“Can I Get a Witness?” comes dangerously close to being a good episode. This, unfortunately, makes it more frustrating than most.
The fact that it comes so close to being a good episode is frustrating on its own, but that’s compounded by the fact that it comes so close with such a stupid premise. Stupid premises leading to greatness bring to mind “La Cuckaracha” and “Oh, Pretty Woman,” and part of the reason I liked them so much was that their central concepts had me rolling my eyes. They were dumb ideas, and on a show that bungles nearly all of its good ideas, I’m legitimately (and pleasantly) surprised when they hit a grand slam off such a wimpy pitch.
Normally, this show is just lousy. Sometimes it’s incredibly bad (“Wild Thing,” “ALF’s Special Christmas”) and other times it’s disarmingly good (“Going Out of My Head Over You,” “Working My Way Back to You”), but, mainly, when the show just chugs along, it’s aimless, meandering junk. No better, and no worse.
The fact that “Can I Get a Witness?” spotlights both the best and the worst aspects of ALF is particularly frustrating, because it should have been better or worse. It’s neither the surprise highlight nor the hilarious misfire. It manages to cancel out both extremes, and end up in a disappointingly forgettable middleground.
Then again, I guess I should be grateful for the opportunity to forget an episode that opens by trying to convince me that Willie enjoys football.
Look at that first screen shot. That’s his excitement? You’d have an easier time convincing me that he sucks off hobos for crack. I know I’ve complained about Willie’s revolving hobbies, but I honestly think this is a new low and worthy of special mention. The one common factor — the only common factor — in all the previous shit we’re supposed to believe he cares deeply about is that they were, in some way, nerdy. And that works, because while we still know almost nothing about the guy, the one thing we’d all be willing to believe is that he’s a fucking nerd.
By suddenly turning him into a sports obsessive the show only muddies his character further, and drives a wedge between us and the one vaguely reliable character trait Willie’s ever had.
Anyway, ALF belches a bunch of times and that’s the intro.
Inspired by the football game, Willie, Brian and ALF all go outside to toss around the ol’ pigskin. Then, inspired by the fact that nobody on the production staff wanted to prepare the back yard set, the game is immediately over and they come back inside.
Well, Willie and Brian do. ALF throws the football through the open kitchen window because he’s a dick, and he smashes all the shit on the table.
The screengrab above is actually a really good illustration of the difference between Max Wright and Anne Schedeen. Schedeen has nothing to do with this moment — it’s a football hitting Willie and smashing some plates — but she’s in frame, so she reacts. She treats it the way she would if this was really happening, bringing her hands to her face in both anger and surprise.
Max Wright reacts, too, but only as much as he has to, flinching because he just got hit in the chest with a football. It’s more reflex than acting, and had the roles been reversed and Willie was the one in the background, I’m positive Max Wright would just stare doe-eyed into the middle distance until it was his turn to talk.
Anne Schedeen gets paid to be Kate. Max Wright gets paid to read the lines written next to the word “Willie.”
At dinner ALF bitches about there not being enough food. It’s a hilarious subversion of expectations, because this is the 80th fucking time they’ve made this joke and by now you’d expect they’d have a new way to tell it.
Personally, I’d bitch about there not being enough people. Where are Willie and Brian?
Throughout the first half of this episode, ALF wears the pink shirt you see there. It’s…weird. I’m not being judgmental, but why pink? He’s nearly always naked, and when he’s not he’s either in an outfit for plot / joke purposes, or in a Hawaiian shirt. That’s his style, so a pink buttondown — worn without comment — stands out.
I just find it odd. Honestly I wonder if one of the ALF puppets really does have some kind of visible damage to its chest or side, because every so often we get a shirt out of nowhere, sometimes just for a short scene, with no purpose.
Funnily enough I wouldn’t even take note of this if they’d slipped the busted puppet into an outfit that made sense. Say, a football jersey. It’s not like pink buttondowns are ALF’s signature or anything. Dress the guy in something to do with the plot!
Whatever. He mentions he worked up an appetite playing football alone for so long, and Kate tells him he better not have trampled her flowerbeds.
He says he didn’t, and that she shouldn’t worry, but she tells him to show her his feet. He refuses, and then she demands, sternly, “Feet.” Cowed, ALF shows her his feet and we see trampled flowers stuck to his soles.
I like this part a lot. ALF is being a kid who knows he did something wrong, and Kate is being a mother who sees through the lie and isn’t in the mood to play games.
It’s a good dynamic, and due to the fact that ALF is a 200 year old alien (or whatever) and Kate’s just a frustrated housewife, playing this kind of relationship straight gives it an air of comedy by default. It doesn’t rely on writing…it’s more down to performance. Once again, that’s why I’m so glad we have Anne Schedeen.
Mrs. Ochmonek comes over and wants to know who kicked a fucking football through her window. Willie mechanically pulls out a wad of cash, but I’m not sure this is meant to be the kind of joke I’d like it to be. Whether or not it’s intentional, though, it’s nice to see that the show is still committed to having ALF drive this family into the inescapable hell of financial ruin.
Since they can’t say it was ALF, they blame it on Brian, and Mrs. Ochmonek says that this behavior should be nipped in the bud, otherwise he’ll grow up to be a bad kid, and replace some other crappy child actor while speaking in a phony Brooklyn accent.
There’s a noble attempt at a good joke here, when Mrs. Ochmonek talks about Al Capone having been a good buy until he broke her grandfather’s window. But actually he broke it by pushing her grandfather through the window, which seems like a punchline that isn’t as funny as its own setup, so I don’t know. This sucks.
It’s the kind of thing that I’d really like to compliment — Al Capone breaking Grandpa O’s window and then turning to a life of crime is a funny idea — but the writers didn’t care enough to make it land.
She leaves with her shitty punchline lingering in the air behind her like an old lady fart, and the Tanners (the ones who are still in this show, anyway), call ALF into the living room.
I do actually like what happens here: he hands Kate the flowers he ruined, using a soda can as a vase. Then he apologizes.
I like this for three reasons.
For starters, ALF is being a kid again. This is absolutely the kind of thing an eight-year-old boy might do, and it’s a shame this show never had one.
Secondly, this means ALF was doing something off camera. We didn’t see it, but it’s still a kind of background business, suggesting — at last — that ALF exists when he’s not cracking jokes center stage. He wasn’t a puppet in a box, stowed away until the next scene. He did things.
Finally, Kate is at least partially grateful for the effort, but she’s also still mad. This is a little boy atoning for one thing, but she knows she still needs to punish him for another. Schedeen’s “They smell like feet,” is a lovely, forced dismissal of the gesture, and it walks the line wonderfully.
Willie then attempts to play it cool, and asks ALF where their football is. ALF replies, matter-of-factly, “Behind your back.”
And it actually starts to feel like this might be a good episode. A few funny and otherwise enjoyable things in a row, and I’m dumb enough to get my hopes up.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because there’s some more decent stuff here and I’ll be fucked if I’m going to cheat myself out of enjoying it.
The family confronts ALF and tells him that they know he broke the Ochmoneks’ window, but he says he didn’t. He does have a theory, though: at one point he kicked the football up…and it never came down.
After a pause, Lynn asks what his theory is, and he replies that it’s obviously “gravity failure.”
And this is funny. Willie argues that the football did come back down, land in the Ochmoneks’ yard, and then broke the window…somehow. ALF and I both find this hard to believe, but it leads to another good line when ALF says that there’s no way that happened, because “if there’s one sound I recognize, it’s glass breaking.”
That joke, unsurprisingly, gets stepped on, leading to ALF listing off a bunch of other shit he always breaks, which, again, isn’t as funny as its own setup. It also reminds me of the fact that he did smash up their dinnerware, and they saw that happen with their own eyes, so even if he is innocent of breaking the window, doesn’t he still need to be punished?
Either way, this episode is shockingly not terrible so far…or, at least, this scene is…and it leads to what’s easily one of my favorite ALF gags ever:
Lynn steps in to stop Willie from jumping to conclusions by saying, “Dad, we can’t really be sure that ALF broke the window.”
ALF, grateful, says, “Thank you, Lynn.”
Then he turns to Willie and Kate and says, “Maybe Lynn broke it.”
And FUCK YOU that was funny. This entire scene really does feel like it was plucked from a much better show, and it’s the highlight of the episode. If I only showed you these few minutes, I could probably trick you into thinking this was one of the better ones.
Brian comes in and they ask if he broke the window, but the fact that he was written out of the show last week makes for a pretty air-tight alibi.
This means ALF is still the prime suspect, and I’m reminded of “Looking For Lucky.” Way back in that episode, ALF was also accused of a crime he did not commit. In fact, the evidence there was even more damning, as I don’t think he’s ever fantasized openly about smashing the Ochmoneks’ window, but he sure as shit never shut up about wanting to eat the cat.
The difference is that this episode humorously walks us through the cases for and against ALF, which we’ll come to shortly. “Looking For Lucky” just had ALF in the pound and the Tanners running around LA asking if anyone’s seen their wacky space alien.
It also helps that this episode has jokes, and, frankly, even if it is a bit crap, it was worth watching if only for those unexpected moments of greatness. Such as when ALF demands a trial, and Willie says he’ll be the judge. ALF doesn’t want that, because Willie already thinks he’s guilty, so Lynn asks, “Would you trust mom to be the judge?”
…and that perfect moment of loaded silence hangs there, gorgeously. When the awkwardness peaks, ALF declares, “Without hesitation!”
It’s funny because it’s not over-explained. It simply plays out, as comedy is meant to, and it works precisely because Kate has background business: she’s dusting the table, turns when she hears Lynn rope her into this, and then freezes as she waits for a reply.
It has the visual cadence of a joke, meaning it’s the sort of thing you’d find funny even if the rest of the dialogue was in a language you didn’t understand. All-too-rare moments like this demonstrate that someone on the writing staff knows how comedy works, and, again, knows that if they’re going to rely on anybody to pull off their best material, it’s got to be Schedeen.
ALF gets until the next morning to prepare his case, and after the commercial break we’re there. And look at the puppet here. Wasn’t the one in the earlier screengrabs of a more orange-y hue? I think that’s the damaged one. I remember another episode this season (though I forget which, thank Christ) in which ALF was suddenly more orange and clothed, which is what made me wonder in the first place if there was a damaged puppet. Now I’m positive of it.
Why they didn’t keep using it (since ALF is wearing a different outfit here, which would have also concealed the damage) is beyond me. Why they don’t repair it is probably due to budget issues, so I won’t criticize them for that much. It’s probably smart to keep the busted puppet around for stunts anyway.
Whatever. Brian’s the bailiff, and he announces Kate, who comes in from the kitchen and bangs a gavel. Well, actually she bangs a lobster mallet, which I like.
It’s a good detail; most sitcom viewers wouldn’t have batted an eye at a character apparently owning a gavel, but the fact that they gave her a lobster mallet instead shows at least some appreciation for subtle jokes borne of thinking through the logistics.
Then ALF comes in and apologizes for being late because he was taking a huge shit.
I’m done complimenting this show.
…alright, maybe not quite yet. There’s some good dialogue here where Willie calls Kate “Honey,” but ALF says that isn’t fair, since Willie’s supposed to be the prosecutor, and as judge she should be addressed as “Your Honor.” He offers “Your Honey” as a compromise.
Then, during his opening statement, ALF talks about how innocents have been unjustly accused from the down of time, using Adam and Eve as his example. Brian points out that Adam and Eve were, in fact, guilty.
ALF replies, “Says who?”
Brian responds, “Says God.”
ALF’s face here is hilarious, and it’s one of the better silent punchlines I’ve seen on this show, really selling ALF’s internal panic. He then says, defeated, “Moving on…” and it’s a fantastic moment.
Man, that’s what’s frustrating about ALF. I can be so good when it gives half a shit.
Willie then speaks about ALF’s history of destructive behavior, which consists almost exclusively of references to events we’ve actually witnessed. While whipping up antics that we haven’t seen before could be a nice avenue for better writers to explore (like Marge referencing Homer’s previous “lifelong dreams”), this litany of dickholishness past is a decent amount of fun on its own.
- Crashing his UFO into their garage. (“A.L.F.”)
- Setting fire to their camper (“On the Road Again”)
- Chopping up their Christmas tree (“Oh, Tannerbaum”)
- Wrecking their toaster (…which I can’t remember.*)
- Ripping their painting (“Working My Way Back to You”)
- Digging up the back yard (“Somewhere Over the Rerun”)
- Stealing a car (“Baby, You Can Drive My Car”)
- Burying Willie’s piano (no episode, but damn that’s funny)
- Getting Willie arrested (“Pennsylvania 6-5000”)
- Using their credit cards excessively and illegally (passim, but the foundation** of the plot in “Keepin’ the Faith”)
- Short circuiting the television (“Weird Science”)
- Terrorizing the cat (passim, but the biggest turd in the litterbox of “Looking For Lucky”)
- Blowing up the kitchen (“Working My Way Back to You”)
Wow. For a show that’s pretty barren of continuity, that’s actually a fun list, and I like the idea that Willie keeps a sort of running tally of ALF’s shenanigans in mind for occasions such as this.
I also find it more than a little bit funny that none of the shit he pulled in “Wild Thing,” when we were led to believe he was at his uncontrollable worst, made the list. His worst offenses in that episode don’t even outrank toastercide.
ALF calls Lynn to the stand. It’s interesting, actually, that something like a broken window, so clearly minor in comparison to almost everything Willie listed a moment ago, turns into this big production, while those larger deeds went entirely unpunished.
Anyway, ALF asks her how long he’s known her, and she replies, “About a year.” So, there. Just something to keep in mind, I guess, as it lets us know that ALF is more or less progressing along with our concept of real time. There’d be no problem if it leapt ahead or staggered behind, but now we know.
Then he asks her if she’d say he has any “saintly qualities.” Lynn replies that he resembles a St. Bernard, which makes Willie do this:
…and my penis falls off forever.
ALF calls Brian to the stand, but the writers realize almost as quickly as I do that that’s not going to go anywhere, so they turn it into a quick joke about ALF trying to bribe him and we’re free of the kid in record time.
Finally, ALF calls himself to the stand, which is a much better use of Mr. Fusco’s time than interacting with other actors. Now he gets to provide both halves of a conversation, which must have warranted a pretty big checkmark on the ALF bucket list.
ALF’s cross-examination of himself isn’t particularly funny, but it also manages to not be terrible, so…that’s good, I guess. It does lead to a decent payoff, though, when an irritated Kate puts a stop to this garbage and demands summaries. Willie’s summary is “ALF did it,” and ALF’s is “No, I didn’t.”
It’s a fun, simple capper, and worth a lot of the trash we had to wade through to get to it.
Kate finds ALF guilty, which is another very welcome showcase for Schedeen’s talents, and that’s what makes this work.
She leans forward. Into ALF’s space. She looks down at him. She’s being a mother first, and a judge second. Up until now she’s humored this kid and played along with his little dressup game, but now she’s in charge again, and ALF’s in trouble. No more TV.
I don’t know if Max Wright had kids by this point, but if I had to guess, I’d say Anne Schedeen did. She knows how to be a mother — at least in the face of misbehavior — and it’s a joy to watch. The body language is spot on. I believe she’s ALF’s mother…though she’s obviously not, even within the reality of the show.
When Schedeen read her scripts, she must have asked, “Okay, what’s happening here? What am I trying to accomplish? How do these characters relate to each other?” Everyone else in the cast only seems to have asked, “What are my lines?”
I’m not trying to pick on Gregory, Elson and Wright. I’m sure they are all lovely people in real life, and I know at least one of them went on to find a fruitful career as a crack fiend. But I do think it’s worth drawing attention to Schedeen’s abilities, because, more often than not, she’s the one who elevates this show to levels of actual competence.
As last week, the writers have a great opportunity here. In “The Boy Next Door” it was the chance to explore with us what ALF does at night, when all the world’s asleep. This time it’s a chance to show us how ALF fills his leisure time without television.
As in the previous episode, though, they botch it, and we just get a few jabs at The Golden Girls, which ALF makes fun of because they use the same jokes every week.
…not really the glass house ALF should be throwing stones in, is it?
In fact, while it’s true that The Golden Girls established a comfortable routine for itself, it’s actually a pretty good example of how to make the same template funny every week. It wasn’t quite Cheers in that regard, but it was easily a thousand times the show ALF ever was.
Then he makes some dolls on a clothes line dance for a while and wasn’t this episode good at one point? Ahh, probably not.
Lynn comes in and tells him that she believes he didn’t do it…but, at the same time, he’s the one who requested a trial, so he can’t really complain if this is how it turned out. It’s…kind of sweet.
I actually really like this kind of relationship between them. She feels bad for ALF…but at the same time understands the restrictions of his situation. We saw the same thing in “For Your Eyes Only,” and, man, this is so much better than having ALF sing songs about what he wants to stick in her butt.
She has this sort of gently naive willingness to engage ALF on his own terms, and it’s cute.
ALF then asks if she’d let him represent her in court, in spite of how his own trial went, and she teasingly reprises the “without hesitation” gag. It’s funny.
Elson’s not much better than most of the actors on this show, but when she gets to be human it comes off really nice. She may not have Schedeen’s acting chops, but when she’s given the right material, she has a lot of warmth.
Mr. Ochmonek comes over the next day, and this time I swear that I actually do own that shirt. I’m tempted to start posting comparison pics.
He apologizes to Willie, because he’s the one who broke the window. Huh. I honestly thought the culprit would be Jake.
It turns out he found the football in his yard and played around with it, ultimately breaking the window. He didn’t want to tell his wife that that he was the one who smashed it, because he still wants her to see him as a football hero. After all, he played for seven years in high school.
Like the “good behavior” joke from last week, this is well-delivered and stands — mercifully — unexplained. Jack LaMotta knows how to sell material like this, and ALF is pretty damned fortunate to have him.
We also learn that he and his wife, who was a cheerleader, were high school sweethearts. And that is a lovely, human detail. I am infinitely more convinced that the Ochmoneks are in love than I am that the Tanners have spent anything more than screen time together.
He then tells Willie that he wanted to make things right with the Tanners, since Mrs. O was hitting them up for the repair money. He says, “The least I could do is go halfsies.”
He’s making a joke, but joking like that is what humans do. It’s a funny line, and a nice reinforcement of the idea that actual people still exist in this show, despite the best efforts of the writing staff to prevent that from happening.
God dammit. Can’t Mr. Ochmonek and Kate just elope and have their own show?
Anyway, the episode ends and the Tanners apologize to ALF, even though he did break their dinnerware and is still guilty of all the other shit Willie mentioned a few minutes ago. Then he immediately smashes up a bunch of crap and boy is this show a hoot.
The short scene before the credits finds Willie walking in on ALF watching three television sets and making three TV dinners. Willie walks over to the kitchen door and touches it near the top for some reason, then stands there until the episode ends.
Don’t ask. I have no fucking clue.
MELMAC FACTS: Melmacians applaud by belching.
* I know he poured gunk or something into it at some point, and then Willie had to fix it, but it was so minor I don’t even think it made it into my review of whatever episode it was. Anyone out there remember? I can always pretend it’s “Come Fly With Me,” which not only involved toaster destruction but also the fiery demolition of a swanky hotel…which you’d think might be a more grievous offense.
** GET IT??