This review series puts me in an odd position. It makes me hate ALF more than anyone else on the planet, yet it also makes me something of an authority on the show. I don’t say that to brag; it’s just that sitting down to write 17,000 words per week about this shit means that I’m more likely to draw connections and notice things than passive viewers would be.
It’s not flawless. I forget things — sometimes major things — that you folks are, thankfully, quick to bring up in the comments. And I’m a human being, which means that I get things wrong and misinterpret them even when I’m not hilariously doing it for your entertainment.
But it’s something. I spend enough time with this show that I’m familiar with it; moreso than I ever, even as a child, would have wanted to be. A tossed off remark in episode 7 might have a payoff in episode 64, and I just might be the only one paying enough attention to point it out.
Case in point: “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” which takes a small development from season one and here, at the tail end of season three, bases an entire episode around it.
See, you probably don’t remember, but early in the first season ALF revealed that Lynn wasn’t the only Tanner child. No…apparently they also had a little boy called Brian. Quite why they bothered to give us this information, I can’t say. They certainly didn’t do anything with it, and it’s not as though the family dynamic changed once we found out about this second kid. It was just sort of casually mentioned, and — as far as I can tell — never brought up again.
Not until this episode, at least, when out of nowhere Brian is mentioned again, and actually gets a whole episode to himself.
It’s the sort of thing you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t watching as closely as I am. Certainly nobody doing a casual watch of this show would remember that Brian exists, which is why it’s so odd to me that all at once he’s meant to be an important character YES THAT WAS MY GREAT JOKE IT WASN’T A MINOR DETAIL AT ALL IT WAS BRIAN YOU SHOULD BUY A MUG
Yes, I’m exaggerating…but not by much. In fact, let’s play a game. All of you clowns have been reading these reviews for the past two years, so make a list of every time you remember Brian having an impact on the plot.
Go ahead. I’m serious.
He’s one of the main characters. He’s in every episode. And we’re now on episode 72. Surely you should be able to rattle off a couple dozen of examples, easily.
…but you can’t. Because Brian is set dressing. He’s a boy who has an alien, but doesn’t seem all that interested in it. He’s Lynn’s little brother and Willie and Kate’s kid, but none of them seem to want anything to do with him. He goes to school and presumably interacts with the other kids, but aside from that one brat who brought Dr. Potato Famine into our lives, we don’t hear hide nor hair of them. No serious attempt has ever been made to give him anything to do…and midway through season two his role was essentially usurped by Jake, who had personality, character traits, and the priceless ability to not be in episodes in which he doesn’t belong.
Brian was, and is, dead. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” as a result, ends up feeling like a relic from the distant past…a time when the show wasn’t entirely sure it was done with Brian. It’s not a late-game resuscitation of the character; it’s a bone tossed half-assed in Benji Gregory’s general direction. It’s a way of promising us that they still care about the character that doubles as definitive assurance that they don’t care about the character.
It’s not the worst episode of the show, but it’s also one that fails to serve a purpose. Brian is done, and has been for a while. This isn’t his Vegas Elvis rebirth…this is an episode about him that still can’t think of anything for him to do.
…but, okay, I do have to admit that “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” really does dig up some old throwaway detail and make it part of the plot. Brian is getting ready for his Scout meeting. You may not remember, since I don’t think it ended up in my review, but it was mentioned in “ALF’s Special Christmas” that Brian was a Cub Scout. Scouting was where he learned that you shouldn’t let your father rub poison ivy all over his nipples on Christmas Eve.
So, this is an impressive bit of continuity. Or the writers coincidentally invented the same detail twice. You can probably guess where I’d lay my bet…especially since he was a Cub Scout (a real thing) in that episode, and is a Badger Scout (not a real thing) in this one.
While he gets ready, ALF teaches himself to tie knots. Willie enters the room and asks if that’s his good string, and ALF replies, “Willie, if you have good string, you need to get out more.”
Which is word for word what I was going to type in response to Willie. Either ALF is getting funnier or I need to see a doctor.
After the intro we get a pretty sad scene that I’m sure wasn’t supposed to be sad: Kate is researching daycare centers for when her baby is born. Why? Because she knows it’s too dangerous to keep it in the house with ALF.
And…Jesus Christ. At what point, in the Tanners’ position, do you reconsider this whole fucking arrangement? Yes, I abhor ALF. But even if I didn’t…what does this family owe him? I’m willing to buy (theoretically) that they like him…okay. Maybe they want him around…that’s okay, too. But do you like him more and want him around more than your own unborn child?
Why must even Kate’s pregnancy be twisted to ALF’s convenience? The Tanners find out they’re having a kid, and they know that ALF will kill it. Why is their response to ship the kid off, and not, I dunno…issue ALF some kind of ultimatum? Tell him that he has nine months to get his shit together, or they call the Alien Task Force?
Yes, if it were me I’d stab ALF to death with a busted lightbulb the moment I met him. But you’d think the Tanners would at least threaten some kind of consequence. Come on, you dumbasses. At least try to get ALF to behave before you decide to have your child raised by maids.
God damn it. Fuck this guy.
Lynn comes into the living room to announce that this episode will have a subplot. (Oh, did you think that deciding what to do to prevent the new baby from being killed would be a subplot? Nah…that was a quick decision.) She’s trying to decide on a major.
So…I guess she’s not in college yet? I don’t know…this makes it sound like she’s still finishing high school.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I seem to recall having to either declare a major or declare that you’re a non-degree-seeking student. So this whole “I need a major” thing isn’t the kind of conundrum she can have if she’s already enrolled…which she should have been since the end of season two.
This show really can’t decide what the fuck Lynn is. Is she a high schooler? A college student? This implies to me that she’s still in high school, like in those other episodes that say she’s still in high school, and not in college, like those other episodes that say she’s in college.
See why I’m not convinced Brian’s scouting is genuine continuity?
We learn in this conversation that Kate was an Art History major. And hey, guess what asshole. So was Mr. Ochmonek! We found that out way back in “The Boy Next Door.” So, hey, you have something in common! Maybe you can have actual conversations with him and not just roll your eyes and make jack-off motions every time he opens his mouth.
The Art History thing is another unintentional connection. It’s something, in short, you shouldn’t notice. But, when you do, it just becomes further evidence of what awful people the Tanners are. They have common ground with the Ochmoneks, and they still don’t think those people are fit to lick their boots.
The Ochmoneks are nothing but nice to the Tanners…they keep attempting to engage with them, help them, spend time with them, and the Tanners won’t even accept that they might have something in common.
Tell me, again, who the bad neighbors are supposed to be.
Willie comes home with Brian, sharing hilarious stories with him about when he was a kid and had to dig a hole for his fellow Scouts to shit in.
…I’m not kidding. I don’t even think the writers are playing it for that kind of laugh. I think that the people who ended up on the writing staff for this show were the kinds of kids who used to exclusively draw latrine duty and therefore, to them, its an inextricable part of camping.
The funniest part of this scene is a little piece of popcorn (I didn’t think to screengrab it, sadly) that gets stuck to ALF’s fur. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, as it was stuck to his hand and waved around while he talked. It was pretty obviously not supposed to be there, and I have to imagine that the entire cast and crew were on edge, terrified that somebody would point it out and Paul Fusco would demand that the scene be reshot. On any other show that wouldn’t be a big deal, but on ALF when every flubbed line means another 10 hours of resetting the puppet trenches, the stakes must have been pretty high.
Anyway, Brian is set to go on his first overnight scouting trip next weekend, and ALF is already not looking forward to hearing more adventures of Willie, “King of the Wild Front Lawn.” Which, I’m sorry, is actually a pretty funny line.
Brian says he’s going to change out of his uniform, and immediately he warps out of frame by the miracle of truly shit editing.
It’s pretty bad. We even cut right into Willie’s next line, without allowing any breathing space. As much as I’ve picked on the editing in this show, I can honestly say that I haven’t seen a cut this bad since season one…and back then it was possible that the worst offenders were due to syndication edits. Here, there’s no excuse for such sloppy work. Unless Benji Gregory shit his pants, or something, and they couldn’t use the footage of him stepping away from the table.
Later on, ALF helps Brian pack for his overnight stay in a tent, which is definitely something they need to do right now, with the trip a full fucking week away.
Our Alien Friend senses that this particular bitchface is distinct from what’s become Brian’s standard bitchface, so he tries to get him to open up about why he doesn’t want to go camping. Brian says, “Can you keep a secret?” And ALF says, “No…but there’s a first time for everything.”
…which in itself isn’t a good enough line (by ALF standards I’m happy just to encounter competency), but it feels like a bungle all the same. Twice prior to this ALF was asked rhetorical questions, and responded with either “Yes…next question” or “No…next question.” Here I thought he was going to fulfill the Rule of Three (I was even prepared to chuckle, stupid me), but I guess they forgot their own running gag between scenes. It’s bizarre. The cadence of ALF’s reply is even the same. How did they fuck up such a simple gimme?
Anyway, Brian says he’s afraid of the dark.
Jake comes into Brian’s bedroom to check on the kid he displaced last season, making sure someone is remembering to feed him and change his cedar chips. He overhears Brian’s fear, so he tells him some story about kids who went camping in Central Park and are still, to this day, chained to the radiator of a drifter who treats them like sex dolls.
Yeah, I honestly don’t know how much of this is a joke — Jake telling scary stories to stop Brian from being scared — but it happens multiple times throughout the episode. The way it plays is weird, though, and I don’t think this is Jake trying to help so much as he’s just being a bratty teenage boy. Which is fine…in fact, I hope that’s what they’re deliberately doing, because very little of this would make sense otherwise.
I like Jake in this scene. Actually, fuck it: I like Jake lately. While the episodes he’s featured in may or may not be better than they otherwise would have been, he’s come into his own as a character. When he shows up I start paying attention, because he’s one of the few recurring actors on this show that gives a shit.
A commenter a few weeks ago mentioned that the character doesn’t return in season four…which is a shame for the reason listed above, and also because season three seems to be working hard to make him a real part of the show, as opposed to an occasional diversion. And it’s worked well. “Fight Back” was a Jake-heavy episode, and it was one of the best yet. He also figured into the very fun “Superstition,” and though “Standing in the Shadows of Love” was fucking awful, that was no fault of his. What’s more, that episode made it clear that we’re supposed to care about what happens to him, like we’re meant to care about the Tanners and not care about — for example — Jake’s aunt and uncle. Shit, next week’s episode is all about Jake and his mother.
Season three is trying to do the impossible; it’s attempting to take a hasty mid-game substitution and make it feel like the character is a natural part of this universe. It’s not entirely successful, but I’m impressed by the effort…which makes it all the more frustrating (and hilarious) that the kid vanishes off the face of the Earth in just another few episodes.
Jake was never exactly a good character, but he was certainly coming close, especially by the standards of this show. No wonder Emperor Fusco had him executed.
In this scene I like him a lot. ALF comes up with the idea of camping out in the back yard to show Brian there’s nothing to be afraid of, and Jake declines. “I have a life,” he explains, which is a perfectly reasonable excuse for not wanting to sleep on a soundstage with a hand puppet and a sack of potatoes that has BRIAN written on it.
Then ALF says that it’ll be nice, sleeping out in the fresh air, and Jake incredulously replies, “In Los Angeles?!”
Congratulations, Jake; you’re the first person, place, or thing in this show that has any concept of what L.A. is actually like in real life. You just blew my mind, and I love you for it, kid. You’re getting an ALFie.
Then again, ALF convinces him to join by saying he’ll have a view into Lynn’s room and can spank it to her all he wants, so it’s not all welcome Jake material.
Still. They tried.
Later, in the kitchen, Lynn decides she’ll major in Art History. This causes Willie to laugh and belittle her because only worthless dumbass retard idiot fuckbrains major in Art History. In retaliation, Kate suggests that Willie’s major (Social Sciences) might have been slightly boring, so Willie cold cocks her with a can of beans and kicks her repeatedly in the womb while Lynn cries.
Then we cut to ALF, Brian, and Jake in the tent. Jake tries to scare Brian, but since Benji Gregory uses the same expression for everything from being offered his favorite dessert to hearing an alien rape his sister through his bedroom wall, we have no way of knowing if Jake’s successful.
Anyway, ALF shows up with a duffel bag full of unnecessary shit, and we talk about that until the commercial break. This includes long digressions about why VHS cassettes and blenders are not appropriate camp supplies, and I have to give “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” credit for honesty, at least. It doesn’t even try to hide the fact that it’s already stalling for time.
This continues until the commercial break, but if you’re really lucky you’ll trick yourself into thinking the episode is over and go play a video game or something.
After the commercial we see Willie going insane on the couch.
I don’t know what the fuck he’s doing. He has headphones on and barks every few seconds. Is he supposed to be singing along to something? It looks more like the balloon in his rectum burst open and they just filmed his freakout.
Lynn walks in on this shit and isn’t scarred for life, which says a lot about the baseline level of madness in this house. She tells him that she’s decided to major in Social Sciences, and become a social worker just like her dear pa-pa.
You’d think he’d be happy about this, or flattered or something, but he sure launches pretty quickly into the same “you fucking dolt” speech he gave her before about Art History.
He tells her that he loves his job, but also that there aren’t many jobs like his out there. And that’s certainly true; I’ve never known anyone who had a job where they got paid to be as much of a worthless, ineffectual jagoff as Willie.
He also warns her that she won’t get rich. Which he says, somehow without irony, in his fifty-six-bedroom palace in the middle of Los Angeles. ALF desperately needs a Frank Grimes episode.
In the yard, Jake is telling ghost stories to ALF and Brian. Once again, considering that this whole plan was to make Brian less afraid of camping, ghost stories probably aren’t the smartest thing to put the kid through. Me, I’d probably just lock him in a trunk for three or four nights, then open it up right before the camping trip so he can see that he’s okay; I didn’t really ship him to his new owners. If you ever need parenting advice, feel free to ask.
My favorite line in the episode comes in this scene, courtesy of Jake. But since Jake isn’t played by Paul Fusco he doesn’t get the laugh track to punctuate it. Again, what a lovely, magical, fulfilling experience it must have been to work on ALF.
It comes when Jake is telling a story about the Phantom of the Subway, who in place of one hand has a hook. Jake’s at the point in the story when the Phantom hails a cab…and he backpedals slightly to add, “With his good hand.”
It’s actually a funny, decently acted moment. It gets no laughter.
By contrast, the fake audience of dead people roared themselves hoarse over the reveal that ALF packed a blender, so I’ll let you connect the political dots.
Each of Jake’s tales has something to do with New York, because he’s from New York. Did you know he is from New York!?
In addition to the Phantom of the Subway and the Central Park Child Sex Ring, we hear about the Headless Stockbroker…and while all of Jake’s spreadin’ of the news should be fatiguing, I’m more forgiving of it here than usual. Maybe because Jake’s the best thing about the episode, by a pretty wide margin, and I’m willing to pay the price of having him around.
Or maybe it’s because the poor kid won’t even exist in a couple of weeks, and the least I can do is indulge these relentless reminders of his regional heritage.
ALF gets scared of the ghost cab from Jake’s story and runs inside. There’s the germ of a nice idea there; in trying to teach Brian not to be a pussy, ALF reveals himself to be a massive pussy. But in reality, what this development does is rob Brian of yet another episode that’s ostensibly about him.
In “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog” a story about Brian finding a stray pooch shifted abruptly into one about Willie not wanting to fuck Anne Ramsey. And in “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” a story about Brian getting picked on at school was resolved entirely off camera, with a development that was reported by Lynn while Brian was nowhere to be seen.
There have been a few attempts at a Brian episode, but almost all of them (this one included) ditch the kid as quickly as they can. The only episode that actually followed him all the way through his own story was “It Isn’t Easy…Bein’ Green,” and even there he was upstaged by a repainted Transformers toy.
Poor Brian. His character has been in a vegetative state for years, and the show won’t acknowledge his right to die.
Anyway, Jake chases ALF into the house to kick his ass and give him a wedgie. This is what you get for showing weakness after treating everyone you know like garbage for three years, ALF! You’re fucked now!
Jake tells him to get his hairy starfish back to the tent, as the whole point of this was to help Brian get over his fear of the dark. ALF replies, “Let him get over his fear of the dark in the morning.”
Which is funny. Like, genuinely funny. The kind of line I’d have been proud of writing.
But the fake audience of dead people isn’t allowed to laugh, because the show has no respect for them. Instead they have to wait for ALF to explain the joke by adding, “…when it’s light out!!”
Jesus Christ, ALF. Even when you’re funny you don’t let yourself be funny.
ALF ends up coming back out to the tent, because Jake tells him that delicious stray cats roam the neighborhood at night. Of course ALF knew this already since we’ve seen that he leaves saucers of milk out to lure them, but that’s okay. Jake has every right to “remind” him of this fact, so I’m not particularly bothered by it.
I am, however, particularly bothered by the idea that Brian’s fear of the dark will be cured when he watches his jackass alien roommate rip the guts out of cats and feast on their gory remains in the moonlight.
They get back outside to find that Brian is already asleep. We don’t see him sleeping, because if you’re looking to cut costs sending Benji Gregory home early is a pretty good place to start.
And that’s the resolution to this week’s conflict: fuck yo conflict.
It kind of sucks that in this episode about Brian getting over his fear of the dark, we never see Brian getting over his fear of the dark. First he’s afraid, then the camera guys decide to hang out with ALF instead, and by the time we come back he’s asleep. It’s kind of like a version of The Maltese Falcon in which we skip right to Sam Spade shrugging and saying, “I guess the thing was fake or something. Who cares?”
And this is a big shame, because it’s the third Brian episode that should have charted interesting territory. Getting (and losing) a dog, dealing with a bully, and overcoming a childhood fear are all things that a grade school boy on a sitcom should be doing. These are things that children really do deal with, which is why they keep popping up in family comedies again and again.
The best part, for ALF, is that it doesn’t even matter that Brian’s not a character. In plots like those, he just needs to be a kid. He can be a blank slate, because those are stories about the journey more than they are about the character. In fact, those are stories that build character. They define childhood. They push a young boy or girl over an obstacle that they can’t bear to face, and when they come out the other side (after however comical or dramatic a process), they’re that much closer to being an adult.
Brian just sleeps through it. And he’ll wake up tomorrow morning with no more personality than he had when he fell asleep.
Way to go, ALF. You botched the unbotchable.
The punchline of the episode is that ALF is zipped too tightly into his sleeping bag to eat the cats or something who fucking cares this nonsense is shit.
In the short scene before the credits, Willie apologizes to Kate for making fun of her major. He bought her The Evolution of Art History, which is certainly not something an Art History major would have already read. Thanks, Willie. I like to think that this assbag just pulled her own copy off the bookshelf and slapped a ribbon on it.
Lynn comes in and says she’s not majoring in anything, so they can both suck her dick. Whew! I was starting to worry they might make some kind of definitive choice with one of their characters, or tell us something about who she is and who she wants to be. That was a close one.
We do find something out about her, though: her sweatshirt reads CSUN, so that’s confirmation that she attends California State University, Northridge. There’s another stop to add to your ALF tour, if you’re ever in California and really want to waste your life.
There is a funny enough line here when Willie says that it doesn’t matter what the kids major in…they’ll inherit ALF and go broke anyway. I mean…it’s funny until you think about it, at which point it becomes extraordinarily sad. Remember that the episode began with the acknowledgment that their new baby won’t even be allowed in the house, lest ALF accidentally decapitate it.
What the fuck kind of life is this? Why is he allowed to live there?
At some point you have to say, “Look here, you little shit. You killed my uncle, crippled my boss, crashed the car, raped the kids, and sent me to Gitmo. We need to have a talk about your behavior.”
Of course that talk would end with ALF hitching up his suspenders, saying, “Did I do thaaat?” and receiving a standing-O from the fake audience of dead people, so it’s not like I expect change on this show…but seriously, how depressed are the Tanners that they don’t even raise the issue?
We wrap up the episode by…having ALF walk into the kitchen covered in knotted string.
Yep. The perfect way to end a Brian episode: a scene that has nothing to do with the kid.
So, yeah. Did Brian go on the camping trip? Who knows. Did he have fun? Who cares. Was he afraid of the dark? Shut up, assholes, ALF is covered in string.
And so that’s that. Brian faced his Dark Night of the Soul, and slept through it. Not a bad approach, actually. Maybe I’ll do the same with ALF season four.
Countdown to Jake ceasing to exist: 3 episodes
Countdown to Jim J. Bullock existing: 11 episodes
MELMAC FACTS: Kate majored in Art History. Willie majored in Social Sciences. Lynn attends California State University, Northridge.