Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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ALF, "Happy Together"

So little happens on this show, which I’m sure you know. What you may not know is that this sometimes works in its favor. After all, when ALF might as well be 23 minutes of static, every minor disruption to what we’re expecting is interesting by default.

That’s why background details like a singed curtain or a new shirt on Mr. Ochmonek register. That’s why acting from a competent guest star stands out. That’s why silly jokes — like Jim J. Bullock raising his hand last week — feel like they’re better than they really are.

ALF has cemented such a baseline level of laziness that literally anything that has thought invested in it shines. That’s why the moment I started this episode, and saw the scene above, I started paying attention.

Who are these guys on the couch? They’re in nice suits. Are they the FBI? They seem to be watching something on television. Is it surreptitious footage of ALF raping something in the back yard? Are the Tanners well and truly caught?

…probably not, because we still have 13 episodes to go, and sitcoms around this time weren’t very serialized. But the answer doesn’t matter as much as the fact that the question — a question — is being asked by the very first frame.

Whoever these guys turn out to be, and whatever it turns out they’re doing, is almost insignificant in the face of the fact that they’re somebody and they’re doing something. It could turn out that they’re crack-induced manifestations of Willie’s personal angel and devil for all I care. My point is that I’m watching ALF and for once, something is happening…even if I don’t know what it is. (Do you, Mr. Jones?)

It turns out they’re representatives from a timeshare company. ALF called them for some reason and Willie and Kate are just patiently sitting through their promotional video. When it ends one of the salesmen pulls a pen out of his pocket and Kate says, in one of the show’s long line of perfect Anne Schedeen readings, “Harry. Put the pen away.”

Then Willie goes into the kitchen to hatefuck ALF and that’s about it for the opening scene. But, you know what? Something happened. I started watching an episode of ALF, found myself unsure of what was happening, and I ended up paying attention. We got a nice little anti-punchline from Kate and…well, that’s about all that’s worth mentioning, but I was interested.

It didn’t take much. Just some kind of unexpected setup, and a little bit of thought given to an answer.

Any writer worth his or her salt does this without thinking. For the staff of ALF you can almost feel the strain. But you know what?

Good on them. Yes, they probably broke their backs to do what talented writers do naturally, but they got my attention. And, what’s more, they didn’t entirely waste it. (They only wasted most of it.)

Credit where it’s due: good on them.

ALF, "Happy Together"

This week, the part of Willie Tanner will be played by Popeye the Sailor Man.

We find out that ALF has been inviting all manner of salesmen into the house, with the implication being that he thinks he’ll win some kind of prize. It’s…hard to explain, but I do seem to remember a lot of sales techniques exploiting that gimmick in the past, and I’m pretty sure it still happens at car dealerships at least.

As best as I can tell, you need to commit to sitting through some kind of sales pitch, after which you’re entered into a drawing for some prize or other. (ALF alludes to a new car and a vacation package.) Willie makes the point that nobody actually wins those drawings, and while I’m sure he’s right I don’t know how they actually get away with that.

Presumably there’s some kind of loophole exploited, as you can’t legally promise that someone will be entered into a drawing that doesn’t exist. (Well, scratch that…you probably could, but a business could not.) Maybe the companies just choose someone who conveniently forgot to fill out their contact information, so the prize can’t actually be given away.

I have no idea, but ALF has been on this planet for three years and one week, and has worked as a salseman himself, so he should be slightly savvier when it comes to this shit. Instead he’s still misunderstanding the things he was misunderstanding on day one.

To the family’s credit, they’re pretty pissed off at him. They don’t say that he should know better by now, but at least their reaction is understandable.

ALF, "Happy Together"

…until it suddenly isn’t.

Willie sends ALF to the attic, but ALF says, defiantly, “No.”

And he makes a big speech about how unfair it is to live in this house, and he’s leaving. At which point everyone shifts into quietly mocking his decision.

So…a few points. The quickest is just this reminder: this is the umpteenth time this season we’ve been teased with the idea of ALF starting a new life without the Tanners. And, just in case you don’t know by now, this season indeed ends with ALF attempting just that. Should the show have progressed to its expected season five, the Tanners would have been written out, with the setting shifting to the Alien Task Force Base, where ALF is held captive. Presumably he’d be forced to watch cheesy movies and riff on them with some sleepy guy and another puppet…but we’ll never know, because ALF was cancelled between the end of season four and the production of season five.

Therefore all of this “Screw you guys; I’m going home” stuff is likely deliberate foreshadowing. I’ve lost track of how many times this season ALF’s new Tannerless life has been alluded to, but I’m sure it’s at least five. That’s about once every other episode, so I’m fairly convinced it’s deliberate.

Now, my other point:

Fuck this fuckass fuck.

He keeps inviting salesmen over. Even if he somehow didn’t learn not to do this within the past three years, he should certainly have learned it just in the episode so far, since we’re told he keeps doing it against Willie’s wishes. Willie sends him to his room — a very minor punishment — and ALF rebels, turns on the “poor, poor pitiful me” routine, and heads out to lay his head on the railroad tracks and wait for the Double E.

And…fine. Okay. ALF is ALF. I get it by this point.

But moments like this make me wish there was a human being somewhere in this cast, because this dude really needs a spanking. Instead of smirking and saying, “Oh, you…” they should be grabbing him by the shoulders and saying, “What the fuck is your problem?”

ALF’s got a sweet setup here. He’s spoiled, if anything. He knowingly defies Willie’s requests to stop inviting salesmen over, and then flips out when he receives the mildest punishment available to the human race.

Somebody needs to smack him across the face, because he doesn’t seem to realize what the situation actually is, that he has no right to be offended by it, and that this is the best things will ever be. (That holds true for both ALF and for ALF; yes, Paul Fusco could probably do with a good smack as well.)

Instead they all immediately react to ALF’s pity party and seem to forget that he was being punished at all.

But hey, of course they did. That was on the previous page of the script; we’re on this page now, so forget all that other shit.

ALF, "Happy Together"

ALF leaves, and the Tanners demonstrate just how little that bothers them at this point. Remember when he left in “Looking For Lucky,” and they combed all of LA on foot, asking everyone they met if they saw the super secret space alien that escaped from their house? Well, now they look out the kitchen window for a bit and call it a night.

I’m not even exaggerating; that’s all they do. In fact, Kate’s biggest concern here seems to be that the automatic sprinklers are going to turn on soon, and when ALF gets wet he smells like shit.

The episode doesn’t call attention to it, so I doubt much of it was deliberate, but…damn, their diminished lack of concern for ALF could have made for a great episode.

The show is winding down (which, okay, the writers don’t know…but they do know the Tanners are being wished to the cornfield), and ALF has learned nothing and continues to infuriate everybody. Why not make that the episode? We’re already pretty much there; ALF has misbehaved, refuses his fair punishment, and runs away instead. The Tanners realize that maybe they’re okay with him leaving, if that’s the way he’s going to be.

Have them — all of them — have to face that fact. That’s the conflict of your episode.

Whatever they hoped to get out of this alien concealment scheme of theirs, it’s not worth it. Willie’s going insane. Kate’s at the end of her wit’s end. There’s a new baby in the house. Lynn is starting her adult life. Brian has finally stopped drinking paint. The family should be at a kind of crossroads here, and ALF pulling this bullshit again, for the third year running, should force their hand to issue an ultimatum. He can either shape up — for real this time — or go fuck himself. For real this time. And if he chooses the latter, they’re realizing that they’d actually be okay with that.

That should have been the conflict for this episode. Instead…well…you’ll see what the actual conflict for this episode is.

I promise…it’s a doozy.

ALF, "Happy Together"

We see ALF hanging out by some trash cans, talking to himself. He’s basically moping because he knows that if he goes back, the Tanners won’t take him seriously the next time he threatens to walk out over petty nonsense and let them rebuild their lives.

Huh…when I write it out like that, it somehow sounds ridiculous.

I don’t know where this is supposed to take place. In a moment ALF leaves and then Willie pokes his head over the fence, so it’s not the Tanners’ yard.

I guess ALF is in the Ochmoneks’ yard? It’s tempting to assume that this is in front of the Tanner house, because that’s where people’s trash cans are often left out, but we’ve seen plenty of establishing shots of this house and there’s never been a fence out front. So…I have no idea.

Anyway, Willie just misses ALF. But then the sprinklers turn on and Willie gets wet, in an unexpected payoff to the setup 10 seconds ago when Kate said that that’s exactly what was going to happen.

ALF, "Happy Together"

Then there’s a scene that really gives away how badly the actors want to be done with this show. Kate says she’s worried about ALF, but Anne Schedeen can’t bring herself to show the proper concern. The “Put the pen away” delivery earlier on is important, because it shows she can still deliver a line when she cares about it. Here, though she should care about it, and claims to care about it, she clearly doesn’t care about it.

Willie then says he’s worried because ALF can’t keep out of trouble, and concludes, “He’s dead.”

But he says that with the smile we see above; the biggest, most convincing smile Max Wright’s ever smiled in his life.

We’re in an episode in which these two characters are supposed to be worried they’ll never see ALF again, while the actors themselves clearly never want to see ALF again. It’s a very interesting and odd viewing experience. And it concludes with Max Wright doing this:

ALF, "Happy Together"

Which is the international sign for “You literally could not pay me to give a fuck.”

ALF finds a new place to live with…

ALF, "Happy Together"

Mother of fuck! It’s Jim J. Bullock!

How did ALF get there? Nobody knows, nobody says, nobody asks. That’s just the state of the show right now.

Remember “For Your Eyes Only”? For ALF to visit Jodie, he had to secretly arrange it with Lynn, wear a disguise, and be immensely careful about every step he took. Remember “I’ve Got a New Attitude”? For ALF to visit Kate Sr., he had to box himself up and hire a courier to deliver him to her apartment.

Granted, one of those episodes was total garbage, but they both demonstrate a willingness on the part of the writing staff to answer a basic logistical question: if the alien can never be seen, but we need him somewhere else, how do we get him there?

“Happy Together” faces that some question, but just says fuck it. Granted, season three had ALF strut around town a few times, but in “Standing in the Shadows of Love” he was with Jake, who presumably helped him to stay unseen, and in “Suspicious Minds” the whole thing turned out to be a dream.

Here ALF, alone, wanders the neighborhood, finds Neal’s new apartment — where he’s never been before, mind you — and somehow makes it all the way inside, up to and through Neal’s door, which we see in the establishing shot is on the highest floor, without being spotted.

Is that possible? Sure.

But how did he do it?

The episode doesn’t care, and, for some reason, neither does Neal. He just shows his grandmother’s antique snowglobe to ALF so ALF can break it and the fake audience of dead people can yuk it up.

Jim J. Bullock shows more concern than anyone else in the episode when he’s sad about his heirloom being destroyed. And even then he’s only sad for two and a half seconds. Immediately after that he’s merrily making tea.

ALF, "Happy Together"

I can’t even blame Bullock for this. He’s told at the end of one page of his script to be devastated that his only memento of his grandmother is smashed on the floor, then at the top of the next page he’s making casual conversation with a naked mole rat. Yes, Bullock’s shift in performance is jarring…but how could it not be? They could have hired Jack Nicholson for this scene and it wouldn’t have been any better. There’s only so far this shitty writing can go. (For those wondering, it never gets cleaned up, either; the snowglobe remains smashed on the floor for the rest of sitcom eternity.)

Maybe I’m just especially frustrated because Neal and ALF reprise their conversation from the end of “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face.” There and here, Neal tries desperately to get ALF to spit out some Melmac Facts. Which is, obviously, something most human beings would do when encountering a space alien that speaks English.

There I was frustrated that the writers didn’t bother to have ALF answer any of his questions, but it was just about excusable due to the fact that it was the final scene in the episode. A half hour block of television only lets you cover so much ground, and if the writers chose to focus their attention elsewhere — for better or for worse — so be it.

Now, though, we’re not even halfway through the episode. There’s plenty of time for these two assholes to have a discussion, and Neal tries to get one going. But ALF tells him nothing, because the writers didn’t want to think of anything.

Neal asks how far away Melmac was. ALF says he doesn’t know.

Neal asks which solar system it was in, and ALF says he doesn’t know that, either.

Which…fuck you, show. Yeah, it builds to a joke about how ALF majored in P.E., but come on. He was in the fucking Orbit Guard. He flew around in his own personal space ship. He was tasked with defending the planet (which…yeah, that explains a lot). But he doesn’t know what solar system he’s from? That’s like being a long haul trucker and not knowing what state you live in. I don’t care how dumb you are; whether it’s maps or star charts, if your job involves travel you know how to get the fuck home.

And regarding the distance from Earth, ALF traveled that distance himself. Personally. He can’t estimate it? Granted, I don’t know offhand how far Las Vegas is from my house, but because I made the journey I can say it was about an hour and a half by plane. I can provide some idea of the scale of the journey, and I can do that because it’s a trip I took. Just like you could give me some idea of how long it took you to get wherever you went last. ALF can’t provide any information at all.

Yeah, he’s a dumbass. But he’s not incapable of answering these questions. The writers just didn’t want to spend their time figuring stuff like this out, so they don’t.

I can’t imagine we missed much by being robbed of a season five. In it I assume all of the characters would have stood around shrugging at each other.

ALF, "Happy Together"

Willie comes over to get ALF, but ALF pretends that he doesn’t want to go home because Willie beats him. Ha! Wrongfully accusing family members of violent abuse. Classic, wholesome comedy for all.

Neal volunteers to keep ALF, because they’ve been having a “great time.” Even though we’ve seen all of the time they’ve spent together so far, and it’s involved ALF showing up unannounced, breaking an irreplaceable valuable, and refusing to answer basic questions about what the fuck he is. GREAT TIME SHITHEADS

There’s a decently nice moment when Willie agrees to let Neal keep him, and really harps on the fact that he should have a working fire extinguisher, but it’s nothing great. Maybe it would be funnier if Neal had little kids in the house, so Willie could warn him about ALF’s much more horrible hobbies.

ALF, "Happy Together"

After the commercial we see ALF talking to a phone sex operator. Classic, wholesome comedy for all.

He describes himself as tall with great abs, and she does that moany, giggly routine you saw in 976 commercials that aired after midnight.

This is at least the second overt reference to ALF furiously masturbating to phone sex lines, for those keen on reminding me that this is a children’s show.

ALF, "Happy Together"

Neal comes home and sees that the place is a wreck. ALF threw a bunch of shit around and smashed a window, covering the hole with a “Mino’s Pizza” box. Obviously they didn’t want to pay to use the Domino’s Pizza name, but then I wonder why they didn’t just use a generic pizza box instead. Or, ideally, one from Pizza Barge, which was already this show’s royalty-free pizza delivery place.

Part of me is hoping there’s a whole backstory about a passionate pizza chef named Dom Mino who is sick of his restaurant being constantly mistaken for that shitty chain. All of me would rather watch that show.

Neal politely asks ALF why he didn’t clean up the way he promised to, or call the electrician like he promised to, or clean the cum out of the toothpaste like he promised to, and ALF tells him to eat a dick.

Then the doorbell rings, and Neal tells ALF, “Quick, go to the bathroom.”

That’s funny, because Neal doesn’t have a kitchen the way the Tanners do, so the hiding room in this apartment makes for some decent wordplay.

But then ALF says, “Okay!” and makes a face and shudders to suggest that he’s voiding his bowels on the carpet.

…fucking really, ALF?

ALF, "Happy Together"

It’s Neal’s boss at the door, some black lady we will clearly never see again. She chews him out for being a shitty handyman, and I get the sense that we’re supposed to see ALF as the cause of this crap. Yes, the call to the electrician was for another tenant, but she says there have been complaints all throughout the building about sinks and toilets not working as well…and I don’t think we can really blame ALF for that. He’s been masturbating to phone sex lines! It’s the universal alibi!

So…is the idea that ALF was supposed to be calling repair people for all of these problems, and he didn’t do it?

If so, yeah, he’s a dickfart. But Neal is no less of a dickfart. He’s the handyman, so why is he acting like a call center? And what is he out doing all day that’s preventing him from calling these people himself? He’s not going to work; this is his work. He just vanishes until night time because that’s what the script says he does.

Is “Happy Together” actively attempting to set a record for smallest amount of narrative effort?

Then the lady leaves and ALF comes out of the bathroom and does his racist impression of her West Indian accent.

CLASSIC WHOLESOME COMEDY FOR ALL

ALF, "Happy Together"

Later that night we get what might be a deliberate callback to “Looking For Lucky.” In that episode ALF danced around a wrecked living room to a shitty cover of “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Now he’s dancing around a wrecked living room to to a shitty cover of “Tutti Fruitti.” So, just in case you thought ALF might have learned something in three years on Earth, it’s made unmistakably clear here that he has not.

One thing I do like: there’s another pizza box on the window, meaning ALF broke it again sometime between the last scene and this one. See what I mean about small details standing out when the show’s baseline is so low?

Anyway, that’s all I like. Neal and ALF yell at each other for a bit, and while it’s not a bad idea to have a new character for ALF to annoy, it’s a shame that ALF really is pulling the literal first things he pulled on Earth anyway. It’s not him annoying someone new in a way unique to that person; it’s him repeating himself because that’s easier.

Life on Earth is a rich experience. I’ve been through things and seen things and done things that you never will. And I’m a fucking nobody. And you guys…no matter how dull or pointless you think your life is, your experience is something I’ll never know.

We have overlap, sure, but right now, as you read this, your mind is working differently than mine is while writing it. And all of us here, right now, combined, don’t have the personal experience that anybody else has. Some guy at a desk in Moscow lives a life we’ll never understand. Somebody who lives down the street also lives a life we’ll never understand.

As small as the world feels and as limited as our day to day activities are, there’s enough in the way of variation that no two lives will ever be the same.

ALF, by disarming contrast, can’t go three years without repeating himself note for note. So unimaginative is this writing staff that they keep treading over the same plots and jokes endlessly. The premise of this show is that an alien experiences life on Earth for the first time, but somehow the human beings writing this show heard “life on Earth” and could only think of about 10 or 15 things that that entailed.

And that’s infuriating. Human beings should know how rich their own planet is with potential, and this is someone experiencing all of it for the first time.

This guy can do anything. Why are they dead set on having him do nothing?

Then cops come to the door and Jim J. Bullock shits himself.

ALF, "Happy Together"

Surprisingly, we get a moment of pretty good physical comedy. Great, even, by this show’s standards.

Willie and Kate hear something in the night, and pad into the living room. Kate asks, “What if it’s a burglar?”

Willie says, “Don’t worry, honey. I’ve got the lamp.” He picks up the lamp and Kate absently flips the light switch…which causes the lamp to turn on and scare the shit out of Willie, who drops it.

It’s basic stuff, and it’s nothing you haven’t seen other sitcoms do better, but it largely works, and it’s nice to see somebody who isn’t made of old carpet samples getting laughs.

It’s Neal, of course, but he was sleeping so I don’t know what they heard that panicked them so much. Maybe he farts a lot.

ALF, "Happy Together"

Lynn comes out too to see what’s wrong, making this another in a long line of scenes in which everyone forgets there are more members of this family. (I seriously can’t remember if Brian’s had a line yet. I had to look back over my screengrabs just to reassure myself that he was in the episode at all.)

Jim J. Bullock overacts for a few minutes, bitching about ALF.

Which, okay, fine. ALF sucks dick. But really it’s just a repetitive way to pad out the episode. We know ALF is annoying. The Tanners know ALF is annoying. Neal knows ALF is annoying. To have the characters sit around and repeat “ALF is annoying” to each other is just evidence that they had no idea what to do with this plot.

…which makes me wonder, again, why the fuck it’s not about the Tanners and ALF coming to terms with their strained relationship.

Once again, we have an episode that stumbled over a solid premise worth exploring. Once again, the writers decide it’s too much work to explore it, so they have characters sit around and talk about Poochie.

Anne Schedeen does her best to sell a recurring joke in which Kate tries to convince Neal to keep ALF, but it never really goes anywhere, and Willie eventually yells at her to shut up, just to remind readers here what a great guy he is.

Eventually Paul Fusco gets antsy with all these “other” “people” delivering lines and stuff, so we cut to ALF and see that he shat fucking everywhere.

ALF, "Happy Together"

Aaand that’s pretty much the punchline of the whole episode. We knew ALF made a mess of Neal’s apartment, and the grand reveal is that when we cut back to him the mess is slightly larger.

Brilliant.

Willie and Neal come over to inform ALF that he’s going to have to live with the Tanners again, so he burps a bunch of times. Then Neal hugs him and he burps again.

It would be more respectful to the audience if these assholes just gave the camera the finger for three minutes.

ALF, "Happy Together"

In the short scene before the credits, ALF dicks around at the table. He asks Lynn to get him a beer and calls her “Legs,” and, man, this show has been so repulsive over the years that I expect the next episode will see him bending her over the table and buttfucking her while the rest of the family reads the paper.

Willie sends ALF to the attic, because that was his earlier punishment, from way back when the episode might have been good. Neal presumably spends the next 18 months cleaning alien shit out of the carpet.

Countdown to ALF getting a Colombian necktie in front of the Tanners: 13 episodes

MELMAC FACTS: ALF majored in Physical Education.

Jan Terri, "Excuse My Christmas"

The Xmas Bash!!! has become an annual tradition around here, but I realize now that its purpose (and appeal) might be a bit unclear to folks who haven’t attended. For those who have, you know what it’s all about. For those who haven’t, it probably seems like this impenetrable oddity that I don’t shut up about for 30 days out of the year.

What’s the deal with the lousy Christmas specials? Why in the world would anyone give up their night for that? And what’s with the money you’re collecting?

All valid questions that I’m sure many readers have asked themselves. Which is why I want to take some time to talk about the event. Even those who have made it out to all three years (the true Noiseless Chatter veterans who deserve your respect and pity) might not know entirely what it is, how it came to be, or why it’s important to me. So here’s a brief history of The Bash!!! and its development.

And please do comment below with any questions or suggestions for the future. If anything it’s an organic, evolving beast, and I want every year to be the best year yet.

Conception

ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

The Xmas Bash!!!, like so much of modern entertainment, owes its genesis to ALF. No, really; it does. Three years later it amuses me deeply that this whole massive event is technically a spinoff of the ALF reviews, but it is.

In 2013, I started reviewing every episode of that often insane, periodically troubling puppet show. I posted a review every week, and at some point I realized that my review of “Oh, Tannerbaum” (the show’s first Christmas special) would be posted a week after Christmas.

That was fine, but it was so close to Christmas that it seemed like a missed opportunity. I considered shuffling up the order, just that once, so that I could get that review live within the appropriate week, but ultimately I decided not to. (Chaos theory in action: had I started reviewing ALF just one week sooner than I did, the Xmas Bash!!! would not exist.)

Instead I decided that it would be fun to screen “Oh, Tannerbaum” together, with all of my readers and whomever else decided to show up. That way we could all watch it before Christmas, even if the review wouldn’t be posted until afterward.

That’s it. That’s the entire genesis of the Xmas Bash!!! I just wanted a way to get “Oh, Tannerbaum” in front of people during the right week.

From there, I thought it would be fun if we all riffed on it together. We wouldn’t just watch ALF; we’d review it as a group. I wrote my review ahead of time so that I wouldn’t have my opinions tainted or changed by anything anyone said, but the idea of everyone commenting on it in real time was appealing to me, so I found a streaming site that offered live chat: Twitch.

I tested the stream out a few times with a friend (J.P., who has served as my technical troubleshooter all three years), and it seemed like it would work. It was something that could actually happen, and I was excited.

Fleshing it Out

Sabrina, the Teenage Witch

Of course, screening “Oh, Tannerbaum” would take all of 23 minutes, and asking people to tune in just for that seemed…silly. Especially if we ended up having fun. What would happen after the episode ended? We’d just say goodnight and find other things to do? Nuts to that.

So I figured I’d find a few other Christmas specials — preferably corny ones — to follow it up. I had Hulu Plus at the time, and since that was my source for “Oh, Tannerbaum” I thought I’d comb through their other offerings and find a few more that way. That’s how I ended up with shows like Major Dad and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.

Those aren’t shows I ever would have thought about otherwise, but they set the precedent for the kind of thing I’d look for in the future. It’s also how I stumbled upon the great Lassie Christmas episode, which opens with the titular dog being creamed by a careless driver. I’d never even heard of that episode, and I had no idea what happened in it. It was just a show I remembered watching as a kid, and it had a Christmas episode. Fate brought that one to us, and it’s still one of the funniest Xmas Bash!!! memories for me.

I found as many episodes as I could and realized I could make a whole night out of it, so that’s what I did.

The Partridge Family, "Don't Bring Your Guns to Town, Santa"

The only problem was switching between episodes. I could just leave the screen capture running and let people watch me navigate Hulu finding the next special, and that would have been fine (if damned clunky), but I really wanted something to fill that dead space between episodes.

That’s when I figured I’d host the show, and give the night some structure and narrative.

Sure, we could just watch a bunch of disconnected Christmas specials…but as long as I had dead space to fill, why not give it a purpose? The idea of watching and riffing on Christmas specials was obviously in line with Mystery Science Theater 3000, so I decided to provide similar breaks from the chaos in the form of host segments.

Host Segments

Host Segments, Year One

The host segments had to be simple, since I was filming this stuff the day it aired. Beyond that, I didn’t really have much of an idea for them.

My humor tends toward the dark and self-effacing, and I figured that would make for a good counterpoint to the sap and syrup we’d likely get throughout the night in the Christmas specials. I made a list of a few sad things the holiday season could bring out in someone (being lonely, remembering traumatic Christmases past, eating shitty candy), and improvised around those.

I’ll be the first to say that they should have been more tightly scripted or edited. I wanted it to feel natural, but I probably went too far in that direction. I know first hand how difficult it is for the joke to be “this guy isn’t funny” without the experience actually being unfunny, and yet I keep trying that approach over and over again (see the first episode of my old Save-State Gamer series), never truly learning the lesson.

The host segments received some positive feedback, but for my money they were still a bit too loose and unfocused. They broke up the night (which is good), and tied all of the Christmas specials together (which is also good), but compared to the later Xmas Bash!!!es, they were a drag, and gave the night a too-lethargic feel. I was learning as I went, so I don’t mean to be too critical of myself, but there’s no way I’d ever return to that zero-energy approach in the future. I don’t know how anyone sat through those. Hopefully they served as a great chance to urinate without worrying that you’re missing anything.

My tie and sweater vest made me look even nerdier than usual, which led viewer Daniel to repeatedly riff on me looking like the host of an NPR pledge drive. It was unexpectedly prescient…as we’ll see.

Host Segments, Year Three

From a logistical standpoint, the host segments all lived together in the same video file; I’d pause it when the segment was over, click over to the Hulu window to air a special, then click back over to the video file and unpause it for the next host segment.

Due to this the progress bar at the bottom of the video player let everyone know how deep into the night we were. I was fine with that (and I saw it as a good thing, actually), but somebody riffed on my performance by saying that it seemed like when the little blue line was full, I’d commit suicide.

That’s what led to the running joke of me dying every year in the host segments. I didn’t actually die the first year, but the suicide joke gained traction in the chat, and something happened to the stream that prevented anyone from seeing the ending, so it became passive canon that my character, indeed, killed himself.

Merry Xmas!

Technical Difficulties

Here’s what prevented anyone from seeing the ending: the stream died.

Lassie, "A Christmas Story"

As the night wore on, I got very excited by how many viewers we had. We probably started with around 30, but before long we hit 100. And we kept going from there. Not too shabby for something spur of the moment with no planning.

The reason we got so many viewers, I’m sure, is that we were on Twitch, which is a very popular streaming site. Their own users were looking for something to watch, found us, and tuned in. It was great, and it’s still the largest Bash!!! turnout we’ve had yet.

With visibility, however, came the problem of legality. Someone reported the stream as being against Twitch’s Terms of Service, and we were shut down. Unfortunate, but…I couldn’t really argue.

Some folks have asked what specials we missed out on that night, but don’t worry; there were only two more to go when we got canned. The first was The Fat Albert Christmas Special, which we aired the following year, and the next was a repeat of “Oh, Tannerbaum” for those who tuned in late. I’m sad that we didn’t get to end the stream properly, but nothing was truly lost.

That meant that we only got to air seven specials that night. But that’s okay, because seven is a really nice number anyway, and each year since we’ve aired seven more. Another accidental birth of tradition.

The ending of Year One

The fact that someone reported us is the reason I don’t post the link to the stream ahead of time anymore. That’s why I make the stream private. It doesn’t always prevent unfortunate moderation, but as of now, secrecy is the only choice I have. That’s why I’m very interested in finding a new streaming solution, but we’ll get to that.

That wasn’t the only technical issue of the night, though. J.P. helped me troubleshoot ahead of going live, but when we started the stream, there was an unfortunate echo effect to the audio. I tried everything I could to fix it, but folks were already watching. They were stuck listening to ALF repeat endlessly, “It’s the day before Christmas! I’ve hidden all the eggs,” which has since become a kind of Noiseless Chatter shibboleth.

Longtime reader Jeff emailed me this year to say, “The best traditions are the ones that arise organically from awesome events, as did this one.” And looking back on the way these Bash!!!es have unfolded, it’s so true. I could have sat down one day and manufactured a special event out of thin air…but it wouldn’t have felt the same. It’d feel too deliberate. Too intentional.

A tradition born of beautiful accidents means so much more.

While fixing the audio I chose to play that terrible “Chacarron” song to keep people entertained, but if there’s anything that makes that song even worse it’s a compounding echo effect. So, you’re welcome.

At some point I got the echo down to a very low level; even though the lines were repeated they were done so very quietly. Somebody observed that this sounded like demonic whispering in the background of all the shows.

I was okay with this.

Charity Telethon

RIP Robin Williams

That was the first Xmas Bash! Between that and the second one, something big happened: Robin Williams committed suicide.

I was never a big fan of Williams. In fact, he kind of annoyed me. But his suicide was important because of how it made people react. The outpouring not of grief, but of identification.

I heard and saw friends coming out of the woodwork to talk about their own struggles with depression, their own suicidal thoughts, their own difficulties making it through any given day. In just about every case, I never would have guessed that these people important to me were facing demons like that. It was something everyone had always been afraid to talk about, until Williams’ suicide reminded them that bottling it up could very likely kill them.

Williams was a celebrity. He was well-loved. He was wealthy. He had a family and a career and a deep and important legacy. And then, in August, demons nobody knew he had defeated him. It shocked a lot of people, and helped a lot of others to open up.

As a response, I invited readers to submit their stories. They did. It was profoundly heartbreaking and inspiring. That’s still my favorite thing we’ve ever done on this site. One day Noiseless Chatter will no longer exist, and I’d be surprised if anything I do between now and that point that means more to me.

But it also frustrated me. I wanted to do something.

People out there were hurting. They needed help. They needed to know they weren’t alone. I came up with the idea for a Mental Health Scholarship. I’d collect money and put together whatever sum I could…and offer that to someone around the holidays. Someone who needed therapy or medication that they couldn’t afford. Someone who needed the help.

ALF, "ALF's Special Christmas"

I talked to my friend Emily — one of this site’s longest readers and supporters — and discovered a lot of logistical problems in terms of getting and handling the money. On top of that, I also knew that by selecting a recipient I’d be denying the funds from others who needed them. I could make Christmas brighter for one person, and unfortunately remind others how far from help they were.

It wasn’t something I could legally or emotionally figure out, so she advised me to find a charity that already did what I was trying to do, and collect the money for them.

She was right, of course. That was the solution. So I found The Trevor Project, which specifically offers mental health and suicide prevention services to LGTBQ youth. I was thrilled to find them, and they’ve been incredible to work with.

As difficult as the holidays are for me — and for countless others, including, perhaps, you — I can’t imagine how much harder they are for young folks who have been kicked out of their homes and shunned by their families because of who they are. I mean, I’m a straight white male from a well-enough-off family, college educated, free from disability or addiction, and most likely the handsomest man on Earth. If I have trouble getting through life, I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it is for others.

Host Segments, Year Two

I don’t mean to be flippant (aside from the handsome thing; I’m actually quite unattractive). My point is just that by mere circumstance of my birth, I don’t have to deal with so many of the hurdles that others have to. If I did have to deal with those, things would be exponentially harder. And I feel deeply for people in situations worse than mine.

So the 2nd Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash!! would have a charitable component. That worked well, in one way, because it was already a longform entertainment event, like the charity telethons of old. But in another way, it posed a problem.

Amanda

Amanda!

If the Xmas Bash!! was going to be helping people — and soliciting actual financial donations to a reputable organization — there was a potential tonal inconsistency.

How could I be funny in the host segments and ask people to take me (and the night) seriously? How could we ridicule ALF and The Partridge Family and Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey if we were supposed to be doing some good for others?

Charity is serious. Comedy is not. There was a problem of balance that I didn’t know how to overcome, short of turning all of the host segments into scenes of me saying, “We’re having a lot of fun here tonight, but here’s what’s not so fun…”

I didn’t want that.

There’s no way you’d want that.

I wanted to facilitate donations without demanding them. If folks had no interest in giving to charity, I still wanted them to enjoy the night and laugh their heads off. But if they did want to donate, I wanted them to understand that that was a serious (and very much appreciated) option. I needed to have it both ways.

That’s where Amanda came in. Amanda’s been in a strange sort-of-cohost position for the past two Bash!!!es. That’s by design. If I can do my own ridiculous sad-sack bullshit in the host segments, she needs to be able to stand apart from (and, in a way, above) the rest of the night. When she lets you know about The Trevor Project, it means something different than if you’d heard it from me, acting like a bozo who is slowly freezing to death in a ditch.

Amanda, Year Three

It worked great. She’s been fantastic. I gave her some lines with a sort of subtle humor, but which were largely sincere. I let her know that if she was uncomfortable with any of them for any reason, that she could (and should) let me know, and I’d rewrite them.

She had no concerns with the material at all. She recorded everything I gave her, and even gave the lines a perfectly creepy twist that I adored. Amanda built her own character on top of what I asked from her. She was both serious (as I needed) and hilarious (as I wanted).

Amanda’s a good friend of mine. We bonded around the time of Williams’ suicide, and she revealed herself to be not just a sweet, funny, incredible human being…but a source of genuine inspiration as well. I knew she’d be a perfect fit for the event.

I think I was right, because she ended up being my single favorite thing about the second Xmas Bash!!, and I invited her back for the third. In fact, much of what she said and did in the third was improvised; she built even more of a persona for herself, and deviated substantially from the material I gave her. I couldn’t be happier.

After this year’s Bash!!!, I learned that she had been worried about participating in these events, as she has a fear of public speaking.

I had no idea.

I’m glad I didn’t know, because if I did I wouldn’t have asked her. Instead she pushed through it, and came out the other end feeling more secure and confident in herself. A very coincidental — and very reassuring — byproduct of the stream’s increasing good intentions.

Viva Variety

Ronnie the Skeleton, "Deck the Halls"

Of course, telethons tend to be very varied events. And, yes, following a magical space robot singing about Jesus with a story about the time Pac-Man saved Santa Claus would indeed count as “varied events.” But I wanted more than just different shows; I wanted a reason for folks to keep watching, to worry about missing something, to keep the energy up throughout the night and encourage people to stay alert and interested.

And I handled that in a few ways. For starters, I thought it might be fun to dig up more archival stuff. We had the specials, but I inserted vintage commercials into the breaks as well. And between specials, I aired smaller pieces of longer things that I’d never dare show an audience in their entirety. This included the Jefferson Starship segment from the Star Wars holiday travesty, David Bowie and Bing Crosby singing “Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth,” and the Ninja Turtles performing “The Wrap Rap” from We Wish You a Turtle Christmas, which I aired in its entirety this past year anyway because I hate you.

The addition of commercials and inane Christmas musical sequences continued this year, and likely will as long as I can find material to sustain them. Maybe at some point I’ll need to repeat some of those smaller segments, but that’s okay. They’re just a few minutes here and there, and they keep the pace up. They’re so far removed from listening to me drone on between specials, and I’d like to think they’re a thousand times more enjoyable as well. For whatever reason, they tend to get riffed even harder; maybe everyone realizes that they only have a few seconds to make their best joke. I’m glad, because reading the chat during Jingle Cats footage, for instance, is guaranteed to be painfully funny.

In addition I asked a few folks to put together special segments of their own. We had original music from Andy Starkey, a debut episode of PortsCenter by Ben Paddon, an original Christmas song from Adam Lore, illusions from Wes Iseli, a new episode of The Big Bible Blastoff from Sammy Scripture, an ALF-heavy installment of No Date Gamers from Ryan, and more.

Wes Iseli, Year Three

And while this was a great way of making the stream feel more varied, I admit that it lost a bit of focus. That’s due in no part whatsoever to those who contributed segments, because all of those were great; it was poor planning on my part.

Three-time Bash!!! veteran Ridley observed on the night that it went against the spirit of the event to include things that are actually good. He’s probably right. Asking someone to shift from laughing at something to laughing with something else is difficult, and it makes things feel confused.

At the very least, the balance was off, and there should have been more vintage programming and less unique content. I still like and want the unique content, but it shouldn’t be a shared focus. It should serve as more of an intermission from the rest of the night’s programming.

So for the 3rd Annual Xmas Bash!!! there was less of it. Another great song from Adam, more awesome illusions from Wes (including one that definitively established me as worse than The Grinch), and a tour de force return from Amanda. Those were natural fits, because their contributions were brief, and served as perfect little signposts throughout the night, rather than distractions from what we were doing.

There will still be unique content in the future, but balancing things will be a priority of mine. For what it’s worth, and to open the discussion, I think the balance achieved this year was ideal. I’d like to hear your thoughts on that, for sure.

Legal Matters

Walker: Texas Ranger, "A Ranger's Christmas"

And that’s pretty much the story of the Xmas Bash!!! So far we’ve raised over $700 for The Trevor Project, which is incredible to me, and I’m endlessly grateful to everyone who tuned in, everyone who donated, everyone who provided content or feedback…and just everyone, really. You guys are fantastic, and I hope you’ll help me to make next year’s — and the year’s after that — even more successful.

Of course, there’s a looming issue: copyright.

Twitch terminated us the first year, and Hitbox terminated us (temporarily) this year. I’d rather not rely on tricking streaming sites into letting us violate them left and right, so if you have any suggestions at all on how to host the stream moving forward, please let me know so I can investigate them.

I’m aware that what we’re doing is a big no-no. It’s copyrighted material. Period. There’s no way around that.

On the other hand, it’s for charity. I’m not making any money off of the event, and any donations go straight to The Trevor Project; they don’t come through me at all.

I’d like to keep this up. I’ve always wanted this event to feel like a Christmas party. A real Christmas party, where you get together with people you like once a year to have fun. To laugh. To drink too much. To be in good company where you can make a crappy joke and nobody will pick on you, because we’re all making crappy jokes in the hope that one of them, against all odds, will manage to be great.

Vintage Silverman's ad

A Christmas party for introverts, who love bad TV because of how bad it is. Who can bond in each other’s nerdy references and reminders of a more sincere time in pop-culture that’s been swept away by irony and winking self-awareness. People who want to dip one toe into the past at a time of year that warrants a little bit of sap. People who may or may not have anywhere else to go, or who just want a break from reality for a few hours.

It is a real party. As real as any party, with the exception of the fact that you’ll never have to worry about running into someone you don’t like.

And we’ve got ALF on the TV and Jan Terri on the playlist, because we can see Charlie Brown anytime and hear the same 50 versions of the same 10 Christmas songs in any given Starbucks. It’s a party at which the host is curating stuff that you won’t see anywhere else, and he’s doing it for a good cause. And just by being there, you’re doing good, too.

So…what can we do? Is there a streaming service that’s amenable to this? Is there some way I can stream it live through my own site? I know I can just host a big video file for download and ask that we all press play at the same time, but that’s a poor solution for many reasons. I’d rather it be something people can drop into and out of throughout the night, so, please, if you’re aware of any way we can do this more reliably in the future, let me know.

The Future, and Questions for You

Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, "Alpha's Magical Christmas"

And speaking of which, let me know what you’ve liked and didn’t like. Which specials have been your favorites?* Which have been your least? I’m aware that they’re all varying degrees of lousy, but I’m curious which ones brought you the most joy to riff on. (And the ones, in all honesty, you felt were pretty dead or unriffable.)

Let me know your suggestions for the future. Bad specials to screen. Christmas songs so odd you’re surprised I haven’t aired them yet. Ideas to make it more fun. Anything. So far each year has been better from the last, and I’d like to keep that up as long as humanly possible.

So let me know what you think. And thanks for all of your support — of the event and the site in general — over the past few years. You’ve taken some mindless outlet for my writing and helped me turn it into something productive and special.

I’ve heard from viewers who tell me how important the stream is to them. I’ve heard from one woman who told me that the Xmas Bash!!! is the only Christmas activity she and her husband participate in. And this year I hosted the same stream on both nights…and saw a significant number of people tune in to both nights simply because they enjoyed it so much the first.

The holidays have always been difficult for me, and the Bash!!! is now the thing I look forward to most. And I look forward to it a lot. If anyone out there benefits from it as well, then that’s great. The fact that so many benefit from it — both from participating and from the donations — is deeply moving to me.

The Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash!!! has taken the most difficult time of year for me and turned it into my most anticipated.

I love you guys for that. And I already can’t wait for you to see all the shit I’ve got planned for you next year.

The Bill Cosby Show, "A Christmas Ballad"

Happy holidays, everyone. I couldn’t do any of this without you.

—–
* For the record, my favorites so far were Lassie, Major Dad, Fat Albert, Power Rangers, The Bill Cosby Show, We Wish You a Turtle Christmas, and Walker: Texas Ranger. Coincidentally, that’s seven specials. Pretend they’re airing right now in a Best Of retrospective.

Merry Xmas, Every One!!!

December 25th, 2015 | Posted by Philip J Reed in xmas bash - (7 Comments)

Xmas Bearsh!!!

It’s Christmas! Which means you aren’t reading this!

…but if you are, I just wanted to take a moment to wish you a great December 25, whatever you do or don’t call that day.

I’ll have my traditional Sappy New Year post next week, obviously, so I won’t get into too much right now, but I’d like to thank everyone who tuned into the Xmas Bash!!! this year. It was definitely the best stream ever, and so far we’ve raised a total of $710 for The Trevor Project. (You can still donate here: https://www.classy.org/xmasbash )

And, hey, don’t forget to email official Xmas Bash!!! illusionist Wes Iseli with the subject “Trevor Project / Free Magic.” He’s got a special video that’ll teach you how to perform a simple trick yourself. Take advantage of that! And, of course, feel free to check out his site here. Wes has been such a great and supportive person when it comes to these streams…I’m very glad to work with him on these, so drop him a line and let him know you appreciate it, too.

I’ll stop myself there, though, because if I go on I’ll end up ranting about the Xmas Bash!!! and those involved for ages…and that’s something I’ll do in another post. At some point soon I want to do a little writeup on the Xmas Bash!!! in general…nothing self-congratulatory or anything, but just to answer a few questions about it, and give a little bit of perspective into why I do it, and why I’m always so happy when you guys participate.

I will say here, however, that the holidays have always been a bit rough for me. It’s a trying time of year, and it never really gets easier. Maybe you feel that way, too. If you do, just know you’re not alone. And if you don’t feel that way…try to be a little understanding for those who do. It might be frustrating that a friend or a family member doesn’t seem to share in your high spirits, but it’s not their fault. Be there for them, but don’t push them.

Above all, remember that today is your day, whoever you are. Celebrate it as much or as little as you like, and don’t push anyone else into sharing your idea of what it’s all about. Because it’s their day, too.

But that’s enough out of me. Be kind, be understanding, behave. And enjoy your holiday. I may not have much to post between now and New Year’s Day, but I’m not going anywhere. And I have some awesome plans for 2016. I’ll tell you more about those later.

One question I do have, if you’re hanging around and feeling festive enough to answer it: since we celebrate the lousy Xmas TV specials here every year, what are some that you’ve enjoyed? I’m thinking of both the standalone specials, and Christmas episodes of other series.

American Dad! has a slew of great ones. The Simpsons had at least two classic ones. Moral Orel‘s first Christmas special was a work of daring emotional brutality. The UK version of The Office gave us probably the best Christmas special in history. And South Park‘s first Christmas episode is still a great combination of sweetness and cynicism. What other Christmas episodes — recent or not — do you remember fondly?

Don’t worry; I’m not asking because I intend to feature good Xmas specials in the Bash!!! moving forward. I’m just curious what holiday episodes are well-regarded.

For those who couldn’t tune into the Bash!!!, here’s what you should be happy you missed:

The 3rd Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash!!!

  • ALF: The Animated Series, “A Mid-Goomer Night’s Dream”
  • The Bill Cosby Show, “A Christmas Ballad”
  • Full House, “Our Very First Christmas Show”
  • We Wish You a Turtle Christmas
  • Mr. Ed, “Ed’s Christmas Story”
  • Perfect Strangers, “A Christmas Story”
  • Walker: Texas Ranger, “A Ranger’s Christmas”

And no-one died.

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

Ho ho hoho! Merry Xmas Eve! Thanks for being a good little lady/boy and joining us for the holiest of holiday traditions: making fun of ALF.

For starters, let me thank everyone who made it out to the 3rd Annual Xmas Bash!!! It was a great time, and we raised a lot of money (more than I expected) for The Trevor Project. That’s…humbling, and you have no idea what a great Christmas present that is for me. Seriously. I have no words. And you guys are incredibly funny. Thank you for turning Walker: Texas Ranger into one of my favorite holiday memories, somehow.

Secondly, thanks for understanding last week’s break from the series. The Bash!!! is a lot of work, and I needed to focus my attention there. ALF Reviews are also a lot of work, so the good news is that skipping one week feels to me like skipping about a month, and it does wonders to recharge my spiteful batteries.

Lastly, “Break Up to Make Up” is in no way a festive episode, so…yeah. If you’re reading this on Xmas Eve you’re probably conditioned to expect that it ends with everyone irrelevantly learning the meaning of Christmas, but it’s just a regular ol’ episode of ALF. (Kinda. It’s significant in other ways, but we’ll get to those.)

I do, however, have something holiday-specific to bring up.

See, there’s a bit of debate in the comments sometimes about Willie’s behavior. I’m convinced he’s a terrible human being, a lousy social worker, and a worse husband and father, but some readers say I’m needlessly hard on him, or they’ll make excuses about how draining social work is, suggesting that he might be suffering from empathy overload by the time he gets home from work.

First: fuck that. This asshole has never displayed empathy once, so suspecting that he displays so much of it that it breaks his brain every time the camera’s not on him is, flatly, absurd. You might as well suggest that Brian turns into a werewolf when we’re not looking. There’s no evidence of it, no reason to believe it, and nothing to gain by clinging to the idea. You raise infinitely more inconsistencies than you solve.

But thanks to the holiday season, I’ve made a connection that never occurred to me before. See, I revisited the review of “ALF’s Special Christmas” when another site linked to it, and was reminded of Willie’s story about Mr. Foley. He says that when he was little, his father lost his job, and the entire family was homeless. They had nowhere to go and no money, so Mr. Foley (just one of the suicidal black Santas that have graced the Xmas Bash!!!) took them in. Mr. Foley let the family stay in the cabin until Mr. Tanner got back on his feet.

Willie shares this story with his family, and it’s very clearly framed as an example of a small kindness during a time of need making a massive difference in the lives of others. It’s sweet, and something important to remember around the holidays. (And part of the reason I’m proud we raised such an awesome sum for The Trevor Project.)

Great, right?

Flash forward to “Turkey in the Straw,” when Willie has his own opportunity to help a homeless man around the holidays. Of course, he doesn’t; he arms himself to attack the docile stranger who’s made no threatening gestures or comments. Willie kicks Flaky Pete out of his shed, directly into the rain. And he demands that the homeless man return the clothes he was given, for no reason except that Willie wants them back. What’s more, Willie finds that he has common ground with this guy (an interest in astronomy), and still treats him as sub-human due to his station in life.

These are two situations that I covered in their respective reviews, but now put them together. It doesn’t paint a flattering portrait of Willie Tanner, does it?

It’s conclusive. Willie isn’t suffering from “empathy overload.” He’s a sociopath.

He has first-hand knowledge of homelessness. He knows what it was like to be cold, lost, and alone, with nobody around to help. He knows the pain of hopelessness and desperation. And he knows that his own family never would have recovered without the kindness of Mr. Foley. (That’s sort of the point of his whole story.)

…yet he refuses to demonstrate a similar kindness toward others. Willie isn’t just some guy doing a selfish thing…he is someone whose life was saved by the very kindness he emphatically he now refuses to offer another human being. This is someone who knows exactly what Flaky Pete is going through, and still decides to tell the guy to fuck off.

Even better? The kindness Flaky Pete needs is orders of magnitude smaller than what Mr. Foley gave to Willie’s family; all he’s asking is to hang out in the shed for a few hours until the rain stops…oh, and to keep some old clothes that were left in a pile for him. That’s nothing compared to sheltering an entire family, rent-free, until they figure out what to do with themselves.

Willie is not a good person. Period. The show, for all of its faults, created a good person: Mr. Foley. We know what empathy looks like in the universe of ALF, and it doesn’t resemble Willie Tanner in any way.

In fact, now that we have a clear image of what a “good person” is on this show, we can easily identify what a hypothetical villain would look like.

So, hey, as a thought exercise, let’s imagine the anti-Mr. Foley, and how this awful, theoretical monster would have handled Willie’s homeless family.

For starters, he would have turned them away around the holidays, rather than welcome them in. He would have insulted them rather than offered them help. He’d even begrudge them the clothes and food they found in his trash, and make them give it back before kicking them out into the elements, not caring even a little about where they’d go, or what would become of them.

…which is, word for word, Willie’s actual behavior with Flaky Pete.

Funny how that works out.

So, yeah. I…wanted to share that. Not only do I think Willie’s a shitlord, but the show’s internal logic — so far as it can be said to have one — definitively characterizes him as a shitlord. Sure, it tells us he’s great, but that’s kind of like someone telling you what a nice guy their brother is while he’s actively sodomizing you with a shrimp fork.

Everyone’s a nice guy in their own words. That’s why you always need to look at their behavior. Do that with Willie, and then come back and tell me what a great guy he is.

I’d apologize for beating a dead horse, but come on. This is the 86th episode of ALF I’m reviewing. Beating dead horses is all I fuckin’ do.

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

Anyway, at some point I guess I need to talk about this episode, so let’s get that over with.

We open with the Tanners decorating for ALF’s three year anniversary of landing on Earth, “landing” being pretty loosely defined in this show. Like “comedy,” I guess.

So once again we have something to orient us in the ALF timeline; one year for us isn’t necessarily one year for them, as we’re well into the show’s fourth year at this point. I don’t mind; I just find it interesting. And I wonder why they bothered to make it only three years for the characters, since I don’t think they do anything with that. Breaking Bad famously condensed its run so that nearly every episode took place within one year of the pilot, but that was to demonstrate just how quickly — and easily — a seemingly ordinary man can lose his entire moral compass.

Here…I don’t know. Maybe four years and change would be too long for ALF to keep misunderstanding things on Earth, but I don’t know if that’s the reason they’re treating it like he’s only been there for three.

After all, three years isn’t much better. If we were still within ALF’s first year on Earth, that would make a difference. By now, though, he really should have a better grasp on things, whether he’s three or four years into his permanent vacation. Another 12 months would make a kind of difference — he’ll never learn everything, after all — but the basic stuff that he misunderstands on a weekly basis should really be behind him by now.

For instance, in this very episode he’s confused about his own party, which is kind of bullshit, since three years on Earth is more than enough time for him to realize that he shouldn’t be ordered dancing poodles for himself with Willie’s credit card. (This isn’t just a shitty sitcom, though…this is ALF, so we cap it off with some good ol’ comedy racism as he explains that they’re good dancers, “for white dogs.”)

Oh, and, also, ALF wiped his ass on the crepe paper Kate is hanging from the ceiling. I shit (ahem) you not.

So, yeah, he’s still misunderstanding basic concepts. (“Don’t wipe your ass on everything” being probably the single most basic concept in all of humanity.) Three years doesn’t make this behvaior any more excusable than four years would, so I have no idea why the show’s timeline differs from our own. Any hypotheses from the Peanut Gallery will be appreciated.

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

Brian comes over to show ALF the model he made for the party, asking the alien if it looks like his spaceship.

How brain damaged is this kid? He knows what the space ship looks like; he doesn’t need to ask ALF.

I mean, okay, maybe if someone saw a UFO streak through the air, three years later they’d be a bit fuzzy on the details. (Not least because they’d be fucking lying, but I digress.) In this case, though, it wasn’t a fleeting glimpse; it crashed into the garage that Brian was standing in. It stayed on that garage for about a year. Since then Brian’s been present as the ship’s been stripped for parts, reassembled, loaned out to film crews, and plumbed for ALF’s personal effects god knows how many times. And he doesn’t know what it looked like? Eat my ass.

ALF tells Brian that he forgot about the “My other spaceship is a Porsche” bumper sticker, and that the model as a whole is “a pretty feeble attempt.”

Man, fuck this guy. Can’t he just be grateful for someone’s effort rather than having to constantly criticize and wipe his ass on things?

During this year’s Xmas Bash!!! longtime reader Ryan pointed something out. We screened the “A Mid-Goomer Night’s Dream” episode of ALF: The Animated Series, and he observed that ALF was sure going through a lot of trouble to help his family out around the holidays…which makes this constant “fuck you” behavior to the Tanners even more troublesome. He’s not a naturally selfish little prick; he just treats his adopted family like fucking garbage.

Merry Xmas!!!

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

Anyway, we find out that Neal is on his way over, and then Kate Sr. calls and announces that she split up with Wizard Beaver.

Oh noes! Some people we haven’t seen in over a year are no longer together, in spite of the fact that their union was built on the sturdiest possible foundation: a family of busybodies pressuring them to fuck.

While they wait for Kate to go pick her up, the family plays Pictionary. ALF guesses “bird watch,” which is…not a bad guess at all, but he’s wrong. Willie rolls his eyes because he knows that whenever Lynn plays this game she tries to convey a “time to sink your birdie” message.

From the tickmarks above the easel we see that Lynn and ALF are doing significantly worse than Willie and Brian, and also that the game has been going on for a very long time. That’s some nice, passive storytelling. But I wonder where Neal is; Willie said he was just picking up some wine on the way, but evidently he’s taken long enough to miss 96 rounds of Pictionary, including this one. (Yes, I counted.)

It is nice that the teams are listed as LYNN / ALF and BRIAN / DAD. I wouldn’t have thought twice if it said BRIAN / WILLIE, but I like that someone on the production staff realized that a kid is much more likely to write DAD than their father’s real name.

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

The attention to detail with the score ends there, though, as nobody adds a tick for Willie’s team when ALF fails to guess Lynn’s clue. (The answer was “three o’cock.”) Maybe I’m misremembering the rules and a team only scores on their own turn…but then we’d be way more than 96 rounds into this game, and someone really should be wondering if Neal is in a ditch somewhere, impaled on his steering column.

Then — an Xmas miracle! — I really like something.

Willie gets up for his turn, and after a few seconds of sketching, Brian works out that it’s “All Quiet on the Western Front.” And the way the kid gradually puts it together, combined with the excitement and satisfaction he shares with his father when he gets it right…it actually feels real. And it’s kind of sweet. Maybe Benji Gregory deeply enjoys Pictionary, or something, because it’s the best acting he’s ever displayed on this show.

Then there’s a knock at the door and…mother of fuck! It’s Jim J. Bullo–

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

–NO

NO NO

FUCK NO

Fuck Christmas. Fuck Christmas, and fuck you.

Ah god motherfucking dammit.

Of course the show had to get my hopes up with a sweet scene between two characters I usually hate so that Jim J. Bullock in a toga could have its maximum toxic impact.

Jesus fuckballs.

Anyway, ALF told him to wear that, apparently, and then the alien tries to use it as an excuse to get Lynn to change into a toga, too. Everyone takes this sexually aggressive behavior against their daughter / niece / sister in humorous stride. Ha ha! Three years to the day since he first tried to rape Lynn, and he’s still at it! We do have fun as a family, don’t we?

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

At the airport Kate Sr. bitches about her lost luggage. She really should have known better than to fly with these guys, though, since their terminal is located in somebody’s garden shed.

So, Kate Sr. This is the first time we’ve seen her since her wedding in “Something’s Wrong With Me,” way back at the beginning of season two. I won’t say that it’s especially nice to have her back, but I do support giving this character a proper send-off in the show’s final stretch. Remember, though the cliffhanger at the end of “Consider Me Gone” was unintentionally morbid, they did intend to do away with the Tanners for season five, so bringing Anne Meara back to say goodbye was likely deliberate. And I like that impulse.

In fact, Meara actually wrote this one. So…there’s…that.

Since we last saw her in these reviews, Anne Meara passed away. For that reason alone I wish I could tip my hat to her performance here and say it was better than the show deserved (as I was absolutely able to do with Marcia Wallace), but…yeah, there’s no sugarcoating it. It kind of sucks balls.

She had talent that she displayed elsewhere (and which I wrote about elsewhere, so I won’t bore you with it again), but I’d be lying if I said she enhanced the ALF experience in any way.

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

And, seriously, what the fuck kind of set design is this? I figured the counter was supposed to be in the middle of the airport or something. It looked cheesy, so, y’know, tee hee, but now we see it’s actually in a tiny little room within the airport…and it’s the fucking baggage claim.

This is…preposterous. Who built this set? Have they never seen an airport before? Anyone who stuck a baggage claim in fucking room would have to be insane. Do you know how busy that room would be? How many people would be crushed and trampled? How impossible it’d be to get out through a crowd with all of your shit? The fact that that doesn’t happen here is evidence that Kate Sr. was the only one who bought a ticket for the flight. No wonder this airline needs to operate out of a shed.

There’s a decently funny moment when Kate asks how she’s doing, and Kate Sr. starts talking about how awful the flight was. But then they do discuss the separation, and Kate Sr. complains about how Wizard Beaver loves his saxophone more than her, or something. Which is bullshit, because we true fans who hate this show know full well that Wizard Beaver plays the clarinet. It’s easy to remember because it’s the only thing we ever learned about him.

Anyway, we get a big exposition dump about how they moved to St. Louis together and she wanted him to give up jazz, but then he didn’t, and holy shit I could not care less about this. Maybe if the guy had done more than be introduced and immediately marry this sour old bag I’d be more invested in their relationship, but as it stands I just want her to shut up. It’s very similar to how it is in real life when you run into somebody you haven’t seen in years, and they fill you in on updates to all the things you never cared about to begin with, and you just keep nodding and tune out and eventually pretend to have an uncontrollable diarrhea attack so you can leave.

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

Back at der Tannerhaus I see Willie at the piano and immediately assume we’re in for our Worst Musical Moment, but it’s actually okay. They’re killing time by trying to guess which television theme song Willie’s playing on the piano, and I’ll give them credit for this. It’s not funny (at all) but it’s the kind of thing I can imagine a family doing together, especially if one of them plays an instrument and another of them does nothing but spank off to Nick at Nite. It’s a well chosen activity for this show, and for these characters.

ALF keeps guessing the right show before anyone else, and it’s…kind of fun. The only one of them I identified in time was Green Acres, so even though I spent most of my life as a couch potato, I can rest assured that I was never as bad or obsessive as ALF.

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

I have to repeat one of my own questions from the Xmas Bash!!! here: why was every woman in the 80s 44 years old?

Also, what the jesusing hell is that lapel pin? Is it someone performing a slam dunk? That fucking thing is huge. She might as well be wearing a dinner plate. I can’t decide it I want to rip it off her and throw it in the trash, or pin it on myself and strut proudly down the street.

Then someone comes to the door and ALF hides in the kitchen.

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

It’s Wizard Beaver! Hooray! One of only two characters who hasn’t met ALF is going to meet ALF. Man, you just can’t keep a good writing staff down, can you? Remember back when it used to matter who knew and who didn’t know ALF? That lasted for a whole episode, I think.

So, yeah, the Beav is about to meet him. That leaves, unless I’m forgetting something, Mr. Ochmonek as the only recurring character who hasn’t seen the space alien. (APART FROM JODIE HAR HAR)

Right? It seems absurd that that’d be the case, but I can’t think of anyone else who’s been in more than one episode that hasn’t chilled out max and relaxed all cool with ALF. I mean…we can’t even count the Alien Task Force or the FBI, because we haven’t seen any of those fuckers twice. Is Mr. O really the only one who hasn’t seen him? On a show whose central premise is that ALF must be kept a secret at all times, forever, from every one?

Guys, ALF is a piece of garbage.

Wizard Beaver finds out Kate Sr. is on the way, and he says that he must have just missed her at the airport, which I’d buy except for the facts that a) he has baggage with him, b) his wife was at the baggage claim, and c) the baggage claim is the size of a toilet cubicle. You didn’t “just miss” anybody, Wiz. You just live in a very poorly written show.

Anyway he bitches about his wife for a while, because that’s how people communicate on ALF, as though the English language is just an endless flow of petty complaints. At one point he vents to Neal, who puts a hand on his shoulder, and nobody seems to realize that these two assholes have never met before.

ALF IS A PIECE OF GARBAGE

Whizzer says he needs a beer and goes into the kitchen, and Max Wright tries to get paid for acting without actually doing any of it:

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

Then there’s a scream, ALF pretends to be a dog, and that’s that.

Well, “Break Up to Make Up” certainly isn’t beating around the bush. So far removed from the Majestic Grand Reveals of other episodes, this one just has the guy walk into another room and see a naked alien staring back at him.

Which I…like. A lot. Not least because this should have happened ten thousand times before given how careless the Tanners are, and nine thousand of those times should have involved Mr. Ochmonek, whose brash, unannounced entrances lend themselves naturally to this.

What I don’t like is that the entire thing happens off camera, so we don’t actually get to experience it. It’s not “Here’s how Whizzer meets ALF.” It’s “Whizzer met ALF when you weren’t looking. Anyway, back to Kate Sr. complaining about the airport.”

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

Yeah, whatever personal revelations / cosmic reconciliations Wizard Beaver has to make, he makes them while we’re watching commercials for Jazzercise videos and Rubik’s Cubes. It’s like a few weeks ago when Jim J. Bullock was pressing ALF for information about his home planet, and the writers decided they’d rather go home early. So many opportunities for these episodes to do interesting things…so much complete disinterest.

It’s amazing that season four is setting new standards for laziness in this show’s writing. I didn’t think it was possible, but here we are.

By the time we rejoin the story, dude’s just yakkin’ it up with the space alien. Guys, I had a homeless lady yell something at me that I couldn’t even understand and I was shaken up for a month. This guy finds a creature from beyond the stars squatting on the kitchen floor and asks how its day was.

Laziness aside — I must put it aside if we’re ever going to finish this episode — I do like that the writers at least tacitly admit that their show has bungled every ounce of its promise.

They have Whizzer ask ALF if he can “levitate, or cure people by touching them.” And, nope, ALF can’t. Then he asks ALF what he’s done since he’s been on Earth, and ALF is at a loss. Willie helps him out by suggesting that he eats a lot.

And, yeah, the show is in on the joke here; I’m aware of that. But the fact that it can make this joke speaks volumes about how little the writers have done over the course of the previous three seasons.

Other shows about aliens went beyond their premise, including the truly lousy ones, which is why it’s so frustrating that ALF thinks that its main character being an alien is enough.

What can he do? What does he accomplish?

Doesn’t matter. He’s an alien. That’s plenty.

…which it clearly is not. ALF has nodded toward Mork & Mindy before, so we only have to look there to see that Mork formed a deep relationship with someone he met on Earth, eventually marrying her. ALF, by contrast, makes Jodie wet and walks out of her life forever to get back to masturbating into Willie’s socks.

3rd Rock from the Sun featured a crew of aliens posing as a family in order to research life on Earth. This meant that every episode, no matter what it was about, tied into that larger mission as they were always learning something. ALF, by contrast, still wipes his ass with party streamers.

Out of This World was probably garbage (though — all together now — I watched the hell out of it as a kid), but its main alien character, a seemingly ordinary teenage girl, could freeze time and perform other alien-specific feats that made the show feel unique. By contrast, ALF fingers the kids.

You really start to understand how mishandled this show is been when you compare it to…almost anything else, ever. And now, as it winds down for good, the writers might be realizing that they’ve wasted literally all of their time here. It must be a bit like getting to the end of your life and realizing you’ve spent so much of it complaining about waitresses.

Then there is a moment that got a chuckle out of me. Wizard Beaver says, “First my wife leaves me, then I meet an alien. How many people can say that?”

It’s clunky as all fuck, but it leads to this:

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

And alright, show. Ya got me. I liked it. There’s something about the obviousness of the punchline that actually makes it work for me.

Then Kate and her mother are driving back from the airport, and the old bag bitches some more about the airport losing her old bag. Man, I hope she never stops complaining. Did Anne Meara really write this, or did someone just adapt her angry letters to Spirit Airlines?

Kate turns the conversation back to the woman’s failing marriage. Kate points out that Whizzer’s been playing jazz for over 40 years, and he’s known Kate Sr. for “less than two.” Her point is that they haven’t had enough time as a couple to figure out how to balance hobbies with their obligations to the relationship, which is a good point. And, hey, maybe Kate shouldn’t have been pressuring them to get together in the first place, and instead let them sort this shit out like humans do.

Then there’s some stupid joke about how Whizzer and Kate Sr. met when he was buying her a drink at a jazz club, but, again, we know that didn’t happen; they met when Kate Sr. was moving into her new apartment, which was in the same building as his. Boy, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder.

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

Then there’s a poker game that goes on for three full minutes.

As a reminder, the episode is about 20 minutes long, once you subtract commercials and credit sequences. Three minutes is one hell of a lot of real estate. And while I’d be perfectly happy with three minutes of good comedy or something, instead it’s ALF playing poker with Max Wright, Wizard Beaver, and Jim J. Bullock, and I can’t imagine any less promising a setup than that.

There’s also this really stupid moment when ALF looks at Willie’s cards and gets yelled at, then he blames Willie for putting the cards right in his face.

…but it doesn’t work as a joke, due to the logistics of the scene.

Willie really does have to lean close to ALF in order for the alien to peek at them, as you’ll see in the screengrab. He needs to put them unnaturally close because the puppet is so short, so ALF’s comment about Willie putting them right in his face — which is supposed to be funny because he’s making it up — plays really bizarrely.

The joke is meant to be ALF putting the blame for his own misbehavior on someone else…but it turns out to actually be that person’s fault, due to blocking limitations on this shitty sitcom. The screengrab doesn’t do the awkwardness justice; Max Wright actually has to adjust and then re-adjust his cards to get them into ALF’s sight line.

It’s probably the most effort they’ve ever invested in making a joke, and they broke it.

Literally everything goes wrong with this show. Was it filmed on the set of a failed sitcom about an Indian burial ground?

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

Kate and her mother get back from the airport, and there’s some a big waste of another few minutes as ALF repeatedly calls her an ugly bitch. Then Neal tries to talk about his dissolved marriage, and ALF interrupts. Finally, Kate suggests privacy for her mother and Whizzer, but accidentally says ALF’s name instead of Whizzer’s.

It’s…weird. Like the show is just jamming ALF down our throats now for the sake of doing it. Maybe they were contracted to say ALF’s name another 500 times before the season ended, and tried to get it all out of the way with this episode.

At some point I expected the ALF’s-anniversary-party and the dissolving-marriage plotlines to dovetail, but they never do. They’re just two things that irrelevantly happen in the same episode. Even though characters from both plots end up on the same set, we just go from talking about one to talking about the other, and never go back again. There’s no connection whatsoever.

ALF isn’t jealous that they’ve taken over his celebration. Kate Sr. and her beaving husband don’t reconnect over shitty party games. They’re just two scripts stapled together, and fuck you for expecting anything more.

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

Anyway, ALF runs out of standup material, so Kate Sr. and Wizard Beaver say they love each other. As all human beings know, that means the relationship is saved, and whatever serious problems there were are gone forever.

Actually, they both agree to give up something. In Wizard Beaver’s case, he says he’ll find a steady job. In Kate Sr.’s case she agrees to move far away from LA and never see her family again. There’s some kind of imbalance here but I can’t put my finger on it.

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

Also, I was just kidding; ALF didn’t run out of standup material.

He pops up to observe repeatedly that it’s gross when old people kiss, even though nobody’s making him watch them do it.

In the short scene before the credits, ALF watches them fuck.

ALF, "Break Up to Make Up"

Man…this one was the pits. Again, I do want to emphasize that it’s nice that these characters get some kind of in-universe sendoff (something many other characters don’t get; chief among them Jake and Jodie), but that’s about as nice as I can be this week.

On the bright side, the final Kate Sr. episode is so shitty it guarantees that nobody in the audience will miss her.

God bless us, every one!

Countdown to ALF being crucified in front of the Tanners: 14 episodes

Xmas Bash!!!

It’s happening right now!

The Bash!!! is here. (If the stream goes down — and I sure hope it doesn’t — just come back to Noiseless Chatter. I’ll post a backup.)

Seven Xmas specials! What will they be?! Find out over the course of the best five hours of your year!

The Bash!!! begins at 8:00 PM Eastern, but the chat is open right now! Head over, register an account if you want to join in the chat room (I recommend it!), and settle in for a great night.

And please donate to The Trevor Project if you like what you see. Or don’t. Basically just do it if you can. It’s a great organization that provides mental health and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youths. I and many others put a lot of work into tonight’s stream. If we could translate that effort into making this a much better Christmas for those who need help they can’t otherwise get, that would be a real Xmas miracle.

You can donate here.

Donations are voluntary, and they go directly to The Trevor Project. All I’m doing is providing a link; none of the money comes through me or anyone else, so you know every dollar you donate goes directly to the cause.

See you at the Bash!!!

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