“ALF becomes a ________” is a perfectly valid, if not necessarily inventive, template for an episode. Great shows use it (we could sit here all night listing the “Homer becomes a ________” episodes of The Simpsons), lousy shows use it. It’s not a serious indicator of how seriously we should or shouldn’t take the show as a whole; it’s just something TV shows do in general.
In great shows, having your character become a ________ opens up new possibilities for jokes and situations that weren’t there before. You have a premise for your show, and that premise is (or should be) sturdy, but by turning your character into a ________ for one week, you get to stretch your legs a little, explore new territory, and keep things varied for your audience. I was listening to one television writer talk, though I forget who it was, and he made the point that your show should always be changing or moving forward in some way, because the audience gets sick of things before it realizes it’s sick of them.
That’s great advice. And when your character becomes a ________, you might find that writing them that way works better than you expected it to. You could actually end up with a larger evolution for the show than the temporary distraction you were hoping for.
Then there are lousy shows, like the one we’ve been watching for the past sixteen fucking years of our lives. ALF never becomes a ________ because that’s the best thing for the character, or for the show, or for the audience, or for the jokes, or for the plot. No, ALF becomes a ________ because the writers still haven’t figured out what makes this show work. ALF becomes a ________ not because someone asked “What if?” but because someone said “Why not?”
And so we cram him into these different situations and occupations well before any regard is paid to the quality of the jokes that can actually be spun from it. (I’m pretty sure I’m the first person on Earth to pay regard to that.)
They’ve toyed with plots like this throughout the show’s run, but this stretch of season four is oddly heavy with them. Two episodes ago, ALF became a stand-up comic. This week ALF becomes a painter. Next week ALF becomes a minister. That’s a hell of a lot of ALF becoming things as the show hurtles toward oblivion, and, seriously, bear in mind what ALF already is:
He’s an intelligent beast from beyond the stars.
Jesus Christ…why do the writers think it’s more interesting to have him become a garbage man or something than it is to explore the actual thing that he actually is?
Usually a character becomes ________ because it introduces new possibilities to the show. In this show, however, just about every possibility is already covered by its main premise.
ALF comes from a completely different culture, so we can spend all the time we want exploring that. He’s lived for hundreds of years, so we could spend all the time we want fleshing out his backstory. He’s served in the Orbit Guard, so we could spend all the time we want delving into countless intergalactic conflicts we on Earth didn’t know happened. Space creatures could follow him to our planet. Old debts may have to be settled. Alien technology could find its way into the wrong hands, for both comic and dramatic effect.
ALF, if the writers decreed it, could use this untapped well of alien technology to travel through time, to create evil clones of people, to make Willie rich by having the guy pretend he invented it. Look at shows like The Venture Bros., Futurama, Red Dwarf, or Rick and Morty, each of which has unique technology built into its DNA, and each of which uses that technology to spin interesting stories and explore character in unexpected ways. Each of which, also, has infinite possibilities; all any character ever has to do is say, “Hey, what’s this thing do?” and we’re off. We need no more explanation about the object’s origin than that.
As a character, ALF, too, comes from a universe of unfamiliar technology, yet we never get to explore it, or find out much about it. The things that should make him interesting as a character simply don’t, because nobody wants to do the work. (It’s easier to write 20 pages of ALF masturbating on the couch than it is to write a satisfying time travel narrative, I admit, but guess which episode would be better remembered through the years.)
How many times has ALF’s cultural origins had anything to do with the plot? Forget the simple “He’s not from Earth…” misunderstandings. I like that those exist, but those are less “ALF is from Melmac” and more “ALF isn’t from around here,” or even “ALF doesn’t get out much.”
Ready? Let’s list all the times Melmac had anything to do with anything else.
He dreamed of a night on Melmac in “Help Me, Rhonda.” He had some physiological crisis in “Wild Thing.” Rodney the Space Roach terrorized the family in “La Cuckaracha.” He thought Blinky might have made it to Earth in “Alone Again, Naturally.” He performed a bibliocide ritual in “Superstition.” And he sold stories about his experience to a tabloid in “Lies.”
I’m probably forgetting a few things, but for a show about a space alien that’s nearing 100 episodes, that’s a damned short list.
Now let’s see how many ALF becomes a ________ episodes we’ve had.
ALF becomes a makeup salesman. (“Keepin’ the Faith”) ALF becomes a soap opera writer. (“A Little Bit of Soap”) ALF becomes a compulsive gambler. (“The Gambler”) ALF becomes a nice guy. (“Working My Way Back to You.”) ALF becomes a castaway. (“Somewhere Over the Rerun”) ALF becomes a monk. (“Wedding Bell Blues”) ALF becomes president. (“Hail to the Chief”) ALF becomes captain of the neighborhood watch. (“Someone to Watch Over Me”) ALF becomes a ventriloquist. (“I’m Your Puppet”) ALF becomes a different makeup salesman. (“Stairway to Heaven”) ALF becomes a talk show host. (“Tonight, Tonight”) ALF becomes a hippie. (“My Back Pages”) ALF becomes a magician. (“Do You Believe in Magic?”) ALF becomes a romantic poet. (“Standing in the Shadows of Love”) ALF becomes a silent film star. (“Like an Old Time Movie”) ALF becomes a stock-market trader. (“We’re in the Money”) ALF becomes a psychoanalyst. (“Mind Games”) ALF becomes a drug addict. (“Hooked on a Feeling”) ALF becomes a stand-up comic. (“Make ‘Em Laugh”)
And that’s so far…we know at least two more episodes that aren’t on that list yet. And, again, I’m sure I’m forgetting a few.
Is it any wonder that this show is so terrible with character development? It’s orders of magnitude more interested in “what-if” situations than it is interested in anything that’s actually happening. In other words, it’d rather be absolutely anything other than what it is.
I…guess I can’t really blame it for that.
The episode opens with Lynn saying that her new art class is very important to her, which means the next several minutes will involve ALF insulting her. Nothing new there.
There is an odd moment, though, when she tells the family she wants an honest opinion of her painting. Then she reveals it and the audience laughs.
It’s…not that bad, is it? It’s just a pear. Yeah, I understand that it’s not some incredible masterpiece, but for a girl who just started in the medium, does it really deserve explosive laughter? It can’t be that urgently bad that a burst of chuckling is warranted. If you showed it to a studio audience and not the ghostly recordings of laughing dead people, I doubt they’d react at all.
Anyway, ALF tells her it’s a big pile of shit. But he’s inspired by it — or, at least, is inspired by his wish to show her how shitty it is — so he decides he’ll be a painter, too. He tells Kate to take off her clothes because he wants to paint her droopy old snatch.
Tell me again that I’m being needlessly harsh on a show for children.
After the credits, who fucking cares.
…fine. ALF has glued some bread to a canvas and “Flight of the Valkyries” is playing. Fun fact: a few years ago I was on a trivia team. We were tied for first place, and the tie-breaker question required us to identify this song within the span of a short sound clip. It’s an easily recognizable piece of music, so, really, the difficulty of the question came down to knowing the actual title of the song, and not driving yourself mad thinking of all the times you’ve heard it in films and commercials.
I said “Flight of the Valkyries,” and one of my team-mates corrected me. He said, “It’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries.'” I said no, it’s definitely “Flight.” He said, “Valkyries don’t fly!” and the rest of the team laughed at me, so they wrote “Ride of the Valkyries,” and we lost to the other team, who put “Flight.”
This is why I no longer bother making friends. AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU
Anyway, Willie comes up and tells ALF to turn his fucking music down, and nothing happens for about two minutes.
Then nothing continues to happen for another two minutes, only this time it not-happens in the kitchen.
The family just sits around acting shitty to each other because they didn’t get any sleep. Brian even yells at his mother for humming “Flight of the Valkyries.” (“Valkyries don’t fly!” was presumably a line cut from the Monday script.)
Then ALF pops up through the plot window to waste more time and to talk up his new masterpiece. The family follows him into the living room, because fuck breakfast and everything they were just upset about: ALF has something to say!
In the living room he gives some little speech about himself and the importance of what he’s about to show them, and then he recites “I Saw Her Standing There” because the script was too short.
Kate says, “ALF, just uncover the damned thing.” And while “damned” was a pretty mild curse word even back when this episode aired, man does it feel so wonderfully profane here.
If someone doesn’t mean it, “Go fuck yourself” sounds trivial. If someone does mean it, “Go to hell” sounds brutal. Profanity isn’t always about the strength of the word; it’s about the intent. Kate’s intent here is to beat the living shit out of ALF with her voice, and it works beautifully.
Anyway, ALF finally unveils his whatever the hell, and…
…it’s the same thing we saw in the previous scene.
Like, without alteration. It’s the same god-damned prop we already saw and (theoretically) laughed at.
We spent all that time building up to something we’ve already seen? Christ almighty.
Anyway, Lynn tells him that his painting is a big pile of shit. It’s a nice little way of turning the blade back on him, since he was so dismissive of her pear earlier, but the best part about this scene is the endless crackle of the audio track on these damaged masters. It gives me something interesting to listen to while this group of assholes mumbles nonsense to each other until the scene ends.
There is one nice exchange, though. Lynn leaves, and ALF criticizes her legitimacy as an artist: “You know her problem? She doesn’t have a tortured soul.”
Kate replies, “She can have mine.”
I won’t miss this show, Anne Schedeen, but I’ll sure as shit miss you.
Then we get a legitimately shocking development: a scene of Lynn at college. Of course, there are only eight more episodes of the show after this one, so none of the people we see here really matter. Not even Mr. Ruben the instructor, who walks around making inappropriate comments about peoples’ nude paintings, and then getting excited that two of his students are fucking.
Tell me again that I’m being needlessly harsh on a show for children.
Mr. Ruben makes some time-killing comment to each of the extras we’ll never see again, and then finally he comes over to Lynn to ask where her shitty painting of a pear is.
It’s a good question. I wondered why it wasn’t on display yet. But then she reaches into her bag and it’s ALF’s fucking peanut butter toast thing.
That’s what you get, sitcom character, for waiting until it’s your turn to talk. If you were an actual college student you’d have unpacked your shit already and seen this before you were on the spot, but noooo.
Of course, you live by the sitcom convention, and you’re saved by the sitcom convention. The art professor — as they all must in works of fiction written by people who don’t understand art, criticism, or instruction — gushes over it, and he calls the class over to see the great work that Lynn did.
I’d love to hear from a reader who creates visual art, or at least understands the medium and takes it seriously. Does this kind of portrayal bother you? Does it feel needlessly disrespectful? Is it based in reality at all, or is it the kind of thing kept alive by sitcom oral tradition?
I know I’m always bothered by the way writers are portrayed in movies and shows. It’s never true to life at all.
Give me a real film about a writer, in which he spends most of the runtime staring at a blank page, or crying naked on the floor. Don’t give me this garbage with some guy in a loose necktie and two-day stubble tapping out a story, writing THE END (so that the camera can see it, of course), and then getting on with his life. Because that dog don’t hunt.
To this character’s credit he doesn’t dive into some long, inane speech about the meaning of the piece, but of course that’s only because we’ve spent way too much time away from ALF, and we really need to start wrapping this shit up.
Then Lynn pulls out her pear painting and Mr. Ruben says it’s a big pile of shit.
I’m genuinely excited to find out how many screengrabs this week have the fucking toast painting in them.
Anyway, Lynn comes home and says, “You are in big trouble, mister!” which I’m pretty sure is just for all the folks here who desperately want the ALF Tanners and the Full House Tanners to be related.
She tells her parents about the shit ALF pulled, but seeing the painting so many times has me wondering why the bread that ALF glued to the canvas isn’t all smashed up or falling off. This is the kind of thing I worry about when I’m not laughing. What a shock that this never-awaited episode in which ALF paints bullshit fails to make me laugh.
ALF alludes to getting the idea for hiding his painting in Lynn’s bag from The Brady Bunch, but I don’t think that’s ringing any bells for me. Was that actually an episode? I only remember the one where the kids get pubes.
For a moment ALF is afraid the teacher hated it, so he proposes committing suicide by slashing his wrists right there.
Tell me again that I’m being needlessly harsh on a show for children.
Anyway, Lynn is in a panic now because Mr. Ruben thinks the toast painting was tits, and no matter what she turns in next she’ll reveal herself to be a fraud.
Which, again, chime in if you have experience in the art world, but I remember my college writing workshops pretty well, and this was never an actual concern.
Sometimes somebody would write a great piece, but that was it; it was a great piece. If the next one wasn’t so great, nobody gave a rat’s ass, instructor included, and certainly nobody suspected that we’d been had.
The reason was that we were all experimenting. Most of us never wrote a great piece. The few that did still had their later work held to the exact same level of scrutiny; there were no increased expectations, and there shouldn’t have been. Even if one of us was a great author — surely none of us actually were — each story got appraised on its own merits. If one story was good and the next bad, who cared?
Great authors sometimes write crap. Nobody really thinks or expects otherwise. Sometimes great artists paint a big pile of shit. Nobody really thinks or expects otherwise.
I guess we need a conflict for the episode, though, and it’s either this or have Willie walk in on ALF painting Brian like one of his French girls.
We then rejoin A Very Sarah Portland Christmas, already in progress.
ALF paints some crap while “Flight of the Valkyries” plays again. Man, once you discover the magic of royalty-free classical music, you never go back.
Honest question: is there some association with “Flight of the Valkyries” that I’m missing? I’m guessing that when this episode aired, the song was most linked with Looney Tunes and Apocalypse Now as far as pop culture goes, but was there some famous movie about an artist that used this song as well? The episode never gets into why ALF listens to that while he paints, which leads me to conclude that either a) it’s a joke I’m missing, but which others will recognize or b) there’s no reason and this show is garbage.
HELP ME DECIDE
Willie and Lynn come in so that ALF has someone to be an asshole to.
Then ALF says that he got a burst of artistic inspiration because he discovered Luther Vandross. Whom…he…wasn’t listening to.
I have no idea what’s happening here.
Then Lynn says something like, “Well, boogie it on Broadway!” and I really am totally lost.
Is that a Vandross song? Or lyric or something? I’m not all that familiar with him, personally. (Hell, I didn’t even know he wrote “Flight of the Valkyries” before this episode!) Also, she delivers the line like she just took a hit off her father’s crack pipe, so I think it’s safe to say the entire cast is well over the show by this point.
Lynn complains for a bit about having nowhere to paint, but come on. ALF might be dominating the garage, but you guys live in a five-bedroom bastard house. Surely you can find some fucking place to do your homework.
…oh. Looks like she did.
So why is she bitching about having nowhere to paint? She already finished her next piece. Or maybe she painted it really quickly just now in the four seconds she was off camera? I honestly have no clue.
Again, I don’t know art, but this certainly looks competent. I’d be proud of having painted it, if I were a sitcom character who never had any interest in the medium until 15 minutes ago.
ALF says, “Stink-a-roni!” though, which gives me painful flashbacks of when he said that in “Suspicious Minds.”
I wonder why stink-a-roni never caught on as a catchphrase for ALF. I suggest you each, individually, launch an attempt to bring it back. I’ll want a report on your progress this time next year.
The next day, or at some point in the whole of human history, we’re back in class. Mr. Ruben jerks off for a while about how his opening at some gallery was well-received, and then the students all leave. Why Lynn waits until the class is over to show him her next piece is beyond me, but she does, and he gets pretty hard and invites her out to coffee.
That’s why she waited until class was over. Because this is ALF, and Lynn is nothing if not a mound of olives, waiting to be stuffed.
Fortunately, this is the least problematic example of men attempting to spray their genetic fluids into her. Not because his behavior is any better — it’s kind of gross, and he explicitly tells her that he only complimented her art so that she’d go out with him — but because she stands up for herself and tells him no.
That’s good, and it’s the kind of thing that should be a pretty nice moment, but boy is it buried deep within a mountain of suck.
Again, I respect the show for giving her a bit of backbone (as opposed to giving her a boning on her back…ha! I KILL ME) but this is a really lousy episode, and it’s really not worth trying to salvage anything.
Back at the house I get another screengrab with the toast painting in it. Woo!
Anyway, Willie bitches at ALF for leaving his shit everywhere. ALF jams a paintbrush into Willie’s urethra and Lynn comes home.
She tells them that Mr. Ruben only said nice things because he wanted to stick three inches of flaccid painter dong into her, and, of course, Willie couldn’t care less that her daughter was yet again being sexually manipulated by a figure of academic authority. He instead says, “He lied to you!?” because the real lesson here needs to have something to do with ALF.
Then Lynn leaves and ALF and Willie eat some popcorn and drink soda. Was this episode fucking ad-libbed?
In the next scene…
…AHH JESUS CHRIST KILL IT. KILL IT FUCKING KILL IT NOW
Lynn comes in and apologizes to ALF for being rude to him earlier, though she makes the perfectly valid point that he was pretty rude to her first. ALF makes what I’m sure must be an even more valid point when he lays into her for not sleeping with her professor.
At some point “True Colors” conflated Mr. Ruben’s approval with ALF becoming a famous artist…somehow?
I dunno. But I’m sure ALF is right when he says that everything would be fine if Lynn had just thrown the guy a pity pork.
She explains to him that not everyone gets to be famous, and that many artists never see success during their own lifetimes. He says, “Then what’s the point?”
And she goes into a nice little (and I do mean little, which is probably why it’s nice) speech about art coming from within:
You paint because you want to paint, or need to paint, or express yourself through painting. You don’t do it for money, or fame, or even necessarily because you’re good at it. You do it because that’s who you are.
And, yeah, go Lynn. Not that I’ve ever known you to have an artist’s soul or anything, and god knows you’ll be back to not having one next week, but I admire your perspective here.
This causes ALF to observe, sarcastically, “Oh, yeah, sure. What the world needs is more mediocrity.”
And the camera catches the precise moment that four years’ worth of self-awareness crashes down on Andrea Elson’s soul.
She then tries to talk ALF into finishing a fresco (a Paul Fresco?) we never see, and the episode runs out of time before anything can really go anywhere.
In the short scene before the credits ALF paints some more shit. Specifically it’s some terrifying child with enormous eyes, weeping. You guys analyze this one; I need to finish my suicide note.
Anyway, the Tanners had a yard sale, and ALF’s paintings were the only things that sold. Weird how that sounds like a plot in itself, but it’s actually just ten seconds of wrap-up dialogue.
Ugh, whatever. I guess I should just be thankful that idea didn’t inspire them to turn this into a two-parter.
So…I guess the moral is that ALF actually did have some artistic talent?
Or that you should keep painting even if you are only in it for the money?
I have no clue. I honestly thought the final scene would be the reveal of ALF’s fresco (al fresco?), but that was pretty stupid of me, because that would mean that something in this episode had any kind of payoff.
Some people never learn. :(
Countdown to ALF being disappeared in front of the Tanners: 8 episodes
MELMAC FACTS: ALF used to be an artist; he’d paint any canvas any color for $29.95 (no ups, no extras). ALF can whistle in spite of the fact that he has no lips.