Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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Better Call Saul, "Cobbler"

We got a great episode this week, and that’s very nice. But the lateness of this review means I’ve had more time than usual to think about it, and I’ve found myself with a lot of questions.

That’s not at the expense of the show, or the episode, or anything, really. It’s just that at one point my thoughts came together…and then they had time to drift apart again. So I’ll run through my usual list of the things I enjoyed, but then I’d like to open a few things up to discussion. At this point I don’t think we have any correct or incorrect answers, but I’d definitely be curious as to other peoples’ thoughts.

Firstly, I recant my observation last week that our nebbish, budding drug dealer would be season two’s main client. While that’s still possible, it’s much less likely after the events of “Cobbler,” which see Jimmy clearing him of criminal suspicion by inventing a legal excuse for the man’s nervousness and secrecy. And that could well represent the end of that particular arc.

Which is okay; tying off that loose end doesn’t sacrifice any of that buildup so much as it allows it to feed other stories. Mike now knows where to find Nacho. Jimmy’s further implicated himself as Mike’s quasi-legal fixit man. And Kim — poor Kim — is second guessing, at least in the moment, the support she’s shown Jimmy through the years.

In fact, it’s easy to argue that the rush of confidence she gives him early in the episode is what leads to him accepting Mike’s ethically dubious proposal in the first place. A heartwarming moment flows gracefully and without interruption into a potentially very dark development. It’s a lovely illustration of the way comedy and gravity co-exist in this show, and I loved how easily and naturally that turn came.

Chuck’s temporary return to HHM was also handled brilliantly, with Jimmy’s immediate clench of anxiety when he saw the plastic tub being palpable and painful. It was a great moment, taking one of the sillier aspects of season one (by which I mean no disrespect) and bringing it back as an emotional punch for season two. Chuck’s arrival interrupts Jimmy’s speech…his confidence falters…the lights go out one by one around him.

I’m not sure exactly what Chuck’s motive was for returning. Clearly it was something to do with Jimmy, and he tries to pass it off later on as “bearing witness,” but doesn’t make it clear as to whether it’s witness to Jimmy’s ascent or tumble. From Jimmy’s perspective — the one with which the show aligns us in that scene — it was a dickish thing to do, whatever the motive, and seeing his brother again instantly knocks him off center.

…but Kim is there. Kim, who arranged to be there. Next to him. For him. She cares about him, she believes in him, and she knows what he’s capable of, even when he doubts it himself. And with a touch, she brings him back. It’s a sad and triumphant moment at once, and it both makes him feel better and more bitter. He does his best to blow off Chuck after the meeting, and then immediately agrees to help Mike in what he’s openly told will require him to recalibrate his ethics. Confidence and bitterness are a dangerous combination.

Both of this episode’s legal entanglements show what sets Jimmy apart: he’s willing to get his hands dirty. Just as he crawled around in a dumpster in last season’s “RICO,” and tracked the Kettlemens through the woods in “Nacho,” he’s willing to sit with every elderly Sandpiper resident and dig through their financial records seeking the evidence he needs. Lawyers operate cleanly, need to appear collected and respectable at all points, and send others to do their dirty work. Jimmy is used to the dirty work, and sees no such distinction…which allows him to build the case in ways other lawyers cannot. It also, of course, allows him to fabricate evidence by directing pie-sitting videos starring his client.

The same thing that could make Jimmy a great lawyer already, we know, makes him a criminal.

It was a solid episode, and we got to see more of Mike being Mike, which is always welcome. He’s the kind of character that can brutalize with a glance, and we definitely had our share of glances. His cool, unflustered confrontation with Nacho was a perfect, tense highlight of the show thus far. (Also very interesting: Nacho’s uncle is an honest businessman who respects his customers enough to talk them out of pricey options in favor of ones that would suit their vehicles better and save them money. It provided for a very interesting background commentary to his nephew’s dealings, and illustrates how rich a show we’re dealing with here.)

So, yes, “Cobbler” was great. But I have some questions.

Firstly, what is Chuck’s role on this show? It feels to me almost like his main arc was wrapped up at the end of season one, and while I’m not complaining about having Michael McKean pop up every few episodes, I do wonder what they intend to do with him.

Am I concerned? Not even slightly. But season one built up my expectations toward one thing, and then gave me something else. Here, I don’t know what expectations I have at all, unless it’s that he’ll fluster Jimmy now and again, which doesn’t seem like a rich narrative development to me.

Did Chuck outlast his utility? Or do you guys see something I’m not seeing yet? Again, I’m not writing him off…I’m just not sure where he’s going.

Secondly, the conversation with Kim at the end was fantastic, but only later did something occur to me. Yes, fabricating evidence is illegal. That makes sense to me, and it makes sense that Kim would react in exactly the way she did. But she was laughing at the rest of the story, and enjoying the anecdote. Which implies that she’s okay with actively lying to police officers with the purpose of interfering with their investigation.

Now, trust me, I’ve watched enough television that I’m aware of the grey area attorney characters walk constantly. It’s fine, to me, if Kim is okay with lying but not with falsifying evidence. There’s a point at which that distinction becomes less clear, but on its surface, I understand that.

My question is this: isn’t it still illegal to lie to an officer the way Jimmy did? Kim’s concern at least in part seemed to have to do with the trouble Jimmy could find himself in, but wouldn’t he already be in that trouble by virtue of having lied at all? He spun a very specific story to the police, which could be accepted or disproven just as the “evidence” could have been. Was he not already in trouble from the moment he started telling his story?

I don’t know. I don’t have a legal background, and I could be way off, but I’d be surprised if lying to police officers in that context was okay. And if it’s not okay, I think I buy Kim’s giddy enjoyment of the a little less. Is it more that she’s okay with all lying in the service of a client, but worried that the pie video specifically would make it easier for them to prove he’s lying?

I’m really not sure.

Those are logistical questions, though, and while I’d be interested in hearing peoples’ thoughts, neither of them are especially important to me.

Much more interesting is comparing the world of Better Call Saul to the world of Breaking Bad. In that latter show, we didn’t have to wait long to see blood being spilled, lives being taken, innocents in danger. Bad decisions in Breaking Bad were really bad decisions with really bad consequences…a theme that carried from the pilot to the very last episode.

In Better Call Saul, however, the stakes are lower. These characters are in danger of being lied to, misled, betrayed, taken advantage of, ripped off, intimidated, ridiculed. They’re not in danger of being strangled, gassed, gutted, stabbed, dissolved, blown up, shot.

And that interests me, because this character occupies both of those worlds. At one point, his decisions lead him from one degree of everyday consequence toward another. That’s Jimmy becoming Saul, yes, but it’s also one man choosing — for one reason or another — to open a Pandora’s Box of violence and danger.

And why would somebody choose this? To leave the smaller punishments behind in favor of the larger ones? To turn away from personal slights in favor of being kidnapped and held at gunpoint in the desert? To stop helping a small-time crook out of jam and start suggesting that big-time trouble makers be sent to Belize?

There’s an easy answer: the rewards are bigger as the stakes get higher. But something tells me it’s not as simple as that. That’s the reason for Jimmy becoming Saul, potentially, but not the reason for a man to willfully thrust himself into a more dangerous, potentially fatal, lifestyle.

More likely? By the time he makes that decision, he has literally nothing left to lose.

Remember that when he’s on the bed with Kim, and she’s wearing his University of American Samoa shirt. She warns him against going down a dark path…and we know he’ll do it. We know he’d lose her if he did.

But by the time he does, I don’t think she’ll even be around to lose.

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

See that screengrab? That’s the face Anne Schedeen makes after ALF delivers his first line.

ALF’s line is nothing phenomenal, or surprising. It’s barely even interesting. Willie asks ALF how he’s doing, and ALF replies, “I’ll be better after I have some coffee and we talk about death.”

And that screengrab is Anne Schedeen’s silent reaction.

She holds that face for a moment. Then she shifts her eyes. Finally, she turns and walks away.

It’s a perfect bit of facial acting. Whatever line she could potentially have delivered in response to ALF would have been a disappointment compared to what we actually got…this lovely moment of implied, quiet frustration. Her look asks the question she’s asking herself internally: “What horse shit am I in for this week?”

Anne Schedeen has been a highlight from the very start of this show. I still remember that dumbass scene at the end of the first episode, with everyone cracking up at ALF’s “great” “jokes” while Kate sat there scowling. We were supposed to see her as some kind of cold, bitchy killjoy. I immediately saw her as my soulmate.

And now, as the show winds down, I appreciate moments like this even more. They’re limited in number. Every one of them subtracts from what we have to look forward to. Each time she silently fantasizes about disemboweling ALF with a ravioli stamp, it brings us nearer the last time she will ever do this. Together, dear reader, we approach the zero. Take a moment with me to appreciate what we have. Enjoy every sandwich.

Anyway, ALF’s big thing today is his realization that he’ll outlive the Tanners by a significant margin, which is better than him getting another job. (By this point I think we’ve exhausted all of them short of “snuff film director.”) He asks what he’s going to do after Willie and Kate pass away, and Kate — in what must be a joke though, sadly, Anne Schedeen doesn’t sell it the way I know she can — suggests that he move in with Lynn.

Which causes Andrea Elson to make this face:

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

And you know what, Andrea? You’re alright, too. Great facial acting here as well. It’s a perfect way of showing us that her answer is “fuck no” while she’s too polite to actually say so. (She does has a few lines to this effect, so it’s not entirely facial acting, but that doesn’t make it any less good.)

For a show that’s so bad with female characters, I have to admit the Tanners with vaginas are way better than the Tanners without. If I found out that next week’s episode was about Lynn getting hit by a car, I’d feel at least a little sad. If I found out it was about Willie getting hit by a car I’d call out of work and spend the whole day masturbating.

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

After the credits, ALF bitches that the Tanners are going to die while Willie bitches that ALF bitches too much that the Tanners are going to die. It sucks.

Then the family leaves to go to a bar mitzvah, which is believable because if sitcoms have taught me anything it’s that Jewish people are too polite to ever, under any circumstance, tell others that they don’t actually like them.

Then he picks up a picture from the table and says, “Ohhh, Lynn…” and some music comes on, and I was entirely convinced ALF was going to jack off to her photograph right then and there.

Fortunately, he doesn’t. Whew. I guess I don’t have anything to worry about this w–

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

no

no oh no

no fuck no no no FUCK no

Not another cocksplitting dream sequence. What the fuck did I do in a past life to deserve this?

At least tell me this is the last dream sequence in the show. At least give me that small comfort.

Right? This fucking show is almost over. Surely we can’t have an episode in which ALF dreams he’s a detective in search of the Maltese Tabby or some shit.

Anyway, he daydreams about living with Lynn when she’s really old and…

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

nope

nope

nope

nope

nope nope

Uh-uh. I’m done.

I didn’t sign up for this shit. I signed up to review ALF, yes, but not this.

No human being deserves this.

The review series ends here. You’ve been great. It’s been a fine run. But I…I can’t go on.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Orbit Guard ships on fire off the shoulder of Xerxes IV. I’ve watched Mr. Ochmonek’s shirts glitter in the dark near the Tanners’ gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears…in…rain.

Time to die.

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

SERIOUSLY WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHIT LOOK AT IT GOD DAMN

Fuck. She looks like Dan Aykroyd in Nothing But Trouble. This is gross. Did they actually need to turn Lynn into some hideous old hag you find in the bathtub at the Overlook Hotel?

ALF alludes to the fact that Kate is dead now, and he tells her aged daughter who just cooked him dinner while he sat pantsless and useless doing nothing that he hopes she’s burning in hell as they speak.

I hate this show.

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

Then this guy Robert comes home. It’s Lynn’s husband, who’s a mime or who actually gives a fuck. Furienna? Are you out there? Do you even give a fuck? How could anyone? Who would even remember this asshole?

Yeah, he’s been on the show before. It took me a really long time to figure out that this is the same kid we met in “It’s My Party.” So, I guess they grew up and got married in ALF’s fantasy at least. And, at long last, ALF gets to hide under Lynn’s bed and listen to her fuck.

Whatever. I don’t care. ALF can jack off to thoughts of Lynn getting pounded by whatever guy he chooses. But Robert is an odd choice for the show itself to make, isn’t it?

We’ve met Robert only once, five weeks ago. He hasn’t been mentioned since. He was barely in that episode, and it’s not like the story revolved around Lynn’s new love interest; that just sort of barely happened at the end. Lynn hasn’t referred to having a boyfriend in the meantime, but I guess they’ve been dating ever since. That’s a lot for an audience to remember and assume, especially in pre-DVD days.

On top of that, when we do see him again he’s aged up and caked in mime makeup, so it’s not as though anybody on the planet would recognize him even if they were unreasonably invested in some tossed-off romantic development from five episodes ago.

It’s really strange. At least when she was dating Lizard we heard about him a few times here and there. And Danny Duckworth popped up a few times to remind us that she was still seeing him. Now we flash forward to a married Lynn and she’s with this bozo nobody on Earth could possibly remember, in a completely unrecognizable costume anyway.

Why not use a new character? And why did we sub Danny Duckworth out for this idiot anyway? Not that I liked the guy, but I at least would have recognized him.

What’s more, I would have known that becoming a mime would represent a pretty significant personality shift for Danny. For Robert? I have no idea. Is the joke that he’s already on his way to miming for spare change? Or is the joke that somewhere along the way his plans got derailed and he’s stuck doing this?

I have no idea because I don’t know who this dope ever was to begin with.

Oh, who am I kidding. The “joke” is that someone’s wearing silly makeup. Good thing we have an elaborate fantasy episode to get to a great payoff like that.

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

Look at these fucking screenshots. I feel like I’m suddenly watching a show about a serial killer.

Anyway Robert does some shitty mime stuff for fucking ever. I guess the writing staff had it easy this week. All they had to do was write “SOME ASSHOLE IS A MIME” across four pages and, boom, scene done.

Then the phone rings and it’s the circus and Robert gets a job with them and OH MY GOD WHO CARES. We’re almost 10 minutes into the fucking episode and all that’s happened is that ALF daydreamed about Lynn having saggy tits.

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

Oh, look. Now they have a knife throwing act. And, believe me, if Robert pierced ALF’s jugular here and now I’d declare “Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” to be a masterpiece. But somehow I know that won’t happen.

This episode is instead the result of someone saying, “Wouldn’t it be funny if ALF lived with a mime?” and nobody having the heart to club that guy to death with a pillowcase full of broken glass.

Then…

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

Yeah, for once the show makes good on a promise of putting ALF in mortal danger. For that, I salute it.

But it’s a little disappointing that it’s not…y’know. Funny. It’s just ALF screaming while fake knives appear around him. It’s the kind of thing I can easily imagine coming up in a brainstorming session; it’s another “Wouldn’t it be funny if…?” This time, though, the answer could have been “yes.” It really could have been. But nobody wrote any jokes worth telling. Oops.

The big punchline happens with the inevitable knife-near-the-crotch, which causes ALF to quip, “Couldn’t I have at least worn a cup?”

And this — precisely this — is where you see the difference between a genuine comic mind and somebody cashing a paycheck. ALF’s situation here doesn’t precisely mirror a very famous event on The Tonight Show early in Johnny Carson’s tenure, but it’s close enough to be instructive.

You can watch the legendary moment right here. And you should. Because Carson had almost the exact same setup…but wasn’t prepared for it. It was unplanned. No writing staff. No rehearsal. No guarantee anyone would find his joke amusing.

So Carson worked the moment. He let the inherent, awkward comedy of the situation stand for itself. When Ed Ames goes to retrieve the blade, Carson grabs him and pulls him back, which is funny in itself and allows the humor of the accident to simmer.

By the time Carson opens his mouth and delivers his line — any line — the audience is dying for it.

I won’t spoil the joke — you really should watch the video — but it says a lot that Carson and ALF had the same setup. Carson hit a grand slam with no preparation and only his own wit to work with, and no possibility of a second chance. ALF had an entire writing staff sat in a room to come up with a punchline…and they produced “Couldn’t I have at least worn a cup?”

I’m not going to tell you that ALF’s joke is shitty — though I will tell you right now that ALF’s joke is shitty — but there’s a clear gulf in comic value between the two moments. Carson had no time to prepare and could have whiffed, but he gave American television one of its most famous moments instead. ALF had all the time in the world to prepare, and nobody remembers this shit even happened.

That’s the difference between telling a joke and being a comedian.

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

Anyway, even ALF realizes that this shitty fantasy sequence isn’t going anywhere, so he boots up another one. Now he envisions his “worst case scenario”: living with Brian. And, man, if you ever wanted to punch a child actor in the balls, introduce his big scene exactly that way.

I might as well mention now — at the very least for the sake of postponing my own worst cast scenario: writing about Brian — that I think this is a solid premise for an episode.

No, not “cut to the actors in pancake makeup doing shitty old people voices.” But “explore what such massively different life expectencies mean for these characters” is great. And, nicely, it flows naturally from the show’s own premise; ALF isn’t from Earth, and we’ve long known that his species lives much longer than we do. On the outside possibility that a Tanner lives to be 100, this barely makes a dent in ALF’s own 650-year lifespan.

There’s a lot you can do with that. In fact, the ratio isn’t all that far off from what humans expect of their canine companions. You adopt a dog and, on rough (rough-rough) average, it will live for ten years. In that time it becomes part of your family. It becomes your friend. It keeps you safe, provides you with company, and wants for very little. It doesn’t judge you or argue with you or ridicule you when you do something foolish. It cares about you. It admires you. It depends on you. It introduces to your life a very specific kind of companionship…

…and then it passes away. The dog’s life is over. Your friend and confidant and a member of your family is gone, all at once and forever.

Many people take that very hard. I’m one of them who does. It’s such a scary and uncomfortable thought that it holds me back from getting another one. Can I really experience that kind of loss again?

I knew a guy who was always in total control of his emotions. At least, as far as anyone else could tell. He was even-keeled and very rational. He gave great advice. He kept his life in order. It was easy to be jealous of the life and family that he’d built around himself. And when his dog died, he fell apart.

He didn’t lose his job. Nothing tragic happened to his wife or his children. He wasn’t evicted from his home.

No…his dog died. Naturally. Predictably. And I saw him sit on the ground and weep like a child, months later, still hurting.

We forge bonds in ways we don’t expect. They happen naturally, and often irrationally. Did you ever have a friend that drove you crazy? Of course you did. Do you miss him or her right now? You may well. Every relationship we experience has some kind of shelf-life. One day, it will be gone. And with very few exceptions, we’ll feel their loss. We’ll miss them. We probably won’t forget the negative aspects, but we’ll sure as hell wish we could have the positive ones back.

ALF and the Tanners have to face that fact, one way or the other. He will outlive them. There’s no way around that, and no concession that can be made. As such, he is in a worse position than they are, emotionally. Just as we have to see the dogs we love pass before we do, ALF has to see his surrogate family age and die at a rate to which he is not accustomed.

That’s a rich vein to explore from a storytelling and characterization standpoint. Even better is the fact that it perfectly feeds a secondary plot: ALF’s mortal fretting can remind Willie and Kate that they will die, too. Which one will go first? (Willie, obviously, because he’s 85 years older than his wife, but, you know, for the sake of argument.) What will the other do at that point? And then can’t Lynn and Brian start to wonder what life will be like without their parents? These are questions human beings already ask themselves at various points throughout their lives. It happens naturally, and it’s relateable for an audience. Having ALF raise the issue — for his own very good reason — would force these characters to consider it themselves, and, suddenly, you have a strong theme for every one of your characters to explore this week.

It’s a series of scenes and conversations that can be both hilarious and heart-breaking.

None of that happens, of course, and instead we get ALF in a collared relationship with a grown man.

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

It’s Brian, all grown up, and I admire the show for tracking down an adult actor as stilted and incompetent as Benji Gregory. That can’t have been easy. His IMDB profile is pretty meaty, so most likely somebody out there is going to read this and say, “He’s not bad! He was great in xxxxxxx!” And, fine. Maybe he was. I’ll take your word for it. But he’s fucking terrible here.

The joke at first, I guess, is that ALF is treated like a dog instead of a family member. Then the joke becomes that Brian’s wife Roxanne hates ALF and tries to kill him. Then it becomes that Brian thinks she’s an olive oil heiress when she’s actually some powerful Mafia figure or something.

I don’t know. It sucks but at least she’s not a mime.

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

Roxanne is played by Fran Drescher, and you probably expect me to rip into her, but she’s not too bad here. This was from that bygone period of her career, before she got confusingly famous for being an annoying and grating Jewish stereotype. Right now she’s….just an actress in a sitcom, really. She hams it up a bit, but it’s nothing obnoxious. She does decent work with the little this thankless show gives her, and she’s probably the highlight of the episode, actually. (Faintest. Praise. Ever. But you get what I mean.)

I don’t dislike Drescher. She understands comedy and she gives her audience what it wants. I remember her best from The Nanny, and that was no masterpiece, but it’d be difficult to watch it and conclude that Drescher didn’t know what she was doing, or that she didn’t do it well.

By all means if you thought The Nanny was shit, have at me in the comments. But for what it was — a light, mindless slice of weekly entertainment — it was well enough made, acted, and written that it never bothered me. I probably even laughed at some of the jokes.

Come at me, Fusco.

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

Their son, Brian Jr., is played by Benji Gregory. And, okay. That’s kind of cute. But what I really like about it is the fact that Brian Jr. doesn’t have any fondness for his father’s naked alien sex pest. When ALF tries to talk to him, Brian Jr. says to his mother, “It’s bothering me again.”

It doesn’t really go anywhere, though. The idea of ALF living with a child who is well and truly disinterested in his antics is great, but it’s only ever that: an idea.

We do hear a bit about Brian Jr.’s cat, Fifi, and ALF doesn’t even crack wise about wanting to eat it, so I guess the change of heart in “Live and Let Die” really was permanent. I’m still keeping an eye out for that change in character to be reverted, but, for now, I like that they’ve stuck with it.

Anyway, Fran Drescher orders a hit on ALF, and some goons come in to shoot him to death.

I have no complaints about where that scene ended.

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

Then the fantasy ends and, man, I never thought I’d say this, but I really wish ALF were spending the episode masturbating instead.

We do get a funny line in which he laments that adult Brian was a kept man, but “at least he found something he’s good at.” That was…okay.

ALF looks through photos again and arrives, presumably, at one of Eric. (We don’t see any of the photos, because god forbid we get some sense of what memories the Tanners have of their lives or of each other.)

And, yeah, neither Lynn nor Brian got a flash-forward that had anything to do with who they are as people (it sure is odd that the whole episode is about ALF missing them, while his fantasies seem to indicate that he knows nothing about them to begin with), but Eric? Eric’s a baby. The show can do anything with this. There’s no continuity to uphold or expectations on the part of the audience. ALF has carte blanche to do as it pleases, which could actually be…

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

Oh for fuck’s sake.

…FUCK

Eric is some kind of children’s show host, one half of The Eric and Sparky Show. And man this guy sucks ass. I can’t tell if he’s acting in this clownish, idiotic way because that’s his stage persona, because that’s who ALF thinks Eric will actually grow up to be, or because this actor was told to play a grown-up with the mannerisms and excitability of a baby.

In short, the entire joke of these sequences is “here’s what’s happening,” and I couldn’t begin to tell you what in shit’s name is happening.

Adult Eric is played by Mark Blankfield, who’s been in a lot of things, including Fridays, some Mel Brooks movies, and one episode of Arrested Development, so I can’t imagine he looks back on this crap with much fondness.

In Arrested Development he was the doctor who treated Michael after the wreck in “My Mother, the Car” and I did sort of wonder why they never brought that character back. He would have been a nice counterpoint to the literal doctor, in the same way that Wayne Jarvis was a nice counterpoint to Barry Zuckerkorn.

Oh well. That’s still his most recent role, so maybe the guy retired after that. I only wish he retired before this.

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

Anyway, they do some kind of mailbag thing and I guess some kid writes in saying that he wants to see ALF get set on fire, so Eric is going to do it until some scary-ass talking clock tells him the show is over.

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

I hate you guys.

The show ends, and ALF complains that he’s been shitting his box and nobody’s cleaning it out for him.

I hate you guys.

Eric introduces ALF’s replacement.

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

I really do fucking hate you guys.

The stagehands come over and lock ALF in the box with his own feces. Which, frankly, seems like a preferable fate to watching the rest of this episode.

So he dreams about living with elderly Willie instead and–

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

OKAY NO THAT IS QUITE ENOUGH THANK YOU NO

NO THANK YOU NO

NO

WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK THIS EPISODE FUCK

Look at that face. He’s planting permanent erectile dysfunction with his mind. WE ARE ALL EFFECTIVELY STERILE

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

He asks ALF to open the curtain for him, the joke being that he’s too far gone to realize it’s already open, but ALF tells him to eat a dick.

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

I can’t stop taking screengrabs of this. I want you to understand that I hate you every bit as much as you hate me.

Look at this shit. He looks like a Dick Tracy villain.

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

By the time we get to the hideous old Kate crone it doesn’t even register. Who fucking cares.

Yeah, she’s old and knits a lot. We get it, show. You have no idea who any of these people are, so you’re stuck doing a half hour of old people sitting around, being old.

And that’s…it.

Like, really. The episode just ends. We don’t even return back to ALF at the table in present day or anything. I’m not exaggerating; the episode literally just gives up in the middle of a fantasy sequence and stops.

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

In the short scene before the credits, the family tells ALF that his fantasies were way off and they’d never behave that way. So I guess they had to sit and endure the same half-hour of shitty sub-stories that we did. For the first time ever, I sympathize with the Tanners.

And…that’s it.

No crisis resolved. No questions answered. No fun had. No comedy enjoyed. Not even the central question is addressed. (Q: What will ALF do when the Tanners are no longer around to protect him? A: Lynn marries a mime.) It’s just ALF fantasizing about some idiotic nonsense until the scary-ass talking clock says the show’s over.

Which is a shame, because this was a topic bursting with narrative possibility. Even the flash-forward idea could have worked if we were flashing forward to anything worth watching.

You’re in luck, though. Here’s a three and a half minute meditation on mortality in the form of an incredible, perfect little pop song. It’s fun, sad, sweet, insightful, worrying, and reassuring in equal measure. It does in no time more than this episode does in far too much time.

It’s a great point of instructive comparison, just like the Carson example earlier. Same territory being explored, in one case by artists in full command of their craft, and in the other by ineffectual, disinterested workmen who toss out some crap and hope for the best.

The significant gulf in life expectancy between ALF and the Tanners is a point of emotional, psychological, and physiological conflict woven tightly into the very fabric of the show. “Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” finally realizes it can do something with that…

…and then immediately makes us wish it didn’t.

But, hey, at least it gave use the show’s greatest metaphor in the form of a shriveled up old Willie.

Countdown to ALF saying all of his goodbyes: 6 episodes

The Venture Bros., "Rapacity in Blue"

I admit it: I picked a damned terrible season of The Venture Bros. to review in this format. Not because it’s been a bad season — it’s been very funny on the whole, and never less than interesting — but because there’s so little to appraise in isolation on a week to week basis.

The Ventures aren’t jetting around the world getting into scrapes, they’re not beset by villains of the week, and complications are raised without being resolved.

That’s the nature of the story Doc and Jackson are telling this season. It’s not a problem. In fact, it’s exciting. The lack of a 22-minute hard stop for all of their ideas must be liberating; whenever they need more time to develop an idea, they let it bleed into the next week. And the week after that. These are good things.

But man does it make it had to look at it in weekly chunks and speak about it intelligently. Like any story, you need to look at where it’s going before you get the whole picture. In the absence of knowing where it’s going, all you’re left with is how well is it being told. That’s a great thing to focus on, but I don’t want reviews like this to be various repetitions of “‘Rapacity in Blue’ was very funny.

Having said that, “Rapacity in Blue” was very funny.

The pattern so far this season seems to be one episode of wall-to-wall setup, followed by one episode of partial payoff. So far, I like that; it keeps the plates spinning without leaving us afraid that it’s not going anywhere. I wonder if that’s going to keep up. If it does, I wonder how successful it will seem in retrospect.

The biggest payoff this week came on the heels of last week’s Blue Morpho setup, which isn’t surprising. The reveal of The Monarch’s father being a hero — let alone a hero who associated with Jonas Venture, Sr. — immediately seemed like a fruitful avenue for the show to explore. If I’m worried by anything it’s the fact that it took four episodes to get The Monarch into the Blue Morpho suit.

The slow burn worked, don’t get me wrong, but the story possibilities, the jokes, the atmosphere…everything became so urgently rich that I could spend eight episodes watching nothing but that. (Speaking of which, do we think The Monarch will appear in every episode this season? I’m thinking he will…and if I’m right it’ll be the first season in which that’s the case. He’s long felt like a secondary protagonist for this show, and maybe that’s finally happening from a structural standpoint.)

The entirety of this material was great. There’s plenty of fun to be had with The Monarch simply discovering a cave full of gadgets, but tying it into his bloodline, his destiny, and this show’s always brilliant exploration of the difference between a good guy, a good guy, a bad guy, and a bad guy…it just brings the comedy and the potential to a whole other level.

It’s the discovery of an old video cassette that helps The Monarch accept that his father was a good guy, and it helps him accept that precisely because there was some moral ambiguity to the man. It comes first in the form of a jokey conversation with Jonas and a staged confession to the camera…but let the tape run a little longer and you see your father cheating on your mother, relishing and abusing the power over strangers that comes with fame.

It’s fully possible that the Blue Morpho was a genuinely great human being before he became friends with the self-absorbed, debaucherous Team Venture, but The Monarch here sees evidence of grey around the edges, which makes his birthright — as 21 puts it — a bit more palatable.

And, of course, once he gets into the suit, he becomes a good guy. The clothes absolutely make the man. He starts by toying with the idea of blowing up an aggressive driver (the fact that he only toyed with the idea is major progress for The Monarch) and ends by coming to the legitimate rescue of Billy Quizboy and giddily celebrating with 21 how good it felt to be the hero.

The Monarch has long been a perfect illustration of the show’s artfully hazy approach to good guys and bad guys. In fact, he was arguably the show’s first illustration of that approach…and it’s something that’s been explored by innumerable characters since. (Let’s not forget as well as the constantly shifting alignments between and within the show’s various factions.)

Dr. Venture, too, serves as a constant reminder of the blur between the heroic and villainous…in fact, Dr. Venture may well be responsible for more of the show’s most terrible events than The Monarch, and The Monarch was unquestionably part of more of the human and emotional moments.

21 has also explored both sides of the dichotomy…albeit more actively. When he was a villain, he knew he was a villain. When he was a good guy, he knew he was a good guy. The Monarch and Dr. Venture each reject their “other” side whenever somebody brings it up, but 21 was perfectly willing to explore himself and try to find his actual place in the world. The fact that he’s a villain again — while acting as a hero — is a great way for him to tie those two competing aspects of himself together, actively, with an eye toward personal unification.

In fact, come to think of it, Hatred’s “once a bad guy, always a bad guy” speech to Gary last season seems to have been proven correct. Of course, the big irony there was that Hatred himself was a bad guy who was no longer a bad guy. Then again, he started as a good guy, so maybe the inevitable return to factory settings isn’t such a bizarre thing for him to endorse. There’s the suit, and there’s the man inside the suit. But who is it really?

“Rapacity in Blue” (which has the best episode title in several seasons) still doesn’t tell a complete story, and it starts a couple of new plates spinning with Dr. Venture’s panicky scramble for a new invention and Brock’s sexual frenzy for Warriana — the latter of which seemed a bit odd and which I expected to have resolved in the show’s tag — but it’s also…satisfying. Thrilling. It’s like sneaking away in the middle of the night and getting away with something you know you shouldn’t do. We come home giggling and tripping over ourselves, even if it hasn’t (yet) really amounted to anything.

As ever with season six, though, what happens this week will be defined or redefined or undermined by what happens next week. And I was definitely left confused by a few things.

For starters, I’m not sure why Billy had to be under the effects of the God Gas when he met Blue Morpho. Sure, he concluded it was really Rusty in that suit, but I think he could have done that anyway, and it’s odd to me that the only witness to anything that happened was someone whose perspective is clearly unreliable. It would have been far more interesting to me if Billy was actively convinced it was Rusty, rather than being in every position to doubt himself.

That’s pretty minor, though. More significantly, I’m not sure I buy that Dr. Girlfriend would jump to the conclusion that The Monarch went on a date night with 21…she should be a bit savvier than that, especially since last week she (believed she) saw her husband arching Dr. Venture against her wishes.

Speaking of which, The Monarch knows about Copy Cat’s little ploy last week…so has he discussed that with his wife? There’d be no reason for him to keep it to himself and every reason to tell her what really happened, so I don’t know if we’re still dealing with relationship fallout from last week or not.

It just feels slightly sloppy around the edges, and, if anything, that’s made more clear because the core idea of the episode — and its central thrill — is so well handled. (I also have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the vocal return of 24; I’d honestly expected we were done with him entirely.)

“Rapacity in Blue” is my favorite so far of the season…and it promises some incredible fun to come. I hope we haven’t seen the last of the original Blue Morpho, but this newest incarnation — with a Kano who isn’t even Asian — represents the single most exciting development the show has had in years.

It’s times like this that eight-episode seasons really start to feel like a gyp. Things get interesting just in time to start winding down.

Here’s hoping The Venture Bros. does what it does best, and proves me dead wrong.

What this site could look like

February 20th, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in internet | Meta - (10 Comments)

Grand Theft Auto V

Running a website is its own reward. As you know, I just need to turn on my computer and lots of money and sexy ladies and respect come tumbling out of the screen and into my lap. It’s great and you should all feel pret-ty envious. Probably even suicidal.

But it has its…less rewarding aspects as well. Mainly the investment of time and money to keep it operational.

Time is not exactly a rigid requirement, I admit. Yes, it can take me several hours of work for an ALF review, or several days of work for a Fiction Into Film, but on the whole it doesn’t take too long to sit down and write something.

However, if I am sitting down to write something, that’s time I’m not spending writing other things…whether those are personal projects, freelance work, or just the emails I owe friends who at this point definitely assume I’ve died.

Then there’s also fresh air (whatever that is) and a social life, or reading, or watching movies or playing video games or, basically, experiencing all of the things other people have created. And so it can be difficult to balance. Sometimes I’ll go for weeks on end doing nothing but writing. Other times I want to spend that time catching up on things I’ve missed.

And I can do that. That’s the best thing about having my own website and not working for others anymore: I set my own deadlines.

That’s also the worst thing about having my own website and not working for others anymore: I set my own deadlines.

So while this means I can delay something (or many somethings) it also means that if I’m not posting anything, people will check back less and less often. And if they check back less and less often, finding very little to read when they do return, they might stop showing up. And while that’s okay, it’s not ideal. I don’t write for the sake of having an audience, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t value having an audience. And I value it deeply.

This audience. The one you’re a part of. The audience who is reading this right now, wondering why the heck I’m bringing any of this up. (I love you and you are handsome.)

Well, that’s because it ties into the other less-rewarding aspect: money.

Running a site like this isn’t free. There’s not an exceptional expense, but it’s significant for someone in my…ahem…modest income bracket. I pay for the domain and I pay for the bandwidth. The latter of which I had to upgrade about a year ago when my traffic increased, and which I’ll have to increase again before long.

And those things are fine; believe me, I’m not complaining, but I want to make it clear why I’m interested in defraying the cost as much as possible, and within reason. (We’ll define “within reason” before long.)

Frankly, Noiseless Chatter operates at a loss.

Big deal. I’m okay with that.

But I’d be foolish if I wasn’t at least a little interested in reducing the degree of that loss.

Fortunately, webmasters like me can pull in money hand over fist! Every day I get offers from people who want to throw money at this site. LOOK!

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I mainly just thought this one was funny…later emails were more in line with what you see below — I did ask for clarification — but anyone who comes to this site and thinks I’d be the kind of guy who wants to open crates with a crowbar can’t have read a word that I’ve ever written. And I don’t think any readers hang around here because they think they’re reading the ponderous thoughts of a man who blogs between crowbar sessions.

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I’m sure that a broad spectrum of international organizations would be touched to have their content featured between screengrabs of a masturbating puppet, but I had to decline. I know what the content looks like. It all looks the same. It’s without value or meaning, written for the express purpose of fooling search engines into associating one specific company with one specific keyword. In short, they’re writing to fool a robot. And they’re wondering if I could be bribed to let them do it on my readers’ time. For the princely fee of $20.

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And hey, look, confirmation that the folks reaching out to me aren’t even bothering to customize their templates beyond the barest minimum. Surely the content they’re offering will be stellar. (They’re doubling that money, though. I’m twice as tempted to fuck over my readers!)

I get these a lot. Like, all the damned time. Sometimes they take the time to learn my name. Usually they don’t. One of them, for some reason, called me Sue. And none of them, ever, care about you, or the site, or what anybody coming here would like to read.

They write garbage. I know they write garbage, because I used to work for a digital marketing agency that pulled this same crap. We wrote garbage, too.

But…well…wouldn’t that be nice? If I could just take one of these folks at their ostensible word every month? That’s an extra $40 every 30 days. And, hey, what if I did two per month? Or three? I could pull in $1,200 a year easily, just by posting this crap that nobody cares about. And doesn’t that sound like a fair trade? Maybe I could even post it on Sundays, when I never post anything and nobody even thinks to visit the site anyway. Who would that hurt?

It’d hurt the site.

It’d hurt what I’ve built.

It’d hurt you guys, and make poor use of your time.

I don’t want to hold Noiseless Chatter up as some exemplar of quality or anything, but I hope it can have just a little bit of integrity in a medium that…doesn’t always value it. And doesn’t always want it. And is glad to fake it just long enough to turn itself around for an easy buck.

There’s a blogger I used to visit that, within the past year, has turned her site over to sponsored content, and it’s sad. I won’t name her site here because I don’t intend to shame her and I don’t know what’s behind her decision, but I went from having a blogger I was interested in reading whenever she had something to say, to having a shell of a blog that doesn’t seem to have much of her in it at all.

I don’t want anyone here to feel that. If you get any joy out of this site whatsoever, I’d like to maintain that. If you don’t…well, even then it’s not like sponsored content is going to change your mind. Nobody wins.

I make money, yes…but nobody wins.

I’ve hosted pieces here that were provided by outside writers, but I’ve never accepted a penny for doing so. I’ve reviewed other people’s products and wrote about their projects, but never in exchange for money. And I wouldn’t take any. Ever. If I get a review request for something that interests me, I ask for a copy of that item, which I think is fair. If they offer money, I refuse. As you see above, people do indeed offer money.

I’ve had people ask how they can support the site. One reader — whom I don’t wish to embarrass, but feel free to out yourself in the comments — said he goes out of his way to click ads on my site in order to help.

And, yes, that’s a way, but never, ever feel obligated to do that. If you see an ad on my site for something that interests you, and you click it, I get a little money from Google. If you don’t click it, I get a little less (as long as the ad actually displays).

Don’t click for the sake of clicking…but if you do click, it helps. I’m not asking you to click; I’m just explaining how it works. If you tell me here and now that you’d never click a damned thing on my site, I wouldn’t think any less of you, and I have no expectations that anybody will click anything.

Really, the only thing I would ask is that you disable adblock on my site. And that’s not even a very strong request. Frankly, I don’t mind what you block or don’t block. But if you’re wondering “how can I help?” that would be the extent of my answer.

Ads are a touchy subject. I feel dirty every time I see them on my own site. At the same time, they’re helping me afford to keep the site. Does that make them a necessarily evil? I…honestly don’t know. And it’s probably not for me to decide. Many of you don’t seem to mind either way. Others, I’m sure, hate that they’re here. Believe me, I hear you, and I understand. If there were any other way to defray the cost of maintaining the site, I’d be all ears.

I could offer something for sale, here. And maybe I will, at some point. Right now, you could always buy a mug if you haven’t already. They’re good mugs! But that’s just an option. Maybe in the future I’ll have more options. Again, I’m all ears.

But, really, there’s not much that you can do. I could set up a donation link or something, but I’d rather there be something of value changing hands. I do have an idea for something else to offer in the near-ish future, and I’ll probably announce that in the near-er-ish future, but right now the way to help…the best way to really help…is just to read.

To comment.

To like this stuff on Facebook.

To share it with your friends should you feel so compelled.

That’s all. It’s not money that keeps me going. If this site one day broke even I’d do a cartwheel, but that’s not what I’m after. I could make this site immediately profitable at the expense of its identity…and I don’t want that.

I want you guys.

And every time you show me you’re engaged — even through disagreement — it means the world to me. That’s what keeps me here, investing time and money and, on Thursdays, my sanity. I read all comments. I value every like and retweet and everything else. I get giddy when I look at old articles and see that they’ve been shared dozens of times. In some cases hundreds. In one case thousands.

That means everything to me. That’s why I write. That’s why I have this site. And that’s why no amount of money is going to tempt me — really tempt me — to part with it.

The internet eats great things alive.

Thank you for giving me reasons every day to keep this small one afloat.

ALF, "Gimme That Old Time Religion"

Welcome to the second “ALF becomes a _______” episode in as many weeks! I hope it’s as good as the last one, in which nobody seemed to care that Lynn is going to be in debt for the rest of her life in order to attend a school at which she has to sleep with her teachers in exchange for good grades.

Seriously, what the fuck is Willie’s problem? Why isn’t this episode 30 minutes of him curb stomping the guy he learned last week is using his position of authority to sexually manipulate his daughter? And what the fuck is this show’s problem that the moral in that one wasn’t “If a teacher says this to you, rip his nuts off”? Why was it about ALF learning — and then apparently disregarding — the true meaning of being an artist?

FUCK. THIS. SHOW.

Anyway, this week ALF becomes an ordained minister — presumably because he’s fingered Brian often enough that he might as well make it official — and I see no way this can be problematic at all.

The episode opens with Willie wondering what to get his wife for their 22nd anniversary, because he hasn’t bothered to get to know her in that time, I guess. I think this is why “anniversary plots” tend to be about one character forgetting that it was coming up; when the plot turns out to be “I don’t know what to get him/her,” it makes you wonder why they’re married at all. Every human being forgets things; very few of us know somebody — let alone are wed to somebody — for 22 years without having some concept of what they do and don’t enjoy.

Lynn, bless her heart, suggests taking ALF to the desert and leaving him to die. Which, yeah, let’s please do that. It also leads to a funny enough line from Willie when he says that that’s what he plans on doing for their 25th anniversary.

ALF enters the room to remind them that whatever shit they’re talking about, that’s not the plot of the episode. He says that he overlooked something until just now, and it’s causing him great distress: when Melmacians turn 233, they have six months to become a minister. If they don’t, they become outcasts. It sounds at first like he means “outcast” in a social sense, but shortly he refers to being one for eternity, so maybe there’s a spiritual consequence to not becoming a minister.

This…is not a bad concept for an episode, really. Not “ALF will one day go to Hell,” because if you’re going to tease me with that I’d better damned well see it, but “ALF explains what religion was like on Melmac.”

I’ve wondered many times about Willie’s religious faith, as the show keeps alluding to it but never explores how it would have to evolve — if not be outright shattered — by the fact that he lives with evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligence. Now, though, I see I’ve overlooked another interesting angle: how does ALF’s religious faith get shaken by his new life here? He’s encountering evidence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life as well.

It’s not often that the writers of this show beat me to considering interesting territory, but they did it here, which means that this could either be a good episode, or watching this shit has melted my brain.

There’s even a valid reason ALF is only discussing this now, as opposed to…well, any time sooner than this: He turned 233 at some point within the past few months, and needs to take action fast. (Speaking of “forgetting the date” plots…) I can’t remember if placing his age at 233 contradicts anything we’ve been told previously — especially with this show’s insane disregard for any kind of definitive timeline — so if you have any knowledge of that, let me know in the comments.

Me? I’m not nit-picking just yet. I’m genuinely interested to see how this plays out. Melmac has never been portrayed as an especially spiritual place before, so whatever they do with its religious climate in this episode will definitely be the result of graceless shoe-horning…but it still has every possibility of being interesting and clever in its own right, so…yeah. Show me what you’ve got, ALF.

ALF, "Gimme That Old Time Religion"

Ugh. Nevermind.

ALF mumbles a bunch of vaguely scriptural bullshit and makes the Tanners sit through it. At one point he begins singing “The Name Game” about Barry, which is what Melmacians called their god. By the way…did you know that that’s an actual song? I learned that a few years ago, and was kind of blown away by that fact. (It’s also pretty impressively funky!) I always figured it was just some kind of schoolyard nonsense, but I guess it’s more standardized than that. It’s always interesting to me to find “patient zero” for stuff like this.

Anyway, the Tanners must read him four questions from the Holy Scroll. (Which I guess he had on his space ship? Yet another thing he went back to get instead of saving any of his friends or family.) It’s a good thing there are only four questions, because if they were five they’d have to age Eric up right quick.

ALF explains that if he can answer three of the four questions correctly, he’ll become a minister. Which…okay. But I have to confess that I really couldn’t care less whether this masturbating puppet does or does not become a minister in a made-up religion that didn’t exist last week and will never be mentioned again. Call me a stick in the mud, but I am somehow not invested in his spiritual journey just yet.

Brian asks the first question: What’s the kindest thing you can do for someone else? ALF replies, “Burp downwind,” and Willie confirms this in what I guess is the Melmacian bible.

ALF, "Gimme That Old Time Religion"

More props to the…uh…props guys for making the book look alien, but I’m not sure books with deep, wavy cutouts at the edges are especially suited to any species with fingers. I appreciate the effort, though, and I’m amused by the fact that somebody on the ALF staff took a band saw to a Bible this week. And you assholes thought I was disrespectful…

Lynne reads the second question: What one gesture will prove your undying love for another? ALF replies, “A Mazda Miata,” which Lynn understandably calls bullshit on.

Oddly, she calls bullshit on it not because Mazda doesn’t export cars to Melmac, but because the Miata was only introduced the previous year. (And she’s correct; this aired in 1990, and the Miata was introduced in 1989, for the 1990 model year.) ALF explains that, technically, the answer is “any red convertible,” which isn’t hilarious, but it at least addresses the kind of continuity flaw we’ve had to deal with on this show a lot (ALF was conceived in a DeSoto, remember) and tries to spin an additional joke out of it.

It’s a good impulse.

Question three is read by…oh. It’s Brian again.

ALF, "Gimme That Old Time Religion"

There’s nothing wrong with that; I’m just not used to the kid getting two lines.

He asks, “When does track lighting go with Berber carpet?” Nobody calls him on the “Berber carpet on Melmac” shit, of course, but, whatever, they tried. ALF replies, “When you stick with stripes and solids, and stay away from patterns.”

Willie takes great delight in saying, “That’s wrong. You’re wrong, ALF.” Or, more likely, Max Wright does. According to the book, the answer is: “Stick with patterns. Stay away from solids; they’re cold and they don’t create a welcome environment.”

ALF sighs and says, “Religion is so subjective.”

And that…okay. I didn’t laugh, but that was pretty funny.

Lynn reads the final question: “You’ve been dancing all night, and you’ve noticed your partner’s dress shields have given out. You like her, but others are starting to point. Do you tell her?”

It wasn’t clear earlier if female Melmacians could be ministers as well (or, I guess, were passively obligated to be when they turned 233), but this question seems to make clear that they can’t. It may also indicate that homosexual Melmacian males couldn’t be ministers. SO THERE’S THAT QUESTION ANSWERED.

ALF replies that the answer is no; you dance with her and then “reach in and change them without her knowing.” So, basically, only straight male sexual predators could be ministers.

He’s right, so they all congratulate him on this fake imaginary horse shit nobody cares about, but he forces them to start the ceremony all over from the beginning, because he told them to stand without him saying “Barry says” first.

So, basically, only straight male sexual predator dickheads could be ministers.

ALF, "Gimme That Old Time Religion"

That whole mess does at least pay off in a really nice — and clearly deliberate — Peanuts homage, with ALF’s confessional taking visual inspiration from Lucy VanPelt’s psychiatry booth.

Brian and Lynn come in, and ALF says, “Come, my flock. It’s time for me to hear your sins and earn a couple of bucks on the side.” Which…again. I didn’t laugh, but I liked that well enough. It’s an effective one-liner, and a decent jab at a very specific kind of religious manipulation.

Lynn declines, as she has to memorize the periodic table. It’s…an odd education she’s getting, isn’t it? Periodic tables, painting, and acting in St. Joan.

Maybe the writers should have picked a major for her after all, because right now it’s just whatever garbage they feel like making a shitty joke about. It’s probably for the best that she’s occupied, though. I definitely didn’t need to see five minutes of ALF masturbating to Lynn describing her “sins.”

ALF, "Gimme That Old Time Religion"

ALF hornswaggles Brian into coming over, using some shitty Irish accent, which is a shame because the rest of this exchange is…

…fuck.

It’s…kind of good.

Brian tells him that he doesn’t have two dollars; he only has a quarter. “You’re in luck,” ALF says, taking the quarter. “It’s happy hour.”

Then Brian expresses some dismay at the fact that if he confesses his sins, ALF will know what he did…so ALF offers to close the shutters to maintain anonymity.

And that’s a really cute joke both about the Catholic church and the design of the set. The plot window is a perfect place for ALF to ply his trade, but it also happens to allow for an observation like that, which is shockingly efficient for this show. I know some folks in the comments are going to accuse me of exaggerating, but this episode really is better than contracting genital warts.

When Brian complains about how shoddy ALF’s operation is, ALF says, “Take your quarter. Go to your room.” And it’s pretty adorably dismissive.

I enjoyed a Brian scene. And I’m pretty sure that’s in the book of Revelation.

ALF, "Gimme That Old Time Religion"

Then Kate comes in and ALF starts ranting like a faith-healer, which is pretty annoying. I don’t know why this episode is leaning so hard on funny accents. When it’s actually telling jokes about its premise, it’s doing pretty well. But then I guess the writers remembered that Paul Fusco is the Man of 1.5 Voices, and they’d better let him work the crowd.

Oddly, to me, Kate is wearing a sweater vest. I’ve…never seen a woman wear a sweater vest. Have I? It seems odd to me, at least. I always thought it was a masculine thing. Then again, I only see women through bathroom windows…and they ain’t wearin’ much iffin’ you know what I mean!!!

Kate tells him to fuck off.

“I’d rather confess my sins to Jimmy Swaggart,” she says. And since she just left it there I was a little disappointed…the “recognizable name as punchline” thing is pretty lazy. But ALF replies, “You’d have to go to a cheap hotel for that,” and…

Am I liking this one?

It’s not great, I know that…but I think I’m actually liking this one.

The Swaggart joke, by the way, could use a little context, because it was pretty cutting for its time. The initial Swaggart scandal broke in 1988, but wasn’t a one-time thing. Evidently Swaggart made a big show of exposing some fellow preacher who’d had affairs. Which is bad, yes. In fact, Christianity pretty explicitly forbids that kind of thing. So Swaggart made an example of this guy, and, in retaliation, the guy exposed Swaggart’s hobby of hiring prostitutes to fuck him in scummy motels. Which is…y’know. Kind of worse.

Photos were taken, witnesses came forth, and Swaggart was pretty well finished. The guy Swaggart exposed in the first place probably isn’t held in very high regard by those who know him today, but he’s largely forgotten while Swaggart himself became a global pariah and posterboy for religious hypocrisy…especially at the (frankly disgusting) the pay-to-pray level.

Swaggart, needless to say, apologized for his behavior and swore it would never happen again. So in 1991 he fucked some more hookers and became a laughingstock once more.

ALF had no way of knowing Swaggart would become a punchline again (for the same reason!) the year after this episode aired, of course, but that coincidence made this a very well-timed joke, and I’ll give the show credit for that. It was funny then, it got funnier a year later, and it’s still funny now.

ALF, "Gimme That Old Time Religion"

Later, Willie and Kate passionately read-some-books each other’s brains out.

ALF knocks on the door and asks, hopefully, “Are you being fruitful and multiplying?” So it’s great that his obsession with watching people fuck survived the transition into this new life of spiritual fulfillment.

He comes in and tells them that he’s afraid he might lose his ministry. He then hands the Melmacian Bible or whatever to Kate, and tells her to read it. She does so: “Can you find Barry in this picture?”

And I laughed!

I laughed at that!

ALF performed a legitimate miracle!

Granted, Anne Schedeen sold the line, but it was a funny enough idea to begin with. (And I’m very willing to believe that the easily distracted Melmacians would include activity pages in their holy texts.)

ALF directs her to another passage: “If the newly ordained minister does not perform a good deed by officiating at a hallowed ceremony within ten working days, thereby proving his worth as a man of the cloth, the penance shall be dire and catastrophic to all those concerned.”

…rrrrright about now I start realizing how ridiculous it is that Kate can read Melmacian script. It’s one thing for ALF to be able to immediately speak and understand English as soon as he arrives on Earth — it’s absurd but not impossible that he studied the language at some point — but Kate shouldn’t be able to read this horse shit. Unless Melmacian holy texts really are written in English, and I can’t decide which explanation is more ridiculous.

But then the episode does something smart: it makes me laugh again, and I stop worrying about that. Kate finishes reading the passage…she lets “dire and catastrophic consequences” hang in the air…and then Willie says, “There he is. There’s Barry. Right there, right by the big clock.”

Guys, I hate Max Wright, but that was great.

…less great is ALF explaining that the consequences involve him yodeling for the rest of his life.

ALF, "Gimme That Old Time Religion"

Willie and Kate fuckin’ hate it as much as I do.

It’s pretty lame, to be honest, but I like where the conversation briefly leads: Willie asks if Barry would even know what he does or doesn’t do. After all, Barry was a Melmacian god…and there’s no more Melmac. ALF is all the way on Earth now.

And that could raise further interesting questions. What does a god do when the world He presides over is destroyed? How long and far is His reach? If there are only a handful of survivors, and they’re cast out into the cosmos, does He still care if they adhere to the letter of His law? Or is He more concerned with their ability to survive? Or is He not concerned with them at all anymore as He pretty clearly has other major concerns?

Forget Willie’s crisis of faith or ALF’s crisis of faith…what about Barry’s crisis of faith? A god without anyone or anything underneath Him. What does that mean for Him? For His time? For His sanity? What does He do now? God can sit back all he likes and lord (ahem) over Earth, and that’s fine, if you believe that’s what He does. But what happens when the inevitable meteor strikes and Earth is gone? What happens when we elect Trump and the Earth commits seppuku? What happens if the population of China stands on buckets and jumps at exactly the same time, knocking us out of orbit and dooming us to a frozen, fatal drift through space?

Without a planet, what’s a god? Without mortals, what’s an immortal?

Was Melmac’s destruction part of Barry’s plan? If so, shouldn’t ALF be pretty upset at him? If not, what the fuck was Barry doing? And what is Barry doing now? Is He beating himself up? Rationalizing after the fact? Whipping up a new race of hairy rapists to pork their way through the universe? Is He the laughing stock of other gods? Did He blow up Melmac because he was as sick of their shitty antics as we are? And if He’s all powerful and this was just a nuclear accident, why doesn’t He use any of his limitless power to turn back the clock and prevent so much needless death, devastation, and horror?

All great questions. All ripe for intriguing discussion.

Instead, ALF yodels.

This is the halfway point. We’ve had some pretty good stuff and the possibility of obnoxious horse shit to come…so, really, this one could go either way.

Place your bets now.

ALF, "Gimme That Old Time Religion"

After the commercial, Max Wright silently worries that somebody videotaped that party last night.

Brian gets his best line ever, bar none: “I like yodeling as much as the next guy, but I have my limits.”

Yeah, ALF is yodeling. Why? Who knows. He still has time before his ministry is dissolved, so I’m pretty sure he’s yodeling off camera just to prove how much he hates this family and their happiness.

The solution to the problem — at least the one ALF proposes — is that he should preside over the renewal of Willie and Kate’s wedding vows. Which, of course. ALF has been a major component of just about every milestone in their lives — childbirth and their honeymoon, for instance — so he might as well get his grubby, shit-caked claws sunk into their wedding as well.

What I like is that Willie and Kate don’t just blindly allow this week’s setpiece to descend upon them; in fact, they disagree pretty strongly about it.

“It’s just that I think this may be another trick of ALF’s just to get us to do what he wants us to do,” Kate argues.

Perfectly valid, and — importantly — something a mother should take into account. Parents must always find the balance between giving in to everything your child demands, and ignoring everything at the risk of serious problems going unaddressed. Those are the two extremes, and finding the middleground is both urgent and difficult. It can’t be easy to know if your child is faking illness because he or she wants to stay home from school and play video games, but you need to make sure you aren’t letting them stay home every time or assuming they’re faking every time. There needs to be a balance. Kate is considering that balance right now.

“I say, who cares,” Willie replies. “Let’s just do it.”

And while that’s shitty from a parenting perspective, it’s…pretty valid from a human perspective. Yes, you run the risk of rewarding bad behavior, but you also stop the naked sex criminal from yodeling…so, swings and roundabouts.

“Do it because it’ll shut him up” is a pretty bad mentality to rely on long-term, but I can’t fault him for considering it in the moment.

I can fault him for being a dick to his wife, though. (Seriously, when’s the last time you heard someone say “Who cares?” when his wife raised a concern? If you did hear it, did you not immediately follow it in your mind with “what a dick”?)

But I guess that’s nothing new. Assholes gonna asshole.

ALF, "Gimme That Old Time Religion"

ALF comes to the plot window, hoarse with yodels. He says, “Only 400 more years of this. Then I get to die.” And, sure enough, that aligns with what we were told way back in “We’re So Sorry, Uncle Albert.” There we learned that Melmacians live to the age of 650…and, yes, 400 years from now ALF will only be 633, but it’s close enough that I suspect the writers did their homework.

Also, oddly, that episode suggested — knowingly or not — that Melmacians couldn’t die until that age; there was no shock of death. So does that mean that the explosion of Melmac just sent this civilization of butt-fucking assbags spiraling off, individually, for four centuries into the dead and lonely abyss of space? Are their conscious but destroyed bodies doomed to float through cosmic emptiness with no hope of rescue or reprieve for six fucking centuries?

No matter how you slice it, this is a fucking morbid-ass show.

Anyway, Kate says “Fuck it, nobody listens to me anyway, I’ll ruin the memories of the only happy day I’ve ever had in my life.” ALF throws up on the carpet.

ALF, "Gimme That Old Time Religion"

Then ALF takes his place in front of the Muslim Prayer Curtain.

There’s a lot of Brian stuff in this scene. In this whole episode, actually, what with him having things to say and do throughout, but in this scene he actually gets a lot of focus. And it’s…weird.

He asks Lynn if she thinks he can get his parents to buy him a new Nintendo game if he yodels for a bit. (I guess he finally upgraded from the Atari.) She replies that he’s more likely to get some new teeth, so he does this weird thing where I think he’s trying to get her to hit him, and he says, “Come on. First one’s free.”

At least, I assume he’s gesturing at his mouth so she’ll hit him. It’s possible he’s offering oral sex.

Then she asks him if he has the rings, and he says, sarcastically, that he sold them for magic beans.

Jesus…who did mother Gregory let finger her?

ALF tells Willie that if the couple isn’t genuinely moved by the occasion, it doesn’t count and…I dunno. He’ll have to do it again, I guess? Thank Christ that wasn’t a requirement for the viewers of “ALF’s Special Christmas.”

ALF, "Gimme That Old Time Religion"

Mrs. Ochmonek comes over and makes the same face I made when I realized Kate would marry Willie a second time.

This is Mrs. Ochmonek’s final appearance on the show, as she at last follows her husband into that good night. This isn’t completely surprising; it’s often the case that when one spouse passes, the other follows fairly soon. Living without the person who’s helped you make it through so much of your life isn’t easy. The same, I’m sure, can be said for the time you spend acting on ALF.

I’m glad that this is her last appearance, because it’s a good, final reminder of how much nicer the Ochmoneks were than the Tanners, no matter how often the show tried to tell us otherwise. She comes over because she saw so many flowers getting delivered, and was worried someone had fallen seriously ill. True to the end, those Ochmoneks. God knows the Tanners haven’t stopped by to make sure everything was okay when they stopped seeing their nephew, or when her husband disappeared without a trace.

Liz Sheridan did what she could do with the character. I wouldn’t say she excelled with her material the way John LaMotta did with his, but in her other roles — Seinfeld most notably — she made it very clear that she has the ability to be quite good and quite funny. The fact that she didn’t hit a grand slam on ALF is meaningless; she was up against a truly incompetent pitcher.

Mrs. Ochmonek never became the “episode highlight” the way Mr. Ochmonek did, but she’s had some good lines, and seeing her and LaMotta bounce off each other — and lovingly, convincingly fawn over each other — was great. It was also nice to have a recurring character who wasn’t a walking cockhole with teeth, but now she’s gone, and…yeah, I don’t think there are many characters I look forward to seeing left on the show. Hooray. We’re trudging onward to the end with only the worst of the worst.

Anyway, the family spins some bullshit excuse about Brian’s turtle Gabby passing away. Mrs. Ochmonek sees through it, after the family gets way too long a sequence in which they try to convince her of this turtle crap.

She finally says, “If you want me to leave, why didn’t you just say so? In fact, don’t even say so. I’ll leave on my own.”

Then Willie says, “I think that would be best.”

What. A fucking. Asshole. I’m glad Mrs. Ochmonek’s final scene on this show is calling the Tanners on their bullshit and walking away from them for good. It’s pretty cathartic. The only way it could be better is if she kneed Willie in the balls.

ALF, "Gimme That Old Time Religion"

She leaves, and ALF starts the ceremony. He mentions that Willie and Kate met 22 years ago…but thanks to Willie’s exposition at the beginning of the episode, we know that that’s also as long as they’ve been married.

Nobody corrects ALF, so maybe those two really did get married immediately. That would certainly explain why she married him at all. Had she taken even a week to get to know this guy, she would have gone running back to Joe Namath.

Willie gives some half-assed speech about how much he loves her, and Max Wright clearly is not invested in this. He’s saying all this crap to her quietly, but that doesn’t automatically mean it’s romantically. The words are there, but none of the emotion. At some point he even mentions that she’s given him “three beautiful children,” and none of these clowns seem to realize that the third beautiful child wasn’t even invited to the wedding.

Then Kate does the same thing, and you realize pretty quickly that the failing of Willie’s speech can’t entirely be laid on Max Wright’s shoulders; Anne Schedeen’s is unintentionally funny, too, and she’s a far better actor. The failings of the scene are especially apparent when she refers to Willie as “my rock, and my strength.” You know. All the stuff that literally any clip from literally any episode of ALF would disprove instantly, but we’re supposed to buy it. And we’re supposed to buy that she buys it.

We don’t, and she doesn’t, and he doesn’t. Give me a scene of the Ochmoneks renewing their vows, and they’d not only be funnier (they have actual character traits and personal quirks to play off of), but I’d be much more likely to believe them. After all, the Ochmoneks have actually acted like they’re married. And they’ve touched each other. And they’ve enjoyed each other’s company, as crrrrazy as that sounds!

What have Willie and Kate done together? Aside from ignore each other and stare at opposite walls of the living room? This scene is clearly supposed to be moving and emotional, but it isn’t because these aren’t characters, and speeches like this can’t retroactively grant characterization. (Not that it even really tries to do that — there are no “cute” memories or observations sprinkled throughout, as there would be for actual humans in actual love — but it still goes to show how doomed this scene was from the start.)

It’s a lot like Neal and Margaret’s little moment at the end of “Love on the Rocks.” We weren’t invested in their relationship, so the emotional beats floundered. This is Willie and Kate, whom we’ve known for almost 100 episodes now…and the emotional beats flounder just as much. In the former case, we could shrug and say, “We’ve just met these people.” In this case, we can’t do that, and we’re faced instead with irrefutable proof that we’ve spent four years of our lives with a totally incompetent writing staff.

I’m a sucker for love stories, but this is less love than it is two sexless action figures carelessly tossed into the same toybox.

ALF, "Gimme That Old Time Religion"

Then the ceremony ends and Anne Schedeen remembers she’s stuck on this show for another seven weeks.

I love Anne Schedeen (srsly Anne call me) but those are the fakest fucking crocodile tears I’ve ever seen. It’s even less realistic than ALF’s tear in the Christmas special, and that was just a peeled grape stapled to his face.

There’s some bullshit about how ALF didn’t get to say all the romantic stuff about Willie and Kate that he wanted to say…after all, who cares that those two characters just shared a moment? If ALF doesn’t share a moment, too, it literally doesn’t count.

So, yeah, ALF talks about how incredible Willie and Kate’s marriage is, and then Kate cries. And — fucking hell — did this episode crash and burn. Remember when it was about religion and was both interesting and funny? Now it’s about Willie and Kate renewing their vows, which could have been great except that it’s got nothing to do with either of their characters. It’s just some standard, vague nonsense about being in love, and we’re treating it like it’s revelatory.

The fact is that ALF could have waddled over to the bus shelter and married any two people there and the same speech would have been exactly as specific to their characters.

The show hurtles onward to its conclusion, and we still don’t know who the two main human characters are. Neither do the writers. They’re married, and that’s about all anybody involved with production knows, so we get some all-purpose palaver about marriage.

What a waste of an episode that was so close to doing something fun.

ALF, "Gimme That Old Time Religion"

In the short scene before the credits, ALF asks if they fucked a lot last night.

Fuck this show.

Countdown to ALF being sacrificed to Barry in front of the Tanners: 7 episodes

MELMAC FACTS: Willie and Kate have been married for 22 years,* and the sex was just as good the third time as it was the first! When a Melmacian turns 233, he has six months to become a minister. Otherwise he will become “an outcast.” Melmacians pray to a god named Barry, and they kiss the first two fingers on their right hand whenever they invoke his name. ALF’s religion is considered “Reformed.” The Melmacian Bible states, “He who burps downwind can party with Me any time.” Melmacian ministers must officiate at a hallowed ceremony within 10 working days of being ordained, or else they must yodel for the rest of their lives. Earth is located on the side of Barry’s good ear. ALF’s religion is for ages three and up. Melmacian ministers only have to serve one weekend per month, two weeks in the summer, and whenever there’s a national emergency. And while I’m down on this episode as a whole, that last joke is pretty fucking good.

—–
* This puts their wedding in 1968, if we assume the episode takes place in 1990, the same year it aired. (If it doesn’t take place in 1990, then we have even more timeline madness to sort out, so let’s just assume it does.) At first I figured the big continuity flag would be Woodstock, which they both attended…and that was in 1969, so that checks out. However I happened to read back over my review of “Isn’t it Romantic?” and that episode gave the date of their honeymoon as July 11, 1967. So, yeah. The writers did their homework about the life expectancy of Melmacians, but didn’t bother to research their main human characters. That…sounds about right, actually.

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