Out of this world: An Oral History of ALF
July 6, 2024 4:35 PM   Subscribe

“Patchett: I remember meeting Paul in [manager] Bernie Brillstein's offices. Bernie didn't know Paul at the time. This was before. He got very upset. "What's this f*cking puppet doing here?" He represented Jim Henson and didn't want any other puppets around. Then he saw ALF and said to me, "Tom, I have one word for you: Merchandising." That's show biz.“ Jake Rossen for Mental Floss.

Not to be confused, despite the headline, with a story about another 80s sitcom about an alien, Out Of This World.
posted by bq (19 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
“NBC was always after us to do these fall preview shows, these awful specials. ALF Loves a Mystery. They were just tedious. I did do a Matlock.”
posted by infinitewindow at 5:02 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]

The set was elevated for the puppeteers so the actors ended up being closer to the lighting rigs. Also, the sets were a maze of trapdoors and trenches - again for the puppeteers - and required precise blocking and resets between takes took extra long time.

Anne Schedeen (who played the mother) said that on the last night of taping the final episode her co-star, "there was one take and Max walked off the set, went to his dressing room, got his bags, went to his car and disappeared... There were no goodbyes."
posted by now i'm piste at 5:35 PM on July 6 [10 favorites]

ALF the flamethrower.
posted by Literaryhero at 6:08 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]

ALF the flamethrower.

The kids love this one.
posted by zamboni at 6:41 PM on July 6

Here kitty kitty
posted by azpenguin at 9:40 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]

I wasn't into the show at all--ALF always looked to me like a gnarly yam with a few holes punched in it--but I feel for Max Wright; he seems to have been a real life version of Alexander Dane, Alan Rickman's character in Galaxy Quest, who hated his best-known role and would sit in front of the mirror before convention appearances and obsess over his theater career to the point that his co-actors knew his rants by heart: "Five curtain calls."
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:41 PM on July 6 [11 favorites]

Our family was one that occasionally videotaped random episodes of shows that we liked. ALF was one of those shows, but I only fondly remember one episode.

In the episode, Willie (the dad) was reminiscing about a friend from he and his wife's college days in the 1960s that they felt ALF reminded them of. The bulk of the episode were dream sequences where Willie remembers those days (complete with 1960's slang and costuming) with ALF playing the role of their old friend. Willie would occasionally wake up from these dreams for book-ended sequences where he would go to the kitchen and retrospect on the dreams with ALF (who was perpetually in the kitchen eating).

Looking back, that's a pretty clever way to deal with the writing challenge ALF being locked down to just interacting with the Tanner household. Poking through the episode list, there look to be a lot of dreams and hallucinations; probably a well that they went to a lot. This episode got ALF out of the house and interacting with new people (their college cohort). No one saw his character as an alien, but the character was basically the same.

But the reason this episode stood out in my mind, and still lingers to this day (having not seen it in 20 years or so) was the storyline. In the flashbacks, Willie, Kate and their friend (ALF) were college hippie activists. After graduation, Willie and Kate were ready to take their activism out of the campus and into the wider world with their friend, only to find out that he had immediately taken a square's job at a bank or some-such. Willie and Kate felt that their friend had betrayed them, accusing their friend of selling out, while also struggling with feelings that now, 20 years on, that Willie had maybe sold out gradually himself. But, in the present, Willie realizes that while he's not out doing hardcore activism, he's a social worker; a job that helps people, and that's all he really wanted to do in the first place.

I remember genuinely appreciating how this episode was thoughtful towards Willie and his inner life, not just relegating him to straight-man duties. The alien was there making jokes, but mostly as background to this character's mini crisis of faith.

And to this day still think about that episode (S03E09, My Back Pages) whenever I meet people who work in social services, enduring shitty pay and heartbreaking human interactions every day, using broken tools to try and help folks survive.
posted by neuracnu at 10:53 PM on July 6 [26 favorites]

I remember Manimal* but I didn't remember that all of NBC's shows that season failed. You have to wonder if their willingness to try a primetime show with a puppet as the lead was due to a little desperation. There hasn't been anything like it since, at least in live action, although the animated American Dad and Solar Opposites echo the "alien(s) crash on Earth" theme. Time for a comeback?

*How could you forget Manimal?
posted by tommasz at 3:08 AM on July 7

ALF comics

I was really into these as a kid, coinciding with the late-eighties/early-nineties comics collecting bubble. I dug them out of their plastic bags to read them with my kiddo recently and, uh, it was rough going.
posted by HeroZero at 5:57 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]

I was really into these as a kid, coinciding with the late-eighties/early-nineties comics collecting bubble. I dug them out of their plastic bags to read them with my kiddo recently and, uh, it was rough going.

What, don't you enjoy his adventures with Professor Charles Xylophone and the Uncanned X-Melmen?
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:22 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]

ALF Tales: The Princess and the Pea, featuring the funniest joke I had ever seen on TV as a kid.
posted by mittens at 7:06 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]

Huh, did Mike Myers nick some of animated-ALF's diction for Wayne Campbell?
posted by stevil at 8:13 AM on July 7

It does look like ALF comics was an early influence on Netflix comedy special posters.
posted by HeroZero at 8:02 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]

Melf doesn't want to be a side thing. Melf wants to be number one.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 8:23 AM on July 8

We were an ALF household and god bless Max Wright, but every time I see him in something he had done before or after, I always think, "There's the dad from ALF!" Not mentioned in the article, that I noticed, was the animated Alf shows. You could have ALF twice a week people!
posted by Atreides at 1:35 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I loved Alf as a kid but I'd be kind of worried to watch it now in case it doesn't hold up. I remember Burger King had a promotion where you could get a kid's meal and on the box was a record that you could actually play on a record player. I played the hell out of that paper record but only vaguely remember the song now.

Watching TV feels like it was more of a hobby or lifestyle back then, sure people will binge watch shows now but it wasn't like then when people would religiously watch their shows and plan out their evenings based on what was on - well the evening was going to be the same thing in any event, watching TV, it was just a question of what they would be watching.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:01 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

This is why I'm actually really enjoying the trend of reverting back to weekly episode drops. It not only builds anticipation, but it continues the conversation in a way that just having a single season drop doesn't.
posted by Atreides at 7:17 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]

Very tragic, thanks for sharing gac.
posted by Atreides at 11:56 AM on July 11

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