For all my complaining about the recycled plots on this show, I really should be happier that they found an original storyline to explore here. But then I remember that the storyline is “ALF murders a dude,” and I’m suddenly not as interested in singing its praises.
I will say that this episode stumbled onto a few truly interesting themes to explore, which is far beyond what I would have expected, but it doesn’t so much “explore” them as it does “mention” them. It’s an example of a story that could have been told in an infinite number of ways, and nearly all of them would have been better than the one we got.
This one opens with Willie introducing his longbox. He teases that it contains something he hopes ALF and Brian can enjoy together. I’m trying to come up with a dirty joke, but failing to think of anything dirtier than what Willie just said.
It’s a tent, which he bought because ALF is going to have to live in it for a few days while Uncle Albert visits. Which seems…I dunno. Really fucking dumb?
I understand wanting to get ALF out of the house, especially if this guy is going to be there day and night, but what’s wrong with the garage? That’s usually where ALF goes, and it makes a lot more sense than this suspicious pup tent that’s going to be sitting in the yard at all times. What if Uncle Albert asks about it? What if he goes to investigate it?
The garage is a natural solution to the regular problem of where to stash ALF, because it’s always there. It doesn’t earn anybody’s special notice, because it’s a fixture of the home, and unless there’s a secondary reason to investigate it, nobody would ever give it a single thought.
Now, however, Willie is going out of his way to make it more likely that somebody will find out that he’s hiding something. Not to mention the fact that the tent is so tiny, and ALF is not exactly famous for knowing how to sit still. At least in the garage he can dick around to his heart’s content. I fail to see how forcing him to remain stock-still and silent in a conspicuous canvas dome is going to end well. No part of Willie’s thought process here could have sprung from anything like a human mind.
Whatever. The family bitches and complains about how they hate Uncle Albert because all he does is bitch and complain, which was somehow written and performed without an ounce of irony. ALF politely reminds them that they live in a shithole and the credits start.
Willie builds the tent and explains that he thought this would be a nice change of pace for ALF, rather than being stuck in the shed again. While it’s nice to see that some well-intentioned explanation is given, it’s still impossible to rectify logically; the shed is infinitely safer than this plan. Murdering ALF with a shovel and burying him in the yard would be safer still. The pup tent solution is just silly.
Anyway, ALF keeps dicking around with Willie’s hard work so he’s told to fuck off. I have to wonder why he’s building the tent with ALF in the yard in broad daylight anyway, especially while he’s having a loud conversation with him.
Crap like this happens way too much in this show. We know Mr. Ochmonek is prone to coming to the back door without warning, so what if he decided to visit during one of the far-too-many times the Tanners are doing vaudeville routines with ALF in the back yard? Hell, what if literally anybody overhears the conversation, even without coming into the yard? They’re constantly reminding themselves and each other that ALF is an alien. Does sound not travel as well in L.A. as it does everywhere I’ve ever lived?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: ALF only makes sense if it takes place in the house from Dogtooth.
Seriously, stop reading this and go watch Dogtooth.
ALF grabs a paddleball thing and starts whipping it around, which I guess is supposed to be funny because a puppet is moving quickly? I have no idea. It goes on just long enough that there’s no way of mistaking it for anything other than shameless padding, and it becomes off-putting when you realize that this hilarious cutesy interlude is just eating up time before ALF gets to kill Willie’s uncle.
There is a little bit of clever comedy when Uncle Albert is described as being an unwanted houseguest and a mooch, which is overt enough this time that I’m sure the irony is intentional. And I like that. But it makes me wonder if a better version of this story wouldn’t flow naturally from calling the guy Uncle Alfred instead.
See, Uncle Alfred could be the human equivalent of ALF, and his visit makes the Tanners — and ALF — see how unappealing that kind of selfish behavior really is. They excuse things, I guess, because ALF is an alien and doesn’t know better, but seeing Uncle Alfred pulling the same shit and never learning would make them reconsider the wisdom of doing that.
It would be a chance to see ALF through a new lens simply by introducing a doppelganger that does not posses the Get Out of Jail Free card that seemed to come along with ALF’s extra-terrestrial origins. I wouldn’t expect anything world-changing to come of it, but it sure would be nice to see ALF stumbling upon some self-awareness.
But, no, a forced and pointless Paul McCartney reference is easier, so fuck that.
ALF then declares Uncle Albert a pervert and offers to beat the shit out of him, just in case you forgot what an excellent show this is for families.
In the next scene, ALF is packing for his stay in the tent, and I like this. He reads off his list of supplies: chocolate cake, chocolate ice cream, chocolate pudding, and acne pads. It’s a cute joke.
Of course, I said ALF is packing, and that’s not, strictly speaking, true. Brian is doing the packing, because ALF is a puppet, and maybe this is the kid’s function on the show. Maybe he was never meant to be a character at all, but rather a pair of arms for whenever they don’t want to pay the midget. Perhaps Brian is meant to be some logistical necessity that we’re nevertheless supposed to pretend we don’t see, like those “invisible” actors in kabuki theater.
Uncle Albert arrives, and Lynn comes into the kitchen. She says to Brian, “Let’s put a smile on for the old fogey,” which Brian manages for all of one second. I’m sorry, but what a family of assholes. Growing up I certainly had relatives I wasn’t crazy about, but I can’t imagine ever thinking — let alone saying — “Here’s this crusty old hag again…”
It’s odd how often the Tanners reveal themselves to be shitty people. In Married…With Children the Bundys were openly terrible, but, again, that was the joke. We weren’t supposed to be on their side…at least not overall. We were invited to celebrate the small victories they achieved along the way, but I don’t believe we were ever intended to be pleased with their behavior.
ALF, should it so choose, could position the Tanners as a sort of anti-Brady. (Coincidentally, the working title for Married…With Children was Not the Cosbys, making it clear that the writers of that show knew what they were doing.) But it doesn’t. At no point are we led to believe that the Tanners are meant to be anything other than a neutrally representative sitcom family, which makes these moments of cuntitude really stand out. It means that the writers don’t realize what they’re doing, and that’s kind of frightening to me.
It bothers me here in a way that it doesn’t bother me in more extreme shows. Take Archer. Or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Two shows that resort to cruelty and nastiness for the sake of laughs, but which, at least arguably, earn that kind of laughter, because that cruel nastiness was woven into the very fabric of the universes they built.
Of course, those shows can’t be directly compared to ALF, if only because their levels of nastiness far exceed anything we’d see here. For instance, those shows have each had their main characters engage in behavior that killed innocent people for the sake of a joke, whereas ALF…
Uncle Albert hands out gifts to the family. Slippers for Willie, a dress for Kate, a hat for Brian, a purse for Lynn. This puts their minds at ease, because earlier when he asked for Kate’s dress size over the phone, I guess they were more willing to believe that he wanted to prance around their house in her clothing than that he’d buy her a gift.
This is part of the problem with this episode. We’re told over and over again about what a piece of shit Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey is, but what we see is very different. Granted, that gets explained so I’ll speak about it more there, but since we don’t get to see Uncle Albert being even slightly rude, that means we only have the word of the Tanners to tell us that he ever was the monster they made him out to be.
See now why it’s important to make your characters consistent in regards to how much the audience should trust them?
Uncle Albert has nothing but nice things to say. He tells Lynn that she’s blossomed into a beautiful young woman, and commends Brian for his unwavering dedication to a show that doesn’t care if he lives or dies.
There are a few nice things about this scene, actually, and I think it’s due to the fact that Uncle Albert is a kind of rarity on this show: a nice guy. I’m more compelled to enjoy the jokes — even if, strictly speaking, they’re no better than usual — if only out of silent support for keeping the guy around.
One funny moment is when Brian thinks his uncle is going to charge the family for their gifts, and Uncle Albert replies, “He’s got that Tanner wit!” Willie then mumbles, “That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” which is funny on several levels. At least two of which, I’m sure, were not intended.
Even better is when he asks Lynn if she can guess where he got her purse, and she says, “You found it on a bus.”
You know what? Andrea Elson might be improving after all. Either that, or her well-meaning airheadedness might just be put to better use lately. I’m too lazy to check, but I feel as though most of the past few episodes have contained a Lynn highlight, and I’m glad to report that. It’s nice to see something on this show getting better.
The joke compounds (another welcome rarity) as Uncle Albert tells her it’s from Gucci, which causes Willie to ask, surprised, “What happened to the Army Navy store?”
It’s a pretty good scene, one of two pretty good scenes in the episode, so it’s a shame that we gloss over the dinner that he takes them to. We cut instead to Willie and Kate getting into bed, shocked that Uncle Albert tipped the waitress instead of, I dunno, assaulting her with a fajita skillet. So instead of spending that time with the family, learning about who Uncle Albert used to be, we hear ALF burp and complain that he needs a woman.
He says, “Species is no longer a priority,” which is both one of the most sickening things I’ve ever heard on a prime time sitcom and a bald-faced lie since he’s been openly trying to fuck their daughter since he moved in. He also talks about how he flipped out in the yard and killed Willie’s new garden hose with a pocket knife.
HAVE I MENTIONED ETC. ETC.
They remind ALF to be careful tomorrow with Uncle Albert, because there’ll be no-one else at home and I believe I’m gonna rain. You’d think they’d take some kind of precaution to prevent this kindly old man who just bought them a bunch of shit from being left alone with a horny, knife-crazed space monster, but, whatever, I’m sure I’m just worrying over nothing.
There’s a little exchange here about ALF being upset that he’s going to miss his soaps, with Willie being shocked that he watches those, as if there weren’t an entire episode dedicated to the fact that he not only watches them, but wrote for them professionally. Then ALF reveals that he doesn’t know what soaps are, because at this point even he is starting to forget all the worthless, time-killing shit that he’s pulled.
The next morning we get an establishing shot of the house with an ADR of Uncle Albert offering to cook Willie breakfast, because they need to make absolutely sure we know how gentle and nice this guy is so that it’ll be extra funny when ALF murders him in cold blood.
Cutting into the kitchen, Uncle Albert tells Kate to stop washing dishes, he’ll take care of them. I don’t know what dishes they are, since they went out to eat last night and we just heard that they didn’t have breakfast yet, but the important thing is that this instance of somebody demonstrating kindness to his wife pushes Willie over the edge.
“HhhuHHNNcle AAAlhbert,” Willie says. “Wwwh-whaat the fucck is your paarahhblum?”
So, at last, Uncle Albert tells us what happened. He sits them down at the table — you know, like a human being might do when he’s about to share something difficult — and explains that he made an effort to change after his heart attack. Kate, feeling sorry, says that she didn’t know he had a heart attack.
“Who did?” replies Uncle Albert. “Nobody missed me, so nobody checked on me.” He says he was in the hospital for a month without any visitors or get-well cards, and realized he needed to seriously reassess his life.
Wow. What a nice little story. Just a few lines, but it easily fleshes him out to a level beyond almost anybody we’ve ever met in this show. From Liz Lemon choking in her apartment to Homer Simpson sleeping through a house fire to Dr. Venture realizing he’s wearing the clothes of a supervillain to Jesse Pinkman watching Drew Sharp get shot dead, moments of realization like this work gangbusters for characterization. In a flash both the characters and the viewers not only see that something needs to change, but what needs to change, and that it needs to change now.
It’s a very effective and efficient way to bring about major change within the constraints of a weekly TV show. In my other examples, those were main characters, so, in theory at least, the realization could come about over as much time as necessary. Poor Uncle Albert doesn’t have much time at all (so to speak…) so this was a wise move. A simple sketch of a tragic moment in an unhappy life, and that’s all we need. It works well.
If anything, though, it might work too well. This actor is very good, but he’s good at being the nice Uncle Albert, and I don’t really believe in him as an evil old beast. This is why it’s especially problematic that the Tanners are such unreliable dicks themselves. Was Uncle Albert ever really that bad? Or did he just not buy them enough shit so they didn’t pay him any mind?
Was Uncle Albert a Scrooge figure who needed redemption, or just some old man who didn’t openly suck Willie’s dick every hour of the day and was therefore not worth anybody’s time? I’m sure the episode wants me to believe the former, but there’s way too much room to believe the latter.
Anyway, he tells Willie and Kate to go have a good day, and they leave. Gee, how on Earth did I figure out that the “I’ll cook you breakfast” ADR was a clumsy afterthought? The writers forgot that the scene does not involve him cooking any fucking breakfast.
The Tanners leave Uncle Albert, assuring him that if anything should happen, they’ll be sure to give a ring.
Later on, Uncle Albert is in the kitchen, having a cup of tea and a butter pie, when he hears ALF loudly masturbating in the tent. He unzips the flap and dies, because he was dumb enough to become an actual character and there was no way in hell the writers were going to keep him around after that.
ALF jokes that he doesn’t need to share his cookies because this wrinkled old shit is dead now, and the audience laughs its way into a wholesome act break the whole family can enjoy.
The contrived nature of this show really shows itself here. Why the tent? It was necessary, I guess, so that Uncle Albert could hear ALF and see him and die, but, again, why wasn’t that an in-universe concern for Willie in the first place?
I don’t know why ALF couldn’t have been in the shed. He could have been minding his own business when some of Willie’s astronomy shit that he doesn’t mention anymore falls off the walls and Uncle Albert comes to investigate. There was no reason to do this the stupid way. Was there? What the fuck am I missing?
I’ve talked before about how I like that the one thing this show gets right is how others react to ALF when they first see him. Kate Sr. was horrified. Mrs. Ochmonek found her worldview shattered. Dr. Dykstra was overcome with several kinds of curiosity. Gravel Gus dove out of a moving train. And now Uncle Albert is so eas’ly called away.
All good stuff, to be sure, but for me to say that, I also need to forget about the dog catcher and the hillbillies and everyone else who sees ALF and just assumes he’s some mundane thing they’ve never seen before and aren’t really keen on learning about. It’s always one of these extremes. It’s either instant, inconsolable horror because he’s clearly an alien, or the nonsensical assumption that he’s not worth acknowledging in any way.
God dammit, ALF.
ALF calls Willie at work, and some fat guy we’ve never seen before answers the phone. Why are we always seeing new coworkers of Willie’s? I think this is only the third time we’ve seen him at work (“Strangers in the Night” and “Border Song” were the other two), but each time we see a coworker or boss or secretary it’s somebody new.
I’m actually really surprised they bothered to build a set for this location. And that they didn’t tear it down to build a different set before season two, once they realized that they’d barely use this shit.
It’s a setting that also now serves as a reminder of ALF‘s unwillingness to develop character, consistency, or a basic universe for these idiots to inhabit. Compare this to the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, Los Pollos Hermanos, Wernham-Hogg, Strickland Propane, or the Lanford Lunchbox. These were all workplace settings (in some cases major, in others minor) that enriched our understanding of the characters. They’re not locations to shuttle somebody off to so that they can get a phone call and come running home again…they’re places where relationships develop and we learn about the main characters through how they interact with the ancillary ones.
Here, it’s just “work.” We have no reason to believe that Willie knows any of these people any better than we do. Hell, he doesn’t even recognize when his boss has been replaced by a lesser actor.
They already have the set. They’re already willing to pay people to sit around on it while Willie makes faces on the phone. It takes a deliberate choice to not let characters develop. It’s…bizarre, to say the least.
ALF impersonates Sammy Davis, Jr. and asks for a bunch of groceries oh and Uncle Albert is dead. It’s a moment that seems just slightly tone deaf, until ALF mentions that he’s also started embalming the corpse.
That’s not tone deaf. That’s psychotic. How is it a punchline that the body of the kindly old man we just watched die is being desecrated by this chucklehead? It’s serial killer territory.
We can’t even excuse this one on the grounds that ALF is unfamiliar with Earth customs. If you know what embalming is, you know that you’re not the one who’s supposed to do it.
Willie and Kate get home and see that ALF has decorated the house. There is actually one funny joke here (“It’s just like a birthday party, only someone else has to blow out the candles.”) but really it’s just kind of…disgusting.
ALF says he’s marinating Uncle Albert in some peaches. I’m not even kidding. Is he going to eat him? I don’t have any clue, but this horny sasquatch stripping, embalming, and marinating a dead old man is every bit as disturbing to me as anything we’ve seen done with the corpses in Breaking Bad. Only in that case, the writers knew it was disturbing.
Stop reading this and go watch Dogtooth and Breaking Bad.
ALF explains that on Melmac, death was not a sad occasion, but Willie tells him that on Earth, it is. And that, right there, could be the crux of a great episode. What a perfect opportunity for serious culture clash. You know the phrase “dead serious”? It’s only a phrase at all because of how seriously death is taken (and how deeply it is felt, and how final it is understood to be). We Earthlings (and Americans particularly) have a lot of emotional and psychological bandwidth consumed by the prospect of death.
Whether it’s our own, somebody else’s, the death of a pet in your childhood that you still can’t — and don’t want to — forget, the regrets you have when you find out somebody you’ve never made peace with has passed on, the sadness you feel when you realize that somebody you love might not be alive anymore this same time next year…what a perfect opportunity for awkward, thought-provoking comedy.
Of course it happens with five minutes left in the episode, right after we’ve just found out that ALF’s stirred an elderly man into the world’s most horrifying vat of fruit salad.
The next day Willie and Kate are getting ready for Uncle Albert’s funeral. Lynn comes in dressed as her favorite Fruit of the Loom mascot, eating her second favorite. Willie goes on about how sad it is that Uncle Albert had to be murdered by the illegally-harbored naked alien that sleeps in their laundry basket just as he started to buy them things. It really is a damn shame.
The surviving Tanner adults get up to leave, and Kate says, “If you need us, we’ll be at the Waxman Funeral Parlor.” Lynn automatically replies, “Okay. Have fun.”
And that was good. Elson is definitely getting better. She doesn’t get much more material to work with now than she used to, but she’s learning to make the best of these short little nothing lines. She might only have something funny to do once every three episodes or so, but that’s way better than the one-in-twenty-five ratio of the first season.
ALF is overcome with grief in an emotional turnaround less convincing than the plastic bead stapled to his face in “ALF’s Special Christmas,” and he hides in a box with a bag over his head. Lynn comes outside to talk to him, and I wish this wasn’t the last scene in the episode, because “Lynn has a heart-to-heart with ALF” is quickly becoming one of my favorite things to see in the show.
Interesting that Lynn actually becomes a welcome presence when the writers stop treating her like a piece of meat. I wonder why that is!
This is the Lynn I like: the sweet older sister. She knows better than him. She’s a little annoyed by what he does. But she’ll never turn her back on him. And it’s really adorable.
The fact that ALF feels bad about Uncle Albert’s death, though, is severely undercut by the fact that he soaked the corpse in peach juice, embalmed it, and violated the integrity of its butthole with one hairy fist. Actually, speaking of this…how in shit’s name did Willie and Kate explain to the authorities that the dead body was covered in syrup and already embalmed? Honor system law enforcement strikes again.
Lynn comforts him by saying that Uncle Albert took the time to make amends, and even if that happened right before he died, it’s still more than a lot of people get the chance to do. He got his chance to make things right, and he did. And that’s a good thing.
I’m actually starting to love you, Lynn. I’m glad you take after your mother.
The short bit before the credits sees Willie coming home and thanking ALF for killing a guy in their yard, I guess, because Uncle Albert finally got his life in order and I suppose, in a perfect world, that that’s when everybody would get killed by aliens.
ALF sees a snail and starts screaming and the episode ends.
Next week we begin the slow march through the final 10 episodes of season two. Unless, y’know, I get my life together in the meantime. Then I’m fucked.
MELMAC FACTS: On Melmac death was something to celebrate. It was predictable, with everyone dying at the same age: 650. This left no surprises, and you could plan for your death. The week before you go, you give away your personal belongings. The year before you go, your credit cards are cancelled. Of course, I’m assuming that there could still be “accidents” that would end your life sooner…but if I’m wrong, and 650 was a hard, static figure no matter what, that might go a long way toward explaining ALF’s innate recklessness. What the fuck am I doing this episode was shit.