Apologies up front for not being as prolific here lately. I know I keep saying this…but that’ll change! It was some bad timing. I have a few projects I’m involved in that I can’t quite comment on yet, Comic Con came to Denver, and I had to wrap up a pitch for a non-fiction book. It was busy, and I appreciate the poor schmuck who had to watch ALF’s Hit Talk Show in my absence. In addition, loyal reader Phil (a different one) sent me some goodies that I’m sure I’ll be showing off soon…in whatever capacity.
So, anyway, we’re back to business as usual, with an episode called “Fight Back” that I’ve never seen before and which I knew nothing about.
My hopes for this one weren’t high, but from the very first scene we get some good stuff. It opens with ALF “ordering” a waffle from Kate. He reminds her of his preferences: “I like my waffles crisp, yet al dente. Cooked to a golden amber and served piping hot, on a gently warmed plate.”
Then, in a flash of uncommonly smart timing, the toaster pops, Kate slaps the waffle on a plate, and puts it in front of ALF.
“How does she do it?” he marvels. And, I’m sorry, but that’s…actually pretty funny. I mean, I’m not laughing or anything, but the specificity of his request and the simplicity of the payoff are both good in their own rights, and the way they feed off of each other enhances each half of the joke. It works, and when any episode of ALF opens with something that works, I definitely start paying attention.
Willie comes in and says his car won’t start again. Evidently he’s had to take it to the mechanic a shitload of times, and every time he gets it fixed something else goes wrong. ALF asks him why they bother sinking all that money into something that doesn’t work, gets them nowhere, and rapes their kids or whatever. And, yes, we get the joke.
Then Kate replies, “Somehow, we manage!”
And, yes, we still get the joke.
Then ALF burps for no fucking reason and YES WE GET THE JOKE WE KNOW THAT THE DESCRIPTION OF THE CAR IS ALSO A DESCRIPTION OF ALF FOR THE SAKE OF SHITTING CHRIST.
As far as the fake audience of dead people is concerned, the burp is the real comedy here. It’s odd that that’s the case. Why would the writers give a belch the biggest laugh? Wouldn’t they prefer to reward their dialogue instead? Or if it’s Paul Fusco wanting the laugh for ALF, why not have the audience laugh at a line he actually delivered rather than ALF’s mouth opening while a burp plays on the soundtrack? It’s so weird.
ALF burping, for whatever reason, seems to have become a regular punchline lately, and I have no idea why. What a bizarre, nonsensical way to cap a joke. What happened to whacking Lynn in the face with messy food? I think I’d prefer that nonsensical punchline, because it at least gives one of the other actors something to do.
Mr. Ochmonek comes over to see if Willie needs a ride to work again today.
Sing along, everybody! “Remind me of who the bad neighbor is supposed to be-eeeeeeeeeeee.”
Seriously guys…Mr. Ochmonek is awesome. He’s the kind of guy I’d actually really like to live next to. No, we wouldn’t have much in common (outside of an IMPECCABLE SENSE OF FASHION), but he’d give me rides if I was without a car, clean up all the shit blowing around my yard, fly me around on free vacations, and invite me over for holidays. What an asshole, right?
He mentions that Jake will be driving this morning, because he just got his learner’s permit. Willie’s worried, but Mr. Ochmonek brags, “The kid’s a natural. Five days of driving and he hasn’t hit a single living thing.”
There’s so much that’s exactly right about that line, and it’s delivered perfectly. It’s a funny line that reveals character, and, as we’ll see shortly, advances the plot.
With this scene, John LaMotta may have officially surpassed Anne Schedeen as the best thing about this show.
After the credits, Willie is digging around in his engine, seeing what he can salvage for crackpipe parts. ALF honks the horn because he’s ALF, and Willie hits his head on the hood because he’s in ALF.
One bothersome thing about this scene is the simple fact that the car is in the garage. While that makes sense, in theory at least, it’s not actually possible. But we can talk about that later on, when I’ll have a visual aid. For now, just keep in mind the fact that ALF is cheating.
Jake comes over to take a look at Willie’s car. He sure hasn’t had much to do since he was introduced way back in “The Boy Next Door,” but at least his aptitude for mechanical repair was established in that episode, and he didn’t just sprout it spontaneously for the purposes of this plot. It’s surprising to me that the writers remembered that detail, actually. Until now, I sure didn’t.
He mentions that he’s happy to help fix the car, because it’s an excuse to get out of watching Mr. and Mrs. Ochmonek’s slideshow: 400 slides of their trip to Carlsbad Caverns.
I don’t know why we get so many details about the Ochmoneks’ life, but almost none of the Tanners’. Where’s the last place Willie and Kate went on vacation? I’m willing to buy that the slideshow is boring as shit, but at least they went somewhere. What would Willie’s slideshow be? 400 slides of him weeping in bed while his wife fingers herself to sleep?
It’s kind of strange that the writers, consciously or not, flesh out these little details of what the life of the Ochmoneks is like, but don’t give any thought at all to the Tanners. There’s nothing wrong with developing your supporting characters (in fact, it’s typically a good impulse), but there’s something very wrong with developing them instead of your main characters. We spend a half hour per week in Die Tannerhaus, but I still couldn’t tell you what their distinguishing features are as a family. We’ve been inside the Ochmonek house, however, maybe six times total, for only short periods of time, and I get the feeling I could describe what life with them is like very well.
Part of me wonders if the writers shared my opinion that the Ochmoneks were more interesting. That may be why they seem to take every opportunity to sketch in some kind of specific detail about their histories, their hobbies, and their habits, and relegate the Tanners to playing morose peanut gallery to ALFy Doody.
The slideshow comment leads to a joke for Max Wright. He says, “I’ve seen those. 216 stalactites, 184 stalagmites?”
At least, it seems like a joke, and I think it’s decently funny, but the audience doesn’t laugh.
As I alluded to earlier with ALF’s burp, shows that use laugh-tracks (as opposed to live audience laughter) offer an unwitting insight into their internal politics. Every burst of laughter is a gift from the editors. When it’s withheld for no good reason (as with Willie’s comment here, which is no less funny than anything else that got a laugh so far, such as ALF burping, ALF sucking Lynn’s toes under the table, and ALF wiping his ass with Willie’s eyeglass cloth), you know it’s a deliberate fuck-you. When a live audience doesn’t laugh, it’s because you delivered a bum line.
When a fake audience doesn’t laugh, it’s because Paul Fusco is trying to get you to quit.
The feeling between Fusco and Wright must be mutual at this point. ALF tells Willie he doesn’t need to be embarrassed that Jake solved the problem, and the look in Willie’s eyes as he grumbles “I’m not embarrassed” is the best acting Max Wright has ever done. Of course, it probably came easily to him, as he’s not acting at all, and is rather overcome with his desire to tear the puppet stitch from stitch.
The problem, Jake says, was a spark plug wire. Easy to fix, and he does so…but it looked to him like it had been deliberately cut, and only barely reattached so that it would come loose later.
Sure enough, Willie says that he’s been going to a new mechanic lately. And, of course, that’s when all of his car trouble started. Willie’s not the kind of guy to confront somebody, though, so he hesitates and tries briefly to give the mechanic the benefit of the doubt.
Ultimately, though, he decides to call him on the phone and at least give him a say in the discussion, which leads to…probably the best ALF scene in a while. (Barring the ending to “Alone Again, Naturally,” which was a glorious exception to the muddled nonsense that’s been season three.)
I’m actually sorry I cracked on Max Wright’s acting earlier, because he’s good here. He’s very believable in the way that he balances a natural awkwardness and dislike of confrontation with the need to get an answer. On top of that, he’s acting as though he’s on the phone with somebody we can’t hear, which, from what I’ve heard, isn’t as easy as it sounds. Without anybody to play off of it’s essentially a monologue in which you have to convey the emotions of two different people. He handles it really well.
Okay, fine, yes, this is an episode of fucking ALF.
And, fine, no, Max Wright was in no danger of being nominated for an Emmy as a result of his performance in this scene.
But it’s perfectly competent stuff, and well beyond what we usually get from him. I don’t know why. Maybe he was just happy to be talking to a piece of plastic instead of a piece of felt. Whatever it was, though, I’ll take it.
He’s friendly enough at first, but forces himself around to asking the mechanic if he happened to notice anything unusual under the hood last time…such as a severed wire. The awkward balance in Willie’s voice as he tries to maintain balance between attack and retreat is really quite good.
Then ALF shouts, “Yo, crook! This is Mike Wallace! You’re under arrest!”
This is also good, not only because Jake tells him to shut the fuck up,* but because of ALF’s legitimately funny assumption that Mike Wallace, 60 Minutes anchorman, has the authority to arrest criminals.
The mechanic doesn’t seem to hear this, which is a suspension of disbelief mandatory for enjoying sitcoms, but he does take issue with Willie’s accusation. Willie tries to defuse the situation by assuring him that it’s not an accusation, but the mechanic doesn’t buy it, and Willie hangs up after saying, flatly, “Well, I guess we have nothing more to say to one another.”
It’s actually pretty good. It’s played well and Wright gets a legitimate tension brewing by the end. His hesitating, stammering awkwardness fits this conversation perfectly, and I like the way it takes its time and builds to an unresolved conclusion.** It makes the episode feel like something is happening, continuously, throughout the half-hour that we spend with these characters…an approach I much prefer to the “this happens, then this other thing happens, then something else happens, then ALF farts and the episode ends” ethos of most episodes.
Willie concludes, based on the turn the conversation took, that Jake might well be right. He’s not happy, because he realizes he’s been scammed, but he’s even more frustrated, because you can tell that he doesn’t know what to do. He’s impotent in this situation. He knows he’s been taken advantage of, but he also knows that he’s powerless to do anything about it. All of this is conveyed quietly…through actual acting.
It’s a great scene.
Willie does what men who look like Willie do when they realize they’ve been scammed by a crooked businessman: he calls the Better Business Bureau.
No, that’s not a joke in the episode, but it is a theme. And it’s in line with what we know of Willie. Yes, we saw him beat up some guy and threaten to murder a hobo, but those episodes sucked ass. If Willie is any kind of human being, he’s the kind that addresses his problems by turning to the comforting placebo of bureaucracy.
It’s a great character detail, and a wholly appropriate counterpoint to the more proactive approach that the other characters would — and do — take. ALF is so often barren of theme at all that I’m glad to see it. The fact that it’s actually upheld and explored satisfyingly throughout the episode is shocking.
ALF suggests to Willie that he hang up and call 1-800-CRIME-88, which was the actual tipline for America’s Most Wanted when this episode aired.
Or, well, it sort of was…this episode aired in January of 1989, and America’s Most Wanted updated the last two digits of their tipline every year. So either ALF chose to deliberately use the old number (as suggesting that America’s Most Wanted‘s phone lines should be tied up with small-claims issues would have been an ethical no-no), or they intended to use the correct number, but when the episode finally made it to air it slipped just slightly into the next year. Either explanation is fine, and completely understandable. I bring this up mainly as a point of interest, and not in any way a complaint.
I also bring it up because between this and the 60 Minutes reference earlier, I’m happy ALF is finally making these references-as-jokes things for reasons that are relevant to the plot, and the writers aren’t just padding out scripts by adding some names of things that exist.
Annoyed by ALF’s presence and input, Willie asks, “Don’t you have something to do?”
ALF replies, “Yeah, but it can wait.”
And…holy fuck. Am I actually going to like this episode?
Oh, dear reader…I am.
Later on ALF and Jake are in the shed playing darts. It’s not funny, exactly, but it’s cute. I like how “human” (for lack of a more fitting term) it makes these characters feel. And ALF having fun with someone is a welcome deviation from ALF having fun in front of someone.
Anyway, here’s where we see that the car couldn’t have been in the garage earlier. See where the door is? See all that junk and equipment blocking it? Willie must have broken down all of that, relocated it, opened the door, drove the car in, participated in the scene we saw earlier, drove the car back out, shut the door, then come back in and set everything back up again before going into the house to call the BBB…instead of, you know, checking the car where it sat in the driveway.
It’s especially odd because we know they have a driveway set. It’s not a cost-saving measure; it’s laziness.
But whatever. It’s not a big deal. I’m just complaining because that’s the way I communicate with other human beings.
Brian comes in, and he doesn’t bother to ask why they’re playing a game without him. He’s just used to it by now.
Jake asks him if Willie’s had any luck getting someone to investigate this mechanic yet, and Brian says no, barely able to force a reply through his crippling shock that he’s been directly addressed for the first time since season one.
The gang takes issue with Willie’s way of dealing with the problem. Jake says that if he were the one scammed, he’d scam the scammer right back. ALF, as we’ve seen, agrees that if you’re going to change anything, you need to change it yourself. What’s more, he has an idea of how to do it. “But,” he says to Jake, “we’ll need to use your uncle’s car.”
Jake asks him, “Why?”
ALF replies, “I haven’t gotten that far yet.”
It’s funny. And that time I did actually laugh. (Achievement unlocked, ALF.) But Jake reminds him that even if they did have a plan, he can’t drive any of them around; he only has a learner’s permit. ALF suggests they rope Lynn into driving.
And, holy shit…this is Shumway’s 11.
Brian asks if he can help, too. Since everyone else is involved, why not?
Well, there’s no good reason why not, but ALF tells him he can wait by the phone and they’ll call if they need his help, which is Melmackian for “go suck a dick, kid.”
Jake comes into the house and asks to see Lynn. She gets up to leave, but he says he has a favor he needs to ask. “Make it fast,” she says. “I have something really important to do in my room.”
He asks what that is. Rookie mistake! When a woman says “I have something really important to do in my room,” you don’t ask what it is. You just let her go and politely listen through the crack under the door.
He says he just needs a ride somewhere, and she agrees to drive him on the condition that for one month, there will be no innuendos, no leering, and no unwelcome pet-names.
It’s…actually kind of cute. Seriously. I remember when I was growing up, I had a really close friend. His sister was in college, and I think I was in middle school. Maybe nowadays these kinds of crushes are less innocent, but listening to this exchange specifically, I’m reminded of how I probably behaved around her.
She was my first serious crush…attractive, yes, but also older. There was something about that that mystified me. It was nothing sexual at all — I was a bit of a late bloomer, perhaps — but I wanted her in some way that I couldn’t even to myself define. I doubt I was calling her by pet-names, but I certainly tried to act cooler around her, so God knows what kind of out-of-character shit came out of my mouth.
The thing is, when you’re young, when you’re learning…when you want something and you don’t know why, or even what you would do with it…you act in ways you yourself don’t understand. And sometimes it takes an outsider voice to let you know that you’re acting like a pig.
But it was innocent. And, for whatever reason, that’s the feeling I get from this. Lynn pushes him back, and we get the sense that she’s not lying or exaggerating, but there’s a softness to it that really makes him feel like more of a pest than a problem.
It’s much better than his previous scenes with Lynn. Those were preposterously creepy, with Willie and Kate just sitting there listening to the boy wax openly about wanting to cum in their daughter’s hair.
Here, while the unwelcome nature of his advances are still acknowledged, she gets to speak out against them. And, in doing so, she gets to render them harmless.
It all happens for the purposes of a joke — he calls her “babe” as he agrees to her condition — but it works as a nice little exchange as well. It retroactively characterizes their relationship, turning it into something more like younger-brother’s-friend and hot-older-sister than predator and prey.
In Mr. Ochmonek’s Plymouth Duster, we see he that has multiple dashboard hula girls, which is a pretty great detail, and another example of how the writers flesh out these side characters in ways they never even consider for the main family. What would Willie decorate his car with? I have no idea. But I could have guessed that Mr. O would have had at least one hula girl, because he’s actually a character, and that’s the kind of thing you can start doing once you know who these people are.
Then there’s some really fucking nice dialogue between Jake and Lynn. (Honestly, did you ever expect to see me write that?)
As Lynn drives Jake reminds her of the rules of the road. She’s following too close…she’s changing lanes without checking her blindspot…her hands aren’t at 10 and 2. (Her response to the latter is that her right hand is running a little fast today…a way better joke than this show deserves.)
In print that probably looks like nagging, but it doesn’t come off that way. It’s more like a kid who is excited about the fact that he’ll be driving soon, eager to show off his knowledge. He may even see this as a kind of flirting. (“See what a good driver I am? And I’m not even driving!”) Either way, there’s an enthusiasm to his instructions that characters — any characters — so rarely display on ALF. I’ll admit, it’s infective.
Then he cautions her, “Eyes on the road.”
And ALF springs up from the back seat shouting, “WHERE?! WHERE?!!” and Lynn shits herself and almost crashes.
It’s good, folks.
ALF grabbing the wheel during “On the Road Again” likewise almost killed her (and her entire family), but that was just him being a fuckface. There was no reason to do it, so it wasn’t even a joke. It was just ALF attempting to murder the cast.
Here there’s a reason he nearly causes an accident, and it’s a reason specific to who he is as a character. He was trying to hide (because he’s an alien), but (because he’s an alien!) he panics when he hears a perfectly benign bit of advice and takes it literally.
Again, it’s good. The same net result as the similar moment in “On the Road Again,” but this time it actually lands. It’s a natural but unexpected outcropping of the conversation we were just listening to, it’s true to ALF’s extra-terrestrial origins, and it’s a legitimate surprise as neither we nor Lynn had seen that he was in the car.
It just…fits. And pretty damned well.
Lynn’s not happy, but they convince her to help them, based initially on the (obvious) fact that she can’t let ALF do whatever he’s planning to do unsupervised. But then she gets swept up a bit in the excitement, and realizes that she would in fact like to get back at the guy who’s been scamming her dad.
It’s a great little moment for her; the best Lynn’s gotten all season. There’s a real turn that she takes here, from angry to concerned to conspiratorial, and I believe each step. So far “Fight Back” has given almost everyone a great moment, but my personal favorite material has to be the Lynn stuff, if only because her character has really been pissed all over lately.
We don’t get to hear what their actual plan is, though; a commercial break plays while Jake explains it. Just one more thing you have to deal with when you watch sitcoms, I guess. It’d make perfect sense if the plan turned out to be some kind of big surprise for the audience, but what you’re already expecting them to do is exactly what they end up doing. It seems odd to treat it like a secret from the viewer when they’re no doubt several steps ahead already.
They head to the mechanic’s shop and set up a camera outside. So, yeah, that’s all they do. They just want to catch the guy in a lie. Easy enough, but it’s a bit disappointing that the episode treats it like some ingenious (or at least wacky) plan, and really all they do is record the guy telling a fib.
Jake tells ALF to man the camera, while he and Lynn go tell the mechanic that the car broke down on the way to their honeymoon.
It’s a funny line! And it’s well delivered. There are issues with Jake as a character, certainly, but now that the show is actually giving him something to do — for the first time since he was introduced — he’s not half bad. This scene alone establishes him as better than almost anyone we spend time with on a weekly basis.
The most frustrating thing about “Fight Back” is that it’s evidence of how much mileage ALF could be getting out of its non-puppet characters. Instead, as we’ve often discussed here, everything has to be about ALF. I don’t think it’s coincidental that in the rare episodes in which he steps back and lets someone else talk, things start to feel more natural. What’s more ALF himself becomes more funny, because he actually gets to act as comic relief instead of comic bombardment.
Who would have thought that giving everyone a turn in the spotlight would result in a better sitcom?
Well, everyone, obviously. Jesus Christ, Paul.
Lynn tells Jake she can handle it on her own. She goes into the shop and tells the mechanic that her engine is making weird noises. He asks her what kind of noises, and she says, “You know. Like…when your earrings…fall in the garbage disposal.”
Andrea Elson isn’t the most reliable actor, so I honestly can’t tell if this is just a bizarre line delivery or if she’s intentionally saying it in a state of vague, confused panic. Whichever it is, it works. It seems like she’s trying to be descriptive without being too descriptive…giving the mechanic an answer he’s bound to be unfamiliar with so that he won’t catch on to the fact that she’s trying to trick him.
So little of this episode is funny, but so much of it is good. This is a group of characters that are getting to be human for the first time in ages, and I love it.
I’ll take a laugh-light half hour of solid character interaction over a rollicking joke-fest that insults my intelligence any day.
And I have to give some major props to the interesting camera angles in this one. Viewing the action through a camcorder is the obvious example, but that earlier screengrab with Jake in the foreground as Lynn and ALF set up the camera was lovely, as was the shot of him and ALF playing darts.
Somebody — I have no idea who — put forth the effort to give this episode life.
Back at the house Willie is on the phone to some congressman’s office. He’s speaking to a clerk or something, and he argues that he wants to talk directly to his elected representative because “I nearly voted for him and I pay his salary.” It’s a stellar line, and I especially like that the joke is front-loaded. There’s something funnier, and more real, about the fact that it doesn’t serve as the line’s punctuation.
So Willie’s still tangled up in red tape while the Action Squad is actually doing something about the problem. It’s an interesting theme, and I’m surprised the episode kept it up from beginning to end. That requires actual thought, and at least a little bit of foresight. So, yeah. Good on you, “Fight Back.”
Mr. Ochmonek comes over to ask if Willie’s seen Jake, and as he leaves he passes Brian and tousles the kids’s hair, saying, “Hey Brian!”
See that? That’s how a father behaves. But who’s the actual father? Fuckin’ Willie, whom I’m not convinced even knows his son’s name.
I know I’ve already been on my Weekly Ochmonek Rant, but in this very episode Mr. O is described by ALF as “the wacky neighbor.” Moments like this just go to show just how miscast everybody is in this show. Willie is an aloof, condescending boob when he’s supposed to be a loving and compassionate social worker / family man. Mr. Ochmonek is a charming, playful, happy guy who is supposed to be the most awful neighbor ever.
Gestures of sweetness come naturally the guy we’re meant to dislike, and with great, teeth-gnashing difficulty to the one we’re supposed to like.
It’s really, truly weird. Of course, this is a complaint about ALF in general far more than it is about “Fight Back.” It’s just that when an episode starts pushing the right buttons for a change, it throws the show’s larger problems into even sharper relief.
We do get a little scene between Brian and Willie, in which Brian rats out the crew for wanting to catch the scamming mechanic in the act. Willie hangs up the phone when he realizes that ALF is out there, and Wright delivers a believable moment of decently played panic.
As Willie runs out the door with his coat he passes Kate, and he tells her there’s an emergency. She says, wearily, “Say hi to ALF for me.”
And that got a big laugh out of me. Grand slam, Schedeen.
How in fuck’s name did “Willie gets a shitty mechanic” turn into a good episode? I honestly never would have guessed this. It’s even better than “Alone Again, Naturally,” which had the benefit of a great (and arguably overdue) plot on its side.
This is an episode that should not work…and yet, for reasons I know I’m having difficulty articulating, it does. It’s like “Oh, Pretty Woman” in that regard. Non-character teenage meat (sometimes referred to as Lynn) enters a beauty pageant. That should have been fucking terrible, but instead they turned out a more than decent character piece. Here, the plot is just as worrying, but it’s an excuse for everyone (even Jake!) to spread out and have fun with it.
There are good jokes, great character moments, and a relateable conflict. Season three on the whole has been one long slick of shit, but I’ll admit when something works…and this definitely works.
It goes to show that any material can be elevated when somebody decides to put forth the effort to do so. Likewise, a great idea is damned when nobody bothers to help the pieces come together.
Anyway, Jake and ALF listen in on the mechanic trying to scam Lynn. Since Jake knows about cars, it’s clear to him that the man is lying when he tells Lynn that the Duster needs $200 worth of repairs.
But then Jake says, worried, “We’ve got a problem.”
ALF looks into the camera and sees this:
God dammit, ALF. Stop being funny.
This episode is doing a lot of unexpected things, from interesting camera angles, to strong dialogue, to not being a pile of garbage.
ALF and Jake calm Willie down temporarily by explaining what’s going on: the Duster is in good shape, and the mechanic just quoted Lynn for repairs she didn’t need.
Willie, once he understands that this man is trying to scam his daughter, acts like an actual human father for the first time in his life: he starts off to confront the man.
ALF makes an annoying crack as Willie goes, in reference to the filming: “Wait! You never told me which is your good side.”
To which Willie replies, perfectly, “The one you’re not on.”
I don’t often recommend you watch ALF. In fact, I quite strongly recommend the opposite.
But in this case, please, take a look at “Do You Believe in Magic?” or “Hide Away” or some other piece of recent crap like that. Then watch “Fight Back.” The spike in quality, competency, and watchability is staggering.
Willie goes in and confronts the guy…and that’s about it.
The mechanic attempts to backpedal about quoting Lynn for work she doesn’t need, but Willie heard everything and doesn’t buy it. The scene just kind of fizzles out as Willie confronts him…so, meh. They couldn’t stick the landing, but the episode itself had enough good in it that I hardly mind.
When the journey is fun and interesting, I don’t mind if I’m left feeling disappointed by a single closing scene. And I’m at a loss for anything else the plot could have done at this point.
I mean, I have ideas, but I don’t know that any of them would be better than the ending we got. Do any of you? I’m sure there’s some more satisfying way to put a button on this one, but Willie solidly addressing the thief face to face rather than playing coy over the phone feels earned, at least to some extent. I’m disappointed without feeling cheated, I suppose.
And besides, if the writers couldn’t come up with a better way to end this, then I’m just glad they didn’t scrap the script entirely. It was one of the best we’ve had in a long time.
In the short scene before the credits, Willie struggles valiantly to hold in a fart.
The family is watching him on Fight Back! With David Horowitz, a real-life consumer affairs show that aired in California at the same time as this episode. I assume it was fairly well known out there — I’ve never seen it so I can’t say for sure — but that really doesn’t matter. The show could be fictional for all it’s worth to the episode, as it just gives us the chance to see Willie’s speech to the mechanic in full.
The speech is just a bunch of cliches and references to other speeches and to works of literature, making his annoyance at Jimbo trying to talk to him about Mark Twain last week seem even more odd. But, oh well.
Horowitz plays the tape, Willie makes a brief (not not unamusing) appearance on the show in which nerves get the better of him and he can’t think of anything to say, and that’s the end. Not a horrible ending, nor is it a good one. It’s just an ending.
But, honestly, who cares? It was at least a logical ending, and it brought Willie’s small-scale fight for justice to a conclusion that isn’t too happy or convenient.
This entire story was oddly…rational. Things — everything, really — happened for a reason. Decisions were made that made sense, even if they weren’t particularly good ones. Characters reacted to each other in recognizable ways. There were very few contrivances not mandated by the format of the sitcom. A conflict was set up, explored, and dealt with. Almost nothing was out of character, and almost everything could get by on good writing, good performance, or a good deal of charm. (Or, to be honest, all three.)
ALF got to be funny without shouldering others out of the spotlight. He got to cause and solve a problem without being a dickass. Jake had a reason to exist. Lynn’s character (probably temporarily) was redeemed. Willie got to stammer and sweat his way through conversations in which those quirks made sense.
This was a great way of demonstrating that Willie’s ostensibly level-headed, bookish approach to life isn’t always the right way forward. Far better, at least, than that episode that tried to teach us the same lesson by having him jump out of a plane after he heard that his wife porked Joe Namath.
On its own merits, I have no idea how “Fight Back” would hold up. Some of the lines, certainly, I’d go to bat for. Some of the scenes work for sure. But, overall, I have to remember that I’m comparing it to other episodes of ALF. It’s by no means revelatory television, but that’s okay. It’s a half hour of good comedy in a place that we normally don’t find it.
And it’s a reminder that ALF, for all of its flaws, didn’t actually have to be shit.
…of course, we’ve never had two good episodes in a row. Ever. So…I’ll see you next week with my tail between my legs.
MELMAC FACTS: On Melmac they had an expression: there’s a sucker born every month, except February which has twenty-eight. Melmac’s adherence to the Gregorian calendar will never cease to fascinate me. On Melmac they had a hero (it’s not clear if he was fictional or not) whose motto was “Truth, justice, and the Melmackian way.” His name was Super Cilious, and ALF says that “he captured a lot of criminals, but he was so darn smug about it.” Guys, that is a great line.
* It’s really nice to see Willie and Jake on the same side and working together for once. It hints at the unlikely father/son relationship that could have been, had the writers taken the time to explore it. Jake doesn’t connect to the Ochmoneks, Willie doesn’t connect to Brian…these two could serve as interesting surrogate family members for each other. It would give them both something to do, develop an unexpected relationship, and lead to a lot of plotlines that the show can’t do without Jake having a father figure and Willie having a son that he didn’t grow in a petri dish.
** ALF also makes a joke about Bob Newhart’s “phone bit” being much funnier than Willie’s…which gives us another overt connection between this show and Newhart.