Who is Brian Tanner?
I asked a similar question about Willie a few weeks back, and you can probably guess why: that was an episode that, at long last, made a sincere effort to answer it.
This time I’m asking it about Brian. Not because the episode’s going to answer it, but because as of this episode, Brian Tanner is dead.
This stretch of three episodes has had me worried for a while. “Hail to the Chief” was terrible, but not as bad as I had feared. I think the reason is I don’t hate it so much is that it managed to be extremely bland and forgettable. The “Kate dreams of ALF being president” thing was no less stupid than I expected, but the episode as a whole is pretty easy to overlook, which is the nicest thing I can say about it. (In all honesty, though, I’m still glad to say it.)
Then we had “ALF’s Special Christmas.” Which I’d rather not talk about ever again.
Now it’s “The Boy Next Door,” which actually has a lot more going for it than I expected it to have. It’s still, however, problematic, and kind of sad, for the reason I expected: Brian is meeting his replacement.
I’ll come back to that thought, but first we see something kind of nice: a good cold open, with the Tanners having family game night. It’s a great way to get all of these characters together and interacting, which I’m not sure has ever happened before. Even on their road trips, it’s usually one or two Tanners doing something, and everyone else sitting quietly in the background. This, I’m pretty sure, is the first time they’ve resembled anything like a family.
They’re playing charades, and ALF doesn’t understand how it works. While this leads to a funny moment, I was afraid it was also a continuity error. It turns out my memory deceived me, though; while Willie suggested a game of charades in “On the Road Again,” they didn’t actually play it, so this can still qualify as ALF’s first exposure to the game.
The funny moment is that Kate is giving clues and Brian answers, correctly, that the film’s title is The Birds.* ALF, upset, says it’s not fair that Brian got it right, because Kate was giving him signals to help him guess.
It’s a fun moment of naivete, which Willie ruins by saying, “HhhhhALFf, thaat’s hhow…y’ouu plaheyy charaades.”
Whatever. Then it’s ALF’s turn and he indicates that it’s a movie title and then points at himself. Nobody guesses correctly so he reveals that it’s The Man Who Would be King, which is less a punchline than it is a thing ALF says right before the credits.
The episode wastes no time in introducing New Brian.** It’s Jake, Mr. Ochmonek’s nephew, who comes from New York yet still learned his accent from Saturday morning cartoons. The Ochmoneks are letting him stay with them for a while, which once again proves that they’re way nicer than the asshole Tanners.
Okay, granted, the Tanners are letting ALF stay, but I’m pretty sure that’s just because they know if he moves out, they won’t get to be on TV anymore. It’s not a selfless act of hospitality at all.
Jake is going to be staying with the Ochmoneks while his father is away, which will be five years. “Unless he gets time off for good behavior,” clarifies Mr. O, which is both a funny line and a fun way of conveying knowledge to the audience without hitting them over the head with it. That’s a combination so rare on this show that I need to point it out whenever it happens.
Kate and Mrs. Ochmonek go into the kitchen to make some iced tea for everyone, and Mrs. O reveals how happy she is to be a mother. That’s…really cool, actually. I’ve liked Mr. Ochmonek for a while now, but this is the first time Mrs. Ochmonek gets to be a character as well, instead of some vague notion of a busybody. So, yeah, the episode that finally gives up on Brian is actually working to flesh out Mrs. Ochmonek. Take that, Benji Gregory.
In fact, at one point in the kitchen, Mrs. Ochmonek asks Kate what she thinks of Jake. Jake’s said exactly two words by that point, so Kate says he seems quiet. Mrs. Ochmonek replies, “Well, Brian doesn’t say much, but you don’t see me making a stink.”
The equivalency there is important, I think. “The Boy Next Door” knows what it’s doing. It knows that Brian is being rendered redundant, and it’s already come to terms with that. Brian was stillborn in his usefulness to this show, and now the writers are finally admitting it to themselves.
ALF never succeeded in finding anything to do with Brian. In fact, I remember only two attempts: his birthday (which was overshadowed completely by the possibility of ALF’s departure) and the fucking asparagus concert. But, here, with two and a half seasons ahead of it — which is more than the show has behind it — ALF is giving up on him, and serving up his replacement in a special introductory episode.
Jake, admittedly, circumvents a lot of the problems the writers had with Brian. For starters, he lives next door, which means they don’t need to dredge up some pointless thing for him to say every week. If he’s not part of any given story, he simply doesn’t show up.
He also comes equipped with a character trait, which is seven character traits more than Brian ever had. We’ll see this soon enough, but Jake is a troubled youth. Boom. Plotlines aplenty. Cliched plotlines, yes, but it at least means we won’t see Jake dancing and singing in a vegetable costume.
Thirdly, he’s not related to Lynn, which means he can talk about how much he wants to fuck her. That might be why Brian was such a difficult character for the writers; they don’t know what to do with a male unless it’s have him talk a lot about porking the teenage girl.
Mrs. Ochmonek explains to Kate that she’s always wanted children, but, ultimately, they decided not to have kids so that Mr. Ochmonek could get his master’s in art history.
That’s treated as a joke, and rightly so; it’s a good one. It subverts (or is subverted by) everything we’d expect of the uncouth Mr. O. And that’s why it can be funny…we actually do expect things of him. This M.A. in Art History detail can successfully go against his character because he has character to go against.
Also, unlike the mean-spirited bitching the Tanners did about him in “Come Fly With Me,” here it’s a joke for the audience to enjoy. Nobody’s making fun of him…it’s just a detail being revealed that registers as humorous to those of us watching at home. There’s a big difference between the comedy of learning that Mr. O appreciates the fine arts and the comedy of Mr. O being a hideous cripple.
Then there’s a part where Kate finds ALF’s hair in a jug of milk, which I’m not sure why she reached for in the first place since I don’t believe any recipe for iced tea calls for that.
Kate makes a friendly offer to Mrs. Ochmonek that if she has any questions, she knows where to find her. Mrs. O immediately pulls out a piece of paper and asks if Jake’s old enough to date, if he should get an allowance, what a proper bedtime would be, and this is good. Yeah, it’s silly, but it’s silliness that reflects a very human impulse. Mrs. Ochmonek doesn’t just want to be a mother…she wants to be a good mother.
Her eagerness is funny, but it’s also sweet, and it seems like a pretty great inroad for exploring her as a character. I wonder if the rest of the season follows through on this. I doubt it, but what a way to redeem the character.
Jake is a bad boy, which we learn when he puts his feet up on the coffee table. He’s 15, and Lynn talks to him for a while about the fact that they’ll be attending the same school while Brian adjusts to the role he’ll play in every subsequent episode: set dressing.
In last week’s review, ace commenter FelixSH said (among other excellent things), “Brian is not a character but a cipher.” He’s right. Maybe a bit too generous by calling him a cipher, even. He’s just a thing that’s on the stage. I could tell you exactly as much about the character of the sofa as I could tell you about him.
Their inability to find a role for this kid baffles me. Brian’s an eight-year-old boy who lives with a fuckin’ alien. What do you need, a road map?
Brian is growing up, so maybe ALF could help him learn lessons along the way. Or maybe Brian, in a role reversal, could actually help ALF learn lessons. Or they could go on adventures together…even if it’s just the two of them playing in the yard. Or maybe the show could acknowledge that nobody in this family pays attention to anyone else, so ALF and Brian bond over being misfits. Jesus Christ, there’s a thousand things you can do with these two, and that’s before we get into any more general “growing up” plots for Brian alone.
But they’d rather write for a teenager, so they can make more creepy sex jokes. Hooray.
Mr. Ochmonek and Willie go into the bedroom to speak in private, and a couple of funny things happen here. For starters, we see ALF climbing in the window. He looks down and says, “Hold still, Lucky!” Which is funny. But then he follows Willie’s lead in the cold open and steps on the joke by saying, “I’ll be off your back in a minute!” Yes, ALF, we got it.
The other funny thing is that when Willie sees ALF climbing through the window, he quickly slams the door on Mr. Ochmonek, who was following right behind. It’s a very, very simple bit of physical comedy, but it works precisely because it’s not overthought or overplayed.
Willie tells ALF to fuck the fuck off, so ALF hops off of Lucky’s back and drops out of frame. You know, it’s been a while since we’ve seen that cat, but I honestly don’t remember it being five feet tall.
Mr. Ochmonek tells Willie he’s nervous about raising Jake. “He talks back. He disobeys. And I think he stole a bag of peat moss from our living room.” Which is funny…so Willie steps on that joke by asking why he’d have a bag of peat moss in the living room YES WILLIE WE KNOW THAT IS SOMEWHAT OUT OF THE ORDINARY THANK YOU
Willie offers to help with Jake, maybe give him a good talk and straighten him out, and Mr. Ochmonek accepts the offer.
Hey, do you remember how Willie’s a social worker? If so, you have a better memory than ALF, which must have forgotten completely because I can’t imagine a more natural place to mention that detail.
His professional experience doing exactly what he says he’s going to do goes unmentioned. I wonder if they’re ever going to mention it again, or if “Willie abducts a Mexican kid” was really the only plotline they could think to spin out of it.
Then we’re treated to some really odd, almost aggressive anti-flirtation between Jake and Lynn, culminating with him asking her to jump out of a cake for him.
She refuses, but the look on her face makes her seem bizarrely flattered, so thank you, ALF, for making it all too easy to believe that she’d enjoy getting plowed by an obnoxious 15-year-old that she just met.
Speaking of cake, Willie invites Jake over for some after dinner, and when we see it, damn is it some shitty looking cake.
I’m not surprised Jake doesn’t show up for this. I wouldn’t either. It looks like one of those filthy chunks of ice you find stuck to the underside of your car.
ALF wants it though, so he pounds the table and chants, “Cake, cake, cake.” I’m not really annoyed by this, because it’s pretty much the kind of childlike behavior I wish he demonstrated more. Later, during the conversation about Jake, he “sneakily” pulls the tablecloth so that the cake moves closer to him. Which is cute.
…but why, exactly, is he here at all? They’re waiting for Jake. Shouldn’t he be in hiding? I guess he could shuffle off to another room when Jake shows up, but then why invite him to the table at all if he’s not going to be given the cake and isn’t allowed to meet the company?
Whatever. The punchline is that Jake isn’t coming, so Kate gives ALF the cake and ALF drools or something. The episode already gave up on Brian, and from this point on it’s given up on itself.
That night Jake sneaks into Willie’s shed and steals his telescope. I don’t know why that’s what he decides to take, but he makes a bee-line for it, so I assume he already has a buyer. God knows this kid’s not going to turn out to be an astronomy buff.
Jake then has to hide, because ALF comes into the shed. And this — this — is a golden opportunity.
No joke. Usually when night falls, we cut to the next morning. This is done for reasons of keeping the plots — such as they are — scooting along, but it means we never get much of a sense of what ALF does all night. This is a perfect chance to make us laugh, because it’s something we’ve been passively expecting for a year and a half.
What sort of silliness does ALF get up to when the humans are asleep? I can’t believe we’re finally going to find out!
All we find out, though, is that the writers don’t know the answer to that question either.
ALF sings “Billie Jean.” He dances for a while. Then he calls a guy in Scotland and tells Star Trek jokes to him. The Scottish guy responds by playing “Papa Don’t Preach” on the bagpipes.
What the actual fuck is going on here.
Did they actually, finally, naturally get the chance to flesh out some previously-unexplored aspect of their main cocksucking character, and choose to pave over it with nonsense filler?
Jesus God, this show. It’s like it doesn’t even want to exist.
Jake sees ALF and drops the telescope. I’d list all of the characters who’ve seen ALF, but at this point I think it would be quicker to list the people on this show who have not seen ALF. That whole secrecy aspect of the show sure went out the window fast.
ALF makes Jake repair the telescope. I have no clue how this kid is going to repair shattered glass, but evidently he accomplishes it by sitting on the steps for a while while ALF tells him literally everything about himself. Through the magic of editing, it’s as good as new!
Jake says that his dad taught him to fix things. Including shattered glass, I guess. Ugh. It’s not like he broke a vase or a trophy or something he could glue back together. A telescope is a delicate scientific instrument. You can’t just drop one so hard that it breaks and then “fix” it by hand.
Who knows. Maybe it’s not fixed, and Jake and ALF just both realized at the same time that neither of them give a shit about Willie’s feelings anyway.
Later that night, ALF remembers that he has a whole new child to molest, so he spies on Jake through the window. This is when we are made privy to the horrific extent of the boy’s juvenile delinquency: he crumples up some sheets of blank paper and throws them around.
Mrs. Ochmonek comes in and reveals that the vase contained somebody’s ashes, which makes ALF laugh. And, you know, that is kind of shitty. It also works against the main point of the episode, which is that ALF proves that Jake is actually a really good kid.
No, he’s not. Dumping out somebody’s ashes and showing no remorse is not the work of a good kid. And laughing uproariously at this behavior is not the work of someone in any place to judge a kid’s goodness.
Whatever. ALF signals to Jake that he wants to finger his rectum, so Jake gets rid of Mrs. O by saying her husband wants to fuck her. She trots off, dripping with horn. Man, remember those couple of minutes earlier on when she was actually some kind of character? Those were some heady times.
ALF gives Jake a bunch of shit to fix. Mrs. Ochmonek hears him talking to somebody, and he calls to her that it’s just the TV.
ALF, to keep up the illusion, shouts, “Live from New York! It’s Saturday night!” And, man, I am absolutely positive Paul Fusco masturbated himself raw at the idea that ALF would even be considered for hosting Saturday Night Live.
The next day Willie is ignoring his daughter talk about her upcoming birthday*** because he’d rather read some unidentified textbook. This guy is a truly legendary social worker.
Speaking of which, I guess he gave up on straightening Jake out after the rude punk decided not to join them for smashed up crap cake. Troubled youth or not, you only get one shot with Willie Tanner.
Mr. Ochmonek then brings Jake over, because he found a bunch of Willie’s shit in the kid’s room.
ALF reaches through the plot window and hits Willie in the back of the head with a thrown dinner roll. Nobody questions this, including Mr. Ochmonek who saw it happen.
Willie goes into the kitchen where ALF reveals that he gave that crap to Jake to fix, and then they agree that their new friend Jake is one outrageous dude, and totally in their face. Then Willie returns to the living room and apologizes because the episode is over.
Lynn pats Jake on the head, and Jake says, “You want me, don’t you?” Brian, meanwhile, has silently drowned in the tub.
The short scene before the credits is pointless. ALF smacks a puzzle piece into place where it doesn’t belong. And…that’s a pretty good metaphor for this episode overall. It was so weird and disjointed, with everything being forced to happen rather than allowed to happen.
I’m pretty disappointed in the introduction of Jake for a few reasons. For one, it really does represent the show giving up on Brian, which is utterly baffling. The fucking kid’s in the opening credits…you can’t even try to do anything with him?
And isn’t it a bit early to be adding Cousin Oliver to the mix? That’s usually a late-game shakeup to try to bring some life back into a show that’s gone stale. ALF is only halfway through its second season, and already they can’t think of anything to do but toss new characters in?
The worst part is that I know they just keep doing it from this point on. Kate has another baby, Jim J. Bullock moves in, Dr. Potato Famine comes to life and rents Willie’s basement…they keep trying in the hopes that, eventually, something they add will make this shit funny.
Oh well. We’ll see where it goes. It could still prove to be a good decision.
Maybe Jake bullies Brian and we’ll squeeze another plot out of that dead kid yet. Or maybe Mrs. Ochmonek gets to work the “new mother” aspect of her character a bit and actually turn into someone worth having on the show. Or maybe Jake cums down the front of Lynn’s sweater and she has to pretend it’s toothpaste.
Whatever happens, the scary trilogy of awful horseshit is over, and we should be back to normal shit levels from now on.
The fact that that thought is actually comforting to me is worrying.
MELMAC FACTS: ALF had a cousin from the south side of Melmac, the baddest part of the planet, Pretty Boy Shumway. If he didn’t like your shoes he’d point and you and go “ee-ee-ee-ee.” Which is actually funnier than it sounds. ALF has had liposuction. Which is not as funny as it sounds. On Melmac they only had one guy who knew how to fix things.
* For those keeping score at home, this is the third overt reference to a Hitchcock film. “Strangers in the Night” was (kind of…) about ALF wanting to watch Psycho, and “Lookin’ Through the Windows” was an episode-long pastiche of Rear Window. The interesting thing? All three are Ochmonek episodes. A coincidence, I’m sure, but now I’m really looking forward to the episode in which Mr. Ochmonek and Wizard Beaver agree to murder each other’s wives.
** Yes, I’m deliberately referencing Family Guy. Yes, I hate me too.
*** We learned in “Hail to the Chief” that Lynn was 18, so I guess this means she’s turning 19? And she’s still in high school? Did she stay back, or is there a way to rectify those details that I’m missing?