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Friday, August 03, 2012


Okay, so yesterday’s blog entry was a bit serious in nature, and it was probably one of the few instances in which I will bring up a political themed issue in this blog.

Today, we’re going to bring back the fun by talking about one of my favourite television shows growing up!

Have you ever had the instance in which there was a television show that you made sure you watched every single episode of, only to find that the show has not aged well? 

Recently, a particular cable channel began re-airing the show and at first I was absolutely thrilled to death.  From the ages of five until nine, I made sure that the television dial was firmly on NBC Monday nights.  I had to watch my show, and nothing...not even the promise of a big bowl of chocolate ice cream with Hershey’s brand chocolate sauce...would tear me away.

A funny thing happened though.  When I re-watched the show that I once loved, I found that it wasn’t quite as good as I remembered it.  In fact, it was downright painful to watch in certain scenes.  It was quite disappointing, because at one point, I really loved it.

But, I suppose people’s tastes do change over the years.  It had been twenty years since I had last seen an episode. 

At any rate, I did enjoy the program at one time (one might say obsessed), so I feel compelled to discuss it in the blog.

We’re going to take a look back at the television show, “ALF”.

ALF ran on NBC from September 22, 1986 until March 24, 1990, and I believe that I watched every single episode of the series.  In fact, when it came to the television show ALF, I...

...played with the ALF stuffed animal, which eventually became one of 1986’s most requested toys along with Teddy Ruxpin and Jem dolls.

...watched the cartoon series “Alf Tales” which was loosely based on the television series.

...owned an ALF backpack in the second grade.

...owned at least two ALF picture books, and one of those books that included a cassette tape featuring an ALF story. the comic book series that lasted for a spell in the 1980s, and collected the ALF baseball bouilliabaseball cards.

(Yes, there actually was a comic’s proof above.)

Anyway, ALF was created by American puppeteer Paul Fusco (b. 1953) in late 1984.  The puppet was inspired by an alien puppet that Fusco used to scare his family and friends. He had dreamed of creating a television program that was based on the character, and he came up with the idea with partners Tom Patchett and Bernie Brillstein.  They pitched “ALF” to Brandon Tartikoff (who served as president of NBC from 1981-1991), who immediately green-lighted the sitcom, and the rest is history.

The show ran for 102 episodes, and in addition to Fusco, the rest of the cast included Max Wright (Willie Tanner), Anne Schedeen (Kate Tanner), Andrea Elson (Lynn Tanner), and Benji Gregory (Brian Tanner).

The main plot of the series was ALF trying to adjust to life on Earth the best way he knows how.  Originally from the planet of Melmac, ALF (born Gordon Shumway) was forced to flee after a nuclear war causes Melmac to be completely destroyed.  His spaceship ends up crashing right through the roof of the Tanner household, and the Tanner family reluctantly take ALF into their home.

TRIVIA:  Willie ends up giving ALF the name “ALF”, an acronym for “Alien Life Form”.

ALF gets along with Lynn and Brian very well, and even Kate seems to show a soft spot for the fuzzy alien every now and again.  ALF’s relationship with Willie is probably the one that had the most conflict, but also provided the most humour for the viewers at home.

Behind the scenes though, the mood of the set was a different story.  Many accounts state that the set was a tension-filled area where everyone walked on eggshells just to get through the days of filming.  Anne Schedeen described the show as being extremely slow and tedious, stating that it took almost twenty-five hours to film one 30-minute episode of the show.  Part of that was due to the technical aspects of the show.  The set was built on a raised platform with trapdoors built into the floor to accommodate the team of puppeteers that were needed to control ALF.  Although Fusco was the main puppeteer of ALF, it took a team of three people to control ALF while the show taped.  As a result, there were often a lot of retakes and bloopers, which caused the production time to expand.

Many of the actors also grew tired of the show as it went on.  Max Wright grew to despise the fact that he was playing second fiddle to a puppet that received all the good lines, while Andrea Elson stated that everyone would have lost it had the show been renewed for a fifth season. 

So, needless to say, the soundstage of ALF wasn’t exactly known as the happiest soundstage on Earth.

But despite the fact that he may have disliked working on the show, Max Wright also concedes that he was at least happy to be a part of something that made so many other people happy.  And I’ll readily admit that when I was in second grade, ALF was at its most popular, and everyone in my class loved the show.

Besides, the show had some rather interesting, memorable episodes that aired in its four years on NBC.  Some of them were wonderful, some of them were bizarre, and at least one of them ranks up there in what I consider to be one of the worst finales for a television show ever.

So, allow me to share my list of my most memorable ALF episodes.

Episode #6 – “For Your Eyes Only” – November 3, 1986

In this episode, ALF ends up scoring his first date with a human woman named Jody.  You might think that this would be a huge problem for ALF, being that he is a space alien and all...but it worked out to his advantage, as Jody happens to also be blind.  With assistance from Lynn, ALF makes his date with Jody.  It appears to start off as a disaster, but eventually ALF and Jody become very good friends, and Jody ends up being one of the few people who actually form a friendship with ALF outside of the Tanner family, and Jake Ochmonek, so it was really cool to see.

Episode #7 – “Help Me, Rhonda” – November 10, 1986

This is an episode that not only sets the stage for the television cartoon “ALF Tales”, but it also lets us learn more about ALF’s past life on Melmac.  In this episode, we find out that ALF’s girlfriend, Rhonda, also survived the destruction of Melmac, and the Tanner family try to help ALF get back in touch with them.  I also loved this episode because it was a great display of transition.  In this case, ALF said goodbye to his past, and hello to his present, and in some sense, it offered ALF some much needed closure.

Episode #29 – “Take A Look At Me Now” – October 5, 1987

One of the many obstacles that ALF has to face is avoiding being seen by people who may not have his best interests at heart.  And certainly the loud-mouthed Ochmoneks fit the description.  When Raquel Ochmonek has a sighting of ALF, and actually tries to tell people about it, nobody believes her, and she sinks into depression.  Things come to a head at a talk show appearance where she is humiliated...until a certain hairy member of the Tanner family makes a surprise call to the studios...

Episodes #56 and #57 – “Tonight, Tonight” – October 24, 1988

Back in the 1980s, Johnny Carson hosted “The Tonight Show”.  In 1988, ALF took over hosting duties, where he didn’t exactly do as...flawless of a job as Carson.

Episode #87 – “Live and Let Die” – November 13, 1989

On Melmac, cats are considered to be gourmet cuisine, which meant bad news for the Tanner family cat, “Lucky”, who always ran away in fear whenever ALF came around.  But when “Lucky” ends up crossing the rainbow bridge to the other side, what realization does ALF come up with?  He couldn’t have loved Lucky as more than just a snack option...could he?

Episode #102 – “Consider Me Gone” – March 24, 1990

I HATED this episode.  I really did!  It wasn’t because of the fact that it was the last episode, but because it was a HORRIBLE last episode.  It wasn’t even supposed to be a final episode because it had a “To Be Continued...” after it.  Basically, ALF heard from his friends Skippy and Rhonda that a new settlement was going to be built known as New Melmac, and invited ALF to live with them.  ALF has a tearful goodbye with the Tanner family, but before he can leave Earth, he is kidnapped by the Alien Task Force.  The cliffhanger went unresolved for SIX YEARS, and when it was finally resolved with the 1996 TV movie, “Project: ALF”, there was no Tanner family whatsoever!  I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth with the finale, and I thought it deserved better.

Maybe that’s why I don’t have as much love for “ALF” as I did back when it was popular.  Bad memories.

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