Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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A Very Fabiola XmasHello friends! (And Jeff!) I know you’re all really excited about Christmas, and very happy that stores have been reminding you of the holiday since about July 12th. So allow me to jump the gun on Thanksgiving and say…

…The First Annual Noiseless Chatter Christmas Party will be held on December 23! Mark your calendars now!

Details to come, but I wanted to try something a little different this year, and I figured I’d give you all as much notice as I could.

The plan is to open up a chat-room and stream the season one ALF Christmas special live, with everybody joining in the mockery! Of course that would only eat up about 20 minutes, so I’m going to create a playlist of Christmas episodes from other shows as well. Will they be good shows? Will they be bad shows?! Nobody will know until I reveal the answer in the next sentence. They will be bad shows.

So get ready, and tell your friends. We’ll probably have around two or three hours’ worth of programming, and we can always slap on one of those fantastic Hallmark Christmas films if the party wants to keep ragin’. (I recommend A Hobo’s Christmas, which I haven’t seen, but it’s called A Hobo’s Christmas for crying out loud.)

Snacks and beverages will not be provided, so make sure you have the Yuletide nibbles and booze of your choice close by.

It’ll be a chance to hang out with great people, watch some terrible television, and join in the live riff of ALF and the other surprises I have up my sleeve.

Again, details to come, but start telling your friends and family that you’re busy that night and they can go fuck themselves.

ALF, "Keepin' the Faith"

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.

ALF, "Keepin' the Faith"

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?

ALF, "Keepin' the Faith"

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.

ALF, "Keepin' the Faith"

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.

ALF, "Keepin' the Faith"

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, "Keepin' the Faith"

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.

ALF, "Keepin' the Faith"

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, "Keepin' the Faith"

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.

…right?

Well, ALF starts reading the book that came with his supplies for guidance, and Lynn says, “Let’s skip to the facial part.”

Tee-hee, right?

It keeps going.

And it gets worse.

ALF, "Keepin' the Faith"

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, "Keepin' the Faith"

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!

ALF, "Keepin' the Faith"

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.

ALF, "Keepin' the Faith"

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.

Kick.

Him.

Out.

ALF, "Keepin' the Faith"

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.

ALF, "Keepin' the Faith"

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.

ALF, "Keepin' the Faith"

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.

ALF, "Keepin' the Faith"

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, "Keepin' the Faith"

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.

Worlds of Power, Mega Man 2

Don’t know what The Lost Worlds of Power is? Click here to find out everything you need to know about the upcoming one-off fiction anthology. And remember to submit!

Well, this has been an interesting couple of weeks! The Lost Worlds of Power has garnered some awesome attention. In addition to being tweeted, shared and plussed on the various social networks, there’s been some fantastic coverage on various sites.

I’m going to take a moment to thank them, but make sure you read ahead even if you’re not interested in that. Some announcements follow!

– The crown jewel is this excellent post on The Gameological Society…probably my favorite general gaming site on the internet. Due to this alone, I’ve received more emails than I can count from interested contributors. The comments section itself is worth a read (I really hope I get even a fraction of what was pitched there), and later in the week the project got mentioned in their Keyboard Geniuses roundup as well. Thanks!

– Nintendo Life was good enough to let me pimp it there as well. I wrote the post myself, to avoid any suggestions of a conflict of interest, but I appreciate them giving The Lost Worlds of Power some great visibility!

– Nintendo Okie also took the time to funnel interested folks this way, as did 100% Indie. Just yesterday, Digitally Downloaded joined the party as well, with a great (and hugely appreciated) call for submissions!

– Then there’s the great feeling that comes with stumbling across somebody’s blog or forum thread to see even more people spreading the word. Sarapen posted about being interested, and even provided an intriguing start to a novelization of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!. I sincerely hope to read that one in full. There’s also this thread on Talking Time, which was started in 2011 with a similar idea. Hopefully some of those adaptations will be submitted to the anthology. And, finally, there’s this brief writeup on the brilliantly named Glorious Trainwrecks.

So…wow. Thank you for all of the interest and attention!

I never imagined this idea would gain so much traction, and we still have a long way to go before the submission deadline of January 31, 2014.

Anyway…some announcements!

For starters, we’ve found our illustrator. All-around awesome guy Ron DelVillano will be providing an illustration for every story selected for inclusion in the anthology. Ron is both the brains and brawn behind Duane, Average High School Werewolf, and we’re very excited to have him on board.

Also, many of you have been asking me about the potential for physical copies of The Lost Worlds of Power. Here’s the thing: as great as it would be to have physical copies, the fear was that charging for the collection would transform this from harmless fan-fiction to full-on legal nightmare. Of course we could just pay for all of the associated fees ourselves and hand out the copies for no charge, but then we’d be homeless forever and probably pretty sad.

However, Ron (I told you he was awesome) figured out a potential work-around. We could set up a Kickstarter or otherwise collect donations from anyone interested in having a copy. We’d have to figure out an absolute, final cost for the printing of however many books, and use that as our goal. Should we exceed our goal, we’ll just donate the difference to charity. Which one? Maybe we’ll open it up to a vote or something.

That way anyone who wants a copy would be able to pay for one, we wouldn’t need to worry about funding some large print order out of pocket, and no “profit” would be made from selling it. So, hey, let us know if you’d be interested! (Personally, I know I would be. I can’t promise anything right now, but we still have time to figure out how viable this would be.) Your feedback will be very helpful in deciding what to do here!

And, finally, I’d just like to remind folks that The Lost Worlds of Power was actually the brainchild of co-editor James Lawless. It was his idea to write “new” Worlds of Power books, and while I might have taken the initiative to turn that into the larger anthology, open to submissions, I do feel a little bad that he hasn’t gotten much of the attention. Of course, if you read the posts linked above I’ve been referred to as everything from a “possibly deranged writer” to “some guy,” so it’s not like I’m getting all that much direct attention myself.

Either way, thanks James!

How are your submissions coming? I’m looking forward to reading them, collecting them, and foisting a wealth of ropey new video game adaptations on an unsuspecting readership!

Jim Wolf, United States Army Veteran

There’s been a video circulating over the past few days of a homeless veteran getting a makeover. I…am kind of surprised that I could type that sentence and then still need to follow it up with an explanation of why that’s absurd, manipulative and outright demeaning, but with 5.1 million views on YouTube and counting — and a constant presence in my social media streams — it seems that it really does need to be discussed.

So, please, if you haven’t already, add one more view to the video, and we’ll continue. Because as many times as I’ve seen this referred to as “inspiring” and “magical,” it’s really just offensive. And exploitative. And we should be embarrassed by it.

When I first came across the above video, it was spotlighted in this post. The title of that post assured me that the video would give me chills. That was kind of interesting since the thumbnail and description pretty much suggested they were just giving this guy a haircut, but I figured it was worth watching. After all, why would that give me chills?

Maybe at the end his little daughter that he hasn’t seen in years would come out and hug him, or something. That would still be manipulative, but it might also successfully provide “chills” so…okay.

But, nope. It’s a haircut. Oh, and they trim his beard and give him a tie.

Wow, chills. Except for the fact that I grew up in southern New Jersey, and “hairy guy trims his beard and puts on a tie” isn’t uncommon to anyone familiar with the concept of prom night.

So, fine. Chills or no chills, that’s not the point.

This is the point: as a culture — as a society…as a civilization — we’re already doing our damnedest to give every man, woman and child body image issues. All this video succeeds in doing is extending that particular neurosis to the homeless as well.

It’s sickening. And I realize that this requires further unpacking. So, hey, I’ve got some time. Do you?

Then let’s proceed.

The balance of content in the video is the giveaway. Or, rather, the clear imbalance. In a video that’s about two minutes and fifty seconds long, two minutes and twenty seconds are spent on the makeover. The assurance that the veteran Jim Wolf has turned his life around is relegated to two vague slides of text.

Ask yourself what’s more important, as far as the video is concerned. Is it the way he looks? Or is it the more positive direction his life has now taken? It’s not a matter of opinion; there’s a clear answer here. It comes down to the fact that he looked like a hobo, but has now been groomed and dressed up.

To me, it’s more important to know whether or not Jim Wolf left the studio to sleep in a gutter again that night. To the makers of the video, it’s more important to know whether or not he was wearing a tie when he did so. And that’s disgusting.

It comes down to more than just the amount of time the video spends on each, though: the execution is also telling, and more important when interpreting what’s happening here.

We start with an image of our subject, alongside a caption that reads “Jim Wolf, United States Army Veteran.”

That’s a name, and that’s a fact. That’s not a description.

Who is Jim? What’s his history? “Army Veteran” says precisely nothing. Did he serve overseas? Was he involved in any wars or conflicts? Where was he stationed? With whom did he serve? What years was he active? What was his role? What was his specialty?

Does any of that matter when determining whether or not to thank him for his service? Of course not. But it’s meant to illustrate just how vague a descriptor “United States Army Veteran” is. One veteran could have served in Vietnam and been the lone survivor of an ill-fated recon mission. One veteran could have served in Texas during a time of no conflict and filed paperwork all day.

I’m not suggesting that one is inherently better or worse than the other, but I am suggesting that the two human beings would have very different experience from each other. They’re both veterans. Fine. But that means nothing. As human beings, they’re worlds apart.

Of course, the video isn’t interested in treating Jim Wolf as a human being. When we aren’t even made privy to his years of service, there’s your giveaway that this isn’t about helping an individual; this is about the manipulation of the audience.

It’s also telling that Wolf doesn’t get any chance to speak. We don’t get to hear his story. I’m sure he has one, but the video is more interested in the fact that a disheveled man gets a haircut. What, exactly, is meant to be inspiring about this again?

Well, I’ll tell you: the music and the editing. That’s what’s meant to inspire. Not the substance (because there is none), not Wolf’s story (because it actively prevents us from hearing it), and not the assurance that Wolf is going to be any better off (because…well, we’ll get to that).

The score builds and layers and rollicks toward triumph, and the time-lapse nature of the editing hurtles toward a grand reveal. It’s a bait and switch, and one borrowed from the most deliberately misleading film trailers. It wants to generate a certain feeling in us, but it’s a feeling that the material itself cannot provide. It’s the hollowest possible kind of “inspiration,” and it’s one that only works because it withholds the humanity.

What if Wolf spoke? Well, he probably wouldn’t sound like Ryan Gosling or Alec Baldwin so it’s not worth hearing him. After all, he might sound human. Or, worse, he might sound like the actual homeless guy that he is. You know…raspy and sick and probably a little upset that the country he served is now content to let him sleep outside on frigid nights. We can’t let that come across, otherwise the haircut might seem…oh…a little silly.

Wolf has a problem. That problem is the country he lives in. That problem is that country’s approach to dealing with the sick and the poor and the unemployed and the homeless.

That problem is emphatically not going to be solved by a haircut, a shave, and a necktie. And yet this makeover video wants you to come away feeling that it is solved that way. Because that’s easy. That’s visual. And, what’s more, it’s easy on the eye.

This constant whitewashing of our problems is the problem.

You don’t fix what’s wrong with your society through makeovers, through songs, or through speeches. You stand up and you say, “This is wrong. This is a problem. And we are going roll up our sleeves and we are going to fix this because if we see something is wrong and we don’t do that, then who are we?”

And then you know what we do?

We actually do that.

We don’t make a video about it.

We don’t circulate a link on Facebook.

We don’t wear a ribbon or put a sticker on our car.

We get. The fuck. To work.

And if we don’t do that…then who are we?

Of course, all of my points above are moot in the face of the fact that this Homeless Veteran Magic Haircut (patent pending) turned Jim Wolf’s life around.

Right?

…right?

Well, let’s look at all two of the unverifiable sentences that suggest that that’s the case. The first one reads, in its entirety, “Since filming, Jim has taken control of his life.”

Huh. Well, ya don’t say.

What does that mean exactly? What can that mean? The lengths to which the video goes to keep any specific information about Wolf away from us is almost frightening.

Forget Wolf for a moment. Do you have control of your life? Do I? Of course not. How could we? Life is full of curveballs and unexpected obstacles and problems that need to be overcome. What does it mean to “take control” of one’s life?

Does it mean you find employment? Find love? Manage to scrape together enough change to buy groceries? Live through the night? Get handed a blanket by a good Samaritan?

It’s different for everybody. Which is why it’s entirely meaningless. It’s a nice thing to hear, but it says, again, precisely nothing.

Jim Wolf is not a human being. At least, not in the eyes of this video. Jim Wolf is a homeless veteran, brought into a studio to be made a spectacle of. The filmmakers don’t care about him, and they didn’t. If they did, they’d know something about him. And therefore so would we. Instead, for all we know, he’s back on the streets.

Oh, but the second slide reads (again, in its entirety), “He is now scheduled to have his own housing and is attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for the first time ever.”

Well, that’s more specific. …kinda.

What does “scheduled to have his own housing” mean? It still sounds suspiciously like “nothing” to me. And does that mean he’s still sleeping on the streets? Couldn’t Degage Ministries — who so kindly pulled a homeless man off the streets to solicit donations and then released him back onto the streets — give him a place to stay? Maybe they did, but then why wouldn’t they say that?

After all, if their objective is to inspire me with this magical video, I can say conclusively that I’d be far more inspired by hearing that some ministry gave a homeless man food, clothing and shelter than I am by hearing that some ministry gave him a haircut and a pat on the back. And I’d hope to God that you would be, too.

There’s also a grammatical issue with the AA claim, as you can’t keep “attending” something “for the first time ever.” Due to that I’m not even sure what the truth is. Did he go once? Does he keep going? I think it’s the latter, but how would they know that? He can stop at any time. And even if he doesn’t, should this really be his priority when he still doesn’t have a place to live?

The video isn’t inspiring. The video is sickening. By taking a homeless man and framing a shave and a haircut as the solution to his problem, they’re robbing the problem of its bite. They’re making it something we need to worry less about. And, what’s more, it makes all those dirty, bearded homeless people look like they just don’t care. After all, if they really wanted to turn their lives around, they’d put on a tie. Just look what it did for old Jim Wolf!

Don’t circulate the video. Please. And if somebody you respect does, send them here. Or talk to them about it.

You’re not stupid if you looked at this and felt inspired. That’s what it was designed to make you feel.

But you shouldn’t feel inspired by anything that takes a serious, profound problem with the very core of the society in which you live, and presents it as trivial and easily overcome.

You’re better than that. And Jim Wolf, whoever he is, wherever he is, deserves better than that. The truly respectful thing to do for Wolf would be to treat him as a human being. This video decidedly does not.

Thank you for your service, Jim. And I’m sorry this happened to you.

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

Quick recap. Episode 1: An alien crashes to Earth and a family decides to harbor him illegally. Episode 2: ALF orders a pizza. Episode 3: The cat runs away. Following on from that pattern of wasted potential I half expected episode 4 to be about Willie getting a haircut. Or maybe Lynn breaking a nail.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me, but if I were creating a show about an alien, I’d probably make use of the fact that he’s an alien. I guess that’s why I’m not writing any sitcoms, and I’m just a lowly technical writer with a fantastic body and a hot tub full of super models. :(

It’s just so strange to me that every episode of ALF so far plays like a minor rewrite to another hypothetical show about a family who adopts a hobo. ALF is a little uncouth, and not totally respectful of other people’s privacy, but that just makes him a dick. It doesn’t make him an alien. If you were to tell me that this was originally supposed to be a show about somebody’s asshole uncle who moved into the house, I’m not sure I’d be able to find much evidence to the contrary in the show itself.

Case in point, this episode is about the family needing a second phone line because ALF is always calling political talk shows. For Christ’s sake, why can’t they write an episode about some space germs ALF introduces into the house? Maybe that’s the series finale.

So, yes, the episode begins with ALF and Brian watching a live panel debate about nuclear arms, and it does a great job of reminding us that Brian’s just your average, run of the mill 6-year-old kid. He hops out of bed on a Saturday morning to watch Meet the Press in his jim-jams, just like all toddlers who grew up in the 80s.

Seriously, I can buy that ALF would watch this, but why doesn’t Brian want to watch Pee-Wee’s Playhouse or something instead? What kind of kid is invested in foreign affairs?

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

Lynn comes in complaining that ALF is always hogging the phone, and then Willie comes home complaining that ALF is always hogging the phone. Nobody seems to have any problem with the fact that he’s hogging the phone in order to broadcast his alien voice and viewpoints live on a national news broadcast.

In fairness, Kate does handwave this somewhat: she says she doesn’t mind him calling the show because it keeps him out of the kitchen. Of course, I prefer to think that this is just an excuse, and Kate’s really hoping that ALF will accidentally out himself as an alien on live television and the Alien Task Force will come to the house and shoot him to death. Kate, if this is what you’re hoping for, leave Willie. You and I would be so happy together.

This conflict of the monopolized phone line is just riveting. I’ll probably say this in every review, but it boggles my mind that the writing staff doesn’t think it’s worth having ALF do anything alien. Why do they believe that it’s funnier if he’s just a bad roommate? I honestly don’t get it.

ALF tells the unseen political panel that he has a solution to the problem of nuclear weapons: “Get rid of them.”

It’s not hilarious or anything, but I actually kind of like that. It’s nice that he’s naive about this. As the panel tells him, he’s oversimplifying the problem. And he is. But he’s an alien, so that’s good. It’s good that his alien mind sees complicated and dangerous concepts as simple things that we should just “get rid of.” It’s insightful (accidentally so, I’m sure, but still) and it goes a short way back toward turning ALF into a creature that doesn’t quite “get” Earth.

Then I remember that he knows how call-in political talk shows work and I realize it’s meaningless to try to give this shit any credit.

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

We get our normal credits sequence, including the little scene of Lynn talking on the phone in her closet. I draw attention to this because the very last thing before the credits is Lynn telling Willie that she needs her own phone. So she doesn’t have one? How long is this cord that she can take the living room phone upstairs and into her closet?

Whatever. Willie offers Lynn the possibility of call waiting instead. Wow, call waiting! Remember that? That was such a big thing when I was growing up. There were ads on television about it and it seemed so incredible that somebody could call you while you were on the phone. Then everyone got the internet and realized that call waiting would fuck up your connection and you’d have to start downloading the naked woman all over again. Man…wild times.

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

ALF is in the shed doing something that is emphatically not related to getting his fucking space ship off the roof. Willie walks in with some Chinese food for him* and sees him dicking around with the ham radio. He doesn’t say that this is what he sees, but since he’s a human being with two eyes and I’m a human being with two eyes I can pretty safely deduce that he sees this happening. Bear that in mind as we move forward, because the show certainly doesn’t.

In giving ALF his twice cooked pork, Willie reveals that he took elocution lessons from Borat by calling it “twaayce cooked poo-ohrk.” Max Wright’s line readings are something I will never get used to. Christopher Walken can take oddly emphasized speech and elevate it to a form of art. Max Wright just sounds like he’s constantly trying to clear mashed potatoes out of his throat.

I hated it as a kid, and it doesn’t play any better now than it did then. I remember when Friends premiered and he played a barista or something. Even though I had been a young’un who loved this stupid show, when I recognized him I didn’t think, “Oh, hey! It’s the dad from ALF!” I thought, “Come on. This fuckin’ guy again?”

Anyway, Willie babbles to ALF for a while about family and ALF keeps asking him to pass tools his way. Something magical happens here, because that leads to a legitimately funny moment. Willie, in the middle of his speech, says, “You see, a family is like…”

Then ALF says, “Pliers.”

And Willie says, “Yes. Or a crescent wrench.”

It’s not hilarious or anything, and it’s nothing we haven’t seen a thousand times before, but this is competent comedy. By ALF standards, that’s impressive. Instead of just throwing a handful of shit into the air and letting it fall onto some blank pages, the writers actually made an effort here to have two different things going on in the same room, and then intertwined them in service of a punchline.

That may sound like faint praise, but I am actually kind of impressed by this. Then again, the rest of the episode does seem to have been generated by writers who threw a handful of shit into the air and let it fall onto some blank pages so I guess I shouldn’t be so quick to enjoy this show.

ALF tells Willie to hold onto some exposed wiring while ALF switches the machine on, and Willie does it.

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

Um.

Fucking what.

What the fucking what.

WHAT?

Why would Willie have done this? What purpose would it have served for him to do this? I buy that ALF would do this shitty ass thing to the people who love him, because he’s always doing shitty ass things to the people who love him, but why in crap’s name would Willie grab a fistful of naked wires and watch ALF turn the machine on?

It doesn’t make any sense. It’s like that League of Gentlemen “Put your hand in!” sketch, in which the owner of a joke shop coerces someone into sticking his hand into an ominous tube, and then electrocutes him with a car battery. However that sketch had a thousand times more characterization than this entire show. The shop owner was quite clearly deranged, the customer was terrified, and the owner locked the door and refused to let the man leave until he did as he was told. It was dark, as it should have been, and it was at least somewhat terrifying as well.

ALF shocking Willie is the same thing, but “one guy shocks another guy” isn’t a joke on its own. You have to do something with it. The League of Gentlement used a predictable outcome to spin a nightmare in miniature. ALF just says “Yo Willie Imma shock you” and Willie says “cool ALF ok thx.”

That isn’t a joke, any more than it would be a joke for me to give you a hammer and tell you to smack yourself in the nuts.

And what the hell does Willie have in his front pocket during this scene? It looks like he’s carrying his letters of transit so he can leave Casablanca. Why would you stuff a character’s shirt pocket with thick, obtrusive documents unless he’s going to read them or refer to them at some point? This is so weird. Maybe it was just Max Wright’s suicide note for when the scene was finished, and he chickened out.

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

Willie notices that ALF was screwing around with his ham radio, and gets upset. This is a bit strange since he watched ALF screw around with the ham radio, then handed him tools so that he could more effectively screw around with the ham radio, then reached his own hand into the ham radio that ALF screwed with so that ALF could continue to screw with the ham radio and shock him with his own ham radio. Needless to say, Willie is surprised to learn at this point that ALF was SCREWING AROUND WITH HIS FUCKING HAM RADIO.

The radio is destroyed (temporarily, because this is a sitcom) and Willie complains that it took him ten years to build it.

No.

No. It did not take you ten years to build a ham radio, Willie. That’s inconceivable.

I remember seeing those kits at Radio Shack. I’m sure they weren’t easy to build, but it’s nothing that required a decade’s worth of work. Even if you didn’t have much time to work on it, I can’t imagine any reasonably intelligent human being wouldn’t have it done in a couple of months, at the most. If it took you much longer than that, you’d probably just give up and concede that you don’t know how to build a ham radio. You don’t keep working on it for longer than your fucking son has been alive.

The only way building this radio would have taken ten years is if Willie first had to teach himself fluent English so he could read the manual.

It’s just so ridiculous. If he’d said it took him one year, I wouldn’t complain. That’s still a long time, but it’s understandable. And it’s still a large enough investment of time that Willie could rightfully be upset. But for crying out loud the thing is the size of a toaster oven. He’s not restoring a classic car; he’s plugging things into other things.

Ugh this fuckin’ radio.

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

Anyway, Willie forgets about being mad that ALF destroyed something important to him, which is sort of this guy’s only character trait I guess, and ALF explains that he was doing something to the radio so that he could call Air Force One and talk to the president.

Again…mother effing what? Why wouldn’t he call the White House? It’s still a bad idea, but at least that’s where the president is. I don’t understand this.

He confides to Willie, though, that the reason he’s calling is that he wants to talk about nuclear weapons. He’s concerned about them, because that’s how Melmac was destroyed.

Now this is interesting. And it’s effectively dark. That’s…kind of sad. The planet didn’t just blow up on its own…there was some kind of accident or war, a weapon of mass destruction detonated, and an entire intelligent civilization was destroyed. This was an unexpected reveal, and I like it.

Of course it sort of undercuts what I perceived as ALF’s naivete earlier in the episode, when he called the show. ALF no longer has a well-meaning but uneducated alien’s perspective…he’s a dude who comes from a planet that had the same problem we have, and he still has the oversimplified “get rid of them” attitude. I don’t know…this doesn’t bother me or anything — outside of the fact that, once again, ALF understands everything on Earth — but it seems strange to me that ALF is so passionate about this obviously impossible advice.

Willie informs ALF that it’s illegal to descramble the president’s secret radio frequency. Uh, okay Willie. I’ll take your word for that.

ALF counters that it’s also illegal to steal HBO, which the Tanner family does. Willie understands that these two things are absolutely equal and leaves ALF to hack into the government. I know the episode needs ALF to place the call, but what kind of rationalization was this for letting ALF do it? It would have been better writing to just have Willie spontaneously combust.

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

In the next scene ALF successfully calls Air Force One, and we get a look at the set. I’m not sure if it’s a joke on the part of ALF‘s writers that it looks like an office right out of a Monty Python skit, or if they actually believe that Air Force One is just a flying White House. The set is also perfectly still and we don’t see any stars or lights through the windows, so maybe these assholes are just sitting in some dark hangar somewhere playing house. Who fuckin’ knows.

The guy who played Les Nessman answers the phone, and he thanks the caller for dialing Air Force One and asks how he can help. So, wait. Again. WAIT AGAIN. I thought this was some super secret scrambled presidential frequency? Why is this guy answering the phone like strangers call it all the time? Why would the frequency be scrambled unless only massively important people should be getting through? If that secret phone rings you’d better answer it “Yes, Mr. Vice President” or something. Not “Thank you for calling the totally impenetrable Air Force One help line, how may I direct your call?”

Les asks the other airborne clerical assistant if he should patch the caller through to the president. Sure! Why the fuck not!?

What kind of question is this? Who are these idiots? What is their role in the government even meant to be?

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

The other guy looks kind of like an off-brand Chevy Chase, and he worries that it might be a call from a communist. Uh, okay. He takes the call and tells ALF that he can’t put Mr. Reagan on the line because the president is taking a shit. I’m not joking. But I guess this explains that ALF called Air Force One because the president wasn’t at home. How the hell did he know that?

Chevy Lite asks him what he’s calling about, and ALF says that he’s calling about “the bombs.” Ominous music plays, and I’m not sure why. These guys can’t hear it…only we can, in the audience, and we know ALF isn’t a terrorist. What kind of tension was the show trying to create?

The guy ends his call with ALF and pulls a red telephone out of his desk drawer. It’s a corded phone so I don’t know how or why it would be stashed in a desk drawer, but then again I’ve never been on Air Force One and I’m positive the ALF team did their research.

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

Willie presents a telephone usage chart that he made to his family. Man, this episode is really bringing me back. Remember the days before PowerPoint? That was when all presentations were done in the media of glitter paint and elbow macaroni.

Lynn is wearing a bolo.

I don’t have anything to say about that. I just really wanted to make sure you noticed that Lynn was wearing a bolo.

Kate points out a problem with the chart: Brian’s telephone time is at 11 o’clock, which is past his bed time. I’m not sure who a six-year-old boy needs to be calling at any time of day, but Kate’s pretty adamant that he gets to do it.

Willie proposes that he switch that time with Lynn’s, so that she can call her boyfriend at 11 o’clock instead. Lynn replies that that’s past her boyfriend’s bedtime as well, and the audience laughs, so I guess the joke is that Lynn is fucking a six-year-old kid.

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

The FBI shows up, but it’s not because Lynn just confessed to the ongoing sexual violation of a child. They’re here to arrest Willie, as they traced ALF’s call and they conclude that the guy with a different name and a different voice is their man.

I actually looked up one of the FBI guys because I could have sworn he played Waldo Faldo or someone else I recognized from another show. It turns out he was a regular character on Designing Women, and I’m kind of amazed I’d remember anyone from that show. Did I really watch that much Designing Women as a kid? Man, I had some embarrassing taste in television shows.

Anyway, yes, this sucks, but Willie really has no room to complain since he walked out of the shed and let ALF call the president. This one’s kind of on him.

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

The next act opens with Willie in jail, while Kate just kind of hangs around, leaning on the bars. Federal prison sure was lax in the late 80s! Kate loudly wonders why the alien who secretly lives in their house would call the president, but it’s totally okay because the guard is almost a whole sixteen inches away from her so there’s no way he heard that.

Willie, to his credit, tells Kate to hush. To his much greater discredit, however, he then starts talking even more loudly and more directly about the alien that secretly lives in their house. Why did the writers bother having this guard here? This scene would make so much more sense if they weren’t paying some extra $15 to dress like a policeman and stand there, somehow not hearing this obviously crucial information.

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

Officer Designingwomen shows up and wants to talk to Willie about the chart he made. He asks whose names are written on it, which makes it pretty clear that the FBI hasn’t even done cursory research on Willie, since those are the members of his immediate family, one of whom was literally standing right there when he arrived, and all of whom were in the same room when he got arrested.

This guy is a suspected terrorist, but they don’t bother to research him at all? They just politely ask him questions? Why does every arm of the government operate on the honor system in this show?

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

ALF and Brian watch footage of Willie’s arrest. Where did this footage come from? There weren’t any cameras. AGH I DON’T CARE.

Lynn walks in and gets upset that they’re jacking off to video of the only Tanner who works getting arrested, so, hey, good on her.

ALF tells her not to worry, though, because he has a plan: he’ll just call the president again and tell him to pardon Willie. Everyone agrees this is a solid plan because Willie fed them paint chips instead of letting them breast feed.

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

ALF calls Les Nessman again and it’s daylight through the windows. Why is Air Force One still in the sky? I don’t get it. Do ALF‘s writers believe its purpose is just to orbit the Earth continuously?

Not only is Air Force One still flying around the world, but Reagan is still taking a crap. Or maybe it’s a totally separate crap. I don’t know. I’m just mad that the show is even making me wonder about things like this.

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

They patch ALF through to Reagan’s shitterphone — seriously, what kind of show is this? — and then we cut back to the shed where ALF has a conversation with someone doing a bad impression of our 40th president.

While this happens, Brian sits behind him glancing intermittently into the camera and scratching his armpit.

I actually feel a little bad for this kid. If he had been cast on almost any other show, he just would have been some cute little tyke that got to say silly things that made the audience go “Awwwww.” Instead he’s on ALF, and his job is to shut up and sit next to a puppet.

ALF launches into his disarmament spiel — which is why ALF is remembered to this day for its brilliant social commentary — and then Reagan agrees to send some folks around to ALF’s place to talk about it. ALF celebrates by hugging Brian at crotch level and stroking his hips.

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

Jesus Christ this show.

Anyway, the FBI guys show up again, but Brian pretends he was the one who made the calls. The FBI wonders for about 20 seconds whether or not they should take any kind of action, and I have to admit…it’s a tough call. On the one hand, some little kid keeps hacking into the United States government’s private telecommunications network, making prank calls about nuclear war, and wasting the time of federal agents that could instead be investigating actual threats to national security. But on the other hand, the episode’s almost over.

Willie gets to go free for the same reason, and everyone gathers around to look at the plaque President Reagan sent to Brian.

ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

It’s some kind of official commendation, I guess for repeatedly causing undue panic with vague threats of domestic terrorism.

Willie is proud, though it’s unclear why, especially since he’s been waterboarded for the past 24 hours and his entire family will be on the no-fly list for the rest of their natural lives.

The episode ends with ALF calling the same talk show again, but nobody cares about that, because Willie agrees to get a second phone line.

And so ends the most obviously pre-9/11 episode of anything I’ve ever seen.

MELMAC FACTS: Melmac was destroyed in some kind of nuclear mishap. I know we meet some other refugees from the planet later on, so I wonder if this is ever elaborated upon. I hope so…which pretty conclusively means it won’t be.

—–
* I doubt this is an “eating cats” joke. But…if you want it to be, there ya go.

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