When I started doing these reviews, each one took me about…two hours or so to write. (Not counting the viewing time of the episode, of course, but that’s negligible.) Now they take several days’ worth of on-and-off work. Which, frankly, is insane.
I think, however, that’s because I’ve allowed my writing process to evolve into something very inefficient. Even though my reviews are better now than they were then (feel free to disagree…), I think that the change in writing process is coincidental, and is not responsible for any bump in quality. The improvement is far more likely to be down to my expanded mindset, and increased willingness to engage with the material.
So, what I’m doing with this review is going back to my old writing process. If you think this installment represents a major step backward in quality, let me know. Hopefully you won’t even notice. Or wouldn’t have if I didn’t draw your attention directly to it OOPS
Anyway, this one opens with ALF building some shitty car in the living room. (Don’t worry. It gets better.)
As you can see, the construction of the vehicle is pretty well underway, so I have no idea how nobody in the family knew he was doing this. Why not set this scene in the garage where it would make more sense? I’d be willing to believe he was building some jalopy out there that nobody knew about. The Tanners only have periodic reasons to go into the garage, and that’s sort of ALF’s de facto playground anyway, so why not? Why the fucking living room when we find out in a moment that Lynn and Kate are right in the kitchen? How did they not hear this, or see this, happening?
It’s a pretty stupid setup for a sequence of jokes that would have lost nothing (and would not have had to be rewritten in any way) if they just came into the garage instead of the living room to tell ALF breakfast is ready. As it stands, Kate and Lynn walk out of the kitchen at the sound of the shitty car’s horn, which is annoying but not particularly loud. How did they hear that but not the actual construction of the fucking vehicle?
Whatever I SWEAR IT GETS BETTER
You’ll also see that they’re really making sure to get their money’s worth out of those fuzzy dice they dyed green way back in “Help Me, Rhonda.”
The jokes are actually not that bad. For starters, the alien refers to his car as an ALF Romeo. It’s one of those puns that’s exactly stupid enough that it just barely circles back around to being funny. In fact, I’d be willing to give this entire scene a begrudging pass based on that joke alone, but it’s not the only good one.
ALF explains that he’s building a car because it will impress chicks. Then he asks if they like it, and Kate says no. ALF replies, “I was asking the chick. Not the mother hen.”
It’s dickish, but what makes it funny is Andrea Elson’s reaction. As commenter J. Paul pointed out recently, Elson is a bit of a gigglepuss. You can catch her laughing — or trying very hard not to — pretty often. Here, as in “Going Out of My Head Over You” during the brilliant dinner scene, it fits even if it’s not deliberate. It’s a shot at Kate that doubles as a compliment for Lynn, so I buy that the shock of it would make her laugh before she realizes she shouldn’t be doing that.
It’s a nice moment. I think it’s deliberate, but even if it’s not, so what? Most of the stuff this show does deliberately sucks a big cock, so you might as well let it run off the rails now and then.
Lynn asks how he built this piece of shit, and he explains that he used some worthless junk from around the house…such as Kate’s wedding dress for the car seat. Kate rightly gets upset, but ALF replies, “What? Were you planning on wearing it again?”
This…I actually like. ALF did something massively upsetting to Kate, but with one line of dialogue we’re reminded that he didn’t realize it.
Earthlings have this custom of keeping one specific article of clothing that, no, they will never wear again. ALF, an alien, doesn’t know that. He probably sees all kinds of clothing (especially with two growing children in the house) being given away or otherwise disposed of because they won’t be worn again. Why would — or should — he think this old dress is any different? It’s a good way to make ALF an accidental asshole without making him an intolerable psychopath.
Kate tells him to get that monstrosity out of her living room, and he starts it up for some reason without being inside of it, so of course it crashes into some furniture and makes a bigger mess. We linger on a shot of the crashed vehicle long enough that I was sad this whole thing built to a shitty visual “gag,” but then we finally cut back to ALF who says, “Great. Now I have to build a tow-truck.”
And FUCK YOU that’s the funniest punchline these opening scenes have had in a while.
This one has a writing credit for Al Jean and Michael Reiss, which may explain in itself why the dumbass setpiece in the opening scene actually had some good lines in it. It certainly explains why the inane plotline to follow actually leads to a pretty great episode.
“I’m Your Puppet” gets off to a great start in that regard, actually; Willie answers the door, sees a delivery man, and says, “Hi, Pete.”
Those two words say everything, and what follows is a cute little exchange that lets us know the details without spelling anything out too obtrusively: ALF orders so much shit that Willie and the delivery guy come to know each other by name. Of course, the package is COD. Do companies even do that anymore? At the time this aired I’m sure they did (I remember that being mentioned in commercials for mail-order horse shit)…but I can’t imagine Amazon or somebody sending something to your house with the expectation that you’ll pay the postman.
Willie even gets a great line when the delivery guy leaves. He calls out, “Oh, ALF! I have a package and a lecture for you!” When Max Wright gets a laugh out of me so early in an episode, damn me if I can’t help feeling optimistic.
ALF excitedly rips open the box, saying, “It came!” Lynn asks what it is, and ALF says, “Beats me.”
It implies that ALF orders so much shit he doesn’t even know what’s coming, and I thought it was a funny way of doing so, but there’s no laughter so maybe it wasn’t a joke? I have no clue. The artificial audience reactions should make it easier for me to understand this lousy show’s intentions, but all it does is confuse me further.
Then there’s a really odd moment when Willie tells ALF he’s getting “Styrofoam” all over the floor. ALF then eats some and spits it out because “it’s stale.”
Is it just me, or does it seem like Max Wright botched his line and they never bothered to fix it? The joke would have made more sense if Willie called them “Styrofoam peanuts” or “packing peanuts” instead. I really get the sense he just said the wrong thing and they rolled on anyway, disregarding the fact that the gag no longer worked.
Inside the box is a ventriloquist’s dummy, which ALF shakes around a bit and then gives up on, because it’s mute. That makes for a decent line, but a pretty crappy end to the scene, so it’s odd that they didn’t bother to write a stronger joke to close out on.
Just kidding. That’s not odd at all. Even the good episodes of this show are kind of shit.
Later on ALF is still yelling at the dummy to talk. By this point why hasn’t the family beaten him to death with a rake? Or at least explained to him what a dummy is, I guess. This is later in the day, and the Tanners are just wasting their lives in the living room, listening to a puppet yell at a dummy.
Nobody puts a stop to this? Jesus Christ. Shut that fucker up!
ALF threatens the puppet by saying, “Don’t make me get the rubber hose.” The fake audience laughs because if there’s one thing everybody loves about ALF, its his proclivity toward sexual violence.
Willie wanders over and ALF tells him the dummy is broken, which would be a perfect time for Willie to explain what a ventriloquist’s dummy actually is…but instead Jean and Reiss have him do something far, far better.
Willie, eyes half-closed, says: “ALF, I’m not going to raise my voice. I’m not going to threaten you. I’m just going to say, for the 928th time, please don’t ever do this again.”
He then walks away, ignoring ALF’s question entirely.
I’m not even going to type that in phonetic Willispeak, because Max Wright enunciates this both clearly and wearily. It’s actually a really great moment, and it’s kind of sad. Wright plays this very well, with a beaten, hopeless tone to his voice that no doubt plays right out of the actual beaten hopelessness that he feels for being on this show at all.
In fact, the whole “puppet with a puppet” thing may serve as a decent metaphor for ALF as a whole. Just as Max Wright had to deal with one puppet’s nonsense in reality, Willie has to deal with another in his reality. “I’m Your Puppet” might therefore be the recursive nightmare of Max Wright translated directly to film.
ALF then says he’s going to send Willie some flowers, and we cut to Lynn and see that the Styrofoam peanuts are indeed everywhere. Like, all over the living room floor. And, I’m sorry, but that’s a gorgeous little touch.
I really love this. They’re not just in a little pile somewhere…they’re scattered everywhere, and that’s hilarious. It’s just the result of the production crew having some fun. The previous scene mentioned peanuts everywhere, so, hell, let’s give them peanuts everywhere. It’s cute, and ties silently into the frustration on Willie’s part that we just saw.
Lynn then explains to ALF how the dummy works, and demonstrates it pretty effectively. Yeah, you can still see her lips move, but only barely. I don’t know if Andrea Elson had any kind of real-life interest in ventriloquism, but she certainly does it a lot better here than I just did when I embarrassed myself by imitating what I saw on an episode of ALF.
It’s a funny scene, starting with ALF’s astonishment that the dummy sounds just like Lynn.
Then he tries voicing the dummy himself, and his mouth moves very obviously. This I really like, because it’s such a subtle joke. Since the alien himself is being voiced by somebody beneath the floorboards, making ALF an excellent ventriloquist would be easy: Fusco just doesn’t need to work ALF’s mouth. Or maybe he could make its lips quiver slightly. Instead, he operates ALF just as he always does, with big, exaggerated gestures, and I like that. We get to stay true to ALF’s characterization rather than simply rocket the plot along.
Then Lynn tells him he needs to keep his mouth shut while he voices the dummy, and ALF does so…rendering the dummy’s lines muffled and incomprehensible.
So help me fuck this god damned ventriloquism episode is good and I swear to fucking pole-dancing christ I’m going to throw myself out a window.
If you thought I was reaching earlier in terms of the whole puppet with a puppet thing serving as potential meta commentary for ALF itself, you’re not alone. I thought I was, too. But then ALF wonders what to call his dummy.
Lynn says that they usually have goofy names, citing actual examples like Mortimer Snerd and Knucklehead Smiff. This helps ALF decide on a ridiculous name for his own puppet: Paul.
Now, if you’ve been following these reviews from the start, you’ll already know what I’m about to say…but humor me, for the sake of anyone tuning in late.
Paul Fusco is the creator of ALF. He’s also the puppeteer and voice actor behind ALF. On most shows, something like this would be a cute little wink, and little more.
Here, however, things are a bit different. Paul Fusco’s attitude was, by all accounts, why working on ALF was a miserable experience. I’ve joked about his reputation before, but I’ll be completely serious right now and say that that doesn’t necessarily make him a bad person, or even a foolish one. If he had a vision for what ALF should be, it’s respectable, at least in theory, that he committed himself so strongly to it.
In practice, however, there are many more people involved with the production, nearly all of whom seem to have suffered in some way for the sake of what, ultimately, was a pretty shitty sitcom. The filming of each episode took something like ten times as long as that of a standard half-hour comedy, and every one of the actors had to take care as they delivered their lines not to slip into the network of puppet trenches dug through the set.
The experience of filming under these conditions was wearying and unpleasant, leading Jack LaMotta (who played Mr. Ochmonek) to describe it bitterly as one of the worst things ever to air on television, and Anne Schedeen (my beloved, who played Kate) to essentially retire from an acting career that had once been fruitful the moment she was out of ALF‘s contract.
And that’s the good news. Andrea Elson (Lynn) developed a serious eating disorder that I find it impossible not to associate with how often this show treated her like a chunk of meat. Max Wright (Willie), whose conflicts with Fusco were the stuff of miserable legend, became addicted to crack and ended up at the heart of scandal when pictures surfaced of him having sex with hobos in exchange for the drug. After the final day of shooting, before anyone knew ALF had been cancelled, Wright finished his lines, hopped in his car, and drove away without saying goodbye to anybody.
We also know that Jerry Stahl (perennial candidate for the One Good Writer) was battling a crippling heroin addiction that nearly killed him, with suggestions having been floated that squandering his talents on a show like ALF is what kept him in a state of hopeless despondency.
Outtakes from ALF reveal the titular character shouting “NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER” while in the throes of a just-as-insulting impression of people with Tourette syndrome, as well as groping the female actors and making off-color jokes to the visible discomfort of his costars.
All of this is the legacy of Paul Fusco. Again, I don’t think he did any of this to purposefully be remembered as a sack of shit. But, no matter how you slice it, the experience of being involved, in any way, with ALF was one of abject and permanent misery. Paul Fusco, with ALF, put his costars through hell. ALF, with Paul, put his costars through hell.
The naming of the dummy can’t be a complete coincidence. ALF gets a “puppet” of his own…and names it Paul…and uses it to annoy the shit out of everyone around him…with Willie ignoring ALF’s questions, expressing his feelings of dissatisfaction and walking off…with the entire conflict of the episode hinging upon the obnoxious personality of the dummy coming to dominate everything in these people’s lives…it’s pretty damned hard not to see this as an exercise in meta commentary.
And, again, it’s Jean and Reiss behind the typewriter, who would go on to prove through their work on The Simpsons that meta commentary was well within their area of expertise.
Did this turn out to be the best episode of ALF ever? No, but who cares? It’s certainly got the most intriguing, and intelligent, premise yet. And (spoiler!) it handles it well.
The turmoil begins in this very scene, when ALF starts to annoy Lynn so much that she gets up and leaves to do her homework elsewhere. Then Brian comes in asking ALF to play a “computer game” with him. I have no idea what that black plastic thing is supposed to be, but it doesn’t matter, because he’s Brian. ALF tells him the same thing everyone tells him: fuck your dumbass thing. Put that away and do my thing instead.
Brian is willing to help him learn ventriloquism, but then ALF just wants to make the kid do his chores so he walks away.
That night ALF is putting on a puppet show through the plot window. The family is annoyed at first, but then ALF cracks some silly, harmless jokes with the dummy and they laugh. I don’t think they really find it funny so much as they find it cute…the way they would if ALF were some little kid trying his hand at a structured comedy routine.
Of course, the Tanners have a little kid, but I mean a little kid with personality and interests.
It makes sense that this performance would be cute to the Tanners. It’s still a novelty. ALF’s new hobby, for once, is something less than destructive, and they get to see him be happy for a little while. It’s kind of adorable, actually, and if you’ve ever had a little kid try to put on a magic show or something for you, you’ll know exactly how easy it is to be responsive and to play along, even if their skills are a performer are really quite poor and you’re obligated to let them know that.
I’m always so happy with how “real” Anne Schedeen allows Kate to be. When ALF’s performance is over, he calls for applause, and everybody claps. Kate, who is still getting dinner ready, stops what she doing, claps a few times, and gets right back to it. What a lovely little moment. It’s not a joke and it doesn’t advance the plot. It’s just Kate being real.
The fact that the family is only minorly entertained (and majorly humoring him) is revealed when he declares an encore, and they tell him no, it’s time for dinner. He then starts performing “Ebony and Ivory” with Paul, which is quite funny when it calls to mind GOB and Franklin doing something similar on Arrested Development, and not very funny at all when it calls to mind that footage of ALF shouting “NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER.”
Later that night, ALF and Paul show up to watch Willie and Kate fuck. They tell him to leave, ALF and his puppet do some more shitty jokes instead. One of them involves Paul “impersonating” ALF, which means it’s actually ALF’s own voice imitating itself..
This is interesting, for sure. The fact that an initially cute puppet routine quickly wears out its welcome is meta enough, but now it’s actually the voice of ALF that’s annoying the fuck out of everyone.
The dummy, impersonating ALF, even jokes about how he ate the cat. Willie rolls over and groans out an unimpressed “ha ha,” acknowledging one of ALF‘s actual running jokes as being…kind of stupid, actually.
In just a few scenes, we basically have the entire history of ALF filtered through the episode: someone gets a puppet, that someone figures out a personality for the puppet, his routine is novel if not particularly good, and he ends up drilling the puppet and its catchphrases into the rest of the cast long after they wish they could move on to something else.
Anyway, Willie gets up in the middle of the night and hears ALF’s puppet crackin’ wise, but when he looks into the laundry room ALF is asleep, having vivid sex dreams about Willie’s daughter.
The puppet keeps talking, which makes the audience vocally express their worry for the sanity of the puppet who is operating another puppet. I’d have to double check, but I think this is the first episode of ALF directed by Rod Serling.
It’s kind of a dumb moment, and a hell of a dumb act break, but if we continue to view this as meta commentary about puppet-based shenanigans getting out of hand, then it works brilliantly.
There’s also the suggestion that rather than just serving as an outlet for ALF’s obnoxious idea of comedy, the puppet is allowing ALF to give a voice to his subconscious thoughts…but we’ll get to that shortly.
And this is the first time I’ve noticed that THE MOON postcard on the wall. I don’t know how long it’s been there so I don’t want to give this episode specific credit for it…but fuck if that isn’t a damned cute touch.
The next day we see ALF and Paul packing. ALF asks Paul why they have to run away, and Paul replies that “This place is a suburban Sing Sing.” Being as we know that ALF does feel trapped in his situation (and, in all fairness, he really is), and constantly spends Willie’s money for the sake of diversion (which, in further fairness, set up the action of this episode), this lends credence to the idea that ALF’s performance of Paul is giving his subconscious thoughts a voice.
This is…good, actually. On one level we have the ALF metatextual stuff, which works for me. But, on another level, we have an in-universe explanation for it: ALF’s inner turmoil coming to the surface.
It’s an episode about what ALF the show is, doubling as an episode about who ALF the character is.
Jesus God is this bullshit puppet episode actually good? Fucketty fuck this is actually good.
Brian runs off to get his parents when he hears that ALF is leaving, and then Paul actually smacks ALF around a bit, which is decently funny if only for how unexpected and silly it is. When Willie and Kate come in and see ALF getting up this nonsense, they decide they’ve had quite enough of this puppet garbage and try to take Paul away.
ALF tellingly replies, “No! Don’t take Paul away from me! He’ll die!”
It’s a believable moment of panic. Reverse the names Paul and ALF in that sentence, and it’s exactly as believable.
We know it’s silly. We know that the dummy will “die” only in the sense that the ventriloquist won’t be there to provide a voice for him. But it’s also reflective of Paul Fusco’s attitude toward — and possessiveness of — ALF.
When Tina Fey was organizing the 75th Anniversary Celebration or whatever for NBC fairly recently, she complained that “ALF’s people” were difficult to deal with. Immersed in this show as I now unfortunately am, I know that she must have been talking about Fusco specifically, as the concern “ALF’s people” had was that somebody might see that he’s just a puppet. For that reason, ALF’s brief scene in the special ended and the puppet was whisked off the premises, lest it stick around long enough for a rogue camera angle to destroy the illusion that ALF was real.
On The Simpsons they had ALF turn up in “The Springfield Files.” He only said one word (“Yo.”), but Fusco contacted the show after that episode aired and told them that they should have called him; he’d have done the voice, and if they ever use ALF again, to let him know and he’ll come by to record the lines.
TV Tropes — my nemesis in website form — even has a little section discussing the fact that Paul Fusco believed ALF was real and would refuse to admit it was a puppet. As with everything TV Tropes says, however, it’s a heaping pile of bullshit hiding a kernel of truth. In this case, it’s that Fusco doesn’t present ALF, ever, as a puppet. In interviews and such he refers to the character as though he’s real…but I don’t think Fusco ever actually believed that. The guy might have been a jerk, but he wasn’t mentally ill. It’s more the way people will talk about Santa Claus as though he’s real, even if they know he’s not. It’s done for the sake of preserving illusion.
But with Fusco, as we see with the other examples, there’s an element of possessiveness on top of that illusion. It’s the same possessiveness that makes “ALF’s people” such a nightmare to work with. It’s also probably why ALF has never seen a rebirth. As much as Fusco must feel he’s maintaining the character’s integrity, what he’s really doing is making any kind of resurgence for the character impossible.
If it’s such a dramatic event to feature the character for a few seconds as part of an anniversary special, or in a split-second cartoon lineup, there’s no reason to believe that mounting an ALF reboot would go any more smoothly than the original show did.
Willie even says, “Talk about a puppet dictator” later in the episode. It’s impossible to hear that as anything other than the venting of the writing staff.
“Don’t take ALF away from me,” it’s easy to hear Paul Fusco say. “He’ll die.” And that’s really sad, because, just as it plays out in this episode, that possessiveness is exactly what ensures that the illusion cannot survive. It’s mothering turned to smothering.
Paul tells ALF to come along and he’ll teach him how to smoke. When he’s gone, Willie comforts Kate by saying, “Don’t worry. I’m getting psychiatric help.”
Kate replies, “Well, good for you, honey. But what about ALF?”
Dumb joke, but actually really funny with Schedeen’s delivery, which manages to sound both supportive and flustered. Or maybe I just like it because it leads to…
HOLY FUCK HOLY FUCK DR. DYKSTRA IS BACK MY FUCKING GONADS LOOK
Man, “I’m Your Puppet” is just dying to get into my pants, isn’t it?
My two favorite episodes from season one were “For Your Eyes Only” and “Going Out of My Head Over You.” You probably already know that, given the fact that I can’t shut the fuck up about them.
In each of those cases we met a strong guest character, which helped us view the show through a different — and rewarding — filter. In the former case, it was Jodie, who reappeared in this season’s “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” That episode wasn’t quite as good as her first, but it was good enough to warrant her return.
The latter case featured Dr. Dykstra, played by Bill Dailey, a psychiatrist friend of Willie’s who dropped by to analyze ALF and provide us with what still might be the funniest scene in the show’s history. In that scene, Willie and ALF impersonated each other as a way of coming to terms with their frustrations. At the time, it played very much like Wright and Fusco coming to terms with their frustrations, and the show was richer for it.
Is it any wonder that I’m over the moon to see this guy show up here? And now? Talk about a perfect reason to bring this character back.
Anyway, before I forget, in the comments to my review of “Going Out of My Head Over You,” Dan the Shpydar had this to say:
I’m surprised you didn’t get into the fact that Daily was also on I Dream of Jeannie, which of course had that same “we have to keep this mysterious being a secret!” theme as ALF. Ironically, I Dream of Jeannie featured far less facial scenes than ALF, despite the fact that they would likely have been much more appreciated to appear in the former.
I didn’t say it because I didn’t know it. But now I do, and so do you. That is indeed a pretty cool bit of resonant casting…deliberate or not.
After a bit of gentle engagement with ALF and Paul, Dr. Dykstra gets bonked on the knee by the dummy. He then goes back into the kitchen, where Willie and Kate ask him if he figured out what’s wrong with ALF. Dr. Dykstra replies, “Yeah. His dummy’s a jerk.”
It’s a great little moment with a perfect delivery, coming off of a way-too-short scene of Dr. Dykstra trying to help the alien and his wooden friend.
He plays along. Laughs at the insulting jokes. He compliments Paul on his sense of humor…and it works. It gets ALF, through Paul, to open up about his frustrations…specifically the rules he has to adhere to when living under the Tanner roof. Dr. Dykstra then turns to ALF and asks if he shares Paul’s frustrations, and ALF says he does.
Whacking Dr. Dykstra in the knee with the dummy is definitely dickish, but I understand it. The therapy was effective, and that made ALF feel threatened. The lashing out is meant to be funny, but it’s also understandable in the context of the situation.
In the kitchen, the good doctor explains to Willie and Kate that since ALF’s arrived, he’s had to be on his best behavior. Both Tanner adults start spouting disbelief about that, which is funny, and culminates in a nice point: that was his best behavior. His worst behavior is what they’re seeing now, through Paul.
The puppet is bringing out the worst in its creator.
ahem ahem ahem.
Willie asks what they can do, and Dr. Dykstra jokingly suggests getting the dummy a dummy. “But then you’d be stuck with a really little guy with a really bad temper.”
It’s amazing to me how the presence of a great guest character can kick this show to a whole new level of competence. Why oh why can’t we have more of Dr. Dykstra and Jodie? They have these characters. Why won’t they use them?
Dr. Dykstra decides that ALF needs to have a few minutes of breaking the rules that he feels so oppressed by. He specifically suggests letting ALF eat the cat, but they ultimately decide instead to let ALF break a bunch of shit and throw food everywhere.
Kate, whom I love more by the second, says, “Can’t we just solve this with a buzz saw?” Baby, I been askin’ that question from episode one.
The adults smash up some dishes and encourage ALF to do the same. He’s reluctant, but eventually trusts them enough to do it, and so ALF reverts back to his “normal” bad behavior of breaking things and making a mess.
It’s a bit broad and silly, but it has its moments. Before throwing a plate, ALF asks, “How many points for hitting that picture of Kate’s mother?” Willie, overexcited, replies, “A hundred!!” before his wife scolds him for joining in.
And even though this is nowhere near as satisfying a climax as the first Dr. Dykstra episode had…it’s still decent. “Going Out of My Head Over You” built to a grand statement about its characters. “I’m Your Puppet,” by contrast, opens with such a statement. The fact that it ends on silliness rather than opens with it makes this episode feel like the more hollow one, but really I think it’s just a matter of the journey being inverted.
And, to be fair, though this episode does end up in a fest of destruction, it’s ALF’s enthusiasm for this that allows him to decide to break Paul, so it does lead to its resolution in a relatively natural way. Ultimately, no, it’s not quite as good as the first Dr. Dykstra episode…but it does go deeper in exploring its subject matter, and it gives us more to work with along the way.
It’s also full of wonderful little touches, such as the fact that, in the latter half of this episode, Paul gets his own one-shots when he talks, as though he’s an entirely separate character. It’s a hell of an effective decision, and one I really love. The “smash everything” climax is a bit too clean a solution, but, again, if we view this episode through a metatextual lens, we can’t do anything but close off the episode as quickly as possible. There’s certainly no way we can end with the psychiatrist successfully convincing the other characters that talking through a puppet is insane, because…well, you know. Unless ALF is going to become a show about ALF, we need to put a button on this, however hastily.
It’s twenty-odd minutes of digging into what makes ALF work — and not work — and while I’d love for a longer and deeper examination, I’m impressed that we even got this much out of it. It’s also a bit disappointing that we didn’t get to see the smashed Paul dummy. It’s referred to, and reacted to, but we don’t get to look at it. Maybe it was an expensive prop that they didn’t want to destroy. Or maybe, as the ALF analogue, the image of a “dead” puppet would hit Fusco too close to home.
In the short scene before the credits, Lynn finds Paul’s body stuffed in the freezer.
Who cares. The episode was good. And I was getting very, very nervous that season two got all of its good episodes out of the way up front. The quality of “I’m Your Puppet” feels well overdue at this point, but it was worth waiting for, and that’s all that matters.
It’s also worth addressing a question you probably have at this point: what was so bad about ALF’s behavior through Paul? Why did the review gloss over it?
Well…I didn’t gloss over it. ALF’s normal behavior, to me, is either far worse or exactly as bad as the guff he spouts through Paul. Which, admittedly, makes this episode something of a cheat.
In “Wild Thing,” it was a legitimate problem that we were being told ALF was at his worst without seeing any actual evidence of it. Here…well, maybe it is as much of a problem, but only when you look at it superficially. Taking the metaphor-for-the-sitcom-itself angle, it’s just a means to an end. We can ignore surface-level quirks because when we look a little deeper, we see what’s really happening here.
“Wild Thing” had nothing but its surface. ALF’s confoundingly gentle rampage was a problem because it was the only thing the episode was about. Had it really been about, say, Willie and Brian bonding as they scoured LA for their escaped alien, the lameness of ALF’s shenanigans would have been far less important.
It’s rare that ALF realizes it can do anything beneath the surface. Nearly every time it does, we end up with an episode like this. Or “Going Out of My Head Over You.” Or “Night Train.” In short, it nearly always works…which it what makes it so damned disappointing that the next week has to come, with the writers forgetting everything they’ve learned all over again.
Sitcoms, by design, need to push the reset button at the end of each adventure. But it’s a reset that should apply only to the show itself; it should not apply to the writer’s room.
Anyway, just another quick thought. When I saw the synopsis for this episode (“ALF gets a ventriloquist’s dummy that takes control of him”) I pasted it to a friend of mine. My friend replied, “Oh, right. That’s the top left square in sitcom plot bingo.” I laughed. Because, yeah, that’s a pretty trite and stupid idea.
But there’s a reason I got excited when season two began and I saw Al Jean and Michael Reiss listed as executive producers, and this episode, which they are credited as writing, makes that reason very clear: it doesn’t matter how stupid the plot is if the writing is solid.
That’s something The Simpsons taught us time and time again. While they unquestionably had original plots on the show, it’s just as obvious that they would deliberately draw from the well of cliche for ideas. Ask anyone to describe their favorite Simpsons episode, however, and the odds are good you won’t hear much about the plot. You’ll hear the jokes that stuck with them. You’ll hear about a great moment or two. The plot is only important — or should only be important — in the way that it facilitates those jokes and moments.
So as much as the dumbass dummy plot seemed…uh…dumb to me, I’m glad we had it, if only because the right men were at the typewriter. It’s a good reminder of the fact that concept means nothing, and execution means everything.
Tune in next week when ALF is raped by a panda.
MELMAC FACTS: On Melmac, spending other people’s money was how you said “I care.” Melmac’s president would say whatever you wanted if you pulled his string. On Melmac, calling somebody “Paul” was an insult. Even worse was calling them a “son of a Paul.”