Well, I’d love to be able to report that ALF finally managed to slap together a decent episode, but I can’t say conclusively that prolonged exposure hasn’t just driven me insane. Either way, I found myself kind of liking “For Your Eyes Only.”
In a relative sense, at least. When it comes to ALF, you need to grade on a curve. It’s a bit like someone attacking you with a baseball bat that has a nail in it. If that happens enough, and eventually the nail falls out and you’re just being attacked with a normal baseball bat, you’ll probably feel kind of relieved.
So that’s what “For Your Eyes Only” is. It’s not great. It’s not even all that good. But you know what?
It’s better. And I’ll take that.
Of course, as surprising as this is, it also makes me feel somewhat vindicated in my previous reviews, as a lot of what makes “For Your Eyes Only” work is stuff that I’ve been hoping they’d address all along.
Maybe this episode bears a greater stamp of that One Good Writer. I don’t know.
What I do know is that when I saw the plot description — “ALF befriends a blind woman,” or something to that effect — I definitely didn’t expect I’d be watching the best episode so far. The way things have been handled in previous episodes I half expected ALF to burn down her house and dance a jig on her mother’s corpse.
And maybe the entirety of my relative goodwill toward the episode is due to the fact that that didn’t happen. I don’t know. I’m just kind of gobsmacked that I didn’t hate this one, y’all.
…which you might not have guessed since I seem to be so hesitant to describe what’s actually happening when the episode begins, so here you go: ALF frosts a cake with some toothpaste.
Forget for a moment the fact that ALF knows all about ordering pizzas and selling cosmetics and political call-in shows and the complete works of Alfred Hitchcock, because he doesn’t seem to know that humans don’t eat toothpaste and Play-Doh.
He’s being a dick, right?
For once, no. He’s not!
Granted, a toothpaste cake and Play-Doh pate sound pretty gross, but he’s doing it in honor of Willie and Kate’s anniversary.
That’s…kind of sweet, actually. And this sweetness is why I actually enjoyed “For Your Eyes Only.” I don’t want to get ahead of myself, though, so let’s just look at this scene in isolation. Not isolation from the rest of the episode, but in isolation from the rest of the show.
Imagine, in other words, that we haven’t had to sit through five terrible episodes. Imagine, instead, that this is the pilot. This is the very first thing you see.
ALF’s mess-making here is due more to a child-like desire to do nicer things for his family than he actually can. He’s no chef, and this isn’t something anyone would want to eat, but his intentions were good. This is a toddler making inedible pancakes for his parents on a Sunday morning. It’s cute.
When I mentioned earlier that we have to forget how much he knows about Earth in order to accept this, it’s because I’m all too happy to do so. Yes. Let’s please forget everything that came before this. Because this is a smarter approach to ALF.
We can still have him wreck the house. We can still have him be a massive inconvenience. We can still have him sink the family financially. The difference, though, is that this ALF does it because he doesn’t know any better. That other ALF — the one who’s starred in the previous five episodes — does it in spite of the fact that he knows better. This ALF is an adult who seems child-like through the filter of a culture he doesn’t understand. That ALF was a dick with feet.
ALF still breaks dishes as he carelessly sets the table for Willie and Kate, but I’m willing to allow it.
I’m not laughing at it, because the sound of things breaking isn’t really much of a joke, but I’d go along with it, and make allowances for it, because this is the ALF I want to see more of. “For Your Eyes Only” plays almost like an episode of the ALF that should have been, beamed by accident into our universe from one where the show had a significantly better writing staff.
…again, however, I have to assure you it’s not good.
It’s just a lot better.
Willie and Kate have to leave, though, because they made other plans. They’re going to see Nicholas Nickleby, and ALF, hurt, shouts spoilers at them about the play.
I know usually when I type “Wait…really?” in one of these reviews it’s because I want somebody to enter the room and stab me so I don’t have to continue, but here I’m…I’m just kind of shocked that they’re making literary jokes about a Dickens deep cut. This is so much better than that pointless Three Stooges back and forth last week. This is…well, maybe not clever. But intelligent, at least.
I’m willing to overlook the fact that ALF graphically alluded to the hot, sluggish anniversary fucking Willie would subject Kate to later, because…this kind of isn’t totally awful writing.
Even ALF’s active dickishness here makes sense. It’s not well-founded, but he put a lot of effort into something selfless (for what’s pretty fuckin’ clearly the first time in his entire worthless life), and his family didn’t stay around to enjoy it.
Yes, it’s a bit self-centered of ALF to get upset that a couple made plans to go out on their anniversary, but it’s self-centered in a childlike way that works very well. This is the kind of character development he needs. He can’t just be a rampaging asshole…he needs a justification. This is something American Dad! learned about Roger very early as well. While the number of “asshole Roger” episodes is pretty high, they’re always balanced out by other episodes that soften him.*
It’s not because American Dad! needs us to like Roger; it’s because American Dad! is smart enough to know that it will be funnier if we like Roger. If he didn’t have those more “human” moments and was always a destruction-and-abuse delivery machine, he’d…well, he’d be ALF.
Time passes and we see that ALF has eaten the cake by himself. He calls out for Lucky, because he wants some company, but the cat doesn’t come.
Remember Lucky? I think this is the first time we’ve heard him referred to since he got a whole episode to himself in “Looking For Lucky.” And speaking of which, what the fuck happened to Mrs. Ochmonek? She got the second episode of the show to herself and we haven’t seen hide nor hair of her since. Why do they bother having us spend all this time with these characters we’ll never see again?
We still don’t know what Willie does for a living. And, come to think of it, how long has he been married to Kate? It’s their anniversary, and this would be a nice, organic time to relay that information to us.
But, again, the writers don’t know. They don’t know anything.
I’m not going to get sidetracked by the larger problems with ALF, because I’m enjoying this one, at least slightly, and fuck me if I’m going to let that slip away.
Look at that picture. Isn’t that better than seeing ALF singing into a God damned cucumber?
ALF turns on the radio and hears a call-in show (he sure loves those things). Specifically, he hears a woman named Jodie calling in, talking about how sad she feels because she recently moved to Los Angeles and doesn’t fit in. She also says that people act strange around her when they find out she’s not like them.
It’s pretty on the nose, and ALF’s cries of “I can relate!” aren’t the most subtle hints in the world, but I’ll take it, because this is something that really did need to be addressed: ALF is an outsider.
I don’t care what the previous episodes said. He’s not going to be dancing around the living room and calling the president and sexually harassing children…he’s going to be homesick. This is good. This is exactly what the show needs, because it both acknowledges its central concept (something it usually seems bizarrely reluctant to do) and deepens ALF’s character (if only because he’s actually demonstrating an emotion, however shallow).
Again, it’s not great writing; it’s something that needed to be addressed. What impressed me isn’t that they addressed it masterfully — because they didn’t — but simply the fact that the show hit the right notes. It doesn’t make it good, but it does make it competent. And that’s a huge step forward.
So obviously we learn what city and state the Tanners live in, finally, and we also learn their phone number: 555-8531. This is because ALF calls the radio show and asks them to give Jodie his digits, saying, “Tell her she’s found a friend.”
They do, and Jodie calls him.
We don’t get to hear the conversation, though, because they’d rather cut to a scene of ALF obnoxiously clipping his toenails in the living room the next day.
One of his toenails lands in whatever the hell Kate was carrying on a try, and though she doesn’t say anything, she makes the exact same face I make when I have to deal with ALF’s bullshit.
So, yeah, it’s not a very good episode. But I’m supposed to be focusing on the positive, since there finally is some positive, so, yes. The plot of “For Your Eyes Only” revolves around ALF’s feelings of homesickness, loneliness, and isolation. It also redefines his dickishness (well, most of his dickishness) as an unfortunate manifestation of his naivete, rather than as a ruthless desire to physically destroy the home and belongings of innocent people.
That’s not only the best plot yet, it’s the first one that makes any sense. And…well…it still gets better.
The phone rings, and it’s Jodie.
I know I made this observation as a joke last time, but I’m really starting to think Willie just had ten thousand phones installed after “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” Seriously, there’s a phone in every shot, and nobody has to reach very far to grab one when they need it.
And why doesn’t anyone care that ALF is talking on the phone to people? The last time this happened he ordered $4,000 worth of makeup and…
…no. No no. Let it go, Philip.
Enjoy it while you can. You may never get another chance.
Deep breaths. Let it all go. Allow yourself to be taken away by the dulcet stammers of Max Wright.
ALF hands the phone to Willie because he’s going to finish his conversation on the kitchen line so SERIOUSLY THERE ARE LIKE PHONES FUCKING EVERYWHERE AND…
…and that’s okay.
That’s…yes. That’s okay. The Tanners can have as many phones as they want. It’s fine. Just…fine.
Anyway, I thought that Willie would listen in or something instead of hanging up, but he doesn’t, so I’m not sure why they bothered to have ALF start a conversation here and finish it somewhere else. I guess it’s so we can hear the hilarious sound of ALF smashing more shit.
I can’t really tell what happened. I think he laughed so hard at one of Jodie’s jokes that he knocked a gravy boat over, which is exactly why I tell all of you to read these reviews as far away from your gravy boats as possible.
Why it happens is academic, because all it does is set up the running gag of the episode: ALF breaks a fuckload of shit somewhere, then shouts out that nobody should walk barefoot in that room. It’s not even a joke that layers itself or evolves in any way; it’s literally just the sound of stuff breaking followed by ALF saying the same exact thing and…
ALF…can say whatever he wants to say. It’s fine. I don’t live with him. He’s not my responsibility.
Kate sweeps up the gravy boat, and ALF tells a joke that cracks him up so hard he flails his right hand off to the side and makes sure it knocks a glass onto the floor so that Kate can sweep that up, too.
I guess I’d like this a lot more if ALF just slapped the table or something and the glass was close enough to the edge that it just fell off, but instead he pretty clearly went out of his way to smack it over so I’m kind of starting to hate him again.
All I need to do is keep in mind what happens later in the episode. Or, rather, all of the house-burning abuse of a blind woman that doesn’t happen.
In fact, this is where we find out Jodie is blind, and there’s…kind of a nice conversation about that. ALF says he made a date with Jodie, but Willie and Kate aren’t having it, even when he tells them that she’s blind.
ALF and Brian, however, both understandably childlike, ask why that is. Is it because Jodie’s blind?
It’s not, but the way it’s handled is, again, impressive in its competence. The two “children” here miss the point, which is that ALF can’t leave the house. Even if Jodie can’t see him, somebody else might. Meanwhile the adults are trying to be both fair and rational…but end up in a situation where they feel like they’re not being either.
There’s even a great joke when Willie tells ALF he can’t borrow the car, and ALF promises, “I won’t let Jodie drive.”
I…I am actually totally conflicted. As long as I separate “For Your Eyes Only” from the rest of ALF so far, it’s not so bad. It doesn’t quite work as a short film or anything, but it does work as a pilot for a much better show than this one actually is.
There are shades of Roger in ALF’s invention of a new backstory for himself. He’s from Cincinnati, he sells wholesale band equipment, and he has two children (twins) from his brief marriage to a woman named Kathy Rigby. None of that is very funny in itself — though I do enjoy the specificity — but Kate says that eventually Jodie might find out the truth. ALF replies angrily, “Not if Kathy Rigby keeps her mouth shut.”
That’s pure Roger. And it’s funny. Maybe the One Good Writer actually did graduate to American Dad!
There’s even another funny exchange when the family tries to tell ALF that he has friends, but I won’t type that one out because I think this review is close enough to a record of my descent into madness already.
ALF slinks off sadly because he’s not allowed to see Jodie, and…whoa! We find out where he sleeps!
It turns out he’s got a little setup in the laundry room. Man, this episode is answering questions left and right. Did the writing staff suddenly eat a balanced breakfast or something?
ALF speaks to a sock with eyes on it — which he calls Mr. Ginsburg — and I have to admit I’m a sucker for puppets using puppets. Remember when Fozzie Bear took up ventriloquism? That was a childhood mindfuck of the highest order.
Of course, because this is ALF, he tells a joke so funny that he must smack Mr. Ginsburg’s eyeballs off. We hardly knew ye.
Willie and the kids come in to cheer up ALF, and it must be motherfucking Christmas because Willie spins a Frisbee directly into ALF’s face. This really is the episode of my dreams!
Christ that’s glorious. I don’t even mind that I couldn’t get a good shot of the Frisbee actually smashing into his awful stupid face, because I got to watch it over and over again while trying. That was its own kind of special reward. I hope the clip show is just this on a 60-minute loop.
Lynn is then left behind while the Tanner men head out to the back yard, probably to high-five each other over the fact that they just whipped a hard piece of plastic into ALF’s fucking freeloading face, and she feels so sorry for the lonely alien that she offers to help him meet Jodie.
The sheer competence with which this development is handled is astounding. Again, it’s not good or anything, but one character reacting in a human way to another character is leagues ahead of previous episodes, which would have resolved this by having the government come, and then ALF is mistaken for a dog, so Brian hijacks Air Force One and Willie slips in cow shit.
This is much, much better.
More Roger (and I do mean this as a compliment) when we see ALF in disguise. Part of me wants to say that they should have made some effort to hide his face, but then I realize his nose wouldn’t allow for a mask, so they did pretty much do the best they could…even if he does just look like Kermit the Frog in his reporter outfit.
Before ALF goes in to meet Jodie, there are a few more reminders of how childlike he is. He asks Lynn why Jodie has so many rooms if she lives alone…because he doesn’t understand what apartment buildings are. Then he reaches into the pocket of his coat and pulls out a glove, but gets scared because he thinks it’s somebody’s hand.
This is not the ALF who was totally familiar with everything on Earth that we got to know in the previous episodes. This is much more interesting, and the panic when he finds the “hand” is actually pretty funny. Fusco’s been pretty much on target this episode. His puppetry has been the lone highlight of this show so far, but this time he adds to that with a vocal performance that effectively sells most of what the episode’s trying to convey.
For God’s sake I like this.
Jodie comes to the door and ALF, in his nervousness, introduces himself as “not an alien.” God damn it, ALF, stop being funny.
You know, if this really were the standard of ALF episodes, I’d enjoy this project a hell of a lot of more. (And, consequently, you’d enjoy it a lot less. Swings and roundabouts.)
I got a little nervous when we first saw Jodie, because the way she looks in the wrong direction made me worry we were going to be in for a lot of broad and cruel humor at her expense, especially since ALF has previously proven to us that all humor must be at somebody else’s expense.
I know it’s not strange in any way to remove your hat and coat when you enter somebody’s house, but since for ALF that essentially means he’s stripping down naked before he sits on her furniture, that does seem a bit forward. Of course, it’s an approach that served me very well in college so who am I to judge?
There’s some standard joking about ALF eating lots of food and getting a boner when she mentions her cat, but what interests me here is the interplay between them regarding her blindness. What absolutely stood out to me as dangerous territory for the idiots in the ALF writer’s room actually ended up being the highlight of the series so far.
Why? Because ALF behaves like a person.
He’s still dickish, but he’s dickish in a very human way. He keeps telling Jodie where she is in relation to things in the room, and he describes what things look like to her. Is that a very insensitive thing to do to a blind person? Yes, it is. But here’s the thing: people do it anyway. And they don’t do it because they’re assholes…they do it because they think they’re helping.
ALF’s naivete — at least in this episode — is behind this. He’s being a jerk, but he’s being an accidental jerk, in an awkwardly relatable way.
Of course, this would play a lot differently if Jodie’s feelings were hurt, but that’s the great thing about it; Jodie comes across as a woman who’s come to terms with her blindness. She’s not happy about it, but she’s aware of it. And, what’s more, she’s aware of the many different ways well-meaning people will end up embarrassing them both.
ALF’s being an ass, but he’s not being an ass in any way she hasn’t heard before. She’s become comfortable enough with her disability to know that ALF’s attempts to help are coming from a good place.
I really like this scene. Again, there’s plenty I would change, but as it is? It’s downright decent. We have two characters dancing around a touchy subject in cringe-worthy ways that are still completely understandable.
Give ALF something simple like a dog catcher or a nosy neighbor or a pizza delivery guy, and the show will fuck it up. Give it a time-bomb like blindness and it somehow manages to get through just fine.
Maybe it’s because they had to take the time to handle this one correctly. Presumably they wanted to be funny, but they also didn’t want to actually hurt anybody’s feelings. If this is true, then it means they would have had to invest more effort than usual. It’s not just pitching an idea and worrying about how to write it later…it’s pitching an idea, and then worrying about whether or not they’ll be able to write it at all.
They had to figure this out before the pen ever hit the page, and I’m glad for that, because they added depth to a character that had none, and introduced a strong new character as well.
Bravo, “For Your Eyes Only.” Credit where credit is due, absolutely.
These are two lonely people who need each other more than they even realize, and they are doing their best to navigate their way through a conversational minefield.
It’s actually good.
Lynn starts calling ALF’s name through the door, because she needs to get him home before Willie and Kate come back and discover him missing. The fact that they actually bothered to address this is astounding in itself.
Jodie hears her calling, though, and assumes it’s Kathy Rigby, ALF’s imaginary ex-wife. ALF tries to explain that it’s not what she thinks…it’s the girl he’s living with, and she’s only sixteen years old.
So, creepy? Yes. But this, again, is accidental creepiness that feeds from ALF’s childlike misunderstanding of social norms. This isn’t him telling Lynn to tilt her head back so he can splooge on her face…this, whether you find it funny or not (and it’s certainly okay if you don’t), is at least the product of deliberate, relatively careful writing.
Jodie tells ALF to tell her the whole truth, but he can’t do that. In fact, ALF says, he can’t tell her any of the truth. And, okay, the sad music kicks in and that’s at least slightly corny, but this is a good moment. Jodie is hurt, because she feels as though she’s being lied to. And she’s right. But she doesn’t know what she’s being lied to about, and ALF can’t tell her. He’s at least honest enough to tell her that that’s true, she is being lied to, but he’d like her to trust him.
She says that it feels like she’s taking a bigger risk than he is, and ALF tells her that she has no idea. He then takes her hand without realizing what he’s doing, and pulls it away. But it’s too late…she’s felt it. And she says nothing when he leaves, but it’s clear that she knows he isn’t human.
The episode proper ends, and what a great, open conclusion. It’s undercut somewhat by the fact that there’s always a brief pre-credits scene, but that’s an excellent choice for an ending.
I have a feeling we’ll never see poor Jodie again, but who knows? I’d like to be wrong…but I kind of doubt that I am. Which means this episode works even better in isolation than I thought. The unseen promise of a relationship between these two could have fueled an entire — and, I’ll say it again, much better — show. Instead it’s relegated to a single episode with no real conclusion, but since it’s the best episode I can’t really complain.
These are two characters who need each other, and want to be with each other, and could benefit from each other, but can’t actually be together. THAT IS GOOD WRITING ALF SEE IT IS NOT IMPOSSIBLE.
The short tag scene involves Lynn rushing into the house to clean up before Willie and Kate get home, and we get a short, three-second glimpse of the midget hobbling across the floor in his ALF suit, just in case anyone watching during the original broadcast was afraid this wasn’t going to be a terrible show anymore.
Why couldn’t they have just tilted the camera up another couple of inches? Then Fusco could have used the actual puppet and we wouldn’t have had to make the midget walk across the room just so we could replace him with a puppet a few seconds later anyway. It doesn’t make any sense, but I sure am glad even the best episode of ALF ends by dropping a perfect dollop of shit.
MELMAC FACTS: ALF was an “Orbit Guard” with someone named Squeaky Macintosh. I guess this was before he became a car salesman. Or after. I don’t care. Either way, ALF says that Squeaky didn’t have any friends, either. “Of course,” ALF says of the difference between them, “he was obnoxious.” That One Good Writer was damned busy this week…even the Melmac Fact is funny.
* For a particularly brilliant example of this, check out “The One That Got Away.” While it’s not a terribly even show, I’m always impressed at the impressive highs American Dad! is able to reach when it wants to.