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ALF Reviews: “Mr. Sandman” (season 4, episode 20)

March 24th, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in alf

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.

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14 Responses

  • Casey says:

    Was the earlier joke that the Melmacian economy had a “lint standard” or was it implied they paid directly with lint? Because if they paid with lint, well, you see where I’m going with this.
    .
    plz respond I need this essential datum for the ALF Tijuana bible I’m drawing

    • Philip J Reed says:

      Totally fair question…and I can’t remember, actually. I think it was just that it had “value” in the same way that gold has value here. The joke, I believe, was that lint and gold had their roles reversed on Melmac…which is probably why I equated it with the gold standard.

      I was going to talk more about that in this week’s MELMAC FACTS before I realized I don’t care and it’s easier to say a curse word.

  • RaikoLives says:

    This is quite possibly the ONLY time I will ever compare Alf to Venture Bros but here goes…

    Most of the decent jokes here come from the change of setting, rather than an inherently funny premise, conceit or story. The Vultures and Scorpions and such. Much like moving to New York gave VB a bunch of comedic opportunities. So while Alf had to spread “around the house” and “crazy alien” jokes (VERY THINLY) across the show’s length, this episode seemed to look up “desert” in the encyclopedia, and use each small descriptive piece as the basis for a pun or gag. The utter definition of “situation comedy”.

    OBVIOUSLY Venture Bros used its change of setting to have storytelling and character building opportunities too, but… yeah.

    • Philip J Reed says:

      “Writers in Group A, how many Vegas jokes did you come up with?”

      “Three, Mr. Fusco.”

      “Okay, then we’ll just stick it at the end of that Jim J. Bullock episode. Group B, how many desert jokes do you have?”

      “Four.”

      “Full-length episode it is!”

  • kim says:

    I actually liked this episode over a lot of episodes in season 4 too, mostly just because it gives us a change of scenery or once by putting ALF and willie in the desert. even for as much as i liked ALF, even by this point ALF just making mischief around the tanner house was getting tiresome. at least in this episode they tired to put some effort into doing something different despite their limited budget and stage sets. i can agree that this episode feels like it could of been a good episode like night train, but it just didn’t the same emotional level as that episode did, mostly because willie and ALF don’t ever bond as well as they did in night train.
    _
    I’m surprised you didn’t talk more about the joke of on ALF’s planet melmac being stupid was the term for being rich, which I think is pretty relevant on earth as well, especially now these days. i guess being rich and stupidity go together throughout the universe.

    • Steve says:

      Alf says: Gadzooks! We’re going to be stupid!

      I love how when it shows the sun it doesn’t even look like an actual shot of the sun in the sky. It’s some sort of weird fake looking one.

  • Mark Moore says:

    So…Lynn went over to a nearby cabin and got gangbanged by a bunch of frat guys? I know this is probably a rhetorical question, but is it brought up in the short scene at the end?

    • Philip J Reed says:

      It does not! There’s just some joke about the family taking a hike to get away from ALF. If we got season five maybe we’d have had an arc about Lynn trying to figure out who the father is.

  • Whoa. You used an emoticon in the text. I’m kind of surprised, actually. I’ve wondered how taboo it was to cross that kind of line. I’ve been tempted to do just that so many times (“fuck it, i’m going to write this review in mostly emoticons”), but never have. (Possibly because the emoticon doesn’t translate over from text on a blog format? I don’t know.)

  • Philip J Reed says:

    You know, I jut realized that the “treasure map” was found in a canteen…which makes more sense when you find out it was a map to a reservoir. Silas was a prospector and would probably consult that map when he needed to replenish his precious bodily fluids. Keeping it in an empty canteen is a good way of remembering where to find water. I like that! It could just be a coincidence, like the X on Lynn’s magazine, but at least I can apply some kind of human reasoning to it.



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