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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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