Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
Header

ALF, "Weird Science"

Your big ALF feature this week takes the form of a live stream! The main attraction is Project: ALF, which we will all watch together and riff, in real time, in the chatroom. It will be a lot of fun, and I bet at least one of the viewers will make a joke about smoking crack, so don’t miss that!

But that’s not all. We’ll also be streaming a whopping six episodes of ALF in the runup, along with some smaller, odder curios scattered about. It’ll be a fun night, and it really is our big farewell party, so be sure to join in.

The date and time: Friday, May 20. 7:00 PM Eastern / 5:00 PM Mountain.

All you need to do is come to this very site on that date, at that time. You’ll see the stream, or a link to it, and you can join us there.

If you are worried that a live riff of Project: ALF will influence my review, don’t! I already reviewed it, and I’m looking forward to sharing that with you. It’ll come in three parts, and I think you’ll enjoy it, even without funny Max Wright faces to screengrab.

Finally, guess which episodes I’ll be streaming, or at least come closest, and win a mug! (U.S. only, unless you want to pay for shipping. Sorry, but shipping mugs overseas is absurdly pricey.)

The rules: We’ll be streaming six episodes, so you only get to guess six episodes. (In other words, no guessing all 99 episodes and then declaring victory because six of them were correct.) You have until the stream starts to enter. You must use your real email address when you comment or contact me, if only so I can let you know you won and get your shipping information. If you enter twice, I’ll take your most recent entry only. And, finally, in the event of a tie, I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner.

FUN RIGHT

So, have at it. Let me know in the comments which six episodes you think I’ll stream.

I’ll even give a hint. I’ve chosen the six episodes using the following criteria:

  • A cute one
  • A funny one
  • A crazy one
  • An insightful one
  • An ensemble one
  • A good one

Comment away, and I’ll see you Friday!

Gabe Durham, Boss Fight Books

Gabe Durham is the brains (officially the publisher / series editor, but, whatever, brains) behind Boss Fight Books, an excellent series about video games that spans authors, generations, and genres. Depending upon the title you could read about somebody’s childhood, design theory, personal identity, or theological grappling…all through the filter of that author’s game of choice.

But whatever the game at the heart of the book, whomever the author writing it, you’re in for a thrillingly unique reading experience, and one that’s immensely rewarding. If that sounds like a gushing introduction, it’s only because the series has undoubtedly earned it.

I’m far from alone in thinking that; Boss Fight recently launched a Kickstarter for its third series of titles, including books on Mega Man 3, Katamari Damacy, and Kingdom Hearts II, and as of this writing it’s at about $30,000 of its $5,000 goal. That’s the result of a lot of satisfied readers. The Kickstarter is clearly in no danger of not being funded, but if you’re interested in the series at all, now is the time to pledge and get the entire set at a nice discount.

In celebration of Boss Fight Books series 3, I decided to ask Durham a few good questions, and a lot of very awful ones. Enjoy!

Earthbound, Boss Fight Books1) One day you had the idea for Boss Fight Books, and the day before you didn’t. Tell us what happened in your mind between those two points.

I was reading a cool book about Nintendo/Mario that I’d checked out of the Glendale Public Library, and it occurred to me that all the books I’d seen and read about games were vast industry histories — more stories about capitalism itself than the actual games. I wondered if anyone was publishing book-length criticism that approached games as art, using a personal and historical approach. Nobody was. Seemed like an oversight.

2) If you weren’t publishing books, what would you be doing?

Writing. And, for work, teaching or maybe some other new career track it’s impossible to know about. Oh god — maybe I’d be dead!

3) In an alternate universe, you didn’t write about Bible Adventures. What game did you write about?

Recently, I learned that actual Simpsons writers were involved in Tapped Out, the phone game, so what I think I’d do is write about that and use the book as an excuse to pick their brains and nerd out.

Bible Adventures, Boss Fight Books4) One Bible story that should have been included in Bible Adventures.

Sidescroller. You are Zaccheus the tax collector. You’re a wee little man: Mario pre-mushroom. In each level, you navigate through a crowd of people who hate you because you’ve taken all their money to line your own pockets. To appease them, you must throw coins at them. At the end of the level is a tree. You must climb the tree, avoiding animals, until you reach the top, where you ring a bell to get Jesus to notice you. As the levels progress, the streets get more dangerous and the trees get higher. At the end of the final level, the bell you ring comes alive and begins to attack you! You must throw coins at it until the last coin makes the bell ring out so loud that (1) the bell cracks, like the Liberty Bell, and (2) Jesus takes notice and says, “Zaccheus, you come down from there! For I’m going to your house today.” And in an animated cutscene, you and Jesus stand in your house, there are piles of gold everywhere, and Jesus waves his arms, zapping you with blue light, and suddenly—you’re big! You’re not a wee man at all! Thanks so much, Jesus!

5) Other than yourself, who is the most talented Gabe?

Newell! Marquez!

6) What video game has the best writing? No waffling. There can be only one answer, and you’ll have to carry it with you for the rest of your life.

Honestly, all my most-loved games aren’t loved for their writing! I’ll say Mass Effect 2.

7) When you grow up, you’re going to be…

An improv master. I do it in my free time — it’s challenging/humbling.

8) Who did you have a crush on at age 12?

Jeanette from school.

Chrono Trigger, Boss Fight Books9) Games that have a perfect soundtrack. Go.

Mega Man 2. A Link to the Past. All-time favorite is Chrono Trigger.

10) What’s the worst thing you’ve ever written in your life?

At 19, I wrote half of a novel about weirdos holed up in a hotel writing a novel. And wow, yeah, it was bad. I think it was the first blush of understanding that metafiction existed, but I was not deploying it for any reason other than just to do it.

11) Describe Boss Fight Books to a space alien.

Humankind makes a lot of stuff, but only in retrospect can we guess at what that stuff does to us/for us.

12) What’s the biggest / most surprising thing you learned from managing the Boss Fight Books project?

Sometimes people pay attention! They mostly hadn’t before.

13) Zelda or Peach?

Peach, for sure. When my girlfriend and I play Mario Kart 8, she’s Peach and I’m Morton. So now there’s an ongoing casual fanfic between us where we’re Morton/Peach shippers. It’s not weird at all. It’s totally fine.

14) Tell us about one piece of media you love that nobody else seems to.

The album Secaucus by The Wrens. I’ve been listening to it since around 2000 and it still doesn’t feel as if I’ve “solved” it yet. There’s so much there.

ZZT, Boss Fight Books15) Tell us about some reader / fan feedback that you’ve carried with you. Positive or negative.

Last week someone tweeted something like, “The last two Boss Fight Books made me tear up — let’s see if the third one does too,” and someone (in an unrelated conversation) tweeted, “Those books are too hippie dippy for me.” And, you know, fair enough. For better or worse, we’re not making books just about games, but games filtered through human experience. Not the best for “stick to the facts” types.

16) What’s your favorite Bob Dylan song?

“Hurricane,” “The Man in Me,” “To Make You Feel My Love.”

17) Is there one game you secretly hope somebody will cover? (I promise not to use this question to my advantage.)

The Binding of Isaac

Spelunky, Boss Fight Books18) Somebody wants to read just one book to determine if Boss Fight is for them. Which do you recommend?

I think they should pick based on the game they most want to read about.

19) Somebody wants to read just one book, period. Which do you recommend?

Yikes! Have they learned to read yet? Maybe Go, Dog, Go?

20) We’re making a video game about your life. Describe the most common enemy.

Self-doubt! And it looks just like a Red Slime from Dragon Quest.

BONUS: Say anything to our readers that you haven’t gotten to say above!

Have you seen Everybody Wants Some!! yet? What a cool movie.

The ALFies

Well, folks, this is it. The final ALFies. Our last chance to celebrate all of the things ALF did hilariously wrong. And sometimes right! But, come on. You’re here for the hilariously wrong.

I’ll miss this just as much as you will. I didn’t want to end it, but Brandon Tartikoff politely asked me to put the ALFies on a skateboard next year, so I told him to go fuck himself. It was clearly the only way to maintain my dignity.

So — one last time — sit back and enjoy the ALFies, brought to you by Giggles, The National Inquisitor, and by Sendrax. Sendrax: CFCs 4U & Me.

The ALFie for…

BEST ACTOR

ALF, "Hungry Like the Wolf"
ANNE SCHEDEEN


Let’s be frank: I would have given this to her anyway, as some kind of legacy award, but this season she absolutely earned it. She slacked a bit in season three, to the point that I was terrified we’d be going into season four with no redeeming qualities to look forward to…but, for whatever reason, she sprung right back. This may have been the worst season yet — by a significant margin, which is saying something — but Anne Schedeen has been the very definition of a trooper. She was still funny, even when her lines weren’t. She was still acting, even when the scenes didn’t deserve her effort. And right up through the very last episode she was trying, and her hug with ALF was the closest thing to a great moment the finale had. There wasn’t much to enjoy of ALF this late in the game, but nearly all of it came from Anne Schedeen’s performance. She established herself in the pilot as the series’ most reliable actor, and even at her worst she was in no danger of losing that title. (Except when the midget popped in. That guy was awesome.) Anne Schedeen may have never won an Emmy for her work on ALF, but that’s okay. She really deserved a Purple Heart.

The ALFie for…

WORST ACTOR

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


Look at this fucker. He’s awful. I honestly can’t decide if the folks who worked on the show — who were well aware of Benji Gregory’s limitations — cast this guy as sort of a sidelong rip into the kid’s acting abilities or what. All I know is that he’s fucking terrible. His line readings are every bit as stilted and unnatural as the kid’s, which I really would love to take as a kind of clever meta-joke, but since this is “Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” in which literally nothing was clever, I can’t imagine this was the exception. He’s made to look even worse by the fact that he shares the scene with Fran Drescher, who knows her way around sitcom dialogue and can bring life to even the shoddiest writing. I don’t know if this guy is a bad actor or a great actor acting like a bad actor, but one thing’s for sure: fuck him.

The ALFie for…

LEAST COMPREHENSIBLE JOKE

ALF, "Make 'Em Laugh"
THE ARTHRISTOCATS


ALF rarely had good jokes, but I can at least usually understand them. In “Make ‘Em Laugh,” though — an episode, I hasten to add, in which ALF becomes famous for being hilarious — I don’t even understand his main gag. Like, at all. He tells a brief story about ordering an extra-crispy cat on Melmac, and getting a cat with arthritis instead. And…what the living hell does that even mean? I…don’t get it. I have genuinely no clue what it’s referring to, or what the connection is. Longtime reader RaikoLives proposed “crippy” as the word tying the two together…and if that’s true ALF can really go fuck itself. Honestly, though, I haven’t the vaguest idea what the joke is, and the show really rubs that in with ALF’s constant retelling of it. Seriously, I counted. In “Make ‘Em Laugh,” ALF tells the joke about the arthritic cat a total of seventy-three thousand times. You really need to wonder about the intelligence of any writer who tells the same joke over and over and over again, whatever his ostensible “purpose.” Anyway, Willie smokes crack.

The ALFie for…

BEST NEW CHARACTER

ALF, "Baby, Come Back"
INSANE FUCKING BABYSITTER


Okay, we actually had a little competition here, so let me apologize to both Joanie and that woman with the raised eyebrow at ALF’s intervention. You two were great with the nothing-at-all you were given to do. But you know who was better with her nothing? Melissa Francis, who at this very moment is probably flicking herself off to the Ben Carson poster above her bed, and in “Baby, Come Back” played a babysitter who will kill you in your sleep. (That is will, not would.) She’s…actually funny. I have no idea if she was supposed to be funny in the way I enjoyed her, but her subtly unhinged demeanor implied an actual character in only two or three lines of dialogue. That’s impressive. Unfortunately she only made one appearance, despite the fact that a babysitter for Eric would have made more sense to add as a new character than Willie’s baby brother who landed in the back yard in a giant egg…but, hey, I’ll take what I can get.

The ALFie for…

MOST IMPRESSIVE PERMANENT DEFERRAL OF CHARACTERIZATION

alfep407c
NEAL


It really is impressive how little they did with Neal. Like, honestly impressive. They must have worked very hard to have him do so little while using him so much. As soon as he was introduced, I wondered who the hell he was. By the time he vanished from existence, I had no additional insight into the question. Commenters here pondered whether he was meant to be Cool Willie, Mega Willie, or Second Willie, which makes sense as siblings in television shows (especially superficial, terribly written television shows) tend to be characterized by their relationships to each other. Here…I have no clue. Neal somehow got a two-episode introduction that didn’t tell us who the fuck he was, and a resolution to his plot arc before we had any indication as to why we should care about it. That’s more than bad writing; that’s impressively bad writing, with some serious creative acrobatics to keep the character from ever saying or doing anything that might give us an indication of who he even is. The real salt in the wound: Neal, by design or not, ended up replacing Jake, previously one of this show’s MVPs. In fact, Jake serves as an excellent point of comparison: he, too, was summoned into existence for reasons we’ll never know, and he, too, suffered from Unnecessary Additional Character Syndrome. At least, he did at first. The show — and, to be fair, the writers — gave Jake a chance to grow, a chance to become someone worth spending time with. In short, Jake proved that this very writing staff could pull this off, when they cared. Neal is evidence that they no longer cared. Such is the nature of season four.

The ALFie for…

MOST DISAPPOINTING RETURN

ALF, "Mind Games"
DR. DYKSTRA


Evidently “Mind Games” was a holdover from season three. I’m glad it was held over, because this episode sure as hell fits in better with the garbage pile that is season four. But the really disappointing thing is that it’s a Dr. Dykstra episode…the third that’s actually about him. The first two (“Going Out of My Head Over You” and “I’m Your Puppet”) represent some of the best things ALF ever did, and they’re both some of the very few episodes I’d recommend to non-fans. (ie: People who don’t hate themselves very much.) But “Mind Games”…man. What a worthless episode. I guess it’s supposed to be about ALF becoming a psychoanalyst, but we no sooner find that out than the episode ends. There’s a nice conceit buried in here about treating ALF like an adult rather than like a pet or a child, and that could have led to some fun places, but “Mind Games” feels less like a script than it does a small collection of limp ideas sitting next to each other. It wasn’t especially funny, it certainly wasn’t interesting, and it ended with the family verbally abusing the show’s best character for reasons I still don’t understand. (Was Dr. Dykstra meant to be annoying? I honestly never got that impression.) Season three skipped this one. You should, too.

The ALFie for…

WORST FAKE TV SHOW

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"
ERIC’S STUPID CHILDREN’S SHOW OR WHATEVER THIS IS WHO CARES


I know season four makes me say “I don’t know what the fuck this is” an awful lot, but, man, I don’t know what the fuck this is. At some point during the irrelevant daydreaming of “Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades,” ALF irrelevantly daydreams about Eric hosting a children’s show. You know…Eric. The baby. Who we saw a handful of times, at most. And whose most significant roles in the show involved a) being born and b) possibly being buried in the yard by ALF. Now he hosts a children’s show. Why? FUCK YOU THAT’S WHY. Of course, building a fantasy around a character who isn’t a character — even compared to the other non-characters on this show — leads to a pretty massive logistical hurdle: what the actual hell is he supposed to do? ALF definitely doesn’t know, and it refuses to figure it out, so we get a few minutes of local access kids’ show pastiche instead. Only they define “pastiche” as ALF shitting in a box. Mark Blankfield plays Adult Eric, and I still, this many weeks later, have no idea what he was going for with this. My best guess is that since ALF only ever knew Eric as a baby, Fantasy Adult Eric still has the mannerisms and excitability of a baby. Which is a funny idea, but the execution is horrendous, and I’m pretty sure I’m giving the show way too much credit anyway. More likely the answer to what Mark Blankfield is doing is this: whatever, because nobody thought this crap through to begin with.

The ALFie for…

BEST PICTURE OF WILLIE THAT MAKES IT LOOK LIKE THE CRACK HOBO SUCKING HIM OFF JUST BIT DOWN

ALF, "We're in the Money"
THIS ONE

This is not only a picture of Willie that makes it look like the crack hobo sucking him off just bit down; this is the best picture of Willie that makes it look like the crack hobo sucking him off just bit down.

The ALFie for…

MOST SHOCKING EXAMPLE OF CONTINUITY

ALF, "Live and Let Die"
THE CATFREE DIET


Ask anyone what they remember about ALF, and unless they answer “Who the fuck is ALF?” they will tell you that he eats cats. Yet, shockingly, in episode nine of season four, he stops eating cats. More shockingly: the decision sticks. Right through the end of the series, he’s done. He doesn’t eat them, doesn’t express a desire to eat them, doesn’t sit in the hamper masturbating to thoughts of eating them…nothing. That’s a pretty massive change…and nobody remembers it, which says a lot about how few people were still watching this garbage as it shambled its way toward a conclusion. This was either a brave move — eliminating the series’ most recognizable running gag — or a network mandated one. I genuinely have no idea which is the truth. (It seems like you folks out there don’t, either, but if anyone does have any insight, please share it.) And…I actually liked this impulse. After “Live and Let Die” I was all ears, waiting for ALF to contradict his change of heart, but he never did. Something we were told in one episode actually remained true for the ones that followed. I’m…kind of in awe of that, and I’m proud of the show for respecting its own decision. Does Project: ALF renege on the change in favor of the same old cheap joke we’ve heard a thousand times before? You’ll have to wait and see! (No you won’t; of course it fucking does.)

The ALFie for…

WORST FLASHBACK OR FANTASY SEQUENCE

ALF, "Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"
KATE AND WILLIE ARE OLD AND THAT’S IT


This show has never invested much effort in its fantasy sequences. Usually it’s as little as hoping the audience laughs at some funny outfits. (Spoiler: they do, because their laughter has been recorded and they have no control over it.) But in “Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” we got a string of lazy fantasy sequences, culminating in the absolute laziest yet. How lazy is it? Well, it just kind of…stops. There’s no punchline. No return to the framing story. It’s just ALF thinking about Willie and Kate being old and then a commercial break. The joke of this sequence, I guess, is that old people are stupid and gross. Which, obviously, is a fucking riot. But all we do is listen to that joke get repeated again and again until it’s time for a word from Irish Spring. Even at its worst, ALF usually tried to give its shittiest stories some semblance of structure. By the time of “Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” they no longer cared about even that. And even fans of the show must admit, it’s pretty dickish to end a segment in the middle of

The ALFie for…

CREEPIEST SEXUAL MOMENT

ALF, "Love on the Rocks"
ALF AND NEAL SPANK EACH OTHER OFF UNDER MARGARET’S JACKET


“Love on the Rocks” was pretty gross, if only because you had to imagine Jim J. Bullock having sex. (And you did have to. Viewers who did not were rounded up by federal agents and sent to work camps.) But later on, his character Neal delays his second marriage to his ex-wife Margaret…and his excuse is that he was hanging out in the bathroom, jerking off. That’s an even more gross thing to imagine…but we’re not done. Oh no. Neal makes sure to go out with a horrific bang (…erm…) by taking ALF to see Nudes on Ice, where they give each other handjobs under his ex-wife’s parka. Granted, that’s only what I imagine happened based on the details provided. And you have to imagine it, too. If you don’t, expect the vans within the hour.

The ALFie for…

MOST DISTURBING ENDING

ALF, "Hungry Like the Wolf"
“HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF”


Somehow this award does not go to “Consider Me Gone.” (Though, trust me, that episode sure worked hard for it.) “Hungry Like the Wolf” comes out on top by sheer virtue of the irrelevance of its cruelty. Okay, “Consider Me Gone” ended with the suggestion that ALF would be strapped screaming to an operating table in some underground government facility, but at least that episode was about the government coming after him. Its ending was awful, and poorly executed, but it made a kind of narrative sense. “Hungry Like the Wolf,” though, is about ALF dieting, and it ends with two people coming to collect their poodle. ALF was going to eat that poodle at some point, so there’s your connective tissue, but nothing can possibly justify what happens next: Kate closes the door on them, we hear a car horn and some screaming, and Willie tells Kate not to get involved. What happened? I don’t know. Maybe the mother was hit by a car. Maybe it was the dog, or the kid. Maybe nobody got hit by the car, but since people are screaming something bad must have happened. Willie tells his wife to keep the door closed, and so we never find out who or what is bleeding to death in the road just outside of the Tanner house. It’s a development that follows in no way from anything we’ve seen, and while I’m still not sure what the fuck even happened, I’m sure of one thing: it’s disturbing as hell.

The ALFie for…

WORST MUSICAL MOMENT

ALF, "Hooked on a Feeling"
NO


ALF, "Hooked on a Feeling"

please no

ALF, "Hooked on a Feeling"

SHITTING JESUS NO

The ALFie for…

EPISODE THAT COULD HAVE BEEN AWESOME WITH A MINOR REWRITE

ALF, "Gimme That Old Time Religion"
“GIMME THAT OLD TIME RELIGION”


I’d imagine some folks out there might feel at least a little bit surprised that I didn’t give this one to “Mr. Sandman.” After all, I spent that whole review talking about how it could have been the next “Night Train,” and it unquestionably was in a position to mine (tee-hee) the same vein to similar returns. But here’s the thing: as much as I’d have liked “Mr. Sandman” to be another “Night Train,” I don’t think that’s what it was shooting for. I think the episode we got was the episode the writers wanted to produce, so another rewrite may not have helped. “Gimme That Old Time Religion,” though, started off pretty damned well, as a poke at religion in general with particular stabs at Catholicism and televangelism. It also raised some pretty interesting theological questions about ALF and Melmac…even if it failed to answer any of them. The episode went off the rails in its second half, when it was suddenly about Willie and Kate renewing their vows, which is what makes me think a rewrite would have helped substantially. That’s when the writers could have realized that the “second wedding” thing was pants (even if it was the whole reason they wrote the episode in the first place) and reworked the idea into a full-scale religious satire. This one had the potential to be not only funny, but insightful. And it so nearly was. To me, “Gimme That Old Time Religion” was season four’s biggest missed opportunity.

The ALFie for…

WORST POSSIBLE IDEA FOR AN EPISODE HANDLED IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY

ALF, "I Gotta Be Me"
“I GOTTA BE ME”


Man, who would have thought I’d like an episode about Lynn fucking a mime? Okay, I’ll be honest: I didn’t like it. But I also didn’t hate it! And that’s downright miraculous! This one definitely won’t make my list of ultimate favorites, but I was shocked at how many aspects of it I enjoyed. Mainly it was the Lynn and Kate dynamic, which was explored, on the whole, respectfully and intelligently. Kate wants to protect her daughter…but her daughter’s an adult now. She can’t protect her…at least not in the way she’s used to protecting her. She needs to let Lynn make her own decisions and, yes, mistakes. It’s a tricky thing to pull off in a sitcom that normally doesn’t know its ass from its elbow, but “I Gotta Be Me” actually nails (…) that part. Again, it’s not a great one, and fuck knows I’ll never think about it again, but it sure was surprising in its competence, and it might represent the single best exploration of the mother-daughter relationship in the entire show. It’s only fitting that it took mimesex to get us there.

The ALFie for…

BEST EPISODE

ALF, "Lies"
“LIES”


Man, there was really no competition for this one. “Lies” was only the second episode of the season, but it set a high water mark that literally none of the episodes to follow even attempted to reach. I actually like this one quite a lot. It’s funny, it’s cute, it uses ALF’s extra-terrestrial origins as the cornerstone of its plot (putting it in oddly exclusive company, there), and…Max Wright is actually good. A huge reason for that has to be the fact that he got a lot to do on screen without ALF, meaning the friction between Fusco and Wright and the logistical frustrations of having to spend hours resetting puppet trenches because somebody sneezed simply weren’t problems anymore. Wright loosened up, gave a fun performance, and got a few laughs, while the episode itself made good on the ALF‘s own commonly botched premise. I’m happy with “Lies.” It was a great example of how watchable ALF could be. It’s the show’s own fault that it so frequently wasn’t.

The ALFie for…

WORST EPISODE

ALF, "Consider Me Gone"
“CONSIDER ME GONE”


On the other side of the fence, there was one hell of a lot of competition for this one. In fact, I’m going back and forth on whether this or “Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” was worse. Really they’re just about tied, but two things tipped the scale in favor (“favor”) of “Consider Me Gone.” Firstly, it was the last episode ever, which makes its monumental shit-ness feel like that much more of a punch to the anus. And secondly, “Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” already swept a load of other ALFies. More than any other single episode, I think, so it doesn’t need another one; it’s already legendary garbage. But, yeah, “Consider Me Gone” went out of its way to give whatever dwindling viewers remained a good, solid reason to hate the show for the rest of their lives. The cliffhanger at the end is just the most memorable dollop of horseshit; it’s peppered throughout with awful acting, worse writing, and scenes in serious need of a reshoot. For a show that expected to carry on, with this cliffhanger being revealed as a major turning point for the series, nobody involved could even fake caring about it. When the show was canned, few tears were shed. You can thank “Consider Me Gone” for that. So thanks!

The ALFies

And that’s it! Forever! I could die tomorrow night, and you’d never even know it! I could be dead while you are reading this! BYE

Actually, wait: tune in next week for Project: ALF, followed by the final wrap-up materials.

And then I could be dead. NOW BYE

ALF, "Fight Back"

When I decided to do these character spotlights, I didn’t give the concept much thought; I just figured they were ways to delay my misery and increase yours for another week. But now, as we near the end, I’m glad I wrote them. They’ve given me a lot of insight into the process of bringing a character to life — how to achieve that and, of course, how not to achieve that — and looking more critically at sitcom characters than the writers ever intended allows you to see the scaffolding.

It’s like that shot of Brian in the opening credits of the first two seasons. We can clearly see a stage light now, but back when the show aired, most televisions would have had a frame obscuring it. As much as I like to joke about the slapdash nature of ALF (ironic since every episode took approximately 12 weeks to shoot), viewers at home wouldn’t have seen that. Now, though, we can focus on more of the frame…and catch a little glimpse of how the show was made.

The character spotlights allow me to do that, too. To drill into details that the writers — in most cases, to their credit, correctly — assume people at home will have forgotten. Alicia Schudt, who is credited with writing three episodes of ALF, commented on my review of “Movin’ Out” to prove the point (with admirable good humor) that I’m recording and remembering details in such a way that allows me to pick up on inconsistencies that someone watching in the late 80s wouldn’t have. It’s the visible stage light all over again; I’m watching it a different way than anyone did at the time. Of course I’ll notice these things.

I see value in that, though. I write, too. (Maybe someday somebody will make fun of all the awful crap I’ve written on their own blog. I’d like to think I’ve written some good stuff, but, I assure you, I’ve definitely written more than my fair share of awful crap.) And knowing what makes a character work or not work — what makes a character a character — is important. It’s also not an exact science, which is why even the failures are constructive. Following the same steps as another writer doesn’t imply in any way that you’ll end up with anything as creatively successful.

The way these spotlights have fallen serves to illustrate that pretty well, and they do so totally unintentionally. We started with Kate, who was — by this show’s standards, at least — a strong and well-enough-defined character from the start. We moved on to Brian who at that point had twice as long to demonstrate his worth, and had shown us nothing. Then we did Lynn (like the mimes we are), who started as nothing, and then became something. Sure, she later settled into a kind of wasted neutrality, but there was a process of gradual characterization there that meant it was good that we waited to analyze her.

And now it’s time to strip Willie down and see what we find.

ALF, "A.L.F."

Willie, who has the benefit of being spotlighted after the final episode. In theory I could have written at length about a character before, only to have them prove me wrong in every subsequent week, or experience some sort of profound evolution that would render my entire spotlight inaccurate. But Willie…well, we’ve seen all of Willie. We know Willie best of all of them. Or…we should. He’s certainly had more screentime than any other human character on the show.

By now, we shouldn’t even need a spotlight. Right? You’ve all been reading about him for 99 episodes straight. Don’t you know who Willie is?

Clearly I’m being rhetorical. Willie is nobody. He’s nothing. He’s there, but he’s undefined. At least…for the most part.

See, all of these characters were undefined. That’s what happens when the writing is inconsistent. It falls to the actors to figure out who these people are, which is why Anne Schedeen, as Kate, shined so quickly and completely; she had a handle on Kate. The frustration that that character would feel with someone like ALF in the house — wrecking shit up, demanding her time and attention, endangering her family — was something Schedeen recognized and understood how to channel. As a result, Kate wasn’t just a name written next to some lines on a script. She was a character.

Andrea Elson — our easy runner up — initially portrayed Lynn as a name written next to some lines on a script…but eventually got the chance to tap into her natural warmth (most notably in season two) and immediately improved as an actor as a result. I doubt it was intentional or even necessarily the result of any hard work on her part, but once she “understood” something about Lynn, it made a big difference. Again, she was rarely great, but she absolutely grew, and the change was notable.

Benji Gregory was a kid. Yeah, I give him guff, but that’s because I sometimes like to tell jokes for you. In reality, he was just some child actor in the only job he’d ever have. He was shitty, but so are all child actors, except for that girl in Kick-Ass. Gregory — and, as a result, Brian — never grew because he was trapped on ALF and there was nobody there to help him grow, to teach him to grow, to coach him and guide him in any aspect of his performance. He’d read a line, and they’d shove him aside to reset the puppet trenches. Maybe he scratched his armpit during the reading. Maybe he was looking at the wrong character. Maybe he mispronounced or failed to emphasize the only important thing he had to say. It didn’t matter. They took whatever they got and moved on. How could the kid grow?

Then there’s Max Wright. Each of these characters were vague shells at best. Maybe they’d have the same desires or interests from one week to the next, but normally they wouldn’t. It was up to the actors to provide them with some kind of consistent voice and presence. Some kind of characterization. So Max Wright provided Willie with the only thing I’ll ever remember about Willie: the fact that he was a complete fucking asshole.

ALF, "Baby, Come Back"

He wasn’t supposed to be, of course. Hell, he was a social worker. He was a provider. He sheltered ALF. He provided exposition, transportation, financial consideration, or whatever else that week’s plot needed to get moving. But Max Wright proved how drastically a performance could affect the way a character is perceived and remembered. And he proved it by being a complete fucking asshole.

Wright’s personal concerns — to put it with supreme diplomacy — about ALF are well documented. While everybody involved hated the show, and each walked separately into the sea never to be seen again once they finished shooting it, Max Wright took his hatred to impressive levels. He verbally abused the crew, physically assaulted the puppet, stormed off after his final scene in “Consider Me Gone” without saying goodbye or even allowing a second take, and vented his frustrations by picking up homeless people for a crack ‘n’ blowjob jubilee.

I mean, yeah, I hate ALF, too, but even I think he took that a little too far.

And his (at least partially justified) dickishness bled through to the character. We already saw his interests and hobbies shifting on a weekly basis, and it took the better part of a season for the show to decide what the hell he did for a living, so it had to be up to the actor to give the character a distinctive personality. (Theory: the reason people who watched this show as kids don’t remember any of the human characters is that none of them had distinctive personalities. Second theory: that isn’t a theory.)

By default, then, that character became a complete fucking asshole.

Max Wright’s performance took the writers’ worst tendencies and threw them into sharper relief. It emphasized the bad things they wrote into the character and made any good ones ring false. Their carelessness looked almost calculated. Willie’s flaws seemed less like sloppy writing and more like deliberate characterization. Wright’s dickishness, in short, filled in the blanks, and made the character seem worse than he otherwise would have.

Whenever I mention Willie’s shitty personality here and people push back, I know that what they’re really saying is that he’s not supposed to be an asshole. That no matter what the character says or does, we’re not supposed to think of him that way. They’re claiming that that’s not the intention of the character.

And they’re right.

Which is why Willie Tanner isn’t a character at all; he’s a fascinating intersection of poor writing and awful acting. Willie is a character that’s been so carelessly assembled that there’s no way for the show to keep him in check. No matter what he was supposed to be…he’s something else entirely now, and there’s no getting him back.

We’ve seen that before. It’s sometimes charming, and you end up with The Room, in all of its hypnotic, ramshackle glory. But with ALF, you just end up with a sentient ballsack.

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

Willie is supposed to be a normal guy. An average joe. Maybe slightly nerdy or socially awkward, but he’s meant to be a standard straight man. A sitcom dad who doesn’t always do the right thing, but has his heart in the right place. Wright’s performance, though, causes those aspects of the character to feel hollow and forced, and makes his flashes of assholishness — which are surprisingly frequent — feel genuine, simply because that’s what comes from a genuine place.

And, unfortunately for ALF, that’s how the character ends up being defined…not by what we’re told, but by what we observe.

That’s…a lot like real life, actually. It’s why when a presidential candidate gets stumped by an interviewer, we take away from the experience that he or she is unprepared for the job; the candidate claims to be prepared, but we’ve now seen otherwise. It’s why we all have friends or colleagues who talk about some selfless thing they did and we have to roll our eyes, because we know they aren’t selfless people, and just performed whatever minor gesture was necessary so that they’d have something to pat themselves on the backs for. Hell, it’s why we buy property from Ricky Roma and not from Shelly “The Machine” Levine.

Anyone can tell us anything…but it’s what we see, what we perceive, what we already know that shapes our perception.

We can, and do, separate what people tell us from what they show us, and we can do this with Willie. In fact, it’s probably a good exercise.

The show wants us to see Willie as a normal, relateable, well-meaning guy. That’s what it tells us he is, over and over again. But what do we actually see through his relationships with others? Does he say he’s compassionate, or does he demonstrate compassion? Does he say he understands, or does he demonstrate understanding? Does he say he cares, or does he show us his caring nature?

By their fruits, ye shall know them. So let’s get our lips around Willie’s withered old fruits.

His Family:

ALF, "The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face"

No, not the Tanners we know. We’ll get to them. For now, let’s talk about the Tanners we oddly don’t know: the ones Willie grew up around.

What’s his father’s name? His mother’s name? What did they do for a living? Are they alive or dead? The fact that we don’t know any of this, or anything else, is alarming, especially since we spent a number of episodes exploring Kate’s upbringing and relationships with her parents. Less so her father, for sure, but at least we knew the guy’s name and that he died. Willie never shared his parents’ equivalent information.

The fact that Willie never talks about them implies a kind of distance, and the fact that we never got an explanation for that distance implies that he doesn’t really care, or that he’s perfectly fine without them. (Compare to Jake, who also never talked about his mother…until we got an entire episode explaining exactly why that was, and which characterized and humanized them both in the process.)

Willie comes off as detached in general, manifesting itself as a complete disinterest in everybody he grew up with.

It gets even odder when we meet Neal, because we were told in “Night Train” that Willie had one sibling, and in “La Cuckaracha” that that sibling’s name was Rodney. When we meet Neal, it either implies that Willie forgot he existed, or that he had at least one sibling he deliberately cut out of his life and chose to never speak of. Either is believable. And let’s not forget that in Neal’s introduction (“He Ain’t Heavy, He’s Willie’s Brother”) Willie — whose occupation centers around helping people — opens the episode already bitchy and frustrated that his brother needs his help.

In “We’re So Sorry, Uncle Albert” we meet one of Willie’s uncles, who evidently was kind of a shit at some point but is super nice now. He drops dead on Willie’s property and Willie doesn’t seem to care. In “Mr. Sandman” we learn about Aunt Pat and Great Grandpa Silas, just in time to reveal that they’ve both been dead for some indeterminate number of years, which is good, because that means Willie never has to think or talk about them, either.

Family goes a long way toward shaping who we are. Great works in all media (The Sound and the Fury, The Royal Tenenbaums, Arrested Development) have been obsessed with that notion in both deeply dramatic and powerfully comic ways. It defines us. If it doesn’t define us, the gulf between us and our families defines us. It’s woven into our DNA in more ways than simple genetics.

But Willie isn’t there for his family, unless they force him to be there by pulling into his driveway in a Winnebago. He never speaks of them, which means we can’t conclude that the separation is a necessary thing on Willie’s part, as we were able to with Jake. And he doesn’t even seem to remember they exist until he hears that they’ve died, at which point he doesn’t reminisce about them but rather starts pawing through their possessions.

He tells us nothing, which wouldn’t on its own reflect poorly on him…but there’s a lot more of this spotlight to go.

His Colleagues:

ALF, "Movin' Out"

For whatever reason, Willie’s family isn’t all that important to him. But maybe it just seems that way because he doesn’t see them often. What about the people his interacts with on a daily basis?

Well, we can answer that. Every so often, we do see Willie at work, but we’ve never seen him interacting with the same person twice. Shit, both times we saw his boss (“Border Song” and “Some Enchanted Evening”) it was a different guy. So, once again, it’s impossible to see Willie as having formed any lasting bonds with any-fucking-body he’s ever met.

The few times we do see him interact with them, or hear about his interactions with them, Willie doesn’t come off well. We had our longest sustained look at this in “Movin’ Out,” in which he bitched about having to do the work that he was specifically hired to do, as a result of a promotion that he specifically angled to get, and was rude to colleagues who were struggling hard to do their jobs, with limited resources and a complaining bozo for a boss. In “Mind Games” he even complained about a coworker to Dr. Dykstra…because that coworker was, y’know, helping lots of people and doing great work that earned recognition. That sure ruffled Willie’s feathers.

And then there’s Jimbo from “Hide Away.” A colleague who just needed a friend, was clearly suffering, and certainly never did anything wrong, but Willie just sat around giving the guy the stinkeye, making fun of his poverty and loneliness, and acting put out about having to deal with him at all.

Maybe we just catch him on bad days, though, right? Maybe his colleagues have a better view of his behavior than we do.

And, hey, they do! So we can turn to “It’s My Party,” in which his coworkers have to actively guilt him into inviting them to his luau. Why? Because he never invites them anywhere or does anything for them. Bad enough, but here’s why that’s a problem: they evidently do favors and nice things for him, from driving him around when his car is being repaired to throwing him parties on his birthday.

In return, he leaves every day at 4 o’clock with both middle fingers in the air and “Go fuck yourselves” on his lips.

This is Willie.

Those in Need:

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

Oh, and, hey, speaking of his job…what is it he does for a living, again? Some kind of barber?

Wait, no…it’s social worker, right? You know. One of those people who are there to help the less fortunate navigate their emotions, their crippling poverty, their ineffably sad and difficult existences? Well, Willie — as often as we hear about him receiving raises and promotions — tries to accomplish this in “Movin’ Out” by insulting a woman on the phone who can’t afford to feed her starving children…a problem caused directly by Willie’s incompetence.

I’ve said many times that Willie isn’t a social worker, as much as the show would love us to believe he is. Whether at work or in his personal time, the guy doesn’t act like a social worker. He cares about nobody other than himself, and seems to be the first person to throw up his hands and say “Not it!” whenever somebody needs help.

Seriously. In addition to his conversation with the woman I just mentioned — someone that it is his job to help, and someone who now has no money for food because Willie didn’t do his job — look at how he deals with others in need.

In “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” Jodie — a blind friend of the family — is evicted from her apartment and has nowhere to go. Willie has no reason to turn her away, except that he’s an asshole, so that’s what he tries to do. In “Hungry Like the Wolf,” Willie hears a woman, a girl, or a dog (or some combination; it’s not clear) get hit by a car outside of his house, and he not only refuses to help them, but stops his wife from helping them.

And the homeless? Oh, the homeless…

In “Night Train” he watches a hobo jump to his death and doesn’t so much as shrug. In “Hungry Like the Wolf,” again, he ridicules and ignores a homeless man he meets in the park. And in “Turkey in the Straw” Willie demands his clothes back from Flakey Pete and kicks him out into a rainstorm…after arming himself to bash the guy’s head in if he didn’t cooperate.

The latter is especially unnerving, since Flakey Pete was polite, engaged Willie in conversation about a mutual hobby, and was no threat whatsoever. It’s Willie’s job to show compassion, but he never seems to show even basic humanity, taking back clothes he didn’t need and kicking the hobo out of a garage he wasn’t using.

The best part? In “ALF’s Special Christmas” we learned that when Willie was little, his family was homeless. Kindly Mr. Foley took them in, and that was one of little Willie’s most cherished memories. A man who owed the family nothing saw their plight, and welcomed them into his home. Willie looks back on that with fondness, but no self-awareness whatsoever as he continually kicks others while they’re down.

This is to say nothing of situations like ALF’s cotton ball addiction in “Hooked on a Feeling,” which is something Willie should not only be prepared for as a social worker, but should deal with every week of his career. For him to act like there’s nothing he can do to help ALF — and to insult his family when they suggest they should help ALF — just raises, again, the question of why the show made him a social worker in the first place.

It’s a sitcom. You’ll have situations like this every week. Why give Willie that job if he’s not the one who is going to deal with any of the problems that arise? This would be like creating a sitcom in which the father is a firefighter, and every week the kitchen is set ablaze while he acts like he doesn’t know what to do, and leaves his family to deal with it.

You could conclude a lot of things about that character, but you certainly wouldn’t see him as a good guy.

Crack:

ALF, "Try to Remember"

WILLIE SMOKES CRACK

His Wife:

ALF, "Come Fly With Me"

We’re told that Willie loves his wife. Which is great, because I never would have guessed that from his behavior.

When they share a couch or a bed, they don’t touch. They read separate books or face different walls. He doesn’t act like he’s fond of her, or even like he cares much about her. Compared to the Ochmoneks — who are always touching, laughing together, taking daytrips — it’s clear that Willie and Kate are not in love. They don’t even act like friends.

More specifically, he insults her education and her interests in “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” is rudely dismissive of her supportive comments to Neal at the end of “Love on the Rocks” (“I just expressed that, honey”), and refuses to help her with groceries or housework while she’s pregnant with Eric, culminating in ignoring her outright when she tearfully pleads with him to get ALF out of the room in “Having My Baby.”

Of course, maybe he treats her like shit but at least appreciates that he landed a woman way out of his league. Right?

Nah. In “Don’t It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?” he laughed himself hoarse over the idea that anyone would find his hideous shrewhag of a wife attractive in any way, and made sure she knew what a ridiculous concept that was.

Furthermore, he blamed her for his own emotional hangups about Lynn having sex (“I Gotta Be Me”), ridiculed her suggestion to help a family member struggling with addiction (“Hooked on a Feeling”), and literally left her to be torn apart by a wild animal (“Hungry Like the Wolf”).

Come to think of it, this season provided Kate with plenty of opportunity to reconsider her marriage, as Willie ruined her birthday party in “We’re in the Money,” didn’t do anything for their anniversary in “Gimme That Old Time Religion,” and then forgot Valentine’s Day a couple of weeks later in “When I’m Sixty-Four.” In the case of their anniversary he gave up on trying to find a gift for her, because that would mean he’d have to pay his wife some kind of attention or something. In the case of Valentine’s Day he was at least gracious enough to take her out for a Whopper Jr.

His Kids:

ALF, "Baby, Come Back"

Man, can I just point out how hard it is to find pictures of Willie with the people I’m talking about? Like, he has plenty of scenes with them, but there are slim pickings when it comes to screengrabs he shares with them. Which is probably another reason Willie seems to be so detached from everyone else. Kind of an unintentional mirror of the way McMurphy and Nurse Ratched were deliberately not framed together in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, to emphasize their opposing viewpoints.

Anyway, Willie hates his fucking kids.

At least, I assume he does, based on how little time he spends with them, and how disinterested he seems to be in anything that’s happening in their lives.

Like, seriously. I am hard-pressed to think of any examples of times Willie demonstrated that he gave half a shit about either of them. (Eric doesn’t count. Nobody gave half a shit about him.) I guess he took Brian to Little League in “Lies.” In “Oh, Pretty Woman” he tried for about four seconds to convince Lynn that she wasn’t hideous beyond redemption like her mother.

And…

…what else?

This is a family sitcom. About a family. In which the family rarely interacts or has anything to do with each other. He’s their father for shit’s sake…and how often does he actually act like one? The rest of the time — including when he finds out that his daughter is being preyed upon by someone in a position of authority in “True Colors” — he couldn’t possibly care less.

The odd exception here? Jake.

Willie seems to like Jake. In fact, the few times they interact he appears to be genuinely fond of him. He’s welcoming to him, he kids around with him, and he demonstrates interest in what’s happening in his life. You know. Like you might expect him to do with his own son.

This is especially evident in “Fight Back,” when they bond over automotive repair, but it manifests itself in much smaller ways throughout the show, such as when Willie seems to have actually missed him in “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow.”

I honestly do wonder if Willie and Jake developed more of a relationship in the fabled Monday scripts — the drafts that were evidently pretty good until Paul Fusco got his hands on them and crossed out every word that wasn’t “ALF” — but we’ll never know for sure.

Either way, we do know that whenever Jake does come over, Willie uses it as an excuse to remind his kids that he likes the neighbor boy much, much better.

His Friends:

ALF, "Wild Thing"

jk

Willie has no friends, which is crazy to me. Take some time to list any principal sitcom characters you can think of that don’t have any friends. While in some cases that might be framed as a joke — or a way to characterize that person as a curmudgeon — I can’t think of one example of a character who has associated in literally no friendly way with literally anybody throughout the entire literal course of a series.

And yet: Willie.

Kate keeps in touch with some old college friends, as we saw in “Tequila.” She also seemed to be on friendly terms with a colleague at the real estate office in “Changes.” Lynn had Julie, who we never met, and then Joanie, who we met in “Live and Let Die,” likely because the writers forgot her name used to be Julie. She was also friends with Randy, who first appeared in “Promises, Promises” and was so dumb he didn’t realize that you didn’t need to be nice to Lynn if you wanted to sleep with her.

And Brian? Yeah…even Brian. He became friendly with Spencer, the world’s weediest excuse for a bully, in “It Isn’t Easy…Bein’ Green,” and had honest to goodness friends in “Stairway to Heaven.” Okay, the latter was a fantasy sequence, but if it weren’t for fantasy sequences this kid would have no reason to get out of bed in the morning, so let him have that.

Shit, even ALF had friends. Loads of them. Like, more friends than I’d ever even want, despite the premise of the show being that ALF is a secret and can never, under any circumstances, meet anyone.

But Willie?

Willie associates with nobody. When Jimbo or Flakey Pete or Mr. Ochmonek or anybody else tries to engage him in conversation, Willie takes it as a personal insult that they’d think he’d deign to spend time with them. He’s not interested in getting to know anybody. In “Someone to Watch Over Me” he’s surrounded by neighbors he doesn’t know or care to know. He’s put out, in fact, by their request that he help the Neighborhood Watch…in spite of the fact that the Neighborhood Watch is there to keep him safe as well. (Those selfish damn social workers!)

The closest thing to a friend he had was Dr. Dykstra, who we met in “Going Out of My Head Over You.” There Dr. Dykstra seemed pleased and surprised to see Willie, implying that it’s been a long time since he’s heard from him. Sure enough, Willie’s only there because he needs something. And if you think I’m being too harsh, skip ahead to the good doctor’s final appearance in “Mind Games,” when Willie’s done with his services so he thanks the guy for his unpaid work and forced secrecy by calling him an irritating nuisance. Some friend.

The next closest thing he has to a friend? The Ochmoneks, oddly enough, who he repays for their kindness by making fun of them constantly, being rude to them, refusing to help them, refusing to thank them for the help they provide him, and just genuinely being an all-around fuckbag at every opportunity.

It’s implied in “Turkey in the Straw” that the families have known each other since Lynn was a child…at least a decade, then. Yet by the time of “Come Fly With Me,” Willie hadn’t even known Mr. Ochmonek was in the Korean War, which shows just how much interest he’s ever shown in the guy.

And that’s it. Even Willie’s friends aren’t his friends.

Well, with one exception, maybe…

ALF:

ALF, "Standing in the Shadows of Love"

ALF and Willie aren’t friends. They’re also not enemies, however often they may seem to be. (That’s down to the actors hating each other in real life, a friction that makes watching ALF pretty fascinating when you keep it in mind.) They’re…some combination of “friend” and “enemy.” If only we had a word that ties both extremes into one. I’d like to propose “enemiends.”

I’ve gone back and forth on whether ALF and Willie or ALF and Brian should have been the core relationship of the show. Frankly, either could have worked in deft hands with stronger writing. But ALF and Willie seems like it would be the more fruitful choice…especially since this show, as bereft of creativity as it was, still managed to do some interesting things with their dynamic. Brian, by contrast, was never more than an afterthought, no matter how much he might have been conceived of as a sitcom version of Elliott from E.T. (The crucial difference here: Elliott gave some shits.)

But ALF and Willie have a relationship, at least. And that’s something the latter has with nobody else. Not his coworkers, not his kids, not his neighbors, not his parents, not his brother, and not even his wife. Willie connects to nobody. E.M. Forster wrote a two-word epigraph for Howards End: “Only connect…” One imagines that the epigraph to Willie’s autobiography would be “Please leave.”

ALF gets in, though. ALF, oddly, matters to him. I don’t need to cite examples of the times Willie is drafted into ALF’s schemes, responsible for rescuing ALF, enabling ALF’s flights of fancy, opening up to ALF, playing games with ALF, arguing with ALF…

It’s not a well-drawn relationship, but it’s certainly a rounded one. Willie and ALF have their ups and downs. They share laughter and they get on each other’s nerves. They understand each other, even if they don’t necessarily agree with or like each other. They know each other.

Which means something.

ALF, "Isn't it Romantic?"

Sure, the show never let it mean anything interesting (at least not for long) but it bubbled to the surface anyway. By sheer virtue of these two sharing screentime as often as they did — notice how I had no trouble finding screengrabs of he and ALF together — a relationship was built, suggested, explored passively. It may have went nowhere, but at least it started somewhere.

And that’s what makes it odd that by the very end, “Consider Me Gone,” Willie couldn’t muster up the interest in a proper goodbye. Oh, sure, he was at ALF’s farewell party, and he gave a speech of the exact same degree of shitness that everyone else gave, but he was still miserable. Not miserable that ALF was leaving, but miserable because that’s who he always had been and always will be, regardless of who surrounds him, regardless of where he is in his life, regardless of how much he has or does not have.

He had no relationships with anybody, until he finally developed one with ALF. Which would be heartwarming in some hypothetical way if it weren’t for the fact that it meant absolutely nothing to him, and he is just as happy to see it go. (For hilarious contrast, watch the opening of Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday, which sees Pee-Wee’s hypothetical farewell to an alien friend we never even got to meet. That’s how you convey a parting that’s important to a character without necessarily having to develop that importance in the longterm.)

For the first and last time, someone had a relationship with Willie. And ALF ends with that someone being bayoneted in a field while Willie watches on, shaking his head when he hears his friend’s cries for help.

Sorry. “Friend.”

ALF, "Running Scared"

And that’s Willie. Not what we’re told about Willie, but what we actually see of Willie.

A complete fucking asshole.

Were there no examples running counter to what we’ve listed above? Of course there were.

Were they anywhere near as believable coming from Max Wright? Of course they were not.

Wright, for better or for worse, is the actor who brought Willie Tanner to life. As a result, we’ve spent four years with one of sitcom history’s most consistently miserable dicks.

But, hey, you’re free now, Max. ALF is over, and the big, bad puppet man will never bother you again.

You’ve got your career back, just like you wanted, and now you can land those choice roles and show the world exactly what you’ve got to offer.

Right, Max?

…Max?

ALF, "Looking For Lucky"

What?

May 1st, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in Meta - (0 Comments)

Gravity's Rainbow

Another one of those “I know it’s quiet” updates. But mainly I didn’t want you to think that all my attention was on ALF, or that once that series ends the site will cease to publish anything.

I’ve been busy lately, which probably isn’t much of a surprise…but I’ve also been rereading Gravity’s Rainbow, my personal favorite novel…and it’s one that occupies one hell of a lot of mental bandwidth. In fact, I just finished it, and I’m still stuck thinking about it.

Each time I read the book I can hold the narrative thread a little longer than I did the previous time. It’s a complex tale, in which it’s rarely made explicit that you’re in the realm of fantasy, or hallucination, or a dream, or that the character you’re following now or hearing from is a ghost, or that you’re hearing from a character at all. It’s rarely clear when you drift backward into the past or lurch in the space between two commas into the future. In short, it takes a lot of attention to read…and it rewires your brain into a kind of functional paranoia.

It’s great.

This time I made it just about to the end, I think, before the thread started to fray on me. And because of that, I found myself being moved deeply by passages that never even registered with me before. Reading Gravity’s Rainbow is a new experience every time…a text that’s always appropriate to wherever I am in life…one which never changes, but which reveals different, important aspects of itself to me when — and not before — I need to find them.

That’s what’s been distracting me from writing.

BUT ANYWAY ALF.

Since we’re so close to the end here — just the stream, Project: ALF, and a handful of wrap-up features — I’m going to try my damnedest to keep those coming. Usually when it’s quiet here ALF suffers, too, but this time, since we’re essentially just saying goodbye at this point, I want to keep that going, and that may, for the next few weeks, be at the expense of other content.

One interesting thing is that Google Analytics reveals to me that my daily traffic has tripled in the past month. Since it’s been so quiet and since ALF is coming to a stop, I’d have honestly guessed it would have decreased, if anything. In fact, that’s why I haven’t been checking it. I thought it’d be depressing news.

So…welcome, new readers! And thanks to everybody for making this site a success. It goes a long way toward convincing me that I haven’t wasted all of my time on Earth.

More to come, stay tuned, u.s.w.

One disappointing discovery: I had read at some point that the fourth and final section of Gravity’s Rainbow had a different epigraph in early printings. Instead of the Richard Nixon quote, it featured a much longer one from Joni Mitchell. But I own a pre-release review copy, and it has the Nixon quote, as you’ll see above in a photo I just snapped to immortalize my disappointment.

I don’t know if the Mitchell thing is apocryphal or if there were two pre-release printings, but I can’t find any photographic evidence of it, and my empirical evidence runs contrary to it, so until I see otherwise I’ll assume it’s false.

Which is sad. I thought that would be a fun difference to be able to point to. NOW I CAN POINT AT NOTHING.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...