It’s the only way in which ALF has ever been reliable: a good episode is always, every time, followed by a lousy one.
It goes all the way back to the show’s first great installment, “For Your Eyes Only.” This was followed by “Help Me, Rhonda.” At that moment, the precedent was set.
“For Your Eyes Only” > “Help Me, Rhonda”
“Going Out of My Head Over You” > “Lookin’ Through the Windows”
“La Cuckaracha” > “Come Fly With Me”
“Working My Way Back to You” > “Somewhere Over the Rerun”
“Oh, Pretty Woman” > “Something’s Wrong With Me”
“Night Train” > “Isn’t it Romantic?”
“I’m Your Puppet” > “Tequila”
“Alone Again, Naturally” > “Do You Believe in Magic?”
I’d have loved it — genuinely loved it — if “Suspicious Minds” had bucked this trend. But when the premise of the episode is that ALF fucks around for a while in Elvis’s living room, I knew better than to get my hopes up. Sure enough, the pleasant surprise that was “Fight Back” — without question this season’s best episode — gives way to this insulting piece of nonsensical garbage. It’s as though ALF could never bear to make its audience happy two weeks in a row.
What puzzles me about “Suspicious Minds” isn’t the fact that it sucks. It’s the way in which it sucks. I’m sure you can think of a thousand ways that The King of Rock and Roll meeting an aardvark from space can go wrong, but “Suspicious Minds” finds the one possibility I’d never have expected: nothing happens.
It’s a failure of imagination in perhaps its purest form yet. The writers build an entire episode around the appearance of an American cultural icon, and then do nothing with it. Arguably, they do even less than nothing…but you’ll see why when you reach the end of the review.
The episode opens with ALF reading from some kind of magazine. He tells the family that if you look really closely, you can see Elvis in one of the crowd scenes in Gandhi. It’s a funny line, but when we cut to a tighter shot of ALF we get a great visual joke: the magazine he’s reading is called ELVIS IS ALIVE. I’M REALLY REALLY SURE.
While he reads the family is putting their groceries away, so Kate’s habit of buying him supermarket tabloids to keep him occupied has carried over from “Alone Again, Naturally,” and I really like that little sliver of continuity.
Just kidding. Kate asks him where he got the magazine and he says he joined the Legend of the Month Club. So the whole thing is really just one big, frustrating coincidence.
This would have been a perfect time to connect two episodes and give the show some sense, at least, of an internal reality. All of the pieces are already there for crying out loud. Kate just went shopping; ALF is reading a tabloid. What do you need, a road map?
All it would have taken is one writer to say, “Hey, a few episodes ago we did pretty much the same thing, and explained it this way.” That’s it. Nothing needs to be written, and no additional effort needs to be expended. All you need to do is not provide a different explanation this time around, and let the audience pick up on the connection.
Sustaining this idea across episodes could have had larger positive consequences as well. ALF reading tabloids could have become a running gag. Maybe it would provide fuel for future episodes (I, for one, would love to see ALF and Willie get attacked by the Bat Boy), but at the very least it could have just led to a few jokes here and there. ALF’s fascination with tabloids could have become an identifying trait for him, instead of a thing that coincidentally happened twice.
It’s disappointing. This show so many times has just barely approached good ideas…its writers grasping in the dark for something and so nearly finding it…only for the search to be aborted and started over somewhere else.
ALF tells the family that the magazine has evidence that Elvis is alive: a photo of him at a swapmeet. Brian looks at the picture and asks, “What’s he buying? A hubcap?” To which ALF replies, “That’s a belt buckle!!!!!!” because Elvis was fat and you’re watching ALF.
After the titles, ALF does funny faces and makes noise.
Well, that killed three minutes.
With more than a tenth of the episode out of the way, Mrs. Ochmonek realizes that she’d better kick this plot into gear, because there’s no way these assholes are going to do it. She comes over and tells a joke about Rambo 3 being shit, then says that someone rented the old house on the other side of theirs.
Kate asks about the renter and Mrs. Ochmonek, in a genuinely good joke that nearly atones for the Rambo one, pulls out a small notepad and reads that his name is Aaron King, he has a Southern accent, he’s in his early 50s, and he sings in the shower. She then says, “That’s all I know,” and puts the pad away.
I honestly wonder how many people my age know of Elvis entirely because of cartoons and sitcoms. By now, of course, I’ve heard a good deal of his actual recordings, but when I was young I knew more about him than I knew about probably any other celebrity, living or dead, and I think it was because of episodes like this, the ubiquitous “Elvis impersonator” comedy staple, the constant fawning of Uncle Jesse in Full House, and pop culture nonsense like that.
I wouldn’t have known anything about the quality of his music, but I could have rattled off a laundry list of character traits. Like the historical Jesus, King Arthur, Johnny Appleseed, Santa Claus, or Robin Hood, some small germ of real-world truth grew, after death, into the literal stuff of legend. Elvis is as much a fictional character as anyone else in this show…perhaps even moreso, because I can describe his character.
Whether or not the sustained cultural image of Elvis has anything to do with who he actually was or how he actually behaved is irrelevant. He was, obviously, something. But after death, he transitioned into the realm of folk memory. He’s a figure. An icon. A still-expanding legend that exists, and will continue to exist, outside of boundaries of time itself.
ALF, surprising no-one, gravitates strongly toward the cultural identity of Elvis rather than anything personal, or human. Which is by no means the fault only of ALF (nor even an inherent fault in itself), but it does represent a frustratingly missed opportunity. “Suspicious Minds” aired only around twelve years after Elvis died. This means that a huge portion of its viewing audience actually remembered Elvis, had personal recollections of and associations with his music, could still feel the tragic shock of his death.
The fact that ALF is already treating him like nothing more than a collection of quirks means we don’t get any kind of unique perspective about what it might have been like to see the man rise scandalously, fall sharply, reinvent himself for a new kind of stardom, and then die suddenly, leaving the world with an echoing collection of ephemera and nobody to attach it to.
Today any show can sketch Elvis in broad outlines, and that’s fine, because we’re removed from his death by almost four decades. Most people watching any given show haven’t had first-hand experience of him.
ALF, therefore, could given us a fascinating time-capsule of the precise moment at which the historical Elvis was supplanted permanently by a cartoon. Unfortunately, for ALF everyone was a cartoon, and the insight was lost forever.
ALF overhears Mrs. Ochmonek, and becomes convinced the the handful of details she shared means the new neighbor is Elvis. Willie tells him that’s pretty obviously bullshit, so ALF makes funny faces and noises again until we pass the six minute mark.
ALF physically assaults Willie for a while, then throws him against the wall. When Willie leaves ALF gloats about getting his watch. Why is this happening? What the fuck am I watching? Why are we spending so much time in the Elvis episode watching an alien gurn and grunt while physically battering the man he lives with?
It’s really odd. I get that slapstick can be funny, but this is no more slapstick than punching a coworker in the back of the head is slapstick. You’re just a fucking dick.
Later on we get an establishing shot of the house, and we hear Willie scream. I was expecting to cut to the Tanner bathroom in which we’d see ALF skinning Willie alive with a vegetable peeler, but instead the guy just slipped and fell on a banana peel.
Lynn comes to help him up, but nobody else appears. I guess after you live with ALF for a while you get so used to hearing your family screaming in agony that it no longer has meaning.
Willie makes a comment about not knowing why people find banana peel pratfalls so amusing, and Lynn stifles a laugh. It’s actually pretty cute, and decently human. In fact, I think Lynn gets the best line in the episode off the back of this: when Willie looks angrily at her, she says, “I’m sorry. I was just thinking of a joke I heard on A Different World.” He keeps staring, and she says, “No, really. There was one.”
In fact, that “No really…” bit might elevate the joke (in a technical sense at least) beyond its equivalent from The Simpsons. Yes, if you’re anything like me, you thought immediately of Lisa’s line from “Duffless”: “I was just thinking of a joke I saw on Herman’s Head.” And it’s no coincidence, I’m sure.
Al Jean and Mike Reiss wrote this episode of ALF, and were showrunners for that episode of The Simpsons. It’s possible that they pitched a similar joke without even realizing it, or maybe on the assumption that it had been cut from the final edit of ALF. Either way, Lisa’s line excuses her laughter, but otherwise doesn’t do much more than wink knowingly at Yeardley Smith’s secondary role on that other show. Lynn’s line actually is a joke in itself, and I find that to be an interesting difference.
Willie goes into the garage to beat SPEWEY to death with a rake, and gets a load of crappy conspiracy crap which he stands there and listens to for reasons un-fucking-known. This monster from beyond the stars just beat the living fuck out of him in his dining room, then left bananas everywhere so that he’d fall and shatter his coccyx in the kitchen, but his anger is defused immediately because the script now wants him to sit quietly while ALF talks about Elvis.
This is a really, really bad episode, and this scene does a great job of making that clear. Not only does Willie behave like an entirely different person in the transition between one scene and another (as jarring a change as if we watched a fireman walk into a burning room, and then switched cameras to reveal that he’s actually a police officer arresting a robber at the bank), but we make concrete the episode’s approach to dealing with Elvis: a series of rattled-off factoids. No insight, no subversion, no cleverness. The characters just say things and we’re supposed to laugh because we recognize them.
Oddly, that means that you could write your own ALF ‘n’ Elvis show in less time than it would take you to watch theirs. Just write down everything you learned about Elvis from cartoons, avoid all conflict, stakes, or connecting dialogue, and you’re set.
You might think I’m exaggerating, but here’s the list of Mrs. Ochmonek’s factoids from the first scene:
- The name Aaron King: Elvis’s middle name was Aron, and the surname King refers to his nickname “The King of Rock and Roll.”
- Southern accent: Elvis was born in Mississippi and moved to Tennessee; as such he developed a very famous and very Southern drawl.
- Early 50s: Elvis would have been 54 the year this episode aired.
- Singing in the shower: ELVIS WAS A SINGER
Add to this ALF’s earlier observation:
- The hubcap belt-buckle: Elvis, late in his life and career, was pretty pudgy.
Now we get another list in this scene:
- “Blue Suede Shoes”: ALF found a pair of red corduroy slippers in King’s trash, which he thinks were changed from blue suede shoes to throw people off the trail.
- Peanut butter and banana sandwiches: a favorite snack of the King; had he not fried them he probably would have been a pretty healthy dude.
- “Heartbreak Hotel”: Mr. King finding “a new place to dwell.” Willie even completes the lyric.
- Anagram: ALF’s anagram is a lifeless (ahem) riff on the famous ELVIS LIVES.
So, yeah. Doing an Elvis episode in a show about an alien has a lot of potential to be something unique, if not necessary good. The writers must have consciously resisted every creative impulse in order to give us “Suspicious Minds,” which is literally nothing more than a longform recitation of everything the writers think they remember about The King.
(“Suspicious Minds” is itself, of course, an Elvis reference; in fact, it’s my favorite song of his. I’m not a huge Presley fan by any means, but “Suspicious Minds” is a damned good, damned catchy, and decently insightful song about a toxic relationship. In other words, it’s very appropriate for an episode of ALF.)
Anyway, ALF called Mr. King at 3 a.m. and recorded his voice. He plays the recording for Willie and, yep, it sure sounds like a sitcom Elvis impersonator. Willie inexplicably listens to this instead of beating the fuck out of him for wandering around the neighborhood and digging through strangers’ trash at night.
ALF promised Mr. King a fruitbasket, and Lynn conveniently arrives in the garage to tell her father they have a visitor. Get your pencils ready, because we can add more factoids to the list with Mr. King’s arrival!
- The “point”: Mr. King does a swivelly little Elvis-style point at the peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
- “Elvis has left the building”: A line that became something of a catchphrase after announcers used it to keep throngs of fans from hanging around for another encore; ALF says it after Mr. King leaves the garage, in a hilarious example of somebody saying something that somebody else once said.
Don’t put your pencils away; we’ll get many more later on.
So, yeah, Mr. King comes over, and he prefers the peanut butter and banana sandwiches to the fruit basket. When Willie gives him one he says:
- “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
If anyone has bingo, just shout.
Mr. King looks kind of like an Elvis impersonator wearing a trucker costume over his Elvis costume, and nothing really happens here. He takes a sandwich and goes, just as I would certainly do if I found unwrapped food sitting in some stranger’s shed.
After he leaves Willie still isn’t convinced, so ALF says, “I won’t rest until I prove this man is Elvis Presley, but first I think I’ll take a nap.”
It’s a really good line. It’s also the last thing of true merit in the entire episode.
Later that night ALF is skulking openly around the neighborhood, because that’s what he already told Willie he was doing and the guy didn’t think it was worth punishing him for.
Anyway, the Alien Task Force receives a tip, shows up, and flays ALF alive in Mr. King’s driveway.
End of ALF. Thank you for joining me on this series of reviews!
…sadly, no. ALF peeks through the window, pushes the door open, and walks right into the guy’s house.
This show is fucking shit, dudes. I’m sorry. You can’t expect us to care about ALF being picked up by the Alien Task Force if he’s walking freely into other people’s homes. If you want to hide ALF, hide ALF. If you don’t, don’t. But “whether or not the main character can leave the house” is a pretty important thing to establish and stick with…especially when it’s the closest thing your show has to a premise. If you keep sliding back and forth, people don’t just get confused; they stop caring.
Tell me there’s an alien in your show and he must avoid the government at all costs. I’ll invest in that. But don’t follow it up by having the alien go on a very public, very naked stroll through the neighborhood and slip into the homes of strangers. That’s you telling me you don’t care…and if you don’t care, why in the hell would I?
Anyway, there’s a bunch of Elvis shit in the house so ALF proclaims loudly that the guy must be Elvis because fuck it all go to hell.
Elvis or whomever the fuck he’ll turn out to be comes home and ALF hides behind a table. Elvis walks around with an armful of groceries and just kind of silently paces for a bit.
Why is this episode so padded? They literally didn’t even try to spin a plot. It’s a story about a space alien and the motherfucking King of Rock and Roll. Did they just think the idea was so incredible that all they had to do was have the characters make funny faces and walk in circles?
It’s insulting how little effort was put into this. If it was full of jokes that sucked, so be it. Instead, it’s not full of anything.
Anyway, ALF knocks a whole bunch of shit over, then stands there while the guy confronts him.
Usually in this show when somebody sees ALF for the first time (a rite of passage for every character, apparently), they have some kind of realistic reaction. Fleeing, going crazy, dropping dead, demanding it be killed for their entertainment, turning it in for a reward, and so on. We’ve had a nice number of disparate reactions to ALF, but almost uniformly they’ve come from a believable place. Here the Elvis guy just asks him what he is, and then has a conversation with it. This episode goes from zero to fuck you in 2.1 seconds.
Instead of worrying too much about the identity of the talking merkin in his living room, Mr. King protests that he’s not the guy who very publicly dropped dead over a decade ago. He does mention that he’s been to Las Vegas, though, and ALF pounces: “You’ve been to Vegas? That proves it!” I’d say it’s the best line in the episode, but it doesn’t get a laugh for some reason. Oh well. The fake audience of dead people certainly knows comedy better than I do.
Let’s add a few more things to the list of non-joke Elvis references before we forget them:
- “Hound Dog”: one of Elvis’s most famous songs; ALF claims he ain’t nothin’ but one when he meets Mr. King.
- Vegas: Elvis’s second wind, career-wise, saw him reinvent himself as a gaudy, Las Vegas entertainer in a sequined jumpsuit. It is this phase of Presley’s career that’s usually embodied by impersonators.
Anyway, ALF openly tells him that he’s an alien from Melmac, just to further prevent any of you from caring anymore what happens in this fucking garbage show. Seriously, if the Alien Task Force can’t track down this naked mole rat that runs around town telling everyone he meets that he’s an alien they can turn in for a massive reward, then they can’t really be much of a threat.
If you want us to worry — at all, even for comedic purposes — about the Alien Task Force picking up ALF, but you’re willing to sacrifice that worry for the sake of having him meet fucking Elvis, you’ve made it very clear just how disposable the idea was to begin with.
The guy asks if he can pet him, and ALF replies, “Only above the waist.” So if you were hoping that this episode would end with Elvis giving ALF a handjob, you’re out of luck.
EAP and ALF sit down at a table for some refreshing Diet Soda Cola, and to mention pink Cadillacs, because the episode is ending soon and they haven’t said that yet.
Let’s play catchup, then.
- Above the waist: A reference to Elvis’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, during which he was filmed above the waist as his hip movements we deemed to be too provocative for audiences of the time.
- Pink Cadillacs: Elvis drove one, and it served as a gift for his mother. The “pink” was actually a custom color designed especially for Elvis.
- TV: ALF mentions sitting around the house all day watching TV, and Mr. King says that makes him sound like Elvis. Sure enough, this was essentially Elvis’s routine late in life. He’d watch with a handgun, and shot out several TVs when he didn’t like what they were showing. Most famously he pulled the trigger on a performance by Robert Goulet, but he reportedly also did this to Mel Torme and Frank Sinatra so Robert didn’t take it personally.
With most of the episode out of the way, Mrs. Ochmonek realizes that she’d better wrap this plot up, because there’s no way these assholes are going to do it.
She comes over with some food she made for Mr. King, and there’s a decently funny line when he says he didn’t recognize her without her binoculars…but it’s not great, and it only reminds us of how fucking absurd it is that ALF gets away with climbing into and out of houses in the first place.
Why does ALF care about Elvis, anyway? In the other tabloid episode, ALF endangered himself for the sake of (potentially) meeting his lost cousin…who would also happen to be one of the last survivors of the Melmapocalypse. It makes sense that he’d take such a risk for a potential reward of that magnitude.
Here, though, he’s endangering himself for…what? The chance to prove that Al Jean memorized a lot of Elvis facts from the backs of bubblegum cards?
Mrs. Ochmonek tries to invite herself in but Elvis informs her that he’s currently fucking the tits off of some bangin’ chick, so she leaves.
Add to the list:
- Elvis sometimes had sex.
Back in the house Elvis proves he Elvisn’t by playing a really shitty version of “Heartbreak Hotel.” Man, ALF is a pretty fucking awful show to begin with, but this episode makes me grateful we have it instead of The Fusco Puppeteerium Presents: Elvis Jokes A-Go-Go.
Anyway, ALF doesn’t like his performance so he says, “Stink-a-roni!” which I’m nearly positive caught on as a huge catchphrase.
So, yeah, the guitar playing was shit. But the real Elvis wasn’t much of a guitarist anyway.
It didn’t take long for the instrument to become more of a prop to him, as he was certainly better at singing and entertaining than he was at strumming or picking. The scene would work a little better if the guy were trying to prove he wasn’t Jimi Hendrix or something, but if you asked a thousand Elvis fans what they loved about the guy, “musicianship” wouldn’t be mentioned once, making it an odd litmus test.
Also, if he was trying to prove he wasn’t Elvis, why would he do so by demonstrating a thorough familiarity with one of his songs? If he’d played a mariachi tune or something else that was completely out of Presley’s reach, that would have worked much better.
But, whatever, he sucks dick at the guitar, which he says proves he’s not some other guy who sucked dick at the guitar. He says he’s Clarence Williams III, a truck driver from Tupelo. ALF laughs and repeats what he said in order to meet the show’s contracted running time.
Add to the list:
- Tupelo: The Mississippi city in which Elvis was born.
- “Heartbreak Hotel”: A song Elvis made famous which is now frequently used to convince aliens that you’re not who they think you are. It was referenced earlier in the episode, but Jean is running out of memories.
ALF is still convinced this guy is Elvis. He swears to it. And then…
Oh shitting come the shitting fuck on.
This was a cunting dream sequence? What is it with this show and dream sequences? Did the writers really need to make this episode more meaningless?
I mean, yes, it excuses some of the earlier niggles like ALF taking midnight struts into other people’s homes, but it introduces a much bigger one by revealing that the episode was one long middle finger that now gets jammed into the eye of the viewer.
Dream sequences make sense (quality notwithstanding) when it’s something like ALF running for president, or Willie getting metaphorically castrated by the guys who banged his wife, because those are things you couldn’t otherwise do within the reality of the show.
But a guy not being Elvis? We really needed to slip into the realm of fantasy for that? For fuck’s sake, ALF. And if it was a dream, why didn’t you make him the real Elvis?
Whatever. Who cares. This shit is over. Let’s enjoy the screenshot above, in which Brian has some major bitchface.
Remember how this kid always used to look miserable? Now he always looks angry. I love that working on this garbage show has finally taken a toll even on the little boy who’s barely in it.
Brian tells ALF to wake his worthless ass up, because lunch is ready. ALF replies, “Great! A hunk-a burnin’ food!”
Add to the list:
- “Burning Love”: A hunk-a hunk-a fuck-a you.
In the short scene before the credits ALF talks to Kate about wanting to break into Elvis’s house for real, and Kate somehow doesn’t punch his skull in.
So how much of that was a dream? Did Mr. King really come over for the fruit basket? Did ALF call him? Did any of the unfunny shit we just sat through even happen? If none of it was even, in any way at all, consequential to the episode in which it happened, how is it possible to view this as anything more respectful of an audience’s time than a slap in the dick would have been?
Mrs. Ochmonek appears and says that Aaron King moved out in the middle of the night, so the guy who definitely wasn’t Elvis and who we probably didn’t even see will never be referred to again under penalty of torture.