Nightlife

ALF - Season One

by D. Bishop
Contributor
Tuesday Aug 10, 2004
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Some television shows are much better as concepts than they are as actual shows. Alf - Season One is a perfect example of this unfortunate notion. The basic idea isn’t so bad - an average family takes in a half cuddly, half pain-in-the-behind alien who is stranded on Earth after crashing his spaceship, and personality quirks plus culture shock land both the family and their new housemate in an endless variety of misadventures. Alf, the cat-eating couch potato from the planet Melmac, fulfills his end of the bargain with his amazing ability to at the same time be both completely self-absorbed and remarkably compassionate. It’s a shame the rest of the show just doesn’t live up to the standard he sets.

The show starts with Alf crashing his spaceship into the Tanner’s garage roof after making brief contact with Willie
and Brian Tanner (Max Wright and Benji Gregory) on a short-wave radio (a scene that I believe I could have done more convincingly with my Super-8 camera, a roll of chicken wire and some duct tape... but hey, this is a sitcom, I suppose I shouldn’t expect much in the way of special effects!) The family is initially cautious and unsure what to do with the visitor, but quickly decide that it would be better to hide Alf from authorities for fear of the abusive experimentation he would likely be subjected to were the government to get their hands on him. It is quite another thing of course to hide the rambunctious alien from the meddlesome neighbors, the Ochmonechs (Liz Sheridan and John
LaMotta), or the relatives. Over the course of the season we learn much about Alf, usually at the expense of Willie Tanner’s credit balance, and watch him struggle to find his niche in his new home... and learn to live in harmony with Lucky, the family cat.

While certainly not in danger of winning any awards, the majority of the human members of the cast deliver adequately humorous performances with occasional moments of sparkle. Kate’s flashes of irritation with Alf, Brian’s emotional contribution, the Ochmonechs’ obnoxious intrusions, Kate’s mother’s love-hate (ok, mostly hate) relationship with Alf provide periodic moments of life that save the show from being completely bland outside of Alf’s wise-cracking. However, they are not enough to make up for some seriously weak writing, particularly in the first half of the season, or one of the worst performances by a leading actor in a sitcom to date. There isn’t a single moment when the viewer is able to connect with Willie Tanner. His dialogue delivery is frequently uneven and mumbled, his emotional outbursts are embarrassingly forced, his physical performance is exaggerated even for a sitcom, and the weak writing I mentioned previously compounds these by adding inexplicable personality swings and rationalizations to the mix. This is particularly problematic because Willie Tanner is supposed to be Alf’s "foil", and while Alf is able to deliver his comedic abuse on target with every scene, Willie Tanner falls flat. How sad is it when a puppet is able to display more talent than the humans sharing the stage with it.

Alf is a wonderful character, full of enduring potential (which probably explains why he is still getting gigs in commercials eighteen years later), and with a vivacious enough personality to entertain regardless of the situation. Had greater care been given in crafting that situation, I expect the series would have run a whole lot longer than its original four seasons. In any event, I recommend this DVD strictly out of appreciation for the hairy Melmacian, with the suggestion that you ignore most of the rest of the show if you can.

Finally, a television series DVD that incorporates some humorous creativity and amusing extra material! With each step through the DVD menu system of this four-disc set the viewer is treated to introductions and entertainment by Alf himself which, while wonderful to see, could get annoying if you find yourself flipping back and forth between menu screens too often. Each of the twenty-five episodes also features a very short synopsis delivered by Alf should you wish to view them. In addition to the original broadcast pilot episode, an Alternate Unaired Pilot Episode is included which is very similar to the aired version but contains some fairly lame elements that justify the choice to go with the other pilot. A Gag/Outtakes Reel is provided which is, as always, not nearly long enough but does have a lot of laugh value. The best part of these outtakes is the fact that at no time does Alf ever slip "out of character" and become simply a puppet... he is a always in character even when goofing up. Finally, a series of slide screens provide some Trivia about Alf that includes in-show background as well as a few real life did-you-knows regarding the character’s successes outside of the sitcom. The extra features may seem a little thin in comparison to those on most movie DVDs, but I have to give the producers bonus points for allowing Alf to host the DVD and recognizing the fact that fans genuinely appreciate the little touches and bits of info that the DVD format makes possible.

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