Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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I love The Venture Bros. You know that. It’s one of my all-time favorite shows, and even if I thought this past season was a bit shit tbh I can’t say that my love or appreciation of it has been diminished at all.

I’d like to say that I realized something when rewatching it lately…but I haven’t been watching it. I’ve just been living my life, going about my business, and a thought occurred. I’ll share that with you in a moment, of course, but here, now, I want to point out that that’s part of what makes The Venture Bros. so incredible to me in the first place. Sure, you can watch it over and over again and find things you missed…but you can also just let it sit. Let it simmer. Let your mind go where it will…and you’ll still find new ways to appreciate it, and new things to consider about it.

Compare that to ALF. I haven’t rewatched that shit either, but I sure as hell don’t catch myself in the middle of the day realizing that “Don’t it Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?” is secretly brilliant.

Okay, so, anyway: late in season one, The Venture Bros. has what might be its first masterpiece: “The Trial of The Monarch.” It harvests seeds that had been passively planted by previous episodes to incredible effect, tearing apart a central relationship and positioning The Monarch — the show’s main villain — as its emotional core. No mean feat, and the episode that accomplishes it is tense, beautiful, hilarious, and unexpectedly heartbreaking.

In short, it’s fantastic stuff, and it’s still one of my favorites.

The titular Venture brothers themselves don’t do much in the episode, but it opens with a fantasy sequence that sees them in costume. Hank is dressed as Indiana Jones, and Dean as Thomas Magnum, from Magnum, P.I. You can see the boys in the screengrab above. And, for reference:

Fine. Everyone knows this. Hank and Dean are dressed as those characters. Few people overlooked that fact; it’s pretty obvious.

But…where did Hank and Dean get those ideas? From the movie and from the TV show, obviously.

…except that in season four’s best episode, “Everybody Comes to Hank’s,” we learn that Hank doesn’t actually know who Indiana Jones is. He wears the iconic hat…which came with a whip that he assumes is a “detective’s whip.”

So Hank wears part of an Indiana Jones costume in that episode, and in doing so he reveals that he doesn’t know Indiana Jones. Odd, as he dressed as the character three seasons prior. Dean may or may not know Thomas Magnum, but that’s academic; Hank doesn’t know his character, and that’s enough to question things in The Venture Bros., where continuity between episodes is important.

Indiana Jones and Magnum, P.I. are a pretty odd pairing. They come from different media and don’t have a clear relation to one another. They come from different worlds and time periods, and they don’t pursue or desire the same things.

They fit Hank and Dean well enough, of course. Indiana Jones is brash and daring, and Magnum is (relatively) focused and methodical. The adventurer and the detective. Hank and Dean.

But Indiana Jones and Magnum, P.I. on their own merits don’t really go together, and it’s not a pairing we’d ever see outside of this fantasy sequence.

Or…would we?

That’s right. The Venture Bros. paired up these two characters in 2004, but Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers did it in 1988.

Rescue Rangers was a very popular show, airing during the enormously successful Disney Afternoon programming block. And while Chip and Dale were already established characters by that point, it was Rescue Rangers that dressed them respectively as Indiana Jones and Magnum, P.I.

And that is interesting.

The same odd pairing of characters happened twice, and it doesn’t strike me as coincidental. Combine this with the fact that Hank doesn’t recognize an Indiana Jones costume when he actually encounters one, and I start to wonder if Hank and Dean in “The Trial of The Monarch” are actually dressed as the Rescue Rangers.

That’s a show they’re likely enough to have seen, and there’s a little more in common as well. Hank, Dean, Chip, and Dale are all four-letter names. It’s always Hank and Dean, as opposed to Dean and Hank…just as it’s always Chip and Dale as opposed to Dale and Chip. Hank and Chip are both Indiana Jones, and Dean and Dale are both Magnum, P.I. Each pair is part of a larger team that goes on new adventures week to week…

I have to wonder if that’s a subtle nod there. The joke being less that they’re dressed as two famous characters and more that they’re dressed as two different famous characters aping source material unfamiliar to the boys.

The Venture Bros. gives us a lot to consider, even in its silliest moments. It’s an impressively layered and incredibly well-written show. And the fact that I can still find new things in a thirteen-year-old episode (holy crap…) is incredible.

Oh, also: I just realized that the episode title “Powerless in the Face of Death” refers not to being unable to revive the boys, but rather to the blackout Dr. Venture accidentally causes. That’s some lovely misdirection I didn’t even notice. There’s still so much to find in this show…

Yeah, I know, my post title sucks, but I don’t really have a running feature on the blog I can tie this to. It’s just a piece of pretty cool television history that I can’t find anywhere on the internet. For all I know, I have the last surviving copy and am therefore morally obligated to drop it into a volcano.

But, what the hell, I’ll archive it for future generations instead.

I saw this at a convention, and Casey Roberson was nice/vindictive enough to buy it for me. The vendor described it as a piece of promotional material sent to networks to see if they wanted to air ALF. He wasn’t wrong, but I assumed he meant for its initial run. Instead this was distributed in 1989, toward the end of the show’s run, promoting the availability (starting fall of 1990) of ALF for strip syndication.

Strip syndication refers to a show’s reruns airing at a fixed time across the entire week, thereby showing up as a long “strip” when laid out on a TV schedule.

Of course that also means the trifold gets to play into the naughty definition of “strip” and present ALF as a Playmate centerfold. This means I own the only official piece of ALF pornography ever produced.

Now you see why I’m bothering to archive it!

Anyway, I’m including pictures, but since I just have an iPhone I’ll also transcribe the text. I intend to be as accurate as possible, right down to any typos or punctuation issues. Feel free to point out any you see in my transcription, though, just in case they’re my own.

I have seen some of the details here in other places (such as ALF’s favorite Melmacian TV shows) but since I can’t find a copy of this anywhere, I assume there was just some overlap with copy found in other materials.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the Tanners aren’t mentioned here at all. This is trying to sell a show without even paying lipservice to four of the five main characters.

That’s our ALF!

Anyway:

Front: The Centerfold


The centerfold features ALF lying naked on a beach. You’re welcome.

The only text is “CELEBRITY OF THE MILLENNIUM” and “MR. TELEVISION.”

There’s also a “Love, ALF” signature. Thanks to this and the next page, we have the best look at his handwriting we could ever want. Analyze away, graphologists!

The copyright notice in the lower right reads:
ALF is a Registered Trademark of Alien Productions ®
© 1987 Alien Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Yes, I know the copyright notice says 1987 and I said it was circulated in 1989, but you’ll see where I got that date later. This must just be the copyright date for the image, as the text is clearly selling the show for syndication in 1990, which is not something they would have been doing in 1987. The text, therefore, may not be copyrighted at all, so feel free to use it to advertise your own show about a farting puppet.

Inside Left: Celebrity Data Sheet


This page features three promotional photos of ALF and one from “Don’t it Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?” where he’s dressed as legendary womanizer Elton John. We also get some definitive MELMAC FACTS regarding his birthday, but I don’t get whatever joke they’re trying to tell by giving him two of them. Then there’s the insight nobody expected that he wants to fuck the cat from the 9Lives cans. (And, I guess, Mr. Ochmonek.)

Anyway, the text:

CELEBRITY DATA SHEET

NICKNAME: ALF REAL NAME: Gordon Shumway
HEAD SIZE: 33″ WAIST: 33″ HIPS: 33″
HEIGHT: 3’2″1”’ WEIGHT: ‘Till the Sun Shines, Nellie
BIRTH DATE: August 12 and October 2, 1757 PLANET: Melmac (Lower East Side)
FAVORITE EXPRESSION: “Curiosity Killed the Cat” (Usually followed by the expression “Pass the Plum Sauce”)
TURN-ONS: Morris the Cat, High Nielsens, Hawaiian Shirts
TURN-OFFS: Empty Fridge, Short Jokes, Alien Task Force
FAVORITE MOVIES: “It Came From Outer Space”, “Mars Needs Women Now” and “Hair”
A GOOD WOMAN IS: Friendly, Funny and Furry
SECRET FANTASY: To be a regional sales manager for Meow Mix

Inside Center


THE HOTTEST THING IN PRIME TIME IS AVAILABLE FOR STRIPPING.

Inside Right: Interview


He’s hip, he’s hot, he’s ALF, the biggest thing to hit television since the remote control. On the occasion of his highly successful NBC-TV prime time smash being made available for strip syndication (starting fall ’90), we interviewed the old ALFer.

We caught up with ALF at the refrigerator on the set for a candid, far-reaching conversation.

Q: Thanks for taking the time from your busy schedule to do this interview.
ALF: No problem. Mind if I eat a pot roast while we chat?
Q: Not at all. Were you ever on television before you got your own series?
ALF: Yes. I was a contestant on Melmac’s most successful game show, “Wheel of Cheese.” I won a sofa, a set of mock luggage and a styrofoam goat.
Q: Pretty impressive. Were you the biggest winner?
ALF: No, actually Tyrone Split was the biggest winner. He was seven foot three and weighed three-hundred and forty-seven pounds. Ha! I kill me!
Q: And us as well. Are you the only Shumway to enter show business?
ALF: Oh, no! My Uncle Goomer Shumway was a famous actor. He starred in great Melmacian movies like “Cat on a Hot Tin Griddle,” “Gone With the Fish,” and “Luncheon Counters of the Worse Kind.”
Q: Let’s talk about your amazing success on television. Your popularity on NBC has been growing stronger each week, your demographics show that you have a perfect audience composition, and now you are destined to become a hit in syndication. Why do you think that you made such a huge impression on our whole planet?
ALF: I hit it pretty hard when I crash landed. Hey, if I wasn’t wearing my seat belt, I’d look like Sean Penn.
Q: What do you think of earth television?
ALF: Hey, by watching television I learned that the world was black and white before 1953! But television on Melmac was funnier. Shows like “I Dream of Homer,” “Bowling for Rice,” and “As The World Explodes.” Even though the last one hits a little close to home now.
Q: Sounds interesting.
ALF: It does? Is this going to take a lot longer? I have a drumstick here that’s growing bacteria!
Q: Just a few more questions. You’re entering the syndication marketplace next to shows like “Cosby” and “M*A*S*H.”
ALF: I can see the line-up now. Huxtable, Hawkeye and Hairball! Ha! I kill me!
Q: You’ll be making lots of money.
ALF: Yes, but it’s only paper. On Melmac we paid with fur. If you over-spent, you went bald. And we don’t want station managers going bald. I realize in some instances we may be a bit late.
Q: Well, ALF, I’ll wrap this up. You’re an alien who has it all. A hit network show, the admiration of millions…
ALF: This drumstick that’s hardening before my eyes…
Q: But what’s next for ALF? What are your dreams?
ALF: I do have one recurring dream about showing up for work and realizing that I’m not wearing any pants. But then I remeber that I don’t work and I never wear any pants.
Q: Thanks for your time, ALF. Many thanks for this revealing interview.
ALF: My pleasure. Sure you don’t want some pot roast?
Q: No, thanks. There’s no silverware.
ALF: So?

ALF
alien productions

LORIMAR™
SYNDICATION
A LORIMAR TELEPICTURES COMPANY

So, yeah, there you go! It’s actually pretty cool. It was wrapped in plastic when we bought it, so I didn’t get a good look at it until later. The Playboy similarities are pretty tame, and it’s nothing a child would recognize, so I can imagine this was a really nice take-home for station managers whose kids loved the show. It’s a cool bit of very rare memorabilia, and if I had gotten my hands on it as a kid I would have thought it was great.

Does anyone else know more about this? I wonder what other bits of ALF ephemera are lost to the ages.

It’s laminated like a restaurant menu, which means it’s stayed in pretty good shape through the years, and I’m both happy to have it and thrilled that I get to be the one to preserve it online. Mainly, though, I hope you are as upset as I am that this is the third different “here’s what Melmacians used for currency” joke. Whoever wrote this should be FIRED FROM ALF.

As two or three of you know, I used to review ALF. It made me the most famous person on the internet. Anyway, some dope decided to review Perfect Strangers, and he’s halfway through the run, meaning he’ll get his life back sometime in the mid-2030s.

To celebrate / pity this milestone, he’s hosting a live stream of six episodes, various surprise goodies, and the requisite profane chatroom. It will be fun, and I’ll be there for sure. There’s also Larryoke, in which Casey, myself, and a few other familiar names get together to sing Perfect Strangers parody lyrics over the backing tracks of popular songs. It’s a great idea because I had it.

It all goes down at 8 p.m. EST on Friday, April 14. As ever, you can sign up to the Facebook event to let it do the timezone calculating. It will also remind you to join us for a terrible 80s sitcom we all still kinda love anyway.

Definitely tune in. Even I’m looking forward to it, and I hate everything.

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.

Red Dwarf XI, "Can of Worms"

I mentioned last week that Kryten is a potentially difficult character to build stories around. Here’s a confession, though: part of the reason I made that observation is that I knew that this week’s episode — the last in series XI — was about The Cat. And if Kryten is potentially difficult, The Cat is a problem the show never before cracked. In fact, I’m still not sure it has.

But, you know what? I really enjoyed “Can of Worms.”

And that says something, because I actually wanted to hate it.

Watching it, I was almost relentlessly frustrated. “Can of Worms” contained so much of what often holds latter-day Dwarf back from being great. It recycled plot lines. It leaned on silly faces and references to previous episodes. It underused a guest character. It felt cobbled together from at least four different scripts.

I wanted to abhor it.

…but I couldn’t. Because it was very funny, sometimes quite clever, and always a lot of fun. “Can of Worms” isn’t great, but it’s a riot.

Until this week, we’ve never had a Cat episode. Sure, there was “Waiting for God,” the runaway worst episode of the classic years, way back in series I, but even that was more about his species and its history than it was about him.

And that was it. No other episode even came close to being “about” The Cat. There was, of course, “The Identity Within,” which was written for series VII. It was never made, though…a fact that immediately makes it the best episode of series VII, but still means we had no Cat episode.

We had no Cat episode, I’m sure, because there isn’t much about him that’s conducive to driving complete stories.

He’s vain, he’s selfish, he’s a bit dumb. Any of that could be at the center of a narrative, but I think it’s safe to say that Red Dwarf has been most comfortable keeping those things on the sidelines, tapping into them for punchlines or isolated sequences, and otherwise just leaving them be.

See, each of the other characters has a bit of emotional give. Lister is a lazy slob, but he’s ethical and caring. Rimmer is an abrasive coward, but he’s fragile and has a conflicted soul. Kryten is an anal exposition bot, but he has real desires and is unfailingly loyal.

The Cat doesn’t have a but. He’s vain, he’s selfish, he’s a bit dumb. That’s it.

Earlier in this very series he refused to give a dying Lister one of his kidneys, and that wasn’t an episode-specific development. I genuinely believe that he would always have refused, at every point in the show’s run, and would continue to refuse in a hypothetical series XX. That was true to the character, and it also illustrates why he’s not a natural protagonist.

TV shows (and novels, and films) nearly always require some kind of arc. A character starts somewhere, then experiences something, and ends up somewhere else. The Cat, by nature, stalls at step two. He doesn’t learn any lessons, not even temporarily for the purposes of an episode. He’s him, and he’s gorgeous. Why would he change?

And so “Can of Worms” doesn’t evolve the character. He doesn’t express some moral awakening the way Lister does. He doesn’t reel from a dark exploration of his psyche the way Rimmer does. He doesn’t embrace some newfound taste of humanity the way Kryten does. He’s The Cat when the episode begins, he’s The Cat throughout, and he’s The Cat at the end.

That in itself is not a bad thing, but it does mean that the episode this one most reminded me of was “Only the Good…” That one ended series VIII with a barely-connected series of skits that didn’t so much build upon each other as sat next to each other until the episode ran out of time.

“Can of Worms” flits similarly from idea to idea, but it’s not as dissatisfying. This is for two reasons.

One: As we’ve said, The Cat can’t experience a narrative journey the way the other characters can, so an episode “about” him needs to be more about the things that happen around him.

And, more importantly, two: the ideas that flit around are funny.

Danny John-Jules really has gotten better with each series, and I honestly feel that his performance over the decades culminates in the great scene in which he describes his first sexual experience. It was funny, oddly sweet, a little disgusting, and perfectly delivered. The punchline (“It still counts!”) served as absolutely perfect punctuation, entirely in keeping with the character, and it was a highlight of the entire series.

The Cat wasn’t the only character who got great moments, though. Lister’s face before his emotional surgery — and the reveal that Kryten hadn’t started yet — got a huge laugh out of me. The three simultaneous Mexican standoffs toward the end were also a hugely funny surprise, and they redeemed the fact that so much of the basic idea had already been done before in “Polymorph.” (I also have to admit that I laughed for a very long time at Lister shooting The Cat without knowing that it wasn’t really his crewmate. Again, a similar idea to what we’ve seen before, but a surprising take on it.)

The biggest disappointment for me came early. After finally meeting a female cat, we learn much too quickly that she’s a shapeshifter. At first my disappointment was simply the fact that we’ve seen Red Dwarf use that development a few times already, but really the biggest issue is that we didn’t spend more time with her. Like Butler from the last episode, she was a nice parallel version of a character we know, and her relationship with The Cat is one I really wish we could have explored without immediately shifting into another kind of episode altogether.

But you know what? These are nitpicks. And they’re nitpicks about an episode that, by all rights, should be riddled with issues.

Red Dwarf did the impossible this week. It didn’t give us a latter-day episode that felt like the classic years; it gave us a latter-day episode that felt like a latter-day episode and was still really good.

I think that says a lot about series XI. If you’ve been following these reviews…well, thank you! But, also, if you’ve been following these reviews, you know how much happier I am with this batch of episodes than I was with series X.

And I think “Can of Worms” really showed me why that was. As much as I could poke at X and dissect it and prattle on about its flaws, it really came down to one fact: I wasn’t laughing. I can poke at “Can of Worms” and dissect it and prattle on about its flaws, too, but I was laughing, and that makes all the difference.

Series XI has been funny. No, scratch that. Series XI has been very funny, and it’s the happiest I’ve been with the show in ages. I don’t want to say Red Dwarf is back, because that implies that it’s become whatever it used to be. And it hasn’t. But I will say that Red Dwarf seems to have found itself a second wind. It’s found a groove that works for it. It’s not exactly what we knew before, and that’s okay. It may even be a good thing.

It’s confident. It’s smart. It’s very funny. It’s easily the best the show has been in twenty-three years.

Latter-day Red Dwarf has found its voice. And since series XII was shot almost immediately following this one, I’d guess this unexpected streak isn’t over quite yet.

I will end this review by briefly mentioning something about series XI as a whole: I’m surprised by how divisive these episodes have been. In the last series, we could pretty easily identify the two everyone liked (“Lemons,” “The Beginning”) and the two everyone hated (“Entangled,” “Dear Dave”). This time around, though, just about every episode seems to be somebody’s favorite and somebody’s least favorite.

There doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus, and, I admit, I don’t have anything intelligent to add to that. I don’t even have any theories. I just find it very interesting.

Personally, though? I’m happy with the entire series. I have my favorites and my least favorites, but even the lows here are higher than almost all of series X and Back to Earth. We’re on an upswing, and I look forward to seeing how high it takes us.

Of course, though, what’s a review series without a definitive ranking that you’re wrong if you disagree with?

AND SO:

“Twentica” > “Krysis” > “Can of Worms” > “Samsara” > “Give & Take” > sitting on Kryten’s screwdriver > “Officer Rimmer”

I’ll see you all for series XII. Thanks for reading. Oh, and do share your favorites and least favorites in the comments. I really do find it fascinating.

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