Lynn. Lovely, lost, unappreciated and underutilized Lynn.
When I started this series, I swept her to the side along with every other character on this show. She was nothing, after all. They were all nothing. And I wasn’t surprised by that in the least; while I watched ALF regularly as a kid, the only thing I remembered of the human characters was that the dad was a shitty actor. Revisiting it in my 30s did nothing to change that, and I didn’t expect it would; I’d watch an episode, write 50,000 words about everything that happened, and would still be unable to tell you who the fuck these people were.
So I was dismissive of Lynn. Can you blame me? I was convinced that the only character who was a character was Kate, and that’s largely because Anne Schedeen was in a position to channel the real-world frustrations felt by every member of the cast. She was convincing because she was supposed to be a bitch. While I largely enjoy and appreciate her work on this show, even I have to admit she got lucky. If she were supposed to play, say, a happy-go-lucky optimist type, she’d probably come off just as horribly as everybody else.
Time passed, and while I would be able to tell you more about the characters now than I was able to at the end of season one, my readings of them are informed — as was my reading of Kate’s — not by their words or their actions, but by the personalities of the actors shining through.
That’s why much of what I have to say about Willie overlaps with Max Wright’s general awkwardness and disinterest in anything that’s happening.
That’s why much of what I have to say about Brian overlaps with Benji Gregory’s smoldering hatred of the world around him.
And that’s why much of what I have to say about Lynn overlaps with Andrea Elson’s good-natured warmth and humanity.
No, I don’t know her. I don’t know anything about her. I’ve never read an interview with her, or seen her in anything else. (At least, not that I recall.) I could be dead wrong. She could be a major pain in the ass intent on bringing misery to every last person she meets. She could be a raging, selfish monster.
…but she isn’t.
I’m sure she isn’t.
And I’m sure she isn’t because ALF‘s writers aren’t that good; they don’t give the actors anything to work with aside from who they already are.
We don’t watch Kate, Brian, Lynn, and Willie…we watch Schedeen, Gregory, Elson, and Wright. The words on the page are interchangeable; they’re all setups for ALF’s punchlines anyway. Personalities fluctuate and backstories either don’t exist or are contradicted regularly. Nobody on the planet has a favorite Willie moment, even though he’s ostensibly the second most important character. And that’s because, in all seriousness, he’s nobody. He’s a presence for ALF to react to. They’re all presences for ALF to react to.
Which means that when warmth comes through — when Lynn says or does something sweet — it’s Elson’s. The writers sure as shit didn’t give her anything more (or anything unique) to work with. Characters have heart-to-hearts with ALF all the fucking time. If Lynn’s heart-to-hearts register more, or feel more genuine, it’s because they’re in line with who Andrea Elson really is.
And you know what? She seems pretty great.
Lynn’s growth on this show — I should really say Elson’s — has been the most unexpected pleasure of revisiting it. At first I was mainly happy that the puppetry was good. Then I was satisfied by the fact that I’d get a couple of decent episodes to look forward to each year. Then I got a shitload of boners over Mr. Ochmonek’s wardrobe.
All good things, to be sure, but nothing that really surprised me. Elson’s growth, however, was genuinely unexpected, and it’s gotten to the point that I both look forward to and dread her scenes. I look forward to them for obvious reasons — hers is a pleasant and welcome presence — but I end up dreading them because the writers have demonstrated time and again that they don’t know what to do with her…and often end up doing something pretty horrible.
I’m protective of Lynn by this point. It’s odd to say and maybe impossible to explain, but seeing the writers mishandle her feels something like a betrayal. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen, by now, several perfectly valid ways for the character to be handled, and it gets frustrating that the writing staff can’t tell them from the wrong ways. Or maybe, more likely, as this hellish, miserable production churns along and ruins the lives of everyone involved with it, I hope against hope for Elson to come out of it relatively unscathed.
The betrayal came to a head in “Promises, Promises,” which I’m sure you remember is the one time I failed to meet a deadline not because I was busy (or lazy…don’t forget lazy!), but because I couldn’t bear to sit down and write about it.
That’s never been a problem before. I like Kate, but she show’s treated her like garbage often enough and that’s never warranted more than some snarky comments in the review. I like the Ochmoneks, but aside from rhetorically asking you to TELL ME WHO THE BAD NEIGHBORS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE I can make it through their character abuse just fine.
Lynn’s different. Maybe it’s because she’s younger than most of her co-stars and there’s a natural inclination to want to keep the youth safe. Maybe it’s because she’s fairly attractive, and I HEAR SOME GUYS LIKE THAT. Maybe it’s because she comes across as a gentle, happy human being and we always need more of those in the world.
But maybe it’s just because this show is in dire need of actual characters…and Elson is positively handing one to them on a platter. The show ignores her, moves on, tries something different every week, and all the while she’s still there. Still being herself. Still waiting to be taken seriously.
We’re far enough into the show’s life that we can take a longer view of the characterization. In season one, for instance, she was just the daughter. She was a high school kid and a big sister. And that’s…kind of it. There was an episode about her wanting a car, and an episode about her dating, but that was as far as they ever got with exploring what her life was like.
Which is odd…ALF is a show about an alien who is experiencing Earth culture (well, American culture) for the first time. Which means that the basic makeup of the family (nerdy professional male, frustrated neat-freak housewife, gregarious high school girl, brain damaged son) was conducive to ALF having second-hand experience of many, many different facets of that culture.
Willie might introduce ALF to Bach while Kate introduces him to The Rolling Stones and Lynn introduces him to Cyndi Lauper. (Brian, in a hilarious subplot, is fatally electrocuted while plugging in the radio.) The point is that having a high school girl in the cast should expose ALF — and us — to things that high school girls like, need, and want. But the writers don’t care to figure out what any of those things are.
So she wants a car. And she wants a boyfriend. Which is about as deep as their understanding goes, and they’re, sadly, fine with that.
Oh, but there is one more thing high school girls want: they want to fuck their brains out.
Good thing ALF is on hand for that.
Yeah, we don’t get much in the way of even superficial nods to 1980s youth culture, because the writers hit upon the idea of ALF wanting to spray her womb with Melmac shellac, and that was that. For the entirety of season one, that was her role. Lynn Tanner was an object that men could — conceivably — fill with semen. The most problematic approach to the character was the only one they attempted to see through. Lucky us.
Consider that ALF already has an unhealthy fascination with Willie and Kate’s sex life (hiding under the bed to listen to them fuck) and will eventually reveal that he watches the Ochmoneks hump as well, and you realize that the writers don’t even need Lynn in order to provide commentary on Earthling mating rituals…it’s just that they’re more interested in sex — interspecies, underage, degenerate puppet sex at that — than in developing her as a character.
And, well, so be it. Characterization wasn’t their strong point anyway. If they chose to focus on something they were terrible at, can I really get upset that they did it instead of focusing on something else that they were terrible at?
Periodically the writers did throw her a few token attempts at development. For instance, she got a few humorously “ditzy” lines throughout the season…which, when combined with her timeslot’s equivalent of a sex life, seemed to position her as what I called a family-friendly Kelly Bundy. (I’m blanking on what a lot of those lines were, but I do remember her “It wasn’t funny” being a highlight of “It Isn’t Easy…Bein’ Green.”)
But that’s reaching, as it really only holds true for a select few episodes. Overall, Lynn Tanner was nobody, and was nothing.
…except when she wasn’t. To me, there was one Lynn moment that really stood out in season one: in the show’s very first good episode, “For Your Eyes Only,” she arranges a date between ALF and Jodie, sowing the seeds for a great friendship between the alien and the teen in season two.
Lynn became his closest confidant, the one who believed in him most, and the one who would support him when nobody else would. That latter aspect nearly culminated in a great ending to season two as well.
Lynn taking him to see Jodie was such a small thing that I could understand it not even registering to many viewers. But, to me, it was the first time a human being acted like a human being on this damned show. I believed that Lynn felt sorry for him, and when that aspect of their relationship took center stage in season two, I continued to believe it.
Lynn was — and remained — a naturally caring individual. She’d come to ALF’s defense whenever he needed her, whenever he didn’t have another friend in the world. And it all built to — or should have built to — “Varsity Drag,” in which Lynn had to face the consequences of that unflinching support: ALF has bankrupted the family, and they can’t afford to send her away to college.
We were so, so close to getting some interesting character work out of season two, and I feel more than a little vindicated that my favorite thing about Lynn in season one — the blink-and-miss-it camaraderie from “For Your Eyes Only” — laid the groundwork for their relationship to come, but, ultimately, “Varisty Drag” bailed on the idea of their relationship being truly tested. Instead Willie and Kate delivered some newspapers and Lynn decided, eh, whatever, this show can’t decide if I’m even college age anyway, so what does it matter?
Despite the botched landing, though, season two developed the right kind of relationship between these two characters. ALF wasn’t trying to fuck her, and she wasn’t being a slutty idiot. No…what seemed to develop between them was something we humans call “friendship.” And while seriously testing the strength of that friendship would have been a great way to end the season — and establish a retroactive emotional arc between them — I find it hard to complain about the rest of it.
When everyone else was punishing him, she brought him lemonade (at night, confusingly) in “Somewhere Over the Rerun.” She came to his defense over the broken window in “Can I Get a Witness?” She tried to get him to overcome his guilt at accidentally murdering, desecrating, and eating the flesh of Willie’s uncle in “We’re So Sorry, Uncle Albert.” And she encouraged his new hobby in “I’m Your Puppet.”
All of which was very convincing, mainly because Andrea Elson, unlike every last one of her costars, does not seem to be overpowered by hatred. The writers recognized that despite the grueling hours, despite the awful working conditions, despite the star of the show shouting “nigger nigger nigger” to entertain the crew between takes, Elson could still be believably nice. And sweet. And understanding.
And just as we know the writers weren’t that great at their jobs, we know Elson wasn’t that great at acting. No…what we saw throughout season two was a natural intersection between who Elson really was, and who the writers were smart enough to let her be. While I’m sure every one of her lines was scripted, I don’t think we’d have seen much of a difference if, in the scenes I’ve mentioned, the writers simply included a stage direction that said “Andrea cheers him up.”
Most satisfying to me, though, is the fact that their relationship wasn’t entirely one-way. Lynn didn’t live to serve ALF; he helped her, too…and you can count the times he’s helped others on one truly mangled hand. The most obvious example of this was surprise highlight “Oh, Pretty Woman,” which saw him shepherding her through a crisis of self-worth. It was a funny, sweet episode that went a long way toward convincing me that he cared about her at a depth greater than that of her vagina.
Of course, season two also introduced Jake, who seamlessly picked up right where ALF left off: trying to shove dicks in all of her holes.
Now, I like Jake…but I’m saying so as we close season three. When he was introduced in season two, he was a character with serious issues, and the fact that his secondary personality trait was that he wanted to cum in Lynn’s butt didn’t help the show stay in my good graces. (His primary trait was commenting on the spiciness of meatballs.)
The sexualization of Lynn is vaguely bothersome, and I can’t put my finger on it. (OOPS NOW I DID IT TOO.) I think, in this case, it’s because I have the real-world knowledge that Andrea Elson suffered from a particularly nasty eating disorder while working on this show, and I honestly wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that ALF so often treated her as a piece of meat…something for male characters to slobber over, make inappropriate comments about, and then toss along to the next one.
She was by no means the only actor to suffer for her time on ALF, but it does make me feel bad in a way that I don’t feel for the others. An underpants-clad Max Wright smoking crack in an abandoned warehouse will never not make me laugh…but Andrea Elson looking in the mirror and thinking she sees some fat, hideous monster staring back at her is just heartbreaking, and cosmically unfair.
So season two gave us the best possible relationship between Lynn and ALF…but it also retained the worst impulses and skeeviness of season one. The show giveth with one hand, and sexually assaulteth with with other.
Which brings us to season three…where we really complicate things. On the bright side, the show performed some course correction in terms of Jake’s lusting for Brian’s sister and Willie’s daughter (both of whom just sat there numbly while the kid joked about wanting to finger her savagely). Season three saw Lynn pushing him away — as evidenced notably in “Fight Back” — and the net result was that it now seemed more like cute flirtation than it did like unwelcome sexual advance. It didn’t take much…just a moment or two of assertiveness…to recontextualize the whole thing. And, in doing so, it freed Jake up to become a character who just happened to also be attracted to the neighbor girl. It was no longer one of his distinguishing traits, and he got to move on to more interesting business as a result. It was a win all around.
But that was the only win. ALF’s friendship with her all but vanished, which is odd to me. It was such a natural, effortless part of season two, but, for whatever reason, she became just another family member again in season three. Maybe ALF, like so many shitheads and fratboys before him, realized he wasn’t going to get any and therefore it wasn’t worth paying attention to her.
Whatever the case, we lost out on seeing their relationship develop (or at least sustain) over the course of the year. The single richest relationship in the show just…stopped. They were roommates, and that’s all. And that’s disappointing.
Not nearly as disappointing, though, as the increased focus on Lynn’s sex life, which formed the centerpiece of three different episodes.
Prior to this, Lynn dated. That’s understandable. But while she’d like Scott in “Don’t It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?” or bring Lizard to her parents’ Halloween party in “Some Enchanted Evening,” her romantic dabblings shifted into season three’s foreground…with often icky results.
This means that season three actually has the distinction of being the season that most developed Lynn as a character…but it developed her in the wrong direction.
“Stop in the Name of Love” is the first of the Lynnsertion Trilogy, and on its surface it’s just some dumbass episode about ALF being stuck in the back seat of a car during one of her dates. It’s a stupid, forgettable episode, which is fine. (God knows that’s not a complaint exclusive to “Stop in the Name of Love.”) But it does something bizarre along the way, introducing us to the idea that, between seasons, Lynn got engaged to her boyfriend Lloyd…then they made plans to marry in a planetarium…and then they broke up.
This is odd in every conceivable fucking way, not least because Lynn already had a recurring boyfriend in season two’s Lizard. (Though she went out with at least one other guy, Rick, during that time.) Now she was planning on marrying someone we never met and will never be referred to again. Which is strange…but not as strange as how quickly she rebounds from the fact that her fiance dumped her, and pounces immediately at some new guys: the Duckworth cousins. She wanted one, ALF hooked her up with another, but she ended up with the right one instead, so, like the whole planetarium wedding thing, it really wasn’t worth bringing up the complication to begin with.
Lynn bouncing among three men in the episode — so quickly and without more than a token nod at feeling sad about her broken engagement — diminishes her as a character, and makes us care less about her feelings. After all, if a woman can bounce back so quickly from losing her future husband, what can any of her romantic fumblings mean?
The three men thing carries on into “Promises, Promises,” without any of the three being the same. Neither Duckworth nor Lloyd have anything to do with Lynn’s indiscriminate fucking in “Promises, Promises.”
No, it’s Patchouli (though one commenter tells me it might actually have been Julie…I admit I still have no idea how to translate Wright Speak), Eddie, and Randy. The former (if it is a man) is evidently out of the picture by the time of the episode, and the latter is mainly a smokescreen to keep her dad off her back…because really what she wants is to be plowed by an inappropriately older man named Eddie.
It’s creepy, and off-putting. But not as creepy and off-putting as the fact that she keeps seeing him after she’s understandably forbidden to. ALF rats her out…and then the episode is about ALF apologizing for trying to keep her safe from the kind of oily bastard who cruises for teenage girls to fuck.
Within the reality of the show, of course, I know that Lynn isn’t being victimized. But outside of that reality…once you move beyond the boundaries of your TV screen…the episode is troubling.
Children are watching this. Young boys and girls. And they’re being shown many signs of a sexually manipulative relationship (much older partner, mandatory secrecy, lies and false arrangements) and seeing it framed as something trivial. ALF, for one rare (though unintentional) moment, does the right thing…and then he’s the one punished for it. Even Lynn’s mother doesn’t seem to care much. Oh, you’re still seeing that old guy that’s been touching you and telling you your parents can never find out? Kids will be kids!
It was disgusting, and while ALF has never been the most intelligent show, that was the first time I’d seen it be destructively stupid.
And then, finally, there was “Torn Between Two Lovers,” which saw Lynn’s love-life simplified by having only two men wanting to bone her. In fact, they were two men from previous episodes (Danny Duckworth and Randy), so I don’t have much to complain about there. But the outcome is a strange one. Throughout the episode it feels as though it’s building to Lynn’s realization that Danny isn’t very good to her (and he’s definitely not), but when it ends they’re still together. Randy is set up (as far as I can tell) as a better romantic choice for her, but she neither goes for him nor comes to the conclusion that she doesn’t need either dick inside her.
Of the three Fuckapaloozas, “Torn Between Two Lovers” is by far the least horrible (and it has a great moment of Lynn asserting herself toward the end), but it’s still disappointing, as it leads right up to — and deliberately falls short of — Lynn acting like a person and realizing that she doesn’t need this manipulative, controlling shit in her life.
Oh, and we can’t forget the hilarious “Turkey in the Straw,” which revealed that in spite of their hatred for their neighbors, the Tanners used to pair their naked children off with distant Ochmonek relatives for bathtime sexplay.
Happy Fappy, everyone!!
But you know what? Even as this show ran Lynn through the wringer — and introduced a hilarious recurring gag in which people THREW FOOD ALL OVER HER FUCKING FACE — she was still played by Andrea Elson. And because of that, the warmth never left her.
She was still there when ALF, or anyone, needed her. She was still prone to laughing at jokes her character probably wasn’t actually meant to laugh at. She still had a winning and sincere smile. She was still, in spite of everything, a happy and caring human being.
I know a few commenters have said that they had crushes on Lynn growing up. I don’t know if I can understand that completely, since Lynn is still just something on this show for ALF to bounce off of, but I can absolutely understand having a crush on Andrea Elson.
She’s a strong person. She has to be; everyone around her — Anne Schedeen included — has given up on this show. They’ve stopped trying. They’ve stopped pretending that they’re happy, smiling in promotional photographs, and saying nice things about it in interviews. They’ve given up. They spend every moment at work wishing they could go home, and every moment and home wishing they didn’t have to go to work.
She’s keeping it together. She’s fighting her own demons in her own way…but when the camera is rolling, she puts it all aside. She accentuates the positive. She can see the bright side, even on the set of cocksuckin’ ALF.
She may never have become much of an actor, but she was always a professional. She was a warmer and more genuine presence than this show deserved. She didn’t get many jokes — and didn’t often avoid stepping on the few she did get — but she was something others on this show so rarely are: convincing.
She acted like a sister to Brian. She acted like a daughter to Willie. She acted like a friend to ALF. She was something this show needed much more of: someone who is who we’re told she is.
I watch ALF now, and I find myself disarmed often by Elson. She gets harder and harder to make fun of as the episodes go by, because I appreciate the small breath of humanity that she represents. When she’s on screen I’m not trying to think of jokes to make…I’m looking for her to break into a fit of unexpected chuckles, or to smile in a way that’s too convincing to be false. I turn to her for the assurance that, yes, it is possible to make it through the entire run of ALF, and come out the other end feeling okay.
Lynn Tanner isn’t much of a character. But Andrea Elson sure is. And if we got to see behind the camera more often, I bet she’d even be the hero.
There’s one more season to go. And I admit I have no idea what they’re going to do with Lynn next.
But, whatever it is, we can make it through.