We’re in the final ten episodes! Part of me knew I’d make it this far. The rest of me attempted suicide several times to keep from making it this far. But here we are…wrapping up the series for good.
Eagle-eyed readers might have spotted some new entries on the ALF archive page. It’s not everything I have planned for the wrap-up, but it will keep me from forgetting to do the things I’ve promised.
I’m also considering a live stream / riff of Project: ALF ahead of the official review, so please let me know if there’s interest in that. It won’t be anywhere near as elaborate as the Xmas Bash!!!, but that’s okay. Maybe I’ll screen it along with two episodes of the show…a pick of mine, and a readers’ choice selection. We’ll see. Let me know if you have any ideas, as it’ll be the closest thing we have to a big finale celebration, and I want to make sure it’s something everyone can enjoy.
Speaking of things everyone can enjoy: this is Jim J. Bullock’s final episode! kermityay.gif
That’s if IMDB is correct, of course, and I’ve never prayed for anything harder in my life. (When you guys tell me it’s somebody’s final episode, I believe you. When IMDB tells me, I’m reminded of the false listing that claimed the midget was in season three, and I spit blood at my monitor. ANGRY BLOOD.)
If nothing else, this review will provide us with a good opportunity to look back on what ALF did with Neal Tanner during the character’s oddly abbreviated life. (Spoiler: it was fuck-all.) If Neal does turn up in another episode I just won’t take any screengrabs of him and pretend he’s not there.
“Love on the Rocks” opens well enough, though, with Willie’s horny little brother introducing the family to the woman he’s porking. Nothing says “family sitcom” quite like that, and it’s the least troublesome example of sexual charge in the episode.
Her name is Maxine, which is a pretty great name that doesn’t get much mileage in fiction, for some reason. Also, it reminds me of this Traveling Wilburys song, and that’s great, because I’ll take any excuse to listen to that again.
That’s an unreleased song, by the way. It didn’t make either Wilburys album and wasn’t a single…and it’s fucking great. If a castoff that went nowhere sounds that good, that gives you some idea of how strong their output was.
Hey, speaking of which…do you know who The Traveling Wilburys were? They were a supergroup consisting of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne. Five music legends got together to fuck around in George’s garage and ended up releasing two full albums of their collaborations. (Orbison died before the second album, it’s worth mentioning, and it suffers for his loss.) Both albums were great — with a lineup like that, they’d have to be great — and a hell of a lot of fun to listen to, and they’re both available in a nice little package with bonus tracks and music videos to enjoy.
So, yeah, we live in a world in which stuff like that is available at the push of a button, and we’re spending our time talking about ALF. Every so often, I feel it’s necessary to put that into perspective.
Anyway, Maxine (Mah-ahh-aahx-ine…) is telling Willie and Kate about how she met Neal. It involves a terrible car accident which she believes she survived because a Mayan Warrior God named Vlad materialized and took the wheel. Pretty nutty, right? That’s why it’s so odd that Willie — who gets less defensible as a good social worker by the week — openly makes fun of her near-death experience before she even gets to the supernatural part.
After we learn about Vlad, though, Anne Schedeen gives us a pretty great line reading. “Maxine, this is fascinating, but where would a 6,000 year old Mayan warrior learn to downshift a Toyota?”
I actually laughed. It’s…a decently funny line on its own, but the delivery — with Kate struggling to sound friendly and supportive throughout — is what makes it work so well. I think that’s the first time I’ve laughed since “Lies,” but her reading really did deserve it.
Maxine believes she and Neal are reincarnated lovers from the past, and…it’s definitely batty, don’t get me wrong. It leads to a genuinely nice moment when Willie and Kate go into the kitchen to get tea, and ALF asks, “If she marries into the family, do I have to hide from Vlad?”
The three of them then engage in some fairly rude mockery of Maxine’s beliefs…but, at the same time, it’s totally believable. They’re acting — oh rarest of rarities — like a family.
That’s all that I ask of this show’s dickishness…that it functions in some way that isn’t entirely reliant on these people being irredeemable shitheads. Yeah, it’s a bit rude for them to make fun of this woman they just met, especially if Neal likes her, but they’re doing it together. It’s what families do to cope with awkward, bizarre circumstances. Also, it’s relatively gentle — more ribbing than bullying — and they’re all laughing at the same thing.
That latter point is especially important. After all, when was the last time Willie, Kate, and ALF were all on the same page?
It may have been never. And it’s nice to see the three of them bonding now.
Sorry, Maxine. You’re the chewtoy in this scene, but at least the dogs are behaving.
So the first scene got me on the episode’s side, which means it’s the second scene’s job to kick me in the skull.
Lynn rehearses her lines for Saint Joan, and ALF suggests that she “show a little leg.” He then suggests “a couple of well-placed tassels.”
The first scene showed me that this show’s inherent nastiness can actually be used to nice effect. If this scene is attempting to show me that ALF’s continuous sexual predation of Lynn can be used to nice effect as well, it’s fallen at the first hurdle.
Anyway, Willie comes in as Lynn storms out. She’s clearly frustrated at ALF’s suggestions. Like the great dad and social worker that he is, he listens to her concerns and then tells her he doesn’t give a shit. He then reveals the big punchline: that ALF got Brian to do this stuff at some point.
What the actual fucking dicklicking crap is this show?
ALF had Brian dance around with two “well-placed tassels” for his amusement?
Willie knows this?
Willie also knows that ALF just tried to get his daughter to do it?
Willie also sees that his daughter is upset by the suggestion and still doesn’t care?
FUCK THIS SHOW
(And, yes, fuck this show, definitely, but I do have to say that while editing this review, I keep scrolling past the screengrab above and tricking myself: the way Lynn’s cross is positioned makes me think for a split second that she’s wearing Chie Satonaka’s jacket. And, ever so briefly, I fall in love.)
(Still though: fuck this show.)
Neal comes over, and there are two (count ’em!) funny things that happen here. “Love on the Rocks” isn’t great. In fact, it’s pretty fucking terrible. But there are enough faint glimmers of a better episode that, once again, suggest that we probably could have gotten something watchable if the writers cared enough to produce second drafts.
The first thing I like is a genuinely funny line from ALF, wherein he refers to Neal as “God’s gag-gift to women.” That may be the only time I’ve been jealous of this show’s writing. It’s such a simple bit of wordplay, but it’s very effective. It’s a great, efficient, character-specific little punch, and it’s a line I’d probably be satisfied with if I’d written it myself.
Then there’s — oh rarest of rarities — a spotlight for Benji Gregory. Brian keeps guessing the right answers to Neal’s “you’ll never guess” questions…namely that Neal’s ex-wife is coming to see him, and that she wants him back. Kate asks Neal when all of this happened, and Neal silently defers to Brian. It’s a good visual punchline. Not great, but it gave Brian something to do, and it was one of those neatly observed family moments that we get so infrequently on this show.
Anyway, Willie tries to remind Neal of how terrible Margaret was to him, and Kate actually tries to steer the conversation away from that, for the sake of Neal’s feelings. The show doesn’t do anything with it, but I like the fact that Willie and Kate take opposing views of the situation, and neither of them are, strictly speaking, right or wrong.
Willie is reminding him of some important stuff: Margaret manipulated Neal, upset him, and threw him out with nowhere to go. Willie’s point is that Neal should think about all of that before he goes blindly back to her. Kate, on the other hand, knows that it’s not productive to take away the hope that Neal can repair things with Margaret and make the relationship work, especially since they both invested 10 years in it. Turning blindly away from a potential future may not be any smarter than lunging blindly toward it.
They both have a point. I like that.
Again, “Love on the Rocks” doesn’t do anything with this, but so rarely does anything on this show have a point that two points in the same scene nearly knocked me out of my chair.
Another good moment comes after that scene, so even though we cut abruptly away from the discussion with Neal, at least we cut to something fun.
ALF and Willie are watching TV, and they have an argument that gets gradually more heated…about the relative merits of My Mother the Car and Mr. Ed.
It’s…kind of awesome. ALF argues that both shows are equally realistic, while Willie takes the position that My Mother the Car is significantly less realistic, since it involves reincarnation, and requires viewers to overlook the fact that there’s no physical way for a car to talk.
It’s…really not bad. It even puts me in mind of the great “Do Smurfs lay eggs?” debate from The Venture Bros., and I can easily hear this same conversation — word for word — in the voices of Henchmen 21 and 24. If you’ve read this site for long, you know that that is by no means faint praise. (The performances would have been way better in that show, though.)
Even more Henchmen-like is the reveal that ALF and Willie have had this argument multiple times. And Kate, like The Monarch, needs to yell at them both to shut the hell up about this disagreement nobody cares about to begin with.
I like a lot of this episode. I really do! At about this point I even started to wonder if season four would give us a second good episode…one with heavy amounts of Jim J. Bullock, no less.
It wasn’t to be…but, damn, we got tantalizingly close at times.
Then Lynn comes home to say she got a shitty part in Saint Joan, but Neal arrives soon after to remind her that this episode isn’t about her.
Margaret is coming, he says, and he told her to take a cab here, to the Tanner house. He explains, “I didn’t want Willie to reject her on the phone…it’s so impersonal.”
And that’s actually a pretty good line reading, and it hints at a personality for Neal that we’ve never actually seen developed. This passive-to-a-fault approach to life is not at odds with anything we already knew about him, but in a single line he just cemented an entire psychological framework for himself. And it works.
Of course, I wonder how he lived his life during the past few years, when Willie didn’t even remember he existed…but even that can be explained by what we already know: Margaret was calling the shots for him. He only needed Willie once Margaret was gone.
Neal doesn’t function well as an individual; he’s a born follower, and becomes immediately uncomfortable the moment there’s nobody around to follow. Even here, when he knows he doesn’t want to be with Margaret anymore, he can’t bring himself to say it out loud. He needs it to come from someone more confident.
It’s interesting, so of course we drop that so ALF can tell a bunch of “yo ex-wife’s so fat…” jokes.
When that’s done, Willie refuses to reject Margaret for Neal. Neal replies, “Fine. I’ll do it myself. But this is the last favor I do for you.”
Which is funny! Legitimately kinda funny!
So much of this episode is good! Why can’t this episode stay good?!
While they wait for Margaret to arrive, ALF reminds the audience over and over again that the woman is really, really fat. He might as well add, “Everybody got that? Because Neal is going to open the door in a moment and it’s very important that you expect to see a truly, massively fat woman standing there. Forgive me for belaboring the point, but this joke isn’t going to work otherwise.”
She arrives, and she’s not fat (WHO SAW THAT COMING), so Neal gets a boner and his whole decision to reject her is thrown to the wind.
Man, it must be so easy being a woman. If anything goes wrong, get weight-loss surgery and it’s like pushing a cosmic reset button.
Margaret is played by Allyce Beasley, whom I didn’t recognize by sight, though her voice is sure familiar. It’s pretty high pitched, and she’s done a lot of cartoon work as a result. In terms of live action she’s been in some great stuff, with guest spots on Taxi and Cheers, and a recurring role on Moonlighting. She was also in Legally Blonde, which I’ve never seen but which certainly has a following. More recently she’s appeared in Bored to Death, Gotham, and Marry Me, all of which seem to be held in pretty decent regard, so I doubt “bitch craving Jim J. Bullock’s cock” scratches her list of favorite roles.
ALF is watching this shit through the plot window, screaming and loudly jerking off, and it’s positively absurd that they wouldn’t hear him. But it’s ALF, and if we didn’t cut back to him every 15 seconds Paul Fusco would wither and die.
He makes a comparison to Margaret working on Neal like a boxer, which leads our alien fuckbuddy to make the second Robin Givens joke in as many weeks.
Then he watches them make out for a while until he finishes getting his Love-on-the-Rocks off.
After the commercial, the Tanners get ready to go to the movies. Willie complains with venom and sarcasm about Margaret, which is nothing new. But Kate calls him on it, which is new.
He replies, “I’m sorry, Kate. I don’t like her. I didn’t like her then, and I don’t trust her now.”
That’s all I need to believe that Willie’s not an irredeemable fuckbag.
I’ve complained a lot about Willie’s shitty attitude and shitty behavior on this show, but that’s because the show never seemed to realize it was shitty. Having Kate confront him about it, and then having him explain — in just one line, just a couple of seconds of screentime — that he has someone else’s best interests at heart…it makes all the difference.
We all complain. Every one of us. And we know that. But I think we also understand the difference between complaining because we’re genuinely worried that something bad will happen to someone we care about, and complaining because we’re dick whiskers who can never let anyone be happy.
Most of the time Willie seems to be the latter, simply because his complaints and petty bitchings are all that we hear. There’s no context for him…he’s just some dweeby guy who periodically turns into an asshole.
Finally Willie provides context for himself. And, what do you know, it shifts him right into the other category.
I don’t ask for much from this show. “Stop raping,” yes. But besides that? All I want is a little self-awareness. Proof that ALF understands what it’s doing. I don’t see that often, but — oh rarest of rarities — I’m seeing it now.
While they’re out Neal calls, and he’s wearing a bathrobe that just barely prevents us from seeing Jim J.’s bullock.
He tells ALF that he and Margaret are driving to Las Vegas to get remarried. In the background we hear her rinsing all the cum out of her hair.
This is a really great show.
Anyway, ALF decides to hide in Neal’s car — some…how… — and joins them on their trip to Vegas.
You know, I fucking hate ALF and I fucking love Vegas, but, no joke, I admired this show’s restraint in not doing a Vegas episode.
Honestly, I’m not kidding. Ace commenter Casey (and the guy you should start paying attention to as the whole review-a-week thing comes to an end here) recently wrote up the Vegas episode of Perfect Strangers, and I was shocked that that show resorted to doing one so early in its run.*
I quietly appreciated ALF for not sending its characters to Lazy Vegas. After all, this show was ending. It was as good as over, and never once did it succumb to…
One last kick in the sack for giving ALF credit.
Yeah, here we are, pulling up to the cocksuckin’ Chapel of the Bells, one of only two things in Vegas everyone knows. (The other one is the big neon cowboy, which Margaret also alludes to, in case you thought they were going to Las Vegas, Ohio or something.)
Margaret goes into the Chapel of the Bells first, for no reason aside from the fact that ALF needs to materialize and talk to Neal. Neal tries to describe to ALF how wildly he and Margaret were just fucking each other’s brains out, but — oh rarest of rarities — ALF isn’t interested in hearing about it.
ALF tells Neal to pull his head out of his ass. In fact, because ALF was hiding in the car, he noticed that Neal kept unconsciously steering the vehicle into oncoming traffic. (Something we witness as well; it’s not a joke on ALF’s part.)
That’s a damned fucking dark thing for a family sitcom, and I admire it for that reason. It’s mildly insightful, and does a good job of revealing the kind of relationship Neal and Margaret have. Specifically the fact that it’s self-destructive, and unhealthy. And, yeah, we knew that already…but I like that the show went far enough to illustrate it that way.
Of course, if this were a better show, it would have tied this scene into Maxine’s speech at the beginning of the episode: two bad matches for Neal, both involving careless driving, both involving a fantastic creature (Mayan Warrior God or extra-terrestrial). A novelist would have used those parallels to great effect. An ALF writer would rather leave the office early and beat traffic.
Neal agrees that he shouldn’t re-marry Margaret. On the other hand there’s still six minutes left in the episode, so he’s going to do it anyway.
They have their number called and approach the…officator? I have no clue what this guy is called. I don’t even care. It’s just a chance to cram in a bunch of jokes about Vegas (a buffet, a free pull on the slots, an Elvis witness), and it feels half-assed. It seems a lot like the Vegas idea was penciled in much later on, because they’re certainly blowing through all of the mandatory references in a really compressed timeframe.
Oddly, to me, we hear “Ave Maria” piped in during the ceremony. Is that a common wedding song? Especially in a context like this, in which the ceremony (one would imagine) should be non-denominational? It’s a pretty expressly Catholic thing, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve heard it at any weddings I’ve been to, but I’m usually pretty drunk and trying to get somebody’s cousin to sit on my lap.
Anyway, Neal gets cold feet and makes the excuse that he needs to run to the men’s room to jerk off.
Really, he does. Only he calls it “throwing himself a bachelor party.”
Later, when he returns to Margaret, she asks how the party was and he says that “nobody came.”
In case you didn’t get / weren’t disgusted enough by the joke the first time.
FUCK THIS SHOW
Neal heads out to the car, where ALF suggests they get some hookers to fuck. To the show’s unexpected credit, it avoids making a joke in which ALF misunderstands an ad for all-you-can-eat pussy.
Jim J. Bullock shoots for some ill-advised emotion, pretending to cry in a show about a hooker-crazed puppet monster. ALF briefly attempts to comfort him, and then suggests to Neal that he buy a gun and kill himself.
Do you remember when I thought this episode might be pretty good? I sure don’t.
Neal heads back into the chapel, which he and Margaret have to themselves now for some reason. They have a humorless little chat about how they shouldn’t get married, and then Margaret asks if they can still be friends. He says yes, in spite of the fact that they’re fatally toxic to each other and never seemed to get along in the first place and just sharing a car with her was enough to make him subconsciously want to kill them both.
The episode has the ghost of an arc for Neal — he goes from needing someone to speak for him to finally speaking for himself — but it’s not fleshed out at all. There’s a point A and a point B, which counts as progress for ALF, but no coherent journey between one and the other.
And while I appreciate the impulse to end the episode on an emotional note, it fails to resonate, because we don’t care about Neal and care even less about Margaret.
Does it matter if they get together? Not really.
Is anyone interested in their next steps? No, and even if they were, we’ll never see these people again. There are no next steps.
“Love on the Rocks” brought to an emotional conclusion a story we were never told. Watching it is kind of like tuning into the last few minutes of a show you’ve never seen; you get the feeling things are being wrapped up, even though you weren’t there to see them. But I watched this whole fucking thing, and it’s barely a story at all.
It gets an oddly sincere ending, with a welcome tinge of cynicism, but that’s it. The rest of the episode is just sort of…there, even if it does have some nicely observed family moments sprinkled throughout. As always, it was a couple of drafts away from anything worth filming.
As if realizing the episode doesn’t know what it’s about, Neal scampers off because he hears ALF playing the slots. Viva Lou Bega!!
In the short scene before the credits we learn that Neal took ALF to see Nudes on Ice, and they spanked each other off under Margaret’s forgotten parka.
Also, Kate says to Neal, “I still say you did the right thing,” about his decision not to re-marry Margaret. Willie sticks his nose in and tells his wife, “I just expressed that, honey.”
And, hey, what do you know? We get to end the episode with Willie being a giant dickbag after all.
Anyway, that’s it. A measly five episodes for this new character who got a two-parter introduction and two spotlight episodes.
Jim J. Bullock, as we’ve discussed, was a fairly big name at the time, and on the surface it looks like they treated his stature accordingly; after all, of the five episodes in which he appeared, he was relegated to supporting player status in only one of them. Watch the episodes, though, and tell me what you learn about Neal. Because if you learn anything at all, it’s more than I’ve learned about him.
The first episode was the one with Ridley‘s favorite title. “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s Willie’s Brother” spent all of its time introducing us to Neal, filling us in on his background, and…well, nothing else, really. It was an introduction to the character that told us nothing except that his fat pig of a wife left him, and also he shits a lot.
Then we had “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face,” which was twenty minutes of foreplay before Neal met ALF. I remember nothing else about it. It was a pile of crap. Yet another two-parter in which the second part could have been condensed into the pre-credits tag at the end of part one.
He next made a token appearance in “Break Up to Make Up,” which was about somebody else’s failing marriage, and I think he was only there as part of some aborted effort to weave him into the show’s universe as a whole…you know, so that he could show up whenever, instead of just in episodes that were about him. It was a good impulse, so obviously the show didn’t follow through on that at all.
“Happy Together” had ALF moving in with him, which would have been a great way to finally develop his character in some way…but that never happened. It just raised more questions, with Neal vanishing without explanation all day, even though we’re told he works in his own building.
And now “Love on the Rocks,” which was garbage, but not without merit. None of those merits, however, involve turning Neal into a character anyone in his or her right mind would give a rat’s ass about. The little joke about him needing Willie to reject Margaret for him was nice…but as much as I’d like to read genuine character development into that, I can’t. It’s just another one-off detail that may or may not have anything to do with who the guy actually is.
He’s horny, he’s nerdy, he’s funny, he’s an idiot, he’s Willie’s brother with an age difference of 65 years, he’s a flaming homosexual we’re also meant to believe is a womanizer.
Who the fuck is he?
When he arrived on the show I asked myself one question, and I’m asking it again now: is he Cool Willie, or Mega Willie? Or is he just…Second Willie?
Part of the confusion comes from the fact that I also don’t know who in shit’s name Actual Willie is supposed to be…but, as you might have guessed, we’ll deal with that question at length soon enough.
Neal could have been anything, but in spite of driving four episodes of his own and wrapping his junk in a toga for a fifth, he’s still nothing. I picked out the “passive to a fault” detail and ran with it. Someone else might pick out the sex maniac detail and run with that. A third viewer will forever see him as the guy who hilariously burns through toilet paper. None of the things we’re told mean any more than the rest of the stuff we’re told, and it’s all just there. At no point does it add up to a character, and at no point can it. In order to assign an identity to Neal Tanner, we need to fixate on something and disregard the rest. In short, every viewer is already doing more work than the writers ever did.
I can’t blame Jim J. Bullock. God knows I’ve given the guy guff in his short time here, but…what else could he have done? A few actors have managed to elevate ALF‘s material, and I give them credit for that, but it’s not an expectation. The writers aren’t meeting anyone halfway, so if Jim J. Bullock flounders, that makes him no worse than most folks who got mired in this shitty show. He was hired for the same reason everyone else was hired: to stand quietly on a soundstage while a puppet calls him names.
He did as well as anyone would have done. You try playing a guy who’s supposed to look like a loser next to Max Wright and let me know how you fare.
Anyway, he’s gone now.
Out, out, brief candle! Bullock was but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his five weeks upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It was a tale told by an idiot with his hand inside of another idiot, full of sound and cat meat, signifying nothing.
If there’s one silver lining for Bullock, it’s that his final episode is by far his best one…and that was absolutely not the case for Jodie, Jake, Dr. Dykstra, or Mr. Ochmonek. I’m not going to miss Jim J. Bullock — or, well, anything — but at least his swansong hints at a hypothetically better integration of the character.
As it stands, he was a total writeoff, but “Love on the Rocks,” flawed though it certainly is, shows that he didn’t have to be. And that’s good to know. In a parallel universe, the ALF ‘n’ Neal: Murder Detectives spinoff is entering its 26th season.
I’m…really glad I don’t live there, actually.
Countdown to ALF being put down in front of the Tanners: 9 episodes
* Casey, if you’re curious: it’s ALF who suggests a trip to the Liberace Museum…not Neal. Let this inform your readings of Larry and Balki as you see fit.