Series / Alf
"Hello, is this the Lucky Lantern? I would like to order some sweet and sour cat."
"Haaa! I kill me."
The brainchild of puppeteer/producer Paul Fusco, Alf is the story of Gordon Shumway, a hapless A
who crash lands in the backyard of the Tanner family (no, not them
) after his home planet, Melmac, explodes
. The original series lasted from September, 1986 to March, 1990, with a total of 102 episodes in four seasons.
As is typical of the Alien Among Us
plot, Alf has to deal with the particular protocols of living on earth. In a subversion, however, he is not depicted as particularly advanced or powerful. He's a little freaky teddy-bear monster, who is lazy, gluttonous, and tries to eat the family cat (cats were his home world's equivalent to chickens). He hides out in the attic, and makes no attempts to ever leave the housenote
, perfectly content to freeload off the family patriarch, Willie, and tease the Nosy Neighbor
The show unexpectedly ended on a season cliff hanger, with Alf being taken off to an undisclosed location by government agents. A later Made-for-TV Movie
would reveal the result and provide closure for the series. Despite being relatively formulaic, the show was original in many regards, and had a loyal following.
While viewers saw a delightful, lighthearted sitcom, the show is noted for having been very grueling for the cast, and a hotbed of tension and discomfort when the cameras were off. The technical demands of the ALF puppet required a myriad of trapdoors on set, which had to be reset many times during even a single scene. This led to the show being shot in a very halting, piecemeal fashion, with a single 30-minute episode sometimes taking 20-25 hours of studio time to complete. The effects on the cast were devastating; for example, Andrea Elson (Lynn) suffered from depression and bulimia during the series, while Max Wright (Willie), both physically exhausted and resentful of playing straight man to a puppet, reportedly left the studio immediately after the final shot of the series finale, without even saying goodbye to fellow cast members
An Animated Adaptation
produced by DiC Entertainment
and Saban Entertainment
was broadcast from September, 1987 to January, 1989. It depicted Gordon's life on Melmac before he came to earth. It introduced Gordon's family members and friends, such as little sister Augie and girlfriend Rhondanote
(both voiced by Paulina Gillis). A villain threatening Melmac was also introduced to add some tension. He was called Larson Petty (a pun on petty larceny). The show had its own Spin-Off
, ALF Tales
, which had the characters as Animated Actors
performing modernized versions of classic stories
There was also a comic book adaptation which tended to play down the sitcom aspects in favor of a lot of parody and a bigger sci-fi slant, giving Alf strange technological toys which would occasionally be useful but most often wreak havoc in unforeseen ways. In many ways, it seemed more inspired by the Animated Adaptation
than the original sitcom, and would in fact often include stories set on Melmac, featuring many of the same characters as in the cartoon (most prominently the Shumway family). These stories usually included a framing story of Alf telling the Tanners of life on his home planet — Willie and Kate, for some unexplained reason, found these flashbacks
incredibly tedious. Lynn was fairly indifferent to them, and Brian loved them.
Alf was voiced and performed by Fusco. Recently, the character has been resurrected in various capacities; in 2004, a late-night talk show format (called "ALF's Hit Talk Show"; it only lasted seven episodes) and in commercials during the late-1990s, most notably one for the long-distance service "10-10-220". There's also a feature film in the works.
The series provides examples of:
The comic book provides examples of:
- Action Girl: Rhonda, at least occasionally.
- Animal Talk: Occasionally used, since Alf is presented as Speaking Fluent Animal, though it's made clear that every species of animal has its own language, and Alf doesn't know them all (he can't talk to dogs, or cats, for instance). At one point, he fails to communicate with an angry bear, because while he speaks the bear language, that particular bear speaks a dialect he doesn't understand.
- Amplified Animal Aptitude: To the point where most of the animals that appear in the comic (including Lucky) show human-like intelligence and can classify as Nearly Normal Animals.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: Unrestrained by a TV budget, the comic took this Up to Eleven, revealing that Melmacians also become temporarily invisible if eating a sponge, exhale helium (making bubble-gum blowing a risky thing to get carried away with), their noses begin glowing with extremely bright lights if they get very excited, and every 75 years they go through a "shed cycle" wherein all their fur falls off and they're completely bald for eight hours before re-growing their fur through performing the "primal sneeze ceremony."
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Alf would occasionally directly address the reader or otherwise acknowledge he was in a comic, such as commenting how many pages there was left of a story, urging the reader to turn the page or mention back issues. Other Melmacians would do the same (primarily in the flashback sequences), but the humans were ignorant of the fourth wall — the single exception was Brian, who in the later issues would occasionally join in on the Fourth Wall Observing.
- Cats Are Mean: Though in the case of Melmacians they have a definite reason to be hostile. Lucky, as opposed to the TV show, was a Nearly Normal Animal who could often be downright antagonistic — though he and Alf did have an Enemy Mine episode or two.
- Continuity Porn: The comic series approached this. If any of Alf's strange abilities, habits or ailments, or any of the various things he brought from Melmac in his spaceship, were given any more than the merest passing of mentiones, you could bet that they would be brought up again in a later issue. Could double as Chekhov's Gun, as the majority of them would either be or set off important plot points in the later stories.
- Crossover: The comic managed to take part in 1988's Marvel Comics Crisis Crossover, the Evolutionary War. The High Evolutionary warned ALF to stay out of his plans and not mess with human development. In the last issue, the very last fourth-wall-breaking story, Alf got into an argument with Tom DeFalco about whether this crossover meant he was officially part of the Marvel Universe or not.
- Expy: The comics were full of them, with Melmac flashback stories often featuring Melmac versions of popular movie- TV- or comic book characters. Perhaps most notable were The Uncanned X-Melmen, Melmac's most popular superhero team, who appeared three times during the run of the comic and were even revealed having survived the destruction of Melmac.
- Fiery Redhead: Kate had a much more explosive temper in the comic than in the TV show, to the point where she was the one Tanner family member who could intimidate Alf. It was often referred to as her "Irish temper."
- She seemed to have inherited her temper from Dorothy, who was even worse.
- Flight: By far the most commonly-seen of Alf's technological gadgets from Melmac was his anti-gravity belt, which enabled him to fly — though he used it sparingly, because it ran on Melmacian batteries, which were hard to come by.
- Graceful Loser: A trait found in most Melmacians, as pointed out and shown several times. Even when Alf's long-time girlfriend Rhonda ends up marrying Skip, there is no hard feelings from Alf's side — he remains on the best of terms with them both and even performs the marriage ceremony.
- Grand Finale: Unlike the TV show creators, the comic creators knew that the comic was going to be cancelled with issue #50, so the last eight issues feature storylines or hints/clues that lead up to the Grand Finale — one that had a lot in common with the last episode of the TV show — Alf is in danger of being discovered and exposed, and needs to leave the Earth — but featured its own twist on things, most notably a last episode wedding when Alf is revealed to be planning on marrying Rhonda. Ultimately, the finale is subverted. The wedding is in fact between Skip and Rhonda, and when Alf said he was going to "marry" Rhonda he meant that he was going to be the one to perform the ceremony. Alf does intend to leave the Tanners together with the newlyweds, but pulls off a last minute Batman Gambit that ends up discrediting the government agents that are after him, and continues to stay with the Tanners after all.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: There were two Melmacian inventions that would cause this: The most commonly-used was the Milk of Amnesia, a drink that permanently erased memories. The less-seen one was the Time Capsules, small pills that would not erase memories but suppress them temporarily.
- Mr. Fixit: Alf, as opposed to the TV show, is extremely tech-savvy and can fix or recreate a lot of hyper-complicated gadgets. He even managed to fix his spaceship (though without the proper power source he couldn't reach orbit with it). Occasionally overlaps with Bungling Inventor, as his machines tend to do more harm than good.
- Naked People Are Funny: Played with, occasionally, since Alf usually wears only his own fur (though on Melmac he, along with everyone else, is more often a Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal. Surprisingly, Lynn gets this trope a couple of times too — once with a Slippery Swimsuit-like incident (see the Wardrobe Malfunction trope below) and once in the final episode when she's surprised by Alf while taking a bath.
- Ocular Gushers: Brian. Several times.
- Omni Glot: Alf, shown to be able to speak a lot of languages, including those of animals (excluding cats). His most used language, apart from English, was in fact Klingonese, which was implied to be a sort of universal language — at least Melmacians all seemed to speak it, as did several other alien species.
- Pungeon Master: Alf, much more so than in the TV show. Just about everyone else in the comic were pretty pun-happy as well.
- Running Gag: In the comic, the Tanners' garage roof kept getting wrecked, usually thanks to Alf. A couple of times he got his spaceship to fly, but couldn't get enough power to go into space, and he'd invariably crash through the garage roof. Other times the roof would be wrecked thanks to some Melmacian device, or when Rhonda and Skip dropped by for a visit. One "what-if" story taking place thirty years in the future showed that Willie and Kate had installed an automatic door in the garage roof, which according to Alf "really paid off."
- Symbol Swearing: Used occasionally, though for the most part the comic would go for a Curse Cut Short thing, with any bad language being cut off — usually by Alf, who would inform them that this was a kids' comic.
- Theme Naming: Anyone and anything on Melmac that could have the syllables "mel" and "mac" in them, would have.
- Three Shorts: A rare comic book example. Most of the issues would have three complete stories, and even followed the ABA format — the first and last story would be set in present day with Alf and the Tanners, while the middle story would be a flashback story set on Melmac.
- Unwanted Assistance: Rhonda to the Tanners in the comic. She stayed with them a few times, and would always do her best to help them out, but as she was even less accostumed to Earth than Alf was, her attempts at helping always led to disaster.
- Wardrobe Malfunction: Happens to Lynn in one story, in a variant of the Slippery Swimsuit trope. Alf, in order to stop Willie and Kate from going down the girl's throat about her new bikini being too revealing, sews a new, stylish and more modest swimsuit for her out of the seat-covers from his spaceship. Crisis averted — until Lynn and her classmates go to the seaside and it turns out that the Melmacian fabric can take fresh water without any problems, but dissolves completely in salt water.
- Whole Episode Flashback: About a third of the stories in the comic were these, set on Melmac and presented as Alf's stories told to the Tanners. These stories were either stories of Alf's own life, with the setting from the cartoon, or parodies of famous stories or historical events, starring an Expy of Alf (sometimes one of his ancestors).
- World of Pun: Melmac.