Just as the Jodie episode gave way to the deplorable “Help Me, Rhonda,” last week’s experiment in competence spits us right into “Lookin’ Through the Windows,” which is awful. But before we dig into what happens in the episode, I’d like to talk for a bit about the concept.
“Lookin’ Through the Windows” parodies Hitchcock’s excellent Rear Window. It’s an undeniably great film with a solid central premise and culturally indelible imagery, which makes it a relatively common reference point for other films and TV shows.
The film stars Jimmy Stewart as a photographer with a broken leg. Boredom, limited mobility and an unfortunately timed heat wave lead to Stewart’s character spending nearly all of his time at an open window, and his idle hobby of watching the neighbors turns obsessive when he believes he’s seen evidence of a murder.
It’s one of those rare films that could probably be pieced together by those who haven’t seen it, simply because of how frequently it’s been referenced, parodied and ripped off. It’s also ALF‘s first attempt at singular, sustained parody (unless, of course, I’ve missing something along the way…do feel free to let me know in the comments), and even if it wasn’t doomed at this point to be compared to the Simpsons episode in which Bart believes he saw Ned Flanders kill Maude — the gold-standard of Rear Window sendups — it falls completely apart on its own. Compare it to better shows that mined the concept more fruitfully, and it’s disappointing. Remove it from any such comparison…and it’s still pretty disappointing.
The neighbors here, of course, are the Ochmoneks. I’d make a joke about how it has to be the Ochmoneks because there are no other named characters outside of the Tanner family, but that wouldn’t really be fair. Los Angeles is a notoriously small town. In fact, you’ve probably never heard of it. It’s not unlikely that there would be only a handful of families in the whole place, so good on ALF for verisimilitude.
The Rear Window stuff begins with the very first shot: ALF at a window with a pair of opera glasses. He’s watching the Ochmoneks argue, and every so often he makes a mark on a chalkboard to indicate who’s winning. Somewhat impressively, the writing staff not only incorporated the heat wave aspect — coupled in this instance with the Tanners’ electricity failing due to brown outs — but bothered to refer back to it throughout the episode. No, “Lookin’ Through the Windows” is not very good…but it does at least demonstrate some good impulses. Whereas ALF is frequently content to introduce ideas, details and even entire characters just for the sake of forgetting they exist a few minutes later, it’s nice that this episode has some semblance of internal continuity.
Willie comes in and tells ALF not to spy on the neighbors, which is fair, but then he suggests that he go play in the yard instead. It’s broad daylight, so here’s another example of the show forgetting — or ignoring — that ALF is supposed to be kept secret from the rest of the world. It’s pretty much established in the pilot as the single most important detail of the show, but I could count on one hand the episodes since that gave even half a shit about it.
For this to make even a modicum of sense, the Tanners would have to have ridiculously high, solid walls surrounding their home, something like we see in the movie Dogtooth. However we’ve seen the outside of their house in every establishing shot, and we know it doesn’t. If ALF goes out to play in the yard, he’s caught. End of story. Or, at least, I wish it could be.
ALF and Willie yak for a bit, and while they do there’s this gentle, smokey saxophone music playing. When their conversation ends, ALF leans out the window and yells at somebody to “knock off the sax.” I get the joke — we assumed the music was on the soundtrack, while it was actually playing within their reality — but beyond that…what the living fuckbucket? Who was playing the saxophone? Mr. Ochmonek? And why is it not okay for ALF to watch people through the windows, but it’s fine for him to lean out and shout verbal harassment at them? What kind of sense does that make?
God I wish I was watching Dogtooth.
The episode proper gets off to a pretty good start. It’s dinner time, and Kate sets a massive plate of food in front of ALF, who explains that it’s all part of a new diet he’s trying: “You can eat as much as you want of whatever you want.”
Then, when no further explanation is forthcoming, Lynn asks, “And you lose weight that way?”
To which ALF replies, “You do?”
It’s a solid gag that compounds nicely, and it taps into the way a visitor like ALF would believably misunderstand concepts we think are simple, something that really, really, really should be more of a factor in his characterization than it actually is.
What’s more, another very nice moment follows. The lights go out, and the family moans. Lynn laments having to reset all of the clocks yet again, and Kate, in the dark, replies wearily, “Let’s not. Let’s just live a few minutes behind everyone else.”
Every so often some actual humanity shines though these cardboard characters, and nearly always it’s through Kate. Not only does she call ALF on his bullshit, but there’s a kind of quiet, simmering frustration within her that suggests something deeper than the lines that they ask her to recite. I’m willing to bet that this comes entirely from Anne Schedeen, who manages to inhabit a place behind her words rather than on top of them, as the rest of the actors do.
Interestingly, though, the show just sort of has that line tumble out. The real punchline is that when the lights come back on, ALF ate all of the food. I’d wager Lynn’s (decently well-observed) line about the clocks and Kate’s response were both placeholder lines…a way to pad out the darkness so that when the lights came back on we could see the big reveal of ALF’s empty plate. The way the scene is structured, it’s very clear that that’s the moment that’s supposed to get the big laugh…the rest is just jogging in place.
The best line a few episodes ago was some shoe-horned explanation as to why Lynn doesn’t have braces anymore, and now it’s a line that’s literally being used just to space out what the writers think of as the big laughs. I’m amazed at how downright funny the tossed-off material is compared to the garbage that seemed to receive the bulk of the show’s efforts.
There’s a knock at the door and ALF is shooed away, so I guess they do care about keeping him a secret. Except when it comes to hollering nonsense out the window, in which case fuckin’ go nuts.
It’s Mr. Ochmonek, and he’s pissy because his wife is a bitch and nothing he ever does is right. It’s his own fault for marrying a character on the show ALF, though. If he’d waited a bit he could have married a woman on a much better sitcom, where she’d be allowed to be an actual human being and then they might have had a relationship instead of a series of plot-dependent spats.
Since this is already an overt nod to Rear Window, we know that ALF is going to think Mr. Ochmonek killed his wife. That’s fine. The execution (so to speak…) is not, but we’ll get to that. For now I just want to point out how strange it is that both stories to heavily feature Mrs. Ochmonek have touches of Hitchcock. Way back in “Strangers in the Night” the whole “plot” hinged on the fact that both ALF and Mrs. O wanted to watch Psycho. The scene in which ALF cross-dresses also suggests an aborted attempt to tie the themes together more tightly than what we got, but that’s just speculation on my part.
Here she gets her second turn in the spotlight, and it’s so that she can drive another story centered around a Hitchcock film. It’s coincidence, I’m positive, but a very bizarre one. I wonder if we’ll get a story in season two about Mrs. Ochmonek chasing Willie around in a crop duster. Or ALF hosting a cocktail party around her corpse that he crammed into a trunk.
Speak of the devil, Mrs. Ochmonek comes over to retrieve her husband, and Mr. Ochmonek eats some corn.
There’s some preposterously unnatural dialogue in which Mr. Ochmonek reveals that he believes the Tanners spy on him while he fights with his wife, which would make sense if he was confronting them, but instead it’s delivered as an off-hand comment to the very people that he’s essentially accusing of voyeurism. It’s ridiculous. If you believed your own neighbor was spying on you in your weakest moments — actually believed it — would you bring it up with him in some chummy “you’ll never guess” kind of way? Of course not…you’d be pissed off and confrontational. None of this makes any sense.
Fortunately for that shitty moment, though, it gets eclipsed by a much worse one. Willie attempts to assuage Mr. Ochmonek’s concern, which leads to Max Wright choking his way through the line “No. No we don’t. Noh one…in this roooom…whaatches you, through yurwindows.”
And then…oh yes, dear reader, there’s more…Lynn suggests that it might be their “poltergeist,” which nobody comments on or acknowledges in any way, even though this is pretty conclusive evidence that the girl is suffering from acute mental illness.
The fuck this show the fuck.
That night Lynn comes into the laundry room to say goodnight to ALF, and there’s a near-miss here with what could have been another great joke. ALF says he’s speedreading a book, and Lynn asks him what it’s about. He says, “I have no idea.”
On its own, that’s funny. The joke should end there, with the implication that he’s gliding so quickly over the words that he’s not comprehending them. But instead the writers take it further and try to turn it into a joke about how he’s wearing the fur off of his finger by moving it across the page so quickly.
Damn, guys. They sure reached pretty far to make sure that joke dropped dead, didn’t they?
Lynn leaves and ALF hears the Ochmoneks fighting again, so he goes over to the window and hot damn this is a great screengrab:
I know I’ve praised Fusco’s puppetry many times before, and I stand by everything I’ve said, but I do think it’s worth drawing some additional attention to the physical ALF puppet itself. It’s impressively articulated for something that seems so simple. Everything from the way the eyebrows move to the ability of the ears to perk up like a dog’s contribute to ALF’s “reality,” and I like that a lot. So far we’ve seen ALF elated, depressed, sick, terrified, dazed, and whatever else, and each time the emotion registers. The odd thing is that when I started reviewing ALF, I thought the easiest thing to do would be to make fun of how fake the puppet looks. Little did I know that would actually be the one thing I couldn’t criticize at all.
ALF runs into Willie and Kate’s bedroom and shouts that he just saw Mr. Ochmonek murder his wife with an ice pick.
Okay, now I can criticize.
See, usually in a Rear Window parody (and in, uh, Rear Window) the protagonist doesn’t actually witness the murder; they infer that there’s been a murder, and then go nuts trying to prove it. If they saw a murder then there’s not really a story. How could there be? The protagonist picks up the phone, calls the cops, and the murderer is arrested before he has time to clean up the evidence. The end.
ALF botches this crucial aspect, though not surprisingly I guess. By having him actually witness the crime, it raises additional questions that the episode isn’t up to answering…a complication compounded by the writers’ choice of the murder weapon: an ice pick.
Think about that. As I’m sure you know, Mr. Ochmonek didn’t really murder his wife. (It would be a pretty dark sitcom if he had.) So by having ALF “see” this happen — rather than assume it — the writers raise an unanswerable question: what the fucklights could possibly be happening that looks like an ice pick murder?
Picture an ice pick murder. Honestly. Picture a man stabbing his wife repeatedly with an ice pick until she dies. What else could that possibly be? If you see that happen, is there any possibility at all that you actually witnessed something benign? The whole plot of this episode falls at the first hurdle, because nothing that isn’t an ice pick murder can possibly be mistaken for an ice pick murder…and then, of course, they still need to provide some rational explanation for what really happened.
Do they pull it off? Place your bets now.
Willie tells ALF to fuck fucking off, so ALF goes to sleep and dreams that Mr. Ochmonek is stalking the Tanner house with an ice pick. One thing I have to say is that even though this episode sucks dick, it sure did lead to an article full of great screengrabs.
There’s not much to this dream sequence, but — and I mean this — it gives us some very effective imagery. It’s also miles better (and infinitely more relevant) then either of the dream sequences we’ve gotten from Willie so far, so I’m all for this.
Anyway ALF wakes up screaming his head off, and the Tanners all arrive in the kitchen to check on him at the same time, making it seem like they not only share a bed, but a hive mind.
Willie chastises ALF for spying on the neighbors in the first place, which is what caused his paranoia. It’s a fair thing to say at this point, but I really wish it was an excuse to bring back Dr. Larry from last week. Seriously, I’d give anything for this show to ditch its original concept and become Dr. Dykstra: Alien Psychologist.
They all go to bed and ALF goes back to the window and you don’t even have to scroll down because you know what the fuck he sees.
ya dudes mr ochmonek is totes burying a corpse
The episode is over and Mrs. Ochmonek is dead forever. Good night, everyone!
…no, it’s still going. It’s the next morning, and ALF does the only logical thing you can do after watching your neighbor brutally murder his wife with a sharp instrument: he calls the murderer and pretends to be conducting a survey on behalf of the BBC. He asks Mr. Ochmonek the difference between American TV and British TV, and then he asks if he killed his wife.
Kate hears him and hangs up the phone before Mr. Ochmonek can produce a story-ending “no,” and then it’s suddenly nighttime again. What a day that was!
As Willie gets ready for bed he glances out the window and sees ALF snooping around the Ochmoneks’ house, which causes him to make this face:
This is the big pulse-pounding moment in Rear Window; Jimmy Stewart can’t leave the house, so he sends Grace Kelly into the murderer’s home to investigate. When The Simpsons did it Bart couldn’t leave the house, so he sent Lisa into the murderer’s home to investigate. In this show, ALF can’t leave the house, so he says fuck it and does it himself anyway.
Why the writers threw themselves into a Rear Window parody without wanting even slightly to adhere to the conventions that would render it watchable is beyond me.
Anyway, Willie calls Mr. Ochmonek on the phone to distract him so that ALF can escape the house, but ALF is a dick so he dicks around all dicklike instead.
I fucking hate ALF, you guys.
Mr. Ochmonek talks to Willie for a while, and explains that the difference between American TV and British TV is that in Britain they respect their audience. I’d be impressed by the fact that they tied this phone conversation back to a previous one if it weren’t for the fact that they did it as an excuse to give a big “fuck you” to their own viewership.
“We keep ALF alive because we get paid to,” they seem to say. “What’s your excuse?”
Anyway, ALF gets home and he managed to steal Mrs. Ochmonek’s false teeth, so Willie goes to bring them back.
Why is any of this even happening? Call the cops, ALF, you piece of shit. You believe you watched a woman get stabbed to death in her home and your response is to turn it into a physical comedy routine. Jesus Christ.
After Willie leaves, Kate and Lynn rush over to the window in time to see Mr. Ochmonek charging at Willie with an ice pick.
I love that every window in the Tanner home affords a perfect, clear view of everything happening inside the Ochmonek house. Seriously, no matter what room these assholes are in, they always see perfectly into the other house. Do the Ochmoneks live in a giant glass dome?
The lights go out again, and Kate rushes over to save Willie from being murdered by Ice Pick Ochmonek. ALF, two whole days after he should have done this in the first place, decides to call the cops.
They arrive almost as quickly as Kate does, which again makes sense because cops in LA are probably bored out of their minds waiting for something to do. But, hey, that’s what happens when you’re a lawman in such a tiny, quiet town.
It’s explained that Mr. Ochmonek never murdered his wife with an ice pick and wasn’t going to murder Willie with it either; he was using it to make Willie a nice cocktail!
Well, if that’s the case, why was he charging at Willie with it? And what the fuck was he doing driving it repeatedly through his wife’s heart? See, this is the kind of question you’re left with when you have your characters actually “witness” this crap. No attempt whatsoever is made to explain what actually happened between he and his wife, but the cocktail explanation with Willie defies all human logic. In what way does mixing a drink resemble an active threat to kill another man?
Here’s an experiment you can do at home to find out. First, invite a friend over, and mix him or her a nice, refreshing cocktail. Take careful note of their expression and demeanor as you do so.
Next, invite another friend over. When this friend arrives, grab an ice pick, approach them threateningly, and act like you are about to murder them. Take careful note of their expression and demeanor as well.
Now it’s time to review your findings. Did you notice any overlap whatsoever between the way these two people interpreted your actions? No? Nothing at all? How strange!
In ALF these two actions are easily and frequently mistaken for one another…but something tells me you’d have a hard time duplicating the results.
Of course, even if we accept this, that still leaves the small matter of the corpse wrapped in a tarp that Mr. Ochmonek buried in his back yard. But, no, don’t worry about that either! It was actually just a side of beef that started to rot, and he was getting rid of it.
The police accept this far too easily. For starters, who — in the name of shitstabbing Christ on the cross — disposes of bad meat by digging a hole and burying it? And why wrap it in a tarp? Did the tarp go bad, too?
And secondly, when they ask where his wife is he responds that she’s at her sister’s house. There are no followup questions and no attempt to make contact with her to verify the story. That’s insane. Somebody called and reported a murder. The police followed up on it and were unable to find the victim. The murderer says she’s fine, but admits he buried a crapload of beef in his back yard. And they’re fine with that. What — with all due respect — the fuckfuckfuck.
Even by sitcom logic, they need to dig up that yard. First the Alien Task Force, then Social Services, and now the LA Police Department have all been shown to operate on the honor system. And that’s insane. I’m not saying that Mr. Ochmonek killed her (it’s a family sitcom, so we know he didn’t), but since when is “I buried some old meat in the yard and my wife is totally chilling with her sis” an airtight alibi?
Dig. Up. The yard.
But, no. That’s it. We’re meant to be as satisfied by this solution as everyone in the show is. I won’t spoil the ending of Rear Window, but I will go back to that Simpsons episode. Remember the conclusion, when it turned out that Ned killed a houseplant and not his wife? That was a deliberately unsatisfying, illogical solution to the question, because that was the joke…and it was still a hundred times better than what ALF gives us here with a perfectly straight face.
Oh well. It’s over. There’s some short scene before the credits, as usual, but I don’t care about that. Instead I’d like to take a moment to appreciate Mr. Ochmonek’s shirt.
Because daaaaamn Mr. Ochmonek. It’s no wonder you look so proud in a fine ass shirt like that. You can bury my spoiled meat any day.
Now stop reading this shit and go watch Dogtooth.