Season four had two episodes that I was actually looking forward to. One of them was “Mind Games,” which shouldn’t surprise you at all because that was a Dr. Dykstra episode, and I tend to like those. (That tendency was broken with “Mind Games.”) The other was “Fever,” simply because its premise was solid: ALF contracts a common Earth cold…but since he’s not from Earth, he ends up in real danger.*
Obviously, this opens up a lot of reliable avenues for comedy; how many sitcoms have you seen about one of the characters lying around sick, driving the others crazy with his/her requests? It’s a common plotline because there’s a lot that you can do with it, and because it relies on character interaction…interaction which is specific to each show. (Frasier Crane’s cold is going to go differently from Larry Appleton’s, not only because of who these characters are, but because of the characters they’re surrounded by.)
Of course, ALF doesn’t have any characters, and nobody on the planet knows that better than I do, so that’s not what got my hopes up. What got my hopes up is the fact that ALF’s extra-terrestrial origins provide this episode with another chance to explore something that we take for granted.
And, yes, this show has had that opportunity dozens of times by this point, and it’s whiffed on nearly all of them. But “Fever” has something unique on its side: biology. Almost all of the show’s previous explorations of Earth-life were handled through the filter of culture. Christmas, Halloween, birthdays, funerals…erm…soap operas…magic teeth…? I don’t know. This show sucks.
Biology, though? We’re in much better shape there, because it’s involuntary. It doesn’t matter if ALF wants to deliver a standup routine, because it’s not his brain or mouth that will be reacting to this aspect of life on Earth; it’s his body. He has no choice but to make us see the common cold through a new filter…and that’s interesting to me. The writers are being handed an opportunity that they will have to actively work to fuck up.
I’m…setting myself up for disappointment, aren’t I?
“Fever,” additionally, wins me over by sheer virtue of being named after the single sexiest song in all of popular music. (You can pry my lust for Peggy Lee from my cold, dead hands.) So, hey, even if it sucks a dick, I get a pretty great song stuck in my head. Small comfort, I know, but that’s way more than I usually get out of this show.
Oh, and, the end of this episode puts us halfway through the season. So, at the very least, we have that to thank it for.
“Fever” starts out with one of the nicest things I’ve ever seen in this show. Willie’s starting up the grill in the back yard, and ALF gooses him in the side with a pair of tongs.
Big deal, right? ALF is always fucking around with people.
Well, in this case, it’s different because Willie looks at him and chuckles. For the first time ever, ALF’s annoyance actually seems well received by another person. Some little smile or laugh makes all the difference, because usually when ALF jabs something deep into Willie the latter makes an angry face, or yells, or fumbles for his crack pipe. Whatever you do or don’t think of Willie, that makes ALF look like an asshole.
But when the Willie doesn’t seem to loathe the joke, it changes everything. It actually seems…nice. And believable. I like that.
Then there’s some crap where we learn that ALF ate all the raw meat and there’s nothing left for anyone, so I’m really hoping we get another one of those great descriptions of ALF shitting in the tub later.
Then there’s an unexpected storm, which cancels the barbecue over Willie’s protestations.
It’s actually not a bad opening sequence. It does three different things (Willie setting up the grill, ALF eating all the meat, the storm) in just about a minute of screentime, making it pretty efficient, and giving the episode a lot to work with.
It’s a good start.
Then it’s not the start anymore, and it stops being good.
The intro credits give way to the family running into the house, wondering if they brought everything inside. It turns out they forgot Willie, who is pinned under the barbecue grill. If you guessed this is because ALF tipped it over on him, congratulations; you are still alive.
Fine, whatever, ALF is sentient dickcheese. I don’t even care anymore. What I do care about is how much of a fucking asshole Willie is when he comes inside. Kate runs over to make sure he’s okay, and he yells at her that he was “flailing around” and nobody helped. Since he knows ALF is the one who tipped the grill on him, he has no reason to be upset at Kate. He knows she didn’t even see that happen; he’s the one telling her about it. Then she brings him a towel to dry himself with, and he snatches it away from her with such violence that I’m pretty sure he considered busting her on the jaw just to remind her of her place.
He’s pretty mean to her here, and I have no idea why, as she’s the only one trying to help him. What a sack of assholes this guy.
Willie then waves away her concern for his health by saying that it’s an old wives’ tale that people get sick in the rain. In fact, he was just reading a study about that in his scientific journals (which all good social workers subscribe to; why didn’t they make Willie a lab technician or something, again?), which conclusively proved that people subjected to rapid temperature changes were no more likely to get sick than the control group that never experienced them.
If you guessed that Willie’s speech is interrupted when he starts sneezing uncontrollably, congratulations; you are still alive.
Roger Ebert observed once (and I have to paraphrase as I can’t remember the exact quote) that if somebody coughs early in a film, the sickness will likely be fatal by the end. The same observation could apply to sitcoms; we sneeze all the time in real life, but if someone does it even once during TGIF you know they’ll be laid up for the rest of the episode.
Sure enough, the next scene sees Willie in bed, and his loving wife whom he hates brings him some tissues and a bowl of his favorite soup, cream of crack. He says that he appreciates the way she’s been putting up with him while he’s sick, and she says, clearly joking, “You can’t help it. You’re a man.”
Which causes Willie to pause, take a breath, and say, “I’ll just ignore that.”
Willie, you fuckfart. Some obvious, gentle ribbing from your wife gets this stern, condescending rejoinder? Do you have any clue how much shit comes out of your mouth that she clearly ignores on an hourly basis? What about the previous scene in which you screamed at her for something you knew wasn’t her fault, and ripped a towel out of her hands while she was trying to help? If Kate said “I’ll just ignore that” every time you were a cunt to her, she’d never have any other lines.
Then ALF comes in and he starts sneezing, which means…
So, yeah, there’s like four minutes of this “strange bedfellow” bullshit. It’s basically just them saying how much they hate each other and then making goo-goo eyes at the camera. At one point ALF rips an implicitly nasty fart and fans it all over the room with the blanket.
I’ve never had anything less to say, and that’s probably due to the fact that I want to get away from the above screengrab as quickly as possible.
There is one part when ALF says that he’d rather have a feather pillow, because he hates foam. And since we watched the “A Mid-Goomer Night’s Dream” episode of ALF: The Animated Series for the Xmas Bash!!! so recently, I know that’s bullshit. The Goomer used to bring everyone on Melmac foam every year. He was their Santa Claus, and that was their gift. Not that I give too much of a shit about continuity between the two shows (the only thing important to me is that all of the characters from the cartoon are dead now and won’t be coming back) but I figured I’d bring it up.
Hey, as long as I’m making stray observations: remember when we met Lynn’s friend Joanie in “Live and Let Die”? I commented then that I’d rather have her added to the cast than Willie’s horny little brother, but God hates us and that wasn’t to be.
Well, I had to refer back to my review of “Lies” recently and noticed that the girl Lynn speaks to on the phone is Joanie…and she was counseling her there about a recent breakup as well, just like she did in “Live and Let Die.” So not only was she referred to before we met her, but in both cases we get a sense that she hops from relationship to relationship, and Lynn’s role is keeping her centered.
That’s a name, a face, and a character trait…at least one thing more than most characters on this show get. I wonder if she originally was meant to be a recurring character, perhaps in those mythical Monday scripts that apparently made a lot more sense and were funnier than any of the crap that ended up being filmed.
In some alternate universe we ended up with Joanie in the cast instead of Jim J. Bullock. I can think of at least three reasons I’d rather live there, and only one of them involves the toga.
We get an establishing shot that ensures us that we’re one week further away from imagining ALF and Willie feverishly grinding their bodies together in tormented sleep. Now ALF is the only one sick, and we get our standard “bothering everyone with requests” jokes. He sent Kate to the store, for instance, to buy him all manner of shit to help him feel better and keep from getting bored. Then he calls Willie out to adjust and fluff his pillow, which Willie does with comic violence.
Here’s why that’s interesting: it’s deserved.
See, the whole sickness thing came about because of ALF. ALF tipped the grill onto Willie, ALF hung around while Willie was sick, and now ALF is pissing everyone off with his demanding behavior. So when Willie lashes out at him here, it’s after at least a week’s worth of direct irritation, illness, and inconvenience.
So that’s fine. That works. ALF caused this shit, and Willie’s over it.
But compare that to his earlier lashing out at Kate, when she had nothing to do with anything, and the worst thing that happened was that he got rained on for a little while. His pillow-fluffing violence is played the same as his towel-snatching violence.
Max Wright either doesn’t know how to or doesn’t care to moderate his performance. He could be snippy in either case, but there’s a clear difference in snippiness between what Kate should have received and what ALF receives here. To Wright it’s all the same, which makes Willie look like a fucking asshole.
Two days later ALF is doing worse. Kate is concerned for him, but Willie is convinced he’s faking it for attention. (His training as a social worker has clearly conditioned him to expect that everyone’s problems are made up and should be ridiculed.)
Then he feels ALF’s forehead and realizes that he’s burning up. He then apologizes, which is fine, but did this moron never think to feel his forehead at any point in the past week and a half?
Willie takes Kate into the kitchen and asks if she’s seen War of the Worlds, because he knows the writers on this show haven’t had an original idea yet and they’re sure as hell not starting now. His concern is that ALF has no natural defenses to a common Earth virus, and will die. Then he beats Kate for several minutes until the commercial break.
And, once again, I like the idea that a relatively harmless Earth virus has more serious repercussions for ALF. But here’s the problem: we never actually find out that it’s dangerous to ALF’s life or safety. It’s just a guess, and it’s a guess rooted entirely in what Willie knows is a work of fiction. He saw it in a movie, this is kind of vaguely, tenuously, possibly sorta similar to a detail from that movie, and now he’s in a panic.
It’s bizarre. To put this in more human terms, this would be like Lynn eating an apple and then falling asleep, causing Willie to conclude, without an ounce of doubt, that this is the work of the witch from Snow White.
It’s fucking ridiculous.
So, yeah, I love that ALF’s life is in danger. (Do I ever!) But I wish that the danger was established by something other than Willie’s distant memories of something he saw on The Million Dollar Movie.
When we return, Willie calls a Dr. Kramer, and introduces himself as “Wooly Tanner.” It’s not a joke; it’s something that should have been reshot after Max Wright cleared the mashed potatoes out of his throat. But since Paul Fusco wasn’t the one who looked like an idiot, it didn’t get a second take.
Throughout the conversation Willie has his hand partly inside his shirt, like Napoleon. I have no idea why, aside from the obvious fact that nobody cared about anything anymore.
He reports ALF’s symptoms to Dr. Kramer — pretending they’re his own — and I like this aspect of it.
When ALF had emotional issues, Willie could call on his friend Dr. Dykstra. For whatever reason he knew he could trust Dykstra, which meant the family had someone with the proper knowledge and training to help them through whatever problems ALF was having.
Now, though, it’s a biological issue, and Willie doesn’t seem to have a general practitioner friend. That means ALF can’t get the treatment he needs, and the family has to figure out some way to solve it otherwise.
It’s a nice development, and very natural to the setup of the episode and the series as a whole.
The doctor tells him not to worry; there’s a bug going around. Which is believable (aside from the fact that Willie managed to get an actual doctor on the line, and not a receptionist). Coughing and sneezing usually aren’t anything to worry about, and if there’s something going around it’s likely that a doctor would shrug you off. He’d tell you to rest, drink plenty of fluids, and call if it gets worse. There’s no reason to panic over something that people experience regularly.
…except that ALF isn’t people, the doctor doesn’t know that, and Willie can’t tell him that.
I like this part. And I like that Kate is making ALF soup. “His favorite,” she says. “Cream of pizza.”
There are a lot of cool little ideas in this one…I just wish they came together to create a better episode.
The kids come into the kitchen to report that ALF is doing worse. Well, Lynn reports it. Brian’s well into his second week without a line. And Eric doesn’t even exist.**
Then ALF enters the room and briefly collapses with some pretty great puppetry. They help him up and he shows them a picture of Carl Shrub that he found in one of their reference books.
Carl Shrub was the herb in Melmacian diets that gave them their immunity to viruses. See, Melmacians never got sick, at all, and Melmacian scientists suspected it was due to all the Carl Shrub they ate.
The family identifies Carl Shrub as ragweed. Which is convenient both for ALF and for the show, the former because it’s easy to find, and the latter because we get to make fun of the Ochmoneks for being poor and slobby.
Willie and Kate try to sneak around the Ochmoneks’ property to harvest ragweed, but speak too loudly about how fucking fat and awful and stinky and ugly their neighbors are, so they get caught. Also Max Wright does some really annoying pratfall over a garden gnome.
It sucks dick.
Mr. Ochmonek comes out brandishing a hoe because he thinks he’s being burgled. At the last moment he sees that it’s actually Willie and Kate, and then knowingly and happily beats them to death.
…no, he just listens to them make excuses about why they’re standing in his yard at night, loudly making fun of him and his shitty wife. They claim to have come over to weed for them, and they start pulling ragweed.
It’s not a bad excuse, and it moves the plot along. But then Mrs. Ochmonek comes out and her husband explains that they’re weeding the garden. Mrs. Ochmonek shakes her head and says, “Oh, please.”
The studio audience laughs and we fade to the next scene, so I guess that was the punchline. But fucked if I have any idea what the joke was.
Any guesses from you guys? Maybe they don’t have a garden, and therefore Mrs. Ochmonek knows their excuse is bullshit. But then why would her husband believe them? Surely he’d also know that they don’t have a garden.
I give up.
Back at the house ALF has the air conditioner cranked up, and Kate is baking ragweed per his instructions. Which…okay. When ALF said that he had ragweed (erm…Carl) in his diet on Melmac, I assumed it was something used in other dishes. You know, like a seasoning or a garnish or something. Instead I guess they just baked fistfuls of it and ate that? And what if someone on Melmac didn’t like the taste? Or was allergic to it? Then could they get sick?
ALF said earlier that Melmacian scientists (enjoy imagining that) weren’t certain that a Carl-rich diet was responsible for their immunity; they were just pretty sure that was the reason.
But wouldn’t that have been pretty easy to prove one way or the other? Just as Willie alluded to an experiment earlier about subjecting a group of test subjects to extreme temperature changes to see if that made them sick, couldn’t Melmacian scientists have performed their own experiment in which one group was given Carl-free meals for a few weeks to see if they became ill? Ideally they’d believe they were still eating Carl, so that the scientists could rule out the placebo effect.
On the one hand I shouldn’t be surprised that a planet full of selfish morons like ALF should have been a bit sloppy with their scientific research, but at the same time they mastered space travel and nuclear fission to the point that they were far beyond Earth in those regards. They can’t have been totally idiotic. Those aren’t advancements you stumble upon with a lucky guess. So why were they shrugging and saying, “Keep eating ragweed, I guess”?
I. Give. Up.
Anyway, they ask what to do with the ragweed, and ALF says that some of them used to stick it in brownies and take them to Stanley Kubrick movies.
Man, season four sure loves its drug abuse jokes, doesn’t it? Also: Fucking Melmac had Stanley Kubrick movies. I GIVE UP.
Brian and Lynn come in, with Benji Gregory getting to announce that they bought some ice for him. Damn. I was really hoping he was going to be inexplicably silent until the show was cancelled.
Lynn tells ALF that if his fever doesn’t break they’ll dunk him in a tub of cold water, to which ALF replies that if they get his nutsack cold they’re “gonna hear one heck of a Little Richard impression.”
I GIVE UP. I GIVE UP. I GIVE UP. I GIVE UP.
Anyway, ALF gets sicker so he starts doing racist impressions of Japanese people, a propos of absolutely god-damned nothing.
Willie and Kate decide to forcefeed him ragweed, which I’m pretty sure has been my solution to this whole ALF problem since episode one. Then there’s some really shitty attempt at physical comedy as she tries to get him to eat from a clearly empty ladle.
This show is fucking terrible. If the ladle is empty, why shoot it so close up? Why go out of your way to let everyone see how half-assed your sitcom is? Shoot it from further away, you dumbasses! Pick a different angle! Do anything to make me believe you give a shit!
In the next scene he’s all better, and he bitches that there’s no pesto to go with his chocolate turkey.
He then says he’s going to market the ragweed cure through his new company. He even belabors his own jokes, making sure that we all know that the name of this company — Shumway — is a riff on Amway. ALFusco, you need to rewrite your jokes if you keep having to explain why they’re funny.
Anyway, Kate tells him that ragweed makes most Earthlings sick, so ALF punches Willie in the balls.
In the short scene before the credits, ALF sets the back yard on fire. Why not.
“Fever” wasn’t a terrible episode, which instantly makes it the second best of season four. But I can’t say there’s much to recommend this one aside from its basic premise.
Oh, and its title. Go listen to that song 15 times. It’ll be a much better use of your half hour. Anyway, I’m out of here. I’m singing “Tutti Frutti” at karaoke tonight and I need to ice down my scrotum.
Countdown to ALF becoming an ex-alien in front of the Tanners: 12 episodes
MELMAC FACTS: Melmacians never got sick, due to an “immunity” they gained from eating Carl Shrub, which we know as ragweed. Also: Fucking Melmac had Stanley Kubrick movies. I GIVE UP.
* Both this and “Mind Games” were apparently holdovers from season three. Read into that coincidence as much as you like.
** Back into the womb with you, kid; we’re doing a season three story again!