Well, Jodie’s gone and she’s never coming back, which means it’s time to return to the weekly parade of distracting guest stars so that the writers don’t have to bother developing their main characters.
That’s not to say that “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog” is without merit, but it is to say that it’s much closer to a standard episode of ALF than it is to…you know. Something good.
We do open with a real surprise, though: Brian.
Yep, that’s him! On screen! Saying and doing things! Of course, it’s not a very reassuring sign that he’s taken to wearing a shirt with his name on it. I guess it helps keep his family from forgetting who he is, but it’s still kind of sad.
This is tremendously funny to me. We don’t see Max Wright wearing a WILLIE shirt, but 19 episodes into season two the writers haven’t done enough with this kid to feel secure that we’ll even recognize who he is.
Anyway, “Brian” (if his shirt is to be believed) has found a dog. ALF somehow fucked up the Tanners’ chimney, so he’s cutting hedges as punishment. At last we can add asphyxiation to the list of ways ALF has thrust this family into mortal danger.
Brian shows ALF how to play fetch with the dog, and ALF responds by lightly lobbing a stick over the fence. It travels at a speed and angle that couldn’t possibly connect with the Ochmoneks’ window, but we hear it shatter in an explosion of glass as though a fucking horse just ran through it, so what do I know about physics? Remember back in “Isn’t it Romantic?” when I hoped that, for Benji Gregory’s sake, ALF had a great foley artist? Well…now we can officially dismiss that possibility.
Willie comes running out, and Mr. Ochmonek shouts that he’s coming over. Of course, Willie yells loudly at ALF, calling him by name, telling him to run off and hide, and reminding him that he’s always taking the fall for ALF’s antics. All good points, Willie, but is this the best time to be bringing them up? So loudly? When you know your neighbor is within earshot? And when you also know he’ll be stepping into the back yard in a matter of seconds?
Sorry, but that’s stupid on a number of levels excessive even for ALF.
Willie hands Mr. Ochmonek $20, but Mr. O says that he’ll need $80 this time, because he’s putting in Plexiglass. He explains to Willie, “It’ll be cheaper for you in the long run.”
See? However many times this family of assholes smashes up Mr. Ochmonek’s property, he’s still nice to them, joking around and saving them money. Tell me again why we’re supposed to see him as the bad neighbor?
Jack LaMotta does this great little physical flourish when he comes over, flipping the stick ALF threw into the air and catching it as he walks. This is a major part of the reason I came to love Mr. Ochmonek: Jack LaMotta knows who he is. I can guarantee that almost none of Mr. O’s physical business was in the scripts; the writers, we can say conclusively, weren’t that interested in developing any of these clowns. Which means LaMotta, like Anne Schedeen before him, made these decisions for himself. He saw what was on the page, figured out what kind of character would say those things, and fleshed out the character himself.
Did the writing staff know how Mr. Ochmonek would carry himself when stepping onto Willie’s property with the stick that broke his window? I promise you they did not. But Jack LaMotta knew, and I have a massive amount of respect for that. From what I understand he didn’t enjoy working on the show any more than anyone else did, but based on his performance alone, I wouldn’t be able to find evidence of that.
Anyway, Willie says they can keep the dog, wherever the fuck it came from, the dog growls at ALF, and we get our credits. That has to be the longest opening sequence yet. In fairness, though, it managed set up a lot of things that could be explored in the rest of the episode: the broken chimney, Mr. Ochmonek’s windows, Brian enjoying his new dog, the dog hating ALF, Willie at wit’s end…
Oh, who am I kidding. None of this shit pays off in any way. The opening scene isn’t long because it’s establishing things we need to know; it’s long because it’s padded.
I miss Jodie. :(
ALF is under the table or something who cares.
He’s feeling around for a plate of raw steaks, which Kate moves out of the way. She then places her hand on the table instead, and when ALF feels it he hesitates for a moment…then stands up, shakes it, and introduces himself. It’s a cute little moment, and the sort of thing I’d like to see more often on this show.
Kate then notices that a steak is missing, and blames ALF. ALF says he didn’t do it, but…well…he was clearly going to do it, so I’m not sure we can feel too sorry that he’s being falsely accused.
She doesn’t believe him, and she tells him he’s not getting dinner as punishment. Now this seems like a good angle for the episode; the new dog misbehaves, doing all the things that ALF has done often enough in the past (eating food that isn’t his, ripping up the furniture, shitting on the rug) so that ALF keeps getting blamed, even when he’s innocent.
That sounds like a pretty good half hour to me, and it could lead to some fun, character-based comedy. But then Lynn walks in with the dog explaining that the dog ate the steak so…I guess that’s that. Why bother setting up the “ALF is wrongfully accused” angle if they’re going to dismantle it with the very next line?
There’s a very well-observed moment next, though, when Kate walks over to the dog to scold it. She kneels down, says, “Bad dog!” and then immediately starts fawning over it and apologizing.
Schedeen absolutely sells the comedy of that instant reversal, but even without her that would have probably worked as a smart gag. Dogs absolutely have the innate ability to defuse their own punishments with their big eyes and their droopy tails.
There was nothing my old dog could do wrong that I wouldn’t feel terrible about scolding her for. She could spill the trash, eat my dinner, knock something fragile over…and I’d send her to her bed, but then I’d always — always — melt when I saw her apologetic eyes staring back at me.
Usually I could hold it inside and let her stew, because that really would be the only way she’d learn, but even then I’d be dying inside. Yes, she knew what she did was wrong, and yes, she had to learn that certain behavior was not acceptable, but she is SO CUTE AND FLUFFY AND OHH COME HERE. OHHHH WHO’S A BAD DOG. OHHH YOU ARE. YESSS YOU ARE. OHHHH WHO WANTS A TUMMY RUB
ALF, understandably, thinks this is bullshit.
Kate tells ALF not to sulk. It’s just a dog, and it doesn’t know any better. ALF says, “Ignorance is no excuse.” Then Kate shoots perfect daggers directly into his soul and says, “Ignorance is your excuse all the time.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is probably my favorite exchange the show has had yet. Both sides have perfectly valid points, and both sides are willfully overlooking things. It’s an intelligent way to structure this conversation, boiling the entire dialogue down to two very potent lines, and in this case it only works because of Schedeen.
The scolding / apology a moment ago was a strong enough concept that even the worst actor on the show could have probably pulled it off. Here, though, it only works because of Schedeen’s commitment to it. She delivers her rejoinder perfectly, and the bemused tone of voice she adopts is spot-on, as is her body language. I cannot stress enough what an asset she is to ALF. Often, she’s its only asset.
We then get another well-observed moment of dog ownership: Lynn tells the family to watch as she issues commands. She tells the dog to speak…and it doesn’t. After a moment, though, it lies down, and the Tanners laugh and coo.
ALF, of course, doesn’t join in* but the reactions of the rest of the family are perfect. Dogs are indeed adorable when they do tricks. Dogs are exactly as adorable when they fail to do tricks, or misinterpret commands. People end up fawning over every little thing a dog does, from sneezing to snapping at a fly to twitching its little feet while it sleeps. They get so much credit for doing literally nothing more than being themselves that it’s an inherently funny thing to draw attention to.
Sadly, we find out later in the episode that that’s not what’s going on here at all. The dog’s real owner taught it, for some reason, to respond improperly to voice commands, so this well-observed moment is turned retroactively into a brainless throwaway gag. Well done, ALF.
Also, we learn that Brian named the dog Alfina, which almost seems like my wish for “We’re So Sorry, Uncle Albert,” in which Uncle Albert was instead Uncle Alfred — a human double pulling the same shit ALF pulls — might be coming true here, with a misbehaving dog in his place. Especially with the whole dog-eating-the-steak setup earlier. This would be a chance (arguably an even better one) to filter ALF’s normal behavior through an outsider, and reveal to the alien how dickawful he is.
But, no. It’s a decent little suggestion that the dog is replacing ALF…but even that doesn’t pan out. I’ll get to why shortly.
The evil mom from The Goonies comes over and says she saw one of the Lost Dog posters Brian hung up. She swears it’s hers, even though she doesn’t know its gender, doesn’t recognize it, and doesn’t know its name. (“Come here, dog,” doesn’t get a fake audience laugh, but I liked it.)
It’s a little sad to see Anne Ramsey here, especially since she’s in overtly poor health. Looking up the spelling of her name I found out that this was indeed one of her last roles, and that’s upsetting. Her walk is clearly pained and her line delivery barely this side of comprehensible. The joke is supposed to be that this is a stingy old argumentative coot, but with the state she’s in it feels a lot more like we’re supposed to be laughing at her for being at the brink of death.
I can’t express just how much this shakes me up, but I can’t blame ALF for this. It happens on great shows, too. Elaine Stritch toward the end of 30 Rock was so obviously ailing that it became uncomfortable to watch. Richard Dunn always looked like he was at death’s door during the run of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job, and even though that was offset somewhat by how thrilled he was that he found such popularity with an audience so late in his life, the fact was that he could clearly go at any time.
And then he did.
So, no, I don’t blame ALF. But this is heartbreaking to watch. Especially since we’re supposed to hate her here. (Something that admittedly wasn’t true of Stritch or Dunn.)
It’s a genuine shame we didn’t get a rewrite (or a re-casting, as much as I hate to say that) once Ramsey’s rapidly declining health was seen by the production staff, because as it plays out we end up with Willie being a raging dick toward a woman who doesn’t seem ornery so much as she seems lost in the hallucinations of a fading mind.
The dog growls at her, and Willie tells this dying old lady to go fuck herself.
Then she gives him her number in case he changes his mind and leaves, at which point we watch Willie carefully shit his pants. At least that’s the only explanation I have for what we see him do here:
I don’t know. I guess he’s flinching from her, but Max Wright forgot to do it until after she turned around and left, making it look unprovoked and like an untreated symptom of St. Vitus dance.
Brian takes Alfina for a walk, and then ALF pops up through the plot window, moping that the boy is no longer interested in “the alien they left behind.” It’s not a joke, because the fake audience of dead people doesn’t tell us it’s one, so we’re actually supposed to feel sorry for him.
I’d like to.
Really. I would. But since ALF has made literally no effort to bond with this kid ever, I don’t know what he thinks he’s bitching about. We’ve seen them watch Gilligan’s Island together. We’ve seen him put Brian to work on his backyard plantation. And he talked some rambling bullshit to the kid about how he was once Don Quixote. I might be forgetting something, but I certainly can’t be forgetting much. ALF simply has never given much of a crap about Brian. Period.
Of course, this too could be a great inroad for the plot. ALF never bothered to bond with Brian…and now Brian is bonding with something else. ALF’s jealousy could play out in several ways for comic effect, and the episode could end with ALF realizing that he is the one to blame. The problem isn’t that Brian is sick of him…the problem is that ALF himself never put forth any effort, so the kid moved on. It’d be a bit like the realization at the end of “Cat’s in the Cradle,” except instead of the kid having a father who realizes what a mess he’s made of their relationship, he has an alien who rapes him a bunch.
Whatever. The point is that there are an infinite number of ways to handle this setup…and nearly all of them would be better than what we actually got.
Very early the next morning, ALF brings Willie his paper in bed, Kate tells him to fuck fucking off, and ALF complains that dogs get treated better than aliens around here. Which would probably have been a more compelling argument in an episode that didn’t open with this alien smashing up their neighbors’ windows.
He then finds that the dog has taken his bed. Fortunately it hasn’t truly taken over ALF’s place in the family, though, because it’s just lying there and not masturbating to Lynn’s unmentionables.
The dog yawns or licks its chops or something, and those masterful foley artists lay a totally incongruous growl over top of it. Startled by the dog’s impressive display of ventriloquism, ALF shits everywhere.
The next morning Willie and Kate cook ALF his all time favorite Sunday breakfast: naked pictures of Brian.
Sorry. They make his second favorite: French toast, Jell-O, and spaghetti. They’re doing this by way of apology. You know, because they busted up some windows and blamed him for it, broke his chimney, woke him up in the middle of the night for no reason…
Oh, wait. That’s all the crap he did. Why are they apologizing to him? Because he’s jealous of the dog? Fuck you, ALF. You send Willie to Gitmo without batting an eye, but they’re supposed to drop everything and kiss your feet because a better behaved animal is getting attention more attention than you?
This happens a lot in this show. ALF fucks some shit up and / or places the family in mortal danger, then they either apologize to him or thank him. Granted, in some cases he does actually save them (“Come Fly With Me”), but that should hardly get top billing over the fact that he’s the one that endangered them in the first place.
Anyway, they ask where the dog is and ALF reveals that he murdered it with a screwdriver.
A little girl comes over with one of Brian’s posters and says it’s her dog, Francesca. I don’t know how she knows that, since there’s no picture of the dog on the flier, and in fact has nothing printed on it apart from Andrea Elson’s next lines, but, whatever. Lynn, not knowing yet that ALF has disemboweled the dog in their bathtub, invites the girl in.
Where’s Brian in this scene? Seriously, why wasn’t he the character who answered the door? We could have had a scene between two little kids who are attached to the same dog. They both want it…they both feel entitled to it…but it rightfully belongs to the girl, and Brian has to learn to let go.
I like that idea. I don’t even care if you do, because the main point is that this episode about Brian bonding with the dog, which hinged a seemingly pivotal moment on ALF’s realization that Brian was bonding with the dog, is almost completely devoid of Brian.
It’s bizarre, and it has to be a joke at this point. Right? Not only are they making a point of not integrating him into stories that don’t need him, but they’re crowding him out of the stories that do need him.
Willie and Kate go into the kitchen to fist ALF to death. He admits he gave the dog away, but defends himself on the grounds that Brian was getting too attached to it.
See? This is a Brian episode, and he’s barely in it. The only thing we’ve seen him do with the dog is take it out for a walk, and the camera stayed behind while they were gone because fuck Brian. This kid isn’t even getting invited to his own parties anymore.
The dog is currently in the home of that woman who is going to be dead in a few weeks, so Willie heads over to throw her from the train.
I have no idea how much time is meant to have passed in this episode. I thought the whole episode up until ALF tries to sleep in his bed is the first (and only) day that the family has the dog, judging by the fact that their outfits don’t change and the dog doesn’t seem to have found anywhere else to sleep. The next morning is when they try to cook ALF breakfast, but that’s also the morning on which he reveals that the dog is gone.
Fine. But there’s also some worry during that scene because Willie and Kate know that the dog “usually” comes running when they’re cooking. It’s a bit early to say that if it’s only the next day, and way too early to be worried that the “usual” routine — of, what, 15 hours? — has been interrupted. So I have no fucking clue what’s going on except that this lady has the dog and who the hell cares how quickly time does or doesn’t pass in this dumbass show.
She demands $500 for the dog, and man is it hard to watch this. Ramsey’s speech is noticeably slurred, and she’s barely mobile. Then it gets even more unintentionally heartbreaking when her ex-boyfriend starts pounding on the door. We don’t see him until later, but we hear his voice, and IMDB informs me that the ex-boyfriend is played by Logan Ramsey, her real life husband. Anne died the same year this episode aired, and Logan died in 2000, twelve years later.
The running joke that these two hideous people could be in any way attracted to each other sure is a sour swansong for their lives together. In fact, the mere suggestion that this lady has or ever had a sex life is enough to make Willie do this:
Your social worker, ladies and gentleman.
Ugh. They really, really should have changed this script once they saw how poorly Anne Ramsey was. It’s not in good fun when she spends her time between scenes making funeral arrangements.
Her ex threatens to beat the piss out of whatever guy she has in there with her, so Willie jumps out the window and this show sucks.
Back at the ranch, ALF is trying to console Brian, who might as well be in the episode again, I guess. He’s not successful at talking the kid out of his funk, but ALF does get a good line when he suggests they go shoot some hoops: “I’ll get the pea-shooter. You see if the Hoops are in their back yard.”
Yeah, yeah. Sue me. I liked it.
Brian isn’t caving, though. He’s inconsolable, which we can tell from the fact that he sits in emotionless ignorance of anything going on around him. Just like every other episode.
Willie comes home and apologizes that he couldn’t get the dog back. Brian stomps off, pissed, but why? Had Willie gotten the dog, it still wouldn’t be Brian’s. It belongs to that little girl, and Wilile was getting it back for her. I can understand the idea that he’d be upset on her behalf, but that’s not what’s happening here. He’s mad because he doesn’t have the dog anymore…but no matter how things went with Mama Fratelli, that dog wasn’t coming back to the Tanner house.
Speaking of which, why didn’t Willie just cough up the $500? Yeah, it’s a lot of money, but he pays ten times that amount monthly to keep his alien happy. He won’t set some money aside — taking it out of ALF’s damage allowance, natch — to help this little girl get her dog back?
Fuck. You. Willie.
ALF feels bad so he sneaks up to the old lady’s window dressed as Sarah Portland. I don’t know what his plan actually was, because the phone conveniently rings, she leaves the room, and he’s free to just waltz inside. We never find out who was on the phone, so I guess the writers didn’t know what the plan was, either.
While ALF is in her living room, her ex-boyfriend comes back. ALF hides, Mr. Ramsey talks about how much he wants to fuck her. Mrs. Ramsey talks about how much she wants to be fucked by him. Then they head into the other room to fuck. HAVE I MENTIONED THIS WAS AN EXCELLENT SHOW FOR FAMILIES
Then ALF starts to lead the dog out the front door. Seriously, what was his plan? If the phone didn’t ring and / or she didn’t get her hands on the treasure of One-Eyed Willie, what exactly was ALF going to do to get the dog out of there?
Whatever. ALF hears the two hideous creatures porkin’ the night away, and starts walking over with the intention of spying on them.
“No,” he says, stopping himself. “Some things are best left to the imagination.”
What a seriously perverse fucking show. And what a horrible way to cap off Ramsey’s career. I’d have been less disgusted if they just dug her up and peed on her.
In the short scene before the credits, the little girl gets her dog back. Brian doesn’t seem to give more than a quarter of a shit at most, further confusing the issue of why he was angry before. And everything else that happened in this episode, for that matter.
The little girl tells him that he can come over and play whenever he wants, and his boner at being invited to participate in anything for the first time in 44 episodes can be seen from space.
MELMAC FACTS: ALF played Camille in his high school play. One of the common expressions on Melmac was, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it gets run over by a car, you don’t want it.”
* He does make gagging gestures in the background through, and there’s a remarkable show of restraint on the part of the editors for not cutting to an extreme closeup of ALF doing this, a rushing crescendo of fake audience appreciation carrying us through to the act break.