ALF Reviews: “Turkey in the Straw: Part 1” (season 3, episode 7)

At long last, we get to ALF‘s Thanksgiving episode. Hooray! And it’s…complicated. I’ve got a sort of toleration/hate relationship with this one…and, to be honest, the second half could sway me in either direction. But that’s a story for next time. We’ve got plenty to talk about before deciding if this two-parter is a heap of shit.

This episode opens with ALF teaching Kate how to use her new microwave oven, and while the joke is both lame and nonsensical (ALF is reading instructions from the VCR manual, which somehow takes ages for either of them to realize) Lynn isn’t being raped so this is already a masterpiece compared to last week.

It’s the day of Thanksgiving, and ALF has hidden all respect for the audience. Specifically, the plot hinges upon the idea that ALF doesn’t understand Thanksgiving. That’s fine, right? He’s a space alien, so Earth (or, erm, American) customs are new to him.

Yet, by now, we know this is impossible. Even if three years in our time equals a much smaller span of time in the ALF universe (which it doesn’t, as we’ll see later), we know that ALF has already celebrated Halloween (“Some Enchanted Evening”) and Christmas (“Oh, Tannerbaum,” “ALF’s Special Christmas,” “Shumway Christmas Boogie”), so it’s impossible that this could be his first experience of Thanksgiving on Earth.

In fact, since he’s celebrated multiple Christmasses, this should be at least his third Thanksgiving. The episode may even allude to this fact, as when ALF asks if he’s ever told them about Thanksgiving on Melmac, Willie offers up a tired acknowledgement that, yes, he has.

In short, they’ve been through all this crap before, so what happens here is total, irritating contrivance.

ALF ate the entire Thanksgiving turkey, raw. (“Turkey sushi,” he explains matter-of-factly, which I admit was good for a chuckle.) He does that because he’s adhering to Melmackian tradition.

On ALF’s homeworld, the equivalent of Thanksgiving was a holiday called Fappiano — named for Bob Fappiano, one of ALF’s secondary puppeteers, and not for what you think. But, again, ALF can’t be held faultless for accidentally slipping into old Melmac habits…he’s fucking been here for years. By now, I’m sorry, the hairy little fucker has to know that humans don’t like it when you eat their dinner.

He knows what Thanksgiving entails. And yet he does this. Willie and Co. seem to know what Fappiano entails…and yet they’re surprised he does this. What the living shit is even going on?

It’s pointless nonsense, relying, I guess, on the idea that everything on Earth will be perpetually new to ALF, no matter how many times he experiences it…except for all of those other times that he has a perfect, innate understanding of everything he’s never seen before.

Fuck this show.

I’ll propose a quick rewrite for “Turkey in the Straw”: ALF indeed ruins Thanksgiving, but not because he took a fork and sat naked on the kitchen floor eating everything. Instead, he has something of a handle on the holiday by now, having shared it with the Tanners and seen Kate prepare for it over the past few years. He decides to surprise her by doing something nice, and cooking the food himself. Maybe he forgets to defrost the turkey first. Maybe he carves it up and serves it raw because that’s how they did it on Melmac. Or maybe he prepares everything wonderfully, but stuffs the bird with fistfuls of Lucky’s intestines.

Who knows. The point is, you can have ALF fucking things up for other reasons. It doesn’t always have to be “ALF has no clue wtf this is,” especially since he’s been on Earth long enough now that we should be seeing more partial understandings than complete misunderstandings. You can still end up in the same place, plotwise, but you get there more naturally, in a way that maybe, just maybe, might help these characters feel real.

Anyway, Willie puts on his coat and heads out to find a last-minute turkey…something that calls to mind the exact setup of “Oh, Tannerbaum.” ALF doesn’t know the holiday, ALF destroys some necessary piece of the celebration, and Willie heads out in late search of a replacement.

Advancing ALF’s mindset from no-knowledge to partial-knowledge wouldn’t just show the audience respect…it would prevent the writers from telling the same fucking stories all over again.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

For the first time in what feels like forever, Brian has something to do. Granted, it’s wearing a silly costume, which is the writers’ customary way of saying, “We’re paying this kid, so we might as well do something with him,” but it’s nice that they at least remembered that.

He’s rehearsing some kind of Thanksgiving play with ALF, and I feel as though I’ve seen stuff like this in other sitcoms. Did any of you put on plays for your family as kids? Around the holidays? I sure didn’t, but I have no idea if this is a fictional invention or something that previous generations actually did. Was I missing out on something embarrassing? That’s not like me.

Anyway there’s a rainstorm, and then there’s something I really like. After a flash of lightning, ALF counts “One hippopotamus, two hippopatamus…” When they finally hear the sound of the strike, ALF announces the distance as “three and a half hippopotami.”

This is cute and, again, the kind of thing ALF and Brian should be doing regularly: being kids. It’s not hilarious or anything, but it’s sweet, and it’s a side of ALF I really enjoy. Counting the seconds before you hear the thunder is the kind of thing that feels well observed…and it’s a damn sight better than ALF breakdancing on the kitchen table and accidentally smashing Willie’s priceless antique gravy boat we’ve never heard about.

Then Kate brings out a decorative cornucopia full of wax fruit, and ALF tries to eat one of the apples. He stops after one bite because he doesn’t like wax, to which Kate replies that they should get a wax turkey next year.

Again, nothing great, but I am eternally thankful for just how human Anne Schedeen makes this character feel. She plays it perfectly…slightly snotty (rightly so) but still fond of the “child” who did this. She really, really deserved a role on a much better sitcom.

ALF, feeling at least slightly guilty, attempts to regurgitate the turkey…if only he can remember which stomach it’s in. In “Something’s Wrong With Me,” we learned that Melmackians have a total of 10 organs…eight of which are stomachs. Shockingly for this show, the writers seem to remember that, as ALF dry heaves for a bit and then announces, “It’s not in number eight.”

Continuity? In my ALF?

Then there’s some more lightning outside, and I have to say that the flashes are well done. We don’t linger on them…they happen while we’re looking elsewhere, and we see the room get much brighter for a moment. It’s a nice little piece of bringing life to the static set, and making it feel like an actual house in an actual storm.

I know I’m saying this pretty early in the first half of a two-part episode, and I’m bound to reconsider it later, but as of right now, “Turkey in the Straw” is already the best thing in season three.

Then Mrs. Ochmonek comes over and makes a face like she just sat on her own testicles.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

Wow, we have a Brian scene and a Mrs. Ochmonek scene before we even see Lynn? That’s really surprising. I wonder what her character is supposed to be doing.

As much as I love Andrea Elson, I have to admit that having a break from the character after the muck they dragged her through last week is pretty welcome. If she’s off camera I can at least assume she’s acting like a human being, and being treated with respect. When she’s on camera, that gets much more difficult.

Mrs. Ochmonek complains about the “bum” that’s been hanging around the neighborhood. It’s not a great scene, but it does something I really like, and it’s something that happens so, so rarely that I need to celebrate it: Mrs. Ochmonek is portrayed in a believably annoying manner.

She’s not an over-the-top cartoon, nor is she a genuinely good neighbor getting abused for no reason. Here, she seems like a relic of a not-so-distant past…someone left behind by fairly recent social progress. It doesn’t make her a bad person, but it does make her out of touch, and unintentionally rude. Specifically, it comes down to the way she describes the homeless person: she keeps calling him a bum.

Kate subtly corrects her by rephrasing what she’s saying, referring to him as a “homeless person,” but Mrs. Ochmonek won’t have it. “He’s a bum, Kate.”

And I like this. At least, this aspect of this.

Having two characters differ on their terminology in the course of a conversation — differ in a way that does not, mind you, directly affect the plot — is the kind of thing you can pull off when you actually have characters. You don’t just have them explaining the story to the viewers, you have them talking to each other in a way that takes specific advantage of their own vocabularies and prejudices.

It’s not great, but it is good, and I’m always glad to see the writers meeting Anne Schedeen at least part of the way.

They don’t get far into the conversation, though, as Mrs. Ochmonek quickly accuses Kate of feeding the bum. Why does she suspect this? Because the Tanners always have saucers of milk out there to attract stray cats.

Personally, I’m now in love with the idea that while the Tanners sleep, ALF slaughters and consumes neighborhood cats that he tricks into approaching the house. Whether or not the writers intended anything near as gory as what I’m wont to picture, this is a funny line that brings some life to ALF, and lets us know that he doesn’t cease to exist when the cameras stop rolling.

It’s also better than the “ALF eats cats lol” joke from the last scene, in which Brian says it’s raining cats and dogs and ALF starts violently masturbating.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

Willie comes home, soaked to the bone, and Mrs. Ochmonek mistakes him for the homeless person. (Sorry, bum.) There’s a legitimately funny moment of mild physical comedy when the wet paper bag tears open and spills its contents onto the table.

Willie couldn’t find a turkey…so he just bought a bunch of Cornish game hens.

They’re frozen solid, of course, so while Willie and Kate bicker (realistically…their voices just south of admitting frustration) Mrs. Ochmonek invites them to Thanksgiving dinner.

Here’s where we slip right back into the shittiest aspect of these characters. Willie and Kate piss and moan and try to weasel out of it, because the Ochmoneks are less wealthy than they are, I guess. Who knows. Granted, Mrs. Ochmonek just heaped abuse on a homeless man for no good reason, but somehow she still comes off as a much better human being than these two. She invites them and their kids to Thanksgiving dinner at literally the last minute, because she sees they don’t have food. Their response? Barely stopping short of telling her to go fuck herself.

I know which family I’d rather spend a holiday with.

This is still, however, the best thing about season three so far.

Mrs. Ochmonek leaves to get things ready, and the Tanners complain about the shitty-ass neighbor who just offered to take them in and feed them. Then ALF pops up through the plot window to reveal that he fed the bum.

He didn’t meet the guy, he just left some of the Thanksgiving food out for him. Which would be pretty noble, but, still, ALF did eat most of the food himself. And why didn’t he volunteer this information earlier, when the question of the food was initially raised? Why did ALF think it was a better idea to say “I ate it because I’m a cunt” than “I fed a homeless man”?

ALF also mentions that he gave some clothes Willie never wears to the guy, which makes Willie bristle and seethe like the saintly social worker we’re regularly assured he is.

Again, there could be a lot of humor in this disconnect between Willie’s occupation and his behavior, but the show doesn’t seem to realize there is one. It makes for a really odd viewing experience, in which your entire moral code is recontextualized. I mean, fuck, I’m an asshole. But compared to Willie I’m the second coming of Christ.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

The reverse shot of Willie and Kate is weird. It almost looks like it’s supposed to be from ALF’s perspective, but he’s not standing over there. He’s on the other end of the window frame, propped up on it as usual. Speaking of which…how does he reach the plot window? What’s he standing on? The angle being from much lower than we usually see him is reminding me that he’s not nearly as tall as he seems through that window. How odd.

Usually, as you know, I give this show credit whenever it tries to spice up the static visuals. Here, though…while I appreciate the effort, it doesn’t work at all. It just looks like the Tanners are in a slasher movie and don’t realize that the killer midget is in the house.

Whatever. They tried. As far as the story goes, it can seem pretty sweet. After all, ALF gave some food and clothing to a homeless guy. And he did it off camera, without weeping tears of hot glue to the cloying strains of a string quartet. That sounds nice…

…but prepare to be disappointed. (Really, you should have done that long ago…). ALF says that he did it because it’s in the spirit of Fappiano.

Yeah, it’s nice that this fake Melmac holiday has a built-in element of charity, but it also means that ALF’s “good deed” is one that doesn’t actually come from the heart. Works without faith, as they say. So, good one, “Turkey in the Straw: Part 1.” We make it through another week without having to suspect that any of these idiots have a conscience.

Willie then goes outside to dig all his shit out of the garbage, and Kate asks ALF why they put up with him. Shockingly, he doesn’t have a good answer. As far as I’m concerned, this moment cements the fact that she’s just waiting for a week that Willie’s away on business to murder this fuck.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

While he’s digging through the trash, Willie hears singing, so he enters the shed to find a hobo. It’s a pretty simple scene, but according to ALF lore it took over 60 takes because Max Wright kept breaking character and offering to suck the guy off for a nugget of crack.

Willie grabs a crowbar with the presumable intention of beating a homeless man to death, or at least bludgeoning him so severely that he won’t want to return. Can we all agree that we have a new low for social work on this show?

Honestly now. The hobo is defenseless. He’s not putting up any kind of fight. In fact, he’s facing the other way with his feet up.

Why is Willie arming himself? Was this funny? The non-existent audience seems to think so, but does anyone who’s still alive? To me it just looks like Willie’s about to take gleeful advantage of the loosely defined Stand Your Ground laws.

Oh, and in case you think this is one of those episodes that “forgets” that Willie is a social worker, Willie himself says he’s a social worker later in this scene. But don’t worry…it’s just part of a ploy to get the homeless guy off his property. I sure hope he gets another couple promotions and a few more raises out of this!

The hobo introduces himself as Flaky Pete, because, as we learned with Gravel Gus, once you become homeless you go only by a basic descriptor and your first name, in that order. What would my hobo name be, I wonder? I hope Hunky Philip isn’t taken.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

Flaky Pete uses big words, which is sitcom shorthand for “not an idiot.” He also tells Willie that his starchart is out of date, because they discovered a new quasar near the Pleiades. Do starcharts even have quasars? I don’t fucking know.

Point is Willie gets excited for a moment, but then he remembers this is a bum talking, and bums are not human. Replying to him would be ridiculous, like talking to a hotdog. Willie even asks for his sweater back as he kicks the guy out. Jesus Christ…Willie’s gone from simply not helping the needy to stripping them naked before he shoves them out into the rain.

So Flaky Pete leaves while the sad music plays.

Willie peeks out to watch him go, and the act break falls just before he starts calling, “One nugget! Please! 10 minutes, just one nugget!”

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

We’re halfway through the episode, but we finally see Lynn. The break from the character was welcome, but now I’m definitely glad to see her. I didn’t realize how much I’d miss Andrea Elson until I was subjected to necessarily larger doses of Max Wright and Benji Gregory.

The family is heading off to the Ochmoneks’ house, bitching and complaining the entire time. Willie even gives a little speech to the family in which he sarcastically says that they should be grateful to the Ochmoneks for inviting them over in their “hour of need.”

Sarcasm. About kindness.


He’s even bitching that he can’t eat in his own house. Willie, you twisted fuck, literally two minutes ago you kicked a guy out of your shed when he had nowhere to go and just wanted to get out of the rain. Now you cry because you have two houses and two families to spend the holiday with?

Suck. My dicking. Dick.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

At the Ochmonek house, there are a bunch of relatives screaming and running in circles, basically acting like animals, because this is ALF, and if you don’t live with ALF, you’re portrayed as a blight on civilization.

Lynn sits next to some weird guy named Dudley, who tells her to call him Dud. She says, “No problem,” which I like, but I wish we didn’t have to wade through the Ochmoneks’ shallow gene pool to get there.

It’s interesting that the show is willing to humanize the homeless guy we’ll never see again (after next week, natch, when he works his Thanksgiving Hobo magic to resolve whatever this plot is), but would never dare do that for the neighbors who are constantly helping Willie’s ass.

It’s also really odd that the Tanners are being such dickshits to everybody on a holiday. They’re kicking people out in the rain and being vocally ungrateful over a meal that’s being shared with them. It’s such an odd episode. Does this end with Willie being visited by the Ghost of Thanksgiving Yet to Come?

Then Dudley asks Lynn if she remembers when they used to take baths together, which is something I have literally no clue how to interpret, so she leaves. I don’t blame her. I just wish she got off the set and kept walking.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

Back home ALF is singing “Happy Fappy to me, Happy Fappy to me.”

Yes. He really is singing “Happy Fappy to me.”

Lynn then comes in with some pumpkin Jell-o to share with him, so if you were looking for a way to start your erotic ALF fan fiction, Lynn entering a room while the alien sings “Happy Fappy” is as good a place as any.

Anyway, Lynn tells ALF about what happened, and though we can barely hear it, she describes Dudley as “This guy that I used to take a bath with.”

So…fucking fuck me?

Fuck the fuck fuck fuck.


What the fuck are they doing to Lynn this season?

Seriously…what the living cockfuck are they doing to her? She’s engaged, she’s raped, she’s bathing with strangers…it’s fucking appalling how much work they’ve done to undo everything anyone could have liked about Lynn. What happened? Did Andrea Elson key Paul Fusco’s car or something?


I know kids bathe together…but aren’t they usually bathing with family members? If I found out that my parents used to make me take baths with my cousin, who would care? Big deal. But if I found out that I used to take baths with the neighbor’s cousin, I’d sincerely think my parents were perverse, deviant maniacs.

How is any of this possible, anyway? Have the Tanners really known the Ochmoneks for twenty years? Nothing in their previous exchanges would indicate that. Shit, Willie never even knew that Mr. Ochmonek was in the war.

And even if the Tanners did know them for two decades, they fucking hate the Ochmoneks. That’s about the only thing on this show that remains consistent from week to week. Why were they stripping their children naked and locking them in a bathroom with that family’s distant relatives?

Fucking Christ Almighty.

Is this what I get for saying good things about this episode? It’s disgusting.

…but it’s still probably the best one this season.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

Whatever. While they’re talking, Hobo Bobo comes to the window. He sees ALF, does a big poo, and then runs off to Willie’s shed to call the Alien Task Force.

A few times in these reviews I’ve wondered how it’s possible that people would be considered crazy if they said they saw an alien, while the Alien Task Force operates openly…and is presumably funded by their tax money. Commenters have raised the idea that the Alien Task Force might instead operate in secret…which is completely reasonable, and would address that concern entirely.

But ALF keeps reminding us that it’s not a secret organization in any way, as we see strongly reinforced by the fact that a fucking hobo knows their number by heart.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

Yes, we see the Alien Task Force!

They’re watching the football game and they make fun of Flaky Pete’s description of the alien, calling him a kook.

So…now we have an even stranger question to ask. If the Alien Task Force exists, why are they calling people crazy when they say they’ve seen an alien? It boggles the fucking mind.

What’s more, the fact that they’re within driving distance of the Tanner house means that they must have lots of locations, like the EPA or something, and this is just their local branch. Either that or the Alien Task Force has only one location, and it’s in L.A.

…I’m honestly not sure which possibility is more far-fetched.

The black guy this season gets a few lines. He types in “167 Hemdale” and the computer tells him that this is the second sighting reported for that address, so it might actually be legit. The first sighting? Raquel Ochmonek, in September of last year.

That’s a reference to “Take a Look at Me Now,” which was shit, but I appreciate the attention to detail. Seriously, if nothing else, “Turkey in the Straw: Part 1” is winning me over on continuity. That’s a kind of effort…

In fact, I was so overcome with appreciation for this attention to detail that I did some research to find out if the date of the sighting aligned with the original air date of “Take a Look at Me Now.” No such luck; that episode actually aired in October. Still, that’s very close, and it makes for a genuinely lovely narrative flourish.

Of course, this is not the second sighting at that address. It’s actually the third sighting, as Mrs. Ochmonek also reported one in the pilot. But…who knows. Maybe the Alien Task Force only counts the most recent sighting if it’s a repeat caller. Also, the blonde guy has his left arm in a sling, and I can’t tell if that’s something to do with the character or if the actor hurt himself and they didn’t bother to hide it, or…


ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

Then the hobo comes in and says hello to ALF, which makes ALF do a big poo, and we get a “Next week on ALF…” teaser that’s about a tenth of this episode’s length.

What a waste of time.

These two-parters are so padded. Why not just whittle them down to 22 minutes of something interesting? “Tonight, Tonight” had an excuse if only because it was adhering to the hour-long Tonight Show format. It was garbage, but attempting verisimilitude was the least of its crimes. And last season we had “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which spun its wheels through the entire first half, eating up as much time as it could before we got to the only thing of merit: the cliffhanger.

…which was botched in the next episode anyway, but the point is you could have easily lost an entire half of that two-parter and been no poorer for it. If anything, you’d be 30 minutes richer.

But whatever. We get a clip-show of the next episode.

One of the clips is of a kid throwing mustard in Willie’s stupid dumbass face.

ALF, "Turkey in the Straw: Part 1"

I take it all back. This is the best episode in the history of the world.

Happy Fappy, bitches!!

MELMAC FACTS: On Melmac, Thanksgiving was called Fappiano. There was a Fappiano tree, and everybody would eat from the moment they woke up until all of the presents were open. There was also some kind of charitable component to the holiday. Much more interesting, though? Instead of microwaves, folks on Melmac had a device called a NukeMan. It was a tiny, personal nuclear power plant, and it was major fad. In fact, ALF says, it was Melmac’s last fad. And now we know why the planet was destroyed.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Five-O” (season 1, episode 6)

“Five-O” is an episode of Breaking Bad in all but name. In fact, it plays like a one-off side story that feels of a piece with the source material, moreso than Better Call Saul does. While we know this isn’t true, would it be at all surprising if we found out that this was an old Breaking Bad concept, dusted off and given a second chance?

Throughout the course of Breaking Bad, we flashed back to see the characters in different, more innocent contexts. Walt and Skyler buy a home. Jesse builds a box in wood shop. Gus loses somebody close to him to the cartel.

Even within the timeframe of the show, we’d often flash back to things that must have happened while we weren’t looking. The show was unfolding around us, but we were elsewhere at the time. So we’d end up with a short scene of Jane taking Jesse to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum. Or Gayle building the superlab. Or Tortuga at the bar. All of these things happened after the respective characters were dead and gone.

On Breaking Bad, death was the end. There were no miraculous recoveries. There was no escape. Saddest, perhaps, was the fact that there was no mourning.

And yet echoes carried. One of my favorite things about the show was the fact that we could trace every one of Walt’s problems in the final episodes all the way back, logistical step by logistical step, to decisions he made in the first episode.

Everything snowballs. A bullet to the head takes your life, but not your legacy. There’s a part of you left behind. A kind of ghost that lives on in the inescapable causal slide that you once set into motion. It continues long after you’re gone. It never stops. Death is the end for the dead…but not for anyone else.

Breaking Bad loved to fill in the gaps. Even — perhaps especially — those that didn’t actually need to be filled in. It was an excuse, and a welcome one, to spend more time with these characters. As a necessary result, we learned more about them. They felt more real.

And yet two major characters never got that flashback treatment. Two of the show’s best, and richest. Two that would be high on the list of everybody’s favorites:

Saul and Mike.

While Better Call Saul gets to chart with however much depth it pleases the rise and fall of Saul Goodman, Mike is still an unknown…a creature of inference.

At least, he was. Better Call Saul gives Mike the overdue Breaking Bad treatment, flashing back to a formative moment, and giving us insight into why the character we’re listening to is the character we’re listening to. Through no kind of coincidence, the episode is called “Five-O.” While that refers to the police that drive the story, it’s also an echo of Breaking Bad‘s pilot episode…which was originally called “Fifty.” The titular character of this show also makes what’s essentially a cameo…further echoing Breaking Bad, in which Goodman would be called in for a scene or two and then dismissed so the plot could proceed without him.

In other words, we’re in old, familiar territory. It’s the story of Mike breaking bad.

It’s also a reminder — as if anyone could possibly need one — that Jonathan Banks is an absolute treasure. Front to back, “Five-O” is his episode. And he doesn’t squander one second. The closing scene, in which his dry rasp gives way to a painful break, reveals a tortured and damaged soul. The worst part? He inflicted those wounds himself.

The story is simple, and nothing about it is shocking…nor do I believe anything could qualify as a twist. We see the entire thing playing out. We know what’s coming. We’ve already been told. “You know what happened,” Mike says. And we do. We know it before it gets here.

The agony and the tension is in the waiting…and yet it doesn’t dissipate when a gun goes off. If anything, it somehow manages to ratchet up further, until the most harrowing image in a story of murder and revenge is one of an old man, sitting on a couch in the dark, admitting he failed.

When we met Mike in Breaking Bad, he made an immediate impact. My girlfriend and I talked about the character well before we knew his name. (We called him The Cleaner.) Before long we got some sense of what made him tick (his granddaughter), his history (the half-measures speech), and his internal code of ethics (continuing to pay Gus’s chain of operatives after the operation itself is no more).

But all of these things were glimpses. Flashes of a deeper humanity in what was essentially the world’s most badass grandpa. We didn’t need to humanize Mike, because we liked his broad strokes plenty.

We liked Mike because he was intelligent, he was funny, and he got things done. He was comic relief at the same time that he was threatening (quite believably) the lives of characters we’d known much longer.

Perhaps the fact that we knew so little about who he was is what endeared him to us. Could we really dig into a decidedly dangerous fixer/assassin and find something relateable?

“Five-O” says sure, of course. Why not? Whatever Mike was, at any point, he was somebody else before that. Just as Saul Goodman was Jimmy McGill (a fellow transplant, it’s worth noting), Mike was Officer Ehrmantraut. He was good at his job, and raised a son that was perhaps even better at his. And before poor, unseen Matt (the ghost in the inescapable causal slide of this episode) meets an early end, Mike forces him to compromise his morals.

It might have been a no-win situation. Matty, as he was called, could well have been shot by his partner anyway. But what happened — what Mike made happen — was worse, simply because he had a hand in it.

He tried to help, which was worse than not helping at all, because now he feels like a failure. And his son — and a husband and a father…and a good cop — is gone.

That’s what weighs on Mike’s shoulders. Those are the chains that bind him. That is the tragedy that locked him up inside.

Mike’s relationship with his granddaughter was one of Breaking Bad‘s sweetest (and therefore saddest) threads. I don’t think we needed backstory for that; it was emotionally meaningful on its own. But knowing, as we do now, that the reason she needs to be provided for at all is because Mike — in his mind — got her father killed…well, that’s heartbreaking. That’s why he did all of the worst things we saw him do in Breaking Bad. The money he left her wasn’t an atonement…it was an apology.

Of course, by the end of Breaking Bad, that money is seized, and the little girl never sees a cent of it. The odds are good she wouldn’t even know about it. He failed his son, and failed his granddaughter. The tragedy of Mike Ehrmantraut is that he wasn’t The Cleaner. He was a human being.

“Five-O” is a spotlight on one of Breaking Bad‘s strongest actors…one I never would have thought I needed. In fact, I’m still not sure I needed it. And yet…I’m glad to have it.

This is the episode of Better Call Saul I’d be likely to watch most often. It’s a perfect, simple tale, filtered through the hardening heart of a man who wishes more than anything that he could undo the damage that he did. Damage that would likely have been done anyway.

It’s the sad beginning of a new life for Mike. It’s a chance to start over, and do things right. Which is the first step to losing it all.

I fucking love Better Call Saul.

Radio Free Melmac

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

No idea why it took me so long to think to do this, but, compiled for your listening enjoyment, here is every song to which the ALF episode titles refer.

I figured this might be of interest to folks who don’t know the songs off the top of their heads. An unexpected bonus is the fact that this compilation is…pretty damned listenable, actually. It’s not a half-bad playlist to have going in the background.

Despite the writing quality of the actual show, somebody on staff had very good taste in music. This is also reflected in the episodes themselves, with songs like “City of New Orleans” and “The Letter” making appearances…but in the interest of simplicity I included only the title songs.

On the bright side, this means I didn’t include any of the original songs written for the show, so your listening experience won’t be marred by hearing “The Asparagus Song,” “You’re The One That’s Out of This World (Sweet Bayy-baaay!!!),” or “We Love to Fart” by The Ochmoneks.

If you do give it a listen (or at least a scan) let me know if there’s anything you think I should change. Since these are scattered all over youtube, I might have missed ones with higher sound quality, for instance. In other cases I had to resort to guesswork, particularly in the case of old standards, which seem to have been covered by every popular vocalist in the history of recorded music. I didn’t allow any covers that were released after the airdate of the show, but beyond that, I just guessed based on what other artists were more explicitly drawn from for the show’s titles.

Then there are cases like “On the Road Again,” a title applied to at least three entirely different (and equally applicable) songs by Willie Nelson, Canned Heat, and Bob Dylan. In other words, while I can guarantee around 85% accuracy, I’d love people to tell me what they think I should change.

This can be a pretty cool resource, and everyone will get to hear how much better these songs are than the episodes they inspired.

There’s a pretty good mix of artists, with only a handful getting two songs in the mix. If you’re interested, those are Billy Joel, The Beatles, Elton John, Judy Garland, Roy Orbison, Paul McCartney, Elvis Presley, and The Supremes.

Only one artist has three songs represented in the mix, but depending upon how you want to assign the covers, he could have another one or two. Who is he? Frank Sinatra, of course.

Anyway, here you go. 95 songs. (Bear in mind that a small number of episodes were not named after songs, and that fucking Gilligan’s Island episode was named after two songs.) I hope you enjoy them, and maybe discover some great old tracks that’ll stick with you.

If nothing else, skip to “Keeping the Faith” and watch the world’s most gloriously batshit music video.

You’re welcome.

ALF Reviews: “Promises, Promises” (season 3, episode 6)

Long-time followers of this series (and this blog (…and me…)) know that shit happens. I’ll forget to schedule a post, I’ll run out of time to write something, I’ll get sidetracked by another project. The ALF Reviews series is something I really do try hard to keep up with, whether or not it looks that way on your end. I try…so hard.

“Promises, Promises” represents a significant first, then. It didn’t go live last week when it was supposed to, but time, for once, wasn’t the issue. I had all of my screengrabs, all of my notes, and the only thing I had to do was sit down and write about it.

The problem was that “Promises, Promises” was such a shitty, insulting, disturbing, disgusting piece of television that I couldn’t write about it. I needed a break from it. I honestly had to step away for a few days and forget how utterly miserable it made me feel. That’s the first time I’ve had to do that with an episode of ALF. And as you know how little I already enjoy episodes of ALF, this should be telling you something.

“Promises, Promises” is a wreck beyond all comprehension. I’ve come out of television shows feeling despair before (hello, “Ozymandias“), but this is a fucking sitcom. Its worst crime should be that it isn’t funny. That’s also a fairly regular crime for ALF, so I’m almost immune to it. Weeks pass and I look back on some reviews and wonder why I didn’t tear certain episodes an even larger ass hole…but the reason is that I’m used to this show sucking. I don’t think I’ve softened over time…I think I’ve just realized that certain aspects of the show aren’t worth bothering with.

Oh, “Promises, Promises.” How ever did you manage to give me too much to bother with?

I honestly can’t promise you that I’ll do this one justice. I’ll try, certainly…but articulating my feelings about this episode isn’t going to be easy.

Either way…enough stalling. Let’s talk about the episode.

One good thing: after the two-parter we just finished, we’re back to standalone stories. Until next week, at least, when we start another two-parter. For fuck’s sake, ALF. Give me something to be happy about, will you?

Actually, ALF does. The episode opens with the family playing Scrabble; I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I like it when the family does family things. It’s not often that this show remembers that these people are supposed to be related, and, you know, should probably interact now and again. So when it does remember, and when it has the characters saying more than “Gordon Shumway is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful extra-terrestrial being I’ve ever known in my life,” I start paying attention. Sometimes it’s even worth it.

Here, I confess, it is.

ALF plays a word and earns two triple word scores, using all of his letters in the process. Brian, savvier than he’s ever been (not to mention more talkative), dismisses the unfamiliar word as being Melmackian. ALF asks, “So?”

Big whoop, right? ALF played an imaginary word and now we’ll get some interstellar standup about about how things are so much different on Soviet Melmac.

But…no! The word ALF plays is “quidnunc.” My spell check doesn’t believe me, but it’s a real word. I couldn’t begin to tell you where I learned that (probably a Word-of-the-Day calendar, because, honestly, where the fuck else would it be?) but I was all ready to lay into ALF for not knowing that this was actually a word.

The joke works on a lot of levels. Well, a few levels. But anything more than one level is a lot for ALF.

First, it’s the word itself, which is silly. It means one who enjoys gossip. Not a very common word and certainly one that’s bound to win you a Scrabble game of your own. The fact that ALF of all characters played this word is a pretty good joke in itself.

The second level is the family’s reaction. They haven’t heard the word before, but based on ALF’s historical behavior, they call alien shenanigans. We only spend 25 minutes per week with this guy…but they see him every waking minute of the day. If we think he launches into Melmackian nonsense a bit too often, you can imagine how sick of it they must be. It makes sense that by this point, after so much time has passed, they’d be quick to call him on his bullshit and shut it down.

The real punchline comes, though, with the third level of comedy: everyone is surprised, ALF included, when Willie finds it in the dictionary. It really was a Melmackian term, ALF says. He was just trying to be a dick. He had no idea the English language had the same word. (The meaning, at least, is different: there it meant “one who wears meat.”)

My favorite level of comedy here, I’m sure, is unintentional. After ALF admits it’s not an English word (or foreign word that’s been adopted into regular English usage), it’s as good as out of play. That’s how Scrabble works.

But Willie looks it up in the dictionary anyway, because it was challenged rather than dismissed. I don’t think this is deliberate characterization, but it’s good characterization all the same. Of course Willie’s going to consult a reference book even when he doesn’t have to. Those are the rules, and he’s a fucking dork. (I mean that with love this time, Willie; I’d have done the exact same thing.)

“Promises, Promises” is off to a good start. If only the episode had ended right here.

Obviously, it doesn’t, and the incoming cascade of shit is heralded by Lynn entering the living room and telling Brian that his hamster has developed a foot fetish and is currently masturbating inside one of her shoes. He runs off to masturbate into the other, and then we get an exchange that has me conflicted.

See, the episode is about Lynn dating. Fine. But what we set up here — again, probably not deliberately — is a much better episode on that topic than what we actually get.

Lynn is waiting for her date to arrive, and Willie assumes she’s going to see Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and get some pizza. But Lynn corrects him: they’re seeing The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and they’re going to have sushi.

The way her parents recoil just enough, and in silence, drives home very well the idea that Lynn is growing up. Something has changed, and lots of other things are about to as well. The daughter they knew is now a choice of movie and dinner closer to the door.

It’s good. At least it would be, if this was what the episode was actually trying to tell us.

Then Willie says, “Say hi to Patchouli for us.”

At least, that’s what I think he said. Max Wright took elocution lessons from a jammed blender, so it sounds more like “FffsaahyaaAAit-pp-zhjewly ffhhurruss.” Patchouli is my best guess.

ALF, "Promises, Promises"

It turns out, though, that she’s seeing a guy named Eddie, and her parents get upset because they’ve never met Eddie. I got news for you, Tanners, you’ve never met most of the guys Lynn’s been with. And if this one’s springing for sushi, I’d encourage her to keep him around for a while.

Lynn doing the prime time equivalent of hopping into bed with anyone who asks has been an aspect of her character since before she was a character, so I don’t know why hearing the name “Eddie” makes these idiots freak out the way they do. She’s not with Patchouli anymore — whoever that was — but so what? She’s not with Lizard, or Duckworth, or Chunk, or Sneezy, or Zits, or Pimple, or Rash anymore either. Surely the mention of a new boyfriend isn’t anywhere near enough to set them off like this. She’s always with someone new. Wouldn’t they be going apeshit every three or four days?

Lynn’s evolution as a character has been probably the most satisfying thing to witness through these episodes, so it’s disappointing now that the show is flip-flopping with her. Sweeping away all of that pesky character growth that made her interesting, we’re back at the blank teenage girl we met in season one. And that’s all the evidence we need that the show itself wasn’t aware the character’s growth. It was a happy accident, and now, knowingly or not, we’re going to squash it like a bug.

She was all over town with guys, then she was with Lizard for a while, then she was getting married, then she wasn’t, and then she was over that by the end of the episode, and now she’s…who knows?

I sure don’t. And that’s damned disappointing, because with the exception of a few fumbles along the way, I honestly had a feeling I knew what to expect of Lynn Tanner. The joke’s on me, I guess; every week the writers just do with her whatever they feel like doing, and I’m the schmoe who thinks he sees a character arc in the way the pieces fall.

Anyway, I haven’t talked about Eddie himself. He comes in to get Lynn and he’s some greasy foreign guy with his shirt unbuttoned down to his navel. He speaks with a comedy accent and man, I am absolutely convinced this will be brilliant television. Aren’t you?

Beverly Archer is the credited writer on this. As you might remember, she appeared in “Someone to Watch Over Me” last season (another two parter…fucking fucking fuck, ALF), and we heard her voice in “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.” She’s…well, she’s good.

Aside from what we’ve seen of her in this show, she played Iola on Mama’s Family and Gunny on Major Dad. She’s had too many other roles to list, but those are the shows I remember her from personally. They were by no means very good shows, but Archer put in solid performances every week. She’s one of those actors that seems to have a natural talent when it comes to elevating average material, and she has an impressive sense of how to “inhabit” a character, rather than just dress up like them and say their lines.

I have no idea how much Archer had to do with “Promises, Promises,” but maybe this is proof that she was born to deliver comedy rather than write it.

We get too many jokes about Eddie from the start, and they’re all…bizarre. He has no last name, for one. Or he used to, but got rid of it when he didn’t see a purpose to having one. Ha ha. He’s been to graduate school and he taught history for a while, which means he’s hella old. Oh, and he met Lynn at the mall when he was signing books…but no, he’s not a writer. He’s a substitute novelist who signs books for other authors if they can’t make it. Also, he drinks diet soda! Through this scene ALF is mocking him by singing circus songs in the kitchen — which somehow Eddie can’t hear though everyone else does — and Jesus Christ, how many quirks do we need to pile on this guy we’ll never see again? Pick a fucking joke and be done with it.

Anyway, while Eddie talks he touches Lynn’s hair, which might as well be aggressive fingerbanging for the way Willie reacts.

ALF, "Promises, Promises"

Look at him. He looks like he just realized he left gay hobo pornography on the dashboard of his car.

All this shit with Eddie is bad enough in the first place — by which I mean it’s simply not funny — but it also undoes what I thought was the nice moment earlier. Sushi? The Unbearable Lightness of Being? Lynn growing up?

Nah, fuck that. She’s just trying to get this substitute author to dip his quill.

This in itself could have still led to a good episode…but I’ll get to that momentarily, when the point is better illustrated. For now, let me just say that for all the potential shown up-front, this becomes probably the worst episode of the series so far.

You got lucky, “ALF’s Special Christmas.”

ALF, "Promises, Promises"

Anne Schedeen, surprising no-one, is the best thing about this sequence several times over. She gets her first great moment in when she offers Eddie a soda, and then asks Lynn to help her.

“Help you get one soda?” Lynn asks, and the glare she gets in return is a thing of steely perfection.

Honestly, as lousy as this episode is overall, I’m surprised they didn’t have her say, “Yes, help me get one soda,” or some other annoying way of explaining the joke…but they didn’t. The camera holds on Schedeen long enough for it to be both funny and realistic when Lynn’s better judgment kicks in, and she goes to help her mother.

Then, in the kitchen, there’s a lousy moment even Schedeen can’t save (having to deliberately lower her volume as she insists she’s not overreacting), but she still gets another great delivery in. After she gets the soda she closes the refrigerator door just slightly too hard, cramming her tongue into her cheek to keep from saying something she shouldn’t. Then she approaches the table and says, “Let me get right to the point. He’s too old for you.”

All of that happens in just a few seconds…I don’t want to make the moment seem larger than it really is, but it’s certainly the strongest performance in the episode. Granted, that’s saying exactly nothing, but it’s always nice to see Anne Schedeen proving that she at least tries to salvage this garbage.

Then Willie comes in and says basically the same thing, only through the mouth of a man who sounds like a malfunctioning drive-through speaker. He does refer to Lynn as “barely eighteen,” though, even though that’s clearly wrong. It comes into play in a bit (in the worst possible way…), but “The Boy Next Door” revealed that the already-18 Lynn was getting ready to celebrate her birthday…presumably her 19th. Now, about a year after that, she’s “barely 18.”

And if that suggests to you “barely legal,” good. You’d have been an excellent fit for the ALF writing staff.

ALF, "Promises, Promises"

We get a ONE WEEK LATER caption, which I have to admit I didn’t expect. This time Lynn is getting ready for her date with Joe Piscopo.

While this character — whose name is Randy — doesn’t actually succeed in making me miss Eddie, he brings me damned close. His big joke is that he always says, “‘Kay.” You know…instead of anything else, ever. Is it a rule that all truly shitty sitcoms need one of these characters? Ones that exist to make repeated, irritating punchlines out of words like “Huh,” “Whatever,” and “Whoa”?

I actually feel bad for this guy. I mean, he certainly gives no indication that he’s a good actor, but even the most useless idiot deserves material better than this.

Willie invites him in and he says ‘kay. Kate asks him how he is, and he says ‘kay. Lynn says it’s time to go, and he says ‘kay. If you’re a big fan of hearing one word said several times, Randy is the character for you.

There’s a better attempt at comedy when Willie tries to make smalltalk with this meatheaded football guy. It’s not great, but Max Wright flounders around on this side of believability while Randy shifts his weight back and forth between his legs and refuses to sit down. It’s convincingly awkward, and while the writing isn’t any better, the tension is successful enough that it becomes funny.

What I don’t understand, though, is why Willie and Kate like him. While I clearly don’t give a shit about this guy, it’s essential that I point out that Lynn’s parents approve of him. That’s fine; I don’t mind that on its own. But when taken into account with Eddie, I’m not sure what the difference is. Both of these assholes seem like bad fits for her, and both of these assholes seem like guys that no parent should be thrilled with. It’s odd, and we never get a reason that Willie and Kate like him. If they think he’s better than Eddie, that’s fine. But they seem to think he’s good for their daughter on his own merits…and what are those, exactly?

So far this episode seems like it could turn into a set of revealing little one-acts about Lynn’s bad romantic decisions, but that’s shot dead when the Tanners actually like this one.

Again, why? Maybe Lynn thinks he’s hot, and maybe Kate remembers what it was like to be plowed by a man who, at some point in his life, had a muscle. But what the hell does Willie see in this guy?

That other episode would have been a good one. At least potentially. Cartoons like Eddie and Randy can serve a purpose there; they need to be exaggerated, because we’ll only see them for a few minutes before moving on to the next batch. What ultimately matters is that we get a mosaic of Lynn’s current proclivities, so that we can either learn more about her through them, or so that we can see her come to terms with them and move beyond.

But, no, we don’t get that. As much as it seems like we might.

Nor do we get another potentially great idea, about Lynn discovering who she is. (At least in some small way, and even if the discovery is only temporary.)

I’m picturing something along the lines of Chekhov’s The Darling. It’s one of my favorite short stories, and I recommend you read it if you have the interest. (In fact, read anything of Chekhov’s. None of it could possibly be a waste of your time.)

Here, we’d see Lynn with one guy. Eddie, say. Eddie likes sushi and cerebral films, so Lynn likes them as well. Patchouli or whomever the fuck came before him liked pizza and cartoons. When she was with Patchouli, she liked pizza and cartoons. Then she moves on to Randy, who likes beer and football. Now Lynn likes beer and football.

The episodic format is easy to compare to a series of short stories. Serialized programs like Better Call Saul can afford to span novels, but concentrated, clear tales — ideally with some kind of identifiable statement or observation about the characters — work well in 24-minute chunks. The Darling spins its titular character through a series of relationships. She bends and shapes herself to better complement her current suitor, who inevitably moves on in his life without her. At the end, she’s left alone. In my creative writing class, somebody asked Stephen Dunn (whom I was incredibly fortunate to have as an instructor, twice) what the moral was.

“Don’t be a darling,” he said flatly.

Lynn doesn’t need to come to such a despairing end, but she could still go through this kind of accelerated romantic whirlwind, after which she’s left constantly disappointed and dissatisfied. Why? Because she’s a darling. And she can realize that fact, maybe in a heart-to-heart with ALF, and decide to be herself for a while.

You know.

Something good…

ALF, "Promises, Promises"

…yeah we’re not going to get anything good. Instead we cut to ALF watching Aliens who the fuck cares when.

ALF’s seen this before. In “Night Train” we learned that he had nightmares from watching it. I won’t take that as a problem (his reactions to what’s happening on-screen could well be due to the fact that this is the first time he’s actually watching it, and not cowering in terror), but I will take as a problem the fact that they say Aliens when they meant Alien. He’s yelling, after all, at Sigourney Weaver, telling her not to go back for the cat.

“This is no time for a snack!” he shouts, in what will sadly be the highlight of the entire episode. It’s a perfectly okay line, but she doesn’t “go back for the cat” in Aliens. She leaves the cat home in that film. Toward the end, she does go back for Newt, and that sequence plays a similar role to the cat one in the first film, but Alien is when she goes back for the cat.

Going back for the cat does seem like a bad idea when you see it happen, but, ultimately, it might be what allowed her to survive. But that’s a discussion for a whole other time.

Right now we’re watching a very different alien, though one that’s just as terrifying. This full-body ALF thing is really fucking creepy to me. Don’t give me this shit. Give me the midget or give me death.

Look at this. It looks fucking terrible. How on Earth does ALF manage to look more like a puppet when you can see his entire body?


ALF, "Promises, Promises"

Anyway, Lynn comes home and ALF sees that she’s actually been railing the old guy all night. ALF pops up in the window making funny faces, because WHO FUCKING CARES IF ANYONE SEES HIM ANY MORE FUCK OFF

Then Lynn comes inside, and there’s some really odd foley. It took me a few times to realize that we were hearing Eddie start up his car and drive away. It sounds more like we’re hearing Mr. Ochmonek in the next yard playing the washboard.

ALF confronts her about getting plowed by one no-good miscreant instead of another.

Again, why was Randy the superior choice? I get that Eddie’s supposed to be some oily, grabby creep, but why is a vacant numbskull any better? Especially unanimously so?

It’s here that the episode — which has had a few seconds of actual decency — really bursts into flames.

Lynn admits that for the past week, she’s not been seeing Randy. She’s been tutoring him, and then sneaking off to let the substitute author finger through her manuscript.

And that, along with everything that comes from it, is what I hate.

For a family show, this is a pretty awful thing to normalize. I’ve joked before about ALF and other characters acting inappropriately with the kids, but I figured on some level it had to be unintentional. The writing staff must have begun and ended with Tobias Funke if all of it was unintentional, but this episode brings it to the fore. It knows what it’s talking about. It knows what it’s suggesting. And it’s treating it as…well, not as what it should be treated as.

“Promises, Promises” plays off of this reveal as though Lynn told her parents a fib. Which is true, of course. But more true is the fact that her parents didn’t want their teenage daughter to let an older man take sexual advantage of her. She’s letting him anyway, and she’d rather not tell them.

The way it’s normalized as though it’s a standard sitcom beat for a “barely eighteen” (as in, “barely not a victim of statutory rape”) teenager to be fondled and groped by a slavering lech is abhorrent. You can do plots like this, but then the plot has to be about this. It can’t be about the fact that ALF knows a secret and Lynn told a lie. That’s bullshit. The plot is that the Tanners, for fucking once, tried to protect their daughter, and she’s being sexually manipulated by a predator.

If you think I’m reaching when I say that they’re treating this like a standard sitcom beat, never fear; the episode makes it overtly clear that that’s what it’s doing. Specifically, it equates this to a secret ALF is keeping, too: he broke Kate’s porcelain ballerina by dropping it into the toilet.

ALF, "Promises, Promises"

Equivalency, there. The unseen destruction of a never-before-mentioned knickknack obviously doesn’t rise to meet the gravity of what’s happening with Lynn; instead, it trivializes it. The girl that we’ve watched grow for about three years (during most of which she was somehow 18) is in a tremendously worrying relationship with a creep that I’m pretty sure any rational human being would want to punch in the neck when they found out what he was doing to her.

But, hey, it’s just comedy! This kind of stuff happens all the time. See? ALF dropped a ballerina at some point. What’s the problem?

This scene contains what should probably have been a moment I really enjoyed. ALF mimes the ballerina slipping down the crapper, and Lynn mimes the same gesture back, as though in confirmation. Then both of them, in silent commiseration, mime it back and forth for a while. It’s adorable out of context. In context it’s a massively tone-deaf reminder that this episode is discussing something potentially very horrible — by no means anything kids at home should see as normal or excusable — and yet has no idea that it’s not inherently funny.

Seriously, this bothers me. I know Lynn doesn’t end up naked in the trunk of his car, but the fact that the episode raises the issue and then treats it like a standard sitcom plot is hugely problematic. Lynn at no point faces any danger, and doesn’t even really have to face the milder consequence of lying about it. It’s dismissed by the episode and all of the characters within it…the conflict becomes the fact that ALF inadvertently snitched on her, and her subsequent anger toward him.

You know that infamous episode of Diff’rent Strokes in which Arnold and his pal get molested by Gordon Jump? It was terrible, yes, but it was a Very Special Episode, and it acted like one. It knew it had to be one if it was going to have little kids getting fondled by a bicycle repairman. And while I won’t go to bat for the quality of that episode, I will say that it’s a damn sight better than it would have been if the writers had played it for laughs, and had Arnold and his buddy shrug it off like they did with every other conflict of the week. Can you imagine a version of that episode in which Arnold’s chum is mad at him for ratting out the pedophile, and the actual sexual assault is just a background detail we don’t need to pay attention to?

ALF can. ALF thinks that would be hilarious.

Why aren’t you laughing?

ALF, "Promises, Promises"

Randy comes over at some point, and the Tanners thought Lynn was with him, so ALF volunteers that the elderly guy they forbade her to see is spraying semen into her. Lynn comes home and gets grounded, at which point she sarcastically thanks ALF, repeatedly, for ruining her life.

Personally, I don’t think interrupting her late-night fuck sessions with an elderly man qualifies as life-ruining, especially in comparison to the fact that he prevented her from going away to college, burned her house down, murdered her great uncle, and god knows what else, but whatever.

It actually got really hard to watch at this point, because this was where it became obvious that the Very Special Issue is Lynn being mad at ALF for finking.

And that’s played straight. Because, hey, why not? Don’t young girls have a right to privacy? Some old man wants to manipulate them into an unbalanced relationship of sexual subservience, and you need to go tell mom and dad on them?

This is…gross. Not least of which because it suggests an entire room full of writers who don’t think this is gross.

ALF, "Promises, Promises"

That screengrab right there?

That comes about one minute after Lynn is caught engaging in carnal relations with a sex pest.

Just want to point that out, because I could understand if you saw something like that as totally fucking irrelevant and tasteless.

You want to get ALF into some Mexican garb and have him sing a song? Well, fine, but you’ll need a reason.

Anyone got any ideas? What’s that? Lynn is effectively raped? That’s what I was thinking, too! Hilarious! Let’s definitely go with that.

This is a weird episode, and it really is uncomfortable to watch. It took me three days to get through this one, and then when I sat down to write about it…I couldn’t. I stopped. I stepped away and said, “No.” I just…couldn’t do this one, guys.

It gets even worse when we see Willie and Kate in the kitchen, laughing and being silly about the whole thing, reinforcing the idea that the real problem is her unwillingness to forgive ALF.

Kate — this girl’s mother, remember — even says it wasn’t a big deal; Lynn just told a lie.

Very true to life, that. It’s just like the mother of a teenage girl to be flippant when she finds out that her daughter’s been diddled by a guy several decades older than her.

Kate was the one who very rightly told Lynn on no uncertain terms that she was not to see this man…presumably because she was afraid he’d do exactly what she now knows he did. And now that her nightmare has been made reality, Kate seems to think a good chuckle at the breakfast table marks the last time anyone ever needs to bring it up.

What the fuck weird ass parallel universe horse shit am I watching here? And it gets odder.

And, yes, somehow, more repulsive.

ALF, "Promises, Promises"

Kate brings up the fact that she didn’t tell her parents that she was dating Willie for six months. One might wish to point out the fact that he’s also not 35 fucking years her senior, but it doesn’t end there: Willie was apparently dating Kate’s sister at the time as well.

ALF and the audience of dead people seem to think that’s funny, especially since we learn that Kate’s sister isn’t very attractive. Willie was poking a piggie! Hilarious stuff! How many ways is it possible to simultaneously sexualize and demean women in a single episode? ALF doesn’t know, but it’s determined to find out.


No thanks. I don’t want to be part of this sex festival.

Lynn is then threatened with further punishment if she doesn’t make amends with the naked alien who lives in the hamper, which is when Lynn blurts out that ALF destroyed Kate’s porcelain ballerina.

In response, Kate does this:

ALF, "Promises, Promises"

So remember when I observed how absurd it was that the destruction of a heretofore unmentioned knickknack would be treated with the same gravity as the sexual assault of one of the show’s main characters? I was wrong. It’s actually, apparently, much more severe.

Benji Gregory is then tasked with the unenviable duty of pretending to cry over ALF’s impending departure. Yes, Lynn won’t be nice to him anymore, so he’s fixing his space ship and leaving.

That’s the end of the series guys. BYE

…of course fucking not. “Promises, Promises” being the last time we see ALF’s miserable ass would actually count as some kind of redeeming quality, so we can’t have that.

This whole sequence of ALF getting ready to leave is played for embarrassing sincerity.

Just like the broken ballerina is more devastating to Kate (by several orders of magnitude) than her daughter’s safety and innocence, it’s sadder to Fusco et. al. that ALF might leave than it is that Lynn had to go through any of this crap.

In the short scene before the credits ALF and Willie rebuild Kate’s ballerina, undoing the damage. They can’t undo the damage to Lynn, but who cares about her anyway?

Next week ALF meets a magical Thanksgiving hobo. God, I never thought I’d look forward to that.

Better Call Saul Reviews: “Alpine Shepherd Boy” (season 1, episode 5)

Here’s something I didn’t expect to say before this show premiered: Better Call Saul has an incredible sweetness at its core.

Remember, now, that this is a spinoff of Breaking Bad, where sweetness was not unknown but where it inevitably led to tragedy. What’s more, Better Call Saul is focusing on a character who was, in so many ways, an open facilitator of that tragedy. We met him in an Albuquerque of cynicism and despair, and he was at home there.

Seeing him at work in “Alpine Shepherd Boy,” we are in a whole other world. A world in which shiftiness and misdirection are necessary, but also a world in which there can be joy. In which there can be happiness. A world in which underhanded methods can be employed in aid of making things better.

This is the conflict at the heart of Jimmy McGill, and I think it’s one that’s been there even when we knew him as Saul Goodman. In Breaking Bad, Saul was the one who expanded Walter’s reach, his empire, and, ultimately, his capacity for destruction. While he was never directly involved with what were probably Walt’s darkest actions, he kept the plates spinning in the background. What’s more: he was happy to do so.

And yet, nobody disliked the guy. As frustrated as we got with Walt, as frightened as we got of Gus, as worried as we got for Jesse, Saul was always just there. He didn’t inspire the same kind of severe audience reaction, because he was somehow separate from the events unfolding around him. He was of them, and not of them. From the moment he entered that world — in a satirical, comic bubble — he felt safe.

Whatever happened, Saul was going to be okay. And we were perfectly happy with that. In spite of the fact that he was doing Very Bad Things, we needed to trust that he was going to be fine…even when we could trust in nothing else. There’s a reason, after all, that his kind of character is referred to as comic “relief.”

In Better Call Saul, Jimmy’s been up to some fishy business, but we love him. And “Alpine Shepherd Boy” shows us why: he can be a good person. He has the potential in him, somewhere, to be an excellent human being. He won’t become one through hard work and initiative, of course…he’ll become one (if he ever does) through dodges and deception. But that’s what makes him such a great character; he operates in an intrinsically hateable way, but never becomes hateable himself.

“Alpine Shepherd Boy” seems to offer a thematic bookend to a great sequence in “Mijo.” Whereas that episode carved for us a representative cross-section of what Jimmy McGill’s life would look like as a public defender, this one shows us what his life would look like if he embraced semi-legitimacy. In short, he goes from representing those who need a lawyer and can’t afford one, to representing those who don’t need a lawyer but can afford to throw their money away on one.

It’s a fantastic series of scenes, showing our unhateable shyster meeting with a fanatical secessionist, the inventor of a sex toilet, and, most lucratively, an old woman relaying complicated plans for the posthumous distribution of her porcelain figurines. Across each of these we learn a little more about Jimmy, but what really stands out is how strong Bob Odenkirk is as an actor.

I know Odenkirk very well from many things, not the least of which is Mr. Show. Mr. Show was a sketch comedy program that ran for four seasons on HBO. It’s also one of the very few sketch-based examples I point to (along with Monty Python’s Flying Circus and The League of Gentlemen) when I argue that good acting elevates good comedy.

In Mr. Show, the sketches didn’t wear out their welcome. They flitted and evolved and darted across the screen. At no point did the show technically need Bob Odenkirk and David Cross to deliver legitimately impressive performances…but the two of them did anyway. And that’s, I honestly believe, what gives it staying power. In sketch comedy, jokes will fall flat. They have to; mathematically, there’s no way to try to spin so many different kinds of laughs out of so much material and have it all land successfully. Put good acting behind it, though, and even the weakest skits become interesting, and instructive.

Odenkirk is a master. Watching those three scenes of him with clients, it’s impossible to deny that. His attempt to maintain composure in front of the secessionist (and then again for a whole other reason when he’s offered a million dollars), is solid work. His fumbling lies about practically specializing in patent law are delivered perfectly, with just the right amount of confident deflection. And his response to the old woman who takes far too long to hand him a figurine (“Oh.”) takes understatement and evolves it into an artform.

But what about the sweetness I mentioned?

Well, it comes out of last week’s cliffhanger…which was not where I expected it to be. While “Alpine Shepherd Boy” moves the story forward from Jimmy’s billboard anti-heroics, the real stakes come as a result of Chuck stealing his neighbor’s newspaper.

A very funny sequence in that episode becomes a sad one here, as poor Chuck is tasered by the police and threatened with involuntary commitment. It’s a genuine achievement for “Alpine Shepherd Boy” that the funniest extremes of Chuck’s “condition” lead us smoothly into the saddest.

Chuck — played by Michael McKean — suffers from what Jimmy oversimplifies as an electricity allergy. From the very first episode we’ve had indications that it’s a psychological problem rather than a physical one, and “Alpine Shepherd Boy” proves that conclusively. But it’s also evidence that Jimmy loves his brother, and that’s where the sweetness lies.

While Jimmy may be humoring Chuck, the fact remains that he does take care of him. He doesn’t humor him because it’s the easy way out…he humors him in spite of the fact that this means he’ll have to keep his brother in groceries, ice, and newspapers until the day one of them dies.

And when Hamlin — Chuck’s law partner — shows up at the hospital, it almost looks like Jimmy’s caved. He says he’ll commit his brother just so that he can cash him out of the law firm. A moment later we learn that this isn’t true, and he only said it to make Hamlin sweat. It was a dishonest tactic, but one that served, he felt, a better purpose.

It’s an interesting twist. Instead of a bad man pretending to be good, this is a good man pretending to be bad. And it’s kind of gorgeous.

Something I haven’t mentioned much about is Jimmy’s relationship with Kim, played by Rhea Sheehorn. Sheehorn’s been in a lot of things, it looks like, but I’ve only seen her in this…and, god, she’s good.

There’s a level of remarkable interplay between her and Odenkirk. Chemistry, as Chuck would say, is an oversimplification, even if it’s largely correct. There’s something about them that feels real. The way she’s more capable, and yet admires his tenacity. The way she’s above him in station, and yet is envious of the stories he gets to tell of his crazy clients. The way she’s attractive enough that a man like Jimmy McGill shouldn’t even turn her head, but she also knows that he listens…and that he cares. He’s open with her. He’s honest (so much so that he’ll break an NDA just to make her laugh). He’s human. She wants that.

That’s the real sweetness I felt in the episode, coming to a head in Chuck’s hospital room, when she can’t bring herself to break anybody’s heart by disagreeing with them. She knows she’s dealing with two McGills that are, each in their own way, liars. And yet she cares about them. At any given point she could open her mouth and prove both of them wrong. But she keeps her mouth shut, because she’d rather keep them than come out on top.

Kim is my favorite new character on this show, and the ease with which she and Jimmy slip into each other’s lives is a delight. In fact, I’m sad that Breaking Bad introduced us to a post-divorce Saul. It means that whatever happens between these two, there’s a termination point. And I’d be shocked if it was a fair or pretty one. As it stands, Kim is marching toward disappointment…which makes the happy accident of Sheehorn and Odenkirk working so well together feel like a profoundly distressing tragedy.

There’s also a sweetness to Jimmy’s relationship with Mike, one that looks to blossom into something truly interesting next week. So…maybe I’ll save my talk about that for then.

Jimmy McGill has a heart. He’s a showman and a flimflam man, but one (for now) with a conscience. When Kim turns him on to the idea of specializing in elder law, he latches right onto it in a way that feels exploitative (for obvious reasons), but also genuine. After all, the old woman with the figurines was the only client he was actually able to help.

His foray into elder law is a lot like one of those optical illusions. You look and see an old crone…but keep looking, and it turns into a beautiful young woman. Keep looking beyond that, and you’ll see both images fighting in your brain for supremacy, with no clear winner. Likewise, everything Jimmy does in his elder law posturing seems to occupy a constantly fluctuating, indefinable middle ground.

That’s Jimmy in the old woman’s living room. Sure, she’s the only one who paid him…but she’s also the only one to whom he could offer any value. He wasn’t asked to do much, but he was good at keeping straight what he was asked to do.

That’s Jimmy in the retirement community. Passing out Jell-O cups as a good deed…but they also serve as promotional materials for his services. He’s glad-handing a bunch of helpless senior citizens…but they genuinely seem to enjoy his company, and are appreciative of it.

And that’s Jimmy handing Mike his new business card.

We get a wonderful, and largely silent, view of how that plays out for Mike after the red-doored Esteem pulls away.

Jimmy McGill might have found a way to do some actual good, even if he is seeking to profit from it. But to phrase that another way, Jimmy McGill needs to profit off of something…so might it not as well be doing some actual good?

The image flips. It refuses to become one thing or the other for very long. We’re in a state of flux. And it’s fucking fantastic.