Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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ALF, "Suspicious Minds"

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.

ALF, "Suspicious Minds"

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, "Suspicious Minds"

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.

ALF, "Suspicious Minds"

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!

ALF, "Suspicious Minds"

Add:

  • Sideburns
  • Sunglasses
  • 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.

ALF, "Suspicious Minds"

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.

Parenting!

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.

ALF, "Suspicious Minds"

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.

ALF, "Suspicious Minds"

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:

  • Pompadour
  • “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.

ALF, "Suspicious Minds"

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.

ALF, "Suspicious Minds"

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…

ALF, "Suspicious Minds"

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.

ALF, "Suspicious Minds"

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.

Stink-a-roni.

Star Trek: The Animated Series
Many of you no doubt know commenter Sarah Portland, a longstanding, intelligent, periodically evil presence on this blog. Well, she runs her own episodic review site, focusing on Star Trek, the original series. Just recently, however, she finished that classic show, and moved on to its…marginally less-classic Animated Series spinoff.

So, yes, utterly shameless plug, because her Star Trek reviews were great and I expect these will be too. Check them out.

Today saw her first post about the cartoon adventures of the Enterprise crew, which according to the picture above consists of Uhura, a butter sculpture of Mr. Spock, Chevy Chase circa 1982, Jar Jar Binks, Zapp Brannigan, the painting lion from Zoobilee Zoo, Bruce Lee, Tommy Wiseau, and Anne Heche.

So, go read that while I try to muster up the energy to write about Fallout 3.

ALF, "Fight Back"

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.

ALF, "Fight Back"

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.

ALF, "Fight Back"

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.)

ALF, "Fight Back"

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.

ALF, "Fight Back"

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.

ALF, "Fight Back"

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.”

ALF, "Fight Back"

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.

ALF, "Fight Back"

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.

ALF, "Fight Back"

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.

ALF, "Fight Back"

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.

Seriously.

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.

ALF, "Fight Back"

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.

ALF, "Fight Back"

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:

ALF, "Fight Back"

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.

ALF, "Fight Back"

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.

ALF, "Fight Back"

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.

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