Well, I’ll say this up front: for all the concern I had about season three sucking Melmackian anus, it sure opens well. (Much like Melmackian anus.)
For those of you who don’t know or are tuning in late, folks ’round these parts have let me know that a pretty substantial drop-off in quality comes after season two. Being as I didn’t even like season two, that worried me. And while I’m by no means about to write off any worry about ALF‘s final 50 installments, it sure is nice to open this worrisome season with a mild chuckle, and not, say, a lump of cold poison.
It begins with Willie and ALF at the table, serving themselves dinner. Kate is bringing out dishes and Lynn returns home shortly, so I’m pretty sure we can conclude from this that the Tanners have finally sold Brian to the gypsies.
ALF is annoying Willie, which is nothing new, but what’s nice about it is the way in which ALF is being annoying: he’s rhyming everything Willie says.
This approach is a welcome one. Not only is it one we haven’t seen before on ALF, but it’s one we haven’t seen before anywhere. At least not that I can remember. Usually when characters are childishly annoying each other in some verbal way it’s because they repeat everything the other person says verbatim, endlessly reply, “I know you are, but what am I?” or some kind of garbage like that that ends up annoying the audience more than it does any of the characters.
To illustrate what I’m talking about, in one instance Willie says, “I asked you twice to stop doing that,” and ALF replies (in carefully moderated meter), “What? We’re just having a pre-dinner chat.”
None of it is gut-busting by any means, but ALF taking the time to compose his replies in rhyme means that the writing staff took the time to do the same thing. That, as we all know, is pretty uncommon.
It also means that the comic spotlight is shared. (Also, yeah, pretty damned uncommon.) Instead of Willie standing quietly in the corner with his hands in his pockets while ALF recites ostensibly humorous Melmac Facts or brags about fingering Willie’s unconscious wife, Willie gets to play a part in the escalating joke. It’s an unwitting part, but that just makes it funnier.
On top of that, it makes it feel more natural. For such an obviously constructed conceit — who, really, is skilled enough to rhyme everything they hear with a coherent response? — it plays out very believably. This is where the show’s age actually helps it; ALF’s been on Earth long enough, and therefore been trapped in the house long enough, that he’s bored, and needs to find creative diversions to keep himself from going mad.
I like when ALF is childlike, and this sort of behavior fits that to a T. There’s also an unexpectedly good moment of Max Wright acting when he complains to Kate: “He’s rhyming the last word of everything I say. Go ahead, ALF. He’s been doing it all day.” The look on his face after he realizes that he’s done it to himself is actually quite funny. We’re starting off, at least, in strong territory.
Lynn comes in through the front door with — it must be said — some very fetching curly hair. Not that it matters, but it’s a good look for her, so, yeah, add me on Facebook Andrea Elson.
Kate senses that Lynn and her boyfriend had a fight, so she goes to check on her daughter. I hope she also checks on which boyfriend this is. I can’t keep them straight.
Hey, the new intro! This one I remember, though I guess not as well as I remembered the previous one, as I was shocked to see how many clips from previous episodes are in it. They’re all brief so it’s not as though the intro runs too long, but it sure does seem like an unnecessarily large amount of them.
In the previous intro, ALF runs around the house with a camcorder, and we see all of it through that camera’s lens. Here, ALF is showing the family a VHS of old clips from the show while wearing a suit that I’m pretty sure he borrowed from David Byrne.
Each cast member gets a credit over a shot of them laughing in that obnoxiously phony sitcom way, except for Benji Gregory, who appropriately gets his credit over a shot of him face-palming.
I don’t know if it was intentional that the previous intro led into this one in a thematic sense; ALF goes from recording the family to showing clips of the family, after all. But either way it makes no sense, unless ALF somehow recorded everything that happened in those episodes from the precise angles from which we viewed it happening.
Actually, that makes for a hell of a theory. Perhaps the entire run of ALF is some long-form exercise in found footage horror. We can look back and laugh at the alien hijinx, but our enjoyment must be tainted by the knowledge that these VHS cassettes were retrieved from the crime scene after the Ochmoneks noticed some very suspicious odors coming from the house…
Oh, and the theme song has been re-recorded so that it sounds…jazzier, I guess? I don’t know…it was never great to begin with, but now it sounds like they tried to record a smokey, brassy version for people to listen to while they have sex.
If you try that, let me know how it goes.
After the credits we’re back in welcome territory: Tanner family game night. Lynn’s not present, but it’s so rare that we see these people act anything like a family that I’ll take stuff like this every time.
They’re playing some store-brand version of Trivial Pursuit, and there’s actually a nice character joke when Willie gets to choose between the topics of science and sports. ALF says, “He’ll take science.”
That’s funny enough, and then Willie bristles at ALF’s interruption. ALF asks him who won the previous year’s Superbowl, and Willie, defeated, says, “I’ll take science.”
That is the kind of joke you can make when you have well-defined characters and understandable relationships between them. It’s funny several times before you even get to the punchline. While ALF by no means has those characters or relationships, moments like this are a lovely glance of what the show could be if it put forth the effort: competent.
Lynn comes in with the mail, and she’s still upset. She’s also wearing a UCLA sweatshirt, and I’m hoping that’s a quiet way of resolving the question left by the end of “Varsity Drag.” She couldn’t go to Amherst, but it looks like she’s still continuing her education. I like that thought was given to that detail even though we’re not given an answer explicitly.
Willie invites her to join the game, and Kate helpfully adds, “Take ALF’s place.”
Guys…I’ve enjoyed every minute of season three so far and I feel the need to remove myself from the gene pool.
Lynn declines and goes to her room. Kate explains that she’s still sad about her breakup from Lloyd.
So…fine. I’m okay with that. But what was it with making Lizard the main boyfriend last season? We even met him on camera…which is something we’ve never done with any of the other ones. Why did they bother casting him if he had nothing to do with that episode (it was the one where Willie’s boss loses a Halloween limbo competition, if you need me to remind you of what fucking garbage that was) and wasn’t going to appear again? I wonder if he was the remnant of some abandoned arc.
There’s a book in the mail for ALF, and Willie gets pissed that he ordered one. I don’t know why; isn’t this the first unauthorized expense that’s less than four figures? He should be jumping for joy.
From this angle we can see that the game is called “Tri-Trivia,” which I guess is a visual pun because it certainly doesn’t work as any other kind. Much funnier is the title of the book: Shelly Winters’ Guide to True Love. I have no idea why I laughed at that…but I did anyway, making me the perfect audience for both this joke and all of Family Guy.
Later on ALF tries to cheer up Lynn, and he does get her to open up about what happened. This is a relief, because it’s also where the episode turns to shit.
She tells him about Lloyd (who pronounces both Ls in his name, which fails to get funnier all 652 times we’re reminded of it), and she’s upset that he broke up with her. They were going to get married at the planetarium, and he was going to name a comet after her.
SO YEAH THAT CLEARS UP EVERYTHING
Fucking ex-fucking-scuse me? How long has she been with Lloyd? We don’t find out, but I think we should. Lynn might do the family-friendly equivalent of “getting around,” but marriage isn’t something we’ve ever been led to believe she had in mind.
This is why keeping Lizard as the boyfriend would work. No, we didn’t know much about their relationship, but we’d at least know that they’ve been together long enough that this topic could have come up.
Lizard also had an interest in the sciences (medical science, but still), which would have at least somewhat justified the ODD FUCKING DETAIL that Lynn is sad she won’t be getting married in a planetarium. Then again the audience doesn’t laugh, so I guess we’re not even supposed to find it strange in any way.
I don’t know about you guys, but I never pictured this being something Lynn Tanner would get excited about. Literally never has she expressed even a passing interest in any kind of science, so I guess Lloyd was some kind of amateur astronomer? Who knows.
It’s just strange. Specific details like this can reveal character, but when they’re so far out of left field, all they do is befuddle and pull you out of the show.
Let’s say that Lynn instead revealed that she and Lloyd were to be married in whatever stadium the LA Kings play. (Does hockey even take place in a stadium? I’ll take science, too.) It’d be silly, but “this character you never met before likes a major local sports team” isn’t a stretch for the imagination. Hearing he’s going to be getting married in a planetarium to a girl who has never given a particle of shit about that before and will be discovering comets in his spare time…that’s just too much. The audience takes a step back and clears their head of all the good jokes (and, to be honest, character work) from the earlier scenes, because they’ve just been reminded that they’re watching a heap of shit.
That’s why careful writing is so important. It’s not just about making the script as good as possible…it’s about not losing your audience along the way.
ALF asks Lynn if there’s any other guy she has her eye on, and she tells him about Danny Duckworth, a baseball player. She then pulls out a yearbook to show him his picture, which is a little odd, as I figured ALF must have already seen him every afternoon on Duck Tales.
Lynn, whose solemn duty in this scene seems to be to remind us that the show we’re watching isn’t very good, complains that she can’t call Danny because then he’ll know how she feels.
Remember, since nobody else does, that literally 10 seconds ago she was crying in bed because the man she was going to marry broke up with her.
Again, this is why careful writing is crucial. You can’t have someone be so important to a character that a breakup shatters their entire worldview and have them be so unimportant that they’re forgotten immediately when the plot decides to go somewhere else.
ALF can handle characterization. Really, it can. Which is what makes it frustrating that it simply doesn’t care.
We cut to Willie pulling bananas out of the coffee maker with forceps. Kate asks, “Why would he even try making banana coffee?”
And that moment right there tells me definitively that it’s much funnier when we don’t see ALF get up to his shenanigans. Knowing this happened is funny; seeing him stuff the bananas into the machine in the first place would just be a waste of time…something the show commonly doesn’t realize.
Typically we do see ALF perpetrating his nonsense, often set to jaunty library music, and that’s a shame because this kind of joke is much funnier when we cut right to the result rather than watch it gradually unfold. In the latter case we know what’s coming and we’re just waiting for the damned show to catch up with us. In the former case we see something and then need to piece together what happened…which is always going to be funnier in the imagination than it could ever be on camera.
I remember the show developing toward the end of season one a nice mastery of the visual punchline. Season two, as far as I can remember, didn’t feature much of that kind of comedy. I’m hoping season three reintroduces it, because it’s something ALF does fairly well.
There’s another nice visual gag (even better because it goes unmentioned) when ALF comes in to give Willie his electric razor, which is clogged up with ALF’s hair. The visual gag is a single Band-Aid affixed to the fur on ALF’s jaw…one more example (like the UCLA sweatshirt) of somebody on the staff giving thought to things beyond the bare minimum requirement of getting the show to air.
The next scene has some excellent framing. It’s still just Lynn’s bedroom, but the unexpected angle makes it feel so much more real than the static, square blocking we usually get. This feels like a more dynamic angle, and it gives the scene some nice visual heft.
We also see an AMHERST pennant on Lynn’s wall, which is one hell of a sad detail that belongs in a much, much better show than this.
ALF is prepping Lynn for the date he made for her. She’s upset, though, because ALF didn’t call Danny Duckworth…he called Donnie Duckworth, the geekiest kid in school!
Of course, we’ve all been there. Kids in high schools and colleges all across America are familiar with the feeling of accidentally being set up with the wrong Duckworth. What’s odd is that Lynn goes through with this anyway, somehow believing that it’s nicer of her to bitch everyone out about it and make the poor kid feel like an idiot on their date than to call him and say, “You’re very nice, but I’m sorry.”
That’s not the Lynn I knew. Of course, character fluctuates on this show like all get out, so for all I know next week we’ll be back to one whose motives I can understand. I sure as shit hope so.
There’s a knock at the door, and what the hell was Lynn worried about? This guy’s a total babe! Even Willie pops an appreciative dad boner.
However the guy explains that Donnie Duckworth got so nervous about the date that he couldn’t come, so this is Danny Duckworth taking his place.
And what, pardon my French, the cocksucking bullshit is even happening here?
Recap: Lynn was getting married to Lloyd in a planetarium, but secretly (I guess) wanted to be porked by Danny Duckworth, so ALF tries to call him but gets the wrong Duckworth, which makes Lynn upset but she keeps the date anyway, and then the wrong Duckworth worries himself sick and the right Duckworth comes instead.
Why all that shit about the wrong Duckworth then? If the entire episode was Lynn being pissed off and this was the grand reveal at the end, fine. Instead it was just treading water, because we’re not even to the halfway point. Would it just have been too short if we didn’t have all that Duckworth / Duckworth horse shit a moment ago? For fuck’s sake, ALF, just air another commercial in that case.
Danny Duckworth then suggests a drive-in movie, and Willie immediately hands over the keys to his own car. Willie, of course, makes it easy for strange boys to violate his teenage daughter.
Seriously…I’m a pretty liberal guy, but what kind of fuckass dad is this?
Anyway, take a moment to try to guess what we cut to next.
If you said “a scene of ALF passionately masturbating to ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ in Willie car,” you’re correct.
This is such a terrible, cheap complication that I honestly don’t even know if I have the energy to discuss it. Every ounce of baffled hatred that flooded your mind when you saw that screen grab says it more eloquently than I ever could.
…BUT COME ON NOW IN WHAT FUCKING WAY IS THIS NOT THE DUMBEST GOD DAMNED THING MY GOD
So Davey Duckworth and Lynn come out to the car and ALF says, “Hide like an Egyptian!!” and the audience laughs because that is definitely a thing ALF said.
At the drive-in they’re watching some unedited stock footage of a school bus driving down the street. Then Lynn explains that the movie is Death Wish 11. You know, if you couldn’t find footage that seemed even vaguely like it belonged in a Death Wish film, don’t show us the fucking screen.
I don’t know. Maybe Death Wish 11 is about Charles Bronson giving up vigilantism when he realizes he can make more money by driving slow children to school. Either that or this show sucks. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO KNOW
Declan Duckworth keeps asking Lynn if she wants different kinds of food (stopping, thankfully, before he gets to offering her a big sausage), which makes ALF salivate behind them and, for some reason, pull a pair of novelty chattering teeth out from beneath the seat.
Why did Willie have those in his car in the first place? What kind of shit was Max Wright getting up to when he left the house? (Don’t Google it to find out.)
Anyway Lynn hears the teeth, and Dennis Duckworth does not, presumably because he’s watching a riveting sequence in which Charles Bronson extends that little blinking stop sign before he lets some kids off.
She looks back and sees that fucking shit.
It makes her shriek, but Darren Duckworth chalks it, I guess, up to a thrilling four-way intersection sequence in the film.
She then tells him that she needs popcorn now, is absolutely dying for it, which we know is a ploy to get him out of the car while she talks to ALF, but she delivers the lie in a way that makes it seem more like she’s sweating and vibrating from the force with which she’s spraying diarrhea down the legs of her jeans.
ALF and Lynn bitch at each other for a while and then we cut back to the house, where Brian serves the purpose of notifying two of the important cast members that the two other important cast members are together at the drive-in.
Willie panics because without the car he can’t go and retrieve ALF, but then Mr. Ochmonek comes over, dressed as Kyle from South Park.
I hope this isn’t his new look, because he definitely seemed more like a Hawaiian shirt guy than a flannel guy to me.
It’s not a great scene, but it helps establish Mr. Ochmonek as the right kind of annoying to the Tanners: the kind that doesn’t realize it. Willie immediately asks him if he can borrow his car, but Mr. O feels insulted that they didn’t ask him about his hunting trip.
Out of obligation, Kate asks. Then Mr. Ochmonek starts reciting everything that happened to him, in detail, over the last week.
In the process he flops down on the couch and puts his feet on the table, with Kate diving twice to move something out of the way. I like this, because this would be annoying, especially in a high stress situation. It’s not just the Tanners telling us what a lousy piece of human garbage he is…we get to watch him winding them up. And because he doesn’t realize he’s doing it, he doesn’t come off looking like a jerk.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I absolutely love having John LaMotta on this show. For such a thankless role, he sure plays it perfectly.
Damon Duckworth returns with a bucket of Golden Popcorn, which I think means he peed in it. He puts his arm around Lynn while holding it, because if there’s anything that gets a girl going it’s when you precipitously dangle greasy, hot food near her face.
This of course makes ALF pop up and eat the corn, ho ho ho, but it also causes Darrell Duckworth to look into the back seat like three times, making it very clear he would have seen ALF. In fact, there’s no way he wouldn’t have, since ALF is right in the open back there. Each time Lynn ostensibly “stops” him from looking, but whoever plays Derrick Duckworth didn’t read that part of the script because he keeps looking all the way back, so I guess we just have to conclude that he has terrible cataracts.
Lynn convinces Dagwood Duckworth to leave for some soda and then she talks to ALF again.
She’s angry that he ruined her date, but he says it’s not a date, it’s an oil painting, because he’s disappointed that he isn’t getting a front-row seat to any sloppy teenage fucking.
Lynn reiterates that she doesn’t want to tell Duncan Duckworth that she likes him, because that’s what she did with Lloyd, and “Look what happened.”
So, to put this all in perspective for you, Lynn and Lloyd were serious enough to plan a wedding and pick a venue, but not serious enough that they could openly admit to “liking” each other.
Just want to leave that there as a reminder of the importance of second drafts.
Dexter “Diamond” Duckworth gets back with the sodas and Lynn decides to reveal her feelings after all. The two like-birds tell each other how super hot they are. The poor guy barely gets a knuckle deep, though, before they see this at the window:
Man, that outright killed a boner I didn’t even have. I can only imagine what it must feel like for these two.
Willie makes some excuse about needing a blanket in the back seat. Lynn confirms it’s in the back seat. Dylan Duckworth still has no suspicion at all about anything in the back seat.
In easily the stupidest fucking part of anything, Willie stuffs ALF into a sack and carries him away.
I mean, look at that. He’s in plain sight of the other cars. To them it can’t look like anything other than an old man who pulled up, reached into somebody else’s car, stuffed a body into a sack, and immediately high-tailed it out of there.
If that was the joke, fine. But it’s not. The joke is that ALF asks Willie if they can stop at the concession stand.
Meanwhile, everybody in those other cars just actively witnessed an abduction and have no reaction to it whatsoever.
Welcome back, ALF.
In the short scene before the credits ALF and Brian have their own drive-in* in the garage, which ends with ALF violently using him as a sex doll.
I’ll be honest, this episode was pretty fucking bad, but it still wasn’t a total catastrophe. It started very strong, at least. Beyond that I guess it was just dropping turd after turd. But considering how low my expectations were for season three, I am still coming away with a mild sense of relief.
At this point, the episodes that follow could go either way. Some nice care and attention (and performances) are easily found in the opening of “Stop in the Name of Love,” but the rest of the episode implies that the show still doesn’t know how to sustain a good idea.
We’ll see what happens. Either way, I’ll be here…whatever that’s duckworth.
MELMAC FACTS: Jupiter was known to Melmackians as “The Dairy Planet,” a phrase printed on the license plates of Jupitonians. On Melmac (and in the rest of the civilized universe) bowling was known as Talaquoits, and the balls were replaced by melons. ALF was engaged to a woman named Ruby for 58 years. He met Rhonda at a pet bake the day after Ruby dumped him. He was nervous about asking Rhonda out, so he waited 17 years to do it. The day after he did (and she said yes) Melmac exploded. I have to admit it’s nice to have this unseen backstory fleshed out a little more each time; it’s about the only thing the writers paid careful attention to.
* ALF says that the movie they’re watching is The Return of the Son of the Creature from the Big Black Bog, which is way too similar to a skit from Mr. Show for my liking. Of course, Mr. Show came way later, so I’m not blaming ALF. But if I ever find out that The Return of the Curse of the Creature’s Ghost is based on a stolen joke from this fucking travesty, the universe will no longer make any sense to me.