I’ve been doing nothing but urinating and playing Fallout 4 for the past week, so forgive me if I come off as slightly distracted…but I think I can push the game aside and focus on ALF for the couple of hours it’ll take me to write about it.
“Hooked on a Feeling” begins with Vault 111 opening at last, 200 years after The Great War has left the planet a barren wasteland. ALF is unfrozen in this dangerous new world, and left to fend for himself as he searches for his kidnapped son…
…okay, yes, I’m kidding, but as I made that joke, I realized that ALF and the Fallout series are actually worthy of comparison. (NO REALLY KEEP READING)
In each case, the backstory involves the nuclear destruction of an entire planet. In ALF‘s case that destruction is literal, whereas in the case of Fallout it refers to the destruction of civilization. In short, Melmac isn’t there anymore, while Earth still is.
But that’s not as material as you might expect. Earth is physically still there in Fallout, but it’s nigh unrecognizable. A few surviving landmarks remind you of what humanity has lost, but that’s it. ALF and the Lone Wanderer find themselves therefore in very similar situations.
Alien (to you) creatures roam the planet. You’ll never see anybody you know again. There’s a whole new set (or, rather, new sets) of laws and rules and mores you need to teach yourself…and if you’re not careful and you expose your origins to the wrong people (Melmacian refugee in one case, naive Vault-dweller in another), you are in very real danger of execution…or worse.
In each case as well the nuclear disaster occurs off camera. It’s something we hear about (whether through loading screens or Melmac Facts), but never see. This allows us, in the audience, to fill in many blanks as we see fit, but it also does a great job of reminding us of what’s important: something happened, yes, but more important is what happens to our protagonist next. The apocalypse happens off camera because the apocalypse is not the story; how our hero deals with the apocalypse is the story.
Interesting parallels. But the difference, of course, is that Fallout is interested in its own mythology. ALF has no interest whatsoever, which makes it odd that the writers built Total Nuclear Annihilation into their backstory at all.
Don’t get me wrong, I like that Melmac was destroyed by careless social idiocy. I think that’s one hell of a brave choice for a late 80s American sitcom. But since the show does almost nothing with it, I’m not sure why it made that choice. As it stands, Melmac could still exist and ALF could just be stranded on Earth for any other reason. A busted ship part, for instance.
It’s that simple. “A.L.F.” saw our alien hero fleeing the apocalyptic blast that swallowed his homeworld, which is exciting and great, but for all the show did with it ALF might as well have just run out of gas.
Fallout does a great job of questioning itself and finding interesting ways to explore its own premise. It relishes the opportunity to figure out why things panned out the way they did, how different regions dealt with and adjusted to the tragedy, and how everything we take for granted about modern life (not just in a technological sense, but in a social and cultural sense) can vanish in an instant…and how that changes, damages, and destroys humanity when it does.
ALF could not care less. Nor could ALF. He finds himself stranded in a whole new world…so he figures out when his favorite shows are on television and he’s pretty much adapted to his new life.
That could be the joke (our oft-mentioned Roger on American Dad! lives a much richer social life than ALF does, but his adjustment period is suggested to have been about as brief), however the problem is that the family adapted to their new lives at least as quickly. Faced with incontrovertible proof of intelligent alien life — and, indeed, the prospect of actively harboring it from discovery in perpetuity — Willie takes a shower, Kate cooks dinner, Lynn studies for a test, and Brian sniffs glue under the bed.
The joke can’t be that ALF adjusts so quickly, because so does everybody. The joke can’t be that ALF doesn’t give a shit about this sudden reconfiguration of everything he knows about life itself, because neither do the Tanners. The joke can’t be anything, actually, because not even the characters are interested in the premise of this show.
ALF is just there. This is the way Melmac ends: not with a bang, but a whimper. The writers, the actors, and the show’s creator Paul Fusco had an idea that quite literally exploded with promise from the start…and none of them could wait to drill it into mediocrity.
ALF, whether the show cares to admit it or not, is a work of post-apocalyptic science fiction. It’s also, to my knowledge, the only one that does an entire episode about its protagonist eating cotton balls. It’s hard to imagine any way to exaggerate this for effect; the ALF we got is the most disappointing of all possibilities.
“Hooked on a Feeling” showcases again, sadly, how poorly preserved season four’s masters are. There’s a worn VHS quality to the visuals, and a faint hum of static on the audio track.
And, again, I won’t hold this against the episode, but I will confess that it interferes a bit with my enjoyment. Sure, maybe the episode stunk and I wouldn’t have enjoyed it anyway, but now it stinks and is annoying on a visceral level, so I feel the need to bring that up.
It opens with ALF breathing his disgusting breath all over the side of Lynn’s face and neck, holding it just long enough for Andrea Elson to consider the sweet release of teen suicide.
The family is unpacking groceries, including, of course, a bag of Kettle Chips in clear view. Was somebody on the production staff courting the heiress to the Kettle Chips fortune or something?
Willie comes in with Eric and asks who the fuck ate all the heads off his Q-Tips, as characters often do in great works of post-apocalyptic science fiction. SPOILER IT WAS ALF
After the credits ALF is laughing at a TV that isn’t on. Willie and Kate come in not to scream at him for braying mindlessly while the baby is trying to sleep, but to ask him if eating cotton has been affecting his mood. Man, on how many sitcoms can someone ask that question without it being a joke?
Willie tries to take the cotton away, which leads at least to a gem of a screengrab.
He says he’ll ration it to ALF, which seems like an odd solution, but I guess I don’t actually know what the problem is. ALF is telling a bunch of shitty jokes and does an impression (as far as I can tell) of a Southern belle, but is this supposed to be out of the ordinary for him?
I get the sense that it’s supposed to register as though it is, but I certainly couldn’t tell you how this is any different from the shit he’s normally doing. Aren’t shitty jokes, offensive monologues, and howling laughter at shit that isn’t funny just another day with ALF in the house?
I think the idea is that the cotton balls are making him hallucinate…or act drunk maybe…?
Which is a pretty interesting idea in its most general sense. ALF is from another planet…another planet with a different atmosphere, composed of different elements, with gave rise to life forms of an entirely different physiology than what we know on Earth.
Okay, sure, they apparently breathe oxygen (and speak fuckin’ English), but aside from that they are very different creatures. Our junk food might provide their nutrients. Our fruits and vegetables might make them sick. And something we find inedible might prove to be a powerful hallucinogen to them. It’s all in the way the body processes things; different bodies, different processes.
And it leads to a pretty funny moment, I guess, when ALF complains that without his cotton balls, “those Cheech and Chong movies are going to lose some of their poignancy.” I mean, I didn’t laugh at it, but I wanted to laugh at it, so that’s something.
I’m on board in theory, because that’s an interesting idea. But only in theory, because this show is a giant lump of shit, and the idea of ALF doing a “pot episode” fills me with nothing but hatred and dismay.
Later that night, Max Wright and Anne Schedeen wake up in cold sweats after realizing what they’ve done to their careers.
Also, ALF is singing “Theme from New York, New York” at the top of his lungs. Eric doesn’t wake up crying, which means it’s probably too late to observe that somebody should have fed him at some point.
Of course, the aural gag of ALF’s performance is no substitute for actually seeing him in a funny hat, about to deepthroat a banana on webcam, so we cut to that next.
Willie, Kate, and Lynn all rush to the living room to pierce his kidneys with knitting needles…the latter even though she has no lines.
I’m not complaining about that…just observing that it’s odd that Brian’s not around. Having no material for the kid isn’t an excuse, as Andrea Elson gets to appear in the scene. Come to think of it, we haven’t seen Brian at all. Was Benji Gregory accidentally left in a hot car or something?
ALF offers the family a bite of one of the couch cushions and suggests that they visit a plantation on Alabama so that they can enjoy cotton that’s still warm from the palms of a negroid, but everyone just goes to bed because that’s what they do when the writers can’t think of how to end a scene.
The next scene has Brian in it, making his absence in the last scene even weirder to me, but, more importantly, it also has my favorite line.
Kate asks Brian if he told ALF breakfast was ready. He says, “No,” and she replies, “Oh, thank you.”
I’m legitimately going to miss Anne Schedeen. And I might even miss Brian if he keeps wearing awesome shirts like this one, which is patterned with overturned green skulls. Are you sure you’re not Mr. Ochmonek’s kid?
ALF comes in, weary and disheveled from the night before. Kate offers him some aspirin, and when she’s not looking he eats the cotton ball from the bottle…which is pretty funny.
Willie catches him doing it, but ALF says that Brian ate it. I guess the joke should be that there’s no way we’d believe Brian ate a cotton ball, but, come on, I wouldn’t put anything past this brainless kid.
ALF admits that he may have a problem, and sad music comes on while Willie takes his wife’s hand.
Am I supposed to be touched? Worried? I’m assuming this is at least a little bit parodic — what with it being a hand puppet eating cotton and all — but I honestly don’t know for sure that that’s the case.
ALF has treaded Very Special Waters before…most notably with “Tequila,” which sucked cock, and “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?” which was actually really good. That’s a 50% success rate, which is better than ALF has for anything else (except Dr. Dykstra appearances, I guess), but I’m not keen on seeing it revisited, especially since there’s no way in hell this crap is going to approach the heights of the episode with Jake’s mother.
If it leans on overt parody of Very Special Episodes, then we might be on to something. If it doesn’t…
…it’s too hideous to contemplate.
After the commercials Brian has changed into a Hawaiian shirt and GUYS IT IS CANON THAT HE IS MR. OCHMONEK’S KID
ALF gets all pissy because they’re eating food and not giant cotton fluffs or something, I guess, so he leaves. Lynn mentions that the mother of one of her friends was in a support group that helped her quit smoking, and Kate suggests the loose idea that ALF could benefit from something like that.
Willie spits caustic sarcasm at her because he can’t exactly shuttle ALF over to the Betty Ford Clinic, nor can he invite a group over and tell them he’s a rare talking dog or something, you dumbass hag of a bitchwife fuck.
What a dick, this guy. I look forward to the next time ALF fans pop up in the comments to tell me that Willie is a much nicer guy than I give him credit for. As I’m concerned those people are commenting from a separate plane of reality.
Yes, I understand that he has a point; ALF can’t be revealed to the world, even if the world can help him solve this problem. But no, by no means do you need to verbally assault your wife for trying to find a productive solution…especially when you don’t have any better ones yourself.
Oh, but, wait…Willie does have a better one, even if it doesn’t occur to him: Dr. Dykstra.
Willie has a longtime friend who already knows about ALF and has an established history of helping him through psychological issues. Hell, he’s a psychologist, and he visited the house twice in the past week. Looks like we can get ALF some therapy after all.
So what was that bullshit about your wife’s idea being monumentally stupid and worthy of dickish scorn? You know somebody who can facilitate exactly what she suggested, and you know he can do so successfully.
But, no, it’s better to ruin dinner for the whole family by acting like an asshole and making your wife feel dumb for trying to help.
Tell me again, phantom commenters, why you believe Willie would be great at social work.
ACTUALLY WAIT. Fuck!
Willie IS A SOCIAL WORKER. He must deal with addiction issues all the time. Like, every single day.
Why is he drawing a complete blank here? Why is he making fun of his wife’s suggestion that someone may be able to help ALF? Why is he not volunteering to help?
I’ll tell you why: because he isn’t a social worker. Willie sitting here bitching at his family while ALF ODs on the carpet is the social work equivalent of a fire fighter sitting motionless on the sofa while his house burns down. Yes, he’s off the clock, but no, that doesn’t mean he becomes instantly incompetent and forgets that he’s been specially trained for exactly this situation.
Willie’s not a social worker, folks. The show tells us that he is, but it has yet (outside of maybe one scene in the ant farm episode) to show him doing anything a social worker actually does, behaving in any way like social workers actually behave, or caring about anyone who isn’t himself.
Fuck this show, and fuck this fucking fuck.
Then the family suggests another way their suggestion would work, making Willie’s assholish response seem even less deserved and more out of line: they could invite a support group to the house, with Willie pretending he has the problem. That way ALF can overhear their responses and benefit, indirectly, from their help and understanding.
All things considered, that’s not that stupid an idea, but Willie mumbles and grumbles because his family fixed everything, I guess. Last week he got upset because ALF fixed his radio. And he’s always shitting all over the Ochmoneks for the nice things they do for him and say to him.
I’ve never, ever seen a character so constantly pissed off by the nice things people do for him. Even Scrooge changed his ways by season four.
Willie, having no idea how grateful he should be that Kate is handing him a resolution to this episode rather than a stack of divorce papers, begrudgingly goes along with it, making sure she knows how much he hates her for suggesting it.
What a guy.
Then ALF eats a bunch of lint out of the dryer, which muddies the pot analogue somewhat as we learned in “Baby, You Can Drive My Car” that lint was valuable on Melmac.
So is it marijuana, or money? Well, in this episode it’s one, and in the other episode it’s another.
Then again, cotton is a major component of U.S. currency (75% or so of every bill, unless that’s recently changed) but I can’t imagine that was a conscious connection on behalf of the writers. More likely they forgot that they already built lint into the Melmac Mythology in a different way. Those idiots. It’s like they aren’t even reading my Melmac Facts!
The support group arrives in the next scene, and I admit it’s impressive that ALF landed a cameo from Leisure Suit Larry so late in its run. In the kitchen ALF makes fun of the woman on the left for being overweight.
WE WILL ALL MISS THIS SHOW
He also says that the pâté Kate is serving looks like cat food…which reminds me: where’s Lucky?
I think the last time we saw him outside of the intro credits was “Tonight, Tonight,” but that obviously wasn’t part of the show’s main continuity. (And I have a sinking suspicion they just slapped any old cat in Joan Embery’s lap without regard for resemblance.) So when was the last time Lucky had anything to do with the show? I couldn’t tell you when he last appeared, or was even directly referenced. And why not reference him NOW THAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT CAT FOOD?
A commenter flippantly suggested at some point that ALF ate Lucky and hypnotized the Tanners into believing he was still around. I’d credit you if I remembered who you were (remind me!), so along with Brian being Kate and Mr. O’s illegitimate lovechild, I’m willing to say that “Hooked on a Feeling” passively cements that as canon as well. This episode sure is doing a lot of unintentional world building!
Kate brings the appetizers out, which is the show’s excuse for letting everyone else get a few digs in at this woman for being heavy. It’s kind of shitty, actually, and it reminds me of just how needless and cruel the jokes about Randy’s intelligence felt in “Torn Between Two Lovers.”
There and here the show seems to want us to laugh at characters for something they can’t help. It’s not undercut or commented on in any interesting way; it’s just a tacit invitation to point and laugh at someone different. (It’s not that far removed from the show’s treatment of the Ochmoneks, come to think of it.)
And that’s…pretty fucking awful. I imagine that the purest episode of ALF would just be some unfortunate, unattractive person standing quietly center stage while the entire regular cast laughs at him and calls him names.
There is, however, a moment I love here…and, yes, it actually involves a fat joke.
One of the other women at the meeting comments nastily, “Is there anything on that tray you don’t want?”
…no, of course it’s not.
But the delivery is so deliberately hammy, so intentionally melodramatic, so beautifully drawn out (“Is there anything on that tray you dohhhh-n’t wahnt?”), that I love it.
I love it because this woman, whoever she is, realizes full well what a cartoony piece of bullcrap she’s been cast in, so she pitches her performance in a way that lets us at home know that she knows it’s bullcrap.
Jack LaMotta does the same thing by giving his character a clear personality beyond what’s written on the page. Bill Dailey did it by rising above the material he was given and treating it with a degree of professionalism that it didn’t deserve. This woman does it by becoming a live action Cruella De Vil.
In short, she’s having fun with it. She’s in a crappy show, she’s given a crappy line, and the whole joke here is that she gets to shit on someone for being fatter than she is.
Her response? She becomes an exaggerated villain in a way that displays clear self-awareness. Look at her eyebrow, for crying out loud! She raises it high after delivering her line…a promise to the audience that she knows what she’s doing, and that doing it is the only way she’ll come out of this shit with her dignity intact.
There’s even a great little flourish to her performance afterward, as she glides behind Kate and the heavy woman, her face appearing briefly between them as she does so, and we see that she’s holding the same expression.
It’s genuinely funny, but the shot isn’t framed properly so the camera doesn’t quite catch the joke. (Hence the lack of a screengrab.) This suggests to me that either the production crew failed to properly frame their own shot (plausible), or this woman — Marcia Firesten, who doesn’t seem to have had many roles in other things — invented the flourish on her own, and the crew wasn’t expecting it (more plausible).
Either way, I love it.
The meeting begins, and Willie flounders a bit while introducing himself. I guess the Tanners didn’t decide what Willie’s lie was going to be, because he says he’s trying to quit smoking…while Kate told the group earlier that he’s afraid to leave the house.
Jesus Christ, people…if you’re going to infiltrate a support group on false pretenses, at least figure out what the fuck those pretenses are. Is that too much to ask? How much of an idiot is Willie that he didn’t bother to prepare a lie beforehand? He knew what the plan was!
It’s kind of annoying, not least because Willie’s floundering is usually pretty funny (see “Lies,” which I’m becoming more and more convinced will be the runaway best of the season).
Here, though, it’s just the camera fixed on Max Wright while he makes faces and eats up time.
It’s much funnier when he’s actually blurting ridiculous explanations…otherwise we’re just watching a confused old man slobber all over himself. And it sucks.
Willie escapes to the kitchen, which he’s able to do because the support group people aren’t characters; they’re just actors who aren’t in this scene, so he can take all the time he needs.
He and ALF touch boners for a while, and then he says that he doesn’t know what to say to the group about why he smokes. He tells ALF that this whole arrangement was made to help him get better, so he has to want to get better, which is something I understand but which I also can’t see affecting the way a totally separate conversation in a totally different room with totally different people will pan out, and fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fucking fuck this episode sucks.
Willie says he’ll steer the conversation to something ALF can relate to, and then he re-enters the meeting to talk about raping his kids.
Actually, he just goes back to the “won’t leave the house” thing, so I wonder why the smoking was introduced at all. It feels like a setup for a comic complication that never actually comes.
Willie says he doesn’t want to be seen, because he’s not from around here. Then he’s asked where he’s from, and Willie, too quick, replies, “Ohio.” That’s where Leisure Suit Larry is from, so he starts asking if Willie knows any of his old friends. And then Cruella De Vil jumps in and says, “Do you ever think that everything is going to come crashing down around you, burying you in an avalanche of hopelessness?”
She holds his wrist while she asks this…and then keeps holding it. I love this woman. Can she replace 90% of the actors on this show moving forward? I’d have a lot more faith in the remainder of season four if she did.
ALF calls loudly for Willie, because fuck this show.
Willie goes in to check on him and presses him for a reason that he eats cotton, as though that’s what the entire episode is asking, and if we just figure that out the problem will solve itself. Odd; I thought we’d established that he was eating cotton for its hallucinogenic properties.
Maybe that’s what Willie’s asking — “Why do you need to escape through narcotics?” as opposed to “What do you get out of taking narcotics?” — but the phrasing is weird, and it’s only in writing this sentence that I’m able to figure out what Willie seemed to be getting at.
ALF, as sitcom characters do when there’s only a few minutes left in an episode, comes to a realization: he wants to go outside, and he doesn’t like people telling him what he should and shouldn’t do.
Great! Those problems solve themselves. Open the door and let him strut to certain doom. Everybody wins!
Admittedly, it moves into stronger territory when ALF says that he wants to see others who are like him. “I want to go home,” he says.
And, as we know, he can’t do that.
There is no more home. Something happened…and there’s no going back. Whatever you want is behind you, so you need to start wanting something — anything — that’s ahead.
That, the episode suggests, is why he turned to eating cotton. Which is great and all, but wasn’t this a drug addiction allegory? Is the episode suggesting that junkies are just lonely and want to return to their home planets? That they’ll stop taking drugs the moment the articulate what’s missing in their lives? Because that sure as shit isn’t true.
What actually happened here? It feels as though one problem was introduced, but the episode ends by resolving another.
Actually, scratch that; it doesn’t end by resolving anything; ALF still can’t go home. Instead the episode begins with one problem and ends with him mentioning another.
How interesting. How bizarre.
ALF goes on about missing his family and friends, which would be touching if it didn’t look like he was also giving Willie an under-table Handy Jay:
The therapist comes in to check on Willie, and to ask who was yelling about wanting to go home. Willie says it was he himself yelling, so the therapist does what a sitcom therapist does and says, “Isn’t this your home?”
Willie passes this off as some kind of awakening, and that’s that. The therapist and the support group leave. Wow, Willie sure provided lots of support to his fellow members, didn’t he?
ALF also complains about not getting to have a child of his own, which he did back in “Having My Baby” as well, but you might have missed that because we were all arguing about abortion.
Anyway, with the entire plot resolved by virtue of ALF mentioning a bunch of issues nobody can help him with, we get to the episode’s money shot of Willie eating a cracker.
In the short scene before the credits…
SHITTING JESUS NO
Countdown to Jim J. Bullock existing: 1 episode
Countdown to ALF being desanguinated in front of the Tanners: 18 episodes
MELMAC FACTS: Melmac had Saturday Night Aphid Chews. ALF and Rhonda went “harness racing” one night, and she helped him out of his bridle. (It was established in “Stop in the Name of Love” that ALF and Rhonda never actually dated — Melmac blew up before he got to take her out — but this wasn’t necessarily a date.) Willie says that ALF always jokes about Melmac…something ALF doesn’t dispute, which may mean that some of the previous Melmac Facts are retroactively false. SUPER SORRY