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ALF Reviews: “Strangers in the Night” (Season 1, Episode 2)

October 24th, 2013 | Posted by Philip J Reed in alf

ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

So I saw the thumbnail for this episode, featuring ALF in a dress, and I figured that this episode might fulfill the promise at the end of the pilot: Lynn was going to have a sleepover, and ALF was going to dress as a woman in order to remain undetected. Of course I don’t know why he couldn’t dress as a man, or even better just stay the shit away from the sleepover completely, but what do I know.

Anyway that’s not what this episode is about. Which is kind of strange, since ALF at a slumber party is about ten thousand times better as a plot contrivance than what we actually get here. More on that later, though.

The episode’s title is the name of a song, and looking through a list of ALF episodes shows me that nearly all of them are…or are named after a famous line in a song. It makes me feel conflicted, because somebody on the ALF writing staff cared enough about episode titles that, at the time, the audience wouldn’t even see that he or she adhered to this ongoing musical homage…which is kind of cool. But then it’s attached to ALF, which absolutely isn’t.

Anyway Kate asks if anyone’s seen her yellow ribbon, and ALF asks her what color it is. This results in the first instance of ALF’s “Ha! I kill me!” catchphrase, and I admire their restraint for waiting all the way until the first minute of episode two to assault us with that particular chestnut.

It turns out that ALF flossed with the ribbon, ruining it, because he’s ALF, and I guess he knows what flossing is but not what floss is. (Don’t think about that too hard. You will get hurt.)

ALF then demands that somebody go out and buy him popcorn, which reminds me of American Dad! In fact, it’s interesting to me how little American Dad! needed to twist the ALF formula to create Roger. He’s still an alien living secretly with a family, he’s still an annoying, selfish wretch, and he’s still prone to dressing up in silly outfits. The difference is that American Dad! is actually funny, which says a lot about the inherent promise of an ALF-like setup, and just how thoroughly this show bungles it. American Dad! didn’t need to parody ALF, it just needs to do it better.

Willie is going to work and Kate and Lynn are going to a bridal shower, so ALF volunteers to babysit Brian, as long as they leave him the key to the liquor cabinet. I’m convinced that this show didn’t intend to be so rapey, but Jesus Lord is this show rapey.

ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

It’s the same credits sequence as before, but it’s slightly more appropriate than it was in the pilot, because this time it doesn’t play while we’re supposed to believe ALF is dead.

I do want to take this opportunity though to talk about how much I hate it when they swap out the puppet for a midget in an ALF costume.

It’s just…weird. It feels strange to say it, because there’s an actual human being stuffed in there whereas it’s usually just a set of hands, but the full-body ALF suit just seems so lifeless. Look at the above screen shot. ALF’s face just kind of…hangs there.

I think it’s because Paul Fusco, the puppeteer, knows how to act like ALF. It’s his creation, so he can inhabit the character instead of simply moving his arms around and opening and closing a mouth. The midget, on the other hand, is some person getting $20 a day because he or she fits into the outfit. There’s no acting going on…they’re literally just taking up space.

It’s distracting because ALF’s puppetry is actually pretty good. He has these little movements and gestures that go along with his delivery, and it makes him feel like a character. A midget in a suit is just a midget in a suit. Nobody bothered to tell this person who ALF is, what he likes, how he behaves, or even how he walks. When the puppet walks (behind a countertop or something, natch) Fusco makes him bob up and down like a Muppet. But then we cut to footage of the midget, and ALF is suddenly just awkwardly shuffling across the floor with his head down.

It’s more than just a continuity issue…it’s the difference between ALF being a character, and ALF being a thing. I’m disappointed by this, for reasons I’d continue to discuss if it weren’t for the fact that this just showed up on the screen:

ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

There is literally zero chance of that being somebody’s real name.

Right?

…right?

Peter Bonerz.

Order a pizza right now and say that’s your name. See if anyone actually shows up to deliver it.

Peter fuckin’ Bonerz.

Anyway, The Peter Bonerz Alien Jubilee continues with the family calling Mrs. Ochmonek over to watch Brian while they’re away. This is because Mrs. Ochmonek is the only other character that exists at this point, but that does nothing to excuse the inanity of the premise. In the last episode they were worried about ALF even going near the windows because Mrs. Ochmonek might see him and call the Honor-System Alien Patrol; now they’re actively inviting her into the house where ALF will be dicking around unsupervised.

Doesn’t anyone in the family — literally anyone — have a friend they could call instead? Why would they ask their hated neighbor? In no universe does this make sense. If you’re writing the Batman TV show and you want to introduce the Joker to serve as a nemesis for him, that’s fine. That makes some kind of logical sense to the audience, even if it’s technically far-fetched. But if the next episode of the Batman show sees the dark knight inviting The Joker into his secret batcave to babysit Robin, you’re just not playing by the rules anymore. That’s insulting to anyone who tuned in.

ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

Willie sets ALF up in his bedroom. He gives him some comic books and a jigsaw puzzle to keep him occupied. ALF doesn’t understand the concept of jigsaw puzzles; he takes one look at the pieces and says it’s broken. Willie explains that he has to put it together, and ALF says, “Why? I didn’t break it.”

And you know what? That’s actually kind of funny. ALF misunderstanding basic concepts and things we take for granted is a fruitful vein for the show to mine. It’s a lot better than putting him in a dress and throwing toilet paper everywhere. I wish the writers took the time to come up with more things like this…to step back and look at some familiar object or concept from a new angle, and figure out a funny way for an alien to misinterpret it.

It’s funny when that happens. And it’s puzzling that it doesn’t happen more often. I’m not exactly sure why ALF‘s writing staff thinks it’s funnier that ALF knows all this stuff about Earth already. He’s not baffled by anything — anything but puzzles, anyway — and he’s not confused. He’s just an asshole. They might as well have made ALF some crazy hobo.

Willie makes ALF promise not to leave the room or let Mrs. Ochmonek see him. If that’s his concern, though, why didn’t he send Brian to her house instead? None of this makes any sense at all. They’re so worried about one specific thing happening, and then they go out of their way to make it extremely likely that that exact thing will happen. This is first-draft material, at best, and yet here it is on the screen. The writers didn’t give this crap any more thought than the Tanners did.

ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

Seinfeld’s mom arrives to watch over Brian, and Willie tells her to stay out of his bedroom, as though anybody would willingly enter the room in which Willie has sex.

Mrs. Ochmonek is excited because Psycho is on television tonight. ALF also told Willie he wanted to watch Psycho earlier as well. I didn’t mention it then because there wasn’t really anything to say about it…and, honestly, there never will be. It comes up again — very soon, actually — but it doesn’t go anywhere. And this is the episode in which ALF dresses like a woman! They seriously couldn’t tie that into the Psycho thing? How could you not tie that into the Psycho thing?

Something else I didn’t mention is that ALF narrates this entire episode in the past tense. It’s strange, because there’s no reason for this. Who is he telling the story to? And for what purpose? There are a few lame jokes sprinkled throughout the narration, but ultimately it’s just ALF, who is on screen, describing in a disembodied voice what we’re watching him do.

I get the feeling they edited the episode together, realized it was garbage, and then called Fusco in to record the narration as some kind of Hail-Mary gesture toward salvaging this mess. It doesn’t work, mainly because the writers don’t know any more than I do why the fuck ALF is narrating himself sitting on a bed.

ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

ALF hears Mrs. Ochmonek watching Psycho, which turns the plot momentum up from zero to…I dunno. Zero point zero two. He sneaks out of the room and we see him bracing himself against the wall as he walks down the corridor because the midget can’t see through the eye-holes.

Seriously, this show is terrible.

We also learn that Peter Bonerz thinks that the “reet-reet-reet” music from the shower scene plays all throughout Psycho, even over the long stretches of gentle dialogue. It’s bizarre. We keep hearing bits of it from the television, and there’s always that same music.

I mean, granted, it’s the most recognizable audio cue from the movie, but couldn’t you just play it once? We get the idea. We don’t even need to hear it, actually, since you told us what movie it was. It doesn’t matter if we recognize the music or not.

ALF goes back to his room, which means that entire scene was pointless and I guess the five seconds of Psycho he saw over Mrs. Ochmonek’s shoulder was enough for him and he’ll never mention it again. He orders a pizza over the phone because he ate the jigsaw puzzle and now he’s hungry again. So, yeah…remember that joke where he cleverly misunderstood the concept? We’re back in ALF territory now. I’m surprised he didn’t shit the pieces all over the carpet.

We do find out that the Tanners live at 167 Hemdale. So that should hopefully make up for a lack of Melmac Facts this week. We don’t hear anything about Melmac because the writing staff is already bored with the fact that ALF is an alien.

ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

ALF dicks around with the window and performs some unnecessary slapstick that culminates in him falling into the yard. Mrs. Seinfeld hears him fall, and she calls her husband and asks him to come over immediately, because she thinks someone is in the house. Quite why she’d arrive at the conclusion that someone was inside the house after hearing a sound from outside is beyond the reach of my feeble mind, but it makes as much sense as anything else has in this episode.

ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

Mr. Ochmonek shows up and they investigate Willie’s room. He goes into the bathroom and gets all giddy because the Tanners have a cushioned toilet seat. He delivers this line from the bathroom door, as you see above. Then he teleports to his wife’s side to deliver his next line. It’s not just lousy editing…it’s emblematic of just how carelessly this entire show is put together.

Anyway, he locks the window so that his wife shuts up and then he goes home.

The pizza shows up and something occurs to me: why are we spending so much time with this secondary character? She gets basically a whole episode to herself. It’s the second installment of ALF ever and we’ve already shoved the family aside to hang out with their annoying neighbor. Why in the world would they do that? I understand that shows like this — bottle episodes, two-handers, increased focus on a minor character — are pretty common, but how often do they roll them out for episode two?

ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

ALF climbs in through the cat-flap, and he steals the pizza that Mrs. Ochmonek leaves in the little window that looks into the kitchen. Nothing is happening.

Literally nothing is happening.

This entire episode is just ALF doing this minor shit while Mrs. Ochmonek walks slowly from one part of the room to another, reacting to missing pizzas and sounds outside. It’s like the “Invaders” episode of The Twilight Zone, as re-written by complete idiots.

And then, finally, ALF’s in a dress.

ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

There’s no reason for this to happen. How disappointing. It’s not tied into the Psycho motif, and it’s not so that Mrs. Ochmonek won’t recognize him or something. American Dad! puts Roger in disguises for a good reason. ALF does it just because lol transvestite.

I don’t understand this episode. ALF is in the bedroom, so he leaves to watch Psycho, but then he goes back into the bedroom without having seen it. He leaves the bedroom to get the pizza, but then he puts the pizza back without eating it and returns to the bedroom to put on a dress. Who writes this shit? Was it just a bunch of clips they edited together?

ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

Willie calls up and ALF dicks around on the phone. This entire episode is genuinely nothing but padding.

But then…

ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

…hey look! Something happens!

A prowler comes into the room, and that’s harrowing enough on its own — compared to the rest of the episode this is like watching the collapse of the World Trade Center — but on top of that I actually recognize this guy! He too was in Seinfeld, and Breaking Bad! Hooray! I get to mention Breaking Bad again!

He was the junk yard guy in that show, and he’s immediately the best thing about this episode. Of course, before his appearance the wallpaper was the best thing about this episode, so that’s not saying much.

ALF lays on the bed and watches him steal everything valuable in the room, which is pretty much the final word on ALF’s chronic worthlessness. The prowler sees him, though, and gets spooked and falls out the window. Why not.

ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

Willie and the rest of the family come home, and for some reason Willie gives Jerry’s mom a shoulder rub. What is it with the creepy touching that this show treats as totally normal?

She talks about how strange the night was, and in retrospect despite the fact that there was an alien in the house, it wasn’t really that strange. She misplaced a pizza for a while but is that really such a big deal? The way she’s reacting you’d think she spent the night fending off a horde of rapists.

ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

A policeman comes to the door with the prowler in tow. He says the guy turned himself in, and was ranting about there being a hideous creature in a blue dress in the house.

Everyone assumes it was Mrs. Ochmonek, so there ya go. All of the episode’s deftly spun threads finally come together.

Why does this even matter? If the crook turned himself in for robbing a house, that’s that. The cop isn’t going to take him back to the victim’s house because he said there’s some hairy guy living there. I don’t care if the crook said there’s a space alien in their bed. The cop is going to take him to jail…not help him confront the family about it. JESUS CHRIST this show.

I’m really hoping this is one of the worst episodes I’ll have to sit through. The pilot wasn’t that bad. Again it wasn’t very good either, but it was okay. It didn’t live up to its promise, but it had promise.

ALF ordering a pizza while an old woman watches Psycho doesn’t have promise. And yet “Strangers in the Night” still failed to live up to it.

For a show about an alien life form being hidden from the rest of the world, ALF sure is boring.

I blame Peter Bonerz.

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14 Responses

  • Jeff says:

    To be honest, I was a little disappointed when this project was announced, because I’ve never seen an episode of ALF and have no interest in it. But holy crap, these write-ups are funny. Furthermore, they simultaneously convince me I should never watch ALF whilst ensuring I never have to do so.
    .
    I’m too lazy to luck it up, but I’m pretty sure Peter Bonerz was Bob’s dentist friend on the original Bob Newhart show. His middle name might well be “Gives Me.”
    .
    It’s almost as if not having a live studio audience made the writers even more lazy, as they didn’t have to worry about anyone yelling out “what the fuck?” during taping. Reading about how fucked up these scripts are is amusing in a way that actually watching them acted out could never be. And thus this project, contrary to my expectations, was actually quite well conceived. Well done, sir!

    • Megan says:

      >I’m too lazy to luck it up, but I’m pretty sure Peter Bonerz was Bob’s dentist friend on the original Bob Newhart show. His middle name might well be “Gives Me.”

      Orthodontist friend, yes, and I believe his name was Jerry.

      …Look, it’s on in re-runs where I live. Don’t look at me like that.

  • Justin says:

    Looks like ALF really pulled a Bonerz this time.

    Ba-dum-chiiiiiiiiii

  • Maxwell says:

    A couple things:

    1) I hope these reviews are fun for you to write. The only thing keeping me from wanting to kill myself after each episode is the knowledge I will get my laughs from them instead.

    2) The image of ALF in a dress is inherently funny. I don’t care how lazy it was. Also, screw you, the midget awkwardly running around between scenes is the best part of the entire show.

    This was the highlight of my day, which really says something about either the quality of my day or the quality of the review. I choose to believe it’s the latter.

    • Philip J Reed says:

      Haha thanks man! And so far they’ve been fun to write. I have to admit, it’s flattering that you’d not only read these, but watch the episodes so that you can enjoy them more. That means a lot…for reasons I’m not even sure I understand. So thank you!

      There’s one episode in particular I absolutely can’t wait to get to…but I’m afraid to check and see how long I’ll have to wait for it.

  • kim says:

    a bit harsh review? I admit this not the best episode of ALF, or even a really good one, I rate it mediate at best. the only funny moments are ALF with the puzzle, him messing with the window and him in a dress and a lot of continuity issues had a bit puzzled as well. yeah, I would blame bad directing from this peter bonerz guy as well, which raises another question, why didn’t paul fusco direct this episode himself? it’s only been the second episode and already the directing his handed to some guy who clearly has no idea what he is doing. the episodes that directed by paul are generally a lot better.

    I can agree with on the ALF puppet vs the costume thing, the costume does look lifeless compared to the puppet and I noticed when the costume is used, it usually done with quick fast cuts so it’s hard to tell the difference, but their clearly is a difference. good thing the costume was only used in the first few episodes.

    one thing that bothered about your review was you keep saying this show is terrible based on this one episode, I hate when people do that. just because one episode is not that great, does not mean the entire series is going to be this way. a lot of great tv series have there fair share of bad episodes. for me, overall I do like this show, but there are some episodes I really don’t like. but to be fair, if this was your first time watching ALF and the second episode was like this, then yeah, you probably think this show is not off to a great start. so it would be better to say this episode is terrible, not the show.

    • Philip J Reed says:

      Kim:
      Thanks for reading!

      I was actually re-reading some of my first reviews, which is why I’m making a point of responding to this. What you mention in your comment is something that’s been on my mind.

      I definitely did go into this project predisposed to disliking the show. I’ll admit, unquestionably, that that’s unfair. Of course, I didn’t really expect many people to read these, and it was mainly a way to “force” myself to write regularly. In short, it was just something silly to do.

      At some point I shifted gears a bit and became a little more serious in my criticism, and I’m much more proud of that than where I started.

      Of course, having said that, one thing I do like about the fact that I went in expecting to hate everything is that it REALLY makes those good episodes stand out. They came as a genuine shock to me, and I’d like to think that those writeups mean more than they would if I were in neutral most of the time.

      I won’t spoil which episodes those are, as it seems like you’re reading these in order, but I hope you stick with them, and find more to enjoy as you move forward. Thanks again for reading!

  • Stephen says:

    The end of this episode gets cut out for syndication. ALF narrates about the burglar waiving his rights to a jury trial instead of psychiatric help (while sitting in a padded room) Mrs. Ochmoneck getting sentenced to life with Trevor and ALF telling Willie and Kate and Lynn about how he scared the burglar away, and then he complains about how there’s no sausage on his pizza, and then tosses some popcorn in his mouth. That part with the popcorn cracked me up because of how he threw it and tried to catch it. :D

    The beginning before the ribbon floss has a scene where Brian is showing ALF a toy, and ALF breaks it. So if you’re wondering why we don’t see Brian in this episode at all, he’s at the very beginning.

  • Stephen says:

    There is also a scene where after he sneaked back into the kitchen, he opened the fridge and accidentally shut it on Lucky’s tail, causing him to yowl. Mrs. O hears this and when she heads to the kitchen the pizza arrives. Can’t remember if this is in the syndie version or not.

  • torm says:

    This episode is pretty bad. It’s a bunch of ALF’s zany antics, and nothing else happens. It feels like a retread that a team of burnt-out writers would push out late in the series just because the end is nigh and who needs effort at that point, but no, this is only the second episode, that’s pretty inexcusable. (Not to say that making low quality episodes is ever excusable… but still).

    I like the midget in a costume. I appreciate how they used it even though they knew it would fool nobody. It gives the show some charm, as opposed to how it normally just looks like a poorly-produced cheap pile of crap. I think Fusco realized that, because even in the slicker, more professional “Project: ALF”, they used the midget for a few scenes.

    Oh, and Bonerz is pronounced “bah-ners”, so I guess he’s able to order pizza. He also directed a few episodes of “Friends”, and I know this not because I watch “Friends” but because when Netflix added it a while ago seemingly everyone on social media I knew was breaking their necks to post pictures of “DIRECTED BY PETER BONERZ” as if they had uncovered the funniest thing in recorded human history.



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