I…yeah. Episode sixteen is a clip show.
Take a moment to let that sink in. We’re barely halfway through the first season, and already there’s a clip show.
I do understand the value of clips shows. I don’t particularly like them, but I understand why they exist. It’s a relatively fast and inexpensive way to add another episode to the running order, and in the days before complete season DVDs, they were often the only way to re-live favorite moments from years ago.
Personally, I was always disappointed when I made a point of watching a show I enjoyed only to find out that the “all-new episode” was a clip show. Stitching together moments leads to a disjointed viewing experience that dulls the effect of even the best gags, as all of the context is removed. Clip shows try to follow the lead of “Greatest Hits” albums by including all of the things you remember in one convenient package, but in practice they turn out more like bizarre re-edits that grab one verse from this song, the guitar solo from that song over here, the chorus from this other one, and slap them together without any regard for how it actually flows.
The only time that I think clip shows have actually reached their potential is in the case of sketch comedy. There they can manage to pull off the Greatest Hits approach, because each of the skits has its own context that’s largely free from the original episode. Granted, shows like Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Mr. Show took great pains to keep one skit flowing into the next, and that level of artistry and flow undoubtedly suffers when chopped up and resequenced, but it can at least work. Sitcom clip shows don’t, and probably can’t, because things don’t happen in isolation. You’re not watching a stream of jokes…you’re watching a humorous story unfold. Try to separate one from the other and you’re left with nothing at all.
All of that is academic, though, because even though most sitcoms would wait until they have enough material for a clip show before actually making one, ALF dives into that particular well when there are only fifteen episodes from which to draw. Why they didn’t at least wait for the end of the season — especially since the plot of the episode is absolutely appropriate for a season finale — is beyond me.
Or, actually, maybe it’s not. So far ALF has been nothing but laziness incarnate. Lazy plotting, lazy characterization, and now the textbook example of a lazy episode; a shambling Frankenstein’s monster of other things stitched together. We’re approaching the lazy singularity.
Oh, and it’s an hour long. ALF is really spoiling us.
The central conceit is that ALF loses his memory, and the Tanners have to remind him of who he is. That in itself isn’t a very unique concept for a clip show, but the execution is surprisingly competent. In fact, the original material in “Try to Remember” is probably the best stuff in the entire show since the Jodie episode.
I’ll get to that in a moment, but first I want to go over a few confusing things about “Try to Remember.”
For starters, this clip show actually contains footage otherwise unavailable from previous episodes, since in a handful of cases they chose to include something that was cut from the syndication edits. It’s nothing major — another line here or there, or a scene of Willie and Kate referencing prison movies during his incarceration in “Pennsylvania 6-5000” — but it’s still interesting.
Another strange thing is that this is one of the few episodes (perhaps the only episode) that is available in full-length form. I don’t know if this is because it was never edited for syndication to begin with or what, but there you go. This is the first as-broadcast episode that I’m reviewing.
Right? Well, not quite. While it sounds nice that “Try to Remember” isn’t a syndication edit, it’s also not the original edit. In a version that only aired once, ALF lost his memory because he brought an electric mixer into the bathtub in order to soak in a “whirlpool.” There was a big flash from off camera, the sound of electrocution, and then smoke pouring out of the bathroom.
Subsequent airings, however, have ALF taking a hand-mixer into the tub instead, slipping and hitting his head instead of getting shocked. The most obvious re-shoot is the beginning, obviously, when this all goes down, but there are also a few other lines cut that refer to the incident later on, including the punchline of the entire episode.
While it does make more sense that ALF would lose his memory due to a head injury than electrocution, the re-edit is pretty silly. It was done so that kids wouldn’t be encouraged to take their own electronics into the bath, despite the fact that the episode actually did a pretty good job of outlining exactly why to not do that.
After all, ALF suffered serious injury as a result of doing this, and a few lines that ended up being cut included Willie, Kate and Lynn scolding ALF for being so stupid, as well as questioning why he’d do it to begin with. And if that wasn’t clear enough, ALF himself appears at the end of the episode to speak to the children at home and tell them not to do what he just did. (Needless to say, this was cut from the re-edit as well.)
In the previous episodes we’ve seen ALF wreck the house, diddle the kids, torment the cat, set the kitchen on fire, issue cryptic threats to the president, buy things without permission on somebody else’s credit card, crash a car into the house, grab the wheel while somebody else was driving, and God knows what else that I’ve mercifully forgotten.
In none (literally none) of the above situations was ALF chastised in any serious way for his behavior. He does these nasty, dangerous things without consequence.
“Try to Remember” was the first time ALF actually had to deal with the fallout from his dumbdickassery, as well as the first time the show made a point of telling kids at home not to emulate his bullshit, and that’s what gets cut. I’m…dumbfounded.
Another very strange thing about this episode is that the opening sequence is different. The theme tune sounds sped up (artificially…not due to a re-record with a faster tempo) and there’s a new shot of ALF reaching into the refrigerator and Kate slapping his hand. There’s also an extended bit at the end with the family getting ready to have their picture taken. You’d think that a faster tempo would suggest that things were removed from the opening sequence rather than added, but I didn’t notice any trims. Maybe a second here and a second there were snipped in order to make room for the new stuff. Either way…it’s odd. I wonder if this will be the intro going forward. I kind of hope not, because the sped up theme tune sounds awful.
What story there is, as I said, is actually handled quite well. ALF losing his memory is nothing to write home about, but what happens after that is not half bad…mainly because he behaves believably. When he hits his head (or zaps himself) in the tub, he’s reading a letter from an insurance company, which causes him to believe that he’s an insurance agent. (Good thing he wasn’t reading The Shining, I guess.)
After that, ALF behaves more or less the way somebody would if they did believe they were somebody totally different from who they’re being told they are. He complains, he fights back, he worries that he’s being kidnapped, and he eventually calls the police to save him from this crazy family that won’t let him leave.
It’s not bad, and honestly it deserved an episode of its own more than just about any story we’ve seen so far, so it’s a bit of a shame that it’s relegated to a clip show.
Anyway, since the rest of the episode is just clips of stuff I’ve already reviewed, I’m going to forgo re-reviewing them and I’ll present instead my own personal highlights of the series so far.
ALF embarks on a quest to bed each of the remaining Tanners while Willie is away on business. (From the episode “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.”)
Willie moves ALF (and the audience) to tears with an episode-length version of “Candle in the Wind” that he wrote about the destruction of Melmac. (From the episode “Your Song.”)
ALF writes a novel. In real time. (From the special four-hundred-hour-long episode “Paperback Writer.”)
Mr. Ochmonek swaggers triumphantly into the bedroom after blocking up the Tanners’ toilet with an enormous shit. (From the episode “Black Water.”)
Willie reaches repeatedly into exposed wiring for 22 minutes, which was Paul Fusco’s ironic punishment to Max Wright for requesting more screen time. (From the episode “E-lec-tricity.”)
ALF witnesses a rape. (From the episode “Doctor My Eyes.”)
The prostitutes arrive and inform Willie that they all had lots of sex but their clients refused to pay them so now he needs to go beat them up. (From the episode “Willie the Pimp.”)
Brian sits around doing nothing because they were paying this kid for a full day and might as well stick him somewhere. (From the episode “Radio Free Europe.”)
It’s the day before Easter. ALF has hidden all the Christmas trees. (From the episode “Tannermelon in Easter Hay.”)
Max Wright is arrested for possession of crack cocaine. (From the episode “The Making of ALF.”)
After accidentally killing Bruce Springsteen with a pitchfork, ALF must go on tour with the E-Street Band disguised as The Boss to keep the authorities from getting suspicious. (From the episode “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.”)
ALF sets himself on fire. Coming to their senses at last, nobody helps him. (From the episode “Burning Down the House.”)
Willie accidentally joins Al-Qaeda. (From the episode “Sky Pilot.”)
Mr. Ochmonek swaggers triumphantly into the living room after blocking up the Tanners’ septic tank with an enormous shit. (From the episode “Black Water, Part 2.”)
ALF and Willie about to consummate their relationship during a drive-in screening of 9 1/2 Weeks. (From the episode “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”)
While attempting to channel the spirit of Bob Crane, ALF accidentally summons the ghost of a serial killer, and then goes apeshit and kills everyone. (From the episode “Careful With That Axe, Eugene.”)
So, that’s it. ALF gets his memory back at the end (whoops, spoiler) and the back half of the first season can continue to bring us so much joy.
The caption contest for that one is officially open. Make me proud, children.
ADDITIONAL: There’s a video which has been making the rounds recently, and for good reason. It’s very well done for what it is. (Thanks to Sarah Holmes and James Bull for sending it my way.)
I understand the confusion. This woman has served as my stunt double many times. We go way back. But I was not involved in this video. If it were me, I would have tweaked ALF’s nipple or something. If you see ALF with somebody who isn’t tweaking his nipple, you can conclude safely that it isn’t me. Thank you for understanding.