What is an interloper? In terms of television, at least, an interloper is a character who is introduced to shake up the show’s existing dynamics, nearly always temporarily. (This is due to the nature of an interloper; if the interloper sticks around, the dynamics are no longer “shaken up”…they just change.)
Introducing an interloper is one of the easiest things a writer can do to generate conflict. After all, we dislike it in real life when somebody wants to shoulder us out of our routines, so it’s easy to imagine how sitcom characters — routines personified — must feel when somebody saunters in and changes the rules, deliberately or not.
That “deliberately or not” bit is important, as an interloper isn’t necessarily a villain, and a villain isn’t necessarily an interloper. Gargamel, for instance, isn’t an interloper, because his interactions with the Smurfs are part of that show’s established dynamic. He doesn’t interrupt it; he contributes to it.
Similarly, an interloper has to…well…interlope; he or she or it can’t have been there from the beginning. An example of this would be Steve Urkel on Family Matters. While the Winslows do indeed treat him as someone who interferes with their…erm…family matters, we aren’t the Winslows; we are viewers of the show. On that level he is part of the dynamic and not a complication to it. His suave alter ego Stefan Urquelle was an interloper, however, because he changed the way people reacted and behaved around him. (This is also a reminder that interlopers don’t necessarily have to be “bad guys,” as Stefan is an improvement on Steve in almost every way.)
Other examples include Schmitty on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or The Real Seymour Skinner on The Simpsons. In both cases, these are characters we meet for the first time, but whom the characters in the show remember from long ago. This means that while the interlopers change the dynamics for us, they actually return the other characters to their previous dynamics…pre-show, before we knew them. And, in both cases, the characters involved reject this reversion violently.
Then there’s The Office, which saw an interloper (coincidentally named Neil) added as the Slough branch’s new manager. The American version had its own equivalent, and in both cases their presence resulted in our focal character losing his job…a permanent change that was written into the show’s DNA from then on, even as the interloper slipped into the background or disappeared entirely.
Which leads us to ALF, where interlopers do indeed visit but are difficult to register, as no recognizable dynamic exists anyway.
Of course there’s behavior we’d recognize as out of character immediately (Lynn punching a stray dog to death, Willie giving up crack, Brian speaking, Kate being thanked), but very little that can be given the slight, jarring tweak that interlopers represent so well.
So much of what we have been told about these characters has been reversed, contradicted, or overwritten during the past three years and change that we can’t distinguish the work of an interloper from the work of a lazy writing staff.
Except in cases like this week’s episode, in which we’re told outright that a character is interfering with someone’s comfort.
ALF has given us a few interlopers before. Kate Sr. is the nearest approximation to this week’s Neal, as she, too, is a member of the extended family, got a multi-episode introduction, and primarily frustrated ALF. (Not surprising in itself, as Paul Fusco ensured that he’s the only character that matters). Jake, by contrast, was not an interloper, as he didn’t interfere with anyone’s dynamics at all; he was just another character for them to react to as they always reacted to people.
Dr. Dykstra was an interloper, and a great one because, by virtue of his occupation (and superior acting), he was able to occupy a space above the regular workings of the show, commenting on them, pulling them apart, reconfiguring them for the sake not of mischief but observation. He was awesome, and that’s why his episodes (on the whole) worked so well.
So, you know. Fuck that guy. Let’s replace him with Jim J. Bullock.
The opening scene sets this up, but not in any notable way. Willie talks to his brother Neal on the phone (foreshadowing) about how Neal’s wife left him (foreshadowing) while ALF bitches about how annoying Neal is (foreshadowing). That’s about it. Lynn picks up a bagel and crams it in his snout, which is a funny moment in theory, but I’m disappointed that she didn’t really wedge it in there with much violence. I think that’s a little more of Andrea Elson’s natural warmth coming through; even when the script wants her to be mean, she can only bear to do so gently. That’s disappointing from a comedy standpoint, but it’s also kind of adorable.
Speaking of adorable, the next scene sees the family eating dinner. Eric is there, and he’s doing the thing I’m a sucker for where he coos at ALF and keeps reaching out to touch him, because to this baby (the real life baby), the ALF puppet must look like some giant talking teddy bear. Trust me, people, I’m a tremendously awful human being who hates everything that’s ever brought anybody joy…but stuff like this melts my heart. It’s cute, god dammit, and I love it.
Anyway, they feed the kid for the first time since “Baby, Come Back,” and the phone rings. Lynn goes to answer, and Willie says that if it’s Neal — his distraught fucking brother — he’s not here.
Tell me again what a great social worker Willie is. Yeah, I understand that Neal’s been calling a lot or something, but from the dialogue we know that Neal is in legitimately bad shape, on the verge of doing something stupid, and in desperate need of somebody he can talk to. You know…somebody like a family member, or a social worker.
Both of which are Willie.
Not only is this his responsibility as a relative, this is what Willie is trained for. By hiding from somebody who actually needs him he’s not just being ethically wrong, he’s being professionally irresponsible. And as this person is his own fucking brother, he’s also just being a bad person. I’m sorry Neal is imposing on you, Willie, but something tells me his disintegrating marriage and general feelings of hopelessness and despair are more important than you having your evening free to sit motionless on the couch, ignoring your wife.
Willie even pats himself on the back for giving Neal such good advice last time they talked…while he ignores his brother’s current need to speak with him.
It’s fucking maddening watching this show sometimes. It’s like a show about a family of bears who keep referring to themselves as hippos, and there’s no self-awareness or comedy behind the discrepancy, so you start to wonder if they really are hippos and you’ve actually just gone insane.
We might as well deal with the continuity issue right now, though I assure you that’s the least of this episode’s problems: in “Night Train,” Willie indeed told ALF that his parents had two kids. That’d be Willie and Neal, I guess. Or, I would guess that, if it weren’t for Willie mentioning his brother Rodney in “La Cuckaracha.” So that’s three kids, unless for some reason Willie himself doesn’t count. Which works for me; that would make Willie the Brian of his own family, and I’m perfectly happy with that.
Anyway, the phone was for Lynn, so Willie’s off the hook and doesn’t have to let his suicidal brother know that somebody cares about him. Lynn takes the call in her bedroom to flick herself off to the dulcet sounds of Donny Duckworth mistreating her.
Mother of fuck, it’s Jim J. Bullock!*
Yeah, the next morning a mysterious camper appears in the driveway, and everyone talks about it, wondering whose it is, instead of checking. That’s very true to life, the way a gypsy caravan just sort of settles on your property and you walk around the house shrugging instead of seeing what the hell is going on.
Then the doorbell rings and it’s Neal! He mentions the camper and Willie says, “That’s yours?”
…what the fuck, Willie. Of course it fucking is. How are you still confused about who owns the camper?
It appeared moments before your brother rang the doorbell. And then your brother climbed out of it and approached the house. And there’s no other vehicle out there that your brother could conceivably have driven instead.
What kind of shit is this? It’s like it was written by somebody without a human brain.
Neal explains that he took Willie’s shitty advice to turn his life around, and did so by quitting his job, leaving his apartment, and buying a camper. Willie, empathetic human being trained to deal with delicate situations like these, tells him that he never said to do any of that shit.
It’s actually kind of sad. Yeah, Neal did a lot of this to himself, but he did so while believing that he was following the advice of Willie — his brother, and a trained social worker — so Willie’s “oh, fuck off” registers as pretty hurtful. What an asshole, this guy.
Anyway, ALF makes a dickton of noise in the kitchen, so Lynn goes in to gently beat him to death. And we can take a moment to talk about Jim J. Bullock.
He’s probably still most famous for Too Close for Comfort, where he played the comic relief bozo Monroe. I remember watching that show when I was young, and I didn’t think it was especially awful, but evidently there was one episode that displayed ALF-like levels of tone-deaf stupidity. It was called “For Every Man There’s Two Women.”
In that episode, Monroe is kidnapped by two ladies in a parking lot and subjected to a night of sexual torture before they let him go. The episode then centers on him and Henry (Ted Knight) tracking down the women who raped him and turning them over to the police. The big punchline comes when Henry says that the next time Monroe is the victim of sexual violence, he won’t help him.
I’m not making any of this up. I am, however, stealing the details from an article on Cracked. I don’t feel even slightly bad about that because those fuckers keep stealing my screengrabs when they write about ALF, so nuts to them.
Bullock was also a recurring panelist on The Hollywood Squares, where he told shitty jokes as well as anyone else did, I guess. I’m pretty sure ALF was also a panelist, just to give you an idea of how prestigious it was.
Jim J. Bullock found himself the subject of headlines and news stories when he openly told the world that he was HIV positive. The timing of this review is interesting, as Charlie Sheen — a similarly famous figure of similarly limited talents — has also opened up about having HIV. The response to Sheen now is probably comparable to the response to Bullock then, right down to the unfortunate jokes and “What did you expect?” condescension.
I’m by no means a fan of either Bullock or Sheen, but I feel for both of them. God knows I’ve made my share of mistakes. We all have. The fact that I don’t have HIV, a criminal record, an illegitimate child, or anything along those lines doesn’t suggest that I’ve made uniformly smart decisions…if anything it suggests that I’ve been really fucking lucky a really fucking massive number of times. Granted, I’d like to think that I often make smart decisions, but I can’t say that I’ve never left room for tragedy to creep in. That would be bullshit.
So, no, there probably won’t be too many AIDS jokes in these reviews, because I think that would be out of line. I don’t know how Bullock contracted it, or how Sheen contracted it, and they might not even know. Judgment is going to be kept to a minimum there.
Only there, though, because fucking hell is Bullock punchability on legs. For god’s sake, look at him. He’s Mr. Potato Head with the voice of a gay honeybee.
Not that “sounding” (or being) gay is a bad thing, but Neal, for some reason, seems to be positioned here as a kind of voracious ladies’ man, which is so patently at odds with what we’re seeing that it’s absurd.
If you remember Jim J. Bullock from anything, you know how ridiculous it is for him to play a lock-up-your-daughters character here. And if you don’t…just look at these fucking screengrabs. You could walk in on this guy actively fucking your wife and you wouldn’t feel threatened.
There’s a scene in the camper in which he and Willie talk about how he quit his job selling storm doors, and what he’ll do now, and though it’s a nice enough scene there never seems to be much actual warmth between the brothers.
Bullock, to his credit, seems to be trying to treat Wright as a relative he’s missed and hasn’t seen for years. Wright treats him in return the way he treats everyone else on this show: as a person who needs to finish recording their lines so everybody can go home.
It’s a shame, not because Bullock is great or anything, but because he’s here and we might as well try to make the best of him. Wright, however, seems to have resigned himself to the idea that this show is as good as over. Which is true, of course…but while that could be an excuse to up the effort and go out with a bang, Wright sees it as an excuse to stop investing even the small effort we used to get from him. I’ve seen sleeping people who were more enthusiastic about what they were doing.
The scene ends with Neal asking Willie if he knows “any women that fool around, just a little.” Which is gross, and while it might be meant to play up Neal’s pathetic nature (asking your brother to get you laid is pretty sad; asking Max Wright to get you laid makes you the most worthless creature in the universe), it’s not even slightly believable, and is so clearly forced. It’s like they wrote a line for Patrick Swayze and didn’t bother to change it when Jim J. Bullock was cast instead.
I’m all for suspending disbelief, but this is asking too much. Try as I might, it’s impossible for me to imagine Bullock being interested in vagina in any way other than satisfying his curiosity as to what one looks like.
The next morning Neal cooks breakfast for everyone. We get an idea from this scene of what his wife, Margaret, was like. Evidently she slept a lot, which I guess kind of sucks, but it seems to be meant to demonize her in a way I can’t quite understand. For all we know she had health issues and had to sleep a lot. Admittedly that’s not the implication, but “she liked to sleep” seems like a bizarre way to make the audience think she was a horrible person we should be glad he’s free of.
It does lead to the episode’s best line, though, when Neal, completely without malice, says, “Sometimes I wonder where she got the energy to leave me.” It’s a genuinely good delivery, too.
Then he and Willie talk about eggs for a while, and Lynn confides to her father that ALF made a voodoo doll of him.
Oh, ALF! I forgot he was in this show. It makes sense that he’s assert himself here, though, now that another character has made me laugh. It’s like when a dog hears you unwrapping a slice of cheese.
Willie goes to check on him in the attic and…
That is pretty funny.
Part of me wants this to be a Rush Limbaugh reference. Limbaugh may still do some variation on the idea with Obama, but I remember during the Clinton administration that he’d have these little animated bumpers during his show that read AMERICA HELD HOSTAGE: DAY 228, or however long Clinton had been in the White House. (Google Images is failing me on finding an example, which disappoints me more than it should.)
Clinton didn’t take office until 1993, though, and this episode aired in 1989, so it can’t be that, as I doubt Limbaugh would have been bitching about Bush Sr. in the same way. It must be referencing something else. Either way, I like it.
ALF moans for a while about Neal’s visit meaning he can’t leave the attic, and there’s some crap about ALF writing a note threatening to run him over, but really it’s just padding time until ALF grandly reveals himself.
I mean, he has to reveal himself, right? There’s no other way for this show to handle visitors anymore. It’s like going to a Rick Springfield concert and wondering if he’ll play “Jessie’s Girl.”
In a very rare occurrence on this show (which goes unremarked upon), Kate and ALF are in agreement; they both think that Neal needs to get the fuck out of their house.
For ALF this makes sense, because he’s a selfish little nutsack…and also because he’s confined to the attic until Neal leaves. But for Kate, I’m not sure. Frustration after five days of having an unexpected visitor is totally fine, but it’s not as though Neal has been portrayed as annoying or anything. All he’s done so far is cook breakfast and ask Willie to find him a fuckbuddy.
But whatever. Willie’s been such an asshole to her for the past eighty-something episodes that I’m perfectly okay with her being bitchy now and then just to piss him off.
Willie argues with her, leaning on the fact that Neal is his kid brother and needs him. Which is lovely, except that the episode opened with Willie trying to avoid Neal for the same reason. Nice try, dickwipe.
There’s a knock at the door and they both assume it’s ALF, about to ask when he can expect to hear tepid penetration, but it turns out to be Neal.
I guess Eric will be the last Tanner kid, because seeing Jim J. Bullock lean into your bedroom like this has got to be a form of permanent birth control.
He asks them for toilet paper, because he’s wiped his ass so many times that he’s run out, and has even used up all his napkins scraping oily shit slicks out of his cornhole. What a wonderful show this was.
He asks who ALF is, since he overheard Willie saying the name, and Kate covers by saying it’s Willie’s pet name for her. Which is disgusting. Neal says that his pet name for Margaret was his Chicken Taco, so if you ever wanted to envision Jim J. Bullock limply fucking some unconscious lady, you now know what he’d call her.
Anyway, this discussion of horrifying sex names and the need to scrape out Jim J.’s pooper really cement Neal as a welcome addition to the cast. Who knows what this guy will wipe next!
The next morning, Neal is gone. Willie surmises that ALF wrote him another threatening note, so he asks the alien if that’s what happened.
ALF says it’s not, but his ears involuntarily waggle around, giving away his lie, and I actually really like this. It’s cute. Even if this episode sucks ass and ALF’s ear-wiggling contradicts every other time he’s lied in the past, it’s a nice moment, and it takes advantage of the fact that the main character is a puppet…something that happens with odd rarity on this show. Seriously, ALF almost never does anything that a human character couldn’t do. Seeing something like this — which is actually funny — reminds us of just how much potential went unexplored every single week.
At dinner that night (because things only happen on this show at mealtimes) everyone’s pissed at ALF. He tries telling jokes, but nobody’s laughing, because thanks to him Uncle Neal is gone forever, and…
That sure was a needless complication. Anyway, he’s back now, and he didn’t even get mad at ALF’s threatening note. In fact, he assumed it was Willie trying to toughen him up or something.
Whatever. The point is it inspired him to sell the camper and rent an apartment half a mile away. He also applied for a job, and everything’s going to be juuuuust fine. Forever!
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, ALF plays with his Willie voodoo doll, which I admit looks one hell of a lot like my Max Wright voodoo doll:
In the short scene before the credits, ALF writes another threatening note to Neal. Willie catches him, and then ALF scampers away just before Neal comes in.
Since the note was left behind, and Neal seemed to walk right over to it, I assumed the big joke at the end would be that he and Willie would get into an argument about it, and Willie would have to cover for it again, or whatever.
Instead, though, we get a weird second scene with ALF calling Neal’s high school tormentor, telling him where Neal lives so he can come beat him up.
I…don’t care. People can beat the shit out of Jim J. Bullock every hour of his life and it wouldn’t affect me one way or the other. But I wonder why they crafted this big setup about the note, just to cut away when Neal was about to find it and end with an unrelated scene of ALF on the phone.
Granted, I know this is a cliffhanger (and a riveting one, taboot!) but it feels like the phone conversation was a last-minute change to the episode. Maybe they shot Neal finding the note and whatever happened from there, but they didn’t like the way it turned out so they later shot this ALF-only bit to replace it. Considering the very low standards of this show, a scene that didn’t cut the mustard must have been truly shit-awful.
So, welcome to the cast, Jim J. Bullock. I know we’ll see him again next week, and for too many weeks thereafter, so I’m not too concerned that he didn’t see ALF. That’s sure to come soon enough.
What I am concerned about is season four’s desire to introduce new characters. See, I’ve wondered about the show’s intention of doing away with the Tanners in season five…specifically I’ve wondered when that decision was made. It seems as though it would have been made early in season four (or even beforehand) as there have been a few references to ALF starting a new life without the family, and we know that the season ends with him doing exactly that, as potential setup for continuing the show without them.
But the decision to add Neal to the cast — which was to be replaced wholesale the moment the season ended — is bizarre to me. Why are we deepening our knowledge of Willie’s extended family (indeed, inventing a character who’s never been referred to before, and who raises more questions than he answers) if we won’t even be expected to care about Willie by the time the season ends? It’s possible they intended to keep Jim J.’s character around in season five somehow, but I think that’s unlikely. I have genuinely no clue why they brought him in just to get rid of him with everyone else at the end of the season.
It’s weird to me. Baby Eric makes a little more sense, since I know they had to write Anne Schedeen’s real-life pregnancy into the show, but as long as we’re literally winding down this era of ALF’s life, why are we introducing other new characters so late in the game?
Why not more Jodie? Dr. Dykstra? Jake? Or anyone else that was introduced in the show’s first three seasons? Why not do some nice sendoffs for the characters we already know, rather than spotlight new people that the show will soon drop anyway?
It’s so odd to me. Of course, it’s also possible that they haven’t decided to do away with the Tanners yet. That would make a little more sense, but since “Consider Me Gone” has to be written, filmed, and edited sooner rather than later, you’d think the decision of how to end the season would be made by now.
But, oh well. Jar Jar Bullock is here to stay. And he joins Cleavon Little (suicidal black Santa from “ALF’s Special Christmas”) as another actor who sunk from working with Mel Brooks to working with Paul Fusco. It’s hard to imagine a more significant step down in comedy clout than that.
They were in Blazing Saddles and Spaceballs respectively…one is clearly a better film than the other, but they’re both pretty great in their own right, so I won’t pick on Bullock too much for being in the lesser one. (In total fairness to him, compared to Blazing Saddles just about any other comedy can be considered “the lesser one.”)
Were there any other actors who appeared in both ALF and a Mel Brooks film? I’d be surprised if so, but I might as well ask. It saves me having to be up all night worrying.
Anyway, that’s that. I’ll see you next week for “Willie’s Brother Lives in the Driveway, Until He Doesn’t Anymore: Part 2.”
In the meantime, I’d just like to remind you that Christmas is coming, and if anyone wants to make me a little Willie voodoo doll like ALF has, they’d instantly become the greatest person on the internet.
I HAVE THE POWER TO AWARD THAT TITLE
Countdown to ALF being drawn and quartered in front of the Tanners: 17 episodes
* I really want this to be what people say whenever he enters a room.