Toward the beginning of this project, I was speaking with a friend of mine, and I realized something kind of shocking: even though I remember watching ALF every week as a child, owning the toys and presumably enjoying it, I really don’t remember much as an adult about the show.
A few details stuck out, such as the fact that ALF’s real name is Gordon Shumway (a fact I expected to find out in the pilot, but apparently the Tanners didn’t give enough of a shit to ever ask, “Hey, who are you?”). I remembered that he was from Melmac, and that he ate cats. I remember “Ha! I kill me!” And, for whatever reason, I remembered that his favorite song was “Help Me, Rhonda.”
That’s about it. And, granted, I wasn’t very old when ALF was airing and it’s fair that I’d have forgotten a lot. But aside from a few miscellaneous bits of trivia, I didn’t remember anything. It’s actually kind of strange, because as an adult I’ve revisited many things I loved as a child, and I’m usually amazed at how much of it I remember. Whether it’s where the secrets are hidden in Super Mario Bros., the words to all of the songs in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or pretty much every line in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, adult Philip ends up feeling like he’s time traveling when he remembers so much so vividly.
With ALF, I remember nothing. At least, not yet. Maybe eventually we’ll get to an episode that will make my mind light up with recognition, but so far it’s just a garbage show that I can’t believe I ever enjoyed. I guess I must have only enjoyed it on a superficial level, because I sure as shit didn’t retain anything about it.
Anyway, I bring this up now because the episode is called “Help Me, Rhonda,” and I was pretty sure it would be about ALF tormenting everyone with the song or something. It’s not, but it’s also not a total lost cause, either. It’s an episode that seems to be trying to tap into the same vein as last week’s “For Your Eyes Only,” but this one feels more within ALF‘s wheelhouse than that episode did, simply because the approach is bungled so thoroughly.
Placing the two episodes side by side is actually quite instructive. In each case the show is trying to soften ALF, and in each case the show is trying to mine very similar territory (loneliness and homesickness). But whereas “For Your Eyes Only” largely succeeded at what it set out to do and seemed to suggest an alternate-universe ALF that wasn’t half bad, “Help Me, Rhonda” fails completely and reminds us of the actual-universe ALF we’re stuck with.
The episode opens with Brian and ALF dropping overt hints that it’s almost Brian’s birthday. We learn here that Brian is turning 7, and that ALF will be 229 in August. Then he and Brian talk about ALF’s experience of turning 229, which they discuss as though it already happened, meaning attention to this particular detail died in the space of a period between two sentences. ALF makes a crappy joke about blowing out the candles being easy, but lighting them being hard because your hand could catch on fire. The audience laughs and since it’s Thanksgiving I guess I’m thankful for the laugh track in this shitty show because otherwise I wouldn’t know that half of this stuff is meant to be a joke.
Kate and Willie ask Brian what decoration he wants on his cake, and this actually does trigger a memory, though not of ALF. I remember when I was about Brian’s age, being asked the same question. I wanted Bambi on my cake, because that had just been re-released in theaters and seeing it was still fresh in my memories. I really liked the movie, but my parents wouldn’t let me have Bambi on the cake, and were actually pretty rude with their explanations of why no son of theirs was going to have a birthday cake with Bambi on it. I guess I shouldn’t be too upset, though, because I’m positive that the lack of Bambi on my 7th birthday cake was the one thing that allowed me to make it through the rest of my life without fucking the anus of every guy I met.
Brian can’t decide what decoration he wants. Word of advice, kid…don’t ask for Bambi.
The pre-credits sequence ends on this harrowing cliffhanger, and, man, I really can’t wait to find out if Brian decides on a dinosaur or a fire engine. ALF really knew how to snare an audience!
After the credits we see ALF in bed, stroking off to a teddy bear in the tumble dryer. But it’s a very sad masturbation, because he knows he’ll never have another birthday with his friends.
This, I do have to say, is a promising start to the episode. In fact, “For Your Eyes Only” got my hopes up that this one might handle its exploration of ALF in a similarly satisfying way. I’m now convinced that “For Your Eyes Only” exists only so that I would lower my guard before “Help Me, Rhonda” punched me in the face.
Willie enters the room in a loosely-knotted robe and I spend the rest of the scene horrified at the prospect of it slipping open. Also, what’s next to ALF on the floor? Was he drinking a beer? I’m okay with this, but as much as the show has alluded to him drinking, we’ve mainly only seen him with soda pop and juice boxes. I just find this to be an interesting detail.
Also interesting is the fact that he vents to Willie about his 228th birthday (they get the detail right this time) being a particularly bad one, because that was the day Melmac exploded.
So, wait. A full year has elapsed since ALF came to Earth? Maybe not, because it’s not ALF’s birthday, but the way they’re talking makes it sound like it’s coming up soon. I get that they might just be trying to link his sadness to Brian’s birthday, which reminds him of the fact that he has his own birthday, and that his last birthday was the day his planet exploded, and his next one will be his first birthday without his friends…but that’s a hell of a train of reasoning. It makes more sense if ALF’s sad because his own birthday is coming up, but we’re only seven episodes in so it can’t have been a full year.
I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m just upset because this episode is making me try to sort out the chronology of ALF. The worst part? It’s not even the last time in the episode I’ll be doing that.
ALF gets wistful over Rhonda, who is presented as his ex-girlfriend, even though ALF then later contradicts that by saying they never went on any dates. Their first date was scheduled for the night of his birthday, but, obviously, the planet exploded and their fateful evening never happened.
He also mentions that just before the planet blew up, he and the rest of the Orbit Guards were called into duty, so, hey, more continuity! If Orbit Guard was the last job he held on Melmac, then he must have been a Phlegm dealer before that. It also suggests, at least potentially, that the nuclear disaster that decimated the planet was a war rather than an accident, if the Orbit Guard was called in.
Of course the Orbit Guard could have been like our own National Guard, which I guess is a lot more likely to be called into duty in the face of an accident than in open conflict. See? I told you this episode wasn’t done making me think about ALF to uncomfortable degrees.
This is off to a good start, though, no? A strong premise, a tender moment, some expansion of the ALF mythology. But don’t worry, we didn’t get two good episodes in a row. Boy howdy did we not get two good episodes in a row…
Willie shows off some serious gams while he tells ALF about Marsha Shankan. It was a girl that Willie was in love with, but she unfortunately moved to Toledo before Willie could embarrass himself thoroughly by asking her out in front of everybody and being so roundly rejected. He’s pretty clearly wallowing in the unresolved affection he had for another girl, which is a pretty fucked up thing to talk about while your wife is sleeping alone in the next room. He also almost refers to Kate as ALF’s mother during the story, which is even more fucked up.
At one point Max Wright says, “By the time I got the nerrrrrrrrvvv–up to ask her out…” and it’s pretty clear he forgot the line and stalled for time. Why does nobody ever ask for a second take on this show? I’ll never get used to just how poorly made this crap is.
ALF dickishly dismisses Willie’s heartache because it’s nothing that affects him personally, but since Willie’s going to lay next to his sleeping wife and jack off to the memory of some girl he knew in the sixth grade, I’d say they’re both on equal dick footing.
ALF then…oh no. Oh, fucking no. A dream sequence.
He dreams he’s back on Melmac, and I think it’s supposed to be a pretty accurate flashback as well as a dream. He’s at a diner or something, and he’s totally nude apart from his Orbit Guard armband. I mention this because the show doesn’t…it’s not a joke or a plot point, it’s just there.
See, this is weird to me, because everybody else in this scene is wearing clothes. I always just figured ALF’s nudity was due to the fact that they didn’t wear clothes on Melmac, and when he came to Earth he didn’t see a need to start. That’s fair. It’s the one thing that allowed me to overlook the fact that the Tanner household just has some naked dude lying spread-eagled on the sofa all day.
But now we see that they did wear clothes on Melmac. Everybody did. It’s just ALF who walked around town all day with his dick swingin’. Was he mentally ill?
ALF’s friend Skip has a few lines here, and the puppetry is really bad. His mouth doesn’t match his words at all, and it’s a great time to remember just how good Fusco’s puppetry is. It’s been the lone, solid highlight of these episodes so far, and putting him next to a puppetteer who had no idea what he was doing really makes me appreciate his talents more. Say what you will about the man himself, and I’ll say what I will about the show, but ALF’s puppetry is impressive.
Skip makes some remarks about how bangin’ their waitress is, and, look! She totally is.
She serves the guys their food, and behind her you can see all the cat dishes on the menu. Commenter E[X] asked a few weeks ago why there were cats on Melmac anyway. Well, this episode doesn’t provide an answer, but I did want to take this moment to say I’m fucked if I know.
ALF awakens screaming to the image of Willie touching him and stroking his chest, which is interesting because that’s precisely the image that I awake screaming from.
Willie shook ALF awake because the freeloading naked fuckhead was shouting and singing. What, at the same time? ALF asks what he was singing, and Willie says it was something by The Beach Boys. The one with Rhonda in the title.
Willie, if you heard the line “Help Me, Rhonda” then you know the name of the song. I don’t know why they didn’t just have him say that. Did they think it would make us feel clever to figure it out on our own? It would be like me saying, “I won’t tell you the name of my favorite Beatles song, but I’ll give you a hint: it has Jude in the title.” You won’t feel clever for figuring that out; you’ll just think I’m a moron.
Sad music comes on as ALF says he wants to go home. Which I guess qualifies as a twist since he’s spent every episode so far specifically not taking any steps toward going anywhere at all.
It’s not enough that ALF gets free room and board and unchecked demolition privileges, he also has Kate rubbing his shoulders. Oh, and Lynn is also stroking his chest. I don’t know; maybe that’s just a Tanner family tradition.
The show actually goes a good job of making ALF look “sick,” even though the puppet doesn’t really change. They muss up his hair, lower his eyelids, and Fusco makes ALF’s movements look tired and sluggish. I swear, that man’s puppetteering is really good. Maybe what he should have done is sign up with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop or something, where he could show off that talent but not be in charge of the production. It’s not that he has no talent…it’s that he shouldn’t have been running the show.
ALF asks Kate to get the dustbuster and for some reason gets pissy that she won’t go out to the garage to get it right now. Lynn goes to get the dustbuster herself in order to defuse the situation, but then something wonderful happens.
Kate comes over, sits on the couch, and tells him — thank you God! — to cut his motherfucking bullshit, and to cut his motherfucking bullshit right motherfucking now. She doesn’t give a flying fuck if he’s sick…he is not to speak to her that way.
Then she threatens, and I am not exaggerating, to punch his heart out.
Please Jesus, let that be the Christmas special.
In a rare instance of this show doing something for a reason, we cut to the garage. Lynn is grabbing the dustbuster, and she notices that Willie and Brian are using their ham radio to ask if anyone who can hear them is from Melmac, because, really, that whole “Nobody can find out an alien lives here” was so six episodes ago.
There’s no joke in this scene, and the camera just awkwardly films Willie and Brian silently passing a tape recorder back and forth. This is so weird. The camera just keeps rolling even though nothing’s happening and nobody’s saying anything. They didn’t bother to write any dialogue? Is this show improvised or something? It’s so bizarre.
We cut back to the living room, where ALF must have reinstated the pecking order because Kate is spoonfeeding him soup.
The first episode seemed to set up the idea that Kate was some cold, heartless, humorless shrew — my dream girl, basically — but I guess she’s really just a battered housewife.
Lynn comes back with the dustbuster and asks if she should clean now, but ALF tells her it would be better to wait until tomorrow. Then why did he get so pissed off that Kate didn’t get the dustbuster a minute ago? It’s not even a joke…and I know it’s not, because they don’t turn on the recording of dead people laughing.
Instead he hands Lynn his Last Will and Testament, which is when we find out his name is Gordon Shumway. Wow, lots of continuity in this one. ALF even suggests that he never mentioned that fact before because he’s embarrassed of it, which is pretty much the first time this nudist dickwheel has ever demonstrated having a sense of shame.
We don’t hear what the will says because the writers didn’t want to think of anything, so they have Willie and Brian interrupt with news that they’ve contacted another survivor from Melmac. I guess that justifies the fact that they spent the past week continuously broadcasting the information that they had a secret alien that lives in their house. That’s me told.
No, I won’t continue until you all take a moment to soak in Lynn’s outfit.
A long, long moment. Jesus fuck.
So, anyway, Willie managed to contact Skip, which is convenient because it’s one of the few puppets they already had made. Skip offers to stop by and pick up ALF on his way to Andromeda. I don’t know why Skip isn’t there already if that’s where he’s going. What has he been doing this whole time? Orbiting the Earth listening to ham radio operators talking dirty to each other?
ALF asks if Skip can come by next week instead, since it’s Brian’s birthday tomorrow, and on Friday “the transvestites are back on Donahue.” Once again the laughter doesn’t come and it’s really fucking odd…as though the laugh track feels as sickened by ALF’s use of transvestites as a punchline as I do.
But then Skip says that Rhonda is with him, and ALF says, “Forget the transvestites!” Which, I guess, is the punchline, because that’s when the audience laughs. What kind of family show is this? How many kids do you think turned and asked their parents what a transvestite was? And how many of them do you think got anything like an open-minded response?
The next day Brian is sad, because ALF is leaving and his birthday is ruined. ALF tries to comfort him the only way he knows how, by tweaking his boyboobs.
There is some evidence of the One Good Writer here, as ALF asks if he can take Lucky with him. Kate says no, and then ALF replies that they’d better let him out then. Willie opens ALF’s suitcase and the cat hops out.
Honestly, by the end of this show’s run, I bet I could compile a series of clips that might fool someone into thinking ALF was pretty good.
They bring out Brian’s birthday cake and we find out the decoration he finally decided on: he wanted ALF on his cake.
It’s not supposed to be a joke, but I can’t help but laugh because even though we don’t get a clear shot of the cake, it’s pretty clear that they just globbed some brown shit on top, smeared it around a little and called it a day. That’s you, dickhead! Fuck you, ALF!
Everyone says goodbye to ALF and, again, there aren’t any jokes. It’s strange because they’re obviously not going to fool anyone into thinking ALF is leaving. The season isn’t anywhere near over, and even if he did go into space he’d pretty clearly have to come back so that there could be an episode next week.
Willie gives some cockamamie speech about how enriched the family was by having ALF in their lives. To remind you, I’ll recap everything ALF’s done for them so far: destroyed their garage, tormented their neighbor, scared their cat away, made prank calls to the president, and ruined them financially. Cut the shit, Willie. Kick him in the ass and move on with your life.
Actually, last week he didn’t do anything too bad…he just went on a date with Jodie. Where’s Jodie? Will we ever see her again? I love how that episode ended with him asking her to trust him and that things would work out, then he never thinks about her again and she’s just heartbroken in her apartment forever.
There is a good moment though when Kate wishes ALF luck, and he asks if that’s all she has to say to him. Then she adds that it’s a long trip, so if he has to use the bathroom now would be a good time. It’s especially funny because of ALF’s face after she says this:
I know I’m supposed to hate you, Kate. I know. But I just can’t.
Brian says, “I love you” to ALF, and ALF replies “Yeah, me too,” because he’s an asshole.
ALF then looks upward and says, “Goodbye, Mrs. Ochmonek, wherever you are.” Did she die? What the fuck is this? She had the entire second episode to herself, then they killed her off camera? What the hell is going on with this show?
Later that night the family is all gathered in the living room, sad. Brian is at the window so I guess ALF is just standing naked in the yard waiting for Skip to come. Great. The Tanners really do not give a shit about keeping this whole alien thing under wraps, do they?
And why are they not outside with him? I know he sucks and all, but even I would be standing out there just for the chance to see a UFO. These guys just hang out around the coffee table like it’s nothing.
It’s also strange that the birthday cake is sitting there, untouched. I mean, it’s fine if they’re too sad to eat it or something, but why are they carrying it with them from room to room?
ALF comes in to give Brian his birthday present, which are some fuzzy dice that the ALF crew dyed green. That’s so alien!
Willie then tells ALF to get back on the roof, and I feel like an idiot for assuming he was in the yard. Of course this show would stick the naked alien on the roof for the entire town to see. Of fucking course. My mistake. I’m such a dope.
Willie says that he’d better hurry because Skip will be there in 30 seconds, which is pretty ridiculously precise. If I told you I’d meet you at a restaurant at 7 o’clock, and you looked at your watch to see that it was 6:59:30, would you think, “Okay, he’ll be here in 30 seconds?” Of course not. You’d just think I’d be there soon. This show comes off like it was somehow written by people who’ve never interacted with human beings.
It turns out ALF is stalling for time because he’d rather stay with the Tanners than go wherever Skip and Rhonda are going, presumably because that might require him to get a job or respect other people’s privacy.
Willie, unbelievably, sees this as touching. He also does not grab ALF by the throat and throw him outside, to his great discredit.
The family all turns to watch a strobe light switch on and off outside, which I guess is meant to represent Skip and Rhonda porkin’ off into the night.
That’s the end of that, though we do get a short scene of Kate and ALF eating the birthday cake, which is a bit strange since nobody else in the family — including the birthday boy — are around. Kate says she’s starting to warm up to ALF, and then ALF walks over to the couch and starts demanding she does all kinds of shit for him and what a hilarious end to the episode that is.
I don’t know. This one was really bad, and I’m a little confused by why we never saw Rhonda. With a very small rewrite they could have just turned the waitress into Rhonda instead of having her be this separate character that doesn’t do anything but get sexually harassed by ALF’s grabassing friends. Which raises the question for me now of what the point of that flashback was at all.
Seriously, I thought it was going to have something to do with Rhonda, and I guess it kind of does because ALF’s friend’s are dicking around with him about his crush on her, but that’s it. We don’t learn anything about her, despite the fact that ALF is still madly in love with her, apparently, and we don’t even see her. We hear her voice on the ham radio for about two lines, and then that’s the end of that. Wouldn’t the episode have worked just as well if it was Skip alone offering to give ALF a ride? Why bother setting up a love interest just to do literally nothing with her?
And that was a flashback of Melmac’s final night in existence. Isn’t it a little strange that it has nothing to do with the fact that, I dunno, it fuckin’ exploded a few hours later? What a bizarre thing to do. It would be like making a movie about a guy who knows the full truth about the JFK assassination, and he spends all this time talking about how he was there and saw everything, and then finally when we get a flashback to November 22, 1963 it’s the wrong time of day so we just see him having brunch with some assholes he went to school with. What would be the point?
I don’t know. I never will know. But I’ve already invested way too much thought into this episode so I’m done. This review is over.
Oh, and goodbye Mrs. Ochmonek. Wherever you are.
MELMAC FACTS: Ruth the Two-Headed Nurse was the Vanna White of Melmac. (And the Betty White.) Melmac exploded in August. 425 degrees is normal body temperature for someone from Melmac. I’d question why ALF then doesn’t cook everything he touches but I promised myself this review was over so FUCK IT THIS REVIEW IS OVER.