Monday, July 6, 2009

When it comes to alien tv shows...

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

ALF was one of my favorites, second only to Third Rock from the Sun. I did enjoy some Lloyd in Space, some Jetsons, Futurama, and of course, Mork & Mindy (I'm not a fan, but Roswell, X-Files, and Smallville definitely qualify, too!). And that's before you consider characters with alien-like powers, that list goes on and on.

ALF stood for "Alien Life Form" and was the nickname that the Tanners (of Riverside, although I always thought they were in San Diego, not to be confused with the Tanners of San Francisco) gave to Gordon Shumway, who crashed his spacecraft into their garage. The Tanner family consisted of Social Worker Willie, Real Estate Agent Kate, late-teen Lynn, and elementary-schooler Brian. They had a cat named Lucky, and later a baby named Eric. They had nosy neighbors, but they were really more kooky than dangerous. Extended family members also came by from time to time, and it was quite humorous to watch ALF interact with Kate's mother.

Plots were more about culture shock than anything else. ALF often got bored with the everyday life on Earth, and spiced things up... generally by ringing up large bills of damage or consumer goods (or food, since he was often insatiable). In fact, he costs the Tanners so much money that Lynn has to live at home for college instead of going to her first choice. He had a longing to eat cat during the first three seasons, and would often mistake how valuable things are, basing his assumption off of Melmac's values. The show had little educational value, unless you understood the space and radio references that were made here and there. While it was definitely a comedy, the humor wasn't as entertaining as ALF's face contorting to mimic various emotions.

Filming ALF was apparently grueling. It would routinely take 20-25 hours to film one 30-minute episode. The floor was full of trap doors for ALF's puppeteers, and there were three different people making it all happen just for the one character. With the alien getting all the good lines, the actors weren't all pleased, and when taping finally ended, there were very few goodbyes even said. Speaking of the problems on-set were difficult, since the idea of ALF truly being an alien was propagated by everyone... even his appearances on other shows (notably on Conan, ALF would not be on if his puppeteers weren't completely hidden from cameras AND the audience).

The show ran on Monday nights for the most part, but some later episode ran on weekend nights. The show was canceled on a cliffhanger episode, which was only partially resolved six years later in the TV-movie Project ALF. I say "partially" because it didn't feature any of the Tanners, and it got some basic facts wrong (like ALF having seven stomachs instead of eight). Ergo, the funny show was canceled too soon, and the writers knew it. The show was on the chopping block as the end of season 4 was being taped, and the writers added the cliffhanger in a last-ditch attempt to get the show renewed, but to no avail. The show is available on DVD, but many viewers are upset with the out-of-order episodes and other problems. The first three seasons are on Hulu.
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