Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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ALF, "Love on the Rocks"

We’re in the final ten episodes! Part of me knew I’d make it this far. The rest of me attempted suicide several times to keep from making it this far. But here we are…wrapping up the series for good.

Eagle-eyed readers might have spotted some new entries on the ALF archive page. It’s not everything I have planned for the wrap-up, but it will keep me from forgetting to do the things I’ve promised.

I’m also considering a live stream / riff of Project: ALF ahead of the official review, so please let me know if there’s interest in that. It won’t be anywhere near as elaborate as the Xmas Bash!!!, but that’s okay. Maybe I’ll screen it along with two episodes of the show…a pick of mine, and a readers’ choice selection. We’ll see. Let me know if you have any ideas, as it’ll be the closest thing we have to a big finale celebration, and I want to make sure it’s something everyone can enjoy.

Speaking of things everyone can enjoy: this is Jim J. Bullock’s final episode! kermityay.gif

That’s if IMDB is correct, of course, and I’ve never prayed for anything harder in my life. (When you guys tell me it’s somebody’s final episode, I believe you. When IMDB tells me, I’m reminded of the false listing that claimed the midget was in season three, and I spit blood at my monitor. ANGRY BLOOD.)

If nothing else, this review will provide us with a good opportunity to look back on what ALF did with Neal Tanner during the character’s oddly abbreviated life. (Spoiler: it was fuck-all.) If Neal does turn up in another episode I just won’t take any screengrabs of him and pretend he’s not there.

“Love on the Rocks” opens well enough, though, with Willie’s horny little brother introducing the family to the woman he’s porking. Nothing says “family sitcom” quite like that, and it’s the least troublesome example of sexual charge in the episode.

Her name is Maxine, which is a pretty great name that doesn’t get much mileage in fiction, for some reason. Also, it reminds me of this Traveling Wilburys song, and that’s great, because I’ll take any excuse to listen to that again.

That’s an unreleased song, by the way. It didn’t make either Wilburys album and wasn’t a single…and it’s fucking great. If a castoff that went nowhere sounds that good, that gives you some idea of how strong their output was.

Hey, speaking of which…do you know who The Traveling Wilburys were? They were a supergroup consisting of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne. Five music legends got together to fuck around in George’s garage and ended up releasing two full albums of their collaborations. (Orbison died before the second album, it’s worth mentioning, and it suffers for his loss.) Both albums were great — with a lineup like that, they’d have to be great — and a hell of a lot of fun to listen to, and they’re both available in a nice little package with bonus tracks and music videos to enjoy.

So, yeah, we live in a world in which stuff like that is available at the push of a button, and we’re spending our time talking about ALF. Every so often, I feel it’s necessary to put that into perspective.

Anyway, Maxine (Mah-ahh-aahx-ine…) is telling Willie and Kate about how she met Neal. It involves a terrible car accident which she believes she survived because a Mayan Warrior God named Vlad materialized and took the wheel. Pretty nutty, right? That’s why it’s so odd that Willie — who gets less defensible as a good social worker by the week — openly makes fun of her near-death experience before she even gets to the supernatural part.

After we learn about Vlad, though, Anne Schedeen gives us a pretty great line reading. “Maxine, this is fascinating, but where would a 6,000 year old Mayan warrior learn to downshift a Toyota?”

I actually laughed. It’s…a decently funny line on its own, but the delivery — with Kate struggling to sound friendly and supportive throughout — is what makes it work so well. I think that’s the first time I’ve laughed since “Lies,” but her reading really did deserve it.

Maxine believes she and Neal are reincarnated lovers from the past, and…it’s definitely batty, don’t get me wrong. It leads to a genuinely nice moment when Willie and Kate go into the kitchen to get tea, and ALF asks, “If she marries into the family, do I have to hide from Vlad?”

The three of them then engage in some fairly rude mockery of Maxine’s beliefs…but, at the same time, it’s totally believable. They’re acting — oh rarest of rarities — like a family.

That’s all that I ask of this show’s dickishness…that it functions in some way that isn’t entirely reliant on these people being irredeemable shitheads. Yeah, it’s a bit rude for them to make fun of this woman they just met, especially if Neal likes her, but they’re doing it together. It’s what families do to cope with awkward, bizarre circumstances. Also, it’s relatively gentle — more ribbing than bullying — and they’re all laughing at the same thing.

That latter point is especially important. After all, when was the last time Willie, Kate, and ALF were all on the same page?

It may have been never. And it’s nice to see the three of them bonding now.

Sorry, Maxine. You’re the chewtoy in this scene, but at least the dogs are behaving.

ALF, "Love on the Rocks"

So the first scene got me on the episode’s side, which means it’s the second scene’s job to kick me in the skull.

Lynn rehearses her lines for Saint Joan, and ALF suggests that she “show a little leg.” He then suggests “a couple of well-placed tassels.”

Lovely stuff.

The first scene showed me that this show’s inherent nastiness can actually be used to nice effect. If this scene is attempting to show me that ALF’s continuous sexual predation of Lynn can be used to nice effect as well, it’s fallen at the first hurdle.

Anyway, Willie comes in as Lynn storms out. She’s clearly frustrated at ALF’s suggestions. Like the great dad and social worker that he is, he listens to her concerns and then tells her he doesn’t give a shit. He then reveals the big punchline: that ALF got Brian to do this stuff at some point.

What the actual fucking dicklicking crap is this show?

ALF had Brian dance around with two “well-placed tassels” for his amusement?

Willie knows this?

Willie also knows that ALF just tried to get his daughter to do it?

Willie also sees that his daughter is upset by the suggestion and still doesn’t care?

I’m…

AGH.

FUCK THIS SHOW

(And, yes, fuck this show, definitely, but I do have to say that while editing this review, I keep scrolling past the screengrab above and tricking myself: the way Lynn’s cross is positioned makes me think for a split second that she’s wearing Chie Satonaka’s jacket. And, ever so briefly, I fall in love.)

(Still though: fuck this show.)

ALF, "Love on the Rocks"

Neal comes over, and there are two (count ’em!) funny things that happen here. “Love on the Rocks” isn’t great. In fact, it’s pretty fucking terrible. But there are enough faint glimmers of a better episode that, once again, suggest that we probably could have gotten something watchable if the writers cared enough to produce second drafts.

The first thing I like is a genuinely funny line from ALF, wherein he refers to Neal as “God’s gag-gift to women.” That may be the only time I’ve been jealous of this show’s writing. It’s such a simple bit of wordplay, but it’s very effective. It’s a great, efficient, character-specific little punch, and it’s a line I’d probably be satisfied with if I’d written it myself.

Then there’s — oh rarest of rarities — a spotlight for Benji Gregory. Brian keeps guessing the right answers to Neal’s “you’ll never guess” questions…namely that Neal’s ex-wife is coming to see him, and that she wants him back. Kate asks Neal when all of this happened, and Neal silently defers to Brian. It’s a good visual punchline. Not great, but it gave Brian something to do, and it was one of those neatly observed family moments that we get so infrequently on this show.

Anyway, Willie tries to remind Neal of how terrible Margaret was to him, and Kate actually tries to steer the conversation away from that, for the sake of Neal’s feelings. The show doesn’t do anything with it, but I like the fact that Willie and Kate take opposing views of the situation, and neither of them are, strictly speaking, right or wrong.

Willie is reminding him of some important stuff: Margaret manipulated Neal, upset him, and threw him out with nowhere to go. Willie’s point is that Neal should think about all of that before he goes blindly back to her. Kate, on the other hand, knows that it’s not productive to take away the hope that Neal can repair things with Margaret and make the relationship work, especially since they both invested 10 years in it. Turning blindly away from a potential future may not be any smarter than lunging blindly toward it.

They both have a point. I like that.

Again, “Love on the Rocks” doesn’t do anything with this, but so rarely does anything on this show have a point that two points in the same scene nearly knocked me out of my chair.

ALF, "Love on the Rocks"

Another good moment comes after that scene, so even though we cut abruptly away from the discussion with Neal, at least we cut to something fun.

ALF and Willie are watching TV, and they have an argument that gets gradually more heated…about the relative merits of My Mother the Car and Mr. Ed.

It’s…kind of awesome. ALF argues that both shows are equally realistic, while Willie takes the position that My Mother the Car is significantly less realistic, since it involves reincarnation, and requires viewers to overlook the fact that there’s no physical way for a car to talk.

It’s…really not bad. It even puts me in mind of the great “Do Smurfs lay eggs?” debate from The Venture Bros., and I can easily hear this same conversation — word for word — in the voices of Henchmen 21 and 24. If you’ve read this site for long, you know that that is by no means faint praise. (The performances would have been way better in that show, though.)

Even more Henchmen-like is the reveal that ALF and Willie have had this argument multiple times. And Kate, like The Monarch, needs to yell at them both to shut the hell up about this disagreement nobody cares about to begin with.

I like a lot of this episode. I really do! At about this point I even started to wonder if season four would give us a second good episode…one with heavy amounts of Jim J. Bullock, no less.

It wasn’t to be…but, damn, we got tantalizingly close at times.

ALF, "Love on the Rocks"

Then Lynn comes home to say she got a shitty part in Saint Joan, but Neal arrives soon after to remind her that this episode isn’t about her.

Margaret is coming, he says, and he told her to take a cab here, to the Tanner house. He explains, “I didn’t want Willie to reject her on the phone…it’s so impersonal.”

And that’s actually a pretty good line reading, and it hints at a personality for Neal that we’ve never actually seen developed. This passive-to-a-fault approach to life is not at odds with anything we already knew about him, but in a single line he just cemented an entire psychological framework for himself. And it works.

Of course, I wonder how he lived his life during the past few years, when Willie didn’t even remember he existed…but even that can be explained by what we already know: Margaret was calling the shots for him. He only needed Willie once Margaret was gone.

Neal doesn’t function well as an individual; he’s a born follower, and becomes immediately uncomfortable the moment there’s nobody around to follow. Even here, when he knows he doesn’t want to be with Margaret anymore, he can’t bring himself to say it out loud. He needs it to come from someone more confident.

It’s interesting, so of course we drop that so ALF can tell a bunch of “yo ex-wife’s so fat…” jokes.

When that’s done, Willie refuses to reject Margaret for Neal. Neal replies, “Fine. I’ll do it myself. But this is the last favor I do for you.”

Which is funny! Legitimately kinda funny!

So much of this episode is good! Why can’t this episode stay good?!

While they wait for Margaret to arrive, ALF reminds the audience over and over again that the woman is really, really fat. He might as well add, “Everybody got that? Because Neal is going to open the door in a moment and it’s very important that you expect to see a truly, massively fat woman standing there. Forgive me for belaboring the point, but this joke isn’t going to work otherwise.”

ALF, "Love on the Rocks"

She arrives, and she’s not fat (WHO SAW THAT COMING), so Neal gets a boner and his whole decision to reject her is thrown to the wind.

Man, it must be so easy being a woman. If anything goes wrong, get weight-loss surgery and it’s like pushing a cosmic reset button.

Margaret is played by Allyce Beasley, whom I didn’t recognize by sight, though her voice is sure familiar. It’s pretty high pitched, and she’s done a lot of cartoon work as a result. In terms of live action she’s been in some great stuff, with guest spots on Taxi and Cheers, and a recurring role on Moonlighting. She was also in Legally Blonde, which I’ve never seen but which certainly has a following. More recently she’s appeared in Bored to Death, Gotham, and Marry Me, all of which seem to be held in pretty decent regard, so I doubt “bitch craving Jim J. Bullock’s cock” scratches her list of favorite roles.

ALF, "Love on the Rocks"

ALF is watching this shit through the plot window, screaming and loudly jerking off, and it’s positively absurd that they wouldn’t hear him. But it’s ALF, and if we didn’t cut back to him every 15 seconds Paul Fusco would wither and die.

He makes a comparison to Margaret working on Neal like a boxer, which leads our alien fuckbuddy to make the second Robin Givens joke in as many weeks.

Then he watches them make out for a while until he finishes getting his Love-on-the-Rocks off.

ALF, "Love on the Rocks"

After the commercial, the Tanners get ready to go to the movies. Willie complains with venom and sarcasm about Margaret, which is nothing new. But Kate calls him on it, which is new.

He replies, “I’m sorry, Kate. I don’t like her. I didn’t like her then, and I don’t trust her now.”

And that.

That’s it.

That’s all I need to believe that Willie’s not an irredeemable fuckbag.

I’ve complained a lot about Willie’s shitty attitude and shitty behavior on this show, but that’s because the show never seemed to realize it was shitty. Having Kate confront him about it, and then having him explain — in just one line, just a couple of seconds of screentime — that he has someone else’s best interests at heart…it makes all the difference.

We all complain. Every one of us. And we know that. But I think we also understand the difference between complaining because we’re genuinely worried that something bad will happen to someone we care about, and complaining because we’re dick whiskers who can never let anyone be happy.

Most of the time Willie seems to be the latter, simply because his complaints and petty bitchings are all that we hear. There’s no context for him…he’s just some dweeby guy who periodically turns into an asshole.

Finally Willie provides context for himself. And, what do you know, it shifts him right into the other category.

I don’t ask for much from this show. “Stop raping,” yes. But besides that? All I want is a little self-awareness. Proof that ALF understands what it’s doing. I don’t see that often, but — oh rarest of rarities — I’m seeing it now.

While they’re out Neal calls, and he’s wearing a bathrobe that just barely prevents us from seeing Jim J.’s bullock.

ALF, "Love on the Rocks"

He tells ALF that he and Margaret are driving to Las Vegas to get remarried. In the background we hear her rinsing all the cum out of her hair.

This is a really great show.

Anyway, ALF decides to hide in Neal’s car — some…how… — and joins them on their trip to Vegas.

You know, I fucking hate ALF and I fucking love Vegas, but, no joke, I admired this show’s restraint in not doing a Vegas episode.

Honestly, I’m not kidding. Ace commenter Casey (and the guy you should start paying attention to as the whole review-a-week thing comes to an end here) recently wrote up the Vegas episode of Perfect Strangers, and I was shocked that that show resorted to doing one so early in its run.*

I quietly appreciated ALF for not sending its characters to Lazy Vegas. After all, this show was ending. It was as good as over, and never once did it succumb to…

ALF, "Love on the Rocks"

…fuck.

One last kick in the sack for giving ALF credit.

Yeah, here we are, pulling up to the cocksuckin’ Chapel of the Bells, one of only two things in Vegas everyone knows. (The other one is the big neon cowboy, which Margaret also alludes to, in case you thought they were going to Las Vegas, Ohio or something.)

ALF, "Love on the Rocks"

Margaret goes into the Chapel of the Bells first, for no reason aside from the fact that ALF needs to materialize and talk to Neal. Neal tries to describe to ALF how wildly he and Margaret were just fucking each other’s brains out, but — oh rarest of rarities — ALF isn’t interested in hearing about it.

ALF tells Neal to pull his head out of his ass. In fact, because ALF was hiding in the car, he noticed that Neal kept unconsciously steering the vehicle into oncoming traffic. (Something we witness as well; it’s not a joke on ALF’s part.)

That’s a damned fucking dark thing for a family sitcom, and I admire it for that reason. It’s mildly insightful, and does a good job of revealing the kind of relationship Neal and Margaret have. Specifically the fact that it’s self-destructive, and unhealthy. And, yeah, we knew that already…but I like that the show went far enough to illustrate it that way.

Of course, if this were a better show, it would have tied this scene into Maxine’s speech at the beginning of the episode: two bad matches for Neal, both involving careless driving, both involving a fantastic creature (Mayan Warrior God or extra-terrestrial). A novelist would have used those parallels to great effect. An ALF writer would rather leave the office early and beat traffic.

ALF, "Love on the Rocks"

Neal agrees that he shouldn’t re-marry Margaret. On the other hand there’s still six minutes left in the episode, so he’s going to do it anyway.

They have their number called and approach the…officator? I have no clue what this guy is called. I don’t even care. It’s just a chance to cram in a bunch of jokes about Vegas (a buffet, a free pull on the slots, an Elvis witness), and it feels half-assed. It seems a lot like the Vegas idea was penciled in much later on, because they’re certainly blowing through all of the mandatory references in a really compressed timeframe.

Oddly, to me, we hear “Ave Maria” piped in during the ceremony. Is that a common wedding song? Especially in a context like this, in which the ceremony (one would imagine) should be non-denominational? It’s a pretty expressly Catholic thing, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve heard it at any weddings I’ve been to, but I’m usually pretty drunk and trying to get somebody’s cousin to sit on my lap.

Anyway, Neal gets cold feet and makes the excuse that he needs to run to the men’s room to jerk off.

Really, he does. Only he calls it “throwing himself a bachelor party.”

Later, when he returns to Margaret, she asks how the party was and he says that “nobody came.”

You know.

In case you didn’t get / weren’t disgusted enough by the joke the first time.

FUCK THIS SHOW

ALF, "Love on the Rocks"

Neal heads out to the car, where ALF suggests they get some hookers to fuck. To the show’s unexpected credit, it avoids making a joke in which ALF misunderstands an ad for all-you-can-eat pussy.

Jim J. Bullock shoots for some ill-advised emotion, pretending to cry in a show about a hooker-crazed puppet monster. ALF briefly attempts to comfort him, and then suggests to Neal that he buy a gun and kill himself.

Do you remember when I thought this episode might be pretty good? I sure don’t.

ALF, "Love on the Rocks"

Neal heads back into the chapel, which he and Margaret have to themselves now for some reason. They have a humorless little chat about how they shouldn’t get married, and then Margaret asks if they can still be friends. He says yes, in spite of the fact that they’re fatally toxic to each other and never seemed to get along in the first place and just sharing a car with her was enough to make him subconsciously want to kill them both.

The episode has the ghost of an arc for Neal — he goes from needing someone to speak for him to finally speaking for himself — but it’s not fleshed out at all. There’s a point A and a point B, which counts as progress for ALF, but no coherent journey between one and the other.

And while I appreciate the impulse to end the episode on an emotional note, it fails to resonate, because we don’t care about Neal and care even less about Margaret.

Does it matter if they get together? Not really.

Is anyone interested in their next steps? No, and even if they were, we’ll never see these people again. There are no next steps.

“Love on the Rocks” brought to an emotional conclusion a story we were never told. Watching it is kind of like tuning into the last few minutes of a show you’ve never seen; you get the feeling things are being wrapped up, even though you weren’t there to see them. But I watched this whole fucking thing, and it’s barely a story at all.

It gets an oddly sincere ending, with a welcome tinge of cynicism, but that’s it. The rest of the episode is just sort of…there, even if it does have some nicely observed family moments sprinkled throughout. As always, it was a couple of drafts away from anything worth filming.

As if realizing the episode doesn’t know what it’s about, Neal scampers off because he hears ALF playing the slots. Viva Lou Bega!!

ALF, "Love on the Rocks"

In the short scene before the credits we learn that Neal took ALF to see Nudes on Ice, and they spanked each other off under Margaret’s forgotten parka.

Also, Kate says to Neal, “I still say you did the right thing,” about his decision not to re-marry Margaret. Willie sticks his nose in and tells his wife, “I just expressed that, honey.”

And, hey, what do you know? We get to end the episode with Willie being a giant dickbag after all.

Anyway, that’s it. A measly five episodes for this new character who got a two-parter introduction and two spotlight episodes.

Jim J. Bullock, as we’ve discussed, was a fairly big name at the time, and on the surface it looks like they treated his stature accordingly; after all, of the five episodes in which he appeared, he was relegated to supporting player status in only one of them. Watch the episodes, though, and tell me what you learn about Neal. Because if you learn anything at all, it’s more than I’ve learned about him.

The first episode was the one with Ridley‘s favorite title. “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s Willie’s Brother” spent all of its time introducing us to Neal, filling us in on his background, and…well, nothing else, really. It was an introduction to the character that told us nothing except that his fat pig of a wife left him, and also he shits a lot.

Then we had “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face,” which was twenty minutes of foreplay before Neal met ALF. I remember nothing else about it. It was a pile of crap. Yet another two-parter in which the second part could have been condensed into the pre-credits tag at the end of part one.

He next made a token appearance in “Break Up to Make Up,” which was about somebody else’s failing marriage, and I think he was only there as part of some aborted effort to weave him into the show’s universe as a whole…you know, so that he could show up whenever, instead of just in episodes that were about him. It was a good impulse, so obviously the show didn’t follow through on that at all.

“Happy Together” had ALF moving in with him, which would have been a great way to finally develop his character in some way…but that never happened. It just raised more questions, with Neal vanishing without explanation all day, even though we’re told he works in his own building.

And now “Love on the Rocks,” which was garbage, but not without merit. None of those merits, however, involve turning Neal into a character anyone in his or her right mind would give a rat’s ass about. The little joke about him needing Willie to reject Margaret for him was nice…but as much as I’d like to read genuine character development into that, I can’t. It’s just another one-off detail that may or may not have anything to do with who the guy actually is.

He’s horny, he’s nerdy, he’s funny, he’s an idiot, he’s Willie’s brother with an age difference of 65 years, he’s a flaming homosexual we’re also meant to believe is a womanizer.

Who the fuck is he?

When he arrived on the show I asked myself one question, and I’m asking it again now: is he Cool Willie, or Mega Willie? Or is he just…Second Willie?

Part of the confusion comes from the fact that I also don’t know who in shit’s name Actual Willie is supposed to be…but, as you might have guessed, we’ll deal with that question at length soon enough.

Neal could have been anything, but in spite of driving four episodes of his own and wrapping his junk in a toga for a fifth, he’s still nothing. I picked out the “passive to a fault” detail and ran with it. Someone else might pick out the sex maniac detail and run with that. A third viewer will forever see him as the guy who hilariously burns through toilet paper. None of the things we’re told mean any more than the rest of the stuff we’re told, and it’s all just there. At no point does it add up to a character, and at no point can it. In order to assign an identity to Neal Tanner, we need to fixate on something and disregard the rest. In short, every viewer is already doing more work than the writers ever did.

I can’t blame Jim J. Bullock. God knows I’ve given the guy guff in his short time here, but…what else could he have done? A few actors have managed to elevate ALF‘s material, and I give them credit for that, but it’s not an expectation. The writers aren’t meeting anyone halfway, so if Jim J. Bullock flounders, that makes him no worse than most folks who got mired in this shitty show. He was hired for the same reason everyone else was hired: to stand quietly on a soundstage while a puppet calls him names.

He did as well as anyone would have done. You try playing a guy who’s supposed to look like a loser next to Max Wright and let me know how you fare.

Anyway, he’s gone now.

Out, out, brief candle! Bullock was but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his five weeks upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It was a tale told by an idiot with his hand inside of another idiot, full of sound and cat meat, signifying nothing.

If there’s one silver lining for Bullock, it’s that his final episode is by far his best one…and that was absolutely not the case for Jodie, Jake, Dr. Dykstra, or Mr. Ochmonek. I’m not going to miss Jim J. Bullock — or, well, anything — but at least his swansong hints at a hypothetically better integration of the character.

As it stands, he was a total writeoff, but “Love on the Rocks,” flawed though it certainly is, shows that he didn’t have to be. And that’s good to know. In a parallel universe, the ALF ‘n’ Neal: Murder Detectives spinoff is entering its 26th season.

I’m…really glad I don’t live there, actually.

Countdown to ALF being put down in front of the Tanners: 9 episodes

—–
* Casey, if you’re curious: it’s ALF who suggests a trip to the Liberace Museum…not Neal. Let this inform your readings of Larry and Balki as you see fit.

Fallout 3

I wrote recently about one of the few true ethical dilemmas I found myself having to navigate in Fallout 4. It was a satisfying moment, if only because I couldn’t be satisfied. For the first time (at least, the first time that I noticed) I was not able to do things my way. And that was a good thing. The decided lack of satisfaction was more satisfying than the go-anywhere/do-anything open world had yet been. There was a beauty in the fact that this situation wasn’t as simple as I’d like it to be.

And, as I mentioned briefly in that earlier piece, it was accidental. This wasn’t an ethical conflict by design, like my Necropolis example from the original Fallout. No, this was a conflict born of circumstance. A few speech checks failed, against all odds. I’d sided with a certain faction that made the situation less straight forward. And I’d invested time (in-game) and empathy (personally) with The Minutemen, the group of interlopers that became my eventual sacrifice to the greater good.

Had any of those things been different, there wouldn’t have been an issue. I could have gotten, in theory at least, what I wanted, as I wanted to get it. I said all that before. But here’s the one additional complication I want to spotlight here, where I can give it a larger discussion: I was playing the game as a good guy.

Fallout 4 ditches the karma system from previous games, and that’s good, because it was never totally compatible with Bethesda’s approach to the franchise anyway. It was also an oddly cosmic concept for games that are otherwise fairly down to earth. Sure, killing an unarmed stranger in a remote corner of the map is a bad thing to do, but if nobody saw you do it, why do people you meet later treat you like a monster? The game knows you did something bad, but the other characters shouldn’t. (And don’t even get me started on the needless complications of New Vegas and its various faction reputations. A great idea in theory. A distracting and irrelevant mess on execution.)

People have given Fallout 4 guff for scrapping karma, but that was unquestionably a simplification in the right direction. It wasn’t an act of creative laziness…it was a recognition of the fact that the system never did was it was supposed to do anyway, and so instead of spinning out scripts and quests for various karmic branches, the designers streamlined the game and let players play in their own ways. Whatever one may think of this game’s particular execution of that simplification, that’s up for discussion. But the fact that it was simplified is a good thing.

Here’s the main reason that simplification was needed: in spite of the lip service paid to choice, you’re supposed to play these games as a good guy. That’s how the games are written, that’s how the games are designed, and that’s the only way they actually work.

This is especially apparent in Fallout 3‘s narrative arc. Spoilers, yes.

In Fallout 3, you are a character who sees for the first time — along with the player — the lengths to which people will go in order to survive in the Wasteland. It starts from the very beginning, in Vault 101, where a small community survives by shutting itself off from the dangers of the outside world. Importantly, the same metal door that keeps its residents safe inside strands others in danger, outside. When you enter the Wasteland early in the game, you see the skeletons of those who sought the safety of Vault 101, only to be turned away. Some of their signs remain, which they presumably held up to the security camera to convey the urgency of their plight. One says, “Help us.” Another reads, “We’re dying, assholes!”

They died there, inches from salvation because a conscious choice was made not to give it to them. Arguments could be made either way as far as “the right decision” goes, but there’s one central fact: Vault 101 was safe, and in order to remain safe it refused that safety to all others. They may have done the right thing…but they’re still assholes. It’s your earliest example of survival at all costs, and it’s one of the least cruel.

Throughout the game you meet murderers. Slavers. Cannibals. Raiders. Madmen. And every so often you encounter a little town…and steel yourself for the inevitable disappointment, the (often literal) skeletons in the closet. Some folks might be closer than others to living an ethical life, but they’re never more than one stolen item or threatening gesture away from pulling out a gun and killing somebody.

In the Wasteland, it’s kill or be killed. I understand that. The game is designed to convince us of that at every point, with every settlement we encounter, with every disemboweled corpse we stumble over, with every ironic reminder of just how far and how quickly civilization fell. You need to be the biggest and most dangerous fish in the (glowing) sea if you want to survive…and even then, an angry enough smaller fish can take you down. Nobody is safe. Nobody is secure. Everybody is on edge, and nobody is more than one wrong move away from having their life taken away.

Then you meet your father, James.

The search for your father is the main driving force of the first part of the game. He escaped Vault 101 shortly before you did. He never said goodbye. You don’t know where he is. You’re thrust into the Wasteland less experienced and less prepared than he is, but you need to find him. And as you scrounge for clues in and around post-war D.C., you learn something important:

He’s not an asshole.

James fled the vault and put himself in danger — two significant opposites to the behavior of almost everybody else you meet in the game — in order to assist with Project Purity, an ambitious experiment to provide clean drinking water to the residents of the Capital Wasteland.

All of them.

Every one of them.

The murderers, the slavers, the cannibals, the raiders, the madmen. The enemy.

Why?

Because among those, there are children. There are good-hearted people mired through no fault of their own in a life of violence and mistrust. There’s potential. There’s humanity out there, somewhere, even if neither you nor James ever really finds it, or at least there’s a chance that it exists…and James puts himself in mortal danger for the chance to keep it alive.

And he doesn’t just speak about idealism; he lives by it, and eventually dies by it.

If the first part of the game revolves around finding James, the second part revolves around helping him. Together you work to get Project Purity online. There are a series of small tasks that need doing…nothing at all compared to the Super Mutants and Death Claws you’ve fought to make it this far. If anything, this is easy. It’s a reward for having overcome so much. All you need to do is turn a few valves here, flip some switches there…

…until the project is interrupted by The Enclave.

The Enclave are Fallout 3‘s clear bad guys. They’re the very well armed and fairly well organized remnants of the U.S. Government, pumping propaganda through one of the few surviving radio stations while they gun down anyone they view as a threat to their authority…which is just about everybody.

They demand control of Project Purity. James doesn’t give it to them. They threaten to kill him. James beats them to the punch; he releases a flood of radiation into the room to kill the Enclave’s commanding officer…and, because there was no avoiding it, himself.

It was the only way to save the project.

Everybody else in the Wasteland does anything it takes to stay alive. James — your father — realizes that there’s a goal much more important and much larger than the survival of one man. In a world of selfishness, James is willing to sacrifice.

It’s a powerful moment, and probably the single most important thing that happens in Fallout 3.

The third part of the game is you following in your father’s footsteps…and it ends with you, too, sacrificing yourself for the good of the Wasteland.*

That is the arc of the game. And though you can choose not to sacrifice yourself, and to play the game as an evil character, that doesn’t change the emotional journey of the game…it just renders it irrelevant. You’re supposed to play it this way, but you can choose to play it some other way. Should you do that, though, Fallout 3 loses its entire ethical framework. You’re left with a game in which you can kill people and fight monsters and scrounge for cool weapons, but that’s any game. Fallout 3 relies on its story as its identity, and it’s a good one…but that story only has meaning if you’re good, too.

You can’t blame Fallout 3 for being weighted toward good characters. Those, after all, are the only ones who can face ethical dilemma. Being called an asshole only matters if you aren’t actually an asshole. It only hurts if you’re trying not to be an asshole. “Asshole” only has meaning, that is to say, when you’re working really damned hard to be an asshole’s opposite.

And when Fallout 4** came out, the lack of a karma system made sense. Only by treating the character the same — regardless of what his or her past actions were — could it force all players into a single, coherent story, as opposed to one in which some stuff happened while you were out murdering innocents.

Only “good” characters can face ethical dilemmas because only “good” characters can feel conflicted.

Whether it’s a situation like the one I described recruiting a scientist for The Institute — which is a dilemma that must be faced in the moment — or a situation in which the ethical “right” answer had the logistical “wrong” result, only a “good” character would care.

A “bad” character lies, steals, and kills to get what he or she wants. Unintended consequences (or…erm…”fallout”) don’t mean anything. How could they? You were perfectly willing to spill blood. Spilling more blood, however unexpected that extra blood may have been, doesn’t challenge your ethics. You overrode those before you set the gory dominoes into motion. You chose to be an asshole; revealing yourself to be a bigger asshole does not add retroactive meaning to your actions.

Good characters face ethical crises when things go from bad to worse, or when good intentions result in terrible outcomes. Bad characters could, in theory, face an ethical crisis if their intended bad behavior led to a good outcome, but it’s hard to imagine what that might be, as it’d have to be something that both that player and “good” players recognize as a good outcome.

It’s difficult to think of examples. Perhaps by robbing a bank you’d unwittingly cause a customer to realize how short life is, and he’d run out and build an orphanage, but that’s a tortured example, and I’m pretty sure most of them would have to be.

I’m open to suggestions on how something like this might work, but it’s safe to say that Fallout 3 wasn’t interested in those possibilities. All of its crises are built around “good” behavior. “Bad” behavior leads to a few unique situations, quests, and items, but nothing at all by way of ethical crisis. Play as a “good” character, though, and you get them one right after another.

Here are a few of the ethical shitstorms I had to face in Fallout 3…two of which were scripted, and one of which was naturally occurring by virtue of the game’s strong ethical throughline:

– Upon arriving in Megaton, a large and fairly secure community, I’m approached by a man who offers to pay me handsomely to destroy the town by detonating a bomb at its center. I refuse the offer, and tell the sheriff — a good man named Lucas Simms who keeps the residents under his watch completely safe — and the sheriff confronts the man…who shoots him and kills him, and strolls off without consequence. Ethically the right decision, logistically the worst outcome.

– I discover Tenpenny Tower, a secure high-rise catering to the relative upper crust of the Wasteland. They don’t allow ghouls — highly irradiated humans with a zombie-like appearance — inside. One ghoul is fed up with it, and plans to attack Tenpenny Tower to give his people a secure place to live. I convince him to back down, and diplomatically convince Tenpenny Tower to voluntarily let them move in. Things are great…until I come back and find that the revolutionary ghoul who wanted in has murdered all of the non-ghoul residents over a perceived slight. Ethically the right decision, logistically the worst outcome.

– There’s a shanty village called Arefu. The residents don’t leave their homes because they’re afraid of a gang of humans who drink blood. I find the gang and convince them to stop terrorizing the residents of Arefu. Now those innocent townsfolk can wander outside their homes again. They thank me, because for the first time in a long time, they feel safe. I return a few days later to find that a radscorpion has made it into town, and it kills the residents one by one while I try to take it down. There are no survivors…but there would have been lots, if I hadn’t convinced them it was safe to go outdoors. Ethically the right decision, logistically the worst outcome.

But those are all from Fallout 3. I could throw in plenty more from the original Fallout. (I haven’t played Fallout 2 enough to say much about that one.) Fallout 4 had…almost nothing. It was a game of choice instead of one of dilemma. It was a game of physical conflict as opposed to psychological conflict.

And I wonder if that’s because it is so difficult to craft ethical dilemma in open world games. Fallout 3 did it if you ask me…but I played the game as a “good” character. I’ve had others tell me that the story was “barely there” in that game. Invariably, they also happened to play as “bad” characters.

Maybe in Fallout 4 the emphasis switched to gunfire over careful thinking, and ethical dilemma wasn’t a natural fit for that, so the developers discarded it. Or maybe the developers realized that well-thought-out ethical dilemmas would be completely missed by at least half of the people playing the game, and therefore emphasized gunfire over careful thinking.

Either is possible, and both are disappointing.

The problem in Fallout 3 — and to a far lesser extent New Vegas — was that playing as a bad character removed all ethical obstacles from the playing field. Fallout 4 made the decision to treat everyone, instead, like a neutral character. People could do bad things without consequence, and do good things without complication. They were neither proud nor disappointed at being called assholes, because the game featured no characters who would call them one.

A simplification was the right decision, but logistically it had the worst outcome.

—–
* I’m ignoring the Broken Steel DLC, which idiotically resurrects you and says, “Hey, go kill more things.” It’s a pretty substantial narrative fuck-you, brought about by one of the worst trends in modern gaming: asking players to pay several times for the same experience.

** New Vegas is barely being touched here because that game was handled by another developer, and was more tailored — by design — to the player’s ethical compass of choice. The theme of the game is less “living up to your father’s legacy” and more “shaping the world in your own image.” It’s a joyously selfish experience, so I’m leaving it out because it’s irrelevant, and not because I think it isn’t worthy of discussion. On the subject of ethics, though? I sure did kill folks for their Sunset Sarsaparilla Star bottlecaps. And when I finally had enough to redeem, I had my ethical shitstorm itch firmly and deeply scratched.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

Has time rendered any prospect sadder than “David Spade guest stars on this week’s ALF“?

“Make ‘Em Laugh” aired in January of 1990. ALF‘s cultural cachet was falling quickly, with public opinion of him and his shtick souring fast. His ratings fell. People stopped caring. He was once the star of one of the most popular shows in the world, but, as Artie Fufkin would say, ALF oversaturated. The more often people see something, the more opportunities they have to get sick of it, and ALF gave everyone a wealth of opportunities to get sick of him.

He was everywhere. There were ALF clothes, ALF dolls, ALF action figures, an ALF board game, ALF video games (in traditional and educational flavors), ALF ice cream, and even ALF records and cassettes on which he either narrated irrelevant fairy tales or sang bullshit songs about Melmac.

And those were just the tie-ins. As far actual ALF productions go, there was of course ALF, his flagship show that ruined the lives and careers of everyone involved. But there was also an ALF comic series on shelves, and two animated spin-offs.

One was ALF: The Animated Series, a prequel to the live-action show featuring a weekly half hour of hideous Melmacian freaks braying at each other, and ALF Tales, in which ALF kicks Humpty Dumpty off the wall and buffucks his cat or something. It was shit.

And these were all in addition to his guest appearances on other shows, such as The Hollywood Squares, where his demands to take all the best lines from Jim J. Bullock were taken less seriously.

The most important thing about all of these productions: they all happened at the same fucking time.

ALF ran from 1986 to 1990. ALF: The Animated Series aired from 1987-1989. ALF Tales ran from 1988-1989. ALF: The Pointless Comic for Idiots was published from 1988-1992 (holding on a bit longer than anything else, interestingly).

Do you think that’s enough god-damned ALF?

Public perception turned almost on a dime. We went from being so in love with ALF that we needed him everywhere, at all times, to being so sick of him that we didn’t care if we’d ever see him again.

This episode aired, and about three months later the series would be quietly terminated while nobody was looking. It was costly to produce, everybody hated working on it, and the ratings made it clear that an increasingly negligible amount of viewers gave a shit if ALF lived or died.

So the show died. ALF went from having everything to having nothing. As I’ve said before, Paul Fusco never wanted a show; he wanted a franchise. And that’s the mentality that prevented him from keeping one. Instead of giving the audience what it wanted, he gave them too much, and they moved on to other things. Instead of working to make any one of these myriad productions great, he was content to crank them out irrespective of quality.

“Make ‘Em Laugh” is one of the last gasps of an unlikely star whose career was as good as over. And though the episode sucks, I have to admit it has some damned good thematic resonance in that regard.

David Spade, by contrast, was coming up in the world. I was never an enormous fan of his, so maybe somebody can fill in the 1980s-shaped blanks for me, but as far as I can tell he was a standup comic who achieved some small degree of recognition for his talents. In 1990, though — the year this episode aired — he was hired as a cast member on Saturday Night Live, and it was a great time to be a part of that show.

Saturday Night Live was experiencing something of a second renaissance, thanks to the arrival of great new talents like Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Mike Meyers, Dana Carvey, Chris Farley, Chris Rock, Julia Sweeney, Adam Sandler, and Kevin Nealon, as well as the return of golden-age writer/performer Al Franken. How much credit Spade deserves for the show’s resurgence of cultural significance is debatable, but he was there, he was a part of it, and he was a staple of both the stage and the writers’ room.

He also carved out a bit of a film career for himself, most notably alongside the late Chris Farley. He established himself as a sort of caustic straightman, and it’s a role that served him well. But Farley passed away, and Spade was suddenly far less in demand. He didn’t stand on his own very well (hello, Joe Dirt!); whatever degree of talent he may have had, it pretty clearly involved responding to other people…and other people just weren’t interested in working with him.

With the notable exception of his role in Just Shoot Me, Spade failed to find work on an extended basis, and his career took a tumble as a result. Overnight he went from nobody to one of the most recognizable faces on the most popular sketch comedy show in history, and then another night passed and he was nobody again.

ALF and David Spade are natural fits for each other, though not for the reasons either of them would care to admit.

Anyway, David Spade’s scene here boils down to a brief snippet of a comedy program called Giggles in the Valley, which sounds like a film you might catch after Bikini Carwash IV through a scrambled HBO signal.

David Spade gets exactly one and a half lines. The first is him telling a joke about polyester. (And by that I mean he observes that somebody is wearing polyester.) Then he starts talking about his trip to Canada and gets cut off by ALF changing the channel. So I guess even when ALF goes out of its way to cast an actual stand-up comedian whose star is on the rise, it makes sure he doesn’t get any laughs that could instead go to Paul Fusco’s right hand.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

That night ALF types some shitty jokes, making him the only person in history to be inspired by David Spade.

Willie comes up to yell at him for making noise at one o’clock in the morning, but Jesus fuck, it’s not that loud. And it’s in the attic. I’m willing to buy that Willie could hear him, but compared to ALF pounding on the piano to brainstorm a musical comedy act, or bringing the typewriter under Willie and Kate’s bed so he could write his material without having to sacrifice his chance to hear the joyless sounds of their passive fucking, this qualifies as good behavior.

Maybe that’s why ALF is still lashing out and pulling such destructive nonsense after all these years. When he’s an asshole, Willie screams at him. But when he’s polite and does something quiet to keep himself occupied, Willie screams at him with exactly the same degree of anger. At some point ALF must have realized that the net result is the same, so he might as well be a raging dick all the time.

ALF reads one of his jokes to Willie, with the implication that it’s so funny Willie will cum. Or piss himself. I’m not sure which. Either way, the show just made you picture Max Wright’s leaking cock, so you’re welcome.

The joke is a standard cat-eating gag, making it the first one since “Live and Let Die,” the episode in which our furry felon decided he wouldn’t eat felines anymore. But since it’s a just joke ALF invented and not necessarily reflective of his desires, I won’t cry “continuity flaw.”

I will cry “nonsensical bullshit” though. I honestly don’t understand the joke. It’s a short anecdote about ordering an extra-crispy cat on Melmac, and getting an arthritic cat instead.

Genuinely no fucking clue. Can anybody make sense of that one for me?

Willie says that the joke sucked and checks to make sure the tip of his withered old wiener is dry. Then he leaves and ALF repeats to himself, “I’m funny! I am! I am funny!” And…

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

No.

No my fuck no

Not a fantasy sequence my ass please no

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

ALF, for some reason, is fantasizing about somebody else’s standup set. That would be kind of like leaning back in your chair to daydream about being a famous rock star, and then just thinking about some footage of Billy Idol you saw on VH1.

After a while ALF remembers that this is supposed to be taking place in his own brain, so he’d better make an appearance. He bumps into John Pinette backstage.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

Pinette died in 2014, which I didn’t know before writing this. I definitely recognized him, so I wanted to see what else he’d been in. He had a good number of standup specials to himself, and guested in a bunch of others, so that’s definitely why I remember him. He also had a recurring role in Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, which I watched all the time and definitely never understood. His most notable sitcom appearance, though, was as the heavy man who gets mugged and kicks off the events of the Seinfeld finale.

I’m a bit sad to find out that he’s dead. I’d be lying if I said I was a particular fan of his, or even that I’d thought about him once in the past 18 years, but as soon as I saw him here in ALF I thought, “Hey, it’s that guy!” I remember him being pretty funny, and seeing him again brings me back to the days that I actually paid attention to the world of standup comedy.

Here ALF calls him fat and makes fun of him for a while. Then he suggests that Pinette make some jokes about his weight, so that the whole audience can make fun of him for the health issues that would kill him at 50.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

ALF does his routine. Not a moment too soon, since this was the ostensible point of the whole fantasy sequence, which until now we’ve spent making fun of fat guys and listening to other people tell jokes.

He tells, in full, the same arthritic cat joke he told earlier. The fake audience laughs, which is kind of meta since ALF always has a fake audience laughing at his jokes, even when he’s awake. At least now he finally gets to meet the people who offer up polite chuckles at his half-assed material.

His other jokes: the Melmacian library had two coloring books, and his girlfriend Rhonda had a hairy back. Hilarious.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

Son of a bitch I miss the midget.

Anyway, ALF is so funny that he takes his necktie off when we aren’t looking. Then the guy who runs the nightclub or hosts the TV show or whatever the fuck is going on comes over and tells ALF that he’s the funniest comedian ever and has “redefined comedy in America.” Man, if you liked those other three jokes, you’ve got to hear his take on airplane food!

Then Brandon Tartikoff shows up. The real one.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

He offers ALF a prime time sitcom of his own to showcase his talents. I’m tempted to launch into a speech about how important Tartikoff was to network programming at the time — NBC in particular, as he was their president, though the echoes of his success unquestionably drove the decisions and reactions of rival networks as well — but I already did that in my review of “Prime Time.” So, go read that, because it provides some good context for his guest appearance here.

In that episode he was played by David Leisure, which is a little odd as the events of “Prime Time” happened in reality. Now that we’re firmly in a dream, we get the actual Tartikoff. Not a complaint at all, but it’s interesting how that worked out.

A while back reader Justin provided this piece that was inspired by a conversation he had with Bernie Brillstein, and it sheds some light about why Paul Fusco might have wanted to pay these in-show respects to Tartikoff. After all, that’s the guy who gave ALF his big break in real life.

Something seems to have turned in their relationship, however, as Anne Schedeen alludes to in this interview which was posted to YouTube last month. (Hat-tip to kim for sending it my way.) I shared this on Facebook and people seemed to enjoy it, so if you haven’t seen it, take a look. It’s a long interview, so make a sandwich, but people so rarely talk about ALF that it’s pretty valuable by default.

Among other interesting tidbits, she mentions that the network president and Fusco had some creative disagreements about where to take the show next…and the cleanest solution was to avoid the question altogether by canning ALF.

Paul Fusco made an invaluable ally in Tartikoff up front, and through stubbornness made a career-ending enemy of him.

Hands up, everyone who’s surprised.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

Then the Tanners come over to gush about how great ALF is, and how funny he is, and how he’s the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being they’ve ever known in their lives.*

I’d complain about the fact that people keep walking up to ALF in the middle of his set, which may be recorded for broadcast or may be live, but which at the very least has a room full of people waiting for these assholes to leave the performer alone so he can tell some more jokes, but it’s a dream, so I can’t worry to much about it. That’s also, I hope, the explanation for why Lynn is dressed like Blossom.

Then there’s a short montage with a bunch of newspapers and fliers and calendar pages swirling around and footage of people laughing, to demonstrate how popular ALF is and WILL ALWAYS BE.

The camera is proud enough to make sure we see this one:

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

So if you don’t find that funny you can skip the episode in total confidence that you’ve missed nothing.

There’s also this:

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

It’s odd that “Alf” isn’t in all caps. It’s even odder how much punctuation is in that headline. I’ll give it points for proper usage of the semicolon. I’ll deduct far more points for suggesting that a performance at the White House implies political momentum. Did anyone expect a Colbert / Biden ticket after the Correspondents’ Dinner?

Again, it’s a dream…it’s a dream…

For ALF it’s a dream, anyway. For me, I’m spending my waking hours watching this horse shit so fuck it.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

“Oh, good; more $excessive/punctuation.”?!

It’s the National Inquisitor, and I like the fact that this invented publication from “Alone Again, Naturally” and “Lies” has actually become a part of the show’s universe.

I enjoy far less the Sybil joke, but I guess it’s hilarious if you enjoy poking fun at people with severe mental health problems.

If anyone can make sense of the “A Redoubler Publication” tagline, please get in touch.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

When the barrage of limp headline gags finally ends, we’re in the Tanner house, where the Tanners all dote on him and cater to his every whim. Weird…I thought the fantasy was supposed to be at least a little different from reality.

ALF reads fanmail and fields requests for interviews and to appear in shows, and then Mrs. Ochmonek comes over and sprays vaginal moisture everywhere. It sucks.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

There’s a bit of an interesting theme here with ALF being really selfish in his requests — having other shows named after him before he’ll even consider appearing, refusing to grant interviews unless he’s the only guest — which may well be the writers venting their frustrations at Paul Fusco’s similarly audacious real-world demands…the very demands that would sink the entire show and send them all looking for new jobs in a matter of weeks.

I have no idea if it’s intentionally meta, but it sure is tempting and easy to read that way. And the way the next few scenes unfold — with some phantom global audience deciding that ALF isn’t funny almost as quickly as they decided ALF is funny — plays like a damned prophecy.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

Then ALF gets a lifetime achievement award from Casey Kasem, and I’m entirely willing to believe we’re watching unedited footage of Paul Fusco’s wettest dream.

There’s a decent enough idea here (ALF has only been famous for three days, a conceit upheld by the calendar pages earlier), but, I assure you, I did not need “Make ‘Em Laugh” to convince me that ALF’s shtick is garbage.

Then ALF tells the arthritic cat joke — in its entirety — for the third fucking time. Granted, it gives the audience at the ceremony a chance to shout at him to do new material, but, man, telling the same cock sucking joke three times in the same episode, with the same cadence, just feels like extremely lazy padding.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

Hey, speaking of extremely lazy padding, another passage-of-time montage! For this one they even used a headline from this very blog.

Interestingly, you can read some of that article in the screenshot. It’s text from an actual story about the then-recent box office failure of the Eddie Murphy vehicle Harlem Nights.

The film is mainly notable now for being one of the earliest examples of gunmen opening fire in a movie theater. Evidently they started firing on the crowd during a shootout scene in the film, perhaps to further confuse their victims and prevent them from immediately fleeing. I don’t think this particular article mentions that, but it’s an odd, dark footnote that seems to come up any time that film is mentioned. (Thankfully, the film’s astronomical crap factor ensures that it’s not brought up often.)

Then there’s a brief scene of the family saying ALF’s career is over, in case you didn’t pick that up from when ALF fretted that his career was over, or Casey Kasem said that ALF’s career was over, or the awards show audience shouted at him that his career was over, or those spinning newspapers all stopped long enough for you to read that his career was over.

And after that deeply necessary scene, we’re right back into a passage-of-time montage. If the episode keeps passing this much time the final scene is going to take place in the year 3535.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

We do actually end up 10 years in the future. (ALF fantasy sequences are nothing if not comprehensive.) ALF is a washed up MC in the Catskills, introducing a plate spinner. There’s a nice enough detail that the sign is missing a letter and therefore refers to him as GORDON “AL” SHUMWAY. I mean, it’s not funny, but it’s also not the arthritic cat joke, so I’ll take it.

Of course, ALF then refers to that detail himself, calling attention to it that’s far out of proportion to its actual comic value — which it would have had as a sign gag — so…that kind of sucks. “Make ‘Em Laugh” is working really hard to ensure that I don’t.

Then HOLY JESUS SHITFUCK he tells the arthritic cat joke again anyway so fuck it all to fuck.

Somebody heckles ALF, and there’s some tedious back and forth about that. The heckler does threaten to stick the microphone up ALF’s ass, though, so he’s the most relatable character who’s ever been on this show.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

Then John Pinette comes back and we hear a few minutes of his actual standup while ALF mopes around. Granted, spending the final stretch of your episode listening to a character we’ll never see again perform a completely irrelevant standup act in a fantasy sequence that doesn’t matter anyway is the very definition of wasting your audience’s time…but since people who actually know how to deliver a joke are so rare on this show, believe me, I’m fine with it.

Later that night, ALF drinks alone, with nobody else. The Tanners come in and holy barf what the shit is Benji Gregory wearing?

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

Somebody else make a joke about it. I know better than to try to follow Pinette.

The funniest thing in the whole episode is the tossed-off reveal that Brian somehow has his own TV show now. Man, I’m sure it’s a comic masterpiece. A weekly half hour of the kid sullenly scratching his armpit.

Also Lynn works for MGM, which is fine, if totally pointless as a plot development. I understand that the point is that ALF’s star has fallen while everyone else’s has risen…but that’s not even true. We don’t learn anything about who Willie and Kate are in this fantasy, and does the career trajectory of the kids — a trajectory that hasn’t even been mentioned before this scene — really mean anything? “Also Brian is famous or something” feels quarter-assed at best, and I don’t know what we’re supposed to take from it.

Unless it’s exactly what I am taking from it: the hilariously terrifying concept of a Benji Gregory Show.

The Tanners tell ALF he can come back and live with them, but he doesn’t want to leave show business, so he tells them to cram it with walnuts.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

In the short scene before the credits, ALF wakes up.

He tells Willie and Kate about his dream. Then Max Wright does this while both ALF and I scream:

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

mammy

Alright. So “Make ‘Em Laugh” had a few strikes against it from the start.

Firstly, it was a dream episode, which, again, is the very definition of unnecessary in a show about a screaming space beast that lives in the attic. You don’t need to exploit another layer of fantasy when your show’s reality is already so far removed from our own. And when you do exploit it, you should do so because you want to do something more interesting than usual, and not something more mundane. (That sounds obvious, but ALF, oddly, still doesn’t understand this.)

Secondly, it had fucking David Spade. (Though John Pinette, admittedly, was a nice surprise.)

And thirdly it was an episode in which a character becomes a stand-up comic, and those have never been good. I’ve always wondered why it is that shows that are normally funny become exponentially less funny once it wants one of its characters to be funny in-universe.

It’s a larger essay than I’ll write here, and I’d certainly need to come up with more examples, but I do remember seeing an episode of Mama’s Family in which Mama — of Family fame — starts telling jokes at a comedy club or something. No, Mama’s Family wasn’t great, but it was competent. And I remember watching that episode as a kid and wondering why the show felt perfectly funny until it was actively trying to convince us that her standup routine was funny. It felt flat all of a sudden, and it almost always does, as though these shows are suddenly trying too hard. Or maybe it’s just because fictional standup routines will always be compared to the ones we know from the real world, which tend to be quite good and well-developed by the time we know them at all.

But “Make ‘Em Laugh” had one really intriguing card up its sleeve: the meta component. While I’m pretty sure the real-life frustrations of the staff bled through to the writing (ALF’s sharp rise and irredeemable fall — centering as they do on lazy, repetitive material and unreasonable egotism — are too true to life to believe otherwise) it wasn’t nearly as clever or interesting as “I’m Your Puppet,” which successfully offered metatextual insight while still telling a coherent story of its own.

“Make ‘Em Laugh,” by contrast, played like a string of grievances, without the interesting gimmick, solid jokes, or great acting to carry it. (The impact Bill Daily had on the viewing experience can’t be overstated. There’s a reason I sing that guy’s praises every chance I get.)

“I’m Your Puppet” took real-world frustration and spun it into a fun and insightful episode, and it actually ended up feeling more satisfyingly caustic because of its restraint. “Make ‘Em Laugh,” if it was intentionally meta at all, is just a stream of loose, disconnected bitching. It’s not funny, and, even as a guy who hates this fucking show, I have to say it feels nasty.

Additionally, Max Wright was really out of his mind this week. Usually I make fun of a slurred delivery here or there, but this week I couldn’t do that, because I’d be left with no room to talk about anything else. It’s pretty clear by now that he not only doesn’t care about giving his best performance…he doesn’t care if his lines are intelligible at all.

You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m honestly not. This week the guy sounded like an answering machine that’s eaten its tape. It takes a lot for me to single out a Max Wright performance as being particularly fucking terrible, but let me assure you that this one was particularly fucking terrible.

Anyway, Christ, let’s never speak of this garbage again.

This is the home stretch, ladies and gentlemen. We only have 10 episodes left to go. And if “Make ‘Em Laugh” accomplished nothing else, it reminded us that we’ve absolutely earned it.

Countdown to ALF having his flame extinguished in front of the Tanners: 10 episodes

—–
* I’ve made this joke a few times over the course of these reviews, but since we’re nearing the end I might not get the chance to make it again. So let me take this opportunity to make this clear: if you’ve never seen The Manchurian Candidate, the original one, with Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury, take a few hours this weekend and do so. You’ll thank me.

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"

Alright, so, I need to apologize for a bit of a quiet stretch here. I have a bunch of half-started drafts, and I’ll get to them. And god knows I won’t bail on ALF reviews because the day I claw my way out of that horse shit is the day I can face my own reflection again.

But, as I mentioned last week, I’m writing fiction again.

Fiction, without exaggeration, has been the most important thing to me for the majority of the time I’ve been alive. I went through a long dry spell, wondering if I’d ever write again. There were reasons to be doubtful. Maybe I’ll discuss them at some point.

I had a small spark of inspiration, though, and a story that had been brewing for around seven years finally clicked for me. My problem with fiction is never coming up with a plot…it’s coming up with an interesting way to frame that plot. I have a thousand ideas for stories that I could start writing tomorrow…but I’d get bored the day after that, because anyone can write a sequence of events. It’s a lot more difficult to create a universe in which those events unfold, find the proper voice with which to describe them, and tell the story in a way that nobody else can.

That’s important to me. And that’s been my sticking point.

For no particular reason that I can identify, I figured out how to tell this particular story. I went home and started writing. It’d be a lie to say I haven’t stopped since, but I can honestly say that any free time I have had has gone to directly or indirectly working on it. And I’m excited, because even though I’ve lived with these characters for seven years in my mind, I’m finally discovering who they really are.

I feel great. I feel younger and more excited than I’ve felt since I’ve moved to Colorado. And I also feel tired and mentally drained whenever I finish working on it…which is why the posting here has suffered.

It’ll come back, and likely pretty soon. I’ll run out of creative energy and take a break from the story to recharge. This isn’t goodbye; it’s an apology for those who keep checking back and finding nothing.

So far, so understandable. But here’s where I come to a slight crisis:

I really wanted to keep Fiction Into Film a monthly feature, but I’m running out of time to finish it. It’s started, and it’s going to be a good one. It…just might be a late one. I feel terrible about that, even though I get the sense that nobody really cares if they read it in February instead of January…but at the same time it’s an adaptation I really want to do justice to, and I don’t want to rush it for the sake of meeting a self-imposed deadline.

We’ll see. I still have time to finish it, but I want more than anything to avoid half-assing it.

May God forgive me.

Anyway, that’s all. Just a brief note to let you know I’m alive, happy, and productive than I’ve been in ages. Which is why you haven’t seen one damned thing.

ALF, "It's My Party"

ALF has tried many times to tug at our heart strings, to affect us, to make us feel as well as laugh. Most notably we had “ALF’s Special Christmas,” which legendarily overreached in every direction imaginable, leaving us with a sappy pile of ostensibly touching horse shit, but we’ve also had smaller, more successful attempts, as demonstrated by “Night Train” and “Alone Again, Naturally.” Perhaps best of all we had “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow,” a fantastic late-game showcase for Jake, and one of the few times we’ve been allowed to give a rat’s ass about a character that wasn’t made by turning a jacket inside out.

None of these compare, however to the emotional gut-punch of “It’s My Party.” This is the episode that will choke me up the most, without question, even though it might not seem that way on the surface. As much as ALF has tried to make me feel sadness, pity, wonder, or anything else, “It’s My Party” actually lands a devastating blow. It takes a while to get there, but once we do…

…I can’t even talk about it. Not yet.

We’ll get there soon enough.

Too soon…

For now, we open with Willie getting excited over new pictures of Neptune taken by Voyager II. One thing the writers have done a fairly decent job of keeping consistent is Willie’s interest in the sciences, and I genuinely do like seeing him nerd out about things like this — Max Wright sells that well enough — but, again, it makes me wonder why they didn’t give him a career in the sciences. Willie has no interest in or aptitude toward social work, which I think is part of the reason it’s only driven one story in the entire history of the show. (I’m speaking of “Border Song,” in which he kidnapped a Mexican kid. Any other plot that has had to do with his employment could work, without change, no matter what his job was, making “Border Song” the only time it was actually meaningful.)

It’s strange that they established Willie to be a nerdy guy with nerdy interests who loves to nerdingly nerdy-nerd all the nerd-long day…and then gave him an irrelevant job that has nothing to do with what he’s good at, what he likes, or what his character seems to be. It’s so strange.

ALF is excited about the pictures, too, so Willie shows him. Then ALF makes some crack about buying land on Jupiter sight unseen, which causes Willie to ask, “Can’t you find something else to do?”

Which is…weird, because it’s Willie who was gushing loudly about the pictures. ALF asked to see them, but only after Willie ejaculated at length about how great they were. This isn’t the usual situation in which Willie is doing something and then ALF comes in and clamps jumper cables on his nipples. This is Willie saying, “Check out this cool thing,” ALF saying, “Cool,” and Willie getting pissed off.

Willie is really weird.

Then Kate brings over an invitation from the Andersons, inviting the Tanners to a dinner party. She and Willie complain for a while about how they’re “always” being invited to things, without ever being able to return the favor and host a party of their own.

Two lumps of bullshit, there:

1) The Tanners don’t have any friends. Sorry. We’re midway through the fourth season and none of them have any lasting relationships with anyone. Alright, Lynn has Joanie, I guess, and Kate has those college chums she met up with exactly once, but I think that’s it. Willie hates everybody and Brian might as well be an aborted fetus in a jar.

2) The Tanners have hosted parties of their own. This is just from memory: a cosmetics party in “Keepin’ the Faith,” a Halloween party in “Some Enchanted Evening,” Kate Sr.’s wedding in “Something’s Wrong With Me,” a cheer-up-ALF party in “We Are Family,” Kate Jr.’s baby shower in “Baby Love,” and ALF’s crashiversary celebration in “Break Up to Make Up.” I’m not counting any of the smaller-scale events in which they entertained just one person (like Dr. Dykstra, or Jimbo from “Hide Away”) or any of the parties that were immediate-family-only (like the various birthdays or the Tannerversary in “Isn’t it Romantic?”), so if you do count those, it’s even more.

Granted, that’s not a huge amount of parties, but over the course of the three years ALF has been on Earth, it’s quite a lot. I sure as shit don’t throw a party every six months, and I don’t even need to worry about hiding a space alien. (It’s bad enough just being forced to do my laundry.)

So fuck the lying-ass Tanners in their ass faces.

ALF, "It's My Party"

After the credits we see that the family has hired a professional party planner.

What — and I mean this in the most respectful way — the fuck is this shit?

It’s just some get-together for the neighbors. Put out some cheese and olives and call it a fucking night. I absolutely love the fact that they told Lynn to her face that they couldn’t afford to send her to college, but they can afford to hire a party planner for this dumbass minor gathering nobody’s even expecting or cares about.

PARENTING!

Come to think of it, they didn’t even hire one for Kate Sr.’s wedding. If you could organize a wedding on your own, certainly you don’t need to hire someone to go to Shop Rite and pick up a deli platter.

The party planner says that they need to decide on a theme for their party, which I guess is the kind of thing you take into consideration when you live in a sitcom. But I assure you that if your party has a theme I’m 100% less likely to come. Fuck that.

ALF calls Willie from the phone in the kitchen and asks if they can have a luau. He calls again shortly to make sure they order two pigs. Then Willie does this thing where I think he’s stuffing the cordless phone under the couch cushion, but his positioning makes it look like he’s forcing it into Kate’s anus.

ALF, "It's My Party"

So, they’re having a luau with two pigs. Who cares. It’s kind of ridiculous that the point of the episode was that the Tanners haven’t been able to have a party since ALF arrived, and now they’re following his instructions on what kind of party to have.

I kind of thought this was…you know. Their thing. If they’re just going to do ALF-approved bullshit as usual, why bother? That’s every day of their lives, and it won’t separate this event from any of the other events they’ve thrown over the past three years that had to accommodate ALF.

I imagine a writer pitched this by saying, “Hey, you know how the Tanners host parties every so often? Let’s do an episode like that, only this time it’s exactly the same as those.”

ALF, "It's My Party"

The party planner leaves with Brian’s college fund and ALF emerges from the kitchen. Kate pays some lip service to my concerns by telling ALF that he’s not allowed to come to the party, and fretting that he’ll ruin it. Which, hey, fine. But then why were you guys agreeing to his requests for the party theme and food?

I’m kind of on ALF’s side here. Their acceptance of his requests implies that he’ll be allowed to attend. If they didn’t want him there, they shouldn’t have been organizing the party to his precise specifications. They should have said, “Listen, you braying merkin. You want a luau, but you’re not invited so we don’t care.”

Instead they just keep saying, “Whatever you want, ALF!” which means it’s not his fault if he assumes he is invited. Imagine telling a friend that she should have her birthday party at some particular restaurant you like, and she replies, “Yes, that sounds great! Let’s do that!” and then she doesn’t invite you. It’d be weird, especially since you don’t know any women.

ALF tells them that he’ll stay out of their way. “My cooperation can be bought,” he says, “if you agree to the following harsh and unreasonable demands.”

It’s a pretty good line, but I can’t give the writers credit for it since this is precisely what Paul Fusco said to every actor during contract negotiations.

ALF, "It's My Party"

Then, for maybe the fifth time ever, we see Willie at work.

Not that he’s doing any work, of course, and he’s certainly not surrounded by anybody we’ve seen before or will ever see again, but it’s something.

Unfortunately it’s a pretty dumb scene. The party planner calls and his coworkers all bitch him out for having a party without them. Guys, when Max Wright throws a party, you don’t want to go. You just want to pick up next month’s National Enquirer.

They guilt him into inviting them, because apparently they’ve done all kinds of nice things for him — like driving him home and chipping in to throw him birthday parties — and he’s never, under any circumstances, done jack shit for any of them in return.

Sounds about right. I’m glad somebody else in this show shares my opinion that Willie’s a selfish fuck…even if it’s a bunch of somebodys who have no names and who will vanish from existence once “It’s My Party” rolls credits.

ALF, "It's My Party"

Later that night, or six months later, or back in 1851 (it’s never clear in this show), the Tanners have a luau. Kate and Lynn are dressed in Mr. Ochmonek’s hand-me-downs, and I have to say that if I ever met a woman with his fashion sense I would propose to her on the spot.

There’s a funny enough line here when Kate says that pretty soon people will actually be able to say they’ve been to the Tanners’ house, and Lynn replies, “It doesn’t take much to get us excited anymore, does it?”

Andrea Elson’s been doing this thing recently that I haven’t mentioned, so I’ll mention it now. Whenever she gets a punchline, she delivers it, lets it hang a moment, and then smiles. And it’s fucking adorable.

She’s gotten so much better since the first season that I’m actually impressed. The pause / smile is a natural little flourish for her, I’m sure, but it makes Lynn feel real. She’s not just delivering a joke that was in the script; she’s somebody’s daughter, or sister, or friend, and after she makes a joke she smiles at the person as a kind of reassurance.

It’s so human, and it makes it feel like part of a conversation between two actual people. In real life we don’t get a punchline and cut away to the next scene; we keep talking. And Elson’s little smile is her way of keeping the conversation going. Strictly speaking, it’s not something someone should be doing in a multi-camera sitcom about a masturbating puppet, but I like it all the same. Go figure.

Then we cut to Brian and ALF in post-coital serenity.

ALF, "It's My Party"

the fuck this show

ALF is spying on the party so that Paul Fusco can still be present for 51% of the episode. (Any less and the show can’t legally be referred to as ALF.) We get a bunch of jokes about the party planner being gay, so if you ever thought it was hilarious that homosexuals can be in relationships, too, this is probably the episode for you.

Then the Ochmoneks come over, and Mrs. O says that they thought the Tanners were playing a joke on them when they got the invitation.

Now I’m happy. It’s one thing for Willie’s anonymous coworkers to be savvy to the fact that he never invites them to do anything, but the Ochmoneks are aware of it, too? I’m in heaven.

Seriously, these two have gone out of their way for the Tanners — and Willie specifically — more times than I can count. They’ve invited them to graduation parties and free vacations and spontaneous daytrips on a near-weekly basis, but the Tanners haven’t invited them to a damned thing in return, including things like the Halloween party and Kate Sr.’s wedding, to which they did seemingly invite the rest of the neighborhood.

So, sure, Mrs. Ochmonek’s comment is kind of bitchy, but bitch away, bitch. If anyone’s earned it, it’s you.

ALF, "It's My Party"

Anyway, I have been told that this episode marks the final appearance of Mr. Ochmonek. (His wife appears in a few others.) This, as you must know, is a sad occasion for me, and it’s why the episode hits so hard.

John LaMotta, it has to be said, was a god damned trooper. The show treated his character like garbage, hiring him so that they’d have someone they could call fat, old, stinky, bald, stupid, poor, and ugly. And he certainly didn’t enjoy his time on ALF any more than the rest of the cast did. In 2010 he was asked about the now-infamous outtakes of ALF shouting racist comments, but he was not interested in discussing them. He was happy enough to offer some general comments on the show, though:

“I thought the show ALF was a piece of shit. Worst work I ever did.”

That’s the whole of his interview, by the way, at least as far as I can tell. It’s very easy to imagine that his phone rang, he heard a question about ALF, then he said that and immediately hung up. The above two sentences represent his entire feelings on a show that consumed four years of his life. “ALF was a piece of shit” covers everything.

And while I can’t really blame the guy for disliking the show, I think it’s impressive that the “worst work” he ever did was actually pretty good.

LaMotta took a punching bag and turned him into a character. When we first met him, way back in the pilot, he was an ancillary character to an ancillary character; Mrs. Ochmonek was positioned as the neighborhood busybody, and the one that would most often find herself entangled in the Tanners’ lives. He was just her doltish husband.

All of which is fine, but LaMotta successfully evolved the character from there. By season two, he was a more familiar face than his wife was, owing, surely, to his ability to actually deliver his material in a comedically successful way. I don’t mean to suggest that Liz Sheridan didn’t do her best with her material, but he’s probably the only example of any character on this show ending up with a bigger role than was originally intended. That’s a testament to LaMotta’s strengths, and the delight of seeing him perform against such a backdrop of misery.

The evolution is best represented by his wardrobe. In his first few appearances, he wore a sleeveless undershirt…a plain white garment that’s often associated with lower-class individuals, but which was about as far removed in terms of style from his later wardrobe of flashy, gaudy, gloriously awful Hawaiian shirts as it’s possible to get. I have no idea if LaMotta had any input regarding his character’s change of fashion sense, but if I found out that he did I wouldn’t be especially surprised; he always did seem to have a better handle on his character than anybody else.

Mr. Ochmonek was a nice guy. Crude, but pleasant. Unflinchingly happy in the face of people who treated him poorly, and deeply in love with the woman he fell for back in high school, more than willing to spend whatever little money he had on other people who never thanked him for it. Very little suggests that we’re supposed to be envious of his station in life, but since he’s about the only one who doesn’t seem to hate himself and everyone around him, and is the only one in any kind of healthy, loving relationship, it’s tough not to side with the guy.

And I say this as someone who originally couldn’t stand him. In my review for “Oh, Tannerbaum” I made fun of the fact that anyone watching would be excited to see him. I don’t exactly know when my opinion shifted, but as you know by now, I became the guy who gets excited to see him. When he shows up I know, unquestionably, that we’re going to see somebody who studied his lines, somebody who figured out — on his own — the best way to deliver them. Somebody who cares about his character and manages to make this cartoonish oaf feel like the most human character in the show.

This is his final appearance. After “It’s My Party,” he’s gone for good. He doesn’t get any kind of spotlight here; he just pops up, says his unintentional farewells, and goes gently into that good night. He may have hated his time on this show — and, I’m sure, for good reason — but I’m genuinely happy he was there. He established himself as a reliable bright spot in a cast that desperately needed one, and his appearances nearly always represented the highlight of the episodes he was in.

He’s gone, but he won’t be forgotten. And while he may not get much to do in this final episode, he does dust off one of my favorite shirts of his…the JOSEPHINE one that we saw in “Take a Look at Me Now.”

I’d like to think of that as his nod to me. His quiet goodbye. His reminder that while I’ll never see him again, we had some good times and great shirts along the way.

God bless you, Mr. Ochmonek. May your wounds from this show heal more quickly than the ones you got from the Korean War.

ALF, "It's My Party"

Some guy who works with Willie, whom we’ll never see again, introduces Lynn to his son, whom we’ll never see again, while she makes eyes at some hot guy in the background, whom we’ll never see again. The nerdy kid shuffles Lynn away, and there’s some respectable (if not successful) attempts at dark humor when he tries to regale her with stories of his career as a mortician.

The impulse is better than the outcome, because we don’t get much more than a basic suggestion that a lot of people died in a grisly bus accident today, but it’s something. Also, this guy’s performance is pretty cartoony, which interferes with the success of the darkness, but points for effort. I’ve seen worse, and the ignorantly creepy guy is a stock character that even good productions have trouble pulling off. See Paranoia in Red Dwarf, or, even more tellingly, Gilbert in The Thin Man. A great show and a great film, both of which fumbled their attempts at a similar character.

ALF, "It's My Party"

Then it starts to rain, making this the second outdoor dining event ruined by storms in as many weeks. Also, if “Fever” taught me anything it’s that being hit with a single raindrop means you’re laid up for a week, so I expect the next screengrab will be Willie and all of his coworkers sharing a bed.

The truly strange thing here is that Willie tries to comfort Kate by saying that they’ve been looking forward to throwing a party for four years. Since the premise of the episode is that they used to throw parties regularly (my hairy butthole) and that this came to a grinding halt when ALF arrived, this implies that he’s been on Earth for four years.

…which is insane because in “Break Up to Make Up” we were told that exactly three years had passed since his arrival. So another full year elapsed in the two episodes between that one and this one? What the fuck is with this show and timelines?

ALF, "It's My Party"

After the commercial break, the party moves inside. That’s about it, but it apparently requires a couple of minutes of people telling us this fact over and over again, proving it’s far more efficient to read about these episodes than to watch them. It’s stuff you really don’t need to say at all in a visual medium like television, where the interiors look totally different than the exteriors and viewers don’t rely on dialogue to tell them whether the characters are standing in one or the other. Maybe ALF was originally written as a radio play.

The party planner tells his 2hottie assistant to entertain the guests, so the kid lights up some poi in the living room.

Willie tells him that’s a pretty jackass thing to do, which it really is. At least ALF tries to fall back on the “I wasn’t born on this planet” excuse when he starts fires indoors. Granted, by now he should know that the Tanners don’t enjoy having their house burned down, but at least it’s something. This guy, by contrast, is just a dangerous idiot.

Everyone gets mad and grumbles at Willie for not allowing them to die in the blaze.

ALF, "It's My Party"

Then there is a pretty well-shot moment when Willie goes into the kitchen. Through the window we see a rope made of bedsheets drop down, and as Willie investigates he sees ALF’s naked ass falling gracelessly to the ground. It’s nothing great, but it works visually and the timing is good.

ALF, "It's My Party"

Inside the house Benji Gregory asks the mortician guy if he believes in zombies, which is a simple question, but for some reason Gregory shrugs three full times while asking it. It’s like some kind of bizarre tic, as though they were mildly electrocuting this kid to make his lips move, Mr. Ed style.

Then the party planner does some shitty impression of Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

ALF, "It's My Party"

This guy is getting a hell of a spotlight for a guest star, so I looked him up to see if he was some bigshot in the late-80s. As far as I can tell, he was not, so fuck him.

His little assistant though was played by a guy called Dean Cameron, who seems to have had a lot of roles here and there, and is still working. I don’t know that I’ve seen him in anything, though, and it looks like his most notable part was as Spicoli in the shitty TV adaptation of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, so…fuck both of these guys.

Then they start a conga line, something else that I’m pretty sure exists only in sitcoms, and there’s a great little moment you’ll probably miss if you’re not looking for it: Mrs. Ochmonek joins the line, then Willie’s coworker steps in behind her…and Mr. Ochmonek bumps him out of the way to get behind his wife.

That was all John LaMotta. The camera doesn’t linger on it, and it’s not blocked to make it the focus of the scene. It was just a stage instruction (“everyone congas,” or something similarly vague I’m sure), but when LaMotta didn’t get to grab his TV wife’s hips, he bumped the guy who did out of the way. Because that is what Mr. Ochmonek would do. LaMotta was acting, and he knew what he character would do in that situation, even though the writers didn’t.

When I talk about why I believe the Ochmoneks are in love, it’s due to things like this. It’s the way the two actors relate to each other. It’s the little glances and touches that clearly aren’t in the script. (Because they’re sure as shit not there for any other couple.) It’s the fact that John LaMotta and Liz Sheridan understand what their relationship is like, even if it’s never spelled out in the show, and they know how to bring it to life for the viewers. They become their characters, which is something that so few people who have ever been on this show know how to do.

Working on ALF, especially in a supporting role, must have been the very definition of a thankless job. But these two took it seriously — LaMotta in particular — and I’d tip my hat to their implied relationship as one of the show’s few genuine triumphs. It’s entirely down to the actors and not the writing or direction, and I’m pretty sure ALF never realized what a resource they had in these two. Strand Willie and Kate in an elevator for half an hour, and the odds are good it’d be genuinely unwatchable. Strand the Ochmoneks in the same situation, and I’d bet my life that LaMotta and Sheridan would find a way to make it worthwhile.

So, yeah, Mr. Ochmonek is the kind of guy who will bump a stranger out of the way to be close to his wife, whom he sees 24 hours a day anyway. Willie, it bears repeating, sits on the couch while his heavily pregnant wife carries groceries and makes dinner.

I’ll always believe that one of these couples is in love. I’ll never believe the other.

ALF, "It's My Party"

Of course, what is a conga line without ALF? (ALF is grand!) He materializes, gets a dirty look from Willie, and then slides back into the kitchen.

It’s…okay. Visually it’s smooth emough, but it’s not especially funny or interesting or important.

As punishment Willie ties ALF to a stake in the back yard and burns him alive.

ALF, "It's My Party"

Also there’s a running joke in this episode I didn’t want to mention, but it keeps happening, so I guess I finally will: whenever ALF burps, he feels pain, so he keeps burping and saying “Ow!” It’s a hilarious subversion of our expectations of ALF burping repeatedly with no payoff.

Lynn comes outside just as Willie is going back in. They have a cute little exchange where we see her smiling after her punchlines again, and I adore it.

Then there’s a legitimately funny moment when Willie informs her that ALF is tied to a stake, and she says, nonchalantly, “Okay.”

It was good. Probably one of the best delivered lines this show’s ever had, and a nice simple way of acknowledging the absurdity of the Tanners’ lives right now.

ALF, "It's My Party"

Then Robert, the party planning assistant, comes out and flirts with Lynn for a bit. He asks about her boyfriend, and she says she’s “in between boyfriends.” ALF quips to himself (because of course he does) “Oh yeah, like I’m between jobs.”

And…I don’t get the joke.

Is the joke that Lynn is always between boyfriends? I’d assume so, because ALF is always between jobs (by nature, y’know, of the fact that he can’t have one).

But that’s pretty clearly not true. Lynn’s been through several serious relationships and plenty of trivial ones over the course of the show. Most recently I think we were supposed to believe she was still dating Donny Duckworth, but I guess that died at some point off camera. Maybe the actor got a piece of fanmail and Paul Fusco put a stop to that shit real fast.

So, it’s weird. If anything the joke should be that she’s always with some guy or other, since “Lynn dates a lot” is pretty much her only definitive character trait, but ALF’s line makes it seem like the exact opposite is true, and no guys ever bother with her.

It’s…strange.

ALF, "It's My Party"

Back inside the party is winding down, and Willie and Kate wait in silent terror for LA’s only person of color to leave their house.

Robert tells Lynn he’ll call, and Lynn says, “I’ll answer!” (This is why you’re never between boyfriends, Lynn.) Then ALF asks if he can have the leftovers. There are none, so he tells the Tanners to go fuck themselves.

ALF, "It's My Party"

In the short scene before the credits the Tanners remember they have a baby and feed it a month’s worth of food at once. (Lucky II, it’s safe to say, is dead behind the refrigerator.)

So…this episode was actually okay. By ALF standards, of course. Lots of idiocy, yes, but there were some decent flourishes from a few actors, and nothing offensively bad…aside from the flaming caricature that was the party planner. At this point, though, a parade of unnecessary gay jokes actually counts as progress for this show.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ll never watch “It’s My Party” again as long as I live. But, to its credit, it was one of the less moronic installments of season four, and even though the context made it convenient for him to appear, we didn’t have to deal with Jim J. Bullock. I’ll call that a win for everyone.

So, yeah, tell your favorite Hawaiian shirt you love it, because we’ve seen the last of Mr. Ochmonek. With him, Jake, Jodie, and Dr. Dykstra all gone forever, there’s a lot less to look forward to in this final stretch. But we’ll plow through, as we must, if only to ensure that the Alien Task Force guts this stupid show for good.

Countdown to ALF being gutted for good: 11 episodes

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