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ALF Reviews: “Standing in the Shadows of Love” (season 3, episode 18)

July 9th, 2015 | Posted by Philip J Reed in alf

ALF, "Standing in the Shadows of Love"

If last week’s episode (quality notwithstanding) was a story that needed to be told, this week’s is easily, unquestionably, beyond the shadow of a doubt, a story that should never have even been conceived.

This is a show about a space alien, remember. I’d forgive you for forgetting, because the writers so often do as well. I don’t expect (or want) thrilling space battles every week, but since the central premise of the show is “an alien lives with some humans” it’s a source of bottomless frustration that nearly every episode is indistinguishable from the countless shows in which a human lives with some humans.

There are a lot of places you can take an alien sitcom. Infinite, I’d argue. The fact that you’re inventing an emissary from your own fictional alien civilization — with its own customs and mores and history and culture and physiology and everything else — means that you have, more or less, a blank canvas. You’ll have to earn your decisions, and they still need to be filtered through a kind of Earth-logic so that the viewing experience makes sense, but that’s it. The number of chains that ground your story are very few. You can make your show distinct from anything else on television in almost any way imaginable.

But this show doesn’t have imagination. It takes a unique concept and goes out of its way to make it bland. The show that should by default be the most interesting thing on television tries embarrassingly hard to look and feel like everything else. Anything that should have made ALF special is sidelined in favor of bland homogeneity. The inherent promise of the show is treated by the writing room as something to be avoided. The question is almost never, “What can we do next?” It’s, “What have other shows already done?”

Which is why we end up with episodes about ALF rigging TV ratings, writing for soap operas, buying cars, angering bookies, befriending immigrants, getting the hiccups, acting as an A.A. sponsor, tagging along on dates, selling makeup, and so on. Admittedly, we also end up with episodes about ALF fighting giant spaceroaches and searching for his alien cousin…but make a list of ALF‘s standard sitcom plots and compare it to a list of ALF‘s concept-specific plots and tell me which one is much (much, much) longer.

All of this is a long-winded, roundabout way of saying that we have a literal universe of possibility and potential here, so little of which has been explored…and we get an episode about ALF helping Mr. Ochkonek’s nephew get laid.

It opens with Jake sitting around, thinking about other things while ALF does whatever the fuck he’s doing, and I think that’s the most relateable way I’ve ever seen anyone spend time with ALF.

They’re ostensibly playing board games, and I expected some kind of joke about why there are several games on the table for only two people (there’s Monopoly closest to ALF, and Trouble closest to the camera, well as whatever the hell that long blue thing is in the middle), but they don’t. There could have been a cut gag here, but we never get an explanation for why it seems like there are multiple games in progress. Or maybe it was just the props department giving the middle finger to the rest of the production crew.

Also, you can’t see it in the angle above, but each of them has their own jar of peanut butter. I feel like I’m describing a boring dream about a hypothetical episode, but I promise that this episode really does open with ALF and Jake eating jars of peanut butter while playing multiple games and not speaking to each other.

It turns out that Jake is daydreaming about some hottie from his school named Laura. He asks ALF if he’s told him about her eyes, and ALF says, “Yeah, they’re on springs and they bounce out of her head!!!” The fake audience erupts in appreciation of this non-sequitur. It was neither a joke nor a setup to one nor the punchline to one. I mean, I know he’s referring to those gag glasses or whatever…but what’s supposed to be funny about this? That ALF said something after being asked a question? Fucking hell, ALF.

Then…the intro credits start. That was fast. It’s never a good sign when the episode is in as much of a hurry to get to the end as I am.

ALF, "Standing in the Shadows of Love"

After the credits Kate walks by, so ALF repeats for her everything we just heard, rightly convinced that his audience has the attention span and IQ of a goldfish. It does lead to a good line, though, when he says, “Kate, you’re good at unsolicited advice. Tell Jake what to do.” It nearly balances out the gag that comes late in the episode when ALF believes, for some fucking reason, that Willie is trying to whore his wife out to him.

the problem is that Jake’s too nervous to talk to Laura. Remembering that she’s in a sitcom, Kate suggests that he practice on her. He says no thanks, though; he’d rather not work up a boner for some disgusting old hag.

Hilarious!

She leaves and ALF tells him that when he was wooing Rhonda (which, as we all know, ended very well…what with their entire planet being destroyed and ALF deciding he’d rather hang around some grade school kids than ever see her again) he would write her letters from a secret admirer. Remembering that he’s in a sitcom, Jake agrees to let ALF write letters to Laura on his behalf.

You might think it’s icky enough that this hundreds-of-years-old galactic pedo would be writing love letters to a teenage girl…and you’re right! But it gets better, dear reader.

Sadly, disgustingly, stomach-churningly better.

ALF, "Standing in the Shadows of Love"

ALF is composing some verse in the shed, which seemed odd to me since he now has the whole attic to himself if he wants privacy. But this setting actually turned out to be a well-chosen one, for a reason I’d never, ever have expected.

There is a pretty good moment when ALF keeps asking Willie for synonyms for the word “beautiful,” with ALF ending up flustered that none of them rhyme with “oh, baby.”

Willie asks why ALF is writing poetry, secure in the knowledge that ALF has very good reasons for everything he does, and nothing wacky will be revealed at all.

ALF explains that Jake is in love, which gets Willie Willie all giddy and excited for reasons I don’t understand. Maybe if it was Brian I could see him getting emotionally invested, but since when does he care about the love life of the nephew of his hated neighbors?

It’s odd, but if you think about “Fight Back,” there was another (very) brief moment that suggested, just barely, a kind of kinship between Willie and Jake. It seemed, almost, like there could be a relationship between these two, in which they each serve as kind of surrogate family members to each other, since they have difficulty connecting to their actual families.

At that time, I figured it was just some unintentional subtext that, in better hands, could have been explored very interestingly. But now we have a second suggested connection between Willie and Jake…something that reaches a little deeper than the kind of “relationship” that would normally exist between some distant, doddering idiot and his teenage neighbor.

Knowing what we know about “Monday scripts” (the idea, cited by several folks involved with the production of ALF, that the scripts would be in good shape on Monday, but be hollowed out and crippled by the time of shooting with all of the best lines being either removed or reassigned to ALF), it’s fully possible that there was supposed to be some kind of relationship between Willie and Jake. Moments like this — in which his enthusiasm and interest is otherwise inexplicable — and the one in “Fight Back” — in which he commiserated with the boy over having to sit through the Ochmoneks’ vacation slides — have me willing to believe that that was the case. These are vestigial echoes of character building that were excised because neither character involved was ALF. Somewhere, in a parallel universe in which Paul Fusco’s ego ate up less volume than an elephant orgy, there would unquestionably have been a better version of ALF. And moments like this give me the frustrated feeling that it might have even been worth watching.

Someone mentioned in a comment a few weeks ago that the kid who played Jake had some scheduling issues this season, and while I have no idea what did or did not change as a result of those conflicts, it’s pretty clear that the Jake stuff is back-loaded. In the entire first half of the season, I think we only saw him in “Turkey in the Straw.” I even remember thinking it was odd that they bothered to introduce the kid in the middle of season two if they’d lose interest in him entirely by the beginning of season three.

But the back half of this season looks to be very Jake-heavy. He played a central role in “Fight Back.” ALF moved in with him in “Baby Love.” This particular episode is essentially about him. In a later episode we meet his mother. (Both of these episodes also have “Standing in the Shadows” in the title, which I’d love to believe is thematic resonance but is obviously just laziness.) Thanks to a screengrab somebody sent me on Twitter I know he plays a part in “Superstition.” And in “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” he helps Brian overcome his fear of heights or bees or the dark or dying alone…one of those things. And those are just the episodes I know of.

It’s bizarre to me that they wouldn’t have wanted to spread these episodes out a bit, so that it didn’t feel like we were shifting between versions of the show in which Jake is an important, central character and in which he doesn’t exist at all.

ALF, "Standing in the Shadows of Love"

Willie says that ALF’s scheme reminds him of Cyrano de Bergerac, a French play about a romantic with an enormous nose who helps a less eloquent man to court the woman he loves and also makes a lot of shitty jokes about his home planet.

He actually spends a long time talking about the plot, but that’s okay as I’d be willing to bet that most people watching a dumbass prime-time puppet show aren’t huge theater buffs. And, to be totally honest, I’ve never read Cyrano de Bergerac myself; I know of it entirely through references and adaptations. One of the ones that stands out most clearly to me (and probably the one I saw first) was Roxanne, which starred Steve Martin. And, come to think of it, that came out just a couple of years before this episode aired…so I suppose Cyrano de Bergerac wasn’t entirely removed from the public consciousness after all.

Then something truly magical happens: Willie climbs up to a bookcase that I forgot was even part of this set.

You win, “Standing in the Shadows of Love.” The fact that you remembered this was here, and wrote it into your story is pretty damned cool. I was impressed when “Night Train” remembered Willie’s train set…but this even more impressive. The train set was a centerpiece of the garage (at least early on), and we had a scene of ALF interacting with it. It was more (even if not much more) than set dressing. In this case, however, I don’t think that bookcase has even been referred to in the past. The only time I ever remember taking note of it was when my eyes started wandering during the music video ALF made to support his single, “(Willie) I’mma Fuck Yo Daughter.”

So, yes, once again ALF managed to take some background detail that’s been there all along and weave it into somebody’s characterization. I’ll take it. But, once again, it makes me wonder why Willie was bored out of his mind by Jimbo talking about Mark Twain in “Hide Away.”

At that time I was skeptical that Willie would be completely disinterested in literature, and now we get conclusive proof, just a few episodes later, that that was indeed bullshit, and he was just being a nasty cunt.

Willie finds his copy of Cyrano de Bergerac and brings it to ALF, who turns it over in his hands a few times and then sets it down.

That’s a well-observed moment, actually, whether it’s intentional or not. In fact, I’m sure it’s not, but book nerds know all too well the heartache of excitedly handing someone a book, only to have them not even bother to open it.

It actually reminds me of a moment in Kubrick’s Lolita that I didn’t bring up in my piece. When visiting his step-daughter in the hospital, Humbert brings her several books, despite the fact that Lolita is very clearly not the bookish young lady he wishes she was. It’s a drily funny moment, as he brings her reading materials that she’d obviously have no interest in, such as a book about the romantic poets written by a colleague of his, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Then, he offers a concession: “Here’s something you might like. The History of Dancing.” It’s a perfect moment of subtle comedy; he knows she likes dancing, so in his begrudging effort to meet her halfway, he brings her a history text guaranteed to sap all enjoyment from the subject.

Fuck. There I go, talking about books and movies again. Why do I keep forgetting that I was born into this world to summarize ALF?

ALF, "Standing in the Shadows of Love"

Later on Lynn freezes in an awkward position as ALF at first seems to be reading from Cyrano de Bergerac, but ends up talking about “four lips, slobbering like a dog on raw beef.” Hey, look! Now you’re frozen in that exact position, too.

Then he calls himself Cyrano de Melmac because of course he fucking does.

ALF, "Standing in the Shadows of Love"

Jake comes over and says the letter was great, and Laura loved it, especially the parts in which ALF described “the vanilla ice cream of her skin under the hot fudge of her hair.” BRB, updating my eHarmony icebreaker…

Now that we’re spending so much time with Jake, I have to say…I don’t hate him.

The character, yes, there are issues, but that’s no surprise. The actor, however? By ALF standards, and especially in comparison to the other youngsters in the cast, he’s downright revelatory.

I don’t know why I never bothered to look him up before, but he’s played by a kid named Josh Blake. Which…is one hell of a coincidence, as his character’s name seems like a contraction of his given name.

J’ake isn’t in any danger of becoming the best character on the show, but when you compare his performance to Lynn’s, you’ll see that Blake doesn’t strain in the same way that Elson often does. Acting comes more easily to him…whether it’s great or not is certainly open to debate, but whatever his level of competency is, he’s able to hit it without his effort showing. (And compared to Benji Gregory, this kid’s fucking Sean Connery.)

In looking him up, it doesn’t seem like he’s had much of a career since ALF, exactly…but he did go on to make appearances in much better shows, like Married…With Children, The Wonder Years, Home Improvement, and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. (He also apparently voiced a character in Psychonauts, for you gamers out there.) Considering that ALF was career suicide for literally everyone else involved with the show, Josh Blake deserves some kind of medal just for limping out alive.

Most interestingly, though? (To me that is…) He played Sylvio in the “Greek Week” episode of Full House. Big deal, right? Well…right. But, for whatever reason, that’s one of the guest roles on that show that I remember best. Sylvio was Jesse’s distant cousin, or something, and when he came to visit he fell in love with DJ, and walked her around the kitchen table which meant they were married in some bullshit sitcommy way.

Believe me, I’m not mentioning this because I think it’s wonderful…it’s just bringing back a lot of memories. I’m genuinely shocked that that was the same kid. It’s a small world, I guess.

Okay, enough of that shit. Laura liked the letter, and told everyone how wet it got her, so J’ake thinks that the next step is to reveal his identity.

ALF, remembering he’s in a sitcom, says no; Jake should give her five letters a day for the next five days instead.

No idea why, really…if she already loves this horse-shit letter from a centuries-old space rapist, I wouldn’t press my luck. Make hay while the sun shines, Jake!

ALF, "Standing in the Shadows of Love"

Then we get…oh yes…a montage.

Or ALF‘s understanding of a montage, which is a few minutes of nothing happening while royalty-free library music plays.

I know that people make fun of montages (and, for the most part, with good reason), but they really can serve an important purpose. After all, whether you have a half hour, an hour, an hour and a half, or any other length of time to tell your story, there are times that the story is simply bigger. There’s some amount of your tale that you can effectively tell, and some amount that you will necessarily have to skip over. It’s why even Rocky so famously had a montage; condensing moments of incremental progress is going to stir in the audience a feeling of inspiration, whereas laboriously documenting an entire training regimen would instead be wearying. Even if you end on the same moment of triumph, there isn’t the same sense of momentum.

Dramas like Breaking Bad use montages to advance the plot (or to skip around the meth-making process in order to avoid imitation…ahem…), and deployed artfully they can serve as fond series highlights rather than cheats of narrative convenience. Comedies like Futurama use montages to emphasize visual gags and provide another approach to the humor.

Done well, at the very least, montages feel like variations. They tweak a familiar formula, and present important information in a way that it’s not normally presented. They’re fun. They’re interesting. Even when they’re lazy — which they often are, or seem to be — they can be fun and interesting. It’s a way of elevating material that needs elevating.

Unless you’re ALF, in which case montages are an excuse to get away with not having to write dialogue. Nothing is even advanced in them. In fact, the other montage that comes to mind in this show is from “The Gambler,” and in both cases they’re just a series of scenes of ALF sitting on a fucking chair.

Of course, the montage in “Standing in the Shadows of Love” is well worth it for the hilarious sight gags, which include ALF eating a flower, and later on sneezing.

I promise you, dear reader, no show is padded more gracelessly or unapologetically than ALF.

ALF, "Standing in the Shadows of Love"

So yeah, ALF wrote a shit-ton of letters and Laura fingered herself silly. Montage over.

Jake comes into the shed and says there’s a problem; he decided to talk to Laura after all, and he sounded like an idiot. Now he’s worried that when he reveals himself to be the admirer, she won’t believe him.

ALF brainstorms various ways to resolve the plot, and mentions having to worry about the Alien Task Force, so that we will know that the show isn’t accidentally treating us like idiots when he ultimately decides to stroll around the neighborhood with Jake, find Laura’s house, and shout a whole lot of bullshit at her from the yard.

ALF, "Standing in the Shadows of Love"

Outside Laura’s house, ALF does his typically stellar job of avoiding detecting by going apeshit on a metal garbage can.

I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t think this episode about ALF helping helping Mr. Ochmonek’s nephew get laid is quite creepy enough.

Granted, I don’t know exactly how to fix that, but…

Oh, cool. Laura came to the window and ALF started gushing about how fuckworthy she is. That’ll do just fine.

ALF, "Standing in the Shadows of Love"

It’s Carla Gugino, who, thanks to this appearance in ALF, has officially been in everything.

And you know what? Good on you, kid who played Jake. Not many girls grow up to look like Carla Gugino. Way to get in on the ground floor.

Anyway, she’s at the window shouting back and forth with these idiots, which is a really clever way of penciling in the backstory that her parents are hearing-impaired morons.

ALF feeds Jake things to say, and his fawning teenage fan thinks he’s hilarious. Jesus Christ, did we just get a frightening glimpse into Paul Fusco’s fantasies?

Before long she simply must ask who her admirer is. And I don’t think that was a joke, but I found it pretty funny. Jake’s got a pretty easily identifiable voice, after all. Does every kid in her school speak with a cartoon Bronx accent?

Anyway, ALF pops an irresistible boner over this teenage girl, so he pushes Jake aside and attempts to court her himself.

So, you know.

Just want to make that clear.

For all my joking about how skeevy ALF’s behavior sometimes is, and how seemingly inappropriate his interactions with the kids are, I need to make it known that now, right now, at this point, ALF is actively attempting to fuck a 15-year-old girl.

Let that sink in.

Or…actually, yeah, don’t. Just do what the rest of the world does and pretend this horse shit show never existed. Christ fuckmighty.

She says she’s coming down, and Jake convinces ALF not to grind against the little girl he’s been sending anonymous lovenotes to and stalking for the past week. Well, not so much “convinces” as “tells ALF her dad’s a cop and he will go to prison if he so much as lays a finger in her.”

It’s a lovely little episode, really. Just wholesome family comedy.

ALF hides in the rosebush. Jake introduces himself as her secret admirer and walks her back inside. Carla Gugino develops her lifelong taste for Brooklyn calzone.

ALF, "Standing in the Shadows of Love"

Later on, or the next day, or who gives a shit, the episode recreates that famous scene in Cyrano de Bergerac in which Willie digs thorns out of ALF’s anus.

It’s nice to see Willie bending him over the living room couch for practical reasons at last, but it’s still fucking gross to watch. ALF even braces himself as Willie fondles one out that’s pretty deep.

Willie and Kate start to lecture ALF about not going outside, but they back down when they realize he’s sad he’ll never see Rhonda again.

You know, it’s nice that they care about how he feels and all, but if he ends up stuffed and mounted in the Edwards AFB giftshop it won’t matter what’s in his heart, so they should probably chain him to the radiator first, and worry about his feelings for his ex-girlfriend second a distant second.

He mopes for a while about how he’ll never see Rhonda again, and…you know what? For maybe the first time ever, ALF has wrenched a plot away from another character for a perfectly good reason. This is a great time to explore his own doomed romance, how it makes him feel, and how he deals with knowing it’s gone forever.

At least, it would be, but the whole thing is pretty significantly undercut by the fact that we just saw him nursing a raging hard-on for a fifteen-year-old girl he just met.

ALF, "Standing in the Shadows of Love"

In the shed ALF is sad because he’s only ever able to have sex with the Tanners’ laundry. Willie remembers that this episode had something to do with Cyrano de Bergerac, so he tells ALF that there’s a big difference between them: for all his poetry, Cyrano was unable to tell anyone how he actually felt, whereas ALF never shuts the fuck up.

ALF waddles away to go hang himself, but Willie, lacking foresight, stops him.

He tells ALF that he rigged up his ham radio to the satellite dish using a complicated process known as my fucking ass. Then he pointed the dish at Andromeda, which is really easy to do and you should try it at home.

Why Andromeda, though? Well, way back in the seventh episode of this show, we found out that that’s where Skip and Rhonda (the only other confirmed survivors of the Melmapocalypse) were heading.

Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are that they dug up this old chestnut. I didn’t even remember this offhand, and I know more about ALF than I do about my parents. I actually had to refer back to my review of “Help Me, Rhonda” to be sure they weren’t just inventing some bullshit for the sake of wrapping up the episode.

Willie did this impossible nonsense garbage so that ALF would be able to communicate with Rhonda in Andromeda. Which is pretty impressive, considering ham can radios barely hold a signal if it’s being broadcast from across the street. Anyway, now ALF can transmit his words of love to his lost flame. Or accidentally tune in when it’s nighttime there and hear her getting reamed by Skip.

Anyway, ALF talks into the microphone for a while about how fine Rhonda’s big hairy ass is, then he quotes the first few lines of “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash, just to prove by contrast how much more clever the “In the Year 2525” reference from the last episode was.

That one was at least a joke. Seriously, this one just gets shat here.

Admittedly he does say the word “popsicles” instead of “obstacles,” but even Willie can’t be arsed to acknowledge that shit. The episode ends with ALF calling Willie a dumb piece of shit for not realizing that Andromeda is kind of far away and Rhonda will be long dead by the time anything they say will make it there.

Another classic in the can, folks!

ALF, "Standing in the Shadows of Love"

In the short scene before the credits a bunch of disconnected shit happens. ALF reads the paper over Willie’s shoulder, for instance, and Brian comes in with a dog whistle.

Hey, everyone, it’s Brian!

Remember?

That kid you didn’t even notice wasn’t in this episode yet? Yeah, we sure missed him.

It’s actually pretty funny to me that I didn’t notice until this moment that he was absent for the entire show. I’d notice Lynn or Kate missing for sure…but Brian? It doesn’t even register.

Jake comes over to tell ALF that if he still wants to baste Laura’s turkey, she’s all his. He says that he hates her laugh, and also the handjob under the afghan was passable at best. Then they all blow the whistle, which at first causes ALF great pain, but then brings him to writhing, sexual ecstasy before our eyes.

…and now another classic is in the can.

And I still can’t believe I just watched an episode in which ALF tries to fuck Carla Gugino. Maybe that fever of mine hasn’t lifted after all.

MELMAC FACTS: ALF is a size husky in snout warmers. In the Melmacian numbering system, pepoon is the number that comes after ten. That’s a reference to Steve Peppoon, writer for ALF, The Simpsons, and Get a Life. (I wonder what he’s most proud of?) Melmacian Express Mail took 73 years to get to its destination. Melmacians can hear dog whistles.

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24 Responses

  • Stephen says:

    So dog whistles basically make Alf have an orgasm? 0_o I love how he first describes it as a “speeding freight train dragging Richard Simmons.” Wow that sounds like it would be … loud??
    Not really a favorite of mine but I LOL’ed at how Willie was able to connect his ham radio pointing to Andromeda. I might do that when I get home from work.

  • Sarah Portland says:

    So I have a boring suggestion for why Jake episodes were not more scattered in the second half of the season. It seems like Fusco had his fingers in every ALF pie that existed, from script content to editing. Not only that, but didn’t you once report that ALF supposedly took 25 hours to shoot one hour of finished product? It seems like normally, there are times when production order and air order for shows are not the same thing because of post-production changes, and times when they changed the order intentionally. But if the shooting and post-production schedules were so squeaky-tight on ALF that they just barely had enough time to squeeze out an episode before airing, then this could explain why all of the Jake episodes are lumped together.

    • Stephen says:

      Yeah according to prod order, seems like most of the Jake episodes that aired at the end of the season were mostly taped at the beginning/middle. Old Time Movie was the 3rd for this season while Shake Rattle and Roll (last time we ever see him) was in the middle. And yes in most sitcoms, they sometimes tape even a week before it airs. the Gay wedding episode of Roseanne was taped 5 days before it aired. (Taped 12/7/95, aired 12/12/95). I saw a script online with the VTR date.

      • Philip J Reed says:

        “Shake Rattle and Roll (last time we ever see him)”

        Wait…so he really does get erased from existence this season? Jesus Christ, ALF.

        • Sarah Portland says:

          Oh also, not related, but I think that blue thing on the table is the plastic money holder for Monopoly. I feel like I’ve seen one like that before. It doesn’t explain why Trouble is sitting on the table as well, but I’m pretty sure that’s a money holder.

        • Rich says:

          Josh Blake got a regular role on the CBS sitcom The Fabulous Teddy Z before the fourth season, and he was written out of ALF with nary a mention. Teddy Z aired for one season, and it was cancelled around the same time ALF was.

  • Furienna says:

    Dude… I really don’t know how to say this, but… If you hate a show this much, nobody asked you to review it. I actually remember liking this episode, even though I haven’t seen it for years. But you seem to enjoy crushing other people’s happy memories of watching “Alf”, just because you happen to not like it.

    • RaikoLives says:

      I seem to recall a poll Phil held to decide on which thing to review, so in essence, we DID ask him to do it. And no one asked YOU to read it. You know what to expect from these reviews each week by now you’re here more than I am. You seem to enjoy coming by and crushing MY fun by posting these sadsack “but I really liked it” comments.

    • Casey says:

      Furienna,

      I’m only responding to this because it seems you’ve been getting more and more upset at Phil’s reviews as the weeks go by. I may be out of line trying to speak for Phil, but here goes anyway.
      .
      1. Phil was asked to review ALF
      I don’t know how long you’ve been reading this blog, so you may not be familiar with other things Phil has written. He’s written reviews of TV shows both great in their execution (Breaking Bad, Venture Bros) and troubled (Arrested Development season 4). Phil has done a lot of thinking and writing about what makes for good TV, and what doesn’t. At one point, Phil put the question to his readers as to what we’d like to see him review. I (perhaps one of his more sadistic readers), as well as others, did indeed ask him to review ALF.
      .
      2. Exaggeration & running jokes can be a useful tool in one’s comedy toolbag
      Phil has running jokes going in these reviews, both within the show (Brian’s useless, ALF is a pedophile, Willie’s a heartless jerk) and without (Phil’s being driven slowly mad by his readership’s bottomless need to see him tortured). These running jokes are exaggerations to some extent. One, in the sense that, once you notice a pattern, you note more easily even the slightest indication that the pattern is showing itself. Two, in the sense that, for instance, many shows have had characters that were added just to have someone say the lines that needed to get said, so Brian being underutilized is not exclusive to ALF. And I hope for Phil’s sake that he’s enjoying doing the reviews, and that he at least likes ALF a little.
      .
      3. Analysis of “problematic” nostalgia
      There are many things like the show ALF whose presences loomed large in our youths, whether or not we consumed the source material. Phil has said that he did watch a fair amount of ALF, but that at some point he got the distinct (if not fully articulated) impression that ALF wasn’t as good a use of his time as, say, other TV shows. Phil has taken his skill at analyzing TV to answer for himself *why* exactly ALF doesn’t hold up years later as well as other classic shows. I, for one, find it an interesting exploration, especially in terms of the inner workings of a sitcom (the reference to the “Monday scripts”, f’rinstance) . But then again, I’m a writer too, and I find such deconstruction useful so that I don’t make the same mistakes. That said, I still like the idea of ALF, even ALF in his role as weird unemployed uncle who’s into the weird minutiae of eighties life (he’s like a furry Zippy the Pinhead!).
      .
      I’m glad you have happy memories of watching ALF. I do too! But please keep in mind that people view media to fulfill different needs. Phil wants to analyze why ALF didn’t live up to its premise in the ways it could have; he also wants to entertain his readership. Others may watch ALF to relax and have a laugh. I’d like to think that there’s room for both approaches. But if reading these reviews is actually lessening your memories, by all means just ignore them! At the risk of being mean, I’ll put your words to you–no one is asking you to read the reviews.
      .
      P.S. My apologies if I’m being insensitive or too talky/mansplainy. I have my blindspots.

    • Philip J Reed says:

      Yeah, in a rare moment of ALF-review seriousness, I do want to say that it isn’t my intention to “crush” anyone’s memories…of anything. These are primarily meant to be entertaining (hopefully!) little lenses through which to do some TV criticism, and as others have mentioned, I’m hard on it because I WANT it to be good. (See also: Arrested Development, season 4.)

      If somebody enjoys ALF — an obviously lots of folks do — I think that’s awesome. I have no qualms with them and I wouldn’t want to change their minds, even if I could. God knows I have plenty of fond memories of things that others would, I’m sure, dismiss as idiotic.

      You’re absolutely welcome to stay, and to call me out on my bullshit, at any time. (Kim does it, and we love her for it.) But if it ends up causing you grief, or stress, or makes you feel like you need to be defensive, then I apologize. That’s not what these reviews are meant to do, and if you’d prefer reading positive ones, I’m sure you can find them.

      Having said all that, I loved the show as a kid. I had ALF dolls and puppets, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel a welcome swell of nostalgia every time I write one of these…even when the episode ends up being (in my estimation) pretty horrible. The criticism comes ultimately from a place of love…from a piece of me that wishes it really was everything it could have been. (See, again, Arrested Development season 4.) And I’ve done my best to say something nice about even the worst episodes…failing only, as far as I remember, once.

      You’re welcome to stick around, unquestionably. But if it hurts your feelings, don’t do that to yourself! Life’s too short to get wound up over things like this. The internet is big, and I’m sure you can find a like-minded group if that’s what you’re looking for.

    • kim says:

      yeah, at first I thought the same thing, why is reviewing a show if is just going to hate it and rip it apart? but I do remember from the beginning he was asked to review this show by popular demand of his readers. also that he did enjoy watching this show as a kid and as reading his reviews for a long time there have been some episode he really did like. as a big fan of ALF myself, some of his reviews did sting at first, but as i read his reviews more, that is just his style of writing, he likes to be bluet and honest and not afraid to call bullshit on things. in a way, I really do like his reviews as he sometimes go into deep analysis of this show like no fan as ever done before, especially in pointing out things that did and did not work in this show. so yeah,I have learned to take his reviews with a gain of salt.

      • Furienna says:

        Okay, I have to confess that I had no idea that Phil had been asked to review the show. So I guess I have to take that back. Nevertheless though, I have to say that these reviews have only become harder and harder for me to get through. It has now been a few years since I last watched “Alf”, so I won’t remember all the details. And I guess that some of Phil’s criticisms are valid. But I don’t remember the show being as bad as he wants us to believe (and I have followed it during at least three different period of my lifetime), and I don’t like some of his running jokes (like the one that Alf was a pedophile). I probably will keep looking at these reviews though, just to see which episodes Phil likes or not. But maybe I won’t make any new comments for a while… I will end this comment with saying that even though I don’t agree with Phil too often, he’s a good writer. I only wish that another blogger could have reviewed the show from a more positive perspective. As a matter of fact, if I had all the episodes on DVD, I could have done it myself. But alas, I guess I have to wait until somebody else does it one of these days…

    • I feel like you’re not willing to offer any legitimate reasoning as to why ALF is a better show than Phil claims. Your sole argument seems to be “But people liked it so that makes it beyond reproach” It just makes you look like you don’t have a reason to defend this show other than the fact you liked it.

      • Oh this already was discussed. That’s what happens when I’m late to the party! Sorry about that everyone.

      • Furienna says:

        Well, whether you like a show or not will be a matter of taste. So it won’t be possivle for me to give you any “legitimate reasoning” to why it was better to me than it was to Phil, other than I like it more than what he does. I never said that the show is “beyond reproach”. But when you don’t necessarily agree with his negative vitriol, reading this blog won’t be that funny.

  • Mark Moore says:

    What’s up with Lynn in that screen cap? LOL.

  • kim says:

    for once, I’m glad you tore this episode apart because really as I mentioned in one my previous comments way back, this is one my least favorite episodes. mostly because of one the things you mentioned, out of all the possibilities of a sitcom about a space alien living with a family, they choose to go with this? it is pretty unimaginative for a plot and really strays to far from what the premise of the show is supposed to be about. and to me, it really takes ALF out of his character, it’s really hard for me to imagine ALF as anything of a romantic or poet, that is why it seems so odd to me. to me it didn’t seem that much creepy as it was dull and really our of character for ALF. I can agree that the montage in this episode this the worst because it made feel like I’m watching a cheesy romantic soap opera rather a comedy sitcom about a space alien.

  • FelixSH says:

    Thanks for writing about Jakes actor, that he played in all this shows that I liked blows my mind. I had a ton of Full House episodes (including that Greek Week one) on tape, and somehow never realized that he was that boy.

    Also, good taste with TV shows. Including Clarissa, which I loved in my early teens and would love to rewatch.

  • Stephen says:

    I think the Greek Week episode is where we first hear DJ say “Oh Mylanta!” I have used that one several times in my life. lol. Also, this is one of the first times we see both Olsen Twins in the same shot because the other one is supposed to be the Greek version of Michelle–with black hair. Her name is Melina. It isn’t one of my favorite episodes, or seasons because this is when Michelle really starts to become a brat. It’s the same season where she dives into all the wedding cake samples and they all just laugh at her. If it was me I would’ve been whooped into next Tuesday. Even at 4 I knew better.

  • Justin says:

    When the girl finally comes to the window, after hearing a noise, she has this line of dialogue “Lucky, is that you?” Seems such an unnecessary and awkward line to throw in. The Tanners live two blocks away, as stated earlier. Is it common then for a domesticated cat to regularly walk two blocks in order to cause a ruckus?

  • MomToWedThorFriday says:

    First off, there’s a BIG issue I take with one of the Melmac facts in this episode. Wrote this review before you had yours up, so this is my opinions before you sway me.

    Hi, there! Just got finished up with reading the rest of this blog; long time reader, as I recover from surgery. Fantastic work, goodness knows I need the laughs; found you the same way I found FHR, searching ALF reviews. Here’s what I observed, prior to reading your review, though I think I’m watching with syndie cuts:

    Of all characters, we see Alf interacting with Jake to begin today? Even though we have three other characters this dicussion could likely be had with…

    Lame jokes to start, with a payoff that I don’t find worth it. It’s nice to see Alf engage in human elements like board games to start. I guess this counts as development for Alf, because he ate Scrabble pieces one the Tanner camping trip once.

    Jake reacting this way about a girl, perhaps understandable, even if he looks like a certain Melmacian ate his cat. But what happened to the Lynn thoughts? Furthermore, shouldn’t this development be used the blob of cells that is Benji Gregory?

    That Laura emphasis is a joke? Nice work with the pseudo touching joke, I don’t like thinking where Alf could get his pulse measured.

    The teaser leads into the act, surprised. Surprisingly, I like this. It’s a simple enough bit that isn’t going to get me to laugh, but it’s I wish they had played a bit more on Alf’s line, “Anytime he gets near her, he spaces.” Seriously, give someone the line of, “Sounds like you (Alf) when your spacecraft crashed.” Or something. You’ve got a fucking space alien, and it’s an easy throwaway line that can connect two processes fairly easily.

    “You could practice on me”, Schedeen says. She says it so nonchalantly, but God help me, writers, fuck you. Given ALF’s tendencies, I do not want to go there for that second meaning. What I enjoy more than Jake’s bit about being beautiful is Schedeen’s, “I see.” Cold cutting, looking slightly perturbed, but still trying to convey a somewhat veiled attempt at helping, walks away.

    Nice to have more Rhonda bits, but Gomer Pyle, who knew they got that on Melmac? Alf writing a secret admirer letter, isn’t terrible on the premise, but I can’t see it ending well. After all, this has to be the first time the Tanners have done something kindly for the Ochmoneks. It’s about high time, Alf.

    So, we cut to the garage, and quite frankly, why is Alf in here to write the letter, as opposed to staying in the house? I’d get it on some level if, for some reason, Alf wanted to concentrate, but no, he asks Willie all these synonyms, but I’d say it leads to a smile-worthy, but not laugh worthy moment, which thankfully isn’t Max Wright slurring “alyyuuurring”, but rather, discussing the synonyms for beautiful, it eventually gets to annoying, another word for annoying, and Wright gets to say Alf. It feels genuine, both from an offset perspective, and really, the rare look at Willie playing kind of a playful father.
    And hey, look at this, Willie is asking what has been going on, and why he is doing this. So far, this is a pretty solid setup: Alf learns about Earth love life, helps the neighbors. I’m not holding my breath, but this could pan out well, as Earth traditions could be very different than Melmac ones, given the Rhonda mention. After all, we know about the Wedding Cat one, offhand.

    The setting for the garage here is a nice touch, with planetary diagrams, a telescope, a map of the Earth’s geography.

    I thought we’d get less slurring Willie from his first few lines, but once again, I am reminded as a viewer to lower my expectations: “Seaaarrrrannauuddd, ihhhhiittttt’s a clllashhhhssiiccc plaaay”. In fairness to Willie, living with Alf would cause me to drink in excess too, but geez, nearly every time. Furthermore, as someone fluent in French, I couldn’t for the life of me understand what Max Wright was going for here. The concept of the French romance play isn’t bad, but there is no way I could tell we were talking about Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, especially when Willie says the main character’s name is Christian, when that is only the pen name of the title character. If Willie actually knew this play, he would know this.

    Other matters I have zero idea about: Why this was chosen. In the play, Cyrano winds up dying, the love never happens between him and Roxane until she realizes this too late, as she realizes Cyrano was the author of the letters all this time (but he denies it to the end). It does have an ALF element though: Cyrano winds up being mortally injured by a huge log falling on his head from a tall building.

    ALF delivers a really awful stinker about how sensitive and gifted he is like the main character, as the dead laughs come in. It’s all about Alf and Paul Fusco. Fuck that joke in the ass with a rusty, spiked car muffler.

    Somehow, this turns into Willie saying that this character has a big dick, and they all lived happily ever after. What the hell is that? Makes no sense, at all. What was even the point of discussing this? A terribly unfunny euphemism that serves as nothing more than padding?

    Of course, it doesn’t stop there, Alf wants to know what, because for once, he’s not the sexpert of this family, to which Willie says nose in a deadpan tone, not to my surprise, given the length of Alf’s schnoz, and a specific experience in my life. It’s not funny, because it’s expected, but there’s a little bit positivity, in the form of childish Alf to be taken from this scene. If your parents said a little more than they should have about an otherwise inappropriate topic, you as a child were likely curious about further details, and kept asking that parent exactly what they were saying without saying it, and Alf does just that here. Furthermore, it’s an odd euphemism, because Cyrano’s self-conciousness in the play truly is the cause of his self-doubt is rooted in the size of his nose.

    The scene ends with the supposed-to-be-funny calling of Wilie “Thanks…four-eyes!” because fucking fuck fuck you. Great message for the family program, that it’s good to tease kids with glasses and call them names.

    Alf begins reading from Cyrano as the awfully named Cyrno de Melmac, with a bastardized version of the famous version of what a kiss is. This immediately made me think: Why is Alf interested in becoming a romantic? We have no good reason to support this endeavor of his, since he’s supposedly supposed to be kept secret. After all, wasn’t this romance deal supposed to be in an effort to help Jake? Furthermore, while it’s known Alf has not had the best luck romantically, he mentions his would-be date Rhonda in a way that sounds like he had some clue of what he was doing romantically.

    What exactly was the point of having Lynn in the scene of Alf reading again? She’s just there to be slightly disgusted while eating, and Elson does a passable job smiling while Alf says he’s going the “snag a girl for Jake”. It’s nearly a mise en scene when Jake pulls Alf away from Lynn, given the old hook tradition of yanking an actor off stage. It’s surprisingly subtle, and a nice touch to work with the overall Cyrano theme.

    Then we find out Laura liked the letter, which okay, that’s good, that’s some decent plot advancement. But from what seems to be implied, Jake did not even seen the letter before it got to Laura. This raises a few issues for me: As it continues throughout the scene in other ways, who in their right mind would trust Alf that much? Not to mention that ice cream compairison is seriously insulting. Sitcom or not, you can write a compliment that is also funny. This wasn’t either. Secondly, why didn’t Jake scribe the letter? Now that ALF’s writing is there, Jake won’t be able to replicate this, to prove in time he is the admirer. This show!

    Now for some bonus padding: Alf basically writing the letter again for Jake’s crush. Honestly, why is it being shown this time, as opposed to the first? I think I’d tolerate a bit more there, since it would be Alf’s first time doing so. But the second time needs this dramatic fanfare, with the slow, romantic music, quill in hand, holding, smelling, and eating a flower by his heart. The second of these is actually important, since it identifies all 10 Alf organs: Eight stomachs, one heart (located around the human heart), and the brain.

    Suddenly, Jake says he talked to her, and this is taken as a bad thing. I get it breaks the plan, but what is the big deal? Why would this stop him from giving the letters to Laura? Alf then suggests stalking Laura, because that’s the way to any girl’s heart. Through what can be assumed overheard conversation and/or mutual friends, Jake knows her entire schedule, down to her meal, pot roast, and address; “2 blocks and 13 feet away”. This is a little too creepy. At first, I thought this was genuine high school love, nothing risky here, just some early hormones doing their work, but this, this is just way too far beyond this. Again, something I don’t get: WHY are they snooping over to Laura’s house? Jake will see her tomorrow, either to talk or give a letter. This unnecessary house prowling premise kind of reminds me of that awful Full House episode where Stephanie and Kimmy sneak into Steve’s house, because they think he’s cheating on DJ, whereas it’s actually Steve’s cousin staying over, for her marriage the next day.

    Oh, yeah, and if this goes wrong, which I am sure it will? Alf will be revealed to yet ANOTHER person. Of course, it didn’t have to go wrong. as ALF bangs on the trash cans to wake up Laura, played by Carla Gugino, who was better known for her roles in Night at the Museum, Watchmen, Sin City, and the Spy Kids trilogy. As soon as Jake sees her though, he makes a sound that resembles a seasick passenger on the edge of throwing up.
    As such, Alf is left revealed to her out in the open, if with Jake.

    WHAT THE FUCK.

    So, Jake recites back the lines Alf wrote for him, with some degree of competency, but the image of Alf whispered in Jake’s ear for an extended time seems like an inneundo itself.

    It goes wrong, with discussions of multiple stomachs! Hey, continuity again with this detail. I’m pretty sure it’s because it relates to eating, nothing else. Alf thinks she’s beautiful, and tells Jake she’s a popoon, which upon questioning, Alf says it’s the number right after ten. I like that line a LOT. It’s not necessairly funny, but it ties in well, and it uses a Melmac fact.

    Needless to say, it’s all going too well, so Alf falls for her just now, and starts responding to Alf, because that’s not creepy at all, given she’s underage. I don’t get this. If we take this creepy premise unfortunately a bit further, you would think Alf would ask Jake what she looked like some time back in the show, and then get those feelings, and they fight on the way to her house about that, but no. Sigh.

    Somehow, they made a fun moment of this: Alf hides because Laura’s father is a cop, and so Jake and Laura have a little bit of small talk, where they agree to see a movie. The audience didn’t find it funny, but I found it great that Jake asked to walk her home—they are at her house already. This was a nice touch of meta humor that I don’t think they realized.

    We’re back at the Tanners house, with no mention of how Alf got safely to/from Laura’s house, because fuck logic. That, or everyone knows Alf already that it really is no risk, in a small town like Los Angeles.

    Alf has a few thorns around him from hiding early, and Willie notes the last one is up in there, with a super disturbing screengrab. Alf smiles for now, Willie looks up Alf’s shit filled anus, Lynn only gets a backshot, but Schedeen saves this, with a look of utter disgust and contempt. She’s also holding a bottle of rubbing alcohol and cotton swab that seems utterly unnecessary except for the pain it causes, given the last thorn came out with no problem.

    Willie brings up a point this show has needed for ages: Alf took a big risk going out as he did earlier in the night. I agree, but in that case, WHY DID YOU LET HIM DO IT!? IF YOU DIDN’T APPROVE IT, YOU SHOULD PUNISH THIS HAIRY LEECH!

    Of course, it’s all okay, because as Lynn says it was still nice to help Jake. Fuck this shit, because everyone seems okay with that explanation, since Alf makes a wisecrack soon thereafter.

    Alf makes a very good connection soon after about the words he helped Jake with that evening, and how it reminds him how he’ll never seen Rhonda again. Surprised it’s taken this long to miss her, but it’s nice to see this side of Alf more. So often he could be replaced by an obnoxious family member or immigrant without missing a beat, but given the background of why this is the case, it is anything but. Unfortunately, it just means mopey Alf, not wanting to build (another!) giant hole in the yard or eat anything.

    Alf then wants to see all these depressing love movies, which sounds a lot like a parallel for Willie and Kate, and perhaps on a broader scale, the cast’s relationship with Fusco. All used to be well, and then it crumbled right back down, and like Fusco, Alf is a super sulker.

    Alf greets Willie in the shed discussed how Love Story’s death scene is sadder in slow motion. These days, that line makes sense, since we can slow down, speed up, you name it with remotes and DVRs. But back in those days, you had Stop, Eject, Fast-Forward, Rewind, Play. How at all would you slow it down?

    Alf then compares himself to Cyrano, and then there’s some good heartfelt discussion of father-son, about yes, big nose in common, but Alf can laugh at himself, tell others how he feels, which is a nice bond moment. Alf quickly agrees with Willie, and states he only needs a woman. When told he already has that, Alf tells Willie he doesn’t want Kate. This rubs me the wrong way, even though it shouldn’t, given what shambles and how sexless that relationship is.

    Willie does something I’ve been wanting to be more interested in, nerd as he is: Getting in contact, if possible with Alf’s people. He mentions it’s the Andromeda Galaxy, which is interesting, because it tells us where Melmac is/was. It’s also a likely unintentionally nice throwback to the origins of that galaxy’s name: It was nameed after a mythical Greek princess that Perseus saved from being sacrificed. Fairly romantic, to tie in with the episode’s theme, isn’t it?

    Alf relayed a message to Rhonda in the billion to one odds that: Melmac is still around, she’s listening to the right radio frequency in some capacity given Melmac’s technological advances, she recognizes Alf’s voice, AND that the feeling is mutual. So, I’m saying there’s a chance…

    Alf says that it will take 146 (presumably Earth) years for that message to reach Rhonda, unfortunately, for which Willie apologizes for. I’m not entirely sure why, given we know Alf has about 300 years of life left.

    So hey! From this, you can figure out exactly how far Melmac is, and put it in relation to some celestial body. Let’s assume sound somehow travels through space at the same speed as sea level and galaxies in the Alf universe, because it’s a flawed premise already-sound really moves slow as shit in space, though it does move.

    Back to the little experiment here: Sound travels at a speed is340.29 meters per second on sea level, which makes 146 years be 4,607,409,600 meters, or 2,862,911.6 miles. This is how far away Melmac is from Earth. Supposedly. Because… wait a freaking second. Mars is 140 million miles from Earth, which is longer than that of Earth to Melmac, which is in ANOTHER GALAXY. Granted, it’s the closest to the Milky Way, by virtue of Willie saying Andromeda Galaxy and Alf not denying it, but this doesn’t even make a fucking lick of sense.

    Benji Gregory appears for the first time at the 19 minute mark, when this could have been an episode for Brian, but nope, no love letter for those acting skills there, with a vignette about a ‘broken’ dog whistle, which Alf can hear as well. I don’t really care, because god this is padded. Somehow, we get an update with the Jake/Laura movie date, which Jake doesn’t like her for much because of her laugh, as an excuse to hear Alf react like a madman hearing the dog whistle, which he learns to love like a machosist. He also looks like future Max Wright when he blows said whistle himself.

    Looking at the credits, I see an interesting catch: Music and Main Title theme are by one ALF Clausen.



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