Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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This week’s big post is actually on another site! For Valentine’s Day, perfect stranger Casey Roberson asked me to do several things that I wasn’t comfortable with, so we compromised and I reviewed an episode of Saturday Night Live instead.

Did you know that Bronson Pinchot hosted that show? I sure didn’t. That’s probably because Saturday Night Live had just weathered some massively shitty years and took a serious blow to its cultural cachet…but Bronson was lucky enough to host just as the show started to experience an upswing.

The episode is an interesting time capsule of a sketch comedy show just starting to find its second wind, but it’s not very good. It’s mainly notable for Bronson assuring audiences nationwide that he is a massive fucking dick at both the top and bottom of the episode. Dude had a message to convey, apparently.

Anyway GO READ.

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

Tossing things over to reader / friend / all-around-great-guy Stephen Fletcher this week. He watched me talk out of my ass about three Muppet movies and could stay silent no longer. Of course, he doesn’t seem very angry in his writing, but I assure you he flew to America and spat on my car. And if he says he didn’t, then WHO DID STEPHEN? Anyway, he wanted to share his own thoughts, and I wanted to let him. I’m just that kind of guy, and I had nothing else planned for this week.

I’ve gained something of a reputation as a Muppet fanatic. Almost annoyingly so to others, I sometimes feel. I’m pretty sure my friends’ Facebook feeds are littered with Muppet related posts from me, for one thing. My room has several Muppet posters and pictures adorning the walls and a good collection of Muppet DVDs and Blu-rays proudly sit on my shelf. I tend to get a bit of gentle ribbing or even eye-rolling from friends and family as Jim Henson and the Muppets have become such a strong part of my geeky identity. However I feel I must begin this with a shocking admission…

I didn’t become a huge Muppet fan until I was 21, and never even saw The Muppet Show and most of the other movies/specials until I was 21, too!

The only Muppet-y things I grew up with were primarily Muppet Babies and The Muppets Take Manhattan. I did also watch some of the 90s movies and Muppets Tonight at the time. I even thought Muppet Babies came first, and The Muppet Show and all the movies were made after that! At the time, that lead to me being totally confused as to why Scooter and Rowlf (as well as Skeeter) seemed to completely disappear from these other things. But that’s something I can probably go more in depth about when I talk about the third film.

The Muppet Movie (1979)

The Muppet Movie, 1979

But anyway. The Muppet Movie. If I had to sum this movie up in one sentence, I would probably call it the most spiritual and soulful Muppet movie of them all. Jim Henson, the Muppets in general, and pretty much all of Jim’s creations have always had this spiritual philosophy to them. The strong message that always pervades the Muppets is that it’s OK to be green, a bad joke-telling bear, or a crazy whatever. Another part of their message is about finding your voice and what makes you happy, following your dreams and being whatever you want to be, no matter what. I think nothing encapsulates that message more than this movie.

Of all the Muppet movies, this is truly the most spiritual, soulful and beautiful of them all. Three words that I may use a lot here, but I honestly think those three words are perfect for this movie, and really cannot be used enough. I find it impossible to not smile during many moments in this movie, particularly during “Rainbow Connection,” the look on Kermit’s face as he and the gang receive the standard rich and famous contract, and when the rainbow comes pouring through the studio at the end and the actual rainbow connection has found them. God, that last verse sung in the movie is just so wonderful and will always be in my head!

Which leads me to the soundtrack. It’s also impossible to not sing along while watching the movie. I find the music and songs just so joyous, and yet again, beautiful and soulful. Just what Muppet music should be. The two biggest stand outs for me are “Rainbow Connection” and “I’m Going To Go Back There Someday.” Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher really excel here with their writing on these songs. Absolutely beautiful lyrics.

If I had to pick between the two songs, I would pick “I’m Going To Go Back There Someday.” It might even be my favourite Muppet song ever. There’s just something about it that’s always struck a chord with me. A lovely mix of sadness, longing, contentment, wonder and idealism. Dave Goelz/Gonzo’s vocal track and performance are a big part of what makes the song so endearing. (I also highly recommend his performance of the song in Jim Henson’s memorial.) However, the true beauty of the song is the lyrics; play this song separately, out of context with the rest of the movie, and it’s open to many interpretations.

I will mention what is probably the one thing I don’t like about The Muppet Movie, and this will be a completely biased point as it concerns my favourite Muppet of them all – Scooter. I’m really don’t like how he’s used in this film. Or how little he’s used in this film, really. It just doesn’t sit right with me that he doesn’t join Kermit and Fozzie straight away. He’s one of the main characters from The Muppet Show, but I get the feeling that the writers just didn’t know what to do with him outside of the show.

This movie in particular, I get the feeling like they didn’t know where to put Scooter so they just threw him in as the band’s road manager and had him awkwardly added in during “Can You Picture That?” playing whatever instrument they could find for him. I think they do remedy this to an extent in The Muppets Take Manhattan. I remember six years ago, I got the opportunity to ask Muppet writer Jim Lewis on the Muppet central forum about Scooter’s treatment over the years and he did confess that as a writer he’s “struggled with Scooter.”

I’ve always felt that the Muppets had a “main six.” That “main six” changed over the years as some Muppet Performers either passed away or retired, but during the Jim Henson era, that “main six” to me were Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Scooter and Rowlf. Granted, I grew up with Muppet Babies and The Muppets Take Manhattan, which gave that impression. Though to be fair, the last two movies were arguably under that impression as well.

Every time I watch the movie, the one thing that bugs me is during the scene with Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Camilla and Rowlf all together in the car (about to be stranded in the desert). It bugs me for a couple reasons. The obvious one being Scooter isn’t there and I personally think he would’ve joined them sooner. And the other thing that doesn’t sit right with me is how of all the main performers, Richard Hunt is the only one who doesn’t have any of his characters in that car. Granted, I may sound a little biased (and probably a little crazy) since I just love both Richard and Scooter. And yes, I know Richard most likely had a hand in one of the other Jim Henson or Frank Oz characters in the scene, but as I said, it just really didn’t feel right to me. Again, I think this is something slightly fixed in the third film.

The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

The Great Muppet Caper, 1981

One thing that strikes me as interesting straight away in the film is the main trio of Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo. This film could’ve arguably just had twin brothers Kermit and Fozzie working together, and I think if this movie had been made just a few years earlier, it very well might have done that. But by this point, after five seasons of The Muppet Show and a movie, Gonzo had evolved and grown so much, he was now cemented as a core character, just as popular as Kermit, Fozzie or Piggy.

Strangely, as I was writing notes during a re-watch for this, this was the only note I had written down. I don’t know why, to be honest. It’s not like I dislike the film. The twin brothers gag never gets old to me (I’m willing to bet that Jerry Juhl came up with that), the songs are absolutely fantastic – “The First Time It Happens” and “Couldn’t We Ride” being some of the most beautiful songs ever made. Charles Grodin and Diana Rigg are probably the best human co-stars a Muppet movie has ever had.

Of the three movies, I think it’s fair to say, this one is the most fun and comedic of them all. The Muppet Movie had some incredibly moving moments, and while there are still some here, it’s mostly the Muppets having fun in their own movie, and it’s a comedy first. It’s definitely the most fourth wall breaking of them all, too. Muppet movies are known to break the fourth wall with the characters usually acknowledging they’re in a movie. I think this movie does that more than any other in such a wonderful way. My absolute favourite line has to be when Lady Holiday suddenly starts giving Piggy an unprompted character description of her irresponsible parasite of a brother, when Piggy asks her why she’s telling her this, she simply replies: “It’s plot exposition; it has to go somewhere.” Still cracks me up to no end.

For whatever reason though, during this re-watch, I found myself enjoying this one the least of the three films. That will probably change in future watches. I know I never felt that way in previous ones.

I can only imagine the disgust on Philip’s face as he realizes something negative about The Great Muppet Caper will be published on his site.

The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

If I had to mention one thing I know I don’t like about Caper (Sorry, Philip) it would be the lack of Scooter, Rowlf and The Electric Mayhem. I much prefer it when the whole family of Muppets have big parts to play for the whole film instead of being mostly supporting players to Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie and Gonzo. Of all three films, I feel like this one really does present the Muppets as a family more than the others do.

Right from the beginning, we see them performing a show together for their college graduation. When the idea comes up of putting the show up on Broadway and realizing the alternative is going their separate ways and saying goodbye to each other, they immediately jump at the chance to try and make it in the big city.

They’re a family right from the start and have been united as such for a while instead of meeting for the first time and eventually coming together like the first two films. I just love that there’s more of a big Muppet family feeling straight away.

I promise this will be the last time I use the word term “Muppet family” in mentioning this, but this would also be the last movie with the original Muppet family together. Sadly, Jim Henson and Richard Hunt passed away just a few years later and as a result, some of their characters would either be retired or silent in the next movie and would remain so for quite a while. Thankfully, in recently years, the characters have come back and been recast and are now being brought back to the fore again, which I couldn’t be more thrilled about. Though it’s still arguably the biggest role Scooter, Rowlf and The Electric Mayhem have had in a Muppet movie.

Certainly the best use of Scooter in this. Here, he almost shines as he gets more to do (in the first half anyway) when he convinces the rest of the gang that it might be best to go their separate ways and make it on their own. Not the best decision, granted, but his heart is in the right place. He’s no longer that teenager using nepotism to get a job at the Muppet theatre. Here he’s now a young adult showing some leadership qualities and giving a vibe of second in command.

If you compare Scooter’s voice in the first season of The Muppet Show to this film and further projects down the line, it really does feel to me that Richard had (possibly consciously) been aging him.

I also look at this as Rizzo’s breakout movie. Here he’s given his first major role. He appeared in the last season of The Muppet Show and briefly in The Great Muppet Caper, but he’s finally the wiseguy rat we know and love today. Hard to believe he’d be given a lead role with Gonzo in the next three movies!

Of the three films in the Jim Henson era, this is the only one I grew up with. This one does have a more nostalgic feeling for me. It’s impossible not to feel it once “Together Again” plays right at the start. I grew up mostly watching Muppet Babies. I think I did see Christmas Carol and Treasure Island before seeing this and it confused my child-like brain as to why Scooter, Skeeter and Rowlf seemed to disappear completely. I assumed Muppet Babies was canon (and there was some sort of canon with the Muppets) and the movies and The Muppet Show were created and took place after Muppet Babies.

I remember suddenly seeing this film from out of nowhere on a VHS tape I was watching. Whatever I was watching had finished and jumped to a recording of the film. The first five minutes had either been recorded over or missed, and I remember the first thing I saw was the gang in their lockers. I never knew of the film’s existence and was totally surprised and shocked to suddenly see an adult Scooter. I think I assumed that like Skeeter and Nanny, he was a character only seen on that show. Also imagine my further surprise when the Muppet Babies scene comes on! I think that was how I made the previously mentioned assumption. Either that or it cemented it.

Kid Me was very stupid. Thank god I’m the intelligent adult I am today.

I thought I’d end this on a few more observations and thoughts I wrote down that if I was a better writer, I’d manage to fit into this more deftly:

– Kermit’s faith, determination and optimism after the crushing blow of months of rejection and now losing his friends is such a great moment. He’s not going to give up, determined that the frog is staying, and going to be on Broadway with friends! Heartwarming and the most endearing thing about him.

– “Rat Scat” is one of my favourite things ever. Amazing puppetry and like many songs with Steve Whitmire, his vocal skills just make it for me.

– Maybe it’s just me, but the mugger who grabs Piggy’s purse kind of looks like Richard Hunt on steroids.

– Gil sounds quite close to Steve Whitmire’s Kermit, don’t ya think?

This week Casey Roberson completes his court-mandated review of the ALF comic series. If you haven’t read the first part yet, do so here, otherwise his suicide at the end of this part won’t make as much sense.

ALF: The Comic Series

Hello again! I left you on kind of a depressing note last time, with the idea that not even a comic writer could weave a touching story about an alien on Earth at Christmastime, at least as long as that alien was ALF. But don’t despair…or, as comics ALF would say “don’t despair tire” or “don’t despair ribs” or something equally shitty!

ALF the comic kept going for another two years, because there were plenty of interesting stories left to tell, such as…

Issue 27 – “Blow Your Own Horn of Plenty”

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF and Brian play trumpets.

Issue 30 – “Kung Food for Thought”

ALF: The Comic Series

It’s inevitable that the comic book would repeat stories from the show–as well as itself–multiple times over its run. There’s only so many stock stories about families, and only so many relatable ones, even if you are dealing with an alien. The fact that it didn’t happen more often is impressive–especially when you consider that ALF the comic had just the one writer, and each issue had two or three stories. Though we can point at times to very similar starting points (“Swimsuit Issue” and “Food for Thought” both were based on Willie fearing that people outside the family might discover that Lynn has a vagina), they’re never the same story.

I imagine that Phil would disagree about how impressive this is, given that many episodes of ALF arguably had no story, but I’d counter with this: Michael Gallagher, if he shared this opinion about the show, didn’t allow himself to share in its lazy attitude toward storytelling and worldbuilding. The nature of a long-running comic–and perhaps the nature of its source material–forced Gallagher to create a bigger world. And if I may make a guess, perhaps readers are more demanding than watchers? Maybe a comic in the 80s was held to higher standards because it could be experienced, dwelled upon, and then re-read? Perhaps there was greater accountability because they still had letters pages?

ALF: The Comic Series

In re-reading Phil’s review for “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” from season 2, I’m struck by how it not only is an episode that’s supposed to be about Brian dealing with a bully at school, but then isn’t about Brian; it’s also supposed to be an episode about ALF helping Brian that then isn’t about ALF. ALF, by necessity, has to advise Brian not to fight, because otherwise you’d have to hire a small person who can fight–and pull it off in a way that’s funny. As it was, ALF was reduced to pretending to chop a board and, if that review’s screenshots are any indication, disappearing until later in the episode, when he literally just phones in the plot resolution. Here, we get a much better story.

ALF: The Comic Series

Brian comes home, not only with dirt rubbed on his face, but with torn clothes and a black eye, the victim of out-and-out bullying by someone who called him “Tan-nerd”. ALF, incensed that someone else in the world made a dumb joke, instantly sets out to teach Brian the ancient Melmacian art of Kung Food. Kung Food involves throwing food at someone. That’s it.

ALF: The Comic Series

Whereas sitcom ALF does one Karate chop, comics ALF can actually use his legs to kick if the word balloons don’t take up too much space at the top of the panel. Whereas sitcom ALF just mentions in passing that his whole world blew up, and then moves on, comics ALF has a rich planetary history of overeating he can draw on. (I don’t know if this aspect was played up on the cartoon show, but here it’s always on full-blast. Many stories feature ALF belching up bones, apple cores, etc.) We get a montage of ALF training Brian in the garage and then–in the rarest of ALF sights–Kate demands that ALF clean the garage. When ALF flippantly dismisses the task as “women’s work”, Kate lectures him on chauvinism; the lecture happens off-panel, but still.

ALF: The Comic Series

The story ends in a way that makes me wish this had been an actual episode of the show. The principal of Brian’s school calls Kate to tell her about Brian taking on the school bully. He thanks her “off the record” because he agreed that the bully needed to be taken down a peg. Can you imagine, with the right actor for the principal, and better writers, how well this could have been the final third of a sitcom episode? The principal, trying his best to convey his thanks to Kate while they both try to conceal, respectively, their thanks and pride from Brian? How Anne Schedeen would have totally crushed a scene where she’s trying her damnedest to not let ALF’s wasteful, messy behavior be encouraged because it–for once–solved a problem?

ALF: The Comic Series

Anyway, this story ends with Willie asking to be trained in Kung Food, I guess because just being heartless at work is no longer enough for him.

Issue 32 – “Go Figure”

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF plays with an action figure called “Melmacho Man”.

Issue 33 – “Home Vide-uh-oh!”

ALF: The Comic Series

Willie and Brian are regular watchers of “Home Video USA,” and just look at the host. I’ll wait.

ALF: The Comic Series

Okay, I think we can probably all agree now that fill-in pencil artist “Haller” probably hadn’t been watching TV for years, or at least not programs from the US, if he thinks that’s what television hosts looked like when he drew this in 1990. Or maybe he swore off it after he watched one episode of ALF to get photo reference material. (No idea where Manak was for this story; Haller doesn’t have as good of a sense of composition or scale; like, ALF’s head is the same size as his torso in one panel.)

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF is hooked by the promise of the $5,000 first prize, so he sends in a video of him chasing Lucky with one of those covered platters that I’m pretty sure have never existed in real life. The video becomes a finalist, meaning that ALF must make an actual appearance on television to claim the prize, if he wins. The solution? Dress Brian in an ALF suit. Let me repeat that:

DRESS BRIAN IN AN ALF SUIT

ALF: The Comic Series

It’s like one of those riddles that makes you feel like an idiot when you finally hear the answer. Sure, maybe it would have been too good an idea for the show, because it would have solved too many problems. But, come on, the idea should at least have arisen once, f’chrissakes. Kate sews an ALF suit, Brian goes on television, and then some other video wins. I can understand this. After all, you can’t have the Tanners suddenly having $5,000. Their whole lifestyle would change, they’d move to Beverly Hills, Willie could get crack the easy way…

(One last thought on this one: it really bugs me that the flamboyant host of “Home Video USA” doesn’t get a name here, so I hereby dub him Georgie Washington.)

ALF: The Comic Series

Let’s pause from the stories for a moment to talk about outliving your source material. ALF the TV show ended in March 1990–about the time that issue 31 of the comic would have been published. Now, in any medium, there are going to be numerous steps on the path from idea to execution to distribution, and each takes time. TV shows have deadlines, and so do comics.

For television, the main work is getting everybody in the same place at the same time and turning the camera on (which is the entirety of how ALF was made), but for comics, the writer was constantly handing off full stories to the penciller, who then had to hand them off to the inker, and then the colorist, letterer, and finally whoever put all these elements together, and then the printer, and then through distribution channels. Plus, unlike ALF the TV show, there were quality control checks along the way (though you will see the occasional panel where someone’s hand is white, or where Willie’s upper lip is red because someone thought it was a tongue).

At any rate, it took time, and I have no idea how long! But at some point, word got to Marvel that ALF was cancelled. Given the lead time shows need to have episodes in the can for a season premiere in September, and even though ALF scripts typically were written on Post-It notes that read “Eggs, Milk, ALF insults Kate, Lunch Meat,” July 1990 would have been the absolute latest to start making season 5 of ALF.

But whenever Marvel learned that TV ALF was dead, questions had to be asked and decisions made. How many orders from comic shops? How many active subscriptions? How much fan mail? Even if sales remained high because most kids wouldn’t have known until September 1990 that ALF wasn’t coming back, I still think it highly indicative of the quality of the comic that it not only outlasted the sitcom…it had a longer run overall by seven months.

ALF: The Comic Series

The cover of issue 40 (Jan. 1991) has ALF preparing to eat a cooked peacock, trademark NBC feathers at all. It’s the only reference to the cancellation as far as the covers go; I’d actually have to read all these stories to see if I could any better pinpoint when Gallagher knew the show was cancelled. But there are two noteworthy things I want to highlight about the final year or so of the comic’s run.

To begin with, the Melmac stories got further and further “out there,” less grounded in the reality it (I assume) shared with the cartoon. More X-Melmen stories; a Melmacian Dr. Who; Melmacian comic strips (including parodies of B.C., Hagar the Horrible, Dennis the Menace, and Mutt & Jeff); Melmacian Star Trek; “Judge Bredd.” There’s even a Melmac story in the middle of one issue that’s drawn in a very simplified R. Crumb style; the story takes place “underground” (lol).

ALF: The Comic Series

Even the main stories had less and less to do with the real world, at a great remove from experiences that a family like the Tanners might have:

– ALF sprays the neighborhood with “fear cans,” making everyone on the block afraid their houses won’t pass a “surprise inspection”
– ALF meets some sentient trees
– ALF creates a clone of himself made of rocks that also has the mind of Francisco Pizarro
– ALF gets electrocuted and becomes a floating television screen
– ALF has a Swedish accent

Michael Gallagher certainly wasn’t writing for 8-year-olds anymore. He probably wasn’t writing for the show’s fans, because that world wasn’t reflected anymore. He may very well not have been writing for anyone but himself and whoever he had to get script approval from.

But the bottom of the barrel had been reached. 50 is such a round number to end on that I have to wonder if Gallagher was such a good (fast? cheap?) writer that they let him say how long he needed to wrap things up. I certainly don’t think Fusco was paying attention to the comic by then, if he ever had. Gallagher was given the chance to end the comic with a storyline spanning four whole issues (five, if you count issue 42, which laid the groundwork for the final sequence).

So, at long last, here is the end of melmonthly ALF and, in a way, the end of ALF as a continuous franchise. If I were feeling generous, I’d refer to all of ALF’s subsequent appearances in the public eye as “sporadic”. But here’s ALF rapping about how he plans to use the medium of rap to cash in on how his whole planet was destroyed:

ALF: The Comic Series

…so I’m not feeling generous right this minute. Let’s face it, pretty much every iteration of ALF has been abortive. The sitcom about an alien living with an average American family of the 80s ended up being barely about either. Project: ALF (1996) I can’t speak to, other than an even longer time period elapsed between it and ALF’s Hit Talk Show (2004). And then there’s been basically jack shit in the twelve years since.

ALF the comic series was about what I’d expect from–and roughly what I remember about–kids’ comics in the 80s. Kids probably didn’t care about the Tanners; they could exist in broad strokes of character upon which readers could project their own families. They were there for ALF cracking wise and eating cats. Simply by not being a live-action show (and, I’m guessing, costing Marvel less than it spent on The Fantastic Four), the comic had numerous possibilities before it. ALF being more active, ALF outside the house, ALF being a superhero, a mascot, unveiling endless cool gadgets from the depths of his spaceship…did I mention ALF turned into a floating TV that one time?

This feels weird to say, but…squids and all, I think ALF the comic book was the most successful execution of the situation comedy that Fusco had in mind.

The son gets in a fight? Here’s a weird ancient fighting style from the alien’s home planet. The family’s going to take part in a cultural event like buying Christmas presents from the mall? The alien is going to tag along, even if he has to hide in the car. The alien’s technology helps the son win the science fair by too far a margin. The alien loses his memory and now thinks his adoptive family are his captors. The alien should constantly be trying to catch the cat to eat it? Sure, once per issue, no animal trainers needed. They’re normal, he’s zany, worlds collide.

The comic not only achieves what it was trying to do, but it actually manages to add some flair, even if flair is often just a constant barrage of puns. I did honestly laugh a few times at the level of absurdity the comic reached.

ALF: The Comic Series

I had half-expected the comic to be as bad as the sitcom, but if anything, the comic condemns it further. An alien living with a family is a good sitcom setup, then and now. But the comic gives us some indication of what ALF could have been without an impossible-to-navigate soundstage, without actors who couldn’t act, without a Fusco calling the shots.

Here’s the final sequence of ALF stories, giving you an ending that, if not more satisfying than the sitcom’s, is more complete.

Issue 42 – “Send in the Clones”

ALF: The Comic Series

The last time we saw Rhonda, she was imaginary. Before that, she had left Earth for New Melmac, her Clone-O-Matic machine extracting DNA from one of ALF’s nose hairs. Now, Rhonda’s ship has crashed in the Tanners’ yard. After a quick explanation that the Ochmoneks are away attending an “Elvis is Alive” seminar (and that’s probably my absolute favorite joke in these comics), ALF approaches the ship–only to find ALF already in it!

ALF: The Comic Series

Haha, no, actually it’s Skip wearing an ALF mask! Skip relates how Rhonda arrived on New Melmac with hundreds of Gordons in tow, due to the nose hair’s “severe split ends”. The cloned Gordons are said to each have “one specific personality trait or flaw”, and shit, the latter would be a vast improvement. Anyway, the Gordons quickly take over the whole planet, set up a police state, and put Rhonda on public display so all the Gordons can melmasturbate over her.

ALF: The Comic Series

Gordons Gordons Gordons. ALF busts Rhonda out of jail, and Rhonda’s spaceship-maneuvering talents save them from Gordon’s Orbit Guard. Then New Melmac just explodes completely on its own? Rhonda and ALF return to Earth, and ALF is left behind because Rhonda needs a break from him for awhile. Rhonda says that she’ll return in issue 50.

Issue 47 – “Th-th-that’s ALF, folks!, Part 1: Meteor ‘Bye Products”

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF finds out that a recently-landed meteor contains “oldhamite,” a mineral needed to fuel his ship. Seven pages later, he gets it from the meteor. I kept this one short so I could point out that everyone, ever, except for me, gets Porky Pig’s line wrong. Porky Pig is always trying to say one thing, but he trips over one word, and then selects a different way to say what he means. At the end of a cartoon, Porky is trying to say “The End”; he’s not stuttering over the word “that.”

Fight me.

Issue 48

ALF: The Comic Series

This issue is the one that costs 10 times as much as every other issue on eBay, because some people think it looks like ALF is raping a seal on the cover. Whatever the hell he’s doing with the seal (making sure it doesn’t escape? preparing to eat it?) the kids who were still reading this didn’t see it that way. It’s kind of like the old image you might’ve seen in your child development class, where kids just see dolphins, and adults see what you see:

ALF: The Comic Series

“Part 2: A Tisket, a Task Force”

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF is freaking out because he knows Rhonda’s coming in a couple of issues so he takes a “time capsule” pill that helps him forget things that bother him for a while. Meanwhile, Mark Bittner of the Alien Task Force is spying on ALF from the Ochmoneks’ house (he showed up in issue 27, but I skipped that story so I could tell you about that one time ALF and Brian played trumpets), and he’s bugged the Tanner house.

ALF: The Comic Series

The Tanners pack up all of ALF’s belongings in a moving truck and ship him off to Kate Sr.’s house. She brings ALF back the next morning, ALF and Mark Bittner fight, Kate slips Mark Bittner a “time capsule” and he leaves (why did ALF need to leave for the night, then…?). ALF soliloquizes about whether his continued presence will put the Tanners in jeopardy (FINALLY) and then uses Willie’s ham radio to call Rhonda, planning to make…

Issue 49 – “Part 3: A Melmodest Proposal”

ALF: The Comic Series

The first part of this issue is Skip and Rhonda trapped on, Idunno, Planet Tangram or some mess. Lessee, there’s some circle beings, and some triangle guys, and they’re at war…okay, good, Rhonda achieved global peace in just a few pages, good deal, let’s get back to the story.

ALF: The Comic Series

Lynn overhears ALF talking on the radio with Skip and Rhonda about marriage and relays the news to the rest of the family. After the requisite number of panels of them pretending to be sad (four), the Tanners throw a big party for ALF and give him some going-away presents. From Kate: a lock of her hair (now that ALF will be out of it! HA!); from Lynn: a giant sweater she knitted; from Brian: a baseball cap; from Willie: a cassette tape of Louis Armstrong’s greatest hits. They did it! They got in a second personality trait for Willie right before the end.

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF gives the Tanners a stray dog that he found that has the exact same nose he does; the dog instantly starts eating everything in sight and then crapping on the floor, so Brian names it “ALF.”

Issue 50 (Nov. or Dec. 1991) – “Part 4: ALF Wiedersehn”

ALF: The Comic Series

Rhonda and Skip arrive back on Earth, they and ALF have a quick little orgy in the Tanners’ living room, right where the baby can see, and then everybody gets ready for the wedding.

ALF: The Comic Series

Meanwhile, Mark Bittner of the ATF convinces a senator to come with him to capture ALF, so the senator can get reelected; plus he calls up a tabloid TV show. Then we finally find out that Michael Gallagher was messing with our perceptions of the accuracy of language, and it is revealed Rhonda is marrying Skip, not ALF. Makes sense. I mean, she lived on a planet full of Gordons for a while. Can you imagine the smell?

ALF: The Comic Series

Rhonda and Skip get married; Bittner, “Senator”, and the news crew arrive; ALF, Rhonda, and Skip leave in their two ships; Bittner is humiliated; Willie cries tears of joy that maybe, finally, he can pay more than the minimum on his credit card bill.

But!

ALF: The Comic Series

We then discover out that ALF used his holographic device to disguise himself as the dog (this being the one time I’ve seen the comic break its own continuity, as this device showed up in issue 18’s WOTIF story and by all rights should not exist). Out in space, the newlyweds let ALF’s ship fall back to Earth, and despite however much the Earth would have rotated in the five minutes since they left, guess where it lands.

ALF: The Comic Series

The rest of the issue is ALF pretending to have a talk show.

I’ll leave you now with my favorite panels from the ALF comics.

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF: The Comic Series

Last week’s episode was a real garbage pile, and I’ve been busier than a [funny metaphor], so I thought I’d turn some space over to Larry-and-Balki-fucking.gif enthusiast Casey Roberson. And by that I mean I forced him to buy all the ALF comics and suffer through them for our amusement. Anyway, Casey’s a good guy and doesn’t deserve to be treated like that, so please join me in pointing and laughing at his misery.

ALF: The Comic Series

Fusco’s Four-Color Funnies

or

ALF’s Got Issues!

Beginning in December 1987*, any kid with $1 could stroll down to their local newsstand or comic magazine specialty retailer and trade it for 34 pages of comics featuring Gordon Shumway, star of the hit television show ALF. (Well, okay, 22 pages of comics and 12 pages of ads, but this theoretical kid obviously wasn’t too picky.) By 1988, ALF the television show was halfway through its second season, and ALF: The Animated Series had also been on the air for four months. ALF’s popularity was an established fact, and Marvel comics knew that they had a winner on their hands. The timing of the comic’s debut couldn’t have been better planned: what child, after watching “ALF’s Special Christmas,” could resist the allure of spending even more time with the one alien who could decide the mortal fates of both vaginally-cancerous preteens and suicidal black Santas alike?

What these brave souls would find, month after month for over four years, were two or three stories per issue featuring ALF’s life with the Tanners, ALF daydreaming, ALF’s former life on Melmac, and stories about Melmacian history and myth. I’ve not watched either of the cartoon series, but those last two categories of story were there for kids who did. Let’s make that clear upfront: this comic was for kids. ALF was (sort-of**) one of many comics in Marvel’s “Star” imprint, which also featured properties such as Police Academy: The Series, Count Duckula, and Heathcliff (you even see ALF reading an issue of Heathcliff’s Funhouse in the episode “It’s My Party”).

My purpose here is to compare ALF the comic to ALF the sitcom (or ALF as seen through this site’s phil-ter. Ha! Don’t kill me). Thus, I’ll primarily be looking at a handful of stories taking place in the same world as the sitcom. When I first started looking through these, I realized that I had forgotten how frenetic kids’ comics in the 80s could be. Everyone runs everywhere, ALF spits out dozens of puns every issue, many of them plays on the Tanners’ names (Katy-did, Lynn-a-mint, they get worse after that). Plus ALF eats just about every funny-sounding thing the writer could think of: peat moss, videotape, styrofoam stew, squid, plastic shopping bags, slug fritters, “Yoda Soda”. It’s very much an approach in the same vein as Will Elder’s “chicken fat” style in early MAD comics***.

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF the comic series ran for 50 issues, ending in November or December of 1991*. Of particular note is that, with very few exceptions, every story in every issue of ALF was created by the same main team: writer Michael Gallagher, penciller Dave Manak, and inker Marie Severin. Let that sink in for a moment–at least 100 ALF stories written by the same guy, drawn by the same two artists. The sitcom, if you split up the two-parters, had 102 episodes and 45 writers, with writer Steve Pepoon getting credit on the highest number of scripts (12).

Gallagher, Manak, and Severin were established comics creators at that point, with even some family history in comics. Gallagher’s uncle George Gately had created Heathcliff, and Severin’s older brother John worked for Cracked Mazagine for almost 50 years. If you read any kids’ comics put out by Marvel or Archie in the late 80s or early 90s, you’ve likely seen the work of at least one of these three. And if you found this page because you’re a real-live fan of the ALF comic series, it looks like Dave Manak still might be taking on artwork commissions. Comics artists like to eat, too, and while peat moss may be dirt cheap (HA!), squid can be pricey.

Anyway, enough context; let’s move on to the content. Here are 20-odd stories from the ALF comic series that Phil said he would be interested in reading about. If these turn out to be total garbage and Phil loses half his readership, I have email proof that it’s his own damn fault.

Issue 1

ALF: The Comic Series

The first issue (Dec. 1987) is basically just a recap of ALF’s origin story; the framing story ends with ALF’s spaceship crashing into the Tanners’ garage a second time. A very shruggy–though appropriate–“here we go again!” kind of opener.

Issue 3 – “Travels with Willie”

ALF: The Comic Series

You could, if you chose, view ALF’s “WOTIF” machine as fitting in Marvel’s long-running title What If…, which explored alternate histories where some tiny change was made. “What if the Dazzler had become the herald of Galactus?”; “What if Elektra had lived?”; “What if artists like Jack Kirby and Stan Ditko got the creator credits they deserved?”. Anyway, thanks to ALF’s “WOTIF” machine, Willie is somehow an astronaut on “exploratory patrol”. When he reaches Melmac’s atmosphere, he passes out, and his ship crashes in the Shumways’ garage, meaning…

ALF: The Comic Series

…oh, wait, hold on, Marvel decided that holding an issue in their hands wasn’t enough for its readers to realize ALF was a comic now…

ALF: The Comic Series

The Shumways instantly have to hide Willie from their nosy neighbor, Pete Zaparlor. Willie faces off with the Shumways’ pet, Neep, and we have our first instance of the comic’s reliance on foot-long tongues. He is introduced to Gordon’s family, which at least here, if not in the cartoon, is quite literally a family of ALFs. At their first dinner, they eat “slimeball surprise”, and though he’s initially put off by their cuisine, I think it’s safe to assume that Willie eats a lot of pussy while on Melmac.

ALF: The Comic Series

Pete Zaparlor instantly reports the Shumways to the USC (the Unscrupulous Scientists Conglomerate), which consists of Dr. Strangeglove and his assistant Ybor. I get that we’re working with cartoon and comic book tropes here, but I do find it interesting that everybody’s super-cool with a mad scientist living basically down the street. Also interesting that Pete is acting more like a human than anyone on the TV show ever did (P.S. cross-dressing is a thing on Melmac, according to dialogue between the Dr. and Ybor). The pair quickly fool the Shumways, absconding with Willie. The story ends with Gordon fixing Willie’s ship and killing Dr. Strangeglove and Ybor. One of the guns shoots right up Ybor’s butt. What a great story for children!

Super-Sized ALF annual #1 – “The Return of Rhonda”

ALF: The Comic Series

Rhonda crashes into the Tanners’ garage, and she and ALF have a nice quickie before coming into the house. After ALF gets her not to eat Lucky, she sits down to dinner with the Tanners (Rhonda eats her place setting). She recounts the story of how she and Skip, after missing the rendezvous with ALF–the comic mentions the TV episode in an editor’s note–land on a habitable planet and name it New Melmac. She then returns to Earth to try to convince Gordon to come with them, and…wait. So she came deliberately, knew where she was going, grew up on a planet with garages, likely knew the ATF risk…and still crashed through the roof of the garage. It’s enough to make even Brian mad! Rhonda cooks up a batch of styrofoam stew, sprays Lynn’s sweater with “eau de Force Field”, soups up Willie’s car just enough to get him a bunch of speeding tickets. Brian decides he can’t live without ALF, so he attempts to run away and join the circus. Gordon catches him, and because of a misspelling in his goodbye letter (“clone” instead of “clown”)–

ALF: The Comic Series

…oh, wait, hold on, we’ve got to pause for an advertisement for the very issue I’m holding in my hands

ALF: The Comic Series

Okay, Rhonda’s ship is equipped with a Clone-O-Matic, and she will return to New Melmac with one of Gordon’s nose hairs. By the time she arrives, she will have another Gordon. Brian’s so happy that he makes the same face I do when I have a stroke.

“Back to Human Nature”

ALF: The Comic Series

Let’s take a look at a story that the show had already done: ALF goes camping with the Tanners. Here’s where, in some ways, comics has the edge on the television. TV shows might feel the need to spend two or three minutes in the “default” setting to establish what the characters will spend the next 20 doing. In comics–a world where Spider-Man can deliver a soliloquy while punching the Green Goblin–you can just open with a splash page explaining why the characters are where they are. The fact that you don’t have to saw holes in the floor to make comics helps out, too.

ALF: The Comic Series

This story begins with Kate reminding ALF that he has agreed to “behave” on their camping trip. Unfortunately, ALF is allergic to some sort of weed and almost sneezes himself off a cliff, so the Tanners spend the beginning of their vacation pulling up weeds instead of, I don’t know, moving their van. ALF wakes up just in time for Willie to tell a ghost story…oh, no, wait, the comic just tells us that Willie tells a ghost story.

ALF: The Comic Series

A noise wakes ALF in the middle of the night, but instead of this being, oh I don’t know, a good chance to have ALF believe ghost stories, it’s a bobcat. So ALF chases the bobcat. Willie follows him, they get lost in the woods, ALF sneezes some more, and they get rained on. They seek shelter in a cave, and because of the unspoken rule that no character in any piece of mainstream media may be genre-aware, Willie and ALF are surprised to find that it’s a bear cave. Willie grabs ALF and high-tails it out of the cave, only to discover that he took a baby bear by mistake. Willie and the mama bear have a stand-off, but thanks to ALF’s hither-to unknown ability to talk to bears ( ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ), it gets settled pretty quickly.

ALF: The Comic Series

Re-reading the review for “On the Road Again”, what strikes me most is Phil’s comment that the episode is ultimately “just a mess of moments that occur in sequence but have little to no bearing on each other”. That’s an accurate description of this story, too! But that kind of slapdash plotting works–and is expected–in comics. Kids’ comics are much like kids’ cartoons. There’s often no more reason necessary for two different scenes to exist side-by-side than that they take place in the same setting. Gunfights and stagecoaches and Injuns and saloons all take place in the Wild West, so let’s have Woody Woodpecker interact with all of them! Who needs transitions? You chase a bobcat, and then you walk over this way, and now you get chased by a bear. Is ALF trapped? Instead of having him whimper at rednecks, just have him suddenly speak bear! Hell, Superman got a couple new powers every week when he was starting out.

Issue 8 – “The Boy Next Door”

ALF: The Comic Series

This time, ALF’s WOTIF machine shows us what would have happened had Gordon Shumway’s ship landed in the Ochmoneks’ house. It turns out, first of all, that they would still call him ALF (“Adorable Little Fuzzball”). ALF wastes no time making jokes about how all of his family and most of his friends died when his planet blew up.

ALF: The Comic Series

The Tanners come over to make sure everything’s all right, proving that comic writers can do in one panel what sitcom writers can’t do in four years. Being a devoted fan of midget wrestling, Trevor says that he’s going to train ALF to become “The Hairy Hobgoblin”. ALF, however, doesn’t want his presence known, and just wants to stay around the house, I guess because everything’s backwards in this story. After that, it’s just a series of jokes: ALF eats Raquel’s Royal Doulton figurines, and then ALF blows up Willie’s lawnmower while Trevor tries to repair it (okay, maybe everything’s not different). It’s implied that ALF and the Ochmoneks establish a new normal over time; ALF even adopts Trevor’s fashion sense. However, when the Ochmoneks watch Carl Waygone’s space TV show they realize they could make billions of dollars off of ALF on movie and merchandising rights.

ALF: The Comic Series

Fearing for his life, ALF drugs them and leaves in his repaired spaceship. Not knowing where to go, ALF decides to land in the Tanners’ garage because they have a cat that he maybe could eat.

ALF: The Comic Series

Back in real life, ALF decides to send the Tanners on a Philip K. Dick-style mindfuck by suggesting that maybe they’re in the simulation.

Melmac Fact: The sky is green on Melmac.

Issue 15 – “The Run Run Run Run Runaway”

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF runs away, meets a hobo, goes to Las Vegas with the hobo, they win a bunch of money, ALF tells the hobo a Melmac story about William Shumspeare, ALF loses their money, ALF joins the circus, and then ALF goes home. That’s it. That’s the story.

Issue 16 – “Surrender Dorothy”

ALF: The Comic Series

Whiny-ass ALF throws a temper tantrum because he doesn’t want to be babysat by Kate Sr. while the Tanners go “upstate” to Willie’s family reunion. I assume he doesn’t get to go lest he kill off the rest of Willie’s relatives. From the time she gets there until 5 pages later, ALF directs a steady stream of insults at Kate Sr. His response to her initial offer of truce is to electrocute her; when she cooks him a meal, he kicks it down the stairs; when she takes two minutes to have phone sex with Whizzer Deaver, ALF listens in and masturbates.

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF decides that, since Kate Sr. is SO MEAN to him all the time, he should trot out the tired old plot where you divide up living space by painting all over everything (tape? what’s tape?). But then Kate Sr. starts choking on scrambled eggs, ALF gives her the heimlich, Kate Sr. becomes ALF Fan #1, and the story’s over.

ALF: The Comic Series

(By the way, penciller Dave Manak must have been a fan of Anne Meara, because she is drawn so much more screen-accurately than any of the other characters in the comic, and that includes ALF, whose head grew and body slimmed over the comic’s 4-year run.)

Issue 17 – “Melmac to the Future”

ALF: The Comic Series

After playing roller derby in the kitchen (ALF wears a derby while on roller skates…do you get it…do you get the joke), ALF fires up his WOTIF machine to show the Tanners what things will be like for them in the year 2020. It’s quickly established that everyone on earth has a spaceship that looks exactly like ALF’s, ALF lives on New Melmac, and the aged Tanners live in a condo.

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF says he has a plan to attend the Tanner family reunion so that it won’t be known he’s an alien–the fuck? Then why did you just fly into the Tanners’ garage in broad daylight a panel ago? Anyway, he straps on a “holo-humanizer”, which makes him look like Abraham Lincoln’s long-lost fat red-haired brother.

ALF: The Comic Series

“Uncle Gordon” meets the grown-up Lynn and Brian and their families. Brian married someone named Ruth and had a daughter named Dottie; Lynn has a daughter named Leslie; there’s other people there, but they don’t get names so there will be room for ALF to meet his pun quota for the issue. Then ALF’s holo-humanizer malfunctions and, after two panels of the extended family not knowing what’s going on, they accept him into the family. Even for the ALF comics, that’s a short resolution! But we really needed three whole panels about how ALF’s planet blew up. There’s a tiny bit of room left for stuff like what Brian and Lynn do for a living (used car salesman; baby machine), but none for having anyone react substantially to the first alien they ever see!

ALF: The Comic Series

By the last two pages, the artist started doing what I do when I have to draw a bunch of crowd scenes: take the lazy way out with a lot of silhouettes.

Super-sized Spring Special – “Love is in the Hair”

ALF: The Comic Series

Brian comes home from school one day with his eyes wide and spiraling, like he’s on glint or something. Kate expresses her worry that Brian’s been “preoccupied” lately, so ALF uses his X-Ray specs to look through walls. It turns out Brian’s been masturbating to a girl in his class photo!

ALF: The Comic Series

After beating the name of the girl out of Brian (“Laura Nelson”), ALF decides to help Brian win over the girl using his tried-and-true Melmacian methods: cologne (Brian ends up smelling like rotten fish) and candy (Brian gives the girl one that tastes like squid, and how either of them figured out that it was squid is beyond me). Brian gets so angry at ALF that he starts emanating, I dunno, stink lines? His spider-sense?

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF, rather than feeling remorse at screwing things up for Brian, calls up Laura and hypnotizes her over the phone, turning her into a pliant sex doll for Brian’s amusement. Kate launches into a three-page verbal manifesto against blatant sexism in children’s comics and the overall rape culture of late 1980s America, all while bashing ALF’s head in with his WOTIF machine. Nah, j/k, Kate just gets angry in the background of one panel and tells Brian to just “be himself”, which gets him an actual movie date with Laura.

ALF: The Comic Series

So if you were wondering if the comics upheld the ALF standards of being rapey, and never getting to see boyfriend/girlfriend characters again, there you go.

Issue 19 – “Swimsuit issue”

ALF: The Comic Series

Kate is silently fuming because Willie just got the swimsuit issue of “Sports Reports” in the mail. ALF uses this as an opportunity to play a power move, roping Willie and Kate into a game of “Let’s You and Him Fight” (see Berne’s Games People Play, 1964).

ALF: The Comic Series

The writer comes to his senses about three pages in and shifts the story away from the mere idea that Willie could ever achieve erection; to ensure that it doesn’t happen, first Lynn comes home with a bikini, and then ALF wears it. Thanks to the showercams he installed (in issue 13’s “Here’s Lookin’ at You, Naked”), ALF is able to sew a bathing suit that fits Lynn perfectly.

ALF: The Comic Series

But then we find out that the material ALF used–a seat cover from his spaceship–shrinks in salt water so Kate and ALF race to the beach where Lynn can put on the bikini she bought in the first place.

ALF: The Comic Series

Knowing that the target audience for this comic (boys aged 8-11) would be too focused on the girlflesh on display, the writer knows he can end the story with ALF just standing around in broad daylight on a public beach and nobody will think twice about it.

ALF: The Comic Series

P.S. Kate is pregnant in the issues that came out between the end of Season 3 and Season 4.

P.P.S. If you ever wondered just how many of those Melmac facts ALF made up, this issue informs us that his planet had a “Spanish Olive – American War”. “Melmac Facts” my ass.

Issue 20 – “Vanity, thy name is ALF”

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF inhales talcum powder, which makes him want to be beautiful; he gives himself a full-body perm, then breaks into a cosmetic surgery center in the middle of the night. He fights a cleaning lady and breathes ammonia, which fixes him.

Super-Sized Annual #2 – “Interview with the Hampire”

ALF: The Comic Series

A Melmacian vampire lands on Earth, and his name is Melmacula. Hampires went around Melmac sucking the cholesterol out of people, leaving them zombies craving saturated fats. At this point, I think I need to get hard (hard sci-fi, that is). Let’s look at some premises here, based on information given. Like the earliest iteration of Cookie Monster, comics ALF eats everything, including tons of regular human food. When comparing humans to Melmacians, there’s some level of evolutionary convergence. ALF poops, has sexual urges, has available cholesterol to be violently sucked out of his neck; he’s basically just like you. So, if Melmacula had been feeding off of Melmacians who had items like bacon, cheese, and palm oil in their diet…why not just capitalize on the obesity epidemic in America? Ah…the comic tells us that–despite being no doubt famished after flying through space for years–he “prefers” Melmen to “foreign food”. So even the undead on ALF’s planet are whiny-ass little shits who demand to get their way all the time.

ALF: The Comic Series

Anyways, Hampires can be defeated by getting them to bite you after you’ve eaten only foods that let you make shitty puns (I refuse to repeat it, just look at the panels). ALF kills the fourth being to survive the destruction of Melmac, turning him into some kind of shiny sheet. Kate slept through this story. The end.

“Oh, Baby!”

ALF: The Comic Series

I’ve been impressed so far with the level of commitment that the ALF comics have to the show’s continuity, at least in terms of major events and characters. We don’t see Dr. Dykstra, or Jody, Jake, or even Neal, but we do get Eric Tanner, utilization of the time ALF was supposed to meet Skip, and a number of be-asterisked editor’s notes referencing specific episodes. So it makes perfect sense that, when ALF eats all the food on the way to Eric’s first family picnic, Kate & Willie select a novel way of neglecting their new baby: leaving it alone with ALF and Lynn in the middle of nowhere. (In another bit of continuity, Brian is largely forgotten in the backseat of the car, and doesn’t even get 10 words in this story.) ALF gives Eric a “Getty Bear” (a teddy bear but it’s from Melmac and the name involves some stupid pun or something, who cares).

ALF: The Comic Series

The toy is a robot and when they turn it on, it runs away with Eric’s carriage and pushes it down a hill into a river. ALF does some weird stuff and saves the baby. When the rest of the family gets back, ALF shakes all of the water off of his fur. The Tanners are oddly happy and amused by this, like ALF didn’t just throw a bunch of polluted water onto the food they plan on eating. Eric slept through this story.

Issue 22 – “Food for Thought”

ALF: The Comic Series

Lynn gets a job working for “Chris the Caterer”, which is only ever said in quotes, so it’s not clear for awhile if it’s a company, or just some guy who’ll stop by your house with a couple cans of Chef Boyardee. But five panels in and ALF has already jumped to the conclusion that Chris is a pimp (ALF actually says “gigolo”, because you probably couldn’t say “pimp” in comics back then). Yikes! Did ALF ever imply that Lynn was just a whore waiting to happen, Phil? Did he disguise his own opinions under the cloak of concern by projecting them onto her boyfriends?

ALF: The Comic Series

Anyway, when Willie sees Lynn’s work uniform–a French maid outfit–he buys into ALF’s fear-mongering and they follow Chris’s catering van to spy on Lynn. Well, okay, once they get there, it’s really just ALF spying on her and Willie sitting in the car masturbating. ALF tries to rescue Lynn by throwing a sheet over her head and taking her back to the car–only to find out that he grabbed Lynn’s boss instead! Whu…?! “Chris” is really “Christine”? Oh, well, in that case, of course it’s a legitimate catering business! Women can’t be pimps / gigolos!

ALF: The Comic Series

Anyway, Willie has to pretend to save Christine from ALF so that ALF won’t be seen, Christine showers Willie with kisses (the first one’s free, kids), ALF eats everything in the catering van, end of story. The fact that ALF caused a struggling independent businesswoman to not be able to deliver a service and get paid is not mentioned, but I’m assuming that Christine could no longer afford Lynn, and this is why her catering job is never, ever mentioned again, even in an asterisk note.

Issue 24 – “Rhonda’s Residency”

ALF: The Comic Series

Here we go again with another “WOTIF” story. After two years, and with 2-3 stories per issue, ALF the comic had filled in a lot of the empty spaces of the universe it borrowed from ALF the show. I’ve skipped the ongoing story of ALF having multiple run-ins with a “coat burglar” (you’re welcome), as well as how, every few issues or so ALF becomes the mascot for a different sports team (you’re welcome), but there are some stories in the comics that had legitimate, lasting consequences. This WOTIF story is an imaginary sequel to “The Return of Rhonda”–a sequel where Rhonda sticks around for longer than five pages. We do have to waste half a page just so ALF can make one more heartless joke about his family dying, but then the actual story starts. ALF and Rhonda get married, Rhonda runs up the utility bill with her hair dryer, ALF puts down Kate Sr., and the couple settle into their new domestic life in the garage.

ALF: The Comic Series

Despite having already outpaced the TV show for the number of times ALF has gone out in public, Rhonda gets captured and turned over to the ATF almost instantly when she gets cabin fever and decides to go shopping at the mall. Here’s some comics logic for you: Rhonda walks around the city and gets captured; then ALF flies her spaceship around to rescue her and doesn’t. The difference? Rhonda isn’t ALF, but ALF is. ALF cannot get captured because his name is on the cover. Anyway, ALF saves Rhonda from the Alien Task Force, Rhonda leaves Earth, ALF turns off the WOTIF machine and eats some brownies with fish in them. You know what? This is the first comics story that I’ve just out-and-out disliked. Not just the gender disparity in comics logic (those ditzy dames, always risking dissection!), and not even the fact that it took ALF two minutes to infiltrate ATF headquarters (like, I could go on for probably a thousand words about how simply knowing where the place is would be a total game-changer for the Tanners). But the fact that the writer made this into a WOTIF story rather than an actual in-canon one borders on ridiculous. I mean, Melmacula is canon! Kate being happy that ALF didn’t leave with Rhonda and Skip is canon!

ALF: The Comic Series

I can only imagine that writer Michael Gallagher came up with the story idea of Rhonda living with the Tanners and then, when he realized he didn’t have enough pages of material, made it a WOTIF story. Also, I hate that damn word. WOTIF. WOTIF I just stopped reading the WOTIF stories.

Super-sized ALF Holiday Special #2 – “Don’t Toy With Me”

ALF: The Comic Series

ALF is excited that he gets to go to “The Mall” with Willie (that’s right, you heard right, the sign on the building says “The Mall”). Lest you think that this means Willie has figured out from issue #24 a sure-fire way to get ALF captured by the ATF, we quickly find out that ALF is content to sit in the parking lot and floss his teeth. His four teeth. Then some guy breaks into Willie’s car, ALF pretends to be a toy…you know what? We’ve already done this “ALF pretends to be a toy” mess twice: once in the show’s second Christmas episode, and once in the ALF Holiday Special #1.

ALF: The Comic Series

Does this issue have any other Christmas stories? Let’s see…ALF is a hockey mascot…Gornan the Barb-Q-Barian meets the Melmarx Brothers…ooh, ALF meets Santa! nope, just a dream…ALF tells a story about the “Uncanned X-Melmen”…a story where ALF tries to convince the Tanners that the Melmacian New Year’s tradition is for the eldest child to “skin a snake”.

ALF: The Comic Series

Those brave souls who trudged through a blizzard to reach the comic shop in December 1987 held out hope for two full years, but by December 1989 it must have been clear to even the most clueless 10-year old: there would never be a good ALF Christmas story.

*throws this issue away*
*remembers plan to sell these on eBay when review is finished*
*curses*

—–
* I don’t buy monthly comics anymore, so I can’t say if this is still common practice; but back in my day, comics and magazines would have a cover date one, sometimes two, months into the future. This was a little way of gaming the system for newsstands and grocery stores, who had procedures directing them to keep titles on display until the date on the cover had passed. Using some internal clues from a few issues, it appears that ALF sported a cover date a full three months out, which if you ask me is just plain greedy.

** Not identified as such on the cover, but the advertisements were predominantly for other Star Comics, and ALF makes mention of his comic as falling within that line at one point.

*** “Chicken fat” – it does nothing for the nutritional value of a soup (that is, does nothing to advance the plot), but adds lots of flavor.

ALF, "Weird Science"

A guest submission today from Justin B. Justin commented a few weeks back about having some insight from Bernie Brillstein, and I’ve asked him to expand his thoughts into a full post. I hope you enjoy. This also buys me another week to figure out how to make “Baby Love” interesting, so I’m not complaining…

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ALF has always fascinated me, though the reasons for that fascination have varied quite a bit. As a child, I was naturally amused by ALF’s catchphrases and tendency to eat the family pets. Later, upon reevaluating the show in college and as an adult, what I found interesting was just how truly terrible the show was and always wondered why it was so bad.

There are so many shows from that era which hold up and continue to be just as funny today. There’s a reason why The Golden Girls, Fresh Prince and Seinfeld are consistently some of the most valuable syndication properties – the humor holds up. ALF on the other hand is truly a lazy show. Other than the fact he ate cats and was from outer space, I think most viewers would be hard pressed to think of anything else memorable about it.

Certainly nothing about the supporting characters (truly a set of people nobody cared about developing), the plots (unoriginal recycled material from previous sitcoms), or the production quality (it was made for like seventeen dollars; insert obvious joke about Max Wright getting paid in crack and hobos). Just about the only impressive thing was the puppetry involved in bringing the main character to life. Max Wright claimed in an interview years later that he once saw ALF blush. It really was a very emotive little puppet.

Later, once I moved to LA and got involved in the industry, I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time with Bernie Brillstein, who packaged the show and helped sell it to NBC. He was credited as an Executive Producer on the series. Prior to ALF, his career was legendary managing many luminaries and developing classic shows like Saturday Night Live, The Muppet Show and NewsRadio. In film, he did Ghostbusters, The Blues Brothers and many more. One of the things I had to ask him about was ALF, which was brought to him by Paul Fusco in 1984.

When Fusco pitched the idea, ALF (the character) was basically a Don Rickles puppet. The fact he was an alien was secondary. Fusco’s humor was “as mean and nasty as humanly possible.” Brillstein found the idea hysterical and very different from what Henson was doing with the Muppets, which he’d also helped sell. Since Paul Fusco had zero writing or showrunning experience, Tom Patchett was brought in to serve as Executive Producer, as he’d executive produced The Bob Newhart Show, along with Brillstein’s Buffalo Bill, as a way to lend some experience to the project.

They went to NBC in Burbank to pitch the series and upon explaining their idea were met with a lot of blank stares. Bernie Brillstein kicked Fusco under the table, who pulled out ALF from a garbage bag. The puppet proceeded to sneeze and wipe it off on Brandon Tartikoff’s suit jacket, then verbally attack everybody in the room. Show sold.

In trying to understand what the show became, the crucial aspect of the above pitch was that ALF was basically an insult comedian. Never was it about the family and how they relate to an alien house guest, but rather in Fusco’s mind the Tanners were simply a vehicle for ALF to offend, insult and injure.

Watching the show today it is impossible not to take note of Max Wright’s performance. It is beyond over the top. He’s one of the stagiest actors I’ve ever seen, especially as Willie. To be fair, he’s playing a straight man and delivering the world’s most boring dialogue to a puppet. It’s not an easy task and there’s only so much you can do.

Having said that, the early reviews of the series praise Wright’s performance. After all, it was the quality of his work landed him the role, without even having to audition. He had been in Buffalo Bill, where Tom Patchett had worked with him, in addition to an award-winning performance as Nazi doctor Josef Mengle and in Fosse’s classic All That Jazz. He’s even Tony Award-nominated for his role in Ivanov. The biggest problem for me is the lack of any substance to these characters. We know nothing about them and they serve no purpose in the show except to get ALF to his next punchline. It’s even worse with Lynn and Brian.

Naturally I asked Bernie Brillstein about all of this and he admitted that ALF is quite literally the worst casting he’s ever overseen. It simply did not work. There was no chemistry between the leads, the kids were not particularly good and by season four everybody hated each other with a burning passion.

Adding to this was the fact that an objectively funny script would come out on a Monday and by Friday, Fusco would have the writers take any funny lines the family had and move them to ALF, leaving everybody else with dreadful expository dialogue. It pissed everybody off, from the series regulars to the guest actors. Character actor Dean Cameron, who starred on three episodes later in the show’s run, echoed this in an interview he recently gave: “The scripts were really funny on Monday. By the time tape day comes around, ALF has all the good lines and the rest of the script is horrible. It was bumming me out after a couple of weeks. Imagine what it was like working on the thing for [four] years. Imagine.” Adding to this was the fact it took 20-25 hours to shoot a single episode.

There’s a legendary story which I’ve heard from two different people and was even discussed briefly on Howard Stern: By the end of season four, tensions were so high that Max Wright had a serious meltdown on the set. Who knows if it was chemically induced or not, but he began physically attacking the ALF puppet and screaming “PUT US ON STICKS! WE’RE ALL PUPPETS HERE!” Truly, truly a great moment.

The whole thing got so heated that it was agreed between the producers that should the series get a fifth season order the Tanners would be completely written out of the show. ALF would be taken to the “Alien Task Force” headquarters and the show was to become a McHale’s Navy– or Hogan’s Heroes-type comedy, set on a military base.

I’ll leave you with this gem of a Benji Gregory interview. It’s not my normal practice to mock twelve-year-old kids, but Gregory can hardly string a sentence together. Why in the world he was cast on a major NBC show is beyond me. I’ve always wondered if he was secretly a good little child actor and they just didn’t know what to do with him. That, thankfully, appears not to be the case. He had zero charm, except perhaps he could scratch his armpit on cue.

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