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.
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.
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 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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.