Here we go…including “Movin’ Out,” only five more episodes remain in season two. When those are done, we’ll be at the actual midpoint of this project. And…wow. I couldn’t be happier about that.
At the same time, though, this week marks one full year that I’ve been writing ALF reviews. Season one was reviewed every week, without fail. Season two…had a few delays, but has been reviewed almost as reliably. So, I guess one year from now, we’ll be nearing the end of this whole endeavor. After that, I don’t know. I’d love to do another show, but we’ll see. For now, I shouldn’t be thinking too far ahead, because I’m about as far from shore as it’s possible to be.
“Movin’ Out” is a long overdue episode about Willie’s job as a social worker. We haven’t had one of those since “Border Song,” in which he kidnapped a Mexican day-laborer for ALF’s backyard plantation.
Because Willie’s occupation was kept an odd secret throughout the beginning of season one, and then had almost no impact on any of the episodes to follow, I’ve had a lot of fun pointing out all the times that his ostensible job looks to be incompatible with his daily behavior. But part of the reason I can do that is that ALF is written by goldfish. If it isn’t in this week’s script, they don’t remember it.
That’s why one episode can remind us that Willie is a social worker, but another will see him turning his neighbors away in their hour of need (“Someone to Watch Over Me”), sitting idly by while his daughter is sexually assaulted (“The Boy Next Door”), making fun of a guy for having a shitty job (“Hit Me With Your Best Shot”), refusing a spare bed to a homeless blind friend of the family (“We Gotta Get Out of This Place”), repeatedly insulting a disabled war veteran (“Come Fly With Me”), making fun of his wife for being an unfuckable hag (“Don’t It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?”), and allowing the alien that lives in his laundry basket to buttfuck his children (passim).
Willie doesn’t ever act like a social worker, but, every so often, we’re reminded that he is one, either so that he can abduct a child he wouldn’t otherwise interact with, or cripple his boss in a forcible limbo competition. The rest of the time, the show doesn’t want us to remember Willie’s occupation, because, if we did, we’d have certain expectations of who he is, what he’s good at, what he cares about, and how he should be reacting to things.
Here, however, we have one hell of an odd episode: one that relies on the fact that Willie is a social worker, and also at the same time makes it clear that he can’t be one. At least, not a good one. And certainly not one that’s getting yet another promotion this season.
Which is how this episode begins: Willie announces that he’s got a shit-awesome new job as some kind of supervisor or something in San Diego. This makes everyone piss and moan about having to move, but really you’d think they’d be thrilled. This guy’s more sociopath than social worker; they should be excited to pocket that extra pay while they can, before Willie’s incompetence and nauseating disinterest in his fellow man are revealed to whomever signs his checks.
Lynn’s reason for not wanting to move is that next year is her last year of high school. We’ve already established that she’s 18, but now we also know she’s a junior. I’ve asked before, but is this possible without her having been left back a year? I’m not complaining or anything, especially since her character doesn’t seem to be much of a scholar, exactly, but I’m curious.
Also, does this mean she’ll be attending college in season four?
ALF worries that they won’t let him come along, simply because he burns down their house and kills their relatives. Kate says that she’ll consider letting him come along if he stops eating Willie’s dinner. ALF looks at the food on his fork and pauses. Kate asks for his answer, and he plagiarizes Jack Benny: “I’m thinking, I’m thinking!!”
One of the most famous jokes of all time is therefore the punchline to this entire opening sequence. With Benny, as I’m sure you know, the question was “Your money or your life.” Here, ALF rephrases Kate’s question to better suit the joke theft: “Instant gratification, or long term security.” There’s no twist or anything; it’s simply a puppet reciting somebody else’s much better material. When, exactly, did Paul Fusco become Krusty the Clown?
This episode is a bit odd even in a superficial sense, because the opening credits are in German. As you probably recall (since you bought me the fuckin’ thing) I’m watching these episodes on the uncut DVDs that seem to have been released only in Germany…but this is the first time I’ve noticed German credits. I’m 99% sure they’ve all been in English before this, and I’m 100% sure that the closing credits of this very episode are in English.
I don’t know. It’s weird. Maybe they used some off-air recorded footage for the intro for some reason? Say, the masters being damaged? But then I’d assume the dialogue would all be in German, too…ahhhh who cares. I just found it interesting. Leave me alone. Go start your own damn ALF blog.
The first proper scene is Willie’s first day of work. Google Maps puts his commute from Los Angeles to San Diego at about two hours, without traffic, but with traffic that’s clearly another story, and it wouldn’t exactly be a relaxing ride. At the very least Willie should look into train schedules.
Hey, remember when Willie liked trains? If so, you know more about him than the writers do; even though this bleeding dick of a commute becomes a major plot point, Mr. Meatloaf never even considers it.
Whatever. Brian sleepily announces he doesn’t give a shit, and I’m on his side. Willie’s never taken an interest in him, but now the kid has to get up at ungodly hours to see him off? Fuck dat.
Lynn makes some crappy joke about jazzercise, ALF tries to eat the last cinnamon roll before Willie gets it, and the whole thing makes me wonder why the hell we’re watching it.
Seriously. It’s the second scene in the episode and already “Movin’ Out” is so padded I can barely keep focus.
Yes, it’s nice that we get a “slice of life” scene. What are the Tanners like at breakfast when there’s nothing (immediately) pressing going on, anyway? Finding out could be fun. It would definitely be a chance to build character, explore dynamics, and give the actors some decent dialogue that doesn’t have to drag an ungainly plot behind it.
But, like when we got to see what ALF did all night after the family went to sleep and found out he just danced around in the shed or some shit, the writers don’t know what this family is like when they’re not lugging a plot from point A to point B. So they just kill time in what feels like the the dullest improv imaginable.
This, again, is why Gilligan’s Island served as a feasible fantasy setting for an episode earlier this season and ALF will never be able to. It’s easy to imagine what downtime is like on the uncharted desert isle. We know those characters, how they interact, the challenges they face, what motivates them, what frustrates them, and how they go about solving their individual problems. We can plug different elements into that situation and get a sense of how it would play out. (Arguably, that was the entire premise of the show.) Here, in Tannerland, we don’t have characters that interact. We have actors who recite the lines they memorized. Forget about plugging a different element into this context; the elements that are already there don’t even have a purpose.
Brian says they got Willie a present, and I really hope I’m not the only one laughing myself hoarse over the fact that it looks like he’s handing his father a bag of dogshit. They should have lit it on fire and had Willie make a wish.
Anyway, it’s some books on tape, with a Twisted Sister cassette mixed in so that they can make a joke about those kids today with their hair metal and the whatnot. The books are Crime and Punishment and Madame Bovary. Since they come on one cassette apiece I have to assume they’re read by that guy from the Micro Machines commercials.
Mr. Ochmonek comes over to wish Willie a good first day at work.
In return, Lynn makes fun of him for being fat and ugly, and Willie asks him what the fuck he’s doing up so early.
Remind me again who the bad neighbors are.
This guy paid a visit just to pass some well wishes onto some asshat who couldn’t care less whether Mr. Ochmonek lives or dies. Willie’s never taken the slightest interest in the guy. Shit, when’s the last time Willie took the slightest interest in anyone who wasn’t him? When’s the last time Willie even said “thank you”?
This is why I don’t believe Willie is a social worker. To succeed in that field, you’d either need to have a great deal of empathy, or be able to fake it very well. Instead, this is what we see: a guy who never seems to care about anybody, ever, for any reason. Usually we’re allowed to forget that Willie’s a social worker, but here it’s driving the entire plot. Would it be too much to show us a Willie who even tries to be nice so that, if only for one twenty minute chunk, we can believe he’s good at the job we keep being told he’s good at?
I don’t know. Based on what I see here, though, I can promise you that if I needed a social worker, I’d hire Mr. Ochmonek long before I went anywhere near Willie.
Anyway, Mr. Ochmonek tells Willie he’d better get his dumb ass on the road because it’s an insane commute. Then ALF pops up to eat Mr. Ochmonek’s danish and the latter doesn’t bother to investigate, because even Jack LaMotta is over this shit.
I know season two is generally held in higher regard than the other three, but ask any ALF fan when the show jumped the shark, and they’ll tell you it’s this scene, in which ALF and Kate finally give in to the long-simmer sexual tension between them. It’s not a problem with the scene itself, really (as it’s shot quite beautifully, and the expression on ALF’s face as he cums conveys genuine pathos); it’s the mere fact that it happened, and now it’s over. There’s nowhere for the show to go but down.
Willie appears in the doorway to explain that he got home late because of his long commute, in case you missed all forty-seven lines of dialogue preceding this, in which it was repeatedly explained that Willie had a long commute.
Kate, vacuuming alien gooze out of herself, suggests that Willie rent a place in San Diego during the week, which inspires ALF to explain the plot of Three’s Company for some reason.
You know, Three’s Company was one of those shows I watched as a kid without understanding a damned thing about it. I definitely got the sense that Jack was living with two hotties, but the fact that he was pretending to be gay didn’t even register with me. I think I had some vague idea of the concept of homosexuality, but I guess I didn’t see it in the humorous light the show did.
I wonder if you could even do a plot like that today. I think the gay jokes would play differently, of course, but I also think there wouldn’t be a point. Jack and his honies went through two landlords that would only allow him to stay if he was gay, and I can’t imagine that setup working at all today. If you rent an apartment, nobody cares who you’re having sex with in it. In fact, it’d be illegal to discriminate against tenants on the basis of sexual preference anyway.
That’s interesting, actually. Three’s Company was a high-concept sitcom (in the same vein as ALF). Its setup allowed the show to make very specific kinds of jokes that other shows, lacking that setup, could not make. And I was around for it, which means I once lived in a world in which a man had to pretend be gay in order to live with women lest the world collapse into a premarital orgiastic black hole of sin.
Whatever. Don Knotts was in it.
Willie says that they’re going to have to move sooner than planned, because it’s been one day and he already sees that working too hard will give him a heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack. He comes to this conclusion without consulting the rest of his family or listening to his wife’s thoughts on the matter.
We then see some people walking around the outside of the house, with a FOR SALE sign in plain view.
This was legitimately shocking to me, because I just assumed they shot a bunch of exteriors up front and have been using those same few establishing shots ever since.
I mean, that’s still probably true, but seeing one this late in the game that’s episode-specific…that demonstrates some very rare effort invested in the production.
That’s pretty much it, though. Kate and Lynn complain that they don’t want anyone else living here, and ALF complains that he wants food. Then the act ends.
What a strange place to break it. It wasn’t funny or compelling. It just kind of ended. I guess they used up all their effort for the week by filming that new footage of the lawn.
Then we see Willie at his new job, talking on the phone to a woman who hasn’t gotten her welfare check. He is trying to keep her calm, and he says, “Yes, I know you have five children. I can hear them from here!”
This scene is a great opportunity to show us that Willie, in spite of everything we’ve seen to the contrary in his personal life, is actually an awesome social worker. It wouldn’t even be much of a cheat to do so, since the few times we’ve seen him at work in the past, he wasn’t actually doing any work. We’re almost halfway through the entire run of the show, but Willie’s professional life is still a blank canvas. He just got this big promotion, so why not show us why he deserves it?
Instead, he insults a needy woman for having kids that are noisier than he would like them to be. Who the fuck does this guy think he is? And why are we supposed to be laughing with him when he makes fun of the woman who now can’t afford to buy groceries for her hungry kids?
I’ll spoil something for you: Willie doesn’t like his new job. That’s fine. He doesn’t have to. But since the central conflict of the episode is whether or not the Tanners move, this sort of undercuts all tension. Maybe instead of Willie hating the living fuck out of his new position, he could like it. And be really good at it. That way there’d be an actual difficult decision at the heart of the episode: nobody else wants to move, but Willie does. Instead, what we get is a situation in which nobody else wants to move, and Willie also does not want to move.
Well then. I’m on the edge of my seat.
Willie goes into the other room to talk to one of his employees about why the check wasn’t mailed. This guy’s supposed to be an idiot, which we know because he has his feet up on the desk, has a phone conversation not related to work, and has a face that looks like it’s growing out of somebody else’s back.
Then some woman comes over and tells Willie he still hasn’t processed payroll, she doesn’t have a parking space yet, and a whole bunch of other shit he hasn’t taken care of because he’s too busy making fun of some lady’s kids on the phone.
After she lays out all the crap Willie needs to do, he says, “No problem, Denise. I’ve got twelve hands!!”
What a dickbag. Seriously. This guy isn’t just a bad social worker; he’s a fuckawful human being.
If I worked somewhere, and they brought in a new supervisor from outside instead of promoting from within, and he immediately started bitching about having to do all the stuff he was explicitly hired to do, I’d go right over his head and tell whoever hired him that this guy needs to get the fuck out and let someone willing to do the work take his place.
Seriously. What the hell is Willie’s problem? He’s pissy to the idiot who doesn’t do his own work, but then he’s also pissy to the woman who tells Willie to do his own work. What the hell does he want?
Willie finds the check for that lady and fires the guy for losing it. The fake audience of dead people applauds, so that’s our cue that Willie just did something awesome. I’m glad I had the cue, because otherwise I’d have no idea.
I get that a moment like this could demonstrate that even if Willie is terrible at everything else, he at least knows how to lay down the law when his staff fails him, or whatever. Except…yeah. This isn’t really that impressive.
The guy deserved to be fired if he was gabbing on the phone all day and not doing his job, yes, but that’s not something to applaud Willie for. A firing had to happen. It’s not a brave and admirable decision; it’s right to fire a social worker who isn’t actually helping the people he’s being paid to help.
Additionally, we just heard about fifteen other things Willie’s supposed to be doing, and he hasn’t done jack shit with any of those. So, yeah, he fired someone. Great. Unless he accomplishes at least one more thing on his daily goal list, though, I’m not going to join my deceased brethren in a standing O.
Also, before this happened, Willie himself was gabbing on the phone to ALF about personal business, so why is it okay for Willie to dick around and not do his job, but this guy gets fired for it?
On the way home from work, Willie stops to have his neck surgically removed. Then he bitches to ALF about his new job, where they want him to do stuff and help people. That must be pure kryptonite to this putz.
ALF tries to cheer him up with some words of wisdom from his old Skleenball coach.
So, in the first episode of this season, ALF taught Brian to play Skleenball. That’s fine. It was basically baseball played with fish. Okay.
Then, in “Oh, Pretty Woman,” ALF was trading Bouillabaseball cards with Brian. Bouillabaseball was baseball played with fish.
I was confused about why we had two names for what sounded like the exact same sport. Commenter of the week Sarah Portland had this to say in response back then:
I’m just going to guess that someone on the staff said “We should talk about that fish-baseball thing again – what was it called?” and no one wanted to bother looking up what they had called it before. However, it’s possible that they pulled a JK Rowling, and found a better name for something further down the line, simply substituting it without explanation. On the whole Bouillabaseball is infinitely funnier, and fits better.
And, you know what? That sounded entirely reasonable. Bouillabaseball is the better name, and the fact that ALF trading cards (in the real world) came with a Bouillabaseball card in every pack suggests that they decided to rechristen Skleenball.
But now, at the end of season two, we find out there is still a Skleenball, so I don’t fuckin’ know anymore.
That’s what you get, Sarah Portland, when you give ALF any credit whatsoever. Welcome to the club. :(
ALF decides to be ALF and fucks up the house so that nobody will want to buy it. Of course, before he can start springing his traps, the Tanners piss and moan to prospective buyers about what shitty neighbors the Ochmoneks are. I wonder why they didn’t provide any examples, though. Like the time they formed a neighborhood watch to protect local families. Or the time they took the Tanners on a free vacation for the hell of it. Or that morning a few days ago when Mr. O got up at the crack of dawn just to wish Willie luck at his new job. THOSE SHITS
Whatever. ALF broke everything, so stuff falls down. Over and over and over. And even though the sale of the house and Willie’s new job are related to one another, it feels like two plots at the same time: Willie adjusting to a new working environment, and ALF desperate to not move. At this point, the episode seems to switch tracks from one to the other, with the big setpiece of ALF’s destruction playing like the big finale…while also not feeling at all related to anything Willie’s ostensibly been going through this week.
It’s odd. Both plots could have led to episodes of their own, so having them crowd each other out for primacy during the waning minutes of “Movin’ Out” just makes a ramshackle episode even worse.
Once the Ineffectual Physical Comedy Follies are over, Willie confronts ALF in the master bedroom about sabotaging the sale of the house.
It would be a great way to tie the climaxes of both plots together, but it’s easier to just end the episode so we’ll do that. Willie says he doesn’t want to move anyway and it’s over.
The reason he doesn’t want to move…well, that’s a little more annoying, so forgive me for breaking it down.
See, Willie already hates his job and doesn’t want to move. We know that. But as in “Weird Science” and some other episode I’m grateful to have forgotten, ALF needs to give an inspiring speech to everyone in the audience dumb enough to have not found something else to watch by now.
He reminds Willie that social workers should be doing work “for the social good.” That’s fine, if a little obvious, but then ALF explains that Willie is no longer doing that. Instead he’s assigning parking spaces and firing people.
And, you know what? I can see a good point being made about how “work for the social good” gets undermined by bureaucracy and red tape, having meetings to schedule other meetings and so on, with good intentions manifesting themselves in such a way that they detract from quality of service.
Here, however, that’s not the case. Willie indeed, as ALF said, was assigning parking spaces and firing people. But they guy he fired needed to be fired, because he wasn’t effectively helping those who relied on him. Isn’t removing an ineffectual social worker so that somebody more helpful can take his place a gesture in service of the social good?
The parking space, too, is a necessary logistical problem. If Willie’s employees have nowhere to park, they can’t do their work. She wasn’t asking for a better parking space, or to trade with somebody else for some cockamamie reason. This lady just wanted a fucking place to park while she worked her ass off and reminded Willie of all the crap he wasn’t doing. If she quits because Willie can’t handle basic administrative duties and she has nowhere to leave her car, how would that serve the social good?
Another thing that ALF doesn’t mention — but which we heard — is that Willie was in charge of payroll. Sure, he fucked it up, but isn’t seeing to it that your social workers are paid a pretty important way to encourage them to keep doing social work? You know…the social workers that ALF just ranted about needing to serve the social good. Stop paying them and they’ll abandon the field. Rightly so, I might add.
So ALF has it backward, and the show doesn’t realize that at all. Sure, maybe Willie preferred the hands-on approach he used to have, and that’s fine. But by no means is the social good better served by one guy with a preference for hands-on work than it would be by an effective leader who can guide and support an entire staff with a gift for hands-on work.
Willie can work with one client at a time. His staff can work with dozens, and potentially hundreds. Willie whining about having to fill out paperwork and pay his fucking employees is what prevented him from serving the social good, not the fact that he was responsible for doing those things in the first place. His new role as administrator didn’t prevent it; if anything it magnified its potential.
If there’s a moral here, it’s that Willie finds it chillingly easy to convince himself that doing almost nothing is preferable to doing an awful lot, because the latter is really hard and the former is so much easier.
The moral is emphatically not what we’re told it is. This isn’t about Willie getting back down to the salt of the earth and helping people. He just had the chance to do that and decided instead to make fun of welfare mothers and be snippy toward better social workers who were actually trying to do their jobs.
So, yeah. Not that this episode was so hot before, but this is a truly botched ending. Also, is this the first episode I’ve had literally nothing nice to say about? Jesus.
Whatever. The point is, Willie decides he’d much rather be here, with the alien who just caved in the roof, than apply himself to sorting out the problems of the less fortunate.
Willie announces the good news to his family, and, in doing so, stops Kate from scolding ALF. Yeah, how dare that lippy bitch get angry at the creature that demolished her house and created unsafe living conditions for her children.
It’s a damned good thing that Willie — so intent on serving the social good — was there to put his uppity wife in her place.
This episode is fucking horrible.
In the short scene before the credits, some guy comes in to see the house. The couch collapses into the floor, revealing that it’s not a house at all, but the set of some shitty sitcom, and the guy leaves because he doesn’t want to live in a place full of dead people laughing all the time.
It’s a stupid gag, but I kind of like that they bothered to work the deadly puppet trenches into the show somehow. They already spent all that time and money creating them so that Paul Fusco wouldn’t have to timeshare his character with a midget, so you might as well write a joke that takes advantage of them.
On the other hand, this visual joke is really fucking dumb. So, there’s that.