’m stepping back from ALF, I admit, but I’m doing so in order to make a point: the show is not stuck with Brian.

What’s frustrating is that it acts as though it is.

There are plenty of perfectly acceptable ways of shedding a character that isn’t working. I’ve listed some of them above, and I’m sure I’m missing one or two less common methods. If you begin a show expecting that a certain character will have a purpose that is proven not to exist as the show evolves, you can correct for that.

The really funny thing, though, is that it’s not as though Brian serves no purpose; it’s that the show was at first completely uninterested in exploring it, and later rendered it redundant by introducing Jake.

But I’ll get to that in a moment.

ALF, "Movin' Out"

ALF, essentially, crippled itself right out of the gate by making the show not about the family, and not even about the title character, but about the zingers that the title character delivered to the family.

By now, thanks to the episodes listed above, we can rattle off a few character traits for 3/4 of the Tanners. Whether literally any of them will carry over into season three is anybody’s guess, but the fact that it took so long to catch even fleeting glimpses of character shows us that the writers — or, perhaps, just Paul Fusco — weren’t much interested in developing them.

What they were interested in was the stream of hilarious gobbledygook that could come out of ALF.

Which, oddly, causes the show to play like some kind of vanity piece for a stand-up comedian. You know the kind of show I mean; one that takes the comedian’s stage persona, craps it onto a sound stage, and figures that whatever schtick made him famous in the first place will carry the production on its own. Minimal effort, at best, is invested in translating it to a new medium.

It’s actually difficult for me to come up with a recognizable example of this. I’m sure you can name plenty of shows starring ex-standups, but the ones we remember, such as Seinfeld, The Drew Carey Show, or Roseanne, are remembered because they emphatically did not fall into that trap.

They built worlds that were populated with interesting (and rich) characters that had lives and objectives of their own. Perhaps most importantly, the “star” of each show almost never got the biggest laugh of the episode, or even most of the laughs. Other stand-up transplant shows — and there have been literal hundreds — took away the microphone and replaced it with some paper-thin supporting characters to deliver his monologues to, and that was that.

Do you remember The Jeff Foxworthy Show? That’s why.

ALF, "Border Song"

ALF was not a stand-up comedian. Shit, ALF doesn’t even exist. And yet the show is constructed as though he does, and was. People will tune in every week, the writing staff believes, because they already love ALF. They’re familiar with his schtick, so that’s all we’ll give him.

Consequently, every episode is an excuse to get the alien tapdancing on stage, and if that means nobody else gets to do jack shit, then so be it.

In fairness, I certainly didn’t remember anything about the Tanners. That almost proves the worth of that mindset; if ALF is the only one anyone gives a shit about, why bother with the rest of these bozos? Of course, the reason nobody gave a shit about the rest of these bozos is that the writing staff never gave us a reason. Our appreciation for — and enjoyment of — any given character is not innate; it’s something an audience develops because a show earns it.

ALF, surprising no-one, has that backward.

The Tanners are only sounding boards for ALF’s non-existent stand up comedy hits. If ALF wants to make jokes about somebody being nerdy, he’s got Willie. If ALF wants to make jokes about someone being bitchy, he’s got Kate. If ALF wants to make jokes about sexually assaulting underaged girls, he’s got Lynn.

This is also why — in spite of us being reminded frequently that it’s crucial to keep ALF secret — he keeps meeting people.

Like, all the fuckin’ time.

He needs to keep meeting them, otherwise they’d have no business in this show. Again, it’s not a show about ALF…it’s a show about the things ALF says to people, and the self-congratulatory pre-recorded laughter of dead idiots that love him for it.

ALF, "Baby, You Can Drive My Car"

So, back to Brian. It’s not difficult to see why having a young boy around would provide comic fodder for ALF to play off of. And the show certainly realizes that, because as soon as it gave up on Brian it brought in another little boy to replace him.

Brian’s tragedy isn’t that he doesn’t fit into the show. Brian’s tragedy is that the show refuses to either do anything with him or write him out. And so he’s stuck in this bizarre, almost painful purgatory, where we have to watch him dress in silly costumes, sit quietly in the corner, and do nothing else.

His character arc is roughly that of a soggy paper towel’s. He ends season two no better off than he opened season one, and with one exception — which I’ll get to in a moment — nobody on the writing staff has even tried to give him something to do.

The boy-and-his-alien trope should be right at home here. Indeed, it’s the very first thing that comes to mind with a concept like ALF‘s. I’d even be very tempted to assume that’s why Brian was created to begin with.

Yet that suspicion falls at the first hurdle, as there are no boy/alien storylines to bear it out.

A few token gestures toward bonding (Brian laughs at ALF’s jokes, sits next to him while he watches Gilligan’s Island, and is ostensibly sad when he almost leaves) are all we get. As far as seeing them grow into any kind of relationship — at all — we get nothing. It’s not a boy and his alien…it’s a boy, and it’s an alien.

Judging by what we see rather than what we’re told we should be seeing, neither cares if the other lives or dies.

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

This was almost made up for toward the end of season one, back in “Aspara Gonna Hate” or whatever that shitty episode was called. For the first time, Brian had a plot, and steps — it seemed — were being made to flesh him out. We paid a visit to his school, gave him an antagonist, and had ALF spin some bullshit about a magical tooth he’d never mentioned before and hasn’t mentioned since.

It seemed, briefly, like Brian was being woven back into the show that nearly forgot he existed.

I know “Pennsylvania 6-5000″ must come to mind as an earlier example for some of you, but as much as that might sound like a Brian episode, the kid hardly did anything. He took the fall for ALF’s terroristic threats to national security, and was commended for threatening to blow up the Commander in Chief, but even there, as everywhere, he was just set dressing.

Things happened around him. Not to or because of him.

So the Asparagus Follies was it. The high point for this character was dancing around and singing some awful song about veggies that make your pee smell.

It was somehow all downhill from there.

ALF, "Help Me, Rhonda"

And, frankly, that’s also when Brian’s mercy killing should have come.

We ended the first season with one lone misfire for the character. The ideas for season two are being spitballed. None of them involve Brian. Several of them involve his replacement, Jake. This is the time to ship him off to Aunt Bonnie, to whom we will never refer again.

But that doesn’t happen. We still have Brian here, in the house, in every episode. This implies that they might have a reason for him being there, but fifty episodes into this shit and it’s clear that they really don’t.

Twice in season two it seems like we just might get some last minute attempts to do something with the kid, but each time it’s just a tease.

First, it’s “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog,” which opens on Brian enamored with a stray dog, and then spends irrelevant twenty minutes reminding us that Anne Ramsey was not very attractive. Then there’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” in which Brian is tormented by a bully and then promptly disappears from his own narrative. Even the conclusion to this plot is delivered by Lynn, while Brian is literally nowhere to be found.

If they don’t want the kid around, why oh why are they keeping the kid around?

ALF, "Something's Wrong With Me"

At this point, it’s becoming irritating. There are problems with Jake as a character, but he’s superior to Brian in what’s probably the most important way: if he has nothing to do with the story, he doesn’t need to make an appearance.

That means we aren’t subjected to Jake dressing up like a bellhop or impersonating Ted Koppel. He’s not great by any means, but at least he can disappear when the story doesn’t need him.

It honestly seems cruel to keep Brian around while Jake takes away his role and macks on his sister, but the writers may not even realize that. It’s Brian’s portion of the opening credits, remember, that features an embarrassing shot of the set’s lighting rig; and I think it was Sarah Portland here who observed that this was emblematic of how little they cared about the kid as a whole.

Seeing him cursed to amble through this world he no longer occupies, I can’t disagree. It says a lot when the most memorable thing about him this season was the abject horror I felt when I realized they had a puppet blindly pitching glass at him from across the room.

It’s probably also worth mentioning how almost every time we see this kid, he looks fucking miserable.

ALF, "Isn't it Romantic?"

Benji Gregory’s not a good enough actor to be doing that deliberately, as some sort of improvised character tic. He just sincerely hates being a part of ALF.

This show often reminds me of Jim Henson’s various productions. Specifically, it reminds me just how much better they are. In this case, I remember reading a long time ago about children visiting the sets on shooting days. In the case of Sesame Street this may have been because they were actually going to be featured in a segment, but with The Muppet Show it was just a treat for the kids.

Apparently between takes the Muppeteers would often pick up a Muppet and interact one on one with the young visitors. The interesting thing was that the kids would always focus on the Muppet, and speak to it as though it was alive. The fact that Jim Henson, Richard Hunt, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz, or whomever else was clearly visible, lips moving, hand(s) operating the Muppet meant nothing; the experience of interacting with this character was magical, and the kids adored it.

Looking at Benji Gregory’s face in any given episode, I can only imagine that the experience of getting to interact with ALF was leagues removed from doing so with Kermit, The Count, Cookie Monster, or Gonzo.

It’s sad. Brian Tanner is living every little boy’s dream — in a situational sense — but he’s stuck with writers who aren’t capable of bringing that out…or even giving him any identifiable, let alone memorable, traits.

I’m pretty sure that, depending on the week, I’ve argued that the heart of this show should either be the relationship between ALF and Willie or between ALF and Brian. And, honestly, I can’t decide which it should be. But the fact that they haven’t even tried to explore the myriad possibilities of the latter pairing is a glaring, almost obnoxious waste of potential.

Brian should be captivated by this creature. He should be fawning over him. ALF, in return, should be bonding with him, seeing a new world through fresh eyes.

Either ALF or Brian could serve as the sidekick, depending upon the plot. ALF has more experience and knowledge than Brian does, but Brian’s been on Earth much longer and has a better understanding of its customs and mores.

ALF should be dazzling Brian, regaling him with stories (both real and fabricated) of his life on another fucking planet.

And yet, Brian doesn’t care. He takes no more interest than anybody else does, because ALF isn’t an alien. He’s a hacky standup comic that’s been given a platform upon which to parade his ego.

There’s a long list of crimes of which ALF is guilty, but failing to either take advantage of this ready-made character or to put it out of its misery is one of the worst. It’s beyond incompetent; it’s narratively unethical.

ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

We’ll see what season three (and…uh…season four…) have to say, but right now I feel confident writing Brian off. If they didn’t find a reason for him to exist in the first 50 episodes, I can’t imagine they’ll make up for it in the next 50.

And that’s sad. ALF is a show that needs more characters. More actual characters, that is; not just people who show up and recite some shitty dialogue.

For them to put a bullet in this kid before even trying to anything with him…well, that’s just cruel.

Santa Shush
Well hello! Season’s greetings from me, the guy who isn’t dead, I promise!

It’s Christmastime, which, as always, is a busy time for me. I didn’t expect it to take a toll on the site here, but a quick glance at my folder of half-finished drafts (including the season two bonus stuff for ALF) makes it pretty clear to me that it has.

I don’t intend to stop posting until the end of the year, but updates are coming slowly. Work’s been busy, I’ve got a few other creative irons in the fire that I can’t say much about yet, and…y’know…all that DAMNED CHRISTMAS STUFF TO DO. There’s one thing in particular that I really want to get written and posted because it was requested on my Facebook page by a few people.

(Speaking of which, are you following the Noiseless Chatter Facebook page? If you don’t…do!)

But the one thing I’ve been working on most is…drumroll please…

The 2nd Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Stream!

Yeah, a four-hour programming block isn’t as easy as it sounds to pull together. Last year (for those of you who weren’t there) I basically streamed the entire thing from what Hulu had available, which conveniently narrowed down the selection for me, but which also posed some technical (and legal!) difficulties.

I hope to have those addressed this year. At the very least, be sure to keep an eye on this page. The link to the live stream will be posted here at 8pm Eastern time on December 24. If for any reason the stream goes down, come back here…there will be a backup. And that will hopefully solve that.

As I put the pieces together for this stream (I’m doing that right now, actually, typing while a few things render) I honestly believe this will be the best batch of specials in the history of mankind. In fact, culling them down to a mere four hours means I’ll have a lot of stuff left over for next year.

As far as the stream itself goes, I don’t know if I’ll be appearing in person. But I do know that there will be at least a few surprises for you in store, by way of original material. What will it be? Stay tuned…you’ll know in ten days!

The stream will kick off with “ALF’s Special Christmas,” and believe me, it only gets crazier from there. That’s the only special I’ve seen so far…I look forward to experiencing them all for the first time along with you. But the snatches I’ve seen have me very excited.

Don’t forget to RSVP to the event. It’s not mandatory, but it’ll give you a little reminder that it’s time to watch some really shitty television with the funniest people on the internet.

Any questions or concerns, let me know. And be sure to mark your calendars. It’ll be a great night for a great cause.

It's a party!

Longstanding readers and longreading bystanders know Christmas Eve ’round these parts is a time to gather, watch terrible TV specials, and share jokes about Lassie getting hit by a car. And this year, it’s no different.

However, this year it’s different!

The event will actually double as a kind of telethon benefiting The Trevor Project, a counseling / suicide prevention service for LGBTQ youth. The holiday season, as you well know, is an extremely difficult time for many, and I tried hard to figure out some way that I could turn this event into something that might help those who suffer from depression and other mental health issues.

It’s been a hard year. I think that’s fair to say. For that reason alone I’m glad to have the ability to set up a humorous event like this and keep spirits light, but if you find it in your heart to contribute during the event, I know many, many people who need it will feel the direct effect of that generosity.

Okay, now that I’ve made you all sad, let’s laugh!

Last year we screened a shed-load of terrible Christmas specials, making history as we became the first people ever to intentionally watch Major Dad. There was also much more, including the shocking Lassie special that opens with the titular dog getting creamed by a driver who is never caught or even searched for, and the first three minutes of ALF‘s Christmas episode over and over again.

Of course, the programming on offer was just the foundation. It was the live chat that really made it a great night, with viewers riffing on the shows and each other — and me… — and basically turning the entire thing into the ideal Christmas party for introverts: everyone appreciates what you have to say, but nobody needs to know you exist!

This year it’ll be similar. You won’t need to worry about where to tune in or how to donate or anything like that. Just come here at the appointed time. I’ll try to embed a feed right onto this page, but if I can’t do that, I’ll have a link available and ready to go.

There is no charge for attendance, and no hard-sell to donate to The Trevor Project. The event has been squared with The Trevor Project as of a few weeks ago, and all donations will be made directly to them. I’m hoping we can get a cool rolling total widget going, though, because I like cool rolling total widgets.

So, anyway, mark your calendars! It’s going to be the best thing ever. Again!

Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash!!
Where: Here!
When: Wednesday, December 24. 8pm Eastern to midnight!
What: Even more insane Christmas specials, original programming, a few goodies and surprises (to be revealed in the runup!), and live chat from the funniest people who ever gave up their Christmas Eves to watch this shit in their underwear.
Why: To benefit The Trevor Project, and, equally, because why not.

ALF Reviews: Season Two, Reviewed

December 4th, 2014 | Posted by Philip J Reed in alf - (14 Comments)

ALF, "Hail to the Chief"

And, somehow feeling as though it went both way too fast and way too slow, season two is behind us. This puts us at the midpoint of the project, with season three’s 25 episodes, season four’s 24, and the Criterion Collection director’s cut release of Project: ALF still to come.

And…I’ll talk about the season itself shortly. For now, a few general reflections on the project itself.

The value that this series has had to me as a writer is immense. I have no idea what any of you get out of it as readers, and for that I almost feel guilty.

When I first chose ALF to cover, it was because of a few things. One: well, you voted for it. But even if you hadn’t, I probably would have covered it at some point, because two: it’s a show I remember liking as a kid that seems positively insane as of now.

The idea of a prime-time puppet show on American network television seems like a truly foreign idea, but it wasn’t. It happened. And, in spite of how bizarre that now seems, it was also extremely popular.

It’s not entirely without peer, though. The most obvious forerunner would be The Muppet Show, which similarly featured puppets interacting with humans, and post-ALF we’ve had things like Crank Yankers and Mystery Science Theater 3000. In both of those latter cases, however, the puppets were, by their very nature, part of the joke. What we were watching was deliberately absurd, and sticking an obvious puppet in the middle of the proceedings was a method of making that very clear to the viewer.

ALF hews more closely to — and is utterly indebted to — Jim Henson’s immortal creations. The fact that ALF is a puppet is never the joke. We’re meant to see him as a character in his own right, as well-rounded and loveable as any other classic sitcom creation. Archie Bunker, Ralph Kramden, Mary Richards, “Hawkeye” Pierce, ALF.

At least, that’s what Paul Fusco wanted, and, to some extent, what he must have believed. Which leads me to the third reason I’m glad to cover ALF: it’s supremely instructive from a writing standpoint.

ALF, "Somewhere Over the Rerun"

For a show that’s rightly remembered for its novelty value alone, ALF could not serve as a better case study when it comes to humor writing. Characterization, dialogue, world-building, social satire, emotional stakes, continuity, interpersonal relationships, evolving roles and conflicts…all of these things are woven into ALF‘s weekly routine, some of them by nature of it being a sitcom, others by deliberate choice.

And, I don’t need to tell you after 50 of these fucking reviews, they’re nearly always bungled spectacularly.

That alone would make ALF a good case study. The distance between what the show wishes to achieve and what it actually achieves leaves so much room for exploration…for consideration…for finding the loose ends and pieces that don’t fit together, and trying to figure out why that is.

But what makes it a great case study is the fact that, tantalizingly often, the show does accomplish what it sets out to do. The pieces do fit. The show, however briefly, works.

That’s an achievement, and it’s a fascinating one to me. Especially since (with very few exceptions) ALF getting something right amounts to nothing more than any decent sitcom achieves regularly: a good joke, and / or some competent storytelling.

On a decent sitcom, however, and certainly on the great ones, such achievements seem to happen effortlessly. The cameras are on, the cast reads their lines, and it’s as simple as that. It doesn’t smack of effort; it feels instead like we’re fortunate enough to watch talented people doing what comes easily.

On ALF, you can practically see the gears grinding. You can see the cast floundering, the writing working against itself, and the logistical incompetence pulsing in the background of every scene.

It makes the small triumphs (a funny line, a snatch of good acting) seem sweeter, in an illusory way, and it makes the massive failures that much more frustrating, because we see them coming. We see the smoke coming out of the machine. We see the parts falling off. And nobody working on this thing seems to want to fix it.

ALF, "Movin' Out"

And I love that, in a way. There are a wealth of titles that I love across all media that are riddled, to varying extents, with flaws. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Majora’s Mask. Every single Pink Floyd album. But those flaws exist in spite of artists working extraordinarily hard to correct them, account for them, and control them. The flaws don’t puncture the experience; they simply serve as (often unfortunate) reminders that human beings, fallible, imperfect, up against deadlines, dealing with personal issues, are driving themselves crazy (sometimes literally) to produce the best work they can.

For this reason, ALF is something of a godsend. If a work of art aspires to nothing, there’s very little we can learn from it; the team doesn’t care, but they didn’t try to achieve anything anyway. If a work of art aspires to something and the team tries hard to get it there, the flaws become harder to parse, to dissect, to examine, as our attention is drawn — rightly — to what is working, and to what we are feeling.

ALF is an oddity in the middle. It aspires to much, but has a creative team that’s perfectly content to say “fuck it” and watch the wheels fall off.

Sure, I complain about the show and pick it apart, but it’s because there’s a benefit to doing so. It’s our chance to operate on a translucent cadaver. We can learn so much from a show that’s convinced it’s great and therefore puts forth no effort to actually be great.

That’s why, at this midway point, I’m more excited than exhausted. And I hope you are, as well. While I’ve had more people tell me to press on with ALF than I have had express disappointment that I’m doing so, those latter voices still make me feel bad. Perhaps it’s a question of balance, and I need to just dedicate myself to doing more, different kinds of writing here. In the coming year, I intend to do exactly that, so hopefully that will help.

But I’ll plow through the rest of ALF, because I’ve seen the positive effects it’s had on my writing already. The study of what so clearly doesn’t work makes it easier to see faint echoes in what I produce on my own, which means I can correct those issues much more quickly and organically. In short, the more time I spend with Willie Tanner, the less likely his mumbly brand of irritating horseshit is to sneak into something I’m writing.

ALF, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

As much as I give this show guff about its characters, season two did a very good — if equally inconsistent — job of trying to develop them.

I’d say there were five truly good episodes in season two, and the first three were all about individual members of the Tanner household. “Working My Way Back to You” was the first, and it centered on Kate. By the end of season one, Kate was deeply entrenched as the only Tanner who acted remotely human, so while a Kate episode could have easily coasted on what we already knew, “Working My Way Back to You” did something admirable and reversed the dynamic she has with ALF, showing us another side of both characters, and leading to one of the best episodes yet.

Then there was “Oh, Pretty Woman,” which centered on Lynn. While the beauty pageant setup skirts worryingly close to reminding us that “fuckable” has heretofore been her only consistent personality trait, it’s packed wall to wall with great lines, and we see a vulnerable, desperately hopeful side of the character that makes her seem a lot like the flesh and blood teenagers that actually occupy the world we know.

The third was “Night Train,” which took the single most problematic character in the entire show — which is certainly saying something — and gambled hard on him. Honestly, it’s something I never would have expected the show to pull off. It would have been enough of an achievement to portray Willie as anything we’re already supposed to believe he is (husband, father, son, brother, social worker, anything other than erectile dysfunction on legs really), but to position him in the center of an episode-long emotional journey that concludes with a renewed appreciation for himself…I would have said that’s guaranteed to fail.

And yet, it doesn’t. It works. It works so fucking well that it renders the lousy episodes that much more frustrating.

The two other good episodes in season two are also character-based, in the sense that they reprise the best characters from season one. “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” sees the long-overdue return of ALF’s blind friend Jodie, and “I’m Your Puppet” culminated in a surprise second session with Dr. Dykstra. Both of these episodes, as a kind of bonus, delve into who / what ALF is, with Jodie helping us to explore ALF the character, and Dr. Dykstra allowing us to explore ALF the television show.

Many of the really fuckin’ bad episodes attempt to develop character, too. “Take a Look at Me Now” shattered and rebuilt Mrs. Ochmonek, “Something’s Wrong With Me” was about the culmination of Kate Sr.’s Love Quest, “Isn’t It Romantic?” reenacted Willie and Kate’s honeymoon, and so on. And while none of these episodes were even watchable, I admire what they attempted to do: flesh out the world built, however shoddily, by season one.

ALF, "We Are Family"

I’m pretty sure it’s been unanimously declared ’round these parts that season two is as good as it gets. And while I’ll wait until I finish the next two to pass judgment, I can at least compare it against season one. Overall, sure, I’d say it’s better.

For starters, there were five good episodes in this batch, as compared to the previous season’s three. And the average season two episode certainly had better lines and gags, which is pretty important for a comedy show.

But that also might be the problem. Season one was certainly the shakier of the two, but, to give credit where it’s due, it also attempted a lot of really interesting things. Insane things, yes, but there’s a kind of thrill to watching a show shitty enough that it features an alien prank calling the president, singing about fucking a teenager, stealing cars, writing for soap operas, and staging an episode-long pastiche of Rear Window. These were terrible, terrible episodes, but I remember them better than most of season two simply because they were mad enough to stick with me. Much of season two, by contrast, is neither bad nor good enough to be remembered at all.

The wackadoo approach to season one plotting was fun. I hated the episodes, but I can guarantee I’ll be making jokes about ALF threatening President Reagan on the Air Force One shitterphone for the rest of this series, while I doubt I’ll ever feel compelled to remind you of Kate Sr.’s wedding. And sure, it’s stupid that they introduce Mr. O’s cousin Oliver to pop up whenever they need someone of the same species to squeeze Lynn’s boobies, but it’s not the same kind of stupid as ALF stealing a riding mower and implicitly wreaking tame havoc all over Los Angeles.

The one shining exception to this — and you know what I’m going to say before I say it — is “ALF’s Special Christmas.”

ALF, "ALF's Special Christmas"

I mean come on. Just look at this shit.

This pandering, obnoxious, insulting kick in the emotional nutsuck not only hearkens back to the worst impulses of season one, but it surpasses them in every conceivable way. Its self-importance is suffocating from the very first frames, with the higher film quality, new title card, and super-sized running time all promising that you aren’t watching ALF; you are watching a major television event.

As much as I hated it, it’s memorable for that reason alone. It’s a prime example of an episode falling apart as we watch, straining beyond its own abilities to reach something it should have never bothered with, and splitting open to spill its innards everywhere for the world to see.

This is the kind of bad episode that circles back around to being worth watching. Not because it’s good, but because when you have a space alien saving Christmas from suicidal black Santas and ineffectual gynecologists, you do sort of have to watch. You won’t come away from it feeling the warmth that Paul Fusco intended, but you’ll talk about it, laugh about it, and years later probably even reflect upon it.

ALF, "Something's Wrong With Me"

But that, sadly, is a bonkers exception to the forgettable norm. While season two is overall better, it rises from “bad” to simply “bland.” Of the two, there’s a kind of honor to the former. You’ll remember everyone who flips you the bird, but almost nobody who politely nods. It’s improved, but not enough to really count.

Looking back on the season as a whole is frustrating, because it hit both higher highs and lower lows than season one did…yet it didn’t do either consistently enough to carve out an identity for itself.

It did, however, do a respectable job of trying to find humanity in the hollow, braindead caricatures we met in season one. It failed as often as it succeeded, but the impulse was sound. Al Jean and Mike Reiss ran the show this time around, and their mission seemed to be to actually introduce us to the characters that we ostensibly “met” last season.

It’s not their fault that they inherited a world of lost causes. It is, however, to their great credit that they managed to redeem any of them, however temporarily.

With that, we have a few more bonus features before we move on to season three. And there, I get the feeling, I’ll find myself longing for these heady days of forgettable weekly blandness.

Roll on, season three.

ALF, "We're So Sorry, Uncle Albert"

Almost exactly 12 months in the making, The Lost Worlds of Power is available right now for your downloading and reading pleasure.

The Lost Worlds of Power


Foreword by H. Z. Eleven
“Renegade,” by Jeff Zoerner
“Milon’s Secret Castle,” by R J Burgess
“Bad Dudes,” by Ramona Donohue
“Yo! Noid,” by Jerod Mackert
“Battletoads,” by Philip J Reed
“Monster Party,” by Tomm Hulett
“California Games,” by Matthew McKinley
“Legendary Wings,” by Guy Vollen
“Marble Madness,” by James Lawless
“Double Dragon Warrior,” by Theodore James Geise
“The California Raisins: The Grape Escape,” by Samuel Clementine
“Linus Spacehead’s Cosmic Crusade,” by J. Paul Roe

Download it here!

The Lost Worlds of Power is a fiction anthology in celebration of the original Worlds of Power series. This volume features 12 unique literary adaptations of classic (and maybe not so classic…) NES games, forming a very interesting cross-section of styles and approaches. From the dry to the insane, from the satirical to the respectful, from the self-aware to the utterly clueless.

Throughout this 700 page brain-melting adaptation fest, you’ll barbecue with the Bad Dudes, learn to speak Marble, help singing raisins stomp out racism, spend a day at the office with a giant toadman, enact vigilante justice against The Noid, and much, much more. (Like, way more. Whatever you’re thinking…it’s more.)

The excellent cover image comes from the excellent Mishi Hime, and each story will be lovingly illustrated by the lovely illustrator Ron DelVillano. Collected and edited by Philip J Reed and James Lawless, with eBook preparation by Thomas Whitehead.

Also, by way of apology for missing the original Halloween deadline, for one week you can download Volume 0, which was previously a Groupees exclusive. Grab it now. In one week, the link below will be gone.

The Lost Worlds of Power:  Groupees Edition


Foreword by H. Z. Eleven
“Mario is Missing!” by R J Burgess
“Balloon Fight,” by Lucas Hale
“Ring King,” by Robert Holt
“Kirby’s Adventure,” by Chris Gomez
“Tetris,” by Philip J Reed

Download Volume 0 now, while you can!

Post mortem and more to come. But for now, I eat turkey.

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