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ALF Reviews: “Mind Games” (season 4, episode 5)

November 12th, 2015 | Posted by Philip J Reed in alf

ALF, "Mind Games"

I’ve more or less resigned myself to the fact that we’ll never see Jodie again. On any other show, this would register as mild disappointment at best. After all, while a great character may be retired on those shows, there will be other reasons to tune in from week to week. That’s why they’re great; our enjoyment doesn’t hinge upon one or two small things that we hope will make an appearance. On ALF, however, her loss is significant.

As you probably remember, “For Your Eyes Only” was the first episode of ALF that I genuinely enjoyed, and it’s still something of a high water mark for the series. ALF befriending a blind woman wasn’t just a great idea; it had solid followthrough. It was a funny episode that also managed to make me feel sad for the insane alien rapist who lived in the laundry basket. There was a sweet and welcome honesty to his relationship with Jodie, and while I’ve enjoyed other episodes since, that’s still the first one that comes to mind when I reflect on my favorites.

She returned in “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” which was nowhere near as good, but was still enjoyable. Jodie’s actress brought a unique, fragile charm to the show, and though I’m sure she was created for ALF to spit blind jokes at, she still managed to be human. She wasn’t simply a target; she was a friend. She was some cross-dimensional emissary from a parallel universe version of ALF that let characters be characters, and I loved having her around…however briefly.

But she’s not in this season, as far as I can tell, and she wasn’t around in season three, either.

Jodie’s gone, and ALF has apparently decided it didn’t need one of its most effective characters, and one of its few genuine achievements, after all. Coupled with the fact that Jake didn’t survive to season four, this does not bode well for characterization in ALF‘s final stretch.

Jodie did make one final appearance in “We Are Family,” which sucked on toast. But that’s hardly her fault, and her appearance was arguably the best thing about the episode. Only arguably, though, because that episode also saw a visit from Dr. Dykstra…the other character I always mention when listing ALF‘s few genuine achievements.

Dr. Dykstra first appeared in the best episode of season one, “Going Out of My Head Over You.” He was a psychologist friend of Willie’s, and he’s obviously someone the family trusts deeply. After all, they deliberately revealed ALF’s existence to him. And yes, okay, since then ALF has met everyone in LA, most everyone who has ever visited America, and 194 of 266 Popes…but at the time, ALF meeting another human was something that actually mattered. (See also, and not coincidentally, Jodie.)

Then he appeared in the great season two episode “I’m Your Puppet.” That’s when the show (surprisingly, incredibly) turned the camera back on itself, and gave us a full half-hour of meta commentary and vented frustrations. As with “Going Out of My Head Over You,” Dr. Dykstra’s appearance seemed to indicate that we were watching something smarter than the average episode. The writers used him where — and only where — he’d do the absolute most good. He was deployed, it seemed, only when an episode deserved him.

And, like Jodie, he had two major appearances, followed by a minor one in “We Are Family.” And that was it.

Until now. Jodie may be gone. Jake’s body may be cooling in the ground. But Dr. Dykstra is going to grace us with his presence one final time.

This episode and one other (“Fever”) represent the last of my high hopes for season four. Let’s see if this one at least lives up to its pedigree.

Oh, right, the opening scene. ALF tries to get the family to play the home version of Jeopardy! with him. They each in turn tell him to suck a dick.

ALF, "Mind Games"

Later on ALF watches Willie solder some shit.

I do actually like this. In the opening scene Brian was on his way to his Scout meeting, which was a nice bit of unexpected continuity. Furthering that, Willie was on his way to outside to work on his ham radio…which is his longest-standing hobby, being as we first saw him messing around with it in the pilot. (I guess it’s also possible that his ham radio fucked with ALF’s navigation system, causing the alien to crash into the garage in the first place, which is as good an argument against building a ham radio as I can possibly imagine. But I don’t think there was any definitive connection there.)

On top of that, ALF referred to Lynn as a college student, and Kate…well, Kate drove Brian to the Scout meeting, because she’s a woman, and it’s her job to take care of the kids while Willie dicks around in the shed. (Eric is not mentioned, but since everyone is doing something else, we can rest assured that he’s weakly gurgling for help from the family that will never hear him.)

All of this continuity is interesting to me, and the credited writer for the episode is Jerry Stahl…your vote for the identity of the One Good Writer. On top of that, we know Dr. Dykstra shows up. These are great signs; all of the ingredients are in place for a pretty good episode of ALF.

Willie then explains to ALF why he’s fascinated by the ham radio. Sure, he could pick up the phone and call anyone he wants, but he says that ham radios are about the challenge. It’s about teaching yourself how to make machines behave the way you want them to behave. It’s about using your own two hands to create, to connect, to converse. To conjure up strange voices from all over the world. And, man, this is awesome. It’s not brilliant writing or anything, but for one of Willie’s hobbies to have an actual justification…I feel spoiled. It means that somebody didn’t just say, “Willie likes ham radios.” They asked, “Why does Willie like ham radios?” and then they answered it.

It’s like what happened in “Night Train” on a smaller scale. That episode explored Willie’s model train hobby, and fleshed out his backstory in doing so. This episode, at least in part, is taking a recurring detail that began in the pilot and giving us a reason behind it. And even if this episode turns out to be shit, SPOILER it does SPOILER, I appreciate that.

Anyway, Willie’s trying to install some whatever the fuck thing so he can talk to Australia, and he says he’s been at it for three months. ALF twists a screwdriver and that does whatever it’s supposed to do and some guy with a shitty sitcom Australian accent immediately comes over the radio to greet them. Hilarious. At least it shut Willie up and we don’t have to worry about him getting a chance to become an actual character before the show ends.

ALF, "Mind Games"

Later on ALF is bothering Brian. He’s irritating the family because he’s bored; there’s nothing on TV, he says, and he’s read all the books in the house.

I call significant bullshit on the latter since we’ve only ever seen ALF read tabloids and Cyrano de Bergerac, and we know that Willie has a pretty meaty library in the garage. Even a voracious reader would need substantial time to get through all of that. What’s more, ALF at no point acts like a well-read individual. Shit…he can’t sit still, so when exactly is he plowing through Willie’s Modern Library collection? You think this jackass who can’t go two seconds without dancing a jig on the coffee table sat quietly for several weeks and read Ivanhoe? I sure as hell don’t.

Brian is working on earning his Bachelor Living merit badge. I’d make fun of that, but this is great preparation for Benji Gregory’s life without a steady paycheck.

ALF tells him that the dinner he’s making sucks balls, then he does a conga with broccoli and throws vegetables around the room. You know, like everyone well-versed in world literature is wont to do.

ALF, "Mind Games"

Next it’s his turn to piss off Lynn. He does so by sleeping instead of exercising with her, or something. Dr. Dykstra, take me away.

I find it interesting that in each case ALF is meant to be bothering the family member, but he actually helped Willie. It would have been better if he got hair inside the ham radio or something, so that even if he installed the Aussie-to-English translator he’d still leave Willie with a reason to be upset. As it stands ALF just helped him do something he was already having trouble doing himself, so why does that make Willie angry? Think of all the extra time this leaves him with to not help his wife raise any of his kids.

I do have to admit I like the little vignettes of ALF interacting one on one with each of the family members in turn. I mean, they’re shitty vignettes, yeah, but it’s an interesting impulse and it helps a show that’s four years old find a little bit of freshness in its approach.

Then ALF goes…

ALF, "Mind Games"

…back to the shed? That’s odd. We already had the Willie scene out here.

I mean, okay, this set does make sense for both scenes. Willie’s ham radio is in there, and Kate is refinishing a bureau which is a valid thing to do in the shed. Fine.

But it’s odd that we’re here with just Willie, leave for a bit, and then come back to see just Kate. Why not have her do this in the driveway or something instead, for the sake of giving us a fourth location? That would help the “isolated adventures with each member of the family” thing land a bit more strongly.

And speaking of which, since Kate is in the shed, why isn’t Willie helping her do this? He’s just had his entire afternoon freed up thanks to ALF re-kafoobling the energy-mo-tron, or whatever. Can’t he help his wife do anything? Ever? Did he leave her to lug the fucking bureau out here by herself, even though he was going out to the shed anyway?

This fuckin’ guy, people.

ALF tells her that the thing she’s doing is really fucking boring, even compared to all the fucking boring fucking things her fucking boring family fucking does.

She tells him not to touch the bureau, so he does and then she has to rip his hand off of it. She apologizes to him even though he just fucked up her entire project by doing what he was specifically asked not to do. He complains that he doesn’t have a middle finger.

DR. DYKSTRA WHERE R U

ALF, "Mind Games"

Oh. There…you are. I guess?

It’s a really odd moment. There’s no transition at all. ALF leaves the shed, then the family is making dinner in the kitchen and Dr. Dykstra walks in. Willie asks, “What’s your professional opinion?” And that’s it.

No introduction. No scene of Willie deciding to call his old friend the psychologist. Just Dr. Dykstra strolling into the room as though he lives in the broom closet and struts into and out of the Tanners’ lives as necessary.

At least he’s immediately funny, though. He tells Willie, “He’s bored.”

Willie asks if there isn’t some deeper, underlying psychological reason.

Dr. Dykstra, straight-faced, replies, “Maybe boredom.”

A moment like that goes a long way toward showing what a real comic talent can do with mediocre material. The “boredom” bit isn’t inherently funnier than most ALF dialogue, but it works because of the performance. Dailey knows how to deliver a line in a way that Max Wright — who could easily have had the exact same exchange with Kate in a Dykstra-free episode — doesn’t. In other words, Dailey knows how to make material work, even when the material doesn’t necessarily deserve it. He’s willing to do the heavy lifting as an actor, rather than settle for reading the lines he’s paid to read and then go home.

This is why I love having him around. Even if his previous episodes had been crap, he’d still be able to make his lines work, at least. And that would unquestionably have been worth watching.

Dr. Dykstra then explains to the Tanners that ALF is an adult, something that the family (and viewers) would be forgiven for forgetting. Plying ALF with video tapes and games and toys will only keep him occupied for so long, as he needs to be engaged with as an adult and not as a child or a pet.

That’s a valid observation, but I’m waiting to hear what he has to say about the fact that it’s been four weeks since the Tanners last acknowledged their third child.

I was a bit worried this would be Dr. Dykstra’s only scene, setting up the second half of the episode in which the family tries to treat ALF like an adult With Hilarious Consequences, but, fortunately, he’s hanging around for dinner at least.

ALF, "Mind Games"

Man, nobody can rock a hot pink sweater like Bill Dailey. All you fuckers better respect.

Kate serves everyone and Dr. Dykstra says, “Thank you, Kate.” I fall out of my chair at hearing these words for the first time in 81 episodes. All it takes is one guy acting like a human being to make you remember what a bunch of self-absorbed, shitty assholes the Tanners are.

Dr. Dykstra initiates conversation with Willie, asking about work. Willie falters desperately because this is an area of his character’s life that’s never been developed at all, but eventually he decides to spin some bullshit story about a colleague who is “competitive.”

By this Willie means that the guys wants raises and promotions ahead of Willie, which sounds fine to me. Working hard while Willie Cuntin’ Tanner gets raise after raise and promotion after promotion for doing nothing sounds like a living nightmare; no wonder this guy has it out for him.

In fact, I’m sure the writers aren’t aware of how significantly Willie undercuts his own argument, but he actually says that this guy is taking on a bigger case-load than he is. So he really does do more work than Willie, and is therefore bettering the lives of more clients. You know…the kind of thing social workers are supposed to do instead of bitching endlessly about competitive coworkers.

THIS FUCKIN’ GUY

Anyway, after Willie’s done pissing and moaning, he turns and asks ALF for his opinion.

ALF, in a great visual moment, is stunned by being asked to contribute to the conversation. It’s really well acted, actually, with some very effective puppeteering from Paul Fusco. I like it.

Willie explains that he values ALF’s judgment, to which ALF replies, “You what my what?” It plays better in speech than it does in text, but, trust me, it’s pretty funny.

ALF shares his opinion. He says that if Willie feels like he needs to compete, he should compete with himself. Which, yeah, makes sense to me. Willie’s a carping little oily dickbag; if he feels threatened by someone at work, he should focus on doing a better job himself. Dr. Dykstra agrees with ALF, too, confirming that I’m not yet totally insane.

ALF, "Mind Games"

Dr. Dykstra then draws Kate into the conversation. She says that she feels bad while she’s at work, because she’s neglecting Eric. Somehow she says this without anyone picking up on the irony that Eric has been neglected throughout this entire episode, this very scene included, even though she’s been home the whole time.

She’s worried about returning to work, and again ALF is asked for his opinion. He says that she went back to work after having Lynn, and Lynn turned out fine, so there’s nothing to worry about. (For good reason, her lack of similar success with Brian goes unspoken.) Dr. Dykstra agrees with him again, and ALF creams everywhere. To be fair, I would cream, too, if Bill Dailey acknowledged something I said.

Brian has a problem, too: he doesn’t like math. ALF dismisses this because he’s not even a real boy. Lynn’s problem is that she’s been dating Danny Duckworth for over a year (more continuity! Poor Randy!), but she still gets jealous when he fingers other girls, and cums in their mouths. ALF gives advice to her that is somehow not “Dump his sorry ass,” and then he says that he’s found his calling: he’s going to become a psychologist.

Bill Dailey silently prays that this doesn’t become a two-parter.

ALF, "Mind Games"

The next day ALF reads a psychology book and spews a bunch of disconnected mumbo-jumbo at the family and that eats up a bunch of time.

It kind of sucks, actually.

The whole “treat ALF like an adult” plot was a good idea, and it seemed to be on an interesting course — what with the family actually talking to each other and all — but right before the commercial break ALF declares he’s totally a psychologist now, and then that’s what we do for the rest of the episode.

It’s a big disappointment, and a complete derailment of the show’s momentum. It’s like two halves of different episodes were stapled together with no regard paid to whether or not they actually fit, and that’s a particular shame right now because the episode was just getting good.

We took some mediocre ALF-is-annoying crap, and eventually found an interesting way of dealing with it. As soon as that gets going, though, we flip the table and start a whole new, less satisfying story. What a gyp.

ALF, "Mind Games"

I think the writers were aware of it, too.

If the DVD chapters are anything to go by, ALF episodes are structured like this: a brief opening scene / the intro credits, act one, act two, brief closing scene / closing credits. The commercial breaks fall at my commas. Act one and act two in most episodes are of about equal length, which you’d probably expect for broadcast purposes. But in this episode act one is about 12 minutes long, and act two — with all the ALF-is-a-psychologist-now nonsense — is about 5. They knew, I’m sure, that act two was much less interesting, and so they wrote a few pages of psychological bullshit for ALF to say and called it a day.

Which is fine; I agree with them that act two sucks a fat one. But then why not write a different act two? Why not end My Dinner With Dykstra some other way? Or keep Dr. Dykstra around for the rest of the episode to gradually lose his cool and bludgeon ALF to death with a lobster mallet?

Instead the whole second act is forced and condensed. Even Willie flips out on ALF too quickly; he does it because the episode needs to end soon, and not because ALF has said or done anything especially annoying to push him over the edge. He just tells ALF to go fuck himself because it’s time to tell ALF to go fuck himself. By normal ALF standards this is expected — if still disappointing — but by the standards set by the previous Dr. Dykstra episodes, this lack of care is downright insulting. It would be like getting a third Jodie episode in which she and ALF have a 30-minute long flatulence competition.

Or I guess 15-minutes long, with Jodie disappearing and the episode turning into one about ALF eating Willie’s prized collection of celebrity pubes.

ALF, "Mind Games"

Oh, wait. Dr. Dykstra is back.

Okay. I guess he popped out of the broom closet one more time for a snack and got roped back into this shit.

Willie tells him ALF has gotten carried away, to which Dr. Dykstra rightly responds, “You know ALF gets carried away with everything he does. What motivated you to let it go this far?” Willie, extraordinary social worker than he is, tells Dr. Dykstra to eat his ass with this psychology bullshit and just go fix whatever the fuck needs to be fixed so ALF will shut up.

This. Fucking. Guy.

Dr. Dykstra, to the discredit of mental health professionals everywhere, does not jam a fork in Willie’s eye and go home.

ALF, "Mind Games"

At dinner ALF pulls his psychological horseshit out and turns to Dr. Dykstra for support. Dr. Dykstra tells him his psychology game is pretty wack. They bicker for a bit before Dr. Dykstra says, “I think this is just another temporary obsession to draw attention to yourself,” which is the verbal equivalent of neutering ALF with a lemon zester.

ALF realizes that he’s probably been making the family feel bad, just as Dr. Dykstra just made him feel bad, so he’ll stop forever since the episode is over.

Okay, I guess.

But Dr. Dykstra was present for ALF’s announcement that he was becoming a psychologist. So…what did he say to that? “Okay”? “Good luck”? “Sounds rad”?

Sure, I understand why he told Willie that he needs to control his fucking space alien, and that’s a valuable lesson that the family ignores because of course they do, but what kind of response did he have at the moment ALF declared his intentions? Within the universe of the show? We saw a commercial, but did Dr. Dykstra just vanish from existence until the script needed him again? He must have said something. And it must have been something that at least passively allowed ALF to continue in his delusion.

Now, though, we find out (understandably) that he doesn’t support ALF’s decision. So…what the fuck actually happened?

It’s also, structurally speaking, pretty odd that they need to call the guy in to fix something that broke while he was already there, but whatever. Who cares. This shit is over, and I need to get over it, too.

ALF, "Mind Games"

In the short scene before the credits, Willie and Kate make dinner for the fifth fucking time this episode. They hear ALF on a radio call-in show talking about family law, and then run off to punch him in the scrotum.

Kind of a disappointing send-off for Dr. Dykstra, but he was still the best thing about the episode so it doesn’t exactly reflect poorly on him. I think when even the reliable Dr. Dykstra ends up stranded in a shitty episode, we can pretty clearly see how little the writers were trying by season four. In his previous appearances, it was an excuse to up their game. Here, it’s an excuse to coast.

And while Bill Dailey did perfectly fine work, it’s a shame that the writing behind him was nowhere near as good.

It’s also a shame that there’s a bit toward the end when the family all agree that Dr. Dykstra is really annoying, which is such an unnecessary (and massively untrue) fuck-you to one of the only good characters the show’s ever had, but my feelings on that can only be expressed by a jet of blood spat directly at my computer screen so I’ll just call these guys assholes and feel good on Bill Dailey’s behalf that he’s completely done with this dumbass show…even if the door did hit him on the way out.

Countdown to Jim J. Bullock existing: 2 episodes
Countdown to ALF being violently lobotomized in front of the Tanners: 19 episodes

MELMAC FACTS: To earn a Bachelor Living badge on Melmac, you had one week to build a singles bar in the woods using only twigs and bark. Bakeries on Melmac were called Health Clubs, and ALF’s once voted him Bod of the Month. ALF used to practice yoga on Melmac and his mantra was so long and ridiculous I’m not typing it.

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11 Responses

  • Steve Ray says:

    Soooo, no mention of this episode being held over from season 3 as Kate is clearly still pregnant and her hair is longer? But she mentions Eric so they probably did that on purpose for continuity reasons. This wasn’t one of my favorite episodes.

  • Furienna says:

    I don’t remember this one at all. Weird…

  • Why the fuck didn’t they write Dr Dykstra getting an emergency call at dinner so he wasn’t around when ALF made his insane psychology revelation? You’re right in that having him in the scene completely defeats the 2nd act in the stupidest goddamn way.

    And what’s their reasoning for calling him annoying? Does he plow their daughter, sell their baby on the black market, and steal their sons vocal chords? No? Well then maybe he’s not the problem in your household Willie.

  • Casey says:

    I guess I kind of want to take the second act being a shitty derailment of the setup as a meta-commentary on how so many episodes of ALF have the exact same problem. That is, any halfway-decent plot that the show uses ends up being sucked into the gravity well of ALF himself. So, to me, Dykstra telling ALF that his sudden intense interest in psychology stems from trying to gain attention works as a condemnation of that habit, both at the character and show level.

    • Sarah Portland says:

      Wait, One Good Writer, and one sneaky Meta Writer? I like this theory. And it’s sad that I’m more interested in who is sitting at the writers’ table than the actual show itself.

  • kim says:

    if there was an episode of ALF that I remember the least, it has to be this one, I had to watch this episode twice from my DVD box set to remember what it was about. ironically for an episode that was about ALF being bored, I found this to be the most boring episode because nothing majorly significant happens in it. I know the episode tried hard with bring Dr. Dykstra back and opening up with a good first act, but like you said, too much beating around the bush and the low second act made the episode fall flat.
    the only good thing i can say about this episode, besides Dr. Dykstra, is paul fusco’s puppetry work here, showing off ALF’s more subtle side, like ALF accidentally putting his hand on the bureau kate was working on, ALF gesturing towards Dr, Dykstra at the dinner table and ALF slowly looking up from the psychology book he was reading. i like things like that, to me subtle little things like that make a character look more alive. so yeah, while paul is no jim henson, he still has his moments of puppetry genius.

  • Sarah Portland says:

    Okay, here’s a weird thing that kind of doesn’t have anything to do with this episode especially, but…
    some friends and I were discussing NaNoWriMo, and one writer asked if it was weird that she was House-sorting her characters. We assured her that it was not, and is actually an excellent way to develop characters. This is something that I often do just to amuse myself, but it’s a valuable writing tool as well to consider what sorts of traits your characters possess. I had already sorted everyone on the bridge of the Enterprise, and it took me all of two seconds to sort Larry and Balki, so I started in on ALF…
    Lynn, being fair-minded and loyal to her various family members and their lousy alien, would make a good Hufflepuff.
    Kate is tough with a sense of adventure, so I’d place her in Gryffindor.
    And…
    that was it.
    I tried Brian, but all we know of him is that he’s in scouts, plays baseball, and was once bullied by another kid. We don’t know anything about him.
    Willie is more of the same. He has a bunch of hobbies, which get rotated out depending on what the show needs him to be interested in that week, and we know he works a job. It’s a job he says that he likes, but his actions say otherwise.
    Then there’s ALF, who’s a walking pile of insult-comic comebacks and dick moves, none of which are necessarily character traits.
    I’m kind of stunned. I’ve never failed to reason out a sorting, yet I can’t sort 3 out of 5 characters on this show? That’s crap.



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