Lost Worlds of Power Author Spotlight: Jeffrey Zoerner

Every week until the release of The Lost Worlds of Power, one author selected for inclusion will be given the floor. I’ve asked them to talk about themselves, their approach to the project, and anything else they’d like to say up front. I’ve also asked them to avoid spoilers, so have no fear of those. Anyway, week two: Jeffrey Zoerner, author of “Renegade.”

Jeffrey Zoerner, author of "Renegade"Greetings, earthlings. My name is Jeff Zoerner, and I was lucky enough to have “Renegade,” my submission to the Lost Worlds of Power project, accepted for inclusion. Wow, you must be thinking, now I want to learn all about this guy. No problem. I will indulge your curiosity by presenting myself in easy-to-read question and answer format. You’re welcome!

Who are you?
I am a complete fucking loser. Unfortunately, everybody loves me, so I can’t kill myself. That would be cruel.

Well, wait…not everyone loves me. Those snarky bastards at the International 3-Day Novel Contest have rejected my submissions four years running. FOUR YEARS, people. That’s about 450 pages of wasted effort. Arrrgghh…

So when I saw the call for submissions for the Lost Worlds of Power compilation, my interest was piqued. A chance for redemption!

What are your qualifications to write about video games?
Back in the day, a friend got me hooked on Asteroids, the arcade game by Atari. Eventually, it took over my life. I’d have a term paper due the next day, and I’d be at the 24-hour donut shop at 2:00 am with my friends playing Asteroids. I remember once I told my friend I’d raided my mother’s purse to get quarters to play. He said, “Stealing to support your habit. That’s a bad sign.” He was right.

RenegadeI wasn’t some pussy-footing, path-of-least-resistance, rake-up-the-points player, either. I liked to get in there and shoot things. Especially sentient things, like those sneaky little fuckers flying around in spaceships. I was the John Wayne Gacy of killing those guys…except I didn’t fuck them first. But I would have if I could have.

So those are my qualifications.

But surely you’re a gamer now, right?
Fuck no! After the Asteroids phenomenon ran its course, I lost all interest in gaming. And so, like Jackie Paper, I came no more. I never played a video game again.

In fact, over time, I learned to hold them in contempt. Nowadays they seem to be a vehicle for steering young people away from books and other activities that encourage critical thinking and into mindless acquiescence to whatever is put in front of them. On the internets, I’ve found that whenever I encounter a real bonehead, there is a 95% chance that the person has the word “gamer” in his user name…LAgamer4lif, or whatever. If you trace the phenomenon back far enough, I’m sure Dick Cheney is in some way involved.

I don’t hate all gamers, though…I can’t, since I have several friends who love gaming. Relatives too…in fact, during a fairly recent visit to the UAE, my nephews tried to teach me to handle a Nintendo console (or whatever the big game manufacturer is today). The results were so embarrassing they politely lapsed into “I am dealing with a mentally retarded person” mode before giving me up as a lost cause. Sigh.

RenegadeGod damn! So why did you submit something for this collection?
While perusing the list of eligible subjects, I came across the game Renegade. Renegade is a dude who goes around kicking the crap out of people — a timeless entertainment theme that cannot, in my opinion, be improved upon. Also, I am a fan of combat sports — boxing, wrestling, mixed martial arts — so I thought I could have a credible go at it.

Also, Renegade’s official name is Mr. K. That sealed the deal. You will see why once you read the story…provided, of course, you recognize the literary reference! Moo ha ha ha!

So, have you ever actually played Renegade?
Are you kidding? I have things to do, people to see. But I did watch a run-through of it on YouTube for a minute or two. Now stop questioning my credentials, you twit.

RenegadeBut if you are such a loser, why should I read your submission?
Because losers have nothing better to do than to sit around and write novellas about games they’ve never played. Also, all jocks think about is sports…all losers think about is sex.

Oh, wait…there is no sex in “Renegade.” Although I did whack off quite a bit while writing it. And that reminds me; I recently made up a riddle.

What does Mr. Miyagi do every time he thinks about the Karate Kid?

Wax off.

Oh, yeah! Wit like this — that’s why you should read “Renegade.” I rest my case.

Awesome! Thanks, Jeff. You may think you’re a loser, but I’ve really grown to love you over the course of reading this.
Thanks, man. I appreciate it. Now read the goddamn book.

— Jeffrey Zoerner

ALF Reviews: The ALFies! (Season 1)

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the first installment of The ALFies! It’s like an awards show, but in text. And about ALF. And I’m presenting this shit in my boxers.

Anyway, I figured I’d do this after each season to sort of exorcise myself of whatever pent up frustrations remain. Of course, since you guys bought me the fucking German ALF boxed set (16 DVDs, y’all…) I’m going to have to go back and re-watch season one at some point so that I can review the scenes cut from syndication.

…I’m never going to escape this, am I?

So sit back and enjoy The ALFies, brought to you by Pizza Barge, Jackrabbit Courier, and that hideous god-damned ALF figurine I found on Google images that’s going to serve as my award statuette and probably try to touch you in the middle of the night.

Without further ado…

The ALFie for…


ALF, "Strangers in the Night"

ALF is by turns awful, embarrassing, and boring…but one actor manages to make me feel warm and attentive every time he turns up. I don’t know his name, and I probably never will, but that’s okay. To me, he’s the midget.

It’s this poor guy’s thankless job to shuffle around the deadly trenches carved into the floor of every set in a poorly ventilated ALF costume, under the hot studio lights, in a mask that keeps shifting so he can’t see through the eye-holes. If that guy’s not a trooper, I don’t know who is.

The best part about a midget appearance is that it means the show thought it was important to let us see ALF’s entire body for some reason. Of course, there are plenty of reasons you’d want to show a character’s entire body at some point…but ALF never has him do anything but waddle around silently.

His face might be covered, but I’d like to think his misery shines through. And, for that, I believe he might be my soul mate. Either way, he’s the best actor in the cast of ALF. By a fucking landslide.

The ALFie for…


ALF, "A.L.F."

Alright, alright, to be honest, I think the secretary or whatever she was in “Try to Remember” was a lot worse, but I don’t think I wrote anything about her in that review and I’m pretty sure that gives us all the right to pretend she never existed. In the pilot, though, whoever played the Alien Task Force Honor System Patrolman was pretty awful.

I get the feeling he was trying to channel a kind of cold, dangerous character that would vivisect ALF right there in the living room, but on camera it just comes off as though he wandered in from some totally unrelated — and equally awful — show that was filming a few soundstages away.

And while it’s not his fault, it’s difficult to separate his portrayal from the idiocy of standing around politely outside while the Tanners scream and whoop and holler about where to hide their alien, then not making any attempt to search the premises, and then taking their word for it that they aren’t harboring an alien and literally never bothering them again.

It gets even more ridiculous when we find out that at this point in the episode, the fucking UFO is still on the roof. I really hate the Alien Task Force, you guys.

The ALFie for…


ALF, "Weird Science"

Most of the shows in the ALF universe are real. Sesame Street, The Bob Newhart Show, Wheel of Fortune…which is what makes it so strange that whenever a TV show needs to function as part of the plot, the ALF writers betray their ignorance of how their own medium works.

Obviously they’ve seen other shows, since they keep referencing them and all, but when it comes time to create one, they end up with One World to Hope For, which is a soap opera with not only the most nonsensical title but the most impossible production schedule, as they wait for a writer they’ve never met with no credits to his name to send in unsolicited scripts that they then rehearse, film, edit and air within the course of a single morning.

But even that’s not as egregious as whatever the fuck thing Consumer Ed hosts. It’s a segment on the local news, and when it’s first mentioned in the episode we’re told that he helps swindled consumers expose the folks who scammed them. But, hey, this is ALF, and rather than rewrite that part of the episode since it doesn’t relate in any way to the plot, they just have Consumer Ed show up in Willie’s living room and film a segment about the grade school science fair Brian is in.

One World to Hope For isn’t a patch on this, because in that case it just seemed like an atrocious mishandling of a soap opera. Here Consumer Ed’s show is set up to be one thing…and then shifts gears entirely and for some reason becomes something totally incompatible with what it’s supposed to be doing.

It’s nonsense. And it makes me pee.

The ALFie for…


ALF, "Oh, Tannerbaum"

This has nothing to do with the show at all. In context, it’s not really that funny. It’s also not overtly terrible, so I guess by default it does actually rank as one of my favorite lines.

But now I can’t even think of this stupid joke without laughing, due to the technical problems we had during the Xmas live stream. I tried to show the ALF Xmas special, along with some other specials (such as Major Dad and the hilarious tale of dog death that was Lassie‘s yuletide contribution), but some bizarre audio feedback happened on Twitch’s end, and everything said in the show looped endlessly, even as the video moved forward.

As you can imagine, this turned into aural chaos after only about 10 seconds, and only got worse from there. Since I had no clue what was going on, I had to restart the episode what had to be a dozen times in the hopes that it would eventually fix itself. The chat room expressed its appreciation for getting to hear ALF’s egg joke over and over again while I scrambled to get my own fucking Christmas special to work.

It was hilarious. My stomach hurt from laughing. And then someone ratted us out and Twitch banned my channel so that I couldn’t show any more Xmas specials.

But we’ll always have those eggs.

The ALFie for…


ALF, "A Little Bit of Soap"

ALF had an irritating habit of introducing characters that we’d never see again, and who also didn’t have much of anything to do in the episode they did get to appear in. The bookie from “The Gambler,” the secretary from “Try to Remember,” Willie’s coworkers from “Strangers in the Night” and “Border Song” (two different batches of coworkers, of course), and so on.

That’s why it was such a relief when the show finally introduced a character in “Mother and Child Reunion” that actually Got Shit Done.

No, not Kate Sr. (But can I take a moment to express my genuine joy over the fact that you guys have taken to calling her Kate Sr. as well?) I’m referring to Estelle, the never-seen presence that set three sequential plotlines into motion. That’s approximately seven more plotlines than anyone else in ALF ever set into motion.

Additionally, she did this by kicking Kate Sr. out of her house, because she was tired of the daily bullshit. That also earns Estelle an honorary ALFie for most relateable character.

The ALFie for…


ALF, "Looking For Lucky"

“Looking For Lucky” may have been only the third episode, and a heaping pile of shit, but by the end of the season there was no character I liked more than the little girl who wanted to kill ALF.

She showed up with Deuce Bigalow, demanded ALF’s immediate execution, and then disappeared forever.

Which is probably for the best. I mean, how do you top that?

The ALFie for…


ALF, "Don't It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?"

So, okay. As of right now I don’t have the uncut German DVDs (though I will hopefully be getting them a few days after you read this…thank you, fans!), so I can’t confirm that this is any good at all. But on my review of “Don’t It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?” commenter stevieray said:

the uncut version of this episode ends with Willie in the garage trying to make his own music video for Kate, while singing “Saturday night’s alright for fighting.”

…and, yeah, that sounds way funnier than anything that made it into the version I saw.

Willie singing an Elton John song for his music video makes perfect sense from what I know of his character (erm…”character”), and the fact that he picks something that’s not even slightly romantic is just another layer of comedy. It would also be a nice way to apologize for all of the “lol my wife is an unfuckable hag” material we got in the episode.

We’ll see. Maybe this sucks as much as anything else, but I at least like the idea…and that’s more than I like about most things this show has done.

(For what it’s worth, commenter Jerod found a version of the scene in Spanish. It’s worth A LOT.)

The ALFie for…


ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

There was a surprising amount of competition for this very specific award. Brian shat on (and killed) a goldfish. Kate Sr. took a great big dump while wearing her kitchen apron. And Mrs. Ochmonek crapped merrily away while ALF flew a motherfucking plane.

But no shit could ever be as important as the shit taken by the leader of the free world, which is why President Ronald Reagan sweeps this one.

In “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” ALF calls the Oval Office, which, as every American schoolboy knows, can detach itself from the White House and take to the sky in the form of Air Force One. It is here that Ronnie takes a shit that lasts for several days, but doesn’t interfere with his ability to converse with a puppet about the nuclear demolition of a fictional planet.

Ever the trooper, President Bonzo extends diplomacy to a space alien while curling one out. That’s true multitasking, and we’d expect no less of a true patriot. Taking a true dump.

God bless America.

The ALFie for…


ALF, "Lookin' Through the Windows"

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

The ALFie for…


ALF, "Jump"

You know how they say that dreams are only interesting to the person who is having them? Well, Willie’s dreams aren’t even that interesting to him. In the Christmas episode, for instance, he has a nightmare that his family is wearing different clothes from when he saw them last. DREAM BIG, WILLIE

But it’s “Jump” that contains the worst of these stupid-ass time-killing nonsense sequences of bullshit. Here, Willie dreams that he’s getting a diploma in a high school gymnasium that’s flying, I guess. And Joe Namath is there, to brag about how much time he spent in a younger version of Kate’s snatch.

Then some other guys who fucked his wife stand around while ALF does a soft-shoe and holy shitfire is this show garbage.

The best part? There was no point to any of it.

It seems like Willie’s dream is all setup for him making his big decision to skydive — since that’s the climax of the entire sequence and all — but he already decided that before he went to bed. There was no narrative purpose to this whatsoever, so I guess that just means the ALF writing staff thought the scene would coast on the inherent sex appeal of Max Wright in a mortar board.

The ALFie for…


ALF, "Keepin' the Faith"

In a show that featured ALF humping Willie’s leg, plying Brian with alcohol when nobody else is home, and hiding under the bed so that he can listen to Kate and Willie fuck, it would take one hell of a scene to stand out in the creepiness department.

And that’s why they made “Keepin’ the Faith.” (At least, I assume that’s why. There’s sure as hell no other reason I can think of.)

Lynn pulls her hair back. ALF tells her to get on her knees. He moans sickeningly as he gives her a facial, and she begs him not to get it in her eyes.

It’s fucking disgusting. I can’t say conclusively that any of this was intentional, but I can say conclusively that it was nauseating to watch. And yet it still wasn’t the worst sequence in the show so far. No no. That comes later…

The ALFie for…


ALF, "Don't It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?"

…or right now.

Yep. The creepiest sexual moment concerns ALF and Lynn, and the worst moment overall concerns ALF and Lynn. What a shocker.

This time around, it’s ALF writing a song about — and self-producing a video for his song about — sticking his Melmacian cock in this teenage girl and grinding his seed into her ’til the sun comes up.

It’s also godawful. Like, unlistenably bad. Adding some actual jokes to the song or the video might not have helped much — since, all together now, this is ALF — but it would at least let us know that the writers weren’t taking this crap seriously. Instead the lack of jokes lets us know that they were taking it seriously, and that’s just depressing.

They also aren’t content to let us suffer through “You’re the One That’s Out of This World (SWEEHT BAAYBAAAY)” just once. Nope. We also have to watch the damned thing again during the end credits.

And then, in the clip show, Brian picks up the tape and puts it back into the VCR, which represents the only time I’ve genuinely wished I could reach into my television screen and break a small child’s fingers.

This is a bad show at its absolute distilled worst. And it’s just season one. We have 74 episodes of depths to plumb, and I have a bad feeling that one day I’ll wish that the show was only this bad.

The ALFie for…


ALF, "Lookin' Through the Windows"

Mr. Ochmonek sweeps this one easily. While he might technically possess a bad wardrobe, it’s at least consistent. I could walk through a department store and pick out the shirts Mr. Ochmonek would like…and I’m not sure I could do that with any other character on the show.

For whatever reason, the wardrobe department bothered to give Mr. O a sense of personal fashion, and it helps him feel more like a real human being because of it.

Look in your own closet. While you’ll definitely find a few outliers (some professional clothes to wear to job interviews, something nice that you wore to a wedding, etc.), the odds are pretty good that you’ll see a lot of things that have something in common, be it a color, a style, or anything, really.

That’s because you’re a person, and people have preferences. They gravitate toward the things they like, and accumulate them when they have the option of doing so.

Mr. Ochmonek accumulates certain types of outfits, and that makes him stand out. Everyone else just seems to wear “clothes.” And that’s just…inhuman.

The ALFie for…


ALF, "It Isn't Easy...Bein' Green"

Here’s another one I’ll have to wait for the DVDs to find out, I guess, because for all I know Dr. Potato Famine did indeed come to the shattered end that the episode so artfully set up with all the subtlety of a fork to the eye.

But since I can only work with what I’ve seen, I found it really odd that this toy was repeatedly presented to us as being rare, expensive, and fragile…and was then placed precariously on the edge of a table…

…and then there was a song and we never heard anything about it again.

Even if the uncut episode features a scene of the good doctor smashing to the floor — or tumbling into the puppet trench — I’m going to be disappointed, because what I really want to know is Dr. Potato Famine’s backstory.

Is he from a cartoon that exists in the ALF universe? If so, how did that show escape intellectual property litigation from Transformers? And what, exactly, is Potato Famine a doctor of?

Fuck Melmac Facts. I want to learn more about this dollar store robot that some stage-hand dipped in brown paint.

The ALFie for…


ALF, "Pennsylvania 6-5000"

Don’t get me wrong, Lynn was a pretty close second, but I’m pretty impressed by just how worthless Brian Tanner manages to be.

After all, he’s a little boy who lives with an alien. Isn’t that…kind of awesome? Or, shouldn’t it be? E.T. is the prototypical example of how this relationship should go; their bond should be deep, immediate, and beyond words. American Dad! toys with this as well, locking Steve and Roger into a solid — if not necessarily healthy — permanent brotherhood.

Children are excited and fascinated by the unknown and the unknowable. Everything from the mysteries of space to prehistoric fossils to simple sleight of hand is evidence of a universe beyond explanation. It’s where imagination lives. And so when an alien, or a robot, or a dinosaur, or a wizard, or an elf, or anything else turns up at a little boy’s doorstep, that’s more than life-changing. It’s world defining.

Except, for some reason, in the case of ALF, where the creature just moves in and nobody cares.

Sure, Brian mopes when ALF takes steps to leave the Tanner house with some other Melmacian refugees, but beyond that it doesn’t seem like the kid really cares that he cohabitates with a living, breathing space alien. The exact kind of thing that fuels the wildest dreams of his classmates lives in his laundry room, and his life goes on as normal.

ALF has no idea what to do with what could have been the central relationship of the show, and so it stuffs Brian out of sight and hopes nobody realizes that he’s missing. Even Lynn got better treatment than that. And we all saw the kind of treatment Lynn got…

The ALFie for…


ALF, "Going Out of My Head Over You"

Some of you might have seen this coming. Actually, at the very least a third of you would have seen this coming, since there were only three episodes this season that weren’t shit.

The other two were “For Your Eyes Only” and “La Cuckaracha,” and while all three represent versions of ALF that would have been watchable, “Going Out of My Head Over You” represents the version that I’d most like to watch.

The episode manages to combine — very naturally, might I add — the Odd Couple dynamic that so puzzlingly went unexplored in most episodes with the inherently unique sci-fi twist that ALF was capable of adding to the formula. As a one off, it’s great. As a mission statement for a much better show, it’s bursting with potential.

It’s safe to say that almost any alternate version of ALF would be better than the one we got, but “Going Out of My Head Over You” suggests one that could have achieved some legitimately great stuff as the show went on, exploring more deeply the strangeness of its own premise, while finding comedy in the fact that this family has to figure out some way to make it work.

There’s strong comedy here, simply because the stakes are so much higher. These characters are driving each other crazy, and that’s a hundred times funnier than ALF writing soap operas could ever be.

The ALFie for…


ALF, "Wild Thing"

The worst of the worst of the worst. While “Wild Thing” is another premise with seemingly infinite potential, it can’t seem to spark the imagination of its writers at all.

ALF going through some kind of physiological struggle in an environment of people who don’t know what to expect and won’t be able to handle it should make for good comedy…but instead ALF carries a toaster oven around and mows the lawn. As much as the episode talked itself up and assured us that ALF was going to go positively apeshit, all he really does is clown around…like always.

That could have been the joke, of course. Could have been, but wasn’t. If ALF’s “rampage” had been indistinguishable from his every day dealings, that would have been funny. If ALF’s “rampage” had actually been more pleasant than his every day dealings, that would have been even funnier.

But based on the behavior of the characters themselves, we can see that this really is supposed to be ALF in full-on insanity mode. So what does he do? Steal a riding mower and accidentally chop up the Ochmoneks’ garden hose, I guess.

By this point in the season, it would have taken a lot to disappoint me. In fact, I was absolutely positive that “Strangers in the Night” was going to swing this one.

Then we got “Wild Thing.”

So congratulations, you piece of shit. May the ALFie bring you even less joy than you brought me.

The ALFies

And that’s that! The German DVDs should arrive in time for me to start reviewing season two next Thursday. If they don’t, I have a fourth bonus in mind. Hopefully, though, this time next week we’ll venture more deeply into the fray. Join me, won’t you?

Lost Worlds of Power Author Spotlight: Guy Vollen

Every week until the release of The Lost Worlds of Power, one author selected for inclusion will be given the floor. I’ve asked them to talk about themselves, their approach to the project, and anything else they’d like to say up front. I’ve also asked them to avoid spoilers, so have no fear of those. Anyway, week one: Guy Vollen, author of “Legendary Wings.”

Guy VollenI’m thrilled to have a story chosen for inclusion in The Lost Worlds of Power, and I can’t wait to read the other authors’ stories.

I’m also glad Philip has graciously invited me to write a few words about my entry, “Legendary Wings,” as it gives me another chance to spout off about this project while it comes together. So, to Philip, James, and to all the writers and artists involved, thank you (in advance) for what I expect will be a very exciting and fun reading experience.

To find the roots of my story, I suppose it would help to go back, way back, to when I was nine or ten years old. Sometime around then, my junior high school-aged sister started bringing notes home from school that she and her friends had written and passed around: little stories to relieve the boredom of class and entertain each other. They usually began with something like,

Picture this: you’re sitting in class one day when the principal’s voice comes over the P.A. and tells you someone has come to the school to pick you up. You get your books and go to the front door. Waiting at the curb is Michael J. Fox, standing next to his DeLorean! “I thought we could go for a ride,” he says, lowering his sunglasses slyly. “Where are we going?” you ask. “Not where,” he says.

You can imagine the rest of that one for yourself.

Legendary Wings

As I remember them, these vignettes were the (mostly) chaste fantasies of teenage girls, full of in-jokes and regularly guest-starring characters like Magnum, P. I., James Bond, and Blackie from General Hospital.

It would be years before I heard the term “fan fiction,” but that’s obviously what was going on. They weren’t literary masterpieces by any means, and the only motive for preserving them would have been sentimental (or to prove to Millennials that fan fiction existed before the internet).

I was captivated by them, however, and they gave me the ambition to write some of my own (equally terrible) stories. The mixing and matching of pop culture elements was something I had already become familiar with in the pages of Mad magazine, and would soon become immersed in through Dungeons & Dragons.

Legendary WingsThere’s quite a bit of classic fantasy literature folded into Dungeons & Dragons, of course, but that’s nothing compared to a teenaged dungeon master’s capacity to combine influences, free association-style. I’ll never forget the time my adventuring party was saved from a Xenomorph (from the Alien movies) by the timely arrival of Bon Jovi in a dimension-hopping Corvette, and, yes, that is absolutely something that happened in-game.

It is perhaps significant that the stories my sister and her friends wrote were invariably told in second person, present tense, like Dungeons & Dragons, and just like the Choose Your Own Adventure and Endless Quest books that are another obvious touchstone for my entry.

It wasn’t an author-identification figure tagging along with Indiana Jones or Han Solo; it was the reader.

You are having this adventure; you are the star.

Whether consciously or not, the writers of these stories were creating experiences for each other; second person perspective can be used in many ways, but in this case I think it was an act of authorial generosity. (Conveniently, it also allowed the writer to skip over details of characterization, relying on the reader to fill in the blanks with their own experiences.)

Legendary WingsEven now, I find fan projects to be of great interest, although I’m not so much concerned with the specific questions of whether Pitfall Harry is Lara Croft’s long-lost uncle, or whether Kirk and Spock can overcome the strictures of duty long enough to express their love for each other physically. (For the record, the respective answers to those questions are “yes, he is,” and “oh boy, can they ever.”)

I’m mostly fascinated with the creative responses people have to the culture around them; the processes of myth-making don’t stop at the borders of the public domain, and creative activity isn’t something to be left only to professionals. In other words, I knew that The Lost Worlds of Power would be something I’d want to read whether I had a story chosen for inclusion or not.

As for the focus on video games, and my choice of the Capcom shooter Legendary Wings, all I can say is that I’ve been playing (and sucking at) games pretty much since Space Invaders, and making up stories about them for almost as long, with Buckner & Garcia as my soundtrack of choice.

I wasn’t the only one creatively inspired by video games; magazines like Atari Age and Nintendo Power may have been house organs whose primary function was to sell, sell, sell, but they were also fanzines, publishing cartoons and stories by readers that fleshed out the worlds hinted at in the games. (There was also the original Worlds of Power series, too, of course, but I’ll admit I haven’t read any of those; Philip’s coverage of that subject has been more than enough!)

Sparking the imagination like that was more important in the early days of arcade and home games, when the CPU could barely handle a game’s primitive graphics without also remembering the genealogy of an entire elven kingdom and the color of your mistress’ eyes.

Legendary WingsExternal cues (cabinet and box art, printed instructions) were often all players had to figure out what was going on. Even the official documentation released by game publishers could read like fanfic: elaborate, contradictory, and imaginatively divorced from anything that was actually happening on the screen.

Now I’ll make a confession: I didn’t even own a Nintendo Entertainment System as a kid. Instead I had a Commodore Amiga, which was pretty great, but I didn’t know anyone else that had one, so I missed out on the social aspects of borrowing games or trading tips with other players.

The first Nintendo product I owned was a Game Boy Advance, which I splurged on so I could finally experience the Super Mario series in re-release.

Sure, I played many of the classic games, including Legendary Wings, but always at friends’ houses, so my experience of two-player games was often cruelly brief.

That’s a memory that shines through in my story. Hopefully, you, the reader, will have greater success with it!

–Guy Vollen
Twitter // blog

ALF Reviews: Character Spotlight – Kate Tanner

With four seasons and four Tanners, I thought I’d use the break between seasons to spotlight them one by one. I’d go over what makes them tick, their function within the show as a whole, and their relationships with the other characters.

Here I am, however, at the end of season one, and we still don’t have any characters.

The closest thing we do have is Kate Tanner, which is disappointing because it doesn’t leave me with much of a choice…but is also kind of nice, because I like Kate.

Part of me wants to give all of the credit for this to Anne Schedeen, the actress who plays the character. And, certainly, I can (and will) give her a great deal of it. But I do have to give some credit to the writers as well. That may come as a surprise to folks who have been reading these articles for the last 26 weeks, but it’s true. Kate Tanner is the closest thing ALF has to a character, and that’s at least partially due to the efforts of the writing staff.

ALF, "On the Road Again"

Don’t worry, though; I don’t mean it as much of a compliment. I only mean that Kate seems to be the only Tanner that they even tried to characterize.

The writing for Kate was not any better than it was for anyone else, but it was certainly more comprehensive. Consider the fact that, so far, Kate’s the only one with sustained relationships to any secondary character. I’m referring specifically to her mother, Dorothy, but who I insist we all keep calling Kate Sr.

We’ve met Willie’s boss and secretary, and then never saw them again. Lynn had a boyfriend for about two scenes. Brian was tormented by some geeky kid who had to go now, because his planet needed him. None of these people ever came back, and they never came back because they weren’t actually characters. They were temporary complications…something injected into the formula to help it stumble through another week. They were disposable.

With Kate Sr. we not only got a recurring character, but some passive insight into Kate as well.

I hasten to add that I’m not arguing that Kate Sr. is a good character or even that it’s nice to have her around…but she exists, and that says a lot. After all, who we are as people is something measured by the relationships we have with others. Kate is the only one of the central family that has relationships with others. Willie, Lynn and Brian all seem incapable of forming not only long-term bonds, but any bonds that last longer than 22 minutes.

ALF, "A Little Bit of Soap"

I griped during the Kate Sr. trilogy that we didn’t learn anything specific about the mother-daughter relationship these two shared, and that’s true. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m happy that we learned that there is a relationship; however hollow and cliched it might be, it’s something, and that helps to make Kate seem human.

It’s also interesting to me that the writers bothered to flesh out Kate’s family tree to the extent that they did. Not only do we meet her mother, but we find out her maiden name, we find out the name of her father, we know he’s dead, we meet her mother’s new boyfriend, and we hear second-hand about the tormented relationship between Dorothy and her old roommate Estelle. (That Estelle!!)

That, I think, is pretty clearly a lot of material. And it looks like even more when we compare it to what we know about Willie’s family. Which is…uh…


He has a brother named Rodney, which we learned a whopping two episodes ago. And his family used to have a real Christmas tree.

That’s it.

Granted, the writers on this show are fucking terrible, but they at least make an attempt with Kate to weave a bit of backstory. With Willie we get a series of disposable hobbies that we’re always meant to believe are important to him, even though none of them ever gets mentioned again.

With Lynn we don’t even know if the boyfriend that’s been mentioned several times is the guy we saw in “Don’t It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?” We don’t know because the writers don’t know either. They might still be together, and they might not. It doesn’t matter, because Lynn isn’t a human being.

And neither is Brian, whose role in most of these episodes is to sit quietly in the background and refrain from wetting himself.

On top of that, the “Jump” episode feels like it should be about Willie — and it technically is — but aside from another obsession-of-the-week, we don’t learn anything about him. On the other hand, we learn a lot about Kate: she was a bit wild, she was seemingly popular with the boys, she ran with the bulls in Pamplona, she had a work of fiction published, and she served as an enthusiastic vessel for Joe Namath’s sperm.

ALF, "Border Song"

Again, that’s a lot of information. And, again, it comes at the expense of the other characters. In what’s supposed to be Willie’s episode, the most interesting moments come when we learn about Kate, who gets substantially less screen time in the episode than her husband does.

This is why I can tell you all of these things about Kate, but I’d just have to refer to Willie as “the dad,” Brian and Lynn as “the kids,” and the Ochmoneks as “the neighbors.” (Though, funnily enough, we ended the season with more background on Mr. O than we ever got about Willie.)

It’s almost as though the writers find Kate the most interesting as well. Sure, they may not have found many things for her to do on camera, but when it comes time to pencil in some pre-ALF history, it almost always gets latched onto Kate.

And here’s where Anne Schedeen herself comes in; I think the gravity of Kate’s character, the fact that it manages to attract and accumulate a level of detail that the others do not, is down to Schedeen’s performance. Whether the writers consciously realized it or not, she’s by far the strongest of the regular actors, and that makes her a more appealing target for their efforts. They might not be good efforts, but she’s clearly on the receiving end of most of them.

While I don’t know that Schedeen would be a standout in a solid cast on another show, she’s absolutely the standout here, simply because she acts. Max Wright hams it up and chokes his way through basic English vocabulary, Andrea Elson delivers all of her lines like they’re being drip-fed through a tube, and Benji Gregory scratches his armpit and looks around the set for a clock. Schedeen, for whatever reason, decided to care, at least a little bit. And that’s what made me like Kate Tanner from episode one.

To Schedeen, her character amounted to more than the words that were printed on the cue cards. She managed to find a kind of quiet frustration at the heart of the character…something that worked just fine at first, and then actually seemed natural when we learned more about her past.

Kate’s fuse is short and her tolerance for dickassery low, and that’s certainly okay. But doesn’t it feel more real when you realize that she was once adventurous and creative, fawned over by professional football players, and is now married to an ineffectual, ambitionless dweeb and is trapped in a house with a space alien who keeps trying to rape her kids?

ALF, "Jump"

Of course her patience is thin. Why wouldn’t it be? Kate Tanner lives a textbook life of disappointment. The arcs of many fictional characters see them climbing the ladder toward their goals. The arcs of others see them falling further away. Kate’s is one of stagnation. She had a lot. Now she seems to have little. This isn’t a valley between two peaks…this is her life. Whatever it was before, and whatever it could have been, is irrelevant. She’s something else now. And she’s right to be disappointed by what that is.

The writers aren’t aware of this. Schedeen might not have been aware of it, either. But the fact is that by embodying a character instead of reading some lines and cashing her check, she leaves Kate Tanner open to interpretations like these. She feels more realistic, because it feels like there’s something going on inside of her.

I like that. Schedeen feels like a kindred spirit, in a way. Locked into a four-season contract with ALF, clearly aware that it’s shit, but determined to give it her best anyway. I can understand that mindset, and I respect it.

The writers seem to have picked up on this simmering anger that Schedeen brings to Kate, because every so often they play up the iciness. However, when they do it, it feels like they want us to dislike her…or at least get annoyed by her.

In actuality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, we like her more, because it’s always preferable to watch an actor acting than to watch three knuckleheads who are not.

I don’t know. Maybe, in real life, I would hate Kate Tanner. But this isn’t real life, and if Schedeen is playing an aggravating character, I’m happy to spend time with her anyway, because she’s putting forth effort. It’s the closest thing to artistry any aspect of ALF delivers, and I like it. With Kate, I’m not seeing somebody fumble through the twenty-one hour recording session; I’m seeing the hard work of an actress elevating her material to a level it truly doesn’t deserve.

ALF, "Help Me, Rhonda"

At first, I thought I liked her just because she called ALF on his bullshit. And certainly that’s part of it…but by now we’ve seen all of the Tanners call ALF, at various points, on his bullshit, and Kate is the only one who felt like she was doing it for a reason other than the fact that the script told her to.

It’s because of the gentleness of her anger. The active repression of what she really wants to say. Whereas Max Wright can spit and stammer his way through venomous hatred, Anne Schedeen sits politely on the couch, looks ALF in the eye, and calmly states that she will punch his heart out if he doesn’t cut the sheep dip.

Compared to the rest of these bozos, Anne Schedeen looks like Christoph Waltz in the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds. Unimposing, open, soft-spoken…yet delivering threats that you hope you never have to see realized, and which you will do anything in your power to avoid.

Kate Tanner isn’t a character. I don’t want to oversell it. Whatever Schedeen brings to the thankless role, it can only go so far. Television characters are collaborative efforts, and if the writers aren’t pulling their weight, it’s just an actress doing her best to keep us from realizing how much is missing.

But she does a great job of it, and because of that she’s the closest thing season one has to a character. For that, I salute her.

Just three more seasons, Anne.

We can do this.

ALF, "For Your Eyes Only"

20 Questions, T&E Edition: Michael Q. Schmidt

Michael Q. Schmidt InterviewRecently I had the honor of interviewing Palmer Scott, of Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! fame. As I mentioned at the time, I was hopeful that he wouldn’t be the last member of that cast that I got to speak with, as there was a wealth of fascinating individuals on that show.

Michael Q. Schmidt might be the most fascinating. Not only did he make his Tim & Eric debut a few years earlier than the Awesome Show gang, but he’s also had probably the richest, most varied career as well.

I was — and am — flattered that Michael took the time to speak with me, and so enthusiastically provided me with all of the images you will see in this article as well. He’s a smart man, very chatty, and up for anything, which makes him a more perfect fit for this site than I realized. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed speaking with him.

LAST MINUTE ADDENDUM: Michael has actually volunteered to answer any reader questions, so don’t be shy if you have them! They will be posted in a followup feature down the line.

1) You might be the longest-serving of Tim & Eric’s onscreen collaborators, as you played a central character in Tom Goes to the Mayor. How did you get involved with that project? And what about it appealed to you?

If not the longest, then at least the most uninhibited. I first met Tim and Eric when I went to a scheduled audition on a Monday in late 2003, at their old Dipshot Films offices in LA. They wanted character types to be the townsfolk of Jefferton.

I posed for pictures making expressions and clapping hands…stuff like that. The next day I got a call. They liked my (then) long hair and (still) big tummy, and stated that they’d like it if I would agree to being a recurring character in their upcoming series.

I said sure.

They said I might have to wear a dress.

I said sure.

I returned Wednesday and they gave me a few larger size dresses to check. We decided to go with the now-famous muumuu, and Joy Peters came to life.

Michael Q. Schmidt InterviewMichael Q. Schmidt Interview

2) Unlike some of the later collaborators, who might have at least seen Tom Goes to the Mayor for reference, I can’t imagine you had much of an idea of what to expect from a Tim & Eric production. At any point was there confusion on your part about what they were intending to do, or what the final product was going to be like?

I am always up for anything off-the-wall…and was invited a few times to sit in the production offices and see episodes before they aired, so it was a treat and not a surprise. I found myself looking forward to see what Joy was up to next.

And a couple times I got to be non-Joy characters. In season 1, episode 7, “Vehicular Manslaughter,” there were scenes where Joy was using the family laptop for her online sex business, and I was the fellow with whom she was having computer sex.

Michael Q. Schmidt InterviewMichael Q. Schmidt Interview

Hilarious. Also, in season 2, episode 5, “Wrestling,” I was Tim’s body-double when Tom was bulked up on “Flax-O-Max.”

3) You were the face and body of Joy Peters, but not the voice. Do you feel that that hindered your ability to put your “stamp” on the character in any way?

As I mentioned above, I was not always silent…I did react to Joy in my own voice for the “Vehicular Manslaughter” episode. Since I was not originally asked to put a voice to Joy, I trusted production to be happy with my giving her character believable action.

The “stamp” of body and movement was mine, and I was happy to provide. What production did with guest stars and town members was have us re-enact our scenes in costume and in front of a white-screen for a photo shoot. They then chose through the photos of actions and picked out ones to convert to the now-famous, blue-outlined, mimeograph-like townsfolk of Jefferton.

4) Joy’s voice was provided by Stephanie Courtney, which was a shock to me when I found out. Many people probably know her as Progressive’s Flo now…a sunny, helpful character that couldn’t be further from Joy Peters. Did you get to work with her directly?

I first met Stephanie at the premiere party on Sunday, November 4th, 2004, when the first episode aired simultaneously. I was introduced to her by Eric Wareheim and was surprised and pleased when she threw her arms around my neck and gave me a hug…telling me she loved what I brought to the Joy character. Joy was pleasant and polite to everyone except her husband Tom. She is an absolute doll.

Michael Q. Schmidt Interview

5) “Raise My Roof” only constitutes about 30 seconds of screen time. Why do you think it’s become one of the more popular and recognizable moments from Awesome Show? What causes it to resonate?

Well, beyond the actual screen time, “Raise My Roof” became a featured moment of live performance during the Awesome Show summer tours (at least in the southwest). It first went “live” at the Muscles for Bones show at LA’s Troubadour in August of 2007.

It was so very well received, Tim and Eric had me reprise it at several more such live shows. That first live appearance was filmed and became the basis for the later Awesome Show season 3, episode 5, “Muscles for Bones.” The live dance can be watched on the DVD’s extras.

6) Where did the dance come from? And the idea in general? How much of it was you, and how much was Tim & Eric?

Tim and Eric pretty well knew that I was unabashed and up for any sort of craziness. Series producer Jon Mugar called me and asked if I’d like to a wacky dance for their “new” series.

I said sure.

He said, “You might have to be naked.”

I responded, sure.

The day of the shoot, we shot the exteriors on a sidewalk a block away from the studios and then went into the studios for the dance. When I asked what kind of dance they wanted, they played their “Raise My Roof” music and told me to improv something that would work, so I did. It was their music and their trust that I would bring it home.

One simple sentence introduced what became strangely popular: “Hi, I’m Michael Q. Schmidt, and I’d like to perform for you a new dance I invented, called ‘Raise My Roof.'”

They did ask that I should treat the dance with a dead seriousness and not smile. I was fully naked for the in-studio taping, but for airing on Adult Swim, they placed a black square over my privates. However, each live performance after that, I came out in front of the audience, introduced myself with that same stoic line, dropped my robe and stood fully naked waiting for the music to begin.

When it started, I would perform the dance for about 60 seconds until the music stopped. And for an extra “zing” when the music stopped, I would look around nervously for the dropped robe, and with my backside toward the audience do a slow bend-over to get the robe.

The moon came out and the satellites were in orbit. The appreciative shrieks were astounding.

7) You’ve been in close to a hundred projects over the years, including video games, music videos, feature films…pretty much everything. Does it worry you that a certain number of fans will always remember you for doing a naked dance on a silly television show?

Well…several years before meeting Tim and Eric I had been doing nude art modeling for classes throughout southern California. So being “known” for being naked is fine with me. If the fans like it, I’ll do it. No problem.

Indeed, several times I have appeared at fan parties and performed live, posed for pictures, and signed autographs.

Additionally, as an art model I have been naked in public for many events in Los Angeles, including art installations at the Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica, The Hive Gallery, The Post Gallery, The Blackstone Gallery, LA’s Art Walk, and I was naked for six hours in Chinatown as “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

Michael Q. Schmidt Interview

8) Tell us about your modeling career. You’ve taken what could have been a joke and elevated it to a form of art. How did that recontextualization come about?

Well…the first thing for me, as an art model, is to separate what I am doing from who I am. I do not think about the many starring eyes studying my every curve and crevice; I concentrate on simply holding still.

From the very first time I (nervously) stood in front of a room full of strangers, and then had them thank me for sharing my body, I was hooked. Apparently artists are mainly concerned with capturing the human form in its many varieties — tall, short, thin, fat, smooth, wrinkled, young, old — and I found a niche. There simply are not that many fat guys able to “let it all hang loose” in front of strangers.

My professionalism allows me to be the model they want and appreciate. They’d far rather draw curves and character than draw GQ gym rats.

Michael Q. Schmidt Interview

9) Body image is a major issue in modern America, and it’s something that can be tremendously damaging, to young people and children in particular. Why do you think that is?

I think the causes for self-doubt in body issues is rooted in and caused by the fashion industry trying to convince little girls that they need to be unrealistic “perfect” little Barbie doll types wearing size 1 clothes, and little boys that they need to become buff with 32 inch waists. That unrealistic demand on our youth creates the ready market for plastic surgeons who use body modification to make payments on their new Mercedes or Lexus.

As American youth is conditioned to be visual, simply telling someone to not worry about physicality is likely to fall on deaf ears. What I do as an art model is show that body type is what it is, and does not define the inner spirit.

10) How many of the Awesome Show regulars did you get to work with directly? While you weren’t in the show proper more than a few times, I know you appeared on Tim & Eric Nite Live and were a big part of the Chrimbus special.

Including the live shows, and apart from the obvious Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim and producers Bob Odenkirk, Jon Mugar and David Kneebone, I got to work with the talented Richard Dunn, Tanese Gray, David Lieberhart, James Quall, Palmer Scott, Ron Austar, Doug Lussenhop, Neil Hamburger, and non-regulars Rainn Wilson and Seth Green.

And, yes, while I was not as “regular” as many of the others, I did my best to create memorable moments for the fans. Those who have seen or found Tim & Eric Nite Live will remember my “Santa No-Pants” at the end of the Christmas episode, and my “Cupid” in the Valentine’s episode.

No doubt John Mayer will remember my Cupid most of all.

11) Tell us about your experiences with the fans.

I loved meeting fans at the Tim-and-Eric-hosted AwesomeCons in San Diego the same weekends as ComiCon. It gave me the opportunity to share stories and bring smiles.

Most memorable are those times a fan invited me to attend a party or event and perform “Raise My Roof” live. It’s for them.

12) Of all the actors, artists, musicians, directors, and anyone else that you’ve worked with over the course of your career, who was the most surprisingly pleasant?

I have enjoyed working with and for so many great talents. Wow. Once while completely naked I had the opportunity to meet and speak with Tony Shalhoub, and there are a great number of rising star filmmakers with whom working was a real treat. Acting with talent such as Richard Riehle and Bill Pullman on 2008’s Your Name Here, I was both pleased and surprised at how nicely they treated me.

Michael Q. Schmidt Interview

But I have to give the nod to director Don Coscarelli of 2012’s John Dies at the End. He made me feel very special indeed.

Michael Q. Schmidt Interview

Of course, more recently I worked with the amazingly funny Chris Kattan…I’m pretty sure he will not forget our time together on Fox’s new show Riot!

13) You’ve just been cast as the next James Bond. Who do you cast as your Bond girl?

I’d want dual Bond girls. (James gets what he wants, right?) My choices would be actress Robin Jean Springer [above] and model Debbie Day [below]. We have all three worked together on film projects, and they are wonderfully warm and beautiful talents with delightful senses of humor.

Michael Q. Schmidt InterviewMichael Q. Schmidt Interview

I think you might agree. Working with friends who know my proclivities makes any project better.

14) How well did you know Richard Dunn?

I first met him while working for Awesome Show, and while I did not know Richard as well as I might have wished, I had the honor to be part of his final photo project before he passed.

He and I were chosen to portray Bella and Edward in a spoof Twilight poster promoting a Los Angeles film festival. He made a marvelously ancient Edward and I a very matronly Bella.

Michael Q. Schmidt Interview

15) When I interviewed Palmer Scott it was very soon after you and he had worked on the pilot for Your Honor. He was tight lipped with details, but in the meantime some footage and photographs have started circulating. What can you tell us about the project?

I was introduced to the project by its creator, Adam Carbone, and cannot tell any more than has already been hinted at…except to say that any who loved our contributions to the former Awesome Show will be delighted with this new project. Color me tight-lipped as well… but I will available for appearances and interviews after the pilot is released.

16) IMDB lists your earliest credit (narrating a short film) as 2001. What did you do professionally before becoming an actor?

Actually I did not “narrate” the film Schmucks!, but had the role of an on-screen narrator, seen smoking his cigar and sipping his wine while discussing what the viewer was watching, in the manner of Masterpiece Theater.

Michael Q. Schmidt Interview

Before turning to acting, I worked as a hazardous materials consultant. I began modeling and some early acting during that same time. Indeed, when other employees bragged about traveling during vacation leave, I was able to brag about being in a film.

My very first feature, Naked Shadows, was shot in 2002 during the week I took off for my own birthday. Being an indie film, it took a few years to finally get released. Kirk Bowman, the director, had so much unused footage of my character from Naked Shadows that he created the short Misadventures of Mort the Landlord as an extra for the film’s DVD.

When the company for which I was working relocated, I left them and concentrated on more modeling and lots more acting.

17) What’s your favorite Tim & Eric moment or skit that you were not directly a part of?

Awesome Show season 2, episode 9, “Pepperoni”…because the episode begins with a live action re-enactment of Tom Peters in the Mayor’s office. It was a salute to the series Tom Goes to the Mayor, and had I not been working a different gig when it was filmed, I would have been in the episode as Joy Peters.

Maybe grabbing Tom by his ear and scolding him. Maybe having Tom hug his shrewish love Joy. My loss. Gee…I wonder if they still have her muumuu in storage?

18) The entire stable of Awesome Show regulars seems to be polite, enthusiastic, and always willing to engage with fans directly. Why do you think that is? And how did one show manage to assemble an entire team like that?

I like to think that like attracts like…or it could simply be kismet, and that something special in our makeups drew us all together.

We all appreciate the fans and their allowing us to be part of their lives. I think Tim and Eric were lucky to have found us all.

19) What would your dream project be? Any medium, any collaborators, any concept.

A dream project? Perhaps as the lead naked guy in a comedy series that, like the former Awesome Show, celebrates idiocy and pokes fun at societal mores and misconceptions.

Or, totally against type, how about a horrific feature film where I am the antagonist serial killer who. like a Ted Bundy cannibal, feasts upon the bodies of his victims after he uses them for his personal delight. And in the film’s climax, it is revealed that my character has survived and escaped to haunt everyone’s nightmares another day.

20) If you could perform “Raise My Roof” one-on-one for anybody, alive or dead, who would it be?

Simply put, I would be honored to perform it for anyone who asks…without the travel limitations caused by distance.

BONUS: What would you like to say to the readers that you haven’t had a chance to say above?

I greatly appreciate that I am myself appreciated by so many simply for giving in to my own adventurous spirit. If a fan wishes to have the “Raise My Roof” dance performed live at a party or event, or if a filmmaker wishes a Larger Than Life actor willing to give beyond expectations or hopes, they need only contact Michael Q. Schmidt.

I also wish to add that I love contributing to music videos. Some may remember having seen me in some and thought, “gee…that guy looks familiar.” What a director wants, I give.

I can give a director anything except thin.