At long last, we bid farewell to season three. And we’re doing it with the most anticipated event of the century: THE FUCKIN’ ALFIES BITCHES
I’m warning you now: this is your last chance to catch your breath before we dive headlong into the shitstack that is sure to be season four. Of course, there will be a few more chances to catch your breath during, as I’m sure to miss a few weeks for brain damage.
Whatever. This is the little thing I do after every season which nobody seems to enjoy but me but THAT IS OKAY BECAUSE I DO NOT WANT OR CARE ABOUT YOUR OPINION.
So sit back and enjoy The ALFies, brought to you by Cosmique Cosmetics, Alan Thicke’s World of Ants, and the Alien Task Force…now with one convenient location!
And also by Kettle Chips. Kettle Chips: When you want the great taste of kettles, but you’d rather eat a chip. Kettle Chips!
The ALFie for…
Whither The Midget? IMDB lied to me…it said that he appeared in “Tonight, Tonight” (presumably in a clip), but my Midget Vision failed me. He wasn’t there as far as I could tell, and so my running joke of crowning him Best Actor Emeritus comes to an end. Once I realized he wasn’t in his single credited episode for season three, I figured I’d give this one to Anne Schedeen. After all, my favorite thing about The Midget was the hairy garbage bag they made him wear…and I felt kind of bad that Schedeen — who actually has been a good actor — kept losing out to my dumb gag. But then season three rolled on and…she just wasn’t that good anymore. She had her moments (her double “are you fucking kidding me?” faces when Willie proposes a funeral for ants is an all-time highlight), but overall you could tell she was done. And while I don’t blame her, it does mean that she wasn’t actually the best actor this time around. No, that’d be Josh Blake, who did the impossible and made ALF‘s Cousin Oliver an actual character, and one worth paying attention to. Blake not only did his best with the material he was given, but he seemed invested in turning Jake into someone who actually deserved the audience’s time. He may have been a late game addition to the cast, he may have been almost completely MIA in the first half of the season, and he may never appear again, but Josh Blake did enough good work in his short window of time that he deserves the first unironic ALFie. Congratulations, kid. Now let’s never speak of you again.
The ALFie for…
I love Joan Embery. I really do. She’s an intelligent and passionate animal-rights activist, with a genuine charm and warmth. She’s worked with the San Diego Zoo for decades (still does, as far as I can tell), and hosted educational nature programming on television in many different capacities, from her own shows to segments on kids’ programming like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Xuxa. Where she really captured the public’s eye (and heart) however was The Tonight Show, as her genuine love for and knowledge of the animal kingdom combined with Johnny Carson’s quick wit to create some truly memorable television. It makes sense that ALF would invite her along for its own ride through Tonight Show territory, but it doesn’t make sense that it would ask her to sit quietly and speak only when spoken to. Those weren’t her strengths, and it shows. While she sits with Lucky on her lap — the cat’s only appearance in season three, as far as I can remember — and stiltedly recites scripted banter with a hand puppet, it’s hard not to feel uncomfortable on her behalf. She’s absolutely terrible here, but that makes sense; she’s explicitly being asked not to do the things she’s good at, because those things require a level of responsiveness that Paul Fusco isn’t capable of. As a result the segment fails to elevate ALF to her heights, and succeeds only in bringing her down to his lows. It’s a joyless reminder of how much fun it usually is to watch Embery, and it’s one more reason ALF can go fuck himself.
The ALFie for…
BEST NEW CHARACTER
Yes, defying all expectations, Eric Tanner is easily my favorite new character. How could he not be? He just arrived on the show and already he can’t fucking stand ALF. After a season’s worth (okay…two episodes throughout a season‘s worth) of buildup, baby E.T. finally arrives on the scene and…immediately turns away and ignores ALF’s desperate cries for attention. It’s a beautiful thing to see a newborn with such presence of mind, realizing within his first day on the planet that he’s trapped in the worst show imaginable. He’s already beyond giving a shit about pretending to enjoy himself, which it took the rest of the cast somewhere between one and three seasons to admit to themselves. Eric, you’re a waste of space, but you understand that, and that’s why I respect you. You’ll never achieve the incredible height of the little girl who wanted to kill ALF way back in “Looking for Lucky,” but I’d like to think that’s just because you can’t talk yet. While the naked puppet monster spews sixty-year-old pop culture references at the back of your head, I’m keen to believe you’re thinking the very things she said. Noiseless Chatter salutes you.
The ALFie for…
BEST REASON TO STOP WATCHING THE SHOW
I loved ALF as a kid. I really did. I had the Burger King hand puppets, the little plastic toys, the stuffed doll…and probably a bunch of other ALF crap I can’t remember. I used to watch it all the time, and I’d get worried if we were out and I thought we wouldn’t make it home quickly enough to catch the new episode. But at some point, my enjoyment of the show began to falter, and by “Do You Believe in Magic?” I must have been pretty ready to turn in my fan club membership. That’s the episode with the scene that made me realize…well…maybe the show wasn’t all that great after all. Even as an undiscriminating watcher of bullshit of all kinds, I knew that there was something painfully lazy about ALF asking for Willie’s watch so he can smash it, and then Willie handing him that watch and getting pissed that it’s smashed. It wasn’t clever…it was just mindless. It’s not even the stupidest thing Willie does in the episode (that’d be giving ALF actual US currency to burn), but something about its unapologetic idiocy turned me off, and it was a change I’ve never felt compelled to second guess.
The ALFie for…
MOST UNFORTUNATE MUSIC RIGHTS EDIT
HEY LOOK. It’s an ALFie being given not for snark, but for historical interest. See, in “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” (which, rest assured, was utter shit), Mr. Ochmonek is sitting in the Tanners’ kitchen, listening to some crappy library rock music. He turns off the radio and observes, “That Sinatra sure could sing.” The joke, obviously, is that the song sounded nothing like Sinatra. Willie says that it sounded like Pink Floyd…but no, it fucking didn’t you asshole. Well, here’s what apparently happened: the show did license a Pink Floyd song for that joke, but it was replaced in subsequent airings and on home video with “The Royalty-Free No-Name Boogie.” I wouldn’t normally care, but Mr. Ochmonek introduces the song as being his and his wife’s favorite…which means that we have some potential character work here. Someone’s favorite song — especially a couple’s favorite song — says a lot about who they are, what they enjoy, what they hope for. We know it’s Pink Floyd, but that doesn’t help much. If their favorite song is “Comfortably Numb” that means something different from their favorite song being “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” which means something different from their favorite song being “Time.” Music rights issues are always annoying, but in this case it’s worse than usual; ALF pre-dates the internet boom, and nobody seems to remember (or have a recording of) the original music. All we know is that ALF revealed exactly once the name of the Ochmoneks’ favorite song…and it’s since been lost to the ages. That’s not ALF‘s fault, but we’re poorer for not knowing. (Mine is “Wot’s…Uh the Deal?” Remember it, because the next time you read this post I’ll have replaced it with “Generic Rock Song.”)
The ALFie for…
WORST FAKE TV SHOW
It’s important to keep in mind that “Tonight, Tonight” wasn’t framed as a fantasy episode. ALF isn’t dreaming, or thinking about the idea while he masturbates in the tub. “Tonight, Tonight” was Paul Fusco’s late-night pitch package, a proof of concept that ALF could thrive in other contexts…ones that were — importantly — free of those pesky fellow cast members who wanted laugh lines now and then. While Paul Fusco got to appear on the actual Tonight Show set and work with actual Tonight Show staff, nobody else from ALF was invited to share the experience. Ace commenter kristin shared some photos a few weeks back of the old warehouse that contained the ALF set; the cast and crew of America’s Worst Puppet Show had to attend to their solemn duties in the middle of an industrial park, in a large, windowless cell that didn’t scream “showbiz” so much as it screamed “65 hour work week.” These photos were posted in support of Justin, who wrote, “It has been said that one of the reasons the cast was so miserable is because they were literally surrounded by factories and warehouses. You didn’t have that magical ‘studio lot’ feeling that you so often get when you walk around one.” When ALF got to stand on a real stage — with real credibility, working with real talent — Fusco made sure the rest of the cast stayed behind in squalor and misery, where they belonged. It was a pretty clear “fuck you” to his costars, but the worst thing about it is that it wasn’t even worth it. The Tonight Show, Starring ALF was garbage, and even fans of ALF shiver when they think of “Tonight, Tonight.” Fusco set out to prove that his character could succeed anywhere, but only foreshadowed the reasons he’d be relegated to Radio Shack commercials twenty years later.
The ALFie for…
MOST OVERTLY ABANDONED PLOTLINE
Don’t ask me what they were going for when they did it, but the writers turned some pretty meaty portions of their season finale over to clips of The Dick Van Dyke Show. And, hey…there are worse things to be watching. I can’t fault it for quality, but I can damned well fault it for relevance. As Kate prepares to give birth to Eric, ALF watches the Petries prepare to have their own little bundle of joy. Thematically that’s fine…but there’s no follow-through, meaning we just cut every so often to ALF watching an unrelated and much better show. The writers never bother to build to any kind of payoff, making it pretty clear that they’re just padding their runtime and aren’t interested in exploring their own story. It’s definitely one of the most mystifying things I’ve seen ALF do, but I have a feeling I ain’t seen mystifying ALF decisions yet.
The ALFie for…
BEST PICTURE OF WILLIE THAT MAKES IT LOOK LIKE THE CRACK HOBO SUCKING HIM OFF JUST BIT DOWN
This is not only a picture of Willie that makes it look like the crack hobo sucking him off just bit down; this is the best picture of Willie that makes it look like the crack hobo sucking him off just bit down.
The ALFie for…
WORST FLASHBACK OR FANTASY SEQUENCE
Admittedly, this was a tough call. Season three had a hell of a lot of flashback / fantasy bullshit, and Willie’s hippie dream with a caption that suggested he’d been asleep for four years was a strong contender. Then there was the dreary silent noodling of “Like an Old Time Movie,” which was, to be generous, fucking terrible, and part of me really, really wants to give the ALFie to that episode just so I can kick it one last time in the balls. But “Suspicious Minds” ultimately wins this one, simply because we didn’t know we were watching a fantasy. In “My Back Pages” there was no secret made of the fact that Willie was dreaming, and “Like an Old Time Movie” had ALF and Jake at a typewriter hammering this shit out. Similarly, when Angel Bob turned up in “Stairway to Heaven” it was pretty fucking clear the new timeline wasn’t going to stick. But “Suspicious Minds” not only gave us an unfunny, pointless story about ALF meeting Elvis, but it withheld until the end of the episode the information that this didn’t actually happen. It was a needless punch in the neck for anyone who bothered watching to the end. “You stuck with this shit?” it seemed to say. “Well, fuck you, because none of it was real!” It would make a little more sense if Aaron King actually was Elvis, but the open possibility that he was just an obsessive Elvis fan meant that there was an in-universe out that the show decided not to take, preferring instead to dick over the audience. ALF, I’m aware that you’re going to spin fantasy story after fantasy story. All I ask is for a little bit of honesty up front, so that I know what I’m making fun of.
The ALFie for…
CREEPIEST SEXUAL MOMENT
Here’s another one with some damned strong competition. Remember, we had three episodes focusing on Lynn’s sex life, and one of the season’s most unfortunately memorable moments was Officer Willie slapping ALF around with a floppy black dildo. But, no, the absolute creepiest, most revolting moment comes in an episode that sees ALF trying to get Jake laid. The worst part is that that’s not even the problem; later on ALF starts lusting after Jake’s underage sweetheart himself. Wait, that’s not even the worst part. “Standing in the Shadows of Love” manages to out-revolt itself yet again with the short scene before the credits, which — a propos of nothing — sees ALF violently orgasming to the sound of a dog whistle. Why? Fuck you, that’s why. In an episode that should have already been the creepiest based on its premise alone, ALF manages to find new ways to disgust. When you watched this show as a kid were you waiting with bated breath for the scene in which ALF would writhe on the ground in sexual ecstasy? I sure as fuck wasn’t, but here we are. We get to watch ALF cum all over himself to the inaudible erotic shriek of a dog whistle. And as horrible as so much of the other sexual crap was this season, nothing could possibly top a scene in which ALF actually ejaculates in front of two kids. This was a classic show and I’m glad to revisit it!
The ALFie for…
WORST LOW-CONCEPT EXECUTION OF A HIGH-CONCEPT PREMISE
The Christmas episode that for some reason wasn’t a Christmas episode sees ALF putting a spin on It’s a Wonderful Life. You know…like it did in that last Christmas episode with the suicidal man named George being stopped from jumping of a bridge. This time ALF meets his guardian angel, Bob, who shows him what life would be like if he’d never met the Tanners. And, really, you don’t get too much higher concept than that. What you’re essentially doing with an episode like this is unraveling your show’s entire premise and knitting it back up another way. It can be fun…and it can certainly be clever. But jeez oh man does this episode aim low. The biggest change, as far as I can tell, is that Mrs. Ochmonek burps. What’s ALF up to in this alternate timeline? Oh, he’s selling makeup on the phone. You know. Like he already did way back at the start of season one. ALF is a show of infinite possibility, which makes it immensely frustrating when you realize how creatively bankrupt its writing staff must be. Evidently the comic books did a story about ALF crashing into the Ochmoneks’ garage rather than the Tanners’ (hat tip to whomever told me that! [EDIT: it was star commenter kim]), which is a very simple shift that would almost guarantee some interesting character work, and make for an alternate reality worth spending at least a little bit of time in. (Seriously…how would the Ochmoneks react to him?) Instead the show’s writers couldn’t even be as creative as the shitty spinoff cash-in comic books, and we got a rehash of an idea from season one embedded in what was already a rehash of an idea from season two. Great job, guys.
The ALFie for…
BEST MEAT SUIT
I liked “Superstition.” It was a lot of fun, and, for my money, it had one of the better punchlines ALF‘s ever managed: the simple, quiet, “Sorry about the book…” that undercuts the elaborate absurdity of the Bibliocide Ritual. ALF often leads us down long paths of meandering bullshit, but so rarely does it find a worthwhile payoff at the end. But one of the best things about “Superstition” was the meat suits. In particular: Willie’s meat suit. Because all of Melmac’s rituals involved food or date rape we got lucky that this is what the Tanners were asked to do. But while the cheap sight gag of sausages hanging around Kate’s neck isn’t exactly worth celebrating, somebody in the props or wardrobe department deserves props for Willie’s wardrobe. (SEE WHAT I DID THERE) He’s the only one, after all, who keeps his meat in the package…a perfect character observation, and absolutely in line with the kind of guy I keep wishing Willie actually was. He not only doesn’t want to get his clothes greasy, but he doesn’t want to waste perfectly good lunchmeat. It’s a great detail, and it’s enhanced by the pleasing visual accident that Oscar Mayer’s packaging resembles military epaulettes when worn on the shoulders. Somebody, at some point, decided not to just drape this crap over Max Wright…but to turn it into a fun detail of its own. It’s the sort of thing no writing room would hit upon themselves; it takes somebody putting the outfit together to realize that there can be another level to the comedy. And, for once, “Superstition” put forth the effort to reach that second level. I’m glad they did…because otherwise this scene would have just been a bunch of bologna. B-)
The ALFie for…
WORST MUSICAL MOMENT
HEY GUYS DID YOU KNOW I HATE “PROMISES, PROMISES?” Well, good news! There was even more shit in that episode than I could bring myself to talk about. Such as this sequence, which I glossed over completely, in which a vaguely Mexican ALF sings “Cielito Lindo” to Lynn as an apology for ratting out her elderly fuckbuddy. ALF screaming Hispanic gibberish in the back yard would have been enough to merit my ire — how little do they care about keeping ALF a secret, again? — but him doing it in aid of making amends for something he shouldn’t even be sorry for is tremendously misjudged. On top of that, though? “Cielito Lindo” is best remembered today as the fucking Frito Bandito song, so just for an extra layer of idiocy you can picture ALF’s musical apology for busting Lynn’s relationship with her rapist being delivered in the style of a racist corn chip mascot. “Ay, ay, ay, ayyyyyyy…IIIII’m ver-ry sor-ry!” ALF sings, because we live in a shitty world and deserve this.
The ALFie for…
EPISODE THAT COULD HAVE BEEN AWESOME WITH A MINOR REWRITE
“Hide Away” contained several stories that needed to be told, but I’m not sure if the writers were aware of any of them. For starters, there’s the fact that we’re finally meeting one of Willie’s colleagues. Willie bringing a coworker home would be a great way of fleshing out his work life…a major aspect of the character that the show seems stubbornly disinterested in developing. Then there’s the fact that our title character is a lonely shut-in, and so is Willie’s coworker. For different reasons Jimbo is living much the same life as ALF; they have almost nothing but common ground, and this should be the first (or maybe second) time ALF really should meet the guest of the week. But instead the episode is just one long, uncomfortable joke at Jimbo’s expense, with the family treating him like shit for being a poor, boring, lonely guy whose parents are dead. You know…the sort of thing social workers do whenever they hear that somebody’s going through a rough patch. So instead of developing Willie’s work life, helping ALF to see that he shouldn’t be a pissy-wissy fuckface to people because they might have a lot in common, or Willie pulling it together and realizing that there’s more to being a social worker than beating people up and spitting on them, we get some half-assed story about the FBI and the fake FBI, and also ALF installs a satellite dish. Okay, yes, “minor rewrite” is being pretty polite, as this was several drafts away from coherency let alone awesomeness, but the guest star and the central concept both deserved the attention. “Hide Away” should have been a series highlight. Instead it’s just another 20 minutes of padding between credit sequences.
The ALFie for…
MOST UNFORTUNATE TIMING
It’s bad enough that Jake has to go. The kid was the only reliable highlight of season three, after all. And while scheduling conflicts kept him from having much of a presence until the season’s back half, he made the most of his time. Which is good, because — for whatever reason — he won’t be returning for season four. (Honestly: does anyone know why that is?) That’s unfortunate enough…but what makes his absence so darkly perfect is the coincidence of “Shake, Rattle and Roll” marking his last appearance. That episode saw ALF having a crisis of mortal awareness, and he was driving everybody crazy by talking about how tenuous life is. The Tanners manage to shut him the fuck up by the time the episode ends, and, sure enough, none of them die. ALF’s concerns were unfounded…in their cases. In Jake’s, however, it feels retroactively prescient. In Jake’s final scene in the entire show, ALF delivers a litany of ways the kid could be killed the moment he leaves the shed. Jake tells him that’s a load of crap, leaves the shed…and never returns. I’m sure we never find out exactly why Jake vanished, but ALF‘s hilariously poor timing makes it all too easy to conclude that one of ALF’s predictions was correct. I’ll never stop being amused by this…at least not until the marvelously ill-conceived cliffhanger at the end of season four steals the Most Unfortunate Timing award for good.
The ALFie for…
Truly, season three’s back half belonged to Jake. He had great minor roles throughout, but got one genuinely strong spotlight toward the end: “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow,” an episode whose title, at last, is the most annoying thing about it. Here we explore the reason he’s in L.A. to begin with, digging into his home life and his upbringing, and managing to define an entire family of characters in a few simple scenes of dialogue and human interaction. ALF has never been good at characterization, but both Jake and his mother are well enough painted (and well enough acted) that the sadness between them is immediately recognizable, and all too understandable. Yes, I’m fully aware that my own experiences inform my reading of this episode, but I can’t say enough how drastic an improvement it is from “Tequila,” an earlier example of ALF trying to spin a moral from the same demons I’ve had to fight in the past. Identifying is one thing, but enjoying is quite another. “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow” managed to get both responses out of me…and I’m not being sarcastic when I say that that’s no mean feat. It wasn’t heavy-handed in its execution, and it left us with a complicated morality. Sometimes you do have to leave the ones you love. Sometimes the most painful way forward is also the right one. And your family isn’t the one you’re born into; it’s the one you build for yourself. This episode, and a few others, have exceeded my expectations of ALF as a whole, and have entirely justified this review series for me. No back-handed compliments with this one; I thought it was very well done, and it’s proof that ALF was capable of so much more than it often bothered to give us.
The ALFie for…
…and then there’s this shit. Yeah, I know, this Worst Episode award is surprising to nobody; I never shut up about how much I hate this one, so I guess the most surprising thing is that “Like an Old Time Movie” is getting away without one final savaging. The thing is that “Like an Old Time Movie” was fuckawful, but it was easy to ignore. “Promises, Promises” was not, and it remains icky to me. I took an extra week to review “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow” because it deserved the additional thought. I took an extra week to review “Promises, Promises” because I couldn’t bear to think about it. Obviously my dissatisfaction with it is well documented by this point, and I don’t really have much to add to what I’ve already said…but I think it’s worth repeating that I’ve never seen a show present such worrying material in such a normal way. ALF must have been staffed by some truly warped individuals, because so much of what happens on this show (shitty marriages, shitty people, awful social workers, inappropriate underage sexual situations, toxic relationships, and so on) is just treated…normally. They’re not jokes, they’re just aspects of the characters and how they interact with each other. Their behavior is regular behavior and nothing to worry about…which is the most worrying thing of all. “Promises, Promises” did a great job of outlining the warning signs of a dangerous, sexually manipulative relationship…and then spun it into a story about ALF feeling bad and Kate being more worried about some never-before-mentioned knick-knack than she is about her daughter’s safety. It’s gross, it’s inhuman, and it’s irresponsible. It’s also, unquestionably, the biggest reason I’m looking forward to season four: it’ll give me something new to bitch about.
That’s that, Mattress Man. Join me next week as we dive into ALF‘s final stretch. In the meantime, see if you can come up with six more dismaying words than “Jim J. Bullock joins the cast.”