At long last, we get to ALF‘s Thanksgiving episode. Hooray! And it’s…complicated. I’ve got a sort of toleration/hate relationship with this one…and, to be honest, the second half could sway me in either direction. But that’s a story for next time. We’ve got plenty to talk about before deciding if this two-parter is a heap of shit.
This episode opens with ALF teaching Kate how to use her new microwave oven, and while the joke is both lame and nonsensical (ALF is reading instructions from the VCR manual, which somehow takes ages for either of them to realize) Lynn isn’t being raped so this is already a masterpiece compared to last week.
It’s the day of Thanksgiving, and ALF has hidden all respect for the audience. Specifically, the plot hinges upon the idea that ALF doesn’t understand Thanksgiving. That’s fine, right? He’s a space alien, so Earth (or, erm, American) customs are new to him.
Yet, by now, we know this is impossible. Even if three years in our time equals a much smaller span of time in the ALF universe (which it doesn’t, as we’ll see later), we know that ALF has already celebrated Halloween (“Some Enchanted Evening”) and Christmas (“Oh, Tannerbaum,” “ALF’s Special Christmas,” “Shumway Christmas Boogie”), so it’s impossible that this could be his first experience of Thanksgiving on Earth.
In fact, since he’s celebrated multiple Christmasses, this should be at least his third Thanksgiving. The episode may even allude to this fact, as when ALF asks if he’s ever told them about Thanksgiving on Melmac, Willie offers up a tired acknowledgement that, yes, he has.
In short, they’ve been through all this crap before, so what happens here is total, irritating contrivance.
ALF ate the entire Thanksgiving turkey, raw. (“Turkey sushi,” he explains matter-of-factly, which I admit was good for a chuckle.) He does that because he’s adhering to Melmackian tradition.
On ALF’s homeworld, the equivalent of Thanksgiving was a holiday called Fappiano — named for Bob Fappiano, one of ALF’s secondary puppeteers, and not for what you think. But, again, ALF can’t be held faultless for accidentally slipping into old Melmac habits…he’s fucking been here for years. By now, I’m sorry, the hairy little fucker has to know that humans don’t like it when you eat their dinner.
He knows what Thanksgiving entails. And yet he does this. Willie and Co. seem to know what Fappiano entails…and yet they’re surprised he does this. What the living shit is even going on?
It’s pointless nonsense, relying, I guess, on the idea that everything on Earth will be perpetually new to ALF, no matter how many times he experiences it…except for all of those other times that he has a perfect, innate understanding of everything he’s never seen before.
Fuck this show.
I’ll propose a quick rewrite for “Turkey in the Straw”: ALF indeed ruins Thanksgiving, but not because he took a fork and sat naked on the kitchen floor eating everything. Instead, he has something of a handle on the holiday by now, having shared it with the Tanners and seen Kate prepare for it over the past few years. He decides to surprise her by doing something nice, and cooking the food himself. Maybe he forgets to defrost the turkey first. Maybe he carves it up and serves it raw because that’s how they did it on Melmac. Or maybe he prepares everything wonderfully, but stuffs the bird with fistfuls of Lucky’s intestines.
Who knows. The point is, you can have ALF fucking things up for other reasons. It doesn’t always have to be “ALF has no clue wtf this is,” especially since he’s been on Earth long enough now that we should be seeing more partial understandings than complete misunderstandings. You can still end up in the same place, plotwise, but you get there more naturally, in a way that maybe, just maybe, might help these characters feel real.
Anyway, Willie puts on his coat and heads out to find a last-minute turkey…something that calls to mind the exact setup of “Oh, Tannerbaum.” ALF doesn’t know the holiday, ALF destroys some necessary piece of the celebration, and Willie heads out in late search of a replacement.
Advancing ALF’s mindset from no-knowledge to partial-knowledge wouldn’t just show the audience respect…it would prevent the writers from telling the same fucking stories all over again.
For the first time in what feels like forever, Brian has something to do. Granted, it’s wearing a silly costume, which is the writers’ customary way of saying, “We’re paying this kid, so we might as well do something with him,” but it’s nice that they at least remembered that.
He’s rehearsing some kind of Thanksgiving play with ALF, and I feel as though I’ve seen stuff like this in other sitcoms. Did any of you put on plays for your family as kids? Around the holidays? I sure didn’t, but I have no idea if this is a fictional invention or something that previous generations actually did. Was I missing out on something embarrassing? That’s not like me.
Anyway there’s a rainstorm, and then there’s something I really like. After a flash of lightning, ALF counts “One hippopotamus, two hippopatamus…” When they finally hear the sound of the strike, ALF announces the distance as “three and a half hippopotami.”
This is cute and, again, the kind of thing ALF and Brian should be doing regularly: being kids. It’s not hilarious or anything, but it’s sweet, and it’s a side of ALF I really enjoy. Counting the seconds before you hear the thunder is the kind of thing that feels well observed…and it’s a damn sight better than ALF breakdancing on the kitchen table and accidentally smashing Willie’s priceless antique gravy boat we’ve never heard about.
Then Kate brings out a decorative cornucopia full of wax fruit, and ALF tries to eat one of the apples. He stops after one bite because he doesn’t like wax, to which Kate replies that they should get a wax turkey next year.
Again, nothing great, but I am eternally thankful for just how human Anne Schedeen makes this character feel. She plays it perfectly…slightly snotty (rightly so) but still fond of the “child” who did this. She really, really deserved a role on a much better sitcom.
ALF, feeling at least slightly guilty, attempts to regurgitate the turkey…if only he can remember which stomach it’s in. In “Something’s Wrong With Me,” we learned that Melmackians have a total of 10 organs…eight of which are stomachs. Shockingly for this show, the writers seem to remember that, as ALF dry heaves for a bit and then announces, “It’s not in number eight.”
Continuity? In my ALF?
Then there’s some more lightning outside, and I have to say that the flashes are well done. We don’t linger on them…they happen while we’re looking elsewhere, and we see the room get much brighter for a moment. It’s a nice little piece of bringing life to the static set, and making it feel like an actual house in an actual storm.
I know I’m saying this pretty early in the first half of a two-part episode, and I’m bound to reconsider it later, but as of right now, “Turkey in the Straw” is already the best thing in season three.
Then Mrs. Ochmonek comes over and makes a face like she just sat on her own testicles.
Wow, we have a Brian scene and a Mrs. Ochmonek scene before we even see Lynn? That’s really surprising. I wonder what her character is supposed to be doing.
As much as I love Andrea Elson, I have to admit that having a break from the character after the muck they dragged her through last week is pretty welcome. If she’s off camera I can at least assume she’s acting like a human being, and being treated with respect. When she’s on camera, that gets much more difficult.
Mrs. Ochmonek complains about the “bum” that’s been hanging around the neighborhood. It’s not a great scene, but it does something I really like, and it’s something that happens so, so rarely that I need to celebrate it: Mrs. Ochmonek is portrayed in a believably annoying manner.
She’s not an over-the-top cartoon, nor is she a genuinely good neighbor getting abused for no reason. Here, she seems like a relic of a not-so-distant past…someone left behind by fairly recent social progress. It doesn’t make her a bad person, but it does make her out of touch, and unintentionally rude. Specifically, it comes down to the way she describes the homeless person: she keeps calling him a bum.
Kate subtly corrects her by rephrasing what she’s saying, referring to him as a “homeless person,” but Mrs. Ochmonek won’t have it. “He’s a bum, Kate.”
And I like this. At least, this aspect of this.
Having two characters differ on their terminology in the course of a conversation — differ in a way that does not, mind you, directly affect the plot — is the kind of thing you can pull off when you actually have characters. You don’t just have them explaining the story to the viewers, you have them talking to each other in a way that takes specific advantage of their own vocabularies and prejudices.
It’s not great, but it is good, and I’m always glad to see the writers meeting Anne Schedeen at least part of the way.
They don’t get far into the conversation, though, as Mrs. Ochmonek quickly accuses Kate of feeding the bum. Why does she suspect this? Because the Tanners always have saucers of milk out there to attract stray cats.
Personally, I’m now in love with the idea that while the Tanners sleep, ALF slaughters and consumes neighborhood cats that he tricks into approaching the house. Whether or not the writers intended anything near as gory as what I’m wont to picture, this is a funny line that brings some life to ALF, and lets us know that he doesn’t cease to exist when the cameras stop rolling.
It’s also better than the “ALF eats cats lol” joke from the last scene, in which Brian says it’s raining cats and dogs and ALF starts violently masturbating.
Willie comes home, soaked to the bone, and Mrs. Ochmonek mistakes him for the homeless person. (Sorry, bum.) There’s a legitimately funny moment of mild physical comedy when the wet paper bag tears open and spills its contents onto the table.
Willie couldn’t find a turkey…so he just bought a bunch of Cornish game hens.
They’re frozen solid, of course, so while Willie and Kate bicker (realistically…their voices just south of admitting frustration) Mrs. Ochmonek invites them to Thanksgiving dinner.
Here’s where we slip right back into the shittiest aspect of these characters. Willie and Kate piss and moan and try to weasel out of it, because the Ochmoneks are less wealthy than they are, I guess. Who knows. Granted, Mrs. Ochmonek just heaped abuse on a homeless man for no good reason, but somehow she still comes off as a much better human being than these two. She invites them and their kids to Thanksgiving dinner at literally the last minute, because she sees they don’t have food. Their response? Barely stopping short of telling her to go fuck herself.
I know which family I’d rather spend a holiday with.
This is still, however, the best thing about season three so far.
Mrs. Ochmonek leaves to get things ready, and the Tanners complain about the shitty-ass neighbor who just offered to take them in and feed them. Then ALF pops up through the plot window to reveal that he fed the bum.
He didn’t meet the guy, he just left some of the Thanksgiving food out for him. Which would be pretty noble, but, still, ALF did eat most of the food himself. And why didn’t he volunteer this information earlier, when the question of the food was initially raised? Why did ALF think it was a better idea to say “I ate it because I’m a cunt” than “I fed a homeless man”?
ALF also mentions that he gave some clothes Willie never wears to the guy, which makes Willie bristle and seethe like the saintly social worker we’re regularly assured he is.
Again, there could be a lot of humor in this disconnect between Willie’s occupation and his behavior, but the show doesn’t seem to realize there is one. It makes for a really odd viewing experience, in which your entire moral code is recontextualized. I mean, fuck, I’m an asshole. But compared to Willie I’m the second coming of Christ.
The reverse shot of Willie and Kate is weird. It almost looks like it’s supposed to be from ALF’s perspective, but he’s not standing over there. He’s on the other end of the window frame, propped up on it as usual. Speaking of which…how does he reach the plot window? What’s he standing on? The angle being from much lower than we usually see him is reminding me that he’s not nearly as tall as he seems through that window. How odd.
Usually, as you know, I give this show credit whenever it tries to spice up the static visuals. Here, though…while I appreciate the effort, it doesn’t work at all. It just looks like the Tanners are in a slasher movie and don’t realize that the killer midget is in the house.
Whatever. They tried. As far as the story goes, it can seem pretty sweet. After all, ALF gave some food and clothing to a homeless guy. And he did it off camera, without weeping tears of hot glue to the cloying strains of a string quartet. That sounds nice…
…but prepare to be disappointed. (Really, you should have done that long ago…). ALF says that he did it because it’s in the spirit of Fappiano.
Yeah, it’s nice that this fake Melmac holiday has a built-in element of charity, but it also means that ALF’s “good deed” is one that doesn’t actually come from the heart. Works without faith, as they say. So, good one, “Turkey in the Straw: Part 1.” We make it through another week without having to suspect that any of these idiots have a conscience.
Willie then goes outside to dig all his shit out of the garbage, and Kate asks ALF why they put up with him. Shockingly, he doesn’t have a good answer. As far as I’m concerned, this moment cements the fact that she’s just waiting for a week that Willie’s away on business to murder this fuck.
While he’s digging through the trash, Willie hears singing, so he enters the shed to find a hobo. It’s a pretty simple scene, but according to ALF lore it took over 60 takes because Max Wright kept breaking character and offering to suck the guy off for a nugget of crack.
Willie grabs a crowbar with the presumable intention of beating a homeless man to death, or at least bludgeoning him so severely that he won’t want to return. Can we all agree that we have a new low for social work on this show?
Honestly now. The hobo is defenseless. He’s not putting up any kind of fight. In fact, he’s facing the other way with his feet up.
Why is Willie arming himself? Was this funny? The non-existent audience seems to think so, but does anyone who’s still alive? To me it just looks like Willie’s about to take gleeful advantage of the loosely defined Stand Your Ground laws.
Oh, and in case you think this is one of those episodes that “forgets” that Willie is a social worker, Willie himself says he’s a social worker later in this scene. But don’t worry…it’s just part of a ploy to get the homeless guy off his property. I sure hope he gets another couple promotions and a few more raises out of this!
The hobo introduces himself as Flaky Pete, because, as we learned with Gravel Gus, once you become homeless you go only by a basic descriptor and your first name, in that order. What would my hobo name be, I wonder? I hope Hunky Philip isn’t taken.
Flaky Pete uses big words, which is sitcom shorthand for “not an idiot.” He also tells Willie that his starchart is out of date, because they discovered a new quasar near the Pleiades. Do starcharts even have quasars? I don’t fucking know.
Point is Willie gets excited for a moment, but then he remembers this is a bum talking, and bums are not human. Replying to him would be ridiculous, like talking to a hotdog. Willie even asks for his sweater back as he kicks the guy out. Jesus Christ…Willie’s gone from simply not helping the needy to stripping them naked before he shoves them out into the rain.
So Flaky Pete leaves while the sad music plays.
Willie peeks out to watch him go, and the act break falls just before he starts calling, “One nugget! Please! 10 minutes, just one nugget!”
We’re halfway through the episode, but we finally see Lynn. The break from the character was welcome, but now I’m definitely glad to see her. I didn’t realize how much I’d miss Andrea Elson until I was subjected to necessarily larger doses of Max Wright and Benji Gregory.
The family is heading off to the Ochmoneks’ house, bitching and complaining the entire time. Willie even gives a little speech to the family in which he sarcastically says that they should be grateful to the Ochmoneks for inviting them over in their “hour of need.”
Sarcasm. About kindness.
He’s even bitching that he can’t eat in his own house. Willie, you twisted fuck, literally two minutes ago you kicked a guy out of your shed when he had nowhere to go and just wanted to get out of the rain. Now you cry because you have two houses and two families to spend the holiday with?
Suck. My dicking. Dick.
At the Ochmonek house, there are a bunch of relatives screaming and running in circles, basically acting like animals, because this is ALF, and if you don’t live with ALF, you’re portrayed as a blight on civilization.
Lynn sits next to some weird guy named Dudley, who tells her to call him Dud. She says, “No problem,” which I like, but I wish we didn’t have to wade through the Ochmoneks’ shallow gene pool to get there.
It’s interesting that the show is willing to humanize the homeless guy we’ll never see again (after next week, natch, when he works his Thanksgiving Hobo magic to resolve whatever this plot is), but would never dare do that for the neighbors who are constantly helping Willie’s ass.
It’s also really odd that the Tanners are being such dickshits to everybody on a holiday. They’re kicking people out in the rain and being vocally ungrateful over a meal that’s being shared with them. It’s such an odd episode. Does this end with Willie being visited by the Ghost of Thanksgiving Yet to Come?
Then Dudley asks Lynn if she remembers when they used to take baths together, which is something I have literally no clue how to interpret, so she leaves. I don’t blame her. I just wish she got off the set and kept walking.
Back home ALF is singing “Happy Fappy to me, Happy Fappy to me.”
Yes. He really is singing “Happy Fappy to me.”
Lynn then comes in with some pumpkin Jell-o to share with him, so if you were looking for a way to start your erotic ALF fan fiction, Lynn entering a room while the alien sings “Happy Fappy” is as good a place as any.
Anyway, Lynn tells ALF about what happened, and though we can barely hear it, she describes Dudley as “This guy that I used to take a bath with.”
So…fucking fuck me?
Fuck the fuck fuck fuck.
What the fuck are they doing to Lynn this season?
Seriously…what the living cockfuck are they doing to her? She’s engaged, she’s raped, she’s bathing with strangers…it’s fucking appalling how much work they’ve done to undo everything anyone could have liked about Lynn. What happened? Did Andrea Elson key Paul Fusco’s car or something?
I know kids bathe together…but aren’t they usually bathing with family members? If I found out that my parents used to make me take baths with my cousin, who would care? Big deal. But if I found out that I used to take baths with the neighbor’s cousin, I’d sincerely think my parents were perverse, deviant maniacs.
How is any of this possible, anyway? Have the Tanners really known the Ochmoneks for twenty years? Nothing in their previous exchanges would indicate that. Shit, Willie never even knew that Mr. Ochmonek was in the war.
And even if the Tanners did know them for two decades, they fucking hate the Ochmoneks. That’s about the only thing on this show that remains consistent from week to week. Why were they stripping their children naked and locking them in a bathroom with that family’s distant relatives?
Fucking Christ Almighty.
Is this what I get for saying good things about this episode? It’s disgusting.
…but it’s still probably the best one this season.
Whatever. While they’re talking, Hobo Bobo comes to the window. He sees ALF, does a big poo, and then runs off to Willie’s shed to call the Alien Task Force.
A few times in these reviews I’ve wondered how it’s possible that people would be considered crazy if they said they saw an alien, while the Alien Task Force operates openly…and is presumably funded by their tax money. Commenters have raised the idea that the Alien Task Force might instead operate in secret…which is completely reasonable, and would address that concern entirely.
But ALF keeps reminding us that it’s not a secret organization in any way, as we see strongly reinforced by the fact that a fucking hobo knows their number by heart.
Yes, we see the Alien Task Force!
They’re watching the football game and they make fun of Flaky Pete’s description of the alien, calling him a kook.
So…now we have an even stranger question to ask. If the Alien Task Force exists, why are they calling people crazy when they say they’ve seen an alien? It boggles the fucking mind.
What’s more, the fact that they’re within driving distance of the Tanner house means that they must have lots of locations, like the EPA or something, and this is just their local branch. Either that or the Alien Task Force has only one location, and it’s in L.A.
…I’m honestly not sure which possibility is more far-fetched.
The black guy this season gets a few lines. He types in “167 Hemdale” and the computer tells him that this is the second sighting reported for that address, so it might actually be legit. The first sighting? Raquel Ochmonek, in September of last year.
That’s a reference to “Take a Look at Me Now,” which was shit, but I appreciate the attention to detail. Seriously, if nothing else, “Turkey in the Straw: Part 1” is winning me over on continuity. That’s a kind of effort…
In fact, I was so overcome with appreciation for this attention to detail that I did some research to find out if the date of the sighting aligned with the original air date of “Take a Look at Me Now.” No such luck; that episode actually aired in October. Still, that’s very close, and it makes for a genuinely lovely narrative flourish.
Of course, this is not the second sighting at that address. It’s actually the third sighting, as Mrs. Ochmonek also reported one in the pilot. But…who knows. Maybe the Alien Task Force only counts the most recent sighting if it’s a repeat caller. Also, the blonde guy has his left arm in a sling, and I can’t tell if that’s something to do with the character or if the actor hurt himself and they didn’t bother to hide it, or…
FUCK IT WHY DO I GIVE A SHIT THIS SHOW DOESN’T GIVE A SHIT
Then the hobo comes in and says hello to ALF, which makes ALF do a big poo, and we get a “Next week on ALF…” teaser that’s about a tenth of this episode’s length.
What a waste of time.
These two-parters are so padded. Why not just whittle them down to 22 minutes of something interesting? “Tonight, Tonight” had an excuse if only because it was adhering to the hour-long Tonight Show format. It was garbage, but attempting verisimilitude was the least of its crimes. And last season we had “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which spun its wheels through the entire first half, eating up as much time as it could before we got to the only thing of merit: the cliffhanger.
…which was botched in the next episode anyway, but the point is you could have easily lost an entire half of that two-parter and been no poorer for it. If anything, you’d be 30 minutes richer.
But whatever. We get a clip-show of the next episode.
One of the clips is of a kid throwing mustard in Willie’s stupid dumbass face.
I take it all back. This is the best episode in the history of the world.
Happy Fappy, bitches!!
MELMAC FACTS: On Melmac, Thanksgiving was called Fappiano. There was a Fappiano tree, and everybody would eat from the moment they woke up until all of the presents were open. There was also some kind of charitable component to the holiday. Much more interesting, though? Instead of microwaves, folks on Melmac had a device called a NukeMan. It was a tiny, personal nuclear power plant, and it was major fad. In fact, ALF says, it was Melmac’s last fad. And now we know why the planet was destroyed.