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ALF Reviews: “Changes” (season 3, episode 9)

April 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Philip J Reed in alf

ALF, "Changes"

Well, we’re back…and just in time for a pretty important episode in the history of ALF. Not because people remember it fondly (or at all…I certainly didn’t) but because it has an actual job to do. “Changes” must shoulder more responsibility than any episode before it, barring the pilot: it needs to introduce Anne Schedeen’s real life pregnancy.

In any other episode, ALF could spin its wheels. There’s no real serialization here, and like most sitcoms this one comes with a press of the big reset button at the end of every episode. That means that very few of them have long-term impacts on the narrative of the show.

This, in itself, is not a weakness, but I point it out now to contrast the role of “Changes.” In any other episode, ALF just needs to make us laugh. (Ostensibly.) Here, it needs to go further, because, like it or not, Kate’s going to look pregnant for the next few episodes, and we’ve got to address it somehow. (Of course many readers here have already mentioned that Kate was showing. I didn’t notice this, because I only pretend to be observant.)

This could actually shock the writing staff out of their weekly stupor. Instead of writing a script in which ALF becomes an underpants model because why the fuck not who cares, they have definitive direction here. There’s a big announcement that they need to build toward, and while that might bind the creativity of funnier people, with these bozos such specific instructions are likely to help.

And it actually opens pretty well. For the first time in what feels like forever (and maybe is actually forever) the short intro scene is actually…well, short. It’s punchy. And while it’s not funny, strictly speaking, it creates an effective illusion of being so.

It’s under a minute long, and the entire joke is that ALF keeps asking if he can eat Willie’s meatloaf since Willie’s not home yet.

That’s all.

Again, not funny on its own, but this scene demonstrates quite well how an effective rhythm can make comedy pop. Comedy isn’t not all about the writing…it’s about the performances and the direction. And those things actually work here. A very simple joke which would probably have been overwroght and belabored in some lesser episodes is given exactly as much time as it needs, and that’s it. The repeated specificity of “meatloaf” rather than “dinner” or “food” helps a great deal as well.

It’s not rocket science. In fact, it’s probably not the product of anything deeper than one of the writers realizing that “meatloaf” is a funny word. But it clicks in the right way, and it’s not as though a show’s opening joke needs to be its strongest. All it really needs to do is convince you to keep watching, and based on this alone you’d be forgiven for thinking that the staff of ALF had some idea of comic timing.

Then Willie comes home, announces that “the union” is going on strike — ah yes, the legendarily powerful social workers’ union — and that’s it.

But…it’s okay that that’s it.

A good joke, a hint of the plot, and the intro credits. This is dangerously efficient.

And, yes, it convinces me to keep watching. Good on you, “Changes.”

ALF, "Changes"

After the credits, we see Willie and Kate in bed, and I have to conclude that he’s grateful to the strike for giving him a reason to bitch all night instead of fucking his wife.

Kate turns to him and offers her support. Man, she must get tired of being the only person in the universe who acts like a caring human being.

Willie says he can’t sleep, and expresses concern about all the people who rely on social workers that won’t be getting the help they need. You know, help like Willie making fun of them for having too many kids, and abducting undocumented Mexicans.

Kate, as a wife, is great here. She really is. She’s a person. She has emotions, and empathy, and a capacity for rational thought. I don’t know how she so often escapes the writers’ best attempts to reduce her to a generic cutout like the rest of her family, but she does, and that’s why I feel the need to compliment her so often.

In fact, this episode is a great showcase for Schedeen, as it should be. She doesn’t get quite as much of the spotlight as I would like (that is to say, she gets LESS THAN ALL OF IT), but when a show like ALF spends time with the one character who is a character, it’s like a breath of fresh air.

Kate expresses her support for her husband, and lets him know that they will find a way to make ends meet during the strike. She assuages his concerns about social services shutting down by explaining that innocent people suffer in all strikes, and that’s not his fault. If he’s ultimately making things better for the people he serves, then he’s doing the right thing.

Willie responds by saying, “I think I can sleep now!!!”

The audience loves that punchline, but I don’t even get it. Was he bored by his wife’s understanding and supportiveness?

Fuck the fuck off, Willie. I’m starting to understand why you’re named after a dick.

Seriously, guys. He woke her up because he was troubled. He was losing sleep, so she gave up her own sleep to comfort him. She tries to keep him from worrying, and promises that if she needs to make sacrifices so that he can have his candy-ass strike, she’ll do it. And he just rolls his eyes until he decides it’s time for her to shut up, because that’s how you treat a wife.

Ugh. Actual, serious ugh.

Also, after however many fucking raises and promotions Willie’s had, he talks about the strike being necessary because he deserves “fair compensation.”

So, yeah. According to the show, this asshole who has never once been good at his job and has often been shown to be actively horrible at it (remember, we last saw evidence of his approach to social work when he threatened to stab a hobo to death in his garage) still isn’t making enough money.

The fucking christ almighty.

ALF, "Changes"

Then ALF comes in because of course he does.

There’s a funny joke when he says he’s worried about the strike, too, and he has a five-word suggestion: “Willie gets another job.”

Yes, we get the joke, and no, we don’t need Willie to say, “That’s four words…” but he does anyway, and it leads to a second gag in ALF’s reply: “Good. I ran out of fingers.”

It’s not often that a good line gets compounded into a better one, so I’ll take this, even if it comes at the tail end of Willie trying to convince us that Kate is a meddling shrew because she loves him and wants what’s best for the family.

Actually, this little exchange is a good microcosm of “Changes” as a whole: a lot of crap, but a few really, truly nice moments and lines. There’s about five minutes’ worth of good material in this episode, which is about seven minutes more than most episodes have.

Kate volunteers to get a job, which I think is the first time that idea has ever been floated on this show, even though ALF’s decimated their finances a thousand times over and prevented their daughter from going away to college. As soon as she floats the idea of employment, Paul Fusco laughs himself silly. Since the laughter could also kind of make sense coming from ALF, the editors left it in.

I really don’t like it when this show rags on Kate. At all.

It’s not because I’m protective of her character — god knows it’s flimsier than I’d like to believe it is — but because of why they rag on her. Instead of making jokes at the expense of, say, her anal retentiveness, her strict rules, or her seething hatred of everything her life has become, we seem to instead get jokes about the fact that she’s a woman. Which is why she’d better wake up when Willie needs her, and then shut up when Willie’s sick of her. And why “I’ll get a job!” is inherently a joke.

She’ll get a job? No she won’t. She has a vagina. She’ll stay put, just like she’s supposed to.

I’m not a fan of the way women are treated in this show. And I say this as a truly awful man.

Kate explains to ALF that she used to sell real estate. She left when she got pregnant with Lynn, then went back and left again when she got pregnant with Brian. She was going to return again to work, but then they got ALF.

This causes ALF to bring up the idea of adopting him officially. Obviously they can’t do that and the whole conversation is a bit of a waste of time, but I do like that ALF asks at one point, “Doesn’t it bother you that I don’t carry the Tanner name?” And Willie replies without lifting his head from the pillow, “No.”

The adoption idea actually runs throughout the episode, with characters mentioning it at various points, making it feel like a nice touch. Of course, the episode doesn’t do anything with it, but the fact that it serves as the episode’s refrain means that somebody, at least, put some thought into this, and made a creative decision.

There’s an even better moment at the end of the scene, when ALF says he’s worried that if Kate returns to work, nobody will be around to take care of him. Willie says, “ALF, you’re 231 years old. You should be able to take care of yourself by now.”

ALF replies, “You’d think so, wouldn’t you.”

“Changes” is so damn close to being a good episode that it hurts.

ALF, "Changes"

At some later point ALF is watching TV. Brian comes in, and ALF doesn’t even look away from the screen to greet him, which pretty much sums up the kid’s role in the show at this point.

Brian at least justifies his appearance in this scene, though, because he sets up a legitimate laugh. When he sees that ALF is just flipping through the channels rapidly, he asks, “Doesn’t that make you dizzy?”

ALF responds with “Yeah!”

Moments like this, marooned in the mire of what’ll turn out to be a largely forgettable (and at times disgusting) episode, remind me of what the writing staff is capable of. There are so many good things peppered throughout “Changes” that it becomes frustrating that there aren’t more of them…and that other episodes have none of them.

These minor flashes not of greatness but of competence, of understanding, of coherence, are maddening, because they suggest a much higher baseline for the show than we’re actually getting. The writing staff is more concerned with beating rush hour traffic than they are with writing the best script possible. And that’s sad, because when they try, they show they can do it. And if they tried more often, they might get pretty good at it.

ALF, "Changes"

Willie comes home with a picket sign that says ON STRIKE. That’ll teach ’em, Willie!!

He sits down on the couch and immediately settles in to go to sleep. So, just to put this into perspective for you, one day of standing around with a sign has tuckered this guy out more than any given day doing actual social work. That should put into perspective just how good at his job he really is.

ALF asks about the strike, and when Willie starts to explain the concept to him, ALF says, “Let me get comfortable,” and then asks for a bunch of shit, wiggles around, pops his knuckles and his neck…and it just keeps going. It’s fucking awful.

After Willie says whatever the hell he says — I’m not sure I’ve ever made it through two consecutive Max Wright sentences without falling asleep — ALF waxes nostalgic about when Kate used to be around…feeding him, following him around with a johnny mop.

And yes, he actually said that Kate would follow him around with a johnny mop. So my exaggerated jokes about ALF shitting all over the house? Not jokes, apparently. Actually just pretty astute.

Then, when ALF concludes his revelry, he says, “Now she’s dead.”

And, okay, that was actually really funny.

It keeps going, too. Willie says that Kate might want a little more out of life than swabbing alien shit out of her family’s living space, and ALF says, “Why? If it ain’t broke, don’t step on it.”

Willie says, “Fix it,” and ALF says, “Fix what?”

A lousier episode would have stopped there, with the laughter of dead people assuring us that this was much funnier than we’d otherwise think. But then Willie explains, “The expression is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

To which ALF replies, after thinking for a moment, “Why would you?”

I’m…amazed. Two characters sitting in a room having a conversation, and it is actually, for the most part, funny. That’s a serious rarity for this show.

ALF, "Changes"

In the next scene we get an establishing shot of Kate’s workplace, which I assume is called EE Realty Co. Either that or they made sure to film someone else’s sign from an angle that wouldn’t require them to pay anyone. COULD BE EITHER.

Kate has an unconvincing breakdown over how much there is that she needs to learn, because she’s been away so long. It’s kind of lousy, but I do like the way she and her coworker bond over it briefly. It’s true to life. The coworker is just a nondescript woman with long black hair, and I honestly don’t even remember if she’s given a name, but she and Schedeen have a nice chemistry together that suggests a longer history than the writing does.

One problem I have with it, though, is that as soon as we see Kate at work, she’s floundering. It’s exactly like Willie’s first day at his new job in “Movin’ Out.” Why are the Tanners always totally incompetent right off the bat? Why do they keep getting re-hired and promoted? I love Kate, but nothing about her behavior in this episode supports the idea that she’d be hired three times by this agency.

Why can’t we see them doing good work for at least for a moment before they reveal themselves to be dangerously unqualified to leave the house? It might require a little more effort on the part of the writing, but, hey, call me crazy, I think it might still be a good idea. If anything it would give us something like progression of character, rather than an abrupt shift to a new scene that might as well have HERE’S WHAT’S FUCKING HAPPENING NOW stamped across it in subtitle.

Anyway, ALF calls, because this is ALF, and if we aren’t seeing or hearing ALF we might be confused about what show we’re watching.

Which…is a valid concern, actually, come to think of it. We’re three seasons in and he’s still the only recognizable character, so maybe he does need to pop up every thirty seconds to stave off audience confusion.

There’s a less funny (but still not bad) reprise of the conversation with Willie, with ALF mixing up a different idiom, and then it’s over. Which is good, because now that he’s gone we’ll get to see more of Kate in the workplace and…

ALF, "Changes"

Oh.

Uh, nevermind. We’re just going to listen to ALF crack wise in the kitchen, because God forbid this episode end up focusing on something specific and isn’t just a collection of disconnected ALF routines.

It’s a scene of Willie cooking dinner, with all of his ingredients on a table across the room for some unknowable reason. Brian reveals that he doesn’t know what a garlic press looks like, which is where that much beloved running joke began (by season four it’ll be a weekly tradition for Brian to enter a room and say, “Hey! What’s-a the gahr-lic press??” to rapturous applause).

Then there is an admittedly good line when Willie talks about the pasta primavera he’s making, and after he describes the sauce, ALF says, “But I like the sauce Kate opens.”

So, yes, I’m definitely down on most of the Kate-shitting in this show, and on the surface this is no different (seriously, why does nobody on this show appreciate the one person in the universe who Gets Shit Done?), but the turn of phrase in ALF’s reply, which is delivered perfectly, makes this worth it. The fact that it’s an actual joke — as opposed to a reminder that Kate is a member of the inferior gender — no doubt contributes to its success.

Of course, we can’t end the scene there, what with it being a funny line that also ties into the general plot. No, instead ALF has to ask what a certain vegetable is, so that Willie can say, “Radicchio,” and ALF can reply, “The whole idea of you cooking is radicchio!”

It’s a joke that works better when spoken than in print, and it doesn’t really work when spoken either. But, hey, we have the recorded laughter of dead strangers to create the illusion that something funny happened.

Then Lynn comes in, and we get a whole new attempt at defining a character for her: she’s a feminist warrior. Why? Who fuckin’ cares. She’s Jessie Spano now…and only now. She’ll walk off stage shortly and transmogrify into somebody else yet again.

I…god. At this point I have so much to say about Lynn, but the season is still young, and lord knows what I have yet to endure. I’ll save it for the Character Spotlight, because holy buttfuck this character jesus.

She announces that she stayed after school to protest cheerleading practice…which is odd. I thought she was in college now, but this suggests she’s not, and later in the episode ALF specifically mentions that she’s still in high school. So not only can the show not agree on who she is as a person, but it can’t agree on how old she is or what stage of life she’s in. They really, really couldn’t make it any more obvious that they don’t care about this character, could they?

It was some kind of protest, she explains, about women always being spectators or who cares. No offense to feminism, and I’m sure I could find the ghost of a good point in there, but since we’re never going to see this character trait again I’m not getting invested.

It seems as though there might have been the germ of something smart here. Since Willie is on strike, maybe Lynn could have been inspired to launch this poorly-considered protest of her own. One with good intentions, surely, but which falls apart when she gets the ear of the school (or her classmates) and has to reveal that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about; she just did it for the sake of doing it.

It would have been a nice way to inject some personal, human stakes into this story. Willie’s little sabbatical isn’t just affecting his family in terms of their finances, but in terms of their attitudes, and in terms of their approaches to solving problems. He’s Lynn’s father, and whatever he’s doing, for whatever better or worse, she’s learning from him.

Perhaps Willie’s cause isn’t worth fighting for. Or perhaps it is, but he’s failed to demonstrate the difference between a good cause and a poor one to his children. This is a chance, for the first time in a long-ass time, for Willie to stop being a guy who recites lines from a cue card and start being a father.

But instead we just throw salad on Lynn and move on.

ALF, "Changes"

GREAT SHOW DUDES

In the next scene, Kate walks in on ALF masturbating in front of the shrine he built to her.

ALF, "Changes"

Bet you thought I was kidding, huh?

It’s a bunch of pictures he took of her when she wasn’t looking, and together they joke about him getting photos of her wearing lingerie, and, oh! how they laugh.

Why she doesn’t beat SPEWEY to death with a rake here and now is beyond me. Instead she tries to cheer him up by explaining that she likes working, and it’s okay if he feels a little lonely now and then because he’s still part of the family, and Anne Schedeen delivers all of this just fine but holy fuck is it unnerving to have this heartwarming speech unfold while the shrine to ALF’s voyeurism is still in frame.

Then Willie comes in and literally wraps up his entire plot by saying, “Good news! The strike’s over.”

Well, that sure was pointless. Why did the episode have him strike at all? If Kate had already been planning to go to work anyway, then this wasn’t necessary at all. And now it ends without fanfare or explanation. Willie’s happy, I guess, but since I don’t know any of his coworkers, or his clients, or what his working conditions were like, and all I ever see is Willie fucking off on the couch, why should I care?

Was he a freedom fighter or an obstinate pig? Based on what I’ve actually seen in the show, I can’t answer that. And that’s a problem.

In fact, if I weren’t writing a novel about this episode, I probably wouldn’t even remember at this point that there was a strike. Oh well. Willie says, “Good news! C-plot’s over.” And we know that this garbage is at least winding down.

ALF, "Changes"

Then we get the moneyshot. Kate announces she’s pregnant.

And…it’s kind of pretty good! She comes home from work and alludes to the previous two times she had to leave her job. Willie’s not looking at her, focusing instead on doing his taxes, just like when they have sex. This leaves ALF free to silently figure out what Kate’s hinting at, and Paul Fusco — as is almost always the case — does some great puppet work with that.

I can’t stress enough how good a puppeteer Fusco is. As critical as I am of the other facets of his (apparent) personality, I’m genuinely impressed by how much mileage he gets out of his puppet’s largely static features. He’s very, very good at what he does, and with better writers he could have been remembered much more fondly today.

Eventually ALF says, “Willie, you fuckbag, your wife is pregnant for shit’s sake.” Willie stands up and hugs Kate, overcome with joy at the fact that he now has evidence of all three times he’s gotten laid.

They call the kids into the room to announce the good news, and there’s some legitimately good acting from Andrea Elson, who seems genuinely happy and surprised. Being as Anne Schedeen was actually pregnant here, and given how close these two seem to have been in real life, I’m content — and happy — to believe that Elson was channeling what she actually felt when she found out her costar was pregnant. Either way, she’s great here.

It’s nice. It really is. Brian makes it clear that he doesn’t know what sex is any more than he understands the garlic press, but aside from that dud, this is a nice scene, buoyed by the easy mother-daughter chemistry that Schedeen and Elson have.

Right now I’m willing to say that it’s a massive, massive shame these two don’t get more to do together. They’re the only pairing of characters that I believe want anything to do with each other.

ALF, "Changes"

Then we’re back at the office, where Kate and her colleague bond over their experiences with morning sickness. Just like their previous conversation, there’s a kind of effortlessness between the two that suggests a real friendship. Schedeen really doesn’t get the credit she deserves, because freed from the idiots she usually shares the screen with, she reveals herself to be quite good. Man oh man did she deserve a better sitcom…

ALF calls up just to tell her he misses her, which is fine. It’s not bad, but I also don’t give a shit. Then the scene ends and…

…huh.

I thought Kate was going to quit again.

I mean, I’m sure she does, but not in this episode? Maybe she’ll actually work this job for a while. That’d be fine, since she said she’s only one month into the pregnancy, but it also seems like a bit of a departure for ALF to allow such a significant change in what a character does from week to week.

Having said that, I hope she does keep working here. It’ll be nice to see her interacting with someone who at least appears to be from Earth, and it could open up new plotlines as well. I’m curious. And clearly setting myself up for disappointment.

ALF, "Changes"

In the short scene before the credits, Willie attempts to talk to Brian about sex.

If the thought of Max Wright talking to his TV son about how the engorged genital shaft of an aroused man penetrates the meat vacuum of an unfortunate woman isn’t off-putting enough, Brian then says that ALF already told him all about it.

So, yeah, for those of you who enjoy ALF at his most sex offensive, here you go. He provided detailed descriptions of the reproductive process to a little boy when there was nobody else in the house. Yet another great inroad for your creepy Uncle Ticklebeard.

Willie then goes to thank ALF for saving him the trouble (which in itself is an admittedly nice twist, as we’d expect him to maybe yell at the guy who he just found out has been engaging in secret sex talk with his grade-school son), and ALF says that he doesn’t think Brian understood the part about “releasing the pods.”

So, there you have it, folks. We end the entire episode on the hilarious reveal that a preteen doesn’t quite grasp the concept of ejaculation, despite a pedophile’s many enthusiastic attempts to teach it to him.

And on that bombshell…I’M BACK MOTHERFUCKERS

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12 Responses

  • Casey says:

    I just hope ALF told him to use the garlic press on the pods; otherwise Brian’s likely to have a really upset girl on his hands.

    You’re doing a killer job on the screenshots, by the way. The look on Brian’s face is great, and I will now always think of Lynn throwing up her hands every time the ALF writers just give up on a promising direction.

    • Philip J Reed says:

      The salad screengrab is certainly in my top 10. I have to admit, it was even better in the episode, just because of how completely pointless the salad accident even was.

  • Sarah Portland says:

    I certainly hope we do get more Kate-at-work scenes, because it’s a quick, easy way to build some character development. But if all those good for is to create a “Where’s Poochie?” moment by having ALF call to hassle her, then the set builders have wasted their time and effort in making an office. Working again after a long hiatus is a huge change, and they could be getting a lot of mileage from it. As for Willie, who gives a fuck about his C-plot? No much change there, as I suspect that he does jack shit at work all day anyway. How can he? It takes him a year to struggle through one sentence, making a noise that sounds as though his sinuses are about to explode.

    • Stephen says:

      We actually do. In the season finale where Kate actually does have the baby, we see her in the office when she calls home to tell ALF to get the pot roast out of the freezer but of course ALF doesn’t let her speak and automatically assumes she’s in labor. That’s basically the entire plot, lol. We may have other office scenes but I don’t remember any others. And I’m surprised she’s even still there when she’s expecting any day. Don’t most women go on something called Maternity Leave?

      • Sarah Portland says:

        Sadly, no. Most women do work right up until they’re due or even beyond. Hospital costs are enormous, and insurance never covers as much as you’d hope, so a lot of expectant mothers work right up until the last minute, then hurry back to work afterward. Daycares that take infants typically take them as young as 6 weeks.

  • James says:

    Welcome back, dude.

  • Mark Moore says:

    I wonder if ALF had the same talk with Lynn.

    Welcome back, dude.

  • kim says:

    glad you are back! yeah, truthfully i don’t remember much of this episode either, i took me the rewatching of this episode to remember what it was about, mostly because not much really happens in this episode.
    I’m glad i am not the only one that thought ALF making a little shine of kate was a bit creepy and confusing. don’t ALF and kate kind of hate each other or really just tolerate each others existence? and wouldn’t ALF be happy she is gone so he can run amuck freely in the house with no one to discipline him? i found that to very weird. also why was willie such an incompetent noob when it came to making dinner? surely there were times when kate was not the sole good cook in the house.
    yeah, i kind of hated how the portrayed kate here as well as she should just be the housewife that stays home at the time, but you must understand to was a sign of the times. even in the 80s, even though women were getting better jobs in the work force, women were still seen as inferior to men and a lot of sitcoms at the time were still playing on the cliche of the stay a home housewife. so really can’t fault the sitcom for that, that is just how things were at the time.
    btw, nice screencap catch with lynn covered with the salad and her hands up in like a “whatever” gesture. kind of does sum up most of the episodes of ALF. lol.

    • Philip J Reed says:

      “wouldn’t ALF be happy she is gone so he can run amuck freely in the house with no one to discipline him?”

      THAT is the rewrite this episode needed. Instead of Willie Tanner’s Primavera Follies, we should have had ALF running around unchecked, because Willie can’t keep him under control the way Kate can. That would have been a great way to build the B-plot around the personalities of all three characters. In fact, now I’m mad we DIDN’T get that. Good call, Kim.

  • RaikoLives says:

    Good to have you back, Phil!

    Just a thought. If this new job DOES continue in further episodes, could it be a way to give Anne less screen time, more time away from set, as her pregnancy develops? An “in universe” reason for why Kate isn’t around would be handy, I’m guessing, since you don’t want to be doing too much jumping over pitfalls on set when you’re pregnant. Just a thought that relies on her keeping this job for the following episodes which, if history has taught us anything, is highly unlikely.

    • Philip J Reed says:

      That sounds pretty damned likely. If she does keep the job then that would indeed be an awesome way to work around the pregnancy limitations. I’ll be curious to see if that’s what happens. If so, prepare for me to steal this insight and pretend it’s mine.

  • Denis Harry says:

    Miss your entries terribly! Thanks for keeping the fire for reviewing the episodes lit!



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