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ALF, "Stayin' Alive"

For the second week in a row, we get a Willie-centric episode. God knows that if you want to go out with a bang, you should turn the last chunks of your show over to a mumbling crack addict who would clearly rather be dead.

It opens in a pretty worrying way: ALF frets over deforestation. Wonderful. I was sure hoping for another Very Special Episode in which a sex-crazed aardvark creep shows humanity the true path to happiness.

It’s a shitty scene with he and Brian pretending they give a crap about each other. Somehow it doesn’t work. CRAZY RIGHT

But we do see a faint glimmer of promise when Willie walks through the door. (Damn…I’m sure I’ve never, ever typed that before.)

Specifically, we see that the show just might have figured out how to goad a good performance out of Max Wright: let him be miserable.

Seriously, he’s pretty good here. And that’s because, I’m sure, the show is giving him a chance to vent his frustrations a bit. I know I’ve talked a lot about how Andrea Elson tends to be very good when Lynn is being supportive and warm…presumably because Elson herself was a genuinely supportive and warm human being. Anne Schedeen is nearly always good, and I’m sure that’s because Kate is meant to be caustic and frustrated. I’m not saying Anne Schedeen was anything like that in person, but I am saying that she was able to channel the overpowering misery of working on ALF in a way that the other actors couldn’t. She didn’t have to hide her true feelings, in other words; it benefited her to let them inform her performance.

Now, for whatever reason, Willie gets to be caustic and frustrated. And that’s probably how Max Wright actually felt at the time. As a result, it works. Deliberately or not, the writers tapped into something the guy could, at long last, sell to an audience.

Every one of his lines in this scene allows him to be…well…him. As soon as he enters the scene he says, “Hello. Am I glad to be home?”

Then ALF tells him that his son* is going to inherit a dying world, and he replies, “What have you done now?”

ALF shows him the satellite photos he was looking at with Brian, and Willie pointedly asks, “Were these free?”

Finally, after ALF delivers his spiel about the rainforests, Willie says, “I know it sometimes looks pretty grim.”

That’s the entirety of what he says in this scene. Three of his lines are loaded questions meant to make ALF feel like a worthless sack of shit, so it’s no surprise that I love them…or that Wright delivers them so convincingly. The fourth is just an observation he makes, and his performance there, by contrast, is offhand and dismissive.

Is it because Willie is dismissive of environmental concerns? No. It’s because Wright is sick to death of working with Paul Fusco. He relishes the chance to needle ALF, and shrugs off his one line of dialogue that’s just a spacer between two ALF monologues.

We see pretty clearly in this scene just how completely over this show Max Wright is…and just how the show could still, potentially, find something to do with him: lean into the guy’s inner asshole.

It’s too late for that to make much of an impact — even if they rode Dickin’ Willie to the end of the show, it wouldn’t make a dent in the total number of episodes — but it’s still nice to see.

I want to like ALF. I really do. And I’ll give it credit when it gets something right. It’s just a shame that “right” in this case comes so close to the end, was likely an accident, and was only possible because ALF by this point had ruined the man’s life.

ALF, "Stayin' Alive"

A great start, so of course, the show immediately undoes it with a bunch of jokes about ALF listening to Willie and Kate fuck.

What is it with this show and that happening? Sometimes you guys get on me about inserting sexual jokes into my reviews, but, fuck, believe me, this show is sex obsessed in the creepiest possible fucking way there is. It’s gross. I’m just trying to replace the show’s own constant sex jokes with ones that don’t make me want to barf.

Anyway, ALF runs out of material so he insults Kate’s intelligence for a while.

Amazing that audiences got tired of this show, isn’t it?

Then ALF starts bitching about CFCs destroying the ozone layer. I’ll give “Stayin’ Alive” credit for addressing what was, when this originally aired, a legitimately timely topic. It was also, at its time, an important one.

Hey, that’s right! Remember when the ozone layer was a huge problem for the world — and the continued survival of mankind — so we set a bunch of new regulations and changed the way products were manufactured? We as a people saw a serious issue, worked together to fix it, and didn’t fight the solution. And it worked so well that we don’t even need to worry about it anymore. And that’s pretty great, isn’t it? That we fixed something we knew was harmful to us?

Of course it’s great. I just wanted to write that for any republicans who might be reading this blog. Climate change is real. Let us fix it, you shits.

ALF says there’s a company called Sendrax which is totally the worst. And, man, when a hacky serial rapist calls you the worst, you’ve got to be really fucking bad.

ALF, "Stayin' Alive"

He shows them his letter to Sendrax, and Willie reads it out loud. I’ll transcribe it in full here, because I actually like it:

Dear Sendrax. Manufacturing CFCs is a threat to the survival of the planet. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s wrong. Damned wrong. So just knock it off.

Kate then compliments him on his choice to write it in glitter pen. And…man, I’m all for this. I really am. Wright’s disinterested, flat reading of the letter is perfect — again, deliberate or not — and I enjoy ALF’s childlike response to the situation. He’s smart enough to know Sendrax is doing something harmful, but nowhere near articulate enough to argue his point. Basically, I just like it when ALF is a believable dumbass, rather than a rampaging psycho or cosmic savior.

Already this is far better than his world-saving crusade in “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” in which a heartfelt plea for disarmament failed to make for hilarious television. (Weird, that.) Here the show still gets to make a valid humanitarian point, but it does so in a way that’s conducive to comedy. (ALF is the absolute best at having its characters sit, but it usually struggles with the “com” part.)

Am I actually going to like “Stayin’ Alive”? Honestly, I doubt it, but we’re getting flashes of what a better show would have done with the same premise, and that’s reassuring.

There’s good material in season four…it’s just spread thin. Damned thin. And it should knock it off.

ALF, "Stayin' Alive"

Kate wishes ALF luck with his letter, which causes Willie to flip out so severely on her that I couldn’t even get a clear screenshot.

Her point is that writing to the company is a constructive response to the issue.

His point is that he’s a gigantic fucking asshole.

ALF, "Stayin' Alive"

Later on ALF is calling a radio show to complain about CFCs or some shit, and the big joke, I guess, is that the topic of the show had nothing to do with the environment. Hilarious. ALF is a nuisance.

Lynn comes in with the mail and nothing to report about her day, because it didn’t involve ALF and therefore has no business being discussed.

She hands him a response from Sendrax, but it’s just another form letter thanking him for his concern. So, yeah, apparently he’s been sending a bunch of letters, and always getting the same vague replies.

Lynn then crawls into the Tanners’ cryogenic hibernation pod until ALF needs her again.

ALF, "Stayin' Alive"

Later still, Max Wright gets to howl the prime-time equivalent of profanities at ALF, which means he’s pretty good again. Apparently Willie’s space puppet spent $300 at the post office.

How ALF did this without leaving the house is never addressed. Which is fine, because Willie is clearly more worried about $300 than about ALF being spotted, captured, and tortured in an underground research facility.

Actually, fuck, I’m right there with him. I’ll take $300 over ALF’s safety any day of my life. Shit, I’ll pay you twice that if you can guarantee they’ll never find the body.

Anyway, Willie threatens sexual violence against him.

I’m not even kidding.

That’s just what this show is.

Even in episodes that I don’t hate…that’s just what this show is.

ALF, "Stayin' Alive"

ALF has been sending a shit-ton of letters to Sendrax, with a different signature every time. Right now he’s writing one signed by Marvin Hamlisch, and I figured we’d get some kind of joke about signing one of the letters “Willie Tanner,” which would also naturally feed into where the story goes from here, but second drafts are for suckers.

ALF’s plan was to have all of these letters quote his radio screed, which would then trick Sendrax into thinking he’s started a public movement against them. Of course, since ALF is making up the whole thing he didn’t have to go on the radio in the first place but SECOND DRAFTS ARE FOR SUCKERS

Eh, whatever. This scene is packed with a hell of a lot of exposition for a sitcom, but considering that a typical half hour of this show involves ALF shitting into the tub while shouting racial slurs, I’ll take “a hell of a lot of exposition” any day.

The phone rings and it’s Sendrax, asking for Gordon Shumway. Shit just got real.

Whoever is calling uses the word lawsuit, and ALF clarifies, “Would I be suing you, or would you be suing me?” (Which I kind of love.) Then he hears the answer and slides the phone over to Willie, saying, “It’s for you.” (Which I also kind of love.)

Like “Mr. Sandman,” “Stayin’ Alive” has a lot of clunky setup, but the payoffs are, by and large, worth it. While this isn’t as good an episode, it’s shockingly competent compared to most of season four. And by that I mean I only cried twice.

ALF, "Stayin' Alive"

And…uh…that was the act break. So, okay. I don’t hate this one so far, but I’m a bit surprised that so little has happened by the halfway point of the narrative. Like, seriously. It was just ALF bitching about the same thing in a few different rooms. I get the feeling that the storyboards this week just had the word WHATEVER written across them.

Anyway, Benji Gregory has realized that the production crew pays so little attention to him he can lie horizontally across a scene and nobody will bother to move him.

Willie and Kate yell at ALF for a while, and nothing is really established by this scene except that lawyers are expensive. (Can anyone out there verify this?!)

Willie realizes that none of these other assholes are interested in moving the plot along, so he decides to meet with Sendrax himself, posing as Gordon Shumway.

You know. Instead of as Willie Tanner, which is really who one of the phony letters should have been signed by anyway. (Narrative efficiency, how does it work?)

Then we cut to the Sendrax offices and…

ALF, "Stayin' Alive"

HOLY SHIT GUYS THAT’S DAN CASTELLANETA.

Homer. Mutha. Fuckin’. Simpson.

And…god. I…I don’t know. I absolutely had no clue this guy was in ALF at any point. I’m kind of starstruck. Kind of impressed.

You’ve been reading these reviews. You know how often I cite The Simpsons in order to make a point. Hell, I’ve gotten told to shut the fuck up about that show already. (Rightly so. I’m not being a dick by saying that…I mention it all the damned time.) But there’s a reason The Simpsons is such a perfect point of comparison: it’s brilliant.

It’s hard to look at any show that has room for improvement and not find an example of how The Simpsons did it better. It was an immediate, urgent cultural institution, and though more than half of its output by this point has been utter shit, its overall reputation remains untarnished. It provided 7, 8, 9, or 10 years worth of solid, incredible, biting, inspiring, perfect comedy. (The number varies depending who you ask. The reverence does not.)

So I point to The Simpsons often because The Simpsons did so much — and did it all so well — that it’s a handy reference. When ALF bungles a strong premise, the odds are good that The Simpsons showed viewers how to do the same thing right. I’d cite examples, but you can refer to just about any of my previous reviews to find them, and, for once, I’m not looking for ways to distract myself from talking about the episode. HOMER SIMPSON IS HERE

Seeing Castellaneta on ALF is a massively pleasant surprise, not just because he’s an emissary from that far (far, far, far, far) superior show, but because he’s a truly gifted comic actor in his own right. I perk up because I know he’s worth watching. I pay attention because I know he deserves it.

At this point in his career, Castellaneta was already playing Homer (and Grandpa, and Krusty, and Barney…). In fact, one day before “Stayin’ Alive” aired, “The Telltale Head” debuted. The Simpsons wasn’t yet the legend we know today, but that episode — one of the best of its first season — certainly gave it a big push toward becoming one.

He doesn’t sound anything like Homer (or Grandpa, or Krusty, or Barney…) in real life, though, so if anyone watching “Stayin’ Alive” recognized him, it would have been for his work on The Tracey Ullman Show, where you could actually see his face. He was a standout member of an excellent ensemble there and — of course — that’s the show that originally featured the Simpsons. (The Simpsons is easily the most successful spinoff in television history.)

His appearance in “Stayin’ Alive” came at a time before he could bank on sweet Simpsons money to carry him to his grave, but that doesn’t fully explain his presence. Even today the guy pops up in small roles on other shows (voice-over and live action), and he seems to do it just for the sake of doing it.

He doesn’t need to keep busy, he doesn’t need the money, and he’s already immortalized in the kind of role any performer would kill to have…but he keeps taking bit roles that, strictly speaking, are beneath him. (Again, not trying to be a dick…what wouldn’t be beneath him?)

So, no, popping up on ALF doesn’t represent some early-career desperation on his part, as much as I’d like to make a joke about that. He just seems to be a great guy who likes helping out other shows that could benefit from his presence. Or maybe he just really enjoys the variety of working with different people on different projects.

Whatever the reason: what a fucking pro.

Also, interesting footnote: remember when ALF appeared in “The Springfield Files,” and Paul Fusco called The Simpsons afterward to tell them that he would have done the voice? Well, ALF spoke exactly one word in that episode: “Yo.” And the guy who voiced it? Dan Castellaneta.

ALF, "Stayin' Alive"

Anyway, Castellaneta tries to talk Willie out of raising a fuss over Sendrax, and tacitly reminds him that Sendrax will sue his ass to hell and back if he doesn’t keep his mouth shut. There’s not much to the character here, but Castellaneta — to nobody’s surprise — does a great job veiling the threats behind the vague, PR-savvy chumminess. It wouldn’t be honest to say that he gives the character depth, but he does make the most of the expected, minor incongruity between his attitude and his intentions.

His friendly threats work on Willie, and Wright’s awkwardness here is fitting; he knows he’d be in serious trouble if he pissed off a massive corporation. (Wright’s also, of course, working with a genuine comic talent and not some concealed asshole under the floorboards, so his performance probably benefits from that.) Willie is so glad to have an “out” that he falls into this guy’s trap, and accepts gifts for his family in the form of Sendrax shirts, mugs, and hats.

Castellaneta even gets to twist the knife with his incredible delivery of “It’s always nice to meet someone who cares but doesn’t get annoying about it.” It’s a clunky line on the page, but one that his performance absolutely sells, and it puts a nice, cynical button on their exchange.

Then Willie catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror — bought off by unnecessary shit from a company polluting the environment — and realizes he’s doing the wrong thing.

ALF, "Stayin' Alive"

It’s a nice, uncommon visual flourish for ALF. It’s nothing you haven’t seen a thousand times before, but that’s because it works. In ALF‘s specific case, it’s a chance to let the show explain something silently for once, and I respect that. By no means is it the subtlest of messages, but it does what it needs to do, and it does so without a puppet bleating the moral at us from a trench.

Willie goes back and makes a little speech about the importance of leaving a clean world to his children, one that’s not packed with garbage and overheating from greenhouse gasses. It’s…the kind of thing you expect sitcom writers to dash off when they’re trying to make a point, but not about anything they really understand.

It’s fine, though. Wright does what he can with it. He tries to sound choked up — in an emotional way; not his typical “I inhaled a cashew” way — and he puts at least 1/5 of his ass into it. It’s…admirable for him. It’s not impressive, exactly, but I’m willing to at least give him credit for the effort.

ALF, "Stayin' Alive"

Castellaneta is moved, though…or claims to be. He offers Willie a job** at $75k per year, plus perqs, and it’s strongly implied that Willie makes far less than this at his current job. That makes sense in one way, because social workers make jack shit. That doesn’t make sense in another way, because Willie has three kids and can still afford to live in a fucking palace in LA.

Whatever. Salary shenanigans aside, Willie puts his Sendrax hat back on and asks for details. Another obvious but effective touch, carrying forward the visual implications from the mirror. Every man has his price, and Willie’s just learned his.

Subtle? Not on your life. But once again, somebody figured out a way to say something on this show without actually having to say it.

Kudos, “Stayin’ Alive.” You’re nothing great, but you’re impressively competent.

ALF, "Stayin' Alive"

We then get another pretty good scene at the house. Willie’s passing out the Sendrax junk he was given (their motto: “We care,” which I stupidly kept trying to make out on the small props only to have ALF read it out to us later) and our naked alien hero caves immediately. Hey, free junk, right?

A perfect character reaction. I’ll give the show credit for that. ALF is the sort of idiot who’d be knocked off his ethical high horse by the distraction of worthless garbage.

Kate seems to be less impressed, but she doesn’t say anything. Willie keeps assuming that her silence means she’s second guessing him, or his motives, but she reminds him that she hasn’t said a word. ALF chimes in: “Kate! Will you get off his back?”

It’s…actually okay.

Willie tells her that if he takes the job, he might be able to effect change from within. It might be a small amount of change, but that’s far more than he can effect right now. It’s a fair point — even if it is after-the-fact justification — and it puts Willie in an interesting ethical bind.

Kate reminds him of the way they used to take on big corporations in the past: on Earth Day in 1970 (the very first Earth Day, whether ALF realized that or not) she and Willie organized a sit-in against a major polluter. And while there’s no reason to believe anything changed as a result of their protest, Willie is won over by the realization that he at least was on the correct side; he wasn’t cashing the polluter’s paychecks.

And, y’know, this is why “Stayin’ Alive” works so much better than those other “ALF has a lesson to teach us” episodes, and I’m only realizing it now, as I type this sentence: it has nothing to do with ALF. In previous episodes along these lines, whether it was “Tequila” or “ALF’s Special Christmas” or “Hail to the Chief” or “When I’m Sixty-Four” or any of that shit, it’s ALF getting on a soapbox and screaming wonderment at us until we have the good sense to turn this fucking show off and do something valuable with our time, such as murder our families with an axe.

Here, it’s Willie’s struggle. He doesn’t come with The Right Thing To Do pre-installed, like ALF does. He’s (comparatively) human, and he’s juggling more complicated considerations. At the very least, there’s a kind of inner conflict. He has to think through a decision with no clear right answer…and whether you like this episode or not (trust me, I won’t think less of you for not) you have to admit this is a much stronger, smarter way to approach the question.

ALF’s instant moralizing in those episodes rang false at best, and were fucking grating at worst, because he’d shift all of a sudden from “destructive dickbag” to “Holy Space Christ who is so free from Earthly concerns that he is able to teach us the lessons we’ve sadly forgotten.” Then, of course, next week he’d be a destructive dickbag again.

You know what “Stayin’ Alive” says? It says that’s bullshit.

And it is. ALF isn’t some paragon of loving selflessness…he’s a bored little asshole. It’s not passion that causes him to latch onto a concern for the environment…it’s the fact that he has nothing else to fill his time. That’s why he no longer seems to care once Willie brings him one of those solar calculators the size of a business card with Sendrax written on it. ALF’s not dedicated to any cause…he’s just in desperate search of something to occupy his time. He’s distracted into caring about the environment, and just as quickly he’s distracted out of it.

It’s Willie who needs to make a stand…not ALF. And that does fucking wonders for this episode.

It’s still not good…but it’s far and away the strongest of ALF‘s didactic sub-series. And I think, therefore, it’s pretty instructive as well.

Anyway, Willie decides to tell Dan Castellaneta that ALF doesn’t need him; he can go do his stupid cartoon show nobody will ever watch.

ALF, "Stayin' Alive"

Willie gives a big speech full of OZONE FACTS and really hammers home the point that even a minor change in global temperature can spell the end of the world, but Castellaneta doesn’t give a shit; Sendrax fired him, and he’s on his way out.

His speech isn’t much more than a retread of the one we got before, but Castellaneta here is fantastic. He keeps trying to give Willie more Sendrax things (including pencils, paperclips, and his desk phone) before cheerily insisting, “Go on, take anything! I hate these people!”

In the mouth of anyone else on ALF‘s payroll, that line would have flopped. Castellaneta hits a fucking grand slam. It really goes to show what talent can do, even on a show like this.

ALF, "Stayin' Alive"

LOOK AT THIS GUY HE IS SO FUCKING GOOD

Seriously! Look at a screengrab and you can just tell he’s being funny. Like…actually funny. Not just making faces while a puppet looks at pornography.

Anyway, Castellaneta decides to do some good on his way out. He calls one of the Sendrax plants and tells them that the instruction to stop making CFCs came down from the top…so the plant stops making them.

…okay.

It’s…that easy, I guess? Factories must have just had a big switch on the wall, and prior to 1990, they were all set to “CFCs”. By 1994 (yes, ALF was four years ahead of its time on this) everyone started flipping them to “NO CFCs”.

What…was Sendrax making, anyway? I mean, overall. Was it just a CFC factory? Like…it was literally just making pollution?

Surely there was some product or service it was providing. If they all along had the technology — on hand and ready to go, as this suggests — to provide that same product or service without polluting as much, why didn’t they do that from the very start? It would have shut up this Gordon Shumway character, they wouldn’t have had to threaten massive legal action, and they wouldn’t have had to offer some stammering nobody a $75k job to keep him from making waves. Plus they could have had a surge of really awesome PR.

It’s just…weird. Everyone was clamoring for Sendrax to do something, which it turns out it can do in a matter of seconds with no loss of profit or efficiency, but instead the company knowingly made its own problem worse?

Ugh, who fuckin’ knows. Let’s go to Moe’s.

ALF, "Stayin' Alive"

Anyway, Dan Castellaneta tells Willie that within a few days the plant will realize there was no order from the top to cease making CFCs while they make whatever the fuck else they make, and they’ll start making them again.

…unless Willie contacts the media and spreads the story that Sendrax turned over a new leaf, effectively forcing their hand lest the public backlash get even worse.

It’s nice. It addresses one logistical concern here. Not nearly all of them, but one is about three more than ALF usually addresses, so, that’s nice.

Then Willie asks him if he was offered the job in order to buy his silence, or if they really thought he’d be a great asset to the Sendrax team. Dan Castellaneta says, “You’re a crack-addled putz. Stay away from my family.”

ALF, "Stayin' Alive"

In the short scene before the credits, Kate threatens to murder ALF with a meat mallet.

Really, she does.

I know I always make jokes about people killing ALF with a funny kitchen implement, but…

…fuck.

I…

I mean…fuck…

…the…the show actually made that same joke itself.

And last week, “Mr. Sandman” stole my thunder in joking about Lynn’s sex life. It…my joke…the…the things I invented, ALF invented, too.

I…

…this is like looking in the mirror and seeing that I’m covered in ALF merchandise.

I have more in common with my enemy than I think.

I just need to lie down.

…just…for a while…

Countdown to ALF getting sniped in front of the Tanners: 3 episodes

MELMAC FACTS: ALF has seen two planets destroyed. One was Melmac, obviously, but he doesn’t reveal the name or circumstances of the other. His explanation: “A guy has to have some secrets.”

—–
* You know what this footnote should say.

** I buy most of this exchange, but I’m really not sure why the guy abandoned his earlier “We’ll sue you to Kingdom Come” fallback. That was already sort of his escape hatch if palling around with Willie didn’t work…and now that it doesn’t work, he offers the guy a job instead. It’s…weird. But it’s also ALF.

Better Update Site

March 30th, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in Meta - (11 Comments)

Project: ALF

Just a quick post today to let you know that I’m not dead, haven’t lost interest in Better Call Saul, and will be live-streaming Project: ALF.

OKAY BYE

…so, anyway. No, I didn’t die or experience anything sad or tragic. I’ve been pretty busy, though, and my time has been limited by a few other projects and commitments. That’s why things are pretty quiet overall. Since we’re so close to the end, though, I figured I’d devote the time I do have to plowing through the remainder of ALF. That’s my priority, if only so I never have to watch the fucking thing again.

The Better Call Saul reviews will continue at some point fairly soon. If it makes you feel any better, I haven’t even had time to watch the show, so when I do pick the reviews back up they won’t be tempered by knowledge of what’s to come. In fact, you’ll be able to read them and see me as more of a dope than ever because you already know things pan out completely differently than I’m predicting. Go you! Thanks for your patience on those, by the way. I feel bad, because the show deserves attention that I just can’t give it right now. This will be rectified.

And, finally, the live stream of Project: ALF will happen after the season four bonus posts…which means it’ll be pretty soon. (The actual, written review of that film will post afterward.) Details to come, but get ready.

That will be the big finale to the ALF Reviews, so I hope you can join us for the stream. There will be live text chat, so you can make fun of it or make fun of me as you see fit.

In addition to Project: ALF I’ll stream a handful of episodes, just to warm up the crowd and give folks time to settle in. So, if you have any suggestions for what episodes to include, let me know! The sooner the better, because I’m going to edit this thing as far in advance as possible.

Thanks for sticking around. This site’s biggest project ever (past and future) is almost at an end. Thanks for giving me a reason to keep going.

And, seriously, suggest some ALF episodes you want to see in the stream. Because otherwise I’m just going to loop “You’re the One That’s Out of This World” for four hours.

ALF, "Mr. Sandman"

The size of last week’s guest cast list — and the pedigrees of its guest cast — meant I spent more time than usual clicking around IMDB to write the review. (Usually I just check to see if anyone’s done porn and jet.) While I was there, I happened to see a brief description of “Mr. Sandman.”

And, you know what? For the first time in I don’t know how long, I looked forward to an episode.

Really, I did. The summary — ALF and Willie get stranded in the desert — reminded me instantly of season two’s “Night Train,” which, at this point, is destined to be ALF‘s crowning achievement. (In second place: the National Enquirer‘s eternal hounding of Max Wright.)

So far, season four has been a big pile of shit. And please remember that this is coming from someone who already hated the fucking show by the end of the first episode. ALF started off pretty terribly…I adjusted to its astronomical crap-factor, and then it got significantly worse from there. As season four winds down it’s finding new (and somehow not creative at all) ways to get a thousand times more horrible than it’s even been in my worst nightmares.

But “Mr. Sandman” has a can’t-miss premise, and it’s the same one that drove “Night Train.” All it has to do is stick Willie and ALF somewhere, and see what they say to each other.

Granted, you’d be forgiven for thinking the answer will be “Not much.” After all, they aren’t characters. But “Night Train” convincingly portrayed them as characters, at least, even if very few of the other episodes even hinted in that direction. “Night Train” wasn’t just good by ALF standards; it was a solid episode of television. It’s the one you should show your friends if you want to trick them into thinking ALF was a great show, and it’s also the least ambitious episode imaginable. It’s two idiots in a traincar, passing the time until they can get off and go home.

And it’s great.

It forced the writers to have these two talk to each other. For once ALF couldn’t just do a soft-shoe in the living room while Willie made faces; they needed to keep each other company. And, therefore, the writers needed to think about what they’d say. They needed — at long last — to write.

“Mr. Sandman” has the same luxury. It’s not just a solid premise; it’s a premise the show has already proven it can pull off, in spite of hacky jokes, in spite of two leads who want nothing more than to gouge each other’s eyes out when the cameras stop rolling, in spite of every aspect of the production feeling like it was staged by The East Nowhere Middle School Players, “Night Train” worked. It found something it was good at…and then it did that thing.

So I’m setting “Mr. Sandman” up for failure, aren’t I? I’m not just saying it can be good…I’m saying it will inevitably be measured against the best episode this show’s ever done.

But…well…that can work in its favor; “Night Train” set the bar so high that “Mr. Sandman” could easily be worse, while still being miles better than most of the other crap this show’s done. To be honest, it could be one sixth the episode “Night Train” was and still end up high on my list of favorites. So, yes, I’m comparing it to the show’s lone evidence that it could have been great…but it’ll also be compared to the 90 episodes or so of total dreck that make up the rest of ALF. It can fail and still succeed.

“Mr. Sandman” has the virtue of a proven premise on its side. What it chooses to do with that…well, that’s up to the writers.

Also it’s episode 4-20 so smoke ’emmmmm

ALF, "Mr. Sandman"

This one starts out pretty well. Willie’s Aunt Pat — whoever the fuck that is — dies and leaves him his great grandfather’s old mining equipment. Who gives a shit, right?

Well, yeah. Right.

But it gives the family a chance to sit around interacting like a family. Brian and Eric are not invited, because even these assholes know what dead ends those characters are.

…speaking of which, where’s Neal? Doesn’t he care that his Aunt Pat is dead? Did anyone tell him? Does he not wish to paw through this stuff and share memories of her as well? Actually, has anyone even heard from Neal lately? And shouldn’t somebody be investigating that odd smell coming from his apartment?

Whatever. Point is, we get a nice scene in which Willie tries to get the family to understand the historical (and personal) value of this turn-of-the-century mining equipment, while Lynn and Kate have a hard time seeing it as anything more than beaten-up old junk. They banter together believably, each understanding the other’s perspective, but knowing it’s more fun to give them a hard time anyway.

At one point, ALF says, “Just think, Lynn. Some day, all this will be yours!” He laughs while delivering the line, which is something I’ve never noticed him do before. It’s just a small chuckle in the middle of a word, and I don’t think it was deliberate.

We’ve heard ALF joke around enough by now (more than enough) and the mid-word chuckle has never been a tool in his verbal arsenal, so I think Paul Fusco just enjoyed delivering the joke enough that it accidentally became part of the performance. Which I’m fine with, because it works, and it makes the scene feel that much more natural.

Anyway, Lynn finds a treasure map inside of an old canteen, which…yeah, that’s a pretty dumbass way of kicking off your plot unless you’re in an episode of Scooby Doo,* but the scene was good overall, the dynamic seems promising, and we already know the show can pull this off. I don’t care how clunky the setup is; it could honestly be as jarring as Brian running into the room and saying, “Dad! ALF! What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be lost in the desert this week.” I’d be perfectly fine with that.

In fact, the whole “shoddy setup / worthwhile payoff” thing carries just about through the episode. It happens enough to make it worth sticking with, but not enough to actually make it work overall. I don’t know. I can imagine some viewers being more forgiving of it than me. And, for probably the first time ever, I wouldn’t even blame them.

Also, before we dive into the episode proper, “Mr. Sandman” is the first in a series of episodes named after the characters from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. I look forward to the rest of the cycle, which includes “Don Flamenco” (Brian is kidnapped by the Spanish mafia), “Little Mac” (ALF founds a fast food restaurant to compete with McDonald’s), and “Bald Bull” (Mr. Ochmonek sustains a head injury and believes he’s a famous pornstar).

I hope you don’t mind me doubling back to make that joke. IT WAS WORTH IT.

ALF, "Mr. Sandman"

After the credits the family talks about the map for a while. Oddly, the show leans into the whole “X marks the spot” cliche. In fact, there is a big, intriguing X on the map, which they all assume means treasure is buried there. And they discuss this…while Lynn holds a magazine with a giant X on the cover so that the camera can see it. I kept expecting someone to make a joke about that, since it seems to so clearly be a deliberate setup to some kind of visual gag — or maybe ALF excitedly stabbing her to death with a shovel — but nothing happens.

Maybe there was a payoff cut in the editing room? It’s possible it’s just a coincidence, but I sure as hell don’t see magazines with the giant letter X littered around in other sitcoms, so I don’t think that’s likely. I dunno…it’s just odd to hear everyone talking about a big X while Lynn holds a big X and the two things have nothing to do with each other. It would be like Willie making a joke about maggots potentially getting in the house while the decomposing corpse of Lucky II is being actively eaten by maggots in the background.

Kate expresses skepticism about her real-life family discovering a cartoon treasure, which is her job as the only character on this show with two brain cells to rub together. ALF then declares that they cut her her out of the arrangement and split the gold four ways…or three, if they can “get rid of the kid.”

It’s not just me, right? Season four really is making a lot of jokes about how worthless a character Brian is. Kate tells ALF, “You’re not getting rid of any kid,” which makes sense in the context of the scene…and also the show as a whole. Maybe the writers at some point did pitch the idea of getting rid of Brian, and the network — or whatever producer was getting blowjobs from Benji’s mother — wouldn’t let them. That’d explain both why he’s hung around so long without having anything to do and why the frustration would finally be seeping through. The what-if-we-get-rid-of-him / no-you-aren’t-getting-rid-of-him exchange just feels too…honest, for lack of a better term.

So, whatever, nobody’s killing Brian, but we do have a treasure map.

What will they find? Probably nothing. That’s my guess. Or maybe they’ll find Grandpa Silas’ corpse there and ALF can have sex with it.

But, obviously, there will be no actual gold. And that’s okay. What’s more, I have to admit that I like that this plot is so flimsy.

Seriously. “Let’s go dig up some lost treasure” isn’t something you’ll hear anybody say in real life, but that’s what’s so refreshing about it. This is a show about a masturbating space hamster who lives in the laundry basket…it’s about fucking time we had an off-the-wall plot. Fuck the cat dying or Willie angling for a promotion or Kate reconnecting with college friends or Brian being trapped in a well for six weeks because nobody realized he was gone. Do something crazy, for fuck’s sake.

Wherever this goes, however it goes, I’m on board with this. We’re watching the most batshit insane sitcom in television history…and it’s finally loosening up. I’m all for everything about this.

Yes, give them a treasure map. And don’t stop there. Maybe ALF and Willie will disturb some old prospector’s ghost and have to spend the episode bringing his soul to peace. Maybe ALF will murder a highway patrolman and he and Willie have to find a spot in the desert to dispose of the body. Maybe they get out to where the X is and find a note that says DO NOT SEEK THE TREASURE, signed by alternate versions of ALF and Willie from the future!

Let’s go bonkers with a wackadoo plotline. Why not? The simple, stranded pairing of ALF and Willie means “Mr. Sandman” has every chance of being good, but even if it’s not it can at least be memorable.

ALF, "Mr. Sandman"

Willie gets so excited about the treasure that he makes the same face I make when toilet water splashes onto my butt.

The conversation goes a bit off the rails here…and that’s saying something, because it was already about Willie running off and digging up Curly’s Gold. ALF makes a joke he made in a previous episode that you can research yourself if you’re so fuckin’ interested, in which he says he checked his calendar and he’s free this weekend. But this time Lynn points out that they can’t go…it’s a three-day weekend and they’d planned a family trip to San Diego.

You know how sometimes you guys think I’m too hard on Willie, and try to defend him as a good guy? Well, this scene, in which he tells his daughter specifically to go fuck herself and his family in general to go fuck themselves, should be required viewing.

Seriously. Think about this dickery. Willie made plans with his family for one weekend out of the whole year. One specific weekend. He was taking them to San Diego, and they all counted on that, and didn’t make other plans. Why didn’t they make other plans? Because they’re not walking shitbags, like Willie here, who cancels on them at the last minute to go looking for imaginary treasure with his naked alien sidekick.

He doesn’t think twice. He could go literally any other time with ALF. Shit, he could take a day off of work and go during the week without inconveniencing his family one bit. Instead he cancels the only thing they’ve planned to do as a unit since…what? “Come Fly With Me”? To do something without them, which he could do at any other point in time.

He’s practically going out of his way here to upset them. It’d be like your father saying you’re not having a party for your tenth birthday, because he’d rather eat a cheeseburger. What the fuck kind of excuse is that? You do the thing you promised your family instead of the thing you can do any other god damned time.

Willie says they’ve been to San Diego, so there’s really no point going again. Which goes to show just how much this great social worker values quality time with his wife and kids.

Kate, exasperated, says, “Fine. This is the ninety-fifth episode of this shit that I’ve been in, and I’ve gotten my way exactly never. Just do whatever your dumb ass wants to do and I’ll sit here and keep the baby from dying.”

ALF, "Mr. Sandman"

The Tanners decide that it’s safer to pose in front of a big oil painting of the desert than it is to actually visit one.

I mean, okay. This show has a budget that couldn’t even stretch to include an official Noiseless Chatter mug, so I can’t be too hard on it for looking shitty. “Night Train” also looked shitty, and that didn’t hurt it any. It’s shitty writing, rather than set design, that really gets to me, and so far…we haven’t had much of that. Yeah, the treasure map is fucking dumb, and yeah, Willie was an asshole, and yeah, his family deciding to let him wander the desert with an intergalactic pederast is pretty absurd, but who cares. The plot needs to get moving somehow, and it brings us naturally to a really good joke:

Kate and the kids are about to leave these two assholes to their fates. Willie pulls out a compass and attempts to give them some idea of where Silas Tanner lived. He says the guy “lived two miles…two…miles…” and then turns the compass a bit, gives up, and finishes, “out there somewhere.”

It’s a good joke, and a fairly natural way of foreshadowing how ill-equipped these bozos are for the adventure they’re about to take. Of course, it’s ALF and Willie, and they’re ill-equipped to make fucking toast, but still, the show is trying. And it’s another good illustration of a clunky setup leading to a worthwhile payoff. I’ll take it.

Kate says goodbye, loads the kids into the car, and drives straight to wherever the fuck Joe Namath lives.

ALF, "Mr. Sandman"

Willie and ALF rearrange the styrofoam rocks and pretend to have walked for miles. There’s another good line when Willie tries to reassure him that they’re going the right way: “According to the map we went through Dead Man’s Gorge, we climbed up Dead Man’s Bluff, we turned left at Dead Man’s Canyon, so by process of elimination this has got to be Dead Man’s Rock.”

This show is garbage, don’t get me wrong, but every so often it contains a line I could imagine having written myself…and one I’d be proud of if I had. That’s one of them.

I really do like it, even if I think it plays better in print than it does verbally. Of course, if Max Wright is delivering your line, anything other than choking on a ping-pong ball is going to play better in print than it does verbally.

The big reveal here is that ALF drank all the water they brought. Which is…odd, because Willie is carrying all of the jugs and canteens. This means that…

1) ALF managed to get into the bags, pull out the water containers, empty them, and return them to the bags without Willie noticing, and

2) Willie somehow didn’t realize that the load he was carrying decreased by around 100 pounds.

The fuck, all around.

There’s a decent line when ALF tries to calm him down: “Oh, what’s the big deal? You’ve got a whole desert out here, for heaven’s sake!”

I think that joke works just fine on its own, but when they overtly explain that ALF has confused deserts and oceans…it still works for me. Sometimes (in fact, almost every time) explaining the joke ruins it. But here, perhaps just because of how long it takes to sink in for ALF, and the fact that even if he was confused he should have seen with his own eyes that he was mistaken….I don’t know. It still works for me.

I’m trying to rationalize a stupid thing that made me laugh so just ignore my rambling and appreciate with me the fact that we hit the act break on a high note.

Interestingly, this is another one of those rare episodes (like “Mind Games”) with significantly uneven acts. We end act one about eight and a half minutes into the episode, leaving around 15 minutes for act two. That’s a big difference, and I take it as a good sign…at least potentially. Now that all the setup is done, maybe we really will get to settle into a nice, natural groove for the rest of the episode.

Fingers crossed, guys. I need this.

ALF, "Mr. Sandman"

Fuck my needs.

Seriously, the first couple of minutes of act two are just Willie digging in the wrong place and ALF pointedly refusing to help him. Willie calmly — if not intelligibly — reminds ALF that since he drank all the water he should really be pitching in to help. ALF counters by being ALF.

It takes too long and does nothing but eat time…which is really worrying when we already know so much of the episode is left.

There’s a pretty okay bit when ALF eats bugs off a piece of wood — a cute nod to his resemblance to an aardvark — and he tries to justify it by saying he’s thirsty and he’s only sucking the moisture out of them.

But…you know what? This episode is starting to stink.

Lots of setup to get us into a great situation…which we immediately squander by having nothing happen.

ALF, "Mr. Sandman"

Granted, it’s not terrible, and that alone elevates it above (almost) everything else in season four. Really, it does. And “Mr. Sandman” deserves credit for that. I may never care to watch it again — scratch that, I will never care to watch it again — but grading on a curve does this one a world of good.

That’s admirable, in its own way. It means you don’t need to shift your entire worldview to see it as a good episode…you just need to squint a bit.

So what’s holding it back? A fun premise and an effective pairing…why isn’t it working? What did “Night Train” have that “Mr. Sandman” doesn’t have?

It’s hard to say…and at the same time, it’s not.

Hard to say, maybe, because they’re both episodes in which ALF and Willie are stuck somewhere and need to talk to each other, and there’s no reason that that basic premise can’t lead to two (or even 10) good episodes.

But it’s not hard to say, because it’s the difference in context that prevents it from mattering.

I understand that that’s a bit…odd to say. After all, what was the context of “Night Train”? Two idiots in a boxcar, waiting for the next station to come around. Those are the lowest of possible stakes. Sure, maybe somebody would see ALF when the train stopped, but that was never a concern within the episode, and it’s easy to assume Willie would have tossed his jacket over him and pretended it was his deformed son.

By contrast, “Mr. Sandman” has buried treasure at stake…along with dehydration, heat exhaustion, and being lost in the desert without anyone ever being able to find them. (Xeroxing the map for Kate would have been a smart idea, which is why nobody thought to do it.)

But with stakes raised on such a visceral level, the episode seems to think that it can coast on those, and as a result it doesn’t work as hard.

ALF, "Mr. Sandman"

After all, Willie could die. ALF could die. Stakes are naturally high, so…hey, we don’t need to do much but have them dig a bunch of holes and waste time.

In “Night Train,” by contrast, there was no danger, so the conflict had to come from the language. And it did. It was a conflict of self, with both ALF and Willie revealing more about who they are than they ever had before…and ever have since. ALF came to terms with the fact that he squandered much of his life anyway, so being trapped in a few rooms on Earth isn’t the downgrade he’d like to think it is. After all, he lost his planet for good before he ever got to truly live on it. Now he has a second chance to build a new life…and even if it’s not ideal, it’s an opportunity to do the things he missed out on the first time around. That’s meaningful to him…understandably so. It’s the possibility for rebirth among very literal death.

Willie as well has to face himself. (Face out, hold out, reach out to the truth of his life seeking to seize on the whole moment, to now…break…awayyyy…!) He spent the early part of the episode romanticizing his own past…and now that he’s reliving it, on the rails again, he realizes that he’s happy his life changed. Yes, he has a wife and kids and job now that, in a sense, hold him back…but in another sense, they give him something solid in life. They represent something he’s built. Something he wants. Something to miss when he’s off doing boneheaded things like this. The conflict for Willie was originally his lost sense of adventure, but it’s resolved by Willie realizing he’s happier now, and it was a more than fair trade.

So, yes, they both had individual journeys, but what’s best about it is that ALF and Willie were invested in each other’s journeys, without realizing it. ALF’s tall tales of space adventure made Willie feel insecure…which is why he shared his train-hopping past to begin with. That caused ALF to trick him into hopping a train…because ALF’s tales were lies. He made Willie feel dull, while at the same time being envious of him, because at least Willie’s small adventures really happened. They both have a reason to make this episode happen. Neither of them say, “Hey, look, a treasure map.” But they both say, “Damn, life used to be way better than it is now, huh?”

The train ride matters to both of them…which is why the episode’s seething frustrations and eventual camaraderie matter, too. There was an actual, identifiable, relatable journey there. The external stakes were low — again, there was no danger — but the internal stakes could not have been higher. And, watching, we felt that.

Here? In “Mr. Sandman”? Sure, ALF and Willie might die, so the external stakes are high…but internally, why does this matter?

ALF doesn’t care about the treasure. Willie doesn’t care about the treasure. Yes, finding treasure would change their lives, but this isn’t speaking to a large-scale dissatisfaction with who they are. This is just “Money would be nice…” and then some shitting around until the episode ends.

It’s the difference between two days in your own life. One day you think, “I don’t like that I’m broke. I wish I could win the lottery.” On a different day you think, “I don’t like who I am. I wish I was somebody else entirely.”

There’s a difference. You know it’s a significant one. I know it’s a significant one.

Applied to sitcom characters, each setup can lead to a good story. But one story affects the next half hour, while the other affects how we’ll view every half hour to follow.

ALF, "Mr. Sandman"

It’s tough. I really want to like “Mr. Sandman,” but it feels a bit…lazy to me.

Yes, I realize that every episode of this fucking show is lazy, but usually lazy means that the characters all sit in a circle and watch ALF do impressions for 22 minutes. Here we built a new set, explored Willie’s lineage, sent the two main characters out on a fun adventure…and then got lazy.

It was so close. I’ll even go as far as to say this is a great first draft.

But it’s not great TV.

We seem to draw near a nice shift in dynamic when Willie forces ALF to dig for a while. Willie’s upset, ALF’s being a dick, and, finally, they’re at each other’s throats…but it just turns into a joke about how quickly ALF gets (or pretends to get; it’s not clear) a blister.

Then Willie realizes that ALF is hotter than he is, thanks to his fur, and tells him to get in the tent and rest.

And that’s…it really. The tension just sort of went away rather than escalating or being dealt with, which is odd. It’s like one of the writers noticed the story going somewhere and said, “Whoa, get that out of there.”

The rest of the scene is just standard jokes about the map being upside down, digging in the wrong place, and — it pains me to report — ALF shitting noisily into a hole.

You wanted to know why “Mr. Sandman” never becomes “Night Train”? That’s why “Mr. Sandman” never becomes “Night Train.”

ALF, "Mr. Sandman"

We get a short scene of Kate, Lynn, Brian, and Balder Brian in a cabin.

Kate, apparently, has had a bad feeling all this time. She tells the kids to pack up so they can go rescue those two fuckers who can’t be trusted to cross the street on their own. The kids protest, though, with Lynn making some good points, including the fact that this is what Willie and ALF wanted. It’s a nice — if unexpected — bit of earned bitchiness from her. Those two assclowns robbed her of her vacation plans, so let them deal with their own consequences. She also mentions that nobody knows where those knuckleheads are, as Xeroxing the map would have been a smart idea which is why nobody did it.

It’s not an especially important scene, but it gives the other actors something to do, and both Kate and Lynn get some good material. Lynn’s protest is believable — she lost out on one vacation and she sure as hell doesn’t want to end this one just as she finally started enjoying it — and Kate’s “bad feeling” further positions her as the only true human being on the show. After all, if your doddering, elderly husband following a talking yam into the desert doesn’t give you a bad feeling, what kind of monster are you?

There’s an odd little bit of comedy that doesn’t quite work, with Lynn heading out to attend a frat party fuckfestival in a nearby cabin. I think we’re supposed to believe she’s still dating Robert, but I don’t see this as a continuity issue. I doubt mime sex is all that great. It’s probably just a lot of exaggerated gestures meant to represent finding the clitoris.

I know I make a lot of jokes about Lynn’s sex life, but this is probably the most overt an episode has ever actually been about her porkin’ side. She actually is going to a frat party to get railroaded by a bunch of strange guys she’ll never see again. So…

…huh. Either I was more insightful than I thought, or I’ve willed a demon to life. Either way her mother doesn’t give a shit.

ALF, "Mr. Sandman"

We now return to Willie and ALF in Desert Des-asters.

At some point while we were away, ALF saw what he thought was a plane, and so he started a signal fire. It was actually a vulture…and he ended up setting himself on fire. A very cartoony gag, but it’s cute enough, and like bananas in the coffee maker and skating rinks in the living room, it’s funnier to imagine than it ever would have been to see. It’s one of those times that the show’s low budget and logistical limits actually help to sell the comedy.

Honestly, if that were all that happened here I’d be perfectly happy, but it leads to another nice moment when ALF defends his actions by saying the vulture might return with help. “Yeah,” Willie replies. “More vultures.” Which I enjoy on at least two levels.

Credit where it’s due; this episode has a few pretty good gags.

ALF and Willie are both frustrated, and ALF — for once not being ALF — does attempt to salvage the situation. He says that they may not have food, water, or shelter (the latter two were destroyed in the fire), but they still have air…and each other.

Willie flashes him this look:

ALF, "Mr. Sandman"

…and ALF says, “Well, we have air.”

It’s not great stuff…but it’s good stuff. And God knows season four’s been short enough on that…

I think a major difference between this and “Night Train” is the fact that the tension between ALF and Willie fueled that plot, and informed the way they came to support each other. Here it’s just tension between ALF and Willie.

It’s funny, yes, it’s not as funny. Why not? Well, the personal stakes are lower, the emotional investment is nil, and there’s no sense worrying about whether or not they survive the ordeal because there’s no way next week’s episode stars two skeletons.

The tension in “Night Train” went somewhere. “Mr. Sandman” is content to just have tension.

And “Mr. Sandman” just about works on its own merits; I’ll give it that. But it also gets lost within its own shadow. It was capable of so much…which is why it’s frustrating that it settles for so little. Most episodes of ALF are a couple of rewrites away from being good. “Mr. Sandman” is a couple of rewrites away from being great, which makes it that much more frustrating to watch.

ALF, "Mr. Sandman"

ALF offers to cook dinner, but Willie reiterates that all the food is gone. Not all the food, though; ALF collected some “miniature desert lobsters.” He holds up a matchbox as evidence of this, and Willie scampers over excitedly…

…but I have no idea why. What the fuck did Willie expect them to be? Surely there wasn’t going to be anything worth eating in there. Why was he interested? Why was he so quick to grab the matchbox and clutch it to his chest like it was going to save them? I know he’s hungry, but he should know it has to be full of bugs or some shit. Jesus, even if he did think ALF managed to hunt and kill something, it’s not going to fit in a matchbox unless it’s bugs, Willie you fucknut.

Sure enough, it’s scorpions. Willie tells this to ALF, and ALF says, “They were all born in the same month? What are the odds?”

You know…okay, this is no “Night Train.” But that was funny. Again, clunky setup, but the punchline was cute.

If you look at “Mr. Sandman” as that episode’s comic inverse…it carries its weight pretty well. Pretty well, but not exactly successfully. And that’s the main problem here; it’s not what it so nearly was. For some folks out there, that’s enough. Again, I wouldn’t blame them. For me?

Ugh…just tighten the nuts a little bit more and we would have had such a smooth ride.

Muddle through the shitty setups, and you’re rewarded with some decent payoffs. That’s the mantra that will carry me through “Mr. Sandman.”

Such as when ALF hallucinates a bunch of shit, and drones on endlessly about a couple stealing their cooler and asking a lifeguard if they can move closer to the water and stuff like that. It’s not funny at all, but it introduces us to a slightly crazed ALF who digs tirelessly when Willie falls asleep, and…

ALF, "Mr. Sandman"

Come on. That looks like shit, yes, but it’s funny. And it’s such an unexpected angle for the show that I need to give it credit. This is a shot that took some effort. And I laughed.

Anyway, ALF dug through some wooden planks thinking he found Silas Tanner’s vault, but plummeted down into some water.

So, yeah, there was no gold. Ol’ Silas found an underground reservoir or something, and that’s what he marked on the map.

It’s…an okay resolution. We all knew ALF and Willie wouldn’t get rich from this gambit, but the reveal of the aquifer, or whatever it is, comes so close to the end of the episode that there’s nothing the writers can really do with it.

ALF, "Mr. Sandman"

Just kidding. They do one thing with it: a number one. ALF pisses in the water so Willie can’t drink it. So…huh. I figured the discovery would be what prevented them from dehydrating…so, y’know, it’d be one of those “we didn’t get what we wanted but we got what we needed” endings.

But it’s not.

ALF just pissed in it.

That’s it.

There’s literally nothing else to it.

That’s the punchline of the entire episode.

Remember “Night Train”? Of course you do; I’ve been talking about it for the past 6,000 words. Remember ALF and Willie looking into the sky, wishing on shooting stars? Remember ALF wishing he had his planet back? Remember Willie bringing him beans at the end? Remember them singing “The City of New Orleans” together?

Well, here ALF pees.

You watched 22 minutes of buildup to ALF taking a leak.

Even if you look at “Mr. Sandman” as the comic inverse of that better episode, I think it’s fair to say that it disappoints. It’s one thing to chuck out the emotion in favor of the comedy, but if you do that, I’d expect to be left with something funnier than this. In other words, yes, we chucked the emotion, but we didn’t add more comedy to fill the void. It’s just the same amount of comedy spread over a larger surface.

And, come on, even if you love this one you have to admit that surely there could have been a punchline to this experience that wasn’t squeezed through ALF’s urethra.

On the bright side, at least the writers refused the temptation to make a joke about them finding a river of gold.

ALF, "Mr. Sandman"

In the short scene before the credits, we learn that Kate went to get them early after all. How she found them without the map — which was the whole reason she couldn’t go in her previous scene — is never addressed.

What is addressed is that some coyotes came and pissed on ALF, and he retaliated by pissing on them. In case you were disappointed that the episode built to only one urination joke, I guess.

“Mr. Sandman” wasn’t horrible. By season four standards…it was pure gold. B-)

…sorry.

I know I say this a lot, but, man, this one could have been something. And while my reluctance to engage with it as purely comic — as opposed to the multi-faceted “Night Train” — undoubtedly hurt my enjoyment of it, I can say it still wasn’t funny enough to coast entirely on its gags anyway.

It genuinely had its moments, and I appreciate those. It had a fun premise, and I appreciate that. But it was still lazy and padded, and respected its audience only to whatever degree was necessary to give them three piss jokes instead of one.

Honestly, I get the sense that this could have been a great episode in season two, or even season three. Back then, as odd as it feels to say, I think somebody would have put forth the extra effort to make it something special. After all…it was so close.

But by season four, the cast is burnt out, the writers are burnt out, the production crew is burnt out, and everybody’s just waiting to go home for the last time. It’s a lot like “Make ‘Em Laugh” in that regard; it’s an idea that earlier in the show’s life received a lot more care and attention, and was better served for it. Now it’s a matter of ticking the boxes, meeting the minimum required effort, and dragging ALF one episode closer to its termination point.

I can’t blame them. If I’m this spent just from watching the show I can’t imagine how exhausted I’d be from making it.

But it’s disappointing, because this is what’s left. This is all we see now. Nobody who discovers the show today cares that ALF was almost over at this point; they just want the episodes they’re watching to be funny. That’s our only expectation this far down the line. Backstage turmoil and politics and frustrations don’t matter; it’s the quality of the work that endures or does not.

So, no, I can’t blame the show for not finding gold this late in the game. But I can still be disappointed that it didn’t…because as much as I hate ALF, it would have been nice to see it demonstrating one last flash of potential this close to the end. One final assurance that, in another place and time, ALF might have worked.

Oh well.

We’ll always have “Night Train.”

Countdown to ALF being put to sleep in front of the Tanners: 4 episodes

MELMAC FACTS: Willie’s great grandfather was a prospector named Silas Tanner, and he died in 1897. Odd that we still don’t know his father’s name, or even if he’s alive. Willie’s Aunt Pat is also dead, as of sometime before this episode. ALF’s great uncle Louie-Louie was a prospector, and started the great Foam Rush of ’08. The year could either be evidence that Melmac’s calendar is further along than ours (this episode aired in 1990), that Louie-Louie was extremely old, or both. Melmac’s economy was based on “the foam standard,” which is a fucking lie because “Baby, You Can Drive My Car” taught us that their economy was based on lint. “Stupid” on Melmac was slang for someone who was rich. ALF is a drone alien, not a worker alien, and he was known on Melmac as The Whizz Kid. URINATION.

—–
* The show is admirably savvy about this, with ALF excitedly comparing the situation to ones you see in cartoons. Kate replies, “Life doesn’t imitate cartoons. Well, other people’s lives don’t.” This is the kind of meta-awareness you see in shows constantly today, but at the time this would have been a pretty rare kind of joke for a network sitcom, and Schedeen’s delivery, as ever, saves it from sounding lazy. Yes, the writers may have taken the easy way out with their plot, but Kate — the character Kate — has a reason to respond this way within the show’s universe, and that makes it feel, shockingly, real.

The Venture Bros., "Red Means Stop"

Another season down, and while I wouldn’t call this experiment a failure, I look forward to a much more traditional season to follow. It was ambitious, but I don’t know that the ambition really came to anything.

I’ve been down on season six as a whole, and I know that. But it’s mainly because the one-long-story device meant that things were elevated to “important” status which wouldn’t have been otherwise. When you’re watching everything unfold over a (relatively) unbroken period of time, you’re going to see a lot of stuff happening just because the camera is already there. In a standard half-hour show you’ll only see things for good reason; there’s not time to dawdle. Here we saw entire plots — or what seemed to be plots — come to nothing, presumably just because we were hanging around while they happened.

For instance, the Science Now conference. We were led to believe Dr. Venture’s reveal of a new invention was of prime importance to him…but by the end of the season the conference doesn’t even happen. There’s Dean attending school…which led to nothing apart from the fact that we can now type “There’s Dean attending school.” Hank’s courtship of Sirena fared much better, but still hasn’t led anywhere. It’s been all setup. Largely good setup…but setup all the same.

The new characters were almost uniformly a bust. Of the mess of them introduced in “Hostile Makeover,” only Warriana made an impact. (More on her later). And one-off villains like Harangutan and Think Tank were almost daring in how thinly they were drawn. Wide Wale was probably the worst and most confusing of the bunch, as I still have no fucking idea what he’s doing.

He’s this season’s big bad…except that he isn’t, and he’s just kind of wading around, hoping Jackson or Doc figure out something for him to do. But we’ve had a whole season to figure it out and we still don’t know why he was driving a wedge between The Monarchs, or to what end, why he cared about arching (and then not arching) Dr. Venture, whether the murder of his brother plays into this, or…anything, really. The show went out of his way to establish him as an important character, and then did literally nothing with him. If season seven opened with him falling out a window to his death, I can’t imagine it’d register as any kind of loss.

The disappointing new characters are made more disappointing by the established characters we don’t get to see. No Orpheus, no Triad, no Impossibles, no Molotov…these are rich characters that, to varying degrees, we care about. To say we can’t cycle in new characters would be insane, especially as we have Red Death, Warriana, and, to a lesser extent, Sirena to prove that Jackson and Doc can still give us great new creations on a near-regular basis. It’s just that most of the new creations weren’t great, and the absence of other characters we love is too clearly felt.

Having said all of that, “Red Means Stop” was a lot of fun. And it was pretty good. Between this, “Maybe No Go,” “It Happening One Night,” and “A Party for Tarzan,” I’d say half of the season was solid.

The problem comes from the fact that the format — the lack of a proper structure, and, in many cases, the complete lack of payoff — hamstrung the rest of the episodes, and I really hope we’re done forcing everything in a single narrative that doesn’t actually go anywhere. Keep the Ventures in New York; I’m okay with that. But please return to a format more suited to weekly installments.

Okay, have I bitched enough about a show I love?

Good. Let’s get into the good stuff season six did, which, fortunately, ties pretty tightly into what “Red Means Stop” does.

For starters, I think the season absolutely nailed Gary’s emotional journey. Like so much else it lacked a resolution, but unlike so much else it brought us to a very intriguing place, and I’m very excited to see what the show does with it.

While it was his idea to pull this whole Blue Morpho stunt in the first place — a fact The Monarch reminds him of this week, for maximum needling — he’s gotten gradually more implicated in these deaths, against his own wishes. He started by accidentally killing somebody (importantly, it happened in the service of actual good, as he rescued Billy) and moved on to deliberate, premeditated murder.

…at least, that’s what The Monarch expected of him last week. Kidnap The Wandering Spider, take him out to the Pine Barrens, force him to place a call that would establish The Monarch’s alibi…and then execute him. Gary wasn’t happy about this…and he may not have even killed the guy. We saw him burying something, but it could have just been The Wandering Spider’s gadgetry. Gary likely found a way to do his boss’s bidding — and take a supervillain out of the game — without getting blood on his hands.

But, hey, “Red Means Stop” twists again. Uncomfortable with murder, Gary’s instead been kidnapping villains and keeping them locked away in the Morpho Cave. A much more humane way of eliminating their competition…

…except that it isn’t. The Saw homages were…well, I’ll be honest here: I liked the episode as a whole, but the Saw homages were little more than Saw homages. I didn’t see much of an interesting spin on them, even if I loved the fact that Gary unwittingly became a Jigsaw figure. He didn’t mean to hurt anybody. At all. He meant to keep them locked away, yes, but he thought he was keeping them fed and safe. His intention was to not kill them, and he ended up creating for them a much more harrowing, awful, torturous end than a straight murder would have been. In attempting to be a good guy, he became a worse guy.

The Venture Bros. has been fairly cruel to its characters before, but never — to my knowledge — had it gone quite that far into hopeless darkness. It’s impressive that so much Saw made it into The Venture Bros. without being significantly softened…but it’s still just Saw, with the worst things happening off camera.

But, man…that look on Gary’s face at the end…when he realizes not only that he’s killed again, but that he did the worst thing imaginable to people he never intended to hurt…

It reminded me of that incredible moment in “Return to Malice,” when he’s explaining to Hank and Dean why he’s on the warpath. He describes the circumstances surrounding the unforgivable murder of 24, only to realize in the process of speaking the words that he is responsible. He is the reason 24 died.

His face falls. His narration stops. He never meant any harm…but he caused harm. He’s been affected by that realization ever since.

And now he has more, worse unnecessary death on his conscience.

I don’t know where his character is going next. But he’s on a journey, and it’s potentially a great one. Does this push him over the edge, or make him shrink back? I honestly have no idea. Does anyone out there have any predictions?

Also, out of curiosity: do we think The Wandering Spider was in that room? I’d just imagined the guy walking home in the moonlight, glad to be alive, unseen during the conclusion of “A Party for Tarzan,” escaping into a second chance at life while we watched Dr. Venture escape into his own. But now I wonder if Gary tossed him in there instead, only for the guy to be partially devoured by an insane Maestrowave.

The sheer (suggested) violence and brutality of those scenes was interesting. This is a show that usually softens its blows with comedy, but there was no redeeming punchline for those poor villains…just the reveal that the craziest of them was dealt the longest chain. Death happens on this show, but rarely has a character’s end been so ruthlessly awful. So, yes, I liked the Saw stuff, even though I really wish it was more than just Saw stuff.

Speaking of “Just _____ Stuff,” Red Death repeating Liam Neeson’s Taken monologue word for word (as far as I could tell, anyway) was pretty disappointing. Once again, it was just “Here’s what happened elsewhere” with no interesting spin. That’s a shame, because, man, you’ve heard that speech often enough that you really need something extra to justify another reprise.

Instead it’s just Red Death repeating something he heard in a movie, I guess. And then Gary identifies it for us, which means these characters have seen Taken and we can’t really fall back on this being a fun coincidence.

It’s disappointing, because Doc Hammer is a strong enough writer that he could have given us a speech like that one which was more true to the character and the situation than one lifted wholesale from somebody else’s work. (Compare this to Hank’s Bull Durham speech in “It Happening One Night.” That had a recognizable origin as well as Venture-specific execution.)

Instead we have The Monarch and Gary terrified by a speech that’s been repeated so often it’s no longer terrifying. Give us something better than that. Jackson and Doc (as both writers and performers) are better than that. Clancy Brown as Red Death was terrifying, so it’s crazy to me that they didn’t believe in him or the situation enough to give him — and themselves — something original to work with.

There was a lot to love here, though, not the least of which being returns from Hunter and Shore Leave. (I fucking love Shore Leave.) The Guild / OSI teamup was great without being especially eventful, and it was sad to see both organizations turning their backs on former member Hatred so flatly. It was a good kind of sadness…the kind only a show like this, with such long and complicated interlocking histories for its characters can pull off. And we got to see Snoopy again, which was nice. (I fucking love Snoopy.)

Wrapping the whole thing up — this dangerous encounter with a truly dangerous villain — by having a few bad guys sit around and talk about their feelings gave this away as a Doc Hammer episode in the best possible way. It was a great ending, and while it lacked the punch of Gary’s arc, The Monarch is left in a really interesting place as well. Red Death doesn’t tell him to chill the fuck out and live life for a while…he tells him to burn Venture to the ground and crush his skull. And then chill the fuck out and live life for a while.

Red Death has found peace. Not as a villain, but as a human being. (If…that’s…what he is…) He’s been freed from genuine hatred and obsession simply because he killed what he hated and obsessed over. Now he can divide his professional life from his personal life…and everybody’s happier for it. He has a loving family, a great home, and can arch one night a year. For a horrifying demonic soul-stealing beast, he’s got his shit together.

The question is…will The Monarch get his shit together the same way?

Season six wasn’t great. It pains me to say that, but it’s true. The experiment dealt this stretch of episodes more handicaps than opportunities, but, on the whole, I think it made good on the opportunities it did have.

But, damn, I’m really looking forward to a more traditional season seven.

For now, just a few stray observations and talking points:

Warriana is great. Period. I love her character, and she’s yet another addition to The Venture Bros.‘ commitment to creating strong, well-rounded females. (They peaked with Dr. Girlfriend, but, man, any show would peak with Dr. Girlfriend. And I don’t think they’ve whiffed on any of them outside of Dr. Quymn.) She’s a great foil to Brock in a way similar to — yet distinct from — Molotov, and part of me is very excited by the prospect of the latter resurfacing in Brock’s life…now that he has a healthier relationship with the former. What an incredible conflict that could be.

Also, I’m pretty disappointed that Brock’s propensity for distraction didn’t come into play. It’s happened enough that I thought it was intentional, but the last few episodes just sort of ignored it entirely. (Granted, the guy was barely in last week’s.) I still wonder if that’s building toward some kind of payoff, or if it’s just an accident of the writing.

“Red Means Stop” also gave us a fun addition to the roster of Venture legacy titles: Scamp. Prior to this season I think we only had Captain Sunshine and Wonderboy being identities that are passed down through the generations. More recently, of course, we added Blue Morpho and Kano to that mix. Now we have Scamp. And it’s kind of adorable (in…y’know…a tragic way) that even dogs in this world have legacy titles. God knows how many Scooby-Doos Shaggy and the gang went through…

And, man, Action Man is a fucking dick, isn’t he? Not that we couldn’t have concluded that earlier, but…man. Prior to the whole grenade flashback and discussion of him killing a baby — he claims it was a werewolf…or at least an ocelot — I would have been hard pressed to decide who was worse for young Rusty to hang around with: him or Colonel Gentleman. Now I think it’s Action Man by a mile. Colonel Gentleman is no prince, but I think he’s out of his mind in a much less destructive way. Kind of makes you wonder why he made him Hank’s godfather.

Finally, we can piece together a little more about the fate of The Monarch’s father: evidently Jonas was busted up about his death, so it’s less likely that he killed the guy himself. Reanimating him as Vendata could even have been an act of supreme grief rather than hubris.

You know, that whole character’s development is pretty interesting, as first he was just a silhouette on the Council of 13. Later Jackson and Doc needed a face for him, so they retconned him into Vendata. Now we’re learning more about The Monarch’s father, so we again reimagine him as The Blue Morpho. By no means am I complaining, mainly because the revisions of the character have been handled so smoothly and intriguingly, but I find it interesting how much effective mileage they’ve gotten from somebody who literally began as a shape.

Oh wait, finally for real this time: Dr. Venture remembers Kano as his father’s mute bodyguard. In “O.R.B.” we learned that Kano’s silence was penance for taking from this world “a great man.” At the time we and Brock concluded he meant Jonas Sr. But now we know for sure that he was mute when Rusty was still a boy. Whose life did he take? Was it the original Blue Morpho?

Lots of questions, fewer answers, in true Venture Bros. tradition. In the same tradition, we now wait.

And wait.

And wait…

ALF, "When I'm Sixty-Four"

We made it to the final DVD in the ALF box set! At long last, the end is in sight. We can do this. Right? There’s no way they saved the best for last — I realize that, believe me — but no matter what they throw at us, we will be able to limp past the finish line. We must be able to. We came this far…surely we can delay suicide for another six weeks. (I plan on committing it sometime during the Project: ALF livestream.)

This one is a Valentine’s Day episode…which is fine. Yes, we already had one of those, but that was about everyone pressuring Kate Sr. to spread her legs for some asshole she just met, so I’m perfectly happy for the show to take a different swing at it.

We open with Willie hanging up the phone and saying “Congratulate me” to his wife, which I like to think laid the sad and pathetic groundwork for Jeb Bush imploring his audience to “Please clap.”

It turns out that Willie managed to snag dinner reservations at a place called Emilio’s, and they talk for a while about how lucky they are, since it’s Valentine’s Day and all. I’ve got news for you: if you waited until Valentine’s Day and still got reservations, Emilio’s has a drive-thru.

You know, and, come on…why the fuck did Willie wait until Valentine’s Day to make reservations? What is it with this guy not doing anything for his wife ahead of time? A couple weeks ago he didn’t know what to get Kate for their anniversary…and by the end of that episode, he still didn’t get her anything. ALF just renewed their vows, which thematically fits just fine, but which logistically makes it look like Willie banked on the situation to distract everyone from the fact that he didn’t do anything himself. Thank god the guy didn’t have to be thoughtful. Making Willie show compassion must be like making a vampire drink holy water.

Now he can redeem himself a bit with some romantic Valentine’s plans…but he doesn’t bother trying to plan anything until 5:30 on the very night they’re supposed to be going out. What the hell is this guy’s problem? Divorce his sorry ass, Kate. I’ll marry you. Trust me, I’m a dickbag, too, but I’ll at least pretend to care about our relationship.

Thinking on it, that’s some more timeline shenanigans, too, I guess. Two weeks ago it was their anniversary…and while we don’t know the date of their wedding, we do know their honeymoon was in July. But now it’s February 14. So I guess that means they got married in January or something, but didn’t take their honeymoon for six months?

I’m sure that happens in real life. It’s probably more common that couples take their honeymoons quickly, but I can imagine plenty of reasons that it might be delayed substantially. Based on the shit I’m seeing here, though, I think it’s more likely that Willie just didn’t bother to plan a honeymoon until half a year after they were married. He’s a real catch.

Anyway, hearing that it’s Valentine’s Day makes ALF sad, so he waxes uninterrupted about wanting someone to fuck.

Yes, he goes on at great lengths about wishing his barbed Melmacian cock could slip up some poor, anonymous woman’s snatch for just one night, and he says this while sitting naked on the living room carpet with three people staring blankly at him because they have no lines.

Cupid, draw back your bow!

ALF, "When I'm Sixty-Four"

After the credits, ALF makes a joke about Willie shitting his pants. Great start.

Together they look at a newspaper and talk about how Louise Beaumont, some old film star, moved into the neighborhood. Is that news? Celebrities buy places in and around Denver all the time, but I’ve never seen a newspaper headline that said STAR OF ______ LIVES HERE NOW. And this is just dumbass Denver. Imagine fucking Los Angeles, where stars basically live by default. The hell kind of newspaper is this?

Ugh, fuck this show. Let’s see if we can identify that Kool-Aid juice box ALF has…oh. It’s Purplesaurus Rex.

That didn’t distract from the episode as long as I’d wished it would.

Like, honestly, I saw the dinosaur and immediately thought “Purplesaurus Rex.” I looked it up to make sure that was actually its name…and I was kind of dismayed to find out that it was. That fucker is obviously a brontosaurus…so where does the “rex” come from?

Ugh, fuck this juice.

ALF, "When I'm Sixty-Four"

Willie and Kate leave, mentioning that they’re taking Eric to a sitter. Which is a pretty good logistical solution to the problem raised in “Baby, Come Back,” I admit. You don’t need to buy a babysitter’s silence after a night of being sexually tormented by a puppet…you just take the baby somewhere else.

But it does raise the question of where Lynn and Brian are. Sure, it’s Valentine’s Day so Lynn’s probably got mime makeup all over her inner thighs about now, but Brian? Is he already hanging around with Jimmy the Gent’s niece?

I’m noticing this because someone mentioned a while back that this is the only episode in which Lynn and Brian don’t appear. I think that’s wrong, though…I seem to recall Brian missing from a previous episode. Fucked if I’ll ever be able to remember which one; the kid might as well be played by a hat rack.

It’s definitely noteworthy that Lynn’s not in this one, though. She usually gets something to do in every episode, so the fact that she doesn’t appear at all is meaningful. You know. As far as anything related to ALF can be meaningful.

ALF spanks off to the newspaper a few more times, and then decides to sneak off to the retirement home and visit Louise, because of course he does. A few days ago I heard a recent interview with Paul Fusco, which was a solid half hour of decades-late damage control. He seems to think the cast should be grateful to have worked on the show that systematically destroyed each of their lives. He’s a great guy, that Fusco. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s just ALF without a cuddly exterior.

Anyway, he mentioned at one point that he was very careful about which characters got to see ALF, because it was important to the premise of the show that he was kept secret from as many folks as possible.

…and we know full well that’s bullshit.

Literally every recurring character apart from Mr. Ochmonek saw ALF. Seriously, Mr. Ochmonek was the only fucking one. And nearly all the one-off characters saw him, too. Now he’s about to go to a retirement home and meet a boat load of new ones.

So my fucking ass, Fusco, that you were selective about who saw ALF and who didn’t. I think they were “selected” on the grounds of whether or not you were cutting them a check. If you had to pay them, they’d better damned well stand still and listen to ALF perform a monologue.

ALF, "When I'm Sixty-Four"

ALF pokes around the outside of the retirement home for a while, dressed as Trayvon Shumway. While he’s out there George Zimmerman and some other unseen nobody shout to each other about the hideous beast they just saw…so, yeah. Fusco was so careful about who got to see ALF that two people without names or faces just saw him for no reason at all. They talk about murdering ALF in cold blood, just to get my hopes up.

Our alien hero stands around and babbles to himself for a while, because if this episode just featured things that happen it would be around 12 seconds long. When he’s jacked off enough to the sound of his own voice, he runs into the retirement home and some old people look at him.

You know.

Because of how selective the show was about THIS SHIT THAT HAPPENS EVERY WEEK.

ALF, "When I'm Sixty-Four"

In a nice bit of real-world resonance, the old folks at home are actually actors who have had long and varied careers. If you check out their filmographies you’ll find loads of parts in high and low profile productions spanning decades, and I think it was kind of cool of ALF to actually cast actors with such rich histories in a story like this. They were never huge celebrities or anything, but it’s a cute touch, and I like the fact that they bothered to find people with actual showbiz pedigrees. Like, I really do. It melts even my evil heart.

The woman on the left is Amzie Strickland, who has over 260 credits on IMDB, and who has a rad name like Amzie. She’s been in The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show*, and, most significantly for ALF, The Bob Newhart Show. Eric Christmas is in the center, with around 130 credits and a rad last name like Christmas. He had a recurring role as Father Barry on Cheers, and other regular parts in Wiseguy and The Sandy Duncan Show. On the right is Phil Leeds, who I feel like I’ve seen in everything. Seriously, the guy has a very familiar face, but I can’t pinpoint what I know him from best, because he has almost 120 credits, including a role in the Spanish Inquisition sequence of History of the Word: Part I.

Season four has really increased the number of actors who worked with both Paul Fusco and Mel Brooks. Prior to this I think we just had Cleavon Little, right? Now we have Phil Leeds, Mark Blankfield, and Jim J. Bullock. Am I missing any others? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I find it morbidly interesting that any actor should have to slip from working with Mel Brooks to working with Paul Fusco.

ALF, "When I'm Sixty-Four"

I might as well think about that for a bit, because God knows none of this other crap deserves my consideration.

The old people talk on and on about whether ALF is a talking dog or who gives a shit. Then one of them suggests that ALF might an alien, and the other old guy says, “Buenas noches!”

That’s…okay. It’s only the second time to my knowledge that the dual meanings of “alien” come into play, and there have been far stupider jokes on this show…but unfortunately it’s the runaway highlight of this scene. As a lesser joke in a better show, it would be fine. As the high water mark…sweet jesus.

The old people talk for a while about Cocoon, and whether or not ALF will make them young. Joke’s on them; all he does is make fun of their poor hearing, their fragility, their clothes, their impotence, their living situation, their poor memories, their odors, their need for medication, their poor vision, and the fact that everyone they’ve ever loved is dead.

What a guy!

ALF asks to see Louise Beaumont, but the old people tell him to suck their saggy sex organs. He then reminds them that the show is called ALF, not Elderly Actors We Could Replace in a Heartbeat, and they agree to take him to her room.

ALF, "When I'm Sixty-Four"

Louise Beaumont is reading Hollywood Babylon, and I’m pretty sure that’s the first real book cover we’ve seen on this show.

I’ve never read it, but it was a pretty notorious book that was at one point banned for reasons of basic human decency.

Seriously. That sounds like a joke, but I’m not kidding. Its big selling point was that it spilled dirt on Hollywood stars spanning every era of film history, but it was poorly researched at best…and knowingly made up at worst. It misrepresented and outright invented scandals for the sake of selling copies, and it was a tactic that, sadly, worked.

That was far from the worst of it, though; Hollywood Babylon contained actual photographs of the dead bodies of celebrities, including Jayne Mansfield and Lewis Stone, against the wishes of their families. It was, unquestionably, awful stuff.

So, yeah, it’s a pretty gross thing to read, and here’s Louise Beaumont flicking herself off to it. What an odd bit of unintentional characterization. (Maybe it’s a good thing they keep taking the dustjackets off of whatever Willie and Kate are reading in bed. God knows what horrific shit the props department would stick them with.)

Anyway, ALF comes in and she immediately tells him to go fuck himself.

So, you know what? She might like looking at unethical photographs of dead bodies, but I’d get along more easily with her than with anyone else who’s ever been in this crap.

ALF, "When I'm Sixty-Four"

Back in the dayroom, some night attendant or whatever comes in, and ALF hides. The night attendant talks about how he’s fucking the tits off a hot chick in the other room, so all these old people better tell their jokes about being old people quietly.

ALF returns with a thermometer in his mouth and says, “A hundred and fourteen point eight. Perfect!” But way back in “Help Me, Rhonda” we learned that 425 degrees was a healthy temperature for Melmacians. Granted, 114 makes a lot more sense (ALF would literally cook everything and everyone he touches if he really were 425 degrees) but for as little as we’ve learned about this fucker, can’t the writers keep something straight?

Anyway, if you guessed that the whole reason any of that happened was so ALF could stick a rectal thermometer in his mouth and make a joke about eating old people’s feces, then congratulations; you’re one with ALF‘s philosophy on act breaks.

ALF, "When I'm Sixty-Four"

After the break we get an establishing shot of the nursing home, which hilariously zooms in to a second floor window when we already learned that the room we’re in is on the ground level.

ALF and the old folks are playing poker, and he bitches about how they’re not enjoying life. You know, like he does when he jacks off into that little gap between the couch cushions.

He tries to get them to do something fun, and offers to take them up to the roof and show them where he comes from. Which sure would be interesting, since the planet doesn’t exist anymore, even if Melmac had been somehow visible from Earth.

The old woman says, “This isn’t just a trick to use us as sex drones to repopulate your planet?” Huh. It’s rare that a character makes my joke for me, but I’ll take it.

Anyway, he keeps trying to talk them into going outside and seeing something of the world around them, which is pretty funny since just one episode ago he was being a dick to elderly Willie who just wanted to look out the window.

You’ve got to love how much better ALF treats complete strangers than the guy who’s gone to prison multiple times on his behalf.

ALF, "When I'm Sixty-Four"

ALF tries to get Louise Belmont to join them on the roof, but she won’t even look at him. Man…what a pro. Now I want to track her down in a nursing home and show my appreciation, too.

He feeds her some bullshit for a while, and she tells him to fuck off again.

He tries to let her know that he understands what it’s like to live an exciting life one day and be stuck within four walls the next, but she doesn’t want to hear his story. Great choice, Louise. You’re too old to sit through 500 fucking fantasy episodes about running for president and meeting Elvis.

Then there’s some sad music while ALF tells her that meeting her is still one of the happiest moments of his life and I guess it’s touching to her. But come on. If you were sitting alone in your room and some hideous, pantsless monster waddled in and asked to take your picture, would you be touched or would you beat it to death with your Hollywood snuff book?

Louise Beaumont is played by Frances Bay, who was in loads of things and went on to play Aunt Ginny on The Middle a few years ago. She also played Mrs. Choate in a few episodes of Seinfeld, so this crap was nowhere near the end of her filmography. Good for her. She and the midget are the only ones who managed to escape the career-crushing gravitational collapse of ALF.

Oddly, the IMDB credits for this episode are screwed up; nobody is credited as Louise Beaumont at all, and Bay is credited as playing someone named Virginia Russell. The episode itself credits her correctly, though, so I assume ALF has melted brains all over the internet.

Anyway, the old people come in and announce that they heard the night watchman getting a noisy BJ, so they’re free to go on the roof.

ALF, "When I'm Sixty-Four"

There’s a bunch of boring shit with the old people just standing and looking, like a bunch of crippled Rory Calhouns. I do like the detail — which you can barely see in the screengrab — of the retirement home still having its Christmas lights up. That’s a great, unspoken, sad little joke that I really enjoy. Even when ALF lights them up later, it feels like a subtler, smarter touch than anyone involved with this show usually gives it. And I appreciate that.

Then we get a legitimately great joke. Really, we do! The olds remind him to show them where he’s from, and he points. Then he says, “Yep, right there. See? It’s that cheap white tract home, three houses in from the corner.”

Fuck you. I laughed.

Unfortunately he steps on the punchline by then explaining “OH ACTUALLY I MEANT THAT IS WHERE I LIVE RIGHT NOW ON EARTH REALLY MY PLANET BLEW UP SORRY I MISLED YOU.” And Jesus Christ if that’s not proof positive that the writers don’t know what’s funny, even (especially?) when it comes to their own damn material.

Boo.

ALF, "When I'm Sixty-Four"

I hate ALF. Like, I honestly can’t stand this crap and I’m embarrassed for having ever enjoyed it as a kid. If I could carve out the piece of my brain that contains ALF memories I’d stick a screwdriver up my nose and do it right now. But even with my strong, overpowering hatred of the show in general, you know what I hate most? When ALF is portrayed as some holy being that teaches the world about beauty and wonder.

He used to do that more in the early episodes, I think. “Weird Science” existed just for that purpose, as far as I can tell. And he gave a speech to Mrs. Ochmonek in “Take a Look at Me Now” along the same lines. Then there was the sappy, wall to wall horse shit in “ALF’s Special Christmas,” an episode which was, to put it politely, the single worst thing humanity has ever inflicted upon itself.

For the most part, though, his “Your life is better now for having met me” crap had taken a backseat since then. Which is good, because all he ever does is fuck and murder the people important to Willie, so, y’know, the whole “great guy” stuff sorta rang false. Call me crazy.

Anyway, it’s back now, of course, because the show’s ending, and we really have to make sure nobody will miss it. ALF is a magical space rapist who fixes everything forever, so the old people feel young again and dance.

This show sucks.

Louise Beaumont comes out, also because ALF is a magical space rapist who fixes everything forever. This is a great time to remember, once again, that last week Willie just wanted the curtain open and ALF smacked him across the face with the urn containing the remains of Uncle Albert.

ALF, "When I'm Sixty-Four"

Louise Beaumont asks ALF where he’s from so he can tell the same joke again, which made the writers’ job easier and that’s the most important thing.

But then he lies and tells her he’s from a star, which he points at. I guess he doesn’t want to say his planet blew up because that would depress her? I don’t know where they were going with this…and I don’t know why she’d give a shit if his planet blew up anyway. She wasn’t all that shook up by seeing an alien in the first place. Must have been all those celebrity autopsy photos she was dripping over earlier. She’s well beyond feeling.

And, come to think of it, he didn’t seem too worried about depressing all these other old people if that was his concern, so who knows.

He then forces Louise Beaumont to dance with one of the old guys, because pressuring the elderly to fuck is sort of ALF‘s Valentine’s Day tradition.

ALF, "When I'm Sixty-Four"

ALF talks to a bird and I have no fucking clue what I’m watching.

ALF, "When I'm Sixty-Four"

The short scene before the credits begins with another zoom in to a second floor window even though the scene that follows takes place on the roof, so really the show is just fucking with me at this point.

ALF asks Louise Beaumont if she thinks he has a big dick. Then Willie shows up to punch ALF to death with a fistful of rusty screws.

This one was garbage. Happy Valentine’s Day, assholes!

Countdown to ALF getting his belly slit and a midget tumbling out: 5 episodes

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* This episode sucks a fat one, but there’s a nice joke when she remembers Cocoon as being directed by “Opie.” That’s a cute nod to her work — as various characters — on that show.

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