Ever since Jake arrived earlier this season, I’ve been joking that Brian no longer exists. Or half-joking, anyway, because as we saw last week, the kid no longer has anything to do with his own plots. The writers have officially given up on him, which renders him stuck here, like a nail through a thumb that would do more harm to remove than to just leave where it is.
This week, we see exactly how empty the character is. While it takes them a little longer to elbow him out of yet another storyline that should feature him front and center, they know they’ve never bothered to develop him in any way so the episode has to happen around him. He’s just kind of there…and then he’s not…and then they bring him in for the final scene to pretend that he’s learned some grand lesson.
“Hit Me With Your Best Shot” plays like one of those movies in which a lead actor dies during filming, so they try to hide that by padding it out with scenes of other people talking about that guy, and reacting to things he’s done, leaving the audience — hopefully — to just assume he’s on the toilet somewhere, I guess, but is still totally like super important.
And while it’s not the worst episode of ALF (being as it does have a few very good lines), it does sink to depths that even the wonderful Anne Schedeen can’t redeem.
You’d be forgiven for not believing me, though, since we open on a great Kate scene. She walks in on ALF who has apparently been sitting under a sunlamp for five hours. He wonders openly why he isn’t getting a tan…which is a visual joke that works on its own. But then Kate touches him, and he screams. Even funnier.
What I like most about it, though? Look at Kate’s face above. (But…don’t look at her shirt.) Anne Schedeen is acting. Unlike the rest of the cast, she doesn’t just pause and react when it’s her turn to talk. She’s filtering the actions and words of others through her own character, and it often makes her the only thing on screen worth paying attention to.
If she had been in a better show, I think she’d be pretty fondly remembered. Instead she’s in ALF, where she gets nose-fucked by a puppet in her hallway and everyone’s pretty eager to forget any of this ever happened. She really was so much better than this show deserved, and that’s tragic.
She tells ALF that he’s got sunburn, and asks if he wants cold cream. He says, “Yeah, but only one scoop. I’m on a diet.”
I’m not even bothered by the “ALF I AM TALKING ABOUT COLD CREAM NOT ICE CREAM” line that explains the joke, because it feels like Kate is explaining something to the alien, rather than to the audience. There’s a big difference there, and it’s a difference that is only felt when the actor makes you feel it. The rest of these clowns deliver lines for the audience to react to. Anne Schedeen delivers lines for the characters to react to.
So, yeah. Enjoy this while you can, because before long this episode will sink far below her ability to keep it alive.
We get the credits, and then Brian comes in covered in dirt. At first I assumed this was the Halloween episode, in which the corpse of Benji Gregory rises from its shallow grave in the studio parking lot and seeks revenge on the cast…but, no, it’s just Brian. He’s been in a fight.
I love that the late-80s way of showing that a character has been in a fight is to muss up his hair and rub soil into his clothes. Did kids actually fight back then? Nobody ever seems to throw an actual punch. I guess they just rolled around with each other in the garden, like that thing I wasn’t supposed to do with my cousin. :(
Brian explains that he got in a fight with Bobby Duncan. Kate asks who the hell that is, and rightly so, since last we heard Brian’s tormentor was that kid Spencer. Remember? Willie’s illegitimate child and keeper of Dr. Potato Famine. Oh well. I guess when you have a kid like Brian, you just take it as read that every day brings another bully.
Kate washes the implied physical violence off of him with a rag, and ALF offers to eat the kid’s cat as revenge. There’s another nice moment when Kate tells him that he shouldn’t fight, and Brian says that he did it because Bobby called Kate “old, ugly, and dumb.”
Schedeen pauses, but then repeats her advice not to fight…before mumbling, “That little brat.”
It’s good. She’s being a mother, but still being a person. Her feeling are hurt, and she’s upset, but she needs to set the example for Brian…while clearly believing the kid needs a slap. And this is why I love Schedeen; she’s capable of expressing multiple things at the same time. She doesn’t flip back and forth between settings; she’s a human being with complex emotions. What a rarity here.
Speaking of rarity, we then get a good ALF line when he says, “He’s entitled to his opinion.” And that, in itself, gets punctuated by a perfect Kate glower.
Maybe I’m just clinging to stuff like this because the rest of the episode is a pretty massive pile of dickshit, but is there anyone out there who doesn’t appreciate Anne Schedeen? Anyone watching this show or following this blog that thinks she’s not worthy of the praise I give her? Maybe I’ve just been driven insane by the show. If that’s the case, please tell me. You’re my last hope for a healthy perspective on things.
Eh, who cares if I’m crazy. I fucking love her, and she’s about the only thing I can count on from week to week, so sue me.
The next day, or whenever the hell Brian changes his shirt, ALF gives him fighting lessons in the garage. He reveals that he was known as “Sugar Ray” Shumway on Melmac, because he loved shitty 90s pop.
ALF tells Brian that he can’t drop out of school to avoid bullies, because otherwise he’ll end up hanging around the house all day, eating and watching TV. CAN YOU GUESS THE PUNCHLINE AT HOME?
Of course you can. But that doesn’t stop Brian from explaining it by saying, “But I want to be like you!”
It doesn’t land, as you might expect, and it serves as a perfect illustration of my earlier point: Schedeen delivered an unnecessary explanation, but because she was acting it made sense: she was explaining something to ALF, not to us. Benji Gregory only knows how to recite half-memorized lines from a piece of paper, so he ends up delivering this particular unnecessary explanation to us.
Big difference, and one that comes down entirely to acting chops. You can speak the words somebody else wrote for you, or your character can do the talking.
I’m not trying to be too hard on Gregory; I just find him to be a good case study. Acting is difficult. Really. It is. And this is a kid without any real experience doing it, being handed shitty dialogue and being made to perform it under shittier conditions. I’ll joke about him, sure, but I don’t dislike him.
It’s not that he’s bad at what he does…it’s that he’s incompetent. I know that sounds insulting, but what I’m getting at is that he never learned what it meant to be competent. Nobody here taught him. “Good enough” was ALF‘s motto, which is why the good actors brought their talent in from the start (Anne Schedeen and Jack LaMotta), and the lousy ones never got any better (Max Wright and Benji Gregory).
Of course, we do have an exception in Andrea Elson, but I’m sure that’s because she worked of her own initiative to get better, likely learning what she could from Schedeen and the other good actors that dropped in for guest appearances. It’s not because the setting was conducive to her learning these things, and it’s definitely not because the director or anyone else bothered to coach her…if she learned anything, she learned it on her own.
ALF tries to steal Brian’s candy bar, which Benji Gregory was kind enough to hold perfectly, rigidly in frame throughout the conversation, like the script-reciting automaton that he is. He then gives ALF the candy bar, and ALF eats it so fast! lol!
Brian even gets to deliver a zinger! “You eat fast, Sugar Ray!” It’d be an embarrassing line for even the best of actors, so if you can make it through Benji Gregory slurring it out without flinching, you’re a better man than I.
In fact, he seems to channel the mushmouthed inflection of Max Wright. “Yhou EEatf-fast shuggeray.” Coupled with the extremely delayed physical reaction to ALF trying to grab the candy, it almost seems like while Andrea Elson was learning quietly from Anne Schedeen, Benji Gregory was stuck at the Max Wright Actor College.
Anyway, ALF chops a board, then he tries to chop another board, but he fails to chop the other board, so he makes a face and vibrates.
Willie comes in to tell Brian that he just heard what a massive wiener he is. Then he sees that ALF has injured the hand that loves him the way his wife used to, so he attempts to massage it back to functionality.
We get a pretty good line stranded amongst all the bullshit when Willie tells ALF, “If you really wanted to help, you’d teach him not to fight.” ALF replies, “He already knows how to do that.”
No…really this time.
Then we get some more Willie backstory. Unlike anything we learned in “Night Train,” though, this is something we probably could have guessed for ourselves: Willie used to get his nuts handed to him. His bully was named Clarence, which I think implies that even Willie’s guardian angel couldn’t resist giving him wedgies.
He tells Brian that once he decided not to fight back anymore, Clarence moved on, because it stopped being fun for him.
I’m pretty sure I’ve heard every sitcom dad in history give this same advice…but has this ever worked in real life? I can tell you for sure that the kid in my school who got picked on the most literally never raised a hand to his tormentors. Ever. And they definitely didn’t stop. Why would they? If anything they’d leave the kid who intermittently stands up for himself alone in favor of a reliable target.
I don’t know. I was never a bully. And — thanks to this other kid serving as a hell of a convenient distraction — I was never bullied, either. But from what I’ve seen, fighting back is the only hope you have. Not fighting back just cements you as a punching bag until you hang yourself in the closet.
Willie mentions that this advice came from his dad, and Brian asks if that’s the same grandfather that used to talk to corn chips. That’s an interesting bit of color. Willie’s dad must have gone through (or is going through) a period of dementia that Brian was around to see. I still don’t know if the guy’s alive or dead, but at least we know that during that ailing, helpless time of his life, the Tanners sat around making fun of him.
Whatever. Willie gets sick of talking to his son and initiates sex with the alien.
The next day, or whenever the hell everybody changes their shirts, Kate is pissed because ALF stuck all of his karate boards in the fireplace. She chews him out for wasting perfectly good lumber.
…and, sorry. But, yeah. Not even Anne Schedeen can sell that bullshit.
Of all the things Kate could have gotten mad at ALF for (leaving splinters everywhere comes to mind, or actually burning the wood but not opening the flue), she’s mad that he wasted perfectly good lumber.
Says, out loud.
That she’s mad at him.
For “wasting perfectly good lumber.”
She tries, dear reader. She really does. But although Kate is large, and contains multitudes, she does not give a flying fuck about the Tanner supply of good lumber. And she certainly isn’t so emotionally invested in it that she’ll fly into a rage if good lumber isn’t put to appropriate use.
Good fucking lumber.
Good lumber my ass. God damn this awful show.
Brian comes home and reveals that even though he didn’t fight back, Bobby Duncan still rubbed a bunch of potting soil into his jacket.
ALF pops up through the plot window and suggests solving violence with violence, like they used to do on Melmac.
And then — you know what? — I just about forget about good lumber. Because there’s one hell of a tantalizing moment.
Willie hears this suggestion, and he pointedly asks him if he remembers what happened to Melmac.
ALF replies, “It blew up in a nuclear holocaust. Why?”
And…wow. That’s both a good joke and some nice, potential shading of ALF’s history. Willie, of course, tries to overexplain the connection to the audience, but I’m not disappointed by that. I want to know more. The fact that we don’t get a clear answer here isn’t a bad thing…if anything, it just shows what a good job the show did (accidentally, no doubt) of getting my ears to perk up.
Is the “violence with violence” approach the reason Melmac is gone? Maybe so and maybe not. The fact that ALF can’t see the connection between what he just said and the “nuclear holocaust” he remembers can mean one of two things:
1) He’s a fucking imbecile, because Melmac actually was destroyed in needless conflict and he’s learned nothing, or…
2) Willie’s wrong, and the nuclear accident that destroyed Melmac was coincidental, not caused at all by any sort of hostile act.
They both give up on the conversation, so that’s where we’re left. Maybe the show wants us to believe that it’s one of those things, specifically, and not the other, but, as far as I can tell, they’re both equally valid in the face of what little we’ve heard.
I wonder if we will get any kind of definitive answer about Melmac. I’m assuming not, but I have to admit that these little snatches of dialogue are interesting.
There’s another good line when Kate asks Brian if the bully insulted her again. Brian says, “No. Dad.” Surprised, Willie asks what Bobby said about him. Brian replies, “He said you must have been desperate to marry someone like mom.”
It’s a legitimately clever moment, and it’s not the last one in the episode. (It is the second to last one.)
That laugh dies pretty quickly, though, because ALF pops up through the plot window again to announce that he called Bobby’s father, impersonated Willie, threatened him, and invited the guy to come over and kick Willie’s teeth out.
Man, what an effortless way to advance the storyline. You’d hardly even notice how this episode was slapped together out of disparate script pages if I hadn’t pointed it out.
Damn that’s good lumber.
Bobby’s dad comes over and Willie stammers out a bunch of padded bullshit until the credits roll.
Well, not really. But that’s certainly how it feels. This Max Wright stutterlogue goes on so long that Paul Fusco starts to feel insecure, and we cut to ALF in the kitchen for no reason except to assure us that he hasn’t ceased to exist.
Anyway, Mr. Duncan starts hitting on Kate and calling Willie four-eyes, which is the single most hurtful insult in the world after all the rest of them. This makes Willie snap, and he calls Mr. Duncan “Shorty.”
The whole thing reeks of false escalation, but it leads to the best moment in the entire half hour. It gets no laugh from the audience, but I love it: Lynn steps into the tension of the living room and says, “Mom? Dad? Is it time for church yet?”
That was the best Lynn moment ever. I know she’s not the most reliable actor on the show, but when she wants to, Andrea Elson gives good lumber.
Willie physically throws the guy out of the house, and we hear the crashing of garbage cans. Though this is pretty fucking stupid even for ALF, there’s a valid sense of Willie having crossed a line.
Or maybe I’m just going easy on it because it leads to the second best Lynn moment ever when she makes this face:
The next day, or whenever the hell everybody changes into a robe, ALF is blabbing about how he called a bunch of people and threatened them on Willie’s behalf.
Remind me again why they don’t just sever ALF’s spine while he sleeps? Why the hell is he not even being threatened with eviction? He’s entering Willie in fucking Bloodsport.
Oh well. The important thing is that we’ve hijacked another Brian plot. There I was, stupidly thinking the episode about Brian getting beaten up would be about Brian getting beaten up. Little did I know it was actually about ALF siccing the city of Los Angeles on Willie’s pasty ass.
A serious sight for sore eyes, Mr. Ochmonek comes over with his wife. Funny how when the show started, it seemed like Mrs. Ochmonek was going to be the “main” neighbor, and her husband might or might not tag along. Liz Sheridan is by no means a bad actress (see Seinfeld, which made much better use of her talents), but Jack LaMotta leaves her in the dust, and I’d like to think that the writers at least appreciated what they had, and started using Mr. Ochmonek more, making his wife the optional add-on.
He congratulates Willie on knocking some sense into Mr. Duncan, because that guy’s kind of a dick. Kate asks how he knows about that, and Mrs. Ochmonek says she told everyone in town.
Tee hee, sure, but I’m only reporting that because it leads to a fucking gorgeous moment.
Mr. Ochmonek says, “Yeah. There’s three ways news can travel. Telephone, telegraph, and tell Raquel.”
On its own that’s nothing, but look at the screengrab again. Mrs. Ochmonek hears this joke — which she knows is coming, and which she must have heard a thousand times before — and turns to Kate with a huge smile as he tells it. “Isn’t he the best?” she’s asking silently.
This joke isn’t just lame, it’s extremely out of date. When was the last time anyone used the telegraph to spread news? Mr. Ochmonek is telling a joke he may well have told back when he was wooing Raquel* in high school.
And she still loves it.
She thinks her husband is hilarious. This isn’t a joke she’s sick of hearing…this is a reminder of why she fell in love with him in the first place. I can’t stress enough how lovely this moment is, and it bears repeating that I believe the Ochmoneks love each other. I do not believe that of the Tanners. These are the people I’d rather spend time with, because they’re at least recognizably human.
Then Mr. Ochmonek jokes about leaving before Willie throws him out “like yesterday’s garbage.” He even makes a little production out of carrying himself to the door by his shirt color.
Give them just a few lines and a little bit of physical business, and the Ochmoneks will show us what a difference it makes when we’re watching actual characters instead of people on a soundstage.
Mr. Duncan comes over again and Willie decides to show Brian that you don’t need to fight in order to resolve your problems. Then Mr. Duncan actually sees Brian and asks if that’s really the kid that gave Bobby a black eye, which is a twist marginally less believable than finding out Willie was formed in a lab accident.
Whatever. The guy’s being pretty nice overall, but he mentions he works as a scrap metal dealer, which for some reason causes the Tanners to make fun of him over and over again. Even Kate, with Anne Schedeen proving again that there’s only so much anyone can do with dreck like this.
The joke isn’t even that the Tanners are awful people. As far as I can tell, the joke is that this idiot works as a scrap metal dealer. What an idiot! Everyone, look at the idiot! This idiot probably wouldn’t know good lumber if it bashed his skull open, the idiot.
It actually makes me feel pretty bad for Mr. Duncan. He might be an asshole, but with no amount of self-awareness whatsoever, the writers are having the Tanners bully him, and hoping we’ll laugh along. When we last saw him, yes, he called Willie “four-eyes.” But, y’know, Willie retaliated by throwing him into a row of trash cans, so I don’t think it’s Mr. Duncan who needs a comeuppance.
He gets it anyway, though, when Kate, for some bullshit reason I don’t care about, grabs him and throws him into the garbage again because fuck you for having a crappy job the Tanners don’t approve of.
Willie then gets down on one knee and asks Brian to marry him. He also delivers this week’s moral to the audience: in spite of what we’ve just asked the folks watching at home to celebrate, violence is totally a bad thing, so don’t throw your neighbors into trash cans…but if you do, do it twice, I guess. I dunno. The episode’s over. If you don’t like it you can suck ALF’s balls.
In the short scene before the credits ALF fights one of those inflatable wobbler things that he calls “Mummy-hammad Ali.”
That’s all you need to know about that.
It ends with Lynn coming into the living room to announce that Brian and Bobby have stopped fighting. Why she’s delivering the news and not Brian himself is a question that can only be answered by the fact that Lynn is not played by Benji Gregory.
Ugh. This one was fucking lousy. And yet, there have certainly been worse. Oh well. This was the first episode on the final disc of season two. The end is in sight.
I can do this.
MELMAC FACTS: On Melmac somebody called ALF a snitch, just because ALF turned him in to the Secret Police. ALF says they used to call him Sugar Ray Shumway, but he never got far as a fighter owing to his “glass nose.” Raccy the Raccoon was a hero on Melmac who taught everyone to wash their food before they ate it. On Melmac they had no respect for good lumber.
* Yes, her name is Raquel. I know I’ve only ever referred to them as Mr. and Mrs. Ochmonek, but that was because I thought it was funny to do so. Now that they’re both becoming characters, though, I may show them some proper respect by using their first names when appropriate. So, here you go. They are Raquel and Trevor.