First things first: this episode’s title is actually “Somewhere Over the Rerun (aka The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island).” WordPress will only display a title of so many characters, though, so I skipped the parenthetical addendum. NOISELESS CHATTER TRIVIA
Second things second: I definitely remember this episode from when I was a kid, but watching it now makes me realize how little I remembered. I knew that ALF went to Gilligan’s Island…and that was about it. Considering the fact that he’s only there for around three or four scenes, I think that says a lot about how memorable ALF really is.
We open with ALF drilling holes into coconuts and speaking some vaguely Hawaiian gibberish. This is because he’s preparing himself for some event television: a rerun of Gilligan’s Island. ALF is obsessed with the show, which is the very first thing he and I have in common.
Well, I’m not obsessed with Gilligan’s Island. But as you probably noticed from a piece I wrote earlier this year about the passing of Russell Johnson, it was a show I absolutely adored growing up. And I still have a strong fondness for it. I probably always will. I’d say more, but we have a whole episode to go, and it’s a pretty awful one, so I need to save some Gilligan praise for later.
Anyway, as much as ALF claims to love Gilligan’s Island, I don’t know if the folks on the writing staff did. After all, why is ALF speaking pidgin Hawaiian (pidgiian?) in preparation for the show? I don’t remember much Polynesian dialogue on Gilligan’s Island. Do you?
In fact, taken in combination with ALF’s aloha shirt and leis, and it almost feels like this scene was originally written for an episode in which ALF gets obsessed with Hawaii Five-O.
I’m not kidding. I’m actually wondering if that’s what happened.
Anyway, I do like that ALF is so excited about watching a rerun. It plays into his alien origins nicely, with him so joyously gobbling up a long-cancelled sitcom that the rest of the world has stopped caring about. It’s pretty refreshing to see him catching up on something, too, as opposed to his usual full and complete knowledge of things he never should have encountered before.
Willie asks ALF if he’s overdoing it with this “Gilligan’s Island thing,” and I have a bad feeling I’ll be asking the episode that same question later.
There is a good line here, when Willie reminds ALF of the bamboo furniture he ordered in a fit of Gilligamania. ALF says he returned it, because “it wasn’t even real bamboo. It was that Nauga-boo.”
Fuck you. I laughed. And, yes, I’m fully aware that I singled out a similar line from “Keepin’ the Faith” for celebration. I’m apparently a sucker for a good Naugahyde joke.
The scene ends with ALF saying to Willie, “It’s people like you that drive quality programming off the air.” And if you can hear that without feeling that the line doubles as an admonishment from Paul Fusco to Max Wright, you’re a better man than I.
Brian is ALF’s “little buddy” for the reruns, and I actually really like that. It’s about time we see these two bonding in some way. As busted up as Brian was about ALF leaving in “Help Me, Rhonda,” we haven’t seen much actual evidence of these two spending time together. We keep being told that they’re very close, but this might be the first instance of the show proving that they have any common ground at all.
It’s sweet that when we finally see them bond, it’s over some silly syndicated TV show. It’s believable for the recently-earthbound ALF and it’s believable for little Brian, who’s about the same age I was when I also fell in love with Gilligan’s Island.
Then I remember that ALF drilled holes in coconuts so that he could serve cocktails in them, and I realize this is just another example of America’s Favorite Space Rapist plying the boy with alcohol.
Kate comes in to tell Brian to get ready for bed, and he joins ALF in the Gilligan’s Island quote-fest by forcing his way through history’s most tortured “Aye aye.” Then he stares at Anne Schedeen for a clearly confused several seconds before remembering that the script says that he’s also supposed to salute her.
Seriously, guys, that was painful to watch. I think it would have been less cruel to the young actor if they just had a stage-hand run out and kick him in the neck.
Willie comes in and ALF complains to him that he’s only happy when Gilligan’s Island is on. Willie dismissively replies, “That’s four hours every day right there.” There are plenty of jokes at the expense of Gilligan’s Island, and ALF keeps comparing people and situations to that show, but while these things are supposed to be punchlines, all they really do is remind me of how much better Gilligan’s Island was than this.
Think about it. ALF today is in roughly the same position that Gilligan’s Island was then. A long-cancelled curio from a previous generation of television viewers, yet one that a great deal of people are still familiar with, albeit for the most part in passing.
But while you could theoretically have a character from a sitcom today get obsessed with ALF and find himself transported to the fictional Tanner house…what would he do? What would be the point?
There’s a reason that nobody remembers anything about ALF other than ALF. He came from Melmac, he eats cats…that’s about it. Yet it’s easy to rattle off characteristics of all seven castaways.
That’s why ALF can spend an episode on the uncharted desert isle; we remember it. We know those characters, because they were characters. They might have been cutouts and archetypes — and they certainly were — but they were consistent in their roles. A modern character can visit that particular setting and find comic potential, because it built up a rich and sustainable comic dynamic.
What would a sitcom character today do if he was transported into the world of ALF? Sit on the couch watching fake soap operas? Answer the phone when ALF’s bookie calls? The show never bothered to build a universe or flesh out its characters, so there’s nothing to do. The show was designed as ALF’s spotlight, and so that’s all it ever was. Anything else, the family included, is just set dressing.
Take any character from Gilligan’s Island and pop him or her into a fresh setting. Whether or not you’d find it funny is academic; the point is that you have an idea of how they’d act, and the kinds of things they’d do. Try it.
Mr. and Mrs. Howell find their reservation is lost at their favorite hotel, so they have to spend the night in a Holiday Inn. Gilligan and The Skipper are at a bank when a robbery takes place. Mary Ann and Ginger are auditioning for the same part in a commercial. All basic sitcom premises, but that’s what makes plug-and-play characters like this so enduring; they each may only do a few very specific things, but we enjoy can rely on those things. We know what to expect on the whole, so we find surprise and entertainment in the details of how things play out.
Now let’s try it with the ALF characters. Willie goes to the supermarket and can’t remember what kind of ice cream Kate wanted. Lynn and Kate Sr. are trapped in an elevator. Brian has a crush on the cute girl in his science class. Again, all basic sitcom premises, but do you know how any of these characters would act or react?
I sure as hell don’t, and I’ve been writing ambling screeds on this shit for like 30 weeks.
Two silly, high-concept sitcoms populated with cardboard characters, but Gilligan’s Island emphasized the characters, while ALF emphasizes the cardboard.
ALF blabs on about Gilligan’s Island to Willie and Kate, which is really rude of him because Willie prefers to actively refuse sex with his wife, and ALF’s cramping his style by providing an actual reason for him not to be fucking her.
He’s relaying the plot of an episode of Gilligan’s Island, and Willie takes the wind out of his sails by predicting the ending: the visitor left at the end and didn’t take the castaways along. ALF is gobsmacked; he’d never noticed the pattern before.
And I really, really, really like this observation.
No, not that every episode of Gilligan’s Island ends the same way.* What I like is that ALF is genuinely surprised that Willie could have predicted what you and I would see a pretty safe guess.
I think I like this because when I was a kid, my father would do things like this. We’d be watching a movie, or a TV show, and he’d predict what was going to happen. He’d say, for instance, that the girl was going to fall in love with the hero. “But she hates him!” my little brother would say. “She doesn’t love him. She hates him!”
And my father would say, every time, “Wanna bet?”
My little brother always bet. And my little brother always lost. He owed my father something like five hundred thousand imaginary dollars by the time we weren’t a family anymore, and all debts were quietly forgiven.
But predictions like that were easy for my father, simply because he’d lived long enough. He’d encountered enough storytelling by way of television, film, books, and even songs. (He had matured in the age of the rock opera.) Eventually you start to recognize the shorthand. The foreshadowing. The patterns, as ALF put it.
I’ve gotten to that point, too. But I use it not as an opportunity to predict the fictional future; I free myself to let my eyes wander. To focus on details in the set design, the descriptive passages, the barely audible pump of the bass guitar. If I know where the story is heading and I trust the captain to steer the ship, I can focus instead on enjoying the ride.
Sorry. I literally just finished reading A Prayer for Owen Meany (which, incidentally, seems to support the notion that foreknowledge need not rob a story of its magic) and I’m feeling kind of emotional and introspective.
ANYWAY BACK TO ALF MEETS GILLIGAN.
So, yeah, the next morning ALF floods the fucking yard. Willie walks right into the enormous, obvious, very clear, totally massive, in no way obscured or in any sense difficult to see mudpit because everyone involved with this show is a moron.
We even see Kate come out to find out what these two dicktards are doing now, and it takes her a long enough time to walk around the shed that the pit should have been visible to Willie long before it was even possible for him to fall into it and aaaaaarrrrghghhgh what happened after last week I really thought season two was going to be good but they TRICKED ME
Why didn’t this scene take place at night? ALF could have left Willie and Kate’s bedroom to go dig his Gilligan lagoon (Gilligoon) right then. Willie could hear the disturbance, and fall into the pit because it’s too dark to see. Or because he didn’t pick up his glasses when he got out of bed. That would make at least some kind of sense.
Why am I still talking about this. I’m done talking about this.
Lynn needs something to do this week, so she brings ALF a glass of lemonade and then promptly ceases to exist. Of course, this scene takes place at night, making me even more confused about why they set the previous scene in the daytime. Falling into pits is something someone might do at night. Bringing someone a glass of lemonade is something that someone might do during the day.
I’m so mad I could spit.
ALF yaks for another million Christfucking years about how rad Gilligan’s Island is, then realizes the episode is halfway over and it still hasn’t gotten to the moneyshot, so he leans against a tree and drifts into one of this show’s reliably brilliant dream sequences.
ALF wakes up on Gilligan’s Island, where he finds incredibly old Bob Denver and incredibly old Alan Hale engaging in incredibly old comedy.
His excitement blinds him to the fact that it’s actually really sad that these two dopes are in their mid-70s and still doing nothing but slapping each other with their hats, but I guess this lagoon is better than the one he left behind, where Max Wright was inadvertently inventing the wet dress-shirt contest.
Okay, I’ll admit, seeing these two back in character is kind of nice. They even do a good job of recreating their particular kind of physical comedy…but it still feels flat.
It really does make me sad. It’s like when Michael Palin and John Cleese reprised the dead parrot skit on Saturday Night Live in the early 2000s or whatever. It almost doesn’t matter how well they fit into their old shoes…it’s just sad that it’s been so long and they’re still trying to wear them.
You watch stuff like that and it’s hard to focus on anything but how sorry you feel.
We get another short Gilliginterlude, with the Skipper’s hat being knocked into the water. ALF howls with laughter, which alerts these two to the fact that there’s an alien hiding in their shitterbush.
They seem only mildly phased by his appearance, but that’s fine because they’ve had two decades’ worth of weekly encounters with angry natives, crazy explorers, voodoo curses, evil robots, and the Harlem Globetrotters. Baby Bigfoot here would scarcely rate a mention in anyone’s journal by this point.
Mary Ann happens along and…
Dawn Wells looks great. I mean, she’s aged, sure. But it looks like Bob Denver and Alan Hale aged about 50 years, and she’s somehow aged 10. She’s still lovely. Even today, in 2014. Think about that.
I remember reading or hearing at some point that Tina Louise** was pretty upset that Mary Ann got so much more fan mail than Ginger did, considering the fact that Ginger was supposed to be the irresistible sexpot.
But, well, here you go. This is why the Mary Anns will always win against the Gingers: sexiness fades. It has to. At a certain point you either stop trying to be sexy, or your attempts to stay sexy become embarrassing. (See Mae West’s later years. Or…don’t.)
Mary Ann never tried to be sexy. She was naturally attractive, but it was in a kind of wholesome, adorable way, and that’s what she embraced. That kind of beauty sticks around forever.
In any given nightclub, Ginger would get the attention. But run into a happily married man, and the odds are good he found a Mary Ann.
They invite ALF back for lunch, and we see that Pier 1 delivers. Either that or as much as ALF is obsessed with Gilligan’s Island, he sure didn’t pay any attention to what the set looked like.
We also see the recently deceased Russell Johnson. His incredible voice is unaffected (can’t you just hear it in your mind?), but he’s clearly aged as well. And I don’t know…it’s just so sad seeing old people trying to re-inhabit the characters that made them famous in their youth. Again, this gang is doing a good job, but that only serves to emphasize the physical toll the years have taken.
Also, of the castaways pictured here, only Dawn Wells is still with us. She and Tina Louise are the only two surviving cast members.
There. I hope you feel as old as I do.
This kind of thing has become more common over the years, but ALF might be the earliest example of which I’m aware. I’m speaking of the reunions of one show’s cast in an episode of something else. Here we have a Gilligan’s Island reunion on ALF. I also remember a Night Court reunion on 30 Rock. Futurama had a Star Trek reunion episode. Family Guy has never had an original idea and so it just stole Futurama‘s and did the same thing with The Next Generation. The Seinfeld cast reunited for Curb Your Enthusiasm. Party Down reunited for Children’s Hospital.
But all of these examples are much more recent. Was fucking ALF the progenitor of this kind of reunion episode? What other ones are there?
Anyway, ALF learns that after 23 years, the castaways are sick of each other’s shit. The professor doesn’t like that he has to keep looking out for everyone else, and they all resent him for taking away their coconut cream pies as a way of regulating their blood sugar. Everyone’s bored of The Skipper’s navy stories, and they’re upset at Gilligan for always fouling up their escape plans.
Nobody seems to have any complaints about Mary Ann.
Frankly, I wouldn’t either.
ALF is distraught that the beloved cast of his favorite show that he never mentioned before and will never speak of again actually hate each other, but the real nightmare is this: the episode isn’t over yet.
The real nightmare is that The Skipper hands him a shovel and tells him to fill in the lagoon.
Obviously this is just a dream, but the writers should have come up with a better reason for ALF to fill in the lagoon than the fact that the castaways want to build a miniature golf course. Yes, I know this is supposed to mirror what Willie is making him do in real life, but in that case it’s the perfectly valid punishment of making him unfuck the yard. Here, it’s nonsensical. If they wanted a miniature golf course, why not just clear some brush? How does filling in a lagoon make any sense at all?
Whatever. The castaways leave him there with his shovel to go watch their favorite show: The Adventures of the Tanner Family.
I’m going to make it perfectly clear that this isn’t a joke, and this is actually something that ALF is literally doing: the episode of The Tanner Family is called “Brian Takes a Bath.” Yes, if I were to make up a title, that’s precisely the one I would have invented. But in this case, the show did it for me.
So, yeah. “Brian Takes a Bath.” And of course ALF rushes over to see that.
The Tanner Family show isn’t quite a comedy, and I like that. It’s just the Tanners sitting around, enjoying a meatloaf dinner and being a family. It makes sense that the castaways would see this and fantasize, as they indeed do, for the life they left behind.
It’s supposed to have the same effect on ALF, but that makes a lot less sense to me. I understand that they’re going for a “grass is always greener” kind of moral here, but in that case he should have a reason to want to go back other than “these guys are making me do the same chore those guys wanted me to do.”
Then Willie starts talking to ALF through the TV and is it some kind of rule that the second episode of every season has to be a big pile of shit?
Willie twists the knife by reminding ALF that Gilligan’s Island was supposed to be such an awesome place, but now that he’s been there for like four minutes he realizes it’s worse than Auschwitz.
Anyway, that’s it. Really, that’s it.
ALF wakes up and Willie tells him to get back to work and ALF says he hates this place and the episode is over fuck you
…well, okay. There’s a short scene before the credits and ALF gushes about how much he loves this place, even though he said exactly the opposite in the scene right before this. But it’s okay because it’s setup for a big joke where ALF says he likes Bonanza now and there’s a stage coach in the back yard and NOW the episode is over fuck you
Oh, and I was really expecting for there to be a big punchline at the end where the castaways sit around complaining that yet another visitor left them behind, what with there being about ten zillion fucking jokes about how that always happened in Gilligan’s Island BUT THE EPISODE IS OVER FUCK YOU
* Which isn’t quite true, anyway, but even if it was, ALF is in no position to throw stones.
** Is the fact that the two daughters in Bob’s Burgers are named Tina and Louise a reference to Gilligan’s Island? It feels unlikely to be a coincidence, but I really don’t know.