When I started this review series, I tried not to look at plot summaries. I saw a few, because that’s what happens when you use the internet for anything ever, but I more or less forgot them quickly. A few specific plots, however, stuck in my head, either because they sounded monumentally stupid, or because some other folks warned me about them.
As I mentioned in last week’s review, three of those episodes come right in a row, starting now. This is the Trilogy of Terror, and I’m worried about every one of these.
“Hail to the Chief” gets the party started with a fantasy episode about ALF running for president. I’m already not a fan of fantasy episodes of good shows, so tossing an even less consequential plot than usual into this garbage factory isn’t exactly promising.
I don’t know. As much as I love Futurama and The Simpsons, the Anthologies of Interest (and its less-structured relatives) and the Treehouses of Horror just don’t do much for me.
It’s not that I hate them. The good ones make me laugh. The lousy ones are over with quickly enough. So, really, I’m not complaining…I’m just not the kind of guy that gets excited about fiction within fiction. I tune in to shows I enjoy so that I can spend some time with those characters, in that setting. Scrambling up the characters and swapping out the setting, therefore, leaves me a bit less engaged.
I guess the thing is that I’m not interested in the question of “What if Alan Partridge was actually a medieval knight? And his catchphrases would all be slightly altered to be period-appropriate puns. Wouldn’t that be funny?”
Well, maybe. Maybe not.
The point is that I found the character funny already, which is why I’m tuning in, so the question of whether or not I’d care about this alternate version of the character that I’ll never see again is kind of moot.
Then again, ALF sucks. Alternate versions of these characters may well lead to something fun, and, surely enough, “Hail to the Chief” opens quite nicely.
It starts with the camera following Willie from the kitchen door over to the table, where it comes to a rest as Willie sits down. I think every single time the camera does something interesting on this show, I take note. It means somebody cared.
There’s no reason the camera couldn’t have been stationary, with Willie stepping into frame and then sitting down. In fact, that’s pretty much always how things happen on this show, and that’s okay.
It’s unnecessary movement, but unnecessary movement is charming. Somebody’s fiddling with the language of the medium, and I like that. It’s not a visual highlight or anything — though such unexpected camera behavior has been in the past, as in “La Cuckaracha” — but it’s nice. It’s something somebody tried, and that’s why it stands out. Somebody tried.
Anyway, ALF is filling out a voter registration form, which causes him to muse on the concept of the pencil. This is also nice, because it makes sense that something we’d see as mundane might actually be pretty fascinating to an alien visitor. Willie’s not an alien, but he is a nerd, so when ALF brings up the question, he excitedly replies that he’s heard many theories about where pencils came from.
ALF says, “How about the shortest one?” Willie, deflated, replies, “The stationery store.”
This is nice, because ALF gets to be a dick without being too much of one (being disinterested in long theories about the evolution of the pencil is something we can sympathize with), Willie gets to be excitable and disappointed in fast succession, and a show-opening warmup gag flows naturally from the DNA of both characters. That’s a great start, so it’s a shame that it’s all downhill from here.
Then Willie reminds him that he can’t vote, so filling out that form is fucking stupid, at which point ALF launches into an elaborate plan that would allow him to vote, which hinges upon him marrying Lynn.
You know, I didn’t mention it in that review, but “Night Train” also had a joke about ALF saying he’d marry Lynn. Maybe that was the original idea for a heartwarming series finale, instead of the one we actually got, with ALF getting hauled off screaming to an underground vivisection facility.
It’s the night of the presidential debate, and ALF has hidden all the effective satire. Lynn is going to the mall, even though this is the first election she’ll be able to vote in.* She’s heading to the mall with her friend Julie, because Lizard got a job at the new Wiener On A Stick place.
Why is Lizard working at Wiener On A Stick? This guy successfully performs brain surgery on dying animals. Won’t some vet hire him? He really needs to work a shitty fast-food job in the mall? This dude’s got a skillset. Why are they treating him like any other high school dipshit?
Also, Lizard being a more or less consistent boyfriend for Lynn in season two makes “Oh, Pretty Woman” even more odd. Why was she at the dance with Rick? Did they really write her a new boyfriend just for one episode? Was that script left over from season one, and they never bothered to fix the guy’s name?
Willie comes home, announcing that he found Lizard’s wiener delicious. Kate’s mad, but it’s not Willie’s fault; he called to tell her he’d be eating dinner at the mall. By the way, ladies, if your husband calls to say he’d rather eat dinner at the mall than with you and your children, you’re about to be served divorce papers. Just sayin’.
Willie asks ALF why he never writes down his phone messages, to which ALF replies, “They’re hardly quotable.” That’s actually funny.
Then Brian says, “Hey! The presidential debate’s starting!” which is the final proof anyone should need that the staff had absolutely no clue how to write lines for an eight-year-old boy.
We see the candidates: Senator Hossenfeffer and Congressman Peal, two assholes we’ll never see again even though one of them is destined to become the leader of the free world. There’s also a John McLaughlin cameo for all the ladies watching at home.
It’s odd to me that they’d go for a fictional president. Usually when a show does that, it’s because that particular fictional universe requires it. Think The West Wing. It’s a clue that the world we’re watching is very much like the one we occupy, and may even see events unfold that are similar to the ones we’ve seen, but they’re not the same. Things can, and often do, turn out differently. It’s a chance to see reality through a distorted lens, and an easy way to distort that lens is to swap out the one person that the entire world knows by name: the President of the United States of America.
Here, though, I’m not sure what’s going on. We’ve already seen (or…heard) Ronald “Win One on the Crapper” Reagan, so for a while we were in actual America…and now we’re in bizarro America.
Even stranger is the fact that this episode aired nowhere near a presidential election. It aired in 1987…exactly midway through Reagan’s second term. There wouldn’t be another presidential election until 1989, when George Bush I ran against (and defeated) Michael Dukakis.
So, what year is it in the ALF universe? Is this taking place in 1989? Was Reagan impeached in this fictional wonderland that actually sounds really awesome now? Ugh, who knows. TV shows air their Halloween episodes around Halloween and their Christmas episodes around Christmas. Surely it can’t be too much to ask that they air their election day episodes in a fucking election year.
One of the candidates — I don’t care who — says, “As Joe Biden once said, we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” The fake audience laughs at the misquote, but it’s really strange to watch this while Diamond Joe is the real-world Vice President. It still doesn’t make it a good joke, but it does make it one that, all at once, could play today without any alteration. In fact, it may be even funnier today, albeit for a different reason. It seems slightly prescient.
I’m not familiar enough with Biden’s history to know what kind of figure he cut in late-80s American politics, so somebody do please fill me in. I know how this joke plays right now, but I’m genuinely curious to know how it played in 1987.
Paul Fusco launches into his soap-boxing bullshit, just like he did with the power of imagination and / or pig-headedness in “Weird Science.” This time, he’s fixing the world’s problems, through the brown bathmat he wears on his hand.
ALF decisively declares the way to balance a budget (“Spend less than you make.”) and achieve world peace (by telling both sides to kiss and make up).
In the later years of M*A*S*H*, Alan Alda began using his role as “Hawkeye” Pierce to rattle off thinly-veiled commentary on the state of the world, but M*A*S*H* was a legitimately great show, Alda a legitimately intelligent man, and “Hawkeye” a legitimately nuanced character.
I think I can leave it to you to figure out why this similar impulse isn’t working for ALF.
That night ALF walks into the master bedroom and announces that he can see Kate’s tits through her bedclothes.
Some other stuff happens but it’s just aimless, vaguely political bullshit intended to kill time before the big fantasy sequence.
There’s a joke about ALF telling them not to lock the door, because he might have some more questions to ask later, and then Willie runs cartoonishly over to the door and makes a big, exaggerated fuss about trying to lock it. It’s fucking awful.
In the comments for last week’s review, FelixSH pointed out that Willie always looks like he’s on the verge of falling asleep. I thought that was funny, but then moments like this remind me that he’s no better when he’s flailing around like an imbecile. Max Wright has two settings as an actor, and neither of them are anything like human.
On his way to bed Willie mumbles, “At least Mr. Ed stayed in the barn at night,” which is indeed true. To my knowledge Mr. Ed never hid under the mattress to listen to Wilbur fuck.
Willie gets into bed and Kate is already asleep. She’s not even pretending in order to keep Willie’s oily tendrils off of her; she’s really sleeping, and we enter a dream sequence to prove it.
Obviously the dream is Kate and ALF running against each other for president, because obviously the dream is Kate and ALF running against each other for president.
John McLaughlin is there, which makes sense. When you have a guest star so well-known for his comic timing, you make sure to use him as much as possible.
Johnny “The Bod” McLaughlin asks ALF about the environment, at which point ALF starts rapping.
You think I’m fucking with you?
I am not fucking with you.
My solution to pollution will help your constitution, so send a contribution, and start the revolution, n’huh n’huh.
Kate, speaking for everyone who has ever lived, tells him to knock it the fuck off. John McLaughlin replies, “Quiet. Rap-Master ALF is on a roll.” Which strikes me as something that must have been said at least once a week to silence the One Good Writer.
ALF then gives McLaughlin a Wiener On A Stick. I was picturing a corndog of some kind, but apparently a Wiener On A Stick is just an uncooked Oscar Mayer frank on a wooden skewer. Yum.
His real “solution to pollution” is to catch all the factory smoke in big balloons, and yeah, it’s dumb, but it’s a dream sequence so whatever.
But then, just like that, the dream is over.
Kate wakes up mumbling, “ALF, ALF.” He replies, “That’s my name! Ask me again and I’ll tell you the same!”
Then the same exact thing happens immediately.
This seems almost like it was supposed to be a catchphrase, so I don’t know. Maybe he says it in every episode from now on.
Funnily enough, I haven’t heard much in the way of his other catchphrases. “Ha! I kill me!” and “Yo!” come to mind, but I think he also said, “No problem!” or some shit, too. Maybe these were just things the marketing department used to sell dolls, because he certainly doesn’t seem be saying this stuff very often in the show.
ALF asks Kate why the moderator on TV didn’t ask any of the tough questions, such as “Are you going to be a good president, or a bad president?” Kate asks what kind of question that is, and ALF says, “Well, if he says a bad president, I’m not going to vote for him.”
I laughed at that…but the laugh track didn’t. I actually thought it was one of the better jokes in this episode, but I guess it wasn’t a joke at all. That’s one good thing about a laugh track: you can always tell when the writers aren’t trying to be funny.
Here, I guess, they weren’t. Was this supposed to be some touching moment of insightful innocence? If so, let me be the first to say fucking fuck you.
Kate goes to sleep again, and this time ALF is the moderator, I guess because she couldn’t dream up any more jokes about ALF being a candidate.
It’s here that Kate reveals her full name: Katherine Daphne Halligan-Tanner. You know, way back in the middle of season one (“I’ve Got a New Attitude”), I made this smartass remark:
We can have an episode with ALF and Willie trapped together in a car and learn literally nothing about them from anything that they say, but strap Willie to a rocket and fire him at the moon and have ALF travel through time to save him and that’ll be the scene in which we learn that Brian’s middle name is Frank.
And now, look. We need to have a dream sequence that gets revised as a second dream sequence in an episode about ALF running for president to find out that Kate’s middle name is Daphne.
Anyway, ALF tricks her because he asks if her plans to deal with unemployment will help his brother get a job, then when she says yes he reveals that he has no brother** and starts calling her a liar.
They bicker for a bit about whether or not she’s a liar, because even Kate’s dreams are padded for time. When she wakes up she sees ALF putting her jewelry on.
This episode is fucking terrible.
In fairness, there is a funny moment here. Willie wakes up and asks what’s going on, and ALF says, “Go back to sleep, Willie. This doesn’t concern you.”
Whatever. I laughed. Anything that has Paul Fusco reminding Max Wright that he’s worthless gets a pass in my book.
Kate goes back to sleep so we can have a third God damned dream sequence. Jesus Christ, ALF, commit to the fantasy or just fucking forget it already.
This time, ALF is Kate’s image consultant, and, man, that really is my nightmare. ALF having total control over Kate’s character. That’s downright bone-chilling.
Anyway, the Tanners show up to congratulate Kate on her debate.
Willie says: “You were great, honey!”
Lynn says: “Yeah, mom! You were terrific!”
Brian says: “…neat!”
Again, no laughter, so I guess her son’s crippling autism haunts her dreams.
Why is Kate running for president the only consistent thing in these sequences? Wouldn’t it be better if ALF were the one running, and maybe Kate’s role keeps changing? You know, she’s terrified of him getting elected, so in each dream she’s the opponent, the moderator, the image consultant, whomever else, each time trying to make ALF fail and look like an idiot in front of the voting public, who only end up loving him more? Make it spiral out of control as she tries to reveal him for the idiot he is, unintentionally securing his win every time?
Man, that sounds like a much funnier episode than ALF wearing silly costumes.
Then we cut to another dream within the third dream, because why the fuck not.
Post-image consultation, Kate’s dressed like some loose secretary from the 1920s and goes by the name Sigourney Tanner.
I’m sorry but…come on. Was this the show’s way of punishing Anne Schedeen for making the rest of the cast look bad? I actually feel embarrassed for her. She’s the one human being who found something to work with in this shitheap of a show, and this is what she gets? She did not deserve this.
She wakes up again because Jesus Christ this episode is awful. I do think you could organize each of these screengrabs of her waking up in order and come away with a pretty good illustration of a woman sliding quickly into a state of abject misery, though.
Anyway, while she’s awake ALF says he’s going to run for president, so they could sell shit like this in stores.
And then we get another fucking, fucking, fucking dream.
Hey, look, ALF is president. I hope you think that’s a funny enough joke on its own, because it certainly doesn’t go anywhere from here.
Most interesting to me are the pictures behind him. The one on the left is probably his family, so I wish we could see it better, but the one on the right is a photo from the dream sequence we saw in “Help Me, Rhonda,” since that’s the only time they ever built a Melmac set.
The more I think about this, the stranger it gets. How is a photograph of one character’s dream appearing in the background of a different character’s dream? Man, I thought Inception was complicated.
Kate comes in, having been defeated by ALF, which means her dreams circled all the way back around to the idea of running against him. You know how I always say these scripts feel like first drafts? This is why I always say these scripts feel like first drafts.
ALF offers her popcorn, which he popped “over the Eternal Flame,” and I’m glad, because I was getting really worried the episode would end before we got a joke about the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Kate presses him about what he’s done for the country, and special guest star Paul Fusco discusses through ALF how he was able to solve homelessness and unemployment in one fell swoop: he built houses for each of the homeless people, and everyone’s employed because they’re building those houses. #fusco2016
There’s a bunch more crap about what a great leader ALF is, and then I guess somebody on staff drew this…
…so they put it on the screen as a static image for a while with no punchline.
How nice of this show to produce its own fan-art. It really saves the audience the trouble of ever having to give a crap.
Kate wakes up again. Why not.
Seriously, as many times as she falls asleep and wakes up, it’s less an episode flowing from beginning to end than one that just keeps giving up and starting over.
She and ALF talk for a bit about how she dreamed he was president, and he was right about everything, and really good at finding logical solutions to complicated problems, and also she’s not sure if there’s a man out there named Paul Fusco, but if there is she’s sure he has a great body, a peerless sense of humor, and genitals that taste like heaven.
Then she pats his hand and they agree that a country that adored ALF would be a truly beautiful thing, I guess, and the audience claps because, hey, that’s right, ALF is just a big bowl of frosted applesauce. He’s a true national treasure, and anyone who doesn’t appreciate that hates freedom.
The short scene before the credits is really short. In fact, that picture is basically it. Kate is snoozing on ALF’s lap, and while that’s an incredibly cute image, it’s tempered somewhat by the knowledge of how many times ALF has raped this lady.
Whatever. It’s over. It was fucking terrible, and yet, somehow, not quite as bad as I feared.
It was oversimplistic and uninspired and offensively didactic, but at least it stopped short of ending with ALF turning to the camera and saying, “Hey kids, we all had a lot of fun this week laughing at politics. But you know what’s no laughing matter? The democratic process. Be sure to register to vote, even though major elections won’t be held for another two years. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to shit some cat bones. HA!!”
In last week’s comments, FelixSH said that he thought “Hail to the Chief” was their attempt to do with the ALF / Kate dynamic what “Night Train” did with ALF and Willie. Sure enough, the ending scene here with Kate sleeping on him does kind of support that notion enough that I’m willing to buy it…but man, they will never top the ALF / Kate magic of “Working My Way Back to You,” will they?
That should have been left as the final word on their relationship; a kind of passive aggressive stalemate that also represents a comfortable stasis. That was good. Kate dreaming of ALF running for president, and then dreaming that he’s not, and then dreaming that he’s still not, and then dreaming that he did run and was elected…yeah, it doesn’t lead to the ending this episode thought it earned.
Instead of dreaming that ALF was awesome, what if she dreamed that ALF was a piece of shit, damaging the country, and…no, wait. Forget that. Ditch the entire pointless presidential bullshit and just have Kate experience a nightmare about ALF accidentally killing Willie or something. Something that bothers her…but then the next day ALF does something really nice for someone and she realizes she likes him and it was just a stupid dream.
I don’t know. That probably wouldn’t be a great episode, but it’s hard to think of anything that wouldn’t improve “Hail to the Chief” as it stands.
It’s over, though. And next week…
…oh, fuck. Why did I have to go and remind myself of what comes next week?
It’s “ALF’s Special Christmas.” And it’s a motherfucking hour long. May God have mercy and split this into two shorter episodes on the DVD. …please.
Melmac Facts: On Melmac ALF was a registered Democat, which was both a political party and a doo-wop group. Also, if they didn’t understand something on Melmac, they broke it.
* This puts Lynn’s age at 18, so even though she’s still a teenager, I guess we can take solace in the fact that ALF is no longer trying to diddle an underage girl. Now he’s the socially acceptable kind of sex pest. In researching voting ages, I did discover that some states allow 17 year olds to register to vote as long as they’ll turn 18 by or on election day, but California isn’t one of those states, so Lynn is officially 18.
** This doesn’t go in the Melmac Facts because this is just Kate’s dream. I wouldn’t take it as definitive proof that ALF doesn’t have a brother just yet. Look at me. All givin’ shits.