Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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ALF's Hit Talk Show

As you all know, I never do favors for anyone unless they give me even more in return. Since I’m away this week, the guy I wrote a Power Ranger sex thing for got roped into filling in for me. Eventually I might — MIGHT — take a proper look at ALF’s Hit Talk Show. But in the very likely event of my death, here’s Samurai Karasu of Ranger Retrospective to give it the coverage it doesn’t by any means deserve.

I apologize for the break in your regularly scheduled ALF reviews my fellow ALFanatics. Mr. Reed has informed me he was on trial for murder this week so he needed someone to fill in his shoes.

Unfortunately, ALF wasn’t a show I watched much of in its heyday. I had a good excuse though, I was -6 months old during the season finale’s first airing. However I was familiarized with the show through reruns on various channels, as well as Paul Fusco’s desperate attempts to shove his brainchild into any pop cultural limelight that granted him the opportunity to do so.

For whatever reason, I really enjoyed the show when I did watch it. Chalk it up to my obsession with puppetry and mushmouthed fathers, but it somehow managed to charm me through its attempt at style over substance. ALF managed to fool me into believing its central character was a really charming and witty figure that deserved my attention. The show somehow crafted a character that, upon reflection, was never really there. ALF was sold to my generation as a no-nonsense sass talking alien. In reality he was just a doughy asshole who molested half a family and informed the audience how often he was killing him.

Granted, I was a stupid kid and took all this garbage at face value. I thought ALF was the hippest character to ever grace T.V. So much so that I can still recall the most embarrassing t-shirt I’ve ever worn. I got it for my birthday when I was 12 and thanks to the internet’s inability to let things die, here it is for you good people in all its terrible glory.

13b11c1c8e50f11de20aa2cac21605c9

This shirt was supposed to tell everyone that ALF didn’t give a FUCK about what was popular now, because he was where it was really at. I only mention this now because it’s a noticeable trend with exactly how Paul Fusco made ALF function as a character.

Everyone had to look terrible compared to ALF. ALF is the king of the castle and every other living being in his vicinity has to look humbled by his snarky witticisms. The show is called ALF and if you don’t like it you can get the hell off the stage. This is one of the key reasons for the failure of today’s topic, ALF’s Hit Talk Show.

When I saw TVLand was bringing ALF back in some capacity I was ecstatic. As time went on, it became clear that ALF ditched those total losers who gave him shelter and food back in the late 80’s and was going to be rubbing elbows with the Hollywood elite. I specifically remember setting aside the time to tape the first episode where ALF interviewed Drew Carey and Dennis Franz. I stopped watching after this however, as the show was absolute abhorrent garbage, and bored me to no end.

What made the show so terrible? Well take a step back with me to the year 2004 where we can watch an episode of this mistake together. We’ll unravel exactly why the concept of ALF as a talk show host was such a colossal failure. Today we’re looking at the fourth episode of ALF’s Hit Talk Show, which has been selected due to its illustrious celebrity guest. Strap in everyone!

Within the first 5 seconds of this episode I start laughing. Not because of any of the ALF related content, but because the voice over introducing it is Harry Shearer. All I can think is for someone who hated doing Simpsons as long as he did, he must have loathed even breathing the name ALF.

The credits sequence for this show is essentially Paul Fusco’s ALF fanfiction. ALF rides in a limousine, gets chased by adoring fans, and scrawls his name on a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. All of this culminating in the title card for ALF’s Hit Talk Show. That isn’t the name of a T.V. show, it’s a plea to the audience to believe in ALF’s self aggrandizing hype.

The announcer for the show is, Jesus Christ are you kidding me?

Ed McMahon

Ed what are you doing here? Why are you doing this Ed? Please just go home. You need to rest. This is the guy who had legendary banter with Johnny Carson and now he’s forced to kowtow to Fusco and the thing that Fusco has his fist inside of. That poor man.

I realize that Ed McMahon also worked with Paul Fusco in the two part ALF episode “Tonight Tonight,” but by no means did I think that was a rosy relationship he would want to revisit in the twilight years of his life. It’s depressing watching this lame show drag out an amazing entertainer and tout him as this alien asshole’s sidekick.

It all goes back to the ALF brand being style over substance and having nothing underneath all the bluster it brings at the audience. We’ve got Johnny Carson’s co-host, but he’s a tired old man who will only be on this planet for another 5 years. We’re calling the show ALF’s Hit Talk Show, but it’s going to last a mercifully short 6 episodes. We’ve got a movie to conclude the series, but it’s only going to air on T.V. and none of the original cast will be caught dead working with Fusco again.

ALF Offers Day Old Snacks to Famous Celebrities

After being introduced by McMahon, ALF asks one of the world’s most well renowned entertainers “Did you just call me Ralph?” So what follows is a scene of a floor mat in a Hawaiian shirt asking one of most famous second bananas of all time why he didn’t get introduced better.

The worst part about this moment is it’s very obviously not scripted, as Ed clearly just made a mistake and was taken off guard by Fusco calling him on it. What floors me is this show certainly wasn’t shot live, so why the hell did they not refilm the intro? The attempt at improv between ALF and Ed is comprehensible at best, so it’s not like we get anything amusing out of this. Ed flubbed his line and this show was too lazy and incompetent to redo it. Instead we get to waste one of the few precious minutes we have on this planet listening to ALF demand a television icon to say his name right.

Then ALF burps and the audience of living people laughs.

After a few terrible jokes, ALF discusses how he, as an alien, is noticing how gullible the people of Earth are. Not because they finance puppet based talk shows, but because they pay for designer water even though the planet is covered in water. Oh boy everyone settle in, time for another one of Old Man Fusco’s pet peeves. Only this isn’t just part of a terrible monologue, but a carefully calculated segue into an absolutely terrible bit.

Ugh

Yeah, ALF is selling his own water. He demands Ed help him sell what looks like water bottles filled with piss to the idiots watching this show. McMahon does a serviceable job reading his cue cards, it just so happens the writers forgot to put any jokes on them beforehand. Ed McMahon informs the audience this water comes from the misshapen glacier on Melmac, which inexplicably prompts a laugh. We even cut back to ALF guffawing over the idea, probably because Fusco wrote that line.

As Ed McMahon smiles holding a bottle full of Melmac urine, ALF asks him why he isn’t drinking it. After looking understandably put off, Ed realizes the check won’t clear unless he chokes down that glass. So, of course, we have to see an 81 year old man guzzle back a glass full of nasty looking water because an anteater monster told him to.

How Much does Dignity Cost

In all sincerity, Ed does the best he can with this terrible bit. If he didn’t have ALF breathing down his neck the whole time interjecting with meaningless garbage about how the spring water is different colors during different seasons, we might get an actual joke out of this sketch. Instead, we get to witness first hand one of the worst problems this show has to offer. Paul Fusco cannot ad-lib to save his fucking life.

After Ed comes back to sit down after chugging prop alien piss, ALF tries to make a joke about how Ed has probably drank worse than that in his life. The problem is that Fusco repeatedly stumbles over his words and interrupts Ed when he tries to respond. It’s some of the most uncomfortable banter I’ve ever laid eyes on and it’s absolutely astounding to watch. Paul clearly loses track of where he is and just tries winding the conversation he started down, as it’s going nowhere. The audience who found the idea of a misshapen glacier is noticeably silent at this point, and my spine starts to freeze over while I wait for a laugh of any kind to emerge.

Thank God we’re finally guaranteed some laughs with ALF’s guest today. Here he is!

Tom Arnolds Peace Medallion is Funnier Than Anything Hes Ever Done

There is no funnier image to me than a complete punchline of a human being like Tom Arnold sitting next to ALF. This was how you promoted your show? With Tom the fuck Arnold? You think anyone on this planet or the next would tune in for that?

ALF makes some hilarious observations such as the fact that his guest has two first names, and being married is weird. Hard hitting journalism the other networks just don’t have the guts to cover.

Then ALF and Tom have a slew of some of the worst back and forth ever put to film. The two juggernauts of the entertainment industry say that they haven’t seen each other since “the thing at the place”, only since neither person on either end of the conversation is funny, it dies a cold laughless death. It goes on for way too long with both parties unable to milk a single laugh from the idea they’re having a purposefully vague conversation. It seems like they’re trying to make some sort of anti-comedy gag out of this, but instead it’s just upsetting and shitty.

During the interview. it becomes clear that Paul Fusco will absolutely not allow Tom Arnold to control the stage. Tom Arnold is known for being a blustering dummy of a comedian, so the last thing that any person should have to watch is someone fighting to upstage that level of shittiness. Everything Tom says, ALF tries to get a word in edgewise to remind the audience that he still exists. This constant interruption completely disrupts the flow of Tom’s (admittedly not good) story. None of it manages to be interesting or engaging, and it just feels like watching two people who have no arms try and play football.

Tom depressingly tries to engage McMahon in the discussion, but the best Ed is willing to contribute is a forced chuckle at the mediocre banter between these two clowns. It’s so insultingly unfunny and uninteresting I felt my heartbeat slowing while I watched this.

Tom Arnold then discusses his third and newest marriage with a woman named Shelby that he starts awkwardly informing ALF is the marriage that he KNOWS is going to last. I don’t know if there’s a more uncomfortable scenario out there that is the absolutely humiliating low of defending your multiple divorces to an alien puppet. But Tom’s a smart guy, I’m sure this marriage with Shelby did him well.

Oops

ALF informs Tom Arnold that it sounds like his wife talks a lot, and we gracefully cut to a commercial before that conversation can continue much further.

Of course not before we get to see dreadful bit riffing on Queer Eye For the Straight Guy entitled Alien Eye For the Human Guy. It involves ALF wearing a smoking jacket and telling jokes to the audience that he couldn’t find a way to fit in the monologue. Because this premise wasn’t thought about for more than 20 seconds, the jokes have nothing to do with being an alien and are just generic unfunny jokes about Rogaine. Because we have time to fill and Tom Arnold didn’t blather long enough to get us to 22 minutes.

Then we get the worst joke of the entire episode in this magazine gag coming back from the commercial break.

Excellent Sign Gag

Yes that is two of the four words in the title of your show. Is that supposed to be a joke? You know how whenever a sign shows up on The Simpsons you can expect a joke to be on it? Maybe I just got spoiled by that formula and ALF’s Hit Talk Show is only trying to yet again relay the fact it’s going to be an amazing program. Just you wait. We’re saving all the jokes for season 2.

Because the show is clearly going over so well, Tom Arnold informs ALF that he has “a great audience.” Which is true in that they’ve mostly stopped laughing so they must understand this isn’t funny. Though they aren’t that smart because they clearly aren’t getting Mr. Arnold’s clear plea for applause by directly complimenting them. One of the hackiest tricks in the book. It takes ALF literally telling his live studio audience to give themselves a round of applause before they actually do it. Goes to show the kind of person that shows up to a taping of ALF’s Hit Talk Show.

Tom Arnold then discusses how his wife doesn’t really like him in a desperate cry for help while Ed McMahon slowly sinks into the couch. Ed then prays for a swift death by drowning in the delicious taste of Melmacian Spring Water.

Then comes the first laugh of the episode when Tom Arnold informs the audience he’s going to die alone and penniless. It feels much less like a joke and a depressing admission from a broken man who can’t stop talking and accidentally reveals his innermost feelings. I guess “laugh” wasn’t exactly what I did so much as chuckle before becoming deeply saddened to see a man so clearly falling apart on a puppet’s talk show.

We then get a story where Tom Arnold explains the time he interviewed Alec Baldwin and the two began doing impressions of each other. Because the audience isn’t responding, Fusco dresses Tom down by telling him “I guess I would have had to be there.”

You know why that isn’t funny? Because you’re supposed to be a talk show host. As much as Tom Arnold is a boring sack of shit, you’re the one inviting him to be on your show. You’re no higher on the food chain than he is and you just look like a prick for dismissing him. You’re the one asking the questions, sorry that your guest didn’t give you an answer you could relate to cat eating.

Then ALF completely cuts off the interview because they have a pre-taped bit they had no way to segway to other than interrupting Tom Arnold. ALF has said he needs to keep his show hip for the younger generation, which to Paul Fusco means anyone under the age of 53. He’s sent some old man out to try and discover if kids these days really do say the darndest things.

For as much as I have hated everything that preceded it, I utterly fucking loathe this scene. The entire bit is that an old man is out on the street talking to people using slang. It’s a joke that’s barely tolerable when told competently, so you can imagine how bad it is here.

Some nameless old man nobody gives a shit about asks a young man with a mohawk if he is “chillin’ dog.” All the while this completely ridiculous circus music plays in the background. In case the audience didn’t know it was supposed to be a joke, we need clown horns and calliope music playing. It doesn’t make this funny, it just sounds like an ice cream truck broke down off camera.

Just before I kick the chair out, we cut back to ALF and Tom Arnold politely applauding. Instead of laughing to indicate he enjoyed the bit, Tom Arnold informs ALF “Yeah! That was funny.” Which was the second laugh I’ve gotten out of this show. Tom Arnold unable to even muster up fake laughter over this miserable trash.

After another break we come back to see Tom Arnold still hasn’t left, likely because he has nowhere else to go and ALF is the closest thing he has to a real friend. More interesting is what ALF informs the audience about once the music settles down.

Shameless

Jesus Christ this is awkward. Even Fusco barely sounds like he wants to plug this DVD. He must want people to forget that family he used to live with and get ready for the new sensation he’s a part of, ALF’s Hit Talk Show. I bet that will last for twice as many seasons as that old garbage show he was on!

ALF introduces his second guest that he informs us Ed met doing a commercial for dog food. If nothing else, this show is illustrating to the audience that time was not kind to Ed McMahon.

So in comes some guy named James Nelson who apparently has a talking dog named Farfel.

Mentally lll Man Walks On Set of Failed Television Show

I looked this James Nelson guy up, and apparently he’s been a puppeteer for a long time. That’s great and all, but he is a complete dead stop in this show. I don’t know if Fusco was a big fan of his puppet work and wanted to get him on the show out of admiration, but the guy is just not fun to watch. I don’t want to dress him down too much, but he’s telling jokes that sound like they came off of a 1940’s gum wrapper, and the audience is near silent the entire time.

Not to mention he doesn’t seem to know how to keep his mouth shut when he’s doing this Farfel the dog routine. Nobody makes fun of him during this segment so maybe they just feel bad for how badly all this is bombing. I’m not sure. In spite of how uncomfortable the whole thing is I’d still rather watch this than Tom Arnold yelling about how much his wife hates him.

ALF informs Nelson that the audience might have some questions for him, but when Ed reads the first name off, it’s just a woman who informed ALF she loves him sooooo much. Then ALF makes a joke about fat women and she sits back down.

Then Ed calls on the final audience member with a question, and by final I mean only. Some woman asking how she can promote the show, and ALF informs her not to bother because they’ve already been cancelled for this complete travesty.

So to summarize this segment, ALF has two fans in the audience say he’s great and they want to promote his show, only they don’t get the chance to actually speak because Ed says their questions for them. Possibly because Paul Fusco is an egomaniac and wouldn’t let any non ALF related questions through, and possibly because nobody in the audience know who James Nelson is other than an elderly man with a moldy old dog puppet.

Speaking of James Nelson, he was billed in the opening credits as a guest star alongside Tom Arnold. Tom Arnold was on stage for about 15 minutes of this 22 minute episode. James Nelson was on for about 3. Glad we let the real talent shine through.

So yeah, that’s ALF’s Hit Talk Show. I hate to tell you good people this, but I would actually recommend you actually go and check out an episode. Obviously not due to it being decent or anything like that, but because it has to be seen how utterly terrible Paul Fusco is at being an interviewer or relating to his guests. He’s an awesome puppeteer, don’t get me wrong. The problem is he can’t parlay that into creating interesting chemistry with anyone on his set. This just all relates to the fact that Paul Fusco could not let ALF share the spotlight with anyone else. Maybe if he did people might remember his character for more than eating cats.

RIP Anne Meara

May 25th, 2015 | Posted by Philip J Reed in alf - (2 Comments)

ALF, "I've Got a New Attitude"

Reader BJ Siard aleted me to this fact: Anne Meara passed away on Friday, at the age of 85.

Fans of the ALF reviews will know her as Kate Sr., a condescending nickname I coined because the show never bothered to make me care about who she actually was.

She was introduced in the Kate Sr. Trilogy, and has made intermittent appearances since then. And while I couldn’t pretend that she was actually a fantastic and welcome presence on the show, I would hasten to point out that she did what she could with what she was given.

Sadly, what she was given involved ALF in gypsy garb channeling the dead, being moved by a soap opera written by a space alien, being forced by her daughter into bed with a creepy guy she just met, dueting with Max Wright at the end of an episode about ALF shitting in the tub, and so on.

In other words, she was given nothing. So don’t let her work in ALF dictate what you’ll remember about her. Meara’s IMDB page reads like an off-center history of television. Rhoda instead of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Archie Bunker’s Place instead of All in the Family. Special Victims Unit instead of Law & Order. It’s interesting just how near the spotlight she was at every stage of TV history. (Her second credit is for The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse in 1954. She was TV OG.)

She also had plenty of experience (though typically only in one or two episodes) with hugely successful shows, and continued working right up until this past year. On top of that, she was the wife of Jerry Stiller (Mr. Costanza), and the mother of Ben Stiller. Her echoes will be felt in entertainment for a very long time.

So, no, Kate Sr. should in no way be the role that defines her, even if it’s destined to be the one that we discuss at the greatest length here.

Requiescat in pace, Anne. Thanks for giving the world far more than ALF would have led us to believe.

ALF, "A Little Bit of Soap"

ALF, "Hide Away"

With “Hide Away,” we find ourselves at the halfway point of season three. We’re so close to Jim J. Bullock joining the cast, I could spit on him.

From here I’m not sure if I’ve seen any more episodes. I did watch Project: ALF (or at least some of it) when it aired, but after “Do You Believe in Magic?” I don’t know if I ever bothered tuning in again. I might have, but “Hide Away” isn’t at all familiar to me. No memories came rushing back with this one…and that’s kind of a shame. It’s not a great episode, or even a good one, but it’s miles beyond “Do You Believe in Magic?” If I had held out for another week as a kid, I could have at least ended my association with this show on a higher note.

That’s “higher” in a very relative sense, I assure you. “Hide Away” opens with ALF burping. It literally opens with that. It’s the very first thing that happens in the very first frame. Incredibly, it gets better!

Willie comes home and apologizes for being late. Apparently there’s some guy at work who traps people and tells boring stories, and that’s what held him up. The irony of Max Wright trapping us to tell this story boringly is entirely lost on the show.

ALF tells him he bought a satellite dish with his credit card and if he doesn’t like it he can go fuck himself. And, with that, we’re off!

ALF, "Hide Away"

After the credits we see Willie in the car with the boring guy, whose name is Jimbo. What’s the over/under on this guy meeting ALF before the episode is over?

It does get a little annoying that so many characters on this show are defined only by their relationships with ALF, and not by their relationships with each other. It really limits how much we can care about any of them, and how distinct any of them can be from each other. It’s why so few of them are memorable in any way, and it prevents any of them from having a unique reaction to meeting a god-damned midget space bear.

Of the recurring cast on this show, I’m pretty sure only Mr. Ochmonek and Wizard Beaver haven’t seen him. And the latter was only in two episodes. Sure, plenty of one-offs haven’t seen him, but that’s more than made up for by the mountains of one-offs who have. In any other show, this wouldn’t be a problem…but when you decide to build the idea that nobody, under any circumstances, can meet your main character, it’s endlessly frustrating if you don’t adhere to it. It’s a self-imposed limitation, so if you don’t want to be limited by it, why impose it?

Something about the way Jimbo looked made me wonder if he played Father Buzz Cagney in the final episode of Father Ted, but I looked him up and no, he didn’t. He did, however, have a very important role in another show that I couldn’t have possibly recognized him from: he was the PA announcer on M*A*S*H*.

Actually, there were two actors who pulled that duty on the show. One was this guy, Todd Susman. Susman also reprised the role for an episode of Futurama, which is really cool, and it means he got to play the same character in two of the best shows ever made. Not many people can say that. The other voice on the PA belonged to Sal Viscuso, which is the name I would have recognized, but Viscuso was evidently in significantly fewer episodes than Susman.

Interesting. Growing up I had always assumed that Radar was the one making the announcements, but at this point in time I have no idea why I thought that. There are still plenty of episodes of the show that I haven’t seen, or haven’t seen in years, but to my knowledge the announcer was never named, and we never actually “met” him outside of his voice.

The important thing about this scene, though, is illustrated in the above screen grab: check out how clearly Willie is eyeballing this guy’s cock.

It’s a bit odd — but by this point in no way surprising — that after we hear all about how this guy’s such a boring asshole, when we meet him in the very next scene he’s fine. He’s making awkward small talk as Willie gives him a ride home, but it’s certainly nothing that bad. If anything, I’m listening more intently to what he says than I’ve ever listened to Willie, because at least there’s a chance this new guy will say something interesting.

Willie asks him where he grew up, so Jimbo tells him it was in Seattle, and then he went to school at NYU. Willie makes a bunch of faces as though he’s really put out by this guy’s presence, but all it does is make Willie look like a fucking awful human being. You asked, Willie, you sack of shit.

He looks even worse when Jimbo shares more information about himself. His parents died when he was young, so he was an orphan. His car’s in the shop for major repairs. He lives in a shitty little apartment with a busted stove. And, I have to say, that makes him far more believable as a social worker than Willie has ever been. They do tend to have bleak backgrounds, which is what compels them to help others through similar situations. And certainly I’ve known more social workers who lived in efficiency apartments than in palaces on Whites Only Ave. in L.A.

Willie begrudgingly invites him to dinner, but not before he makes it clear how much of an inconvenience this is, because he’s a lonely, unloved, poor person whom Willie has every right to hate.

Come to think of it, isn’t Jimbo’s story the kind of thing Willie should have to deal with every day as a social worker? Yes, it makes the guy sound like more of an actual social worker, but it also makes him sound like one of the clients who would need a social worker.

Why is this the way Willie handles it? How many raises and promotions does he need before he can look at somebody who is worse off than he is (which seems to be most everyone on the planet) and think, “I should at least be nice to this guy”?

I know I keep getting hung up on this issue, but I just want the show to be aware of it. We can do a sappy episode where Willie realizes he’s a shit and starts actually helping people, sure, or we can at least make a winking joke about the fact that he never does. We can’t have all this heart-to-heart bullshit about what a wonderful job Willie is doing and how important his work is when he can’t be bothered to rein in the verbal abuse every time a blind woman needs a place to sleep, a homeless man needs something to eat, or a colleague needs a friend.

Willie Tanner isn’t just a lousy social worker; he’s an absolutely despicable human being.

ALF, "Hide Away"

Back at the house, ALF is installing the satellite dish. By…standing in front of the TV?

I have no idea. I guess the physical labor part is done, but by whom? Did he send Brian onto the roof with power tools and hope for the best?

Brian “Handy Smurf” Tanner, who who is standing beside ALF this entire time, leans over and asks him how it’s coming. It’s…odd. Did they forget to put a stage direction in the script telling him to walk in from another room? Why is he asking if he’s been privy to the entire thing?

ALF tells him it’s not working; he’s getting a lot of static, and for once it’s not from Kate. This actually leads to a cute little moment when ALF says, in an uncharacteristically quiet tone, “Ha.” Then he glances over his shoulder, confirms Kate was nowhere to be seen, and laughs his normal, louder, “Ha! Ha!!”

It’s nice enough on its own, but I especially enjoy that it allows me to believe Kate has taken to beating him when he misbehaves.

She does come into the room shortly and reminds ALF that he’s lucky they’re letting him keep the satellite dish (which leads to another nice moment from ALF as he asks her not to use the words “Lucky” and “dish” in the same sentence, unless she means it), and then tells ALF to get in the garage because Jimbo is coming over, and he’s not supposed to accidentally meet him for another four minutes.

Nowadays I’d just assume Willie called home on his cellphone, but how did he convey this information to his wife so long before they became commonplace? It’s possible that he pulled over and stopped at a phone booth, but it’s a little bizarre to leave that unaddressed. Way back in a previous episode, though I forget which, there was a great, silent moment when someone comes to the door, and one member of the family signals to another that it’s safe to open it; ALF is hiding. I like this because it’s a brief, clean, and believable way of conveying to the audience that the Tanners have developed methods of concealing ALF’s existence. And, once we see that, we can assume forever forward that this is what’s happening every time someone comes to the door, whether we see it or not.

Here, with Willie communicating Jimbo’s presence to Kate via evident telepathy, we don’t have that, and it’s a shame, because it would be nice to know how they do inform each other of these last-minute plans.

Of course, the whole issue would have been moot if instead of setting the previous scene in Willie’s car they set it at the office, close to closing time. Jimbo could request a ride home, Willie could kick him six or seven times in the nuts before inviting him to dinner, and then, without ever having to see it, we could assume that Willie simply called her from his desk phone. It would have also given us some narrow window into his work-life, which the show seems bizarrely reluctant to develop.

First-draft blues, I guess.

ALF, "Hide Away"

Outside the house Willie stands around looking at his shoes while Jimbo babbles boringly. Wait, not boringly…it’s actually pretty interesting. He’s talking about Mark Twain’s contention that there could be no comedy in Heaven, since comedy is reliant on pain and Heaven would have no pain. It’s a potentially fascinating subject — with even my extremely simplified summary leaving infinite room for debate — but all Willie does is dribble on the porch and wait for his guest to die.

He eventually says, “Oh, you’ve finished,” when Jimbo stops talking, which is a pretty rude thing to say, even measured against Willie’s asshole curve.

Now, I can understand that Mark Twain’s quasi-philosophizing about the nature of Heaven and humor would be boring for some people. Maybe even a lot of people. Me, I’d be all over a conversation like this, but I’m a massive dork. I know that. And I can just about get behind the show utilizing it as an example of something that would bore people.

…but that’s people. And Willie isn’t “people.” He’s Willie. A fucking nerd if television has ever had one.

So, no, I don’t buy that this would automatically bore him into catatonia. It’s possible that Willie thinks Mark Twain is beneath him, or something, but it’s not an innate incongruity, so the joke doesn’t land.

Let’s say, by way of reverse illustration, Jimbo had been talking about the night he spent at a strip club. Or the time he won Super Bowl tickets and got to sit in a luxury box. Or a concert that he went to see in which several of the instruments were played by negroes.

Any of those things would seem to strand Willie in a conversation that he’d have difficulty caring about. But literature? Philosophy? Religion? (Remember, just a few episodes ago he was singing Thanksgiving hymns with hobos and space aliens.) His boredom here isn’t comic incongruity; it’s affected, shitty dickheadery.

Jimbo sits down to dinner and thanks them for having him. Which is pretty nice, considering how poorly he’s already been treated by his host. In fact, I’d like to remind you here that this episode would like you to consider him the irritating pest. (It’s a very difficult thing to do when every second of the episode is unintentionally showing you otherwise.) There is a decent little exchange when Kate finds out he’s an orphan. She says, “I’m sorry to hear that.” He replies, “Most people are.”

It’s funny in an understated way, and Jimbo delivers the line well. There’s a necessary undercurrent of sadness to it, but it’s so matter-of-fact that it works very well. (That, for the record, is comic incongruity.)

But then Lynn asks him where he’s from, so he says he’s from Seattle and graduated from NYU, and the fake audience howls with fake laughter as every one of the Tanners rolls their eyes and wish this boring fuckbag were never born.

Okay, I get it, being born in Seattle and going to NYU isn’t the most exciting backstory. But you fuckers keep asking him. Is it his fault that his answer isn’t, “Well, I was born in space, and then discovered the only living unicorn at the age of eleven…”?

Fuck you, Tanners. Jimbo’s lived a dull, and seemingly sad, life. I’m very sorry his basic answers to your basic questions aren’t thrilling you to the core, but if it’s such a problem, start asking ones that might actually lead to interesting stories.

ALF, "Hide Away"

Later Willie goes into the shed to apologize to ALF. Guh.

This family seems to apologize an awful lot to ALF after he does something wrong, and I’ll never understand it. Why is Willie apologizing to the guy who bought something, with Willie’s money, without permission?

Willie says he’s sorry that he wasn’t home to help ALF set up his satellite dish. ALF explains that he handled it just fine on his own, and even climbed onto the roof to install it.

For some reason this doesn’t result in Willie throttling him against the wall and shouting, “Vvvvfffnnnffuuckkkk aa-hhhre you doooh-ing on the vvfffuccck shhitting rooff?” He just apologizes some more, and doesn’t even think twice about the fact that that the naked space alien that lives in the hamper was making home improvements on the roof in the late afternoon, and that might draw some undue attention and danger to his family.

No, it’s better that we apologize, and shore up ALF’s emotional well-being.

That orphan guy who that we invited over just to be an asshole to, though? No, it’s quite right to treat him like shit.

Guys, I hate this show. These are the kinds of things that needle me endlessly, and it’s why I can’t, ever, buy that these people are in any way human.

ALF, "Hide Away"

Back in the living room, Jimbo is ratting off some geography facts, and, okay, yes, I can see how this would be boring. But it’s not like the Tanners are being particularly hospitable. What else is the guy supposed to do? He’s being awkward, yes, but that’s a symptom of the fact that he’s the only one in the room trying to make conversation. These fuckholes aren’t bringing out any board games or snacks or trying to engage with him in any way. They’re the hosts here, but all they do is sit Jimbo in an arm chair and stare at him. I don’t think it’s quite the guest’s fault that this is a dull evening in.

Besides, what would they be doing if he wasn’t there? Having all-night adventurous sex? I doubt it. As far as I can tell, they’d all be sitting around in silence while ALF jacks off in the shed anyway.

When it comes to the way this show handles the Ochmoneks, my common reference point for how to do it right is Ned Flanders. He’s an obvious one, because the Tanners, like the Simpsons, don’t see how good they have it. They get irritated by the family next door, without realizing (especially in Homer’s/Willie’s case) that they themselves are the bad neighbor. In ALF‘s case, the show isn’t even aware of that fact…but a small tweak of understanding could make all the difference.

Here, they’re irritated by a boring guest…and my example of how to do it right comes from (the coincidentally aforementioned) Father Ted.

Father Ted dedicated its entire second episode to a visit from Father Stone, a man who is incredibly boring, and who for that reason drives Ted, Jack, and Dougal crazy. That sounds a lot like what’s supposed to be happening between Jimbo and Willie, Kate, and Lynn here.

But here’s the thing: on Father Ted the characters don’t just bleat about how boring he is and hope we buy into it; they show us. They invite Father Stone along to things. They try to get him to watch TV with them or join them in other activities. They attempt, repeatedly, to engage him, asking him about mutual friends, and doing their doomed best to make the most of his presence.

In other words, they try. The fact that he remains steadfast in his dull refusal to engage in return is the joke…not that the Craggy Island priests hate him. And that’s why I can believe for myself that Father Stone is a dull man; it’s demonstrated. He has every opportunity to take part what’s going on around him, and he chooses not to. (With the exception of evacuating the parochial house due to a fire…which becomes a brilliant joke in itself. Ted asks, astounded, “You’re going?!” Father Stone replies, “Well, yeah…if there’s a fire.”)

Jimbo, on the other hand, doesn’t work the way the episode wants him to. In fact, he seems to be playing the opposite role. He keeps trying to connect with the Tanners, and they just make fuck-you motions every time he turns his head. He is the one trying, though “Hide Away” wants us, against literally everything we’re seeing and hearing, to believe that he’s the bad guy. It erects its own obstacle to believability, and then spends its entire runtime trying to push it out of the way. Father Ted, by contrast, knew that if it wanted to make that joke, it actually had to…y’know. Make that joke.

Willie and Kate go into the kitchen to bitch about how terrible a houseguest this guy they’re treating like shit is, and ALF is in there; he’s been listening in. He refers to Jimbo as “Little Orphan Whiney” (though sharing geographical trivia is a pretty odd thing to consider whining), and even suggests that it’s Jimbo’s own fault he’s an orphan: he bored his parents to death.

This is supremely nasty stuff. I kept expecting the episode to conclude with the Tanners realizing they’ve been pretty rotten to the guy, but, of course, that never happens.

The Jimbo abuse is almost worse than the way they treat the Ochmoneks. In fact, the only reason it’s not worse is that we know we’ll never see this guy again; the poor Ochmoneks are stuck with it for another season and a half.

Willie, puzzlingly, concludes that Jimbo has “taken advantage” of them long enough. Taken advantage in what way? By trying to make conversation while you assholes snigger and make fun of his dead parents? What the actual fuck am I watching?

ALF, "Hide Away"

Willie heads back into the living room to give Jimbo a heated fisting, but their guest — what a massive jagoff he is! — apologizes for keeping them so late, and even says they don’t have to drive him home. He’d be happy to just sleep outside, in the car.

It would be quieter in there, he says, than in his own apartment…where he’d be kept awake by freeway construction and the all-night bowling alley. (A lovely Frank Grimes kind of detail, there.) But Willie invites him to spend the night inside, being very careful that his disgust at the very idea of taking in a lonely, hurting, friendly man echoes through every word.

Jimbo takes a moment to confide something to the Tanners: his real name is Steve. He’s in the Witness Protection Program, because he turned in a group of counterfeiters years ago…and now this is where he is in life.

It adds a whole other layer of tragedy to the guy who’s just become the most interesting man in the ALF universe. (Now it’s doubly ironic that the episode thinks he’s boring, no? And why do the Tanners never reconsider their idea that he’s boring now that they know some mobster guys want to kill him?)

This poor guy got off to a difficult start in life, pulled himself up by his bootstraps, made something of himself…but then stumbled on to some illegal activity, and — because he’s an inherently honest guy — turned in the criminals, found himself forced to relocate, and had start all over again. This time around, he wasn’t quite as lucky with the cards he was dealt, and he lives in squalor, working a low-paying job, without friends or anyone he can connect with.

That’s an actual backstory. And a good one. The episode doesn’t connect all the dots that I just did — and fuck knows the Tanners aren’t interested in doing so — but when you pay attention to Jimbo (er…Steve) and don’t just dismiss him the way the characters do, you find a pretty compelling sub-narrative. I like it, but I like it in spite of the work the episode is doing, not because of it.

Jimbo goes into the next room and ALF pops up through the plot window to tell Willie to throw this guy out, because he’s a dirty rat and the mafia might come and Jesus Christ can you blame me for getting lost in subtext and backstory when this is the shit I have to come back to?

ALF, "Hide Away"

We get some commercials, which is good, because they’re the only thing in this episode I understand.

Then ALF is sneaking around the back yard in the dark, holding a bat. But he recites the intro to Dragnet, which has nothing to do with what he’s doing, what we’re seeing, or, so far as I can tell, anything in the known universe. The music is a string-laden mood piece that creates a tense atmosphere…and also sounds nothing like Dragnet. It’s like the various parts of the episode couldn’t agree on what what supposed to be going on in this scene. It’s odd.

Anyway, I guess ALF is going to beat the houseguest to death, or something. He hears a cat in the bushes and clubs it senseless. He says, “Cat burglar,” and the fake audience yuks it up because ALF just caved a stray animal’s head in and then said something.

Then there’s a scream and ALF runs over to find Willie caught in a net.

ALF, "Hide Away"

How did ALF rig this thing up? Why did he rig it up in the back yard, where the mafia guys would be least likely to approach the house? (At least that’s who I assume he’s trying to catch. Whoever it is, though, I think the back yard, which can seemingly only be entered through the Ochmoneks’ gate, is a pretty odd place to expect company.) Why was Willie skulking around out here in his pajamas, anyway?

Who cares. ALF runs up to him, sees pretty fucking clearly that it’s Willie, and then starts clubbing the shit out of him anyway.

Now that’s comedy.

ALF, "Hide Away"

Mr. Ochmonek comes over to see what all the screaming and beating and broken teeth are about, which regretfully halts ALF from bludgeoning Willie to a slow and torturous death.

This is actually the best moment in the episode, because here is what Mr. Ochmonek sees when he opens the gate:

ALF, "Hide Away"

Willie thinks quickly enough and tells Mr. Ochmonek that he’s doing something that requires all of his concentration, so if he comes back in the morning he’ll be able to answer all of his questions then.

It’s…actually decently funny, if not even slightly believable.

Let’s just pose the question again here: who is the bad neighbor? The one dangling in a net, shrieking at all hours of the night? Or the one who both checks on him to make sure he’s okay, and leaves without pressing the issue?

It baffles me that this show, still, this late in the game, has no idea who its main characters are. Sure, you could ask me to tell you everything I know about Willie, and I’d come up mostly dry. But, I have the feeling that if you stepped into the ALF writing room and put the same question to them, you wouldn’t get much more. (And considering how much rambling horse shit I spin on this blog for the sake of keeping myself sane, you may actually get much less.)

Whatever. As soon as Mr. O closes the gate, Willie and ALF start screaming at each other. There’s no way he made it back into his own house in those few seconds, so this is just further evidence that nobody gives a crap about hiding the alien’s existence anymore.

Then Willie says “Let me down!” so ALF unties the rope and he falls. It’s hilarious if you’re an idiot.

ALF, "Hide Away"

Later on, ALF is still dicking around in the yard. I guess Willie sustained a serious enough concussion that he didn’t think to chain ALF to the radiator before hitting the hay.

A Rob Lowe impersonator hops over the fence, and ALF smacks him with the bat in what looks like the small of his back. Since this is where the human brain is located, Rob is knocked out, and he tumbles into a pretty phony looking hole dug into the soundstage that we used to be willing to believe was the Tanners’ yard.

Willie arrives immediately at the scene, so I guess he passed out next to the shed and never even made it back to the house.

ALF, "Hide Away"

Lynn and Kate come outside, too. Not for any reason…just to be there, and to make clear to the audience just how fucking loud and obtrusive ALF is being outdoors at night, after sitting on the roof all afternoon installing a satellite dish. The Alien Task Force sure has their work cut out for them.

Willie hops into the hole to look for an ID on the man, and discovers that he’s an FBI agent.

Sure, why not.

ALF, "Hide Away"

They bring the cold-cocked FBI guy into the living room, where Willie and ALF argue loudly over his body, which is a great way of avoiding detection. Do neither of these shitbrains wonder what they’re going to do if this guy so much as opens his eyes?

Then the actual FBI comes to the door and sees the body. It’s exactly as abrupt as I write it here. Actually, since you very likely could have stopped reading between those two sentences and watched some pornography, it could well be more abrupt than it is here.

Willie explains that the unconscious guy is in the FBI, but they say he isn’t, and his ID must be a fake. The real FBI was here for Jimbo, because the counterfeiters wanted to kill him, I guess, and the fake FBI guy was the killer they sent.

So, that’s convenient. The conflict is introduced and resolved in practically the same breath. Has ALF never heard of rising and falling action? I feel as though the plot diagram for any given episode of this show would be a flat line.

The same thing happened last week, and it’s confusing to me that the writers keep doing this. They have twenty-odd minutes to fill, but keep introducing the conflict in minute twenty and resolving it in minute twenty-one. The rest of the episode is padded all to hell, so it’s certainly not happening because they need that extra space for jokes.

It’s frustrating. ALF assaulting and battering an FBI agent in the back yard because he’s an incurable fucktard could fuel a good plot on its own. Instead it happens, and as soon as the concept is introduced, there’s a knock on the door telling us not to worry about it. He’s not an FBI agent. He is a killer, though…which would also make for a good plot, but don’t worry about that, either, because he’s under arrest.

It’s…really lousy stuff. Just awful.

Jimbo thanks Willie for his kindness and hospitality, and I guess the joke is that Willie can’t even bring himself to say “You’re welcome.” He’s just happy to see this unselfish human being ushered out of his life forever. Bye, Jimbo. Sorry you didn’t get to meet ALF.

ALF, "Hide Away"

Willie and Kate run out to give the good news to their alien, and find that he somehow tumbled into the hole that he himself dug. I don’t know either. He cracked his head on the sewer pipe. Who cares.

How did all these people know to find Jimbo at the Tanner house? The assassin I could maybe buy…it’s possible he was staking out Jimbo’s place and followed Willie’s car. But the FBI? While they could have done the same thing, what would be their motive for waiting so long to knock on the door? Especially if they were there to protect him from being murdered? With the assassin I assume he waited until everyone went to sleep. You know…because assassinating is illegal. But the FBI just wanted to warn Jimbo and get him out of harm’s way. So either they, too, followed Willie’s car in secret — which makes no sense — or they somehow knew the exact address he’d be spending the night at, even though it wasn’t planned in advance — which makes no sense. And it’s not like they waited for the assassin to make his move; they didn’t even know he was there until Willie pointed him out.

And, okay, as much guff as I gave ALF for having every character meet the alien, Jimbo is the one character that should have met him.

The reason I say this is twofold.

First, and probably more importantly, Jimbo and ALF have a lot in common that the script doesn’t realize, because nobody read it a second time before turning the cameras on. Both of them have tragic pasts. Both of them eventually found a place for themselves that they were happy with. Then both of them, against their wills, were thrust from everything they knew and were forced to relocate. They’re both relatively unhappy with their new lives, and they both want something more. Think of the conversation they could have. Think of what they could say to each other. ALF could end up with a commiserating soulmate. Or they could both see the other as a whiny, bitchy fuckball and realize that that’s what they must look like to others, too. There are a lot of possibilities, and all of them are better than what we got, which was nothing.

The fact that the episode does nothing with this — and, again, doesn’t even realize the parallels — is insulting to the brain.

And secondly, it could have been nice to see ALF’s existence being kept a secret for a different reason. See, so far everyone who meets ALF just keeps him a secret because they’re in love with his…whatever he has. Hobos, cancer patients, Mexicans…they all see something in him that causes them not to rat him out. He touches their hearts, and sometimes their prostates. It gets old.

Here, though, Jimbo would have a very good reason not to turn ALF in: ALF could also turn him in to the bad guys. There’d be a kind of stalemate in effect that would fuel a new dynamic on this show; something very much unlike anything we’ve seen it explore yet. Yes, it would require a slight cheat (Jimbo would have to somehow believe that ALF could get in touch with the counterfeiters) but I’d prefer that relatively small plot hole to the gaping shit hole that we got.

So, yeah. Thanks, ALF, for addressing my concern the only time I’d wish you hadn’t.

ALF, "Hide Away"

In the short scene before the credits, we see ALF being awarded the Tanner Medal of Honor. I think when I’m finished with these reviews I deserve the Tanner Purple Heart.

I do like that ALF is being rewarded for his all good deeds in this episode, which include buying a satellite dish without permission, foolishly installing it himself on the roof in broad daylight, repeatedly insulting an orphaned house guest, killing a stray cat in cold blood, beating Willie about the head and neck with a baseball bat, and brainlessly assaulting a stranger. What a shitty lesson for kids to pull from this episode.

Regarding that orphaned house guest, he’s just gone. At no point do the Tanners have to reconsider their behavior toward him, because as far as “Hide Away” is concerned, they treated him just as he deserved to be treated: poorly, because he’s not like them, and lives a more difficult life than they’ll ever know. That actually manages to be an even shittier lesson.

Mr. Ochmonek comes over because he’s tangled up in Willie’s net or something. It’s shit, don’t worry about it.

He does suggest that he thinks it’s a trap to stop people from stealing avocados from their tree, which is a nice callback to “Take a Look at Me Now.” And earlier in the episode, ALF says that he doesn’t want Willie going to jail for something he did…again, which is a nod to “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” I’m a fan of inter-episode continuity, but the fact that “Hide Away” decides to remind us specifically of two of the worst episodes just makes this feel like the third leg of a shithouse trilogy.

“Hide Away” could have been much worse, but it also could have been a hell of a lot better. It’s odd, though. I come away from this one recognizing it as a heap of garbage…but I don’t entirely hate it. Maybe it’s because Susman is a decent enough actor that it was refreshing to have him around. Or maybe it was just because the episode introduced some interesting possibilities. It didn’t see any of them through, at all, nor did it care to…but it’s better than nothing, I guess.

Or maybe it’s just because it’s not “Do You Believe in Magic?” Which was worse than accidentally eating your own scrotum.

MELMAC FACTS: ALF was conceived in a DeSoto. Quite how ALF’s dad was jazzing into ALF’s mom three centuries ago in a car that wasn’t introduced until 1928 and was never — to my knowledge — shipped to Melmac is a question you’ll each have to answer for yourselves.

Hawt

It might look like I don’t write much anymore, but that’s bullshit. In fact, just today my comprehensive, scholarly examination of sexual subtext in Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers went live over on Ranger Retrospective.

You should check it out right here. Granted, some of this stuff you will have already known, but I wanted to provide a platform for intelligent discussion, and that sometimes requires a common sense recap.

Ranger Retrospective is a weekly blog run by friend-of-the-website Samurai Karasu. Check it out if (when) you get bored of my rambling. It’s quite good, often funny, and nearly always insightful. I appreciate the opportunity he gave me to write this post while he’s off having breast reduction surgery, and I hope it provides you with a level of insight you didn’t have before.

ALF, "Do You Believe in Magic?"

So, we’re here at last. “Do You Believe in Magic?” is the episode of ALF that I remember best, and not for positive reasons: this is the episode that convinced me, even as a stupid kid, that this show was a bit shit.

I didn’t have the most discerning tastes as a child. For every Pee-Wee’s Playhouse or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory that I fell in love with, I’m sure there were twenty films and television shows that I watched all the time, but which faded immediately from memory the moment they went away.

Memory is the grand curator, after all. It does a pretty good job of retaining that which is worth retaining, and letting the vast mediocre majority slip away.

I remember catching The Great Muppet Caper on television once when I was in high school. I hadn’t seen it for probably around ten years at that point. I was with my girlfriend. We watched a few minutes, and then flipped around during a commercial to see what else was on.

A little while later, after we tried some other things, she asked if I just wanted to watch the rest of that film. I said sure. Then she asked me to guess what part of the movie we’d see when we switched back. I had no idea, so I just said the first thing that came to mind. “The part where Miss Piggy is walking on the desk and falls into a trash can.”

Sure enough, that’s precisely where we were. I was even more shocked than she was.

My mind must have retained more of that film — a deeper knowledge of that film — than I’d realized…so much so that it could estimate very accurately the sequence of individual scenes, and how long it took to get through them.

I bring this up here because there’s one scene in “Do You Believe in Magic?” that I remembered, all through the years, very well. It’s probably the only scene in all of ALF that I can say I remember vividly. It comes later in the episode, and we’ll talk about it there, but I think it says a lot that I remembered so much of what happened in The Great Muppet Caper, but only one scene from ALF: the scene that made me realize that it wasn’t worth watching.

My mind retained that scene because, I assume, it was good justification for forgetting every other one. If I ever scanned my memory for thoughts of ALF and came up largely dry, what I remembered about that scene would explain why.

“Do You Believe in Magic?” opens with ALF attempting a magic trick that he saw on TV. Apparently the first step is to mash a bunch of messy food into somebody’s overturned sunhat. The second step is fuck you.

Brian helps him destroy Kate’s sunhat in this way, and then Kate walks in to see her sunhat being destroyed, and then ALF turns the sunhat over and revels that it’s been destroyed.

I hope you enjoyed this particular joke structure (something happens, continues to happen, and then stops happening because time is up), because it’s going to repeat for the next 22 minutes.

The idea of ALF exploring magic is not a bad one. He’s from space, so he may not understand that it’s all trickery and showmanship. It fits into the childlike wonder we too-rarely see from this character, but it can also be given a series-specific twist: he may see “magic” as a kind of technology unknown on Melmac. After all, when you own a personal spacecraft and travel to other planets for fun, something like food that disappears after you put it in a hat (or whatever the fuck was supposed to happen) probably seems like it’s within the realm of possibility. He may not understand how it works, but it’s not inherently absurd for him to assume that it could work.

Of course ALF is ALF and (ALF is ALF) so we’re not so much exploring the concept as we are giving a puppet an excuse to fuck everyone’s shit up.

I’m actually feeling really anxious about this episode.

I’m embarrassed just thinking about it. I know it’s going to be awful. In fact, “THIS EPISODE IS AWFUL” is the one thing my mind remembers most clearly about the entire show.

And here, now, I’m watching it again. And I feel…stupid.

I liked this crap? What was wrong with me?

ALF, "Do You Believe in Magic?"

After the credits we see ALF writing I WILL NOT PUT FOOD IN KATE’S HAT over and over on the refrigerator door.

Willie comes in, sees him defacing the kitchen, verifies that Kate didn’t ask him to do that, then shrugs and forgets about it. He’s reached that point in his life, I guess, when he’s finally resigned himself to living in alien puppet Hell.

He goes to the table and tells ALF that he has a gift for him. This makes sense, because ALF ruined Kate’s hat and vandalized the refrigerator, marking this as the best-behaved he’s ever been.

Willie got him a magic kit, which is a bit like punishing your child for playing with knives by getting him a bandsaw, but who cares. This episode, perhaps moreso than any other — yes, I remember “Strangers in the Night” — isn’t an episode. It’s just a bunch of stuff that happens. Toward the (very) end there’s a whiff of plot, but it dissipates like the weak fart that it is and the credits roll.

Why is Willie buying him a magic kit? Because that’s what this scene is about. Why did ALF ruin the sunhat? Because that was what that scene was about. How do either of these scenes relate to the rest of the episode? Aside from the superficial fact that “magic” is involved, they don’t. So, have fun, kids.

There is a decent enough moment of quiet visual comedy when Willie tries to demonstrate a card trick to ALF. He tells him to pick a card, and ALF deliberates over his options interminably.

It’s the kind of non-joke Family Guy resorts to often, but I’m a big enough fan of awkward moments and stubborn toying with pace that I usually enjoy it. (Another MacFarlane creation, American Dad! has probably my favorite instance of this: Stan circling the mall looking for a parking space in a climactic moment of “Finances With Wolves.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: American Dad! is often brilliant television, and if you’ve only thought of it as a Family Guy clone, give it another shot.)

Unfortunately the absurdly-delayed-response-as-punchline thing happens again later, and not as any kind of callback, essentially underscoring the fact that even this episode in which nothing happens is still crammed with excessive padding.

There’s also a joke that seems like it should play more successfully than it actually does. Willie absent-mindedly says to ALF that he used to have a magic kit when he was ALF’s age…then corrects himself to saying when he was ALF’s height. It’s a good idea for a gag, but, for whatever reason, it falls pretty flat.

Maybe it’s due to Max Wright’s delivery of the line. Or maybe it’s just because it’s marooned in this lifeless shithole of an episode, where everything is far too desolate to amuse.

ALF, "Do You Believe in Magic?"

This entire scene goes on too long and doesn’t accomplish much, but we do at least get another nice moment out of it.

After Willie fails to impress ALF by guessing his card, he amazes the alien by pulling the Ace of Spades from behind ALF’s ear.

That’s a very cute moment, and ALF’s excitement over it is harmless fun. It’s a good, childlike detail, with this immediate, simple dazzle seeming more impressive to him than a much better, more intricate trick.

But that’s about it. By the time this long-ass scene is over we’re a third of the way through the episode, and all that’s happened is that ALF ruined a hat.

ALF, "Do You Believe in Magic?"

Later on ALF wheels a podium into the living room and introduces himself as ALF THE STUPEFYING. We’re in agreement on that, at least.

This is when we get the single most awful line in a show that often seems to be composed entirely of singularly awful lines. ALF says, “It’s showtime!” And Kate, who is watching TV, replies, “Actually, ALF, it’s HBO!!!!”

Not even Anne Schedeen could save that one. Fucking hell…Peter Sellers couldn’t have saved that one.

I have to assume she didn’t even try. Honestly, if you were handed material like that, would you?

Jesus.

Anyway, ALF’s first trick as The Great Dickholio is to smash a flower pot to pieces with his magic wand. Willie and Kate sit there like assholes and watch it happen.

Impressive stuff, truly.

It gets better.

In a way.

It gets better in the way that it doesn’t get any better, and instead gets so much goddamn worse.

ALF, "Do You Believe in Magic?"

Lynn comes in and asks for some money so she can go to the movies. Willie gives her a $10 bill, and ALF says he’ll make it disappear. Why anyone would agree to let him do this is beyond any explanation short of mass, instantaneous brain damage.

So they give him the money. Why the fuck not, right? He already proved that all his tricks result in destroying things, so why not give him actual United States currency for his next prop?

ALF puts the $10 bill in an envelope, and then starts to light a blowtorch. We linger on this shot for a while, and Kate gets some baffling ADR, saying, “Willie, he’s got a blowtorch!”

Does she really need to describe what we’re already seeing for us?

Better question: does she really need to describe what she’s seeing for the person seated between her and what she’s seeing?

This is a really terrible episode. The lack of effort in this show has never been more prominent. At least with crap like “Strangers in the Night” and “We Are Family,” both of which were also disparate heaps of barely-connected nonsense, you can tell that somebody tried, however unsuccessfully, to fit the pieces together.

Here they didn’t even get that far. Things just happen, no matter what they are, and no effort is expended in giving them any kind of rational flow at all. As if to demonstrate this very fact, Willie then offers ALF matches to burn the money with.

Actually, he not only offers him matches, but he lights the envelope on fire himself, presumably because ALF is a puppet and Willie is a retard.

The money burns and that’s the joke.

This isn’t even ALF misunderstanding magic. This is ALF slapping the audience in the nuts.

ALF, "Do You Believe in Magic?"

Seriously. “Space alien buys into hokey bullshit with hilarious consequences” isn’t a great idea for an episode, but it’s certainly a valid one. That’s not what we saw there, though. That was Willie volunteering to set his own money on fire, and then doing so. And…being surprised that it was a bad idea?

I don’t know. What’s the joke?

If I’m walking down the street and I slip on a banana peel, that’s funny.

If I’m walking down the street and I decide to throw myself down onto the pavement for no reason, that’s scary and you should hustle your family away from me as quickly as possible.

The net result is the same, but a punchline without a setup is odd at best, and it makes it seem like the writers were so interested in making one specific thing (or a bunch of disconnected specific things) happen that they didn’t bother to wonder why it would happen.

But it gets still stupider, and it gets there fast.

The next day, Willie walks into the kitchen to find a sad ALF. ALF says he’s giving up magic, and Willie decides to cheer him up and encourage him, because if ALF quits setting money on fire it means Willie will have a harder time hiding those crack expenditures from his wife.

Anyway, he cheers him up. ALF concludes that “being no good at something is no reason to give up on it,” which could lead to a really, truly good episode in itself. (In fact, I could name a dozen good episodes of other shows based on that exact premise. I’m positive that you could, too.) But instead ALF just uses it as the setup to some joke at the expense of the ostensibly shitty programming on the FOX network.

Hee-ho.

But, hey, let’s indulge ALF (and ALF) and take a look at what garbage we could find on FOX in 1988, the same year that the no doubt rightfully snobbish “Do You Believe in Magic?” aired.

Married…with Children. It’s Gary Shandling’s Show. The Tracy Ullman Show. 21 Jump Street. Cops. America’s Most Wanted.

Throw another stone, ALF. I dare you.

The criticism is especially unfair, as FOX was still a fledgling network and was only broadcasting twice a week, but as you can see from the first three shows on that list, they definitely had some great programming already. It wasn’t all great, as the last three shows attest, but none of them were any less than competent, and all of them blow fuckin’ ALF out of the water.

It’s pretty annoying when a show that’s not any good in the first place tries to pick on shows that are. I’m thinking of the jokes at the expense of Breaking Bad and Bob’s Burgers (and other shows that don’t have alliterative Bs in their titles) on Family Guy. Instead of making fun of other viewing options, wouldn’t it be smarter to…I dunno…spend that time making your own show a little better?

So, whatever, back to this steaming pile of shit.

ALF asks Willie if he wants to see a trick. Since Willie never tires of seeing his life fall apart before his eyes, he agrees.

ALF, "Do You Believe in Magic?"

ALF asks for a handkerchief, and while digging it out we see that Willie wears suspenders.

Anyone surprised by that fact?

Didn’t think so. Moving on.

ALF, "Do You Believe in Magic?"

Aaaaand here’s the scene. The one I that remember. The one that stuck with me through so many years of not watching ALF. The only real detail that actually stuck with me.

Not his cat-eating. Not his home planet being Melmac. Not the fact that his real name was Gordon Shumway. No, those were just small things that I remembered about the show as a whole. When it comes down to anything that actually happened on this show, it’s just this.

This dumbass motherfucking watch scene.

ALF tells Willie he’ll need his wristwatch for the trick. To Willie’s credit, he hesitates. To his much more significant discredit, he gives ALF the watch anyway.

ALF sticks the watch into a little pouch, then goes apeshit and smashes it a bunch of times with a hammer. Then he gives it back to Willie, and it’s broken.

That’s it.

No pretense whatsoever. No twist.

ALF busts up a bunch of shit, asks for one more piece of shit to bust up, and he busts up that shit.

I remember watching this with my family when I was a kid. I remember my mother watching this scene, and not laughing but asking, confounded, “Why would he give him the watch?”

My mother, with all due respect, was not the kind of woman to question things. She’d watch or listen to something, and either like it or not like it. Hers was a superficial enjoyment, and there’s, of course, nothing wrong with that.

Plot holes never bothered her. Cliches never bothered her. She questioned nothing, and accepted whatever the television told her.

So for her to openly wonder what the fuck logic this show was operating on…that said a lot. And, I silently agreed. Something was definitely wrong.

Sure, asking a show about a space alien puppet to adhere to logic is unreasonable…except that, really, it’s not. It doesn’t have to — and can’t — adhere to our logic, but it needs to have a certain internal logic that drives what happens.

Some shows are deliberately realistic. Something like M*A*S*H* comes immediately to mind, or All in the Family. Those are shows that operate on something very similar to our own reality. If Archie Bunker twitched his nose and turned Edith into a chicken, or something, we’d call foul…not because it isn’t realistic, but because it isn’t true to the specific reality of that show’s universe. Watch Bewitched, though, or I Dream of Jeannie, and something like that happens every week. It’s no more realistic there than it would be at the 4077, but it’s true to those realities.

The Twilight Zone is a great example of this. The aliens of “To Serve Man” wouldn’t make any sense in the world of “Living Doll,” which operates on an entirely different plane of reality from “A Stop at Willoughby.” We are willing to accept any number of twists and cheats and fantastical developments that wouldn’t work in the world we occupy, but we need them to make sense within the context of the world the characters occupy. If they bled over or were constantly reversed, they wouldn’t work. Instead, they need to remain true to the little universes themselves.

We aren’t pulled out of entertainment, in other words, because something impossible happens. We’re pulled out because something incompatible happens.

ALF has every right to set its own rules. But it doesn’t have the right to change them on the fly. Get a Life could change them on the fly, but that’s because changing on the fly was one of its rules in the first place. The same way Aqua Teen Hunger Force can kill whomever it wants for whatever silly reason and bring them back the next week, while The Venture Bros. would have to explain why that character is back, and fit the reversal into its continuing serialization.

So what are ALF‘s rules?

To be honest, I don’t think the show knows. It’s alternately absurd and grounded. Sappy and crude. Creepy and cute. Funny and fuckawful. But usually the fluctuations are within a certain, acceptable tolerance. ALF hasn’t defined itself as a protean, evolving sitcom experience…it’s rather a loose, ropey, weekly experiment that all too often fails to put forth the effort to make itself interesting.

But the one thing that’s been at least vaguely consistent is this: ALF is an alien, and the Tanners are humans.

That changes — abrasively, jarringly so — when Willie ceases to think, act, or react like a human. He’s never been much of a character, but his behavior in this episode demolishes any connection he could possibly have to the human race. The one thing we thought we knew about him is that he at least thought and acted in a roughly, recognizably human way.

“Do You Believe in Magic?” dashes that, breaking the only tenuous piece of internal logic this show has ever had.

And the worst part is that it doesn’t even do it for the sake of a joke. Not unless you consider “Here, Willie, I broke the watch that you gave me to break” a joke.

ALF, "Do You Believe in Magic?"

The next day — because, yes, this horse is still shitting — Willie wakes up with a rabbit on his chest. He looks at it for a while to the great amusement of the laughing dead people, and then he and Kate head out to the garage.

They ask ALF where the rabbits came from, and ALF says “Father Rabbit jazzed in Mother Rabbit’s rabbit cooter.” Willie replies that he knows damn well about rabbit cooter.

What is the plot of this episode? Honestly, it’s almost over, and I couldn’t begin to tell you.

Yes, something happens shortly (thank shitting Christ), but right now, at this point, how would you summarize what we’ve seen so far?

ALF smashes some shit, then there are rabbits?

Fuck this show.

ALF, "Do You Believe in Magic?"

We then see Brian in a box, waiting to be sawed in half. ALF does so, and disposes of the body by tossing it over the fence into the Ochmoneks’ yard.

Anyway, ALF bought all these animals and this equipment because he thought he was going to be a great magician, but then realized he’d never be one, because he remembered that nothing in this show carries over from one week to the next. Wasn’t Kate pregnant? Didn’t ALF move into the attic? Who fucking knows anymore.

So ALF feels sad that he’s a waste of dick hair, and Willie and Kate try to cheer him up and encourage him all over again. You know, just like you would do for somebody who broke a bunch of your things, set your paycheck on fire, and endangered the life of your son.

Then they leave and ALF stands around in the garage watching the rabbits fuck.

ALF, "Do You Believe in Magic?"

Later on, Brian comes back and mopes because he didn’t get to be part of any of ALF’s tricks. To shut him up ALF sticks him in a box. Brian says that ALF is supposed to spin it around three times, but ALF doesn’t do that because he’s a dishrag with Paul Fusco’s hand inside of it.

Then he closes the curtain, opens it again, and Brian’s gone.

Well, that was easy. Now just do that to everyone except Kate, Mr. Ochmonek, and that murderous little girl from the animal shelter and this show will finally be worth watching.

At some point ALF tries the trick again, and there’s a rabbit in there for some reason. Needless to say he assumes Brian is the rabbit, and a mountain of comedy ensues. (Well, as long as by “mountain of comedy” you mean two lame jokes about rabbits eating vegetables and one about them having long ears.)

ALF, "Do You Believe in Magic?"

ALF runs into the house and tells the Tanners that their kid’s gone. No, not Lynn…the other one. Whatever his name is. He is yours, right?

Willie and Kate then call all the neighbors I guess, one by one, and ask them, “Hey, where the fuck is our son?”

Look at Anne Schedeen’s face in the above screencap. She’s finally past the point of giving even the smallest of shits. “Do You Believe in Magic?” has officially killed the last shred of humanity in this show.

ALF dumps a snake in the house, and the snake hides in Lynn’s gym bag, and Willie and Kate check under the bed to see if Brian is playing Cave Dwellers (presumably his favorite Miles O’Keeffe film). All of this happens in around four seconds of screentime, so while they sure took their time introducing any kind of plot, they also can’t wait to be free of it.

I will say something to the episode’s unintentional credit: it’s hilarious that the most significant thing Brian’s ever done on this show is disappearing.

ALF, "Do You Believe in Magic?"

Then the kid comes back. It’s not even the next scene…it’s the same scene. He just walks into the house to get a drink.

What a perfect conclusion to whatever the fuck it is that happened.

It turns out he was hiding in the car so that ALF would think he was a good magician. Ta-da! It’s the amazing disappearing shit that anyone could possibly give.

Then ALF hands Willie some flowers and the episode is over.

ALF, "Do You Believe in Magic?"

In the short scene before the credits, ALF brings Willie and Kate breakfast, and stands naked next to their bed, watching them eat it.

I have to say that re-watching ALF has made me realize, with some truly welcome exceptions, how dull and charmless it is. With that in mind, I honestly expected to finally make it through “Do You Believe in Magic?” and conclude that it’s no worse than usual.

But you know what?

Fuck. That.

To say that “Do You Believe in Magic?” is representative of ALF‘s baseline idiocy is an insult that the series doesn’t actually deserve. As bizarre, forgettable, and sometimes unwatchable as this show is, it’s always — always — better than this shit.

And frankly I can’t think of a better episode to walk away from. I might have had some pretty crappy taste as a child, but “Do You Believe in Magic?” cured me of that right then and there.

For that, I appreciate it.

And only for that.

MELMAC FACTS: ALF is 3’2″. Brian has a snake named Captain EO. I’m never going to watch this episode again.

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