The good news is also the bad news: if this were season four, we’d be done already.
Maybe it’s just me, but damn, season three sure feels like it’s dragging. It’s only one episode longer than the previous seasons, but I can definitely feel fatigue setting in. Don’t worry; I still intend to do season four and Project: ALF because if I had to suffer through this you are going to keep suffering right along with me, but this season felt draining.
I have more to say on that subject, but I’ll wait. It’s just another couple of weeks before I review the season as a whole anyway, so I’ll save it for that.
“Shake, Rattle and Roll” is something I knew nothing about, except that it happens to be Jake’s final episode. I wondered if his character would be brought to any kind of conclusion and…yeah, he was. But not the one the show probably wanted to bring him to. We’ll get to that later.
On the whole it’s not a terrible episode, and it has some good ideas and funny moments. But it’s still ALF, and ALF is still shit, so don’t expect me to be sucking this one’s dick.
It opens with ALF walking around the kitchen, doing everything except shutting the fuck up. The whole idea is that ALF is acting like a hunter and quietly stalking his prey (he says exactly this, in case you’re a fucking idiot) and that’s all fine and good, but it leads to a pretty hilarious moment of unintentional comedy. See, it’s hard to operate a puppet when you’re stuck down in a dark trench and can’t see what you’re doing, so when ALF opens the refrigerator door it cracks loudly against the wall and a bottle of barbecue sauce falls over. It’s not part of the joke and it’s not acknowledged in any way; it’s just ALF telling us he’s supposed to be quiet while a puppeteer fucks up and makes noise.
It’s some unfortunate fumble that goes entirely against the mood the scene is trying to build, and I love it for that.
Some of my favorite ALF moments come from season one, when nobody on the show knew what the fuck they were doing, and absolutely everything looked like garbage. They’d cut to a midget in brown pajamas every time ALF needed to walk across the room for fuck’s sake. Moments like this bring me back to that kind of ropey silliness. ALF is slicker now, but by and large it’s not any funnier. While the package as a whole is superior to what it used to be, all that does is rob the show of its original charm.
Son of a bitch I miss that midget.
But then there is an intentionally funny moment, when ALF sees a sign that says DON’T EAT THIS affixed to the food he was hunting. He picks up the sign, reads it, and then asks, “Why would I eat this?” and throws the sign away. Legitimately funny. Credit where credit is due.
Then Paul Fusco jiggles ALF around for a bit while stagehands throw shit onto the set to make it look like there’s an earthquake. Well, I can honestly say I didn’t see that coming.
After the credits the Tanners run around screaming ALF’s name, and I like that his safety is more important to them than the safety of their home, any of their possessions, each other, the Ochmoneks (just kidding), or Kate’s unborn black baby.
Then we get what I thought was a hilarious sight gag. Honestly, I laughed louder than I ever have at this show when Brian opened a cupboard to find ALF there, shivering in catatonic shock.
I thought it was a riot. But there’s no fake laughter so I guess we’re actually supposed to be worried about him.
Fuck. That. It’s hilarious and you’re not taking that away from me.
In a moment ALF starts babbling and Willie slaps him across the face in what I have to imagine was the most cathartic moment of Max Wright’s life.
So maybe I’m not supposed to like ALF quaking in terror, but fuck you if I’m not going to like him getting backhanded by a crackfiend.
They calm him down enough to get him out of the cupboard, and, really, the episode’s got to be all down hill from there, doesn’t it?
ALF asks what the fuck happened so Willie explains plate tectonics to him. It’s not funny, exactly, but it’s a great character detail. Willie would launch into a scientific explanation, and Willie would think he’s being helpful. And it does actually build to a funny moment when ALF shuts him up and asks Kate to explain it in a way he can understand; she likens it to Godzilla stomping through Tokyo. I’m pretty sure I like everything about that little exchange.
Kate gets another good line shortly when the Ochmoneks come over to check on the Tanners. She…
…wait, hold on. What’s that? The Ochmoneks came to check on the Tanners?
Open your hymnals, dear readers, and join me in song: 55 choruses of “TELL ME AGAIN WHO THE BAD NEIGHBORS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE.”
God fucking dammit. Seriously. One of the very first impulses the Ochmoneks feel is to go over and make sure their friends the Tanners are okay. By contrast, I’m pretty sure the Ochmoneks could die in their sleep though and the Tanners would go for years without noticing they’re gone.
I don’t care that the Ochmoneks are the better neighbors. I really don’t. What I care about is the fact that the show doesn’t realize it, and still, even now, with one family coming to check on the other in the aftermath of a natural disaster, we’re supposed to like the wrong ones.
It doesn’t make sense. It’s distracting. It’s inhuman.
Blah. I hear that season four turns the Ochmoneks into the antagonistic piles of shit we were always meant to believe they were, so I guess we’ve got that to look forward to.
Anyway, the funny line Kate gets comes after Mrs. Ochmonek says, “We had an earthquake!” Kate replies, “So did we.” Kind of bitchy, but good enough.
Jake asks about Lynn, because he knows full well that this is his last episode, so if he’s going to fuck her he needs to stop being a pussy like, right fucking now.
Then there’s a nice reveal then of Mr. Ochmonek on the Tanners’ porch, gripping tightly to it in fear.
It’s overacted, but, fuck, this is cocksucking ALF. I’ll take some overacting if we at least get something good out of it.
And we do…we get that legitimately well-composed shot. The best part is that this isn’t the only example of visual inventiveness in the episode. Like “Working My Way Back to You,” somebody involved with the episode actually cared enough to figure out the best ways to shoot the action, as opposed to being satisfied with making sure they took the lens caps off. The Mr. Ochmonek reveal is a good one, but I also liked the kitchen scene earlier, as the camera followed ALF around while he narrated his midnight hunt. There were even some nice reverse shots on Willie when ALF was in the cupboard.
I like that. I like all of that, because it’s evidence that somebody cared. If I can sense that somebody making the show cared, I’m more likely to care myself. On the flip side, if I can sense that nobody making the show cared, why on Earth would I?
But, yeah, let’s accentuate the positive. “Shake, Rattle and Roll” has already had some good stuff…
…but nothing as good as this:
I FUCKING LOVE THAT FACE IT IS PERFECT
He’s scared, and I assume that makes sense even if he has lived in California for most of his life. I remember living in Florida, and there were loads of people who got very worried over hurricanes, even though they happen regularly out there. I don’t know how common it is to have an over-the-top reaction like this to a minor earthquake, but I can definitely believe that somebody would. It’s probably pretty scary, and Mr. Ochmonek actually has stuff to live for, unlike Willie who I’m pretty sure is one personal slight away from stepping into traffic.
Mrs. Ochmonek says that her husband always gets like this after earthquakes…and whenever Whoopi Goldberg is on Star Trek. I guess the joke is that Mr. Ochmonek is exactly as much of a racist fuck as anyone else who’s ever worked on this show. Lovely.
Anyway, Willie’s sick of these assholes checking up on the safety of his family so he kicks them out of the house, and closes the door in the face of a still clearly shaken Mr. Ochmonek.
Another 55 choruses. Lift your voices to the heavens, folks!
Anyway, ALF overhears the conversation and is told after the Ochmoneks leave (and/or are thrown out in the middle of the night afraid for their lives) that earthquakes are usually a lot worse, so he should stop being a pussy like, right fucking now.
This scares him, and we’re supposed to care about that. Which would be fine…
…if we didn’t just establish that we’re not supposed to care about Mr. Ochmonek going through the exact same thing.
Fuck this fuckass show.
Later on the Tanners head out to the garage to take inventory of their earthquake supplies.
It’s a good thing they do; they find out that ALF drank all of the emergency water, ate all of the emergency peanut butter, and smoked all of the emergency crack. It’s a nice little nod to the continuity of the show, I admit; ALF lived in the garage for a few years, and that’s a reasonable place for the supplies to be kept.
This isn’t a cheat at all, or a manufactured development. It actually feels like a pretty smart reveal. Kudos to the writers for connecting dots in a natural way like this.
Anyway Kate fingers herself for a while because all this talk of starvation and dehydration and flaming bowels is upsetting ALF.
I understand, Kate. I’m fingering myself, too.
The next day or who cares it turns out ALF ordered a shitload of water so Willie and Kate make angry faces. It sucks.
Then later on ALF is nailing his bed to the floor and Willie tells him to knock that shit off. “Shake, Rattle and Roll” isn’t horrible, but it feels more like a disjointed collection of scenes in which people talk about earthquakes than it feels like a story about earthquakes.
There’s a really poor line reading by Paul Fusco in this scene, in which he emphasizes the wrong word. I can honestly say that this is a rarity; Fusco’s performance is usually pretty solid. Of course, I imagine that’s because if Fusco flubs a line he demands that everyone stand by for 55 hours while the puppet trenches are reset so he can try again…whereas if anyone else flubs one he just keeps going because they’re shitty actors and he wants the world to know it.
So, honestly, I don’t know if Fusco is a much better performer than walking gaffe Max Wright…but he was signing the stage crew’s paychecks, so I’m sure he got as many mulligans as he pleased.
This time, though, he doesn’t realize he flubbed anything…which is proof that he didn’t understand the joke.
See, Willie asks ALF why he’s nailing his bed to the floor, and ALF replies, “It wouldn’t make such to Scotch tape it now, would it?”
What he really means to say is “It wouldn’t make much sense to Scotch tape it, now would it?”
He drops the comma in the wrong place, making it sounds like at another time it might have made sense to Scotch tape it. What ALF is actually supposed to convey is that he’s nailing it because Scotch taping it wouldn’t be as effective.
The delivery is wrong, and it changes the meaning of the line. In fact, it removes the joke entirely, making audience laughter seem even more fake than it usually does.
Willie and ALF sit around for a while giving each other handjobs until an aftershock hits and a globe falls on ALF’s bed.
This is actually staged pretty well, as Willie tries to get ALF into the doorjamb (which, at the time, was considered to be a safe place to stand, but I get the feeling that’s changed) but ALF tries to hide in bed instead. The globe just misses him, and his expression as he realizes he was almost brained is very effective. You can see in his eyes (lifeless eyes…black eyes…like a doll’s eyes…) that whatever small amount of faith he had in his own safety immediately drains away.
But Willie tells him the globe weighs nothing so he should stop being a pussy like, right fucking now.
The scene ends with ALF saying, “Face it, Willie. Earth is hazardous to your health.” It’s a shame that such a ham-fisted attempt at profundity ends an otherwise pretty good scene, especially since Paul Fusco delivers the line like he’s closing out a keynote speech at some poor kid’s graduation. Fucker, you’re talking through a puppet, not changing lives. Tell a joke and cut to commercial.
The next day everybody’s hanging out in the kitchen, and Jake stops by for the second-to-last time in his life. When he knocks Lynn calls to him, “It’s open.” His hopes are dashed, however, when he realizes she’s referring to the door.
Then ALF gushes about how much he loves everyone, which is neither funny nor interesting enough to say much about. I mean, it’s a nice development and all, but ALF’s near-death experience wasn’t near enough to death to mean much. It’s the sort of thing that I can fully understand making it through a pitch session, but when they were writing the script they must have forgotten to make any of it matter, so we just have ALF acting like a man reborn for surviving something no more dangerous than eating a slice of day-old bread.
There is a fucking lovely moment though when ALF says that the incident with the globe “gave me pause.” Lynn walks over and says, “I thought you already had paws.” Which is so fucking stupid, and she knows it, because she just stares at him while the two pretend to laugh at the dumbass joke, and if I’m ever going to fall in love with Lynn Tanner it’s here, at this moment, when she’s so goddamn human it’s adorable.
This might actually be my single favorite moment of season three. ALF thinking he sees Blinky on the highway…Jake confronting his mother…the elaborately staged ceremony just to say “Sorry about the book”…all of that is great. And I mean that. But it pales in comparison to Andrea Elson telling a stupid joke she knows is stupid, and then owning the awkwardness behind it. It’s such an unexpected bright spot that I can’t help but love it.
ALF explains that he’s going to be nice and appreciative now because he realizes that any breath he takes could be his last. He’s going to savor every moment he has left.
“There goes one now…” he says, in what’s legitimately one of the best lines this show has ever produced. And, again, it’s a very human moment.
“Shake, Rattle and Roll” is kind of shit. But, hey, almost all of these episodes are kind of shit. Not all of them have a shred of identifiable humanity.
I’ll take it.
Then he tells everyone to join hands for a chorus of “Kumbaya.” They all ignore him, but the scene transition music doesn’t; it blends “Kumbaya” with the ALF theme song in a way that fucking hurts to listen to.
Not because it’s bad…but because whoever spent the time arranging and performing that mashup did it for motherfucking ALF.
Later on Lynn is studying French, which surely assuages her parents’ concerns a few weeks back that she wouldn’t make any money after college. Art History doesn’t sound so bad now, does it bitches? ALF comes in with a rose and says, “plz can we fuck i mite die.”
It’s not quite as gross as all the other times he asked her to slip his barbed, hairy cock up her cooch, so kudos to them for that, I guess.
It actually leads to a good moment, though, when he stops talking about fucking her (imagine that) and starts talking about the theme of the episode (IMAGINE THAT).
See, ALF is worried about dying on Earth without having enjoyed his life to the fullest. As I mentioned earlier, that’s not a bad idea for a plotline on its own, but it’s enhanced by one detail very specific to ALF as a TV show and ALF as a character: he already lost a life on Melmac without enjoying it to its fullest.
In other words, he’s been here before. He knows what it’s like to be too late…to have actually let all of his time slip away. And he doesn’t want that to happen again.
It’s why he’s so concerned about dying all of a sudden; he was reminded of the death he already lived through. It rings true, and it’s insightful enough that I really wish they did more with it.
His previous life is gone, and he can never have it back. He took it for granted, just as most of us do. Now he’s on Earth and he’s spent most of that time watching TV and probing Brian. He got a second chance at life, and so far he’s taken that for granted, too.
It’s good, and it’s a shame that the idea is introduced midway through the episode and abandoned completely before the end. It’s a teasing glimpse of the second draft that could have been.
There’s even a funny line when he tells Lynn about all the things on his own planet that are lost forever: “Like the time Benny Futterman and I… See? I forgot!”
Dumb joke made poignant by its context. You’re so close this week, ALF. So close.
In the next scene he’s in the shed with Brian, setting up Willie’s train set. I happened to notice the train set was missing earlier in the episode. I mean, okay, it’s usually missing, but this time the big, flat wooden table was there, when usually the whole setup is just gone, so it’s kind of nice that they brought the table out for an earlier scene in anticipation for this one.
I like the idea that ALF seems to be going around to each of the family members, making a point of spending quality time with them. It’d be nicer if they had personalities so that they could do things specific to their relationship (see Homer’s last day alive in “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish”), but instead he spends time with Lynn while she’s sitting, and Brian while he’s standing.
I guess we should have given these characters some traits or hobbies at some point. Oh well.
His conversation with Brian is nothing new (“WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE BRIAN”) and I find it hard to care much about ALF saying goodbye to a kid we haven’t even met yet. In fact, setting this scene around the train set just makes me remember how much better “Night Train” was than…well, almost any other episode.
I didn’t mention it before, but commenter Justin emailed me a link to this interview with Max Wright, conducted while they were shooting season three. It’s the most positive I’ve ever heard the guy be about this show…which is saying something since it’s still full of him bitching about how awful ALF is. But the interview does end with this:
Wright says that because of production logistics with the character ALF, scenes are usually short. He fondly recalls an exception, the touching episode last season in which Willie and ALF became hobos, chatting philosophically inside a freight car and around a campfire. “It was unusual. The two of us did a 10-page scene. That was the peak for me, my favorite show.”
I feel somewhat vindicated by that. “Night Train” wasn’t just an exception for me…it was an exception for the guy who wished more than anything that the set would cave in and kill everyone involved. I don’t know if it’s actually my favorite episode (any guesses as to its competition? And which of these are your favorite episodes?) but I’m sure it will make my all-time-best list when this show is done.
It was a chance for two characters to be characters. I might have liked it sitting at home, watching it…but it makes me very happy to know that the cast liked it, too. Who’d have guessed that acting in a good episode of TV is more rewarding than getting buried in a weekly shit avalanche?
Anyway, this ain’t no “Night Train.” This ain’t no “Fight Back.” (This ain’t no foolin’ around.)
This is “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” Brian gets the train running and ALF smashes it. So much for quality time, dickbag.
Brian serves up his weekly bitchface just as Jake comes over. ALF tells Brian he can fuck off now, because Jake’s more fun to hang out with anyway.
But Jake is already sick of this crap. He tells ALF to knock it off with the “we’re dying” talk. Pretty soon he, too, is walking out the door.
Then ALF calls to him: “Oh, Jake! In case this is the last time we see each other…”
Jake tells him to cut that crap out; he’s just going home and nothing’s going to happen to him there. This inspires ALF to list off a bunch of ways that Jake might die in his own house. Jake doesn’t listen to it for long, though. After all, he can’t. He has to go now. His planet needs him.*
Man, ALF sure had terrible luck with real-world logistics. Here we have Jake’s last appearance on the show…which happens to be a conversation about all the ways he could die the moment he steps off-camera. The implication is unintentional, but too bad. It’s still morbid as all fuck. What should have been a pointless, forgettable exchange between the two instead seems to presage the post-episode development in which Jake slips in the tub and breaks his neck, twitching and drowning while nobody thinks to check on him.
It’s like the way the final episode of the show ended, with the government closing in, ready to skin ALF alive. It was supposed to be a cliffhanger, but, hilarious mercy of hilarious mercies, the show got cancelled right after that and we’re left to assume ALF was harrowingly vivisected to death in an underground research facility.
ALF is one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, but not in any of the ways it wanted to be.
Later Willie has a heart to heart with Brian, who is hiding under the bed because he thinks he might die. There’s a really fucking stupid moment when Kate comes in and sees this, and she says “WHY ARE YOU TALKING TO BRIAN’S BED LOL”
Man, remember when Kate was a human being? That was awesome. Talk about taking things for granted.
Sure, once her character started to succumb to this show’s pervasive idiocy, Jake’s rose to fill the void. And that was nice. I wasn’t happy to lose her, but at least we had someone else we could count on to be an actual human.
But we can’t say that anymore. We’re stuck with Pod-Person Kate, and the unwelcome knowledge that Jake is already gone and no one will ever mention him again, under penalty of torture.
There was nobody else for Jake to pass the torch to, I guess. It’s snuffed out with him.
I’m convinced that this show has lost its last reliable vestige of humanity, and I am really worried about finding any raft of sanity in season four.
Anyway, Willie acts like a father for the second time in this entire show’s run by telling Brian that if he worries too much about all the bad shit that might happen, he’ll miss all the good shit that does happen.
It’s solid advice. I mean, I’ll never follow it, because worrying is about the only thing I’m good at, but you probably should.
He essentially gives the same speech two more times, though, because the episode budgeted way more time for this scene than it should have. Eh, whatever. It’s still a nice thought and a decent moral to end the episode with. Then again ALF’s day consists of sucking Dorito crumbs out of his pubes so it’s not like he missed out on much by being worried all the time.
In the short scene before the credits, the delivery guy comes back to take the extra water away. WHEW. I’m so glad that once an episode decided to definitively resolve something, it picked the amount of bottled water the Tanners have on hand.
Then the delivery guy leaves and ALF complains that without enough water for a waterslide, Tannerland is never going to catch on! And even the fake audience of dead people can barely muster up the energy to applaud that shit.
The episode’s moral as it applies to ALF is still up in the air for me. I get Willie telling Brian not to worry; that makes sense. But ALF’s concern this week was that he’s not making the most of his life on Earth. “Don’t worry” is still a nice thing to say, but it doesn’t exactly relate to ALF’s situation.
If your son is hiding under the bed because he’s afraid of being killed by anything and everything, “Don’t worry” is fine. If your alien hobo is pissed off that he’s slowly wasting away in your attic, “Don’t worry” is a non-sequitur at best.
And, man, I really wish they did more with the “ALF faces his mortality” idea than boil it down to a single scene in which he slaps Brian’s train off the track. What a rich, fruitful idea. It’s a shame they didn’t bother to see it through, because there could have been some real pathos in there.
Still, “Shake, Rattle and Roll” had some funny moments, some nice visuals, and a decent idea at its core. I can pick its nits all day long, but, ultimately, it wasn’t the massive pile of catshit it could have been.
I assume they’re saving that for the season finale.
MELMAC FACTS: Melmac had a dating service called Catastrophic Expectations. That’s a funny enough name on its own, but based on the reputation of its real-world analogue, it might not be much of an exaggeration.
*Note: Jake died on the way back to his home planet.