I know I say this all the time, but that’s okay because I mean it all the time: this is one lousy episode. It does immediately grab my attention, however, as we open on ALF nailing a GOOD-BYE GRANDMA sign to the front door.
Does that make this episode and “Mother and Child Reunion” an unofficial two-parter? Normally I wouldn’t ask, but serialization never seemed to be something ALF was interested in. Hell, introducing characters that don’t immediately get knocked over the head with a shovel and buried forever never seemed to be something ALF was interested in. For Kate Sr. to still be hanging around…yeah, that’s definitely got my interest.
In fact, another episode with Kate Sr. takes a lot of responsibility off of the previous one. Sure, it should have been funnier, but its aimless, meandering non-plot is less important if we view “Mother and Child Reunion” as a new character’s introduction rather than a new character’s story.
Of course, in that case “Mother and Child Reunion” would have had to have said something about who Kate Sr. was as a character, and it didn’t. We didn’t even learn anything about Kate Classic. “Mother and Child Reunion” could have made for a fine setup in service of potential payoff in “A Little Bit of Soap,” but it didn’t set anything up, and there’s nothing even close to a payoff here.
Instead these are (once again) two episodes in a row about the same thing: a pair of paper-thin characters treading over the well-worn, passive-aggressive ground of every other mother / daughter pair we’ve seen on any given terrible sitcom already. There’s nothing about their relationship that has anything to do with them…they’re simply reading from a script we’ve seen performed a thousand times before.
This metaphor is more apt than you might think. Read on, friends…
Anyway, Willie comes into the room and tells ALF to stop nailing shit to the door, an exchange which he has probably had with the alien every morning since ALF arrived.
Willie’s wearing a suit, and I’m not sure why. From the context it sounds like he’s driving Kate Sr. to the airport, and though I didn’t travel much pre-911 I don’t remember it being customary to wear your prom tux while dropping family members off at the entrance.
ALF makes the kids recite a poem he wrote, which is just “Goodbye grandma, goodbye goodbye goodbye…” over and over again, but it qualifies as the best writing this show has ever had. He also prepared a travel kit for her so she won’t need to stop anywhere and therefore won’t miss her flight.
He clearly wants her to leave, but I thought the previous episode ended with them patching things up. Sure, she slapped a muzzle on his stupid face, but compared to the crap ALF puts the family through on a daily basis that’s downright friendly. I mean, seriously…if you’re going to pick the story up from where it left off last week, why pretend it didn’t leave off there last week?
His whole reason for hating Kate Sr. was that she moved in and he had to hide in the shed, or under the bed listening to Willie stammer and hesitate his way through sex with Kate. But now Kate Sr. knows he exists, so he shouldn’t have to hide in the shed anymore. The entire conflict should be resolved simply because the context has shifted, but the writers don’t seem to realize this. Instead they treat the relationship between the two characters as though nothing has changed, even though absolutely everything has changed. It’s…weird.
As it turns out, Kate Sr. isn’t leaving after all, because Estelle fucked everything up again. That Estelle!
ALF is pissed, in spite of the fact that this no longer affects him in any way. And so we find ourselves pretending along with the writers that last week’s conflict is still in play, even though there’s no reason it should be. It’s like doing a sequel to Casablanca that picks up right after Victor and Ilsa depart, and we follow Rick around for another hour and a half while he, for no reason at all, runs through all of the same inner conflict from the first film, somehow unaware of the fact that he already reached a decision and if he’s going to go on being conflicted about something, it needs to be something different.
I know I really drill down into and harp on these tiny things in my ALF reviews, but bad writing gets me fired up in a way that so few things can. If a wall wobbles or someone stumbles over a line, I’ll point it out and make a joke…but I won’t rant about it.
When it comes to writing, though? That’s my dog you’re kicking, pal. And you’re going to get a piece of my mind.
After the credits we start the episode proper, and there’s a long, silent view of ALF sitting on the floor, eating popcorn. Nothing is happening. He’s watching TV but we can’t see it, and there’s nothing important or funny to hear. It’s just a needless, extended shot of a puppet doing nothing.
Remember when I mentioned that I’m having to review syndication edits instead of the complete episodes? Well, scenes like this are quickly convincing me that I’m missing nothing. If they can cut three minutes out of an episode and still leave so much filler, then I find it hard to believe I’m being deprived of anything of substance.
Kate Sr. vacuums up ALF’s mess and changes the channel. ALF was watching a soap opera, but Kate Sr. wants to watch a different soap opera, so they bicker for a while about which soap opera is better.
Once again I’d like to remind you that you’re watching a show about an alien. Of course, an argument about which soap opera is better obviously stems naturally from that premise, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to remind you.
I will say that ALF gets the shoe-string, amateurish look of late 80s soap operas down very well. Then again, I doubt this was deliberate, since ALF itself is shoe-string and amateurish. Nevertheless, the stopped clock was right, and it’s only fair to tip the hat when that happens.
The name of the soap opera that Kate Sr. likes is One World to Hope For. We don’t find out the name of the soap opera ALF likes, because that would have required the writers to come up with two things in one week, and we all know that was never going to happen.
ALF complains about One World to Hope For because it’s awful, and nothing happens. He even suggests that it needs a “plot transplant.” That sure sounds familiar…I wonder if he reviews an episode on his blog once a week even though he hates it. Imagine what a loser he’d be!
Seriously, I would love for this to be a meta joke on ALF‘s part, but for that to be the case they would have had to have made the previous 13 episodes terrible on purpose, and I’m not going to give them anywhere near that much credit.
ALF says he could write a better script than that show’s lousy writers, and I get even more tempted to read this as meta commentary. It’s not, but wouldn’t it be glorious if it was? Wouldn’t it be, potentially, good? I love that ALF‘s writing staff could pen these lines without ever realizing that they applied to the very show they were working on.
Of course, yes, it’s possible that they did realize this, but in that case shouldn’t they have, y’know, started writing better shit?
Kate Jr. comes in and tells ALF and Kate Sr. to stop arguing about soap operas, and then she asks if she can move Kate Sr.’s luggage, and Jesus Lord how is this show still so padded with three minutes already missing? What could possibly have been cut? Was it three minutes of Max Wright sitting on the can?
Speak of the shitting devil! It’s the next day, I guess? I don’t know. I wrote the same paragraph about 15 times trying to figure out the span of time that passes in this episode, but I couldn’t do it, so fuck it. I have no clue when anything is meant to be happening. Done.
Anyway, Willie is on the couch, buffing his shoes like the pimp that he is. Kate Jr. comes in and puts her feet up and an ice pack on her head, because Kate Sr. is staying even longer now and it’s stressing her out. I thought this was resolved last week as well, but I guess ALF has outsmarted me by paying no heed to the things it conclusively told us had happened.
Kate Sr. is sticking around (again…this is totally separate from that time earlier in the same episode when she was sticking around) because Estelle sprained her ankle. That Estelle!
I find it tremendously interesting that ALF is so completely lacking in narrative momentum that it needs to rely on a never-seen character that might as well not exist for every one of its plot points. This show is thoroughly populated with characters so uninteresting that they can’t even pull their own story forward.
Anyway, they bitch about Kate Sr. and ALF writes everything they say in a notebook.
You know what you just saw in your head when you read that sentence? The entire rest of the episode. Yep. In that split second you did just as much creative work as the entire writing staff of ALF combined. Congratulations!
The very next scene is ALF herding everyone into the living room to watch One World to Hope For. Doesn’t Willie have a job? Why is he around watching soap operas with everyone else? Does nobody work anymore? Don’t the kids go to school?
Anyway, the reason for the alien’s excitement becomes clear when they see ALF Shumway listed on-screen as the credited writer.
This is why I was trying to figure out the time-frame. I know soap operas have relatively short turnaround times, but I’d imagine it would still take months for them to start filming the work of a new writer, especially if the scripts he’s submitting are unsolicited. Yet from certain details in the episode I think we’re supposed to believe that this happened the next day or something. I don’t know. I can’t tell. I don’t care. I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care.
Maybe they’d accept his work the next day. I won’t argue about that. It’s fucking impossible, but I won’t argue about it. Maybe they’d love it so much they’d want to shoot it as soon as possible.
Fine. But wouldn’t they have other scripts that they need to shoot and air first? Soap operas have long plot arcs by design. It isn’t like a sitcom where everything can reset the next week and stories are often written to be told out of order. Soap operas need to keep their balls in the air, so why is this one happy to drop all of its plot-threads wholecloth for the sake of producing this irrelevant script by a writer they’ve never heard of and who has no previous credits to his name?
The show starts and there are two characters on the couch recreating the conversation that Willie and Kate Jr. had in the previous scene. This is a decently funny idea…it’s not particularly original, sure, but filtering the day-to-day reality of the Tanners through ALF’s (ostensibly) well-meaning pen could lead to some great comedy. I’m reminded of that episode of The Office* when Michael is away and they find the screenplay that he wrote. It re-defines the world (and characters) around them through the magic of warped perspective, and something similar could happen here, with ALF saying nasty things about Willie or the kids via proxy.
But…no. There’s no twist. It’s literally a straight recitation of the conversation we just saw. There’s no attempt whatsoever to turn this into a joke on any other level. What squandered potential.
The family realizes quickly that ALF just wrote down everything they said, which comes as a shock to them despite the fact that while they were having this conversation ALF was writing down everything they said.
Kate Sr. is upset when she finds out that her character is named Dorothy, which, based on her reaction, I assume is her name. I don’t know, though. The show still hasn’t told us what her name is, so whatever connection we’re supposed to make here as viewers, it doesn’t get made.
So, yeah, the Kate Sr. character walks in on the Willie and Kate Jr. characters and joins the conversation. The Kate Jr. character tells the Kate Sr. character that she doesn’t want her to live with them forever, and the real Kate Sr., watching this, is hurt by this revelation and gets up to leave.
I don’t understand this. If all ALF did was write down exactly what happened — which the episode keeps telling us is the case — then doesn’t that mean Kate Sr. was already present for this conversation? None of these words should be new to her. If her own daughter asking her to leave didn’t hurt, why is it now suddenly unbearable to hear two fictional characters having the same exchange?
I suppose it’s possible that Kate Sr. is actually upset because ALF put such a hurtful conversation on TV, but in that case shouldn’t she be angry at him instead of her daughter? This is one of the simplest possible plots I can imagine, and yet the writers are still confusing me.
In the next scene ALF is putting together another script, but Kate Jr. tells him he needs to stop writing for soap operas, but ALF explains that for some reason the staff of that show is now relying completely on scripts appearing in their mailboxes from this mysterious writer they’ve never met who doesn’t have any understanding of the show’s characters or what they’re meant to be doing.
Then Kate Sr. reveals to her daughter that Estelle never sprained her ankle…Estelle’s just a nutbag so Kate Sr. moved out and has nowhere else to go. That Estelle!
Someone from One World to Hope For calls ALF on the phone and reminds him that they’re shooting his new script tomorrow, and he needs to have it there pronto. This is totally how TV works, btw.
Seriously, this is ridiculous. They received, filmed and aired ALF’s first script in one day, I guess, because now they need another script for tomorrow, which is insane to me. What was the crew of One World to Hope For doing? Sitting around in the dark hoping somebody watching at home would write a script for them? And after one single script they refuse to do anything but wait for that same writer to provide them another? This is absurd.
I guess One World to Hope For is the one show in history whose writing staff does even less work than ALF‘s.
ALF sits in the shed sticking clothes pins to his face. He screams and Willie comes running in to make sure he’s okay. Willie arrives very quickly so I assume he was hiding outside the door for salacious purposes that are mercifully not revealed.
ALF is fine…he’s just having trouble finishing the script, and he needs to hurry because they’re going to be shooting in a few hours. Isn’t “shooting in a few hours” too late? Won’t the actors need to learn their lines? Won’t the scenes have to be blocked and the sets have to be dressed? However small that show’s staff is, these are people who need to know what they’re doing in advance. Soap operas aren’t improvised by the production crew…that would be chaos.
WHY CAN’T THIS PLOT MAKE ANY SENSE WHATSOEVER
Willie expresses his displeasure to ALF. The Kates are fighting, and he insists that the space alien that lives in the laundry room write a script for a soap opera so that the family can watch it and feel that their problems have been resolved, which is the most roundabout, ridiculous solution to such a mundane problem that I’ve ever heard.
People fight with their parents. It happens. Very rarely do we need to count on daytime television written by extraterrestrials to repair the damage, but here we are, and for some reason that’s the only solution anyone’s thinking of.
Can’t Willie just make them sit down and talk it out? Watching ALF is like driving drunk. You keep passing these landmarks that you recognize, but you have no recollection of how you made it from one to another.
Whatever. Nobody cares. ALF’s next episode airs and it’s full of forgiveness and fence-mending. But then, all of a sudden, the Kate Sr. character says all this nasty stuff to the Kate Jr. character, who replies with some nasty stuff of her own, and everyone gets mad at ALF for writing such a shitty episode of television that didn’t fix everything.
This is probably the only time I’ll ever be on ALF’s side. Why was this their solution to the problem? Instead of banking on the healing power of soap operas they could have dealt with this crap like adults. Delegating this to ALF Shumway, amateur soap operateer, represents a madness several layers thick.
Anyway, ALF says that he didn’t write that stuff…they changed his script. Fortunately, he has multiple copies lying around just in case there was a significant alteration made to his work and he needed to stage a live reading of the pivotal scene in the Tanner living room instead. Classic alien foresight.
He hands out the scripts, and there’s a joke at Willie’s expense based on the fact that ALF didn’t give him any lines. This could well be another jab at Max Wright, who was actually upset that Paul Fusco hoarded all of the funny lines for himself and didn’t give the other actors much to work with. Either way…it’s kinda funny.
But only kinda. And it doesn’t last long. The Kates read ALF’s script to each other and we find out that Kate Sr.’s name is indeed Dorothy. Fuck that, though. I’m calling her Kate Sr.
Anyway, ALF’s script has all of the mystical healing abilities as they knew it could have, and they end up hugging and promising to never fight again, which would probably mean something if “Mother and Child Reunion” hadn’t ended the same way.
Willie celebrates with history’s most pathetic attempt at a thumbs-up.
ALF’s script really shouldn’t have moved them this way. It’s just some boilerplate nonsense about loving each other even though they drive each other crazy, and there’s a moment where Kate Sr.’s character confesses to being very sad since her husband died, which is treated as a shocking revelation. Because widows are normally extremely happy people I guess.
We also learn from the script that Kate Sr. didn’t really move out…Estelle kicked her out.
Personally I think Estelle needs a spinoff. She’s the only character in the ALF universe who’s done anything, and we’ve never met her.
Needless to say, she’s my new favorite.
MELMAC FACTS: On Melmac they used accupressure to relieve writer’s block. On Earth we just tell the same story we told last week and hope nobody notices.
* But not the episode where they actually see the finished film. Because that one was horse shit.