ALF Reviews: “We’re So Sorry, Uncle Albert” (season 2, episode 15)

For all my complaining about the recycled plots on this show, I really should be happier that they found an original storyline to explore here. But then I remember that the storyline is “ALF murders a dude,” and I’m suddenly not as interested in singing its praises.

I will say that this episode stumbled onto a few truly interesting themes to explore, which is far beyond what I would have expected, but it doesn’t so much “explore” them as it does “mention” them. It’s an example of a story that could have been told in an infinite number of ways, and nearly all of them would have been better than the one we got.

This one opens with Willie introducing his longbox. He teases that it contains something he hopes ALF and Brian can enjoy together. I’m trying to come up with a dirty joke, but failing to think of anything dirtier than what Willie just said.

It’s a tent, which he bought because ALF is going to have to live in it for a few days while Uncle Albert visits. Which seems…I dunno. Really fucking dumb?

I understand wanting to get ALF out of the house, especially if this guy is going to be there day and night, but what’s wrong with the garage? That’s usually where ALF goes, and it makes a lot more sense than this suspicious pup tent that’s going to be sitting in the yard at all times. What if Uncle Albert asks about it? What if he goes to investigate it?

The garage is a natural solution to the regular problem of where to stash ALF, because it’s always there. It doesn’t earn anybody’s special notice, because it’s a fixture of the home, and unless there’s a secondary reason to investigate it, nobody would ever give it a single thought.

Now, however, Willie is going out of his way to make it more likely that somebody will find out that he’s hiding something. Not to mention the fact that the tent is so tiny, and ALF is not exactly famous for knowing how to sit still. At least in the garage he can dick around to his heart’s content. I fail to see how forcing him to remain stock-still and silent in a conspicuous canvas dome is going to end well. No part of Willie’s thought process here could have sprung from anything like a human mind.

Whatever. The family bitches and complains about how they hate Uncle Albert because all he does is bitch and complain, which was somehow written and performed without an ounce of irony. ALF politely reminds them that they live in a shithole and the credits start.

ALF, "We're So Sorry, Uncle Albert"

Willie builds the tent and explains that he thought this would be a nice change of pace for ALF, rather than being stuck in the shed again. While it’s nice to see that some well-intentioned explanation is given, it’s still impossible to rectify logically; the shed is infinitely safer than this plan. Murdering ALF with a shovel and burying him in the yard would be safer still. The pup tent solution is just silly.

Anyway, ALF keeps dicking around with Willie’s hard work so he’s told to fuck off. I have to wonder why he’s building the tent with ALF in the yard in broad daylight anyway, especially while he’s having a loud conversation with him.

Crap like this happens way too much in this show. We know Mr. Ochmonek is prone to coming to the back door without warning, so what if he decided to visit during one of the far-too-many times the Tanners are doing vaudeville routines with ALF in the back yard? Hell, what if literally anybody overhears the conversation, even without coming into the yard? They’re constantly reminding themselves and each other that ALF is an alien. Does sound not travel as well in L.A. as it does everywhere I’ve ever lived?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: ALF only makes sense if it takes place in the house from Dogtooth.

Seriously, stop reading this and go watch Dogtooth.

ALF, "We're So Sorry, Uncle Albert"

ALF grabs a paddleball thing and starts whipping it around, which I guess is supposed to be funny because a puppet is moving quickly? I have no idea. It goes on just long enough that there’s no way of mistaking it for anything other than shameless padding, and it becomes off-putting when you realize that this hilarious cutesy interlude is just eating up time before ALF gets to kill Willie’s uncle.

There is a little bit of clever comedy when Uncle Albert is described as being an unwanted houseguest and a mooch, which is overt enough this time that I’m sure the irony is intentional. And I like that. But it makes me wonder if a better version of this story wouldn’t flow naturally from calling the guy Uncle Alfred instead.

See, Uncle Alfred could be the human equivalent of ALF, and his visit makes the Tanners — and ALF — see how unappealing that kind of selfish behavior really is. They excuse things, I guess, because ALF is an alien and doesn’t know better, but seeing Uncle Alfred pulling the same shit and never learning would make them reconsider the wisdom of doing that.

It would be a chance to see ALF through a new lens simply by introducing a doppelganger that does not posses the Get Out of Jail Free card that seemed to come along with ALF’s extra-terrestrial origins. I wouldn’t expect anything world-changing to come of it, but it sure would be nice to see ALF stumbling upon some self-awareness.

But, no, a forced and pointless Paul McCartney reference is easier, so fuck that.

ALF then declares Uncle Albert a pervert and offers to beat the shit out of him, just in case you forgot what an excellent show this is for families.

ALF, "We're So Sorry, Uncle Albert"

In the next scene, ALF is packing for his stay in the tent, and I like this. He reads off his list of supplies: chocolate cake, chocolate ice cream, chocolate pudding, and acne pads. It’s a cute joke.

Of course, I said ALF is packing, and that’s not, strictly speaking, true. Brian is doing the packing, because ALF is a puppet, and maybe this is the kid’s function on the show. Maybe he was never meant to be a character at all, but rather a pair of arms for whenever they don’t want to pay the midget. Perhaps Brian is meant to be some logistical necessity that we’re nevertheless supposed to pretend we don’t see, like those “invisible” actors in kabuki theater.

Uncle Albert arrives, and Lynn comes into the kitchen. She says to Brian, “Let’s put a smile on for the old fogey,” which Brian manages for all of one second. I’m sorry, but what a family of assholes. Growing up I certainly had relatives I wasn’t crazy about, but I can’t imagine ever thinking — let alone saying — “Here’s this crusty old hag again…”

It’s odd how often the Tanners reveal themselves to be shitty people. In Married…With Children the Bundys were openly terrible, but, again, that was the joke. We weren’t supposed to be on their side…at least not overall. We were invited to celebrate the small victories they achieved along the way, but I don’t believe we were ever intended to be pleased with their behavior.

ALF, should it so choose, could position the Tanners as a sort of anti-Brady. (Coincidentally, the working title for Married…With Children was Not the Cosbys, making it clear that the writers of that show knew what they were doing.) But it doesn’t. At no point are we led to believe that the Tanners are meant to be anything other than a neutrally representative sitcom family, which makes these moments of cuntitude really stand out. It means that the writers don’t realize what they’re doing, and that’s kind of frightening to me.

It bothers me here in a way that it doesn’t bother me in more extreme shows. Take Archer. Or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Two shows that resort to cruelty and nastiness for the sake of laughs, but which, at least arguably, earn that kind of laughter, because that cruel nastiness was woven into the very fabric of the universes they built.

Of course, those shows can’t be directly compared to ALF, if only because their levels of nastiness far exceed anything we’d see here. For instance, those shows have each had their main characters engage in behavior that killed innocent people for the sake of a joke, whereas ALF


Oh. Right.

ALF, "We're So Sorry, Uncle Albert"

Uncle Albert hands out gifts to the family. Slippers for Willie, a dress for Kate, a hat for Brian, a purse for Lynn. This puts their minds at ease, because earlier when he asked for Kate’s dress size over the phone, I guess they were more willing to believe that he wanted to prance around their house in her clothing than that he’d buy her a gift.

This is part of the problem with this episode. We’re told over and over again about what a piece of shit Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey is, but what we see is very different. Granted, that gets explained so I’ll speak about it more there, but since we don’t get to see Uncle Albert being even slightly rude, that means we only have the word of the Tanners to tell us that he ever was the monster they made him out to be.

See now why it’s important to make your characters consistent in regards to how much the audience should trust them?

Uncle Albert has nothing but nice things to say. He tells Lynn that she’s blossomed into a beautiful young woman, and commends Brian for his unwavering dedication to a show that doesn’t care if he lives or dies.

ALF, "We're So Sorry, Uncle Albert"

There are a few nice things about this scene, actually, and I think it’s due to the fact that Uncle Albert is a kind of rarity on this show: a nice guy. I’m more compelled to enjoy the jokes — even if, strictly speaking, they’re no better than usual — if only out of silent support for keeping the guy around.

One funny moment is when Brian thinks his uncle is going to charge the family for their gifts, and Uncle Albert replies, “He’s got that Tanner wit!” Willie then mumbles, “That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” which is funny on several levels. At least two of which, I’m sure, were not intended.

Even better is when he asks Lynn if she can guess where he got her purse, and she says, “You found it on a bus.”

You know what? Andrea Elson might be improving after all. Either that, or her well-meaning airheadedness might just be put to better use lately. I’m too lazy to check, but I feel as though most of the past few episodes have contained a Lynn highlight, and I’m glad to report that. It’s nice to see something on this show getting better.

The joke compounds (another welcome rarity) as Uncle Albert tells her it’s from Gucci, which causes Willie to ask, surprised, “What happened to the Army Navy store?”

It’s a pretty good scene, one of two pretty good scenes in the episode, so it’s a shame that we gloss over the dinner that he takes them to. We cut instead to Willie and Kate getting into bed, shocked that Uncle Albert tipped the waitress instead of, I dunno, assaulting her with a fajita skillet. So instead of spending that time with the family, learning about who Uncle Albert used to be, we hear ALF burp and complain that he needs a woman.

He says, “Species is no longer a priority,” which is both one of the most sickening things I’ve ever heard on a prime time sitcom and a bald-faced lie since he’s been openly trying to fuck their daughter since he moved in. He also talks about how he flipped out in the yard and killed Willie’s new garden hose with a pocket knife.


They remind ALF to be careful tomorrow with Uncle Albert, because there’ll be no-one else at home and I believe I’m gonna rain. You’d think they’d take some kind of precaution to prevent this kindly old man who just bought them a bunch of shit from being left alone with a horny, knife-crazed space monster, but, whatever, I’m sure I’m just worrying over nothing.

There’s a little exchange here about ALF being upset that he’s going to miss his soaps, with Willie being shocked that he watches those, as if there weren’t an entire episode dedicated to the fact that he not only watches them, but wrote for them professionally. Then ALF reveals that he doesn’t know what soaps are, because at this point even he is starting to forget all the worthless, time-killing shit that he’s pulled.

ALF, "We're So Sorry, Uncle Albert"

The next morning we get an establishing shot of the house with an ADR of Uncle Albert offering to cook Willie breakfast, because they need to make absolutely sure we know how gentle and nice this guy is so that it’ll be extra funny when ALF murders him in cold blood.

Cutting into the kitchen, Uncle Albert tells Kate to stop washing dishes, he’ll take care of them. I don’t know what dishes they are, since they went out to eat last night and we just heard that they didn’t have breakfast yet, but the important thing is that this instance of somebody demonstrating kindness to his wife pushes Willie over the edge.

“HhhuHHNNcle AAAlhbert,” Willie says. “Wwwh-whaat the fucck is your paarahhblum?”

So, at last, Uncle Albert tells us what happened. He sits them down at the table — you know, like a human being might do when he’s about to share something difficult — and explains that he made an effort to change after his heart attack. Kate, feeling sorry, says that she didn’t know he had a heart attack.

“Who did?” replies Uncle Albert. “Nobody missed me, so nobody checked on me.” He says he was in the hospital for a month without any visitors or get-well cards, and realized he needed to seriously reassess his life.

Wow. What a nice little story. Just a few lines, but it easily fleshes him out to a level beyond almost anybody we’ve ever met in this show. From Liz Lemon choking in her apartment to Homer Simpson sleeping through a house fire to Dr. Venture realizing he’s wearing the clothes of a supervillain to Jesse Pinkman watching Drew Sharp get shot dead, moments of realization like this work gangbusters for characterization. In a flash both the characters and the viewers not only see that something needs to change, but what needs to change, and that it needs to change now.

It’s a very effective and efficient way to bring about major change within the constraints of a weekly TV show. In my other examples, those were main characters, so, in theory at least, the realization could come about over as much time as necessary. Poor Uncle Albert doesn’t have much time at all (so to speak…) so this was a wise move. A simple sketch of a tragic moment in an unhappy life, and that’s all we need. It works well.

If anything, though, it might work too well. This actor is very good, but he’s good at being the nice Uncle Albert, and I don’t really believe in him as an evil old beast. This is why it’s especially problematic that the Tanners are such unreliable dicks themselves. Was Uncle Albert ever really that bad? Or did he just not buy them enough shit so they didn’t pay him any mind?

Was Uncle Albert a Scrooge figure who needed redemption, or just some old man who didn’t openly suck Willie’s dick every hour of the day and was therefore not worth anybody’s time? I’m sure the episode wants me to believe the former, but there’s way too much room to believe the latter.

Anyway, he tells Willie and Kate to go have a good day, and they leave. Gee, how on Earth did I figure out that the “I’ll cook you breakfast” ADR was a clumsy afterthought? The writers forgot that the scene does not involve him cooking any fucking breakfast.

The Tanners leave Uncle Albert, assuring him that if anything should happen, they’ll be sure to give a ring.

ALF, "We're So Sorry, Uncle Albert"

Later on, Uncle Albert is in the kitchen, having a cup of tea and a butter pie, when he hears ALF loudly masturbating in the tent. He unzips the flap and dies, because he was dumb enough to become an actual character and there was no way in hell the writers were going to keep him around after that.

ALF jokes that he doesn’t need to share his cookies because this wrinkled old shit is dead now, and the audience laughs its way into a wholesome act break the whole family can enjoy.

The contrived nature of this show really shows itself here. Why the tent? It was necessary, I guess, so that Uncle Albert could hear ALF and see him and die, but, again, why wasn’t that an in-universe concern for Willie in the first place?

I don’t know why ALF couldn’t have been in the shed. He could have been minding his own business when some of Willie’s astronomy shit that he doesn’t mention anymore falls off the walls and Uncle Albert comes to investigate. There was no reason to do this the stupid way. Was there? What the fuck am I missing?

I’ve talked before about how I like that the one thing this show gets right is how others react to ALF when they first see him. Kate Sr. was horrified. Mrs. Ochmonek found her worldview shattered. Dr. Dykstra was overcome with several kinds of curiosity. Gravel Gus dove out of a moving train. And now Uncle Albert is so eas’ly called away.

All good stuff, to be sure, but for me to say that, I also need to forget about the dog catcher and the hillbillies and everyone else who sees ALF and just assumes he’s some mundane thing they’ve never seen before and aren’t really keen on learning about. It’s always one of these extremes. It’s either instant, inconsolable horror because he’s clearly an alien, or the nonsensical assumption that he’s not worth acknowledging in any way.

God dammit, ALF.

ALF, "We're So Sorry, Uncle Albert"

ALF calls Willie at work, and some fat guy we’ve never seen before answers the phone. Why are we always seeing new coworkers of Willie’s? I think this is only the third time we’ve seen him at work (“Strangers in the Night” and “Border Song” were the other two), but each time we see a coworker or boss or secretary it’s somebody new.

I’m actually really surprised they bothered to build a set for this location. And that they didn’t tear it down to build a different set before season two, once they realized that they’d barely use this shit.

It’s a setting that also now serves as a reminder of ALF‘s unwillingness to develop character, consistency, or a basic universe for these idiots to inhabit. Compare this to the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, Los Pollos Hermanos, Wernham-Hogg, Strickland Propane, or the Lanford Lunchbox. These were all workplace settings (in some cases major, in others minor) that enriched our understanding of the characters. They’re not locations to shuttle somebody off to so that they can get a phone call and come running home again…they’re places where relationships develop and we learn about the main characters through how they interact with the ancillary ones.

Here, it’s just “work.” We have no reason to believe that Willie knows any of these people any better than we do. Hell, he doesn’t even recognize when his boss has been replaced by a lesser actor.

They already have the set. They’re already willing to pay people to sit around on it while Willie makes faces on the phone. It takes a deliberate choice to not let characters develop. It’s…bizarre, to say the least.

ALF impersonates Sammy Davis, Jr. and asks for a bunch of groceries oh and Uncle Albert is dead. It’s a moment that seems just slightly tone deaf, until ALF mentions that he’s also started embalming the corpse.

That’s not tone deaf. That’s psychotic. How is it a punchline that the body of the kindly old man we just watched die is being desecrated by this chucklehead? It’s serial killer territory.

We can’t even excuse this one on the grounds that ALF is unfamiliar with Earth customs. If you know what embalming is, you know that you’re not the one who’s supposed to do it.

ALF, "We're So Sorry, Uncle Albert"

Willie and Kate get home and see that ALF has decorated the house. There is actually one funny joke here (“It’s just like a birthday party, only someone else has to blow out the candles.”) but really it’s just kind of…disgusting.

ALF says he’s marinating Uncle Albert in some peaches. I’m not even kidding. Is he going to eat him? I don’t have any clue, but this horny sasquatch stripping, embalming, and marinating a dead old man is every bit as disturbing to me as anything we’ve seen done with the corpses in Breaking Bad. Only in that case, the writers knew it was disturbing.

Stop reading this and go watch Dogtooth and Breaking Bad.

ALF explains that on Melmac, death was not a sad occasion, but Willie tells him that on Earth, it is. And that, right there, could be the crux of a great episode. What a perfect opportunity for serious culture clash. You know the phrase “dead serious”? It’s only a phrase at all because of how seriously death is taken (and how deeply it is felt, and how final it is understood to be). We Earthlings (and Americans particularly) have a lot of emotional and psychological bandwidth consumed by the prospect of death.

Whether it’s our own, somebody else’s, the death of a pet in your childhood that you still can’t — and don’t want to — forget, the regrets you have when you find out somebody you’ve never made peace with has passed on, the sadness you feel when you realize that somebody you love might not be alive anymore this same time next year…what a perfect opportunity for awkward, thought-provoking comedy.

Of course it happens with five minutes left in the episode, right after we’ve just found out that ALF’s stirred an elderly man into the world’s most horrifying vat of fruit salad.

ALF, "We're So Sorry, Uncle Albert"

The next day Willie and Kate are getting ready for Uncle Albert’s funeral. Lynn comes in dressed as her favorite Fruit of the Loom mascot, eating her second favorite. Willie goes on about how sad it is that Uncle Albert had to be murdered by the illegally-harbored naked alien that sleeps in their laundry basket just as he started to buy them things. It really is a damn shame.

The surviving Tanner adults get up to leave, and Kate says, “If you need us, we’ll be at the Waxman Funeral Parlor.” Lynn automatically replies, “Okay. Have fun.”

And that was good. Elson is definitely getting better. She doesn’t get much more material to work with now than she used to, but she’s learning to make the best of these short little nothing lines. She might only have something funny to do once every three episodes or so, but that’s way better than the one-in-twenty-five ratio of the first season.

ALF, "We're So Sorry, Uncle Albert"

ALF is overcome with grief in an emotional turnaround less convincing than the plastic bead stapled to his face in “ALF’s Special Christmas,” and he hides in a box with a bag over his head. Lynn comes outside to talk to him, and I wish this wasn’t the last scene in the episode, because “Lynn has a heart-to-heart with ALF” is quickly becoming one of my favorite things to see in the show.

Interesting that Lynn actually becomes a welcome presence when the writers stop treating her like a piece of meat. I wonder why that is!

This is the Lynn I like: the sweet older sister. She knows better than him. She’s a little annoyed by what he does. But she’ll never turn her back on him. And it’s really adorable.

The fact that ALF feels bad about Uncle Albert’s death, though, is severely undercut by the fact that he soaked the corpse in peach juice, embalmed it, and violated the integrity of its butthole with one hairy fist. Actually, speaking of this…how in shit’s name did Willie and Kate explain to the authorities that the dead body was covered in syrup and already embalmed? Honor system law enforcement strikes again.

Lynn comforts him by saying that Uncle Albert took the time to make amends, and even if that happened right before he died, it’s still more than a lot of people get the chance to do. He got his chance to make things right, and he did. And that’s a good thing.

I’m actually starting to love you, Lynn. I’m glad you take after your mother.

ALF, "We're So Sorry, Uncle Albert"

The short bit before the credits sees Willie coming home and thanking ALF for killing a guy in their yard, I guess, because Uncle Albert finally got his life in order and I suppose, in a perfect world, that that’s when everybody would get killed by aliens.

ALF sees a snail and starts screaming and the episode ends.

Next week we begin the slow march through the final 10 episodes of season two. Unless, y’know, I get my life together in the meantime. Then I’m fucked.

MELMAC FACTS: On Melmac death was something to celebrate. It was predictable, with everyone dying at the same age: 650. This left no surprises, and you could plan for your death. The week before you go, you give away your personal belongings. The year before you go, your credit cards are cancelled. Of course, I’m assuming that there could still be “accidents” that would end your life sooner…but if I’m wrong, and 650 was a hard, static figure no matter what, that might go a long way toward explaining ALF’s innate recklessness. What the fuck am I doing this episode was shit.

ALF Reviews: “Can I Get a Witness?” (season 2, episode 14)

“Can I Get a Witness?” comes dangerously close to being a good episode. This, unfortunately, makes it more frustrating than most.

The fact that it comes so close to being a good episode is frustrating on its own, but that’s compounded by the fact that it comes so close with such a stupid premise. Stupid premises leading to greatness bring to mind “La Cuckaracha” and “Oh, Pretty Woman,” and part of the reason I liked them so much was that their central concepts had me rolling my eyes. They were dumb ideas, and on a show that bungles nearly all of its good ideas, I’m legitimately (and pleasantly) surprised when they hit a grand slam off such a wimpy pitch.

Normally, this show is just lousy. Sometimes it’s incredibly bad (“Wild Thing,” “ALF’s Special Christmas”) and other times it’s disarmingly good (“Going Out of My Head Over You,” “Working My Way Back to You”), but, mainly, when the show just chugs along, it’s aimless, meandering junk. No better, and no worse.

The fact that “Can I Get a Witness?” spotlights both the best and the worst aspects of ALF is particularly frustrating, because it should have been better or worse. It’s neither the surprise highlight nor the hilarious misfire. It manages to cancel out both extremes, and end up in a disappointingly forgettable middleground.

Then again, I guess I should be grateful for the opportunity to forget an episode that opens by trying to convince me that Willie enjoys football.

Look at that first screen shot. That’s his excitement? You’d have an easier time convincing me that he sucks off hobos for crack. I know I’ve complained about Willie’s revolving hobbies, but I honestly think this is a new low and worthy of special mention. The one common factor — the only common factor — in all the previous shit we’re supposed to believe he cares deeply about is that they were, in some way, nerdy. And that works, because while we still know almost nothing about the guy, the one thing we’d all be willing to believe is that he’s a fucking nerd.

By suddenly turning him into a sports obsessive the show only muddies his character further, and drives a wedge between us and the one vaguely reliable character trait Willie’s ever had.

Anyway, ALF belches a bunch of times and that’s the intro.

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

Inspired by the football game, Willie, Brian and ALF all go outside to toss around the ol’ pigskin. Then, inspired by the fact that nobody on the production staff wanted to prepare the back yard set, the game is immediately over and they come back inside.

Well, Willie and Brian do. ALF throws the football through the open kitchen window because he’s a dick, and he smashes all the shit on the table.

The screengrab above is actually a really good illustration of the difference between Max Wright and Anne Schedeen. Schedeen has nothing to do with this moment — it’s a football hitting Willie and smashing some plates — but she’s in frame, so she reacts. She treats it the way she would if this was really happening, bringing her hands to her face in both anger and surprise.

Max Wright reacts, too, but only as much as he has to, flinching because he just got hit in the chest with a football. It’s more reflex than acting, and had the roles been reversed and Willie was the one in the background, I’m positive Max Wright would just stare doe-eyed into the middle distance until it was his turn to talk.

Anne Schedeen gets paid to be Kate. Max Wright gets paid to read the lines written next to the word “Willie.”

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

At dinner ALF bitches about there not being enough food. It’s a hilarious subversion of expectations, because this is the 80th fucking time they’ve made this joke and by now you’d expect they’d have a new way to tell it.

Personally, I’d bitch about there not being enough people. Where are Willie and Brian?

Throughout the first half of this episode, ALF wears the pink shirt you see there. It’s…weird. I’m not being judgmental, but why pink? He’s nearly always naked, and when he’s not he’s either in an outfit for plot / joke purposes, or in a Hawaiian shirt. That’s his style, so a pink buttondown — worn without comment — stands out.

I just find it odd. Honestly I wonder if one of the ALF puppets really does have some kind of visible damage to its chest or side, because every so often we get a shirt out of nowhere, sometimes just for a short scene, with no purpose.

Funnily enough I wouldn’t even take note of this if they’d slipped the busted puppet into an outfit that made sense. Say, a football jersey. It’s not like pink buttondowns are ALF’s signature or anything. Dress the guy in something to do with the plot!

Whatever. He mentions he worked up an appetite playing football alone for so long, and Kate tells him he better not have trampled her flowerbeds.

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

He says he didn’t, and that she shouldn’t worry, but she tells him to show her his feet. He refuses, and then she demands, sternly, “Feet.” Cowed, ALF shows her his feet and we see trampled flowers stuck to his soles.

I like this part a lot. ALF is being a kid who knows he did something wrong, and Kate is being a mother who sees through the lie and isn’t in the mood to play games.

It’s a good dynamic, and due to the fact that ALF is a 200 year old alien (or whatever) and Kate’s just a frustrated housewife, playing this kind of relationship straight gives it an air of comedy by default. It doesn’t rely on writing…it’s more down to performance. Once again, that’s why I’m so glad we have Anne Schedeen.

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

Mrs. Ochmonek comes over and wants to know who kicked a fucking football through her window. Willie mechanically pulls out a wad of cash, but I’m not sure this is meant to be the kind of joke I’d like it to be. Whether or not it’s intentional, though, it’s nice to see that the show is still committed to having ALF drive this family into the inescapable hell of financial ruin.

Since they can’t say it was ALF, they blame it on Brian, and Mrs. Ochmonek says that this behavior should be nipped in the bud, otherwise he’ll grow up to be a bad kid, and replace some other crappy child actor while speaking in a phony Brooklyn accent.

There’s a noble attempt at a good joke here, when Mrs. Ochmonek talks about Al Capone having been a good buy until he broke her grandfather’s window. But actually he broke it by pushing her grandfather through the window, which seems like a punchline that isn’t as funny as its own setup, so I don’t know. This sucks.

It’s the kind of thing that I’d really like to compliment — Al Capone breaking Grandpa O’s window and then turning to a life of crime is a funny idea — but the writers didn’t care enough to make it land.

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

She leaves with her shitty punchline lingering in the air behind her like an old lady fart, and the Tanners (the ones who are still in this show, anyway), call ALF into the living room.

I do actually like what happens here: he hands Kate the flowers he ruined, using a soda can as a vase. Then he apologizes.

I like this for three reasons.

For starters, ALF is being a kid again. This is absolutely the kind of thing an eight-year-old boy might do, and it’s a shame this show never had one.

Secondly, this means ALF was doing something off camera. We didn’t see it, but it’s still a kind of background business, suggesting — at last — that ALF exists when he’s not cracking jokes center stage. He wasn’t a puppet in a box, stowed away until the next scene. He did things.

Finally, Kate is at least partially grateful for the effort, but she’s also still mad. This is a little boy atoning for one thing, but she knows she still needs to punish him for another. Schedeen’s “They smell like feet,” is a lovely, forced dismissal of the gesture, and it walks the line wonderfully.

Willie then attempts to play it cool, and asks ALF where their football is. ALF replies, matter-of-factly, “Behind your back.”

And it actually starts to feel like this might be a good episode. A few funny and otherwise enjoyable things in a row, and I’m dumb enough to get my hopes up.

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because there’s some more decent stuff here and I’ll be fucked if I’m going to cheat myself out of enjoying it.

The family confronts ALF and tells him that they know he broke the Ochmoneks’ window, but he says he didn’t. He does have a theory, though: at one point he kicked the football up…and it never came down.

After a pause, Lynn asks what his theory is, and he replies that it’s obviously “gravity failure.”

And this is funny. Willie argues that the football did come back down, land in the Ochmoneks’ yard, and then broke the window…somehow. ALF and I both find this hard to believe, but it leads to another good line when ALF says that there’s no way that happened, because “if there’s one sound I recognize, it’s glass breaking.”

That joke, unsurprisingly, gets stepped on, leading to ALF listing off a bunch of other shit he always breaks, which, again, isn’t as funny as its own setup. It also reminds me of the fact that he did smash up their dinnerware, and they saw that happen with their own eyes, so even if he is innocent of breaking the window, doesn’t he still need to be punished?

Either way, this episode is shockingly not terrible so far…or, at least, this scene is…and it leads to what’s easily one of my favorite ALF gags ever:

Lynn steps in to stop Willie from jumping to conclusions by saying, “Dad, we can’t really be sure that ALF broke the window.”

ALF, grateful, says, “Thank you, Lynn.”

Then he turns to Willie and Kate and says, “Maybe Lynn broke it.”

And FUCK YOU that was funny. This entire scene really does feel like it was plucked from a much better show, and it’s the highlight of the episode. If I only showed you these few minutes, I could probably trick you into thinking this was one of the better ones.

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

Brian comes in and they ask if he broke the window, but the fact that he was written out of the show last week makes for a pretty air-tight alibi.

This means ALF is still the prime suspect, and I’m reminded of “Looking For Lucky.” Way back in that episode, ALF was also accused of a crime he did not commit. In fact, the evidence there was even more damning, as I don’t think he’s ever fantasized openly about smashing the Ochmoneks’ window, but he sure as shit never shut up about wanting to eat the cat.

The difference is that this episode humorously walks us through the cases for and against ALF, which we’ll come to shortly. “Looking For Lucky” just had ALF in the pound and the Tanners running around LA asking if anyone’s seen their wacky space alien.

It also helps that this episode has jokes, and, frankly, even if it is a bit crap, it was worth watching if only for those unexpected moments of greatness. Such as when ALF demands a trial, and Willie says he’ll be the judge. ALF doesn’t want that, because Willie already thinks he’s guilty, so Lynn asks, “Would you trust mom to be the judge?”

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

…and that perfect moment of loaded silence hangs there, gorgeously. When the awkwardness peaks, ALF declares, “Without hesitation!”

It’s funny because it’s not over-explained. It simply plays out, as comedy is meant to, and it works precisely because Kate has background business: she’s dusting the table, turns when she hears Lynn rope her into this, and then freezes as she waits for a reply.

It has the visual cadence of a joke, meaning it’s the sort of thing you’d find funny even if the rest of the dialogue was in a language you didn’t understand. All-too-rare moments like this demonstrate that someone on the writing staff knows how comedy works, and, again, knows that if they’re going to rely on anybody to pull off their best material, it’s got to be Schedeen.

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

ALF gets until the next morning to prepare his case, and after the commercial break we’re there. And look at the puppet here. Wasn’t the one in the earlier screengrabs of a more orange-y hue? I think that’s the damaged one. I remember another episode this season (though I forget which, thank Christ) in which ALF was suddenly more orange and clothed, which is what made me wonder in the first place if there was a damaged puppet. Now I’m positive of it.

Why they didn’t keep using it (since ALF is wearing a different outfit here, which would have also concealed the damage) is beyond me. Why they don’t repair it is probably due to budget issues, so I won’t criticize them for that much. It’s probably smart to keep the busted puppet around for stunts anyway.

Whatever. Brian’s the bailiff, and he announces Kate, who comes in from the kitchen and bangs a gavel. Well, actually she bangs a lobster mallet, which I like.

It’s a good detail; most sitcom viewers wouldn’t have batted an eye at a character apparently owning a gavel, but the fact that they gave her a lobster mallet instead shows at least some appreciation for subtle jokes borne of thinking through the logistics.

Then ALF comes in and apologizes for being late because he was taking a huge shit.

I’m done complimenting this show.

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

…alright, maybe not quite yet. There’s some good dialogue here where Willie calls Kate “Honey,” but ALF says that isn’t fair, since Willie’s supposed to be the prosecutor, and as judge she should be addressed as “Your Honor.” He offers “Your Honey” as a compromise.

Then, during his opening statement, ALF talks about how innocents have been unjustly accused from the down of time, using Adam and Eve as his example. Brian points out that Adam and Eve were, in fact, guilty.

ALF replies, “Says who?”

Brian responds, “Says God.”

ALF’s face here is hilarious, and it’s one of the better silent punchlines I’ve seen on this show, really selling ALF’s internal panic. He then says, defeated, “Moving on…” and it’s a fantastic moment.

Man, that’s what’s frustrating about ALF. I can be so good when it gives half a shit.

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

Willie then speaks about ALF’s history of destructive behavior, which consists almost exclusively of references to events we’ve actually witnessed. While whipping up antics that we haven’t seen before could be a nice avenue for better writers to explore (like Marge referencing Homer’s previous “lifelong dreams”), this litany of dickholishness past is a decent amount of fun on its own.

These include:

  • Crashing his UFO into their garage. (“A.L.F.”)
  • Setting fire to their camper (“On the Road Again”)
  • Chopping up their Christmas tree (“Oh, Tannerbaum”)
  • Wrecking their toaster (…which I can’t remember.*)
  • Ripping their painting (“Working My Way Back to You”)
  • Digging up the back yard (“Somewhere Over the Rerun”)
  • Stealing a car (“Baby, You Can Drive My Car”)
  • Burying Willie’s piano (no episode, but damn that’s funny)
  • Getting Willie arrested (“Pennsylvania 6-5000”)
  • Using their credit cards excessively and illegally (passim, but the foundation** of the plot in “Keepin’ the Faith”)
  • Short circuiting the television (“Weird Science”)
  • Terrorizing the cat (passim, but the biggest turd in the litterbox of “Looking For Lucky”)
  • Blowing up the kitchen (“Working My Way Back to You”)

Wow. For a show that’s pretty barren of continuity, that’s actually a fun list, and I like the idea that Willie keeps a sort of running tally of ALF’s shenanigans in mind for occasions such as this.

I also find it more than a little bit funny that none of the shit he pulled in “Wild Thing,” when we were led to believe he was at his uncontrollable worst, made the list. His worst offenses in that episode don’t even outrank toastercide.

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

ALF calls Lynn to the stand. It’s interesting, actually, that something like a broken window, so clearly minor in comparison to almost everything Willie listed a moment ago, turns into this big production, while those larger deeds went entirely unpunished.

Anyway, ALF asks her how long he’s known her, and she replies, “About a year.” So, there. Just something to keep in mind, I guess, as it lets us know that ALF is more or less progressing along with our concept of real time. There’d be no problem if it leapt ahead or staggered behind, but now we know.

Then he asks her if she’d say he has any “saintly qualities.” Lynn replies that he resembles a St. Bernard, which makes Willie do this:

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

…and my penis falls off forever.

ALF calls Brian to the stand, but the writers realize almost as quickly as I do that that’s not going to go anywhere, so they turn it into a quick joke about ALF trying to bribe him and we’re free of the kid in record time.

Finally, ALF calls himself to the stand, which is a much better use of Mr. Fusco’s time than interacting with other actors. Now he gets to provide both halves of a conversation, which must have warranted a pretty big checkmark on the ALF bucket list.

ALF’s cross-examination of himself isn’t particularly funny, but it also manages to not be terrible, so…that’s good, I guess. It does lead to a decent payoff, though, when an irritated Kate puts a stop to this garbage and demands summaries. Willie’s summary is “ALF did it,” and ALF’s is “No, I didn’t.”

It’s a fun, simple capper, and worth a lot of the trash we had to wade through to get to it.

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

Kate finds ALF guilty, which is another very welcome showcase for Schedeen’s talents, and that’s what makes this work.

She leans forward. Into ALF’s space. She looks down at him. She’s being a mother first, and a judge second. Up until now she’s humored this kid and played along with his little dressup game, but now she’s in charge again, and ALF’s in trouble. No more TV.

I don’t know if Max Wright had kids by this point, but if I had to guess, I’d say Anne Schedeen did. She knows how to be a mother — at least in the face of misbehavior — and it’s a joy to watch. The body language is spot on. I believe she’s ALF’s mother…though she’s obviously not, even within the reality of the show.

When Schedeen read her scripts, she must have asked, “Okay, what’s happening here? What am I trying to accomplish? How do these characters relate to each other?” Everyone else in the cast only seems to have asked, “What are my lines?”

I’m not trying to pick on Gregory, Elson and Wright. I’m sure they are all lovely people in real life, and I know at least one of them went on to find a fruitful career as a crack fiend. But I do think it’s worth drawing attention to Schedeen’s abilities, because, more often than not, she’s the one who elevates this show to levels of actual competence.

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

As last week, the writers have a great opportunity here. In “The Boy Next Door” it was the chance to explore with us what ALF does at night, when all the world’s asleep. This time it’s a chance to show us how ALF fills his leisure time without television.

As in the previous episode, though, they botch it, and we just get a few jabs at The Golden Girls, which ALF makes fun of because they use the same jokes every week.

…not really the glass house ALF should be throwing stones in, is it?

In fact, while it’s true that The Golden Girls established a comfortable routine for itself, it’s actually a pretty good example of how to make the same template funny every week. It wasn’t quite Cheers in that regard, but it was easily a thousand times the show ALF ever was.

Then he makes some dolls on a clothes line dance for a while and wasn’t this episode good at one point? Ahh, probably not.

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

Lynn comes in and tells him that she believes he didn’t do it…but, at the same time, he’s the one who requested a trial, so he can’t really complain if this is how it turned out. It’s…kind of sweet.

I actually really like this kind of relationship between them. She feels bad for ALF…but at the same time understands the restrictions of his situation. We saw the same thing in “For Your Eyes Only,” and, man, this is so much better than having ALF sing songs about what he wants to stick in her butt.

She has this sort of gently naive willingness to engage ALF on his own terms, and it’s cute.

ALF then asks if she’d let him represent her in court, in spite of how his own trial went, and she teasingly reprises the “without hesitation” gag. It’s funny.

Elson’s not much better than most of the actors on this show, but when she gets to be human it comes off really nice. She may not have Schedeen’s acting chops, but when she’s given the right material, she has a lot of warmth.

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

Mr. Ochmonek comes over the next day, and this time I swear that I actually do own that shirt. I’m tempted to start posting comparison pics.

He apologizes to Willie, because he’s the one who broke the window. Huh. I honestly thought the culprit would be Jake.

It turns out he found the football in his yard and played around with it, ultimately breaking the window. He didn’t want to tell his wife that that he was the one who smashed it, because he still wants her to see him as a football hero. After all, he played for seven years in high school.

Like the “good behavior” joke from last week, this is well-delivered and stands — mercifully — unexplained. Jack LaMotta knows how to sell material like this, and ALF is pretty damned fortunate to have him.

We also learn that he and his wife, who was a cheerleader, were high school sweethearts. And that is a lovely, human detail. I am infinitely more convinced that the Ochmoneks are in love than I am that the Tanners have spent anything more than screen time together.

He then tells Willie that he wanted to make things right with the Tanners, since Mrs. O was hitting them up for the repair money. He says, “The least I could do is go halfsies.”

He’s making a joke, but joking like that is what humans do. It’s a funny line, and a nice reinforcement of the idea that actual people still exist in this show, despite the best efforts of the writing staff to prevent that from happening.

God dammit. Can’t Mr. Ochmonek and Kate just elope and have their own show?

Anyway, the episode ends and the Tanners apologize to ALF, even though he did break their dinnerware and is still guilty of all the other shit Willie mentioned a few minutes ago. Then he immediately smashes up a bunch of crap and boy is this show a hoot.

ALF, "Can I Get a Witness?"

The short scene before the credits finds Willie walking in on ALF watching three television sets and making three TV dinners. Willie walks over to the kitchen door and touches it near the top for some reason, then stands there until the episode ends.

Don’t ask. I have no fucking clue.

MELMAC FACTS: Melmacians applaud by belching.

* I know he poured gunk or something into it at some point, and then Willie had to fix it, but it was so minor I don’t even think it made it into my review of whatever episode it was. Anyone out there remember? I can always pretend it’s “Come Fly With Me,” which not only involved toaster destruction but also the fiery demolition of a swanky hotel…which you’d think might be a more grievous offense.

** GET IT??

So Long, Stinktown!

The Simpsons, "You Only Move Twice"

Well, Serious Week (as friend of the website Ridley and enemy of the website Rachael Ray dubbed it) is at an end. Maybe you’d think I could use a break after that.

Maybe you’d be right!

But either way, it coincides with my move back to civilization! As of this morning I’ll be in Denver proper again, and I have strong intentions of kicking butt on this blog, now that I’ll have a place of my own and — presumably — more time to write and / or eat sad nachos in my underpants.

I don’t know when my internet will be set up, so if this week is quiet, that’s why. There will be a new ALF review on Thursday at the very least, so if you want to make fun of me behind my back, that comments section may be a good place to do it.

In the meantime, as ever, thanks for reading.

Oh, and if you’re wondering where the ads went…I felt bad “profiting” off of the things I was posting last week, so I removed them. I could put them back, but, frankly, I’d like to be able to post things like that now and again without feeling guilty. So for now, at least, they’re gone. I may reconsider in the future, and I appreciate all of your support and feedback on the subject, but I think it’s a story for another day.

You guys are awesome. Be good while Pappy Chatters is gone!!

The Voices of Depression

I would like you to think about some of the people you love most. It doesn’t matter how many, or how few. What matters is that you care about them. And now, with that person, or those people, in mind, I would like you to read the below.

These are excerpts from some very brave and moving pieces of writing that were sent to me. They are presented anonymously, and that’s important, because these are not things that should be attached to a specific identity. That would make it easier for you to push them away. You don’t know these people, after all.

But you do. Because something like what you will read below is affecting, right now, somebody you care about deeply. I was surprised by a lot of what was sent to me, and I know it only scratched the surface.

What you are being given here is a tremendously important gift: you are being made privy to the things the people you love most are too frightened to say. I promise you that more people than you realize are dealing with precisely the kinds of thoughts you are reading below. As you’ll see, some of them managed to pull out of it. As you already know, so many don’t.

Let those people you love know how much they mean to you. And that you will listen. Not answer, not advise, not guide…but listen.

You’ll never know how many lives you might save by doing only that.

I’ve been trained to not try to get attention. It just makes things worse. If they never see you crying, they can’t ignore it. […] As I’ve read more and more posts about Robin Williams on Facebook, the attention he gathers reinforces exactly what it shouldn’t. It shows how many people are willing to crawl out of the woodwork to announce how much they loved the deceased. It also reminds me that if I died, my family wouldn’t be willing to take the trip for my funeral.

When I say I’m okay, I’m begging for you to help me. […] Every day that I think I’m not worth anything, I’ll remind myself with everything I see. Words like failure and worthless run inside my head and try to chip away. Why can’t I just get rid of it? Why won’t it go away? They told me I can just get over it. Why can’t I? Nobody in this position can choose to get over it, because it’s a sickness. It can be put at bay but it doesn’t end. We just want people to understand and love us in spite of all of what our mind tells us. If we try to push away just pull us closer, because we just need proof that we’re worthy of love. No matter what we try and tell ourselves.

Looking back, there were a ton of symptoms that I ignored: Trouble getting out of bed at all? Check. Mood swings? Check. Secret crying in the shower for no reason? All the time. At some point, my body gave in and I didn’t function anymore. My doctor (I will always be grateful for that) sent me to a crisis intervention, and I admitted myself to a hospital for some time. It was the best thing that could have happened to me, really, and I will always be grateful to her. […] You don’t have to wait until the very lowest point to get help. Don’t do what I did. I wish I’d gotten help much sooner, and I know now that I could have.

I don’t suffer from depression, I live with it. I tried to commit suicide when I was 12, and knew it wasn’t the way out since then. I used to cut myself to be able to feel but I replaced that with music and poetry. […] People who have depression have to fight themselves to get out of bed, have to argue within themselves to stick it out at work and keep going even though you’d just rather give up and go home. If I do find something or someone that subsides the feeling I tend to attach to it or them, sometimes unhealthily.

Constantly feeling disassociated and disconnected to people around me, I tend to just want to be alone. Happiness is fleeting and only lasts in moments, so I don’t “fake” it as that would cause more depression. 32 going on 33 and I’ve really just come to the point that it will never change. […] If it weren’t for my kids I’d probably be much worse off. They are literally my reason to keep going…

There comes this moment, when you’re staring into the abyss, and everything just goes quiet. It’s like suddenly, all of your thoughts quietly silence themselves into nothing but expectation—live or die. Depending on your aim or trajectory or knowledge of bodyweight vs dosage vs nausea vs a stomach pump, you either wake up to the noise and the pounding and the chatter and the fear — or, I suppose you don’t. And then, there is nothing. But if you do, you’re left to sort through, told to cheer up, told to deal with it, told to stop looking for attention, while you struggle to ignore how inviting the darkness feels, how blessedly comforting the idea of the silence in nothingness seems to you, the relief it would be to just…end.

But I never think thoughts like that. Because I’m the funny one, the optimist, fucking delightful at parties and a damn good cook, the poet who writes about hope and change and beauty, with a life that’s been enchanted by fortune and a modicum of fame, because everything goes right for me and I am the luckiest girl in the world—I have no right to feel this despair that comes from nowhere, I have no right to cry or hide in my bed, the world is a beautiful place, and after all, I am so very pretty, I’m just grumpy or in a bad mood or I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or maybe I’m on my period. I don’t have depression.

Depression is some shameful secret reserved for Lifetime movies, not me– the scars on my wrists are burns from that summer I worked at a pizza place, because there is nothing sinister in my life, nothing to complain about, no deep dark secrets, no real, serious problems so how could I possibly be depressed? I’m just being overdramatic.

I started seeing a therapist for depression and anxiety when I was 13. I’ve lost count of the number of therapists and medications I’ve tried now over the past 20 years, but it’s safe to say I’ve been dealing with these issues for a long time. […] Depression for me has been like…thinking that your feelings must somehow be wrong – you must not actually feel that way, because John and Sally and Rebecca all seem to have it together and they do all of the same things you do. So, you make the decision to just push those thoughts down, down, down and lather, rinse, repeat until it goes away…that’s better than asking for help, right? […] I am relieved Robin Williams is no longer in pain, and I am also grateful that he was in a position to get so many people talking about depression and mental illness in general. The more people talk about it, the better chance we have at letting everyone know – you’re not alone. You are not fucking alone.

The feeling of depression is akin to being stuck in quicksand. You can struggle all you want, but you just sink further and further down. The conflicts, the insults, and the challenges thrown at you are just rocks, stones, and spears being hurled at you. And you’re defenseless. Sometimes, a good omen will happen your way and that’s your rope to grab onto to pull you out. However, the rope is slippery or it breaks and you’re back to slipping further into the muck.

I’ve struggled for years with psychological issues. […] When I was 12, I drank laundry detergent, thinking it would kill me. Obviously, it only made me vomit a lot and I am still here. I’ve been beaten, I’ve been raped. These things add to my daily struggle. Until recently, I didn’t know what true happiness felt like. My life is finally falling together the way it should. But I still frequently have suicidal ideations. I routinely think about jumping in front of a train, or into traffic. Every time I drive, I consider ramming into the median or off a bridge. It’s a daily struggle. […] Very few people know. Everyone at work tells me they love how I am always so happy, so positive, and always have a smile. If only they knew the real me.

I’ve never been diagnosed with depression, either because I’ve never been clinically depressed or due to the fact I’ve never sought medical diagnosis. In my case I take support from family (with whom I’ve shared a sugar-coated perspective of how I often feel) and primarily distract myself; my daily life is a relentless quest to keep my mind busy, which is probably why I struggle to sleep and why, if I make the mistake of slowing down, I fall into a melancholic, perhaps depressed state. So I keep going, even if it means I approach 30 with a lot of lingering regrets, missed opportunities, failed relationships of various kinds and a career that’ll be lucky to last more than a few years. I distract myself, get bored, dive off into another tangent and keep recycling myself, because slowing down is too hard.

That makes me a bit of a coward. I know it does. I should confront how I am rather than run in the opposite direction. Maybe I’m just a narcissist, or bipolar, or depressed. I’m too chicken to find out. My advice – the hypocrite that I am – is that the best way to deal with depression, crippling doubts of self-worth or whatever keeps a potentially great life out of reach, is to have the courage to get help. Talk to someone. I’m sure I will too, just not yet.

When I was depressed I felt that the lowest piece of dirt on the ground was a million million times better than I was. It was like there was a crushing weight inside my head. I could barely muster the energy to tie my shoelaces and I could only walk to the church at the end of the road. […] I used to lash out at my parents and beat my forehead with my fists to get some release. There was a period of time when I was afraid of sunlight and I used to sleep in the day and use my dad’s computer at night. I thought that I was protected by the night being dark and not many people being around at that time. One night I went downstairs, got a knife from the drawer and placed it on my wrist with the intent to slice my wrist open. I was unable to do this because I knew that if I sliced my wrist open I would die and I didn’t want to die despite how I was feeling.

Mental illness should be treated like physical illness. The stigma should be removed and people who need help should have that help readily available. No one should feel embarrassed and too scared to reach out.

Every day I battle what at times can feel like crippling sadness, at its most extreme. […] With me, it’s a negative cycle filled with the various negative thoughts constantly telling me that I’m pathetic, or too weird, or too stupid, or not good enough, or a terrible person, or worthless and will never amount to anything. I have been told that I’m a good or lovely person. I’ve actually had quite a few nice, wonderful, positive things said about myself. But my brain can easily come up with a million reasons why it simply isn’t true.

I think sharing or talking to someone about it is the hardest thing for me and for a lot of people. For me personally, I find that what stops me is this constant feeling of guilt I have every day. That feeling that always tells me that I’ve basically done something wrong and that by trying to tell a loved one what I’m really going through, I’ll be burdening them or putting them in a very difficult position. That guilt-inducing voice will then convince me: “Stop being so selfish, stop being a baby. You’re just gonna worry them over nothing! Just man up, deal with it and keep it to yourself!”

It’s a vicious cycle filled with many harsh words and it’s frightening to think that it’s all just coming from your own head. I think what this recent enormous loss has taught me is that just keeping it all buried inside is really the worst thing you can do. No good can come from it. I know I sound like I’m stating the obvious, but it’s just so hard to fully realize that. It’s just so hard to open up to someone and tell them how much you’re suffering. Again, my brain can come up with a million reasons as to why it’s not a good idea. And the fact that there will be people who don’t understand – or even worse, have a judgmental point of view – will always be one of the biggest reasons not to.

I have suffered from depression. All of my life. Even when I was little I didn’t feel like everyone else did. My parents got me a fantastic camera and I felt nothing. I was 13. Before that I ate so much because I didn’t feel anything. By 14 I was 180 lbs., I had also been cutting myself for 2 years. Now at 22 I have been cutting for 10 years. Not everyday. Never enough for anyone to notice. All though high school I was the one that my friends leaned on, they came to me. No one noticed me. At 22 I am on antidepressants and a mood stabilizer. I have not cut myself in 7 months. I am still fighting. There are some days I don’t want to keep fighting. I am going to have to live with this all of my life. There are days I don’t know why I should have to keep trying. I can’t pay for therapy. I can barely pay for the appointments to see the doctor who manages my meds.

These mental illnesses that I struggle with are just like other diseases. You’ll go in to remission. Sometimes for months or more, but then suddenly out of the blue, it slams in to you and you find yourself struggling just to breathe. At the onset of my current battle, I reached out to many people, grasping for anyone to help me stay afloat. All I received in return were responses such as “you really need to get a handle on this” or “well, I hope you feel better soon.”

Finally one person reached out to me. Someone whom I haven’t seen since high school and just occasionally chatted with on Facebook. Through talking, we realized we had a common bond. We both had these same illnesses. She encouraged me and listened to me when I needed someone and felt like I had no one. I will be eternally grateful to her. She was there for me when I had reached my lowest point.

I didn’t have friends at school (only bullies), but because I had nowhere to go, I spent that intervening time at various classmates houses being tossed from one home to the other like they were playing keep away. Alone, scared and trapped, it was somewhere during that time that I first remember having a sincere and urgent desire to die. […] The desire to die has never been fully extinguished. […] I am not here to compare stories or worry about who has a more difficult time getting up every morning and facing themselves in the mirror, because when you suffer with depression, we are all the same. That is the moral of my message.

I am here to say that you don’t have to hide behind your grief, and if we were all a little more honest that we are merely talking animals on a giant rock hurtling through the universe, and none of us know what they fuck we are doing. We are all scared and lonely and didn’t have to feel the pressure and burden of putting on different masks to gain favor and approval; if we could all, for just one fucking moment, be ourselves and announce to the world that we are petrified of life and existence and success and being loved as much as we are of failure and rejection–because the former is far less common–that these joys and frustrations and the pointlessness and absurdity to work and family and everything we see and touch is all temporal. If we could just accept the fact that most of us feel those things and let go of the fear of realizing it, the stigma that depression is something to hide would go away and the healing might be able to begin.

Our society has taught us to be strong and not show weakness, so here I am putting up a strong facade to make sure no one knows. If I tell someone I feel like I am put in a box with fragile written on it in huge red letters. If I tell someone else they ask me why, your life is perfect. Extremely high expectations, perceived and real, lost friendships, social awkwardness, the fear of failing, the fear of ending up alone, the fear of success. It weighs and weighs and weighs and some days I just can’t take the pressure, but still I smile and grin and bear it so no one knows. If I open up then it becomes someone’s burden and I can’t do that to them. […]

I want to show the world that our minds can be our biggest weapon, our biggest ally, and that the monster inside isn’t going to win. We can fight back, each day, to take back our lives and create our own enjoyment. Create something beautiful where there used to be darkness. I want to help show people that the world isn’t collapsing, it is merely bending and bowing with the times, and we can strengthen the material to make the bends a little less severe.

You are not alone.
Do not let that thought take hold
You are fighting something
that is not simply conquered.
Do not let delusions of a dark granduer fester inside.
Do not let this darkness take hold…these chemicals in your brain.
Being brave doesn’t mean you simply have no fear
It means you fear but you advance on.
You are not a coward if you have already attempted
Suicide is not a coward’s way out
because you are ready to step into the unknown to get
far away from the known.
No God in Heaven
or this Hell to call your own?
That simple fact that we don’t know
is why your life is cherished.
You can get through this, I promise it now.
The journey is what makes the ending so much more.
Out of everything you could be, you’re a human being.
Life is beautiful, special and grand.
You just took a breath and your heart is beating.
That’s enough to go on, believe me.
We only have this one life to live.
So live it.
Please seek help not for your family, your friends or me
but yourself.
Be selfish and seek that help.
You deserve it and need it
You will get through this
so just remember always
that you are precious
Let your loved ones know that you need them.

I’m a relatively young, white middle-class male, and the cards are stacked in my favor. And yet there I was, with the cord wrapped around my neck, thinking that this was the only possible way out. And yet there I was, calling the suicide hotline. And yet there I was, years earlier, cutting myself with a shaving razor for reasons I’d myself forgotten. […]

Clinical depression is not sadness, and I’m extremely fortunate that mine is not as severe as others who I’ve known. Clinical depression is a chemical imbalance that results in a lack of vitality – you literally feel dead. […] Sad thoughts and other triggers can take us to that place, but once we’re there, there is no sadness, only a feeling that we are just going through the motions. Which, of course, makes us wonder “why bother?” Why go on when we don’t feel like we have a living soul?

[…] I’ll never know if I could have gone through with it, but I tell myself that I could not have, that these were not serious attempts. Because my sadness does not seem as important as that of others. Because I have so much that should make me happy. Because I did not need to pull myself up from my bootstraps, and I have a lot for which to be thankful.

It is that type of thinking that gets people to commit suicide in the first place.

You just can’t understand the struggles of chronic depression unless you are a victim of it yourself.

I suffer from chronic depression. I have for almost all of my life. Some days are better than others but the highs are fleeting and the lows can be shattering. Every day is a struggle mentally. It’s not that I don’t have energy, it’s just that I use a vast amount of it keeping my mental demons at bay. I am plagued by suicidal thoughts almost every day. Logically I know that these thoughts are stupid and that to even entertain them is the height of lunacy.

I can’t just brush them away though. My head knows I should not even think of these things much less do them but the mental compulsion can be overwhelming. It is an exercise in willpower and it is so draining to fight it off every day, but I do.

For too long mental illness has been treated with disdain. It’s not something we can just get over. It’s not a fucking Mary Poppins singalong where we can just sing happy songs and be cured. […] It is dismissed, ridiculed, and treated as some bullshit make-believe condition where we are just sad and all we need to do is just cheer up. You can’t take a magic pill and make everything better. Hell, I have been to therapy for over five years and it doesn’t cure it, it just helps you identify what is going on and makes you more aware. It gives you tools to arm yourself with for the battle but it does not end the war. The war never ends.

The thing is admitting you have a mental disorder comes with associated crippling stigma. People treat you like a freak, like you are some psychopath that could come unhinged at any second and murder their entire family. […] The truth is you most likely have someone very close to you that suffers from mental illness but they are afraid to let anyone know because they don’t want to be treated any different. It is possible they tried to feel you out for help and it was dismissed with a wave of the hand as you told them to just get over it and think of a happy thought and they would be fine. It doesn’t work like that. We need more education disseminated and a social shift in how we treat mental disorders and how we treat the people who have them.

I had my first panic attack when I was 18 years old. My grandmother was living with us and had recently begun to descend into her dementia. Her diagnosis terrified me. Up until then I lived a very sheltered very privileged life. I grew up rich with love, affection, opportunities and financially we were well off too. Then my grandmother’s insanity revealed itself. She scared me. I was terrified to the bone, thinking I might lose my mind when I get older. I felt what it must have been like to not know anyone around you, to have medical professionals hold you down and sedate you. To have your own children and grandchildren be afraid of you.

I panicked. My heart raced, my stomach dropped, cold sweats, and thoughts and images that entered my mind like a freight train. I honestly thought I was dying. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t scream, I thought I would suffocate. My mother came into the room and literally had to hold me for hours until I felt better. Then I would become physically sick, that lasted the rest of the night into the next day. Then the exhaustion. I would sleep for hours during the day. I didn’t know what the hell was going on or what it was that triggered it. So since I didn’t know, I refused to leave the house. I felt like an infant. […] Everyone else was going out, having fun and I was absolutely terrified of life.

I tried to go to dinner with a friend but I started to panic again. For no reason. I felt nauseated again, my heart was racing. She asked if I was okay, which put me right over the edge and I vomited. In the restaurant. And then I cried and all the panic spilled out. Thankfully, my friend was able to help me. She said she got panic attacks too. I had no idea what these episodes were. She was able to describe them to me exactly the feelings I was having. The rush or wave of fear that would cascade over you, felt like your brain was ignited. As soon as she named my demon, I was instantly beginning to feel better. So I talked about it again with another friend, and another, and another. Soon I was able to joke about it. The less power I gave it, the less power it had over me.

Apparently, it’s uncommon for someone with my spectrum of psychological disorders to live past adolescence. At the time, I’d been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Mood Control Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. […] My life was being dictated by a series of mental complications that centered around making me feel hopeless, desperate, worthless and that constantly compelled me to “check out early.” And I mean constantly. Every voice in my head, every emotion I felt, made me hate being alive.

I actually tried to take my own life at least three separate times that I can remember. These all involved overdoses of OTC drugs. Thankfully, I didn’t do any research beforehand and the dosages (or choice of pill) didn’t do anything beyond making me really, really sick. I was hospitalized three times. The second time, I was in a bed for three days and forced to drink some horrible charcoal cocktail that saved my kidneys from failing.

[…] I honestly feel like the worst platitude that ever arose out of the realm of politically-correct bullshit is “there’s nothing wrong with you; you’re fine just the way you are.” If you find yourself living the kind of life that I was living (suicidal, perpetually unhappy except for when you’re manic and self-destructive, hopeless, helpless, angry to the point of violence) then there is something wrong with you.

The thing to remember is that there’s nothing damning, shameful or permanent about it. I didn’t turn my life around until I finally said, “Fuck all of this I’m-Okay-You’re-Okay nonsense…I want to get better!” I accepted the fact that every human being is different from the next and that sometimes those differences are flaws that need to be fixed. Then I set out to fix the flaws.

Any other approach is like standing at the prow of a sinking ship and saying “my ship is just as good as all of those other ones…there’s no way she’s going down.” Good luck, captain.

I don’t process emotions well. It’s very important for me, for whatever reason, to at least appear as though I Have All Of My Shit Together. Emotion doesn’t figure into that. I am cold and logical and prefer it that way. But past experiences have told me that grief doesn’t work that way. You can push those feelings down, swallow them whole, and never look at them again, but they don’t disappear that easily. No, they live under your skin, just out of sight, but always there. Scratch too hard at the surface, and there they are: messy and omnipresent, and patiently, patiently waiting for you to deal with them.

I lost my school funding for what would have been my senior year of my bachelor’s degree, ten years in the making. I called my father to ask if he might co-sign on a loan for me. He could not. “Keep me posted,” was the last thing he ever said to me. A few days later I got the ubiquitous Midnight Phone Call from Mt Cedar Sinai in Los Angeles. He had had a heart attack at home, and rather than spend the money on an ambulance, put himself on the bus to the hospital. Some Good Samaritan called 911 when he began coughing up blood. My father died surrounded by strangers.

I still have old emotions from years ago that I have not dealt with, and I know that the burden becomes heavier over time. I would spend stretches of time alone, sobbing for good reasons, bad reasons, or none at all.

Depression and anxiety have been a part of my life since I was a child. First, I want to say I have a wonderful life. I have been blessed with the most amazing, beautiful, perfect, supportive family that anyone could ever ask for, I’ve never needed to worry about food on the table or a roof over my head, I’ve been given just about every advantage you can be given in life.

But still, almost every day, I have to battle with feelings of negativity, inadequacy, and feeling on edge for no reason at all. “I’m fine; I’m just tired,” is a saying those with depression know all too well. We are constantly apologizing for things that we have no control over; our feelings, our worries, our stupid random freak outs.

Having depression and anxiety at the same time means wanting to stay in bed because you don’t want to face the day, but panicking because you don’t want to be a failure. Wanting to go see your friends so you don’t lose them, but staying home because sometimes, the mere thought of a social situation is too much. It means seeing everyone else living their lives and making something of themselves, and you feel like you’re stuck in a hole that you can’t get out of (even if it’s not necessarily true).

Sometimes it means feeling perfectly okay when you’re alone, and completely lonely in a group of people.

I think what people without depression fail to realize is that it isn’t just a bad mood. Especially when coupled with anxiety, it isn’t just something you can talk yourself out of. Of course, there are days where I wake up, realize my potential, and feel like I can take on the world. But then there are days where even though there is nothing “wrong,” I can’t bring myself to get out of bed. Or do the things I love to do, or hang out with the people I enjoy hanging out with. Some days, I just feel exhausted and a four hour nap in the middle of the a day where I have tons of obligations seems like the only answer.

For a long time, I tried to avoid taking care of myself. I poured all of my energy into other people, took care of them, worked two jobs, took 18 credits in school every semester, closed at a bar/opened at Starbucks (essentially operated on 2-3 hours of sleep a night for a semester), and substituted stimulants for sleep and food. I still don’t know how I made it as long as I did living that way.

But one day, something happened. And people ask “why?” all the time, but I honestly can’t give a reason to this day. Except that I guess I was just tired of living the way I was. I woke up one day, logged on Facebook, and saw that my friend Wally had been tagged in a weight loss transformation photo by a place called 4Ever Fit. I e-mailed them, and after my now-trainer, Mike, called me two or three times, I finally agreed to go in for a consultation. The rest is history.

I fell in love with fitness, and through building my physical strength, I transformed mentally. I’ve been on medication, I hated it. I’ve tried different therapists, I never found one that I was comfortable with. Losing weight and getting in shape saved my life in more ways than one, and for once in my life, I have a feeling of accomplishment and while there was a time where I couldn’t even envision any sort of future for myself, now I find myself looking forward to the future because I can’t wait to see what else I can accomplish.

But that doesn’t mean every day is all of a sudden easy and full of sunshine and rainbows. When you have anxiety and/or depression, it’s always there, lurking.

It means that somedays, I couldn’t care less if the person I’m seeing texts me throughout the day, because I’m too busy focusing on myself, working, going to school, training, etc. But then another day, I don’t get a text by noon and I’m assuming the worst.

Every day, I wake up and wonder if this will be the day that everything falls apart, and when it doesn’t, I go to bed relieved. But then sometimes… and I never blame the other person, but sometimes my emotions get too intense, and everything does go wrong, and I blame myself. To a ridiculous degree. It means that sometimes, I just want to lay on the couch and have someone tell me “it’s going to be okay”- but usually I’m too busy apologizing for being in a bad mood, or too scared of what someone might think if I tell them I feel like shit- to vocalize my need for comfort.

Most days, I’m strong enough to push through work, school, and training, but some days I am defeated and I cry hours on end because I’m certain the world is ending.

But… the good days far outweigh the bad. And even when I have a bad day now, I tell myself that that’s all it is, and I’ve gotten through it before, and I will surely get through this one, and the next one, and the one after that.

And if I can tell anyone, whether you struggle from a mental illness or not, anything, it is this: put your energy into something that makes you better, not worse. It’s so easy to turn to things like drugs, or drinking, or sex, but at the end of the day, you’re just numbing the pain and pushing it aside for later.

It’s true that when you numb the pain, it just makes it worse when you finally feel it. Whether it’s religion or fitness or volunteer work or cooking or helping others in similar situations, find your passion, and be proud of yourself for doing it. We are beautiful, flawed, incredible human beings, and we are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for.

Do not write yourself off. Do not diminish yourself to nothing. Do not underestimate yourself. Do not dismiss your value or write off your feelings or apologize for who you are.

You’ve had bad days. You will have more bad days. On those days, it is perfectly acceptable to sit in bed and drink wine and cuddle with your cats. Or take a hot bath. Or lay on the ground and look at the stars and freak out about how big the universe is and feel incredibly small.

But you are not insignificant.

And in between the bad days, you will see how beautiful this world can be. You will meet people that make you realize that love is still good and alive in this world. You will find people, whether it be a family member, friend, or significant other, that see your broken pieces as cracks to pour their love into. You will realize that you are strong enough to overcome anything. Because you were born to be a fighter.

And you will be okay.

Reflections on Robin Williams’ Passing

RIP Robin Williams
I never expected I’d be writing one of these about Robin Williams. After all, I never really liked the guy.

I don’t mean that in a personal sense. I mean that his “identity” never did much for me. He was good at what he did — that much, it’s fair to say, was obvious — but what he did wasn’t what I was interested in.

And now he’s dead, and I’ve done as much reflecting and soul searching as I’ve ever done. The most since Salinger passed a few years ago. So why is it that the death of an actor / comedian I didn’t even enjoy hit me at least as hard as the death of the man who wrote one of the most important books I’ve ever read?

I know why: the dialogue that’s been opened.

I was out the night the death of Robin Williams was reported. By the time I got back it was all over my social feeds, and well beyond the point that people were wondering if it was a hoax. It was not a hoax. People listed their favorite Robin Williams movies. I went to sleep.

The reason I went to sleep was this: I was depressed.

That night, something happened. I’d prefer not to go into it. Suffice it to say that often when I feel depressed (and when most people feel depressed, I’m sure) there’s no distinct trigger. The dark cloud settles, and I want to shake it, but I can’t. It happens. Some creeping — and then seething — sense of hopelessness, worthlessness, and helplessness takes over. And, all at once, I’m powerless.

That night, though, there was a trigger. I know why I was depressed. But even having a specific point of focus for those feelings doesn’t help. It doesn’t stop them from spiraling further. If depression begins from a rational place, which it sometimes does, it never stops there. If it did, we’d just call it sadness. Instead, it poisons our perception of the world around us. That sunset looks hideous. This drink tastes like sawdust. It hurts to look people in the eye so I’ll look down and wonder why I was born if this is the way I’m passing the night.

Why bother? I am avoiding life. I am looking at the world around me and I am thinking, “I don’t want this.” I hear somebody laugh, somebody far away, and I wish I were invisible.

Why am I here?

When I’m depressed, I go to sleep. Nearly always, that helps significantly. I wake up feeling a little closer to centered, and a new day resets the routine. Alarm clock, shower, get dressed, instant coffee, hit the road, start working. Life on a rail. It sounds like it should be restrictive, but when you’re depressed it’s the most liberating feeling on Earth. It’s a chance to step away from yourself. From the lies your mind makes you believe. It might not be fulfilling, but it’s not destructive, and that’s progress.

I’ve even conditioned myself. So effective is sleep — for me — that I can just about will it. If I’m not tired but I’m already depressed by three o’clock? Good night. It’s easy. I’m asleep before I know it, because I think I realize, on some terrified level, that staying awake is going to bring me places I’ll regret visiting. So my mind, knowing no alternative, has learned to shut itself down.

The day after Robin Williams was announced dead, I did not feel better. Because now it was clear that he’d committed suicide.

The dialogue that resulted was devastating. I’m not referring to those who quickly dismissed it as a cowardly act. (Something else my mind has conditioned itself to ignore.) I’m referring to those who did the opposite: those who opened up.

Depression is the quiet killer. It destroys from within. It starts deep…so deep it feels like it’s the most important part of who we are. It’s not a core component…it’s the core itself. And every decision we make and every emotion we feel and every time we decide to stay in for the night, it’s informed by the core. The times that we get to laugh, or have fun, a real weekend of genuine connection with people we love…they feel like brief little vacations. That’s not the real us. The real us…that’s in the core. And at the end of every vacation, we know we have to go back.

People opened up about that. About a lot. They said it better than I ever could. Depression (and self doubt, and lack of confidence, and anxiety) is something I struggle with almost every day of my life…at least to some extent. Often I can get over it. Sometimes, unquestionably, I can’t.

Apparently, neither can others. That was no surprise.

How many others…and which others…well, those were surprises.

The sheer volume of people laying themselves bare, speaking openly about the things that pain them the most deeply, doing so in unpracticed ways that made it clear that these were things they wished they could have said a long time ago…it was humbling. It was the aftermath of a tragedy…you had the assholes on the sidelines, but nobody was paying attention to them. The truly compelling image was that of the stranger embracing the stranger, bonding, at once, over a shared horror.

The death of Robin Williams was absolutely a tragedy of the magnitude necessary to bring out this desperate need for connection. He’s not the first celebrity death, the first celebrity suicide, or the first celebrity lost to crippling depression. But it hits us all — fans and non-fans alike — because who knew? How could it be him?

It needed to be somebody big enough for the shock to be devastating. It needed to be somebody unexpected enough that when the remarks of “coward” came out, one million voiceless depressed people would step forward and put themselves on the line for sole purpose of proving that it’s not cowardice. It’s pain. It’s agony. It’s day after day struggling to keep one’s self together. And when somebody fails — or gives up — it’s not because they were cowards. It’s because too much of the tide came in at once, and they couldn’t stay afloat. A man or woman who spends every day facing personal demons and eventually finds himself or herself outgunned is not a coward. If anything, they died courageously, fighting to the very end in the face of impossible odds.

My friends were sharing their stories. People I’ve known for years, in some cases deeply. Their friends were sharing theirs. Somebody I haven’t seen in ages, who seemed like she had her life together, at last. Souls were being revealed. Pain was being revealed. Everything that we tried so hard for so long to keep secret and keep quiet and keep inside was now — voluntarily — being laid out for everyone to see.

More people than I can count opened themselves up to me, directly or indirectly. And do you know how many of them I lost respect for? How many of them made me reconsider the fondness I had for them? How many of them I vowed to avoid, because I now knew they were crazy?


Think about that.

I sure have.

All the stuff that I keep bottled inside. The stuff that at times has literally almost killed me to keep hidden. The stuff that I won’t let out so it fights its way out and comes out as tears or blood or vomit…that stuff that had to be kept hidden at all costs…was let go.

And there was no abandonment.

And there was no disappointment.

And there was no reconsideration of friendships or relationships.

There were strangers embracing strangers. And it was the aftermath of a tragedy that occurred because — and only because — these were things people were not supposed to talk about.

Seeing so much being posted openly, I asked people in general to share with me (anonymously) any words they wished to contribute for a feature that will run tomorrow.

Within minutes I received a submission from somebody I’m pretty sure I’ve never met. A few minutes after that, there was another. And another. And people were sharing the request. And they’re still coming in, as I type this. In a few cases, people have said, “I don’t even mind if you decide not to use this…I just appreciate the chance to get it all out.”

Think about that, too. If I don’t use their submissions, what did they do? Well, they just sat down and wrote. And felt better because of it.

What was to keep them from doing that in the first place?

We’re so discouraged about speaking honestly and openly about mental health issues that we don’t even want to do it with ourselves. We need a tragedy. We need a request. We need a shock to our systems so severe that we find ourselves reacting in ways we didn’t think we could. Some of us, I’m sure, need even more. Because exactly as deep as that depression is, there’s also the warning that we are not supposed to speak of it.

Because we never speak, we never learn. Those without depression don’t realize how pervasive it is, how many of their loved ones it affects, and how easy it could be to understand. And those with depression never realize how many people they know have faced very similar things, or worse, and are coping with them in their own way. When mouths stay shut, everybody — everybody — loses.

Tomorrow, you will hear depression speak.

And that’s important. Because however it may feel, not one of us has to do this alone.

Please be here.