ALF Reviews: Project: ALF (Part 1)

Project: ALF

Well…we’ve got to do this, don’t we?

“Consider Me Gone” aired in 1990. It was the unintended final episode of ALF, and good sense prevailed for more than half of that decade. Then, however, in 1996, we got Project: ALF, a made-for-TV movie intended to wrap up the show. Or relaunch it. Or waste 90 minutes of our lives. One of those things.

This is the final chapter of ALF history that we’ll be covering, and I assure you Project: ALF will ensure that you won’t be disappointed by that. So here we go.

Special thanks to Phil M. (who posts here sometimes as Another Phil, in case you thought that was just a version of me after I drink a potion that makes me evil) for giving me Project: ALF and depression.

Before we begin, a few comments about the packaging. It’s pretty bare-bones, which reflects the content of the disc — English / French audio options, text-only bios (including an annoying one in which Paul Fusco recounts the time he met ALF), and an “Interview Commentary with Creator Paul Fusco.”

What’s an Interview Commentary? I have no idea. At best it’s someone genuinely asking Fusco about the movie as it plays in the background, but I’ve also heard “commentaries” on other things that are really just the audio from some unrelated discussion playing while you watch the main feature. I’m guessing that’s what this is, but I’ll never know, because fucked if I’ll ever listen to it.

The cover features a gigantic ALF grinding his pelvis against the eastern hemisphere, while a satellite projects Project: ALF impossibly onto nothing. Kudos on the project / project wordplay, guy who designed this art on Fiverr.

Along the bottom there are four stars that get called out, and I can’t stop laughing that Jensen Daggett gets second billing. Who the hell is that? She’s above Ed Begley, Jr. for fuck’s sake. Was she a big enough draw that she belongs on the box? Or is she just the only woman Fusco bothered to cast in this thing?

It’s hilarious to me. I imagine some guy in the video store finding this, asking his kids if they want to watch the ALF movie. “No,” they say, “not really.” Then he mentions casually that it has Jensen Daggett in it, and the kids suddenly go nuts.

Weird that I don’t see Max Wright, Anne Schedeen, Andrea Elson, or Benji Gregory listed here!

Project: ALF

The back cover is really reflective, so I had to put on a shirt before taking this picture. First you want me to watch Project: ALF. Then I have to put on clothes. It’s like a forced labor camp with you people.

There’s a synopsis I can’t read because I keep getting bored of it. If you can make it through the whole thing, congratulations.

Two items of interest: one, whoever was responsible for finding pull-quotes doesn’t know how capitalization, punctuation, or sentences in general work. One of these just says, “while preserving the flavor of the long-running series is even funnier,” which is impossible to parse and must only be printed here as some kind of zen koan.

The other interesting thing is that we have a logo for Paul Fusco Productions in the lower right, and not Alien Productions, which was the name given to the production team responsible for the sitcom and cartoons, among all other manner of ALF dumbfuckery. I have no idea what happened there, but it seems like Alien Productions lives on today only in other companies that have stolen its name, from a music recording studio to an animation service.

Project: ALF must represent the only time Paul Fusco Productions needed a logo.

Project: ALF

There aren’t any booklets or inserts with the DVD, probably because Phil M. had them framed, but I did see text on the other side of the cover, so I pulled it out and found that the French packaging is on the reverse side of the English.

It’s a little funny, simply because I don’t have any other DVDs that do that, but it’s also a pretty fair cost-saving move. Since this DVD has the French audio track already, all they need to do is turn the cover around and there’s a whole other market that can buy this thing. I’ll give them credit for resourcefulness.

I was pretty surprised that there’s not a German audio track or anything, since ALF was so huge there. But then I remembered that Project: ALF was actually released in theaters in Germany, so that market probably has a beefier home video release than we do.

Oh, yes. You may think I’m kidding, but I’m not.

In America, and other sane nations, Project: ALF was screened only on television, between two feature-length infomercials for the Thighmaster, so that nobody would accidentally see it. But in Germany, they were tricked into thinking ALF got a proper feature film, instead of some half-assed TV nonsense. It was released there as ALF: Der Film, which I wish I was making up because that’s funnier than anything I’ve ever said, and they paid full price for admission if they wanted to see it.

There, Germany. Now we’re even.

Anyway, we can only delay this so long. Let’s take a deep breath and start Project: ALF.

Please keep your mouth and nose covered at all times. You don’t want any of this getting in there.

Project: ALF

We open with a string of ostensibly military vehicles driving around somewhere. They’re driving at night so we can’t see that they’re just the production crew’s personal cars and vans.

They…go…places? I dunno. They just sort of drive around aimlessly so the credits can play out. We don’t know who they are, where they’re going, why we should care, or anything else. It’s just headlights, then a different angle on the headlights.

I should mention now that I remember watching this movie when it aired. I saw it advertised and figured I’d tune in. I remember nothing about it except that it bored the living fuck out of me and I turned it off to do something better with my time, like experiment with self-harm. It’s pretty bad when you make a revival movie for your show and even kids who used to love it feel like they’re wasting their time.

They arrive at…

Project: ALF

…uh, Edmonds Air Force Base.

Not Edwards Air Force Base? From the show?

I don’t know the legality of these things. Maybe you can mention specific government installations, but if you want to actually portray them on screen you need someone to sign off on the usage? I have no clue.

We never saw Edwards Air Force Base on ALF, but it’s a real place which evidently housed the Alien Task Force. Now we get to see the Alien Task Force and they’re at the similarly-named but legally-distinct Edmonds Air Force Base. It feels odd.

Also, there sure are a lot of armed guards around a WELCOME sign. Just…just puttin’ that out there.

Anyway, the cars do a few laps around Edmonds because there’s more names in the credits. When they’re finally done they pull up to some long meeting table that’s just sitting outside.

Like, they’re actually going to sit outside, in the dark, and have an official meeting. I guess that was cheaper than building a set, but what’s the in-universe explanation for that? Why does nobody say, “Hey, Admiral Whoever-You-Are, there’s, like, 150 buildings all around us here. Think maybe we can take this indoors?”

Project: ALF

Some guy then walks around distributing copies of the script for Project: ALF, which still isn’t finished but everyone’s sure it’ll work out. The camera pushes in on the cover of the last one, which makes me wonder why this wasn’t the title screen. Why did we just overlay some crappy white Project: ALF text earlier, when we already had this much more artful push-in on the same words just a moment later?

The fact that Project: ALF opens with the Alien Task Force should be thrilling, but it doesn’t feel that way now, and felt even less so when I was a kid. Back then ALF mentioned the Alien Task Force so rarely, and it had an impact on the plot even less frequently, that I don’t even think I remembered it existed.

If ALF is in government custody that should be interesting, but here is a very specific organization within the ALF universe that is so important that the entire film is about it…and I had no fucking clue who any of these guys were. It fell at the first hurdle, there.

Actually, even if I had paid more attention as a kid I wouldn’t have known who these people were; we never saw the same Alien Task Force guy twice. It was always some new nobody who didn’t do anything but knock on a door and shrug. Forget the first hurdle; it died in its sleep the night before the race.

Project: ALF

Martin Sheen gets up and introduces himself unconvincingly as Gilbert Milfoil, taking a break after his first name to try to remember what the hell his last name is supposed to be. That’s the first line in Project: ALF and already you can see just how invested anyone is in it.

Gilbert Milfoil is the head of security for the Alien Task Force, which means he really should have been fired at least ten years ago. He introduces his assistant, Private Nobody. Then the kid gets up to introduce himself, realizes he’s already been introduced, and sits back down because he has nothing else to say.

That, I’ll be honest, wasn’t a bad bit of mild comic business. As an opening gag, though, it’s really weak. Unless the real opening gag is that you’re giving up your evening to watch this in the first place. In which case the opening gag is brilliant.

Project: ALF

There’s some conflict between Martin Sheen and the other people here that nobody knows, because he wants to have ALF destroyed, while these other two, who I guess are scientists, want to monitor him and potentially set him free. I have no idea at this point how long ALF has been in Alien Task Force custody, but it’s implied to have been a while.

Martin Sheen suggests incinerating ALF, and I like this guy. He clearly doesn’t want to be in the film, but as long as he’s here he’s going to try his damnedest to kill ALF. He gets me.

Then someone remembers that there’s an audience watching this, so they’d better spill some backstory. A senator or something (I don’t want to rewind and you can’t make me) reads from her folder that ALF’s planet Melmac blew up in 1985. Which is odd, because ALF premiered in 1986.

Was he really just flying around for a year without a place to live? I mean, they say that’s the case, but I have a hard time believing that. A lost year of meandering was never hinted at in the show, and I find it much easier to believe that the explosion of the planet was a more recent trauma for him.

Project: ALF

Oh well. She mentions that he crashed into a garage owned by the Tanner family.

Martin Sheen says that ALF held the Tanners hostage, terrorized the cat, and set a shitload of fires. The scientists say that’s bullshit, but Martin Sheen says that Willie himself testified to these facts, and I like that, because it’s some serious real-world resonance. God knows Max Wright would rise from his grave for any opportunity to testify against Paul Fusco.

It’s here that we learn offhandedly that the Tanners are gone forever and never coming back, so stop asking. They’ve been exiled to Iceland as part of the Witness Protection Program. What crime did they witness? It’s never said. They committed the crime of harboring ALF, but it’s not like they witnessed a mob hit or something. Are they being protected from the Melmac Mafia?

Whatever. Martin Sheen says they get no phone service out there, so we’ll never hear from them again and certainly won’t have to cut them a fuckin’ paycheck. He’s asked about how they’re doing and he interrupts the question to say that that’s classified, so Paul Fusco really wants us to believe that this family we’ve spent four years with is miserable beyond belief and has no hope of getting their lives back. Hilarious!

It’s worth pointing out that Project: ALF should represent the fulfillment of all of Paul Fusco’s wishes. While making ALF he didn’t get along with his cast, was tied to a weekly sitcom budget, and had a room full of writers that may or may not have shared his vision for the show.

Now it’s just him. The cast is refreshed, the budget is bigger, and writing credit goes to Paul Fusco and Tom Patchett alone.

He’s got everything he wants. Project: ALF is his chance to show us what ALF was really capable of.

Let’s see how that pans out.

Anyway, one of the military guys says they should look at some tapes of ALF, and holy fuck yes for God’s sake. I never thought I’d be so happy to see ALF, but this god-damned movie is just a bunch of white people making small talk at the world’s worst secret barbeque.

No wonder I shut this off as a kid. Who is going to sit through this? It’s bad enough that no other characters from the show are in this, but we’re not even getting ALF! We tuned in to see the puppet, for fuck’s sake!

Project: ALF

On tape we see Dr. Ed Begley, Jr. torturing ALF. Now we’re talking!

It’s…a weird scene, though. ALF is all rigged up to some machine. Dr. Ed Begley, Jr. tells him they’re going to do some tests, but not to worry about anything.

ALF tells him he’s concerned about the HIGH VOLTAGE sign, so Dr. Ed Begley, Jr. says he’ll remove it if it bothers him. ALF says, “It bothers me.” Dr. Ed Begley, Jr. goes up to the sign and tries to pry it off, and electrocutes himself to death.

While the gag was telegraphed a mile away, I definitely didn’t expect that they’d hire Ed Begley, Jr. just to do a couple of lines and fall over.

Maybe he’s not dead. He’s on the box, so…

Project: ALF

Oh.

Oh, no. He’s…he’s dead, yeah.

ALF talks to his replacement, Dr. Newman, for a while about how horrifically the body was burned, which pisses off Dr. Newman and makes him wonder why he bothered to appear in this movie in the first place.

I thought for sure I recognized Dr. Newman. He’s played by Larry Wolpe, but evidently that guy’s been in so many things that I can’t possibly figure out what I know him from.

He’s okay, though. Not hilarious, but he doesn’t get to do much other than tell ALF to stop talking about his dead predecessor.

Project: ALF

ALF won’t, so Dr. Newman panics…because his own safety is in jeopardy, I guess? It’s not clear. Anyway, he keeps saying “Stop the tape.” Then he walks over to a camera and shuts it off. Like, a different camera than the one next to him.

So…what the fuck was the camera next to him then? Is it just for show? If not, why isn’t he shutting that one off, too?

Ugh, Project: ALF.

Anyway, Dr. Newman is replaced by Dr. Mac from Night Court.

Project: ALF

The rapid succession of scientists could be a pretty funny joke in itself, but it’s over once we get to Dr. Mac from Night Court. Now the joke is something else: namely that ALF is hungry.

That’s resolved with ALF eating some KFC, which he inexplicably gets a craving for whenever he sees a black guy. Then ALF burps but the scene’s still going so the joke then becomes that the word association exercise is really poorly designed, I guess?

I dunno. Maybe it’s that ALF is being a jackass or that Dr. Mac from Night Court is a shitty scientist. It’s not clear. None of this is clear. I’m not convinced any of this was even planned before they started shooting it.

For example, one of the words in the exercise is “sit,” which leads to ALF saying that he’s already sitting, and Dr. Mac from Night Court having to clarify that “sit” is the word he’s meant to associate. Then another word is “here,” which…y’know, just picture “Who’s on First” as performed by talentless fucking idiots and you get the idea.

Project: ALF

Then ALF spins around really fast.

I have no fucking clue what’s happening.

Project: ALF

Later we’re back in the…interview lab? I don’t know what to call this place. Dr. Mac from Night Court has been replaced by Dr. Ron Swanson.

Dr. Ron Swanson wants to do inkblot tests, but ALF wants to talk about Dr. Ed Begley, Jr. getting electrocuted, so they send him to the centrifuge again, which I guess is what made him spin around earlier and FUCKING JESUS GOD we are already 10 minutes into this movie and nothing has happened. It’s just dull government briefings and a shitload of introductions to ALF’s revolving doctors. Just what kids were hoping for!

I was prepared to skip the whole fucking rest of this sequence but then we get…

Project: ALF

Bev Archer! We talked about her in “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “I Gotta Be Me,” but as a refresher she wrote three episodes of ALF and played Mrs. Byrd in another three.

She’s also the only actor from the sitcom to appear in Project: ALF aside from Paul Fusco, and she’s a damned good choice.

Archer is funny. Archer is talented. Archer can act. As shitty as it is to not feature the Tanners or the Ochmoneks or literally anybody ALF has ever interacted with, I’m glad that the one actor we do see again is Archer.

She got the film’s first laugh out of me as soon as she sat down. “Good morning,” she says. “I’m Dr. Carnage.”

ALF tries to make some jokes about her appearance but fuck that guy. Let’s just appreciate that somebody in this movie finally knew how to deliver a line.

I almost feel bad for her. She’s clearly putting effort into a role in what’s going to go down in history as the single biggest piece of shit anybody’s seen in their lives.

Project: ALF

She asks about his space ship and stuff, but Paul Fusco doesn’t like writing about that, so ALF instead tells jokes about being unable to maintain an erection. (I’m not kidding.) Then he calls Bev Archer a lesbian and she glances back at whoever is operating the camera to ask if they can make a Mama’s Family movie instead.

The scientists at the inexplicable top secret meeting that IS BEING HELD OUTDOORS WHERE ANYONE CAN SEE AND HEAR IT argue that the footage we’ve just seen proves that ALF is being subjected to inhumane treatment. If you ask me, it’s nowhere near inhumane enough.

Martin Sheen then talks for a while about how ALF is dangerous, and how he’ll bite your sack off if you’re not careful around him. (I’m not kidding.)

We then cut to ALF playing poker with some guards.

Project: ALF

There’s a fakeout at first, where the tight camera angles and suspenseful music make it seem like ALF is about to be prison raped or something. But instead they’re just playing cards.

Great stuff. No wonder Fusco was so dissatisfied with the direction of the sitcom. If he had it his way, there’d have been a prison rape fakeout every week.

Anyway, ALF wins everyone’s money or something. Good to see he’s still up to his old tricks of padding timeslots.

While I didn’t laugh at or enjoy this scene, there’s still something I like about it: it suggests a different dynamic than what they had for the sitcom. We don’t see a Willie figure and a Kate figure and a Lynn figure and a talking alarm clock that might as well be Brian; we see ALF doing different things with what seem to be different kinds of characters.

What’s more, the characters he’s playing with enjoy his company; it doesn’t seem like it’s endless conflict the way the sitcom was. ALF has real friends here — or seems to — and that leads to a different kind of capacity for story.

In fact, as much as Project: ALF is referred to — and was pitched — as a feature-length conclusion to the sitcom, it’s not.

When ALF was taken prisoner at the end of season four, it was meant to lead to a season five (and beyond) in which ALF took up residency with the Alien Task Force and started a new life there. Project: ALF is the conclusion to that incarnation of ALF…the one that never actually existed.

And that’s the problem. Paul Fusco might have a head full of stories that took place on the base, but we never got to see them, so when ALF returned we expected it to tie into the sitcom we remember. Instead it tied into the sitcom it would have become had it continued. There was a disconnect there from the start, and I’m sure that’s a big part of why Project: ALF is held in such low regard even by the fans.

Project: ALF

Gotta love those obvious Budweiser cans that just say BEER, don’t you?

ALF calls this one guard over and I thought he said, “Ron boy!” but his nametag says Sgt. Rhomboid so fuck this movie. They talk for a while about ALF getting massages and eating. At least Project: ALF adheres to the precedent set by the sitcom of always telling your audience things instead of wasting their time by showing any of it.

Then we’re back at the outdoor debriefing festival. The government guys, whoever the fuck they are, decide ALF will not be set free, which makes Martin Sheen happy. However they also won’t let Martin Sheen shove bamboo shoots under ALF’s fingernails or wail on his genitals with a knotted rope, and that makes him so sad we need to cut to him in his office, standing plaintively out a window.

Project: ALF

He talks to his assistant about how, when he was 12, his mother was convinced she saw aliens. But everyone teased her and made fun of her so she killed herself.

…hilarious stuff.

Am I supposed to be touched by this? Because really I’m just appalled.

He says that he decided to join the Alien Task Force then, to prove her right. So the Alien Task Force has been around for at least as long as it took him to grow from 12 year old Gilbert Milfoil into Martin Sheen…and until ALF they caught nothing? How did it stay operational?

And we talked about this a lot in the review for “Take a Look at Me Now,” but how in shit’s name does the Alien Task Force operate when nobody believes in aliens, and those who do believe in them get shunned and ridiculed? How has nobody shut this thing down?

And why oh why in the name of Christ do we have the backstory of mothers committing suicide in what’s supposed to be a comedy? ALF is supposed to be lighthearted and fun…something this very movie itself tries to bank on. Why set a silly roadtrip with a rapping alien into motion with the saddest story imaginable? It’s so tone deaf it’s revolting.

Project: ALF

In the…other lab, or wherever, the male scientist talks for a while about how fucking hot the female scientist was at the top secret outdoor panel the other scientists weren’t invited to, and which they had to open the window to hear instead. Then the lady scientist comes in and is all, “You think I’m hot?” And the male scientist says, “Of course I do, you’re Jensen Daggett.”

She says, “Yeah, I am, but I’ve been transferred so I’m Dag-gettin’ the hell outta here!!”

It turns out Colonel MILF Oil is splitting them up, I guess, and he’s also put in a requisition for some vaccines they were developing, presumably so he can inject ALF with autism.

Jensen Daggett calls somebody to talk about something, and concludes that the bad colonel who had to watch his mother hang herself when he was only a boy wants to kill ALF.

This is the plot Paul Fusco came up with after six years of deep consideration.

Project: ALF

Jensen Daggett and this other guy bluff their way into ALF’s cell, which has pinball machines and shit in it. Who cares. What is this fucking movie about? We’re almost a third of the way through it. Can something fucking happen?

No. No it can’t. Jensen Daggett and whoever this is stand there and listen to ALF talk in his sleep for a while.

They wake him up and say they need to escape Edward Edmonds Air Force Base, because Colonel Martin Sheen is a dick. ALF bitches that he can’t go, because he has a business to run. Whatever. I’m really only describing this crap so that I can make one specific observation.

Ready? Okay.

Remember way back in “Moving Out”? ALF stopped just short of plagiarizing one of the most famous jokes in entertainment history…one which, reportedly, received the longest sustained laughter ever recorded. In that episode, Kate told him that he could either continue to live with them, or he could eat Willie’s dinner. ALF thought for a while, and when pressed for an answer he said, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking!!”

That was Jack Benny’s famous punchline when told by an assailant, “Your money or your life.” Benny hesitated, was pressed for a response, and then hit his clever home run.

Here, in Project: ALF, the same exact joke is stolen. Again. And this time the theft is even more overt. Here they don’t even hide it in a different context. Martin Sheen is going to kill him, but he’s concerned he won’t be around to serve his customers, so the male scientist guy actually says, “You have a choice. Your money, or your life.”

So ALF says nothing for a while, Jensen Dagget asks, “Well??” and ALF says, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking!!”

In my review of “Moving Out” I wondered how they could be shameless enough to rip off one of the most famous jokes since the dawn of time. By the time of Project: ALF that shame is amplified to the point that they just repeat it word for word.

Holy shit this movie.

Project: ALF

Then Jensen Daggett and this other guy stuff ALF into a sack and throw him in the back of a van. Frankly, that’s the solution I’ve been proposing since episode one so I’m okay with this.

Jensen Daggett tells the other guy to stay behind while she takes ALF…somewhere?

It’s not really clear what their plan is here. It’s even less clear than why anybody made this movie at all.

But the guy refuses. She says, “This is an order.” He says, “What do you think you are, not a woman or something? I call the shots. Get your ass in the van.”

Project: ALF

They drive off of Edmonds Air Force Base, but things are nearly complicated when a guard stops them and ALF wakes up and complains loudly that he has to take a shit.

Anyway, everyone in this movie is a fucking idiot, so Jensen Daggett and whoever the fuck this guy is get waved through. The world is their oyster! Or they can just pull over and listen to ALF do impressions for an hour. Could go either way.

This is as good a place as any to break things, I guess, since they escaped the base and I don’t want to watch this anymore.

Tune in next week for part two of Project: ALF. Will ALF…uh…do…whatever it is he wants to do? Or will Martin Sheen…do…what…he wants to do instead? Will Jensen Daggett suggestively press her wet breasts against the window while washing a car? Will somebody other than Bev Archer succeed in making me laugh?

Find out the answers to one or two of these things next time!

MELMAC FACTS: Melmac exploded in 1985. ALF’s dye color is burnt sienna.

Go Now: The ALF Reviews Finale Stream!

ALF, "We're in the Money"

The stream is starting! Visit http://connectcast.tv/noiseless for the big, live, online farewell to the ALF Reviews series.

We’re streaming for five hours! That’s time for six episodes, the Project: ALF TV movie that was meant to wrap everything up but was actually just a big pile of shit, and lots of other fun curios / stuff that will give you nightmares.

What episodes are we streaming? You’ll have to tune in to find out, but I’ve selected…

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

So, yeah, stop reading this and join us in the chat room. It’s always a good night, and this time it’s not even for charity so you won’t have to feel bad about all the curse words you’ll say.

Final Reminder: ALF Reviews Finale Stream on Friday!

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!

ALF Reviews: The ALFies! (Season 4)

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 Reviews: Character Spotlight – Willie Tanner

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"

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