Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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ALF, "Baby, You Can Drive My Car"
Wow…ten episodes! We’re inching our way toward the midway point of season one, and the excitement is palpable. Wait, not excitement. That other thing. Excrement.

I really do have to wonder if the later episodes get better than this. Granted, I didn’t expect this show to be great viewing as an adult, and I certainly didn’t have the most discerning taste as a child, but what I’m really surprised by is how absolutely boring ALF is. For a show about an alien, it certainly isn’t doing anything interesting. ALF’s just a bad roommate, or an annoying house guest. He’s not an alien.

Sure, he might talk about his home planet every so often. And the script might refer to him as an alien. But he’s not one. Because if he were an alien, he’d have plots that reflected that fact…at least sometimes. But here? Once again? It’s a plot that could have been filled by some irritating uncle. He buys Lynn a car, and everyone’s upset because the gesture was made behind their backs. Wow, classic alien comedy right there.

So, yeah, the episode opens with Lynn talking on the phone to a friend, and Andrea Elson uses everything she learned about acting from playing Nutcracker #8 in her fifth grade Christmas pageant to clumsily reassure her friend that she will be borrowing her parents’ car later.

Then Brian comes in with a bunch of lint from the dryer because ALF thought it was worth something, but it’s not, so he tells Brian to throw it out and we get our opening credits.

If this is what “Baby, You Can Drive My Car” decided to lead with, then we must be in for a real doozy.

ALF, "Baby, You Can Drive My Car"

Once the credits end, Lynn goes through the exact same telephone conversation with her friend, just in case anyone tuned in late and would otherwise be confused by ALF‘s labyrinthine narrative style.

Willie and Kate come home with groceries, and Lynn is upset because the car broke down and was brought home by a tow truck. ALF thinks she says “toe truck,” and repeats the same joke over and over again in which he questions why a truck would be full of toes.

It doesn’t even build to anything. It’s just ALF repeating the word “toes” while the recorded dead people yuk it up. Watching moments like this in ALF is like watching a sitcom in another country, where you don’t know the language. Somebody on screen says something and the audience goes nuts, and you have no idea what was meant to be funny. Here, though, I understand everything that’s being said. It makes me feel like I’ve suffered a serious concussion and need to see a doctor.

Anyway, there’s no punchline to the brilliant toe material; ALF just repeats the same joke for the thousandth time and the scene fades out. It’s like we can literally see the show give up.

The car isn’t going anywhere, so Lynn cancels her plans to see The Pretenders in concert. Instead she has to settle for listening to her “Brass in Pocket” cassingle on her Walkman, while she sits in a fluorescent bean bag chair, wearing high-top sneakers and eating Pop Rocks, and various other references to 1980s teen culture.

While she does this ALF attempts to goad Willie into buying Lynn a car, and I’m not sure why. I mean, it’s possible that he thinks Lynn will shuttle him around now and again, like she did when he went to meet Jodie (hello Jodie! Hope you’re still lonely!), but it’s never very clear what his motivation is here.

Why is he going to bat for Lynn? Especially when all that happened is that she missed a concert. It’s not like the car breaking down made her miss her SATs, or her college entrance interview or something important. This isn’t really the time to lobby for a car for the teenaged girl when the more pressing issue is that Willie needs a functional car to get to and from work.

Willie has a different reason for declining, though: they used up all their credit fixing the garage after ALF crashed his space-ship into it. In a way, I’m happy because this suggests that they finally took the space-ship down off the roof. However that just raises the further question of where it is now. Seriously, where could they have stashed that thing? It was too big to bring inside. Did they just bury it in the yard like a dead hamster?

Lynn comes back in and Willie and Kate offer to pitch in half of the money for a car, but Lynn will have to pay for the rest. This is totally fair, and Lynn jumps right on board, offering to get a job immediately. Willie and Kate are hesitant, though, because Lynn’s grades aren’t very good and they’re afraid a job would only make it harder for her to study.

So…what? I don’t get this. They make the offer of paying for half of the car, and tell her she’ll have to pitch in the rest. That’s fine. But then they actively stand in her way when she volunteers to do the only thing that will enable her to get money. Why did they even make the offer? Were they just hoping she’d prostitute herself out a few times instead?

ALF, "Baby, You Can Drive My Car"

ALF helps Lynn study for…I don’t know. I have no clue what they’re studying for. It seems like a job interview, but Lynn literally got this idea about thirty seconds ago, so there’s no way she’d have one lined up already. Either way, ALF is helping her study the official handbook of Mr. Jim’s Chicken & Oysters. How did he get that? I have no idea. I don’t even know why the fake audience of long-dead relatives laughs like crazy whenever somebody says “chicken and oysters.” Is there a joke there I don’t understand?

Lynn falls asleep while studying and Kate comes in to check on her, at which point ALF bawls her out for forcing Lynn to get a job.

But…wait. Again, wait. Huh?

Let’s walk through this from the start. The problem is that Lynn doesn’t have a car. Fine. Willie and Kate offer to pay for half of it, if Lynn can pay for the rest. That’s also fine…and it’s the last time anything makes any sense in this episode, because immediately both Willie and Kate forbid Lynn to get a job. Next scene, ALF yells at Kate for forcing Lynn to get one.

I can’t even follow this. What’s happening? Did they get several drafts of the script mixed up while they were filming? Why is it so hard to keep it consistent? They can either want her to get a job or want her to not get a job, and either is fine. Just pick one and stick with it. I don’t see the benefit of jumping back and forth without even being aware that that’s what they’re having the characters do.

ALF, "Baby, You Can Drive My Car"

Lynn gets the job, I guess, because she’s in a Mr. Jim’s uniform serving boxed meals to her family. There is a pretty funny moment — the requisite one per episode — when she gives her little brother a kid’s meal and a “game card.” He asks her how it works, and she says that if you scratch it off and uncover three oysters, you win a free pack of cigarettes. I can’t express how grateful I am to that One Good Writer…

Then Lynn walks out of the room to get changed and because she doesn’t have any more lines. Willie and Kate, of course, then further confuse the issue of just what the fuck they want: Kate says that they should buy Lynn the car outright, and Willie replies that it’s important that Lynn sees this job through.

SO AGAIN.

FUCKING WHAT.

Do they support her decision to get a job or not? Again, either is fine…but which is it? First they want her to earn money, then they don’t want her to get a job, then they force her to get a job (off-camera, apparently), then Kate doesn’t want her to get a job, then Willie says it’s important that she has a job. The dead people aren’t laughing so I know this isn’t some intentionally comic flip-flopping; it really is just the work of writers who never bothered to figure out ahead of time how these characters were supposed to act, and then also never bothered to go back and give the script a second pass after it was done.

What a terribly written show.

ALF comes in and asks where Lynn is, and Kate says she’s getting changed. ALF calls out to her and Lynn answers from what sounds like about ten feet away, so I guess she’s getting changed in the living room? The Tanners are one fucked up family.

ALF, "Baby, You Can Drive My Car"

ALF bought Lynn a Ferrari, because of course he did. He’s an alien without a job who can’t leave the house. What else would he do but buy expensive cars for people?

How does he do it? Well, all of the plumbing in his space-ship was gold, apparently, and he worked through a broker to cash it out and buy the car. The fact that he worked with a broker who never wanted to meet him personally doesn’t bother me too much, because I absolutely believe that there would be crooked enough folks out there that won’t ask any questions when presented with enough money. Especially in a comedy show. That’s absolutely fair game.

What does bother me is the idea that ALF somehow stripped his space-ship apart completely, and pulled out all of the solid gold plumbing without having anybody notice him doing this. Wouldn’t that have been a pretty huge job? And, again, just where is the space-ship? How was this done without anybody ever being aware?

And so much for fixing the thing, I guess. This is probably just ALF’s way of ensuring they’ll never fix it while he’s sleeping and fire him off back into space. What a dick.

What bothers me even more is the fact that with a very small tweak, this could have been a more alien story after all. Instead of giving ALF a broker and having him understand innately how to make large purchases in Earth currency, they could have just had him get it wrong. He could have seen a television commercial advertising “no interest, no payments,” or something, and ALF assumes that means the car is free. Cut to the Ferrari in the driveway and Willie freaking out because he knows they’ll have to pay for it.

That works a lot better — in a lot of ways — than a puppet buying the car outright with his own heretofore unmentioned cache of golden plumbing.

ALF, "Baby, You Can Drive My Car"

Willie calls everyone back into the kitchen, except for ALF, to have a talk. He’s not comfortable with the fact that the family now owns a $90,000 car, but for some reason he is comfortable enough to leave that $90,000 car in the unsupervised care of an irresponsible alien. It’s fine, though, I’m sure, because there’s absolutely no chance of ALF fucking everything up.

He wants them to return the car, but Lynn wants to keep it. They talk for a bit about why it’s not a good idea for Lynn to have a car like that, and then Willie decides that they’ll wait until tomorrow to return it, and that’s fine, I’m sure, because there’s absolutely no chance of ALF fucking everything up.

Then the family stops and listens for a moment to hear the sound of ALF fucking everything up.

Who would have guessed??

ALF, "Baby, You Can Drive My Car"

They run outside just in time to see ALF speeding off into the night. He left skidmarks behind in the driveway, because it was cheaper to show that than a puppet driving a $90,000 car around a studio backlot.

Personally, I don’t see what the problem is here. This alien’s been fucking things up for ten weeks solid. If he wants to pilot an unfamiliar vehicle through the dark at dangerous speeds, more power to him. Change the locks and thank Christ he was the first to go.

The phone rings inside so they all go back into the kitchen to answer it, because having a group of people walk from the kitchen to the driveway and then back to the kitchen over and over again really makes for some fantastic television.

ALF, "Baby, You Can Drive My Car"

It’s ALF calling from the car phone. He’s on his way to Oxnard, where he’s invested in a mango farm.

The fuck is this show.

Seriously. The fuck. Is this show.

There’s some limp worry about somebody seeing ALF, but he assuages their fears by telling them he’s driving too fast to be seen. Then a bee flies into the car and ALF flips out and the line goes dead.

ALF, "Baby, You Can Drive My Car"

Once again, good. Fine. Let the fucker go.

This isn’t an instance of ALF stumbling into something and needing help…the assball bought this car himself, climbed into the car himself, started the car himself, sped out into the night himself, and is now dicking around on a highway himself. If a bee flies into the car and he crashes into a ditch and bleeds to death, good riddance.

But Willie is worried about him. I have no idea why. I really don’t. Let him crash. Let the government scoop him up, dead or alive. ALF needs to face some consequence for his actions, or you’re going to have him piloting vehicles he doesn’t know how to drive along unfamiliar roads every other night. Why do they allow this shit to continue?

Anyway, guess where they go next.

No, seriously. Guess.

Do they go to bed? Do they hang out in the shed? Do they go to Mrs. Ochmonek’s house?

No, they go back to the driveway. Almost all of this episode consists of these idiots walking back and forth between the kitchen and the driveway. Were all of the other sets being fumigated this week or something?

ALF, "Baby, You Can Drive My Car"

They go back to the driveway because they hear a crash, and sure enough ALF drove the car into the garage. Hilarious. It’s also covered in filth and branches so I guess he was smashing his way through the neighborhood, which you would think might convince this family of imbeciles that it’s about time to start laying down some rules. Instead they just rush to the car to make sure he’s okay. Fortunately he is, and the Tanners are relieved that he will still be around to drive them ever deeper into debt.

Willie, to his credit, starts screaming his ass off at ALF. But is this really the wisest thing to do right now, in the driveway? Think about it. If you were sitting in your house right now, and you heard a car squealing down the street that then collided with your neighbor’s garage, wouldn’t you at least look out the window to make sure everything was alright? What if someone was dying out there? What if it started a fire? You’d at least take a look to see if you should call for help, and that would doubly be the case if you then heard a loud altercation taking place immediately afterward.

But, no. Nobody comes out to see what’s wrong, so Willie’s perfectly safe screaming at a naked alien in plain sight. Maybe ALF’s assorted antics over the past 10 weeks have killed off the rest of the neighborhood.

Anyway, ALF makes amends to Willie by promising the sell the car the next day, and using the money to fix the garage. Willie is happy with this, and nobody seems to realize that they might have a hard time selling a totaled motor vehicle that was just driven through the side of a house. But, hey, what do I know about cars, right?

ALF, "Baby, You Can Drive My Car"

Somebody does buy the car, I fucking guess, because the next day the garage is fixed and Brian and ALF are in the driveway repairing Willie’s old car. These are exactly the two people in this house that should be working unsupervised on somebody’s engine, so I’ve got absolutely no concerns with this development at all.

Willie comes over and is touched by the fact that two people who have no experience of cars short of driving them through people’s yards and destroying the house with them have taken it upon themselves to dick around with his only form of transportation. He even shows his appreciation by climbing into the driver’s seat and turning to wither the souls of everyone watching at home:

ALF, "Baby, You Can Drive My Car"

Willie then tries to back out of the driveway but ends up crashing into the garage again, and I honestly have no idea what the joke is here.

Did ALF and Brian ruin the car and cause this to happen?

Is Willie just a dipshit?

I have no clue. Either way all of the cars are now wrecked, the house is destroyed, and nobody has any money, so the episode is over.

I don’t even have anything to say about this one. What a heap of garbage. I could summarize the plot by saying that the Tanner family ran into and out of the house a bunch of times, and then some cars got crashed. This one was almost as bad as “Strangers in the Night” in terms of how clumsily it was put together. Nothing really happened, and even then it felt needlessly complicated. What could the pitch session for this episode even have been like?

I don’t know. I can’t invest too much thought into this trash. The writing staff certainly didn’t.

And does Lynn still have that job? Ugh, who knows.

I’m sick of this, so let me end this review on a joke:

Chicken and oysters.

There. Yuk it up, you dead assholes.

MELMAC FACTS: On Melmac they ate dogs as well as cats. Great. Also gold was worthless there, but foam was very valuable. Interestingly, ALF keeps lapsing into the present tense when talking about Melmac. I wonder if the show will ever “forget” that it’s supposed to be destroyed.

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

So! I know I’ve been bad at planning this, but isn’t the best part of Christmas half-assing everything that you thought you’d have more time to do??? THE ANSWER IS YES.

Anyway, here are the details:

WHAT: The First Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Party!
DATE: This coming Monday, December 23
TIME: 8:00pm – Midnight, Eastern time (calculate the time for your location here)

WHERE: http://www.twitch.tv/philipjreed <--there. I'll post the link again on the day, but that's where it all goes down! DETAILS: We’ll be streaming the first-season Christmas episode of ALF! I’ve already written up my review, but since it won’t be published until after Christmas, I thought this would be a great way for you all to be touched by an alien.

Ahem.

We’ll also be streaming seven (count ’em!) other mystery Christmas specials from various “classic” television shows. I put “classic” in quotation marks because they’re shit. You’ll love it!

A live chatroom will be open throughout the stream, but I think you need to sign up for a twitch.tv account if you’d like to participate in that aspect. I suggest you do…it’s quick and easy. Aaaaand…

If you do log into the chat, you’ll be elligible to participate in the all-night Christmas trivia contest! With real prizes! You might not want any of them, but they are real!

Additionally I’ve recorded an hour’s worth of host segments to link the shows together, so you can count on some great comedy. Even if you don’t like it, it’s great, and the problem is with you.

IN SUMMARY: ALF. Other terrible shows. Comedy. Trivia. Fabulous prizes to be won.

REGISTER: Not necessary to do so, since I’ll be sure to bake enough gingerbread men for all, but if you like you can register for the event on Facebook, and then you’ll get a reminder or something, I think. I don’t know. Either way, though, you should like the Noiseless Chatter page on Facebook. It gets updated a lot more frequently than this blog does.

Seriously, you should come to this. It’s going to be hella rad. And fun. Did I not make that clear? THIS WILL BE FUN.

I’ll see you there! In a way!

An Xsms Carol

December 16th, 2013 | Posted by Philip J Reed in books | internet - (11 Comments)

Since the dawn of time, mankind has worked tirelessly to adapt Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol into as many forms as possible. The original claymation special has been translated into all three languages, and has also been reworked in film, on stage, on paper, on differently-colored paper, and as a thing with Bill Murray in it. But until now, St. Chuck’s dream of an all-text-message version of his tale of ghosts and old people has gone unrealized. Which makes me, if you insist, a kind of literary hero.

But, yeah, basically I just wanted to play around with the idea of how a story like this might unfold in an age of electronic detachment. I think you’ll agree that NONE OF THE IMPACT IS LOST.

Enjoy. And don’t forget to come back one week from today, for the First Annual Noiseless Chatter Christmas Party, which is totally a real thing and it’s live so if you miss it then you might as well kill yourself because it’s gone.

Happy Christmas!

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

A Christmas Carol, in text message form

Fantastic Mr. Fox, Revisited

December 14th, 2013 | Posted by Philip J Reed in film - (0 Comments)

Fantastic Mr. Fox

I have a blind spot in the Wes Anderson filmography, and it’s a deliberate one. It’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, though I’d have a hard time telling you why.

I saw it upon release, in theaters, and it left me cold. That’s a perfectly fair reason, I think, but the fact is that all of Anderson’s films left me at least relatively cold the first time through. The first time I saw Bottle Rocket I was bored out of my mind. While I still don’t like it very much today, subsequent viewings have revealed an awful lot of gorgeous moments and a subtle thematic resonance that I overlooked completely the first time.

The first time I saw Rushmore I slept through almost the whole thing, but when I revisited it several years later, I was in genuine awe of the sheer mastery that went into composing the film. I also slept through part of The Royal Tenenbaums the first time…but I must have been genuinely exhausted then because I went out and bought the film the next day so that I could experience it properly.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is my favorite film of all time…but I remember leaving the theater after the first time thinking it felt a little light. Now I’m writing essays about every scene for Steve Zissou Saturdays, so you can probably see clearly enough that my stance on that has changed as well.

Then there was The Darjeeling Limited, which similarly felt light to me the first time I saw it, and while it’s no Life Aquatic it sure as heck grew in my estimation. The second time I watched it I cried like baby through the entire thing.

Then there’s Moonrise Kingdom, which I admittedly liked quite a lot when I first saw it, and yet it only gets better with each new viewing, and every time it surfaces in my memory I find myself responding to and being moved by more and different things.

But then there’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. While I’ve revisted Anderson’s other films multiple times, and have felt every one of them grow on me to at least some extent, I’ve more or less written off Fantastic Mr. Fox as a failure. I didn’t buy the DVD. I never really thought about it again. In fact, when I analyzed the trailer for the upcoming Grand Budapest Hotel, I suggested that that might be Anderson’s first out-and-out comedy.

…but it’s won’t be. That’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Why I’ve never revisted it, I don’t know. I think I was just afraid that I’d sit down to watch it, and find it to be even worse than I remembered. Maybe I thought it reflected poorly on Anderson as an artist, whereas my previous disappointments reflected more on me as a viewer. I really can’t say.

But I watched it again recently. I watched it again because of how much so many other people seemed to like it. Because of the great defense of the film that my friend David Black wrote for this very site. Because of the conversations in The Wes Anderson Collection* that made me wonder if I’d overlooked what this film really had to offer.

And you know what? It takes a lot for a big bully like me to say this, but…I did.

I did overlook what this film had to offer.

And I’m the one who was poorer for it. Because while this might never stand up to Anderson’s best works in my estimation, it absolutely does belong in their company. It’s a good movie.

One thing reading The Wes Anderson Collection made clear to me was just how much of Anderson himself was in the film. For whatever reason, I had overlooked that completely. I couldn’t tell you why…maybe I was caught up on the fact that, as Royal Tenenbaum himself might have said, it was just a bunch of animals. I doubt it, considering there are at least two childrens’ films that I would put on my list of all-time favorites, but who knows?

The fact is that what I saw in the theater wasn’t what I saw at home a few nights ago. Or, rather, it is, but I saw it in a very different way.

I appreciated the little artistic flourishes that have characterized Anderson’s films…the whip-arounds, the long horizontal pans, the distant action that utilizes dialogue to guide our eyes rather than the motion of the camera. And thanks to reading Anderson’s interview in the book, I realized how much harder it was to do that with entirely artificial sets than it would have been in live action.

I don’t know why, but Fantastic Mr. Fox seemed careless to me when I first saw it. And now I see that it’s not. It’s a bit more upbeat than most of Anderson’s films, but that’s just due to its silliness. When you look at it, Mr. Fox follows the same trajectory of Anderson’s best characters. He has something, isn’t satisfied with it, believes he’s capable of more, and ends up losing nearly everything he had to begin with. Then he gets something back, learns a little more about who he is, and ends the film in a state of relative triumph that is still beneath where he started.

Don’t ask me how I missed all that, but I did. I remembered the dancing. The snarling. The silly music that played while they tunneled around like cartoon characters. I think I wanted Anderson to do for stop-motion what he did for live action, which is filter it through his incredible, inimitable artistic voice. Instead, he made a stop-motion film that just happened to have been composed by Wes Anderson.

That’s not a bad thing. And because I was seeing it as a bad thing, I missed out.

I missed out on the small moments. I missed out on that scene between Mr. and Mrs. Fox in front of the underground waterfall. I missed out on the melancholy personal journey of poor Ash. I missed out on the glorious scene with the distant wolf.

And I missed out on the humanity. These are still characters. There a moments when tears well up, but then don’t fall. There are sounds of life and a larger universe in the background of almost every scene. There’s a strange, warped camaraderie that grows between Mr. Fox and Kylie.

This time, watching it again, I was open to that. I went into it knowing more of what to expect. And because I knew what to expect, I was primed to look for things around the margins. To not get hung up on the fact that I was watching a fox in corduroy dancing around a hen house. I was prepared, instead, to engage the film for what it was, and not for what I wanted it to be.

I was wrong. It is a good movie. It’s not the movie I would have made, but that doesn’t matter, because I didn’t make it. And the fact that I didn’t frees me to appreciate what it actually is.

There’s no better feeling in the world than realizing that as wrong as you were, that particular work of art won’t hold it against you. It’s yours to have, and to appreciate, and to let yourself understand.

—–
* By the way, if you do have a Wes Anderson fan on your Christmas list, this is a brilliant, wonderful, fantastic book. It’s absolutely gorgeous. I’ll be reviewing it at some point…but in the meantime, I’ll just say right now that there’s no Wes Anderson fan in the world that could possibly be disappointed by this. It’s a thing of beauty in itself.

ALF, "Jump"
Alright, guys and gals. Strap yourselves in because this one is a da-hoo-zy.

…no, it’s not. It’s actually just a half hour of Willie mumbling to himself about how worthless he is. And, I have to admit, that’s definitely the way to get me on your side, but man is this episode lousy.

It starts off with Willie’s birthday party. Couldn’t they have spaced out these plots a little bit? Two episodes ago it was Brian’s birthday, and right before this we had three episodes in a row about ALF being in love with different women. This show hasn’t even hit ten episodes yet; does it really need to be repeating itself this much?

I don’t understand. It’s a show about an alien, for crying out loud. It shouldn’t be that difficult to come up with ideas for plots. Certainly not so difficult that in episode nine you have to throw up your hands and say, “Fuck it, we’ll do another birthday.”

Maybe this was the idea all along. Write a handful of scripts and then make minor alterations to them over and over until the show is cancelled. I can’t wait until the holidays; I’m hoping they do five Christmas episodes in a row.

Anyway, Willie is turning 45. And good for him; he doesn’t look a day over 60.

ALF, "Jump"

Willie kisses ALF.

I don’t have anything to say about that; I just wanted to take a screen grab in case you were interested in having it for your desktop background.

As strange as it feels to say this, I’m pretty sure this is the first Willie episode. I mean, I know it is, but it feels like that can’t be true. I think it’s just because he’s always such a presence in the show, even when he’s not doing anything. It’s hard for your eyes not to be drawn to the weaselly, stammering lunatic whenever he’s in the room, regardless of what else is going on.

But we still don’t know anything about him. It’s not that he’s a cipher; it’s that the only characteristic he has is that the actor playing him doesn’t bother to learn his lines until a few minutes before the cameras roll.

We don’t know what he does for a living, we don’t know what he likes or dislikes, we don’t know what he thinks of his own children, we don’t know what he thinks of his wife — except that he will never, under any circumstances, allow himself to have sex with her — and we don’t know his history. He’s just this guy who is always there.

So it’s probably good that we finally get around to learning about him, seven weeks after ALF devoted a full episode to the nosy neighbor we never saw again.

But I guess I might as well tell you right now that we don’t come out of this episode knowing anything more about Willie than we knew going in, which was pretty much jack shit. The fact that the writers can spend a whole half hour with one of their central characters and manage to say literally nothing about him is an almost impressive display of ineptitude.

ALF, "Jump"

The family gives Willie those trick birthday candles that don’t blow out, so ALF dumps water on them and ruins the cake.

A few episodes ago this might have been fine, because I’d love to believe that this is just his alien mind misunderstanding a concept you and I would be familiar with. But, again, two weeks ago it was Brian’s birthday. He was there. He knows that you eat the cake, and that you don’t fucking dump water all over it like an asshole.

It’s not enough that ALF has ruined Willie’s life? He has to ruin his birthday cake, too? Why is he such a massive dick?

Then the family asks Willie to give a speech, and ALF gets upset that nobody wants to hear him give a speech too. Later ALF is confused by the fact that Willie gets all the presents.

But, again, ALF just experienced an Earth birthday not that long ago, and he didn’t express any confusion then. He knows how this shit works. Maybe these episodes were aired out of order or something, but watching them in sequence it seems to almost deliberately underscore the fact that ALF isn’t confused by this stuff at all…he’s just a cockhole.

ALF, "Jump"

Willie’s speech is just a list of the people he lives with, and his relationship to them, so the viewers at home don’t get confused by the foreign concepts of “wife” and “child.”

It’s strange. I can’t imagine being asked to give a speech on any occasion and just saying, “Mike is my friend, Joe is my friend, Tammy is my mother, Otis is my milkman…” and having that go over well. People would probably think I had a stroke.

I guess it was easier for the writers to just list the names of the characters in the show than it would have been to give any thought to who Willie is as a human being. I know I’ve asked things like this before, but, honestly, why would you even pitch the idea that you do a Willie episode if you don’t feel like writing anything about Willie?

ALF, "Jump"

The kids bring Willie his gifts, and the first one he opens is from Kate. It’s the Cambridge Atlas of Astronomy, and the moment he turns his head ALF grabs it and starts scribbling all over it.

Kick this guy out! There is no reason to keep him around. At least yell at him! All he ever does is take your shit and destroy it. Willie’s been in possession of this book for all of two seconds before ALF ruins it. Why are there no consequences? How is this even a joke? It would be like me sitting next to you while you’re eating your lunch, and I smack the sandwich out of your hand before you can bite it. Am I a brilliant humorist, or am I a big chain of dicks?

Anyway, Willie opens ALF’s gift next. Wait a minute…I thought ALF was confused by the concept of Willie getting gifts a minute ago…but now he already got him a gift? It’s one thing if he’s confused because this episode was supposed to come before the one with Brian’s birthday, but now they’re ignoring what they bothered setting up a few sentences ago.

This fuckin’ show, y’all. This fuckin’ show.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what Willie’s kids got him, tough shit. He never opens the presents. I bet that makes them feel good. They go out and get some thoughtful gifts for their dad on his birthday, and he just leaves them wrapped on the table without a second thought so he can exchange small talk with the alien who lives in their laundry room.

Can you imagine how you would feel if you were seven years old, and you got your dad a gift for his birthday, and he just left it in the wrapping? You’d probably cry yourself to sleep.

But I guess these kids have seen Willie favor ALF over them every second of every day since he arrived, so this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anybody but stupid old me.

ALF, "Jump"

ALF’s gift to Willie is a box of old photographs he found. For whatever reason, they’re photographs of men that Kate used to sleep with before she married into a life of sexual dissatisfaction with Willie. It’s a little strange that Kate reminisces about how good-looking her old fuck buddies were on her husband’s birthday, but he just sits there quietly so I guess he doesn’t care and neither do the writers.

One of the pictures is of Joe Namath, and the joke is that she used to get railed by Joe Namath. I hope you can keep up with the amazing comedy.

I don’t know…talking about exes isn’t always the smartest move when you’re in a relationship with someone else — and talking about the sex you had with your exes is almost never a good idea — but don’t you think it would have come up at some point in the past that Kate was with Joe Namath? I remember when I was in college and I was seeing this girl. It wasn’t anything serious, but one of the first things she told me was that she’d been with Tom Jones, and had a picture of him naked on her phone to prove it.

…and prove it she did.

I didn’t get jealous at all. I wasn’t puzzled. Because damn, son…that’s Tom Jones! If you were with a celebrity, I’d say it’s fair game to mention that. It’s kind of impressive. That’s why I keep telling people that I slept with the pink Power Ranger. I didn’t, but I’m pretty sure that the woman who will finally be impressed by that is my soul mate.

But yeah, Kate had some kind of love affair with Joe Namath and keeps a shoebox full of Polaroids of him, but Willie never knew, and now that he does know he couldn’t care less. He finds a menu in the box instead, and it has a list written on it.

It turns out to be a list that he and Kate made of all the things they wanted to do before they die. (“Let Joe Namath go deep” is obviously crossed out.)

Kate’s list included things like running with the bulls in Pamplona, and getting published in a major literary magazine. We’ve never seen anything from Kate to indicate that these might have been realistic desires for her, but the episode tells us that she actually did them, which does round her character out a bit. It doesn’t fill it in, or anything, but I’m happier knowing that Kate likes adventure and enjoys writing, because it at least suggests that she is a character.

Willie’s list, then, should really shed some light on who he is. Right?

Nope. It just says “build a better mousetrap,” which is the vaguest sort of non-committal bullshit any writer’s room has ever come up with, and then it says something about jumping out of a plane, because that’s the plot of the episode. There’s really no other reason. Willie finds an old menu and decides to jump out of a plane. Sprinkle liberally with stalling and dream sequences, and boom, you’ve got an episode of ALF.

ALF, "Jump"

Later that night ALF walks in on Willie in the shed, and he’s…

…wait. So “build a better mousetrap” was meant literally? There’s no laughter so I really don’t know if this was meant to be a joke. “Build a better mousetrap” is just a sort of general phrase meant to imply innovation. I wondered why nobody asked Willie what the living shit he meant by that, but now I see that it’s because they all immediately understood that Willie, for whatever reason, wishes to be responsible for improving actual mousetraps as we know them.

This is absurd. Ditto his prototype there. What is that? It’s a fishbowl, a bell and some cardboard. Does Willie even know what a mousetrap is? Has he never seen one before? Since when is he so obsessed with them? And how could he both be obsessed with them and build something this tremendously shitty? This is something I would have done for the fifth grade science fair. And I would have gotten a D.

This useless contraption at least retroactively explains why it took him 10 years to finish assembling his ham radio. This guy really is just a moron. We’re supposed to believe that the guy who tried to make a mousetrap with pipe cleaners could contact extra-terrestrial life? God fucking fuck this show.

ALF convinces Willie to skydive, due to the fact that the episode really needs something to happen at some point, and it was either that or give Willie a goal that has anything to do with who he is as a person. Willie agrees because it will be the first thing he’s ever done in his own show.

ALF, "Jump"

Eventually Willie goes to bed, and he immediately starts asking Kate about her exes, because the last thing any man wants to do on his birthday is have sex.

He presses her for information about how successful they are, so I guess he was jealous after all, but he didn’t show it in any way in the earlier scenes because the script didn’t mention anything about it until now. Kate reassures him that the past is the past, and she’s happy with she’s with him because he’s safe and boring and ugly and creepy. He then tells her he’s going to skydive tomorrow, but she’s either asleep or cares even less about it than I do.

And then…yup:

ALF, "Jump"

It’s a dream sequence. In it, Willie is graduating from something. One of Kate’s exes — the one he was worrying about a moment ago — is apparently a Roger Daltrey impersonator in an Indiana Jones hat. He talks for a while about how awesome he is while Willie stands quietly off to the side. And I’ll give ALF some credit for that much, because I can’t imagine Willie is creative enough to dream about anything other than formal ceremonies taking place on a cheap sound stage while he shuffles around and mutters to himself in the background.

ALF, "Jump"

Then Joe Namath comes out! Woo! And it’s really him! Not like the Roger Daltrey guy I mentioned a second ago. That was just a hilarious joke that you really liked. This, though, is the REAL JOE NAMATH.

I’m guessing this was a big event that the network advertised endlessly for like a week in advance. “See Joe Namath on the next ALF! You’ll never believe what happens!” Crap like that, making people believe he was going to be hanging out with ALF or getting into some adventure with him. Then people tuned in and saw that the big guest star was actually just shaking hands with Max Wright in a high school gymnasium. Take that, hypothetical idiots who looked forward to something.

This dream sequence goes on forever. Willie asks for Joe Namath’s autograph, and Joe Namath writes something about complimenting Kate on the unforgettable snugness of her rectum. Then he says that the only reason he didn’t marry her was that she was looking for somebody safe and predictable, which you’d think Willie should take as a compliment, but it really just pisses him off.

I don’t even understand why. What’s the problem here? That you’re the thing your wife wanted you to be when she married you? The fact that he’s just a useless dweeb must be coming as a shock to him for some reason. How he made it 45 years without even suspecting that fact is beyond me. I guess every time Willie looked in the mirror he saw Steve McQueen staring back at him.

Joe Namath jumps off the stage and it sounds like he’s falling, and Willie calls down to him, so it must be a flying graduation ceremony or something, and I’m less confused about that than I am by the fact that there are only seven minutes left in the episode and literally all that’s happened is that somebody ruined a cake and Willie discovered another reason not to fuck his wife.

ALF, "Jump"

Then ALF comes out and my god who cares.

Why are these episodes so padded? They end up recycling plots, but it’s not because they have anything new to do with them. They just set some idea up in the first scene, then dick around and kill time until the credits roll. How is this show so awful? Why did I even like it as a kid? Nothing happens.

Joe Namath comes back on stage, along with Indiana Daltrey. There’s this third guy there too that nobody introduces, but everyone’s hanging around with him like he’s been there all along. I guess it’s somebody else Kate fucked, but we’ve never seen him before and he’s never referred to. Did he have a scene where he showed up and explained who he was in this dream, but it was cut out? And is it possible that they could cut anything out of this sequence and still have it feel so bloated?

Willie doesn’t even react to this new guy. I guess he’s always getting belittled by strange men in his dreams and this is no big deal.

They all start chanting for Willie to jump, like they’re trying to pressure him into doing it, but that’s pretty strange since Willie has already said a bunch of times in real life that he’s going to do it, so I don’t understand the point of having this big long dream sequence that exists just to convince him to do it all over again.

ALF, "Jump"

Willie then trains himself to hop off of a step ladder onto a mattress, and if the fact that he still hasn’t opened his son’s gift didn’t scar Brian, this image certainly will.

Brian then does the jump better than his father does, and Willie takes the opportunity to describe to ALF the dream we just saw, in case we forgot quite how padded this episode is. ALF just hangs around listening to it and why in fuck’s name does nothing alien ever happen in this show? This is a full episode about Willie worrying about doing something that literally nobody — himself included — gives even one tiny shit about. This might have worked as a sort of “breather” episode amidst the more frantic installments of alien hijinx, but they’re all like this! They’re all nothing.

I can’t say this enough: this is a show about a fucking alien. Why is it that when they’re tossing out ideas in the writers’ room they come up with things like “an old woman watches a movie” and “the cat runs away?” I have no explanation for why they’re so defiantly uncreative with their own premise.

They’re not even fleshing Willie out as a character here. He doesn’t have a fear of heights or some bad memories of air travel as a kid…he’s just going to jump out of a plane. There’s nothing to be overcome except the episode’s running time. It’s terrible.

ALF, "Jump"

Kate comes in and doesn’t seem to mind that this is what she ended up when she could have had Joe Namath. He tells her about his plan to skydive, and she reminds him in the politest possible way that nobody on the face of the planet gives a living fuck about whether or not he does this dumbass thing he wrote on a menu two decades ago, and going through with it doesn’t change at all who he is as a human being, whatever that might be. It’s a pretty reasonable perspective, but Willie feels like he has to do it, because that’s what it says in the script, so to hell with this woman who loves him for who he is.

ALF, "Jump"

Willie is sitting in a fake airplane while somebody off-camera blows a hairdryer into his face. Everyone’s waiting impatiently for the point in the episode at which they jump out of the plane, and for once I can identify with somebody in this show because that’s exactly what I’m doing too.

I really have to wonder why they did cut out that third guy’s scene in the dream sequence. It’s not like they had anything else to show in this episode. The whole thing is just padding. It could have been two minutes long and the edit wouldn’t have lost anything of substance. Why bother trimming a whole character out if all you’re going to do with the extra time is show Max Wright waiting quietly for the credits to roll?

ALF, "Jump"

Everyone jumps out but Willie, who gives this little speech to the instructor about why he won’t do it. But the instructor can’t hear him over all the noise, so Willie decides to jump after all. I’m not sure I understand the logic behind that decision, but then again I don’t spend my evenings alone in a shed building implausible mousetraps so what would I know?

We then cut to some stock footage of a parachuting baboon, and the fake audience expresses their approval.

ALF, "Jump"

Seriously, what the fuck is that? That’s not human.

ALF, "Jump"

Later that night everyone yuks it up in the shed, and I guess we’ve learned a valuable lesson about always having to live up to all the people your significant other has ever slept with, and making sure to put yourself in mortal danger whenever the opportunity arises to do something nobody cares if you do.

Joe Namath isn’t listed in the credits, at least not that I could see, which I’d like to think was a non-negotiable demand of his for appearing on ALF. That way he could just tell people they hired a look-alike and he had nothing to do with this garbage.

Anyway, my Christ was that a bad one. It was framed as an episode about Willie, but really it was just the characters wasting time until they could get to the skydiving scene, which lasts all of thirty seconds. It’s not even like there was any conflict; I know the Kate-Fucking Three in the dream sequence all chanted at him to jump, but he already said he was going to do it. He doesn’t even change his mind until he’s in the plane, and then because the instructor can’t hear him he does it anyway.

I know nothing more about Willie than I did last week.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I know the show wants me to think he married a slut.

Ninety more episodes to go. I hope in one of them we learn that Kate also slept with Charles Nelson Reilly. Because I could actually start looking forward to this show if I knew I’d eventually get a little bit of Charles Nelson Reilly.

MELMAC FACTS: One of ALF’s parents was an asteroid polisher. Which is more than we know about either of Brian and Lynn’s parents.

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