I know it’s only been five weeks, but I honestly feel like I’ve been reviewing this show for years. Every episode seems to age me a little more, and by the time I’ve made it through all 99 of them, I’m pretty sure I’ll just be a pissy skeleton.
This is an episode about ALF selling makeup, which again seems to come from the pens of a writing staff that definitively refuse to write about an alien.
I’ll never get over this. At least, not until the show does. Mork and Mindy, Third Rock from the Sun and My Hero were all comedies about aliens coming to Earth, but do you know what the central comic conceit was? The aliens didn’t know what the fuck they were doing. The entire joke was that they were confounded by what we would see as simple concepts, and their attempts to understand them — or pretend to understand them — drove the humor. You can even apply this to other shows about otherworldly non-aliens, like Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie.
I’m not suggesting that all of those were fantastic shows, but I have to at least give them credit for understanding their own concepts. After all, why would you bother to write about this character from another world / time / universe if you didn’t intend for there to be any incongruity?
You can write a show about an alien from Mnrevlhi XII coming to Earth and have him spend an entire episode trying to figure out the proper way to eat a banana. It might not be funny, but it at least follows from your premise. Write a show about that alien coming to Earth, though, and getting a job at an insurance company — which he turns out to understand completely and be really good at — and there’s a problem, because then you might as well not be writing about an alien.
ALF should be pretty easy to write for. It’s a basic fish-out-of-water concept. The problem is that the writing staff resolves it a few minutes into the first episode by having that waterless fish walking around and breathing oxygen just fine, which doesn’t leave much room for comedy.
If you’re going to render your own central concept meaningless, then why did you choose that central concept?
Anyway, that’s enough stalling…I guess. The sooner I talk about this episode the sooner it’ll be over.
“Keepin’ the Faith” opens with ALF getting upset that he wasn’t invited to the family budgeting meeting. Kate explains that they didn’t want to bother him because he was watching The Three Stooges, but he still gets upset, which is pretty shitty because it was kind of nice of her to let that freeloading bastard watch television while the family discusses how quickly they’ll have to default on their mortgage.
Brian and ALF exchange some obviously false Three Stooges trivia (Curly was a senator in real life, and Moe, according to them, was Speaker of the House), but it’s just bizarre and out of place, and it doesn’t even build to a punchline. At least, not unless you consider ALF entertaining the family with his impressions of Curly a punchline. How alien of him!
Willie tries to explain to ALF that it was nothing personal, but ALF keeps interrupting him with proclamations of how sad he feels for being left out. Eventually Willie gets him to shut up and invites him over, but ALF says “No thanks!” and walks away, leaving potato chips everywhere.
Episode five, ladies and gentlemen.
Again, same opening credits, but this time I made a point of pausing when ALF films Brian. The reason is that there was always something in the corner of the frame that I couldn’t make out, and you can see it in the upper left of the screenshot above.
…yeah, it’s the studio’s lighting rig. The camera turned too far and you can see beyond the edge of the set.
Did nobody watch ALF after it was edited? There are a few moments later on that suggest that the show was slapped together and broadcast without anyone caring much for how it actually played.
Yes, I know that slip-ups happen all the time. Boom mics drop into frame, walls wobble when the doors close…it’s okay. It’s nothing that necessarily impacts our enjoyment of whatever show it is, but I think there’s a difference between an unconvincing set and an obvious shot of the studio lighting rig that is left in the intro sequence that you will run every week. Why is this show so careless?
The credits end and ALF is at the meeting, so I guess all that passive-aggressive nonsense earlier was just a waste of time. Willie is ready to talk finances, and he’s got everything he needs to do so: an adding machine, an accordion folder, and a Hi-C box full of pumpkin juice.
It turns out that the family’s electricity bill has tripled, and Lynn suggests it might be due to the porch light that Willie leaves on every time she goes out. Willie replies, “The porch light stays,” and the audience laughs. Maybe I’m the alien, because I have no idea what the joke is here.
I’m not kidding. What is it? How is that funny? I have no clue what the insinuation is meant to be.
ALF reveals that he’s been leaving the dryer on all night to keep him company. I don’t understand this either, but I guess it confirms that ALF is allowed to run around the house going apeshit after everyone else goes to sleep. Can you imagine if you were one of those kids? I’d be pissed that I had to do homework and go to bed at 9 o’clock while there was an alien smashing up the living room at all hours of the night with no consequence. Why do they treat ALF better than they treat their children?
Talking about finances gives Willie an erection, which bumps against the bottom of the table and causes his accordion folder to pop open.
Either that or the editing between takes in this show is really fucking bad.
ALF suggests that Willie get a better job, but Willie says he likes his job. Not enough to ever mention what he does for a living, though, I guess. Do the writers even know what Willie’s job is? Not only do they have no interest in the fact that their main character is an alien…they aren’t even interested in their characters that are human.
It turns out that the major drain on their finances is ALF himself, surprising nobody, but then I have to wonder why their response to this is to re-budget. Why don’t they instead make some effort to curb ALF’s insane behavior? Just issue the guy an ultimatum. He needs a place to stay more than you need an alien eating your food and fingerbanging your electric dryer all night.
And whatever happened to the idea of repairing his space ship? Give him a wrench and lock the door behind him, letting him know that he’s got 24 hours to fix the thing before you call the Honor System Alien Patrol. Easy solution. There’s your final episode right there.
ALF feels sad because the family he’s ruining isn’t currently sucking his dick, and he says he’s hurt because they see him as “a parasite.” Brian suggests that he’s more of “a sponger,” and it turns out it’s a description he picked up from Kate, who said that about ALF a week ago.
Go Kate! You’re the only island of sanity in this lousy show. Then she says, “Let’s just settle on ‘parasite’ and move on,” which causes my accordion folder to pop open, too, if you know what I mean.
Seriously, Kate. That Willie dweeb? Come on. You’d be much happier with me, and I’ll even tell you where I work.
That night ALF bangs on the piano and sings about being a parasite. Because of course he does.
Kate comes down in her robe, and unfortunately doesn’t say, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? You live in a house with four other people who are trying to sleep. Read a book, go to bed, or move the fuck out.”
No, instead she speaks to ALF apologetically for what happened earlier, when the family had the nerve to discuss a serious and pressing issue with openness and honesty. I’m pretty sure ALF is the most accurate portrayal of toxic relationships I’ve ever seen on television.
It’s depressing. Kate’s the most level-headed of the bunch — by a landslide — and here she is coddling ALF and telling him not to feel bad for sinking the Tanners into financial ruin. What…the fuck.
ALF volunteers to get a job, which is great because the moment he steps outside the house he’ll be scooped up by the government and vivisected, but Kate tells him not to worry; he can do chores around the house instead.
Indulge me here. How does that solve anything? The issue the Tanners were ostensibly facing was that they were going bankrupt. How does asking ALF to dust the knick-knacks address that in any way?
I guess Kate just feels bad about the math she did earlier that conclusively proved ALF was worse than worthless. She then leaves and tells ALF not to worry, and you know what, Kate? Offer revoked. You and Willie were made for each other.
Of course, ALF can never and will never leave well enough alone, so in spite of the fact that Kate’s solution to the problem was “Nothing will change and we’ll continue supporting your sorry ass,” he decides to get a job anyway.
He flips open a magazine, which could conceivably have want-ads in it, I guess, but I’m a little confused by the fact that they didn’t give him a newspaper instead. Wouldn’t that be much clearer visual shorthand? Maybe they couldn’t afford to make a newspaper prop so they just handed him a copy of Better Homes and Gardens.
Things get even stupider when ALF pulls out one of those mail-in subscription cards that clearly reads BUSINESS REPLY MAIL on the back, with a little pre-paid postage square. He reads it out loud, trying to convince us, I guess, that it’s some kind of loose want-ad that was tucked into the magazine, and then dials the number that it asks him to call.
Why did they give him a card that clearly needs to be mailed in if they just wanted him to make a phone call? Couldn’t he have just put his finger on a page and pretended to read the number from there? This show is so baffling. They go out of their way to set up one thing (whether it’s an alien in the house, the Tanner financial situation, or a mail-in reply card) and then try to make us see it as something else entirely. It’s like they wrote these things on their lunch hour from their real jobs and didn’t have time to go back and make any of the pieces fit.
It turns out to be a company that needs people to sell their makeup, and ALF gives the Tanner address as 167 Hemdale, which is indeed the address he gave to Pizza Barge in “Strangers in the Night,” so I guess somebody on the writing staff cared about detail.
Actually, this leads me to something that a friend and I were discussing recently: the idea that ALF might have One Good Writer.
It’s nothing I can say for certain, and I wouldn’t have any idea who it is, but every episode so far has either had at least one decently good line or clever idea. Of course you need to riffle through a lot of utter shit to get there, but it’s there.
It could be a blind squirrel finding a nut, or it could be one guy on the staff who actually has some talent as a humorist. It’s not much talent, but it’s more than any of his hypothetical coworkers.
Every so often I get the sense that a certain line or moment was scripted by the One Good Writer. The rest of the time he’s been outvoted by his less intelligent colleagues, but every so often, evidence of the One Good Writer comes through, like a hidden message meant to alert us to the whereabouts of his kidnappers.
Whoever you are, One Good Writer, I hope you eventually got a gig on Cheers or something. God knows you’ve earned it.
ALF’s package finally arrives from Terry Faith Cosmetics, and I’m pretty sure that name was chosen expressly so they could use that pun in the title. It’s a little disappointing because “Keepin’ the Faith” made me assume ALF would become an ordained minister, or somebody would have a spiritual crisis owing to the fact that they now live in the house with evidence of extraterrestrial life, but, nah, it’s just about some hairy dude selling makeup.
Lynn has her hair back in this scene, and since it’s an episode about beauty products I don’t feel too bad saying that this isn’t a good look for her. I don’t mean that to be dickish, but I think it says a lot about what small changes like that can do for somebody’s profile. The rest of the time she’s pretty neutrally-attractive in that late-80s / early-90s kinda way, but with her hair back it’s another person entirely.
She also has that really stilted line delivery again, where she’s being too obviously careful to pronounce all of the words correctly. It doesn’t help that the editing is as bad as ever; as she graspingly sounds her way through, “But don’t you have to know something about makeup before you can sell it?” there’s an edit that cuts her final word as she’s still speaking it.
This happens with something Willie says later, as well. Everything about ALF just feels so rushed and ramshackle. How could a show this poorly assembled air on national television for four years?
Anyway, we finally get to the part of the episode that I’ve been dreading writing about, so those of you with weak stomachs: turn away now.
…really. This is an honest warning.
The rest of you? Here we go…
ALF asks Lynn if she’s ever had “a Terry Faith facial.” And, for a second or two, I actually feel a little bit guilty about laughing. After all, it’s probably like that time Oscar the Grouch sang about a rusty trombone. It doesn’t mean what it sounds like it means.
Well, ALF starts reading the book that came with his supplies for guidance, and Lynn says, “Let’s skip to the facial part.”
It keeps going.
And it gets worse.
ALF tells her to get down on her knees for the facial.
She does. AND SHE TILTS HER HEAD BACK.
What the living shit am I watching.
ALF reads an instruction to “apply liberally to customer’s face and neck.”
Lynn reluctantly pleads, “Just a little bit…” to which ALF unconvincingly replies, “Yeah, yeah, okay.”
ALF then globs it and smears it all over her face, while Lynn keeps her eyes shut tight so that nothing gets in them. And now you know why she had her hair back.
The cherry on top? ALF even makes gross, “Mmm, mmm…yeah…” sounds as he dabs it all over her.
This is disgusting. Why is ALF so intent on normalizing behavior like this? I refuse to believe that I’m the only one who sees sexual overtones here. It couldn’t get any more sexual without ALF using his actual wang as an applicator.
I’m not making jokes. This is sickening.
Anyway, ALF has now sexually assaulted both of the Tanner children on camera. And it’s not even sweeps week!
Willie is reading a newspaper in his armchair, so I guess they did have a newspaper prop after all. Why, again, did ALF have to pretend to find a want-ad printed on the front of one of those 10 CDs for 10 cents offers from Columbia House?
The phone rings, and it’s for ALF. It’s also nowhere near the piano where we saw it last night, so I assume the conclusion to last week’s conflict was just Willie throwing up his hands and saying, “Fuck it, we’ll install a telephone every three feet.”
Also, why would Willie hand the phone over when somebody’s calling for ALF? Why not just say, “There is no ALF here, wrong number,” and then tell that hairy little punk to stop calling people who aren’t supposed to know he exists?
It’s Ginger, from Terry Faith, and she congratulates ALF on being newcomer of the month. Willie and Kate overhear the conversation and tell ALF he needs to quit his job, but ALF says that if he does well enough at Terry Faith, he can make more money than “the civil servant.”
He means Willie, so, hooray! We now know that Willie is a civil servant. What does he do specifically? Being as that could mean anything from governor of whatever fucking state this is all the way down to the guy who rides on the back of the garbage truck? The writers don’t know, but, hey, they still have 94 episodes left to figure it out, so what’s the rush?
ALF volunteers to give Kate a facial, but, fortunately, the doorbell rings and we’re not asked to sit through a reprise of ALF’s ongoing molestation of Willie’s family.
It’s a delivery guy, and we learn why ALF qualifies as “newcomer of the month”: he bought $4,000 worth of cosmetics on Willie’s credit card. Hilarious. ALF knew full well that the whole premise of the episode was that he was wasting too much of his family’s money, so he knowingly sinks four thousand more of their dollars into buying makeup.
Brian comes in, revealing that not only did ALF give him a facial, too, but that “it turned green.” Seriously, friends, I think I’m going to barf. I’m starting to think that this whole episode was just an excuse to have ALF metaphorically jizz on the children. And I don’t know if I’m disgusted more by that, or by the fact that it’s only episode five and already this wouldn’t be a surprise to me.
Willie does this awkward thing where he puts one hand on the boxes of makeup and points the other at nothing, and then chides ALF in a way that sounds like he’s about to break into song. “You have-abuuuused, the trust-of-this familyy…faaaar too long.”
I can’t approximate it in text. It’s like no human speech I’ve ever heard.
From what little I know about the behind-the-scenes turmoil at ALF, Max Wright was pretty angry that Paul Fusco kept giving himself all the best lines. I don’t know if that’s something that he was already upset about this early in the show’s run, but maybe these insane line readings are just Wright trying to make the most of the limited material he’s being given.
I don’t know. If that is the case, then I have to say I support the initiative…but I also have to say that speak-singing your frustrations at a puppet isn’t the right way to do it.
The doorbell rings again, because the episode is almost over and they’ve only just managed to establish its plot.
It turns out to be a horde of women that ALF invited over for a Terry Faith party. ALF runs away to leave Willie and Kate to deal with it, because he’s a pile of dicks.
The women go wild when they see the boxes of cosmetics and immediately swarm them and start ripping things open. lol women, amirite??
They then start throwing all of their money at Willie so they can buy massive amounts of makeup. lol women, amirite??
The delivery man comes back and Willie makes a funny face and I guess that’s the end of this masterful episode.
Before the credits, though, we see everyone back in the kitchen, calculating the money they made from the fifteen-second-long Terry Faith party. Kate takes the printout from the adding machine and reads it, saying, “We made it all back, plus a small profit!”
Why wouldn’t she say how much they made? She has the numbers right there. Is the small profit a hundred bucks? A thousand bucks? A fucking nickel? These are very different outcomes, but the writers don’t care. Who am I kidding? Even I don’t care. To hell with this show.
ALF makes amends for the trouble he’s caused by giving the family “a set of mock-Naugahyde luggage.” I’ll ignore the fact that “a set” seems to mean “two pieces of,” because it leads to the episode’s only funny line: Willie says, excitedly, “It looks just like real Naugahyde!”
There’s that One Good Writer again.
ALF also says he’s taking the family to Dayton, and I’m not sure how since he still doesn’t have any money. I’d assume the Terry Faith profits would be put right toward his debt, but I guess not, because the family is stoked to hit up sunny Dayton and nobody has to learn a lesson, least of all the writing staff who don’t seem to remember what the problem was that set this episode into motion in the first place.
God bless us, every one!
MELMAC FACTS: On Melmac, pianos had a set of red keys in addition to our white and black. Also, ALF ran a dealership for Phlegm automobiles. Oh, and his show fuckin’ sucks.