Never, ever can there be two good episodes of this shit in a row. Really, it’s getting annoying. Am I really asking for too much? I’m not even demanding more of them. However many good episode this show produced, that’s fine. Just once, though, I’d like to see them back to back. I’d like to get some welcome sense — however false — that the show is finding its footing. I’d love it if the show just seemed good for long enough for me to become delusional.
But, no. Once again, an enjoyable, funny episode with good ideas is followed by a lump of steaming horse crap. I shouldn’t be surprised by this point, and I’m not, but Jesus Christ I wish we could buck the pattern just once.
“Wanted: Dead or Alive” opens with ALF walking in on Lynn watching something. Judging by her face I assume it’s A Serbian Film.
I figured it was just Andrea Elson staring dead-eyed because the script didn’t tell her to do anything else, but from the context she is watching something affecting. What is it? I don’t know. I think it’s a real film, but I was unable to figure out the details. Apparently it stars Shelley Winters and ends with her singing about corn. Any idea what movie this is? Winters has a vast enough filmography that I can’t narrow it down based on that, but I’m sure it’s something I’ve never seen.
We hear cow noises or something, and then ALF spoils the ending for Lynn: the guy gets “gang-hoofed” by the cows, which is the rape joke I’m sure you were hoping you’d expose your kids to when you tuned in to watch a puppet show.
He spoiled the movie because he wants to watch Crime Stoppers, but Lynn tells him to fuck off. So he tells her to fuck off even harder, and she does, because the show is named after him, so she knows it’s pointless to argue.
So, there. “Wanted: Dead or Alive” begins with the show’s most obnoxious character shoving the show’s most likable and relatable character around just for the sake of it. This is going to be great!
ALF switches over to Crime Stoppers just in time to see Anderson Cooper talking about that week’s uncaught criminal. ALF delivers a zippy one liner about televangelists (he’s doesn’t care whose toes he steps on!), and…
…wait a minute. Isn’t that…
That’s Paul Fusco! ALF’s puppeteer appears on camera for the first time in this show! That’s a pretty significant occurrence. Sorry it took me a moment to realize who it was. Somehow I overlooked it, and…
…wait. Why is the picture so much sharper now? Did they just not bother to focus the camera the first time? My local access high school news show was more professional than this.
It really does seem that way. We see Fusco hosting the show in Beer-Goggle-Vision, then cut to ALF for a quick line, and when we see the TV again the show is actually in focus. That proves that they knew it was out of focus to begin with. Does nobody on this show do second takes? Jesus Christ.
Evidently the criminal is some guy who marries old ladies and steals all their money, but something goes wrong with the footage and instead of showing us the guy in question we instead see those pictures of Max Wright that The National Enquirer took this year.
Pretty nice Easter egg, ALF, telling a joke that wouldn’t pay off until 2015! I’m impressed.
ALF shits himself because that’s Willie, obviously. Personally I’d have assumed it was Andy Warhol. Yes, that guy died two years before this episode aired, but I’d be more likely to believe his zombified remains are robbing people than that more than one woman got suckered into marrying Willie.
So, that’s our setup for the week; Willie’s seen a million grandmas, and he’s rocked them all.
Or, rather, Willie looks like a criminal. There’s nothing wrong with that — It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia did more or less the same plot a few years ago, and that’s a much smarter show — and “Wanted: Dead or Alive” does at least try to make it interesting…but damn, trust me before we sink any deeper, this episode is pretty shit.
After the credits we see that the Ochmoneks are watching the same broadcast, and drawing the same conclusion. And hey, Mr. O! God, it feels like ages since we’ve seen him. Welcome back, John LaMotta. You are a sight for sore eyes.
This seems to be a different living room set than we last saw, but it’s possible they’re in the den or something. And I’m not complaining — continuity be damned — because the set design here is lovely. It’s perfectly in keeping with who I imagine the Ochmoneks are, and what their furnishings would look like. The TV dinners (with foil!) and TV trays while they watch…uh…TV are perfectly chosen details as well.
Sadly, the background detail here is the best thing about the episode.
The Crime Stoppers host mentions that there’s a $10,000 reward, so Mr. Ochmonek suggests — possibly in jest, though it’s nicely loaded — turning Willie in. Then they talk for a bit about how likely or not likely it is that Willie is the gigolo, and as much as I usually like the Ochmoneks it gets kind of annoying.
Mrs. Ochmonek ends up feeling rejected because Willie’s never tried to seduce her or whatever, and I swear to Christ that’s the last direction I ever wanted them to take her character. She could be revealed as a connoisseur of bestiality porn and I’d find that less revolting than the idea that she gets moist over Willie.
They fight for a bit about how Mr. Ochomenk isn’t romantic enough for her. Lady, I’ve watched 80 episodes of this shit. I’ve seen both husbands in action. Trust me, compared to Willie you married fucking Ryan Gosling.
I really don’t like the backpeddling on the Ochmoneks’ relationship — which is normally shown to be loving and romantic — but at least it’s happening in a shitty episode. That’ll make it a little easier to ignore.
ALF watches more of the show and wonders what he’ll do if Willie really is the perp. Would he turn him in, or hide him? I thought this would lead to a nice little reflection of the show’s premise; Willie, after all, was faced with the same issue way back in episode one. At any point he could have turned ALF in, but he kept hiding him, no matter how many times ALF set the house on fire or touched the baby’s butthole.
ALF realizing that he owes some kind of loyalty to Willie — who may be a criminal — could make for some pretty cool inner conflict…especially if the net result is that ALF concludes that Willie is a criminal and he should turn him in, but can’t because then he’d have nowhere to live. The ethical crisis then becomes one of survival.
But, no, that would be interesting, so Brian comes in and makes some joke about ALF getting high on catnip. So there’s the drug abuse joke I’m sure you were hoping you’d expose your kids to when you tuned in to watch a puppet show.
In the episode’s defense, we do get a little bit of this later on, but it still feels kind of tossed off in a strange way. For such an important kind of conflict it gets glossed over completely, until the end of the episode when we see only the barest sketches of it. As usual, this one is a few rewrites away from being a good episode, and that’s a shame because the episode does eventually stumble over what makes it interesting. Unfortunately, by that point there’s only one more page left in the script, and fucked if we’re starting over.
Anyway, ALF freaks Brian out when he presses him for details of Willie’s life. Then Lynn comes in and Brian, bitch face cranked to 11, says, “Lynn’s here. Can I go now?” Even this kid knows his role is eclipsed the moment literally anybody else steps onto the set.
ALF starts asking Lynn similar questions about Willie, and for someone who was so upset at him just a few moments ago she certainly seems to have a lot of patience and good humor right now. I’m assuming that’s because these scenes were shot on different days and nobody paid any attention to where they’d fit into the finished episode. Great work all around.
She listens to his questions and then dismisses them casually. “Why didn’t I go away to college?” she asks with a laugh.
Hey, Lynn, I’ll tell you why: because of ALF. Because of this hateful fuck-troll that keeps pissing on your dreams followed by you forgiving it immediately. And here you are, lightly chuckling about how fucked your life is. Tee hee hee!
You’re so close to being human, Lynn. Finish your evolution by murdering this thing with a garlic press.
Ugh, whatever. Later on ALF creeps up to Willie while he’s sleeping on the couch, and I assure you I have many times awoken from this precise nightmare.
Willie wakes up and ALF puts a wig on him and fuck this show.
The idea is that ALF is trying to disguise Willie so he won’t get caught, I guess? I don’t fucking know. I guess this means he concluded Willie really is the crook, and, honestly, this show is nowhere near smart enough to pull it off, but that could be a neat way of exploiting ALF‘s ropey characterization.
We’re in season four — the final season — and still don’t know who Willie is. Is he distant or loving? Is he a good husband or someone who ignores his pregnant wife’s cries for help? Is he a good social worker, like we keep hearing, or a violent imbecile, like we keep seeing? Is he an asshole or a saint? A loner or a friend? Does he hate his life or love the people that surround him?
We don’t know any of this for sure; one week we might get a definite answer, but then that gets overturned the next week. Nothing sticks. Willie’s character could be described as “pliant” if we want to be generous, but more accurately he’s a mess of unconnected and scrambled traits that have yet to intersect. Willie is a bunch of things, and he’s nothing at all.
I’m not saying that the show could (or should) pull off the idea that Willie really is the black widower, but the fact that we know so little definitive about him means that that could be our inroad into suspicion. Like Hitchcock’s (uh…) Suspicion, ALF could take the very few things we know about Willie and leave us to assume the worst about the rest. It could be a fun — and admirable — way to address the massive black hole that occupies a central role in this show…the one we’re supposed to call Willie.
But instead ALF gives Willie some Groucho glasses and a pair of pointy ears, and tries to get him to take a cruise to the Bahamas. Who cares. I have no idea what the logic of any of this is.
Willie tells him to eat a bag of dicks and goes to bed. Why he wasn’t sleeping in there in the first place, I have no idea. This episode thought so little about itself that it’s no wonder it didn’t end up thinking about ALF as a whole.
Then the phone rings, and ALF tells the caller that Willie moved to the Bahamas. It’s kind of dumb, until we find out that the caller was Mr. Ochmonek.
This…I kind of like. Both halves of the story dovetail nicely. ALF is trying to protect Willie, but in doing so he makes Mr. Ochmonek even more suspicious. Mr. O now not only saw a resemblance between Willie and the criminal, but he thinks Willie is disguising his voice and pretending to have left the country.
It makes sense that this would tip them into drawing a definite conclusion about Willie’s guilt, but before anything happens we have to listen to Mr. and Mrs. Ochmonek argue for a while over whether or not to turn Willie in. I guess that’s what they do to fill their lives after the tragic death of their teenage nephew.
Mr. Ochmonek ultimately calls Crime Stoppers and tries to collect the reward. And while that’s an asshole thing to do, I’m fine with it. On the one hand, I think his “tip” on the case is strong enough at this point to warrant a phone call. Sure, any “evidence” here could be (indeed is) circumstantial, but it’s not up to Mr. Fucking Ochmonek to solve crimes. He’s just reporting what he knows, which is what Crime Stoppers asked its audience to do.
And, hey, if this guy is dangerous and defrauding innocent people, this could just be Mr. O’s way of doing his civic duty. Maybe I’m stretching that last one a bit, since I don’t believe a word of it myself, but, honestly, at this point Mr. Ochmonek could walk over to the Tanner house with a nailgun and fire it directly through Willie’s skull and I’d still like the guy. (I’d like him even more, truth be told.)
One the thing I really find interesting is that, so far, the plot of this episode has unfolded without any influence from ALF. The Ochmoneks watched the show, the Ochmoneks drew their conclusion, and the Ochmoneks called the hotline. Yes, ALF saying Willie moved to the Bahamas helped the decision along, but it was leaning that way anyway. For once, ALF doesn’t seem like he’s causing the plot to spiral out of control.
He’s just a presence, and not a catalyst.
I like that, because I fucking hate ALF.
It’s also nice because it means other characters get to actually do something, but mainly I just fucking hate ALF.
The FBI comes to the door, which I guess is this show’s equivalent of a living room jam session with the Beach Boys. Seriously, this happens all the time. How often, exactly, is the government going to raid these assholes’ house? Did nobody on the writing staff ever say, “Maybe there’s a different way to advance this plot”?
It also bothers me that none of the government agents are ever seen twice. When you have the same character type show up 55 times over the course of your show’s run, how could you not think to make him a recurring character? It’s so odd. It would be like a milkman making deliveries in each episode, but it’s always a different milkman. Instead of “here’s two more FBI guys we’ll never see again,” why don’t we get regular appearances from Agent Doe and Agent Cardholder? You’re already using them constantly; cast them and make them characters.
My Doe and Cardholder reference there comes from The Venture Bros. I didn’t intend to explain that, but the more I think about it, the more I realize they’re a genuinely instructive example. In The Venture Bros., everybody is a character. Every line suggests a human being delivering it, rather than an actor reading from a script. Sure, sometimes the content of the line is no more than, “Hey, look at this!” But the delivery, the voice, the tone, the outfit, the expression on the character’s face…all of that adds up to at least a suggestion of a real character there. Even background characters who don’t get any lines are given so much personality through how they dress and how they move that they’re memorable.
Compare that to ALF, which doesn’t seem to have any interest in building character at all. In ALF‘s mind, everyone is disposable apart from the main character. So of course the FBI guys aren’t characters. The Tanners, who appear every week, aren’t even characters. In fact, they’re the very definition of disposable, as the cliffhanger at the end of the season reveals. If the planned season five really were to take place at the Alien Task Force base, we’d never see these people we spent four years with again. And, what’s more, the show would be no poorer for it. ALF should be embarrassed by that fact.
Speaking of characters, the disposable FBI guy on the left is played by David Alan Grier, who would move on to much better things the next year with In Living Color. I remember him being very funny there; one of the strongest talents on a show that had more talent than it gets credit for. In Living Color never achieved the cultural significance of Saturday Night Live, nor is it one of those sorely-missed sketch comedy underdogs like The State or Mr. Show, but I’ll go to bat for it. In my memory at least it was a pretty great show for its time.
The guys arrest Willie, which is the way each of these Beach Boy jam sessions must end. Man, Max Wright sure got arrested a lot on this show. I’m glad it’s a only work of fiction with no relation to reality.
The FBI guys hustle Willie into a room full of Max Wright clones, and I assure you I have many times awoken from this precise nightmare.
This might have been a fine enough sight gag on its own, but then Willie steps in gum and I guess that’s the punchline instead. I don’t know. What does stepping in gum have to do with anything? You took the time to build a whole new set and hire a bunch of people who vaguely look like Max Wright, and it’s all in aid of having him step in gum…which he could have done anywhere?
Who fucking knows anymore.
Back at the house ALF hides in a box like he did in “We’re So Sorry, Uncle Albert,” only instead of Lynn coming outside to comfort him Kate comes outside to rip his nipples off.
ALF explains to Kate that he didn’t turn Willie in, which is true, and that’s good. But he also says, “I knew you’d finger me,” which is the digital penetration joke I’m sure you were hoping you’d expose your kids to when you tuned in to watch a puppet show.
Kate points out that all of the evidence suggests ALF did something to fuck this up, and threatens to dissect him while he sleeps.
I missed this Kate…the one who flicks herself off to thoughts of ALF being hit by a car. She wasn’t nearly murderous enough when she was heavy with child — the child that once again everyone seems to have forgotten exists — and it’s nice to see her spring back pretty quickly to wishing him ill. If she keeps it up, I might just survive the rest of this season.
Back at the station Max Wright is living his lifelong dream, to be surrounded by willies.
They all place bets on which of them is guilty, which is probably a funny idea but in practice I hate this episode and therefore hate anything that isn’t the end credits.
David Alan Grier comes in and announces that Tanner’s story checks out, and he’s free to go. I have no idea what story of Willie’s checks out. “I didn’t do it,” I guess?
We never find out what his alibi was or why he’s cleared, or what they even investigated. The guy might as well have said, “The script says you’re free to go.”
It’s also pretty convenient that Willie was the first one they investigated and cleared. What about all the other Willies who have been here longer than him? Don’t they care that the new guy gets cleared and sent home first?
Anyway, one of the other Willies gets up and tries to pass himself off as our Willie, saying Kate must be worried sick. I like that, as Willie probably did try to make conversation with the other guys, and now this fake Willie is using his personal information against him.
Willie stops him and says that he’s the real Willie Tanner, which could have turned into something funny. At least potentially. They could have had a decent scene in which all of the Willies claim to be the Willie, and so the cops don’t know who to send home.
It wouldn’t make much sense because they could easily be fingerprinted or something to prove who was real, but I still think that would have been funnier than Willie stepping in gum.
Instead it doesn’t go anywhere. David Alan Grier just says, “Nice try, Mr. Fusco,” and lets the real Willie leave. So I guess the joke is that a guy named Mr. Fusco looks like Max Wright? I assure you Paul Fusco has many times awoken from this precise nightmare.
As Willie leaves he bumps into the Ochmoneks, and one of the FBI guys lets it slip that they were the ones who had Willie arrested for the reward money.
Willie gets pissy with them, which is fine, but he also says that he can’t believe that after all their years of being neighbors they’d treat him like this.
Yes, he actually says that without an ounce of irony. Look in the fucking mirror, Willie.
Mrs. Ochmonek apologizes to him which, yeah, that’s well-deserved, but when was the last time Willie apologized to them for anything? I don’t think it’s ever happened, and that guy’s constantly being a dick to them.
Okay, yes, they called Crime Stoppers on him, but isn’t it sort of the cops’ job to make sure they’re arresting the right person? That’s not the Ochmoneks’ fault. They just phoned in a tip. If the FBI fucked up and detained the wrong person (or, seemingly, people), that’s on them.
Whatever. Willie hates the Ochmoneks even more now. At least now he has the vaguest of reasons to, so I guess that’s progress. Now I’ll only think he’s 99% out of line when he stands around laughing at Mr. Ochmonek’s war injury and calling them fat and ugly.
Back at the house Benji Gregory is in the foreground of a shot for the first and last time in his career. Then Willie comes back and kicks one of the Ochmoneks’ lawn flamingos over because he’s a fucking dick.
ALF comes in to greet Willie and says, “I’m so excited I could leave a spot right here on the carpet.”
I hate this show.
Willie explains to the family that ALF, for once, had nothing to do with this. And, I admit, I like that. I mean, it’s not exactly true, since he tried to get Willie to take a cruise to the Bahamas and plied the kids with information about this criminal, all of which made Willie look guilty when the FBI showed up, but whatever. In theory I like it.
Then the episode finally does draw the parallel between Willie protecting ALF and ALF protecting (or trying to protect) Willie. Which, to be fair, justifies the concept of this episode, if not its fucking horrendous execution.
Then the family leaves Kate and ALF to sort out their conflict. Kate apologizes to him, and ALF tells her to blow it out her ass. He says that he gets along fine with everyone else in the house, so she must be the problem.
I HATE THIS SHOW
In the short scene before the credits ALF wears a wig and does his impression of a black person.
If you’re not watching these episodes along with me you might have trouble knowing when I’m making something up. So let me just assure you that I am making absolutely none of that up.
Have a spookily bigoted Halloween everyone!!!
Countdown to Jim J. Bullock existing: 4 episodes
Countdown to ALF being disemboweled in front of the Tanners: 21 episodes